Satrap

Satrap

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Satrap was the name given to the governors
Governor
A governor is a governing official, usually the executive of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the head of state...

 of the provinces of the ancient Median
Medes
The MedesThe Medes...

 and Achaemenid (Persian) Empire
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

s and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 and the Hellenistic
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 empires.

The word satrap is also often used in modern literature to refer to world leaders or governors who are heavily influenced by larger world superpowers or hegemonies
Hegemony
Hegemony is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece , hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states...

 and act as their surrogates.

Etymology


The word "satrap" has Avestan
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 roots and is similar to the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 word Kṣatriya क्षत्रिय. The Old Persian
Old Persian language
The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages . Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of the Achaemenid era...

 𐎧𐏁𐎰𐎼𐎱𐎠𐎺𐎠 xšaθrapāvan ("protector of the province"), from xšaθra ("realm" or "province") and pāvan ("protector"). In Greek, the word was rendered as σατράπης, satrápēs, and was romanized
Romanization
In linguistics, romanization or latinization is the representation of a written word or spoken speech with the Roman script, or a system for doing so, where the original word or language uses a different writing system . Methods of romanization include transliteration, for representing written...

 as satrapes, from the Old Persian xšaθrapā(van)). In modern Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 this would have naturally evolved to شهربان (shahrbān). "Sharbān", translated from modern Persian, literally means "town keeper"; (شهر "shahr", meaning "town", بان "bān" meaning "keeper"). The word is likely ultimately derived from ancient Indo-Persian.

Medo-Persian satraps


The first large scale use of satrapies, or provinces, originates from the conception of the first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus II of Persia , commonly known as Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much...

, beginning at around 530 BCE. However, Provincial organization originated during the Median
Medes
The MedesThe Medes...

 era from at least 648 BCE.

Up to the time of the conquest of Media
Medes
The MedesThe Medes...

 by Cyrus the Great, emperors ruled the conquered lands, through client kings
Client state
Client state is one of several terms used to describe the economic, political and/or military subordination of one state to a more powerful state in international affairs...

 and governors. The chief difference was that in Persian culture the concept of kingship was indivisible from divinity: divine authority validated the divine right of kings
Divine Right of Kings
The divine right of kings or divine-right theory of kingship is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God...

. The twenty satraps established by Cyrus were never kings, but viceroys ruling in the king's name, although in political reality many grabbed any chance to carve themselves an independent power base. Darius the Great gave the satrapies a definitive organization, increased their number to twenty-three and fixed their annual tribute (Behistun inscription
Behistun Inscription
The Behistun Inscription The Behistun Inscription The Behistun Inscription (also Bistun or Bisutun, Modern Persian: بیستون The Behistun Inscription (also Bistun or Bisutun, Modern Persian: بیستون...

).

The satrap was in charge of the land that he owned as an administrator, and found himself surrounded by an all-but-royal court; he collected the taxes, controlled the local officials and the subject tribes and cities, and was the supreme judge of the province before whose "chair" (Nehemiah 3:7) every civil and criminal case could be brought. He was responsible for the safety of the roads (cf. Xenophon), and had to put down brigands and rebels.

He was assisted by a council of Persians, to which also provincials were admitted; and was controlled by a royal secretary and by emissaries of the king, especially the "eye of the king" who made an annual inspection and exercised permanent control.

There were further checks on the power of each satrap: besides his secretarial scribe, his chief financial official (Old Persian ganzabara) and the general in charge of the regular army of his province and of the fortresses were independent of him and reported directly to the shah, periodically, in person. But the satrap was allowed to have troops in his own service.
  • The great satrapies (provinces) were often divided into smaller districts, the governors of which were also called satraps and (by Greco-Roman authors) also hyparchs (actually Hyparkhos in Greek, 'vice-regents'). The distribution of the great satrapies was changed repeatedly, and often two of them were given to the same man.
  • As the provinces were the result of consecutive conquests (the homeland had a special status, exempt from provincial tribute), both primary and sub-satrapies were often defined by former states and/or ethno-religious identity. One of the keys to the Achaemenid success (as with most enduring great empires) was their open attitude to the culture and religion of the conquered people, so the Persian culture was the one most affected as the Great King endeavoured to melt elements from all his subjects into a new imperial style, especially at his capital Persepolis
    Persepolis
    Perspolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire . Persepolis is situated northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. In contemporary Persian, the site is known as Takht-e Jamshid...

    .

  • Whenever central authority in the empire weakened, the satrap often enjoyed practical independence, especially as it became customary to appoint him also as general-in-chief of the army district, contrary to the original rule. "When his office became hereditary, the threat to the central authority could not be ignored" (Olmstead). Rebellions of satraps became frequent from the middle of the 5th century. Darius I struggled with widespread rebellions in the satrapies, and under Artaxerxes II occasionally the greater part of Asia Minor
    Asia Minor
    Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

     and Syria was in open rebellion.


