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Achaemenid Religion

Kingly Sincerity and Political Manipulation

By Adam Renner

In many empires of the ancient world, a common practice was to inscribe deeds,conquests, and honourable propaganda concerning the ruler around the empire. In these inscriptions, one may find references to a deity, or deities, utilized in a fairly standard way. These inscriptions commonly involve language which is fairly uniform, mostly invoking the protection of the god(s) for the ruler and his kingdom and requesting that enemies be smote into ruin. However, there may be more than just political prose and systematic religious speech in these appeals to the divine. It may be possible to ascertain the particular religious ideology of a ruler through these inscriptions, and in turn decipher whether or not such spiritual devoutness influenced their rule. In this study, the question concerning the nature of Achaemenid religion is brought into question, as well as the influence such beliefs possibly exerted over the rulers. In particular, the rule of Cyrus the Great and Darius I shall be examined. Typically Achaemenid monarchs are labelled as Zoroastrians that utilized religion solely for political practice. However, based on evidence from various inscriptions, as well as a more concentrated look at Zoroastrian ideology, it seems to be the case that the rulers were not Zoroastrians. Furthermore, these rulers may have inscribed various monuments not simply for political propaganda, but also due to sincere devotion and belief. While it is impossible to ascertain the exact nature of their religious piety, it seems that one can examine whether or not they were pious at all. Based on examining the religious history and the royal inscriptions, one can state the Persian kings were not Zoroastrian but actually Mazdaean or Zarathustrian. Furthermore, the sincerity of religious belief for Cyrus the Great and Darius I can be examined, and possibly understood, through their respective royal inscriptions.

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(H/T History of the Ancient World)

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