The Persians were originally part of a people known as the Aryans. The Aryans were cattle herders from the grasslands of central Asia. At about 2000 B. C., the Persians began to separate from the other Aryans. Finally, they settled on a plain between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, in modern day Iran, or "the land of the Aryans."
The Persians lived peacefully for over 1,000 years. The country was divided into large farms owned by nobles. The nobles spent most of their time riding horses or practicing archery. Laborers worked the farms.
The hot plain had little water. Farmers were dependant on streams that came from the mountains. They dug tunnels below the earth's surface from springs to field. With the water, the farmers could grow wheat and barley and raise fat-tailed sheep.
About 600 B. C., the Medes conquered the Persians. Soon after, King Cyrus defeated the Medes. Then, Cyrus organized an army to conquer new territory. The army grew until it had hundreds of thousands of men. The officers were Persian, and soldiers were either Persians or conquered people.
The best fighters in the Persian army were the Immortals. They were called this because their number never fell below 10,000 soldiers. When an Immortal became sick, died, or was wounded, another soldier took his place. The Immortals led the Persian army into battle.
Within a short time the Persians ruled an empire stretching from the Indus River to Egypt. The Persians were mild rulers who let the conquered people to keep their own language, religion, and laws. The Persians believed that loyalty was easier to win by force than by fear or force. They expected their subjects to pay taxes and produce goods for trade. They felt that these things could not be accomplished if the subjects were treated badly.
One of the greatest Persian kings was Darius. He wanted a monument to honor his victories. So, Darius brought artisans from many places to build a huge palace-fortress in the capital of Persepolis. Buildings with stone columns were constructed on immense stone platforms.
The king did not govern alone. There were many officials to carry out his orders. They all spoke Aramaic, the language of Middle Eastern merchants.
The king picked a governor, secretary, and general for each of the Persian Empire's twenty provinces. These officials collected taxes of gold, silver, sheep, horses, wheat, and spices and sent them to the royal treasury in Persepolis. These officials settled local unrest and protected the people against criminals.
The Persians lived in houses with pointed roofs and porches that faced the sun. Poor families owned one-room houses. Nobles had one set of rooms for men and one for women and children.
Families in Persia were large. Fathers were like the empires kings. A father's work was law. Poor children worked with their parents. Noble children were cared for by their mothers until they reached age five. Then, slaves raised them. Often, children did not see their fathers until adulthood. Boys were trained to ride horses and draw a bow. Girls were trained to run households and raise children.
The Persians thought they should be warriors, farmers, or shepherds. They refused to become traders. They thought that trade made people lie, cheat, and be greedy. They did encourage trade among conquered people.
The Persians expanded the Assyrian system of roads. One road, the Royal Road, was more than 1,600 miles or 2,560 kilometers. A trip that took three months before the road was built now took fifteen days. The Persians also opened a route to China. Silk was first brought west along this route.
The Persians spread the idea of using coins for money. The first coins had been made in Lydia, a tiny kingdom in Asia Minor bordering the Aegean Sea. After conquering Lydia, the Persians decided to use coins. This increased trade. It also changed trade. Merchants that had once sold only costly goods now sold everything. Since people had access to more goods, they lived better than before.