Thursday, October 1, 2015

Greece vs Persia seems easy to us raised in the "Western Tradition."  Who doesn't love Greece?  The temples, the statues, the philosophers, the plays and poems...the birthplace of democracy, of Socratic reasoning and scientific inquiry...These are all beloved icons of our cultural heritage.  And then the wars with Persia:  brave, outnumbered Greeks fighting the hordes of Persian soldiers to preserve their independence.  What's to debate?

Of course a little bit of objective inquiry might balance the picture.  Greek society was heavily dependent on slavery, not only in militaristic Sparta but in glorious Athens as well. Women had almost no status in Greece, and peasants and other poor people were routinely exploited.  Greek society was also warlike with constant fighting among the city-states.  Not an easy place to raise your family if you're just a regular working guy.

On the other hand, the Achaemenid Persian Empire had much to recommend it.  The dominant religion of Persia, Zoroastrianism, discouraged slavery and invited everyone to seek salvation.  The empire allowed conquered regions to maintain their religions and other cultural traditions.  Persia built roads and irrigation canals to improve agriculture and commerce.  Perhaps most important, peace prevailed throughout the empire.  Maybe an easier place to raise your family if you're just a regular working guy.

Students sort of get the debatable points here.  They've all seen The 300, but some of them thought the tolerance and prosperity of the Persian Empire were attractive.  The prevalence of slavery certainly gives them pause as does the rigid patriarchy.  This sort of historical comparison and analysis is the main stuff of AP world history, and it's so much more interesting than just a bunch of factoids.

Next up:  the main event of the classical era, the Roman Empire vs Han Dynasty China.

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