The Achaemenid Persian empire functioned and it did since of the efficient administration established by its founder Cyrus the great (r. C. 550-530 BCE) which to be administered with the satrapy system. A Persian governor of a district was recognized as a satrap (“protector of the kingdom” or “keeper that the province”) and the district as a satrapy.

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Theses satrapies were compelled to pay taxes and provide men because that the empire"s militaries and, in return, were supposed to enjoy the protection and also affluence of the realm as a whole. Under the reigns that some majesties – prefer Cyrus the good or, after initial revolts, Darius the great (r. 522-486 BE) – the satrapy system operated well, if under others, satraps rebelled repeatedly.

Overall, however, the satrapy system worked efficiently and would be retained by the empires which thrived the Achaemenid – the Seleucid empire (312-63 BCE), Parthia (247 BCE - 224 CE), and also the Sassanian realm (224-651 CE). Satraps are pointed out in the biblical publications of Ezra, Esther, and also Daniel as necessary to the management of the government and also this see is supported by Persian documents and ancient historians consisting of Herodotus and Ctesias. The Achaemenid design of Persian government was so efficient that the Roman empire would later on copy it and succeeding governments in Late classical times would copy Rome"s.

Persian governors and also the satrapy system, in fact, established the paradigm recognizable in the existing day of a central government, which functions through a decentralized system of subordinates responsible for governing regional regions. The satrapy mechanism is more than likely most plainly evident in the governmental device of the United claims of America, which famously modeled itself on that of Rome just as many nation-states had centuries before.

Origins of the System

Satraps did not originate through the Achaemenid Empire, however, however with the much previously Akkadian empire (2334-2083 BCE) but the Akkadian officials to be not known as "satraps" which to be a Persian term. Sargon the Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE) denote a system of regional governors, responsible directly to him, whose tasks were then monitored by an ext closely trusted officials. This device was copied by the Assyrians and also revised through Tiglath Pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE) that instituted an detailed network that governors looked after by “trusted men” who, choose the Akkadian overseers, ensured the loyalty and efficiency of the governors. This design was so efficient it was later used by the Assyrians" enemies, the Medes, who were the most immediate influence on the Persian system.

Provincial governors might not constantly be trusted which required the position of the “trusted man” to supervise them.

The typical satrapy system is thought to have actually been denote by the very first king the the Medes, Dayukku (known come the Greeks as Deioces, r. 727-675 BCE), who developed the average Kingdom in Ecbatana. Deioces did hold together the Medes under a kingship but, follow to Herodotus (I. 102), it was his kid Phraortes (r. C. 647 - c. 625 BCE) who enlarged the kingdom and also founded the average Empire, so it is much more likely satrapy was created toward the start of his reign.

The system was steady in ar by the moment of the power of Deioces" grandson Cyaxares that Media (r. 625-585 BCE) whose daughter (or granddaughter) Amytis the Media (l. 630-565 BCE) would certainly marry Nebuchadnezzar II the Babylon (r. 605/604-562 BCE). Satraps to be an integral element of Babylonian government under Nebuchadnezzar II"s reign and also their prominence is referenced in the later publication of Daniel (composed c. 2nd century BCE) which casts the heroes of Daniel 3 - Shadrach, Meshach, and also Abednego – together either satraps or imperial secretaries. These 3 refused the imperial edict to venerate a graven image instead of their god and also are condemned to dice in the fiery furnace yet were conserved through their faith and emerged unharmed.

This basic plot is recurring in Daniel 6 whereby the prophet Daniel is shown as an administrative overseer – one of the “trusted men” that a monarch – that is condemned through the Babylonian and also Median satraps for worshipping a international god in defiance that the mandate of the king Darius. The Darius the the book of Daniel does no correspond to any known king (although some scholars combine him v Astyages the Media, r. 585-550 BCE) and also should not be confused with the Achaemenid majesties of the same name. In the story, the satraps themselves have actually introduced the ordinance which enables them to condemn Daniel and, although that is not explicitly stated, they many likely have done so because Daniel is the eyes and also ears the the king that would report any kind of dishonesty or lapses through a satrap.