The last great rebellions were put down by Artaxerxes III.

Hellenistic satraps


The satrapic administration and title were retained—even for Greco-Macedonian incumbents—by Alexander the Great, who conquered the empire and even enlarged it, and by his successors, the diadochi
Diadochi
The Diadochi were the rival generals, family and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for the control of Alexander's empire after his death in 323 BC...

 (and their dynasties) who carved it up, especially in the Seleucid empire, where the satrap generally was designated as strategos; but their provinces were much smaller than under the Persians. They would ultimately be replaced by conquering empires, especially the Parthians.

Parthian and Sassanian satraps


In the Parthian Empire
Parthian Empire
The Parthian Empire , also known as the Arsacid Empire , was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Persia...

, the king's power rested on the support of noble families who ruled large estates, and supplied soldiers and tribute to the king. City-states within the empire enjoyed a degree of self-government, and paid tribute to the king. Administration of the Sassanid Empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 was considerably more centralized than that of the Parthian Empire; the semi-independent kingdoms and self-governing city states of the Parthian Empire was replaced with a system of "royal cities" which served as the seats of centrally appointed governors called shahrabs as well as the location of military garrisons. Shahrabs ruled both the city and the surrounding rural districts. Exceptionally, the East Roman Empire also adopted the title "satrap" for the semi-autonomous princes that governed one of its Armenian provinces
Roman Armenia
From the end of the 1st century BC onwards, Armenia was, in part or whole, subject to the Roman Empire and its successor, the East Roman or Byzantine Empire...

, the Satrapiae.

Western satraps



The Western Satraps or Kshatrapas (35-405 CE) were Saka
Saka
The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

 rulers of a land called Ariaca
Ariaca
Ariaca was a region of Western India beyond Barigaza, mentioned in ancient geographical sources.According to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Ariaca was part of the kingdom of Nambanus, though to be the Western Satrap ruler Nahapana:...

 according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea or Periplus of the Red Sea is a Greco-Roman periplus, written in Greek, describing navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports like Berenice along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along Northeast Africa and India...

, in the western and central part of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

, today the Saurashtra and Malwa regions of India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

. They were successors to the Indo-Scythians
Indo-Scythians
Indo-Scythians is a term used to refer to Sakas , who migrated into Bactria, Sogdiana, Arachosia, Gandhara, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE....

, and were contemporaneous with the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the subcontinent from the area of Mathura and were possibly their overlords, and with the Satavahana
Satavahana
The Sātavāhana Empire or Andhra Empire, was a royal Indian dynasty based from Dharanikota and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh as well as Junnar and Prathisthan in Maharashtra. The territory of the empire covered much of India from 230 BCE onward...

 (Andhra) who ruled in central India.

Satraps today

  • By analogy, the word satrap is also used anachronistically for various governor
    Governor
    A governor is a governing official, usually the executive of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the head of state...

    s, especially in the Orient, whose real title is etymologically independent, such as the shaknu and bel pihati in the earlier Assyria
    Assyria
    Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

    n (and consecutive [New] Babylonian?) empire, about the first empire of such size west of the Far East, which rather seems the model for the provincial concept.
  • It is also used in modern times to refer (usually derogatorily) to the loyal subservient lieutenants or clients of some powerful figure (with equal imprecision also styled mogul
    Business magnate
    A business magnate, sometimes referred to as a capitalist, czar, mogul, tycoon, baron, oligarch, or industrialist, is an informal term used to refer to an entrepreneur who has reached prominence and derived a notable amount of wealth from a particular industry .-Etymology:The word magnate itself...

    , tycoon, or the like), in politics or business.
  • In the Spanish language
    Spanish language
    Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

     the word sátrapa carries not only the aforementioned ancient historical meaning, but in modern usage it also applies to people who abuse power or authority. It can refer as well to those living in luxurious and ostentatious conditions or to individuals who act astutely and even disloyally.
  • The title is also used by the College of 'Pataphysics as Transcendent Satrap for certain of its members, among which were counted such peoples as Marcel Duchamp
    Marcel Duchamp
    Marcel Duchamp was a French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Considered by some to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Duchamp's output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art...

    , Jean Baudrillard
    Jean Baudrillard
    Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.-Life:...

     and the Marx brothers
    Marx Brothers
    The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act, originally from New York City, that enjoyed success in Vaudeville, Broadway, and motion pictures from the early 1900s to around 1950...

    .

Further reading

  • A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, 1948.
  • Pauly-Wissowa (comprehensive encyclopaedia on Antiquity; in German).
  • Robert Dick Wilson. The Book of Daniel: A Discussion of the Historical Questions, 1917. Available on home.earthlink.net.
  • Rüdiger Schmitt, "Der Titel 'Satrap'", in Studies Palmer ed. Meid (1976), 373–390..
  • Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses, 1992.

External links