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Satrap (Persian: ساتراپ) was the name given to the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid (Persian) Empires and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire and the Hellenistic empires.

The word satrap is also often used in modern literature to refer to world leaders or governors who are heavily influenced by larger world superpowers or hegemonies and act as their surrogates.



The word "satrap" has Avestan roots and is similar to the Sanskrit word Kshatrapa. The Old Persian 𐎧𐏁𐎰𐎼𐎱𐎠𐎺𐎠 xšaθrapāvan ("protector of the province"), from xšaθra ("realm" or "province") and pāvan ("protector"). In Greek, the word was rendered as σατράπης, satrápēs, and was romanized as satrapes, from the Old Persian xšaθrapā(van)). In modern Persian this would have naturally evolved to شهربان (shahrbān). "Sharbān", translated from modern Persian, literally means "town keeper"; (شهر "shahr", meaning "town", بان "bān" meaning "keeper"). The word is likely ultimately derived from ancient Indo-Persian.

Medo-Persian satraps

The first large scale use of satrapies, or provinces, originates from the conception of the first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great, beginning at around 530 BCE. However, Provincial organization originated during the Median era from at least 648 BCE.

Up to the time of the conquest of Media by Cyrus the Great, emperors ruled the conquered lands, through client kings and governors. The chief difference was that in Persian culture the concept of kingship was indivisible from divinity: divine authority validated the divine right of kings. The twenty satraps established by Cyrus were never kings, but viceroys ruling in the king's name, although in political reality many grabbed any chance to carve themselves an independent power base. Darius the Great gave the satrapies a definitive organization, increased their number to twenty-three and fixed their annual tribute (Behistun inscription).

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