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pur’-shanz, -zhanz (parac, also equals PERSIA, PERSIS (which see); adjective parci Hebrew, and parcay, Aramaic.; Persai, adjective only in Ne 12:22; Da 6:28; Achaem. Persian Parsa, name of both country and people; does not occur in Avesta):


1. Three Classes

2. Tribal and Clan Divisions

3. Achemenian Dynasty


1. Writing

2. Institutions and Customs


1. Cyrus

2. Capture of Babylon

3. Cambyses

4. Pseudo-Smerdis

5. Darius I

6. Darius’ Suez Canal

7. Xerxes I

8. Artaxerxes II

9. Xerxes II

10. Later Persian Kings



Archaemenes (Hakhamanish)

Teispes (Chaishpish, Sispis)

Cyrus Ariaramnes (Ariyaramna)

Cambyses Arsames (Arshama)

Cyrus the Great Hystaspes (Vishtaspa)

Cambyses Darius I

Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)

Artaxerxes I (Longimanus)

Xerxes II Sogdianus Darius II

(Nothos, Ochos)

Artaxerxes III (Ochos) (Sisygambis, a daughter)


Darius III (Codomannus)

(Neh. 12:22; 1 Macc. 1:1)

I. Affinity.

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

1. Three Classes:

The Avesta shows that the Medo-Pers community was divided into 3 classes (zantu): the Athravans or fire-priests, the Rathaestars or charioteers, and the Vastryafshuyans or cattle-rearers (compare the three original Hindu castes, the Brahmans, the Kshattriyas and the Vaisyas). A fourth class, the artisans or Hutis, came later. But these were classes, not castes.

2. Tribal and Clan Divisions:

They were also divided into tribes, clans (Achaem. vith; Av. vis; compare vicus) and families or households (Achaem. tauma; Av. nmana). Herodotus (i.125) mentions ten Persian tribes, the chief being the Pasargadae, to which belonged the Achemenian clan (phretre) which included the royal family. This dynasty traced its origin to Achaemenes (Chakhamanish) according to Darius and Herodotus.Oxus (Vendidad I), whence they migrated gradually to what was afterward known as Persis (modern Fars), including probably part of Elam.

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 Pahlavi 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 (Es 8:14) or messengers (and even the words aggaroi, and astandai, 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: orosaggai equals Av. uru plus sanh, "widely renowned") is referred to in Es 6:1,2,3, and that of covering the (head and) face of a criminal condemned to death (with a large black cap) (Es 7:8,9) occurs in the Shahnamah also.

(1) The King.

The king was an arbitrary ruler with unlimited power, the council of seven princes who stood nearest to the throne (Es 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. Phraortes, 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 (Bedouin) 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 Gobryas (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 Gobryas viceroy of Chaldea, and he "appointed governors in Babylonia (Cyrus’ "Annalistic Tablet"). When Gobryas 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 (dahyava), 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 (Pirava), 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 II (styled Nothos, or "bastard," as well as Ochos), being one of Artaxerxes’ illegitimate sons (we pass over Sogdianus’ brief reign).

8. Artaxerxes II:

Artaxerxes II, Mnemon, succeeded his father and left the throne to his son Artaxerxes III, Ochos. The latter was murdered with all his sons but the youngest, Arses, by an Egyptian eunuch Bagoas, probably in revenge for Artaxerxes’ conduct in Egypt (338 BC).

9. Xerxes II:

Arses was murdered by Bagoas 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 III (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.

W. St. Clair Tisdall