Wiesehöfer’s Ancient Persia

In his Translator’s Preface to Pierre Briant’s From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire (Eisenbrauns, 2002), Peter Daniels writes:

After not too many pages, the reader will discover that this is not a connected narrative history of the Persian Empire. Moreover, the reader is expected to be familiar with the narrative sequence of Achaemenid history, with the career of Alexander the Great, and with the entire Greek and Latin literature from which such histories have hitherto been drawn. The reader might find it useful to first turn to Joseph Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia (English translation, 1996) 1-101, for an overview that is thematically and conceptually remarkably similar to this work, and to the Chronological Chart therein for the sequence of events, as far as they can be determined. Only then, I think, can this book (whose aim, superbly realized, is to show just how a historian must evaluate and extrapolate from the available sources) be used with profit.

So that sounds like Wiesehöfer’s volume might be rather useful, I thought, something like a modern-day Olmstead’s History of the Persian Empire, with discussion of sources, etc. That’s what seemed to be implied by Daniels. But no. Daniels is right in that the book is thematically quite similar to Briant’s, but it is so similar and so brief that I simply didn’t find it useful. Aside from the sketchy chronological chart, there is no “connected narrative history of the Persian Empire” therein. I’m disappointed by that.

So, if anyone is thinking to purchase Josef Wiesehöfer’s volume Ancient Persia [note “…from 550 BC to 650 AD” is appended to the title only on the title page] (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004) in order to obtain a connected narrative presentation of Achaemenid history, don’t. If you want a brief overview of various disjointedly presented topics on Persian life from 550 BC to 650 AD, without all that fuss about kings and battles and all that “connected narrative of history” tosh, “bibliographical essays” instead of foot/endnotes, and some not very good b&w photographs, this is a book for you.

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