Page images



The Persian armies were a great source of evil to | lated pillars of this edifice, which, founded in an age the country. An enormous military force was con- beyond the reach of tradition, have witnessed the stantly maintained, and hordes of the wandering tribes, lapse of countless generations, and seen dynasties and on the borders of the empire, were kept in pay. empires rise, flourish, and decay, while they still rear Every man capable of bearing arms was enrolled in their gray heads unchanged. The palace seems to his own district, and forced to become a soldier on have been at the same time a citadel and a bulwark; the first summons. This military constitution enabled the columns are disposed in a colonnade around a the Persians to make rapid conquests, but it prevented terrace. They are of gray marble, upwards of seventy all stability in the government. The soldiers fought feet in height. The capitals and decorations are very for pay or plunder, and were held together by no beautiful, although in a taste different from the Grecian. common principle save attachment to their leader. Many parts of these ruins are covered with sculpThe death or flight of a commander in-chief instantly tures, which are very curious as illustrations of the decided the fate of a Persian army. A heavy tax ancient costumes and manners of the Persians. They on the nation was required to support the vast military represent trains of subjects from different parts of the force, and maintain the barbarous splendor with which kingdom bringing presents to the sovereign. Battles, the kings and satraps deemed it necessary to surround single combats, and other incidents in the Persian histheir dignity. The exactions wrung from the culti-tory, are also depicted, sometimes according to nature, vators of the soil rendered the Persian peasantry the and at other times by symbols. Among the ruins most miserable in all Asia. have also been found inscriptions in the arrow-headed character, differing from those of Nineveh, and called Persepolitan. These are supposed to be in the Zend language, or sacred dialect of the Magians. As we have already stated, they have been a subject of much investigation with the learned of Europe.

Of the agriculture and manufactures of the ancient Persians history says but little. The commercial power of the Babylonians fell into their hands, but they opened no new branch of trade, and scarcely maintained those which they found already established. They coined money at a very early period. The daric was a gold coin named from Darius, but whether Darius the Mede, or Darius Hystaspes, antiquarians do not agree. It was in value about ten dollars, and was stamped on one side with the figure of an archer clothed in a long robe, wearing a spiked crown, and holding a bow and arrows; on the other side was the head of Darius. All the other coins of the same weight and value, which were struck by the succeeding kings of Persia, whether of the native or of the Macedoman race, were called darics. The original pieces were mostly melted down by Alexander the Conqueror.


The architecture of Persepolis is quite different from that of the more ancient cities of Babylon and Nineveh. In some respects it resembles that of Egypt, though in others it is quite distinct. There are tombs and sepulchral chambers cut in the face of rocks; but they are shallow, with porticos richly sculptured. The entire surface of the walls is covered with figures and inscriptions, the drawings being stiff and the representations generally in profile. Other parts of the architecture seem to resemble that of Greece. On the whole, it bears no distinct character, and seems rather a crude jumble than an original and peculiar style. The vast extent of the edifices, the high finish of the decorations, and the occasional beauty both of design and workmanship displayed, must, however, always render these ruins a matter of the deepest interest. Should the arrow-head writings ever be translated, they will

Antiquities of Persia-Persepolis - Shuster-doubtless throw great light upon the history of ancient



The ruins of Shuster belong to the Sassanian era. THE antiquities of Persia may be divided into two This city is said to have been founded by Shahpoor. classes, referring to different periods-those of an age A tradition, still extant, affirms that this monarch comprevious to the conquest by Alexander, and those be-pelled his Roman captives to aid in building the city, longing to the era of the Sassanides. Of the former class, by far the most interesting and extensive are the ruins of Persepolis, called by the natives Tchil Minar, or the forty columns. This city is said to have been twenty-five miles in length. Its palace, filled with treasures, was set on fire by Alexander, as elsewhere related this and a part of the town were destroyed. Persepolis was much injured, though it continued to be a place of importance. It has, however, long been reduced to ruins. Nothing can be more striking than the appearance of these relics, situated at the base of a rugged mountain overlooking a wide plain. They are enclosed on all sides by distant but dark cliffs, and watered by a river that once supplied a thousand aqueducts. But the watercourses are choked up, the plain is a morass or a wilderness, the great city has disappeared, and its gray columns rise in solitary and desolate grandeur.

