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OCR Persian Empire Teachers' Guide

Teachers’ Guide – ‘The Persian Empire, 559–465 BC’

This Teacher's Guide is taken from the OCR Persian Empire Teachers' Guide which can be accessed at the OCR website and downloaded in full here.

Overview of the topic

The Persian Empire study takes an overview of this fascinating period of history. A new course, this period study asks learners to engage with the Persian as well as Greek perspective. To this end, learners are encouraged to analyse the wide range of archaeological sources available in this field as well as the Greek texts. The variety of different types of source should make this a stimulating course that challenges the learner to enhance their knowledge and analytical skills.

It is important to note that the Persian Empire is a period study. This means that students need to understand the unfolding narrative of events and be able to use that knowledge in relation to the key themes. Students are not required to know all the minutiae and multitude of historical interpretations connected to the events outlined in the specification. However, they should know the salient details regarding Persian involvement in particular events and this will include some discussion of the similarities and differences in the evidence and emphasis of the sources. Particular attention should be paid to the role of each king in events of their reign.

The period study focuses on three consistent themes: the expansion of Persian territory; the interaction between Persians and other cultures; and the personalities, priorities and beliefs of the kings. In investigating these interrelated themes, learners should develop a broad knowledge and understanding of Persian history and culture over a significant period of time. In doing so they will contend with a range of historical concepts such as causation, change and continuity, significance, impact, and similarity and difference. Although no sources are set for this period study, learners will be expected to use and analyse source material in the examination. They should therefore be familiar with the characteristics of the different types of evidence pertaining to this period. Learners will need to discuss issues surrounding the nature and origin of the main literary and archaeological sources. Students are not explicitly required to evaluate the reliability of the evidence, but they are required to thoroughly analyse events and situations to reached well-substantiated judgements. In the course of doing this, issues of reliability may well be relevant and can be credited. Broader issues relating to the nature, origin and utility of the information in a particular source should be considered when evaluating questions.

Learners are asked to evaluate the motives that drove the expansion of the Persian Empire and investigate the course of that expansion. This will require an understanding of the developing Persian value system and culture, as well as knowledge of the specific circumstances related to individual conquests. The interaction between the Persians other peoples, and especially the impact of those interactions, can then be evaluated in context. Connecting the two previous themes is a third that requires learners to analyse the personalities, priorities and beliefs of the Persian kings of this period. The priorities of the kings both reflected and impacted on wider Persian culture as well contributing to the drive for expansion.



The basic format of this planning guide is to take the events in chronological order as the easiest approach for students to gain familiarity with the necessary details. The themes in the specification can be accessed at various points in the scheme; there will be a need to focus on the themes for the students at various points. Throughout this planning guide relevant original sources are suggested as to where teachers can find details about the specified content. These suggestions do not imply that these should all be studied with the candidates. The sources which have a & symbol next to them are recommendations as to which material could be studied with students.

This period study is designed to take approximately 33–38 hours of teaching time to complete. This guide will provide an overview of how this content might be taught in that timeframe. The planning guide is structured around the narratives / content and contains possible points that might be considered or discussed in class. The planning guide does not contain activities. This is intentional to enable you to choose a series of activities that compliment your own teaching.

Teachers may use this guide as an example of one possible way of approaching the teaching of the ‘The Persian Empire, 559–465 BC’ period study and NOT a prescriptive plan for how your teaching should be structured.

The ancient sources detailed in the planning guide does not represent a prescribed source booklet nor does it constitute a document from where examiners will draw the passage or image for the ‘unseen’ source in the examination.

What this guide is intended to do is to show you what the teaching outline might look like in practice. It should then help you to build your own scheme of work, confident that you’ve covered all the required content in sufficient depth.



Planning guide


Narrative / content

Ancient sources

Potential themes for discussion

Introduction to the Persian world


(Suggested timings: 1–2 hours)

· Background to ancient Near East and its geography

· Background to the some of the ancient literary sources students are likely to encounter: Herodotus, Xenophon, Ctesias.

Herodotus Preface


The rise of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC)

(Suggested timings: 8–9 hours)

Cyrus’ accession, the conquest of the Medes and the treatment of the conquered peoples


550 BC


(Suggested timings: 2 hours)

· According to Herodotus, Cyrus was the grandson of the Median king Astyages. Astyages ordered his trusted advisor Harpagus to have his grandson killed due to the dreams he had. Cyrus was not killed, and eventually Astyages found out. As revenge for disobeying Astyages’ orders, Harpagus’ son was killed and cooked in a stew, which was then served to Harpagus.

