This article throws light upon the top four rulers of the southern plateau.
The rulers are: 1. Akhmani (550 B.C-316 B.C) 2. Kurav (Cyrus: 550-529 B. C.) 3. Darius (521 to 485 B.C.) 4. Xerxes (485-466 B. C.)
Ruler #1. Akhmani (550 B.C-316 B.C):
From the sixth century B.C. the Southern plateau of Central Asia (from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Sir Darya and from the Pamirs to the Caspian Sea) enters the Historical period.
The first records of the history of this region are found in the stone inscriptions of Darius, which are contemporaneous with the lifetime of Buddha.
It is of interest to recall that in India the first stone inscriptions are found in the third century B. C. in the stone stupas of Asoka.
Like India, Central Asia was the cockpit of invading races, the only difference being that in India the succeeding layers of culture and civilisation settled one upon another and can be distinctly demarcated whereas in Central Asia there has been such an intermixture of culture that one cannot be distinguished from the other.
In the very beginning of the metal age there was a mixture of the Aryan and Central Asian races in the Delta of the Sir and Amu Rivers, but the two cultures intermingled so intimately that it is difficult to discover what was the original culture of Central Asia. The Aryans dominated the area for two thousand years and during that time the Sogdhians, a branch of the Iranian Aryans, were the main force and later, when the Greeks and the Scythians came, they too were assimilated by them.
In the fifth and sixth centuries came the Huns who began to change the racial stock of Central Asia with their Mongoloid blood which gradually increased as time went on. Two centuries later came the onslaught of Islam which, though it tried to wipe out the old culture, could not succeed in wresting political power from the Turks.
Today a Mongoloid race with an Islamic culture inhabits this region. Prior to the coming of Soviet power the Uzbek, Khirgiz and Kazaks were hardly aware of their links with the pre-Islamic world but today these tribes of Turkish origin are proud of their long and glorious heritage because of the discovery of the existence of a developed pre-Islamic civilisation by the Soviet archaeologists.
At some time in the middle of the second millennium before Christ, two branches of the Aryan race entered the plains of India and Iran simultaneously. The branch that came into India found a developed civilisation in the Indus valley and, coming into contact with it, made rapid progress. At about 1200 B. C., the Aryans entered the Punjab and prospered in its fertile valleys. Casting aside the traditions of their tribal past these people gave up their democratic forms of administration and adopted a feudal monarchical system of society.
During this period, in the reign of Divodas and Surdas, the Vedas were composed and by the seventh and eighth centuries B. C. Upanishad scholars had found their way to a concept of the all-pervading Bramah. This development in their religious concepts was but a reflection of the change in their social system from ancient tribal democracy to feudal monarchy.
Siddhartha or Gautam Buddha was in his boyhood when Kurav founded the first of the great empires of the world (550 B.C.). In the areas that are now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the Punjab, a form of tribal democracy continued to exist. It is difficult to say what form of administration prevailed in Central Asia, but, although the influence of monarchical forms was considerable, there might have been a sort of democracy such as prevailed amongst the early Aryans and Scythians.
The history of Central Asia for the next two centuries is dominated by the Akhmanis. Just as we called the northern plateau of Central Asia the Scythian land or Shakadvipa, the Southern part may be called the Aryan land or Aryadvipa. The first Aryan settlements in Awasta were known as Aryanambaija. Some historians consider this area to be the territory lying between the Amu and the Jaxartes Rivers, others consider that these settlements were in Pamir, while there are others who consider them to have been part of Khwarezm.
The Aryans who settled in Iran split up into a number of tribes. A branch of the Aryan race, the Medes or Madvas settled in the southern Caucasus and thus gave this region the name of Medea. These people had close contacts with Mesopotamia.
The Aryans in Iran realised that they would never become really strong as long as they did not unite and the strength born of their unity was revealed when in 788 B.C. the great city of Nineveh fell before them. By 708 B. C. Dewak the King of the Medes, had not only united all the Medes into an independent Kingdom, but had founded the powerful Medean Empire which united all the Iranian Aryans.
