Baztab News


07 Aug 2018 National Radio TV of Afghanistan

Herodotus, in his mid-5th century BC account of Persian residents of the Pontus, reports that Persian youths, from their fifth year to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things – to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the Truth.[140]

He further notes that:[140]

the most disgraceful thing in the world [the Persians] think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt: because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.[citation needed]

In Achaemenid Persia, the lie, druj, is considered to be a cardinal sin, and it was punishable by death in some extreme cases. Tablets discovered by archaeologists in the 1930s[141] at the site of Persepolis give us adequate evidence about the love and veneration for the culture of truth during the Achaemenian period. These tablets contain the names of ordinary Persians, mainly traders and warehouse-keepers.[142] According to Professor Stanley Insler of Yale University, as many as 72 names of officials and petty clerks found on these tablets contain the word truth.[143] Thus, says Insler, we have Artapana, protector of truth, Artakama, lover of truth, Artamanah, truth-minded, Artafarnah, possessing splendour of truth, Artazusta, delighting in truth, Artastuna, pillar of truth, Artafrida, prospering the truth and Artahunara, having nobility of truth. It was Darius the Great who laid down the ordinance of good regulations during his reign. King Darius’ testimony about his constant battle against the lie is found in cuneiform inscriptions. Carved high up in the Behistun mountain on the road to Kermanshah, Darius the Great (Darius I) testifies:[144]

I was not a lie-follower, I was not a doer of wrong … According to righteousness I conducted myself. Neither to the weak or to the powerful did I do wrong. The man who cooperated with my house, him I rewarded well; who so did injury, him I punished well.[citation needed]

Darius had his hands full dealing with large-scale rebellion which broke out throughout the empire. After fighting successfully with nine traitors in a year, Darius records his battles against them for posterity and tells us how it was the lie that made them rebel against the empire. At Behistun, Darius says:

I smote them and took prisoner nine kings. One was Gaumata by name, a Magian; he lied; thus he said: I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus … One, Acina by name, an Elamite; he lied; thus he said: I am king in Elam … One, Nidintu-Bel by name, a Babylonian; he lied; thus he said: I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.[citation needed]

King Darius then tells us,

The Lie made them rebellious, so that these men deceived the people.[145]

Then advice to his son Xerxes, who is to succeed him as the great king:

Thou who shalt be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from the Lie; the man who shall be a lie-follower, him do thou punish well, if thus thou shall think. May my country be secure![citation needed]


During the reign of Cyrus and Darius, and as long as the seat of government was still at Susa in Elam, the language of the chancellory was Elamite. This is primarily attested in the Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets that reveal details of the day-to-day functioning of the empire.[142] In the grand rock-face inscriptions of the kings, the Elamite texts are always accompanied by Akkadian (Babylonian dialect) and Old Persian inscriptions, and it appears that in these cases, the Elamite texts are translations of the Old Persian ones. It is then likely that although Elamite was used by the capital government in Susa, it was not a standardized language of government everywhere in the empire. The use of Elamite is not attested after 458 BC.[citation needed]

A copy of the Behistun inscription in Aramaic on a papyrus. Aramaic was the lingua franca of the empire.

Following the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Aramaic language (as used in that territory) was adopted as a “vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed “Official Aramaic” or “Imperial Aramaic”, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did.”[146] In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an “official language“, noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language.[147] Frye reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought. Many centuries after the fall of the empire, Aramaic script and – as ideograms – Aramaic vocabulary would survive as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi writing system.[148]

Although Old Persian also appears on some seals and art objects, that language is attested primarily in the Achaemenid inscriptions of Western Iran, suggesting then that Old Persian was the common language of that region. However, by the reign of Artaxerxes II, the grammar and orthography of the inscriptions was so “far from perfect”[149] that it has been suggested that the scribes who composed those texts had already largely forgotten the language, and had to rely on older inscriptions, which they to a great extent reproduced verbatim.[150]

