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The Achaemenid empire and the sea

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This article looks at the conquest of the sea as a way of projecting world rule during the Achaemenid period. It starts by tracing the ancient Near Eastern tradition whereby successive rulers had to prove themselves by conquering the sea, from mythical kings such as Gilgameš and Sargon of Akkad down to Cyrus the Great and his successors. It then considers more specifically some of the ways in which Darius and Xerxes staged a conquest of the sea through symbolic gestures, building projects, and military campaigns. In a final section, the article investigates how Greeks and Persians responded to Xerxes' defeat. Whereas patriotic Greeks appropriated and subverted the terms of imperial discourse, the Achaemenids themselves adopted a two-pronged approach: a continued emphasis on the sea in the imperial heartlands, and a new focus on continental boundaries in the north-western theatre. The chapter as a whole draws on recent research into social space and mental maps, and on Hayden White's concept of ‘emplotment’ in history.
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Keywords: Achaemenids; Babylonian World Map; Bitter River; Bosporus; Darius; GilgameŇ°; Greece; Hellespont; Persia; Salamis; Sargon of Akkad; Scythia; Xerxes; emplotment; mental maps; social space

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Classics and Ancient History,Durham University, Durham, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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