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Reference: Persia


In Hebrew Paras, Eze 27:10, a vast region in Asia, the southwestern province of which lying between ancient media on the north and the Persian Gulf on the south, appears to have been the ancient Persia, and is still called Pharsistan, or Fars. The Persians, who became so famous after Cyrus, the founder of their more extended monarchy, were anciently called Elamites; and later, in the time of the Roman emperors, Parthians. See PARTHIA.

The early history of the Persians, like that of most of the oriental nations, is involved in doubt and perplexity. Their descent is traced to Shem, through his son Elam, after whom they were originally named. It is probable that they enjoyed their independence for several ages, with a monarchical succession of their own; until they were subdued by the Assyrians and their country attached as a province to that empire. From this period, both sacred and profane writers distinguish the kingdom of the Medes from that of the Persians. It is not improbable that, "during this period, petty revolutions might have occasioned temporary disjunctions of Persia from Assyria, and that the Persian king was quickly again made sensible of his true allegiance. When Media became independent, under Dejoes and then Phraortes, Persia became also subject to its sway, as a tributary kingdom. Media having vanquished her great rival Assyria enjoyed a long interval of peace, during the reign of Astyages, son of Cyaxares. But his successor, Cyaxares the Second, united with the Persians against the Babylonians, and gave the command of the combined armies to Cyrus, who took the city of Babylon, killed Belshazzar, the terminated that kingdom 538 B. C.

Cyrus succeeded to the thrones of Media and Persia, and completed the union between those countries, which appear to have been in reality but two nations of he same race, having the same religion (See MAGI and MEDIA,) and using languages near akin to each other and to the ancient Sanscrit. Previously to their union under Cyrus, Daniel speaks of the law of the Medes and Persians as being the same. The union was effected B. C. 536. The principal events relating to Scripture, which occurred during the reign of Cyrus, were the restoration of the Jews, the rebuilding of the city and temple, and the capture of Babylon, B. C. 539, Ezr 1:2. His dominion extended from the Mediterranean to the region of the Indus. Cambyses his successor, B. C. 529, added Egypt to the Persian realm, and the supremacy of Egypt and Syria was often in contest during subsequent reigns, Ezr 4:6. He was followed by Smerdis the Magian, B. C. 522, Ezr 4:7; Darius Hystapis, B. C. 521, Ezr 5:6; Xerxes, the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther, B. C. 485, Artabanus, B. C. 465; Artaxerxes Longimanus, B. C. 464, Ne 2:1; Xerxes 2., B. C. 424; Sogdianus and Darius Nothus, B. C. 424; Artaxerxes Mnemon, B. C. 404; Artaxerxes Ochus, B. C. 364; Arses, B. C. 338; and Darius Codomanus, B. C. 335, who was subdued and slain by Alexander of Macedon, B. C. 330. In the seventh century Persia fell under the power of the Saracens, in the thirteenth it was conquered by Genghis Khan, and in the fourteenth by Tamerlane. Modern Persia is bounded north by Georgia, the Caspian sea, and Tartary; east by Afghanistan and Beloochistan; south by Ormus; and west by the dominions of Turkey. Its inhabitants retain to a remarkable extent the manners and custom of ancient Persia, of which we have so vivid a picture in Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel.

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an ancient empire, extending from the Indus to Thrace, and from the Caspian Sea to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Persians were originally a Medic tribe which settled in Persia, on the eastern side of the Persian Gulf. They were Aryans, their language belonging to the eastern division of the Indo-European group. One of their chiefs, Teispes, conquered Elam in the time of the decay of the Assyrian Empire, and established himself in the district of Anzan. His descendants branched off into two lines, one line ruling in Anzan, while the other remained in Persia. Cyrus II., king of Anzan, finally united the divided power, conquered Media, Lydia, and Babylonia, and carried his arms into the far East. His son, Cambyses, added Egypt to the empire, which, however, fell to pieces after his death. It was reconquered and thoroughly organized by Darius, the son of Hystaspes, whose dominions extended from India to the Danube.