· Herodotus, the Nabonidus Chronicle and two Babylonian clay cylinders suggest the Median king Astyages ruled the Persians before Cyrus led a rebellion and managed to reverse the situation. The disaffected Median noble Harpagus may well have aided him in the rebellion.

· Xenophon says power peacefully passed to Cyrus when the last Median king had no male heirs.

· All the sources state that Cyrus treated Astyages well.

Herodotus 1.110, 1.112–1.115, 1.119

Herodotus 1.123.1, 1.127–1.128

Nabonidus Chronicle Column 2, 1–4

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.5.17–20

Herodotus 1.130.3
Ctesias F9 Photius §1

· The personalities and priorities of Cyrus as demonstrated in these events


· The treatment of Astyages


The conquest of Lydia and the treatment of the conquered peoples


c.546 BC


(Suggested timings: 2 hours)

· Herodotus suggests that Croesus, king of Lydia, misunderstood an oracle. Confident of victory and greedy for more land, Croesus attacked Cyrus.

· After an inconclusive battle and with winter approaching Croesus withdrew to Sardis to wait for reinforcements from allies before planning to attacking Cyrus again. Cyrus caught Croesus unawares by following him to Sardis. After another battle which Cyrus used camels to blunt Croesus cavalry, Sardis was captured after a short siege.

· Herodotus states that Cyrus brought Croesus forward to be placed on a pyre. The pyre had already been lit before Cyrus changed his mind and put out the flames. Ctesias and the lyric poet Bacchylides tell different stories.

· The Lydians initially rebelled, but tradition holds that the unrest was short-lived and that Cyrus ordered the inhabitants of Sardis to be treated well except for the leaders of the rebellion.

· Cyrus had previously asked the Ionians under Croesus’ yoke to join the Persian campaign. The Ionians refused and thus the new regime treated them harshly. A rebellion followed. The Medes Mazares and Harpagus were left to subdue the Greeks as Cyrus returned to the heartland of his empire.

Herodotus 1.46, 1.53, 1.71, 1.73

Herodotus 1.75–1.77, 1.79–1.80, 1.84

Herodotus 1.86–1.87, 1.88–1.89
Myson’s ‘Croesus on pyre’ amphora
Ctesias F9 Photius §5

Herodotus 1.155–1.157

Herodotus 1.141
Herodotus 1.153.3–154

Herodotus 1.160–161, 168–169, 177

· The personalities and priorities of Cyrus as demonstrated in these events


· The treatment of Croesus and other peoples / cultures


The conquest of Babylon and the treatment of the conquered peoples, including the liberation of the Jews


539 BC


(Suggested timings: 2–3 hours)

· Herodotus states that Cyrus took Babylon using novel means. In Herodotus’ version of events, the Persians defeated the Babylonians in battle near Babylon, before besieging them. Cyrus drained the River Euphrates so that the Persians army could infiltrate the city.

· The Cyrus Cylinder states that the Babylonian god Marduk requested Cyrus become king because the Barbarian king Nabonidus was not respected the local deities and was treating his subjects badly.

· Cyrus placed great emphasis on the idea that he respected the Babylonian gods and their temples. After the conquest, Cyrus made great capital out of returning statues to their original temples. Anticipating a Persian invasion, Nabonidus had gathered the divine statues from around the region and brought them into Babylon for safekeeping.

· Cyrus also claimed that deported Assyrian peoples were to be allowed to return to their homelands.

· The Old Testament suggests Jews who had been deported to Babylon received similarly favourable treatment: they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and Cyrus supplied them with funding to rebuild the temple there.

Herodotus 1.178, 1.190–1.191

Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder

2 Chronicles 36.20
Ezra 1.1–11
Ezra 5.13–15, 6.3–5

· The personalities and priorities of Cyrus as demonstrated in these events


· The treatment of other peoples / cultures

The construction of Pasargadae


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· The scale and design of Cyrus’ buildings in Pasargadae should be analysed in some detail. The archaeological remains of the city and palace offer some clues as to the personality and priorities of Cyrus, and aspects of Persian culture

& Winged Guardian Genius

& Archaeological remains of Pasargadae

· Persian culture


· Personality and priorities of Cyrus

Cyrus death and accession of Cambyses


530 BC


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· Herodotus states that an arrogant Cyrus was killed attacking the Messagatae, a Scythian tribe. However, there are many other, very different accounts of Cyrus’ death in existence.

