Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire, 525-332 BCE

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire, 525-332 BCE

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire, 525-332 BCE

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire, 525-332 BCE

Synopsis

Transcending ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries, early empires shaped thousands of years of world history. Yet despite the global prominence of empire, individual cases are often studied in isolation. This series seeks to change the terms of the debate by promoting cross-cultural, comparative, and transdisciplinary perspectives on imperial state formation prior to the European colonial expansion.

Excerpt

The Persian Empire looms large in sixth–fourth-century BCE Greek history.* In fact, it could be said that Persian-Greek conflicts frame this whole period and were responsible in broad terms for much of what happened in the Greek world between the 540s and 330s. The Persian king Cyrus’ conquest of the Lydians in western Anatolia brought Persian power all the way to the Aegean and subjected Asian Greek cities to Persian rule in the 540s. Then, reacting to Athens and Eretria’s involvement in the revolt of some of those cities in the early 490s, Persian armies pushed to the Greek mainland, initiating a decades-long Greek-Persian War. During this war, the Athenian-centered anti-Persian alliance system, termed the Delian League by modern scholars, took shape. League forces succeeded in expelling the Persians entirely from the Aegean and westernmost Anatolia. But the attendant growth of Athenian power provoked opposition on the Greek mainland and precipitated the prolonged Spartan-led war against Athens known as the Peloponnesian War (431–404). The Persians again assumed a critical role in Greek affairs in the latter stages of that war when in 412 Persian satraps (governors) in western Anatolia began subsidizing Sparta’s ultimately successful maritime efforts against Athens. Persian engagement in Greek affairs persisted after the Peloponnesian War as they warred with the Spartans, who at the end of the fifth century turned against the Persian king and supported Asian Greeks determined to remain free of imperial control. In part by fostering opposition to Sparta on the Greek mainland, the Persians prevailed, and in 387/6 the Persian king asserted his claim to Asian Greek cities and dictated a common peace to the Greek world as a whole. Now favored by the Persian king, the Spartans ended up pursuing their own interests too aggressively on the Greek mainland, inciting renewed hostilities. This led finally to Sparta’s defeat by Thebes and the end of Sparta’s dominant role in Greek affairs, but not to

* Henceforth, unless otherwise noted, all dates are BCE.

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