The Persian Empire is well documented in history.
Persia began as the tribal area of Persis, which we know of now as the area of Fars, in the southwestern corner of Iran. Iran, as a country now, is only a fraction of what the Persian Empire became. However when Persia is mentioned in Bible prophecy, it seems to explain the region we know of now as Iran – the land of the Aryans! Even as it expanded into Elam, Media and up into what is now Azerbaijan, (from the Gulf to the Caspian Sea) it still only explains the western side of Iran.
Persia is mentioned throughout the Bible some 36 times. It was one of the greatest empires of the ancient world. The Persians apparently sprang from a people from the hills of Russia known as Indo-Aryans. As early as 2000BC, they began to settle in Iran and along the coast of the Black Sea, the bit that is Turkey today.
Two of these Indo-European tribes settled on the Elamite border, (Elam was one of Noah’s grandsons), and they settled to the east of the Zagros mountain range. The first known historical references to them are made in the inscriptions of Shalmaneser III who was around on this Earth from 858-824BC. They are noted as the Parsua or Persians and the Madai or Medes.
The first recorded mention of a Persian chieftain refers to his role as an ally aligned against Sennacherib of Assyria. This was Teispes and his son, who was Cyrus the First, was called "King, Great King, King of the City of Anshan." His grandson, Cambyses I, fathered Cyrus II, who is one of the most celebrated kings in world history. Cyrus II was the literal founder of the mighty Persian Empire.
Cyrus II ascended to the Parsi throne located in Anshan in 559 BC. He conquered the Median King Astyages; he then defeated Lydia, which was ruled by King Croesus, in about 546BC.He then went on to defeat the Greek states and Babylon somewhere about 539 BC. This was probably more a political conquest than a military one!However the “Persian Empire” had begun.
Apparently Cyrus didn’t conquer Babylon – he took over – his family had ancient ties with Babylon and many of the Babylonians were not happy with Nabonidus as king. *Nabonidus had left Babylon - literally - and also left the rule of the nation to his son Belshazzar. It would seem that legally they were co-rulers.
The rule of Cyrus II was decreed by God, as told in the book of Jeremiah chapter 50, which prophesies the fall of Babylon. In contrast to previous rulers, especially the Assyrians, Cyrus was humane and benevolent toward those whom he defeated. He conciliated the locals and used diplomacy.
He had several capitals – one was in Ecbatana – modern Hamadan, the former capital of the Medes. He also made a new capital – Pasargadae in Persis, and he made a winter capital in Babylon.
Cyrus was the founder of the central governing system. Under this system each province, or satrapy, was governed by an official, who answered to the king. However, he allowed a remarkable degree of freedom of religion and customs for the vassal states, including Palestine. He developed roads, for example the Persian Royal Road, cities, postal systems, and legal codes, and treated the subject nations kindly and humanely.
Cambyses II (530-522BC), the son of Cyrus, reigned after his father. During his reign, Egypt was added to the list of nations conquered by Persia.
The next Persian king, Darius I (521-486BC), was not a direct descendant of Cyrus but was of the royal Achaemenid bloodline. It was Darius I that was defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon in 490BC. This is the same King Darius who, in his second year, ordered the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem to be rebuilt after work on it had been discontinued for 14 years. It was finished in his sixth year. (See Ezra 4:24 and 6:1) and Darius also gave a generous subsidy that made it possible for this completion. The extent of the Persian Empire under Darius is reflected in the writings of Esther. It stretched from India to Ethiopia (see Esther 1:1 and 10:1). This vast territory was nearly 4,900 kilometers or 3,000 miles long and 800-2,400 kilometers 500 to 1,500 miles wide.
Xerxes (Ahasueras) I ruled Persia from 486 to 465BC. Ahasueras is mentioned in Esther as the one who reigned from India even unto Ethiopia, over one hundred and seventy provinces. This king of Persia is more commonly referred to as Xerxes I, and in other sources he is mentioned as just that - “reigning over one hundred and seventy provinces.”
Artaxerxes I was the next Persian king. And he also had wars with Greece, but it was not until nearly 100 years later that Darius III was eventually defeated by Alexander the Great in about 330BC. This Persian king, Artaxerxes l, illustrates one of the ironies of history. He was a relatively minor Persian king but was of major importance because of his connection with the Hebrew people.
Two of the three returns of the Jewish people from captivity in Babylon seem to have occurred during his reign. The second return was recorded in the Bible in Ezra, and was made possible because of the generosity of Artaxerxes. The third return occurred in 445BC and is recorded in the Bible in Nehemiah.
After the decline of Persia, the region of Iran was left open to become one of the first countries to be occupied by the early Islamic Empire, which burst outward from Arabia in the seventh century. Persia has ever since maintained a distinct cultural identity within the Islamic world by retaining its own language and adhering to the strict Shia interpretation of Islam.
Persia obviously has played a major role in Bible history but also it still has an important part to play in the future!
Whichever way we view the happenings in the Middle East, we know that God has stated that Persia is coming with Gog to go against Israel. This will eventually bring about Israel’s proclamation of the “One whom they have pierced” and will herald the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to rule on earth. Therefore we can only wait this coming with eagerness in spite of all that is due beforehand.
*Reference is made to Nabonidus in the Archaeology article "Time Machines".