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The forgotten empire: teaching ancient Persian history in a world history class.

With few exceptions, our world history textbooks fail to give an account of the Persian Empire commensurate with its historical significance. As a rule, it is found at the end of the "second chapter," which appears under different headings but generally deals with the dawn of civilizations in the Ancient Near East. It is normally right after the account of the Assyrian empire that the narrative on the Persian Empire is inserted. This structuring of the chapter tends to present the Persian Empire as essentially a continuator of the Assyrian Empire. (1) And, moreover, since it comes at the end of the chapter, the reader is left with the impression that the Persian Empire marks the end, rather than the beginning, of a new era in world history. Conventionally, too, the next period in Near Eastern history begins with the coming of Alexander of Macedonia, whose conquests are presented as marking the beginning of a new age, the Hellenistic Age. Another convention in our history texts, which I find lopsided if not biased, relates to the relations between the Persians and the Greeks which is presented as one of confrontation and enmity between the Persians and the "Greeks"--that is to say, "all the Greeks." I begin with my first point, the placing of the history of the Persian Empire at the end of a historical period. As I will try to show, not only does this conventional periodization overlook the fact that the establishment of the Persian empire ushers in a new age in world history, but it also exaggerates the cultural impact of Alexander's conquests, the Hellenization of the East.

To begin with the novelty of the Persian age, the empire that they created was of a vastly greater extent than any previous one. It was the first empire in world history to have expanded over the three known continents. (2) Unlike the former empires, it was not a river valley empire, the geographical center and center of political power was in the uplands, along Zagros. For the first time in world history, as a consequence of the establishment of the Persian empire, all of the major cultural centers in the Ancient world west of China (3) were brought into direct contact. The population of the empire was far more numerous and more heterogeneous. (4) The ruling people, instead of being the largest body in their own territories, were a military minority spread thin over a vast area. With them, and until the rise of Islam over a thousand years later, the great powers in the Near East were the Indo-Europeans, whereas before, by and large, it had been Semites. The development of trade, fostered by the minting of standardized gold and silver coins of universal circulation, the standardization of weights and measures, the building of overland routes, the charting of new sea-lanes, the digging of the canal connecting the Nile with the Red Sea which provided for an all-waterway lane linking Egypt with the Indus, as well as the transplantation of animals--diminished the relative importance of agricultural interest in the state.

The establishment of the Persian Empire also marked the beginning of a new age in the nature of rulership. Though, in consonance with long-standing Near Eastern norms, Persian kings were kings by divine right, they did not everywhere claim to have derived their authority solely from their own national god as, for example, had previsouly been the case with the Assyrians. Through their tolerance and acceptance of the religions of their subjects, the Persian kings became the representatives of their gods--in different countries, they claimed descent from the national god of that country. Such toleration went much further than mere lip-service to foreign gods. The Persian kings were actively involved in the temple worship of alien deities. In Egypt, Darius sacrificed to the local gods, contributed to the building of temples, and conferred privileges on priesthoods. The king had regard for both law and custom. Darius I was called "the lawgiver;" he codified laws, published them, and each people lived by its own laws.

Another novelty was the new type of religion which these Iranians brought with them to their new land. It is often overlooked that Zoroaster is the only prophet--that is a messenger with a divine revelation--that the Indo Europeans ever produced. More importantly, seen from an etiological standpoint, this was a monotheistic religion with a dualistic ethical undertone, which, on both counts, was something new for the people of the ancient world. To say that people knew of monotheism through Judaism is both to exaggerate knowledge of that religion, which was only of local interest until the rise of Christianity and Islam, (5) as well as to read back from a later time to an earlier period a theism -monotheism--which was the view of only a minority of Jews that became irrelevant to religious matters in Jerusalem after their exile to Babylon. As late as 458 BCE, or perhaps 398, depending on which Artaxerxes it was who sent Ezra to Palestine to carry out a codification of the Jewish laws (presumably along the same lines as had previously been carried out under Darius I for the laws of Egypt), in the Jerusalem temple, other gods were worshipped alongside Yahweh. (6) Even then, Ezra faced opposition and his mission ended in failure. It was only later, when Nehemiah, the king's cupbearer, was sent as governor to Jerusalem and succeeded in winning the support of the priests, that the successful enforcement of the Laws of the Pentateuch began. (7) As for Zoroastrianism, it enjoyed the prestige and stature deriving from its being the imperial religion--knowledge of it had crossed over into the Greek mainland at the latest by the 4th century BCE. The fact that with the passage of time the followers of that religion shrank substantially in size by converting to the new religion of Islam, and that nowadays the adherents of that religion do not add up to even a million people, should not reduce the historical significance of that religion. Our world history texts do identify some of this religion's original precepts which passed on into Judaism and, through the latter, into Christianity and Islam. But Zoroastrianism's very probable influence on Greek philosophy, both the Ionian and the Socratic--in principle, Plato--is not mentioned in passing even as a moot point.

