The Persian Empire is the name given to a series of dynasties centered in modern-day Iran that spanned several centuries—from the sixth century B.C. to the twentieth century A.D. The first Persian Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 B.C., became one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Europe’s Balkan Peninsula in the West to India’s Indus Valley in the East. This Iron Age dynasty, sometimes called the Achaemenid Empire, was a global hub of culture, religion, science, art and technology for more than 200 years before it fell to the invading armies of Alexander the Great.
Cyrus the Great
The Persian Empire started as a collection of semi-nomadic tribes who raised sheep, goats and cattle on the Iranian plateau.
Cyrus the Great—the leader of one such tribe—began to defeat nearby kingdoms, including Media, Lydia and Babylon, joining them under one rule. He founded the first Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire, in 550 B.C.
The first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great soon became the world’s first superpower. It united under one government three important sites of early human civilization in the ancient world: Mesopotamia, Egypt’s Nile Valley and India’s Indus Valley.
Cyrus the Great is immortalized in the Cyrus Cylinder, a clay cylinder inscribed in 539 BC with the story of how he conquered Babylon from King Nabonidus, bringing an end to the Neo-Babylonian empire.