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Young and charismatic like Cyrus before him, it was Alexander the Great of Macedonia who finally ended the First Persian Empire. Having defeated the Greeks and Egyptians, Alexander saw off Persian armies at Issus in Turkey (333 BC) and Guagamela in present-day Iraq (331 BC), before sweeping aside the remaining armies of Darius III. Darius himself fled east to Bactria, only to be murdered by his cousin. In the wake of his victory, Alexander spent several months at Persepolis, before the finest symbol of Achaemenid power burned to the ground.

Alexander’s empire soon stretched across Afghanistan, Pakistan and into India, but after his death in 323 BC it was divided between three squabbling dynasties, with Persia controlled by the Macedonian Seleucids. Gradually the Greek language became the lingua franca, Greeks settled new towns and Greek culture stamped itself on the older Persian one. However, ambitious satraps and feisty ethnic minorities were bucking the system, particularly the Parthians.