Saturday, March 04, 2006
Tom Holland - Persian Fire (*)
The war between the Persians and the Greek city-states is one were ancient myths seem to mingle with real history. The tales of heroism and bravery have inspired people for centuries. In particular, the last stand of the 300 Spartan’s and about 6000 of their allies against up to 250,000 Persian troops at the “Hot Gates” has been retold time and again.
Tom Holland’s book is an exciting introduction to this little known period. I say it’s little known, because for most people, ancient history is that of Egypt, Rome and Athens. The Persians are neglected (the recent exhibition about their empire at the British Museum in London last year was not unreasonably entitled “Forgotten Empire: the world of Ancient Persia”).
So this book’s greatest service is to bring much of the history of that forgotten Empire to life for an audience, such as myself, who know little about it.
However, just as his ”In Athens, not only were the great King’s demands dismissed out of hand, but his ambassadors, in blatant defiance of international law, were put on trial by the Assembly, convicted and put to death. Perhaps – given that Athens was a proven terrorist state…the outrage was no surprise.”
Holland thus becomes perhaps one of a tiny number of writers to describe the Athenian state as Terrorist, though of course he isn’t the first historian to judge the past in terms of the prejudices and language of more contemporary times.
But even flaws like this cannot stop it being and enjoyable read, though I was often left feeling that my enjoyment stemmed from discovering a new and exciting period of history rather than Holland’s particular treatment of it.
(*) Full Title "Persian Fire - The first World Empire and the Battle for the West"