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date: 21 February 2024



  • Pierre Briant


  • Near East

The term, as used by Herodotus (1. 125), refers to one of the three clans (phrētrē) of the Pasargadae tribe to which the Persian kings belonged; its eponymous ancestor was supposedly Achaemenes (Hdt. 7. 11). The statement corresponds in part to Darius I's account at Bisutun, where he links himself explicitly to Achaemenes (OP: Haxāmaniš): ‘For this reason we are called Achaemenids. From long ago we have been noble. From long ago we have been kings’ (DB 1. 2–3). But this is the official version promulgated by Darius after his brutal seizure of power. This also led him to erect inscriptions in Cyrus (1)'s name at Pasargadae describing the founder of the empire as an Achaemenid: they served to hide the fact that Darius himself had no genealogical claim to the throne in 522 bce. Probably around this time a foundation legend about Achaemenes was created and put into circulation; he is said to have been abandoned as a small child and brought up by an eagle (Ael. NA 12, 21). Throughout Persian history, the term Achaemenid had two quite distinct meanings: (1) the extensive circle of clan members, part of the Pasargadae tribe; (2) politically and dynastically, it describes only the fictional line of ancestors created by Darius and his descendants. When speaking of the Achaemenid dynasty and empire, the term is used in the second sense. Darius I's descendants (the royal line), down to, and including, Darius III, effectively retained exclusive access to the kingship, and no ‘outsider’ was ever able to seize royal power. See persia.


  • P. Briant, Histoire de l’Empire perse: de Cyrus à Alexandre (1996), ch. 3.
  • R. Rollinger, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 1998, 155–209.