King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

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The first Persian Empire (559-331 BCE) was the biggest land empire the world had seen, and seated at the heart of its vast dominions, in the south of modern-day Iran, was the person of the Great King. Immortalized in Greek literature as despotic tyrants, a new vision of Persian monarchy is emerging from Iranian, and other, sources (literary, visual, and archaeological), which show the Kings in a very different light. Inscriptions of Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and their heirs present an image of Persian rulers as liberators, peace-makers, valiant warriors, righteous god-fearing judges, and law-makers.

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A Note on Abbreviations
List of Illustrations
Map of the Persian Empire
Map of Iran in the Achaemenid Period
Chapter One. The Great King and his Men
Chapter Two. Pomp and Circumstance: Monarchy on Display
Chapter Three. The Great King in his Empire: the Movable Court
Chapter Four. Harem: Royal Women and the Court
Chapter 5. The Pleasures and Perils of Court Life
A1. The royal investiture
A2. Inauguration hymn of Ashurbanipal
A3. The ‘vassal treaty’ of Esarhaddon
A4. Princely education
A5. Succession debates
A6. Xerxes as co-regent?
A7. Co-regency
A8. Greek speculations on Persian royal divinity
A9. Uncompromising advice to a ruler
A10. Achaemenid royal ideology
A11. Yahweh and the command for genocide
A12. A dream omen of Ashurbanipal
A13. Court propaganda: a fighting king
A14. Darius III: warrior king
A15. The destruction of Sidon
A16. A who’s who of Israelite courtiers
A17. Explaining the nature of the court and empire
A18. King and councilors
A19. Darius II issues commands through his satrap Aršama
A20. City walls and plagues of locusts
B1. Rituals of dining
B2. Seating etiquette
B3. The invention of inaccessibility
B4. Invisible monarchs of the past
B5. The invisible king
B6. Darius and Xerxes on the building of Persepolis
B7. The creation of Darius’ palace at Susa
B8. The beauty of Darius III and his womenfolk
B9. Moulding the bodies of infant royalty
B10. The dress and good looks of Astyages of Media
B11. Cyrus the Great adopts Median dress, cosmetics and deportment
B12. Court beauticians and body servants
B13. Wigs or hairpieces
B14. Breaching the etiquette of sleeves
B15. Semiramis wears the king’s robe and rules
B16. Courtiers’ muddy robes
B17. Royal punishment and clothing
B18. Intaphrenes and his wife
B19. The Gate of All Nations
B20. Imagining Themistocles’ royal audience
B21. Esther before the king
B22. Overwhelming emotions of a royal audience
B23. The royal footstool
B24. Alexander’s makeshift footstool
B25. Carpets and thrones
B26. Obeisance to the king
B27. Salutations to the pharaoh of Egypt
C1. The king’s lands
C2. The Empire at large
C3. The diverse Empire
C4. Criss-crossing the Empire
C5. Aršama the satrap of Egypt orders rations for a travelling party
C6. Cyrus’ search for an uninterrupted springtime
C7. The pleasure of relocation
C8. Bigger is not better: criticising the king’s migrations
C9. Relocating across Greece is better than traversing an Empire
C10. The luxury of traversing the Empire
C11. The Great King on the toilet
C12. An Empire on the move
C13. All the king’s horses
C14. The Egyptian satrap commissions an equestrian statue
C15. King as horseman-warrior
C16. Horses sacrificed to Cyrus’ memory
C17. Royal camels
C18. Clearing the king’s path of scorpions
C19. Modest gifts of food and drink
C20. Explaining the origin of the king’s largess to the women
C21. Baziš: small livestock
C22. Gifts of abundance
C23. Figs from Athens
C24. Cyrus’ camp and tent
C25. Tented luxury
C26. Alexander commandeers the royal tent
C27. Alexander’s marriage tent
C28. Alexander’s royal tent and court
C29. Cost of feeding a peripatetic court
C30. Expenditure on food
C31. Food as tribute
C32. The ‘King’s Dinner’
C33. The royal table and food distribution
C34. Paradeisoi as royal storage units
C35. Pharnabazus’ paradeisos at Daskyleion
C36. A paradeisos near Uruk?
C37. Cyrus generates a storm
C38. Artaxerxes II controls the weather
D1. Greek speculations on harem upbringing
D2. The honour of the king’s wife
D3. ‘Oriental’ seclusion
D4. Breaching etiquette
D5. Keeping a distance from the royal concubines
D6. Concubines show deference to royal wives
D7. Prestige of royal ladies
D8. Dynastic politics and the king’s mother
D9. Sexual shenanigans and punishment
D10. A ration of sheep to queen Irtašduna
D11. The king commands that virgins be brought to Susa
D12. The ‘second harem’
D13. Captive Sidonian women enter the Babylonian palace
D14. The capture of concubines as part of the royal household
D15. Lower status of concubines
D16. Concubines as mothers of kings
D17. The 360 concubines of Artaxerxes II
D18. The 360 concubines of Darius III
D19. The Persian concubines of Alexander the Great
E1. A concubine’s song
E2. Songs about Cyrus
E3. Angares, a Persian bard
E4. A Persian love story
E5. Professional wrestlers at the court of Darius II
E6. Etiquette of the king’s dinner
E7. The Pleasure of a royal banquet
E8. Frustrations of hunting in a paradeisos
E9. The splendour of the royal chase
E10. Royal Egyptian lion hunts
E11. Royal Assyrian lion hunts
E12. Alexander kills a lion
E13. Artaxerxes I’s new hunting etiquette
E14. Rivalry and revenge: Xerxes’ women
E15. Bad feelings among the royal ladies
E16. Poisoning the king’s wife
E17. Poisons at the Persian court
E18. Cup-bearer and taster
E19. Exclusive Indian poison at the Persian court
E20. Poison and the death of Alexander
E21. A eunuch king-maker
E22. Succession struggles: the ‘Dynastic Prophecy’
E23. A Babylonian account of Xerxes’ assassination
E24. Accounts of the death of Xerxes
E25. Patricide and regicide: the death of Artaxerxes II
E26. Court conspiracy: the plot and execution of prince Darius
E27. Fratricide at court
Time Line
Further Reading
Internet Resources

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Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones is Professor of Ancient History at Cardiff University and a specialist in the histories and cultures of ancient Iran and Greece. He also works on dress and gender in antiquity and on the ancient world in popular culture, especially Hollywood cinema. He is the author of Designs on the Past: How Hollywood Created the Ancient World, Aphrodite’s Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece, King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE and Ctesias’ History of Persia. He is editor of Women’s Dress in the Ancient Greek World, Greek Notions of the Past in the Archaic and Classical Eras, Creating a Hellenistic World and The Hellenistic Court as well as numerous articles on Greek and Persian culture. He is the series editor of Edinburgh Studies in Ancient Persia and co-series editor of Screening Antiquity.

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