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Ancient Middle East

Persian Empire

The Persian army crosses the BosporusThe Persian army crosses the Bosporus In around 1300 BC, two peoples, the Medes and the Persians settled in what is today called Iran. For centuries, the Medes were the more powerful, but eventually the Persians defeated their rivals. For more than 1000 years, the land of Persia was ruled by three mighty empires. The Achaemenid, or First Persian, Empire controlled the country from around 550 BC until 330 BC—when it was conquered by Alexander the Great. From 247 BC the Parthians rebuilt the empire until, in AD 224, the Sassanians established the Neo-Persian, or Second Persian, Empire that was to last until 651. These three empires controlled much of the rest of the Middle East during their days of supremacy.

Persian (Achaemenid) Empire 500 BCPersian (Achaemenid) Empire 500 BC

King CyrusKing Cyrus

The empire of Cyrus the Great

The Achaemenid Empire got its name from King Achaemenes, who ruled the region of Persis in southern Persia in the early 7th century BC. Cyrus the Great (ruled 559–530 BC) expanded his empire by conquering first the neighbouring kingdoms of Media (550 BC) and Lydia (around 547 BC) and finally the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC. 

A wise and compassionate ruler, Cyrus respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. A clay cylinder, inscribed with cuneiform script, gives details of how Cyrus went about ruling his empire. Described as "King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Corners of the World", Cyrus established peace and abolished forced labour in Babylon. He also allowed the Jews, who had been captured and brought to Babylon, to be allowed to return to Israel after 70 years of exile. He actively assisted them in rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem. The cylinder has been described as the world’s first declaration of human rights.

Mithras was the Persian god of justice. According to legend, he once killed a magic bull. Every type of animal and plant sprang out its blood.

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