When in the Bisitun inscription, Darius states that ‘I (am) . . . the Great King, King of Kings, King in Fars, King of the Countries, Hystaspes’ son, Arsames’ grandson, an Achaemenid’ (DB I §1-3), he utilises the full panoply of titles available to any Persian king (Old Persian, xsayadiya, hence Middle/New Persian, sah - ‘king’). The monarch’s three pre-eminent titles, found time and again in official rhetoric, were:
• ‘King of Kings’ (Old Persian, xsayadiya, xsayadiyanam; Akkadian, sar, sarrani), which was derived from Urartian usage although originally of Mesopotamian origin and was used by the Achaemenids to claim their legitimacy as the heirs of the Babylonian, Assyrian, Urartian, and Median kings.
• ‘Great King’ (Old Persian, Xsayadiya vazraka; Akkadian, sar rabu), a title first encountered in Mesopotamia but readily used by the Persians.
• ‘King of the Countries’ (Old Persian, Xsayadiya dahyunam) or its variations: ‘King of the Countries Containing All Races’ (Old Persian, Xsayadiya dahyunam vispazananam) and ‘King of the Countries Containing Many Races’ (Old Persian, Xsayadiya dahyunamparuzananam) (see further Chapter 3).
To these can be added another title, less commonly used but nonetheless instructive:
• ‘King on this (Great) Earth (Even Far Off)’ (Old Persian, Xsayadiya ahyaya bumiya (vazrkaya) (duraiy apiy)), suggesting a development in the Achaemenid conception of their own territorial expansions.
Unsurprisingly, in foreign territories under their control, Great Kings adopted and adapted indigenous titles for their own use; thus in Babylon Cyrus II claimed for himself the grandiose Babylonian title ‘King of the Universe, the Mighty King, King of Babylon, King of
Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Quarters of the World’ (CB §20; see Kuhrt 2007: 71), while Darius I portrayed himself as the legitimate pharaoh of Egypt by adopting a series of important and ancient hieroglyphic titles, including ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’, ‘Lord of the Two Lands’, ‘Supreme Ruler of the World’, ‘Son of Amun’, and ‘Living Image of Re’ (DS a, b; Kuhrt 2007: 477-9).
The topic of the ideology of ancient Persian kingship (Old Persian, xsaca) has attracted much attention and clear developments in the ways in which scholars have conceptualised the fundamental nature of Achaemenid royal ideology can be identified. Geo Widengren, a prominent comparative historian, strongly argued that Achaemenid kingship was essentially an Indo-European construction and that a title such as ‘King of Kings’ was an expression in a Persian belief that the monarch was primus inter pares, or a king who ruled over other sovereigns, which was regarded as a fundamental Indo-Iranian trait (Widengren 1959, 1965, 1968). His work was challenged by Gherardo Gnoli and his Italian school of thought, which argued for a Mesopotamian root to Iranian kingship, suggesting, for instance, that a New Year festival at Persepolis derived from the Babylonian akitu festival and that Persian gods should be regarded as natural extensions of Babylonian deities: Ahuramazda was thus an aspect of Marduk of Bablyon, Anahita was Ishtar, and Mithra was the Persian incarnation of Shamash. Moreover, the support given to the Great Kings by a supreme god was interpreted by Gnoli to have come directly from Assyrian and Babylonian ideologies, which had nothing to do with an Indo-European background (Gnoli 1974a, 1974b).
Scholars now have little doubt that Mesopotamian ideologies of kingship did help to inspire certain Achaemenid traditions, but into the mix we must place other influential components: first, an indigenous Iranian element (see below); second, a pharaonic Egyptian ideology that had an increasing hold on the Persians following Cambyses’ conquest of the country in 525 bce (Root 1979); and finally, and most importantly, some Neo-Elamite elements. The last had entered early into the developing Achaemenid ideological thought processes and scholars are increasingly recognising Elamite cultural and theological ideologies as a key to understanding early Persian conceptions of monarchy (see especially Potts 2010).
