1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Persis

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
22501661911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 21 — PersisEduard Meyer

PERSIS (mod. Fars, q.v.), the south-western part of Iran (Persia), named from the inhabitants, the Iranian people of the Pārsa (Fars); their name was pronounced by the Ionians Persai, with change from a to e, and this form has become dominant in Greek and in the modern European languages. The natural features of Persis are described very exactly by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander the Great (preserved by Arrian Indic. 40 and Strabo xv. 727). The country is divided into three parts, of very different character and climate: the coast is sandy and very hot, without much vegetation except date palms, it has no good harbours, and the climate is very unwholesome; the population is scanty. About 50 m. from the coast rise the chains of the mountains, through which some steep passes lead into the interior valleys (called κοιλὴ Περσίς, Strabo xv. 729), which lie about 5000 ft. above the sea. Here the climate is temperate, the country watered by many rivers and lakes, the soil fertile, the vegetation rich, the cattle numerous. These regions, which were thickly populated, form the real Persis of history. “This land Persis,” says Darius, in an inscription at Persepolis, “which Ahuramazda has given to me, which is beautiful and rich in horses and men, according to the will of Ahuramazda and myself it trembles before no enemy.” The third part is the north, which belongs to the central plateau, still much higher, and therefore rough and very cold in the winter. Towards the north-west it borders on the Median district of Paraetacene (about Isfahan); towards the north and north-east it soon passes into the great desert, of which only the oasis of Yezd (Isatichai in Ptolem. vi. 4, 2) is inhabitable. In the east, Persis proper is separated by a desert (Laristan) from the fertile province of Carmania (Kerman), a mountainous region inhabited by a Persian tribe. To Carmania belonged also the coast, with the islands and harbours of Hormuz and Bander Abbasi. In the west Persis borders on the mountains and plains of Elam or Susiana. For the ancient topography cf. Tomaschek, “Beiträge zur historischen Topographie von Persien,” in Sitzungsber. der Wiener Akademie, phil. Cl. cii. cviii. cxxi.

The Persians are not mentioned in history before the time of Cyrus; the attempt to identify them with the Parsua, a district in the Zagros chains south of Lake Urmia, often mentioned by the Assyrians, is not tenable. The Parsua are perhaps the non-Arian tribe Πάρσιοι in northern Media, Strabo xi. 508. Herodotus i. 125, gives a list of Persian tribes: the Pasargadae (at Murghab), Maraphii, Maspii, Panthialaei (in western Carmania), Derusiaei, Germanii (i.e. the Carmanians) are husbandmen, the Dahae (i.e. the “enemies,” a general name of the rapacious nomads, used also for the Turanian tribes), Mardi, Dropici, Sagartii (called by Darius Asagarta, in the central desert; cf. Herod. vii. 85) are nomads. The kings of the Pasargadae, from the clan of the Achaemenidae, had become kings of the Elamitic district Anshan (probably in 596, cf. Cyrus). When, in 553, Cyrus, king of Anshan, rebelled against Astyages, the Maraphians and Maspians joined with the Pasargadae; after his victory over Astyages all the Persian tribes acknowledged him, and he took the title of “king of Persia.” But from then only the inhabitants of Persis proper were considered as the rulers of the empire, and remained therefore in the organization of Darius free from taxes (Herod. iii. 97). But Carmania, with the Sagartians, the Utians (called by Darius Yautiya), and other tribes, formed a satrapy and paid tribute (Herod. iii. 93), the later authors therefore always distinguished between Carmania and Persis. Names of other Persian tribes, partly of very doubtful authority, are given by Strabo xv. 727,[1] and Ptolem. vi. 4 and 8.

The Persians of Cyrus (see Persia: Ancient History) were a vigorous race of husbandmen, living in a healthy climate, accustomed to hardship, brave and upright; many stories in Herodotus (especially ix. 122) point the contrast between their simple life and the effeminate nations of the civilized countries of Asia. They were firmly attached to the pure creed of Zoroaster (cf. Herod. i. 131 sqq. and the inscriptions of Darius).

When Darius had killed the usurper Smerdis and gained the crown, a new usurper, Vahyazdāta, who likewise pretended to be Smerdis, the son of Cyrus, rose in Yautiya, but was defeated in two battles by Darius's generals and put to death (Behistun inscription). Cyrus had built his capital with his palace and tomb, in Pasargadae (q.v.). Darius founded a new city about 30 m. farther south on the left bank of the Pulwar, near its confluence with the Kur, with a large terrace, on which his magnificent palace and that of his son Xerxes were built. As Pasargadae was named after the tribe in whose district it lay, so the new capital is by the Persians and Greeks simply called “the Persians”; later authors call it Persepolis (q.v.), “the Persian city.” Another Persian palace lay in Taoke, near the coast (Strabo xv. 728; Arrian Ind. 39; Dionys. Perieg. 1069); Gabae, which Strabo mentions besides, is Isfahan in Paraetacene and belonged already to Media.

Both in Persepolis and Pasargadae large masses of gold and silver from the tribute of the subject nations were treasured, as in Susa and Ecbatana. But Persis lies too far off from the centre of the Asiatic world to be the seat of government. Like Arabia and similar countries, it could exercise a great momentary influence in history and produce a sudden change throughout the world; but afterwards it would sink into local insignificance. So the Persian kings fixed their residence at Susa, which is always considered as the capital of the empire (therefore Aeschylus wrongly considers it as a Persian town and places the tomb of Darius here). After the reign of Xerxes, Persis and Persepolis became utterly neglected, in spite of occasional visits, and even the palaces of Persepolis remained in part unfinished. But the national feeling of the Persians remained strong. When Alexander had won the victory of Arbela, and occupied Babylon and Susa, he met (in the spring of 330) with strong resistance in Persia, where the satrap Ariobarzanes tried to stop his progress at the “Persian gates,” the pass leading up to Persepolis. Here he set fire to the cedar roof of the palace of Xerxes as a symbol that the Greek war of revenge against the Persians had come to an end. Our best information tells us that he soon had the fire extinguished (Plut. Alex. 38); the story of Thais is a pure fiction, and we may well believe that he repented the damage he had done (Arrian vi. 30, 1).

