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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Persian Achaemenid Empire

Urdu Version

Cyrus the Great invaded and Darius I consolidated the Persian Empire in the subcontinent.


The area on the Iran Plateau comprises of the ancient civilization of Persia. The word Iran comes from the word Aryanam, meaning Land of the Aryans. The Persian Empire’s history, though quite extensive, is marked by the rise and fall of various dynasties as well as conquests. The first Persian Empire, known as the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), was founded by Cyrus the Great. The boundaries of the empire grew as far as Greece in the west, parts of Northern Africa as well the areas part of present day Pakistan. By 480 BC the empire had an estimated 50 million people living under it, making it one of the largest empires of the ancient world.

(Jain Hussain)
Map of Persian Achaemenid Empire
(Jain Hussain)

Cyrus the Great

(Iran Chamber Society)
Cyrus Cylinder: Charter of
Human Rights
(Iran Chamber Society)

By the seventh century BC the area comprising of Pakistan was divided into small states, these states faced pressure from the rapidly growing Achaemenid Empire from the west. Cyrus the Great first invaded the subcontinent in the sixth century BC when he crossed the Khyber Pass and occupied Gandhara (the area around Peshawar). Cyrus was a very competent ruler and adopted a policy of tolerance towards the people of the conquered lands, declaring what is known as the Charter of Human Rights. According to this, he allowed people to practice their own religion and speak their native language.

After Cyrus’s death in 529 BC there was a great deal of unrest in the kingdom as his son, Cambyses II, was a weak ruler. Cambyses II died in 522 BC during the Conquest of Egypt and was followed by Darius I.

Darius I

Darius I was a strong emperor. He built on what Cyrus had achieved. To maintain peace and stability in the empire, he divided it into several provinces to make it easier to govern. He also appointed a governor, known as satrap, for each province. The governor’s duties were to carry out Darius’ orders in the province and collect taxes. Darius I introduced the use of the Royal Road which allowed messages, soldiers and mail to be sent across the empire as well as a silver and gold coinage system. This also promoted trade and allowed business to prosper. Trade was one of the main sources of revenue for the Persian Empire, along with agriculture and tax revenues.

Later Darius consolidated the empire, by adding large parts of Punjab and Sindh. These parts came to be known as Hindush. As trade increased between the Persian Empire and this region, Hindush became one of the most prosperous provinces of the Persian Empire. This region also sent mercenary soldiers to fight in the battles of the Persian Empire during the reign of Xerxes.

Downfall of the empire

The Persian Empire began to disintegrate after the death of Darius I in 486 BC. His son, Xerxes, was mainly occupied by the revolts in Egypt and Babylon and suffered several defeats in Greece. By the time Artaxerxes I, successor of Xerxes, died in 424 BC, the imperial court was divided. This factionalism persisted until the death of Darius III. He was defeated by Alexander the Great in the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. After fleeing from the battlefield, abandoning his soldiers, Darius III was killed by his own cousin in 330 BC. Alexander ordered that Darius III be given a royal burial and then officially declared himself the ruler of Persia.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Hussain, Jain. An Illustrated History of Pakistan (Book 1). Karachi: Oxford UP, 1981.

Lendering, Jona. “Achaemenids.” Livius: Articles on Ancient History.

“Darius III.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2011.

“History of Iran: Achaemenid Empire.” Iran Chamber Society.