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PERSIS (Περσίς, Aeschyl. Pers. 60; Hdt. 3.19; Plin. Nat. 6.23. s. 25; Amm. Marc. 23.6, &c.; Περσική, Hdt. 4.39: Eth. Πέρσης, Adj. Περσικός, Persa), the province of Persis, which must be considered as the centre of the ancient realm of Persia, and the district from which the arms of the Persians spread over all the neighbouring nations, was bounded on the N. by Media and part of the chain of the Parachoathras M.; on the W. by Susiana, which is separated from Persis by the small stream Arosis or Oroatis; on the S. by the Persian Gulf, and on the E. by the desert waste of Carmania. In the earlier periods of history this province was altogether unknown, and it was not till the wars of Alexander and of his successors that the Greeks formed any real conception of the position and character of the land, from which their ancient and most formidable enemies took their name. The whole province was very mountainous, with few extended plains; it possessed, however, several valleys of great beauty and fertility, as those for instance in the neighbourhood of Persepolis (Strab. xv. p.727; Arrian Ind. chap. 40; Amm. Marc. 23.6; Chardin, Voy. iii. p. 255); the coast-line appears to have been, as it is now, sandy and hot, and uninhabitable, owing to the poison-bearing winds. (Plin. Nat. 12.20.) The principal mountain chains bore the names of Parachoathras (Elwend) and Ochus (perhaps Nakhilu), and were, in fact, prolongations to the sea of the still higher ranges of Media. It was watered by no great river, but a number of smaller streams are mentioned, some of them doubtless little more than mountain torrents. The chief of these were the Araxes (Bend-amír,) the Medus (Pulwán), and the Cyrus (Kúr), in the more inland part of the country; and along the coast, the Bagrada, Padargus, Heratemis, Rhogonis, Oroatis, &c. (Plin. Nat. 6.23. s. 26; Arrian Ind. chap. 39; Amm. Marc. 23.6; Strab. xvi. p.727, &c.) The principal cities of Persis were, PASARGADA, its earliest capital, and the site of the tomb of its first monarch, Cyrus; PERSEPOLIS the far-famed seat of the palaces and temples of Dareius the son of Hystaspes, and his successors; GABAE one of the residences of the Persian kings; TAOCE and ASPADANA.

The Persae were properly the native inhabitants [p. 2.579]of this small district; though in later times the name was applied generally to the subjects of the great king, whose empire extended, under Dareius the son of Hystaspes, from India to the Mediterranean. In the earliest times of the Old Testament they are not mentioned by name as a distinct people, and when, in the later days of the captivity, their name occurs, they must be taken as the inhabitants of the great empire above noticed (Ezek 38.5; Esth. 1.3--18; Ezra, 4.5; 1 Maccab. 1.1, &c.), and not simply of the limited district of Persis. According to Herodotus, the ancient people were divided into three leading classes, warriors, husbandmen, and nomades. In the first class, the Pasargadae, Maraphii, and Maspii, were the most important subdivisions. The Achaemenidae, from whom their well-known line of kings descended, was one of the families of the Pasargadae. The tribes of husbandmen bore the names of Panthialaei, Derusiaei and Germanii; those of the nomades were called, Dai, Mardi, Dropici and Sagartii. (Hdt. 1.125 ) It is clear from this account that Herodotus is describing what was the state of the Persae but a little while before his own times, and that his view embraces a territory far more extensive than that of the small province of Persis. We must suppose, from his notice of the nomade tribes, that he extended the Persian race over a considerable portion of what is now called Khorásan; indeed, over much of the country which at the present day forms the realm of Persia. In still later times, other tribes or subdivisions are met with, as the Paraetaceni, Messabatae, Stabaei, Suzaei, Hippophagi, &c. &c. Herodotus states further that the most ancient name of the people was Artaei (Hdt. 7.61), a form which modern philology has shown to be in close connection with that of the Arii, the earliest title of their immediate neighbours, the Medes. Both alike are derived from the old Zend and Sanscrit Arya, signifying a people of noble descent; a name still preserved in the modern I'rak (Ariaka). (Muller, Journ. Asiat. iii. p. 299; Lassen, Ind. Alterth. ii. p. 7.) There can be no doubt that the name Persae is itself of Indian origin, the earliest form in which it is found on the cuneiform inscriptions being Parasa. (Lassen, Alt-Pers. Keil-Inscr. p. 60.)