· It is tempting to speculate that Herodotus chose the version that best fitted his theme of men made arrogant through power risking all they had achieved in an attempt to conquer tough people from tough lands.

· Xenophon has Cyrus die of old age surrounded by friends and family.

· It seems that Cyrus did eventually end up in the tomb he prepared in Pasargadae.

· Cambyses succeeded Cyrus although, according to Xenophon and Ctesias, Cambyses’ brother was appointed satrap of some of the eastern provinces.

Herodotus 1.201, 205–206, 208, 211–214

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.7.5–12

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.7.11
Ctesias FGrH 688 F 9 Photius §8

· The nature of the evidence for Cyrus’ death

Cambyses II, Smerdis and the accession of Darius (530–522 BC)

(Suggested timings: 5–6 hours)

Cambyses conquest of Egypt and the treatment of Egyptian religion and culture


525–522 BC


(Suggested timings: 3–4 hours)

· Herodotus offers an overly personalised account of the motives for Cambyses’ invasion. Apparently Cambyses was insulted when the Egyptian king did not send one of his daughters to be one of Cambyses’ partners. A daughter of the previous king was sent instead. Ctesias tells a similar story.

· Cambyses seemed to have enjoyed reasonable relations with the Arabians; according to Herodotus they aided Cambyses’ march across the desert to Egypt. Cambyses also received aid from Polycrates of Samos, who sent 40 triremes.

· Cambyses won a decisive victory and then offered to make an agreement with the Egyptian king. The Egyptians killed the herald carry Cambyses’ message and so the Persians besieged Memphis. The Egyptians surrendered and in doing so encouraged the Libyans and citizens of Cyrene to do likewise. Herodotus suggests that the deposed king would have continued to govern Egypt, but he was killed after scheming against Cambyses. Ctesias says that the former king was sent to Susa.

· Campaigns against the peoples who bordered Egypt were said to have gone badly.

· Herodotus portrays Cambyses as having treated the Egyptians badly and shown contempt for their religion and culture. Herodotus tells a tale of a king driven mad by power, failure and paranoia. You may want to cover some of the following examples:

o The murder of Apis bull

o The murder of Cambyses’ sister bride

o The murder of Cambyses’ brother, Smerdis

o The murder of Prexapes’ son

o The treatment of Amasis’ mummy

o Further sacrileges

· However, independent Egyptian evidence shows that Cambyses may have respected Egyptian religion and played a full role in ceremonies.

· Perhaps Cambyses was a harsh but fair ruler as depicted in Herodotus 5.25, with treatment of a corrupt judge

Herodotus 3.1–3.3
Ctesias F13a Athenaeus

Herodotus 3.9

Herodotus 3.44

Herodotus 3.10–3.11, 3.13–3.15

Ctesias F13 Photius §10

Herodotus 3.17, 3.21, 3.25–3.26

& Herodotus 3.27–3.30.1
& Herodotus 3.31–3.32
& Herodotus 3.30
& Herodotus 3.34–3.36
& Herodotus 3.16
& Herodotus 3.37

& Inscription of sarcophagus of Apis bull
& Epitaph for Apis bull
& Hieroglyphic inscription of Udjahorresnet
& Hieroglyphic seal inscription

Herodotus 5.25

· The reasons why Cambyses might have wanted to invade Egypt


· The personality and priorities of Cambyses II


· The treatment of family, friends and other peoples / cultures


· The reasons why Herodotus might have portrayed Cambyses in such a negative light.


The events surrounding Cambyses death and Darius’ accession


522 BC


(Suggested timings: 2 hours)

· The Behistun Inscription and Herodotus both say a jealous Cambyses had his brother killed. While Cambyses was in Egypt, a Median imposter revolted and took the Persian throne. This Median was supposedly a magus pretending to be Cambyses’ brother – the one Cambyses had already killed.

· The exact circumstances of Cambyses’ death are unclear. Herodotus states that he injured himself in the leg when mounting a horse on his journey to deal with the rebellion.

· Cambyses died, leaving it up to Darius and 6 other Persian nobles to deal with the usurper. The usurper was unmasked and murdered; a course of events in which Darius claimed a leading role.

· As a saviour of Persia, Darius rises above the fellow 6 nobles to become Great King. Herodotus doesn’t offer quite so glowing a report: Darius tricks his way on to the throne.

