The study of the ancient Persians is, as Richard Stoneman rather artfully puts it, a thriving business. So far from ruling over a ‘forgotten empire’, as a British Museum exhibition unhappily described it a decade back, the Achaemenid emperors – from Cyrus the Great to Darius III – ruled the fastest-growing, largest and most culturally mixed oriental empire to date, one that from Herodotus’s time to our own day has loomed large, sometimes all too large, in Western consciousness. Xerxes (Khshayarsha in Persian transcription) was by no means the least of them.
All the same, it would be fair to say that since the 1950s there has been a twofold revolution in ancient Persian studies: one of hugely increased primary data, both written (bureaucratic records of minute detail) and material, the other of interpretative self-awareness. The late Dutch scholar Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg and her coadjutants – Amélie Kuhrt, Christopher Tuplin and Pierre Briant, to name