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Byzantine ivory Pyxis
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin (CC BY-NC-SA)

The prestige of a reliable overseer to a king, as opposed come the worth of the satraps, is emphasized in the publication of Daniel as soon as Daniel is actors into the lion"s den, emerges unharmed by the protection of his god, and also Darius then has the satraps that condemned him fed come the lions. Although written much later than the events it purports come narrate (such together the reign of Nebuchadnezzar), the story illustrates the main dynamic the the relationship in between a monarch and also his satraps: the provincial governors could not constantly be trusted and would job-related for their very own self-interest when they could which required the place of the “trusted man” come supervise them. This dynamic would continue to be a continuous of the satrapy system.

Achaemenid Satrapy

Cyrus the an excellent was well aware of this and so adopted and refined the Assyrian and also Median system. The satraps that the Achaemenid realm ruled for life (or unless they offended the emperor), and also the position was hereditary. Further, they often governed immense areas of large resources and also the temptation to use these to unseat the emperor and also create your own empire had to it is in neutralized. Scholar A. T. Olmstead explains Cyrus" solution:

To accomplish this threat, specific checks were instituted: secretary, his chef financial official, and the general in charge of the garrison stationed in the citadel of each of the satrapal fundings were under the direct order of, and also reported directly to, the good king in person. Still much more effective manage was worked out by the “king"s eye” (or “king"s ear” or “king"s messenger”) who yearly made a careful inspection of every province. (59)

Under Cyrus" reign, the satrapy system operated well, but under his son Cambyses II (r. 530-522 BCE), there were revolts, and also when Cambyses II died and also Darius ns (a far-off cousin) took the throne, entirety regions rose in revolt. Even though Darius I, in his famous Behistun Inscription, insists that just some regions revolted, resistance to his regime was an ext widespread. This was due to the fact that of a coup that had actually taken place previously while Cambyses II had remained in Egypt. His brother, Bardiya, had actually taken the throne and also was much more popular 보다 Cambyses II. In his inscription, however, Darius I claims that Cambyses II had murdered Bardiya before going to Egypt and the “Bardiya” who asserted kingship was an imposter named Gaumata. Darius I"s assassination that this imposter, therefore, was merely the return of the throne to a legitimate claimant, not a coup.

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The Behistun Inscription
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Darius I"s claim was only at first supported by two satraps – Dadarshish the Bactria and also Vivana that Arachosia. As Olmstead notes, “the whole empire welcomed Bardiya without inquiry his assassination carried renewed wishes of national self-reliance which bred a perfect orgy of revolts amongst the subject peoples” (110). Darius I spent the first few years of his reign placing down this revolts and then more revised the satrapy device to ensure complete obedience to the king"s will.

Darius I kept the an easy system instituted by Cyrus the good but separated the realm into 7 regions and each region into twenty satrapies i beg your pardon shrank the resources accessible to every individual satrap. The royal Secretary, royal Treasurer, and Garrison command of every satrapy were – as under Cyrus – responsible wholly to the king, not the satrap, and also reported directly to the imperial house. Darius I"s model would keep the Achaemenid realm intact throughout the remainder that its history, however this is not to speak it was never challenged.

The Satrap Revolts

In the reign of Artaxerxes II Memnon (r. 404-358 BCE), his brother, Cyrus the Younger (satrap that Lydia, d. 401 BCE) rebelled in an effort to unseat the king and also rule the realm himself. Artaxerxes II just learned that the army marching toward him late but still had the ability to mount a defense many thanks to the satrap Tissaphernes (l. 445-395 BCE), likewise satrap the Lydia. Cyrus" revolt was crushed, and also he was killed in battle by Artaxerxes II that then directed his army against Cyrus" Greek mercenaries. The story of the Greek warriors" escape indigenous Persia come the black color Sea and ago to their residences is famously called by Xenophon (l. 430 - c. 354 BCE) in his Anabasis.

