The Achaemenid Persian empire functioned as well as it did due to the fact that of the efficient bureaucracy established by its founder Cyrus the good (r. C. 550-530 BCE) which to be administered through the satrapy system. A Persian branch of a district was well-known as a satrap (“protector of the kingdom” or “keeper the the province”) and also the district as a satrapy.

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Theses satrapies were compelled to salary taxes and administer men because that the empire"s armies and, in return, were an alleged to enjoy the protection and affluence of the realm as a whole. Under the reigns of some queens – favor Cyrus the an excellent or, after ~ initial revolts, Darius the an excellent (r. 522-486 BE) – the satrapy system operated well, while under others, satraps rebelled repeatedly.

Overall, however, the satrapy system functioned efficiently and also would be retained by the realms which prospered the Achaemenid – the Seleucid empire (312-63 BCE), Parthia (247 BCE - 224 CE), and the Sassanian empire (224-651 CE). Satraps are stated in the biblical books of Ezra, Esther, and Daniel as vital to the management of the government and this see is sustained by Persian records and old historians including Herodotus and also Ctesias. The Achaemenid design of Persian government was so reliable that the Roman empire would later copy it and also succeeding governments in Late antiquity would copy Rome"s.

Persian governors and also the satrapy system, in fact, created the paradigm recognizable in the current day of a central government, which features through a decentralized mechanism of subordinates responsible for governing local regions. The satrapy device is probably most plainly evident in the governmental device of the United claims of America, i beg your pardon famously modeled chin on that of Rome just as plenty of nation-states had actually centuries before.

Origins that the System

Satraps did no originate v the Achaemenid Empire, however, but with the much earlier Akkadian empire (2334-2083 BCE) yet the Akkadian officials were not well-known as "satraps" which to be a Persian term. Sargon of Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE) denote a mechanism of local governors, responsible directly to him, whose tasks were then monitored by much more closely reliable officials. This mechanism was copied by the Assyrians and revised by Tiglath Pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE) who instituted an elaborate network the governors looked after by “trusted men” who, favor the Akkadian overseers, ensured the loyalty and also efficiency of the governors. This model was so reliable it was later on used through the Assyrians" enemies, the Medes, that were the most prompt influence ~ above the Persian system.

Provincial governors can not constantly be reliable which necessitated the position of the “trusted man” to supervise them.

The mean satrapy system is assumed to have been describe by the first king of the Medes, Dayukku (known to the Greeks together Deioces, r. 727-675 BCE), who created the median Kingdom in Ecbatana. Deioces did unite the Medes under a kingship but, follow to Herodotus (I. 102), it was his child Phraortes (r. C. 647 - c. 625 BCE) that enlarged the kingdom and also founded the median Empire, so it is an ext likely satrapy was established toward the beginning of his reign.

The device was steady in ar by the moment of the reign of Deioces" nephew Cyaxares that Media (r. 625-585 BCE) who daughter (or granddaughter) Amytis the Media (l. 630-565 BCE) would certainly marry Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (r. 605/604-562 BCE). Satraps were an integral element of Babylonian federal government under Nebuchadnezzar II"s reign and also their importance is referenced in the later book of Daniel (composed c. Second century BCE) i beg your pardon casts the heroes that Daniel 3 - Shadrach, Meshach, and also Abednego – as either satraps or imperial secretaries. These 3 refused the imperial edict come venerate a graven picture instead of your god and also are condemned to die in the fiery furnace however were saved through your faith and emerged unharmed.

This an easy plot is repeated in Daniel 6 where the prophet Daniel is shown as an bureaucratic overseer – among the “trusted men” that a monarch – that is condemned by the Babylonian and Median satraps for worshipping a foreign god in defiance the the mandate of the king Darius. The Darius the the book of Daniel does not correspond to any type of known king (although part scholars combine him v Astyages the Media, r. 585-550 BCE) and also should not be confused with the Achaemenid monarchs of the very same name. In the story, the satraps themselves have introduced the ordinance which permits them come condemn Daniel and, although that is not explicitly stated, they many likely have done so since Daniel is the eyes and also ears of the king who would report any kind of dishonesty or lapses through a satrap.

