Last Updated 21 Apr 2020

Were the Achaemenids Zoroastrians?

Category Iran
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Were The Achaemenids Zoroastrians? The Biggest Empire, which the ancient world has ever seen, would be the Achaemenid Persian Empire. This empire protracted from Anatolia, Egypt, Asia, northern India and Central Asia. Making of this empire began in 550 B. C. The Achaemenid is known as the first Persian Empire and the largest. Ancient history basically tells us Zoroastrianism developed somewhere in Iran about 1000 years after Zoroaster. Scholars have said the Achaemenids era had finally began when Cyrus the great successfully went against his father in law who was ruler of the Medians.

That is when Zoroastrianism started to influence the Median tribes. The Median then began to move eastwards past the Zagros mountains. They moved to Kermanshah and began to connect with Zoroastrians. Within the same time period in the southern Iran Persians moved towards the East. The Persians then started to overpower a tribe called the Elamites. While this was taking place Zoroastrianism moved forward among all Medians and Persians which were moving towards the East. Little about Zoroastrianism was known until around 549-550 BCE.

When Cyrus the great who lead the Persians founded Western Iran and created the first biggest Persian Empire. The Achaemenid period developed around 558 B. C by Cyrus the great. The Zoroastrian religion then united forces with the Persian Empire. No one actually knows what happen to the Zoroastrian community after Zoroaster passed away. As for his message it was said that it had eventually gone all across the Iranian world. It is not certain how long it had taken for Zoroastrianism to become the Iranians main religion. Zoroastrianism had gone through the Iranian worlds Western part by the 6th century BCE.

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The Iranian people practiced their traditional Iranian religion up until the beginning of the Achaemenid Empire, on which they had converted to Zoroastrianism. Cyrus king of the Acheamnids Empire had replaced the Median Empire with the Achaemenid Empire. The Achaemenid was the first empire in ancient history that had a huge extension. Zoroastrianism was the main religion of the Iranians under the Achaemenids. There are many signs towards the Achaemenids being Zoroastrians such as Greek writings, Achaemenids monuments, artifacts and also texts, which were from Persia in Old Persian.

All research show the early kings religion was not sure of but the later Achaemenids were Zoroastrians. On the other hand, there is a particular way which points out the Achaemenid kings were Zoroastrians. Which would be in the way they use the name Ahura Mazda. The Achaemnids kings frequently mention the supreme God as a creator. In doing so it at least strongly shows the kings were somewhat influenced by Zoroastrianism. It is not certain on Cyrus’s beliefs but it has been believed to be linked somewhere around Zoroaster’s date.

It is also believed Cyrus was very much influenced by Zoroaster’s teachings due to his policies and acts. One of many acts would be he freed all the Jewish people and allowed them to go home. Scholars have said the Zoroastrianism religion had a big influence on his decision. There are many reasons not knowing Cyrus's beliefs one of many would be there is no mention about Cyrus in the Zoroastrian tradition. By the 6th century B. C the Achaemenid royal house had accepted Zoroastrianism. Cyrus the great had also took all Eastern Iranians under his rule.

Due to being their first meeting with the Greeks the Persians had already turned Zoroastrian and were learning Zoroaster from them. The Greeks have said Cyrus had named one of his daughters Atossa that comes from Hutaosa the queen of Vishtaspa one of Zoroaster’s royal patrons. Cyrus’s action towards Zoroastrianism showed he was a loyal worshipper. But he did not make any attempted to force the Iranian religion on his alien subject. The fact that Cyrus body had been laid in sepulchers and embalmed and not exposed according to the Zoroastrianism tradition it has kept scholars uncertain on his beliefs.

As you can see almost nothing is known about Cyrus's beliefs. Scholars have also said he had followed the guidance of the Magians. It is also strongly believed by Mary Boyce that Cyrus was indeed a Zoroastrian and that he had followed in his ancestor’s footsteps. The God, which the Achaemnid kings believed in, was the great Ahura Mazda. From whom they believed had given them their empire and also who guided them through all accomplished deeds. In the Zoroastrian religion fire plays a very important part, as far as the Old Iranian religion fire also played an important role.

Many depictions show the Achaemenid kings worshipping before a fire. This is one of many facts that make you believe the kings were Zoroastrians. As I stated before Cyrus’s beliefs were not sure of, but kings after Cyrus are believed to have practiced Zoroastrianism. As for the Persians just like many other ancient people they had started off with a polytheistic religion and believed in the forces of nature. They had believed there were Gods of nature, such as the sun and sky. They also believed the Gods had social powers. During the 5th century B. C the official Persian religion became the state religion.

Even though all mankind were given permission to follow any religion of their choice, the entire Achaemenids Empire was forced to pay a temple tax of 10%. This tax supported the Zoroastrianism practice and encouraged the empire to follow it. There is much of a debate if the Achaemnids were Zoroastrians however the Achaemenids were know to be worshipers of Ahura Mazda. As all conclusions have shown, you can see that the Acheamnids kings and empire were Zoroastrians. I would not say the Persians had much of a choice at first, but as time went on they all practiced Zoroastrianism.

I personally would not say all Persians at the time had a fair choice. Even though it was said ‘’ all subjects were permitted freedom of religion’’. The reason why I do not think they had a fair choice would be, because all subjects were required to pay a 10% temple tax to support Zoroastrianism. In the ancient time I am sure there were poor people who could not afford to pay the tax. Which gave them no choice but to practice the Zoroastrian religion. Another reason I would say Persians had to practice Zoroastrianism because of the royal family who had already accepted the religion.

They were the rulers of the empire where mankind was living. Since the rulers had already accepted Zoroastrianism I guess there were some people who accepted the religion and some who did not have a choice. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions that formed in Iran. So it makes it Impossible not to have had an impact change in the ancient times. As I have explained before, it is not certain of Cyrus’s beliefs. However scholars have said his actions have shown he was a loyal worshipper towards the Zoroastrian religion.

Nothing is known in how long it took the whole Achaemenids to accept Zoroastrianism but eventually they had all accepted Zoroastrianism. In all the information on the Acheamnids religion it all points out that the Acheamnids were indeed Zoroastrians. Bibliography: M. Boyce, ‘’ Zoroaster and His Teachings,’’ in Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and practices. London, 2001 : 48-77 http://www. iranchamber. com/history/articles/achaemenid_society_culture. php http://www. cais-soas. com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/zoroastrianism

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