Why Did Alexander Set Persepolis on Fire

Author : Daricer , July 15, 2019

Why Did Alexander Set Persepolis on Fire

This Article was written by Abbas Malek Hosseini, The guide of Tehran tours at freetehrantour.com and owner of Travel to Iran podcast.

The TapPersia, on behalf of the Greek embassy, had asked me to be a guide for a Greek tourist. Along with Mr. Evangelos Kyriakidis, we planned to walk a few hours in different parts of Tehran, in the hot afternoon on Saturday, June 15th.
The stories I’ll tell you are about a 3-hour conversation. If you find them interesting, then please look them up in some accredited books.

I Was Extremely Excited!

it was Interesting. I was supposed to be the guide and talk, but the professor talked more and I enjoyed. He was familiar with almost everything I had planned to talk about. He was quite familiar with Shahnameh, and he really enjoyed hearing about the similarities between the characters of Persian and Greek mythology. For instance, comparing Rostam to Hercules or Esfandiar to Achilles.
The professor said: if I wanted to introduce Iran to anyone, I would ask them to visit Isfahan.
I love historical and mythology characters. Mr. Evangels said to me that in ancient Greek, they didn’t believe in life after death, like the paradise introduced by the religions – actually they believed that life after death was an agonizing hell – therefore people were in search to perpetuate their name. This became a motivation for Alexander to do something eternal for the Macedon kingdom and the union of the Greek cities governments.
When Achilles asked his mother for advice for going to Troy, he was given this answer:
“You can stay here and live in peace, have sons and grandsons, but after your grandsons, no one will ever remember your name. Or you can leave for Troy, die young, and make your name immortal.”
Note: I translated the verse from Persian poem Sa’di, “The righteous man shall never die” for the professor, and this ideology, considering the Islamic beliefs, was interesting to him.

Why Alexander put Perspolis to Fire
Abbas Malak Hosseini and professor Evangelos Kyriakidis at the Azadi square

The Bases for Setting Persepolis on Fire

I must point out that, history must not be read unilateral and with personal views. Historical matters must also be analyzed from different perspectives. I hope that they may be read without bias and prejudice.

Ancient Greek Beliefs

Professor said that in ancient Greek, there was a major belief in Vendetta. The word Vendetta bears the meaning of “blood demand”. In those times, if someone was killed, they should be avenged by blood, and whenever they had the intention to stop the killings, a girl from the killer’s family must become a man’s wife from the victim’s family. This way the two parties would become one family, and thus the Vendetta would reach an end. I said to the professor that I’d always thought that this custom belonged to the pre-Islamic Arabs, and he said this custom doesn’t only have roots in Greece, but almost all over the world.

The Achaemenid’s Infiltration into Ancient Greek

The Achaemenes used local commanders and soldiers to conquer lands. This way, it would cost them less to transport their manpower, and It would also be strong support for the local commander. One of Greece’s local kingdoms was the “Minoan Civilization”. The Persians would pay these people to create anarchy and unsafety in Greece cities and lands, and wars would ensue in the peninsula between kingdoms and city governments.

The governments of Greece’s cities

The governments of Greece’s cities

Along with that, there had been a few small battles to conquer all of Greece but, because of too many kingdoms, like other areas, there wasn’t one strong government having control over vast areas, these battles never came to any significant victories. But there was always Persian threat to overthrow the kingdoms and the government of Athens.

Saving Greece’s Democracy and the Demolition of Athens

The government of Athens was never a kingdom and featured a democracy system based on people’s votes. Democracy needed military force and defensive power to survive and maintain itself. These same Persian threats made them decide on having a military force.
But Greece’s military forces were not so powerful. Because in those times, swords and iron were of high value, and only royalties and the nobles had the permission to use them. Battles were mostly fought in close combat and would end as soon as the heroes were killed. But due to the Persian threats, they were forced to use the common people as soldiers, and master their skills in close combats without swords and weapons.
The professor said the city of Greece and the Acropolis area were completely destroyed twice by the Achaemenes (prior to the Xerxes period). I asked: in retaliation of setting the city of Sardis on fire? (in the above map, it’s represented as LYDIA) He replied: there were small battles among the small cities, but not to dismantle the city! The utter destruction happened to the city of Athens.
Note: the complete story on the destruction of Athens by the Achaemenes here on Wikipedia

the Battle of Marathon, the resistance and the stopping of the Achaemenes war machine
The Battle of Marathon, the resistance and the stopping of the Achaemenes war machine

This caused the Greeks to learn and obtain new combat techniques and methods. Because the Achaemenes were excellent archers, and could easily defeat the soldiers with bows and arrows.
Professor explained that the battle of marathon which happened during the period of Darius the Great: The Achaemenes were by the foot of the mountains on the beach and were shooting arrows at the soldiers in the forest, those soldiers had only shields and were charging towards the beach, screaming, and when they reached the archers, they would defeat them by throwing punches and choking them. But the main reason for the defeat of the Iranian army was their siege by the Greek units of the Phalanx.
Note: The marathon battle is quite extensive, and I only included the portion that was said in the conversation.
As a result, due to foreign threats, the military force to protect democracy was reinforced.

Philip and Alexander

Philip was the king of Macedon. He was able to unite the governments of the Greek cities, with war or negotiations. The old enemy was still there, but now weaker than before. The Achaemenes were occupied with internal corruption, and the army and the eternal guard did not have any battles. The loyalty of the states has decreased. Under these circumstances, the need for vendetta and blood demand among Greeks was getting stronger.
Alexander, who was the son of a general, and the commander of the Phalanx forces, became the king and decides to force out the Persians from Greece. The professor said that Alexander didn’t really lead any significant battle. Any city that he set foot on, like Tyre or Egypt, the military force and people there united with him. He only had a few important battles, and eventually reached Persepolis. The Persians had lost the loyalty of their cities, and the soldiers had no incentive to fight.
Alexander, for his blood demand, and to retaliate for Athens, set the city of Parse on fire, and ordered his commanders and soldiers to marry the Persian girls. Then he said the vendetta has now ended, the Persians and the Greeks are one family and there’s no war anymore.

The battle of Alexander and Darius the third

The battle of Alexander and Darius the third

After the Arrival of the Greeks

During the Parthian Empire, Greek was one of the spoken languages. Also, the custom of having a parliament had entered Persia, and the Parthians had a system, which was able to depose their king for even a minor mistake.
The last thing the professor said was: at one point, the Sasanian received money from the Byzantines to go to the Balkan Peninsula to fight the northerners, which means fighting in Greece for defending Greece and the Eastern Roman Empire.

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