World Civilization Tour, Day Twelve
Why does the textbook say that Darius was "more important as an administrator than as a conqueror"?
The geographic footprint of the Achaemenid Empire was already quite large by the time Darius I ascended to the throne in 522 BC. Although he put down many rebellions, extended his borders east to the Indus River, and successfully reconquered the city of Thrace, his economic and cultural reforms led the Achaemenid Empire to its height of power under his rule. He reorganized the satrapies, implemented a new, standardized monetary system, and decreed that Aramaic would be the official language of the entire empire. He standardized laws, while allowing a measure of autonomy and local control, checked by a strong military presence and centralized policy-making. He directly appointed Persian satraps, but allowed them to utilize mostly local appointees in other, subordinate positions of administration, giving the diverse ethnic and cultural groups of his empire the sense that their voice and concerns would be heard in government, rather than suffering under a foreigner, ignorant of their history and customs, blindly imposing his will upon them. While a fervent adherent of, or at least believer in, Ahura Mazda (historians disagree about whether or not he was a devout Zoroastrian), he allowed a remarkable level of religious tolerance. He instituted a uniform, predictable system of taxation. People could plan better knowing when and how much tribute would be expected of them, as opposed to the irregular, sometimes onerous levies of his predecessors. He built and improved roads throughout the Empire, and created an early form of postal system not unlike the Pony Express of the American West over two millennia later. The time it took news and information to reach the Emperor from the farthest reaches of his realm, and for imperial decrees to be disseminated, decreased dramatically. Trade flourished under the economic standardization and political stability of Darius’ reign.
Militarily, he was less successful, suffering a legendary defeat at the hands of the Athenians in the Battle of Marathon, and ending his chances of annexing Greece. He did, however, successfully subjugate Macedon and a small number of Greek Islands. His economic, political, and cultural expertise distinguished him among Achaemenid rulers, however.
In what ways did Darius, and his successors, promote communication and commerce throughout the empire?
The Achaemenid emperors improved the lives of their subjects in several important ways, not the least of which was political stability on an immense scale. They built great networks of good roads, reducing travel times, and increasing comfort and safety for travelers, traders, government officials, and facilitating the rapid deployment of military forces. Darius developed a message relaying system utilizing waystations with fresh horses at given intervals, making communication exponentially faster and more reliable. Darius decreed that Aramaic be adopted as the official language of the empire, which made communication between diverse and far-flung ethnic groups easier. The imperial daric became the standard coinage of the Empire, making collection of taxes easier and more efficient, and encouraging trade, both within imperial borders and as a currency of recognized value in other lands. They built massive public works projects, temples, mausoleums, and irrigation systems that made formerly dry lands productive, and built canals, underground waterways, and a strong commercial fleet and navy. Standardized laws and currency made banking possible, and merchants and financiers profited from an increase in investment and the availability of credit.