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The great civilizations of the Ancient World were in contact with each other:
These civilizations traded with each other, warred with each other and coexisted throughout the known world. In the early 5th century BC, peaceful coexistence between the Greeks and the Persians broke out into open warfare. Following the long war, the Greeks vilified the Persians. A very important question you will want to address in your research paper is: Did the Greeks always hate the Persians or was this a consequence of the war?
The Greeks VS The Persians
It can be safely assumed that conflict between the Greeks and the Persians arose out of imperial expansion. Darius I sought to both expand the political territory of his empire in the West and capture a significant portion of Mediterranean trade. According to Herodotus, Darius’ wife shamed him into invading Greece. “The fact that you are making no further conquest to increase the power of Persia, must mean that you lack ambition,” she tells him in bed on night. This serves two purposes:
- It provides a motivation (Democedes prompts Atossa into encouraging an expedition to Greece),
- It vilifies the actions (a woman goads the mighty Darius into attacking). Darius had allowed a certain amount of democracy for the Asian Greeks, and thus could not be totally vilified himself.
Darius was correct, however, in placing the blame for Asiatic revolts back in Ionia. At the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), Greek strategic victory over the mighty Persian army provided psychological strength: “They were the first Greeks, so far as I know…who dared to look without flinching at Persian dress and the men who wore it; for until that day came, no Greek could hear the word Persian without terror”. Marathon was a decisive victory of a small city over a massive empire. Dehumanizing the enemy was simply a way to stress the moral superiority of the Athenians and the wickedness of the enemy.
The Persians Wars and Homer
In The Trojan Women by Euripides, the women of Troy have been divided between the heroes of Greece. Hecabe has been chosen by Odysseus to be his slave. She rails against him: “Now I belong to a perjured impious outcast, who defies/Man’s law and God’s; monster of wickedness”. Odysseus, it should be remembered, is the great hero of Homer. To malign a mythic hero from the mouth of an Asian in this play is an example of demonizing the enemy. Euripides’ career spans the period immediately following the Persian Wars; as an established enemy they could be safely maligned in favor of the tragic hero of the play, in this case the Greek army.