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Current time:0:00Total duration:13:54

Video transcript

- [Instructor] As we enter into the sixth century BCE, the dominant power in the region that we now refer to as Iran, it was the Median Empire. And the Median Empire... I'll draw the rough border right over here. Was something like that. And you can see the dominant region of Media right over here. But, by the middle of that century, they are going to be overthrown. They're going to be overthrown by one of their subject kingdoms. And that is the Persians. And so, right over here on this map, it's called Persis, but that region is called Pars or Fars. And, even today in modern Iran, that region is called Fars. And the king of Pars was Cyrus the Great. And, in 550/549 BCE, he's able to overthrow the Median emperor, who happens to be his grandfather, and then he establishes what history views as the first real Persian empire. And the whole reason why we even call it a Persian empire is because Cyrus the Great was from Pars. Persian is really referring to the idea that the ruler, the dynasty that gets established, was coming from Pars. It turns out, and I talk about in other videos, the Persians did not refer to themselves as Persians. They viewed themselves more as the Aryan people. In a lot of ways, Eran or Iran or Arianum of Asia, these types of words are more accurate for how the Persians viewed themselves. But, needless to say, in 549, Cyrus the Great is able to conquer the Median Empire and he keeps going. And what he establishes, this empire, this dynasty, is called the Achaemednid Dynasty. And you might wonder why is it called the Achaemenid Dynasty, instead of, say, the Cyrid Dynasty? And that's because Cyrus claims descendant from Achaemenes. He is part of that family. Achaemenes is this semi-legendary patriarch of it that lived 100, 150 years before Cyrus the Great. And so, I will draw a dotted line from Achaemenes to Cyrus. And Cyrus then goes on. So, he conquers the Median Empire, then he goes on to conquer several of the major empires of that time. In the mid-540's BCE.... So, we are right around there. He conquers the Lydian Empire, right over there, which is on the western half of the Anatolian Peninsula in modern day Turkey. And then, he sets his sight on the Neo-Babylonian Empire. And, in 539, he's able to conquer the Neo-Babylonian Empire. And, from a Biblical perspective, that's relevant. Because, when he takes Babylon, he frees the Jews from the Babylonian captivity and he resettles them in Jerusalem. And he works with them to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and, especially, Solomon's Temple, which is now called the Second Temple on the Temple Mount. And Cyrus the Great is viewed by history as one of the great rulers of all time. Often referred to as a model ruler. Someone who really takes the interest of his people at heart. So, Cyrus was able to conquer a lot of what you see here in green, but not all of it. And, especially, he was not able to get to Egypt. That would be left to his son, Cambyses. So, in 530, Cyrus dies and Cambyses takes over. And, just so you read how I made this timeline... And I made this timeline, really, to help myself understand the various shahanshahs or king of kings of Iran. So, Cyrus the Great was the shahanshah, king of kings. And then, Cambyses II was the next one. Is that, this timeline up here, this shows who was in charge. So, you see from 550/549 all the way up to 530, I have it yellow and that's 'cause Cyrus the Great was in charge of what is called the Achaemenid Empire or, I guess you could say, this first great Persian empire. What I have down here is the best information I could find on the lifespans of these people. And, when I have these dotted lines at the beginning, that's when it's unclear when these people were born. So, there's different accounts that Cyrus the Great might have been born in 575 BCE. He might have been born closer to 600 BCE. And so, that's why I have these dotted lines. Similarly, we don't know exactly when Cambyses II was born, but we do know that he took control in 530 BCE. And so, that's why you see Cambyses, you see this line right over here turn blue. And, actually Cambyses ends up dying in 522. So, actually, this should be like that. There you go. He ends up dying in 522. But, before he dies in 522, he is able to conquer Egypt in 525 BCE. So, right around there. And you can imagine that, while he's conquering Egypt... Let me keep drawing this family tree. So, now we have Cambyses II. He goes off, makes his real goal to conquer Egypt. And that's a big deal. Remember, this is ending thousands of years of the rule by the native pharaohs. These now foreign rulers start calling themselves the pharaohs of Egypt, as well. Egypt becomes part of the Persian Empire because of Cambyses, but you can imagine with the shahanshah, the king of kings, off and doing conquest in Egypt, it leaves a little power vacuum back in the center of the empire. And this is when things get a little bit sketchy. So, Cyrus does have another son. Th other son is called Bardiya. So, let me write this down. So, there's another son called Bardiya. And then, there's this other character known as Darius, soon to be known as Darius the Great. And Darius is not a direct descendant of Cyrus the Great, but he is part of his family. He's a distant relative. He is part of the Achaemenid dynasty. He claims descendant from Achamenes. And he was the lance-bearer for Cambyses II. So, while Cambyses is out here in Egypt leaving that power vacuum, someone who claims to be Bardiya takes control of the empire or is trying to take control of the empire. Now, some accounts say that this is really Bardiya. This is really the other son of Cyrus the Great and so there would be some legitimate claim to the throne, but there's other claims, especially the ones that Darius was later able to spread, that, no, this was not the real Bardiya. That this was a fake Bardiya. That the real Bardiya had actually been killed by Cambyses II before and that this person proposing to be Bardiya was this fake usurper, this Zoroastrian priest named Gaumata. And, once Cambyses, on his way.... He's trying to come back in order to reclaim the throne or in order to get rid of this usurper, whether it was