Prehistory: The Persian Empire Conquers Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya, Kush, the Indus Valley and the Early Greek City States

Cyrus the Great Biography - Facts, Childhood, Family Life ...

Cyrus the Great, first emperor of Persia

Episode 17 Oxus Civilization and Powerful Persia

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

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.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/oxus-civilization-and-powerful-persia

More Ancient History They Don’t Teach in School

History of the World Part 2

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of the BBC “History of the World” series covers the rise of the first western empires. This is commonly referred to as “ancient history,” a subject no longer taught in US schools (recently, however, it seems to be a popular topic for Hollywood features films). Although the reenactments in Part 2 are shorter and more plausible, Part 2’s failure to cover non-Western empires is a serious weakness.

The empires described include

  • The Assyrian Empire (2,500 – 609 BC) – focusing on the rule of Sennacherib (705-681 BC), who initiated the use of “total warfare” (killing non-combatant elderly women and children) and “shock and awe” terror tactics to subjugate neighboring nations. Sennacherib created the blueprint for every subsequent tyrant who has sought to rule by terror.
  • The Persian Empire – founded by Cyrus the Great with the conquest of the Median, Lydian, and Babylonian empires in 550 BC. Unlike Sennacherib, Cyrus ruled via by diplomacy and sought to integrate the various cultures under his rule.
  • The brief empire ruled by Alexander the Great (334-323 BC) – which included Turkey, Egypt, North Africa, and Asia Minor to the Indian border. Like Cyrus, Alexander also attempted to integrate the different cultures under his rule.

Part 2 goes on covers the rise of democracy in the city-state of Athens in the 6th century BC and their successful rebuff of a much larger Persian army that tried to conquer them.

This episode also explores the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha (5th-6th century BC) in India, Confucius (551-479 BC) in China and Socrates (470-399 BC) in Athens. All three promoted philosophies that were at odds with the violent and hierarchical empire building of the times.