As kings of Ansan, the early Persian rulers of south-western Iran were easily pulled into the culturally dominant orbit of the sophisticated Elamites and scholars are becoming increasingly aware of a geopolitical interdependency which emerged between Elam and southern
Iran in the centuries immediately before the growth of Persian power in the Near East (Alvarez-Mon and Garrison 2011). The very name ‘Kurus’ (Latinised, ‘Cyrus’) is probably Elamite and, as Daniel Potts (2011: 47) has recently posited, ‘if this is the case, then. . . [it] would suggest that the empire created by Cyrus was an Elamite one that only became “Persian” or “Achaemenid” with the accession of Darius’. Even then there is a likelihood that Darius’ own ancestry, at least on his mother’s side, was Elamite too (Chapter 4), and that Darius seems to have readily embraced his Elamite past. His vast relief sculpture at Bisitun for instance is closely modelled on the so-called Sar-i Pol relief of the Elamite king Anubanini, at nearby Luristan (F6), which depicts the victory and inauguration of the Elamite warlord, who, like Darius, stands on one of his captives in his role as a military hero while the goddess Ishtar, proffering the ring of kingship, leads naked and bound prisoners before the victorious sovereign (Potts 1999: 319).
Xerxes followed in his father’s footsteps and continued to employ Elamite ideologies in his royal policy; in the Elamite version of his so-called Daiva inscription (XPhe §29-32) he claims to rule through the power of his ‘ki-te-in, a magico-religious term meaning ‘divine aid’ or ‘divinely bestowed royal power’ - a supremely Elamite concept which had long been central to their theology and royal ideology but was straightforwardly used by Xerxes. The presence of ki-te-in in such an important Achaemenid religious text as the Daiva inscription suggests that even the conception of Ahuramazda, the supreme Persian royal god, was modelled on an Elamite theological idea (Henkelman 2011b: 97).
There can be little doubt that the Elamites form the ‘missing link’ in the chain of Persian royal ideological development and the Persians have now been revealed as the true heirs of the Elamites, and not of the Medes as has long been supposed (Henkelman 2011b: 91). But nonetheless, this must not overshadow the fact that the Persians had their own distinct identity. In the royal texts Persian uniqueness is repeatedly emphasised and the Great King is shown to be a Persian, the descendant of generations of Persians, ruling over Persians and the conquered lands beyond Persia. For its part, Persia is shown to be ‘good, containing good horses and good men’ (DPd §2) and under the especial care and attention of the king: ‘If the Persian people is protected, for a long time unending happiness will rest upon this [royal] house’ (DPe §3).
And what exactly were the Persian people to be protected from? As was common to all ancient societies, the threat of famine, pestilence, or enemy attack was ever present and the Great King, in his role as heaven’s viceroy on earth, was obliged to repel them (DB I §14; for a detailed discussion of this theme see Lincoln 2007) . Therefore Near Eastern royal imagery frequently cast the king in the role of the shepherd of his people: the Israelite King David was a shepherd ruler par excellence, a man whom Yahweh ‘took. . . from the sheepfolds. . . to be shepherd of. . . his people’ (Psalm 78:70) and the Hebrew conception of Cyrus the Great depicted the Achaemenid monarch in the same light (Isaiah 44:28). The shepherd image was also effectively used of Sargon II of Assyria:
May the king, my lord, the good shepherd. . . truly tend and shepherd them [his people]. May Ashur, Bel, and Nabu add flocks to your flocks, give them to you, and enlarge your spacious fold; may the people of all countries come into your presence! (Tomes 2005: 79)
Rooted deep in the sheep-shepherd relationship, the image of the shepherd king stresses his care and compassion for his people and, simultaneously, the dependence of the people on the ruler to meet their needs. In addition, the metaphor of people as sheep emphasises their passivity - an ideal state of being in ancient royal ideology, because it was wilfulness and disobedience that kings most feared.