The remains of the royal palace form the grandest part of these ruins. The imagination cannot picture a sight more imposing than the vast solitary and muti

and the natives point out to travellers the tower in which they believe Valerian was confined. What renders this city the most remarkable, in one respect, among the ancient monuments of Persia, is the dike in its vicinity, which Shahpoor built across the Karoon, to turn the waters of that river into a course more favorable for agriculture. This dike is formed of hammered stone cemented by mortar and fastened together with iron clamps. It is twenty feet broad and twelve hundred in length. The work is the more deserving of notice from being almost the only one of a useful nature amid those vast ruins which bespeak the power and magnificence of the monarchs of Persia. As if preserved by its nobler character, it has survived all the sumptuous palaces and luxurious edifices of the same age.

The ruins of Shus, or Susa, consist, like those of Babylon, of large mounds composed of bricks and colored tiles. At the foot of one of these mounds stands the tomb of the prophet Daniel, which we have already mentioned. Here a number of dervishes watch over

[merged small][merged small][graphic][subsumed]

the remains of the holy man, and are supported by the alms of those who resort to his sepulchre. These are the only human inhabitants of Susa, and wild beasts roam over the spot on which some of the proudest palaces of the earth have stood.

Of ancient Ctesiphon an arch is still standing, one hundred sixty feet in height, and eighty-five feet span. Of Seleucia not a fragment remains. Ruins of cities and bridges, of Persian origin, are scattered along the banks of the Tigris, and these abodes of ancient magnificence are now occupied by the scattered tents of Arabian robbers. A few miles from the city of Kermanshah are wonderful excavations in the rocky sides of a mountain, exhibiting sculptured figures in a style of excellence surpassing every other work of the kind in Persia.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

ZOROASTER is the most celebrated name in ancient Persian history. There is much obscurity in what has been handed down to us respecting this personage. Some writers maintain that there were two individuals of the name, and others are of opinion that the title was assumed by a succession of lawgivers in Persia. The more common opinion is, that there were two Zoroasters. The first was a native of Rhe, or Rages, in Media, who established his religion in Bactriana under Cyaxares I., built a great fire-temple in Balkh, called Azer Gushtasp, and was put to death, wtih his priests, during the incursion of the Scythians, about the year 630 B. C. The second Zoroaster is supposed to have been a disciple of the prophet Daniel, who was made chief of the Magians by Cyrus, in which capacity he restored and confirmed the ancient religion of the country, and wrote or compiled the book called Zendavesta. He was believed by the Persians to be a great astrologer, who, from his knowledge of the heavenly bodies, could calculate nativities and foretell events. This knowledge, it was thought, descended to the priesthood of his followers.

The general maxims taught in the Zendavesta are moral and just, and well calculated to promote industry and virtue. The principal tenets of the faith of Zoroaster were pure and sublime, and inculcate the worship of an immortal and beneficent Creator. This lawgiver, however, artfully adapted his creed to the prejudices of his countrymen, by sanctioning the worship of fire as a symbol of the Deity, and in this way opened a wide door to superstition.

Feridoon, who lived about 800 B. C., was one of the most esteemed of the ancient Persian heroes. He escaped in an almost miraculous manner when his father, Giamschid, was murdered by Zohak, the Syrian usurper of the Persian throne. At the age of sixteen, he collected a large body of his countrymen, defeated and dethroned Zohak, and became the sovereign of Persia. His reign was marked by the strictest integrity. A Persian poet mentions him in the following language: "The happy Feridoon was not an angel: he was not formed of musk or amber. It was by his justice and generosity that he gained good and great ends. Be thou just and generous, and thou wilt be a Feridoon."

Bahram Gour flourished about A. D. 430. He was one of the best monarchs that ever ruled in Persia. During the whole of his reign, the happiness of his subjects was his sole object. His government was more simple and patriarchal than that of any other Persian monarch. His munificence, his virtues, and his valor, are the theme of every Eastern historian. His generosity was not limited to his court or capital, but extended all over his dominions. No merit went unrewarded. His first act, on ascending the throne, was to pardon those who had endeavored to deprive him of his birthright.

Shahpoor II., A. D. 310, distinguished himself by his successes against the Romans. His life is decorated with fables by the Persian historians; but it is evident that he raised his country to the greatest prosperity by defeating his enemies and extending the limits of the empire in every direction. He was alike remarkable for wisdom, valor, and military conduct. Some of his sayings which have been recorded display much penetration and knowledge of human character. He was accustomed to remark, that "words



may be more vivifying than the showers of spring, and sharper than the sword of destruction. The point of a lance may be withdrawn from the body, but a cruel word can never be extracted from the heart it has once wounded."