Another novelty brought about by the Persians was in the sphere of administration. To effectively rule his empire, Darius I introduced a number of administrative measures, two of which were the division of his empire into administrative units, satrapies, over which he placed satraps entrusted with civil authority alone, reserving military authority for another set of officials as a counterpoise to the power of the satraps. Both, his division of the land into smaller administrative units, (8) as well as his separation of civil from military power, were to be models for later rules, such as the Mauryan Chandragupta, and at a much later time, Emperor Diocletian.

Another novelty of the age was the emergence of a new type of literary genre, historiography, in which the Greeks excelled and set the paradigm for future generations, but which had its beginning in connection with the Persian Empire. Though it is Herodotus--incidentally, a subject of the Persian empire--who is generally regarded as the Father of History, it was an Ionian, Hecataeus of Miletus, who initiated the writing of "modern" and "contemporary" history of the Greeks, as distinct from their "ancient" history which continued to be mythography; and the event which stimulated this intellectual movement towards writing "modern" history, was the incorporation of Asiatic Greeks in the Persian empire which resulted in the contact of Ionian thinkers with oriental history, and which facilitated the unhindered travel of these Greeks into the near East. Thus, the widely traveled Hecataeus (9) explored the interior of the Persian empire and Egypt, which had been annexed by Cambyses. Before Hecataeus, what was passed off as history among the Greeks was mere mythography, which was ultimately rooted in Homer and Hesiod; and what made Hecataeus skeptical of such accounts was the acquaintance he made in Egypt with the historical traditions of the Egyptians. (10) In the opening pages of his work, Map of the World, Hecataeus wrote "'What I write here is the account which I consider to be true. For the stories of the Greeks are numerous, and in my opinion ridiculous'." (11) In that work, Hecataeus introduced the Greeks to oriental history and sketched, for the first time, the successive monarchies of Assyria, Media, and Persia. (12) Hecataeus, the historian, as distinguished from the mythographer, had two immediate successors, Charon of Lampsacus and Dionysius, both of whom followed the path of their predecessor by writing on oriental history. (13) Though the works of these two authors contained important periods of Greek history, they were properly histories of Persia. In this way, then, it was through the account of the "'modern' history of the East that the Greeks went on to study the 'modern' history of Hellas." (14) Thus it was with the establishment of the Persian Empire that Greek historiography began. Moreover, these early Ionian historians, faced with the political realities of the Greek-speaking people--none of whose city-states was central enough in the political life of all Greeks to warrant their respective histories to coalesce around it--wrote their Greek histories in the context and around the central theme of the history of the Persian Empire. (15) The same technique was also employed by Herodotus, who coined the word "historiae," meaning research. He, too, related the history of the Greeks within the main frame of the history of the Persian Empire. Thus, in a technical sense, Greek history begins with the history of the Persian Empire. Here we have another beginning, another "new age," in this instance for a literary genre, Greek historiography, which evolved in the Persian period.

The same event which stimulated the interest of the Ionians in historiography, Persia's incorporation of their lands, can be said, with equal justice, to have turned their interest toward geographical research. The Milesian Anaximander, the "Father of Geography," devoted himself to his studies under the Persians, and the first word map which the people in Peloponnesus had ever seen was the one made by him which was based on earlier Babylonian maps. (16)

I now turn to my second point, the nature of Greco-Persian relations, simply by pointing out some of the known facts, coming in principle out of the pages of Herodotus, and skirting controversial points, to show the lopsidedness of our world history texts.

