The Achaemenid Empire, otherwise known as the First Persian Empire, is often acknowledged as the first hyperpower in the history of the world. With its various rulers and conquerors, the empire exceeded many of the norms of the era, aiding in its swift rise to power. Lasting approximately 200 years, the Achaemenid Empire paved the way for future hyperpowers to rise, influencing the criteria of which future empires and ruling states were to appeal to.
In her book “Day of Empire”, Amy Chua addressed many of the factors that lead to an empire becoming a hyperpower, announcing that there were three primary conditions of which a world-dominant power must satisfy. “Its power clearly surpasses that of all its known contemporaneous rivals; it is not clearly inferior in economic or military strength to any other power on the planet, known to it or not; and it projects its power over so immense an area of the globe and over so immense a population that it breaks the bounds of mere local or even regional preeminence.” (Chua, pg. XXII).
When Mrs. Chua introduced the Achaemenid Empire, she provided a strong argument for including this empire in her book. She reasons that “the Achaemenid Persian Empire was, even by today’s standards,, one of the most culturally diverse and religiously open empires in history,” and goes on to state that “…the Achaemenid empire was the first hyperpower in world history, governing a territory larger than all the ancient empires, including even Rome’s,” (Chua, pg. 4). Using this information as her primary basis, she begins informing us on why the Achaemenid Empire was a hyperpower.
The main reason for why the Achaemenid Empire was so successful can be attributed to the tolerance in which it was based upon. When the empire was first founded in 559 B.C. by Cyrus the Great, one of his fundamental principles was having tolerance for different groups of people, whether it be ethnic or religious differences. When he conquered new peoples, Cyrus made sure to honor their faith and worship, strengthening the bond of the empire.
However, the reason behind the tolerance is an issue that has come to be widely debated amongst modern historians. While there are certainly less people who believe the following, it is a debatable portion of the argument regarding Cyrus the Great. Many people believe that the tolerance exhibited by him was so extreme that he was often referred to as the founder of human rights.
Alternatively, as Amy Chua suggests, there was not necessarily any moral righteousness behind the tolerance that his empire was based upon. Instead, “…most modern historians agree that Cyrus’s tolerance was a matter of strategy and expediency, not a matter of principle…the modern concept of freedom of religion as a ‘human right’ was foreign to Cyrus and his successors. For the Achaemenids, tolerance was simply good politics,” (Chua, pg. 11). When comparing the later fate of the empire to this information formerly elucidated, its almost as if it foreshadowed the eventual fall of this hyperpower.
Another reason that the Achaemenid Empire was so successful was “because it was interconnected and coordinated…if there was an emergency in one of the cities, the postal system could deliver the news to the central government quickly instead of it being around a month to get to the central government. This level of communication and control made the Persian Empire great,” (bredmo, pg. 1). Because of this, the Persian Empire’s different regions were able to stay current with one another, allowing this civilizations strength and stability to thrive for such a long period of time.
As such, the glue that kept this civilization together for as long as possible would unequivocally be the tolerance that its leaders exhibited. Both the religious and cultural tolerance of the Achaemenid Persian Empire kept their subjects loyal, causing rebellions to be a rare phenomenon. As Mohammad Lavaei says in his response to the question “Was the Persian Empire considered successful? Why?” “…in the Ancient Persia, there were no slavery or forced labor. The rule of law was upheld, there was extreme religious tolerance and women enjoyed rights granted to them for much of the ages to come.”
Amy Chua also puts this point nicely in her book. “By embracing local laws and traditions, and by allowing local languages, religions,and rituals to flourish, the Achaemenids minimize the likelihood of opposition and revolt among conquered peoples. By drawing on the specialized talents of the empire’s best artists, thinkers, workers, and fighters regardless of ethnicity or religion, the Achaemenid kinds turned cultural diversity into a source of synergy and strength.”