Alexander had planned to amalgamate the former rulers of the world with his Macedonians; but his death was followed by a Macedonian reaction. Peucestas, the new satrap of Persis, followed the example of Alexander, and thus gained a strong hold on his subjects (Diod. xix. 48); nor did Seleucus, to whom the dominion of the east ultimately passed (from 311 onwards), disdain the aid of the Persians; he is the only one among the Diadochi who retained his Persian wife, Apame, daughter of Spitamenes. At the same time Seleucus and his son Antiochus I. Soter tried to introduce Hellenism into Persis. Of Greek towns which they founded here we know Alexandria in Carmania (Plin. vi. 107; Ptol. vi. 8, 14; Ammian. Marc. 23, 6, 49), Laodicea in the east of Persis (Plin. 6, 115), Stasis, “a Persian town on a great rock, which Antiochus, the son of Seleucus, possessed” (Steph. Byz. s.v.), Antiochia in Persis, founded apparently by Seleucus I. and peopled by Antiochus I. with immigrants called together from all Greece, as we learn from a psephisma passed by “boulē and demos” of this town in 206 in honour of Magnesia on the Maeander (Kern, Inschriften von Magnesia am Maeander, No. 61 = Dittenberger, Orientis gr. inscr. 233, where they are mentioned together with a great many Seleucid towns in Susiana and Babylonia, and compare Kern, No. 18 = Dittenberger, No. 231). An insurrection of the Persians against Seleucus (II.) is mentioned in two stratagems of Polyaenus (vii. 39. 40). When in 221 Molon, the satrap of Media, rebelled against Antiochus III., his brother Alexander, satrap of Persis, joined him, but they were defeated and killed by the king. Persis remained a part of the Seleucid empire down to Antiochus IV. Epiphanes, who at the end of his reign restored once more the authority of the empire in Babylonia, Susiana and Persis; perhaps a battle, in which the satrap Numenius of Mesene (southern Babylonia) defeated the Persians on the shore of Carmania on sea and land (Plin. vi. 152), belongs to this time. But after the death of Antiochus IV. (164) the Seleucid Empire began to dissolve. While the central provinces, Media and northern Babylonia, were conquered by the Parthians, Mesene, Elymais and Persis made themselves independent.

Persis never became a part of the empire of the Arsacids, although her kings recognized their supremacy when they were strong (Strabo xv. 728, 736). From the periplus of the Erythraean Sea 33-37 we learn that their authority extended over the shores of Carmania and the opposite coasts of Arabia. A Persian king, Artaxerxes, who was murdered by his brother Gosithros at the age of 93 years, is mentioned in a fragment of Isidore of Charax (Lucian, Macrobii, 15). Other names occur on their coins, the oldest of which are imitations of Seleucid coins, and were perhaps struck by local dynasts under their supremacy; most of the others show the king’s head with the Persian tiara, and on the reverse a fire-altar with the adoring king before it, a standard (perhaps the famous banner of the smith Kavi, which became the standard of Iran under the Sassanids), and occasionally the figure of Ahuramazda; they were first explained by A. D. Mordtmann in Zeitschrift für Numismatik, iii., iv. and vii.; cf. Grundriss der iranischen Philol. ii. 486 seq. The legends are in Aramaic characters and Persian (Pahlavi) language; among them occur Artaxerxes, Darius (from a dynast of this name the town Darabjird, “town of Darius,” in eastern Persia seems to derive its name), Narses, Tiridates, Manocihr and others, the name Vahuburz seems to be identical with Oborzos, mentioned by Polyaenus vii. 40, who put down a rebellion of 3000 settlers (κάτοικοι) in Persis. From the traditions about Ardashir I. we know that at his time there were different petty kingdoms and usurpers in Persis; the principal dynasty is by Tabari called Bāzrangi. The coins demonstrate that Hellenism had become quite extinct in Persis, while the old historical and mythical traditions and the Zoroastrian religion were supreme. There can be no doubt that at this time the true form of Zoroastrianism and the sacred writings were preserved only in Persis, whereas everywhere else (in Parthia, in the Indo-Scythian kingdoms of the east and in the great propagandist movement in Armenia, Syria and Asia Minor, where it developed into Mithraism) it degenerated and was mixed with other cults and ideas. So the revival of Zoroastrianism came from Persis. When Ardashir I. attempted to restore the old empire of Cyrus and Darius, and in 212 A.D. rose against the Parthian king, Artabanus, his aim was religious as well as political. The new Sassanid Empire which he founded enforced the restored religion of Zoroaster (Zarathustra) on the whole of Iran.

The new capital of Persis was Istakhr on the Pulwar, about 9 m. above Persepolis, now Hajjiabād, where even the predecessors of Ardashir I. are said to have resided. It was a great city under the Sassanids, of which some ruins are extant. But it shared the fate of its predecessor; when the empire was founded the Sassanids could no longer remain in Persis but transferred their headquarters to Ctesiphon.  (Ed. M.) 

  1. To the Pateiskhoreis belongs the lance-bearer of Darius, “Gobryas (Gaubaruva) the Pātishuvari,” mentioned in his tomb-inscription; they occur also in an inscription of Esarhaddon as Patush-ara, eastwards of Media, in Choarene at the Caspian gates; the Kyrtii are the Kurds.