The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

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Alexias
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The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by Alexias »

This isn't a detailed history but it provides a very useful overview of the Persian Empire and how the successive powers in the area, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Parthians, down to the Sassanids (3rd-7th century AD), took over the various sites and used the prestige and religious significance of the sites to legitimise and enhance their own rule. In terms of Alexander, it is interesting to view Alexander from an Achaemenid perspective as a successor to Darius as opposed to the usual view of the man and his motives for example, Cyrus II enjoyed a similar welcome into Babylon as liberator as Alexander was given, which doubtless Alexander would have been made aware of.

Here are some interesting little bits:
If the whole, splendid, visual array of Persepolis were left untouched, it would have been a ready-dressed stage on to which another suitable Achaemenid relative could step, ready to be hailed as king.

While the royal women appear to have had their own private apartments, we have no evidence that they were confined to them. On the contrary, some references suggest that royal and noble women could pursue an education, even in physical skills such as riding and archery. They owned property, travelled with entourages across the empire, and wielded seals in order to conduct business. Nevertheless, the behaviour of royal women ay have been as closely watched as that of the male nobles around the king, since their role in the legitimacy of the royal household was key.
Similarly confusing are tales of courtiers called eunuchs, who frequently appear in Greek texts as founts of devious intrigue. There had been a tradition of employing some castrated men in earlier Near Eastern courts. Since the Achaemind court inherited many of the interrelated administrative and social networks of their predecessors, it is entirely likely that these specialised roles continued. However, the evidence is ambiguous. The term used for 'eunuch' in Akkadian could have become a standard court title, leaving us no indication whether the [to us] crucial physical definition still applied. Moveover, the term 'eunuch' in Greece can frequently be mistranscribed for the word meaning 'wine-pourer' or 'wine-bearer' another formal position of the inner court, leaving significant scope for later misunderstanding.
So, was Bagoas a wine-pourer and not a physical eunuch?
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Jeanne Reames
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

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Terminology and misunderstandings related to Greek (mis)assumptions about ANE courts are notorious.

"Cup Bearer" was actually a *military* title at the Assyrian court. That's just one example.

And I still think Bagoas has been anachronistically elevated as a result of Mary Renault, and then Oliver Stone stealing from Mary Renault. ;)
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by sean_m »

Alexias wrote: Sun Oct 14, 2018 5:57 pm This isn't a detailed history but it provides a very useful overview of the Persian Empire and how the successive powers in the area, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Parthians, down to the Sassanids (3rd-7th century AD), took over the various sites and used the prestige and religious significance of the sites to legitimise and enhance their own rule. In terms of Alexander, it is interesting to view Alexander from an Achaemenid perspective as a successor to Darius as opposed to the usual view of the man and his motives for example, Cyrus II enjoyed a similar welcome into Babylon as liberator as Alexander was given, which doubtless Alexander would have been made aware of.

Here are some interesting little bits:
If the whole, splendid, visual array of Persepolis were left untouched, it would have been a ready-dressed stage on to which another suitable Achaemenid relative could step, ready to be hailed as king.

While the royal women appear to have had their own private apartments, we have no evidence that they were confined to them. On the contrary, some references suggest that royal and noble women could pursue an education, even in physical skills such as riding and archery. They owned property, travelled with entourages across the empire, and wielded seals in order to conduct business. Nevertheless, the behaviour of royal women ay have been as closely watched as that of the male nobles around the king, since their role in the legitimacy of the royal household was key.
Similarly confusing are tales of courtiers called eunuchs, who frequently appear in Greek texts as founts of devious intrigue. There had been a tradition of employing some castrated men in earlier Near Eastern courts. Since the Achaemind court inherited many of the interrelated administrative and social networks of their predecessors, it is entirely likely that these specialised roles continued. However, the evidence is ambiguous. The term used for 'eunuch' in Akkadian could have become a standard court title, leaving us no indication whether the [to us] crucial physical definition still applied. Moveover, the term 'eunuch' in Greece can frequently be mistranscribed for the word meaning 'wine-pourer' or 'wine-bearer' another formal position of the inner court, leaving significant scope for later misunderstanding.
So, was Bagoas a wine-pourer and not a physical eunuch?
Hi Alexias,