Illustration: Clay Tablet Containing a Portion of the Annals of the Reign of Nabonidus


Eze 27:10; 38:5. "Persia proper" was originally a small territory (Herodot. 9:22). On the N. and N.E. lay Media, on the S. the Persian gulf, Elam on the W., on the E. Carmania. Now Furs, Farsistan. Rugged, with pleasant valleys and plains in the mid region and mountains in the N. The S. toward the sea is a hot sandy plain, in places covered with salt. Persepolis (in the beautiful valley of the Bendamir), under Darius Hystaspes, took the place of Pasargadae the ancient capital; of its palace "Chehl Minar," "forty columns," still exist. Alexander in a drunken fit, to please a courtesan, burned the palace. Pasargadae, 40 miles to the N., was noted for Cyrus' tomb (Arrian) with the inscription, "I am Cyrus the Achaemenian." (See CYRUS .) The Persians came originally from the E., from the vicinity of the Sutlej (before the first contact of the Assyrians with Aryan tribes E. of Mount Zagros, 880 B.C.), down the Oxus, then S. of the Caspian Sea to India. There were ten castes or tribes: three noble, three agricultural, four nomadic; of the last were the "Dehavites" or Dali (Ezr 4:9).

The Pasargadae were the noble tribes, in which the chief house was that of the Achaemenidae. Darius on the rock of Behistun inscribed: "from antiquity our race have been kings. There are eight of our race who have been kings before me, I am the ninth." (See ELAM on its relation to Persia.) The Persian empire stretched at one time from India to Egypt and Thrace, including all western Asia between the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian, the Jaxartes upon the N., the Arabian desert, Persian gulf, and Indian ocean on the S. Darius in the inscription on his tomb at Nakhsh-irustam enumerates thirty countries besides Persia subject to him, Media, Susiana, Parthia, Aria, Bactria, Sogdiana, Chorasmia, Zarangia, Arachosia, Sattagydia, Gaudaria, India, Scythia, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Saparda, Ionia, the Aegean isles, the country of the Scodrae (European), Ionia, the Tacabri, Budians, Cushites, Mardians, and Colchians. The organization of the Persian kingdom and court as they appear in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, accords with independent secular historians.

The king, a despot, had a council, "seven princes of Persia and Media which see his face and sit the first in the kingdom" (Es 1:14; Ezr 7:14). So Herodotus (iii. 70-79) and Behistun inscription mention seven chiefs who organized the revolt against Smerdis (the Behistun rock W. of Media has one inscription in three languages, Persian, Babylonian, and Stythic, read by Grotefend). "The law of the Persians and Medes which alters not" (Es 1:19) also controlled him in some measure. In Scripture we read of 127 provinces (Es 1:1) with satraps (Es 3:12; 8:9; Xerxes in boasting enlarged the list; 60 are the nations in his armament according to Herodotus) maintained from the palace (Ezr 4:14), having charge of the revenue, paid partly in money partly in kind (Ezr 7:21-22).

Mounted posts (unique to Persia and described by Xenophon, Cyr. 8:6,17, and Herodotus, viii. 98), with camels (Strabo 15:2, section 10) and horses pressed into service without pay (angareuein; Mt 5:41; Mr 15:21), conveyed the king's orders (Es 3:10,12-13; 8:10,14), authenticated by the royal signet (so Herod. iii. 128). A favorite minister usually had the government mainly delegated to him by the king (Es 3:1-10; 8:8; 10:2-3). Services were recorded (Es 2:23; 6:2-3) and the actors received reward as "royal benefactors" (Herodotus iii. 140); state archives were the source of Ctesias' history of Persia (Diod. Sic. 3:2.) The king lived at Susa (Es 1:2; Ne 1:1) or Babylon (Ezr 7:9; Ne 13:6).

