The Greeks and Persia

Stronk, Jan P. 2020. The Greeks and Persia. Talanta 52, 71-87.

Plain of Marathon, with some key features (source: Google Earth).

Lack of data has always been one of the main issues in studying antiquity, a theme that on the one hand distinguishes students of antiquity from other scholars, but on the other hand, ideally, should ensure a bond between ‘Altertumswissenschaftler’ all over the world. Nevertheless, there have risen several divisions in this field of scholarship, especially influenced by nineteenth-century authors. Apart from that, there is at present a shocking gap between scholarship and the greater public (and, consequently, public awareness of the relevance of scholarly activities). At present, new roads have been opened in the past twenty to thirty years that may enable us to find new possibilities for research, and might help us to bridge existing differences. The title of my paper is based upon that of the book by A.R.Burn (1962). Like he did, I shall try to make clear what connects – in my case – ancient Greek authors and Persian history.

From the abstract

Der ‚reiche Orient‘: Imagination und Faszination

Thomas, Louisa. 2021. Der ‚reiche Orient‘: Imagination und Faszination. Darstellungen des asiatischen Wohlstandes in griechischen Quellen des 5. und 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. (Classica et Orientalia, 2). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Noch heute dominiert in Europa ein sehr einseitiges und mit Klischees des ‚Andersseins‘ behaftetes Bild des Nahen Ostens. Besonders manifestiert sich dieses in Literatur, Kunst und Film, doch auch auf politischer und gesellschaftlicher Ebene ist es von festgefahrenen Erwartungen geprägt. Die Ursprünge dieser Erwartungen sind besonders in der griechischen Historiographie des 5. und 4. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. anzusiedeln, einer Zeit, die durch die sogenannten Perserkriege sowie den Asienfeldzug Alexanders III. von Makedonien (des Großen) in besonderem Maße von Auseinandersetzungen zwischen der griechischen Welt und dem persischen Großreich geprägt war.

Die Autorin widmet sich vor allem einer der zahllosen stereotypen Erwartungen an die Reiche des Alten Orients und deren Herrschern: der Vorstellung des Wohlstands und der Opulenz. In diesem Zusammenhang gilt ihr besonderes Augenmerk der mit verschiedenen Topoi versehenen Darstellung des ‚orientalischen Reichtums‘ in den Quellen. Dabei arbeitet sie heraus, inwiefern die griechische Historiographie sich den ‚Orient‘ im Zuge eines hellenischen bzw. athenischen Reichtums- und Luxusdiskurses zu Nutze machte, wie sie das Stereotyp des ‚orientalischen Wohlstandes‘ wirkmächtig propagierte und schließlich sogar als Aufforderung zum Beutekrieg nutzbar machte.

For the ToC, see here.


Taxation in the Achaemenid Empire

Kleber, Kristin (ed.). 20201. Taxation in the Achaemenid Empire (Classica et Orientalia, 26). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Achaemenid Studies fall between the academic divisions of Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Archeology, Ancient History, Classical Philology, Egyptology and Semitic Languages. No single scholar can cover the many cultures that were united under the umbrella of this huge empire alone and in-depth. Interdisciplinary approaches are a necessity in order to tackle the challenges that the diverse textual records in Akkadian, Demotic Egyptian, Elamite, Aramaic and Greek present us with.

This volume, the proceedings of a conference on taxation and fiscal administration in the Achaemenid Empire held in Amsterdam in 2018, contains contributions on Babylonia, Egypt, the Levant, Asia Minor and Arachosia, written by specialists in the respective languages and cultures. The question that lies at the basis of this volume is how the empire collected revenue from the satrapies, whether and how local institutions were harnessed to make imperial rule successful. The contributions investigate what kind of taxes were imposed in what area and how tax collection was organized and administered. Since we lack imperial state archives, local records are the more important, as they are our only reliable source that allows us to move beyond the famous but unverifiable statement on Achaemenid state finances in Herodotus, Histories 3, 89–97.

For table of contents, see here.


A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire

Jacobs, Bruno & Robert Rollinger (eds.). 2021. A companion to the Achaemenid Persian empire. 2 vols. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

The Achaemenid Empire is often addressed as the first World Empire. However, its roots are in Near Eastern traditions, some of which have been the subject of recent intensive reevaluation. This book takes a unique and innovative approach to the subject, considering those predecessors to whom the Achaemenid Empire was indebted for its structure, ideology, and self-expression, by examining both written and archaeological sources. It addresses the empire’s legacy, and its contemporary, later, and even modern reception.

A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire takes into account all relevant historical sources, including archaeological ones. It places particular emphasis on looking at the Achaemenid Empire from its different centers, paying just as much attention to the widely neglected eastern parts as to the commonly covered western parts of the empire. The book considers, not only its political history, but also its social, economic, and religious history, institutions, and art and science, in an effort to draw a complete picture of the empire and to foster an appreciation for its lasting reputation.


Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History (vol. 8)

Volume 8 of Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History (2021) is just published. This is a special issue entitled “Scholars, Priests, and Temples: Babylonian and Egyptian Science in Context.” It consists a handful of papers falling in the scope of ancient Iran.

These papers are:

  • Philippe Clancier, Damien Agut: Charming Snakes (and Kings), from Egypt to Persia
  • Johannes Hackl, Joachim Oelsner: The Descendants of the Sîn-lēqi-unnīnī during the Late Achaemenid and Early Hellenistic Periods – A Family of Priests, Scribes and Scholars and Their Archival and Learned Texts
  • Caroline Waerzeggers: Writing History Under Empire: The Babylonian Chronicle Reconsidered

The last paper is open access.


