The posting below by Bruno Jacobs’ discussion on Achaemenid Rule in the Caucasus was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on August 15, 2006. Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and their accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.
Achaemenid rule in the Caucasus region was established, at the latest, in the course of the Scythian campaign of Darius I in 513-12 BCE. The Persian domination of the cis-Caucasian area (the northern side of the range) was brief, and archeological findings indicate that the Great Caucasus formed the northern border of the empire during most, if not all, of the Achaemenid period after Darius.
After the conquest of Armenia (OPers. Armina), which is recorded as a province (OPers. dahyu-) of the Achaemenid empire in the Bisotun inscription, the realm of Cyrus the Great already must have reached considerably to the north. The Little Caucasus, the line of the Phasis/Rion and Cyrus/Kura rivers, and the Great Caucasus all offer themselves as natural frontiers, but it is not possible to reconstruct in more detail the boundary line of that time.
An Iranian legacy in the Caucasus. To the south of the Republic of Georgia is Shamkhir located in the Republic of Azarbaijan (ROA) (known as Arran until 1918). Shamkhir is located some 350 kilometres west of Baku near the Armenian border to its west. The CAIS website hosted by Shapur Suren-Pahlav reported on August 28, 2007 that Archaeologists from the ROA, Georgia and Germany unearthed ruins of a monument dated to the Achaemenid dynasty in the town of Shamkhir. The head of the archaeology team stated that: “During the excavation, we found traces of a 2500 year old historical structure…which has one 1000 square meter chamber surrounded by several smaller rooms…The ruins indicate that this area was once an important Achaemenid centre in the northern provinces in the Caucasus” (Picture and caption from Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and were also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).
In the classical sources referring to the Achaemenid period, the Caucasus region is widely neglected (Lordkipanidze, 2000, pp. 4-7). So historians felt obliged to speculate about the border of the empire in that region during the approximately 200 years of Achaemenid rule that followed. Hewsen (1983, p. 128) expresses doubts that the Achaemenid empire ever extended beyond the Armenian plateau. Lordkipanidze (2000, pp. 9-11) concedes that Kachetia may have belonged to the Persian empire, but not Caucasian Iberia north of the Kura. Gagoshidze (1996, pp. 125 f.), however, is of the opinion that the territory of modern Georgia as a whole belonged to the Achaemenid empire, perhaps as an autonomous region (also Knauss, 1999b, p. 220).
It is not possible to reach a definite conclusion on the incorporation of areas between the Black and the Caspian Seas into the empire during the time of Darius I on the basis of Herodotus’s so-called “satrapy list” (Hdt., 3.90-94, esp. 93-94), as is done by Hewsen (1983, pp. 125 f.) and Ter-Martirosov (2000, pp. 246-50), because this catalogue is not appropriate either for the reconstruction of the imperial administration or for historical geography. Clearer insights are gained from the Scythian campaign of Darius I in 513-12 BCE, which involved military operations in the Caucasus region and the territory north of it.
Excavation of the Achaemenid building at Qarajamirli. The researchers Babaev, Gagoshidze, Knauß and Florian in 2007 (An Achaemenid “Palace” at Qarajamirli (Azerbaijan) Preliminary Report on the Excavations in 2006. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2,, pp. 31-45(15)) discovered the remains of a monumental building as well as a number of fragments of limestone column bases. This follows closely the plan of an Achaemenid palace featuring a Symmetrical ground plan for the building as well as architectural sculpture. The pottery found on floor closely follow Persian models from the Achaemenid era. Similar structures have been excavated from Sary Tepe (Republic of Azerbaijan) and Gumbati (Georgia). The Sary Tepe, Gumbatii and Qarajamirli buildings can be interpreted as residences of Persian officials who left the region when Achaemenid Empire collapsed.
At that time Darius attacked the Scythians in a “pincer” movement with two battalions, one coming from the west after the crossing of the Bosporus and Danube, and the other passing over the Caucasus and invading the region north of the Pontus from the east (Jacobs, 2000, pp. 95-99). In spite of the sophisticated tactics, the undertaking did not succeed, and both armies had to retreat—the western one across the Danube and the eastern one across the Oarus, which the Persians secured with fortresses (Hdt., 4.124) in order to save at least a limited territorial gain. Herodotus (4.123) tells us that the Oarus empties into Lake Maietis/Sea of Azov; only the Sal River can be identified with the Oarus, because this river joins the Tanais/Don shortly before it empties into the Sea of Azov (Haussig apud Horneffer et al., 1963, p. 694, n. 120). How far the Persian rule in cis-Caucasia extended to the east is completely uncertain. After the conquest, the region must have been included as an administrative sub-unit (Colchis) of the satrapy of Armenia (Jacobs, 1994, p. 184). Reports of the plans of operation formulated by the Scythians and Lacedaemonians against the Achaemenid empire may belong to this same period when the cis-Caucasian territories were under Persian rule: the Lacedaemonians planned to invade Asia Minor starting from Ephesus, while the Scythians were to attack Media following the Phasis (Hdt., 6.84).
Certainly the occupation of cis-Caucasia as well as the Thracian territory was short-lived. The exact time it ended is unknown. Possibly the repercussions from the defeat of the Persians in Greece and from the successful rebellion of the Thracians were also felt on the east side of the Sea of Azov. A corresponding retaliation on the side of the Scythians could have chased out the Persians, resulting in the displacement of the border to the south. Herodotus’s claim (3.97) that the empire’s border was formed by the Caucasus—by this he probably means the Great Caucasus—may refer to this period.
A Silver Rhython of the Achaemenid type from Yerznka, Armenia (5th Century BCE) (Source: Public Domain).
A clue to the contours of the border in later times is given by Xenophon in his report on the return of the “10,000” after the battle of Cunaxa. Marching in the direction of the Black Sea coast, the Greeks passed close by the territory of the Colchians, the border of which could not have run far to the east of Trapezous/Trabzon. Nothing indicates that the Greeks, at that point, might have been near the border of the realm (Xen., Anabasis 4.8). On the contrary, the Colchians were settling on imperial territory; and, since their estates, as Herodotus and others relate, were situated at the Phasis, the river could not have marked the border; thus the next natural barrier to the north, i.e., the Great Caucasus, recommends itself as the border of the empire (Hdt., 4.37; cf. 1.2 and 104; Nonnos, 13.248-52; Strabo, 11.2.17