Passport – A Persian Innovation

Passport – A Persian Innovation

Reportedly, one of the earliest references to passports is found in the Biblical book of Nehemiah, circa 450 BC. Nehemiah, an official serving King Artaxerxes I of Persia, asked leave to travel to Judea. The king gave a letter addressed ‘to the governors beyond the river’, requesting a safe passage.

The Persian Kings of the Achaemenid dynasty were great visionaries and pioneers. Historians refer to Kurush II, more popularly known as Cyrus the Great, as “the most outstanding person of the ancient world” and architect of the first “World Empire”. His empire was so vast that it took two years to travel from one end of his kingdom to the other, on horseback. What an amazing administrative set-up it must have been, in an age without telephone, e-mail and fax machines. Law and order was so strictly observed that it gave rise to the phrase, “The laws of the Medes and the Persians” (Daniel VI, 8), or laws that were immutable.

In an age seeped in cruelty, slavery and the law of “might is right”, Cyrus gave humanity the first charter of human rights, declaring, among others rights and freedom, man’s right to freedom of religion, opinion, expression and free movement.

Later, the empire of Darius the Great stretched from the river Danube (Europe) in the west, right up to Sind and the present-day Frontier Province and part of the Punjab and from Central Asia right up to the north-eastern parts of Africa.

For administrative purposes, the empire was divided into various satrapies, or a provincial government, who’s Satraps or governors were appointed by the King himself and were directly responsible to him for civil administration, justice, finance, law and order.

Darius built roads, bridges and waterways to reach far-flung parts of his empire. The royal highway from Susa to Sardis was about 1700 miles along with 107 post-houses and fine caravansaries. Darius is credited with pioneering the world’s first postal service. He is also credited to have built the prototype of the Suez Canal connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.

Noshir H. Dadrawala

Courtesy : Rusi Sorabji

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