Achaemenid Empire: Timeline and Major Facts

Achaemenid Empire timeline

Achaemenid Empire – Timeline and Major Facts

The Achaemenid Empire, also known as the first Persian Empire, was the famed ancient Iranian empire that emerged in prominence and might following the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Not only did the ancient Persians, under the reign of founder-king Cyrus the Great, defeat the Babylonians, but they also defeated the likes of Lydia in Western Asia Minor (present day western Turkey) and Medes (present day western and northern Iran).

From its hub in Western Asia, the Achaemenid Empire is reasoned to have reached its peak during the reign (486 BCE– 465 BCE) of Xerxes I (or Xerxes the Great), a mighty military commander who defeated many states in northern and central Greece, including the Athenians. With a size of about 2.1 million square miles (5.5 million square kilometers), the Achaemenid Empire was the largest empire up until that time. It has also been estimated that between 20-30 million inhabited the Persian Empire, which included places as far as Egypt and India’s Indus Valley.

Achaemenid Empire: Fast Facts

  • Capital: Babylon
  • Other important cities: Susa, Persepolis, Ecbatana
  • Major languages: Old Persian, Aramaic, Babylonian, Median, Greek, Elamite, Egyptian, Sumerian
  • Religion: Zoroastrianism, Babylonian religion
  • Most famous rulers: Cyrus the Great, Darius I, Xerxes I
  • Land area: 2.1 million square miles (5.5 million square kilometers)
  • Estimated population: 20-30 million
  • Major events: Conquest of Lydia in 547 BC; Conquest of Babylon in 539 BC; Conquest of Egypt in 525 BC; Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 BCE); Fall to Alexander the Great in 330 BCE

Achaemenid Empire – The ruins of Persepolis, the famed capital of the Achaemenid Empire

In the article below, World History Edu presents a complete timeline of the Achaemenid Empire, from its beginning around the 6th and 7th centuries to its fall in 330 BCE when it fell to Alexander the Great of Macedonia.

553 BCE: Cyrus II of the Ashan (c. 600 BCE-530 BCE) successfully revolts against the Median Empire.

550 BCE: The first Persian Empire is founded (by Cyrus the Great) after the Median capital city Ecbatana is taken.

546 BCE: The Lydian Kingdom falls to the might of Cyrus the Great’s army.

539 BCE: After years of fighting, the Persians claim victory over the Neo-Babylonian Empire with the capture of the city of Babylon.

Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire

Achaemenid Empire – Cyrus the Great with a Hemhem crown, or four-winged Cherub tutelary divinity, from a relief in the residence of Cyrus in Pasagardae

530 BCE: Cyrus the Great dies during a military campaign against an Eastern Iranian nomadic group of tribes in Central Asia. Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses II (reign- 525 BCE – 522 BCE).

525 BCE: Cambyses II takes areas in Cyprus and Phoenicia (located in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean).

526 BCE: Cambyses II defeats newly installed Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik III. Cambyses II crowns himself pharaoh of Egypt.

Elite Persian warriors known as the “Immortals”.

520 BCE: The Libyans and other Greek states such as Cyrene capitulate to the Persians without a fight.

522 BCE: King Cambyses II succumbs to a wound in his thigh. Gaumata, an impersonator of Bardiya (Cambyses’ deceased brother), is then crowned king. He was overthrown by Darius the Great less than a year.

511 BCE: Macedonia, under king Amyntas I, surrenders to the Persian king Darius the Great.

499 BCE493 BCE: The onset of the Ionian Revolt which saw a number of territories in Asia Minor – such as Aeolis, Cyprus, Caria and Doris – revolt against Persian rule.

Achaemenid Empire

Achaemenid Empire – The relief stone of Darius the Great in the Behistun Inscription

490 BCE:  Darius the Great tastes defeat at the hands of the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon.

486 BCE: The defeat at Marathon caused Darius the Great’s health to deteriorate. The king died and was buried at Naqsh-e Rostam. His eldest son Xerxes I (c. 518-465 BCE) succeeded him to the throne.

480 BCE: Xerxes I (also known as Xerxes the Great) assembles several hundreds of thousands of soldiers, perhaps the largest army up until then, to avenge his father’s defeat at Marathon. His army secures victory at the Battle of Themopylae and goes ahead to sack the city of Athens. However, Xerxes’ fleet loses to a Greek coalition at the Battle of Salamis.

Achaemenid Empire – Rock relief of what is probably one of the greatest Achaemenid kings, Xerxes I, located in the National Museum of Iran

479 BCE: The Greeks destroy the remaining Persian army in Athens at the Battle of Plataea. In the ensuing years, several Persian held territories in Asia Minor begin to revolt, including Macedonia.

466 BCE: Persians are defeated by Athens and its allies.

465 BCE: Xerxes I is assassinated by Artabanus, one of the king’s most trusted royal bodyguards. Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes avenges the death of his father by killing Artabanus. Xerxes was succeeded by Artaxerxes I (reign – 465-424 BCE).

Naqsh-e Rostam

Achaemenid Empire – Naqsh-e Rostam Necropolis was were many of the great kings of the Achaemenid Empire were buried

449 BCE: A peace deal (the Peace of Callias) is struck between Argos, Athens and Persia.

424 BCE: Artaxerxes dies at Susa. Like his father Xerxes I and his grandfather Darius the Great, King Artaxerxes was buried in the Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis. Artaxerxes I is succeeded by his eldest son Xerxes II. That same year, his illegitimate brother Sogdianus assassinates Xerxes II. Six months later, the Sogdianus himself was executed his half-brother Ochus (later Darius II), who takes the throne.

