The Achaemenids and the Desert

Recorded: April 12, 2023
Event: Achaemenid Workshop 1
Citation: Degen, Julian. "The Achaemenids and the Desert." Pourdavoud Center: Achaemenid Workshop 1 (April 12, 2023).

by Julian Degen (University of Trier)

Alexander’s march through the Gedrosian Desert, i.e. the Makran Desert, is commonly considered the most tragic failure of his reign. The image that the Greek and Roman sources paint is that of an overambitious military maneuver that caused heavy losses among the troops. Modern historians focus only on the historiography related to Alexander when discerning his motivation to attempt the dangerous crossing. By doing so, they neglect the importance of Achaemenid imperial representation as the discursive framework of the Macedonian ruler’s decision-making. Contextualizing Alexander’s crossing of the Gadrosian Desert against the backdrop of Achaemenid imperial ideology allows a different interpretation. From the Achaemenid until the Sassanian period, the claim of controlling the deserts – and the Gadrosian Desert in particular – served as an important tool of creating and affirming royal authority. It thus appears that Alexander tried to outperform the achievements of the Achaemenids when crossing the Gadrosian Desert. Viewing the episode in the Iranian longue durée reveals a more nuanced aim of Alexander to gain legitimation in the parts of his empire than has previously been achieved by the Great Kings.

About the Speaker

Julian Degen holds a PhD in Ancient History and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, which he received from the University of Innsbruck. He was a research fellow and academic teacher at the universities of Innsbruck, Hildesheim, and Kiel, and he currently holds this same position at the University of Trier. His research interests are Greek historiography, Alexander the Great, the Achaemenids, ancient geography, and the economy of the Roman empire, on which he has published widely. At the moment he is working on his habilitation project, which focuses on the maritime economies in the Mediterranean world of Strabo’s Geographica.