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Ancient Egypt: The Persian Satrapy, 525-404 BCE
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The Persian Satrapy
625 - 404 BCE

Persian empire
    With the conquest of Egypt, the Persian kings became pharaohs, constituting the 27th and 31st dynasties. Cambyses appointed a satrap, Aryandes, who ruled Egypt, Kyrene and Barca from Memphis.
    Economically the country formed an important part of the empire, being its breadbasket (as it was to be Rome's). It paid the highest tribute of all the Persian satrapies, 700 talents of silver. (Cilicians were taxed 500 talents as were the Lydians, Ionians and Carians 450, Phrygians 350 and Phoenicia, Cyprus and Palestine another 350.) Moreover it was responsible for the upkeep of the occupying army.
 
    During the unrest prior to the accession of Darius I (522-486 BCE), Aryandes intervened militarily in Kyrene whose tyrant Arkesilas II had been killed and he launched an unsuccessful attack by sea and land against Barca
Aryandes sent a messenger to Barca to inquire who had killed Arkesilaus, before sending his army. The people of Barca said that all the city had agreed to it as Arkesilaus had committed many crimes. On hearing this Aryandes despatched Pheretime at the head of an army. But this was just an excuse. I think that the army was sent to conquer Libya.

Herodotus, Histories IV, 167

    Darius I was not pleased with the outcome of this expensive expedition and having come to Egypt in 517, he condemned Aryandes to death for having struck coins, a royal Persian monopoly
Aryandes had been made governor of Egypt by Cambyses, later he was executed by Darius for making himself equal to the king. When he learned that Darius intended to leave a memorial surpassing anything other kings had left, Aryandes did likewise and was punished for it. The coins struck by Darius were of extremely pure gold and Aryandes, who was ruling Egypt, made silver coins, and no silver money was as pure as that of Aryandes. When Darius heard of this, he had Aryandes executed for rebellion, but not for striking coins.

Herodotus, Histories IV, 166

    While Cambyses had enraged the priesthood by taking over large parts of the temples' wealth and income - Herodotus describes him as mad and sacrilegious - Darius was spoken of more favourably. He lightened the tax burden, returned some of the impounded possessions to the temples and helped to restore temples at Karnak, Fayum and Memphis. A temple of Amen in the oasis of el Kargeh was reconstructed. But as had happened under Egyptian pharaohs, the Persians favoured some temples - mainly those of Thebes and Memphis - over others, such as the temple of Neith at Sais. The nationwide cult of Isis also grew in importance.
 
    Darius improved irrigation and finished the canal begun by Necho. The trade route through Wadi Hammamat from Koptos to Qoseir on the Red Sea became widely used as well. In his third year he ordered the compilation of Egyptian law, of which the Demotic Legal Code of Hermopolis was part, that took sixteen years to complete. His reign was a time of order and prosperity. Diodorus considered him to be one of the greatest legislators and administrators of Egypt.
 
    Following the death of Darius in 486 a rebellion broke out in Egypt which was suppressed by Xerxes (483), who was not favourable towards Egyptians, treating the country as a conquered province and not employing any Egyptians in his administration but entrusting the government of the satrapy to his brother Achaemenes. The Egyptians had to supply 200 ships for the battle of Salamis. This Persian defeat and the following defeat at Plataia weakened the Persian hold over their territories.
Xerxes marched against the rebels in the year after the death of Darius. He subdued them and laid Egypt under a much harder slavery than in the time of Darius, and he handed it over to Achaemenes, his own brother and Darius' son. While ruling Egypt, Achaemenes was later killed by a Libyan, Inaros son of Psammetic.

Herodotus, Histories 7.7

    Another revolt broke out after Xerxes was assassinated by the chief of his guard. Inaros, with Athenian support took control of part of the Delta around Sais, Amyrtaios of the northern marshes (460). After taking Cyprus from the Persians, the Athenians sent more than 200 ships and troops under Charitimides to Egypt. Achaemenes was killed at Papremis and the remaining Persians defended the citadel of Memphis vigorously. The Athenian fleet reached Memphis but couldn't conquer them. The satrap of Syria Megabysis arrived with a strong Phoenician fleet and an army. Charitimides fell and Inaros was wounded (456) and surrendered after fighting for a year and a half in the marshes, was taken to Susa and, after many delays, executed by Artaxerxes.
 
    The new satrap Sarsamas pursued a policy of conciliation and handed the control of Sais to Thannyras, son of Inaros and set up Pausisris, son of Amyrtaios, as governor of Buto.
There are many instances showing that it is their [i.e. the Persians'] custom so to do [that is honouring kings' sons], and notably the giving back of his father's sovereign power to Thannyras son of Inaros, and also to Pausiris son of Amyrtaeus; yet none ever did the Persians more harm than Inaros and Amyrtaeus.

Herodotus, Histories 3.15

Darius II (424-404 BCE), who followed Artaxerxes II, embellished the temple of el Kargeh, and had a hymn to Amen engraved there. But the Persian kings of the late 5th century were weak and their continued hold over their empire mostly due to dissension among their main enemies, the Greeks.

 


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