Sources available regarding satraps are few and sometimes confusing in cases when satraps possessed identical or similar names during the same periods. This presentation shall not therefore cover all known satraps or satrapies. In fact the vast Achaemenid satrapies remain an enigma in certain ways, having covered an awesome 7.5 million square kilometres, approximately. Such represented the first Persian puissance dominating large areas of greater Iran according to Dr. Pierre Briant, professor of Achaemenid history and Civilization at the Collège de France.

Satrap lords tread a long beaten road of leadership, power, rebellion, treachery and loyalty through Persia’s time-honoured history. The designation “satrap” signifies a protector. Webster’s International Dictionary indicates its rooting in Sanskrit from “ksątra”; — might and power. The word in Old Persian, the rulers’ language, was khshassapava, and in Greek, satrapeia. Certain researchers believe this word is Median — also meaning “protector” — although no written Median documents have surfaced yet and their script remains silently unknown. Even the origin or meaning of the word “Media” we do not know. Some suggest Median is simply a dialect of Old Persian.

Traditionally historical information forthcomes from Darius’ Behistun (Bisotun) inscription of 521 B.C. which is found along the road towards Ecbatana, his tomb at Naqš-I Rustam dated circa 492, and the Daiva inscription of 520-465 B.C. purportedly of Xerxes. Also Herodotus’ fourth century Anabasis and the recordings of Xenophon provide valuable information. For example, books seven to nine of Herodotus contain our principal sources of information regarding Xerxes. Other sources are varied such as those of Pliny, Isidorus Characenus, Diodorus of Sicily, Plutarch and others. Fortunately the satraps minted coinage, the first known so far to bear effigies of living personages, often their own. An examples is Sardes satrap Tissaphernes portrayed upon a circa 400 B.C. coin. (See Hellenic Ministry of Culture website). Such offers us a personal touch upon their past, as do their seals.

In 2005 an ancient green jasper seal came to light, expertized by the Hamadan Cultural Heritage Dept. In ancient Persian the cuneiform inscription may refer to Dadar Shish, satrap of Bactria. The Behistun Inscription designates two individuals of this same name: the Armenian Darius sent upon a military mission to Armenia, and the satrap of Bactria, both their names written as Dâdarši. More research should follow.

The Old Testament also speaks of satraps in the books of Esther, Ezra and Daniel.*1Five Daiva inscriptions have turned up so far: one from Persepolis in Elamite, one from Pasargadae in Old Persian, another in Old Persian and one in Babylonian.

Persian rulers proudly name their victorious satraps in inscriptions. Darius (in old Persian: Daryavahvshm) evokes them: Dadarshi sent to Bactria, Vivana, satrap in Arachosia, Gobryas satrap of Elam.

Persian rulers described and inscribed their conquests, grasped by military might, by treachery or simply by gold.

Reaching the reign of Xerxes I (486 B.C. – 465 B.C.) Achaemenid rule had consolidated her farthest territorial boundaries, sweeping through a prodigious unexampled ensemble representing over forty-seven nations including certain semi-independent kingdoms and self-governing city states. Order and supervision were needed. Xenophon recorded the organization of the early satrapies (circa 559 B.C.). This system fell into place once ancient Persia’s rulers under Cyrus the Great, king of Persis, supplanted the Medes.*3 However there previously existed a Median territorial administration dating from circa 648, the difference between the two being Persia’s concept of a ruler’s divine right and satraps levering power in their king’s name, not their own. Darius increased their number from twenty to twenty-three, each with specified annual tribute quotas. Some sources count 20 to 28 satrapies under Darius’ reign, yet whatever the case there were never less than twenty. Satrapal regions were formed not exclusively so but principally as tribute producers.

The satraps were chosen by their kings from any social class although preference clearly shows as we shall see further with the origins of satraps, somewhat following a pattern as with the elite guard, “The Immortals” whereby alone Medians, Persians and Elamites were recruited according to Herodotus. There were exceptions of note such as the Old Testament’s Daniel (of the lion’s den).*5 Satraps were at times chosen from amongst the kings relatives or attached thereto by arranged marriages. Otherwise a satrap could be directly of the royal family such as : the future ruler Darius II, satrap of Hyrcania or Achaemenes (in Old Persian: khshathrapavan), brother of Xerxes I (Khshayarsha in Old Persian) satrap of Egypt. Subjects from all nations formed the imperial army however mostly Persians and Medes dominated the standing army — the spada.

Distribution of satrapies was subject to variations. It occured two were encharged to the same satrap. At times they shared power with certain dynasties left to rule by their conquerors. Three such examples were Cilicia, Cyprus and Phoenicia. Artaxerxes II carved Cappadocia into two satrapies, leaving one as Cappadocia and the other as Paphlagonia where a different language was spoken according to Strabo. The latter was another example of a self-governed region stemmed within it’s traditional dynasty by leave of the Achaemenides. After a revolt, Babylon was placed within the Assyrian satrapy.