The king was also the judge of his people, serving as an agent of both civil and divine order, and by the fact of his very ‘being’ he was a natural law-giver and law-upholder: ‘when a king sits on a throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes’ (Proverbs 20:8). A responsive and able ruler received his wisdom and his ability to judge his people and ensure the rule of justice and law directly from the gods, who dispensed mercy, justice, faithfulness, and righteousness through the person of the king. In the Hebrew Bible this concept is expressed through prayers addressed to Yahweh by his worshippers:
Give the king your justice, oh God, and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge the people with righteousness, and the poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!
The Assyrian god Shamash was viewed as a ‘lofty decider. . . [the] judge of all. . . who makes decisions for men in their settlements. . . . Judge incorruptible, governor of mankind’, and consequently when the god intervened in earthly affairs he routed out evil-doing: ‘the wicked and violent man you admonish, [you] pronounce their condemnation’ (Gumming 1934: 151). Corruption and resistance to moral judgement therefore had no place in good kingship, since they contravened divine purpose and godly example. This important theme is stressed in a Babylonian text from the eighth century bce which admonishes an earlier monarch (probably Merodach Baladin) for his abuse of royal privileges and the misdeeds he committed to the peoples of Sippar, Nimrud, and Babylon. Composed as an omen of warning, the text (A9) lists the monarch’s misdemeanours and warns all future kings of the consequences of acting in an ungodly manner.
It was the Persian king’s duty, under the auspices of Ahuramazda, to maintain the status quo, to act as shepherd and judge, and to bring order out of potential chaos. It was his obligation to uphold the truth (Old Persian, arta) and to dispel the lie (Old Persian, drauga); in the Persian mind the concept of drauga was best represented by the chaos of rebellion and insurgence against the throne (or, in purely visual terms, a lion or hybrid monster may represent the essence of chaos, which the king slaughters in his guise of Persian hero; F7). In an Old Persian inscription on the facade of his tomb at Naqs-i Rustam, Darius I confirms that his Empire was won by military prowess: ‘the spear of a Persian man has gone far; then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia’ (DNa §4). This is the logical conclusion to the first official pronouncement of Darius’ reign contained on the Bisitun monument in which his initial fight for Empire is inscribed (DB; Kuhrt 2007: 141-59). His tomb contains another interesting statement which focuses on the strength of the king’s body and his ability as a warrior king and is, incidentally, the most verbose surviving Achaemenid text (A10). Darius depicts himself as rational and considered monarch (he never acts in haste or in panic) and it is his sheer force of personality that guarantees his Persian subjects will receive the benefit of his considered and learned judgements. Being a judge of the people was a quality expected of a Near Eastern ruler and Darius expertly portrays himself in that role in his tomb inscription, as Amelie Kuhrt (2001: 109) describes:
Ahuramazda has equipped the ruler with insight and ability to distinguish right from wrong, making him the guarantor of justice and maintainer of social order. Because he does not react unthinkingly and is able to control his temper, the king metes out reward and punishment absolutely fairly, and only after due consideration of a case. He judges services rendered according to the potential of the individual, and is ready to reward loyalty.
But while ethical and moral qualities are central to the ideology of the tomb inscription, brute force is stressed there as well. Darius is strong enough to endure the hardships of campaigning on horseback and on the march, and his arms have strength to draw the bow and wield the lance, and these skills, he emphasises, come directly from Ahuramazda. Near Eastern texts frequently suggest there was a special connection between the king’s weapons and the deity, for, after all, it was the god who made powerful the royal weapons and imbued the royal body with strength enough to wield them, and, at Darius’ insistence, in his inscription Ahuramazda is portrayed as the god who empowers the king with martial valour.
The Iranian deity is therefore as much a warrior god as he is a god who upholds (and loves) truth, peace, and justice. Civic order and equilibrium are achieved through the dual forces of divine law and brute force. Might we therefore think of all Achaemenid military activity (wars of territorial expansion, conquest and reconquest, suppression of rebellions) as a type of holy war? This clearly had its Sitz im Leben in the Near East as a whole (Jones 1989; von Rad 1991) and it is possible to read Ahuramazda as the type of warrior god regularly played by other Near Eastern deities, such as the supreme Israelite god:
Yahweh is a man of war;
The Lord is his name!