As we have not noticed all the sovereigns of Persia in our historical sketch, we shall subjoin a full list from the time of Cyrus, with the dates of their reigns. We may remark, that prior to the reign of Cyrus, Persia was a semi-barbarous country, sometimes independent, and at other periods a province of Media or Assyria. From the time of Cyrus it became a great empire, and so continued till the conquest of Alexander. From this period, a considerable intercourse was kept up with the Greeks: many persons of that country settled in Persia; Greek literature and the Greek language were diffused through Parthia and other kindred nations they had subdued. The Greek tongue became, to a certain extent, the official language, and was spoken by the nobles and other members of the court. The coins of the Arsacidæ, still extant, are marked with Greek inscriptions. Thus, for several centuries, the European intellect seemed to exercise a commanding influence, not only in this quarter, but in all Western Asia.

The reign of Ardeshir, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty, wrought a great change. The Greek mythology had, in some degree, become mixed with the Sabeism of the country, which now prevailed. The new king, a zealous Magian, restored the religion of Zoroaster, and, in crushing what he deemed the idolatries of the people, expelled also Greek literature and the Greek language. From this period, the dynasties of Persia became again thoroughly Asiatic. They have continued for sixteen hundred years; and though many able sovereigns have arisen, Persian society seems incapable of rising above a point of improvement which must be called barbarous. If these countries are ever to be regenerated, it would seem that the impulse must come from Europe.

In a general view of the sovereigns of Persia, we must remark that, while they retained the despotism, pride, and arrogance of their Assyrian and Babylonian predecessors, they manifested little of their wisdom and patriotism. The Persian kings seemed to aim at riches and power, as the means of displaying a gorgeous magnificence and enjoying licentious pleasures. The fruit of successful conquests was usually expended in the construction of palaces shining with precious metals, and harems filled with women whose beauty might vie with the gems that glittered upon their persons. In the long line of ancient Persian kings we find few who seem to have entertained the enlightened views which led the monarchs of Assyria and Babylonia to promote the interests of commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, as the true sources of national wealth and prosperity. We hear of splendid structures raised to gratify the personal wishes of the sovereigns, and fragments of these remain to attest their splendor; but we find among their performances few such monuments of public utility as the bridges, dikes, and reservoirs, constructed by the more ancient kings along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, serving to give impulse to all the diversified arts of peace.

It must nevertheless be admitted, that, if history speak the truth, many of the Persian kings, in the midst of their crimes, vices, and follies, frequently displayed pure sentiments and lofty conceptions.

[ocr errors]


There is hardly a virtue which may not find example and illustration in the biographies of Cyrus, Xerxes, Darius, and their successors. We are told that the first of these sovereigns, when offered the hand of the only child of Cyaxares in marriage, with the assurance of succession to the throne of Media, tempting as was the proposition, deferred his acceptance till he had taken counsel of his father and mother. When he was twelve years old, his mother, Mandane, took him with her into Media, to his grandfather Astyages, who, from the many things he had heard said in favor of that young prince, had a great desire to see him. In this court, young Cyrus found very different manners from those of his own country: pride, luxury, and magnificence, reigned universally. All this did not affect Cyrus, who, without criticizing or condemning what he saw, was contented to live agreeably to his education, steadily adhering to the principles he had imbibed from his infancy.

He charmed his grandfather by his sprightliness and wit, and gained every body's favor by his noble and engaging behavior. Astyages, to render his grandson unwilling to return home, made a sumptuous entertainment, in which there was a profusion of every thing that was nice and delicate. All this exquisite cheer and magnificent preparation Cyrus looked upon with great indifference. "The Persians," said he to the king," instead of going such a roundabout way to appease their hunger, have a much shorter to the same end; a little bread and a few cresses, with them, answer the purpose." Astyages desiring Cyrus to dispose of all the meats as he thought fit, the latter immediately distributed them to the king's officers in waiting; to one, because he taught him to ride; to another, because he waited well upon his grandfather; and to a third, because he took great care of his mother.

Sarcas, the king's cupbearer, was the only person to whom he gave nothing. This officer, beside the place of cupbearer, had that likewise of introducing those who were to have an audience of the king; and as he did not grant that favor to Cyrus as often as he desired it, the prince took this occasion to show his resentment. Astyages testified some concern at the neglect shown to this officer, for whom he had a particular regard, and who deserved it, as he said, on account of the wonderful dexterity with which he served him. "Is that all, sir?" replied Cyrus. "If that be sufficient to merit your favor, you shall see I will quickly obtain it, for I will take upon me to serve you better than he."