When the occasion demanded, Achaemenid administrative correspondence was conducted in Greek, making it a widely used bureaucraticlanguage.[4] Even though the Achaemenids had extensive contacts with the Greeks and vice versa, and had conquered many of the Greek-speaking areas both in Europe and Asia Minor during different periods of the empire, the native Old Iranian sources provide no indication of Greek linguistic evidence.[4] However, there is plenty of evidence (in addition to the accounts of Herodotus) that Greeks, apart from being deployed and employed in the core regions of the empire, also evidently lived and worked in the heartland of the Achaemenid Empire, namely Iran.[4] For example, Greeks were part of the various ethnicities that constructed Darius’ palace in Susa, apart from the Greek inscriptions found nearby there, and one short Persepolis tablet written in Greek.[4]

CustomsHerodotus mentions that the Persians were invited to great birthday feasts (Herodotus, Histories 8), which would be followed by many desserts, a treat which they reproached the Greeks for omitting from their meals. He also observed that the Persians drank wine in large quantities and used it even for counsel, deliberating on important affairs when drunk, and deciding the next day, when sober, whether to act on the decision or set it aside. Bowing to superiors, or royalty was one of the many Persian customs adopted by Alexander the Great.[citation needed]


Religious toleration has been described as a “remarkable feature” of the Achaemenid Empire.[151] As reported in the Old Testament, king Cyrus the Great was believed to have released the Jews from captivity in 539–530 BC, and permitted their return to their homeland.[152]Cyrus the Great assisted in the restoration of the sacred places of various cities.[151]

It was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism reached South-Western Iran, where it came to be accepted by the rulers and through them became a defining element of Persian culture. The religion was not only accompanied by a formalization of the concepts and divinities of the traditional Iranian pantheon but also introduced several novel ideas, including that of free will.[153][154]

Under the patronage of the Achaemenid kings, and by the 5th century BC as the de facto religion of the state, Zoroastrianism reached all corners of the empire. The Bible states in the Old Testament that Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after decades of captivity by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.[citation needed]

During the reign of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, Herodotus wrote “[the Persians] have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine.”[155] He claims the Persians offer sacrifice to: “the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times. At a later period they began the worship of Urania, which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, to whom the Persians referred as Anahita.”[155] (The original name here is Mithra, which has since been explained to be a confusion of Anahita with Mithra, understandable since they were commonly worshipped together in one temple).[citation needed]

From the Babylonian scholar-priest Berosus, who—although writing over seventy years after the reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon—records that the emperor had been the first to make cult statues of divinities and have them placed in temples in many of the major cities of the empire.[156] Berosus also substantiates Herodotus when he says the Persians knew of no images of gods until Artaxerxes II erected those images. On the means of sacrifice, Herodotus adds “they raise no altar, light no fire, pour no libations.”[157] This sentence has been interpreted to identify a critical (but later) accretion to Zoroastrianism. An altar with a wood-burning fire and the Yasna service at which libations are poured are all clearly identifiable with modern Zoroastrianism, but apparently, were practices that had not yet developed in the mid-5th century. Boyce also assigns that development to the reign of Artaxerxes II (4th century BC), as an orthodox response to the innovation of the shrine cults.[citation needed]

Herodotus also observed that “no prayer or offering can be made without a magus present”[157] but this should not be confused with what is today understood by the term magus, that is a magupat (modern Persian: mobed), a Zoroastrian priest. Nor does Herodotus’ description of the term as one of the tribes or castes of the Medes necessarily imply that these magi were Medians. They simply were a hereditary priesthood to be found all over Western Iran and although (originally) not associated with any one specific religion, they were traditionally responsible for all ritual and religious services. Although the unequivocal identification of the magus with Zoroastrianism came later (Sassanid era, 3rd–7th century AD), it is from Herodotus’ magus of the mid-5th century that Zoroastrianism was subject to doctrinal modifications that are today considered to be revocations of the original teachings of the prophet. Also, many of the ritual practices described in the Avesta‘s Vendidad (such as exposure of the dead) were already practiced by the magu of Herodotus’ time.[citation needed]

Art and architecture

Achaemenid architecture includes large cities, temples, palaces, and mausoleums such as the tomb of Cyrus the Great. The quintessential feature of Persian architecture was its eclectic nature with elements of Median, Assyrian, and Asiatic Greek all incorporated, yet maintaining a unique Persian identity seen in the finished products.[158]

