This book discusses Greek attitudes towards the royal women of the Achaemenid court ( 559-331 BC). It also attempts to look at the position of royal and non-royal women from a Near Eastern viewpoint by examining the evidence of the Fortification texts from Persepolis and Neo-Babylonian texts.
Our understanding of the women at the Achaemenid court depends largely on the information we gain from Herodotus and later Greek historical writers, confined for the most part to sporadic glimpses of deeds ascribed to individual females who belonged to the Persian royal household. Scanty as the evidence appears, it has led to generalizations about royal women that beneath their surface lack any substantial foundation. The stories that were remembered and finally found their way into written records were those which were particularly sensational, such as those describing the outlandish behaviour of royal women. In part this sensationalism was politically motivated by the antagonistic relationship between Greece and Persia. But it was fed also by the contrast between the behaviour of Persian royal women and that of Greek women ( Momigliano 1984: 69). A third factor, too, played a role in the selection of stories. Stories about Persian royal women were often structured to fit a historiographic and narrative pattern, and women were given a specific function within the story. It is very striking that in the majority of stories these women appear cruel, violent, and revengeful. They instigate intrigues and are the cause of upheavals and revolts. Royal women such as Atossa, Amestris, and Parysatis are described by Greek historians as powerful queens who exercised considerable influence on the king (Hdt. 7. 3. 4; Ctesias, FGrH 688 F15 (49)). The sheer number of the concubines of the Great King, 300 according to Heracleides of Kyme ( FGrH 689 F1) and 360 according to Diodorus (DS 17. 77. 6), was proof of the king's extravagant lifestyle as well as of the dominant role