Episode 20: The Forgotten King

Darius I the Great as he appears on the Behistun Inscription.

522 BCE was a crazy year for the Persian Empire. That was the year that Bardiya – or maybe Gaumata – seized power. He overturned his brother and ruled the empire to try and save it. He halted rebellion and made peace with the nobility. However, nobody can usurp the throne or be a reformer without making a few enemies, and Darius became a lethal enemy to Bardiya.
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Episode 19: Three Kings and The Magi

Gaumata trampled under Darius’s foot as depicted in the Behistun Inscription. From Livius.org via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

In 522 BCE, the Persian Empire sat on the edge of Chaos. Between March and September of that year, 3 men sat on the Persian throne, and according to the official royal history one of those kings was actually impersonated by a couple of magi. This episode is the first to really question who the Magi were. This episode also discusses the many theories of what really happened that year.
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Aspects of History and Epic in Ancient Iran: From Gaumāta to Wahnām

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Episode 18: The Tyrant and The Kings

Polykrates by Mikhail I. Kozlovsky, 1790 in bronze, in the Russian Museum. The piece depicts the crucifixion of the tyrant. From Stebanoid via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The story of Polykrates, the Tyrant of Samos, intersects repeatedly with the history of the Persian empire during his life. From his rise to power in the vacuum left when Miletus was conquered, to his alliance with Egypt against the Persians, and finally to his death on the orders of a Satrap. His story feeds directly into the history around Oroites, the Satrap of Sparda (the kingdom formerly known as Lydia). Oroites tried to seize some power for himself in events that prepare our narrative for the chaotic years following Cambyses’ death.
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Episode 17: The Mad King

Cambyses killing the Apis Bull as depicted in a sketch from the 1881 Illustrated History of the World from Ward, Lock, and Co.

The story of Cambyses isn’t just the conquest of Egypt, but also the dark side of it. According to Herodotus Cambyses was a mad king, driven to paranoia and acts of terrible violence while he was Egypt. The Greek Historian, as well as the Behistun Inscription, tell how Cambyses II murdered his family members and drove his own empire into open revolt. This episode describes the Persian tragedy of the King of King’s fall into madness.

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Episode 16: Pharaoh Cambyses

In 525 BCE, the Persian army crossed into Egypt, in what seems to have been the culmination of years of antagonism between the the new empire and the last great kingdom of the Near East. To accomplish his task, the new King of Kings, Cambyses, mustered all his resources. He assembled a huge land army, constructed Persia’s first navy, and formed alliances from the Greek islands in the Aegean to tribal kings in Arabia. Over the following three years, he established and consolidated Persian rule over the kingdom of the two lands, bringing one of the oldest civilizations in the world under Persian domination.
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Archaeologists May Have Found 2,500-year-old Persian Military Base in Northern Israel

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Episode 15: The Army That Conquered The World

The Immortals at court as depicted on the walls of Darius I’s palace in Susa with colored bricks. You can see the elaborate colors and patterns of their robes and what equipment they carried. If you look on their front feet, you can see the silver counterweight that gave them the name “Apple Bearers.” Photo from Jakob Harlun via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

In preparation for Cambyses’ invasion of Egypt, we’re covering the early Persian armies. These are the armies that helped Cyrus the Great conquer the known world. They started as troops levied from Persia and Media, but grew to incorporate every facet of the empire and built on the history of Near Eastern warfare to form a disciplined and organized system.

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Episode 14: Princes, Princesses, Kings, and Queens

Bardiya/Smerdis (left) and Cambyses (right) as depicted in the 15th century by William Caxton.

The narrative lurches forward again with a discussion of the new cast, so to speak. Meet Cambyses, Atossa, Bardiya, Artystone, and Roxane: the children of Cyrus the Great and the new royal family of the Persian Empire. This time I’m breaking down marriage customs, inheritance rights, and political training. Or to put that another way: incest, dividing the empire, and the next round of political power plays. Cyrus the Great is gone, and his empire would never be quite the same again. 

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