Texts from Egypt, Ugarit, and Mari and from the Hittite and NeoAssyrian kingdoms repeatedly stress this divine motif, and rulers take delight in praising the military prowess of their gods. Sargon calls Nergal ‘the king of battle’ and ‘the all-powerful amongst the gods, who goes at my side, guarding the camp’, while Ishtar is the ‘lady of conflict and battle whose delight is warfare’ (Jones 1989: 300). Kings were champions of the gods, doing the bidding of heaven and carrying out divine will to the letter. Saul of Israel was instructed to fight against the Amalekites and annihilate them completely because it was the express command of Yahweh (A11).
An interesting incident recorded in the Assyrian royal annals shows a sickly Ashurbanipal, unable to fight in one of his wars, directing the campaign from his palace. The scene is set in the city of Arbela, where the city’s goddess, Ishtar, is receiving the honours of a state festival. The king hears the news that the Elamite ruler, Teumman, is preparing for battle and so Ashurbanipal quickly enters the shrine of the goddess and, with tears in his eyes, beseeches her to destroy the Elamite foe on his behalf. His report stresses the deity’s willingness to come to the Assyrian monarch’s defence (A12; see Stevens 1995: 14).
That Darius’ bow is so clearly visible in the Bisitun relief (F5) strengthens the notion that force has played a major role in the victory of arta over drauga. It is the strength of Darius the warrior king (a prowess which he ultimately derives from the god floating above him) which is eulogised on the monument. Here the relief sculpture depicts a victorious Darius. He stands in sharp contrast to the humiliated bodies of his enemies paraded before him; the texts which accompany the scene tell how each of the defeated rebels was pursued, captured, and killed, but notable is the fact that Darius himself is never represented (in text or image) being pursued or hounded by the rebels. While the narrative account demonstrates that his grip on power was certainly challenged, he is never shown weakened, let alone fleeing from his enemies. Instead Darius charges across his realm (or sends a proxy to do so), quelling rebellion after rebellion and enacting his just and premeditated revenge on the fleeing and captured traitors. Subsequently, in the relief, as the rebel leaders fall before Darius they offer him their necks. For it is they, not he, who are men of violence; it is they who are followers of ‘the lie’, so that the moral ambiguity of warfare and internal strife vanishes in the face of the legitimate Great King of Persia. The enemy are therefore justifiably abased, mutilated, and killed, and the king chains them by their necks, steps on their bellies, and then orders their executions; the upshot of this makes Darius the undisputed head of all lands.
Achaemenid nobles were expected to participate in actual warfare and fighting skills were a prerequisite of elite identity (many of the Persian nobility died in action) and although Great Kings did not necessarily regularly participate in battle, imperial royal ideology propounded that Great Kings were skilled fighters: ‘as a warrior, I am a good warrior’ is Darius’ bold claim. In order to be an effective ruler, the king had to be a thought of as a brave soldier first, and court propaganda (later picked up in Classical traditions) reiterated the image for successive Achaemenid monarchs (A13; A14).
The image of the Great Kings’ noble bravery needs to be balanced by the fact that the Persian monarchs could prove to be merciless overlords if crossed. Rebellious subjects could be treated with ruthlessness: entire populations were uprooted and deported across the Empire, and their holy shrines were burned and destroyed. Herodotus (6.19, 8.53) records the Persian destruction of the sanctuaries of Apollo at Didyma, and of Athena in Athens, and Artaxerxes III’s reputation for harshness and cruelty was perhaps justified by his treatment of the population of Sidon (A15; see also D13). His violent reconquest of Egypt was recorded on the stela of an Egyptian nobleman named Somtutefnakht: ‘The Asiatic (i. e. the Persian king) . . . slew a million at my sides’ (Kuhrt 2007: 458).
The longevity of such a vast empire as the Persians managed to sustain is testimony to the Achaemenid policy of both tolerance towards its conquered peoples and its ruthlessness in maintaining power. The royal rhetoric recorded in the inscriptions, visualised in official art, and disseminated widely across the Empire emphasised that all conquered nations were united in service to the Great King, whose laws they were required to obey and whose majesty they were obliged to uphold.