· However it is likely that Gaumata (the pretender to the throne) was in fact Baridiya (the legitimate heir and Cyrus’ other son). In an attempt to control and manipulate information. Darius recast the rebel king as an imposter.

& DB §10–15

& Herodotus 3.30, 3.61

& Herodotus 3.64

& Herodotus 3.67–3.70, 3.74–3.75, 3.76, 3.78
Ctesias F13 Photius §11–13

& Herodotus 3.83–88
Ctesias F13 Photius §17


· The nature of the evidence for these events

The reign of Darius the Great (522–486 BC)

(Suggested timings: 12–13 hours)

Darius’ restoration of control over the empire


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· At the time of his accession, he faced many problems but a mix of brutal suppression and propaganda would see him emerge as a powerful ruler.

· Despite Darius’ propaganda to the contrary, he was not closely related to Cyrus’ family. Darius had to recast his ancestry. His marriage to Atossa, Cyrus’ daughter and Cambyses’ former wife, was a political union designed to sure up his position and tie him more closely to the official ruling dynasty. Herodotus mentions Cyrus’ dream which foretells Darius as a ruler of Persia.

· The prevalence of rebellion during this period implies that the Empire was in a state of civil war and others were taking the opportunity to rebel. The Behistun Inscription depicts and describes the 9 liar kings who revolted.

· The incident involving Intaphernes suggests that Darius was fearful of plots against him.

· The Behistun Inscription implies that Babylon revolted twice early in Darius' reign whereas Herodotus' narrative places a Babylonian revolt later. Herodotus tells a tale of Zoprus, one of the fellow conspirators, mutilating himself, and deserted to the Babylonians. Zoprus was able to gain the trust of the Babylonians and he was able to open the city gates and let the Persians in. Herodotus claims 3,000 Babylonian nobles were impaled before the rest of the people were allowed to continue living in their city.

Herodotus 3.88
Darius’ inscriptions on columns of Palace S and P claiming Cyrus for the Achaemenid lineage (CMa = DMa, CMb = DMb, CMc = DMc)
Herodotus 1.209–1.210

& DB §52–54, §70
& Behistun relief

Herodotus 3.118–3.119

DB §18–§20, §49–§51

Herodotus 3.150–3.160


· The legitimacy of Darius at this moment


· Darius’ recasting of his genealogy


· The nature of the historical evidence for these events


· The potential significance of Babylon revolting


Darius’ construction projects, administration of the empire and Persian culture and religion under Darius


(Suggested timings: 3–4 hours)

· The scale and design of Darius’ building projects at Susa and Persepolis should be analysed in some detail, as should some of his principal inscriptions. These should give an idea of the religion and culture under Darius.

· Darius, in his Suez Inscriptions (DZc), claims to have successfully organised the construction of a canal linking the Red Sea to the Nile. Herodotus (2.158) argued that it was Darius who finally completed the canal.

· There is debate as to whether the organisation of the empire into satrapies originated under Cyrus or Darius. However the regional satraps were directly accountable to the king and held positions of great responsibility. One of their key responsibilities of the satraps was to collect tribute from their regions. Darius had reorganised the system and fixed the levels payable.

· The Royal Road and outposts along the way for getting messages quickly across the empire.

DB §6–9 on peoples conquered and tribute
Darius' Foundation Charter from Susa DSf (#45)
Inscription from Susa DSe

DNa and DNb
& Apadana stairway


Treatment of other peoples:
Epitaph of Apis bull in Egypt in 518 BC;

Hieroglyphic inscription of Udjahorresnet ;

Hieroglyphic inscription on base of Darius statue in Susa


Herodotus 2.158.1–2 and DZc on the Red Sea Canal

Herodotus 3.89, 3.95–3.97 on satraps and tribute


Herodotus 5.52–5.53, 8.98 & Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.6.17–18 on royal roads


Herodotus 1.131–132, 1.135, 1.137–1.138 for Persian religion and culture

· The personalities and priorities of Darius as demonstrated in these events


· What can be inferred from the archaeological evidence about Persian culture


· The treatment of other peoples / cultures


Darius’ expansion of the empire into the Aegean, India, and Scythia


(Suggested timings: 3 hours)

· In Samos the murder of Polycrates, by the governor of Sardis Oroites, led to a dispute over who should rule the island. Polycrates’ servant Maiandrios was in control. Herodotus would have us believe that Darius sided with Polycrates’ brother Syloson as the latter had once given him a red cloak before he became king; Darius supposedly felt duty bound to help when Syloson arrived in Susa asking to be installed as ruler of Samos.

