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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [1]

Persians, the name of people and nation which occurs only in the later periods of the biblical history, and then for the most part in conjunction with the Medes [MEDES]—a conjunction which tends to confirm the truth of the sacred records, since the most respectable historical authorities have found reason to conclude that the Medes and Persians were in truth but one nation, only that at an earlier period the Medes, at a later period the Persians, gained the upper hand and bore sway. This ascendancy, in the case of the Persians, as generally in the ancient Asiatic governments, was owing to the corrupting and enervating influence of supreme and despotic power on the one side, and on the other to the retention on the part of mountaineers, or of tribes seated remotely from the center of the empire, of primitive simplicity—in laborious lives, hard fare, and constant exposure, which create patient endurance, athletic strength, manly courage, independence: qualities which in their turn refuse or throw off a yoke, and convert a subject into a conquering and ruling nation. At what precise time this great change was brought about in regard to the Medes and Persians, we are not in a condition to determine historically. With Cyrus the elder, however, begins (B.C. 558) the domination of the Persian dynasty which held rule over Media as well as Persia. Whether Cyras came to the throne by inheritance, as the son-in-law of Cambyses II, according to Xenophon, or whether he won the throne by vanquishing Astyages, the last Median king, agreeably to the statements of Herodotus, is one of those many points connected with early Eastern history, which, for want of documents, and in the midst of historical discrepancies, must remain probably for ever uncertain.

The most interesting event to the theologian in the history of Cyrus is the permission which he gave (B.C. 536) to the captive Jews to return to their native land. After a prosperous reign of the unusual length in Asiatic monarchies of thirty years, Cyrus was gathered to his fathers (B.C. 529). He was succeeded by Cambyses (B.C. 529), who, according to Herodotus, reigned seven years and five months. Then came (B.C. 522) Smerdis, nominally brother of Cambyses, but in reality a Magian; and as the Magi were of Median blood, this circumstance shows that, though the Medes had lost the sovereignty, they were not without great power. Smerdis being assassinated (B.C. 521). Darius Hystaspis was elected king. He favored the Jews, and permitted them to resume and complete the building of their temple, which had been broken off by reason of jealousy on the part of the heterogeneous populations of Samaria , and the influence which they exerted at the Persian court . The last monarch had for successor Xerxes (B.C. 485), who is probably the Ahasuerus of Esther and Mordecai. After a reign of twenty years, Xerxes was murdered by Artabanus, who, however, enjoyed his booty only for the short period of seven months. The next in order was Artaxerxes (I) Longimanus (B.C. 465), who enjoyed his power for the surprisingly long period of forty years, and then quietly handed the scepter over to his son Xerxes II (B.C. 424), who reigned but two months. He was followed by his stepbrother Sogdianus (B.C. 424), whose rule came to an end in seven months; thus making way for Darius Nothus, whose reign lasted nineteen years. Artaxerxes (II) Mnemon next took the throne (B.C. 404), and is reported to have reigned forty or forty-three years (Diod. Sicul. xiii. 108; xv. 93). His successor was Artaxerxes Ochus (B.C. 364), who occupied the throne for twenty six years. Then came Arses (B.C. 338), reigning three years. At last Darius Codomannus (B.C. 335) ascended the throne. But the valor, hardihood, and discipline which had gained the dominion, and which, as the length of several reigns in the succession shows, had sustained it with a firm and effectual hand, were almost at an end, having been succeeded by the effeminacy, the luxuriousness, and the vices which had caused the dissolution of earlier Asiatic dynasties, and among them that of the Medes, which the Persians had set aside. When this relaxation of morals has once taken place, a dynasty or a nation only waits for a conqueror. In this case one soon appeared in the person of Alexander, misnamed the Great, who assailing Darius on several occasions, finally overcame him at Arbela (B.C. 330), and so put a period to the Persian monarchy after it had existed for 219 years. On this the country shared the fate that befell the other parts of the world which the Macedonian madman had overrun; but, more fortunate than that of other eastern nations, the name of Persia and of Persians has been preserved even to the present day, as the representative of a people and a government.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [2]

pûr´shanz , - zhanz ( פּרס , pāraṣ , also = Persia , Persis (which see); adjective פּרסי , parṣı̄ Hebrew, and פּרסי , parṣay , Aramaic.; Πέρσαι , Pérsai , adjective only in   Nehemiah 12:22;  Daniel 6:28; Achaem. Persian Parsa, name of both country and people; does not occur in Avesta ):