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Byzantine cream color Pyxis
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The prominence of a reliable overseer come a king, together opposed come the worth of the satraps, is emphasized in the publication of Daniel when Daniel is actors into the lion"s den, increase unharmed by the defense of his god, and Darius then has actually the satraps that condemned him fed come the lions. Although created much later on than the occasions it purports come narrate (such together the regime of Nebuchadnezzar), the story illustrates the central dynamic of the relationship between a monarch and also his satraps: the provincial governors can not constantly be trusted and would work for their own self-interest once they could which demanded the place of the “trusted man” come supervise them. This dynamic would continue to be a consistent of the satrapy system.

Achaemenid Satrapy

Cyrus the great was well mindful of this and also so embraced and sleek the Assyrian and Median system. The satraps of the Achaemenid empire ruled because that life (or unless they offended the emperor), and the position was hereditary. Further, they frequently governed immense areas of substantial resources and the temptation to usage these to unseat the emperor and create your own dynasty had to it is in neutralized. Scholar A. T. Olmstead defines Cyrus" solution:

To accomplish this threat, specific checks to be instituted: secretary, his chef financial official, and the general in fee of the garrison stationed in the citadel of every of the satrapal fundings were under the straight order of, and also reported straight to, the great king in person. Still more effective manage was worked out by the “king"s eye” (or “king"s ear” or “king"s messenger”) who every year made a mindful inspection of every province. (59)

Under Cyrus" reign, the satrapy system operated well, however under his son Cambyses II (r. 530-522 BCE), there to be revolts, and also when Cambyses II died and Darius i (a distant cousin) took the throne, whole regions rose in revolt. Also though Darius I, in his well known Behistun Inscription, insists that just some regions revolted, resistance come his reign was more widespread. This was due to the fact that of a coup that had taken place earlier while Cambyses II had been in Egypt. His brother, Bardiya, had taken the throne and also was an ext popular than Cambyses II. In his inscription, however, Darius I claims that Cambyses II had actually murdered Bardiya before going come Egypt and also the “Bardiya” who declared kingship to be an imposter named Gaumata. Darius I"s assassination that this imposter, therefore, was simply the return of the throne to a legitimate claimant, not a coup.

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The Behistun Inscription
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Darius I"s insurance claim was only at first supported by 2 satraps – Dadarshish that Bactria and Vivana the Arachosia. As Olmstead notes, “the whole empire welcomed Bardiya without concern his assassination brought renewed hopes of national self-reliance which bred a perfect orgy that revolts amongst the topic peoples” (110). Darius I invested the first couple of years that his reign putting down these revolts and also then more revised the satrapy system to ensure finish obedience to the king"s will.

Darius I kept the basic system describe by Cyrus the great but separated the realm into 7 regions and also each an ar into twenty satrapies i beg your pardon shrank the resources available to every individual satrap. The royal Secretary, royal Treasurer, and also Garrison commander of each satrapy were – together under Cyrus – responsible wholly to the king, no the satrap, and reported directly to the royal house. Darius I"s version would save the Achaemenid realm intact throughout the remainder that its history, but this is no to to speak it was never ever challenged.

The Satrap Revolts

In the power of Artaxerxes II Memnon (r. 404-358 BCE), his brother, Cyrus the Younger (satrap that Lydia, d. 401 BCE) rebelled in an effort to unseat the king and rule the realm himself. Artaxerxes II just learned of the army marching toward him late yet still was able to mount a defense thanks to the satrap Tissaphernes (l. 445-395 BCE), also satrap of Lydia. Cyrus" revolt was crushed, and he was eliminated in battle by Artaxerxes II who then command his army against Cyrus" Greek mercenaries. The story that the Greek warriors" escape indigenous Persia come the black Sea and earlier to their houses is famously said by Xenophon (l. 430 - c. 354 BCE) in his Anabasis.

The an excellent Satrap"s revolt of 372-362 BCE to be initiated by part satraps" dissatisfaction through Artaxerxes II"s policies.

