13 May 2022


The Rise of Multicultural Empires (through 600CE)

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Academic level: College

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Like a colossus, the battle of Marathon towers over the history of the Era around 500BCE, Persia faced the smarter yet much smaller City State of Athens. In this battle, skill prevailed over brutal force and the numerical might of the Persians was beaten by the wiry tactics of the Greeks. It is this battle and the subsequent war between the two empires a decade later, remembered for the famous stand of the 300 Spartans that occasioned the unity of the Greek city states into the Empire of Greece (Briant, 2002). The battle also marked the beginning of the diminishment of the mighty Persian Empire, commonly referred for distinction as the Achaemenid Empire. As contemporary historiography will confirm, this were the two most influential empires in that Era.

Geographical factors

Ancient people survived though the availability of food and perhaps trade but only thrived if they could ensure their security. One of the main sources of food was trade, mainly guaranteed by the presence of a body of water. Security on the other hand, was guaranteed by topography; a natural form of protection that enabled the people to survive long enough to form an army (Briant, 2002). These two factors were identical for the two empires 

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Persian Empire

This empire was mainly set in what is now the nation of Iran. It was surrounded by large water bodies to wit the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Oman. The seas just like the road networks were utilized to carry out trade activities. The empire carried out a number of voyages using the surrounding seas to look for new markets and natural resources. A canal connecting the Red sea and River Nile brought in a lot of trade opportunities to the empire.

The Greek Empire

This empire was almost fully surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea on one side with the Aegean Sea on the other side. However, the Mainland Greece was extremely mountainous with some mountains even jutting out to the Mediterranean Sea thus providing excellent defense from both land and sea forces. This also gave the Greeks the ability to anticipate where their enemies were going to land; a factor that contributed to the victory in the battle of Marathon (Briant, 2002).

Unique Cultural Characteristics

The unique characteristics of the two Empires have an impact in contemporary life thousands of years later. The Persian Empire contributed to religion while the Greek Empire contributed to democracy and the rule of law. As opposed to popular belief buoyed by contemporary fictional literature and film, the ancient Persian Empire was not comprised of barbarians. Under the tutorship of Greek religious teacher Zarathustra also known as Zoroaster the Greek, the Persians were very religious believers of monotheism, good and evil as well as life after the death, which are the foundations of contemporary religion (Briant, 2002). Another important and extremely unique aspect of traditional Persian culture is Nowruz, the observation of the New Year with great pomp and celebrations. So powerful and imbedded was this culture that it has survived thousands of years to date as it is still celebrated in Iran (Briant, 2002). 

Greek Empire on the other hand had a shambled and confused religion with many gods and many beliefs. They were however, unmarked in academics and politics. Indeed, it is believed that the contemporary culture of rule of law, democracy and human rights is inherited from the Greek Empire. Albeit the Greek citizens were almost always outnumbered by their slaves, the genuine Greek citizen underwent a formal education. This education involved both theory, mostly philosophy and practice, mostly military tactics and seamanship (Briant, 2002). The ancient Greeks were also great sculptures who could spend considerable time, energy and resources in this work of art. By 500BCE, the Greek sculptures could manipulate the traditional wood, stone, marble and bronze into wonderful sculptures of both people and their gods. Their greatest sculptural work, the Parthenon at Athens was built in the 5th Century BCE (Briant, 2002). 

Two Major Leaders of the Persian Empire

Cyrus II of Persia also called Cyrus the Great by historians and Cyrus the Elder by the Greeks lived/ruled between the 600 – 530 BC albeit there are some ambiguity about the exact dates. His full title however was; The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World (Briant, 2002). 

Xerxes I of Persia was the most famous of Persian Emperors mostly due to his controversial death alongside that of his first born son. Xerxes was also famous because of his nearly successful conquest of Greece (Briant, 2002) .

Major Contributions

Cyrus the Great is credited as the founder of the Achaemenid edition of the Persian Empire and used military conquest to build what has been termed as the largest empire of his time. Among the notable characteristics was respect for the religion and cultures of the conquered as well as caring about the welfare of his subjects, something that was uncommon then (Briant, 2002).

Albeit mostly portrayed as a cruel, pompous leader with little or no military knowhow, Xerxes was a genius whose bridging of the Hellespont using the two Xerxes' Pontoon Bridges was a remarkable piece of civil engineering. After losing his war on Greece, he swallowed his pride and went back home rather that ruin his army through obstinacy (Briant, 2002) .

Mode of expansion

The Persian Empire almost always expanded though military conquest, a policy that was commenced by its founder Cyrus the Great. Almost all its major Emperors are remembered for their military prowess to conquer and build what was then the biggest Empire on earth (Briant, 2002) . Their second method of expansion was assimilation. Authoritarian governance is problematic as shown through the Roman and Mongolian Empires. The Persians instead allowed the conquered kingdoms to retain their way of life but pledge allegiance and pay tribute. This made them easier and less expensive to manage thus enabling the governance of a larger empire. (Briant, 2002) .

Political transformation 

The first dynasty was the Achaemenid dynasty (550–330 BC), which started with Cyrus the Great and ended with his descendant Bessus, also known as Artaxerxes V (a usurper) who was executed by Alexander the great thus beginning a new political era in the Empire (Briant, 2002) . Secondly was the Argead (Macedonian) dynasty (330–309 BC). This was a short-lived but mighty dynasty that combined the Greek Empire and the Persian Empire under Alexander the Great and his immediate successor (Briant, 2002) . Seleucid dynasty (311–129 BC) was perhaps the last dynasty of Persia as an Empire and took place after the subdivision of Alexander the Great’s mighty Empire by his successors with Seleucid getting the Eastern portion including Persia (Briant, 2002)


History is a powerful subject as what happened in the past has a great reflection on what happens today. Whereas the contemporary culture embraces fiction over facts, it does not change history or its place in today’s world. Among these influences include how two Empires which began around 500BCE could have such a great impact on the world over 2500 years later. Their impacts on religion and governance respectively will continue to be felt for many more years. Clearly, the Greek and Persian Empires are two of the greatest empires of all time that were always intertwined and eventually merged. 


Briant, P. (2002). From Cyrus to Alexander: A history of the Persian Empire . Warsaw: Eisenbrauns publishers. 

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