I. Affinity

1. Three Classes

2. Tribal and Clan Divisions

3. Achemenian Dynasty

II. Civilization

1. Writing

2. Institutions and Customs

III. History

1. Cyrus

2. Capture of Babylon

3. Cambyses

4. Pseudo-Smerdis

5. Darius I

6. Darius' Suez Canal

7. Xerxes I

8. Artaxerxes 2

9. Xerxes 2

10. Later Persian Kings

IV. First Mention In Inscriptions


The Persians are not mentioned in the Bible until the exilic books ( 2 Chronicles 36:20 ,  2 Chronicles 36:22 ,  2 Chronicles 36:23;  Ezra 1:1 ,  Ezra 1:2 ,  Ezra 1:8;  Ezra 3:7;  Esther 1:19 , etc.;  Daniel 5:28;  Daniel 6:8 ,  Daniel 6:12 ,  Daniel 6:15 ,  Daniel 6:28 ), being previously included under the Medes ( Genesis 10:2 ), as they were by Thucydides, and even by Xenophon often.

Border >
Archaemenes ( Hakhāmanish )
Tēispēs ( Chaishpish , Šı̄spı̄š )
Cyrus Ariaramnēs ( Ariyārāmnā )
Cambyses Arsamēs ( Arshāma )
Cyrus the Great Hystaspēs ( Vishtāspa )
Cambyses Darius I
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)
Artaxerxes I (Longimanus)
Xerxes 2 Sogdianus Darius 2 ( Nothos , Ōchos )
Artaxerxes 2 ( Mnēōn )
Artaxerxes 3 ( Ōchos ) ( Sisygambis , a daughter)
Arsēs Darius 3 ( Codomannus ) (  Nehemiah 12:22; 1 Macc. 1:1)

I. Affinity.

Being of the same stock as the Medes they shared the name Āryans (Achaem. āriya  ; Av. airya  ; Sanskrit, ārya , "noble"); compare the Naqsh i Rustam Inscription , where Darius I calls himself "a Persian, son of a Persian, an Āryan , of Āryan descent" (II. 13,14). Tradition assigns as their earliest known habitat the so-called Airyanem Vaêjô (" Āryan germ"), a district between the Jaxartes and the Oxus ( Vendı̄dād I), whence they migrated gradually to what was afterward known as Persis (modern Fārs ), including probably part of Elam.

1. Three Classes:

The Avesta shows that the Medo-Pers community was divided into 3 classes ( zañtu ): the Āthravans or fire-priests, the Rathaêštars or charioteers, and the Vāstryafshuyans or cattle-rearers (compare the three original Hindu castes, the Brāhmans , the Kshattriyas and the Vaišyas ). A fourth class, the artisans or Hūitis , came later. But these were classes, not castes.

2. Tribal and Clan Divisions:

They were also divided into tribes, clans (Achaem. vith  ; Av. vı̄s  ; compare vicus ) and families or households (Achaem. taumā  ; Av. nmāna ). Herodotus (i. 125) mentions ten Persian tribes, the chief being the Pasargadae, to which belonged the Achemenian clan ( φρήτρη , phrḗtrē ) which included the royal family. This dynasty traced its origin to Achaemenes ( Hakhāmanish ) according to Darius and Herodotus.

3. Achemenian Dynasty:

The following scheme will serve to show the descent of the line of Persian kings mentioned in the Bible and in secular history up to the time of the fall of the dynasty in 331 BC.

