cover image Persians: The Age of the Great Kings

Persians: The Age of the Great Kings

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones. Basic, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-1-5416-0034-8

Llewellyn-Jones, a director at the British Institute of Persian studies, documents the rise and fall of the Achaemenid empire in this immersive history. Contending that a reliance on Greek and Old Testament sources has skewed the popular understanding of ancient Persia, Llewellyn-Jones focuses on “genuine, indigenous” sources that have come to light in recent decades. Interwoven with the chronological history of the empire’s founding by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE; its fight to hold on to power in modern-day Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Greece, and India under Darius the Great and his son, Xerxes I; and its conquest by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE are topic-based chapters covering bureaucracy, slavery, royal marriage and inheritance, court politics, religion, and other matters. Llewellyn-Jones’s impressive research ranges from shocking palace intrigues to tax code minutiae, though he occasionally strays into speculation, as when he asserts that Darius chose to demolish a gateway near Persepolis and construct a new one because “he clearly found the physical presence of Cyrus’ monumental building perturbing.” Still, Llewellyn-Jones expertly illuminates the decentralized, multicultural nature of the Achaemenid empire and offers valuable perspective on the modern Middle East, where the great kings of ancient Persia still feature in Iran’s national self-image. This is a valuable contribution to the understanding of “history’s first great superpower.” (Apr.)