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The sun sets on the ruins of Persepolis burnt by Alexander the Great in 330 BC (Pav-Pro Photography / Adobe Stock)

The Aftermath Of The Achaemenid Empire


Between 550 and 520 BC Cyrus the Great had unified the Medes and the Persians and founded an empire that stretched from the Indus River to North Africa and from the Aral Sea to the Persian Gulf. Professor Richard Frye, of Iranian Studies, Harvard University, in the foreword to Iran Seven Faces of Civilization, describes it as such: “The Achaemenid Persians established an empire unprecedented in the history of mankind, for they were truly magnanimous to their subject peoples, ready to tolerate and even to absorb foreign ideas .” At the foot of Kuh-e Rahmat, Mountain of Mercy, on the Marvdasht plain, King Darius the Great, and his successors Xerxes and Artaxerxes, built one of the most spectacular cities in the world – Persepolis.

At the foot of Kuh-e Rahmat, Mountain of Mercy, lies Persepolis (Dario Bajurin / Abode Stock)

At the foot of Kuh-e Rahmat, Mountain of Mercy, lies Persepolis ( Dario Bajurin / Abode Stock )

Destruction Of Persepolis

After escaping an ambush laid by a contingent of Darius III’s forces at the Persian Gates, Alexander the Great pursued the satrap of Persis, Ariobarzanes, who fled with the remains of his army to this plain of Marvdasht, but the guardian of Persepolis, Tiridates, refused to open the gates to provide refuge to his fleeing countrymen.  Alexander slew Ariobarzanes and rode triumphantly through the now open Gates of All Nations (Old Persian: duvarthim visadahyum ) of Persepolis, and the Lamassu, the Assyrian statutes of winged bulls with human heads intended as semi-divine protectors of the city, offered no resistance to his entrance. Alexander considered himself King of Kings and a rightful heir to the Achaemenid Dynasty.

Alexander and his troops did not encounter Persepolis as one would experience it today – a collection of ruins of magnificent palaces. Besides the palaces, Persepolis was a rich, functioning city, symbolizing all that was Persian in culture and wealth and therefore the target of Greek hatred. Diodorus Siculus, a first-century BC Greek historian who wrote Bibliotheca historica , recounts that on their way to Persepolis via the Royal Road, Alexander’s soldiers met a party of Greek artisans who were fleeing Persepolis in lieu of Alexander’s liberation army on its way. They told the soldiers that they had been captured by the Persians to work at Persepolis, but they were mutilated. The Persians had cut off their hands or a foot, to prevent them from escaping.  The Greek soldiers were enraged and hungry for vengeance when they entered Persepolis. Alexander gave the city to his soldiers to plunder – this was their due. 


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Dr Micki Pistorius has an Honours Degree in Biblical Archaeology

Top Image :   The sun sets on the ruins of Persepolis burnt by Alexander the Great in 330 BC ( Pav-Pro Photography / Adobe Stock)

By:  Micki Pistorius

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Dr Micki

Micki Pistorius is a South African psychologist, author and journalist. As a child, Micki’s natural curiosity was cultivated by both her parents and developed into an insatiable interest in history, art and literature. Her passion for history, archaeology and human... Read More

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