Achaemenid art includes frieze reliefs, Metalwork such as the Oxus Treasure, decoration of palaces, glazed brick masonry, fine craftsmanship (masonry, carpentry, etc.), and gardening. Although the Persians took artists, with their styles and techniques, from all corners of their empire, they produced not simply a combination of styles, but a synthesis of a new unique Persian style.[159] Cyrus the Great in fact had an extensive ancient Iranian heritage behind him; the rich Achaemenid gold work, which inscriptions suggest may have been a specialty of the Medes, was for instance in the tradition of the delicate metalwork found in Iron Age II times at Hasanlu and still earlier at Marlik.[citation needed]

One of the most remarkable examples of both Achaemenid architecture and art is the grand palace of Persepolis, and its detailed workmanship, coupled with its grand scale. In describing the construction of his palace at Susa, Darius the Great records that:

Yaka timber was brought from Gandara and from Carmania. The gold was brought from Sardis and from Bactria … the precious stone lapis-lazuli and carnelian … was brought from Sogdiana. The turquoise from Chorasmia, the silver and ebony from Egypt, the ornamentation from Ionia, the ivory from Ethiopia and from Sindh and from Arachosia. The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Ionians and Sardians. The goldsmiths were Medes and Egyptians. The men who wrought the wood, those were Sardians and Egyptians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians. The men who adorned the wall, those were Medes and Egyptians.[citation needed]

This was imperial art on a scale the world had not seen before. Materials and artists were drawn from all corners of the empire, and thus tastes, styles, and motifs became mixed together in an eclectic art and architecture that in itself mirrored the Persian empire.[citation needed]


Many Achaemenid rulers built tombs for themselves. The most famous, Naqsh-e Rustam, is an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, with the tombs of four of the kings of the dynasty carved in this mountain: Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II. Other kings constructed their own tombs elsewhere. Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III preferred to carve their tombs beside their spring capital Persepolis, the left tomb belonging to Artaxerxes II and the right tomb belonging to Artaxerxes III, the last Achaemenid king to have a tomb. The tomb of the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, Cyrus the Great, was built in Pasargadae (now a world heritage site).[citation needed]


The Achaemenid Empire left a lasting impression on the heritage and cultural identity of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and influenced the development and structure of future empires. In fact, the Greeks, and later on the Romans, adopted the best features of the Persian method of governing an empire.[160]

Georg W. F. Hegel in his work The Philosophy of History introduces the Persian Empire as the “first empire that passed away” and its people as the “first historical people” in history. According to his account;[161]

The Persian Empire is an empire in the modern sense – like that which existed in Germany, and the great imperial realm under the sway of Napoleon; for we find it consisting of a number of states, which are indeed dependent, but which have retained their own individuality, their manners, and laws. The general enactments, binding upon all, did not infringe upon their political and social idiosyncrasies, but even protected and maintained them; so that each of the nations that constitute the whole, had its own form of constitution. As light illuminates everything – imparting to each object a peculiar vitality – so the Persian Empire extends over a multitude of nations, and leaves to each one its particular character. Some have even kings of their own; each one its distinct language, arms, way of life and customs. All this diversity coexists harmoniously under the impartial dominion of Light … a combination of peoples – leaving each of them free. Thereby, a stop is put to that barbarism and ferocity with which the nations had been wont to carry on their destructive feuds.[citation needed]

American Orientalist Arthur Upham Pope (1881–1969) said:[162] “The western world has a vast unpaid debt to the Persian Civilization!”[citation needed]

Will Durant, the American historian and philosopher, during one of his speeches, “Persia in the History of Civilization”, as an address before the Iran–America Society in Tehran on 21 April 1948, stated:

For thousands of years Persians have been creating beauty. Sixteen centuries before Christ there went from these regions or near it … You have been here a kind of watershed of civilization, pouring your blood and thought and art and religion eastward and westward into the world … I need not rehearse for you again the achievements of your Achaemenid period. Then for the first time in known history an empire almost as extensive as the United States received an orderly government, a competence of administration, a web of swift communications, a security of movement by men and goods on majestic roads, equaled before our time only by the zenith of Imperial Rome.[163]


Ruins of Throne Hall, Persepolis

Apadana Hall, Persian and Median soldiers at Persepolis

Lateral view of tomb of Cambyses II, Pasargadae, Iran

Plaque with horned lion-griffins. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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