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in the wake of the fall of Babylon,
the Persians and Medes rose up in a great empire under Cyrus. His mighty
rule stretched from the Indus to the mountainous reaches of central Asia
through Babylonia and Arabia to Judea, where it met with the border of the
Egyptian kingdom. Cyrus's son Cambyses II decided to add Egypt to the
menagerie of the empire.
His brother Bardiya had been named satrap of provinces in the far east,
but Cambyses knew better than to leave a popular heir to the throne while
he, the proper emperor, was gone to war. He had Bardiya secretly killed
and then set toward Egypt with a powerful army. Even after his brother's
death, Cambyses was haunted by dreams of Bardiya on the royal throne and
being able to pull back the bow of the Ethiopians while Cambyses could
Despite his dreams, Cambyses conquered Egypt thoroughly in 525 BC. He made
efforts to invade Kush to the south, but harsh deserts forced his armies
to retreat. Later, he launched a failed expedition to punish the Oracle of
Amin at the Siwa Oasis in which 50,000 men were buried in a freak
sandstorm. His next military advance was planned against Carthage, but his
Phoenician allies refused to fight against their brothers.
"I don't know if the Persian Empire could have
lasted so long, or grown so large; they had huge civil wars on a regular
basis. That was how Xenophon and his mercs got stuck where they were at
the beginning of _Anabasis_...they had been hired by the wrong side in one
of those" - reader's comment
In 522 BC, word came to Cambyses that
Bardiya had returned to Susa. The emperor formed up his army to destroy
the usurper, but, according to his spear-carrier Darius, Cambyses was
afraid. Victory seemed impossible against a man he had already killed, a
crime he finally publicly confessed, though no one seemed to believe him.
Cambyses stabbed himself in the thigh with his own sword, making to look
like an accident, and died over a week later from gangrene. Darius
gathered the army and returned to Susa himself.
Upon arrival in the capital, Darius met with the years-dead Bardiya. It
seemed to be him, so much so that even his own wives in his harem said
that it was he. The people loved him thanks to the negligent absence of
Cambyses in Egypt and Bardiya's three-year celebration of tax remissions.
However, as Bardiya had transferred the capital Media, the story began to
unravel: Bardiya was actually Gaumata, a Medean magician from the east who
had made himself to look like the dead prince. The Persian lord Otanes
discovered the truth and gathered a group of his fellows, including
Darius, to carry out an assassination.
They planned to catch the impostor by surprise in his castle, but Bardiya
was tipped off by his network of spies. His guards caught the assassins,
and they were hanged within hours. Bardiya went on to rule for decades
more, turning eastward to expand the empire of the Medes deeper into the
rich lands of India. In coming decades, there would be squabbles with the
Greeks inhabiting Asia Minor, but the Bardiyan line would pacify the
locals with shows of military strength, construction projects, and wealth
through trade. Many suspected a Persian invasion across the Dardanelles,
but the imperial attention went continually east.
In the fourth century BC, the Macedonians would descend upon Achean and
conquer their fellow Greeks under Philip II. His son Alexander continued
the unification of Greece by turning against the Persians. His invasion
would cross like lightning through Asia Minor and into Judea, but the
imperial counter-attack at the Siege of Babylon would kill the young
conqueror with an army hardened by years of warfare conquering Indian
kingdoms. With attention turned westward again, the Persians would
reconquer Egypt and bring back their old allies in Phoenicia for a
successful invasion of Greece. After putting the Greeks under control,
they pressed westward in the Mediterranean, taking the defeated Carthage
as a protectorate and conquering the upstart Latins in their village
Eventually the Persian Empire would spread from what the Greeks called the
Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) to the nestled southeastern edge of the
Himalayas. Over the centuries, the empire would grow ungainly and weak,
falling in the west to German barbarians and disintegrating into
nation-states in a vast revolution. While the empire is a shadow of itself
as Persia today, its foundations can be seen as Zoroastrianism stands as
the principle philosophy of the world. That which is good works for the
good in Ahura Mazda, and evil is evil, and to ask "What is good?" or "What
is evil?" is a silly game attributed to Greeks.