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Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires

In the 9th century bc the empire of the Assyrians expanded beyond Mesopotamia to include the entire Fertile Crescent region. It endured until 612 bc when the Babylonians and the Medes, a polytheistic tribal culture from the northeastern part of present-day Iran, conquered the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. In 550 bc Persian ruler Cyrus the Great overthrew the Medes and founded the Achaemenid dynasty. At the height of its rule under Darius I, the Persian Empire extended from northern Greece and present-day Libya in the west as far east as the Indus Valley in present-day Pakistan. During this period another monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism, developed in Persia. Its tolerance of Judaism and of the various polytheistic religions of the region helped maintain the empire's unity for the next two centuries. Now almost extinct, Zoroastrianism flourished for many centuries throughout Persia.

The conquests of Macedonian king Alexander the Great between 334 and 323 bc briefly united an area covering present-day Greece, Turkey, Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan prior to partitioning after World War I), Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. After his death the region remained a vast commercial and cultural area, often referred to as the Hellenistic world (from the Greek word Hellas, which means “Greece”). This Hellenistic Age, in which Greek became an international language, many new cities were founded, and Greek religion and arts blended with native ways, lasted until the Romans rose to power in the Mediterranean region at the beginning of the 2nd century bc. Roman general Pompey the Great had conquered the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to western Persia by 62 bc, and Egypt fell to Rome in 30 bc. The Parthians, an independent kingdom in present-day Iran and Afghanistan, blocked Roman attempts to advance further east. Jewish revolts against the Romans during the 1st and 2nd centuries ad led to exile and major migrations of Jews from Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia to other parts of the Roman world.

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