In accordance with Es 1:6, as to "pillars of marble" with "pavement of red, blue, white, and black," and "hangings of white, green, and blue of fine linen and purple to the pillars," the remains exhibit four groups of marble pillars on a pavement of blue limestone, constructed for curtains to hang between the columns as suiting the climate. (Loftus' Chaldeea and Susiana.) One queen consort was elevated above the many wives and concubines who approached the king" in their turn." To intrude on the king's privacy was to incur the penalty of death (compare Herodotus, iii. 60-84 with Es 2:12,15; 4:11-16,5). Parsa is the native name, the modern Parsee; supposed to mean "tigers". Originally simple in habits, upon overthrowing the Medes they adopted their luxury. They had a dual worship, Oromasdes or Ormuzd, "the great giver of life," the supreme good god; Mithra, the "sun", and Home, the "moon", were under him.

Ahriman, "the death dealing" being, opposed to Oromasdes. Magianism, the worship of the elements, especially fire, the Scythic religion, infected the Persian religion when the Persians entered their new country. Zoroaster (the Greek form of Zerdusht), professing to be Ormuzd's prophet, was the great reformer of their religious system, the contemporary of Daniel (Warburton 4:180, but according to Markham 1500 B.C., before the separation of the two Aryan races, the Indians and Persians) and acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures, as appears from his account of creation (Hyde 9; 10; 22; 31, Shahristani Relig. Pers.), and from his inserting passages from David's writings and prophecies of Messiah.

He condemns the notion of two independent eternal principles, good and evil, and makes the supreme God Creator of both (and that under Him the angel of light and the angel of darkness are in perpetual conflict) as Isaiah teaches, and in connection with the prophecy of Cyrus the Jews' deliverer from Babylon: "thus saith Jehovah to His anointed, Cyrus ... I will go before thee, I will break in pieces the gates of brass ... I form the light and create the darkness; I make peace and create evil." Zoroaster taught that God created the good angel alone, and that the evil followed by the defect of good. He closely imitates the Mosaic revelation. As Moses heard God speaking in the midst of the fire, so Zoroaster pretends.

As the divine glory rested on the mercy seat, so Zoroaster made the sacred fire in the Persian temples to symbolize the divine presence. Zoroaster pretended that fire from heaven consumed sacrifices, as often had been the case in Israel's sacrifices; his priests were of one tribe as Israel's. In his work traces appear of Adam and Eve's history, creation, the deluge, David's psalms. He praises Solomon and delivers his doctrines as those of Abraham, to whose pure creed he sought to bring back the Magian religion. In Lucian's (De Longaevis) day his religion was that of most Persians, Parthians, Bactrians, Aryans, Sacans, Medes, and Chowaresmians. His Zendavesta has six periods of creation, ending with man as in Genesis.

Avesta is the name for "Deity". Zend is related to Khandas, "metre," from the same root as scandere, scald "a poet," "scan." Mazdao, his name of Ormuzd, "I am that I am," answers to JEHOVAH in Exodus 3. He expected a zoziosh or "saviour". Fire, originally made the symbol of God, became, as Roman Catholic symbols, at length idolized. The Parsees observe the nirang; "rubbing the urine of a cow, she goat, or ox over the face and hands", the second thing a Parsee does in getting up in the morning. The women after childbirth undergo it and have actually to drink a little of it! The Parsees pray 16 times a day. They have an awe of light. They are the only orientals who do not smoke. The priests and people now do not understand one word of the Zendavesta. (Muller.) The Persian language was related to the Indian Sanskrit.

HISTORY. Achaemenes led the emigrating Persians into their final settlement, 700 B.C. Teispes, Cambyses I. (Kabujiya in the monuments), Cyrus I, Cambyses II, and Cyrus the Great reigned successively. After 80 years' subjection to the Medes the Persians revolted and became supreme, 558 B.C. Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and restored the Jews (Isa 44:28; 45:1-4; Ezr 1:2-4). His son Cambyses III conquered Egypt (Ahasnerus, Ezr 4:6), but failed in Ethiopia. Then the Magian priest Gomates, pretending to be Smerdis, Cyrus' son, whom Cambyses had secretly murdered, gained the throne (522 B.C.), and Cambyses III committed suicide. He forbade the Jew

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(pure, splended), Per'sians. Persia proper was a tract of no very large dimensions on the Persian Gulf, which is still known as Fars or Farsistan, a corruption of the ancient appellation. This tract was bounded on the west by Susiana or Elam, on the north by Media on the south by the Persian Gulf and on the east by Carmania. But the name is more commonly applied, both in Scripture and by profane authors to the entire tract which came by degrees to be included within the limits of the Persian empire. This empire extended at one time from India on the east to Egypt and Thrace on the west, and included. besides portions of Europe and Africa, the whole of western Asia between the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian and the Jaxartes on the north, the Arabian desert the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean on the south. The only passage in Scripture where Persia designates the tract which has been called above "Persia proper" is

Eze 38:5

Elsewhere the empire is intended. The Persians were of the same race as the Medes, both being branches of the great Aryan stock.

