The main map is in 1:5 million scale. An Albers equal-area conic projection was chosen to deal with the large east to west extension of the our area of interest, which spans from the pillars of
Hercules and the Atlantic sea all the way to the Indus river. The reference meridian is 12° East, the standard parallels are 20° and 45° North. Despite these efforts it became necessary to add
two inlay maps for the western Mediterranean.
Just as for the Roman Empire map the background is composed from landclass and bathymetry data from Natural Earth, with a shaded relief calculated from the 1 km resolution SRTM30 data set provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. At some places the coastline has changed significantly since ancient times. There, the geodata was accordingly modified, also some relevant rivers have been added or adopted.
While the previously released Roman Empire map depicted a fixed point in time, I followed a broader approach here. It was my intention to make the map represent an entire era, while
simultaneously having to cope with less precise and plentiful source material. As an orientation, I used the long reign of Darius I. between 522 and 486 BCE, when his Achaemenid Empire had
reached its greatest extent.
Names: The multitude of peoples and cultures that greatly contribute to this epochs fascination can also be a bane for the modern cartographer who wishes to make a consistently labeled and easily understandable map. Int the Roman Empire a unified Koine Greek was the dominant language in the east and Latin in the west, which was also used for official purposes the entire empire. In the early 5th century BCE however, no language had any comparable significance in the displayed area. The Greek world was divided into various partly quite different dialects. Thus the name of the nymph and city of Kyrene becomes Kurana in its native Doric. Even the Achaemenid Empire had no single official language. The bureaucracy mainly used Elamite, but also old Persian, the Royal inscriptions were at least recorded trilingually in Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian, add to this a multitude of local languages and Aramaic especially for communication.
Additionally the names of many settlements are only recorded by much later authors, or in earlier sources as the Assyrian annals. Even for modern names coming from Arabic or Persian there is now common transliteration into our Latin script.
All those points mean that the reader will find names from many different languages to be used on our map. I attempted to make it as easily comprehensible as possible, thus more common form of names in Greek or Latin are often preferred to native ones. In some cases both versions are given. For the great Etruscan metropolises the local name is used on the main map, while the Latium Vetus inlay map is kept completely with Latin labels.
Cultures: I used different colors to differentiate the settlements of some of most important cultures on the map. The purpose was to make that widely distributed Greek and Phoenican colonies easily recognizable. However in many cases such a simple system can not able to display the complex realities of many cities in cultural border zones. For example many Carian, Lycian or Pamhylian cities of this time already possessed very strong Greek elements while still keeping their indigenous traditions and languages alive.
Quality of Sources: Compared to its at least equally important central Asiatic parts the western half of the Achaemenid empire is much better attested, both through ancient (Greek) sources and more intense archaeological research in this parts of the world. Only with the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BCE full accounts that allow us to get a clear picture of the eastern satrapies at one point in time become available. Data quality is also very uneven for their capitals. For Dahan-i Ḡhulāmān or Daskyleion we have undoubted archaeological or literal evidence, while for Arachosia just a single Elamite tablets from the alter town walls of Kandahar hints at its importance in the Achaemenid era. For Damascus a note from the geographer Strabo (Book 16.2.20), writing during the age of Augustus, makes us to assume that the city served once as the capital of Ebir-Nari.
Royal Roads: The Persian Royal Roads, the routes served by the royal postal service (Pirradaziš), are subdivided into two categories, that are either to some degree backed by evidence are have to be assumed to link some administrative center to the capital. Generally even for the most of the former routes the available evidence, such as the Persepolis tablets, allows us only to firmly reconstruct their origin and destination. The exact path however is mostly just speculative.
Satrapies: During the early expansive phase of the Persian Empire annexed states were directly incorporated and preserved as primary administrative units, including their internal system of governance.
The grand combined satrapy of Athura and Ebir-Nari with its capital Babylon that still existed during Darius reign essentially was the former Babylonian Empire minus its Arabian territories who had been quasi independent allies during that time. As the Empire grew older the large satrapies were further divided into smaller units.
The map shows two sets of provinces for the Achaemenid Empire. The first one is Herodotus classical list of 20 satrapies (Hist. 3.89) whose creation was attributed by him to Darius. Their numbers on the map are directly taken from Herodotus. The accuracy and general credibility is quite often doubted by modern scholars, but since this division is often quoted and discussed I considered it essential.