· Darius would soon take direct control of Lemnos and Imbros. Both were strategic islands on the grain route between the fields north of the Black Sea and Athens. Byzantium on the European side of the Bosporus was also taken. This series of takeovers, when considered with the fact that Darius later sanctioned an expedition to Naxos under Aristagoras, suggest that Darius’ policy towards Samos had less to do with an obligation towards Syloson. The policy towards Samos was simply part of wider policy of expansion and Darius thought Syloson reliable enough to be installed as a client ruler.

· The evidence for Darius’ involvement in India is minimal and confined to a short passage of Herodotus. It seems that a reconnaissance mission was sent to the Indus.

· The specific reasons given for the expedition into Scythia by Herodotus are riddled with motifs. It is impossible to know whether there was a specific reason rather than simply the weight of expectation and internal issues influencing Darius.

· Darius’ brother warns him against attacking Scythia. An arrogant Darius ignores the advice. Darius proceeds to execute the three sons of a Persian noble who asked for one of his sons to be left behind.

· The Scythians divided their forces and utilised a scorched earth policy to thwart Darius.

· Later the Scythians used guerrilla tactics against the foraging Persians. Darius, it seems, had to retreat to the Ister. Herodotus states that he left his weakest men behind.

· Megabazus was left in Europe to subjugate other Thracian tribes and the Hellespont region. Thrace was rich in raw materials and manpower.

· Herodotus’ emphasis on Scythia and the probability that the River Ister (Danube) was bridged, it is unlikely that Darius travelled as far into Scythia as Herodotus suggests: the timescale the historian outlined does not allow for the ground Darius was said to have covered. The primary aim of the expedition seems to have been to conquer Thrace, the Getai and the gold producing areas of Transylvania. A clay tablet records that Darius established an administrative building in the latter area. The Getai were conquered en route to the Ister.

Herodotus 3.139–3.140

Herodotus 5.26–5.27

Herodotus 4.44

Herodotus 3.132–3.134

Herodotus 4.84

Herodotus 4.122, 4.126, 4.128, 4.131–4.132, 4.134–4.137, 4.139–4.144

Ctesias F13 Photius §21

Herodotus 5.1–5.2, 5.10–5.11, 5.23–5.24

· The personalities and priorities of Darius as demonstrated in these events


· The nature of the evidence for the Scythian campaign

The relationship between Greeks and Persia


507–493 BC


(Suggested timings: 2 hours)

· Antagonism between Athens and Persia had grown in the years prior to the beginning of the Ionian Revolt. In 507 BC, the new democratic Athens asked the Persians for help to defend themselves against the Spartans who were determined to restore the tyrant Hippias. The embassies agreed to offer ‘earth and water’. In 503 BC, the Persian satrap Artaphrenes requested that Hippias be reinstated. Athens’ refusal resulted in open hostility between Athens and Persia.

· Herodotus tells a story that focuses on the machinations of Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus. Aristagoras convinces the Persian satrap Artaphernes to sponsor a campaign in Naxos. The expedition failed to take Naxos, and in a weak position and in debt to Persia, Aristagoras seems to have opted to proclaim a popular revolt.

· Aristagoras looked for help from the Greek mainland. After failing to convince the Spartan king, the Athenian agreed to send 20 ships. Five Eretrian ships join the Athenian fleet.

· The Greek force headed inland to Sardis. Much of Sardis was burnt, including the temple to the Lydian god Cybele. A counter-attack was launched and the Greek retreated to the coast where they lost a battle.

· The Athenians returned home and didn’t send further help. The rebellion however did spread as far as Caria, Cyprus and Byzantium.

· Gradually the Persians brought the revolt under control. The Battle of Lade (494) and the fall of Miletus signalled the end of the revolt, and the Ionian cities returned to Persian rule.

· In Miletus and Caria, among other places, men were massacred and women and children reduced to slavery. Those who survived, however, were treated reasonably: they were resettled near the Persian Gulf. Some boys were castrated to serve as eunuchs. The Temple of Didyma was burnt for the sacrileges committed in Sardis.

· The Persians also made administrative changes: establishment of boundaries, fixing tribute levels and a system for arbitrating disputes.