Akhvatan (Hamdan), the capital of the Medes, with its huge palaces and forts rivalled the great Nineveh. Dewak was succeeded by Pharwart. Although the empire continued to exist till 550 B. C. it did not make any appreciable progress. It was this region that was later ruled by the Akhmani dynasty.
Ruler #2. Kurav (Cyrus: 550-529 B. C.):
Akhman was one of the chieftains of the tribes living in South Iran and that is why his tribe came to be called the Akhmanis. Cyrus, also known as Kurav, was one of his descendants who defeated the last of the Medean kings and became ruler of the entire Medean Empire. He himself had both Persian and Medean blood in his veins as his father was Persian and his mother a Medean. Although he was a Persian he did not look down on the Medes.
In fact he accorded them a status almost equal to that of the Persians. Akhvatan continued to be the capital of the empire. By 546 B. G. he had conquered Lydia in Asia Minor and extended the boundaries of his kingdom to the shores of the Mediterranean. The annexation of Lydia strengthened his hands considerably, for that region was extremely prosperous. Kurav now turned his eyes towards Mesopotamia, the conquest of which was to be no easy task.
He first assumed control of both the rivers Tigris and the Euphrates which controlled the trade of that region and ultimately, after a fierce battle, he won a complete victory in 538 B. C. Cyrus and Darius, both of whom were great conquerors, knew that the best way to win the sympathy of conquered peoples was to allow them to pursue their religious practices and to follow their own ways of life and culture.
Kurav had been a worshipper of Ahurmazd, but after the conquest of Mesopotamia he became a devotee of the Mesopotamian God Murdak. In his inscriptions it is written “Murdak, the God of Gods, handed this kingdom over to me,” and again “I, Cyrus, king of the world, am king of Assyria, Sumeria, Akkad…………………….. When I entered the city of Nineveh…………….. the great lord Murdak entrusted the inhabitants of the city to my care.” Cyrus next advanced towards Egypt.
On the east he extended his kingdom to the banks of the Indus and the Sogdhians fell under his sway, but the nomadic Scythians of the north, spreading from the Danube to the Hwang Ho, refused to yield to him. It was in fact in the war with them that he lost his life. He also fought against the Scythians of the Caucasus, but his main battle was fought against the Messagetae who lived in the region between the Aral and the Caspian seas.
When the King of the Messagetae died in battle his Queen Tomuri continued the struggle and her son was taken captive by Cyrus and executed. This enraged the Queen and she resolved to take revenge. Feigning defeat she withdrew her forces and when the Iranian soldiers were off their guard she attacked them with all her strength. It was then that the Iranian army was routed and that Kurav was killed.
There is no doubt that the conquests of Cyrus had a lasting influence on Central Asia. The urban culture and civilisation that he brought had an impact which could not be wiped out even by the later Turkish and Arab conquests of this region.
Ruler #3. Darius (521 to 485 B.C.):
Cyrus’s son Kambuj, succeeded to the great empire. He crushed a revolt in Egypt and thus re-established his hold over it, but after his death his enemies grew in strength. The Medes resented the respect shown to any other gods than their own Ahurmazd. Gomata, who was one of the leaders of the Medes, occupied the throne for six months, but other Medean princes fought for its possession and at last Darius, a descendent of Akhman, the son of the Satrap of Hurkaniya, succeeded in killing Gomata and seizing Akhvatan, the capital.
He refers to this in his famous inscriptions of Bahistun in the following words:
“Ahurmazd made me king. Our race had lost the throne. I regained it. I restored the places of worship destroyed by aliens. I restored the glories of my people……… I resolved to follow the dictates of Ahurmazd in such a way that the damage done to the race by Gomata could be forgotten.”
Darius had to contend against a number of other rivals in addition to Gomata. Phravartes, the ruler of Armenia and Medea proclaimed himself a full-fledged King, while the ruler of Margiya declared himself independent. Hurkaniya also seceded from the empire, but Vistan, the father of Darius, fought and conquered Hurkaniya.
