The opinions of the Greeks the Eastern world which notably included the Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Indians and Egyptians are known to all. They elaborated at length through their literature their thoughts on this matter and indeed it is certainly very interesting that we have so diverse a set of data from which we can pick out in detail their sentiments of the "barbarians" of Asia that were in the East from the Greek world.

However, prior and around the conquests of Alexander, I have yet to come across anything through which we may obtain any distinct notion of what these Eastern peoples thought of the Greeks. For example, the Persians were well acquainted with the Greeks yet we know nothing what they thought of them. Yet, the very identity of ancient Persia that we have largely comes from the writers of the ancient Greek world.

It should be kept in mind that when I refer to "ancient", I have in mind probably the period from 800 BC to about 100 BC. After this period, much data becomes available through the writings of the Jews and other peoples but I know nothing of the period before this.

It is significant that Berossus, a native Babylonian of the early 3rd century BC, appears to have written a history of Babylonia and certainly other things as well but I am not aware of any fragment of anything related to the Greeks in his work. Manetho is another good example, he seems to have shared his opinions of the Jews as we're well aware from the writings of Josephus centuries later yet nothing on anything related to Europe.

There is a silence, which is even terrifying to some degree, present in the Eastern literature regarding the world that laid in Europe. On the one hand, we have the Greeks who composed large compositions on the ancient world of the East, elaborated many of their manners and customs, their character, their government, their rites and whatever that seemed interesting and certainly the Greeks were very much interested in the world of Asia.

Herodotus' Histories may even be labeled a proto-ethnographical work, due to his great interest in the diverse customs of the world. The Greeks were highly fascinated by the peoples of Asia (which at that time largely included, if I am not mistaken, all the parts of the Achaemenid Empire such as Persia itself, Mesoptamia, India..etc). Another writer is Ctesias who is similar, and there is also Aristoxenus (a student of Aristotle) who tells us of an interesting anecdote in which Socrates is rebuked by an Indian philosopher, which seems that he may have had information available relating to the Brahmins. There is also Plato and Aristotle himself, in whose writings we find numerous references to the peoples of East.

Yet, what did the people of the East themselves think of the Greeks? Were they curious about them? Did they find anything unusual about them? What did they think about their customs? What did they think about their religion and their women? And more importantly, what did they think about their democracy which surely must have seemed something extremely strange? What did they find most "barbaric" about the Greeks?

All the data that we have on this matter I think comes from a time when the peoples of the East had been heavily Hellenized and thus I think there's significantly less of the "wonder" quotient. That's why I picked the period from 800 to 100 BC. Ofcourse, before 800 BC, we have not an negligible amount of references to the Greeks in the writings of the Hittites and Assyrians. Indeed, the famous "Philistines" it has been supposed may be the Greeks themselves by many scholars of this century, who so disturbed the Jews. Yet even there, we find not much of importance.

Thus the question may stated once again as simply as possible: The Greeks had a lot to say about the East, what did the East have to say? Did they said anything at all?

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    @StevenBurnap Alexander's burning of Xerxes palace probably didn't help! Apr 24, 2019 at 19:41
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    "... the sources for Greek history, no matter how patchy, derive from the Greeks themselves. The Persians, with one key exception, did not write anything at all that we can identify as an account of real events" - Tom Holland Persian Fire Apr 24, 2019 at 19:43
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    @Kalis: Still. The fact of the matter is, as you correctly point out in your question, that there are precious little primary sources from the time that weren't written by the Greeks. Until someone discovers some cache in Iran with ancient Persian documents, or some Chinese narrative of the events or something, the question seems mostly unanswerable insofar as I'm aware. (I'd be extremely happy to be proven completely wrong, of course.) Apr 24, 2019 at 19:53
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    @Kalis What is the "not so negligible information" you think is available about the 'Greek Dark Ages' (the period that preceded the Archaic period) from the "writings of the Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians"? As far as I'm aware, Wikipedia is correct when it states that: "There's lack of any written sources from this epoch". Apr 24, 2019 at 19:58
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    I asked Tom about the statement in Persian Fire. The "key exception" he was talking about was the Bisitun Inscription, which doesn't mention Greece. Given his expertise in this area, I think we can therefore rule out any Persian sources about Greece for that period. Apr 24, 2019 at 21:15

1 Answer 1


This question is periodically asked here in various forms. Apparently the problem is that none of the literature of Persian empires (Achaemenid, Parthian, Sasanian) survived. If there was any, it was completely destroyed after Muslim conquest. I will be glad if someone proves me wrong, but my search shows that no Persian pre-Muslim literature survived. None.

For this reason, even our knowledge about Persian empires themselves is mostly based on Greek sources (and archaeology, of course). However we know what the Jews thought of the Greeks after the Macedonian conquests (from the corresponding books of the Bible). These two cultures, Greek and Jewish are lucky in some sense: their literature survived.

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    I should perhaps also mention that this question isn't just confined to Persia but is expanded to the Near East as a whole. Certainly the situation can't be that bad. After all, we have a local Babylonian author by the name of Berossus allegedly correcting Greek "misconceptions" around 200-250 BC. I have not examined this author in detail but perhaps someone dig in for any gold in his fragments. There is also Manetho but I think he is largely devoted to Egyptian history. There is even a contemporary eyewitness account to the death of Alexander by a Babylonian.
    – Kalis
    Apr 24, 2019 at 20:44
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    @Kalis: Before the Alexander's conquest, Persian empire covered the whole of Middle east. Speaking of Berossus, he belongs to the Hellenistic civilization: he wrote in Greek and lived in a Macedonian state (Seleucid empire).
    – Alex
    Apr 24, 2019 at 22:42
  • There are only two ways an extensive literature can survive: Being written on durable materials (e.g., rock or papyrus in extreme desert areas) or being recopied. Rock (even clay tablets) is self-limiting. The ancient Near East was not dry enough for the most part. (The Dead Sea Scrolls are nearly unique north of the Egyptian and Arabian deserts.) And -- possibly due to the Muslim conquest -- the Persians, et al., left no literate successor civilizations that wanted keep their writings "in print". (Of course this begs the question of whether there were any histories to start with.)
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 12, 2021 at 14:17
  • @Kalis: same applies to Manetho who lived in an Hellenistic state and wrote in Greek. We simply have no non-Greek Middle eastern written sources from the time before Alexander's conquest.
    – Alex
    Apr 12, 2021 at 19:43

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