Satrapal terms of office were not defined but responsibilities of superintendence certainly were, such as collection and delivery of annual tax quotas, supervising justice, security, defence and civil affaires. Diplomatic negotiations and specific missions became their domain following certain circumstances. A royal secretary totally independent of any satrap, answerable only to the King as were the satraps, held annual military inspections, sometimes at random. On site, military matters rested in the hands of an appointed general (Karan in Old Persian – Karanus in Greek) wielding plenary authority, thus what military powers the satraps possessed cannot be definitely specified and clear-cut such as we are informed of it, however when they required a host (in or out of rebellion), they had one, and this speaks for itself.

An essential responsibility for each satrap was taxation assessment within provincial districts, each satrapy forming a cluster of districts ruled by administrators, also named satraps Hyparkhos in Greek. A treasurer managed the economy, incoming revenue and the treasury itself. (The mighty Achaemenid treasury was secured at Pasagardae) *4. After tribute was paid to the king the satraps and hyparkhos exacted further taxes or “gifts”, enriching themselves as they saw fit.

Herodotus suggested geographical proximity to the seat of Achaemenid power brought about less tribute but in lieu, greater military participation. An example was that provided by the Medes close at hand, supplying more soldiers and generals than other satrapies. Egypt delivered enough grain to satisfy a redoubtable Persian force lodged within her boundaries. Such tribute payments in kind were established by the king and not the satraps.

As did the entire empire, the satraps benefited from the 2572 kilometre Royal Road (see map below). A constant flow of information speeded back and forth from the satrapies to their king. This passage of swift communications to the Achaemenid capitals still served in Roman times and today the Amida bridge (Diyarbakir in Turkey) yet stands in memory of it. Diodorus of Sicily described the rapidity of communications between Susa and Persepolis: Although certain Persians were distanced by a thirty day journey, they all received the same order, the same day, due to the strict organization of guard posts. Persia is sectioned by numerous valleys and possesses manifold lookout towers placed high on which are stationed those with the strongest voices. These were separated from one another by the distance which a callers voice may be heard. Orders passed were shouted on, one to the next, until messages reached the satrapy border.



• Cyrus II the Great, Khourvash/Kuruš established the Persian Empire and ruled it from 550–529. Cyrus, perhaps meaning “the sun”.
• Cambyses II, Kambujiyas / Kambiz . Son of Cyrus II, ruled 530–522.
• Smerdis, (Bardiya in Old Persian) brother of Cambyses II, ruled 522.
• Darius I the Great, Hystaspis son of Hystaspis .(Dârayavauš in Old Persian) 521–486.
• Xerxes I, (Khashyar/ Khshayarsha in Old Persian) son of Darius I and Atossa, ruled 486–465.
• Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (in Old Persian arta-xshathra “King of Rightness”) also Longimanus, (of the Long Hand) son of Xerxes, ruled 464–424.
• Xerxes II, son of Artaxerxes ruled 424.
• Sogdianus, son of Artaxerxes and Alogyne, ruled 424–423.
• Darius II Nothus /Ochos, (the bastard) son of Artaxerxes and Cosmartidene. ruled 423–404. Prior to rule: Satrap of Hyrcania.
• Artaxerxes II Arsaces, son of Darius II, ruled 404–358.
• Artaxerxes III Ochus, son of Artaxerxes II, ruled 358–338.
• Artaxerxes IV Arses, son of Artaxerxes III, ruled 338–336.
• Darius III Codomannus/ Kodomannos, son of Arsames and Sisygambis.

The wide-spanning Achaemenid satrapies reached out grasping northern India and in the opposite direction Libya, then arched north to the Danube via Thrace, touching the Caucasus via Armenia and far north to the southern tip of the Aral Sea via Chorasmia (Khwarezm), roughly where stand portions of present-day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Achaemenidian power englobed all the ancient Near East. Although territorial fluctuations occurred during the two-hundred and twenty years or so of Achaemenid power solely Egypt defected but this lasted under sixty years. The core of this conquering people came from Persis where Persians had settled in the eighth or seventh century B.C.(depending on sources) during the period of Elamite power, one closely communicating and trading with Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria. Persis accordingly owed no tribute and was not considered a satrapy.
For reasons unknown it would appear Achaemenids alike their numerous Mesopotamian predecessors neglected coinage entirely. Then Cyrus suddenly conquered Lydia falling into the western birthplace of coinage. Thereupon the Sardian mint and archaic Croesean gold staters possibly remained forbidden under Cyrus and Cambyses until finally Sardis’s fortuitous mint resuscitated with the ring of gold darics struck under Darius I. This city would have offered a rich know-how of minting and skilled moneyers, more so at that time possibly than elsewhere within the empire. From hence forthcame darics and silver siglos under traditional bimetallic standards of Lydia (Sparda to Achaemenids), the second satrapy, owing yearly tribute of 500 talents.*6 Lydia’s legendary Pactolus River near Sardis flowed with alluvial gold deposits. Persia did not have the advantage of silver or gold mines and even imported copper. Darics were treated as bullion and silver siglos circulated mostly in Asia Minor and in Judea. By having one monetary unit (such as today’s Euro) trade progressed. Throughout Achaemenid lands the daric was valued equally. Both characteristics are remarkable for the times.
Possibly darics were named after Darius (dareikos, a Greek word), however Old Persian points to the word dari meaning “golden”. Plutarch tells us the coins won an appellative from the Greeks who familiarly transacted with “archers” rather than “Darics” for reasons one may see from images below.
Aramaic being the language in general use one finds it upon satrapial coin legends. Old Persian however remained the official language.