II. Civilization.

1. Writing:

The Persians had indulged less in luxury than the Medes, until their conquest of Media and other lands under Cyrus the Great gave them the opportunity, which they were not slow to embrace, being famed for their readiness to adopt foreign customs. Writing was introduced from Babylonia through Elam.

2. Institutions and Customs:

This cuneiform character was afterward superseded by one derived from Syria, from which came the Avestic writing, which, in its corrupt Pahlavı̄ form, lasted until the Arabian conquest imposed the Arabic character on the people. The Achemenian kings probably borrowed from Babylon and further developed their system of royal posts (  Esther 8:14 ) or messengers (and even the words ἄγγαροι , ággaroi , and ἀστάνδαι , astándai , used to denote them, are almost certainly Babylonian). Of these men's pace it was said, "No mortal thing is quicker." The custom of showing special honor to the "Benefactors of the King" (Herodotos viii. 85: ὀροσάγγαι , orosággai = Av. uru plus sanh, "widely renowned") is referred to in  Esther 6:1 ,  Esther 6:2 ,  Esther 6:3 , and that of covering the (head and) face of a criminal condemned to death (with a large black cap) ( Esther 7:8 ,  Esther 7:9 ) occurs in the Shāhnāmah also.

(1) The King.

The king was an arbitrary ruler with unlimited power, the council of seven princes who stood nearest to the throne ( Esther 1:14; compare Herodotos iii. 70-84) having no share in the government.

(2) The Army.

As soldiers, the Persians were famous as archers and javelin-throwers; they were also skilled in the use of the sling, and above all in riding. Boys were taken from the women's into the men's part of the house at the age of 5, and were there trained in "riding, archery and speaking the truth" until 20 years old. In Darius' inscriptions, as well as in the Avesta , lying is regarded as a great crime.

(3) Marriage.

The Persians practiced polygamy, and marriages between those next of kin were approved of. Pride and garrulity are mentioned as distinctive of the Persian character.

III. History.

1. Cyrus:

Persian history, as known to us, begins with Cyrus the Great. His ancestors, for at least some generations, seem to have been chiefs or "kings" of Anshan, a district in Persia or Elam. Cyrus himself ( Western Asiatic Inscriptions , V, plate 35) gives his genealogy up to and including Teispes, entitling all his ancestors whom he mentions, kings of Anshan. Phraortēs , king of the Medes, is said to have first subjugated the Persians to that kingdom about 97 years before Cyrus ( Herodotus i. 102). Cyrus himself headed his countrymen's revolt against Astyages, who advanced to attack Pasargadae (549 BC). His army mutinied and surrendered him to Cyrus, whom the Greeks held to be his grandson on the mother's side. Cyrus, becoming supreme ruler of both Medes and Persians, advanced to the conquest of Lydia. He defeated and captured Croesus, overran Lydia, and compelled the Greek colonies in Asia Minor to pay tribute (547 BC).

2. Capture of Babylon:

He overthrew the Sute ( Bedawı̄n ) across the Tigris the following year, and was then invited by a large party in Babylonia to come to their help against the usurper Nabunahid, whose religious zeal had led him to collect as many as possible of the idols from other parts of Babylonia and remove them to Babylon, thereby increasing the sacredness and magnificence of that city but inflicting injury on neighboring and more ancient sanctuaries. Defeating Nabunahid's army and capturing the king, Cyrus sent his own forces under Gōbryas ( Gubaru , Gaubaruva )to take possession of Babylon. This he did in June, 538, "without opposition and without a battle." The citadel, however, where Belshazzar "the king's son" was in command, held out for some months, and was then taken in a night attack in which "the king's son" was slain. Cyrus made Gōbryas viceroy of Chaldea, and he "appointed governors in Babylonia (Cyrus' "Annalistic Tablet"). When Gōbryas died within the year, Cyrus' son Cambyses was made viceroy of the country, now become a province of the Persian empire. Cyrus restored the gods to their sanctuaries, and this doubtless led to permission being given to the Jews to return to Jerusalem, taking with them their sacred vessels, and to rebuild their temple. Cyrus was killed in battle against some frontier tribe (accounts differ where) in 529 BC. His tomb at Murghab, near the ruins of Pasargadae, is still standing.