The Persian people seem to have been in all times noted for the pride and haughtiness of their language (Aeschyl. Pers. 795; Amm. Marc. 23.6); but, in spite of this habit of boasting, in their earlier history, under Cyrus and his immediate successors, they appear to have made excellent soldiers. Herodotus describes fully the arms and accoutrements of the foot-soldiers, archers, and lancers of the army of Xerxes (7.61), on which description the well-known sculptures at Persepolis afford a still living commentary. (Cf. also Strab. xv. p.734; Xen. Cyrop. 6.3. 31) Their cavalry also was celebrated (Herod. l.c. 9.79, 81; Xen. Cyrop. 6.4. 1). Strabo, who for the most part confines the name of Persae to the inhabitants of Persis, has fully described some of the manners and customs of the people. On the subject of their religious worship Herodotus and Strabo are not at one, and each writer gives separate and unconnected details. The general conclusion to be drawn is that, in the remotest ages, the Persians were pure fire-worshippers, and that by degrees they adopted what became in later times a characteristic of their religious system, the Dualistic arrangement of two separate principles of good and evil, Hormuzd and Ahriman. (Strab. xv. p.727-736; Hdt. 1.33, 133; Xen. Cyrop. 1.2. 2) Many of their ancient religious customs have continued to the present day; the fire-worshippers of India still contending that they are the lineal descendants of the ancient Persians. The language of the ancient people was strictly Indo-Germanic, and was nearly connected with the classical Sanscrit: the earliest specimens of it are the cuneiform inscriptions at Murgháb,--the site of Pasargada, and the place where Cyrus was buried,--and those of Dareius and Xerxes at Persepolis and Behistán, which have been deciphered by Colonel Rawlinson and Professor Lassen. (Rawlinson, Journ. As. Soc. vol. x.; Lassen, Zeitschrift f. Morgenl. 6.1; Hitzig, Grabschrift d. Darius, Zurich, 1847; Benfey, Pers. Keil-Inscrift, Leipzig, 1847.)

The government of Persia was a rigid monarchy. Their kings lived apart from their subjects in well secured palaces (Esth. 4.2, 6), and rejoiced in great parks (παράδεισοι), well stocked with game and animals for the chase (Cyrop. 1.3.14, 8.1.38, Anab. 1.2.7; Curt. 8.1.11), and passed (in later times, when their empire was most widely extended) their summer at Ecbatana, their spring at Susa, and their winter at Babylon. (Nehem. 1.1; Dan. 8.2; Esth. 1.2, 5; Xen. Anab. 3.5. 15, Cyrop. 8.6.22.) Like other eastern monarchs, the Persian kings possessed a well appointed harem, many curious details of which we gather from the history of Esther (cf. also Curt. 3.3; Athen. 13.557; Plut. Art. 100.43); and they were accustomed to receive from their subjects direct adoration (προσκύνησις), as the presumed descendants or representatives of Hormuzd. (Plut. Themist. 100.7; Curt. 6.6.2, 8.5.6.) Their local government was a pure despotism; but in some extraordinary cases a sort of privy council was called of the seven chief princes, who stood around the royal throne, like the Amshaspands round the throne of Hormuzd. (Hdt. 7.8, 8.67; Esth. 1.14, 19, 7.14.) Whatever document had once passed the king and had been sealed by the royal signet was deemed irrevocable. (Esth. 1.19, 8.8; Dan. 6.9. 16; cf. also Chardin, Voy. 3.418.) Over the individual provinces--which in the time of Darcius were said. to have been twenty in number (Her. 3.89), but were subsequently much more numerous (Esth. 1.1), probably from the subdivision of the larger ones--were placed satraps, whose business it was to superintend them, to collect the revenues, and to attend to the progress of agriculture. (Her. 3.89, 97; J. AJ 11.3, &c.) Between the satraps and the kings was a well organised system of couriers, who were called ἄγγαροι ἀστάνδαι (Plut. Fort. Alex. vii. p. 294, ed. Reiske), who conveyed their despatches from station to station on horses, and had the power, when necessary, to press horses, boats, and even men into their service. As this service was very irksome and oppressive, the word ἀγγαρεύειν came to mean compulsion or detention under other circumstances. (J. AJ 13.2.3; Esth. 3.13, 15, 8.10, 14; Bentley's Menander, p. 56.)

The history of the Persian empire need not be repeated here, as it is given under the names of the respective kings in the Dict. of Biogr.


hide References (23 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (23):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.19
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.39
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.67
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.125
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.133
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.33
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.61
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.8
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 11.3
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 13.2.3
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 3.5.15
    • Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 6.4.1
    • Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 1.2.2
    • Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 6.3.31
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 12.20
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.23
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 23.6
    • Arrian, Indica, 39
    • Arrian, Indica, 40
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 3.3
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 6.6.2
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 8.5.6
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 13
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