Achaemenid Satraps and the Aegean Frontier

This paper examines the interactions between the Greeks and Persians following the Persian Wars and presents a new interpretation of the Persian satraps’ role in these interactions. I will demonstrate that between 479 and 387, the Great Kings of Persia increasingly relied on a combination of diplomatic efforts and defensive military actions. This strategy was intended not only to limit the ability of the Greek states to harm their interests, but also to limit the ability of any one satrap to stage a dangerous rebellion.
In the case of the Aegean region, Persian satraps were presented with a uniquely difficult task. The Greeks living in the area were politically disorganized and quick to launch violent attacks whenever a tempting target presented itself. The fact that the immensely valuable Egyptian, Phoenician, Cypriot, and Thracian territories were also nearby meant that any disturbance in Persian control would affect the wellbeing of the entire empire. Finally, contrary to the Greek perception that the satraps had nearly limitless wealth, the satraps were in fact forced to compete with one another for resources, and occasionally had to tap into their own wealth to finance military campaigns. This created an environment in which it was nearly impossible for a satrap to successfully carry out his King’s wishes.
Because the punishment for failure was frequently death, several satraps opted to try their luck in a rebellion. In response, the Persian Kings divided command between as many men as possible, gave newcomers important commands while powerful satraps were passed over, and controlled finances so as to prevent the satraps from collecting excess wealth. As I will show, this system prevented the satraps from dealing effectively with the Greek states, but it was nonetheless necessary for the security of the Persian Empire: when Cyrus the Younger was appointed as the karanos in Asia Minor, he brought about an end to the Peloponnesian War that was favorable to Persia, but just three years later, he very nearly overthrew King Artaxerxes himself.
This talk will begin with a brief review of the major political events, with special attention paid to treaties and diplomatic initiatives. Following this, I will show how the Asia Minor satraps attempted to carry out the kings' orders, and how the kings attempted to control the satraps. Throughout, I will emphasize the consistency of Persian goals as well as the evolution of Persian methods.