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 Vol. 4, No. 10 

October, 2002


~ Page 8 ~

Ancient Empires of
the World: Persia

By Max R. Miller

[Gospel Gleaner, vol. 16, No. 3, pages 6-7, 22]

Cyaxares was the founder of the kingdom of the Medes (625-585 B.C.). He captured Ahur (614) and destroyed Nineveh (612), subdued the countries of northern Mesopotamia and spread Median boundaries westward to the Halys in Asia Minor. His son Astyages, who was the last king of Media, succeeded him to the throne (reigned 584-550 B.C.). According to Herodotus, Astyages' daughter Mandane married Cambyses. Cyrus the Great was her son. Cyrus, a Persian king under Median domination, revolted against Astyages. Astyages' troops mutinied and surrendered their king to Cyrus. Media became part of the Persian Empire (550 B.C.). Cyrus wisely ordered an administration that shared power with the Medes, thus the Medo-Persian Empire.

Persia became a vast collection of states and kingdoms reaching the shores of Asia Minor in the west to the Indus River valley in the east. It extended northward to southern Russia, and in the south included Egypt and the regions bordering the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Our chief interest in the Persian Empire, third of the great kingdoms of the ancient east, lies in its relation to Bible history and the people of God.

The rise of the Medes and Persians found Israel in a state of division and rebellion against their God. Because of idolatrous rebellion against God, Assyria had overrun Israel, the ten northern tribes, and scattered its people among the nations (721 B.C.). Isaiah and others of God's prophets exhorted Israel to depose their idolatrous kings, put away their icons, repent and return to the Lord. Jehovah was a merciful and forgiving God. They would not repent. God providentially brought forth the nation of Assyria as "the rod of my anger" (Isaiah 10:5). He uses Assyria to chasten his rebellious children. Assyria captured and scattered the ten tribes of Israel among the nations.

Judah followed the pattern set by Israel and became steeped in idolatry. Pleas of godly prophets for repentance went unheeded. Jeremiah foretold that Judah's bondage in Babylon would number seventy years.

"Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants and will utterly destroy them, and make them an desolation... This whole land shall be desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years" (Jeremiah 25:8-11).

Jeremiah tempers this bitter prophecy with assurances of God's avenging justice against Babylon.

"And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations. And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands" (Jeremiah 25:12-14).

In 606 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, moved against Judah. Daniel and others of the "seed royal" were among those carried captive to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar comes again against Jerusalem in 598 B.C. In 586 B.C., he destroys the city and Solomon's magnificent Temple, carrying the gold and silver emblems of the Temple as prizes-of-war to Babylon. The artisans, teachers, the wealthy, the able bodied, the best of the land, were carried away to Babylon. Only the aged and infirm were left in the barren land. Judah and its king were now captives in the heart of far off Babylon.

Daniel speaks of God's providence in the rise and fall of nations "...the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men" (Daniel 4:17, 25). Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's forgotten dream was nothing less than the prophecies of God's raising and destroying great nations of the world (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome). It would be in the days of the last named that God would establish a kingdom that would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:24-45). This was to be the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Cf., Matthew 16:13-19).

The seventy years of captivity comes near its end. As it does, a noble character appears as a friend of the captive nation of Israel. Cyrus II, the Great, the Persian, renders a decisive and benevolent role in the history of Israel. As a predetermined servant of God and redeemer of captive Israel, he is identified as God's shepherd, God's anointed (Isaiah 44:28-45:6). One hundred years before his birth, while the temple yet stood, Isaiah calls him by his God-given name, Cyrus, and defines his role in Israel's return to Palestine. Cyrus' decree in 539 B.C. set free the captives Babylon had taken during its harsh rule (Ezra 1:1-4). Along with this freedom, the valuable treasures of the Temple taken fifty years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar were restored. Cyrus authorized the Jews to build again the Temple in Jerusalem.

"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people?" (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

Cyrus ruled for twenty-nine years. Suddenly, at the height of his career, 529 B.C. he was slain in battle with the Massagetae, an obscure tribe on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea.