It is an important fact to note that in their narratives on the relations between the Persians and the Greeks, by the "Greeks" in this relationship our texts are only concerned with the Greeks of the mainland, as if the other half of the Greek world, the eastern half, which had been incorporated into the Persian Empire for half a century before the so-called Greco-Persian confrontation began, did not exist or did not have a relationship of its own with the Persians. Eastern Greeks are merely subsumed and glossed over in our texts.

As for the Greco-Persian confrontation, the fact is ignored that the campaign leading to the Battle of Marathon, presented as the event marking the beginning of hostilities between the Persians and "the Greeks," was merely a Persian naval exercise in the fashion of a policing action, directed only against Athens and the Eretrians; that Athens herself, over a decade earlier, in 507 BCE, had sent delegates seeking Persia's help against the Spartans, and that on that occasion had given "earth and water," symbolizing submission, to the Persians. (17) This meant that from the Persians perspective their objective in Marathon of restoring Hippias to power was within the bounds of their understanding with Athens--she had given them earth and water. (18) And Hippias, for his part, had not been totally abandoned by the Athenians; he still had friends and followers in Athens who were awaiting his return. Moreover, that in Athens itself, on this occasion as well as later, Persia had its own sympathizers and collaborators, the so-called Medizers--among them the Alcmeonids family, which occupied many important state functions, and produced two of Athens' most illustrious political figures, Cleisthenes, the architect of the Athenian Democracy (who, incidentally, had given earth and water to the Persians in 507 BCE) and Pericles, whose age is a byword for the Golden Age of Athens. The family's extensive trade relations with Asia Minor were the source of its prosperity, and, consequently, they wanted to maintain amicable relations with Persia. It follows then, that at the approach of the disgruntled fugitive tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, who had arrived in Athens to seek assistance in support of the Ionian Revolt, the family strongly cautioned against such assistance as it would cause conflict with Persia. (19) For the time being, however, the opposition party--the war party--headed by Miltiades, won the day. But, even then, Athens limited its assistance to twenty vessels. Later on, when the rebels in Ionia began to lose ground, the pro-Persian groups in Athens gained the upper hand, and after the election of 496 BCE, the party of Alcmeonids regained its former power. Immediately thereafter the Athenians recalled their ships. (20) And the political party now in power did everything to avert a war with Persia. Thus, in 493 BCE, the playwright Phrynichus, whose tragedy The Fall of Miletus had caused the audience to break into tears of pity for the Ionians killed and the shame of having abandoned them, was fined one thousand drachmas for commemorating Athens' unsuccessful foreign policy. Many leading politicians of Athens, and especially the Alcmeonids and followers of the deposed Pisistratid tyrant, and also the popular masses they led, were against a confrontation with the Persians. Therefore, they agitated against the use by their opponents of the theater for political propaganda. (21) Finally, the Persian campaign at Marathon was in response to Athens' interference in the internal affairs of Persia. As Herodotus noted (I, 4), the Greek attacked the Persian dominions in Asia before the Persians attacked Greece and he condemned the Ionians for starting the Revolt.

That the ensuing war was not between the 'Greeks and the Persians', but between Persia and the two Greek communities of Athens and the Eretrians in Euboea, (22) can be surmised from the response of the Greeks to Persia's approach against them. In 492 CE, during the preparations for the projected campaign, Persian ambassadors were sent to the Greek territories to demand earth and water. "(T)he majority of the islanders and many mainland cities (including Thebes, Argos and Aegina) reacted positively to the call ...; only Sparta and Athens refused." (23) On the eve of Marathon, the Athenians' neighboring district of Boeotia turned against them and openly welcomed the arrival of the Persians. Even some Athenians were prepared to help the Persians, in particular, the family of Alcmeonids, who had been deprived of their power by their opponent, Miltiades. At this time, they joined forces with Hippias' secret adherents, who were awaiting his return. (24) Indeed, the Alcmeonids and their associates would continue to have special rapport with Persia for a long time to come. (25)

The Alcmeonids aside, the main sanctuary of Apollo which was the temple of Delphi, was also on the side of the Persians and tried to dissuade the Greeks from resisting them.

