Persian Empire

The Achaemenid Persian Empire, which lasted from the 6th to the 4th century BCE, was the world’s first major empire. It was vast and powerful and, at its height, stretched from Egypt to northwest India. Unlike many other ancient empires, the Persians showed respect for the customs of the people they ruled.

Cyrus the Great (550 BCE)

King Astyages of Media (a region of modern-day northwest Iran) is overthrown by his subject Cyrus. Cyrus founds the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the First Persian Empire.

Lydia and Lycia (547-546 BCE)

King Croesus of Lydia (a region in modern-day western Turkey) sees the fall of Media as a chance to invade the region. Cyrus counterattacks, and eventually conquers Lydia and Lycia (in modern-day southern Turkey).

Babylon (539 BCE)

Cyrus conquers the Babylonian Empire. He makes his capital Babylon. Cyrus allows the Jews, who have been exiled in Babylon, to return home to Jerusalem.

Cambyses II (535 BCE)

Cyrus’s son, Cambyses II, conquers Egypt. Cambyses captures the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik III. Psamtik is initially well treated, but is later executed for secretly trying to act against the Persians.

Darius the Great (522 BCE)

After Cambyses’ death, a Persian nobleman named Darius seizes power. At first he does not have the support of the people, but with his loyal army, he is able to suppress any revolts in his first year.

Darius the Great reorganizes government, creating the satrapies, a civil service, and a network of roads for official use. He issues a gold coin called a daric to be used as money across the empire.

Persepolis (518 BCE)

Darius builds a new capital at Persepolis (called Parsa in Persian). His great palace has walls covered with stone relief sculptures, showing the citizens of the empire bringing gifts in tribute to him.

Greek rebellion (499-493 BCE)

The eastern Greek cities of the region of Ionia rebel against Persian rule. They are helped by western Greeks, from Athens and Eretria. After the rebels are defeated, Darius vows to punish Athens and Eretria.

Darius’s conquests (492 BCE)

Darius conquers Macedonia and Thrace. He sends ambassadors to all Greek cities, demanding they accept him as king. In Athens and Sparta, the ambassadors are executed.

Defeat at Marathon (490 BCE)

Darius sends an army by sea to invade Greece. The Persians capture many Greek islands, and loot and destroy Eretria. They are then defeated at Marathon by an army from Athens.

Second Persian invasion (480-479 BCE)

Darius’s son Xerxes I makes a second attempt to conquer Greece. The Persians ransack Athens, but are then defeated at Salamis and, a year later, at Plataea.

Artaxerxes I (457 BCE)

The son of Xerxes, Artaxerxes I, allows the Jews to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. This is described in the Torah and the Bible.

First historian (440 BCE)

Herodotus, a Greek living in the Persian Empire, writes The Histories, the first-known history book. He describes the rise of the Persians and the customs within the empire.

Three kings (424-423 BCE)

After Artaxerxes’ death, three of his sons proclaim themselves king. Xerxes II is murdered by his brother Sogdianus, who is then killed by Ochus. Ochus then rules as Darius II.

The Greeks in Asia (401 BCE)

Cyrus the Younger tries and fails to seize power from his brother, Artaxerxes II, using 10,000 Greek soldiers. After Cyrus’s death, the Greeks fight their way home from Asia.

The fall of the empire (336-330 BCE)

Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquers the Persian Empire. He defeats Darius III in two great battles, at Issus and Gaugamela, and burns down the palace at Persepolis.