The following year Badshish, one of the Satraps of Darius, succeeded in defeating the ruler of Margiya and annexing it to the empire. Till 512 B. C. the boundaries of the empire were the Black Sea and the Shakland, on the north, the Indus on the east, the Mediterranean and the western boundary of Egypt on the west and Arabia and the Sahara on the south.
After extending his empire in Asia and Africa Darius turned his attention to Europe and in particular to Greece. It was probably the Greek political situation that forced him to adopt this course. There were a number of Greek colonies in Asia, and people forced to flee from Athens as a result of internal strife sought shelter in them.
On the other hand, fugitives from Iran were made welcome in Greece. The Iranian satraps considered this as an affront to them. There is no doubt that it was these Satraps, rather than Darius himself, who were responsible for the war against Greece.
Darius was anxious to annex Thrace to his Empire, so he attacked it. In order to retain control of Thrace it was necessary to crush the Scythian tribes in the north. So in 508 B.C. he crossed the Danube and launched an attack against them. Unable to withstand the onslaught the Scythians fell to burning their fields and property as they went.
This was the region that later came to be called Russia and there is little doubt that the scorched earth policy that was pursued later on by the Russians had been handed down from their Scythian ancestors. By 506 B.C. Thrace and Macedonia had become part of the empire of Darius.
In great sea battle fought in 494 B.C., Darius scored a victory over the Greeks and revolts in the Greek colonies in Asia were also crushed. But even after the conquest of Thrace and Macedonia the Greeks were not willing to accept Iranian domination and in 490 B.C., after a few minor engagements, the famous battle of Marathon was fought and the Iranians were defeated.
Darius spent the last five years of his reign in consolidating his gains and on his death in 485 B.C. he was able to leave a well-organised and prosperous empire to his successor. This does not mean, of course, that all classes benefited equally under his rule. The condition of the slaves continued to be horrible, but in this period of history the cruelty to the slaves was a feature of all civilised states.
Ruler #4. Xerxes (485-466 B. C.):
For nineteen years after the death of Darius his son Xerxes, ruled over the Persian Empire. Darius had been defeated by the Greeks, so Xerxes prepared to make war against them, but before he could do so there was a revolt in Egypt. After crushing this revolt he launched the campaign against Greece in 481 B.C. with 1200 ships and 2,310,000 soldiers. Including auxiliaries from different parts of Europe, his strength increased to 5,000,000 soldiers.
This was the largest army that has ever yet taken the field in any part of the world. The Greeks realised that this was to be a life and death struggle for them and the whole of Greece stood up as one man against Xerxes. Athens was evacuated and the women and children were sent to safety while the men went to the front.
The armies of Xerxes crossed Thrace and Macedonia without opposition and a number of the states in north and Central Greece had to accept the enemy’s domination. In Thermopylae the Greeks took their first stand. The Iranians being unable to cross the pass advanced by circumventing it and captured Athens. Despite this the Greeks did not lay down their arms, but continued the fight from the island of Salamis, where a naval engagement took place in the narrow straits.
The huge Persian vessels could not manoeuvre in that restricted space while the light Greek triremes were to move freely and in the course of the day’s fight the Iranians lost 200 ships. Xerxes now decided to return leaving his commander-in-chief, Mardonias, to carry on the battle. Mardonias scored some initial successes and hoisted the Persian flag over Athens once again, but the victory proved short-lived. On the fields of Palatiya the Greeks inflicted a decisive defeat on the Persian armies; Mardonias was killed and his soldiers fled away in confusion.
Xerxes lived for another thirteen years after this defeat. He had become coarse and pleasure-loving and was ultimately killed by his own bodyguard.
After Xerxes, thirteen kings of the Akhman dynasty succeeded one another. They did their best to keep the vast empire intact. Although from the time of Xerxes onwards the Empire did not extend, there was no serious threat to it till the invasion of Alexander. During the reign of Arthkhatr II (405-359 B. C.) there was a revolt in Egypt. The Greeks supported the revolt but could not render effective assistance owing to their own internal strife and the revolt was crushed.
