Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘Persians’

Archer-Pair in Assyrian and Persian Warfare

The Assyrians had made major and highly effective use of a tactical feature common in Near Eastern warfare for many centuries. This was the archer-pair, consisting of a spearman bearing a very large, light but sturdy shield made of leather and wicker, and an archer; the spearman faced the enemy and held up the shield, behind which the archer hid and fired off volleys of arrows. The Persians called such shields spara and so named these tactical units sparabara, or “shield-bearers.” Typically, the Assyrians had lined these units up side by side, forming a single row of shield carriers backed by a single row of archers. [The Persians] increased the depth of the formation and also the number of archers per shield, producing a heavier concentration of arrow shot.

Don Nardo, The Persian Empire, pp. 27-28

Persian Spirit, Skill, and Resourcefulness

The basis of the [Persian military and political] system [circa 500 B.C.E.] was the spirit, skill, and resourcefulness of the Persians. An important weapon was the bow, used effectively by both cavalry and infantry. Insofar as possible the Persians avoided close-quarters infantry combat until their foes had been thoroughly disorganized by swarms of foot archers from the front, and the daring onrushes of horse archers against flanks and rear. The Persians were versatile in adapting their methods of warfare to all conditions of terrain. They respected the shock action of the Lydian cavalry lancers, and incorporated this concept into their mounted tactics.

Subject peoples were required to render military service. The garrisons scattered throughout the empire were principally composed of unit from other regions…but always contained a Persian contingent. Imperial expeditionary forces were also multinational. The Persians received a surprisingly high standard of loyalty from these diverse peoples, due largely to their policies of leniency toward the conquered, and of carefully supervised but decentralized administration.

R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 22

The Immense Wealth of the Persian Kings

[The Persian quisling] Tiridates led Alexander [the Great] into a large building behind the palace of Xerxes [at Persepolis] that served as both an armory for the royal bodyguard and a repository for the king’s wealth. Diffused light filtered through a series of openings in the roof above and washed gently over the tons of gold and silver bullion that had been neatly and methodically stored there. Within the treasury building were 120,000 talents of bullion, the largest single concentration of wealth to be found anywhere in the ancient world.

Darius I had imposed a tribute of precious metals in addition to a tribute of goods on his satraps and on the subject nations of the empire. Instead of converting that tribute into coins that could then have been put into circulation, Darius and his successors had it melted and then formed into ingots of gold and silver. The bars were stored in the palace treasury, and when the kings of Persia needed to finance particular projects, wars, or adventures, the precious metals were cast into coins. It was Darius who had introduced the coining of money into the empire; hence, the Persian coin became known as the Daric. Until that time, the empire had been administered largely on the basis of barter.

Successive generations of Persian kings had dipped into the treasury and spent vast sums on themselves. Over the years, they had spent great amounts on administering and expanding the empire and had dispensed large sums in fighting, hiring, and bribing the Greeks. Yet no matter how much money the kings spent, every year at the New Year ceremony more came in to replenish and add to the royal coffers. In the treasury building at Persepolis, Alexander was shown the full measure of how wealthy the Achaemenid kings of Persia had been and how wealthy he had now become.

John Prevas, Envy of the Gods, pp. 18-19

For comparision, Alexander started his invasion of the Persian Empire with a war chest of only 70 talents of gold.

Ancient Fortifications Were Impervious

Neither Persians, Greeks, nor Chinese [circa 500 B.C.E.] achieved any marked improvement over the engineering techniques which had been employed by the Assyrians. Fortifications had, in fact, progressed about as far as available means would permit; the art of siegecraft had failed to keep pace. Save for a few exceptional instances of surprise, ruse, or betrayal, walled cities or fortresses were impervious to everything but starvation.

R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 18

Birth of the Persian Empire

The great Persian Empire of the fifth to third centuries [B.C.E.] was almost the by-product of the search for security by the Persians of Fars. As they moved from nomadism to settled agriculture, the Persians, along with the Medes and other groups on the Iranian plateau, sought to control as much land as possible on the perimeters of their settlements. In this quest for land, water, protection, and order, the quality of leadership within each group played a decisive role in that group’s success. For protection lay in numbers, and numbers were possible only through loose confederations between groups who were natural rivals. By their very nature, these confederations could retain their cohesiveness only through a strong leader exhibiting a charismatic personality. It was this environment that produced the most remarkable leader in Iranian history, [Cyrus the Great.]

On ascending the throne around 559 [B.C.E.], Cyrus began to build his empire. In 550 [B.C.E.], he wooed as much as conquered the Medes under his principles of conquest. First, persuasion and accommodation would take precedence over brute force. Second, the vanquished would never be humiliated. With a deft political touch, Cyrus granted the captured king of the Medes all reverence due his position and preserved intact Media’s existing military and administrative organizations along with the people who managed them. Avoiding needless reprisals against the subjugated, Cyrus created partners rather than adversaries in the expanding Persian Empire.

As a tribute to his politics and pragmatism, Cyrus’s empire was not only large, it was stable because the Persians realized what had never occurred to the Assyrians and the other imperialist powers of that age: that national interest does not have to express itself solely in vindictiveness, that it is not necessarily impaired by respect for lesser national interests, and that tolerance pays off.

Sandra Mackey, The Iranians, p. 17

Web of Interdependence

Unlike modern “blue-water” naval squadrons, triremes were linked logistically to the coasts. There were no sleeping quarters on board, and the light ships could not carry much food. Thus, the Persian ships were beached every night, so that the oarsmen could eat and sleep in relative comfort. Owing to these logistical factors, the Grand Army [of Xerxes] and the Persian navy were mutually supportive and could not operate independently of each other. The army needed the food carried by the merchant marine, the merchant marine needed the protection of the battle fleet, and the battle fleet needed the secure beachheads established by the army. This web of interdependence was a major weakness of the Persian strategic plan: not only did it limit the tactical maneuverability of the various branches, but it meant that even a temporary collapse in the operational effectiveness of any one of the branches would fatally compromise the goals of the entire expedition.

Barry S. Strauss and Josiah Ober, The Anatomy of Error, p. 36

The Persian Court

The Great King was the center of court. He was surrounded by an elaborate ritual, which provided him with all the mystery of the oriental potentate. This was a conscious technique of government—a method of structuring charisma into the office and role of kingship so as to enhance the power of the state, and, in part, to protect the function of kingship within the political system from the individual quirks and weaknesses of any given king.

European monarchs of later times often compelled their nobles to be at court, where they could be watched and controlled directly. So also, perhaps, the Great King made court politics of enough importance to limit the autonomy of satraps and other governing officers. When a nobility must spend its time at court husbanding and advancing its political clout, it lacks the time to build strong power bases in the countryside. That such a system sometimes leads to excesses, including murder and violent attempts to grab the throne, does not mean that, in the main, it did not work most of the time as a method of keeping power and the powerful where they could be manipulated by the central authority.

The substantive power of the Persian monarchy lay in its control over patronage and finances. All of the high officers of the court and in the provinces served at the king’s will, and most of the bureaucracy down to apparently quite low levels were financially hostage to the royal treasury. Not only did the king do the appointing of high political and military officials, he also fired them frequently. Such regular changes in the upper levels of government prevented opportunities for officials to gather too much power into their own hand by the long-term exercise of a single office. Another form of protection for the government was for the king to appoint his kinsmen to office whenever possible—a good tribal method of rule.

The Cambridge Ancient History, volume IV, pp. 81-82