Cyrus was immediately equipped as a cupbearer; and, advancing gravely, with a serious countenance, a napkin upon his shoulder, and holding the cup nicely with three of his fingers, he presented it to the king with a dexterity and grace that charmed both Astyages and his mother Mandane. When he had done, he flung himself into his grandfather's arms, and kissing him, cried out with great joy, "Q Sarcas, poor Sarcas, thou art undone! I shall have thy place.' Astyages embraced him with great fondness, and said,



I am well pleased, my son; nobody can serve with a better grace; but you have forgotten one essential ceremony, which is that of tasting." And indeed the cupbearer was used to pour some of the liquor into his left hand, and taste it before he presented it to the king. No," replied Cyrus, "it was not through forgetfulness that I omitted this ceremony."



Why, then," said Astyages, " for what reason did



you omit it?" "Because I apprehended there was poison in the liquor." "Poison, child! How could you think so?" "Yes, poison, sir; for not long ago, at an entertainment you gave to the lords of your court, after the guests had drunk a little of that liquor, I perceived that all their heads were turned: they sang, made a noise, and talked, they did not know what: you yourself seemed to have forgotten that you were a king, and they that they were your subjects; and when you would have danced, you could hardly stand upon your legs." "Why," said Astyages, "have you never seen the same thing happen to your father?" "No, never," said Cyrus. "What then? How is it with him when he drinks? "Why, when he has drunk, his thirst is quenched, and that is all.”

[ocr errors]

Perhaps no higher model of a gentleman can be found than Cyrus, as portrayed by Xenophon. The mingled ease and dignity of his intercourse with his friends were indeed admirable. His self-discipline seems to have been perfect. Cicero remarks that, during the whole period of his reign, he was not known to speak a rough or angry word. His ideas of the nature and duties of government were of the most exalted kind. "It is the duty of a king," said he, "to work that his people may live in safety and quiet; to charge himself with anxieties and cares that they may be exempted from them; to choose whatever is salutary for them, and to reject whatever is hurtful and prejudicial; to place his delight in seeing them increase and multiply, and valiantly oppose his own person for their defence and protection. This is the natural idea and the just image of a good king. It is reasonable, at the same time, that his subjects should lend him all the services he stands in need of; but it is still more reasonable, that he should labor to make them happy, because it is for that very end that he is their king, as much as it is the end and office of a shepherd to take care of his flock.—I have prodigious riches," said he to his friends, “and I am glad the world knows it, but you may assure yourselves they are as much yours as mine. For to what end should I heap up wealth? For my own use, and to consume it myself? That were impossible if I desired it. No; the chief end I aim at is to have it in my power to reward those who serve the public faithfully, and to succor and to relieve those that will acquaint me with their wants and necessities."

Xerxes and his brother Artabazanes both claimed the succession upon the death of their father. This event occurred when Artabazanes was absent, and Xerxes assumed at once all the functions of sovereignty. But when his brother returned, he took off his crown, and went forward to meet him. They greeted each other cordially, and amicably referred their rival claims to their uncle. While the case was pending, they lived in a state of mutual kindness and confidence, and when at last it was decided in favor of Xerxes, Artabazanes bowed before his brother, and then led him to the throne.

Date of Accession. Darius Nothes,

[ocr errors]

Just before the battle of Cunaxa, in which Cyrus was contending for the crown against his brother Artaxerxes, the former was advised by Clearchus not to charge in person. "What," said the youthful prince, "at the time I am endeavoring to make myself king, would you have me prove myself unworthy of being so? We are told that Artaxerxes, being requested by an officer to confer a favor upon him, which would have involved an act of injustice, gave him a sum of money, saying, "Take this token of my friendship: this cannot make me poor; but if I complied with your wish, it would make me poor indeed, for it would make me unjust."

Such are some of the anecdotes handed down to us respecting the ancient Persian kings. Yet, in spite of these incidents, the reign of every one of these monarchs is marked with pride, vanity, and selfishness. "If you consider the whole succession of Persian kings," says Seneca, "will you find any one of them that ever stopped his career of his own accord, that was ever satisfied with his conquests, or that was not forming some new project or enterprise when death surprised him? Nor ought we to be astonished at such a disposition; for ambition is a gulf, and a bottomless abyss, where every thing is lost that is thrown in, and where, though you were to heap province upon province, and kingdom upon kingdom, you would never be able to fill up the mighty void."

