In the first half of sixth century BC, there were a number of small tribal states in north westIndia. There was no sovereign power to unite these warring tribes. The Achaemenid rulersof Persia or Iran took advantage of the political disunity of this region. Cyrus, the founderof the Achaemenid dynasty, and his successor Darius I annexed parts of Punjab andSindh. It was believed to be the most fertile and populous part of the Achaemenid empire.
Indian subjects were also enrolled in the Achaemenid army.The Persian rule in north western India lasted for nearly two centuries. During this periodthere must have been regular contact between the two regions. The naval expedition ofSkylax probably encouraged trade and commerce between Persia and India. Some ancientPersian gold and silver coins have been found in Punjab.
Though the mountainous passes in the north western border were being used from veryearly times, it seems that Darius entered India through these passes for the first time.Lateron, a section of Alexander’s army traversed the same route, when he invaded Punjab.
The administrative structure of the Mauryan empire was influenced in some measure by the Agesthat of the Achaemenid rulers of Persia. It may be mentioned here that the Persian title ofsatrapa(governor) continued to be used by the Indian provincial governors as kshtrapafor quite a long time.
The cultural effects of the contacts with the Persians were also significant. The Persianscribes brought into India a new style of writing. It is called kharoshthi. It was derivedfrom the Aramaic script, which was written from right to left. Many of Asoka’s inscriptionsfound in north western India are witten in kharoshthi. This script continued to be used innorth western India till about third century AD. The Persian influence may also be traced inthe preamble of Asokan edicts. The Mauryan art and architecture were also greatlyinfluenced by the Persian art. The monolithic pillar edicts of Asoka with their bell-shapedcapitals are somewhat like the victory pillars of the Achaemenid emperors which havebeen found in Persepolis.
The Persian influence found in Chandragupta Maurya’s court was in the form of theceremonial hair bath taken by the emperor on his birthday. It was in typical Persian style.It is mentioned in the Arthashastrathat whenever the king consults the physician or theascetic, he should sit in a room where the sacred fire was kept. This indicates the influenceof Zorastrianism, the religion of ancient Iranians.