The City of Babylon

Dalley, Stephanie. 2021. The City of Babylon: A History, c. 2000 BC – AD 116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The 2000-year story of Babylon sees it moving from a city-state to the centre of a great empire of the ancient world. It remained a centre of kingship under the empires of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids and the Parthians. Its city walls were declared to be a Wonder of the World while its ziggurat won fame as the Tower of Babel. Visitors to Berlin can admire its Ishtar Gate, and the supposed location of its elusive Hanging Garden is explained. Worship of its patron god Marduk spread widely while its well-trained scholars communicated legal, administrative and literary works throughout the ancient world, some of which provide a backdrop to Old Testament and Hittite texts. Its science also laid the foundations for Greek and Arab astronomy through a millennium of continuous astronomical observations. This accessible and up-to-date account is by one of the world’s leading authorities.


Festschrift for Rüdiger Schmitt

Luther, Andreas, Hilmar Klinkott & Josef Wiesehöfer (eds.). 2021. Beiträge zur Geschichte und Kultur des alten Iran und benachbarter Gebiete Festschrift für Rüdiger Schmitt (Oriens et Occidens, 36). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Die wissenschaftlichen Arbeiten des Indogermanisten und Iranisten Rüdiger Schmitt sind nicht allein für die Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft wegweisend, sondern auch für die historische und orientalistische Forschung. Seine Veröffentlichungen bezeugen eindrucksvoll die große Breite seiner Interessen, aber auch sein Anliegen, Forschungsfelder neu zu erschließen.

Die Autorinnen und Autoren ehren Schmitt in dieser Festschrift mit Beiträgen zur Geschichte und der Kultur des iranischen Raumes und angrenzender Gebiete: der chronologische Rahmen spannt einen Bogen von der altorientalischen Zeit bis ins frühe Mittelalter. Ein inhaltlicher Schwerpunkt liegt auf der Geschichte des Achaimenidenreiches (550–330 v. Chr.), den Herrscher- und Herrschaftsvorstellungen der Perserkönige, der iranischen Religionsgeschichte und den politischen und kulturellen Kontakten zwischen den Iranern und ihren Nachbarn, vornehmlich den Griechen und Römern.


Religion, Culture, and Politics in Pre-Islamic Iran

Lincoln, Bruce. 2021. Religion, culture, and politics in pre-Islamic Iran: collected essays (Ancient Iran Series 14). Leiden; Boston: Brill.

In Religion, Culture, and Politics in Pre-Islamic Iran, Bruce Lincoln offers a vast overview on different aspects of the Indo-Iranian, Zoroastrian and Pre-Islamic mythologies, religions and cultural issues. The book is organized in four sections according to the body of evidence they engage most directly: Avestan, Old Persian, Pahlavi, and Iranian materials in comparison with other data, including studies of myths, especially those with cosmogonic implications, ritual practices, cosmological constructions of space and time, points of intersection between religion, ethics, law, and politics, ideological aspects of scientific and medical theorizing, social organization and gender relations, and other diverse topics.


End of History and the Last King

Janzen, David. 2021. End of History and the Last King: Achaemenid Ideology and Community Identity in Ezra-Nehemiah. London & New York: Bloomsbury.

This book examines community identity in the post-exilic temple community in Ezra-Nehemiah, and explores the possible influences that the Achaemenids, the ruling Persian dynasty, might have had on its construction. In the book, David Janzen reads Ezra-Nehemiah in dialogue with the Achaemenids’ Old Persian inscriptions, as well as with other media the dynasty used, such as reliefs, seals, coins, architecture, and imperial parks. In addition, he discusses the cultural and religious background of Achaemenid thought, especially its intersections with Zoroastrian beliefs.

Ezra-Nehemiah, Janzen argues, accepts Achaemenid claims for the necessity and beneficence of their hegemony. The result is that Ezra-Nehemiah, like the imperial ideology it mimics, claims that divine and royal wills are entirely aligned. Ezra-Nehemiah reflects the Achaemenid assertion that the peoples they have colonized are incapable of living in peace and happiness without the Persian rule that God established to benefit humanity, and that the dynasty rewards the peoples who do what they desire, since that reflects divine desire.

The final chapter of the book argues that Ezra-Nehemiah was produced by an elite group within the Persian-period temple assembly, and shows that Ezra-Nehemiah’s pro-Achaemenid worldview was not widely accepted within that community.


Ramat Raḥel VI: The Babylonian-Persian Pit

Lipschits, Oded, Liora Freud, Manfred Oeming, and Yuval Gadot. 2021. Ramat Raḥel VI: The Renewed Excavations by the Tel Aviv–Heidelberg Expedition (2005–2010). The Babylonian-Persian Pit. Pennsylvania: Eisenbrauns.

This is part of a three-volume final report of the renewed excavations at Ramat Raḥel by the Tel Aviv–Heidelberg Expedition (2005−2010). It presents the finds from the Babylonian-Persian pit, one of the most dramatic find-spots at Ramat Raḥel. The pit yielded a rich assemblage of pottery vessels and yhwd, lion, and sixth-century “private” stamp impressions, including, for the first time, complete restored stamped jars, jars bearing two handles stamped with different yhwd impressions, and jars bearing both lion and “private” stamp impressions on their bodies. Residue analysis was conducted on many of the vessels excavated from the pit to analyze their contents, yielding surprising results. The finds contribute to our understanding of the pottery of the Babylonian and early Persian periods (6th−5th centuries BCE) and to the study of the development of the stamped-jar administration in the province of Yehud under Babylonian and Persian rule.