School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Persian Past - Iranian Present

The history of ancient Persia improves contemporary East-West understanding.

Ruins of Persepolis
The ziggurat of Choga Zanbil
Guards at Persepolis

Providing cutting-edge insights into Iran’s ancient past, and communicating them widely, is helping to improve and consolidate understanding between East and West.

A body of research about the court of ancient Persia (modern day Iran), by Senior Lecturer Dr Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, is assisting international community relations as well as generating new academic knowledge.

By disseminating his findings openly and enthusiastically through public lectures, debates, TV broadcasts, and a popular blog, as well as through textbooks, the historian has increased public interest in Iran, prompting six commercial tours (gross value £1m) to historic sites in Iran and fostering goodwill between Scotland, the UK, and Persian speakers around the globe.

Underpinning research

Dr Llewellyn-Jones’s research, which began in 2004, concentrates on the culture of ancient Persia, especially the royal court, and the interactions between Persia and the Classical world in antiquity: this was the formative moment in East-West relations which are still felt in today’s world.

Questioning the Western reading of ancient Persia, he uses sources from ancient Iran and the Near East and from ancient Greece to explore the political and cultural interactions between ‘the Greeks’, who saw their own history as a reaction to the dominant and influential Persian empire, and ‘the Persians’ themselves, a people at the height of their power, wealth and sophistication.

Sample topics within his work include:

  • Oral history and storytelling in ancient Persia
  • Ancient Greek historians and their use of the Persian past
  • Iconography and the articulation of identity in Greco-Persian art
  • Iranian dress and the conception of the body in ancient Persia
  • Kingship and court society in ancient Iran
  • Women, eunuchs, and the Persian harem
  • Horses and horsemanship in Iranian society


Dr Llewellyn-Jones’ first book (with J. Robson) was Ctesias’ History of Persia. Tales from the Orient (London: Routledge, 2010).

Ctesias was a doctor in the Persian court towards the beginning of the 4th century BCE, writing a history of Persia for a Greek audience. Dr Llewellyn-Jones book made all of the surviving text and fragments of Ctesias’ Persica available in English, for the first time, with a detailed introduction.

Dr Llewellyn-Jones’ more recent textbook, King and Court in Ancient Persia 559-331 BCE (Edinburgh University Press, 2013), looked at the role of the Great King and the influence, ceremony, and opulence of his feuding court in the largest land empire of the ancient world.

Emphasis on viewpoint

Characteristic of all Dr Llewellyn-Jones’ findings is an emphasis on the importance of the viewpoint: how the viewpoint (‘Greek’ or ‘Persian’, ‘ancient’ or modern’, ‘Western’ or ‘Iranian’) can change perception.

This research aims to create greater sensitivities towards the relativity of one’s cultural perceptions of ‘the other’, as well as communicate the fascination of ancient Iran to audiences in both East and West today.