Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West
© 2005 Tom Holland
After reading Holland’s Rubicon, blogger ResoluteReader recommended that I read Persian Fire as well. I have an interest in the various Persian and Babylonian empires that rose and fell thousands of years ago, and given my strong interest in the ancient Greeks, the book was thus quite appealing. Holland begins his narrative by establishing the early histories of the Persian Empire, Athens, and Sparta, including Persia’s absorption of the Babylonian and Egyptian polities. I knew very little about the various empires in “Iran”, and was especially surprised to learn about the religious aspects of the Persian emperors. Holland will frame the emperors’ religious views in explaining their decisions to move to the east. A couple of them seem to think of themselves as Plato’s philosopher-king’s. In telling the story of the Greeks, Holland is especially through in detailing their petty quarrels with one another.
Roughly around the three-fifths mark, Greece and Persian come into conflict and resulting chapters detail the Persian Wars that Darius and Xerxes carried out against the Greeks. The Persian motivations are quite romantic: they intend to show everyone that Ahura Mazda is not mocked, nor is his Empire scorned, and neither will either tolerate “evil”. The classic battles of the wars — Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis — are all included, typically given a chapter all of their own. The book is quite thorough and very readable. Although its level of detail amounts of a somewhat imposing read, it’s fairly easy to get through. He does persist in using modern terminology — putsch, generalissimo, and so on — but that’s just a trifling matter. The book ends by hinting at the conflict between Athens and Sparta — the “Peloponnesian Wars”.