Saturday, June 25, 2011

Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy

Chapter 1 - Origins: Zoroaster, the Achaemenids, and the Greeks

  • the Persian language "has no structural relationship with Arabic or the other Semitic languages of the ancient Middle East (though it took in many Arab words after the Arab conquest)." - 2
  • "Before and during the period of the Iranian migrations [from the Russian steppe], an empire -- the empire of Elam -- flourished in the area that later became the provinces of Khuzestan and Fars, based in the cities of Susa and Anshan." - 2
  • 700 BC: "the Medes -- with the help of Scythian tribes -- had established an independent state, which later grew to become the first Iranian Empire....At its height the Median Empire stretched from Asia Minor to the Hindu Kush, and south to the Persian Gulf, ruling the Persians as vassals as well as many other subject peoples." - 5
  • "At the center of Zoroaster's theology was the opposition between Ahura Mazda, the creator-god of truth and light, and Ahriman, the embodiment of lies, darkness, and evil. This dualism became a persistent theme in Iranian thought for centuries." - 7
  • 559 BC: Cyrus becomes king of Anshan, being a descendant of the royal house of Persia started by Achaemenes - 12
  • 549 BC: Cyrus leads a revolt against Astyages, the Median king, and captures the Median capital of Ecbatana; "Cyrus reversed the relationship between Media and Persia -- he crowned himself king of Persia, making Persia the center of the empire and Media the junior partner." - 12
  • "Cyrus and his successors permitted them to return home from exile and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. For those acts they were accorded in the Jewish scriptures a unique status among gentile monarchs." - 14-5
  • "Tomb burial was anathema to later Zoroastrians, who held it to be sacrilege to pollute the earth with dead bodies. Instead they exposed the dead on so-called Towers of Silence, to be consumed by birds and animals." - 16
  • "This was an empire that always preferred to flow around and absorb powerful rivals, rather than to confront, batter into defeat, and force submission." - 21
  • Darius "maintained the related principle of devolved government. The provinces were ruled by satraps, governors who returned a tribute to the center but ruled as viceroys" - 21
  • 512 BC: Darius campaigns into Europe, conquering Thrace and Macedonia - 23
  • 490 BC: Battle of Marathon, Persians defeated by Athenian Greeks - 23
  • "The wars that continued between the Persians and the Greeks ended at least for a time with the peace of Callias in 449 BC, but thereafter the Persians supported Sparta against Athens in the terribly destructive Peloponnesian wars. These conflicts exhausted the older Greek city-states and prepared the way for the hegemony of Macedon." - 25
  • "For more than a century after Alexander [the Great]'s death, Persia was ruled by the descendants of Seleucus, one of Alexander's generals" - 30

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