Welcome back to the Ancient Persian empire – This week, we are focusing on the ruling time of Cyrus II! We had the honor of two other Archaeologist joining us for dinner – Allanah and Nate.
We also decided we would do something a little bit different. The food we are looking at has already been covered in previous blogs. So this week we are going to look at the Persian Empire themselves. More specifically the expansion of the empire and the people behind it.
Where to start?
Why not at the beginning? The Persian Empire is also referred to as the Achaemenid Persian empire, but for the blog we will be only referring to them as the Persian Empire. The Empire came about around 550 B.C.E. when Cyrus II, or otherwise known as Cyrus the Great, conquered his neighbor to the north, King Astyages of Media. When Cyrus II conquered this new land, it expanded his territory to into Iran and Türkiye.
But who was Cyrus II?
Like many leaders throughout history, he was born into privilege. When his father, Cambyses I, died; Cyrus II took over the family business of running the empire. Cyrus got a reputation for being lenient on the lands he conquered. He was said to be an amazing tactician. After conquering King Asytages of Media, he would turn his focus to Lydia. However, you could say that the conquest of Lydia was brought upon themselves by trying to take advantage of the new instability in the region. Regardless, they where not prepared to finish what they started, and when winter came around the Lydian army withdrew back home. The only problem was that Cyrus II didn’t withdraw, but instead took the fight to them. After a two week siege of the Lydian capital, Sardis, the Lydians fell. When he defeated Lydia, his coffers swelled allowing him to continue on his conquering.
The vacuum caused by Lydia
But this caused problems for the Lydian ally: The Babylonian empire. They controlled the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. But even the mighty Babylonian empire couldn’t stand up to the power that was the Persian empire. And in 539 B.C.E., they defeated the Babylonian army at Opis. Upon defeating them, Cyrus II went to Babylon. Not only did he present himself as one of their traditional Mesopotamian monarchs, he set about having the temples repaired and even released political prisoners. It wasn’t his defeat of the Babylonian army that allowed him access the their capital, but instead was the Babylonian people themselves. They turned on their king due to grievances about being forced into labor and a slight against their city’s patron deity, Marduk. So when Cyrus came; they didn’t show any resistance because of his willingness to spare those who surrendered to him.
Nepotism in Royalty – and Imposters?
Cyrus II reigned only 29 years (559-530 B.C.E.) and had a lot to show for his efforts. He was succeeded by his son Kambujiya (Cambyses) II. Cambyses oversaw the conjuring of Egypt in 525 B.C.E. when after a ten day siege of Memphis, the Egyptians fell to the might of the Persians.
However, Cambyses wasn’t destined to rule for long. He only ruled from 529-522 B.C.E. He would die while traveling through Syria. It is unsure how he died but he was followed by Smerdis the Usurper.
Smerdis had an even shorter reign than his brother, or was it Cambyses brother at all? There are rumors that Smerdis was not who he said he was but instead an imposter impersonating Cyrus’s son. The impersonators name is sad to have been Gaumata. Herodotus (the Greek historian) and Darius (a Persian king) say that Cambyses murdered his brother Bardiya.
If it was an imposter or the actual son of Cyrus (Bardiya) we may never truly know, but we know that Smerdis the Usurper only reigned for 8 months before he was killed by our next king, Darius. But we will get into the reign of Darius next time.
I hope you enjoyed the history of the Persian empire. I know it isn’t what I normally do where I focus on the food that we are preparing, but I figured that reading about me repeating the same history of the food we have already eaten as boring and uninteresting.
Chicory Rubbed Grilled Lamb
Pistachio Yogurt Sauce
Stewed Turmeric Lentils
4 out of 5 stars
Overall, I enjoyed the meal all together. We served it with a bread that was the combination of last week’s Einkorn Bread, with just barley flour. Everything was pretty great, but I found the chicory a bit too strong at times. If I coated it with enough of the sauce, it helped balance the flavors.
I enjoyed the stewed lentils, but I feel as if it was missing something else to make it more filling.
4 out of 5 stars
The meal was delicious. I didn’t think that I was going to enjoy the chicory on the lamb, seeing how I am not a fan of coffee or things flavored like coffee, but it added a taste that to the lamb that complimented it very well.
The pistachio yogurt sauce was not my favorite. It came off as sickly sweet me me. However, it did pair well with the lamb. The turmeric lentil stew was amazing when eaten either by itself or with the ash bread. In all I would give it 4 out of 5 stars. If it were not for the pistachio yogurt; I think it would have been a 5.
Bonus! Guest Reviews:
Allanah and Nate’s Review
3.5 out of 5 stars
Allanah – I found it difficult to find the right proportions between all of the strong flavors.
Nate – The lamb and pistachio sauce were delicious, but I found the lentil stew a little bit bland.