Compare and contrast ancient Persian civilization to ancient Greece. Did Persia influence Greece or vice versa?

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Ancient Greek and Persian civilization were both long lived. The history of ancient Greece can be divided into fairly distinct periods ranging over several thousands of years, and the history of ancient Persia spanned nearly a millennium. Both civilizations were also diverse. Minoans and Mycenaeans of the Bronze Age and...

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Ancient Greek and Persian civilization were both long lived. The history of ancient Greece can be divided into fairly distinct periods ranging over several thousands of years, and the history of ancient Persia spanned nearly a millennium. Both civilizations were also diverse. Minoans and Mycenaeans of the Bronze Age and Athenians and Spartans of the Classical Age all belong to ancient Greece. An empire is, by its essence, multiethnic and multilingual, and such was the Persian Empire. The Persian army at the time of Xerxes's invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. included Persians, Medes, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, and dozens of other ethnic groups, including Greeks. For these reasons, generalizations are problematic.

That being said, certain comparisons can be made. For example, around the time of the Persian Wars, there were many different political entities in Greece, ranging from democracy to oligarchy to monarchy, but they had all developed a sense of the rule of law. By contrast, the Achaemenid Persian government was, as Herodotus claimed, despotic. Some historians trace this difference in part to geography. Persia was mostly a large continuous landmass and, therefore, most trade was conducted over land. Overland trade was easier to control. Rulers could levy taxes and keep traders more dependent on the state. By contrast, Greece's location along the Mediterranean translated to sea-based commerce, which was more difficult to control. In a sense, indirect management in the form of laws replaced a more direct management or application of control.

Owing to the contacts between the two civilizations, influence occurred in both directions through military confrontations, trade, and migration of labor. The Ionian Greek cities, along with Thrace and Macedonia, were conquered by the Persians, and the two cultures mingled. By 514 B.C., Asia Minor Greeks were paying tribute to Persian satraps, who ruled through Greek tyrants. Meanwhile, Greek workmen and craftsmen were employed in the building of Persian royal palaces in Persepolis, and there is even evidence that there were Greek physicians at the Persian royal court. Within a few decades, the Persian threat to mainland Greece forced the Greek city-states to innovate. Athens built up its navy, and then Greek victory in the Persian Wars ushered in the Golden Age of Athens.

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The first problem with this is that "ancient Greece" was not a single entity. Until the Macedonian conquest, Greek-speaking people lived in independent city states which each had their own political systems and were often at war with one another. Perhaps the greatest difference between Persia and Greece at this time was that Persia was an Empire while the geographic area we now call Greece was divided by people who shared a language and certain types of cultural heritage but were not part of a unified state.

Persia was a vast, powerful, and wealthy empire while the Greek city states were relatively small and poor by comparison, existing in an arid mountainous area. The main contact zone between the two were the Ionian city states of Asia Minor on the eastern edge of the Aegean sea. Mesopotamian and Persian science and religion had some influence on Greek thought and art in the archaic period, but the major period of influence was during the Hellenistic period, where Alexander appropriated many of the administrative elements of the Persian Empire. The Greek influence on Persia was probably less significant than the Persian influence on Greece. 

 

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