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Western ethnocentricity has grossly biased written history. Most books/programs are published with western audiences in mind, and cater to ego-stroking themselves; namely, to make Western civilization look superior. Ever seen a program on the History channel showing the war from the Japanese perspective (and how they killed Americans who were attacking them?). Of course not, it is only about a few Americans who killed ten times as many Japanese. This is imbalance is also well illustrated in the case of the history of the Persians. Nearly (if not all) programs/documentaries seen on TV or in the movies, discuss the Persians only to serve Greek braggadocia ("300 hundred Greeks stopped 2 million Persians...Only 164 Greeks were killed in the battle, 250,000 Persians were killed). Give me a break. Even the most powerful military in human history (the USA) with stealth jets, night vision, bullet-proof vests and so on, lose more soldiers in battles with untrained troops. Sadly, people have believed this propaganda as fact. The truth is that even Greek historians (namely Herodotus) wrote his "Histories" generations after the events (interesting that Persian ambassador to Greece Cyrus Spitama had written that he was outraged by Herodotus' reading of the Persian Wars in public; he said the Herodotus had gotten it all wrong, including the events themselves; he also criticized Herodotus for not having been there; Cyrus Spitama was present during the Wars). But hey, it showed us that if you want to tell the story of History, you need to write it yourself! The Greeks did exactly that! The Persian Wars were not so much about the despotic East trying to extinguish the "freedom-loving" Greeks. Greece was not a democracy. Only the city state of Athens enjoyed democracy for a short time. It was decimated quickly by the other Greek states that were very much ruled by iron-gloved kings. The Macedonians (who were not Greeks, and may not have spoken Greek) were despised in Greece as being barbaric and cruel. The Macedonians conquered by military force the other Greeks. When Alexander of Macedon died, there were great celebrations in Greece. The Macedonians were more akin to Bulgarians (scholars believe there may have been some glaze of Greek culture and influence though). Remember, the Persian Wars were not started because the Persian King Darius wanted to crush Greeks. It started because Athens supported a Greek citizen rebellion and city burning in Sardis (now Turkey), one of the major Persian capitals. Athens in fact back- stabbed Darius I (the Great), who had helped Athens when they asked him protect them from the Spartans (by providing resources to them). He obliged and Athens was saved. Needless to say, he was miffed when they back-stabbed him. Also, Alexander of Macedon attacked Persia unprovoked 200 years later, killed some one million people (some say more), conquered the empire of the Persians, and died. This documentary is the first that I have seen that talks about the Persians in a favorable light (in fact the Persians were spoken of in a favorable light by all of the other major sources in the ancient world except the Greeks; namely, Jewish and other eastern sources). The Persians were written about as tolerant rulers - arguably history's first - as the documentary points out. It was the FIRST multiethnic, multilingual world empire. The Greeks referred to all foreign speakers as "barbarians". This did NOT mean that they were primitive. It meant that they spoke "Bar Bar" (i.e. you can't understand them! Sounds like gibberish). In fact, there was nothing in the Greek world at the time to rival Babylon, Susa, or Persepolis (interesting that in the movie "Alexander", the Greeks comment that "Aristotle never saw this", meaning he assumed non-Greeks were inferior, but Babylon was the New York City of the ancient world with more than 2 million inhabitants!). Actually, as far as the civilized world was concerned at the time, the Greeks were seen as rough-edged farmers and sea-farers on the fringes of civilization (of course, the Greeks didn't see themselves as the fringes of civilization!). I for one don't believe that democracy or the Greek way would've been destroyed by the Persians. The Persians left people largely alone to live as they were. They had to however acknowledge the Persian King, provide troops as needed for security of the region, and pay taxes once per year according to a sliding scale (they did this during the New Year celebrations at Persepolis; FYI the Persians didn't use slave labor, the paid all of their laborers, including paying women twice as much because they had to care for children!!). Sounds a bit like the USA (okay, minus the democracy part and the paying women more). When Alexander conquered Persia and died, his Greek generals fought over the spoils, each taking their own piece. The were KINGS in their lands. They did NOT implement democracies! In fact, many people such as the Jews saw the Seleucid rule of the Greeks as a terribly intolerant time. It has been said that Persian culture and language is to the East what Greco-Roman culture is to the West. Architecture of the eastern world (Islamic), is largely based on Parthian-Sassanid Pre-Islamic Persian architecture (domes, iwans, gardens, minarets, reflecting pools, etc...). As the documentary concludes, "Alexander didn't create an empire, he conquered one. One created by Cyrus the Great 200 years before. Persian culture, sophistication, and luxury were around long before Alexander was born, and survives long after he was gone." Now if the History channel can do the same for the other non-Western cultures (e.g. China). Greece, Rome, Persia, Mesopotamia, China, and others are the pillar civilizations of the world. We really should be giving them their due. After all, most of the world is not Western civilization!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We don't hear too much about the glory that was Persia. Maybe
contemporary politics have bled into our understanding of history. But
there was a time about 2500 years ago when Persia was IT in the Middle
East. Not just the Iranian plateau but all over the place. This episode
deals mainly with Cyrus, who fought the Greeks in the Persian war, and
with Darius, another leader two or three thinks down the generational
As in the other episodes, we won't see much of scientific discoveries. Instead the episode dwells on technological feats such as bringing the water from the mountain to the city using carefully crafted underground tunnels. This, in turn, led not only to a constant water supply for a large city but to splendid gardens that provided the template for all modern parks. The name of that city was turned into "Paradise" in Greek. ("Chess" is another Persian word.) The episode emphasizes the benevolence of Persian rule and its religious tolerance, which I gather to be true, but the Greeks had true democratic city states while Persian colonies were ruled by appointed oligarchs, or so I've been led to believe.
Still, unlike some of the other civilizations covered in this series, at least they were free of blood sacrifice and other such unpleasant customs. It was an impressive empire. I wish I could have lived there. As a wealthy aristocrat, of course, not as a common laborer. I've had quite enough of that.
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