From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire

From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire

by Pierre Briant

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Around 550 B.C.E. the Persian people—who were previously practically unknown in the annals of history—emerged from their base in southern Iran (Fars) and engaged in a monumental adventure that, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great and his successors, culminated in the creation of an immense Empire that stretched from central Asia to Upper Egypt, from the Indus to the Danube. The Persian (or Achaemenid, named for its reigning dynasty) Empire assimilated an astonishing diversity of lands, peoples, languages, and cultures. This conquest of Near Eastern lands completely altered the history of the world: for the first time, a monolithic State as vast as the future Roman Empire arose, expanded, and matured in the course of more than two centuries (530–330) and endured until the death of Alexander the Great (323), who from a geopolitical perspective was “the last of the Achaemenids.” Even today, the remains of the Empire-the terraces, palaces, reliefs, paintings, and enameled bricks of Pasargadae, Persepolis, and Susa; the impressive royal tombs of Naqsh-i Rustam; the monumental statue of Darius the Great-serve to remind visitors of the power and unprecedented luxury of the Great Kings and their loyal courtiers (the “Faithful Ones”).

Though long eclipsed and overshadowed by the towering prestige of the “ancient Orient” and “eternal Greece,” Achaemenid history has emerged into fresh light during the last two decades. Freed from the tattered rags of “Oriental decadence” and “Asiatic stagnation,” research has also benefited from a continually growing number of discoveries that have provided important new evidence-including texts, as well as archaeological, numismatic, and iconographic artifacts.

The evidence that this book assembles is voluminous and diverse: the citations of ancient documents and of the archaeological evidence permit the reader to follow the author in his role as a historian who, across space and time, attempts to understand how such an Empire emerged, developed, and faded. Though firmly grounded in the evidence, the author’s discussions do not avoid persistent questions and regularly engages divergent interpretations and alternative hypotheses. This book is without precedent or equivalent, and also offers an exhaustive bibliography and thorough indexes.

The French publication of this magisterial work in 1996 was acclaimed in newspapers and literary journals. Now Histoire de l’Empire Perse: De Cyrus a Alexandre is translated in its entirety in a revised edition, with the author himself reviewing the translation, correcting the original edition, and adding new documentation.

Pierre Briant, Chaire Histoire et civilisation du monde achémenide et de l’empire d’Alexandre, Collège de France, is a specialist in the history of the Near East during the era of the Persian Empire and the conquests of Alexander. He is the author of numerous books.

Peter T. Daniels, the translator, is an independent scholar, editor, and translator who studied at Cornell University and the University of Chicago. He lives and works in New York City.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781575060316
Publisher: Penn State University Press
Publication date: 06/30/2002
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 1216
Sales rank: 502,127
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 2.30(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface to the English Translation

Translator’s Preface

Introduction: On the Trail of an Empire

1. Was There an Achaemenid Empire?

2. From Alexander to Cyrus and Back Again: Fragments of ego-histoire

3. The Historian and His Evidence

4. Space and Time

To the Reader


Prologue: The Persians before the Empire

1. Why Cyrus?

2. The Founder Legends

3. The Kings of Ansan

4. Ansan and Susa

5. Persian Society before the Conquests: Herodotus and Archaeology

6. Ansan, Ecbatana, Babylon, and Susa

7. From the Medes to the Persians

8. Conclusion

Part 1: The Empire-Builders: From Cyrus to Darius

Chapter 1. The Land-Collectors: Cyrus the Great and Cambyses (559-522)

1. Medo-Persian Hostilities, the Defeat of Astyages, and the Fall of Ecbatana (553-550)

2. The New International Situation and Cyrus’s Projects

3. The Defeat of Croesus and the Establishment of a Mediterranean Front

4. Cyrus in Central Asia

5. The Capture of Babylon (539)

6. Cyrus, Trans-Euphrates, and Egypt

7. From Cyrus to Cambyses

8. The Egyptian Campaign (525-522)

9. Cambyses and the Egyptian Traditions

Chapter 2. The Conquest and After: An Interim Summary

1. From Cyrus to Darius: Sources and Problems

2. Satraps and Satrapies

3. Tributes and Gifts

4. Continuities and Adaptations: The Case of Babylonia

5. From Bactra to Sardis

6. Persians and Conquered Populations

7. The Seats of Power

8. Royalty and Authority

9. The King and the Gods

10. Bardiya’s Usurpation (522)

Chapter 3. Trouble, Secession, and Rebuilding (522-518)

1. Darius Comes to Power (522)

2. Revolts and Reconquests (522-518)

3. The Aftermath of Victory: The Official Story

4. Darius and the Six

5. Summary and Perspectives

Chapter 4. Darius the Conqueror (520-486)

