HISTORY OF THE PERSIAN EMPIRE
of Persepolis by Alexander the Great
Diodorus, The History of the world,
Translated by M.M. Austen
for Persepolis, the capital of the Persian kingdom, Alexander described it to
the Macedonians as their worst enemy among the cities of Asia, and he gave it
over to the soldiers to plunder, with the exception of the royal palace.
It was the wealthiest city under
the sun and the private houses had been filled for a long time with riches of
every kind. The Macedonians rushed into it, killing all the men and plundering
the houses, which were numerous and full of furniture and precious objects of
every kind. Here much silver was carried off and no little gold, and many
expensive dresses, embroidered with purple or with gold, fell as prizes to the
But the great royal palace, famed
throughout the inhabited world, had been condemned to the indignity of total
destruction. The Macedonians spent the whole day in pillage but still could not
satisfy their inexhaustible greed. [...] As for the women, they dragged them
away forcibly with their jewels, treating as slaves the whole group of captives.
As Persepolis had surpassed all other cities in prosperity, so she now exceeded
them in misfortune.
Alexander went up to the citadel
and took possession of the treasures stored there. They were full of gold and
silver, with the accumulation of revenue from Cyrus, the first king of the
Persians, down to that time. Reckoning gold in terms of silver, 2,500 tons
were found there. Alexander wanted to take part of the money with him, for the
expenses of war and to deposit the rest at Susa under close guard. From Babylon,
Mesopotamia and Susa, he sent for a crowd of mules, partly pack and partly
draught animals, as well as 3,000 pack camels, and with these he had all the
treasure conveyed to the chosen places. He was very hostile to the local people
and did not trust them, and wished to destroy Persepolis utterly. [...]
Alexander held games to celebrate
his victories; he offered magnificent sacrifices to the gods and entertained his
friends lavishly. One day when the Companions were feasting, and intoxication
was growing as the drinking went on, a violent madness took hold of these
drunken men. One of the women present (she was an Athenian called Thais )
declared that it would be Alexander's greatest achievement in Asia to join in
their procession and set fire to the royal palace, allowing women's hands to
destroy in an instant what had been the pride of the Persians.
These words were spoken to young
men who were completely out of their minds because of drink, and someone, as
expected, shouted to lead off the procession and light torches, exhorting them
to punish the crimes committed against the Greek sanctuaries. Others joined in
the cry and said that only Alexander was worthy of this deed. The king was
excited with the rest by these words. They all leaped out from the banquet and
passed the word around to form a triumphal procession in honor of Dionysus.
quantity of torches was quickly collected, and as female musicians had been
invited to the banquet, it was to the sound of singing and flutes and
pipes that the king led them to the revel, with Thais the courtesan conducting
the ceremony. She was the first after the king to throw her blazing torch into
the palace. As the others followed their example the whole area of the royal
palace was quickly engulfed in flames. What was most remarkable was that the
sacrilege committed by Xerxes, king of the Persians, against the Acropolis of
Athens was avenged by a single woman, a fellow-citizen of the victims, who many
years later, and in sport, inflicted the same treatment on the Persians.
She was the lover of the Macedonian commander Ptolemy, a friend of Alexander, his biographer and the future king of Egypt.