412 BCE: King Darius II takes ill and dies in Babylon. His eldest son Artaxerxes II inherits the crown.

401 BCE: Artaxerxes II’ royal army faces off with his brother Cyrus the Younger’s army at Cunaxa. Cyrus is killed.

373 BCE: Artaxerxes II has to deal to with an Egyptian revolt. In the end, he loses Persian control over Egypt.

358 BCE: Artaxerxes II dies, bringing an end to a relatively peaceful and prosperous period in Persia. He was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes III.

340 BCE: Persia, under the leadership of Artaxerxes III, reconquer Egypt. His reign in Egypt was anything but tyrannical.

338 BCE: Artaxerxes III’s reign comes to an end after he was poisoned by a prominent Persian official and vizier called Bagoas. Artaxerxes III’s youngest son Arses of Persia (Artaxerxes IV) succeeded him.

336 BCE: Artaxerxes IV, the 12th king of the Achaemenid dynasty, is poisoned by Bagoas, his chief vizier. Darius III, a cousin of Artaxerxes IV, is crowned king of Persia.

334 BCE331 BCE: At Granicus, Persians suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon). In the next two years, Alexander the Great handed the Persians defeats at Issus (in 333 BCE) and Gaugamela (in 331 BCE).

330 BCE: Persia succumbs to the might of Alexander the Great’s army. Before the Macedonian ruler could get to Darius III, the Persian king was murdered by Bessus, the Bactrian satrap (a Persian governor).

Interesting facts about the Achaemenid Empire

Achaemenid Empire is considered by many as the first superpower in history | Image: The ruins of Tachara palace in Persepolis

  • Persian kings had titles such as King of Kings, Great King, King of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt, and King of Countries.
  • In 1979, the ancient city of Persepolis was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated in modern day southern Iran, Persepolis was a very important capital city of the Achaemenid Empire. Owing to its rich history, the location is considered one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world
  • Cyrus the Great was from one of the very distinguished tribes in Ashan. He started off by defeating and bringing a number of kingdoms in the region under his control. Those kingdoms included Media, Lydia and Neo-Babylonia.
  • Owing to how much territory that it controlled, the Achaemenid Empire is often hailed as the first superpower in history.
  • Much of what we know about Cyrus the Great comes from an ancient artefact known as the Cyrus Cylinder. The inscriptions on the clay cylinder date to around 539 BCE, explaining how the mighty Persian ruler Cyrus brought Babylon (under the rule of King Nabonidus) to its knees.
  • The Achaemenid Empire was further strengthened and unified by Cyrus’ descendant Darius the Great who used standardized weights and measurements to make economic activities in the region move on smoothly. The Achaemenid Empire was also boosted by the fact that it had a standard currency and developed road networks that linked the various trading hubs in the empire.
  • It has been stated that the name “Persian” was derived from the tribal name
  • King Artaxerxes II’s reign from 404 BCE to 358 BCE made him the longest reigning Persian king. His reign was praised for its tolerance of diversity, relative peace and economic growth.
  • Alexander the Great, the Greek conqueror of Persia, was said to have been a strong admirer of Cyrus the Great.
  • The name “Achaemenid” means “the family of the Achaemenes”. Achaemenes is largely recognized as the ancestor of the dynasty of rulers of Persia. He ruled over the Anshan (in southwestern Iran) around the 7th century BCE. There have been some claims that he was a mythical figure.
  • The Persian capital city, Persepolis, is actually the Greek name for “Persian City”.
  • The first nomadic Persians first settle in the present-day Iran around 1000 BC. They made the Zagros Mountains their home.

Following his conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great is said to have visited Cyrus the Great’s tomb. The young Macedonian king was a devout admirer of Cyrus | Image: Tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadae, Iran, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

How large was the Achaemenid Empire?

Achaemenid Empire – The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent, c. 500 BCE, stretched into Europe, Central Asia and North Africa

Inheriting a kingdom that was firmly on the ascendency, Darius the Great, a descendant of Cyrus the Great and the fourth king of the Achaemenid Empire, is believed to have taken the empire to heights never seen before. Under Darius’ reign, the empire was mightier and larger than any previous empire in history. It covered areas from West Asia and the Caucasus to modern-day Balkans, parts of northern Africa, and Central Asia.

To put into perspective how massive the Achaemenid empire was, one just needs to note that it ruled over three ancient civilizations and regions of the past – the Mesopotamia region, Egypt’s Nile Valley and the Indus Valley in India.

Read More: 8 Oldest Civilizations in World History

How did the Persian Empire fall?

Historians state that the latter part of the 5th century BCE witnessed the beginning of the end of Achaemenid Empire. It began with calamitous attempt by Xerxes I to invade Greek lands in 480 BC. Soon the tides turned and ancient Persia had to dig deep into its coffers to defend its vast border regions.

The Persian rulers had no option than to raise taxes on its already heavily taxed population. Owing to this and many other social strife, the Persian Empire stood no chance when Alexander the Great and his very capable Macedonian army invaded Persia in 330 B.C.

Alexander the Great dealt such a heavy blow to the Achaemenid dynasty that all attempts to resuscitate it proved futile. And so the curtain closed in on the Achaemenid rulers, making way for reign of Alexander’s most trusted generals, i.e. the Ptolemaic Kingdom.


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