Darius was succeeded by Xerxes, the Ahasuerus of the Hebrew Scriptures, whose invasion of Greece with the largest army the world ever saw properly belongs to Grecian history. It was reserved for the heroes of Plataea to teach the world the lesson that the strength of armies is not in multitudes but in discipline,—a lesson confirmed by the conquests of Alexander and Caesar.
On the fall of the Persian Empire three hundred years after the fall of Babylon, and the establishment of the Greek rule in Asia under the generals of Alexander, Persia proper did not cease to be formidable. Under the Sassanian princes the ambition of the Achaemenians was revived. Sapor defied Rome herself, and dragged the Emperor Valerian in disgraceful captivity to Ctesiphon, his capital. Sapor II. was the conqueror of the Emperor Julian, and Chrosroes was an equally formidable adversary. In the year 617 A.D. Persian warriors advanced to the walls of Constantinople, and drove the Emperor Heraclius to despair.
Thus Persia never lost wholly its ancient prestige, and still remains, after the rise and fall of so many dynasties, and such great vicissitudes from Greek and Arab conquests, a powerful country twice the size of Germany, under the rule of an independent prince. There seems no likelihood of her ever again playing so grand a part in the world’s history as when, under the great Cyrus, she prepared the transfer of empire from the Orient to the Occident. But “what has been, has been, and she has had her hour.”
Herodotus and Xenophon are our main authorities, though not to be fully relied upon. Of modern works Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies and Rawlinson’s Herodotus are the most valuable. Ragozin has written interesting books on Media, Persia, Assyria, and Chaldaea, making special note of the researches of European travellers in the East. Fergusson, Layard, Sayce, and George Smith have shed light on all this ancient region. Johnson’s work is learned but indefinite. Benjamin is the latest writer on the history of Persia; but a satisfactory life of Cyrus has yet to be written.
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The most august name in the history of the old Roman world, and perhaps of all antiquity, is that of Julius Caesar; and a new interest has of late been created in this extraordinary man by the brilliant sketch of his life and character by Mr. Froude, who has whitewashed him, as is the fashion with hero-worshippers, like Carlyle in his history of Frederick II. But it is not an easy thing to reverse the verdict of the civilized world for two thousand years, although a man of genius can say many interesting things and offer valuable suggestions.