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Satrap

From Academic Kids

Satrap (Greek σατράπης satrápēs, Latinization Satrapes, from Old Persian xšaθrapā(van), i.e. "protector of the land/country") was the name given to the governors of the provinces in the ancient Median and Persian Achaemenid empires and in several of their heirs, as Sassanid and oriental hellenistic empires. In Modern Persian, it is spelled ساتراپ.

Contents

pre-hellenistic satraps

Median satraps

The word satrap is probably rooted in a Median term, and in any case Media had provinces before Cyrus the Great conquered and greatly enlarged it.

Achaemenid satraps

By the earlier Greek authors (Herodotus, Thucydides and often in Xenophon) it is rendered by satrápēs "lieutenant, governor," in the documents--from Babylonia and Egypt and in Ezra and Nehemiah by pakha, "governor"; and the satrap Mazaeus of Cilicia and Syria in the time of Darius III and Alexander (Arrian iii. 8) calls himself on his coins "Mazdai, who is [placed] over the country beyond the Euphrates and Cilicia." (Compare 'Ahura Mazda,' the 'Wise Lord' God of the Persians.)

When Cyrus the Great found himself in control of the world's greatest empire outside China, he adopted the organizing principle of the Assyrians, who had first organized their conquered territories into provinces, ruled by client-kings and governors. The chief difference was that in Persian culture the concept of kingship was indivisible from divinity: divine authority validated the divine right of kings. The twenty satraps established by Cyrus were never kings, but viceroys ruling in the king's name, although in political reality many grabbed any chance to carve themselve a virtually independent power base. Darius I gave the satrapies a definitive organization, increased their number to twenty-three and fixed their annual tribute (Behistun inscription).

  • The satrap was the head of the administration of his province, and found himself surrounded by an all-but-royal court; he collected the taxes, controlled the local officials and the subject tribes and cities, and was the supreme judge of the province before whose "chair" (Nehemiah 3:7) every civil and criminal case could be brought. He was responsible for the safety of the roads (cf. Xenophon), and had to put down brigands and rebels.

He was assisted by a council of Persians, to which also provincials were admitted; and was controlled by a royal secretary and by emissaries of the king, especially the "eye of the king" who made an annual inspection and exerced permanent controll in a circonscription of his own.

There were further checks on the power of each satrap : besides his secretarial scribe, his chief financial official (Old Persian ganzabara) and the general in charge of the regular army of his province and of the fortresses were independent of him and reported directly to the shah, periodically, in person. But the satrap was allowed to have troops in his own service (in later times mostly Greek mercenaries).

  • The great satrapies (provinces) were often divided into smaller districts, the governors of which were also called satraps and (by Greco-Roman authors) also hyparchs (actually Hyparkhos in Greek, 'vice-regents'). The distribution of the great satrapies was changed repeatedly, and often two of them were given to the same man.
  • As the provinces were the result of consecutive conquests (the homeland had a special statis, exempt from provincial tribute), both primary and sub-satrapies were often defined by former states and/or ethno-religious identity. One of the keys to the Achaemenid success (as with most enduring great empires) was there open attitude to the culture and religion of the conquered people, so ironically the Persian culture was the one most affected as the Great King endeavoured to melt elements from all his subjects into a new imperial style, especially at his capital Persepolis.
  • Whenever central authority in the empire weakened, the satrap often enjoyed practical independence, especially as it became customary to appoint him also as general-in-chief of the army district, contrary to the original rule. "When his office became hereditary, the threat to the central authority could not be ignored" (Olmstead). Rebellions of satraps became frequent from the middle of the 5th century. The great usurper Darius I struggled with widespread rebellions in the satrapies, and under Artaxerxes II occasionally the greater part of Asia Minor and Syria was in open rebellion.

The last great rebellions were put down by Artaxerxes III.

Hellenistic satraps

The satrapic administration and title were retained -even for Greco-Macedonian incumbents- by Alexander the Great, who conquered the empire and even enlarged it, and by his successors, the diadochs (and their dynasties) who carved it up, especially in the Seleucid empire, where the satrap generally was designated assirategus; but their provinces were much smaller than under the Persians. They would ultimately be replaced by conquering empires, especially the Romans.

later Iranian satraps

But the style reemerged in its Persian homeland as new rulers rebuild it into Rome's greatest oriental challenger.

  • Parthia ?
  • Sassanid ...

other satraps

deity

In later times the divine cult of a god Satrapes occurs in Syrian inscriptions from Palmyra and the Hauran. Pausanias (vi.25, 26) mentions 'Satrapes' as the name of a god who had a statue and a cult in Elis and is identified with Korybas. The origin of this 'god' is obscure; perhaps it arose from a cult identifying the divine and royal aspect of the satrap's power, as many deified personifications occur in Roman paganism.

Satraps lato sensu

  • By analogy, the word satrap is also used anachronistically for various governors (see that article) -especially in the orient- whose real title is etymologically independent, such as the shaknu and bel pihati in the earlier Assyrian (and consecutive (New) Babylonian?) empire, about the first of such size west of the Far East, which rather seems the model for the provincial concept.
  • It is also used, especially referring to more modern times, as a rather derogatory term referring to the loyal, subservient lieutenants and/or clients of some powerfull figure (with equal imprecision also styled moghul, tycoon etcetera), even outside politics, as in a 'business empire'.

Sources and references

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911: "Satrap."
A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, 1948
Pauly-Wissowa (comprehensive encyclopaedia on Antiquity; in German)
Robert Dick Wilson, The Book of Daniel: A Discussion of the Historical Questions, 1917 - available on home.earthlink.net

See also

de:Satrap fa:ساتراپی fr:Satrape (Perse) nl:Satrapie no:Satrap pl:Satrapa pt: Strapa

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