I know the historical basis for the Book of Esther isn't exactly "there," but for the sake of argument, if someone wanted to believe it and stand by the first verse that says:

Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus -- he was the Ahasuerus who reigned from Hodu to Cush, one hundred twenty-seven provinces. (Book of Esther 1:1)

is there any possible way to count provinces or sub-provinces of the Achaemenid Empire (preferably some time before Darius 1) to be 127 (or at least a way that might conceivably reach 127)? I know Herodotus listed 20 satrapies (each one with a few semi-distinct cultures or peoples), and I'm trying to figure out if there's any possible way to reconcile the biblical source with the historical one. Be it by a different way of counting, a remote possibility that we're lacking proper historical information from the time, or anything else. (I lack sufficient knowledge of the region and time as well as knowledge of what we might not know for that matter, so I'm reaching out here.) For the flip side, see my question here on the Judaism Stack Exchange (link).

EDIT: The province of Elam where Shushan/Susa was is known by that name elsewhere in the Bible, so that makes it more doubtful that there was a different way of counting provinces. Of course Herodotus isn't the most reliable historian, but I'd guess either he didn't know about most of them or the Book of Esther was not using a factual number itself.

Relevant links: Wikipedia on the Achaemenid Empire

Wikipedia on Medo-Persian satraps

Map of the region (I'm a bit ignorant about this, so I would appreciate if someone could also enlighten me on how reliable and complete information that makes up maps like this might or might not be.)

  • 2
    Interesting question. Welcome to the site! Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 20:14
  • Daniel states that when Cyrus (Darius in most translations) took Babylon, he established 120 satrapes. That's pretty close to 127.
    – John R
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 20:43
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    Perhaps a flattering exaggeration (Nehemiah 2:3; Daniel 2:4, 3:9, 6:6, 6:21), with one hundred, instead of one thousand, being added to the number of roughly twenty satrapies. Perhaps a confusion between the Babylonian sexagesimal reckoning, and the common base ten numeration system, with two being (mis)interpreted as two sixties, rather than two tens (twenty). Perhaps a counting of constituent (sub)regions of each of the twenty divisions; Egypt alone had about forty nomes; see also.
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 2:45

1 Answer 1


The satrapy system meant that many large regions of the empire were given autonomy - as long as they accepted the current Achaemenid king as their overlord complete with tribute and soldiers. And each satrap would be in charge of his own vast region. For the more remote areas of the empire, i.e. Central Asia (not the same as the Middle East) that were mainly inhabited by individual tribes, a satrap could possibly not always have had tight control over his entire domain. Instead, the local tribes themselves would have have been substantial power-brokers. In addition, the Middle Eastern parts of the empire contained once-prominent city states like Babylon and Ur. These areas may have been counted as "provinces" in the Old Testament.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire#Government

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    Thanks for the answer. Could you clarify on whether this is just speculation, or if many satraps were indeed known to be divided up into smaller provinces, or if there is perhaps any historical or archeological indication of a list like this? Because maybe yes, at the time period people broke it up like that, or maybe no, Esther is not accurate.
    – A L
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:00

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