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Old September 16th, 2008, 10:05 AM   #1

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How come Persia was powerful?


In terms of general ancient history, it seems fertile land begets food production, which begets standing armies & specialists who can invent stuff and propel the society toward prominence (Mongolian & Scythian warrior-pastoralists aside). The Chinese had the Yellow River, the Indians had the Ganges and Indus, Rome used North Africa as it's bread basket and the middle eastern cultures as far east as Babylon had the Fertile Crescent, Egypt included.

So these great cultures had an engine of food production. Achaemenid Persia was a great culture. However, looking on a map, I see nothing but mountains and virtually no rivers in Persian territory. While they took control of Babylonian territory in the middle of the 6th century BC, I can't understand what they had going on for them that allowed them to conquer a culture that was surely more dynamic and developed. How can a culture like Persia rise with what appears to be very little arable land?

Thanks in advance.
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Old September 16th, 2008, 11:07 AM   #2
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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


As far as I know the 'secrets' of the persian irrigationssystem is something called Kanats (or Qanats; water channels)

You can get more information here: Irrigation Systems of Persia

Update [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qanat"]Qanat[/ame]

and come to think of it I remember a documentary mentioning it: [ame="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2424905414840618714&ei=lfXPSNGvBY_SjgL5sdXLAg&hl=d a"]"Engineering an Empire - The Persians"[/ame](or if that doesn't work [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aukC8GBEsU"]Youtube[/ame])

Last edited by Soren Svendsen; September 16th, 2008 at 11:09 AM.
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Old September 16th, 2008, 12:01 PM   #3
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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


sometimes this thing double posts.
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Old September 16th, 2008, 12:02 PM   #4
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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by throughthepastdarkly View Post
In terms of general ancient history, it seems fertile land begets food production, which begets standing armies & specialists who can invent stuff and propel the society toward prominence (Mongolian & Scythian warrior-pastoralists aside). The Chinese had the Yellow River, the Indians had the Ganges and Indus, Rome used North Africa as it's bread basket and the middle eastern cultures as far east as Babylon had the Fertile Crescent, Egypt included.

So these great cultures had an engine of food production. Achaemenid Persia was a great culture. However, looking on a map, I see nothing but mountains and virtually no rivers in Persian territory. While they took control of Babylonian territory in the middle of the 6th century BC, I can't understand what they had going on for them that allowed them to conquer a culture that was surely more dynamic and developed. How can a culture like Persia rise with what appears to be very little arable land?

Thanks in advance.
Current stats:
According to the CIA factbook, Iran is 13.12% arable land or ~84,000 sq miles.
Greece has 19% or ~ 9,500 sq miles
Egypt has 2.9% arable land or ~ 12,000 sq miles

Egypt was Rome's breadbasket with only 1/7th the arable land of Persia. I guess it has to do with fertility, harvest cycles and exploitation. Sparta was able to get in two harvests per season in the fertile peloponesos, I think a unique harvest cycle for Greece.
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Old September 16th, 2008, 08:47 PM   #5

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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Arctic Fox View Post
Current stats:
According to the CIA factbook, Iran is 13.12% arable land or ~84,000 sq miles.
Greece has 19% or ~ 9,500 sq miles
Egypt has 2.9% arable land or ~ 12,000 sq miles

Egypt was Rome's breadbasket with only 1/7th the arable land of Persia. I guess it has to do with fertility, harvest cycles and exploitation. Sparta was able to get in two harvests per season in the fertile peloponesos, I think a unique harvest cycle for Greece.
Where did you see 13.12? I'm seeing Iran having 9.78% (https://www.cia.gov/library/publicat.../geos/ir.html).. granted, given trends of the world climate in that region, it was probably higher thousands of years ago... but history seems to show rivers gave a distinct advantage in the early first millenium BC.
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Old September 17th, 2008, 11:21 AM   #6

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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


throughthepastdarkly,

I think the short answer would be that the various "cities" or "principalities" of Mesopotamia never coalesced into a truly unified polity themselves and as a result were always "easy pickin's" for the hill-folk barbarian du jour. Towards the end, Nebuchadnezzar's victory at Carchemish over the Egyptians and Assyrians just paved the way for the Medes to move in. They lived in a tough neighborhood. They were "surrounded." Transportation was too primitive for any sort of advantage of interior lines to have operated. It was always just one thing after another.

I hope this "summary" doesn't point in the wrong direction.
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Old September 17th, 2008, 12:09 PM   #7

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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


I would tend to agree with Lucius (usually a good idea, mind you). Much of the rise of the Persian Empire was circumstantial - they established their power at the right place and the right time - with only localized organized opposition. Add to that some deft leadership and very clever political manipulation (particularly over the Babylonians), and the imperial stage was set for the Medes and ultimately the Achaemenids. The structure and administration of the Persian Empire, with semi-autonomous satraps and a robust network of trade and commerce, didn't need to rely on a central agrarian "engine" to flourish.
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Old September 17th, 2008, 12:22 PM   #8
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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by throughthepastdarkly View Post
Where did you see 13.12? I'm seeing Iran having 9.78% (https://www.cia.gov/library/publicat.../geos/ir.html).. granted, given trends of the world climate in that region, it was probably higher thousands of years ago... but history seems to show rivers gave a distinct advantage in the early first millenium BC.
I got it from the CIA factbook:

Land use:
Click the image to open in full size. Click the image to open in full size.
arable land: 13.12%
permanent crops: 0.61%
other: 86.27% (2005)

https://www.cia.gov/library/publicat...k/geos/iz.html

I think the 10% is arable land in use and 13% is available arable land.
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Old September 17th, 2008, 06:52 PM   #9

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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Arctic Fox View Post
I got it from the CIA factbook:

Land use:
Click the image to open in full size. Click the image to open in full size.
arable land: 13.12%
permanent crops: 0.61%
other: 86.27% (2005)

https://www.cia.gov/library/publicat...k/geos/iz.html

I think the 10% is arable land in use and 13% is available arable land.
ok, we have different numbers because yours is Iraq, mine's Iran
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Old September 18th, 2008, 07:53 AM   #10
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Re: How come Persia was powerful?


Quote:
Originally Posted by throughthepastdarkly View Post
ok, we have different numbers because yours is Iraq, mine's Iran
I was too quick on the google! It started as Iran and two clicks later ended on Iraq.

It's okay though, because they're the same, right?
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