1. Character of the nation. --The Persians were a people of lively and impressible minds, brave and impetuous in war, witty, passionate, for Orientals truthful, not without some spirit of generosity: and of more intellectual capacity than the generality of Asiatics. In the times anterior to Cyrus they were noted for the simplicity of their habits, which offered a strong contrast to the luxuriousness of the Medes; but from the late of the Median overthrow this simplicity began to decline. Polygamy was commonly practiced among them. They were fond of the pleasures of the table. In war they fought bravely, but without discipline.

2. Religion. --The religion which the Persians brought with there into Persia proper seems to have been of a very simple character, differing from natural religion in little except that it was deeply tainted with Dualism. Like the other Aryans, the Persians worshipped one supreme God. They had few temples, and no altars or images.

3. Language. --The Persian language was closely akin to the Sanskrit, or ancient language of India. Modern Persian is its degenerate representative, being largely impregnated with Arabic.

4. History. --The history of Persia begins with the revolt from the Medes and the accession of Cyrus the Great, B.C. 558. Cyrus defeated Croesus, and added the Lydian empire to his dominions. This conquest was followed closely by the submission of the Greek settlements on the Asiatic coast, and by the reduction of Caria and Lycia The empire was soon afterward extended greatly toward the northeast and east. In B.C. 539 or 538, Babylon was attacked, and after a stout defence fell into the hands of Cyrus. This victory first brought the Persians into contact with the Jews. The conquerors found in Babylon an oppressed race--like themselves, abhorrers of idols, and professors of a religion in which to a great extent they could sympathize. This race Cyrus determined to restore to their own country: which he did by the remarkable edict recorded in the first chapter of Ezra.

Ezr 1:2-4

He was slain in an expedition against the Massagetae or the Derbices, after a reign of twenty-nine years. Under his son and successor, Cambyses, the conquest of Egypt took place, B.C. 525. This prince appears to be the Ahasuerus of

Ezr 4:6

Gomates, Cambyses' successor, reversed the policy of Cyrus with respect to the Jews, and forbade by an edict the further building of the temple.

Ezr 4:17-22

He reigned but seven months, and was succeeded by Darius. Appealed to, in his second year, by the Jews, who wished to resume the construction of their temple, Darius not only granted them this privilege, but assisted the work by grants from his own revenues, whereby the Jews were able to complete the temple as early as his sixth year.

Ezr 6:1-15

Darius was succeeded by Xerxes, probably the Ahasuerus of Esther. Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, reigned for forty years after his death and is beyond doubt the king of that name who stood in such a friendly relation toward Ezra,

Ezr 7:11-28

and Nehemiah.

Ne 2:1-9

etc. He is the last of the Persian kings who had any special connection with the Jews, and the last but one mentioned in Scripture. His successors were Xerxes II., Sogdianus Darius Nothus, Artaxerxes Mnemon, Artaxerxes Ochus, and Darius Codomannus, who is probably the "Darius the Persian" of Nehemiah

Ne 12:22

These monarchs reigned from B.C. 424 to B.C. 330. The collapse of the empire under the attack of Alexander the Great took place B.C. 330.

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PERSIA, an ancient kingdom of Asia, bounded on the north by Media, on the west by Susiana, on the east by Carmania, and on the south by the Persian Gulf. The Persians became very famous from the time of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian monarchy. Their ancient name was Elamites, and in the time of the Roman emperors they went by the name of Parthians; but now Persians. See CYRUS and for the religion of the ancient Persians, See MAGI.