The Achaemenid Navy

Another example of misconceptions on Achaemenid militaria is Lendering’s views with respect to the Achaemenid Navy. Lendering states:


On p.67, we learn that Scylax played a role in the creation of Darius' Suez Canal. This may be true, but I am unaware of any evidence to support this claim. On the next page, we are to believe that it was Darius who created an imperial navy. It was Cambyses

Lendering may be unfamiliar with the works of Iranian military historians such as Maatofi, who is considered to be the Richard Keegan of ancient Iranian warfare. Matofi states clearly that:

 Until the onset of Darius’ rule, the Achamenid military did not have a significant navy. However it was during his [Darius] time when for the first time Iran acquired a powerful and rationally organized navy. This became fully operational by the time Darius launched his attacks against Greece and Europe, where the first [Achaemenid] amphibious operations were seen

Motofi, 1999, pp. 7, (full reference cited in Item 8).

Lendering may also be unfamiliar with the studies of Iranian marine archaeologists of the Aero-Marine research Center of Malek Ashtar University in Iran. The Archaeological wing of this university (under the direction of Dr. Kambiz Alampour) has studied the Achaemenid Navy extensively. Consulting 47 different sources (Iranian and non-Iranian) The Alampour team reconstructions in Shiraz pertain to Iranian vessels of the of the Darius-Xerxes era. Note the example below of a reconstructed Achaemenid ship (see prototype in the scale of 120 by 40 by 60 cm):

Lendering’s misconception may derive from Cambysis’ use of Phoenician ships during his invasion of Egypt ((These details are fully discussed along with references in Farrokh’s book). However, the deployment of Phoenician ships in a single campaign does not mean that Iran had an imperial navy at Cambysis’ time; one in which ships were being built in exact accordance with Achaemenid specifications. In that case, we can incorrectly argue that the Achaemenid imperial navy existed as early as the time of Cyrus when Babylon fell; the latter had controlled the Phoenician coast and these then gave their allegiance to Cyrus after his conquests. Even at Darius-Xerxes’ time, the mariners of the Achaemenid navy against Greece were primarily Phoenician (as well as Egyptians, etc.) (mentioned in Farrokh’s book). Lendering has simply avoided mentioning the aforementioned Iranian studies and researchers to arrive towards a personal conclusion.   

Briant (whom Lendering favors) apparently supports Lendering's hypothesis by linking the origins of the fleet to Cambysis' deployment of Phoenician ships during the conquest of Egypt, Briant however does not mention an imperial navy; he states on p.886:

"Cambysis creator of the Royal Persian Navy"
Briant, P. (2002). From Cyrus to Alexander. Published by Eisenbrauns.

Note the usage of the term "Royal Navy" by Briant (Lendering's preferred source). There is a s ubtle but clear functional distinction here between Matofi's "imperial navy" versus Briant's "Royal Navy". . Simply put, the institution of an Imperial navy had to be founded upon the principle of a Royal Navy. This is a key distinction in Iranian military historiography, especially in written Persian sources such as Matofi and Alampour. As noted by Mayerson, 1987, in p.50:

"Yet, it is a tribute to Darius that dur ing the interval a good deal of money and

effort must have been expended in building up the Persian navy
Mayerson, P. (1987). Saracens and Romans: micro macro relationships. Bulletin of the American Schools for Oriental Research, Number 265, pages 35-51.

Gabriel (2002), p.166 further elaborates that:

"Darius I seems to have been the first to commission the construction of ships for specific military tasks – ships of the line , transports, horse carriers, supply ships and shortly thereafter the Persians had fully integrated the use of naval warfare and tactics in their grand strategy, designed to counter Greek powers in the Aegean and Mediterranean"
Gabriel, R.A., The Great Armies of Antiquity, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

It was Darius who built the fleet in the Caspian to help in his imperial conquest of the Saka Tigrakhauda (Pointed-Hat Scythians/Saka) in Central Asia (Burn, 1985, p.222). just as a powerful fleet was built up to project imperial Achaemenid expansionistic aims into the Mediterranean and Europe.

