The last of Cyrus the Great’s dynastic inheritors and the legendary enemy of Alexander the Great, Darius III ruled over a Persian Empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Indus River. Yet, despite being the most powerful king of his time, Darius remains an obscure figure.
As Pierre Briant explains in the first book ever devoted to the historical memory of Darius III, the little that is known of him comes primarily from Greek and Roman sources, which often present him in an unflattering light, as a decadent Oriental who lacked the masculine virtues of his Western adversaries. Influenced by the Alexander Romance as they are, even the medieval Persian sources are not free of harsh prejudices against the king Dārā, whom they deemed deficient in the traditional kingly virtues. Ancient Classical accounts construct a man who is in every respect Alexander’s opposite—feeble-minded, militarily inept, addicted to pleasure, and vain. When Darius’s wife and children are captured by Alexander’s forces at the Battle of Issos, Darius is ready to ransom his entire kingdom to save them—a devoted husband and father, perhaps, but a weak king.
While Darius seems doomed to be a footnote in the chronicle of Alexander’s conquests, in one respect it is Darius who has the last laugh. For after Darius’s defeat in 331 BCE, Alexander is described by historians as becoming ever more like his vanquished opponent: a Darius-like sybarite prone to unmanly excess.
Briant is the world’s leading authority on the Persian empire that Alexander conquered, one of few living scholars with the linguistic mastery to study both the Greco-Roman and Persian sources and hence examine the reign of Darius from European and Asian perspectives. In the intensely thorough analysis he conducts here, he finds reasons to mistrust both traditions and thereby qualify the charge of cowardice that has shadowed Darius for more than two millennia… His insights are penetrating and his mastery of the evidentiary record is unsurpassed… Having deftly taken down much of the edifice supplied by the ancient accounts of Darius, Briant finally turns architect and shows us how the rebuilding might begin.
Pierre Briant [is] the greatest living historian of the Achaemenids, and the scholar who has probably done more than any other to make sense of how their empire actually functioned… [This is a] detailed and incisive analysis of every conceivable tradition told about the last king of Achaemenid Persia… It is, for anyone interested in ancient history, as brilliant a demonstration of its mingled frustrations and fascinations as one could hope to read.
In a search for the historical Darius, Briant brings to life specialist work tracing the war against Alexander through images on coins, as well as through the Babylonian astronomical diaries, classical histories and many versions of the Alexander Romance.
Anyone interested in Alexander or the end of Persia’s first empire will need to engage with Briant’s thoughtful and at times provoking text… This big book is a remarkable testimony both to the shifting afterlife of the last king of the Persian Empire and to its ultimate satrap, Pierre Briant, who has transformed studies of its legacy.
[An] intrepid, imposing book… This is a masterful book… [It] shows Briant to be a master of the longue durée of Iran’s history… As a display of how to approach the reception history and image-building of any historical personage, it is unshakeable in its methodology.
Briant’s work, as always, is a significant contribution to Achaemenid studies, a display of historiographical learnedness whose methods can benefit historians across ancient studies.
The book is a magnificent work of classical scholarship, and Briant rewards readers with insights the source authors either failed to see or deliberately omitted. He also gives Alexander biographers reason for pause, reiterating that the five sources on which Alexander scholarship is based are simply not reliable. Darius in the Shadow of Alexander is an important book that makes a major contribution to our understanding of ancient Persia and the narrative of Alexander the Great, and we highly recommend it to students of the classics.
In the minds of many Darius III, the most powerful king of his time with a vast empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indus River, exists only as Alexander’s legendary Persian enemy. Pierre Briant tackles this issue head on in his book Darius in the Shadow of Alexander… Briant provides excellent analysis of the sources, as scarce and biased as they may be in some cases… Despite [Briant’s] open declaration that ‘this book is not a biography,’ it does provide valuable information on Darius’ public and private lives, as well as on the perils of an ‘Alexandro-maniacal’ viewpoint and the persistence of images in general.
How refreshing to read a book on Alexander that avoids the familiar clichés of historical scholarship. Pierre Briant is one of the most distinguished scholars of Alexander the Great and his masterly book provides an original and important analysis of the tumultuous confrontation between Alexander and Darius III. The author presents a range of evidence here that is unmatched in other works on Alexander. His insights into the study of Greco-Persian antiquity are superb, and his disquisitions on historical method are incisive and perceptive.
Though the Achaemenid Empire has been one of the important forces of the ancient world, its role and achievements have been generally rather underexposed and undervalued… This book ranks among the finest examples of…historical analysis: it is elaborate, eloquent, and full of displays of erudition.
- 608 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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