Intimate Relationships, Family, and Identity in the Achaemenid Empire

Recorded: April 14, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 1
Citation: Lee, John W.I. "Intimate Relationships, Family, and Identity in the Achaemenid Empire." Pourdavoud Center: Achaemenid Workshop 1 (April 14, 2023).

by John W.I. Lee (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Scholars today generally continue to accept Pierre Briant’s influential description of a dominant Persian ethno-class as the topmost stratum of the Achaemenid empire. At the same time, a diverse corpus of textual and archaeological material – from Anatolia, Babylonia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the empire – reveals that Persians and non-Persians from a variety of socio-economic classes entered into intimate relationships, including marriage and “concubinage.” How did such inter-ethnic relationships, and especially the children (and successive generations) who were born from some of these unions, influence the construction and development of personal identity in the Achaemenid empire? Using evidence from Greek literature, Babylonian documents, Egyptian artistic representations, and other sources, along with theoretical perspectives drawn from historical studies of intermarriage and identity in other cultures ranging from Hawai’i to the Soviet Union, this paper explores some of the social, cultural, and political aspects of intimate relationships, family, and identity in the Achaemenid empire.

About the Speaker

John W.I. Lee is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he teaches courses on Achaemenid Persia and ancient Greece. He grew up in Asia and Hawai’i, studied history at the University of Washington (Seattle), and received his PhD in History from Cornell University. His publications include A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon’s Anabasis (Cambridge University Press 2008), The Persian Empire (The Great Courses 2012), and The First Black Archaeologist: A Life of John Wesley Gilbert (Oxford University Press 2022). He is a member of the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.