The Persians were first mentioned in Neo-Assyrian records in the ninth century BC. At that time, they were not as important as the larger group known as the Medes. Cyrus II later overthrew the Median Empire and established the Persian Empire in 550 BC. Cyrus next attacked Lydia, Ionia, and Babylon. Later kings controlled (at various times) Egypt, Thrace, Macedonia, and other areas. The Persian Empire eventually fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Seleucus controlled the Persian Empire after the death of Alexander the Great but he was not able to hold on to the entire empire. (3)
There were four royal cities in the Persian Empire. Susa, the ancient capital of the Elamites, Ecbatana or Hagmatana, the capital of the Medes, Persepolis, and Pasargadae. Pasargadae was the first Persian capital. Cyrus the Great established the capital at Pasargadae to commemorate his victory over Astyages, the Mede. Darius I moved the capital to Persepolis, a city located in a rugged and remote area. Darius also built a residence at Susa. Susa was located at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Ecbatana (Aramaic Achmetha) was located in the Zagros Mountains. With an elevation of 6,000 feet, Ecbatana was known as the summer capital. Ecbatana was later destroyed by Alexander the Great and the new city of Hagmatana or Hamadan was established. (2)
The main language of the widespread Persian Empire was not Persian but Aramaic. Persian was a dialect of Iranian. Royal Persian inscriptions were trilingual and were written in Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. Elamite was used administratively in Persepolis and Susa. (3)
(1) Old Persian Names - Avesta.org
(2) Concise Bible Atlas: A Geographical Survey of Bible History, J. Carl Laney, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988, 1999.
(3) The Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, Arthur Cotterell (ed.), New York: Penguin Books, 1980, 1988.
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Updated November 30, 2009