the real Bardiya or not. But, on the way, he dies, once again, under dubious circumstances. Cyrus the Great, how he died, not clear. Cambyses II also dies under dubious circumstances. And then this Bardiya actually becomes the shahanshah for real. He obviously has claims to it while Cambyses is there, but, once Cambyses dies, he is the shaanshah. Well, Darius doesn't like this. He has his own imperial ambitions. He gets some other nobility together and says, "No, no, no, this Bardiya isn't the real Bardiya. He's a usurper. Let's go kill that guy." And so, they kill him and then... It's an interesting story. Herodotus has a fairly dubious account of how Darius was able to convince the other noble people why he should be the shahanshah, the emperor. But they are able to get rid of Bardiya. We still do not know whether it was the real Bardiya or whether it was the fake Bardiya. But then, Darius takes power in 522 BCE. And he's known as Darius the Great because he continues to spread, continues to conquer more and more for the Persian Empire. And this map, right over here, this is the Persian Empire in 500 BCE under Darius the Great. It's near its maximum extent. And it's a pretty incredible empire. It's worth noting.... And it's big by any stretch of the imagination. But it's at this time the population is on the order of 50 million people. And, based on the accounts that I've seen, that's almost half of the world population at that time. No empire in history, as far as we can tell, has ever had such a large fraction of the world's population under its control. And so, that gives you a sense of, I guess you could say, how great or how large an empire this was. Now Darius the Great, he is also famous, especially from a Greek perspective, for going after the Greeks. You had these Greek revolts in these towns on the west coast of the Anatolian Peninsula. They revolted against their Persian overlords, I guess you could say. And they did that with the help of the Athenians. And so, Darius didn't like this. In the 490's, he starts going after the Athenians. This is the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars. He is unsuccessful. He dies in the 480's and then his son... This is actually a relief of Darius the Great right over here from Persepolis. And then, his son continues to try to take over in the Second Greco-Persian Wars. And he, too, is unsuccessful. But, it's worth noting, a lot of this history that we get, especially of Cyrus the Great and the early Persian shahanshas, the history we get is from the Greeks. So, it's worth taking it with a great grain of salt, because, as you can see, they were rivals. And to say rivals is a little bit unfair to the Persians, because the Greeks were more of a thorn in the side of a large empire. The Greeks were this group of city-states. They weren't even a unified empire. While you had here the Persian Empire controls almost half of the world's population. So, the Greeks were more of a thorn in the side, but we get our history from them or a lot of our history from them. So, we get their account of things. Now, once you have Xerxes, then, after Xerxes, you have Artaxerxes, right over here. And then, you have a little bit of a squabble for the throne and then Darius II. There's one thing that you see over 200 years of Achaemenid rule is that most people, after Darius the Great, are named either Xerxes, Artaxerxes, Darius II, III, IV, or Darius II or III, at least, not fourth. Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes III. So, it can get a little confusing. But the reason why I even did this for myself, to see when all these people lived and when they ruled, is to have a good sense of what was going on and how Darius II lived at a different time than, for example, Darius I, or Darius the Great. The other thing worth mentioning, 'cause you'll hear this in various history classes when you talk about the Persian Empire, is the great cities of the Persian Empire. Cyrus the Great, he establishes the capital at Pasargadae right over here. You have Cambyses establishes a capital at Susa. Susa is one end of the great royal highway that goes from Sardis all the way to Susa right over there. You have Darius the Great establish a capital at Persepolis. And that's the Greek name for it, literally referring to Persian city. And this is a relief from Persepolis right over here. Now, the end of the Achaemenid Dynasty comes when that famous thorn in the side, Greece, actually unifies under Philip of Macedon. Here, we're talking about the early to mid-fourth century BCE. And his son, Alexander, becomes this great conqueror, Alexander the Great. And he's able to conquer the entire Persian Empire, famously taking it away from Darius III. We talk about that in another video or in several videos in some detail. But, Alexander the Great, he has this vision of one nation of these people. Their cultures mixing together. And there's a significant amount of cultural mix between the Greeks and the Persians. But then, Alexander dies and his empire is split. But most of the Persian Empire goes under the control of Seleucus, who's one of Alexander's generals, and then you have the Seleucid Empire, which is really foreign rule of Persia. And that will continue for a while. Until, eventually, the Parthians, which is, once again, another state or region of the Persian Empire, takes control to establish the Parthian Empire, which is one of the rivals to Rome. It's worth mentioning, and I mention this in the video on ancient Persia, that, under Persian rule, and Cyrus and the various shahanshahs were famous for delegating their authority. When you have such a large empire, you can't control all of it yourself. So, each of these regions had their own, I guess you could say, governors. And those governors were called satraps and the regions were called satrapies. Anyway, I will leave you there. Oh, and the other thing that Cyrus the Great is really known for, is the spread of the Zoroastrian faith. We talk about the Zoroastrian faith in other videos. And Zarathustra, who is kind of the prophet of the Zoroastrian faith, he lived someplace between 1500 BCE and might have even lived shortly right before, almost near the time of Cyrus the Great. But it was really Cyrus the Great who helps spread this great ancient faith.