Turning our attention to the time of Xerxes' campaign and the state of relations between Persia and the Greeks at that time, we find that before Xerxes' decision for a Greek campaign, messengers had come from Thessaly inviting Persians to attack the Greeks, and promising their full support; a similar request was made by exiles from Athens. (26)

On the mainland, many Greek states ignored Sparta's invitation to the congress she had organized for all Greeks to attend in order to unite against Persia. (27) Similarly, many Peloponnesian towns sympathized with the Persians and did not participate in the building of the wall across the Corinthian Isthmus to prevent the Persians from entering the Peloponnesus. (28) Some city-states, despite the promises they had made to Sparta and Athens, sat on the fence, awaiting the result of the war. (29) Helots, and of course other groups of dependents, awaited the advance of the Persians as if they were their liberators. (30) According to Herodotus (VII, 138), the majority of the Greek states did not want war with Persia, while some openly sided with Persia. Moreover, at this time, as earlier at Marathon, the priest of Delphi maintained a pro-Persian orientation and urged the Greeks more towards a capitulation or neutrality than resistance.

Again, during Xerxes' campaign, a list of city-states on the mainland--the Thessalians, Archaeans, Thebans, and the inhabitants of other districts and many cities--sided with Persia. The Thebans' steadfast friendship with Persia must have been evident to all. For the defense of Thermopylae, the Thebans contributed 400 men; however, they were suspected of planning to defect to the Persian side at a critical moment, and as correctly suspected, when the attack on the position of Leonidas started, these Thebans abandoned the Greeks for the Persians. (31)

At Salamis, the Greek hopes that the ships of the Greeks from Asia Minor would change sides, proved illusory. The latter, to the contrary, remained loyal to Xerxes and fought valiantly in the hope of receiving reward from the Persian king. (32) According to Herodotus (VIII, 10) they were even pleased when some Greek soldiers were killed. The Ionians, who were pitted against the Peloponnesians, captured several Greek ships.

Persian defeat at Salamis did not weaken the resolve of their Greek allies. On their second march to Athens, the Persian armies were invited by the Thebans to set up camp in their territory. Argos, the old enemy of Sparta, was in cahoots with Mardonius, informing him of the departure and the size of the Peloponnesian forces which were being sent to Athens. At Plataea, the Greek allies of Persia who were pitted against the Athenians included the Boeotians, Locrians, Thessalians, Phocians, and the Macedonians. The Boeotian cavalry, in particular, fought with distinction at Plataea. (33)

In Macedonia, which at a later time under Philip II and Alexander II, would use Xerxes' campaign as a piece of propaganda to justify its war against Persia, its king, Alexander I, around 512 BCE, had hastened to offer his submission when the Persian army reached the borders of Macedonia, (34) and later, in 480 BCE, accompanied Xerxes on his march to Greece. In the meantime, his sister was wedded to a Persian. (35)

Neither at the beginning nor at the end of Xerxes' campaign did all Greeks view the Persians with the hostility that later writers ascribed to them. To follow Herodotus, at the start of the war "many Greeks were even convinced that Zeus had arrived in person in their country, personified by Xerxes," and "decades after Xerxes' campaign" "the Thracians still regarded the road which was followed by Xerxes ... as sacred" (VII, 115).

Our textbooks do tell us about the contentious relations among the Greek city-states, which they identify as the main cause for the collapse of the city-state system and the loss of their independence. And yet, when it comes to their relationship with Persia, they leave the reader with the impression that the Greeks formed a united front against Persia.

