Darius in the Shadow of Alexander, by Pierre Briant, translated by Jane Marie Todd, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2015, $39.95
Pierre Briant, professor of history and civilization of the Achaemenid world at the Collège de France in Paris, is a renowned expert on the history of ancient Persia from Cyrus the Great to its destruction by Alexander the Great during the reign of Darius III. The difficulty in understanding Persian history is that most of our knowledge derives from the works of Greco-Roman authors (Quintus Curtius Rufus, Arrian, Justin, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch) writing about the exploits of Alexander, in which they portray Persia and its kings in a largely negative light. The scarcity of Persian sources makes obtaining an accurate historical record of Persia even more difficult. This is the first dedicated biography of Darius III. Parsing the portrayals of Darius in Greco-Roman sources, Briant reads between the lines to bring to light the “Achaemenid kernel embedded in a Greco-Roman interpretive shell.”
Briant takes a strong analytical approach, analyzing the texts against his prodigious knowledge of the sociopolitical/socioeconomic structure of the Persian empire and the Alexander narrative. Focusing on Darius III’s actions with regard to Alexander, Briant raises legitimate questions about key conclusions proffered in the Greco-Roman accounts and offers fresh historical interpretations about both Darius and Alexander.
The book is a magnificent work of classical scholarship, and Briant rewards readers with insights the source authors either failed to see or deliberately omitted. He also gives Alexander biographers reason for pause, reiterating that the five sources on which Alexander scholarship is based are simply not reliable.
Darius in the Shadow of Alexander is an important book that makes a major contribution to our understanding of ancient Persia and the narrative of Alexander the Great, and we highly recommend it to students of the classics.
— Richard A. Gabriel