Satraps and satrapies

Satraps (Old Persian khšaçapâvâ): the governors of the satrapies (provinces) of the ancient Achaemenid empire.

The title satrap is older than the Persian empire: the word khšaçapâvâ is Median (it means “protector of the realm”) and was used to describe the vassal kings of the Median empire. The Median and Persian kings sent out inspectors with the title “eye of the king” to control and supervise their satraps.

There are several catalogues of the satrapies of the Achaemenid empire. The best known are:

  • Darius’ famous Behistun inscription;
  • the tribute list that is included in the Histories of Herodotus;
  • the list of the Persian armed forces in the same work;
  • the inscription on Darius’ tomb at Naqš-i Rustam;
  • the Daiva inscription of Xerxes.

Finally, there are many satrapies mentioned in a book about Alexander, the Anabasis by Arrian of Nicomedia. These texts allow us to see how the territorial units of the Persian empire slowly changed in the course of two centuries.