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The Achaemenid Persian empire stretched from the Indus to Hellespont and from the steppes of central Asia to the tiny village of Ain Manawir in the western Egyptian desert. For over two centuries (c. 550 BC– c. 325 BC) it was the first and the largest global empire of the Antiquity.
It managed to maintain political unity around the Great King and his satraps (provincial governors) and to recognise the extraordinary cultural and linguistic diversity of the multiple peoples within the empire. Dozens of languages and scripts. In Anatolia around ten living languages and scripts were engraved on stone, e.g., Greek, Lycian, Carian, Phrygian or Lydian and Aramaic. Royal inscriptions were trilingual (Elamite, Ancient Persian, Babylonian) and the archives at Persepolis were written in Elamite.
The royal power was displayed in the grand residences in which the court was housed, moving around from one to the other all year long: two were built in cities that already existed, Babylon and Susa, which were recomposed by Darius (522 BC–486 BC); two were entirely new creations in Persia proper: Pasargadae (built by Cyrus the Great: c. 550–530 BC) and Persepolis, conceived by Darius and continued by his successors.
Pierre Briant (Collège de France) / February 2014
Map of the Achaemenid Persian Empire / © Achemenet