How did the Persian Achaemenians Rule Effectively?

The Persian Achaemeniads ruled through divine authority, careful grooming of political and military leaders, arranged marriage, and large armies.

In Persian history, a recurring theme is the relationship of the ruler to a powerful lineage of previous kings. Divine authority put in place a hierarchy where the king was at the top as the ruler appointed by the Supreme Being Ahura Mazda.

Cyrus I

Cyrus I restored order to the people by crushing insurrections and abolishing forced labor. His royal complex at Pasargadae was important to the economy of Fars, the Persian homeland. It remained the centre for ceremonial coronations even after Darius and Xerxes built Persepolis. Building Pasargadae linked the king’s empire to earlier imperial cities like Anshan and Susa and as such continued a legacy of past kings.

Darius I

Darius I also stated his rule in terms of being legitimized by the grace of Ahura Mazda. The king being appointed by god could make no mistakes and could only act justly. Evidence of this theme comes from royal inscriptions and Egyptian papyrus pieces. He started building Persepolis in 515 B.C as a great symbol of his rulership, which emphasized the breadth of the empire. The buildings and decoration showed off his power, wealth and rulership.

Persian Rule and Administration

An Achaemenian ruler had to have some necessary qualities to be ruler. As a prince he would be trained in horsemanship, military and hunting skills plus leadership qualities. By the time of coming to rule he would need to show evidence of proven military and political skills such as the ability to muster supporting coalitions.

The administrative skills of the Persian Empire were well renowned. Kings would travel between administrative centers to experience the lives of their people, to settle their problems and so that they would be made aware of the king’s presence. These administrative centers held the empire together; one example is the satrapy of Egypt/Memphis. Taxes and tributes would be collected from these centers to fund the Crown.

Persian Family and Women

The Achaemenian family would cement political allies by marrying their daughters to other leaders. They would also marry daughters to the Persian nobility. Women had a degree of power as imperial and noble women would receive property and allotments and they were present in court life as mothers of the ruling elite or potential heirs. In society they worked on the land and in craft production. Traditionally it has been said that the demise of the empire in the fourth century was due to women having too much power.

The Achaemenians kept strict rules about the coronation of a new king. The new leader had to perform burial rites on the old one in a strict formulaic ceremony. Only then were they fit to rule. Alexander the Great performed this ritual during Darius III’s burial, for instance, to legitimize himself as ruler.

Persian Roads and Armies

Herodotus was very impressed by the vast system of roads that was built with relay couriers and post houses to encourage communication throughout the Empire. The army had a hierarchical structure. The ‘Immortals’ consisted of 10,000 Persian and Medes troops. The king’s guards came next (horsemen and bowmen). Large numbers of mercenaries made up the bulk of the army but the highest ranking officers were usually Persian.

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