The best books about Achaemenid Persia and its Greek neighbors

John O. Hyland Author Of Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450−386 BCE
By John O. Hyland

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with ancient history since childhood, but really fell in love with the Achaemenids in college while taking classes on Greek history and wondering about the other side’s perspective on familiar stories of the Persian Wars. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to study both Greek and Persian history in graduate school at the University of Chicago, a leading center of scholarship on the Achaemenid world since the Persepolis excavations in the 1930s. Since 2006, I’ve taught in the History department at Christopher Newport University, a liberal arts university in Newport News, Virginia. I’m currently working on my next book, a new history of Persia’s Greek campaigns. 


I wrote...

Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450−386 BCE

By John O. Hyland,

Book cover of Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450−386 BCE

What is my book about?

The Persian-Greek Wars rank among history’s most famous conflicts, but the diplomacy that followed is a less familiar story. Despite Xerxes’ failure to conquer Greece in 480 BCE, Persia remained the world’s most powerful empire, and within decades, made peace with Athens as a useful frontier trade partner. When Athens’ power began to crumble in the fratricidal Peloponnesian War, Persia stepped in to finance Sparta’s naval victory, and it later subsidized Sparta’s enemies to bring it to heel after an attempt to renounce Persian authority. These diplomatic triumphs were not defensive balancing acts driven by fears of Greek encroachment, but confident projections of economic power, augmented at times with naval force, that established Persian influence over the Aegean region without repeating Xerxes’ doomed campaign. 

The books I picked & why

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From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire

By Pierre Briant,

Book cover of From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire

Why this book?

Almost three decades after its original French publication, this magnum opus continues to stand alone as the definitive narrative history of the first Persian empire under the Achaemenid dynasty. Briant’s sweeping account offers countless insights into Persian political history, demolishing dated views of the Persian-Greek wars as the beginning of the empire’s decline, and exploring the resilience of Persian elites and institutions even during the conquest by Alexander of Macedon. But the analysis is hardly limited to histoire événementielle, and is at its most impressive in the exploration of social and economic conditions and interactions between Iranian officials and settlers and the empire’s diverse subject populations, from Egypt and the Aegean to Central Asia and the Indus valley.  

From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire

By Pierre Briant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Cyrus to Alexander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Around 550 B.C.E. the Persian people-who were previously practically unknown in the annals of history-emerged from their base in southern Iran (Fars) and engaged in a monumental adventure that, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great and his successors, culminated in the creation of an immense Empire that stretched from central Asia to Upper Egypt, from the Indus to the Danube. The Persian (or Achaemenid, named for its reigning dynasty) Empire assimilated an astonishing diversity of lands, peoples, languages, and cultures. This conquest of Near Eastern lands completely altered the history of the world: for the first time, a monolithic…


A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire

By Bruno Jacobs (editor), Robert Rollinger (editor),

Book cover of A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire

Why this book?

This monumental two-volume collection, published in 2021, contains 110 accessible essays by some of the most prominent scholars of Achaemenid Persian history. It introduces the ancient evidence, including written sources, artistic materials, and archaeological remains, for every major region from the Indus to the Nile and the Aegean, and ably surveys the disciplinary history of the modern study of ancient Iran.  Thematic chapters trace numerous aspects of Persia’s imperial world, including geography, languages, gender, religion, court dynamics, administration, communications, war, diplomacy, economics, art, science, and many more. The narrative chapters place the empire’s rise and fall, including but hardly limited to the Persian-Greek wars, into a longer context of Ancient Near Eastern empire formation, setting up valuable insights through comparison with Assyria, Babylonia, and other predecessors. 

A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire

By Bruno Jacobs (editor), Robert Rollinger (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A COMPANION TO THE ACHAEMENID PERSIAN EMPIRE

A comprehensive review of the political, cultural, social, economic and religious history of the Achaemenid Empirem

Often called the first world empire, the Achaemenid Empire is rooted in older Near Eastern traditions. A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire offers a perspective in which the history of the empire is embedded in the preceding and subsequent epochs. In this way, the traditions that shaped the Achaemenid Empire become as visible as the powerful impact it had on further historical development. But the work does not only break new ground in this respect, but…


The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period

By Amélie Kuhrt,

Book cover of The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period

Why this book?

The Persian empire’s size and diversity impose special challenges for modern study. The major sources are written in a wide variety of ancient languages, including Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian, Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and many texts were initially studied in specialist publications with limited accessibility outside a small circle of scholars. Kuhrt’s sourcebook did a tremendous service to scholars and students alike by gathering reliable translations of a wide range of written evidence from the Persian empire, replete with supporting notes and bibliography for further reading. It includes substantial selections from Greek historians of Persia, including Herodotus, Xenophon, and the Alexander biographers, but ensures that readers are able to contextualize these texts alongside internal materials reflecting the full diversity of Persian empire and society. 

The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period

By Amélie Kuhrt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Persian Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bringing together a wide variety of material in many different languages that exists from the substantial body of work left by this large empire, The Persian Empire presents annotated translations, together with introductions to the problems of using it in order to gain an understanding of the history and working os this remarkable political entity.

The Achaemenid empire developed in the region of modern Fars (Islam) and expanded to unite territories stretching from the Segean and Egypt in the west to Central Asia and north-west India, which it ruled for over 200 years until its conquest by Alexander of Macedon.…


Sparta and Persia

By David M. Lewis,

Book cover of Sparta and Persia

Why this book?

This short book inspired me to become a historian of Persian-Greek relations, and my own first book sought to build on its foundations. It contains a series of lectures by a great scholar of ancient history and languages, reflecting on the partnership between two ancient powers that were less foreign to one another in cultural and political terms than often supposed. Rather than focusing on Xerxes’ invasion and Thermopylae, it explores the worldviews, communication methods, and diplomatic practices of Spartan elites and Persian officials over the century that followed, brilliantly tracing how the Spartans and Persians crafted their Peloponnesian War alliance and overcame a number of disputes to complete the peace of 386, which provided autonomy for Greeks outside Asia while consolidating Persian rule over Greeks in Asia Minor.  

Sparta and Persia

By David M. Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sparta and Persia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

put these thoughts in the mouth of someone whom he disapproved


Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity

By Margaret C. Miller,

Book cover of Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity

Why this book?

This remarkable study views the encounters between Persia and Athens through the movement of artwork and material artifacts. Beginning just after Xerxes’ invasion with the Athenian acquisition of Persian objects as wartime spoils, it explores other avenues for cultural dissemination in the contexts of economic exchange, diplomatic gifts, architectural influence, and the emulation and transformation of selected Persian fashions in status-signaling by wealthy Athenians. Carefully illustrated and argued, it expands the horizons of Persian-Greek studies from conflict to culture, driving home Lewis’ maxim that there was no “Iron Curtain” across the Aegean. 

Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity

By Margaret C. Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is a commonplace of modern scholarship that the Athenians hated and despised the Persians, but the claims of contempt are disproved by the evidence of archaeology, epigraphy, iconography and literature, all of which reveal some facet of Athenian receptivity to Achaemenid Persian culture. The Athenian response was as richly complex as the spheres of interaction: both private and public, elite and sub-elite. It appears in pot shapes, clothing, luxurious display and monumental architecture. This innovative study, the first comprehensive collection of evidence pertaining to the relations between Athens and Persia in the fifth century BC, aims to make this…


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Interested in the Achaemenid Empire, Iran, and Athens?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Achaemenid Empire, Iran, and Athens.

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