1. The Pursuit of Territorial Expansion (520-513)

2. The Persians in Europe

3. The Ionian Revolt (500-493)

4. From Thrace to Memphis (492-486)

Part 2: The Great King

Chapter 5. Images of the World

1. The Builder-King

2. The King and His Peoples: Inscriptions and Iconography

3. An Idealized Image of Space and Imperial Power

4. Images and Realities: The King among His Peoples

5. Images and Realities: The Imperial Festivals

6. Royal Table and Royal Paradise: Exaltation of the Center and Appropriation of Space

Chapter 6. Representations of Royalty and Monarchic Ideology

1. Sources and Problems

2. The Prince in His Own Mirror

3. The King in Majesty

4. The Good Warrior

5. The King, the Earth, and the Water

6. Between Men and Gods

Chapter 7. People and Life at Court

1. Sources and Problems

2. Household Staff

3. The Eunuchs

4. The Women’s Side

5. At the Great King’s Table

6. The Royal Hunts

7. Royal Pomp

Chapter 8. The King’s Men

1. The Giving King

2. Unequal Exchange

3. The King and His Faithful: The Rationale of the System

4. The King and His Faithful: The Dynamic of the Contradictions

5. King and Satraps

6. The King and His Faithful: The Persians, the Greeks, and the Others

7. Achaemenid Royalty and Persian Aristocracy

Part 3: Territories, Populations, and the Dependent Economy

Chapter 9. Territories, Communication, and Trade

1. The Network of Roads

2. Control of the Imperial Territory

3. Lines of Communication and Trade

Chapter 10. Royal Assessments and Tribute

1. Sources and Problems

2. Satrapies and Tributes

3. Gifts and Tribute

4. Tributes, Gifts, and Assessments

5. Payments of Tribute: Metal and Coin

6. The Administration of Tribute: Continuities and Adaptations

7. Tribute Economy and Appropriation: Royal Land and Tribute Land

Chapter 11. Persia: Empire and Tribute Economy

1. The Persepolis Archives

2. Administrative Hierarchy and Organization of Production

3. The World of Work: The kurtas

4. Agriculture: Produce and Levies

5. Lands and Estates

6. The Persepolis Tablets and the Imperial Administration: Sources and Problems

7. The Management of Property and the Royal Warehouses in Egypt

8. Management of Surpluses

9. Lands and Peasants

10. The King’s House

11. Transition

Chapter 12. The King of the Lands

1. Darius and Egypt

2. Babylonia under Darius

3. Trans-Euphrates

4. From Jerusalem to Magnesia on the Meander

5. Western Asia Minor: Cities, Dynasts, and Empire after the Ionian Revolt

6. Population Resettlement and Deportation

7. Unity and Diversity

Part 4: From Xerxes to Darius III: An Empire in Turmoil

Chapter 13. Xerxes the Great King (486-465)

1. Sources and Problems

2. From Darius to Xerxes

3. From Sardis to Sardis (480)

4. Xerxes between Two Fronts (480-479)

5. The Persian Defeat: Its Causes and Consequences

6. Xerxes and His Peoples

7. Xerxes, Ahura-Mazda, and Persia

8. Athenian Offensives and Royal Territories (478-466)

9. Xerxes’ Western Strategy

10. From Xerxes to Artaxerxes

11. An Assessment

Chapter 14. From the Accession of Artaxerxes I to the Death of Darius II (465-405/404)

1. One King after Another (465)

2. The Egyptian Revolt (ca-454)

3. Trans-Euphrates Matters

4. The Asia Minor - Eastern Aegean Front

5. Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem

6. One King after Another (425-424)

7. Affairs on the Western Front

8. The Great King in His Countries

Chapter 15. Artaxerxes II (405/404-359/358) and Artaxerxes III (359/358-338)

1. The Reign of Artaxerxes II: Sources and Problems

2. The War of the Two Brothers (404-401)

3. Artaxerxes the Victor

4. Conditions in Asia Minor and Artaxerxes II’s Strategy (400-396)

5. Agesilaus in Asia Minor (396-394)

6. Achaemenid Successes and Failures: From Asia Minor to Egypt (ca - ca)

7. Artaxerxes II, His Satraps, and His Peoples (ca-359/358)

8. At the Heart of Power

9. The Wars of Artaxerxes III (351-338)

Part 5: The Fourth Century and the Empire of Darius III in the Achaemenid longue durée: A Prospective Assessment

Chapter 16. Lands, Peoples, and Satrapies: Taking Stock of the Achaemenid World

Introduction: In the Steps of Alexander and on the Trail of Darius

1. Sources and Problems

2. The Satrapy of Dascylium

3. From Sardis to Ephesus

4. From Celaenae to Halicarnassus

5. Pixodarus at Xanthus

6. From Tarsus to Mazaca

7. From Tarsus to Samaria via Sidon and Jerusalem

8. From Gaza to Petra

9. Egypt from Artaxerxes III to Darius III

10. From Arbela to Susa

11. The Great King, Alexander, and the Peoples of the Zagros Mountains

12. Persepolis, Pasargadae, and Persia

13. From Persepolis to Ecbatana

14. From Ecbatana to the Halys

15. From Ecbatana to Cyropolis

16. From the Punjab to the Indus Delta

17. From Pattala to Susa and Babylon: The Persians and the Persian Gulf

18. An Appraisal and Some Questions

Chapter 17. The Great King, His Armies, and His Treasures

1. The Accession of Darius III

2. The Great King and the Persian Aristocracy

3. The Royal Armies

4. Subject Populations and Tribute Economy

5. Transition

Part 6: The Fall of an Empire (336-330)

Chapter 18. Darius and the Empire Confront Macedonian Aggression

1. Territories, Armies, and Strategies

2. Darius and His Faithful

3. The Local Elites, Darius, and Alexander: Popularity and Unpopularity of Achaemenid Dominion

4. The Death of a Great King (330)

5. The Fall of an Empire

Conclusion: From Nabonidus to Seleucus

Research Notes

List of Abbreviations



Index of Sources

Index of Personal Names

Index of Divine Names

Index of Geographical Names

Index of Ancient Words

Index of Topics 1180

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