The Persian Empire
Having subdued Asia Minor, Cyrus next turned his arms against the Assyrians of Babylon. His siege and capture of Babylon (B.C. 538), when he effected his entrance by diverting the course of the Euphrates, form one of the most romantic incidents in history; an incident connected with Scriptural narrative through its result - the emancipation of the Jews from their captivity. Along with Babylon, its dependencies, Phoenicia and Palestine, came under the Persians.
Cyrus, one of the most remarkable men of the ancient world, having perished in an invasion of Scythia (B.C. 529), was succeeded by his son Cambyses, who annexed Egypt to the Persian empire (B.C. 525), having, defeated Psammanitus, the son of the Pharaoh Amasis. Foiled in his intention of penetrating Libya and Ethiopia, Cambyses was dethroned by a Magian impostor, who called himself Smerdis, pretending that he was the younger brother of Cambyses, although this brother had been put to death by the order of Cambyses during a fit of madness. A conspiracy of seven great nobles having been formed against the false Smerdis, he was put to death. He was succeeded by one of the conspiring chiefs called Darius Hystaspes, who reigned over the immense Persian empire, extending from the Nile to the Indus, and beyond it - from B.C. 531 to B.C. 485. The reign of Darius,' says Mr. Grote, 'was one of organization, different from that of his predecessor - a difference which the Persians well understood and noted, calling Cyrus "the father," Cambyses "the master," and Darius "the retail trader or huckster." In the mouth of the Persians this last epithet must be construed as no insignificant compliment, since it intimates that he was the first to introduce some methodical order into the imperial administration and finances. Under the two former kings there was no definite amount of tribute levied upon the subject provinces. But Darius probably felt it expedient to relieve the provinces from the burden of undefined exactions. He distributed the whole empire into twenty departments (called Satrapies), imposing upon each a fixed annual tax. This, however, did not prevent each satrap (the Persian governor appointed by the king) in his own province from indefinite requisitions. The satrap was a little king, who acted nearly as he pleased in the internal administration of his province, subject only to the necessity of sending up the imperial tribute to the king at Susa, the capital of the Persian empire; of keeping off foreign enemies; and of furnishing an adequate military contingent for the foreign enterprises of the great king. To every satrap was attached a royal secretary or comptroller of the revenue, who probably managed the imperial finances in the province, and to whom the court of Susa might perhaps look as a watch upon the satrap himself. The satrap or the secretary apportioned the sum payable by the satrapy in the aggregate among the various component districts, towns, or provinces, leaving to the local authorities in each of these latter the task of assessing it upon individual inhabitants. From necessity, therefore, as well as from indolence of temper and political incompetence, the Persians were compelled to respect the authorities which they found standing both in town and country, and to leave in their hands a large measure of genuine influence. Often even the petty kings who had governed separate districts during their state of independence, prior to the Persian conquest, retained their title and dignity as tributaries to the court of Susa. The empire of the great king was thus an aggregate of heterogeneous elements, connected together by no tie except that of common fear and subjection - noway coherent nor self-supporting, nor pervaded by any common system or spirit of nationality.'