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The Amazing Achaemenid Empire

May 25, 20234 min read

Author, Allison Parkinson, shares her research experience and fun facts about Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid Empire.

A few years ago, an old rug transported me back to ancient Persia.

Ok, so I didn’t physically travel back in time but, with a little help from my imagination and some historical research, I was able to experience the splendour of the court of Cyrus the Great – founder of the Achaemenid Empire.

How did I get there? Completely by accident, shortly after creating Laurella Swift – a fictional hero based on my mixed race daughters. They were frustrated that they couldn’t find books with a central character that looked like them so I created Laurella for them and decided to send her on a series of historical adventures.

The rug, purchased from a charity shop, came to mind when I was trying to decide on a setting for Laurella’s first escapade. A quick online search revealed that some of the oldest carpets were made in Persia (now known as Iran) approximately 2,500 years ago – around the same time that Cyrus the Great founded the Achaemenid Empire.

The largest empire of the ancient world

Pronounced [UH] + [KEE] + [MUH] + [NID], it was the largest empire of the ancient world, spanning millions of square kilometres from the Mediterranean in the West to the Indus Valley in the East.

And, far from being a cruel despot, Cyrus the Great was celebrated for treating people equally and respecting the religions of the areas he conquered.

I knew nothing about this period of history but the more I discovered the more fascinated I became. I couldn’t wait to travel back in time with Laurella to see what she would make of this ancient and opulent world!

Seven fantastic facts about the ancient Persians

Here are some of the things I learned about the Achaemenid Empire:

  1. Cyrus the Great and his successors built magnificent palaces and cities, including the palace at Pasargadae and the city of Persepolis. Palace walls were decorated with elaborate carvings of people and animals from across the empire.

  2. Ancient Persians loved to party and would throw lavish birthday banquets, with lots of desserts!

  3. Meat stew, flavoured with fruit, herbs and spices, and served with bread was one of their favourite meals.

  4. Rich Persians wore long, flowing robes which they accessorised with finely crafted gold bangles, combs and earrings. Men wore tall, fluted hats, which looked like stiff fabric crowns.

  5. Women had many rights and were involved in a wide range of professions. They could travel independently, own their own land and run their own businesses.

  6. Pantea, one of Persia’s greatest female warriors, is said to have led Cyrus the Great’s elite fighting force: the Immortals. Kept at a constant strength of 10,000 men, any soldier killed or injured would be immediately replaced by another – giving the enemy the impression that the group were, indeed, immortal and unstoppable.

  7. The ancient Persians used a writing system called cuneiform, creating symbols by pressing a reed stylus into soft clay. The wedge-shaped impressions represented syllables or words.


Face to face with antiquity  

Imagine my delight when further research revealed that I could actually see some artifacts from ancient Persia at the British Museum in London, where I live. So I took a trip and saw some amazing objects, including the famous Cyrus Cylinder (a very important clay tablet that records information about Cyrus the Great and the way he ruled his empire). I even came face to face with an Immortal!

I hope that you’ll be able to see these ancient wonders someday soon. But in the meantime, I’ve made you an activity pack with colouring sheets, based on some of the stunning relief carvings and tiles that once decorated the palaces of the Achaemenid Kings.


Take a virtual trip to ancient Persia

Use these links to learn more about what life was like in the Achaemenid Empire. You can even take a virtual trip to the Royal Palace at Persepolis to see what it looked like at the height of its splendour. But always remember to ask permission from an adult before you go online.


Research your own adventure back in time

All three historical adventures in my Laurella Swift series were inspired by items that I found in charity shops. So the next time you see an old object that interests you, pause for a moment and try to imagine who could have owned it before and what amazing things might have happened in their lives?

Recommended Reading

Laurella Swift and the Keys of Time

Threads from a charity shop rug transport the mixed-race 10-year-old back to the heart of ancient Persia, where she befriends Artafarnah and his mischievous pet lion cub, Zareen. Artafarnah is the son of Pantea, one of Persia's greatest female warriors, but when the boy falls into the clutches of a murderous enemy only Laurella can save him.

Achaemenid-themed activities

Achaemenid themed activities pack

Enjoy a packet of Achaemenid-themed activities coordinated with the article above.

Allison Parkinson


Achaemenid EmpireCyrus the GreatResearching history
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