Published by
Wiley (2020-12-22)
Current material
Paperback / softback
Original language
Ancient WorldAncient history

A History of Ancient Persia

The Achaemenid Empire

by Maria Brosius

An innovative approach to the history of the First Persian Empire, offering an accessible historical narrative for students and general readers alike 

A History of the Achaemenid Empire considers archaeological and written sources to provide an expansive, source-based introduction to the diverse and culturally rich world of ancient Achaemenid Persia. Assuming no prior background, this accessible textbook follows the dynastic line from the establishment and expansion of the empire under the early Achaemenid kings to its collapse in 330 BCE. The text integrates the latest research, key primary sources, and archaeological data to offer readers deep insights into the empire, its kings, and its people.  

Chronologically organized chapters contain written, archaeological, and visual sources that highlight key learning points, stimulate discussion, and encourage readers to evaluate specific pieces of evidence. Throughout the text, author Maria Brosius emphasizes the necessity to critically assess Greek sources—highlighting how their narrative of Achaemenid political history often depicted stereotypical images of the Persians rather than historical reality. Topics include the establishment of empire under Cyrus the Great, Greek-Persian relations, the creation of a Persian ruling class, the bureaucracy and operation of the empire, Persian diplomacy and foreign policy, and the reign of Darius III. This innovative textbook: 

  • Offers a unique approach to Achaemenid history, considering both archaeological and literary sources 
  • Places primary Persian and Near Eastern sources in their cultural, political, and historical context  
  • Examines material rarely covered in non-specialist texts, such as royal inscriptions, Aramaic documents, and recent archaeological finds 
  • Features a comprehensive introduction to Achaemenid geography, Greek historiography, and modern scholarship on the Persian War 

Part of the acclaimed Blackwell History of the Ancient World series, A History of the Achaemenid Empire is a perfect primary textbook for courses in Ancient History, Near Eastern Studies, and Classical Civilizations, as well as an invaluable resource for general readers with interest in the history of empires, particularly the first Persian empire or Iranian civilization. 


Maria Brosius is a former Associate Professor in Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, and Lecturer at The Queen’s College, Oxford University. Now retired, Professor Brosius’ research focuses on the history of pre-Islamic Persia, especially on the Achaemenid period, as well as on the cultural, intellectual, and religious connections between Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean. She is the author of The Persians: An IntroductionThe Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes Iand Women in Ancient Persia. 


List of Illustrations

List of Maps

List of Special Topics

List of Sources in Translation

List of Boxed Texts

The Achaemenid Dynasty



Author's Note

1 Introduction

2 The Arrival of the Persians on the Iranian Plateau

 2.1 The Persians

Parsua and Parsumash

Kurash of Parsumash

 2.2 The Indigenous Population of the Iranian Plateau: The Elamites

 2.3 The Neighbours to the North: The Medes

Media in Herodotus

Near Eastern Sources on the Medes

3 The Establishment of Empire: Cyrus the Great

 3.1 Cyrus II and Media

A Folktale or a Story of Legitimization?

 3.2 The Conquest of the Lydian Kingdom

 3,3 Cyrus and the Ionian Greeks

 3.4 The First Royal City of the Persians: Pasargadae

 3.5 The Conquest of Babylon

A Peaceful Conquest?

Political Astuteness

 3.6 The Scythian Campaign

 3.7 Cyrus II – Conqueror and Empire-Builder

4 A Worthy Successor: Cambyses II

 4.1 The Succession of Cambyses II

 4.2 The Power of Propaganda

 4.3 Cambyses' Depiction in Herodotus

 4.4 The Apis Bull

The Apis Bull and the Death of Cambyses II

The Killing of the Sister-Wife


5 From Bardiya to Darius I

 5.1 The Succession of Darius I

Herodotus' Version

Darius' Version: The Inscription of Bisitun

 5.2 The Death of Bardiya

Herodotus and the Bisitun Inscription: A Comparison

A Murder Mystery

Darius the Achaemenid

The Royal Line of Kings

Dynastic Marriages

 5.3 The Consolidation of Empire

Royal Cities



Parsa – City of the Persians

 5.4 Foreign Policy

The Scythian Campaign

The Athenian-Persian Alliance of 508/7

The Ionian Revolt

The Sequence of Events

Problems in the Historical Account

The Punitive Campaign of 490

6 The Face of Empire

 6.1 Achaemenid Kingship

The Power of Royal Imagery

 6.2 Royal Ideology

 6.3 Persian Religion

Funerary Customs

 6.4 Persepolis – Microcosm of the Empire

The Royal Court



The Women of the Court

The King's Friends and Benefactors


Refugees and Foreigners

7 The Organization of Power

 7.1 The Satraps

The Satrapies

The Great Satrapy of Bactria

The Status of Thrace and the Caucasus Region

 7.2 Administering the Empire

Royal Correspondance

Taxes and Tribute

The Administration of Persepolis

Royal Roads

8 Taking Up the Baton: Diplomacy and Foreign Policy from Xerxes I to Artaxerxes II

 8.1 The Reign of Xerxes

Xerxes' Succession

Quashing Rebellions in Egypt and Babylonia

 8.2 The War in Greece

The State of Play in Greece

The Persian Army on the March

Thermopylae and Artemisium

The Fall of Athens and the Battle of Salamis

Attempts at Diplomacy

The Battle of Plataea

Xerxes in Asia Minor

The Story of Xerxes and the Wife of Masistes

... And a Story Retold

The Beginning of the Myth



After the War

 8.3 Artaxerxerxes I

The Death of Xerxes I and the Succession of Artaxerxes I

Revolts in Bactria and Egypt

Rebellion in Egypt 464-454

The Revolt of Megabyxos

The Peace of Callias

Judaea under Artaxerxes I

Continuity in Persepolis

 8.4 Succession Trouble in 424

Rebellions in the Empire

The Royal Building Program Continued

Persia Re-enters Greek Politics

The Bilateral Treaty of 411

 8.5 Artaxerxes II

The War of the Brothers

Persian Affairs in Asia Minor

Evagoras of Salamis

Revolt in Egypt 404/400-343/2

 8.6 The Winds of Change

City-Rulers and Local Dynasts of the Western Empire

The Hecatomnids

Perikle of Limyra

The Kings of Sidon

Rebellions in Western Asia Minor 366-359/8




The Death of Artaxerxes II

9 A Whole New Ballgame: The Reigns of Artaxerxes III and Artaxerxes IV

 9.1 The Succession of Artaxerxes III

 9.2 Egypt

 9.3 Athenian-Persian Relations 349-342

 9.4 The Death of Artaxerxes III and the Reign of Artaxerxes IV

10 A Good King in the End: Darius III

 10.1 The Succession of Darius III

Battling Negative Propaganda

 10.2 External Threat

The Macedonian Invasion




The Royal Cities

The Death of Darius III

 10.3 In the Footsteps of the Persian Kings?

11 Epilogue

List of Abbreviations



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