New Trends in Achaemenid History

The article elaborates on the contemporary structure of Achaemenid history and the perspectives that will determine its future developments. Although Achaemenid studies have been persistently undervalued, they have entered a new, flourishing period, especially in the last twenty years. The new studies and a growing number of excavations have, according to the author, refuted the long held assumption that the Achaemenid hold on its territories was limited to a few closely-controlled enclaves and to the axes of the major royal routes. Furthermore, discoveries of images copied or adapted from the imperial court reflect the Persian Imperial presence in the provinces, including Babylonia and Egypt. These studies and discoveries also illustrate a pronounced movement toward better recognition of the Achaemenid phase in the historical scale of the lands of the Near East during the first millennium. Moreover, these findings do not come only from the publication of new documentary material but also from the re-examination of old documents. Indeed, the discovery of underground water canals, or qanats, in a village built during the Achaemenid period, has confirmed and amplified the historians' awareness of Egypt under Achaemenid rule.

Indeed, the totality of the newly published documents would soon challenge the whole of the traditional interpretive framework regarding the nature and extent of the Imperial influence on its periphery, particularly Egypt. To be sure, no one can either doubt the vitality of ancient Egyptian social structures and ideology or the existence of revolts against its conquerors. Neither one should doubt the solidity of the Achaemenid hold on the Nile valley, or reduce the Persian presence in Egypt to a mere epiphenomenon without any real consequence. Thus, the recent discoveries and publications on Achaemenid Egypt open up prospects of fundamental new growth of scholarship in the near future.

Pierre Briant
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