To be very technical, one can cite Cyrus as the true "father" of the Achaemenid Navy, as it was he who conquered Babylon, and by implication, gained the submission of the Phoenician princes who had been under Babylonian subservience. The issue here is the graduation of that fleet into Darius' imperial navy: of course it is true that the navy was in existence during Cambysis time, but it was during Darius' reign when the navy became a force to be reckoned with simultaneously in the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Mesopotamian Rivers and the Mediterranean. The navy was the formidable instrument that it was to become under the reign of Darius and Xerxes.

Lendering's approach is interesting is that it resembles the debate of whether it was the Greeks or the Phoenicians who originated naval warfare in the Mediterranean. A Lendering-style approach would be to insist "the Phoenicians were the first", however it was the Greeks who developed the technology to dominate the maritime trade of the Mediterranean, especially with the invention of their Trireme which defeated the navy of Xerxes; see article below:

Coates, J. (1989). The Trireme Sails Again. Scientific American, 260, 96-103.

The relevant domain is the evolution of naval warfare and technology in the Achaemenid Navy during the time of Darius, as cited earlier by Gabriel. (not chronology as Lendering appears to aver). As seen numerous times in this letter, Lendering is again engaging in the process of narrowly focusing on only those citations that appear to confirm his hypotheses, while ignoring or dismissing western and Iranian sources that contradict them.

As per Lendering's statement "we learn that Scylax played a role in the creation of Darius' Suez Canal. This may be true, but I am unaware of any evidence to support this claim". What is specifically meant by "evidence"? Farrokh is simply relying on the established historiography in the field such as:

Wilcken, U. and Borza, E.N., Alexander the Great, Published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, note on p.195 that:

"By order of Darius I Scylax set out from Kabul down the Indus, sailed along the
coast of the cost of the Indian Ocean to Ormuz and from there, instead of entering the Persian Gulf, circumnavigated Arabia and landed in the gulf of Suez…some people have doubted the historicity of this voyage but they are wrong, for there are monuments on the Suez Canal to confirm Darius' undertaking".

The monuments (these are granite markers) are actually very specific. One inscription reports of 24 vessels that sailed through the Canal to Achaemenid Persia. Aughton, P. Voyages t hat Changed the World, Published by Quercus, 2007, notes on p.15 that:

"Darius sent a party under the leadership of a man named Scylax and the expedition followed the course of the Indus east until20it reached the sea….Turning westward, his ships followed the coast and after a voyage of some thirty months reached a point in the Red Sea near Suez".

Fuller, J.F.C., The Generalship of Alexander the Great, Published by De Capo Press, note on p.78 that:

"Still further to improve his communications, Darius sent Scylax, a Carian Greek to discover a sea route between India and Persia. According to Herodotus, Scylax set out from Caspatyrus (Peshawar) to the Pactyikan country (Ghandahar), and sailed down the Indus to the Sea, from where he skirted the coasts of Persia and Arabia, sailed up the Red Sea and landed i n the neighborhood of Suez ".

These are some of the citations seen in the established scholarship: the Farrokh text is simply being consistent with the research.

This raises an interesting question: Is Lendering suggesting that all of these must be revised and that the discovered monuments are not "evidence" enough? If so, on what basis? What "evidence" can be produced to verify Lendering's demand? Or is Lendering perhaps suggesting that there is no "evidence" that Scylax himself actually explored the route? If so, then why does the overwhelming thrust of mainstream historiography cite Scylax? < /FONT>

Lendering's approach here is parallel to his issue regarding the date of King Croesus' capture by Cyrus the Great (see item 11). Lendering has simply opined against the established historiography of the topic. Opinions by themselves however are insufficient at dismissing references to established historiography.