Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Democracy Practiced Among Ancient Persians

When Herodotus (490BC-420BC) the great ancient Greek historian traveled to Persia, he wrote a countless amount of information about how the society operated and how the kings saw themselves next to the Gods and rejected democracy all together. He wrote that the kings, possessing as they do all that heart can desire, ought to be void of envy; but the contrary is seen in their conduct towards the citizens. But worst of all is, that he sets aside the laws of the land, puts men to death without trial, and subjects women to violence. The rule of the many, on the other hand, has, in the first place, the fairest of names, to wit, isonomy; and further it is free from all those outrages which a king is wont to commit. There, places are given by lot, the magistrate is answerable for what he does, and measures rest with the commonality. What Herodotus seems to forget is the way the Persian treated their enemies, and ruled the cities they conquered. What is a known fact is that Iranians sometimes enlarged non-Iranian temples, as in the case of the Temple of Ammon at Hibis in Egypt. Iranians never had any objection to specifically Greek rites or Greek religious personnel; for example, when Xerxes captured Athens 480 BCE, he ordered the restored Athenian exiles with him to offer Hellenic-style on the Acropolis.
On the other hand when Alexander the not so great, who probably had heard the word "democracy" from his tutor, Aristotle for the first time, set his feet in Iran, him and his civilized and democrat Greek army, looted the palaces of any treasures that once had flowed in from all the countries under heaven of Ahura Mazdah. The capital, Persepolis, had been despoiled, its sacred sculptures insulted and defiled, then burned and destroyed by that very element that was the holy manifestation of the Persian fire-god, Atar.
Considering that the first charter of human right was written by Cyrus the great, the first official king of Persia, and not by Aristotle, I see it as a great insult to read Herodotus' opinions written in his notes relating Iranian democracy titled "The Persians Reject Democracy".
On a side note, I think that Aristotle has received more than his share of fame for unexplainable reasons! Perhaps being the tutor of Alexander, the king of Macedon, gained him the fame. But if his theories about life were so enchanting why would his pupil, Alexander turn out so unstable? Infact, according to Dr.P.J.Rhodes from Oxford and many others "The Athenian Constitution" was not even written by Aristotle. Rhodes has came up with a number of clues that I wont get into since they are off topic.
My intentions are to draw your attention to the fact that what we read today in the academic papers about the culture and the operating systems of ancient Persia was mostly written by foreigners from Greece, one of whom was Herodotus. You can only imagine what would a Greek's personal opinion be of their ultimate enemy. Unfortunately, the books written by Persians about Persian culture were mostly looted, first by Greeks, next by Arabs and then by Mongols. The amount of information lost to us is infinite. Currently most of the academic work in relations to Ancient Persian culture relies on the facts and fictions in Gatha the Zoroastrian religious book and Shahnameh, an epic book in the style of Odyssey and Iliad of Homer, written by Ferdousi. Recently, archaeological discoveries have also contributed to enhancing our knowledge about Ancient Persia (although most of them were either sold by burglars or stole by French and the British).
To conclude, keep in mind that what you read in the Western literature is not a great representative of the Persian culture. But sadly they have been dwelled on as the only Ancient resources that we have in hand. You can do a little experiment right now by checking to see if your spell check can detect and correct the word Persepolis, or Shahnameh, where as it easily does so for such words as Odyssey, Iliad , etc..

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