Artaxerxes II"s regime did not proceed smoothly afterwards, however, together trouble occurred again in the great Satrap"s rebellion of 372-362 BCE. The revolt was initiated by part satraps" dissatisfaction through Artaxerxes II"s policies yet would never have launched there is no support and also encouragement from Egypt. The revolt started when Datames, satrap that Cappadocia (l. C. 407-c.362 BCE), was preferred by Artaxerxes II to lead a campaign versus Egypt. Egypt had been taken by the Persians under Cambyses II in 525 BCE however had thrown turn off Persian rule, at the very least of the Delta region, through 411 BCE. Projects were placed periodically from climate on to reclaim the lost territory and also Datames was in command of the 372 BCE expedition.

Feeling he to be unappreciated at Artaxerxes II"s court, and feeling poorly used, Datames embraced the assistance the Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo ns (r. C. 379-363 BCE) and also turned top top Artaxerxes II. He was defeated and killed in 362 BCE, however his revolt continued under the satrap the Phrygia Ariobarzanes (d. 362 BCE) who had actually joined his revolt in 366 BCE in objection come what he saw as Artaxerxes II"s arbitrarily policies. He to be betrayed by his son and also crucified together a traitor in 362 BCE.

Many other satraps were involved in the revolt, because that and versus Artaxerxes II. Among the best-known of these is Mausolus, satrap that Caria (r. 377-353 BCE) who played both political parties of the conflict yet remained loyal to Artaxerxes II. In ~ one point, declare the pressures of Artaxerxes II were marching versus one the his cities, he asked for funds from significant citizens and also rebel satraps to construct a protective wall. As soon as he had the money, he asserted that he had actually received word from the god that the time was not right for building a wall surface and deposit the funds in his exclusive treasury. Another time, he told the rebel satraps that he was unable to salary what to be owed to the king and also had purchase time by promise to pay an ext in the near future, encouraging castle to do the same. They adhered to his lead however were then forced to make good on your promise which extended the amount Mausolus owed and he wound up paying nothing (Olmstead, 415). That is most famed for his tomb, the Mausoleum in ~ Halicarnassus, among the seven Wonders the the old world.

Seleucid & Parthian Satraps

Although over there were later revolts and conspiracies the the satraps, the Achaemenid Empire continued on more or less steadily. Once the realm fell come Alexander the great under the reign of Darius III (336-330 BCE), the satrapy mechanism was still working well and also was preserved in ar by the succeeding Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid empire was established by among Alexander"s generals, Seleucus ns Nicator (r. 305-281 BCE), who initially had to project to consolidate his reign yet then organized the satraps he appointed in location through the Achaemenid version of government.

After his death, miscellaneous satrapies increased in revolt and also his successor, Antiochus i Soter (r. 281-261 BCE) enlisted the services of the Celts the Galatia as mercenaries to placed them down and bring the regions ago under his control. Among the objections of the civilization under Seleucid dominion was the the Seleucid kings – of Macedonian-Greek lineage – favored Greeks and also appointed them as satraps. Greek ended up being the language that the court and satraps were motivated in Hellenizing your regions. Alexander had tried to mix Persian and also Greek cultures and Seleucus I continued this policy however not all of his satraps – or those the his followers – were interested in follow the same.


One example of this is the satrap Andragoras the Parthia (d. 238 BCE) who was appointed under the power of Antiochus ns Soter or, an ext likely, his successor Antiochus II Theos (r. 261-246 BCE). The is referenced as an Iranian satrap who was one of two people assigned or took the Greek surname Andragoras ~ above his appointment. Little is recognized of him till his rebellion under the regime of Seleucus II Callinicus (r. 246-225 BCE) as soon as he claimed Parthia an live independence kingdom in 245 BCE shortly after Arsaces i of the Parni tribe damaged Parthia far from the Seleucid empire in 247 BCE. Andragoras tried to maintain his host on the kingdom together Arsaces I rose in power yet was eliminated in 238 BCE together the Parthian realm rose under Arsaces I"s power (247-217 BCE). Arsaces I expanded his territory, capitalizing top top the Seleucid Empire"s various distractions, and his followers would proceed this policy, particularly after the Seleucid defeat by Rome in ~ the fight of Magnesia in 190 BCE and also the humiliating contract of Apamea the 188 BCE, which price the Seleucids most of your empire.