The great Satrap"s revolt of 372-362 BCE to be initiated by some satraps" dissatisfaction v Artaxerxes II"s policies.

Artaxerxes II"s reign did not proceed smoothly afterwards, however, as trouble emerged again in the good Satrap"s revolt of 372-362 BCE. The rebellion was initiated by some satraps" dissatisfaction with Artaxerxes II"s policies however would never have launched without support and encouragement from Egypt. The revolt started when Datames, satrap of Cappadocia (l. C. 407-c.362 BCE), was preferred by Artaxerxes II to lead a campaign against Egypt. Egypt had actually been taken by the Persians under Cambyses II in 525 BCE yet had thrown turn off Persian rule, at least of the Delta region, by 411 BCE. Campaigns were an installed periodically from climate on come reclaim the shed territory and also Datames was in command of the 372 BCE expedition.

Feeling he was unappreciated at Artaxerxes II"s court, and feeling poorly used, Datames accepted the support the Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo ns (r. C. 379-363 BCE) and also turned top top Artaxerxes II. He was defeated and killed in 362 BCE, however his revolt ongoing under the satrap of Phrygia Ariobarzanes (d. 362 BCE) who had actually joined his revolt in 366 BCE in objection to what he witnessed as Artaxerxes II"s arbitrary policies. He was betrayed by his son and also crucified as a traitor in 362 BCE.

Many other satraps were associated in the revolt, because that and versus Artaxerxes II. Among the best-known of this is Mausolus, satrap that Caria (r. 377-353 BCE) who played both sides of the conflict yet remained faithful to Artaxerxes II. In ~ one point, explain the forces of Artaxerxes II were marching versus one of his cities, he asked for funds from significant citizens and rebel satraps to build a defensive wall. Once he had actually the money, he declared that he had actually received word native the gods that the time was not ideal for structure a wall and deposit the funds in his personal treasury. Another time, he told the rebel satraps that he to be unable to pay what was owed to the king and also had bought time by promising to pay more in the close to future, encouraging lock to perform the same. They followed his lead yet were then compelled to make an excellent on their promise which spanned the quantity Mausolus owed and he wound up paying nothing (Olmstead, 415). That is most famed for his tomb, the Mausoleum in ~ Halicarnassus, among the seven Wonders the the ancient world.

Seleucid & Parthian Satraps

Although there were later on revolts and conspiracies that the satraps, the Achaemenid Empire continued on an ext or much less steadily. Once the empire fell come Alexander the good under the reign of Darius III (336-330 BCE), the satrapy device was still functioning well and was preserved in location by the doing well Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid realm was founded by among Alexander"s generals, Seleucus i Nicator (r. 305-281 BCE), who initially had actually to project to consolidate his reign but then held the satraps that appointed in place through the Achaemenid version of government.

After his death, various satrapies increased in revolt and also his successor, Antiochus ns Soter (r. 281-261 BCE) enlisted the solutions of the Celts the Galatia as mercenaries to placed them down and bring the regions earlier under his control. One of the objections that the civilization under Seleucid dominion was that the Seleucid queens – that Macedonian-Greek family tree – favored Greeks and appointed them as satraps. Greek ended up being the language the the court and also satraps were encouraged in Hellenizing their regions. Alexander had tried to blend Persian and Greek cultures and Seleucus I continued this policy however not every one of his satraps – or those that his followers – to be interested in pursuing the same.


One example of this is the satrap Andragoras that Parthia (d. 238 BCE) who was appointed under the regime of Antiochus i Soter or, an ext likely, his successor Antiochus II Theos (r. 261-246 BCE). The is referenced together an Iranian satrap who was either assigned or took the Greek name Andragoras ~ above his appointment. Little is known of him till his rebellion under the regime of Seleucus II Callinicus (r. 246-225 BCE) when he asserted Parthia an independent kingdom in 245 BCE shortly after Arsaces i of the Parni tribe broke Parthia far from the Seleucid realm in 247 BCE. Andragoras tried to retain his host on the kingdom as Arsaces I climbed in power but was killed in 238 BCE together the Parthian realm rose under Arsaces I"s regime (247-217 BCE). Arsaces I increased his territory, capitalizing on the Seleucid Empire"s various distractions, and his followers would continue this policy, especially after the Seleucid defeat by Rome in ~ the battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE and also the humiliating contract of Apamea that 188 BCE, which cost the Seleucids many of your empire.

