King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE

King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE

King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE

King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE

Synopsis

The first Persian Empire (559--331 B.C.E.) was the largest land empire the world had yet seen, and at the heart of its vast dominions, in the south of modern-day Iran, was the person of the Great King. Hidden behind the walls of his vast palace, surrounded by the complex rituals of court ceremony, the Persian monarch was the undisputed master of his realm, a god-like figure inspiring awe, majesty, and mystery. Yet the Great King's court was no mere platform for meaningless theatrical display. Presentation mattered, and nobles vied for position and prestige while the royal family struggled to fend off the threat of various successions, conflicts, murders, and usurpations. This book not only treats the court as the center of political decision-making in early Persia, it also recognizes its vast contribution to cultural expression.

Excerpt

This is a very welcome addition to Debates and Documents, broadening the series’ scope to encompass ancient Greece’s most influential neighbour and rival, Achaemenid Persia. Founded around 559 BCE by Cyrus the Great, the Persian Empire quickly expanded to cover an area roughly equivalent to modern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Afghanistan, extending south to include Egypt. A highly developed administrative system, as well as military strength, ensured the Achaemenid’s dominance over this vast empire for over 200 years, until its conquest by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE.

Achaemenid Persia was immensely influential in Greek political affairs and more broadly on Greek culture; conquest by Persia effectively brought to an end 2,500 years of pharaonic rule in Egypt; and under Achaemenid governance the Jews returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem. Such intersections with other ancient cultures provide a way into the study of Achaemenid Persia for many, but in recent years there has been increasing scholarly interest in Persian history for its own sake. The focus of this volume is on the king and royal court, the political and symbolic centre of Achaemenid culture, covering all its elements, from personnel and social organisation, political intrigue, and fierce struggles over succession, to the practicalities of the court’s regular travels around the Empire.

As well as being a new area of study for many, Achaemenid Persia is particularly suitable for the Debates series because of a key methodological difficulty: much of our information has traditionally come via Greek writers, with varying degrees of knowledge of their subject, and with strong biases to distort the picture they present. Increasingly, however, the significance of other ancient texts has been recognised and material evidence from Persia itself has become available . . .

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