Unhappily, sensibility is no substitute for principle. It is, indeed, a casual, not a steady light; and so far from being an infallible guide, it leads not unfrequently to error and crime. The greatest sentimentalists are frequently the greatest sinners. A lively perception of the beauty of truth and virtue is not necessarily connected with devotion to the one or the practice of the other. The history of Athens affords the most touching instances of friendship, love, piety, and patriotism, while the nation at large was steeped to the brim in licentiousness, treachery, and falsehood. The very people that could condemn an honest man ånd a patriot to death by poison, would on the morrow wreathe laurels on the brow of one who had saved the life of a fellow-being. The Persians resemble the Greeks; the history and the literature of these two nations show the same clear perceptions of the path of wisdom, with the same aptitude to walk in the path of folly. Experience, as well as faith, teaches us that man needs some authority higher than his own. Even if we can see the truth, we require a master to enforce its observation. Christian nations cannot too greatly estimate their privilege in possessing an authority which not only shows the way, but brings with it an influence which commands attention and enforces obedience. Let those who would reject or abate its power ponder well the lessons of history. The beautiful perceptions of the Persians, the philosophy of the Greeks, and the grand political institutions of the Romans, could not save society from destruction; for in each of these cases, it was built upon the sands.

Sovereigns of Ancient Persia.





B. C. 550 Artaxerxes Mnemon, 405 529 Artaxerxes Ochus, 360

Smerdis Magus,

Darius Hystaspes,

Xerxes I.,


manus, Xerxes II.,


[blocks in formation]

the Arsacidæ 246 Baharam II.,
B. C. to A. D. 229 Baharam III.,
Narsi, or Narses,
Hormooz II.,
Shahpoor II.,
226 Ardishir II.,
240 Shahpoor III.,
Baharam IV.,
271 Yezdijird I.,
274 Baharam V.,

the dynasty,
Hormooz, or Hormis-
Baharam I.,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic]


A. D. 579 to 632.

Decline of the Sassanian Power-
Purveez-Persian Conquests

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


after assassinated, and Khosrou, forgetful of the claims of gratitude, immediately invaded the Roman dominions with a large army. Syria was laid waste, JerusaKhosrou lem taken, and the magnificent churches of Helena Reign of and Constantine were destroyed by the flames. The devout offerings of three hundred years were rifled in a single day. Ninety thousand Christians were massacred, and the true cross, or what was believed to be such, was carried off to Persia. The victorious hosts of Khosrou swept next over Egypt, from the Pyramids of Memphis to the borders of Ethiopia, and the Persians advanced westward, through the sands of the Libyan desert, as far as Tripoli. Another army traversed Asia Minor, and penetrated to the Thracian Bosphorus. Chalcedon surrendered after a long siege, in sight of Constantinople. Had Khosrou possessed a and a Persian camp was maintained above ten years naval force, his boundless ambition would have spread slavery and desolation throughout Europe.

FROM the history of ancient Persia we now pass to that of the modern kingdom. The glory of the Sassanides, as we have already remarked, attained its height with Nushirvan, who died A. D. 579. Hoormuz III., his son, a weak and vicious prince, in his short and disastrous reign excited a general disaffection, which was repressed only by the talents of his general Baharam Choubeen. This service was requited by ingratitude and affronts, under the influence of which Baharam put to death his unworthy sovereign, and aspired to the supreme authority. But he was unable to resist the power of the Roman emperor, Maurice, who raised to the throne Khosrou Purveez, the son of the murdered monarch. Maurice himself was soon

* Persia is divided into eleven provinces, each of which is under a governor called Beglerbeg. The provinces are subdivided into districts, governed by Hakims. The following is a list of the provinces, with their capitals:

[blocks in formation]

Ancient Present




But Khosrou was neither a soldier nor a legislator. While his generals were carrying fire and sword into the heart of the Byzantine empire, the Persian monarch himself, instead of watching over the safety of his extensive dominions, and studying to promote the happiness of his people, was revelling in the most expensive luxuries. Every season of the year had its palace fitted up with appropriate splendor. His thrones blazed with gold and gems; his harem contained twelve 30,000 thousand women, every one, if we may believe the 60,000 Persian writers, equal to the moon in splendor and Tauris 50,000 beauty; his stables had fifty thousand horses, among 40,000 30,000 which historians have recorded the name of Shub 20,000 Deez, his favorite Arabian charger, fleeter than the 30,000 wind; twelve hundred elephants also formed a part of the royal equipage. All these, with his musicians and singers, are subjects on which countless volumes have been written by his countrymen.


32,000 A considerable portion of the people of Persia are Tadshiks, or original Persians. There are also some Koords, Bucharians, Turkomans, Armenians, &c. Some of the people, along the northern borders of the kingdom, are nearly independent. See map of Persia, p. 90.

For thirty years, the reign of Khosrou had been marked by an almost unparalleled course of prosperity. But this is in a great measure to be ascribed to the

« PreviousContinue »