The Parthians also kept the Achaemenid satrapy device but allowed a looser confederation v less focus on the central government. Customer kings (also known as vassal kings) were permitted to retain your positions and also appointed satraps were offered greater liberty in making and enforcing policy. The Parthian realm was split into top Parthia and also Lower Parthia, comprised of 5 regions then divided into provinces. These districts were enabled to act reasonably freely without regard to the dictates that the main government and also this ultimately led come the empire"s downfall as soon as one the the vassal kings, Ardashir ns (r. 224-240 CE) rebelled versus the Parthian king Artabanus using (r. 213-224 CE), beating him and also founding the Sassanian Empire.

Sassanian Satrapy

Ardashir I additionally kept the Achaemenid model after consolidating the broken regions that the Parthian Empire. He emphasized a strong main government and also appointed satraps (known as Shahrabs) of his own selecting to the different provinces. The significant difference between the Sassanian system and also the Achaemenid was the key of the religious beliefs of Zoroastrianism. The prophet and visionary Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra) got his revelation and also developed the faith at some suggest between 1500-1000 BCE and, while the is unclear whether Cyrus the an excellent was one adherent, it to be the faith of his followers from Darius ns onwards.

Satraps were encouraged to welcome people of every faiths & for this reason Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and others were enabled to exercise their faith freely.

The Achaemenids did no make Zoroastrianism a component of their political platform, however, when the Sassanians did. Zoroastrianism came to be the state religion and satraps were expected to encourage its ethics of the id in a solitary supreme god named Ahura Mazda, the source of every good, and also his eternal antagonist Ahriman (also recognized as Angra Mainyu), that was fully evil. Further, the meaning of life was to be uncovered in choosing which that these divine beings one would serve and also the acknowledgment that people had complimentary will to do this decision and then live v the consequences.

Zoroastrianism provided rise to a so-called heresy known as Zorvanizm which kept the simple belief device of the mom religion yet claimed that both Ahura Mazda and Ahriman had been produced by Zorvan (time) and also so were brothers and created beings. All human occasions were hence dictated by Zorvan, no Ahura Mazda, together all things taken place in time and also time ultimately held supreme strength over one"s life and also death. Numerous Sassanian satraps were Zorvanites but, due to the fact that this “heresy” was so close to Zoroastrianism it does not seem to have actually caused any type of problems. Shapur i (r. 240-270 CE), Ardashir I"s son and successor, was most most likely a Zorvanite and also had the visionary mani (l. 216-274 CE), founder the Manichaeism, together a guest at his court.


The Sassanian realm is considered the height of old Persian society and a far-ranging aspect that its success to be its plan of religious tolerance. Satraps were urged to welcome world of every faiths and so Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and any others were allowed to develop houses of worship throughout the empire and also practice their belief freely. This policy, i m sorry was main to the Achaemenid government, may have actually been as effective as it was under the Sassanians because of the Zorvanite insistence top top time – a nebulous ide – together the supreme arbiter of life and death quite than a specific divine being with a specific agenda.

The Sassanian realm fell to the invading Muslim Arabs in 651 CE and, return the basic form of the satrapy system would it is in retained, religious tolerance was rejected in donate of a policy of counter and, eventually, taxation of non-Muslims. The Persian system was ongoing by the post-Muslim empires of the Safavids, Afshars, Zands, and also the Qajar native c. 1501-1925 CE and, by the moment of the earliest of these, had already influenced the breakthrough of the roman inn government, the nascent European claims of so late Antiquity, and would proceed to impact other governmental systems up come the present day.

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A freelance writer and also former part-time Professor of approach at Marist College, brand-new York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and also Germany and also traveled v Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.