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Persian influence on Greece (1)

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Map of the Persian empire. Design Jona Lendering.
The ancient Persian and Greek cultures did not exist in isolation. There was cross-fertilization. The present article contains a description of Persia's influence on Greece.


The first part of this article is not to read, but to look at:
Comparison of Greece and the Persian empire. Design Jona Lendering.

In front of us, we see the extensive Achaemenid empire (pink), stretching from the Indus in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. Beyond the Aegean Sea, almost at the left edge of this map, we see a green area that consists of several islands and city-states, which have not yet decided whether they are one country or not. That is Greece.

Now it is remarkable that there have been more scholars who have studied the fuss and bustle on the northwestern border of the Achaemenid empire than researchers who have analyzed the world power itself. Of course, there are good reasons for this situation. Greece is relatively close to western Europe, where it had, since the age of the great art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), a more or less privileged status as the cradle of western civilization. Another reason is that the impressive Greek collection of literary, scientific and other texts has survived, whereas there is no such collection from Persia. (The collection of religious texts known as the Avesta dates from the fifth or sixth century CE.) Moreover, in their historical writings, the Greek authors make it clear that the Persians are a mere bunch of decadent, effeminate barbarians, natural slaves that could be ignored in the history of mankind. The Greeks themselves had the best culture and there was simply nothing that other civilizations could add. Western scholars have long accepted this judgment.

This almost hostile attitude has long existed in Europe, together with a fascination for all that was strange and unknown, such as the mysterious Orient. Because of this combination of fascination and suspicion, questions about the exact interaction between the two cultures are not only interesting, but also necessary. One must see further than the end of one's nose.

When one studies the past, it is important to understand that no event, nation, or culture exists in isolation. Empires, ideas, and societies are formed by the empires, ideas, and societies surrounding them. It is the conviction of the author of this article that exchange always exists, albeit on different levels and with varying intensity. Even when those involved deny this influence. (Perhaps a strong denial even represents a strong influence. Otherwise, it would not be necessary to deny influence.)

Let's return to the Greeks and Persians. Many scholars have researched Greek influence on the east, especially in the era after the conquests of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (336-323). It is about time to to analyze the other direction of cross-cultural influence. That this remains an odd subject, is proven by the lack of literature on the subject; if the question about Persian influence is posed, it is usually in a footnote. It is, however, the main subject of the present article.

We shall discuss the question whether the Athenians, in the age after the Persian Wars (say after 479), have adapted Persian ideas on the fields of architecture and government. We shall discuss oriental influence on architecture, concentrating on the Odeon of Pericles, the Prytaneum, the Parthenon frieze, and the caryatids. After this, we will investigate whether there is similar influence on the management of the Athenian empire, the Delian League. But first, we will give a brief overview of the most important events during the period under consideration.

Architecture: Odeon
Architecture: Prytaneum
Architecture: Parthenon frieze
Architecture: Erechtheum
Politics: Delian League
Politics: Episcopus
to part two
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