by Professor Ali Ansari,
dated: July 14, 2012
Any visitor to the spectacular ruins of Persepolis - the site of the ceremonial capital of the ancient Persian Achaemenid empire, will be told three facts: it was built by Darius the Great, embellished by his son Xerxes, and destroyed by that man, Alexander.
That man Alexander, would be the Alexander the Great, feted in Western culture as the conqueror of the Persian Empire and one of the great military geniuses of history.
Indeed, reading some Western history books one might be forgiven for thinking that the Persians existed to be conquered by Alexander.
A more inquisitive mind might discover that the Persians had twice before been defeated by the Greeks during two ill-fated invasions of Greece, by Darius the Great in 490BC and then his son, Xerxes, in 480BC - for which Alexander's assault was a justified retaliation. [A more inquisitive mind might refer to Herodotus, who indicates that the Persian invasions of Greece were justified by the Greek invasion of Asia during the Trojan War. - aaa]
But seen through Persian eyes, Alexander is far from "Great".
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. [Alexander was clearly a jerk for destroying the great city of Persepolis, but Persians of today tend to honor him, and Alexander (or Iskander, the Persian form of his name) is a popular name for Persian boys. - aaa]
Persians also condemn him for the widespread destruction he is thought to have encouraged to cultural and religious sites throughout the empire.
The emblems of Zoroastrianism - the ancient religion of the Iranians - were attacked and destroyed. For the Zoroastrian priesthood in particular - the Magi - the destruction of their temples was nothing short of a calamity.
The influence of Greek language and culture has helped establish a narrative in the West that Alexander's invasion was the first of many Western crusades to bring civilisation and culture to the barbaric East. [Ridiculous! What little culture and learning the barbaric West had at the time was gained from Persia, Babylonia, and Egypt. - aaa]
But in fact the Persian Empire was 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.
Look closely and you will find ample evidence that the Greeks admired the Persian Empire and the emperors who ruled it.
Much like the barbarians who conquered Rome, 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 Greek admiration for the Persians goes back much earlier than this.