After gaining control of Anatolia and expanding the Persian empire's eastern domains, Cyrus II turned his attention to Babylon and took advantage of the unpopularity of the Babylonian king Nabonidus. As elsewhere, Cyrus used askilled propoganda campaign to extol his clemency and tolerance in religious matters. It seems that after the conquests of Media and Lydia, Cyrus had spared the lives of their respective kings, Astyages and Croesus - proof not only of clemency, but also of good diplomacy, for such a policy meant his new subjects would not be alienated.

By the time Nabonidus came to the throne in 555 BC, Babylon was probably not as powerful as it had been under Nebuchadrezzar. Even before the latter's death in 562, there seem to have been anxieties about the possibility of attack, perhaps from the Medes, since toward the end of his reign a defensive wall was constructed north of Babylon. And there is evidence of internal problems, since there were three kings and two rebellions in the seven years between the death of Nebuchadrezzar and the accession of Nabonidus.

Nabonidus was a devotee of the moon god Sin, whose temple at Harran he restored early in his reign. At Ur, he restored the ziggurat of Nana, the ancient Sumerian moon god, but at Babylon he neglected local affairs and religious rituals. These included the cult of Marduk, the city deity, and the New Year festival which renewed the fertility of the land. Only the king could perform this ritual, but for several years his absence at the oasis of Tema in Arabia prevented the performance of this important rite. He had also introduced administrative reforms that effectively gave control of temple finances to the Crown.

Thus there was cause for dissatisfaction among the Babylonians and, in particular, the temple scribes, who gave their support to Cyrus at the fall of Babylon and also compiled Persian propaganda. Their accounts extol Cyrus and claim that Babylon fell without a struggle because Cyrus was welcomed by all. Nevertheless, there seems to have been a fierce struggle when the Persians attacked the Babylonians at Opis early in October 539 BC. It is possible that it was in this battle that Belshazzar, the crown prince known from the Bible, died.

After this victory, Cyrus took Sippar. Then his Gutian troops under Ugbaru, possibly a Babylonian deserter, entered Babylon without a battle on October 12. Nabonidus, who had fled to Babylon from Opis, was captured, and Ugbaru's troops guarded the city peacefully until the arrival of Cyrus at the end of the month. During this time, all the proper religious rituals were observed, and when Cyrus entered the city, he was warmly welcomed.

This conquest gave Cyrus not only Mesopotamia, but the entire Babylonian Empire, which reached to the borders of Egypt. Yet again he showed his clemency and repartriated various exiles, including, it seems from the Book of Ezra in the Bible, Jews who had been deported by Nebuchadrezzar. At some point, he returned to Iran and was killed while campaigning on the northeastern frontier in 530 BC. His body was taken back to Pasargadae, the capital he had built for himself, reputedly at the site of his victory of the Astyages. He was laid to rest in a magnificent stone tomb of great simplicity.

(For a list of Achemenean provinces (satrapies), see the end of the writeup. A rough geography: Lydia occupied the western half of modern Asian Turkey. Skundra occupied the European part. The Babylonian Empire stretched from just west of Persia (modern Iran) to the modern nations of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The Median Empire covered a huge stretch to the north, bordering on Lydia on the west and Gandhara (modern Afghanistan) in the east. Sind was the easternmost province, bordering on the Hindu kingdoms of India.)

In 593, the ancient kingdom of Babylon was taken by a group of invaders new to the region -- the Persians. These Indo-Iranian peoples followed the Medes from a location now though to be in Central Asia to modern day Iran. There, the monarch, Achemenes, created the Achemenean Empire. The Medes and Persians were so closely related that this event could even be seen as simply a new Median dynasty.

In 648, Ashurbanipal invaded Elam from the west. The Persians, taking advantage of the opportunity, seized the eastern provinces. While this increased Persian influence in the region, the Persian state remained virtual vassals to the Medes.

Persia rose to power under Cyrus the Great. His first victory occured when the Medean ruler, Astyages, invaded Persia around 550. Cyrus easily captured Astyages (whose army had left him) at Pasargadae. Cyrus, not one to leave a good opportunity alone, delivered another blow to the Medes by capturing their capital Hamadan (Ectabana). In 547, the now-Persian province of Media was attacked by the Lydians, under King Croesus. (The Lydians are famous for creating the first coinage the world had ever known) However. Croesus' invasion was repulsed, and he retreated to winter at his capital, Sardis. However, Cyrus unexpectedly turned up at Sardis during the winter and took it after a fourteen day siege. And, as mentioned in 539, Cyrus completed his most-remembered deed, the capturing of Babylonia. He posed as the God Marduk and overthrew the (in Cyrus' opinion) corrupt king Nabondius and was welcomed by the Babylonians. Cyrus had now established the greatest empire in the history of the world. Nine years after his conquest of Babylon, he was killed at Sakas and succeeded by his son, Cambyses. During Cambyses' reign, Egypt and Libya became part of the empire. Cambyses was probably murdered by his brother Smerdis, who was killed by Darius (621-496) who was not a direct descendant of the previous kings, but was a member of the Achemenid house.

Darius quickly crushed all rebellions in a year and turned his thoughts to conquest, In 520, he attacked the Caspian Scythians and by 518, Persian control extended to the Indus. He invaded Europe in 513, capturing Thrace but failing at his objective of defeating the Black Sea Scythians. He put down a rebellion of the Ionian Greeks from 499-494, and then decided to remove the root cause of the problem -- the mainland Greeks. Howver, his force was crushed in 490 by the Athenians at Marathon, prompting Darius to begin an all-out invasion of Mainland Greece. However, he died before he could complete his plan.

His son, Xerxes, carried his father's plan into action... and was defeated horribly at Salamis in 480 and Platea in 479. This was the end of Achemenean expansion.

Another achievement of Darius' was the streamlining and regularising of the empire's affairs. He created a system of 20 satrapies, or provinces, each ruled by a satrap. He standardised tributes (figures given below for provinces). Persia, obviously, was exempt from these tributes. The Persians borrowed and improved the Assyrian postal system. Darius moved the capital from Pasargadae to Persepolis and the administrative capital from Hamadan to Susa. Darius' successors abandoned cuneiform in favour of the Assyrian alphabet. Persia, at Xerxe's range was a huge empire, uniting many peoples. This political unity was essential to later, important developments that led to The Classical World.

Persian Provinces and Tribute:

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