One aspect of the relations between the Persians and Greeks which is totally left out of our accounts, and which shows the complexity of Greco-Persian relations, regards those illustrious Greek political figures who, for one reason or another, joined the service of the Persians. Among Xerxes' retainers was the Spartan king Demaratus who joined Xerxes on his European campaign and advised him on naval strategy on the eve of Salamis. The famous Themistocles, the Athenian strategos and victor at Salamis, took refuge with the Persians less than two decades after that event. In order to be granted audience with the Great King Artaxerxes I, he accepted to perform prokynesis. He studied Persian for a year to be able to speak with the Persians without the help of an interpreter. He married a Persian woman and lived as a royal retainer with the revenue assigned to him from certain districts in Asia Minor. (36) The renowned Spartan commander of the allied Greek army at Plataea, Pausanius, soon after that event, adopted Persian attire in preference over Spartan attire, and some eight years after Plataea, was walled up at the temple in which he had taken refuge, and starved to death on the revelation that he had defected to the Persian king and intended to turn Greece over to his authority. Early in the next century, around 398 BCE the Athenian admiral Conon (37) joined the Persian navy and was made commander of a Persian fleet by Artaxerxes, and, some two years later. personally went to the king to ask for money for his fleet. (38) And still later, Athens--the archenemy--gave one of its best generals, Iphicrates, on loan to Persia for the recovery of Egypt. (39) Lastly, when considering Greeks who, at one level or another, worked with Persians, one should obviously include a large number of Greek mercenaries, many of whom were truly loyal to their Persian masters. After Issus, Alexander made carnage of the Greek mercenaries in the service of the Persians, in order to set an example and deter others from serving the Persians. Yet, these Greeks loyally stayed with Darius III until his very last hour.

In short, the Greco-Persian relations were far more complex for the two peoples to be neatly compartmentalized into two mutually sworn hostile camps. The fact is that when dealing with the Greeks, we should be aware that we are not dealing with a modern nation-state, but rather a quarrelsome mixture of independent city-states. We need to reckon with the fact that there were as many alliances between Persians and Greeks, as there were between Greeks and Greeks. These are historical facts which take a big bite out of the conventional lopsided Persia-versus-Greek picture our text books continue to draw.

It is true that for the sake of brevity one needs to make generalizations, but these generalizations should not be so extreme as to distort the picture.

Turning now to the convention that Alexander's conquests mark a "New Age" in the history of the Near East, that of Hellenisticism, we must keep in mind that this view is the corollary of the alleged hostility between all Greeks and Persians, and of the inference that the Persians strove to annihilate the Greeks, and that the Greeks, during the wars with Persia, fought for the survival of their culture and the protection of their religion. It follows, then, that the destruction of the Persian empire was the prerequisite for the spread of Hellenism in the East.

It is difficult to imagine that half of the Greek world, the intellectually more advanced half in the 6th centiry BCE, had been incorporated into the Persian Empire by its founder as early as 547 BCE, and yet the Greek influence had to await the coming of Alexander in order to filter through the Persian empire. (40)

Reference was made earlier to the Ionians' contributions which coincided with their incorporation into the Persian Empire. We might also point out that classical scholars such as Anaximander, Hecataeus, and Heraclitus devoted themselves freely to their studies although they were subjects of the Great King. These Ionians' influence traveled to the very heartland of the Persians: some of their master craftsmen chiseled those famous columns, bearing their ethnic name, which were used in the construction of Darius' Royal Palace at Persepolis. Persepolis documents contain data on foreigners employed by the state. Among the peoples frequently mentioned as workmen of the state economy were Cappadocians, Lydians, Carians, Termilai, Thracians, and Ionians. (41) In general, many Greeks, for various reasons, were in Iran during the Achaemenid era. Thus, emigrants from the environs of Miletus were settled in Bactria, and they still observed many of their own customs as late as the 330s BCE. There were also Greeks in the Elamite city of Susa, and close by, were Eretrians from Euboea who had been settled there by Darius. In Elam, there were many Boeotians who had been driven from their homes during the campaign of Xerxes against Greece. (42)

There is indirect evidence, such as Greek shards, impressions of Greek seals, and coins from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, which suggests the presence of Greeks in Achaemenid Babylonia. We know that Nabuchadnezzar II's army included Greek mercenaries, and we may infer that already in that age there had been Greeks in Babylon. (43) As is well known, large numbers of Greeks, in principle mercenaries, had been in Egypt before the Achaemenids. Under the latter, their numbers increased even more. (44) It is a known fact that Persian kings employed Greek engineers and master craftsmen. It was the Greek engineer Mandrokles who constructed a bridge from boats on the Bosphorus for the passage of Darius' forces into Europe. (45) Persians especially admired Greek artwork. (46) As craftsmen and sculptors, the Greeks were particularly active in Persepolis. (47) There were a considerable number of Greek physicians at the Achaemenid court. (48) Many Greeks also lived at the court of the Persian satraps. Undoubtedly, Greek physicians, scholars, and masters of the arts made a definite contribution to the culture of the upper strata of Persian society.