The kneeling figure above drawing a bow is represented in satrapial coinage between circa 350-334, possibly representing the Persian king since the figure is crowned. The bow characterized the royal insignia. (Other symbols were the robe of Elam — till a certain period — and a shield). The bow and arrow anciently represented symbols of Sumerian Gods as one discovers on a Sumerian cylinder seal.

Both extractions by courtesy of Pars Coins
Left: Carradice, type III silver siglos, Artaxerxes I-Darius III. c. 420-375 B.C.
Right: Carradice Type IIIb group A/B Darius I to Xerxes II 485-420 B.C.- gold daric

Above “archers”are “kneeling-running” within 5.60 grams of silver and 8.35 grams of gold. Both coins remained characteristically oval. The siglos presents itself in the above image with a countermark (drawn below) similar to the symbol we have seen in our triskele presentation, page1 – N° 3 and 51. The symbol appears in fields upon other satrapial coins such as those of Spithridates, satrap of Lydia and Ionia, loyal till the end, dying at the battle of Granicus 334 — an engagement against Alexander the Great. Sigloi equalled 1/20th of a daric. Such were the first coin types of the satraps’ monarch and empire. Darics originating from tribute were melted, stored and ultimately cast.

A double-bladed axe, the antediluvian labrys, was utilised in satrapial coin issues notably in Caria. In most renditions it is held by Zeus upon coin reverses with satraps appearing on obverses. Labraynda, a pilgrimage city of Caria, honoured a sacred labrys symbol dated by archaeologists to circa 600 B.C. Plutarch stated “labrys” was in fact a Lydian word for axe but we understand this not necessarily meant a double-bladed axe. Its origins are too ancient to pinpoint but we do know it was a traditional attribute of Thracian kings. To date the oldest labrys appear to be Minoan. It is also thought by some to have been a weapon rather than a symbol, used by Scythians and Persians.


One associates the refined lotus with India and Egypt however the flower was also an Achaemenid symbol as one perceives in Persepolis carvings. Darius I presides enthroned in stone holding a lotus blossom. Certain Archaeologists ascertain the “Niloofar” in Farsi (and similarly in French “nénuphar”) symbolized peace and felicity .Satrap Pharnabazos/Pharnabazus (and others such as satrap Mazaios of Cilicia) issued silver staters wherein God Baal holds the lotus-tipped sceptre — possibly representing Achaemenid authority. The former coin has inscribed Baaltars in Aramaic and similarly Pharnabazos and Cilicia on the obverse . During a period ranging from about 386 to 333 Tarsus became the principal mint for Cilicia’s satraps. Carian satrapal issues representing god Zeus Labraynda have this deity carrying the lotus-tipped sceptre rather than Baal. Hellenic divinities are not lacking on satrapal coinage exemplifying the importance of Hellenic influence in Asia minor. As a symbol this sceptre continued upon coins under the generals of Alexander the Great.
There exists a theory the lotus variety Nelumbo nucifera was sacred in the East because its chemical properties brought on euphoria. Modern science specifies and confirms these properties. It is thought to have been introduced late to Egypt through the Achaemenid invasion, 525 B.C. The Egyptians revered another lotus or water-lily, the Nymphaea caerulea.

Presented by generous permission of Iran Chamber Society.

Andrée Tougas



1.Esther (3:12, 8:9 and 9:3), Ezra (8:36) Daniel (3:2,3:3,3:27,6:1,6:2,6:3).

2. – The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies Copyright © 1998~ CAIS

3.The Achaemenids were named after their founder Achaemenes (Hakhâmaniš). Achaemenid Persia (550 – 330 BC.)

4.Cyrus the Great of the Pasargadae tribe was buried in this city.

5.For more information regarding Daniel :

6.The talent and mina were measures of weight. Twenty sigloi were required to purchase one gold daric.

6B This symbol also appears in Achaemenid Cilicia coinage of the fourth century B.C. bearing what has been interpreted as a “Persian dynastic monogram”. It later appears in Roman times as a countermark. One 217 A.D. example is from the Hadrianothera mint, Mysia, an issue of Caracalla.



About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
This entry was posted in HISTORIC THEMES and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s