The Parthians likewise kept the Achaemenid satrapy device but enabled a looser confederation with less emphasis on the main government. Customer kings (also recognized as vassal kings) were enabled to retain your positions and appointed satraps were offered greater liberty in making and enforcing policy. The Parthian realm was separated into top Parthia and Lower Parthia, comprised of five regions then divided into provinces. These provinces were permitted to act relatively freely without regard to the dictates the the main government and also this eventually led to the empire"s downfall when one of the vassal kings, Ardashir i (r. 224-240 CE) rebelled against the Parthian king Artabanus vi (r. 213-224 CE), beating him and founding the Sassanian Empire.

Sassanian Satrapy

Ardashir I additionally kept the Achaemenid model after consolidating the broken regions of the Parthian Empire. The emphasized a strong main government and appointed satraps (known together Shahrabs) the his own picking to the various provinces. The significant difference between the Sassanian system and also the Achaemenid was the key of the faith of Zoroastrianism. The prophet and also visionary Zoroaster (also recognized as Zarathustra) received his revelation and developed the faith at some suggest between 1500-1000 BCE and, while the is unclear even if it is Cyrus the great was an adherent, it was the religious beliefs of his followers from Darius i onwards.

Satraps were encouraged to welcome civilization of all faiths & therefore Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and others were permitted to practice their belief freely.

The Achaemenids did no make Zoroastrianism a component of their political platform, however, when the Sassanians did. Zoroastrianism ended up being the state religion and also satraps were intended to encourage its values of the belief in a single supreme god named Ahura Mazda, the source of every good, and also his eternal antagonist Ahriman (also known as Angra Mainyu), who was completely evil. Further, the definition of life was to be found in selecting which of these deities one would certainly serve and also the acknowledgment that humans had complimentary will to do this decision and then live v the consequences.

Zoroastrianism gave rise to a so-called heresy recognized as Zorvanizm which maintained the simple belief system of the mom religion however claimed that both Ahura Mazda and Ahriman had been produced by Zorvan (time) and also so were brothers and created beings. All human occasions were for this reason dictated by Zorvan, not Ahura Mazda, together all things occurred in time and also time at some point held supreme power over one"s life and death. Many Sassanian satraps to be Zorvanites but, since this “heresy” to be so close to Zoroastrianism the does not seem to have caused any problems. Shapur i (r. 240-270 CE), Ardashir I"s son and successor, was most most likely a Zorvanite and also had the visionary mani (l. 216-274 CE), founder the Manichaeism, as a guest in ~ his court.


The Sassanian empire is considered the height of ancient Persian culture and a far-ranging aspect of its success was its policy of spiritual tolerance. Satraps were motivated to welcome people of all faiths and also so Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and any rather were enabled to develop houses of prayer throughout the empire and practice their confidence freely. This policy, i m sorry was central to the Achaemenid government, may have been as effective as it to be under the Sassanians since of the Zorvanite insistence top top time – a nebulous ide – as the can be fried arbiter of life and death quite than a specific deity with a particular agenda.

The Sassanian realm fell come the invading Muslim Arabs in 651 CE and, back the basic kind of the satrapy system would be retained, spiritual tolerance to be rejected in donate of a policy of counter and, eventually, tax of non-Muslims. The Persian system was ongoing by the post-Muslim empires of the Safavids, Afshars, Zands, and the Qajar indigenous c. 1501-1925 CE and, by the time of the faster of these, had currently influenced the breakthrough of the roman government, the nascent European says of late Antiquity, and also would proceed to affect other governmental solution up come the existing day.

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A freelance writer and also former part-time Professor of philosophy at Marist College, brand-new York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and also traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy in ~ the college level.