Cyrus the Great, first emperor of Persia
Episode 17 Oxus Civilization and Powerful Persia
The Big History of Civilizations (2016)
Dr Craig G Benjamin
According to Benjamin, the dry climate and lack of river valleys in Central Asia limited prehistoric settlement to a handful of agrarian villages around desert oases. Anau (in modern day Turkmenistan) and Oxus were two of the region’s ancient cities. Anau, which traded with Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, collapsed around 2400 BC. Oxus, which emerged around the same time as Anau, consisted of clusters of settlements around oases in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Associated with the early use of soma,* it was the fifth largest ancient civilization on Earth. It would be absorbed by the Persian empire in the first century BC.
The latter arose on the Iranian plateau east of Mesopotamia around 559 BC, when king Cyrus overthrew the Medean king and united Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya and Kush. Between 521 and 486 BC, Cyrus III expanded the Persian empire to include the Indus Valley, the Balkans, Thrace and Macedonia. He appointed 23 local governors (satraps), who created administrative networks made run by local subjects.
Persia required all subjects of conquered territories to pay tribute (tax) to Persia as well as submit to conscription into the Persian army. Other tax revenue included customs duties, sales tax and rent on royal properties. In return, the emperor provided farmers with seed grain and fruit seedlings, subsidized cottage manufacturing and explorers, built ports and 8,000 miles of roads and dug a canal connecting the Red Sea and Nile.
The Persian empire was the world’s largest to that date. It started to decline during the fifth millennium when a number of conquered Greek city states rebelled. Following Persia’s conquest by Alexander the Great, his Greek successors systematically dismantled the Persian empire.
*Soma was a combination of cannabis and opium used in Zoroastrian and Hindu religious ceremonies. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, during the 5th century BC the Scythians poured soma on hot rocks in their steam baths and inhaled the vapors.
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