The fact that Hellenism did not have to await the coming of Alexander to penetrate the Persian Near East is born out by an array of evidence of different types. Seals with Attic motifs from pre-Alexander time have been preserved on papyri from Samaria. As early as the beginning of the fifth century, Phoenician art shows Greek influence. (49) The sarcophagus of a Phoenician governor-king, made in the fifth century in Sidon by a Greek master craftsman, displays a combination of Egyptian and Greek influences. (50)

As must be expected, Greek influence was particularly strong in Asia Minor. Even prior to Achaemenid rule, some regions of Asia Minor had been under strong Greek cultural influence. The Lydians had adopted many elements of Greek culture. (51) In Caria, by the beginning of the 5th century BCE, many Carians were already bilingual and knew the Greek language. Halicarnassus, the capital of Caria, was a city that was half Ionian and half Carian. The Carian Scylax, who composed the first description of India, published his work in the Greek language. (52) Then, in the 4th century BCE, new impetus was given to the spread of Hellenism in Caria by the Persian satraps of Caria, the Carian Hekatomnids. (53) Finally, as a measure of Greek influence and how high in the social scale it had traveled, we may take note of some of the Persians who spoke the Greek language. As early as the time of the Greco-Persian wars, there were Persians in the Achaemenid army who spoke Greek. (54) More to the point, Cyrus the Younger, satrap in Asia Minor, spoke Greek fluently. He was acquainted with Greek culture and named one of his concubines, a Greek woman from Phocaea, Aspasiya, after the name of Pericles' mistress. (55) Darius III spoke Greek adequatly enough to associate with his Greek mercenaries without the assistance of an interpreter. (56) The daughter of the distinguished Persian Artabazos received a Greek education and was married to the Greek military commander Memnon. (57)

Now we turn to take stock of the extent of Hellenization of the Persian East in the aftermath of Alexander's conquest and the establishment of the Successors' states. In the absence of modern media power to broadcast the norms and the views of a given culture, one way for the spread of Hellenism in the East would have been, for instance, its actual patronage, as a part of the government's policy, of language schools for the natives to learn Greek. However, there is no compelling evidence suggesting that the Macedonian sovereigns in the East did in fact take an interest in spreading Greek culture. (58) On the other hand, some degree of Hellenization could have resulted from intermingling between the natives and the Greco-Macedonians, with the latter serving as cultural agents. And it is true that inasmuch as the Macedonian rulers did not trust their eastern subjects to arm them as soldiers, recruits had to be brought from mainland Greece and Macedonia, and a large number of these did find their way into the East. And because of the tight competition among the Macedonian rulers in the East for these mercenaries, all manner of incentives had to be offered to them to entice them into service, among which was to provide them with a living environment to which they were accustomed. Hence, the many cities reputedly founded by the Greeks in strategic sites, aimed at providing dwellings to the liking of the Greeks, as well as serving as garrison towns keeping an eye on the activities of natives in the surrounding countryside. From a cultural point of view, the foundation of these cities should have introduced to the East the very hallmark of Greek civilization--the polis. Indeed, in their physical layout these poleis resembled their counterparts in Greece: they had their gymnasia, temples, fountains, library, theater, etc. They also had their own assembly of citizens and board of magistrate. However, officials who held the real power were appointees of the rulers, and the cities could not engage in foreign policy. Thus these newly founded poleis lacked the very quintessential feature of thepolis--independence in running their own affairs. Consequently, from a political point of view, the Greek cities in the East were empty shells of their counterparts in the mainland as they had existed in the classical period. Therefore, to suggest that these cities served as Greek cultural outposts in the East is stretching their significance beyond reason. But, more importantly, in the present context, if the significance of these cities is to be measured by their having served as cultural satellites from where Greek culture would radiate, it would be erroneous to assume they did. These cities were built for the Greeks and were occupied by the Greeks. The locals preferred the open countryside for their dwellings. This separation between the two people's which was obviously not conducive to cultural fusion, was also true in other spheres in the lives of the two peoples: the two sides continued to celebrate and pay respect to their respective gods; they lived by their respective systems of law; they shared no unified language, thought, or customs. The Greeks remained a minority and an elite class, so that where the two communities lived side by side -which was in principle limited to administrative centers, such as Babylon--there were the Greeks and the "others," enjoying different degrees of rights, with the "others" exercising inferior rights. And because the rulers were reluctant to fill posts with natives, the rift between Greeks and local people was not bridged.

