The following is the first of series of posts about the Ancient Persian Empire as summarized in the following book:
Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia, eds. John Curtis and Nigel Tallis. Berkeley Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005.
Forgotten Empire is named after an exhibition of the British Museum accomplished with the cooperation of the National Museum of Iran and therefore not only incorporates the contributions of a host of scholars, historians, archeologists, and museum directors, but also features hundreds of color photos of artifacts of some of the wonders of ancient Persia. With each contributor focusing on a different aspect of the famous Achaemenid empire, each chapter is independent, leaving the reader with the option of exploring the chapters in whatever order she prefers. Not only this, but every chapter is furnished with a multitude of visual illustrations from maps, artifacts, and reconstructive sketches. The experience is like walking through a museum with expert scholars giving live commentary; this book has all the perks one could ask for in a treatment of Ancient Persia. Because it would not be possible to summarize each chapter individually in this short review, I will focus on content from the book that I found most interesting.
It appears to be part of the conscious agenda of the various contributors to correct false impressions about ancient Persia by recognizing that the perspective of the Greeks—particularly Herodotus’ writings—about the ancient Persians was not only limited but also bias, as most ancient historians were.
Ancient Persia is perhaps best remembered in the west for its war with Greece and for the later invasion by Alexander of Macedon in 334-330 bc, culminating in the gratuitous destruction of Persepolis. For the Persians, however, the Graeco-Persian Wars were probably little more than a troublesome frontier skirmish that took place nearly 2,000 miles away from Persepolis, and native Iranian sources are largely silent on this question. Instead, our information about the wars and about much else in connection with the ancient Persians comes from Greek authors such as Herodotus. These accounts are inevitably written from a Greek rather than a Persian perspective, and it is because of them that the conflict is often represented as a contest between freedom and democracy on the one hand, and tyranny and despotism on the other. One of the aims of the exhibition will be to redress this negative Eurocentric view of the ancient Persians (9).
In our next post, we will begin to summarize the history of the Persian Empire.