Friday, December 5, 2014

Ten Thousand Immortals: Immortalizing the Persian Empire

Persian Immortals depicted during the 2,500 year celebration of the Persia.

The Persian Empire – the largest empire of Asia in the ancient world. It spanned through three continents. In Asia, Mesopotamia and Iran fell to their control. In Africa, Egypt and its peripheries were under Persian rule. And in Europe, the Anatolian plateau and parts of the Balkans were annexed by Persia. Behind this success was the Persian Army and its elite standing force, the celebrated and renowned – Ten Thousand Immortals.
The Ten Thousand Immortal was feared and respected military unit of the Persian Empire. Its beginnings dated back to the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus the Great. They became part of his military campaigns and contributed in forging the Persian Empire. Even after the death of Cyrus the Great, they found themselves continue to serve his successors, like Cambyses II. Under the command of Darius, the Immortals fought in many campaigns, including Persian invasion of Egypt. When Cambyses II died, an internal struggle for the throne ensued. With the support of the Ten Thousand Immortals, Darius became King and became known as Darius the Great. During the last two decades of Darius’ reign, Persia invaded Greece. The Ten Thousand Immortals were sent to join the fight as well. But the most famous and well-known action of Immortals during the course of war was when they faced the three hundred Spartans of King Leonidas during the Battle of Thermopylae. Records, however, about the battle did not tell if the Immortals made the final assault against the Spartans. After the Greco-Persian War, the Immortals continued as a military unit, however, details were scant. Immortals were said continued to fight for Persia during the invasion of Alexander the Great. They saw action in the Battle of Issus and Gaugamelal. They stand beside Persian King Darius III until his eventual death. Many suspected that the Ten Thousand Immortals seized to exist when Alexander took control of all Persia.

The Ten Thousand Immortals had a peculiar name. In Old Persian, they were called Amrtaka or Amarata meaning without death. Herodotus gave an explanation for the name. When a member of the Immortals became sick, wounded, retired, or dead, there would be an immediate replacement to keep the membership not lower or higher than ten thousand. The name also gave it some curiosity and fear. The word immortal itself gave an image of invincibility and brought some mystery to the unit.

The Ten Thousand Immortals served as the Persian King’s personal standing army. Their quarter were in Babylon and Persepolis. They served military and ceremonial function. They were the personal bodyguards of the Persian King. Unlike the rest of the Persian army made of conscripts or Satrap armies, the Ten Thousand Immortals were kept as a standing army funded through the enormous wealth of the King. The Ten Thousand Immortals were made up of several regiments of a thousand. According to Herodotus, One regiment was considered special because their spears had a golden apple of pomegranates in its end. This regiment of golden apples were interpreted as the elite unit within the elite force. They said to have been recruited from the Persian nobility. They served as archers and spearman. The remaining 9,000 Immortals had their spears ending with a silver pomegranate. Within the 9,000 Immortals, another 1,000 of them served as archer, spearmen, and cavalry. While the rest of the 8,000 Immortals served as spearmen armed with six foot long spears with shields.

Nothing much was known to the specialty of the Immortals. Besides being made of Persians and funded to be maintained as a standing army, only few were known about their uniqueness. Perhaps, one books said, their training and tactics were different from the rest of the Persian Army. It was also said also that the Immortals were given the privileges to bring their concubines along with them during battle. In addition, their food were more special than other because of their members coming from the nobility.

The Ten Thousand Immortals became a legacy of the Persian Empire. Their reputation continued to exist even if the Empire they served had already fallen. Through their exploits and battles, most important being the Battle of Thermopylae, the Immortals became a stuff of legend through stories, games, and Hollywood. They became they brought an impact for the image and the history of the great Persian Empire.


Bibliography:
Archer, Christon et. al. World History of Warfare. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Ion, A. Hamish & Keith Neilson (eds.). Elite Military Formations in War and Peace. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Gabriel, Richard. The Great Armies of Antiquity. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002

Sekunda, Nicholas. The Persian Army, 560-330 BC. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1992.

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