This does not mean that there were no interactions resulting in cultural exchanges, but the impetus arose from the native side, first among the aristocracy, who were in constant contact with the conquerors and had the means to gain a Greek education, crucial for advancement since the higher levels of government were conducted in Greek. Some aspects of Greek culture were found to be attractive: some took pleasure in Greek literature and in various forms of Greek entertainment, Greek art being particularly appreciated. Outside of this minority of local nobility, one other group of Greeks and locals were brought together by their profession--craftsmen, who oftentimes worked together on the same project. On the whole, Greek culture did not displace the ancient Near Eastern cultures. It became an addition to the diverse mixture, creating a new synthesis, while many elements of Greek culture entered the common heritage and ceased to be recognized as foreign.

As noted at the outset of this essay, aspects of Greek culture had entered the East during the Persian period. However, when Alexander and his armies forced their way into the Persian Empire, they inadvertently provoked a conscious resistance to various aspects of that culture which the natives now saw as symbols of the conquerors, occupiers, and oppressors.


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Bury, J. B. The Ancient Greek Historians. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1958.

Dandamaev, M. A. A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, Trans. W. J. Vogelsang. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989.

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Mehdi Estakhr

Alabama State University


(1) Two exceptions are, R. Bulliet et al, The Earth and its Peoples: A. Craig, et al., The Heritage of World Civilizations.

(2) In the west, at the time of Darius, Persian garrisons were stationed in Macedonia and Thrace.

(3) That is, the civilizations of the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, the Nile, and the Greek city-states, initially the Ionians.

(4) At the end of the sixth century, the period of the largest expansion of the Achaemenids, the empire included more that eighty peoples (Dandamaev, 152).

(5) The Christian Lactantius was bemused at why the Greek wise men had sought the wisdom of the magi, but not that of the Jews--because they were not aware of them.

(6) Among the things Ezra brought with him was a codicil, known as the Pentateuch (the Laws of Moses, or the Torah) which was edited during the Babylonian captivity and which would form part of the Old Testament.

(7) M. A. Dandamaev, A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, 245-249.

(8) Frequently coinciding with ethnic borderlines.

(9) Born perhaps in the middle of the sixth century, Hecataeus traveled in Greek lands and on the shores of the Black Sea.

(10) J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians, 11-14.

(11) Bury, 13.

(12) Bury, 12.

(13) The former wrote a history of Persia up to the eve of Marathon. The other wrote a history of Persia up to the death of Darius, followed by his The Sequel to the Reign of Darius.

(14) Bury, 34.

(15) Bury, 23.

(16) Dandamaev, 158.

(17) Herodt. V 73. For this episode, see L. Orlin, "Athens and Persia ca. 507 B.C.: A Neglected Perspective" in L.L. Orlin (ed), Michigan Oriental Studies in Honor of G.G. Cameron, 255-266.

(18) Orlin, 264.

(19) Dandamaev, 158.

(20) Dandamaev, 160-161.

(21) Dandamaev, 168.

(22) They had also contributed to the failed Revolt.

(23) Dandamaev, 170.

(24) The Alcmeonids' sympathy for Persia caused their being accused publicly by the Athenians of siding with the enemy and with Hippias. It was alleged that they had arranged for Persia's friends in Athens to signal the Persians with a shield once they had taken control of the city (Dandamaev, 173, 175).

(25) Pericles' father-in-law, Callias, who, in 449 BCE negotiated the peace treaty between Persia and Athens which bears his name, was criticized for having given too many concessions to the Persians, and fined 50 talents, the same amount he was accused of having accepted as bribe from the Persians. At this time there were other friends and associates of Pericles who were officially accused of pro-Persian sympathies (Dandamaev, 254-55). Before the turn of the century, another prominent member of this clan, Alcibiades, having fled Sparta where he had been hatching plots against his own city Athens, entered the service of Tissaphernes, now inciting the Greek cities of Asia Minor to revolt against Athens.