I talked about this in a recent journal article (I can send a copy if necessary) but basically there is an Akkadian term ša rēši "of the head, chief" which describes a class of courtiers who grew up at the palace and served the king and queen. Some of them may have been castrated, but most of the sources which imply this are Assyrian and Achaemendid courts probably drew more on Babylonian and Elamite traditions. It seems that this term (or equivalents in languages like Aramaic or Old Persian) lie behind most of the eunuchs at Achaemenid courts in classical sources, and it is very hard to prove that it referred to castrati and only castrati (there is a lot of debate though).

It is not even clear that the Greek εὐνοῦχος eunouchos always meant castratus, etymologically it means something like "having the bed" ie. a servant who takes care of the bedchamber. It is possible that many ancient writers use eunouchos as a kind of 'catch-all' word for servants at Near Eastern courts who depended on their relationship with the king rather than with their family.

Like Dr. Reames says, court titles can be misleading and change meaning over time ... often servants who spend time close to the king and queen get told to solve some problem because they are the first person available, and if they succeed that is one of their duties now.
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by sean_m »

Jeanne Reames wrote: Wed Oct 17, 2018 4:55 am Terminology and misunderstandings related to Greek (mis)assumptions about ANE courts are notorious.

"Cup Bearer" was actually a *military* title at the Assyrian court. That's just one example.

And I still think Bagoas has been anachronistically elevated as a result of Mary Renault, and then Oliver Stone stealing from Mary Renault. ;)
I am fascinated how the list of "people who should not be soldiers but are" at the end of Xenophon's Cyropaedia echoes lists of officials at Near Eastern courts, or the count of Assyrians troops at Zamua. You did not want to get a Neo-Assyrian cupbearer or an important širku (temple serf) like Gimillu angry at you, their response would be very direct not a whisper in someone's ear!

They have been finding Aramaic documents from around Alexander's day in Israel and probably-Afghanistan, it is just possible that someone will find contemporary documents mentioning figures like Bagoas. Or maybe another chronicle fragment will turn up?
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Alexias
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by Alexias »

Very interesting, thank you, Sean. Do you know how many of these court officials were likely to have been slaves, maybe the more menial roles? Would Persian slaves have had the opportunity to buy their freedom?
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by sean_m »

Alexias wrote: Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:48 pm Very interesting, thank you, Sean. Do you know how many of these court officials were likely to have been slaves, maybe the more menial roles? Would Persian slaves have had the opportunity to buy their freedom?
Hi Alexias,

I can not think of any texts which refer to ša rēsi with terme like ardu "slave" but many of them may have been something like janissaries: boys who were taken from their families and had to serve the king for the rest of their lives. It seems like Greek and Roman writers encountered Near Eastern terms for types of people who were not fully free, and polite phrases like calling the person you are writing a letter to "master," and threw them all together under terms like δουλος and servus rather than asking "oh, so kind of like the serfs in Thessaly?"

I think we have a few contract from Babylonia where slaves become free. I can't remember anything similar for the different kinds of 'serfs' like the širāku, but letters from Babylonia complain that they are always running away.
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Alexias
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by Alexias »

Thank you. So maybe Renault was right in portraying Bagoas as a child taken from his family who had fallen into disgrace for whatever reason. It makes sense that Alexander would not have had a relationship with a slave, but I was never sure if it was Renault romantizing Bagoas's origins.
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Re: The Persian Empire A History by Lindsay Allen

Post by sean_m »

You are welcome Alexias! I do not know the sources on the Bagoas who was very close to Alexander well, but she might also have been thinking of stories in Herodotus and the book of Esther about the Persians taking young men and women to become eunuchs and concubines.

I would like to read some of Mary Renault's novels again, I read some 10 years ago in Canada.
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