Monday, December 8, 2014

Satraps: Administration of Darius I

King Darius the Great
Administering an empire is cumbersome. A centralized government won’t work effectively if it did not manage well its local administration. Furthermore, communication and other economic aspects must be taken into consideration to manage vast extent of lands. This had been the problem of ancient Empires: how to manage a vast lands? This question or challenge was taken on by one of the ancient world’s largest empire – Persia. Under the rule of Darius the Great, Persia would undergo administrative reforms, among them would be the famous satrapies, and would enable it to maintain its positions as a power for more than a century.

The Persian Empire was the superpower of the middle of the 1st millennium BCE. Beginning from the rebellion and rise of Cyrus the Great, it rose in both power and size through the following years. At that time, it grew from modern day Iran then towards the west, conquering the whole Mesopotamia, then Anatolia, and at its height, crossed the Bosporus Straits and took control of lands in Balkans. During the reign of Cambyses II, it also annexed the fertile lands of Egypt and its neighboring lands, like Libya and Ethiopia.

During the reign of Cambyses II, public administration fell into chaos. At the time of the last years of King Cambyses, according to records, became mad and brutal. Rebellions rose. It took a prince of Persia to bring order back from this chaotic situation. Darius took the responsibility of King in 522 BCE. With the support of nobles, he rose to power and eliminated his contenders. Darius was not inexperience. During the reign of Cambyses, he commanded the army which conquered Egypt. When his contenders were dead, Darius faced the huge challenges he faced.

Because of numerous rebellions he had to quell, the Persian Empire seized to expand. Instead of expanding, it was time for the Persian Empire to consolidate the empire. In the process, it had to develop an administrative program which would enable the Empire to be united under the rule of the King. This is what King Darius did.

His most popular and well-known project for governance was the satrapies. Darius divided the Empire into twenty provinces or satrapies. Every one of the satrapies were allowed to maintain their local laws, religion, and tradition. Each satrapies was ruled by a governor called satrap or protectors of the Kingdom. Many of the satraps, however, were held by relatives of the King, mostly princes, and noble. But in some instances, they were recruited from the locals. Eventually, the position of strap became hereditary. The satraps wielded control over finance and local military units. They report directly to the King and had the duty of paying tribute. Each satraps must pay to the King a certain amount of silver. In some satraps, additional tributes or gifts were required to be given. For example, the Satrap of Egypt must also give bushels of grain to the King. Some parts of the tribute and gifts were allotted to state affairs. And other parts went to the pockets of the King. This made Darius known to Herodotus as the merchant who became wealthy from all the gifts and tribute he received.

Other than satraps, Darius also dealt with the judiciary and law. In all localities, judges were appointed for life. All judges must render their judgment fairly and obeys the ideas of Zoroastrianism. Any signs of corruption were punished brutally. Darius also ordered for laws in the provinces to be uniformed. Also he ordered studies of Babylonian (Code of Hammurabi), Egyptian, and Elamite laws. The studies allowed Darius to form the Ordinance of Good Regulations. The Ordinance covered wide range of affairs, from political to social, economic, and military. It also allowed trial by ordeal of witnesses to test their credibility. Trial attorneys were also permitted under the ordinance.

Moreover, made several measures to consolidate the Empire together. For instance, Aramaic became the official language of the whole Empire. One central coinage system was also establish to unite the Empire economically. Most importantly, Darius ordered the construction of roads, including the famous Royal Road. This roads, allowed faster communication and travel time. It also allowed armies to march faster to areas of destabilization were.

The reign of Darius ended in 486 BCE. His 36 rule saw am improvement in administration. It allowed the Persian Empire to continue to exist for another century. 

See also:

Daniel, E. The History of Iran. California: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
Farazmand, A. (ed.). Bureaucracy and Administration. Florida: CRC Press, 2009.

Hansen, V. & K. Curtis. Voyages in World History. Massachusetts: Wadswoth, 2010.

Spielvogel, J. Western Civilization: A Brief History v. I - To 1715. Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2002.

Stokes, J. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2009.

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