The King’s peoples

The King’s peoples:  was there ever an Achaemenid Persian tradition of ethnography?

Antigoni Zournatzi Institute of Historical Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation


Evocations of the multiethnic makeup of the Persian realm in Achaemenid inscriptions and the ethnically individuated representations of subjects in Achaemenid reliefs have not previously been recognized, in and by themselves, as incontrovertible evidence for a Persian engagement with ethnography; they were primarily perceived as symbolic statements of the vastness of the territory controlled by Persian kings and these kings’ great power and wealth. In this presentation the testimony of these royal monuments is combined with reports of Persian ethnographic activities in Herodotus’ Histories and information about the ethnic and cultural considerations that were engendered in the management of the Persian empire. Taken together, the different strands of evidence allow us to posit the existence of an important Persian imperial tradition of ethnographic inquiry and knowledge, which was in close dialogue, moreover, with the ancient Greek ethnographic progress.