Arthkhatr III (359-333 B.C.) caused all the members of the royal family to be slain and the nomads of Khwarezm declared themselves independent as soon as the central authority of Iran had become weak. Darius III 333-330 B.C. was the last of the Akhmani rulers. He has been described as a liberal and brave ruler but the two-hundred-year-old dynasty had degenerated considerably by this time and the administration had begun to rot.
Macedonia remained part of the Iranian Empire till sometime after 585 B.C., but after the defeat sustained by Xerxes at the hands of the Greeks the Iranians gradually lost control over it. When Arthkhatr III succeeded to the throne in 359 B.C., Philip, after a general massacre of his relatives, had become the ruler of Macedonia. An able general and a good administrator, he was highly ambitious. He adopted many of the administrative practices of the Iranians and Greeks and remodelled his army on their pattern.
Although the Macedonians were Greeks their more developed brothers, the Athenians and Spartans, considered them barbarians. The twenty-three years of Philip’s rule were a period of active preparation. If he had not died in 336 B.C., the great campaign against Persia which was led by his son Alexander would probably have been conducted by him. Philips had given proof of such ability that even the proud Athenians began to call him Hero of the Hellenes. Aristotle, the great Athenian thinker, became the Tutor of his son Alexander.
In 336 B.C., Alexander, who was then twenty, became King of Macedonia. Even at that age he had proved his ability in two wars. He inherited from his father a cavalry trained in Iranian style and an infantry organised along Greek lines.
For two years after coming to the throne Alexander was engaged in crushing the revolts to his north and south, so that it was only in 334 B.C. that he was at last able to set out on his campaign of conquest. His object was the subjugation of the Iranian Empire which extended up to the Indus.
Although he advanced as far as the Punjab, he was only able to bring the Iranian Empire under his sway. His achievements, therefore, did not go beyond those of Cyrus and Darius. It has to be remembered, however, that the resources of Alexander, when he set out on his march, were nothing compared to those of Darius.
Although Alexander succeeded in defeating the Iranians because of their internal conflicts, they fought bravely. Their mistake was that they did not resist his advance when he first landed in Asia. Alexander began his campaign with 30,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry. The first encounter took place on the banks of the Gronikus, and in this battle the Iranian general was killed and his army fled in panic.
This initial defeat so demoralised the Iranian army that Alexander met no serious resistance in the whole of Asia Minor. Cowardly satraps surrendered without offering any resistance and as a consequence Alexander in his turn was faced with the problem of setting up an administration. He decided to appoint two officers to be in charge of the civil and military administrations respectively. He also established military cantonments wherever they were needed.
The first year of his campaign was spent in conquering the provinces bordering the Mediterranean and in 333 B.C. after consolidating his rear, he again began his advance. Darius III opposed him with an army of six lakhs, but the battlefield was not suitable for the deployment of so large an army.
A fierce engagement began but Darius left the field while the battle was still in progress. This broke the backbone of his army and it retreated in confusion. Alexander was hot in its pursuit and slew a hundred thousand Persian soldiers. This battle proved decisive for Alexander.
After subjugating Western Asia Alexander continued his march. At Arbela in Mesopotamia, Darius III faced him once again, with an army, a million strong. This time also Darius left the battle before its conclusion and Alexander pursued him for two days without being able to capture him. Since then Darius was never again to be in a position to offer serious resistance anywhere.
Alexander set up an efficient administrative system. In Susa he seized the Imperial treasury and in the fourth year of his campaign of conquest he entered the first capital, Parsupuri. Here he was able to lay his hands on so vast a hoard of treasure that ten thousand carts and five thousand camels were necessary to carry them.
Drunk with success, Alexander ordered a general massacre of die population and that the huge palaces of the capital be set on fire. In a few moments this wonder city was reduced to ashes and its destruction showed, as nothing else could have done how barbarous a people the Macedonians really were.
Learning that Darius was preparing to make a stand in Hamdan, Alexander rushed to that place. Again Darius fled in panic and Alexander pursued him until he found the corpse of Darius near Damgan. Alexander paid his respects to the dead Emperor and buried him with due ceremony. He then married Roxana the daughter of Darius. They had a son, who could not enjoy the fruits of the victory, but Alexander’s generals.