Herodotus 5.73, 5.96

Herodotus 5.28, 5.30–5.32

Herodotus 5.33, 5.35

Herodotus 5.97

Herodotus 5.100–5.102

Herodotus 5.103, 5.105

Herodotus 5.116, 6.6, 6.9

Herodotus 6.18–6.20, 6.25, 6.30–6.32, 6.41

Herodotus 6.42


· What can we deduce about the potential reasons why the Ionians revolted


· The reasons why the revolt spread so widely


· The impact / significance of the Ionian revolt on relations between Persia and Greeks


· The treatment of other peoples / cultures


Mardonius’ expedition


493/2 BC


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· Mardonius, in response to the Ionian Revolt, marched through Asia-Minor and removed the tyrants of the Greek cities and allowed the cities more democratic rights.

· Mardonius passed over to Europe where his forces ran into difficulties. His fleet was destroyed off Mount Athos and his army suffered heavy losses in Thrace.

· Herodotus states that Mardonius aimed to conquer mainland Greece and therefore portrays the campaign as a failure. However, Mardonius was able to take more direct control of Macedonia on behalf of Darius.

· In 491 BC, heralds were sent to play on Greek differences. Many cities medised. Athens and Sparta killed the Persian heralds sent to them.

Herodotus 6.43

Herodotus 6.44

Herodotus 6.45


Herodotus 6.48.1, 7.133.1

· The reasons for the removal of the tyrants in Ionia


· The aims of the expedition

The Marathon campaign


490 BC


(Suggested timings: 2 hours)

· Sailing across the Aegean, Datis burnt Naxos and hostages were taken from the islands. The population and religious sites of Delos, in contrast, were treated with respect.

· Eretria was betrayed. Captives were taken and later resettled near Susa. Datis moved onto Marathon. The plan appears to have been to restore Hippias.

· The Athenians were positioned on the slopes of Mount Pentele so as to better defend themselves against cavalry assaults; the Persians waited on the flat coastal plain. A stalemate ensued as the Athenians waited for promised Spartan reinforcements and the Persians held off committing their force to a battle on the mountain.

· Miltiades had apparently persuaded the Athenian army at Marathon to fight rather than shelter behind their walls. The stalemate was only broken when the Greek phalanx descended the mountain and charged the Persian line. Miltiades weakened the Athenian centre to draw the Persian army in. His stronger wings then enveloped the Persians; many of them were massacred as they fled to their ships.

Herodotus 6.94–6.97

Herodotus 6.101–6.102, 6.119

Herodotus 6.102–103, 6.105–6.107, 6.109, 6.112–6.113, 6.115–6.116


Herodotus 6.118

· The aims of the expedition


· The treatment of other peoples / cultures


· The impact the defeat at Marathon might have had on the Persian Empire

Xerxes 486 – 465 BC

(Suggested timings: 8 ½ hours)

The death of Darius and accession of Xerxes; the completion of Darius’ building programmes


486 BC


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· In the aftermath of the Battle of Marathon, Darius planned another expedition. However, a revolt in Egypt and ultimately his death prevented him from exacting his revenge.

· There appears to have been debates as to who would succeed Darius. Xerxes, Darius son with Atossa, was the ‘chosen one’

· Xerxes’ own inscriptions in Persepolis stress that his accession was the will of Auramazda. In Xerxes’ inscriptions, clear reference is made to continuing and completion of Darius’ building projects.

· Xerxes immediately crushed the Egyptian Revolt although information on the campaign is scarce.

· There is even less evidence on the situation in Babylonia. Many Babylonian archives came to abrupt end in 484, perhaps suggesting Persian intervention at this time. Ctesias states that there were two rebellions. Herodotus mentions Xerxes’ actions in Babylon earlier in his narrative but makes no mention of a revolt.

Herodotus 7.1–7.7

Herodotus 7.2–7.3

& Inscription from Gate of All Lands / Nations, Persepolis, XPa, XPf

Herodotus 7.7

Ctesias F13 Photius §26

· The nature of Persian culture under Xerxes


· The potential impact of the Egypt and Babylon revolts on the Persian Empire

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece: the motivations


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· Herodotus present discussions taking place in the Persian court about whether to invade Greece or not.

· Herodotus had Mardonius provide Xerxes with other reasons why he should invade Greece, including the motivation to match the achievements of his predecessors and conquer territory

· Xerxes’ no doubt felt obliged to avenge the Persian defeat at Marathon. As soon as matters in Egypt were settled, Xerxes began organising a major expedition to Greece.