3. Cambyses:

Cyrus' son and successor, Cambyses, invaded Egypt and conquered it after a great battle near Pelusium (525 BC). During his absence, a Magian, Gaumata, who pretended to be Smerdis (Bardiya), Cambyses' murdered brother, seized the throne. Marching against him, Cambyses committed suicide.

4. Pseudo-Smerdis:

After a reign of 7 months, the usurper was overthrown and slain by Darius and his 6 brother-nobles (their names in Herodotus iii. 70 are confirmed with one exception in Darius' Besitun Inscription , column iv, 80-86). Darius became king as the heir of Cambyses (521 BC). But in nearly every part of the empire rebellions broke out, in most cases headed by real or pretended descendants of the ancient kings of each country.

5. Darius I:

After at least 3 years' struggle Darius' authority was firmly established everywhere. He then divided the empire into satrapies, or provinces ( dahyāva ), of which there were at first 23 ( Beh . Inscription , column i, 13-17), and ultimately at least 29 ( Naqsh i Rustam Inscription , 22-30). Over these he placed satraps of noble Persian or Median descent, instead of representatives of their ancient kings. His empire extended from the Indus to the Black Sea, from the Jaxartes to beyond the Nile.

6. Darius' Suez Canal:

Darius united the latter river with the Red Sea by a canal, the partly obliterated inscription commemorating which may perhaps be thus restored and rendered: "I am a Persian; with Persia I seized Egypt. I commanded to dig this canal from the river named the Nile ( Pirāva ), which flows through Egypt, to this sea which comes from Persia. Then this canal was dug, according as I commanded. And I said, 'Come ye from the Nile through this canal to Persia.' "

Darius' expedition into Scythia, his success in subduing the rebellion among the Asiatic Greeks, his attempts to conquer Greece itself and his overthrow at Marathon (499-490 BC) are part of the history of Greece. A rebellion in Egypt had not been repressed when Darius died in 485 BC.

7. Xerxes I:

Xerxes I, who succeeded his father, regained Egypt, but his failure in his attempts to conquer Greece largely exhausted his empire. In 464 Bc he was murdered. His son Artaxerxes I, surnamed "the longarmed," succeeded him, being himself succeeded in 424 Bc by his son Xerxes II, who was murdered the following year. This ended the legitimate Achemenian line, the next king, Darius 2 (styled Nothos , or "bastard," as well as Ōchos ), being one of Artaxerxes' illegitimate sons (we pass over Sogdianus' brief reign).

8. Artaxerxes II:

Artaxerxes II, Mnēōn , succeeded his father and left the throne to his son Artaxerxes III, Ōchos . The latter was murdered with all his sons but the youngest, Arsēs , by an Egyptian eunuch Bagōas , probably in revenge for Artaxerxes' conduct in Egypt (338 BC).

9. Xerxes II:

Arsēs was murdered by Bagōas 3 years later, when Darius III, Codomannus, the son of Sisygambis, daughter of Artaxerxes II, and her husband, a Persian noble, ascended the throne.

10. Later Persian Kings:

Darius was completely overthrown by Alexander the Great in the battle of Gaugamela or Arbela , 331 BC, and shortly after fell by an assassin's hand. This ended the Persian empire of the Achaemenides, the whole of the lands composing it becoming part of the empire of Macedon.

IV. First Mention in Inscriptions.

Persia ( Parsua ) is first mentioned as a country in an inscription of Rammanu Nirari 3 ( Wai , I, plate 35, number 1, l. 8), who boasts of having conquered it and other lands (he reigned from 812 to 783 or from 810 to 781 BC).


Besides the main authorities mentioned in the text, we learn much from Spiegel, Die Altper-sischen Keilinschriften , Arrian, Thucydides, Polybius, Strabo, Curtius.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [3]

A name given to sculptured draped male figures used as columns.