Appearance and Handling: The discover shows the Chigi Vase painting, which shows opposing Archaic Hoplite phalanxes advancing into battle, underneath a Persian Faravahar Fravshi. The background is a rich aged turquoise field with flaked gold edging. A very attractive looking book, that is quite tough and able to take some abuse. Prone to usual atmospheric problems, overly cold and or warm rooms with affect the paper and make it wavy or bleached, especially true if left near a window on a cold day, so position your bookcases strategically! It took me about a week or just over that to cover this one volume, hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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The Persian invasions of mainland Greece in the early fifth century BC are the beginning of history as we understand that word. Seeking "to preserve the memory of the past" and also to understand how Greeks and Asiatics came into conflict, the ancient writer Herodotus deployed a technique he called historia: knowledge obtained through diligent inquiry. Herodotus, a native of Ionian Greece or what is now western Turkey, travelled the known world asking people what had occurred in the s and s and why.
The result was a story of pride, heroism and intrigue that gave first the Greeks, and then Europeans in general, a sense of special destiny. Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae were inspirations in the struggle for Greek independence from the Ottoman empire in the 19th century and, less creditably, for European domination of the near orient.
For the Iranians, national myth and Islamic history had submerged all memory of the achievements of Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius until European archaeologists and translations of Herodotus arrived at the turn of the 20th century. The Pahlavi monarchy that came to power in the s sought to revive ancient Persian glory as the Greek historians had known it. Patriotic Iranians named their sons Kourosh, Kambiz and Daryush. Tom Holland showed in Rubicon, his book on Julius Caeasar and his age, that he could master a complex and fast-moving narrative from ancient history and make it a pleasure for both general readers and the learned.
There is not nearly the same body of evidence for the Persian wars as there is for the breakdown of the Roman republic, but what there is is to die for. The playwright had fought at the decisive sea-battle of Salamis and the high point of the drama is a report of the battle from the Persian point of view. There are also Plutarch's lives of the chief Athenian statesmen, and his account of the Spartan system of government, written much later under the Roman empire.
From Iran, there are rock inscriptions of royal conquests above all at Bisitun in Kurdistan. The Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC with a mission, part bureaucratic, part religious, to bring good order and good government to creation.
Cyrus's successors extended the empire into Central Asia and Africa and beyond the Danube. That left the eastern Mediterranean as a field for expansion. There, the Phoenicians, allies of the Persians, had been for some time in competition with the traders and colonies of the Greeks. The immediate cause of the war was a revolt in the Greek cities of the Ionian coast in BC.
With the help of reinforcements from the mainland, the Greek rebels ejected their autocratic rulers and burned the Persian provincial capital of Sardis. The revolt was put down, but in the Persians launched a punitive expedition that resulted in defeat at Marathon. Ten years later Xerxes, the Persian king, launched a coordinated invasion by land and sea. The Greeks deployed their army and fleet at linked positions at Thermopylae and Artemisium. Storms and battle inflicted heavy losses on the Persian fleet, but the force at Thermopylae was outflanked.
After three days of intense fighting, the rearguard of Spartans under their king, Leonidas, was wiped out. Under the strategic direction of Themistocles, Athens was deliberately abandoned to the Persians. Instead, the Athenians and their allies provoked a sea-fight in the narrows at Salamis where the immense Persian and Phoenician fleet could not exploit its numbers.
Xerxes withdrew to Asia and the following year his army was routed by the Spartans. Having expelled the Persians from the mainland, the Greeks counter-attacked and eventually, under Alexander the Great in the next century, captured the Persian empire in a piece. All the ancient sources are partial, with a bias towards Athens even in Herodotus, but Holland succeeds in writing an account that is clear and uncluttered.
His technique is to present his narrative as an uncontested succession of events, and leave the evaluation of sources and the scholarly reservations to notes. He likes to cut and splice Herodotus's account when the chronology doesn't suit his narrative purposes, but he explains what he is doing and the effect is often fresh and interesting.
The exception is at Salamis, which is a very hard battle to understand, and even harder when Holland introduces a complex Persian night manoeuvre that doesn't appear to be in any ancient source at all. Similarly, the evacuation of Athens is full of anachronistic detail. But some of the set pieces, such as the charge of the Athenian heavy infantry at Marathon and the Persian army crossing the bridge of boats strung across the Dardanelles, are thrilling.
There is one disreputable passage. The constitution of Sparta, with its severe military communism, has been a source of fascination right up to the 18th century and was encrusted with myths. Holland claims that unmarried Spartan women were routinely sodomised. In the notes, he admits "only fair" that the earliest source for this unlikely claim dates from some six centuries after the Persian wars. Then he repeats the allegation in the text as fact. Holland pays his dues to the clash-of-civilisations claptrap but is more inclined, like Herodotus, to "record the astonishing achievements of both our own and the Asiatic peoples".
All the chief sources show that Persia was not some alien entity at moral war with Greece but deeply intertwined in the politics of the mainland cities. Even Themistocles ended his days a servant of Persia. For the Spartan subject races, known as helots, Persian rule would have felt like the sweetest liberty. What happened is that the victories gave the ancient Greeks a sense of superiority over easterners which their modern epigones in Europe and America, who did not carry a shield at Marathon, nevertheless seek to enjoy.
Turn autoplay off Turn autoplay on. Jump to content [s] Jump to site navigation  Jump to search  Terms and conditions . Culture Books. Ancient and modern Tom Holland provides a fascinating insight into Europe's development in Persian Fire, an account of the empire founded by Cyrus the Great, says James Buchan.
James Buchan. Today in pictures. BBC Sports Personality of the Year — in pictures Bradley Wiggins capped his remarkable sporting year by taking home the big prize at the ceremony in London. A glass of wine with a rough sleeper, Santa in trunks, a thousand partying Muscovites … in a My Best Shot special, top photographers pick the image that sums up winter for them.
Kimon, an eight-year-old pet female long-tailed monkey, treats a kitten as her baby in Bintan Island, Indonesia. All rights reserved.
Persian Fire : The First World Empire, Battle for the West
The Persian invasions of mainland Greece in the early fifth century BC are the beginning of history as we understand that word. Seeking "to preserve the memory of the past" and also to understand how Greeks and Asiatics came into conflict, the ancient writer Herodotus deployed a technique he called historia: knowledge obtained through diligent inquiry. Herodotus, a native of Ionian Greece or what is now western Turkey, travelled the known world asking people what had occurred in the s and s and why. The result was a story of pride, heroism and intrigue that gave first the Greeks, and then Europeans in general, a sense of special destiny. Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae were inspirations in the struggle for Greek independence from the Ottoman empire in the 19th century and, less creditably, for European domination of the near orient.
Book Review: Persian Fire by Tom Holland.
Its success should have been a formality. For seventy years, victory - rapid, spectacular victory - had seemed the birthright of the Persian Empire. In the space of a single generation, they had swept across the Near East, shattering ancient kingdoms, storming famous cities, putting together an empire which stretched from India to the shores of the Aegean. As a result of those conquests, Xerxes ruled as the most powerful man on the planet. Yet somehow, astonishingly, against the largest expeditionary force ever assembled, the Greeks of the mainland managed to hold out.