Lost Civilizations: The Persians
Geoffrey Parker and Brenda Parker
Reaktion Books
208 pages
106 maps, 41 colour and 10 black-and-white illustrations, 2 maps
Hardback, £15

The second in the Lost Civilizations series from Reaktion Book (the first was Andrew Robinson's The Indus) The Persians is also a compact, concise history of a whole civilisation – from its nomadic origins in the 1st and 2nd millennia BC to its new role as a tourist destination as modern-day Iran.

Shaped by climate, geographical position and being viewed by Europe as 'other', part of the mysterious East, Persia has fiercely defended its independence, over centuries influencing and conquering its neighbours
in equal measure.

At the height of its power, in 526 BC under Cyrus II, the vast Achaemenid Empire that he founded stretched from Thrace and Cyrene in Libya in the West to beyond Kabul and Samarkand in the East.

According to Herodotus, Cyrus the Great pronounced: 'We shall so extend the empire of Persia that its boundaries will be God's own sky... I shall pass through Europe from end to end and make it one land.' This smacks of hubris (overweening pride which attracts its own nemesis) known all too well to the Greeks who made sure his plans were not successful. Persepolis, built by Darius I, has been described as 'a gigantic living monument – a conspicuous demonstration of the Persians' rise from rude nomads to world masters, a colossally immodest salute to their own glory'. More hubris – it was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC after he had defeated Darius III and gone on to conquer the Persian Empire.

There were further defeats by the Arabs in AD 642 and by Tamerlane in 1380. Then, in 1739, the Persian Nadir Shah invaded India, sacked Delhi, took the Peacock Throne home and made it the symbol of the Shahs. The last Shah of Iran was enthroned at Persepolis. Hubris again – do they never learn? He was dethroned by the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and exiled. Tellingly, the book's useful chronology ends in 2001 with the destruction of the Twin Towers. Today, Iran's power and influence is far from waning.
Lindsay Fulcher

 

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