(Map 7:K4–5). The home territory of the ancient Persians was the mainly mountainous terrain east of the head of the Persian Gulf. They called it Parsa (Grk. Persis); it was roughly equivalent to the modern Fars. The first appearance of this name (Parsua) in history, however, on the Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (ca. 843 BCE) and followed eight years later by a mention of twenty‐seven chiefs there, indicates a position somewhere in Iranian Kurdistan; but a similar name is recorded somewhere to the southeast a generation later. In 692–691 BCE, the name is cited in an alliance of peoples against Sennacherib, which seems to have been centered in the Zagros further to the southeast.

By about 640 BCE, when a king named Kurash (Cyrus) appears in Assyrian annals, the Persians seem to have been established in Parsa; this ruling family was Achaemenid (descended from a semilegendary ancestor Achaemenes). It has been supposed that there were two Achaemenid royal lines, one (that of Darius) in Parsa, the other (that of Cyrus the Great) in a land called Anshan; but in 1972 it was discovered that Anshan lay in the middle of Parsa. These Persians were Indo‐Iranian speakers like the Medes (Darius spoke of himself as Ariya, i.e., Aryan or Iranian). They may perhaps have reached Parsa in stages from beyond the Caucasus; but some at least could have gradually infiltrated by way of northeastern Iran and Carmania. They were subject to the Medes before Cyrus the Great overthrew King Astyages in 550 BCE; according to Herodotus, they had been subject for the best part of a century.

Under Cyrus and his son Cambyses great conquests occurred in rapid succession: the Median empire in 550 BCE, western Asia Minor (the Lydian kingdom of Croesus) about 546 BCE, the Babylonian empire with Elam and the Levant in 539 BCE, and (under Cambyses) Egypt in 525 BCE. Darius I added Sind (Hindush) about 516 BCE. Thus the three great river lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, and (until 402 BCE) the Nile were subject, and the resulting empire was the most extensive that the world had known.

Efficiency in military preparations and fighting skills had given the Medes and Persians a reputation for invincibility. But the failure to subdue the Scythians about 513 BCE and serious reverses in Greece between 492 and (under Xerxes) 480–479 BCE caused a collapse in confidence. After this, the sole successful major expedition in one hundred years was that in which the heroic marshal Megabyxos reconquered the Delta after a revolt (459–454 BCE). The later kings relied largely on Greek mercenaries and even fleets in their military operations in the west, with no great success, however, until the ruthless Artaxerxes III was able to bring his revolting satraps (governors) under control and in 345–343 BCE to reconquer Phoenicia and Egypt. In the east of the empire and the Arabian fringes, however, peace seems to have generally been maintained with little exertion of force.

The system of imperial government set up by Darius I continued with little change until the end of Persian rule. In the Iranian and Anatolian satrapies noble Persian fief‐holders kept household brigades and maintained order except in mountain regions where occasional punitive expeditions would be launched. Communication with the imperial chanceries was normally in Aramaic.

In Babylonia and Egypt, a developed administrative system was in existence and was taken over. The kings appointed fiscal overseers in the temples and normally enjoyed the cooperation of the priesthoods. Confiscation after conquest and revolts gave rise to great estates belonging to the king, royal relatives, and leading nobles or court officials. In Babylonia, many fiefs were related to obligations of military service. In what had once been Solomon's kingdom west of the Euphrates, deportation in Assyrian times had resulted in a mixed population with little nationalistic feeling except in Judah and Phoenicia; prompt acquiescence to Persian rule had saved the “people of the land” from confiscations after Cyrus's conquest of Babylon.

The Achaemenids worshiped Zoroaster's god Ahuramazda with his polarization of Justice (or Order) and the Lie; but this did not lead to religious intolerance. The deities Anahita and Mithra were hardly less revered by the Persians, and fire was worshiped as a god. The officiants were Magi. Among gods of the subject peoples the Greek Apollo, the Syrian goddess Alilat, and Yahweh seem to have been specially favored. Thanks to Cyrus and Darius I, the new Temple in Jerusalem was completed (515 BCE); subsequently Nehemiah (445 BCE) and Ezra (either 428 or 398 BCE) were sent there on special missions, and Darius II seems to have yielded to objections from the Jerusalem priesthood about the right of the Jewish garrison at Yeb (Elephantine, in Upper Egypt) to rebuild its temple and also to keep its own special feast of the Passover.

Persian rule thus allowed considerable cultural assimilation and religious syncretism, Babylon above all becoming a cosmopolitan center. Their art was a composite in which different traditions merged. The court style, which (like the Old Persian script) was devised by Darius I, exalted the grandeur of the king in a timeless setting; as seen in the Persepolis friezes it is impressive in its composure.

After the conquest by Alexander the Great (334–323 BCE) the lands of the empire were ruled by Macedonian successor kings, Parthians, and Romans. Persia had no further importance in biblical history.

J. M. Cook