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Medes and Persians Book Review

Updated on January 21, 2010

Book Review of The Medes and Persians: Conquerors and Diplomats

Book Review of The Medes and Persians: Conquerors and Diplomats

At first, The Medes and Persians: Conquerors and Diplomats, by Robert Collins, almost reads like a biblical apologist's tract.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that rather than bolstering the Bible per se, it simply understands that the book's audience would tend to be familiar with numerous biblical stories, a point which would add to the narrative.  Further, it makes the statement that the Bible is historically wrong at times, giving further creedence to the latter thought, and adding spice to the historical pot.

Religion aside, The Medes and Persians offers manifold fascinating tales, some undoubtedly apocryphal of men like Cyrus and Xerxes.  These come in a simple, smooth, fluid style of writing that many writers wish they could replicate.  It is also written at about a ninth grade reading level yet is not boorish in the least.  In fact, while it may challenge many youngsters, it will certainly titillate older or more established readers, particularly if they are inclined towards subjects like ancient economics as where the author writes "So, very approximately, the shekel was worth $13 in terms of modern buying power" (p. 54).  Rather, it is quite stimulating and chock full of insights about numerous ancient peoples living in the Tigris-Euphrates region, and even beyond Mesopotamia.

Robert Collins provides many fascinating details about daily life of the Medes and Persians and other similar cultures, including household economics, diet, and religion.  As, for instance, where he writes "Animals for sacrifice must be perfect and for these the temple pay wildly inflated prices.  We learn of a horse sold for nearly four pounds of silver, the amount of a laborer's wages for twenty years."  The book even discusses "Taxes, the curse of the common man!" (61)  Moreover, it speaks of truths still considered as such today: "Death, birth, marriage, all the natural events of life, are welcomed.  they are the poor man's entertainment."  The very breadth of ancient history that is exhibited between the two covers of the book are absolutely fascinating, given all of the richly textured history, geography, art, and even its stories of the people, whether of Darius the Great or of commoners.

Some of the details given are tantalizing, with vibrant details, such as that the water carried for Darius on his war campaigns had been boiled, or that the shoes of Darius' personal guard were either blue or yellow.  Details such as these are so specific that it lends one to even ponder why such tiny details had been written about (yet thankfully, were).  And no small wonder, given the vast number of clay tablets that have been found from these 2 cultures which came together as a mighty juggernaut of ancient imperial force.  Yet it is not merely from the writings of the Achaemenid Empire that we know such factoids, but also "from the Persepolis reliefs and the glazed-brick decorations of Susa...."(124).  Ultimately, in this case, the thanks must go to Robert Collins, for his masterful reenactment of the lives and campaigns of the Medes and the Persians.

For the average westerner, much of this information may seem droll or unimportant.  On the contrary, it is the perfect primer for anyone wishing to understand the background of might, power, and prestige which the young Macedonian boy-king, Alexander the Great, was pit against as he fought the most potent military and empire in the world, that of the Medes and Persians.

If you enjoy ancient history and archeology, read this book.


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