Empires of Ancient Persia
For almost 1,200 years, from 550 B.C.E. to 651 C.E., the Persians dominated an area that stretched from the Black Sea (which is north of modern Turkey and bordered by Eastern Europe) into Central Asia. Throughout its long history, Persia had contact with—and often battled—many of the other great empires of the past.
The Persian homeland was centered in the southwest of modernday Iran, along the Zagros Mountains. From there, the Persians conquered the various kingdoms of Mesopotamia, in the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now Iraq. They then spread their influence over Egypt and the fringes of southern Europe. This made them the first empire builders to control part of three continents. To the east, Persian rule extended as far as India.
It is difficult to talk about one Persian Empire, because three distinct Persian peoples rose to power at different times. But they shared a similar language and culture and ruled many of the same lands. The Achaemenid dynasty created what is sometimes called the Persian Empire. Their rule lasted from about 559 b.c.e. until 330 b.c.e., when Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great (356–323 b.c.e.). Several centuries later, the Parthians rose to power in the region. They were followed by the Sassanians.
For centuries, historians in Europe and North America studied the Persians mostly through the words of ancient Greek and Roman writers. Their writings provided important information on Persian history and culture. But the ancient Greeks and Romans saw the Persians as their enemies, and so their accounts of the Persians were not always accurate...