Beginning in the sixth century BCE, Persian kings ruled a vast, culturally diverse empire that stretched from northern Libya to central Asia. The regime and its rich multicultural traditions prospered for 250 years until its invasion, and eventual defeat, by Alexander the Great's army in 331 BCE. While the triumph of Alexander is well known, the kingdom that he conquered is less so. The Persian Empire is one of the few accounts available, a comprehensive historical survey that as an accompaniment to an exhibition at the British Museum provides an accessible portrayal of the world's first land-based dynastic kingdom.
In her cultural and political history of the development of this dynasty, Lindsay Allen—-classicist and scholar of ancient Iran—surveys written sources, art objects, warfare, politics, and archaeological sites, supplementing the historical framework with descriptions of daily life during Persian rule. She traces the evolution of the monarchy, showing how it fostered unprecedented international communication and cultural exchange, and describes how the Persian expedition into Greece in the early fifth century BCE became a defining moment that established a European identity unique from an Asian one. Examining the rediscovery of the royal capitals at Persepolis and Susa, Allen illuminates the legacy of Persian imperial traditions. Throughout, lavish illustrations bring to life the traditions of this ancient Middle Eastern civilization and finally place Alexander's invasion within a Persian context. As the subject experiences renewed interest, The Persian Empire promises to be the definitive work on one of the most powerful dynasties in ancient history.