(26) Dandamaev, 188.

(27) Dandamaev, 189-190.

(28) Dandamaev, 208-209.

(29) Dandamaev, 192.

(30) Dandamaev, 209.

(31) Dandamaev, 196,198, 201. The Thebans' friendship was not lost on the memory of the Persians: nearly a century later, in 386, in the discussions preceding the peace of Antalcidas/King's Peace, Artaxerxes recalled the old friendship of the Thebans to their ambassador.

(32) Dandamaev, 203.

(33) Dandamaev, 215-220.

(34) Dandamaev, 151.

(35) M. A. Dandamaev and V. G. Lukonin, The Cultural and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran, 296.

(36) Dandamaev, 235-236.

(37) Conon had saved some thirty ships after the Athenian disaster at Aegospotami and taken shelter in Cyprus.

(38) Dandamaev, 287-288.

(39) Dandamaev, 298.

(40) During the sixth century, the leading role in cultural and economic development in the Hellenic world was not played by the Greeks from the Balkan Peninsula, but by colonists (especially the Ionians). Just to give the most prominent examples, in Miletus, which was the most important city of Ionia, and where, the Greek alphabet might in fact have developed, there lived the eminent philosopher Anaximander; as did also the geographer and historian Hecataeus. The famous mathematician Pythagoras was born and lived part of his life on the island of Samos, which was also subject to the Persians. The "Father of History," Herodotus, was born at Halicarnassus, and before his emigration to mainland Greece, was subject to the Persian Empire.

(41) Dandamaev and Lukonin, 293.

(42) Dandamaev and Lukonin, 298-299.

(43) Dandamaev and Lukonin, 309-310.

(44) When Cambyses set out on his campaign against Egypt, many Greeks sided with him; some went as soldiers, others for trade, while still others wished to have a look at the country.

(45) Significantly, as a result of this bridge, for the first time Europe and Asia were united.

(46) Thus, Xerxes brought the sculpture of Harmodius and Aristogeiton from Athens to Susa, and the sculptor Telephanes from the island of Phocaea worked at the court of Darius I and Xerxes. (Plin., Nat. Hist., xxxiv, 68)

(47) Dandamaev and Lukonin, 294-295.

(48) Democedes of Croton was personal physician to Darius I; Apollonides of Cos was the personal physician of Artaxerxes I; while Ctesias of Cnidos and Polycritos of Mende were the physicians of Artaxerxes II (Dandamaev and Lukonin, 296).

(49) From the fifth century onwards, the Graecized cult of Adonis began to spread even beyond the borders of Phoenicia.

(50) Dandamaev and Lukonin, 313.

(51) Herodotus (I, 94) writes that the morals and manners of the Lydians were identical to those of the Greeks. Many Lydians had a good knowledge of the Greek language.

(52) Dandamaev and Lukonin, 299.

(53) They "imported both famous intellectuals and artists, and also unknown craftsmen--lapicides, die-engravers, mason, fortification-experts, and so on" (Hornblower, 333). They employed Greek doctors and medical writers, and extended hospitality to such renowned intellectuals as Eudoxos of Cnidos, the astronomer and mathematician (Hornblower, 336-337). On the coins issued by several satraps in Anatolia, the names of the satraps are in Greek. Greek influence is presented in some of the major architectural monuments, as well as on military architecture (Hornblower, 340-341). Another aspect of this hellenization process was the adoption of Greek proper names, and this was true not only in Caria but also in the interior later in the century (Hornblower, 346, 348). Other instances of Greek influence are the Carians "organizing themselves in Greek gentilician groupings ... and in their political behavior ... (:) their use of constitutional forms characteristic of the Greek polis, their striking of Greek coins, their adoption of Greek taxation methods" (Hornblower, 333).

(54) Herod, IX, 16.

(55) Plut. Pericl. 24.

(56) Curt. V,11, 5.

(57) Plut., Alex. 21.

(58) I follow Bickerman's assessment of Greek cultural impact on the Persian Near East in the Hellenistic Age.
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Author:Estakhr, Mehdi
Publication:World History Bulletin
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Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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