Persian Influence on Greek culture: conclusion

The ancient Persian and Greek cultures did not exist in isolation. There was cross-fertilization. The present article describes several aspects of Persia's influence on Greece.


In the fields of architecture and politics, the Athenians of the fifth century BCE copied several Persian innovations. In the branch of architecture, this happened in two ways: practical and ideological. The first of these can be found in the production and elaborating of rhytons, but also in the building of the Odeon and the Prytaneum. A Persian tent (and therefore a Persian architectural style) was used when the city was rebuilt and offered space for cultural and political activities. At the same time, they offered proof of the Athenian victory in war.

The second type of emulation can be found in the Parthenon frieze and the caryatids. The difference is twofold: in the first place, the caryatids and the frieze are not based on something tangible like rhyta or tents; in the second place, not only a from, but also a general idea are copied. In the Parthenon frieze, the Persian ideal of "unity under the king" has been "translated" to Greece. The image and idea were adapted to Greek tastes, which made the work of art more accessible. In the caryatids, the original image (a bull or a feline) has been ignored and only the essence, the general idea, is copied - to women. Apparently, the Greeks found women better motifs to show subjection than animals.

Summing all up, a case can be made for the existence of Persian influence on Greek art. The same can be said for politics. The Athenians and Persians both were masters of the Greek towns in Ionia, and since the Athenians had no experience in ruling an empire (whereas the Persians stood in a long tradition), they copied Persian measures. Therefore, they copied the tribute system, organized their navy like their enemies did, and appointed episcopi to control the subject towns.

It was the obvious thing to do. After all, it is sound policy to make use of knowledge developed by others. Nineteenth-century European historians, however, have often ignored the Persian contribution to Greek culture. They believed in a "Greek miracle" and were unable to conceptualize oriental influences. (They had more or less the same perspective on European history, which had developed - in their view - autonomously.) Cultural contacts were ignored. Today, in a world in which cross-fertilization and clashes between cultures can no longer be ignored, scholars are more interested in cultural contacts. This perspective does more justice to the complexities that existed when two cultures encountered each other.