achaemenid empire

Was the Persian Army so Big Its Arrows Really Blocked out the Sun?

The army of the Persian Empire had enough archers that they were said to be able to “block out the sun.” You might remember the Spartan’s famous answer to that: great, we “can fight in the shade.”

Were those ancient chroniclers exaggerating? We do not know, but conservative estimates of the Persian army’s capabilities was that they had 50,000 men in their army. Yes, that’s a conservative estimate. Previous armies in the region are believed to have fought with mainly infantry, with archers being a supporting group; we know the Persians innovated by increasing the numbers of archers. Let’s crunch some numbers. 

As a conservative estimate, let’s say there are about 20,000 archers in the Persian battle line. Each archer can fire about 5 arrows a minute. And their quivers held 120 arrows, but let’s assume they had to go hunting for dinner the last few nights, and give them 100 arrows. When you do the math, that means the Persian Army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute. And they could do that for as long as their arms held out, or until their arrows run out, so about 20 minutes.

The Persian army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute, for 20 minutes. As a conservative estimate. Now, I’ve never been on an ancient battle field, but that sounds like it could block out the sun.

“Excavation of Persepolis (Iran): Throne Hall, Southern Wall, West Jamb of Western Doorway: View of Uppermost Register Picturing Enthroned King Giving Audience under the Winged Symbol with Partly Encircled Figure of Ahuramazda”

1923-1928

glass negative from the Ernst Herzfeld Papers

Freer and Sackler Archives

A Brief History of Persepolis

The exact date of the founding of Persepolis is not known. It is assumed that Darius I began work on the platform and its structures between 518 and 516 BCE. He wanted his new city of Persepolis to be an international showpiece, and the seat of his vast Achaemenian Empire.

We know this because Darius I boasted about building Persepolis - at Persepolis. There is an excavated foundation inscription that reads, “And Ahuramazda was of such a mind, together with all the other gods, that this fortress (should) be built. And (so) I built it. And I built it secure and beautiful and adequate, just as I was intending to.” He was boasting a little – Persepolis was not actually completed for a hundred years.

But the security and splendor of Persepolis lasted only two centuries. One of which, remember, was when it was being built. So the security and splendor of Persepolis really only lasted one century. Its majestic audience halls and residential palaces perished in flames when Alexander the Great conquered and looted Persepolis in 330 B.C. and, according to Plutarch, carried away its treasures on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels.

Pasargadae at night: the capital of Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great, is located in 130 km distance from Shiraz city on its northeast. Cyrus the Great issued its construction (529–550 BC) after his victory over Astyages the last king of the Median Empire.

“Excavation of Persepolis (Iran): Gate of All Lands, Colossal Sculptures Depicting Man-Bulls: View before Excavation, Looking North-West”

1923-1928

glass negative from the Ernst Herzfeld Papers

Freer and Sackler Galleries

Persepolis at night. It belongs to Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE) and was built by Darius I. Grandeur and glory of this ancient city is evident in its mythological capitals, grand palaces, the gate of nations and eastern stairways.

Persepolis was one of the most important cities of Persian Empire until it was burnt down in 330 BC when Alexander the Great invaded Persia.