In what ways was the Persian Empire similar to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and in what ways was it different?

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Like the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Persian Empire was a despotic state with an autocratic monarch and an aristocratic elite. The main source of income for both empires was payments from conquered populations. The Persian Empire was enormous, even larger than the Neo-Assyrian Empire; both included diverse peoples and communities. Both...

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Like the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Persian Empire was a despotic state with an autocratic monarch and an aristocratic elite. The main source of income for both empires was payments from conquered populations. The Persian Empire was enormous, even larger than the Neo-Assyrian Empire; both included diverse peoples and communities. Both empires faced some important provincial rebellions.

At the same time, the Persian Empire was much better organized and administered. Above all, it was more inclusive: the Persians respected local religious cultural and political traditions. They typically appointed governors from the local aristocracy. The Persian judicial system included both imperial courts and provincial courts where the judges based their rulings on local rather than national laws. Moreover, since the time of Darius I, representatives of the royal government carried out regular inspections of twenty provinces (satrapies).

The Persians understood that in order to increase their income they had to make the provincial economies more productive. They sponsored the introduction of more productive grains, vegetables, and fruits and launched new irrigation projects. Unlike the Assyrians, who typically perceived taxation as a kind of military booty, and who therefore taxed freely, the Persians carefully calculated the amount of taxes that they could collect without damaging local producers and always reserved a portion of the proceeds to address local needs. They built an extensive network of imperial roads to connect all the provinces throughout their empire. In order to facilitate profitable international trade, Darius I introduced gold and silver coins, called darics and siglos respectively.

The Persian Empire stressed the principle of impartial justice for all imperial subjects. Of course, the Persian elite enjoyed a privileged position within the empire, but nevertheless, the Persian government often made a point of addressing local concerns and adapting imperial policy to local circumstances. The Persians understood the importance of positive propaganda messages, while the Assyrians relied mainly on brutal punishments to instill fear among the subject peoples.

The Persians were much more sparing in using the hated resettlement policies which the Assyrians practiced routinely in order to further guarantee the subjugation of helpless populations driven from their homes by the army, often forced to resettle hundreds or thousands of miles away from their previous homes. Thus, when Cyrus conquered Babylon, he stressed his intention of returning resettled peoples to their original lands, rebuilding their temples, and returning the plundered items that had been used in religious worship.

His propaganda was very effective. The population of Babylon celebrated his arrival and some Jewish prophets considered him a messianic ruler specially appointed by God to deliver the Jews from the exile.

At the same time, some Persian rulers, such as Xerxes, were brutal, violent, and arrogant. Xerxes led his army into Greece in 480 BCE, and the Persians occupied Attica and burned Athenian temples before the Greeks finally succeeded in defeating them. In his tragedy, The Persians, staged in Athens in 472 BCE, Aeschylus contrasted Xerxes with his wise father Darius I. Aeschylus celebrated the Greek victory and expressed his hope that this victory would lead to Asia throwing off the despotic Persian yoke. The Persian Empire did not finally succumb, however, until 142 years later, when the expedition of Alexander the Great put an end to it.

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