The Persian Empire

In the 6th century BC the Persian, under King Cyrus II and his son-in-law Darius [521-486 BC], conquered an empire stretching from Greece, through modern Turkey, Egypt, southern Russia, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as far east as the River Indus. This huge empire, 4500 kilometers from east to west, made an important bridge between the subcontinent and Eastern Europe and lasted from 521 to 380 BC. The Gandhara-Indus region became the richest province in Darius’s huge territory.

Government and Administration

The Persians ruled their empire fairly. They allowed people to keep their own laws, religions, and customs if they wanted to, but every
country had to pay taxes to Persia. They built irrigation systems to increase crops, and so raised the amount of tax. They built roads
all through the empire to make it easier to control trade and also to increase it. But slowly Persian power weakened. By about 380 BC,
the most distant parts of the empire, like north-west India, became independent under their own rulers again.


Taxila became one of the most important cities in the Persian Empire. Many artists, craftsmen, writers, and scholars poured into it. A Famous university was set up in Taxila. Traders and merchants had their offices and storehouses there, ready for the long journey through the passes to Persia and places further west.

Contrast Between the Subcontinent and the West

  • Going Westwards

1- The best wool and woolen cloth in the world was exported to the West from the Indus region.
2- Steel weapons were introduced to the West. In the 5th century BC, the people of Gandhara learned how to make fine steel. Making it was so difficult it cost as much as gold.

3- Soldiers from the Punjab and Gandhara, who were famous for their white clothing and iron-tipped arrows, fought in the Persian army when it attacked Greece in the early 5th century BC. They were probably in the Persian forces which were defeated in the battle at Marathon in 490 BC.

4- New ideas about medicine especially from the Taxilan doctor, Atreya found their way to Greece.

5- The Hindu belief that people’s soul were born again in new bodies according to whether they had been good or bad in a previous life
reached Greece where it was developed by the great Greek thinker, Plato.

6- The rivers of the north-west provided large amount of gold dust. Nine tones of it were paid in taxes to the Persians.

  • Going Eastwards

1-The idea of using money instead of bartering came to the subcontinent from Persia and the West. ‘Coins’ were often square or in rectangular silver bars. This helped make trading easier.
2- New ideas in carving statues and making buildings came from Persia. The lions and decorations on the pillars of Asoka are purely Persian in design.
3- Persia and west taught the people of north-west India better ways of running the country by means of trained official.
4- A new way of writing (Aramaic) was introduced from Persia. It was changed a little to fit the local language.
5- A number of other ideas were brought to the east such as the religion Zoroaster whose followers believed in the god Ahura Mazda and worshiped fire.
6- Trade was developed and one system of weights and measures was used through out the empire to make buying and selling easier.


By: Aqsa Riaz

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