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The frequent assumption that they [the Persians] were as greatly concerned on these levels [historically, culturally, strategically] with Greece [as they were with the east] is a misconception which stems from our own western view of the world and from the unfortunate fact that Greece has given us our main literary sources of information on the Achaemenids. It was the Greeks who were fascinated by Persia, by Persian mores, and, yes, by Persian court art and luxury goods—not the reverse. If only the Persians had spawned the likes of Aeschylus and Herodotus, our perceptions of their preoccupations would be quite different.
Athenians were indeed fascinated by Persia as their art and literature attest. The fascination was both cultural and political, but not without tensions. Part of that fascination manifested itself in the allure of Persian kings and what they represented. The kings ruled over a vast empire, larger than any the Mediterranean world had yet seen. They sought in their iconography and building programmes to exert a particular identity for themselves and the Achaemenid dynasty. Although the Athenians were not imperialists of the type we see in Persia, Rome or the figure of Alexander, they did build for themselves a small, Hellenic empire (archē) and they adopted a number of Persian mechanisms of power and some aspects of Achaemenid iconography for representing their power. Aeschylus' Persians, produced in 472 BCE, helps us understand the Athenians' developing archē, specifically how the representations of the two Persian Kings in the play helped the Athenians differentiate and define their power vis-à-vis the Great Persian Menace and, more importantly, the rest of the Greeks. By understanding better the engagement by the Athenians with Persian culture, we can better understand how the Athenians conceptualised their own power and position in the Aegean in the early 5th century BCE.
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