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Writing Ancient Persia

The history of the Achaemenid Persian empire has been largely rewritten in the last thirty years by an international group of scholars, inspired partly by new sources of information, but also by a concerted attempt to look at Ancient Persia in its own terms, rather than through the lens of neighbouring societies, and to excise the pejorative bias of the Greek sources. This essay is a critique of this new Achaemenid historiography, concentrating on the difficulties of using Greek sources for the writing of Persian history. It argues that the excising of Greek bias should be seen to be, if possible at all, a much more complex procedure. It then examines two themes in more detail: the representation of the Kings and Queens (in Greek sources and in recent histories of Persia), and the accounts given of the Persian Wars and the conquests of Alexander. It concludes with an analysis of past versions of Persian history, suggesting that there is a much greater degree of continuity between earlier accounts of Persia (often derided as narrowly Hellenocentric or orientalist) and those of the new Achaemenid historiography.
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About the Author

Thomas Harrison is Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology, University of Liverpool.


Harrison (ancient history and classical archeology, U. of Liverpool) examines how histories of the Achaemedid Persian empire have been, are being, and might be written. He is a historian of Greece not Persia, he explains, but most of the sources for the period are Greek, though he actually focuses here on the earlier part of the period, for which Persian sources are more plentiful and only Herodotus' provide a Greek perspective.

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