THE GREAT KING
 FROM time to time, in the course of the world's history, the title of Great
has been given to some monarch who has
distinguished himself, either by the splendour of his victories, or by the
value of his services to his fellowmen. We speak, for
example, of Alexander the Great, and amongst English kings, of Alfred the
There was however one empire, that of Persia, in which the title of Great
carried with it no distinction, for in this country
every king was called the Great King, not because it was supposed that his
nature was more noble or his actions more
splendid than those of other men, but because he was lord of a vast empire,
greater than had ever yet been seen upon the
face of the earth.
The Persian empire had been founded about a hundred and fifty years before
the time of this story, by Cyrus the Great, who,
having succeeded by
inherit-  ance to the double throne of Persia and Media, had conquered many of the
surrounding nations. The kings who came after him
extended their sway farther and farther, until at last, in the time of
Darius I., there were no less than fifty-six countries
subject to the Great King of Persia.
The Great King was looked upon as little less than a god. Every one who
entered his presence threw himself flat upon the
ground, as if in the presence of a divine being. It was supposed that a mere
subject must of necessity be struck to the earth
with sudden blindness on meeting the dazzling rays of such exalted majesty.
The court of the Great King was on a scale of the utmost splendour. His
chief residence was the city of Susa, but in the hot
season he preferred the city of Ecbatana, which was higher and cooler, and
he also stayed occasionally at Babylon and at
Persepolis. At each of these places there was an immense palace, adorned
with every conceivable magnificence, and from the
discoveries recently made among the ruins of Persepolis we can form some
idea of what the palace of the Great King of Persia
must have been like.
The palace of Persepolis stood upon a terrace above the
rest of the city, and all round it were houses of a
simpler kind, used for lodging the soldiers and the civil and military
officers who were attached to the King's person, and who
ate daily at his expense. There must, in all, have been about fifteen
thousand of them, including the ten thousand soldiers of
the royal body-guard.
The gate of the-palace was approached by two superb
 flights of marble stairs, which joined in front of the entrance, and were so
wide that ten horsemen could ride abreast up each
Within the gate was a square building with a front of more than two
The entrance-hall was a
magnificent room, with a roof supported by a hundred pillars of richly
and on either side of it were other
rooms with beautiful pillars. In all directions lovely colours and ornaments
of gold and silver met the eye. The walls were
covered with gigantic sculptures, representing the Great Kings Darius I. and
Xerxes, who had built the palace, with
attendants, both in time of peace, and at war with monsters and wild
Together with the
sculptures were inscriptions which can be read even now. This is a
translation of the beginning of one of them: "I am Darius,
the Great King, the King of kings, the King of these many countries." Among
the sculptures is one that represents Darius
seated on his throne, with a slave standing behind him, holding in his hand
a fan with which to keep off the flies. The mouth
of the slave is covered with a bandage, for it would have been considered a
profanation to allow the air breathed by so august
a sovereign to be polluted by the breath of a slave.
represents an audience given to an ambassador, who,
for the same reason, holds his hand before his mouth in the presence of the
When the Great King, gave an audience he sat upon a golden throne with a
canopy above him which was held in its place by
four slender pillars of gold
 adorned with precious stones. The whole effect was so dazzling that it would
be hard to imagine anything more splendid, even
in a fairy tale. On these occasions, and on all feast days, the King
appeared in a purple robe,
with a magnificent mantle of the same purple colour, richly embroidered.
Round his waist was a golden girdle, and from it
there hung a golden sabre, glittering with precious stones. On his head was
 tiara, a sort of pointed cap worn by the Persians. Only the King might wear
his tiara standing upright, all subjects were
obliged to press down the point, or arrange the cap in some other way. The
colour of the royal tiara was blue and white, and it
was encircled with a golden crown. The full value of the gala costume was
reckoned at nearly 300,000l. of our money.
It was only on rare occasions that the King walked, and then only within the
precincts of the palace; on these occasions
carpets were spread before him, on which no foot but his might tread. When
he rode beyond the palace, the right of helping
him into his saddle was bestowed as a mark of great distinction upon one of
the most highly-favoured lords of the empire.
More frequently, however, the King preferred to drive in his chariot, and at
these times the road he intended to take was
specially cleansed, and strewn with myrtle as if for a festival, and filled
with clouds of incense. It was lined, moreover, with
armed men on both sides; and guards with whips prevented any approach to the
royal chariot. If a distant journey had to be
undertaken, no less than twelve hundred camels and a whole multitude of
chariots, waggons and other means of transport
were required to convey the Great King, his countless attendants, and his
At a distance of about two miles from Persepolis was a great pile of marble
rock, and here Darius I. caused his tomb to be
made whilst he was yet alive. So steep and inaccessible was the cliff that
the only way of placing the body in the tomb
prepared for it was by raising it from below with ropes. Afterwards three
 tombs were hewn out of the same rock, and three more in another, not far
All Persians were allowed to have many wives, and the Great King had often a
very large number; Darius, for example, had
three hundred and sixty—almost as many as there are days in the year.
Yet only one of these was the Queen; all the
rest were so far beneath her that, when she approached, they had to bow
themselves to the ground before her.
Like all Persians, the King only ate once a day, but the meal lasted a very
long time. He sat at centre of the table, upon a
divan framed in gold and covered with rich hangings. At his right hand was
the Queen-Mother; at his left, the Queen-Consort.
The princes and intimate friends of the King, who were called his
"table-companions," usually took their meal in an adjoining
room. On feast days, however, they were permitted to dine in the royal
presence, and on these occasions, seats made of
cushions or carpets were placed for them upon the floor.
The power of the Great King was bounded by no law; from his will there was
no appeal. He was a despot in the strictest sense
of the word, and his subjects were all alike his slaves, from the lowest to
the highest, not even excepting his nearest relations.
In the whole world there was only one person whom he was required to treat
with any kind of respect; this was his mother.