Per’sia (pure, splendid), Per’sians. Persia proper was a tract of no very large dimensions on the Persian Gulf, which is still known as Fars or Faristan, a corruption of the ancient appellation. This tract was bounded on the west by Susiana or Elam, on the north by Media, on the south by the Persian Gulf and on the east by Carmania. But the name is more commonly applied, both in Scripture and by profane authors, to the entire tract which came by degrees to be included within the limits of the Persian empire. This empire extended at one time from India on the east to Egypt and Thrace on the west, and included, besides portions of Europe and Africa, the whole of western Asia between the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Caspian and the Jaxartes on the north, the Arabian desert, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean on the south. The only passage in Scripture where Persia designates the tract which has been called above “Persia proper” is Ezek. 38:5. Elsewhere the empire is intended. The Persians were of the same race as the Medes, both being branches of the great Aryan stock.
1. Character of the nation.—The Persians were a people of lively and impressible minds, brave and impetuous in war, witty, passionate, for Orientals truthful, not without some spirit of generosity, and of more intellectual capacity than the generality of Asiatics. In the times anterior to Cyrus they were noted for the simplicity of their habits, which offered a strong contrast to the luxuriousness of the Medes; but from the date of the Median overthrow this simplicity began to decline. Polygamy was commonly practiced among them. They were fond of the pleasures of the table. In war they fought bravely, but without discipline.
2. Religion.—The religion which the Persians brought with them into Persia proper seems to have been of a very simple character, differing from natural religion in little except that it was deeply tainted with Dualism. Like the other Aryans, the Persians worshipped one supreme God. They had few temples, and no altars or images.
3. Language.—The Persian language was closely akin to the Sanscrit, or ancient language of India. Modern Persian is its degenerate representative, being largely impregnated with Arabic.
4. History.—The history of Persia begins with the revolt from the Medes and the accession of Cyrus the Great, b.c. 558. Cyrus defeated Crœsus, and added the Lydian empire to his dominions. This conquest was followed closely by the submission of the Greek settlements on the Asiatic coast, and by the reduction of Caria and Lycia. The empire was soon afterward extended greatly toward the northeast and east. In b.c. 539 or 538, Babylon was attacked, and after a stout defence fell into the hands of Cyrus. This victory first brought the Persians into contact with the Jews. The conquerors found in Babylon an oppressed race—like themselves, abhorrers of idols, and professors of a religion in which to a great extent they could sympathize. This race Cyrus determined to restore to their own country: which he did by the remarkable edict recorded in the first chapter of Ezra. Ezra 1:2-4. He was slain in an expedition against the Massagetæ or the Derbices, after a reign of twenty-nine years. Under his son and successor, Cambyses, the conquest of Egypt took place, b.c. 525. This prince appears to be the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6. Gomates, Cambyses’ successor, reversed the policy of Cyrus with respect to the Jews, and forbade by an edict the further building of the temple. Ezra 4:17-22. He reigned but seven months, and was succeeded by Darius. Appealed to, in his second year, by the Jews, who wished to resume the construction of their temple, Darius not only granted them this privilege, but assisted the work by grants from his own revenues, whereby the Jews were able to complete the temple was early as his sixth year. Ezra 6:1-15. Darius was succeeded by Xerxes, probably the Ahasuerus of Esther. Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, reigned for forty years after his death, and is beyond doubt the king of that name who stood in such a friendly relation toward Ezra, Ezra 7:11-28, and Nehemiah. Neh. 2:1-9, etc. He is the last of the Persian kings who had any special connection with the Jews, and the last but one mentioned in Scripture. His successors were Xerxes II, Sogdianus, Darius Nothus, Artaxerxes Mnemon, Artaxerxes Ochus, and Darius Codomannus, who is probably the “Darius the Persian” of Neh. 12:22. These monarchs reigned from b.c. 424 to b.c. 330. The collapse of the empire under the attack of Alexander the Great took place b.c. 330.