Cyrus' son, Cambyses, succeeded him to the throne. He conquered Egypt in a battle at Pelusium in 525 B.C. During his absence, a Magian, Gaumata, who pretended to be Smerdis, Cambyses' murdered brother, seized the throne. Cambyses, en route to meet the imposter, died of a self-inflicted wound when mounting his horse. Some Persian reports are that he committed suicide. After only seven months reign, Darius who became king as the heir of Cambyses in 521 B.C., overthrew and slew the usurper.

Darius Hystaspes, Darius the Great (522-485 B.C.) was the successor to Cambyses II. He is considered the most able prince to sit on the Persian throne. It was in the sixth year of his reign that the Temple in Jerusalem was completed (Ezra 6:15). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah urged the Jews to give of their might and rebuild the Temple before other disruptions may occur (Ezra 4:24; 5:1-16; Haggai 1; Zechariah 1). This they did and the Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Darius spent his early years as king putting down revolts in Media, Persia and Egypt. After solidifying his power in the Middle East, he rose against Scythians and Greeks who had rebelled under his predecessor. He was successful in this venture until Athenians, under the leadership of their Miltiades, defeated his grand army in the battle of Marathon (490 B.C.).

Xerxes (NOV, TEV), reigned 485-464 B.C. and is known in the Book of Esther as Ahasuerus. He was the son of Darius the Great and grandson of Cyrus the Great. He campaigned militarily against the Greeks, avenging the loss at Marathon. Herodotus states that as many as five million Persians accompanied him on this expedition (Herodotus was given to exaggeration!) Josephus reported that a great body of Jews accompanied this expedition. Militarily, Xerxes' invasion of Greece was a failure. Greeks opposed the Persians at Thermopyle where only three hundred Greeks spotted the advance of the Persian army, slaughtering more than twenty thousand at the battle of Thermopyle. Xerxes' armada suffered a crippling defeat by the Greeks at Salamis under the cultured Themistocles (480 B.C.). In one day, they defeated the Persians on land at Plataea and Mycale. Here Xerxes abandoned all hope of conquering Greece.

Artaxerxes Longimanus (465-424 B.C.) reigned the longest of the Persian kings, forty-one years. Ezra was a "ready scribe" among the Judaeans in Babylon. Nehemiah was an official representative of the Persian government. Through Artaxerxes' patronage, Ezra returned to Jerusalem with about seven thousand other Jews (Ezra 7, 8). His chief purpose there was to reestablish the Law of Moses, teach the people and set judges over the land. Thirteen years later, Artaxerxes Longimanus would send Nehemiah, his personal cupbearer, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It seems that Nehemiah was the first governor of the province of Judah. Haggai and Zechariah were prophets in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus. Malachi, too, is probably from the Persian period. His book shows an awareness of the world at large and is positive toward Gentiles and the government. The Book of Esther is a story of God's rescue of his people during the rule of the Persian emperor. With the books of Malachi and Nehemiah, the Old Testament period ends. The Persian period is the last of the great nations to be a part of Old Testament history. However, other nations are spoken of by way of prophecy and will play a major role in the unfolding of God's great scheme of redemption and the establishment of his eternal kingdom, as prophesied by Daniel the prophet.

With this, we have passed from the Biblio-Persian period of history. The end of the empire was near. Persia, in its decline, as most great nations, passed to lilliputian kings of small stature. Persia became weaker as one king succeeded another. Kings that followed were: Xerxes II (425B.C.), twenty-five years: Sodgianus (425-425 B.C.), only six months; Darius II (424-405 B.C.), nineteen years; Artaxerxes II (405-359 B.C.), sixty-six years; Artaxerxes III (359-338 B.C.), twenty-one years; Arses (338-336 B.C.), two years; and Darius III (336-331 B.C.), six years.

Alexander the Great, in the battle of Gaugaleela or Arbela in 331 B.C., completely overthrew Darius III who shortly fell by an assassin's hand. He consolidated the Persian Empire into the Macedonian Empire. The hand of God is in the history of man and nations. "...the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men" (Daniel 4:17, 25).Image

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