10 books like Sparta and Persia

By David M. Lewis,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Sparta and Persia. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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From Cyrus to Alexander

By Pierre Briant,

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

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

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

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

By Amélie Kuhrt,

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

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

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.…


Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC

By Margaret C. Miller,

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

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

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…


A History of Iran

By Michael Axworthy,

Book cover of A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind

An engagingly written, fair and balanced history for readers interested in more detail and analysis than is found in my own slim introductory volume. In my view the single best scholarly history of Iran ever written.

A History of Iran

By Michael Axworthy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of Iran as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Iran is a land of contradictions. It is an Islamic republic, but one in which only 1.4 percent of the population attend Friday prayers. Iran's religious culture encompasses the most censorious and dogmatic Shi'a Muslim clerics in the world, yet its poetry insistently dwells on the joys of life: wine, beauty, sex. Iranian women are subject to one of the most restrictive dress codes in the Islamic world, but make up nearly 60 percent of the student population of the nation's universities. In A History of Iran, acclaimed historian Michael Axworthy chronicles the rich history of this complex nation from…


Shadows in the Desert

By Kaveh Farrokh,

Book cover of Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War

A single-volume history of the ancient Persian, Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian Empires written by an expert on ancient Persia. It is a very readable account of the great powers of the ancient world that inhabited the region that is now Iraq and Iran. It places the Parthians in the context of the story of Persia and from an eastern perspective.

Shadows in the Desert

By Kaveh Farrokh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shadows in the Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The empires of ancient Persia remain as mysterious today as they were to contemporary Western scholars. Although Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia is legendary, the military successes of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanian empires, along with their revolutionary military technology, tactics and culture have been almost forgotten in the sands of the East. In its day, Persia was a superpower to rival Greece and Rome, and conflict between them spanned over a millennium. Through these wars, and trade, these foes learnt from each other, not only adopting elements of military technology, but influences in the arts, architecture, religion, technology…


Persepolis

By Charles River Editors,

Book cover of Persepolis: The History and Legacy of the Ancient Persian Empire's Capital City

The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, or at least named in his honour. And Alexander the Great is responsible for wiping out other fabled cities. Most notably, the ancient Persian city of Persepolis, located in modern-day Iran. Finally, a place you can actually visit! But the massive palace lies in ruins, nowhere near its original splendour with all the statuary and furnishings, and the pomp and majesty of Persia’s kings and courtiers—at the time when Persia was a global superpower.

Around 2,000 years ago, Alexander the Great’s troops looted Persepolis and burned it to the ground. And there it lay in the sand, forgotten, until the site was revived in the 1930s and somewhat restored. The site lies in southwest Iran and was inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1979.  Given that travel to Iran today is fraught with obstacles, this book about Persepolis could…

Persepolis

By Charles River Editors,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

*Includes pictures *Includes ancient historians' descriptions of Persepolis and the Persians *Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading “By the favor of Ahuramazda these are the countries which I got into my possession along with this Persian people, which felt fear of me and bore me tribute : Elam, Media, Babylonia, Arabia, Assyria, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Lydia, the Greeks who are of the mainland and those who are by the sea, and countries which are across the sea, Sagartia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Bactria, Sogdia, Chorasmia, Sattagydia, Arachosia, Hinduš, Gandara, Sacae, Maka.” – An inscription on a terrace wall…


Cataphracts

By Erich B. Anderson,

Book cover of Cataphracts: Knights of the Ancient Eastern Empires

The armies of ancient Parthia were mostly composed of two troop types: horse archers and cataphracts. This title explores the development of the latter horsemen, which in fact predated Parthia but were particularly effective in Parthian service. So much so that they were adopted by the Romans in the second century AD as they sought to defend the borders of their threatened empire.

Cataphracts

By Erich B. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Cataphracts were the most heavily armoured form of cavalry in the ancient world, with riders and mounts both clad in heavy armour. Originating among the wealthiest nobles of various central Asian steppe tribes, such as the Massegatae and Scythians, they were adopted and adapted by several major empires. The Achaemenid Persians, Seleucids, Sassanians and eventually the Romans and their Byzantine successors. Usually armed with long lances, they harnessed the mobility and mass of the horse to the durability and solid fighting power of the spear-armed phalanx. Although very expensive to equip and maintain (not least due to the need for…


The Last Great War of Antiquity

By James Howard-Johnston,

Book cover of The Last Great War of Antiquity

This book is, to me, the Platonic Ideal of scholarly military history. Howard-Johnston examines a somewhat obscure but vastly important war between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire that lasted from 602 to 628 and left both empires vulnerable to the new Islamic power that was about to emerge in Arabia. His narrative is lively, his knowledge of the sources is unmatched, his interpretations masterful, and he exposes the inner workings of the book regularly in philosophical comments on the job of the military historian, causation in history, and the problems of source interpretation. That it took him longer to write than the war itself lasted is also one of my favorite pieces of historian-author trivia!

The Last Great War of Antiquity

By James Howard-Johnston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Great War of Antiquity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The last and longest war of classical antiquity was fought in the early seventh century. It was ideologically charged and fought along the full length of the Persian-Roman frontier, drawing in all the available resources and great powers of the steppe world. The conflict raged on an unprecedented scale, and its end brought the classical phase of history to a close. Despite all this, it has left a conspicuous gap in the history of warfare. This book aims to finally
fill that gap.

The war opened in summer 603 when Persian armies launched co-ordinated attacks across the Roman frontier. Twenty-five…


Termópilas (Grandes Batallas)

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Termópilas (Grandes Batallas)

The legendary feat of the 300 Spartans who sacrificed for their city and their ideals is narrated in an excellent way in this book that also accurately reflects the way of thinking and understanding the world. A highly recommended reading for those who wish to learn about the world of the Spartans. In this story are the most important events of that historic moment.

Termópilas (Grandes Batallas)

By Paul Cartledge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Termópilas (Grandes Batallas) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Viajero, ve a Esparta y cuenta que aquí hemos muerto en obediencia a sus leyes” dicen las célebres palabras del poeta Simónides que glorifican el heroísmo de los 300 guerreros espartanos que, liderados por Leónidas, dieron sus vidas en el paso de las Termópilas, conteniendo al enorme ejército del rey persa Jejes. Esta batalla fue un auténtico choque entre civilizaciones y la leyenda del heroísmo y sacrificio de la élite de guerreros espartanos en defensa de la libertad de su patria fue esencial para definir la identidad de la Grecia clásica y sus ecos llegan hasta nuestros días. La de…


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