BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2022-06-01 We: I have long been fascinated by the Achaemenid Persian Empire of -550 to -320. And I have just finished a very good book: Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones: Persians: The Age of the Great Kings <https://www.amazon.com/dp/1472277287/>, about the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The book is chock-full of wonderfully fascinating facts, connections, and interpretations of what was going on in the Near East in the Achaemenid Persian age. I recommend it highly. Yet it has been a long time since I read a book in which the text so undermined the proclaimed moral point-of-view of the book. The proclaimed point-of-view is, basically, that Greeks have lied about the Persians—created a discourse of “Orientalism” designed to “represent… the ‘colonies’ and cultures of the Middle Eastern world in a way that would justify and support the West’s colonial enterprise…”. Greeks painted Persian as “a fantastical land of mystery, dark shadows, places of intrigue, despotic rulers, enslaved women, and wealth beyond imagination…”, a place of “decadence, luxury, and a certain backwardness of thought…” But this was “a European invention… of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences…”. It is time, he says, to move away from an invented “Oriental” landscape in which: The Great Kings are… lustful, capricious, mad tyrants, and the empire is regarded as an oppressive challenge to the Greek ideals of ‘freedom’ (whatever that meant)… the Persians… [are] cowardly, scheming, effeminate, vindictive, and dishonourable…. the epitome of barbarianismIt is time, he says, to present the “Persian Version” of history. But the problem is that the book then tells—credits—stories in which: the Persian Achaemenid Emperors are lustful and capricious (if not quite mad); the Persian Empire is an oppressive challenge to all who think that absolutist monarchy without any semblance of due process is a thing on the menu they would rather not order; and the Persians—at least the Persian élite—are scheming, vindictive, and dishonorable (if no more cowardly or effeminate than the standard). So I left the book thinking, rather, that more was at stake in the three battles of Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea than I had previously thought. I left the book thinking more strongly that each day was a good day in which the tide of absolute monarchy and casually murderous politics was pushed back by ideas of rule-of-law, due process, and obedience-to-the-laws-we-prescribe-to-ourselves. And I left the book thinking that when Llewellyn-Jones claims that:Nothing is reported of Xerxes, Artaxerxes III, Bagoas, or Parysatis which does not find ready parallels in well-attested information about Henry VIII, Ivan IV (the Terrible), or Wu Zetian…he is saying something that is (a) false, and (b) not to the point. To the extent that we want to proclaim ourselves adopted children of the Athenians, it is not because we see them as precursors of Henry VIII “The Six-Wived” Tudor or of Ivan IV “The Dreaded” Rurik.Now do not get me wrong. I do like and respect the achievements of the Achaemenid Empire. The Pax Persica was a wonderful thing for the Near East <https://delong.typepad.com/delong_long_form/2015/08/musings-on-thomas-malthus-the-hellenistic-age-the-loyal-spirit-great-kings-of-iran-550-330-bce-and-other-topics-the-hones.html>. The artisans and artists are stunning. Their view of a cosmopolitan world was far ahead of its time—even if it was only of a world ruled by one tribe, the Persians, and one dynasty, the Haxamanishya, and one guy in the dynasty, the emperor.Nevertheless, the story of the Achaemenid Empire as it comes down to us greatly reinforces the following lessons:There are great benefits to a government of limited powers that must follow procedures.There are great benefits to a society in which people have rights, and are not just all slaves of the Great King to be tortured and murdered at his pleasure, or just because he is having a bad day.“Freedom” is not just something to put in scare quotes and dismiss with a “whatever that meant”.The imperial Persian court was a shitshow.It was a shitshow from the moment that Darius I overthrew the legitimate Emperor Bardiya, and then claimed that he—Darius—(a) never lied, (b) was the Servant of Holy Truth, and that (c) the real Bardiya had actually been killed earlier by a shape-shifting magician.Perhaps it was a shitshow even before then…
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