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The multiculturalist Empire

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones’ Persians: The Age of the Great Kings is a narrative history of the Achaemenid Empire and ancient Iran which is brisk but detailed. Some of the writing is a little too informal for me, but overall it’s a fine scholarly accomplishment. The author integrates many Persian sources rather than just the usual Greek-centric perspective.

Overall, it’s a favorable treatment of the dynasty that nevertheless doesn’t shy away from unpalatable facts. For example, Llewellyn-Jones explores the role that chattel slavery seems to have played in the monumental construction projects of the Achaemenids and disabuses you of the notion that Cyrus the Great was the world’s first humanitarian ruler. But weirdly, the last chapter goes a bit off the rails on moralizing.

The author contends that the Persians, as a multicultural empire, offer a better example than the Romans, who assimilated and acculturated local people. This is something of a caricature of Roman practice; the spread of Latin in the east was minimal, and local languages persisted after the fall of the Empire. But the flip side of Persian multiculturalism is that rulers had to be ethnic Persians, at least paternally. The Achaemenid Empire was more ethnically exclusivist and closed than the Roman Empire at the elite levels because it was multicultural, preventing non-Persians from scaling the heights of power. In contrast, after the 2nd century, the Roman Empire routinely promoted Latinized outsiders, and the imperial resurrection of the second half of the 3rd century was almost entirely due to the emergence of Latinized Balkan military elite.

6 thoughts on “The multiculturalist Empire

  1. I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that one of the Latin Balkan emperors(after Aurelian I think) identified strongly with his Illyrian heritage and boasted that him becoming the Emperor was a revenge for what the Romans had done to his people centuries earlier. Does this ring a bell with anyone?

  2. I wonder if Romans in the 3rd century descended from Republican era Romans resented being ruled by people their ancestors had conquered. Up until the end of the 2nd century, most Romans Emperors were Romans, Italians or at least those descended from Italian colonists.

    So in the case of Britain, an Irish born Prime Minister or an American born one. Someone like Aurelian would be somewhat akin to Rishi Sunak. In terms of ethnicity not capabilities lol.

  3. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones advertises that his book is from a Persian perspective, citing and giving priority to Persian sources ordinarily ignored in prior histories.

    However, I could not find anything his book that was not already thoroughly examined in Pierre Bryant’s 1996 “From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire.” (I read this in it’s English translation)

    Did any of you see in Mr. Llewellyn-Jones’s book what was lacking in others? I didn’t notice anything.

  4. “resented being ruled by people their ancestors had conquered.”

    Is there any reason to believe that it would have been different from what people think today? Some Americans recoil from the example of a VP Harris or perhaps a President Haley, some are okay with the idea, and some think it is of cosmic import.

  5. HJ – They (the members of the Conservative Party) chose Truss first rather than Sunak, don’t forget, even though she was clearly cognitively inferior (I’m trying to stay polite here) and was pushing policies that had no way of working, i.e. they preferred a white female to a slightly less cognitively inferior brown male.

    Meanwhile Boris Johnson has been paid $1.2 million for giving speeches since he resigned from being PM, when he is clearly a manifestly dishonest moron. (My politeness wore out.)

  6. “I wonder if Romans in the 3rd century descended from Republican era Romans resented being ruled by people their ancestors had conquered.”

    Even if they did, what were they going to do about it? Field their own army?

    It’s kind of a moot point. Roman legionnaires by that point came from all different (assimilated/semi-assimilated/non-assimilated) ethnicities and who they chose to obey was most important.

    But it does seem that Romans didn’t care too much; they had more important things to worry about.

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