Persia and Persepolis, Part II

George Woodcock outlines how, by about 515 B.C., architects, sculptors, goldsmiths and silversmiths were assembled from all quarters of the Persian Empire to build a new capital, Parsa, which the Greeks called Persepolis.

Cambyses II died in 522 on his way back from successful campaigns in Egypt to unsettled conditions in Media, where the standard of revolt had been successfully raised by a man claiming to be his brother Bardiya. The causes of Cambyses’ death are as obscure as the other circumstances of these troubled times; he may have died by accident, or suicide, or even murder.

Darius, a remote cousin of Cambyses and grandson of the deposed Arsames of Parsa, was at this time a commander of the Ten Thousand Immortals. Supported by a group of young Persian noblemen, he led the army back to Media, and within two months he had captured and quickly executed the self-styled Bardiya, after which he proclaimed himself the legitimate heir of Cambyses.

In reality, both his father Hystaspes and his grandfather Arsames had better claims to the throne, and the fact that Darius was himself a usurper throws doubts on the accusations he made against his defeated rival. He claimed that the real Bardiya was already dead before the revolt, having been secretly assassinated at the order of Cambyses who doubted his loyalty; the rebel who seized the crown was in fact a Magian priest called Gaumata.

This official account was accepted by most of the Greeks who lived after Darius, and historians have in general imitated them. Some recent scholars, however, suggest that Darius was in fact putting out propaganda to mask his own usurpation. The majority of the satraps at first recognized ‘Bardiya’s’ claims, and at least one Greek contemporary, Aeschylus, spoke of him as a legitimate Achaemenian, while even Darius had to admit that the physical resemblance between the true Bardiya and the man he branded an impostor were so close as to deceive even those who knew the prince.

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