So, what did the Persian Empire - which once covered modern-day Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan - introduce to the world? Well, here are five things the Persians did for us.
Whilst ancient Egypt and Sumeria had roads, it was the Persians who introduced The Royal Road. Under the Achaemenid Dynasty (550-330 BCE), they built a network of over 2,500 km (1,550 miles) of roads, from their outer fringe provinces to their beating capital Persepolis (in modern day Iran). The Romans, famous for their roads (and seemingly the ones to get most of the historical credit), actually learned and modeled theirs after the Persians. Such a network was necessary for an organized, efficient, and integrated empire - and the Persians really cracked it.
Persia was not simply a military empire; it was an integrated, centralized power with a well-considered bureaucracy and a working political infrastructure. This was all run through their “satrapy” system. A satrap was a local governor appointed by the emperor, and granted certain regional freedoms to do what was best - so long, of course, as it served the good of the empire. There were roughly 20 satrapies over 5 million sq. km (1.93 million square miles) of empire. It’s because of satrapies that Persia is often identified as the first ever “state.”
The Persians invented a formal, functioning postal system. The Egyptians and Assyrians had writing and courier services, but it was only under Darius I (548-486 BCE) that the world got its first network of relay systems and postal houses. A parcel-carrying Persian postman would get on a horse, gallop it to across the landscape to the next exchange house (which were roughly a day apart), then swap horses and ride on. It was all far quicker and far more effective than anything that had come before. And, a couple of millennia later, it was copied in America when the Pony Express was established in 1860.
Empires before the Persians, like the Egyptians and the Assyrians, forced people to bow to their gods and adopt their ways. But, under the great emperors of Achaemenid rule, conquered people were allowed to keep their beliefs and religious practices, as long as they didn’t upset the stability of the empire. And, since the Persian Empire spanned three continents, it was a remarkably diverse, multifarious federation of many tribes, ethnicities, and religious identities. It was quite acceptable for a Jew, Manichaean, or Zoroastrian to all debate theology in the cultural melting pot that was Persepolis. Unsurprisingly, this benevolence enabled Persian cities to become a source of great scientific, philosophical, and technological innovation.
Many of us are now lucky enough to have a garden or yard, but it all started with the Persians. Whilst, the Egyptians had wonderful oases and the Babylonians had their Hanging Gardens, it was the Persians who took gardens mainstream. Persians saw a garden as a “paradise on earth,” and anyone who could afford to would hire a landscape gardener or horticulturist to make sure something verdant and lovely was always within eyeshot of the house. Persian Gardens, or “Chahar Bagh,” often featured a wide variety of plant life and flowing water features. They were places of recreation but also contemplation, discussion, and business.
Persia was the centre of the world for half a millennium. It was here that modern civilization truly began.