Herodotus 7.8–7.19

· The personality and priorities of Xerxes


· The nature of the evidence for Xerxes’ motivations for invading Greece

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece: the preparation


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· Xerxes’ preparations were thorough. You may wish to cover the following aspects / events:

o The construction of the Mount Athos canal and Xerxes’ reaction to the chief architects death

o The construction of pontoon bridges to bridge the Hellespont, and Xerxes’ punishment of the builders and whipping of the Hellespont when the first bridge was destroyed

o Phythius and his five sons, his request to save the eldest and the murder of the eldest

o Xerxes’ honouring the gods at Troy

o Xerxes’ treatment of Hellenic League spies

· In 481 BC, heralds were sent to Greek city-states, except Athens and Sparta.

· Also in 481, a defensive alliance between city-states was formed to resist the Persians. Today it is known as the Hellenic League. Athens and Sparta were key members.

· The twin concern of self-preservation and self-interest motivated a significant number of Greek city-states to medise.

Herodotus 7.20, 7.22–7.25, 7.116–7.117

Herodotus 7.34–7.37

Herodotus 7.38–7.39

Herodotus 7.43

Herodotus 7.145–7.147

Herodotus 7.32, 7.131–7.133



· The personality and priorities of Xerxes


· The treatment of other peoples and their cultures


· Persian strategy towards Greek city-states


· The tensions between different Greek city-states on strategy / where to defend

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece: the Battle of Thermopylae, including Persian military organisation and techniques


480 BC


(Suggested timings: 2 hours)

· Xerxes had assembled a huge force from across the whole Persian Empire for the expedition. Herodotus portrayed the army as poorly armed with small shields and short spears, and that Persian soldiers had to be forced into battle ‘under the whip’. The most fearsome were the ‘Immortals’ and the mounted archers.

· The Hellenic League forces that the Persians encountered at Thermopylae were limited in number; led by the Spartan King Leonidas they planned to hold the narrow pass to prevent Xerxes’ army moving into central Greece.

· A series of ethnic groups were said to have taken turns at charging the Greek line. Two days of fighting saw no progress in weakening the Greek line.

· Ephiaties came forward to tell the Persians that there was a way to bypass Thermopylae and get behind the Greek army. As a result of this, some Greeks headed home. The Spartans remained behind.

· Diordorus and Herodotus offer differing accounts of the final battle; Leonidas was killed and Persian archers killed the remaining Spartans.

· Xerxes had Leonidas’ head chopped off and placed on a pole. Herodotus states that this went against Persian customs.

· On the same day the Greek fleet fighting off Artemisium sailed south to Salamis, after frustrated the Persian navy by blocking the straits of Artemisium

Herodotus 7.61–7.100 describes the equipment of the different peoples who made up the Persian army.
& Frieze of archers, Palace of Darius, Susa;
& Image of Immortals(?) (Tripylon, staircase)

Herodotus 7.206–7.209

Herodotus 7.210–7.212

Herodotus 7.213–7.218
Herodotus 7.219–7.222

Herodotus 7.223–7.225
Ctesias F13 Photius §27
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 11.10

Herodotus 7.238

· the nature of the Persian forces and the problems this brought logistically; the range of languages; the commitment of the allied contingents to the campaign for which they had been called up

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece: the sack of Athens and the battle of Salamis

(Suggested timings: 2–2 ½ hours)

· After Thermopylae Xerxes’ fleet and army moved towards Athens. Herodotus listed a host of war crimes committed by the Persians and their Greek allies.

· Apart from a few diehard Athenians, the population was evacuated.

· Xerxes ordered the city to be sacked. Persian guile saw the Acropolis taken. The temples on the acropolis were burnt on Xerxes command.

· However the following day, the Athenian exiles accompanying Xerxes’ expedition were sent to offer sacrifices on the acropolis according to Athenian custom.

· Herodotus narrates that the Persians had discussions regarding how to defeat the Greeks.

· The sight of the Persians moving towards the Isthmus at Corinth panicked the Peloponnese. They readied themselves to return home. Fearing defeat, Themistocles sent a message to trick Xerxes. The trick worked, ensuring that a battle off Salamis would be fought and preventing the Peloponnese forces from returning home.

· The battle is difficult to reconstruct. It seems the Greek triremes were more manoeuvrable in the choppy waters and were able to ram the Persian ships. The Persian plan appears to have been to launch boarding parties onto the Greek ships to take advantage of their superior numbers.

· Herodotus’ account of Xerxes execution of some loyal Phoenician captains and praise of Artemisia should be analysed to help shed light on the personality and character of Xerxes.

