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Unit information: The Persian Empire in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name The Persian Empire
Unit code CLAS30010
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Knippschild
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The Graeco-Persian Wars are the beginning of the western tradition of Orientalism, the point of origin of preconceived archetypes describing the East as fundamentally different from and weaker than the West. The aim of this unit is to guide students towards the in-depth study of key events in the history of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and key aspects of its rich and varied culture. Special attention will be placed on understanding the creation of the first truly multi-cultural empire of the ancient world and of the politics behind it, such as the so-called first charter of human rights, the Cyrus Cylinder. We will also study the intercultural communication and the mutual influences between East and West before turning to the culture clash between Persians and Greeks and Herodotus’ Histories, which constitute one of the roots of modern Orientalism. Finally, we will look at the reception of the Persian Empire in art and literature up to the present.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have:

  1. developed a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of the history and culture of the Persian Empire.
  2. had some experience in handling and evaluating extracts from key pieces of literary and material historical sources concerning the Persian Empire.
  3. demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument.

Teaching details

3 hours per week (seminars)

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3,000 words (worth 50%), and a 2 hour examination comprising 2 questions out of 8 (worth 50%). Both elements will assess:

(1) students’ knowledge and understanding of the history and culture of the Persian Empire and its impact on modern culture.The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (2), (3) and (4).

Reading and References

  • P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander, A history of the Persian Empire (Winona Lake 2002).
  • M. Brosius, The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes II, London 2000.
  • A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, New York and London 1995.
  • M. Van de Mieroop, A History of the Ancient Near East, Oxford 2007.
  • D.C. Snell, A Companion to the Ancient Near East, Oxford 2005.
  • J. Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia, From 550 BC to 650 AD, London 2001.