6AACHI16 Persia & the Achaemenid Empire
Credit value: 30
Assessment pattern for Graduate Diploma students
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Lindsay Allen
Teaching pattern: 20 x 2-hour class (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x essay (4,000 words total) (50%); 1 x 3 hour exam (50%)
Assessment: 3 x 3,000-word essay (100%, essays worth 1/3 each)
The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.
This module gives an introduction to the Persian Empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean to India during the sixth, fifth and fourth centuries BC. Kings of Persia loomed large on the horizon of the Classical world: Xerxes invaded the Greek mainland in the fifth century BC. The empire broke up after the invasion of Alexander the Great a hundred and fifty years later. In this module, we examine notable events, such as the empire’s foundation by Cyrus the Great, the Graeco-Persian wars, and Alexander’s invasion. We also consider the considerable cultural impact of this unprecedentedly interconnected political world, which linked Samarkand in the East to Halicarnassus in the West.
We pay particular attention to contemporary Greek authors who wrote about Persia, principally Herodotus and Xenophon. We also look (in translation) at a variety of texts in the key languages in use in the empire, such as Aramaic letters, Elamite orders, Babylonian chronicles and royal inscriptions. Also important is the striking visual culture generated by the Persian court, which influenced even luxury goods in Athens by the late fifth century. We explore the Persian palaces of Persepolis and Susa, fragments of which may be experienced directly the Iran gallery at the British Museum. The module concludes with opportunities to assess the ways in which ancient Persia has been imagined in antiquity, and in the early modern and modern world, through travel literature, fiction, art and film.
Suggested introductory reading
This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.
- Prepare for the module by reading Herodotus Histories, particularly Bks 1 and 3. Further highlights will be recommended during term.
- Xenophon Anabasis Bk 1
- Other sources may be read in translation in The Persian Empire: a corpus of sources (Kuhrt, 2007), particularly the Cyrus Cylinder, and the Bisitun Inscription.
- For a later Greek account of early fourth-century Persia, see Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes.
- Extracts from these and other selected sources, including some of the Alexander historians, will be set for comment in the exam (all will have been provided for discussion within seminars).
- The Persian Empire (Allen, 2005) provides an illustrated introduction to the period.