· Gradually more and more Persian ships were sunk. Eventually the remnant of the Persian fleet was forced to retreat.

· After the battle, Xerxes retreated to Sardis, leaving Mardonius to fight another campaign the following year. This too ended in a Persian defeat at the Battle of Plataea.

Herodotus 8.31–8.35

Herodotus 8.40–8.41

Herodotus 8.51–8.53

Herodotus 8.54

Artemisia’s advice: Herodotus 8.67–8.69

Herodotus 8.71–8.72
Herodotus 8.74–8.76

Herodotus 8.86 for summary

Herodotus 8.87–8.88, 8.90

Herodotus 8.97–8.100, 101–103, 107–108
Ctesias F13 Photius §30

· The aims and scope of the expedition


· The treatment of other peoples and cultures


· The personality of Xerxes as demonstrated in these events


· The importance / impact of the outcome to both Greece and Persia


· The nature of the evidence regarding these events


· The reasons for the Greek victory


The Battle of Eurymedon and Plutarch’s ‘famous peace’


(Suggested timings: 1 hour)

· The Delian League, under the leadership of Cimon, took the fight to the Persians to free the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and prevent any possibility of a Persian counter-attack.

· In 468 BC it seems that the Persians sought to bring a halt to Cimon’s operations, and thus sea and land battles were fought at the Eurymedon River. The Greeks won.

· Plutarch suggests that after the battle Xerxes was so stung by defeat that a peace treaty may have been signed. Plutarch refers to this as the ‘famous peace’. However some earlier authors deny any formal agreement was signed. Alternatively, a peace treaty – the Peace of Callias – was signed, but much later in c.449 BC

Thucydides, 1.96–1.100

& Plutarch, Cimon 12–13

· The nature of the evidence regarding a peace agreement between the Greeks and Persians




Endorsed textbooks from Bloomsbury

Resources for OCR specification for first teaching September 2017



OCR Ancient History GCSE Component 1: Greece and Persia

Sam Baddeley, Paul Fowler, Lucy Nicholas, James Renshaw

ISBN-13: 978-1350015173

Released July 2017


OCR Ancient History GCSE Component 2: Rome

Paul Fowler, Christopher Grocock, James Melville

ISBN-13: 978-1350015203

Released July 2017


This textbook supports OCR's GCSE Ancient History Component 1. It covers the period study on the Persian Empire and the three optional depth studies.


This textbook supports OCR's GCSE Ancient History Component 2. It covers the longer period study on the Foundation of Rome and the three optional depth studies.

These textbooks have been written by experts and experienced teachers in a clear and accessible narrative. Ancient sources are described and analysed, with supporting images. Helpful features include study questions, further reading, and boxes focusing in on key people, events and terms.

Suggested resources


Students and teachers may find the following books of interest:



Ancient Sources

  • There are excellent compendiums of ancient sources relevant to this course.
    • The Persian Empire is the work of Amelie Kuhrt and offers a vast array of source material with exhaustive notes.
    • Maria Brosius’ The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I is part of the LACTOR series and offers a collection of sources.
  • The most useful translation of Herodotus is the Landmark edition due to its generous use of maps and notes that cross reference with other sources. The book also contains some appendices relevant to this period study.
  • Ctesias' History of Persia: Tales of the Orient, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones and James Robson (Routledge, ISBN: 978-0415629478) contains a thorough introduction to Ctesias and the nature of the fragmentary evidence we have.
  • The website contains a wealth of information on the period including translations of the Persian and Egyptian archaeological sources.

Secondary reading

Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire is a seminal work of the Achaemenid Empire. Although it is expensive to buy, it can be found elsewhere if one looks for it!

The first 100 pages of Josef Wiesenhöfer, Ancient Persia covers the timeframe covered in this period study. There is a very useful section comparing Cyrus and Xerxes.

A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550–330 BCE by Matt Waters offers a great introduction to the Achaemenids.

The Persian Empire by Lindsay Allen offers a colourfully illustrated introduction to the narrative of the course. It is excellent on the building projects of the Great Kings.

Forgotten Empire: The world of Ancient Persia by John Curtis and Nigel Tallis is a heavily illustrated yet very informative collection of the ancient sources published by the British Museum.

Tom Holland’s Persian Fire, Philip de Souza’s The Greek and Persian Wars 499–386 BC, and Peter Green’s The Greco-Persian Wars may also be of interest to those who wish to read more widely.