Friday, August 3, 2012

That Man

Evidently the Iranians don’t rate Alexander the Great as being so great. In fact in the war crimes category, had there been such a thing at that time, he would have been taken to court and severely punished for his vandalism.
Alexander the Great is portrayed as a legendary conqueror and military leader in Greek-influenced Western history books but his legacy looks very different from a Persian perspective. According to Ali Ansari, professor in modern history and director of The Institute of Iranian Studies at The University of St Andrews, Scotland, he is “that man” who destroyed the city of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the ancient Persian Achaemenid empire, it’s history told in three facts: (1) built by Darius the Great, (2) embellished by his son Xerxes, and (3) destroyed by that man, Alexander. History has it he razed Persepolis to the ground following a night of drunken excess at the goading of a Greek courtesan, ostensibly in revenge for the burning of the Acropolis by the Persian ruler Xerxes. Could that be a true story I wonder? The man feted in Western culture as one of the great military geniuses of history destroying his reputation at the whim of a Greek whore?
Persians also condemn him for the widespread destruction he is thought to have encouraged to cultural and religious sites throughout the empire. Alexander would have been familiar from boyhood with stories of The Persian Empire and, although characterised by the Persians as a destroyer, a reckless and somewhat feckless youth, and the evidence suggests that Alexander retained a healthy respect for the Persians themselves and came to regret the destruction his invasion caused. Coming across the plundered tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargad, a little north of Persepolis, he was evidently much distressed by what he found and immediately ordered repairs to be made. Had Alexander lived beyond his 32 years, he may yet have restored and repaired much more. In time, the Persians were to come to terms with their Macedonian conqueror, absorbing him into the fabric of national history.
The Persian Empire was in fact worth conquering not because it was in need of civilising but because it was the greatest empire the world had yet seen, extending from Central Asia to Libya. Persia was an enormously rich prize. There is ample evidence that the Greeks admired the Persian Empire and the emperors who ruled it. Alexander came to admire what he found, so much so that he was keen to take on the Persian mantle of the King of Kings. And thus it is that in the great Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh, written in the 10th Century AD, Alexander is no longer a wholly foreign prince but one born of a Persian mother.
Persian emperors Darius and Xerxes both invaded Greece, and were both ultimately defeated. But, remarkably, Greeks flocked to the Persian court. Themistocles, falling foul of Athenian politics, fled to the Persian Empire and eventually found employment at the Persian Court and was made a provincial governor, where he lived out the rest of his life. In time, the Persians found that they could achieve their objectives in Greece by playing the Greek city states against each other, and in the Peloponnesian War, Persian money financed the Spartan victory against Athens. How often does history repeat itself?

1 comment:

Lewis said...

I find it hard to admire any military genius, which he undoubtedly was. Isn't it strange that, well into our days, these sanctioned killers have been not only admired, but enthusiastically emulated? Yet Alan Turing, who saved untold lives and shortened WW II by as much as a year, was driven to suicide.