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Cultural History of the Persian Empire


Admission requirements

English. Otherwise no prerequisites, and open to students from all faculties.


The Achaemenid Persian Empire (c. 550–330 BCE) was the largest and longest-lasting empire in the Ancient Near East. This course will explore its history and culture with special reference to the primary sources available, particular problems of interpretation, and to the subject’s relationship with other Ancient Near Eastern cultures and sub-disciplines. Critical but creative approaches to ancient historiography will be encouraged, especially as they relate to fields which do not always take the empire seriously.

The course will follow a seminar format, with students engaging directly with the sources and questions. Each week will deal with a topic/question and representative source materials, drawn primarily from Kuhrt (2007/2009). Sessions will normally consist of an introductory lecture and a discussion of chosen issues, followed by student presentations, discussions, and/or debates, and a concluding recap. Relevance will be highlighted through the use of contemporary cultural materials and the occasional guest lecture.

Students will be expected to prepare for each class by reading a set of primary texts and topical secondary readings.

Course objectives

  • Be able to understand and articulate characteristics and peculiarities of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, based on primary sources;

  • Be able to evaluate relevance and impact of Achaemenid studies for other Ancient Near Eastern sub-fields and for more modern fields;

  • Be able to critically engage with the historiography of empire and have a foundation for further study.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

  • College: 2hr. p.w. x 12 weeks: 24 hours

  • Reading: 2-4 articles x 1hr. p.w. x 12 weeks: 48 hours

  • Seminar presentation and report: 12 hours

  • Final essay: 48 hours

  • Total study load: 132 hours

Assesment method

Assessment will be based on three criteria:

  • Participation: Students will be expected to do weekly readings in preparation for class, ready to discuss and debate them: 20%

  • Presentation and report: Students will have a chance to present (as a small group) at least one seminar presentation on primary sources and their issues to the class, for which a short written report will be submitted: 30%

  • Final Essay: Students will write an essay on a topic from the class on which they had not presented. Appropriate topics will be vetted in advance: 50%



Reading list

  • Kuhrt, Amélie. The Persian Empire: a Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2009.

  • Weekly readings will be specified first class. No textbook will be required.


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dhr. Dr. J.M. Silverman


The course will be offered in English, and should be available to students in the BA in Ancient World as well as to any others interested.