The second, more pronounced, set is based on Darius dahyâva lists from his Royal Inscriptions. Their exact composition is not uniform, the Greeks, for example, are sometimes subdivided into various categories, like those who dwell on the islands/ on the sea, or Greeks who wore sunhats (Macedonians). Often the dahyâva lists are called lists of satrapies in literature, but it should be kept in mind that their purpose was to transmit an idealistic image of the Empire for propaganda purposes, not administrative details to later generations.
Borders: Because of the scarcity of sources some scholars question the usefulness of the very attempt to draw boundaries of Achaemenid administrative units. Also the inherent flexibility of the empires organization should be taken into account, overlapping spheres of influence of persons and levels of bureaucracy, not identical with fixed territorial units.
The same can be said about the outer borders of Achaemenid Persia, which reflect the limits of the kings direct influence. Especially for the numerous tribes of horse or camel herding nomads along the fringes of settled land the perception about their formal incorporation into the Achaemenid realm, the offered gifts and demonstrations of loyalty, could be quite differently perceived or portrayed from both sides.
Despite these points in some cases borders can be drawn with some confidence. The limits of Ebir-Nari are quite well defined by the Euphrates river, the mountains to Cilicia or archaeological research about the most likely extension of Qedarite rule in the south. To help the reader to get a quick and easily interpretable overview of the Achaemenid empire and its countries I added the boundaries described above. All borders are intentionally kept in a diffusive style. One should always be aware that they not have the same absoluteness as borders in Roman Empire or even modern states.
Due to the later dominance of Rome even this early era of Roman history is well covered by ancient sources. However these accounts were all composed several centuries after the described events.
The early historians of the Rome and their Greek counterparts tried to reconstruct a coherent narrative of Rome's first centuries out of the evidence still available to them. For the modern
historians, which have much less material to work with, it has become barely possible in many ways to judge the accuracy of their ancient predecessors.
Archaeology too can only partially help to unravel the first centuries of the Roman state. Excavations did show that archaic Rome was a wealthy city state which could effort to construct numerous monumental public buildings. Its limits however are revealed if we look for the boundaries of Rome's power and her internal organization.
The late 6th century BCE foundations of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, today part of the Capitoline Museums (Photo: Author).
An important document to answer this question is the first treaty between Rome and Carthage, which was only passed to us in Greek translation by Polybios (Book 3.22), a historian writing in the mid 2nd century BCE. Polybios dates the treaty to the first years of the Republic, for many a doubtful date. A crucial argument for the authenticity of this document is Polybios remark that the archaic Latin could barely be understood by contemporary Romans, which fits well into what we know about early Latin and its development in the first centuries of the Republic Latin from texts and inscriptions, such as the stele from the Lapis Niger or parts of the Law of the Twelve Tables which kept their original wording.
Stele from the Lapis Niger, featuring one of the oldest known Latin inscriptions,
Museo Nazionale Romano - Terme di diocleziano (Photo: Author).
The Pontine Plain: To the south east Latium is bordering the extended marshes of the Pontine Plain, which was also called Pomptinae Paludes (Pontine marshes, or swamps) by Roman authors since the late Republic. They formed in place of an ancient lagoon, filled with sediments and plagued by a poor drainage towards the sea due to the dune belt between Terracina and Circeii. Only in the 1930s the marshes could be finally reclaimed and converted to farm land.
Even in quite recent literature authors often assume that the 6th and 5th century BCE Pontine Plain was a mostly drained and highly productive center of settlement. Such as Linoli (Linoli 2009): „During the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, the Latins and Volscians founded numerous settlements in the area, consequently managing to control the waters (even partially), but with Roman occupation, the area declined. The Volsci were the first to undertake drainage works in the Pontine areas they inhabited, and to exploit the fertile lands for farming purposes... At that time therefore, the marshes – thanks to the works carried out by the Volsci – must have been limited to localised areas lying lower than sea level“.
It is mandatory for this hypothesis that the Volsci, a people who just begun to emigrate from the interior to the coastal regions in the late 6th century, were already masters in the art of drainage.
However, in recent years new archaeological field work (Attema 2014), (de Haas 2011) has shown that this case has to be rethought. According to their finds the core parts of the region at this time were an uninhabited marshland, used only seasonally by transhumance herdsmen. During the 5th century, when all of Latium was plagued by crises and wars the existing settlements declined.
Only with the construction of the Via Appia and the parallel Decennovium canal an era of colonization and reclamation begun. Agricultural use of the Pontine Plain peaked during the middle Republic, the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Only in the centuries before and after the turn of the eras many settlements were slowly abandoned and the marshes mentioned by contemporary sources returned.