HERACLEIDES OF CYME (fl. ca. 350 B.C.E.), Greek author of a “Persian History” (Persika) in five books, which survives only in a few fragments. These fragments are collected by Jacoby (Fragmente IIIC, no. 689). In the first two books, bearing the particular title Paraskeuastika, the land and people of Persia were described in detail. The work is exploited by Plutarch in his “Life of Artaxerxes,” but it is above all the verbatim citations preserved in Athenaeus that provide interesting glimpses into life at the Achaemenid royal court under Artaxerxes II. In Frag. 1 (Athenaeus 12.8), there is mention of the three hundred women who guard (phylassousi) the King and at night sing and make music under brightly burning lamps; the ruler is said to choose from their ranks the concubines (who inter alia accompanied him on the hunt). Next, Heracleides introduces the one thousand “Apple Bearers” (mēlophoroi), Persian aristocratic members of the royal bodyguard, drawn from the elite band of the so-called “Immortals.” In addition, the citation contains items of information about the royal throne of gold (set beneath a sort of purple baldachin) and also about the Great King’s special customs when moving about, whether within the palace (on foot but always over carpets from Sardis) or outside (by carriage or on horseback).

The still more impressive Frag. 2 (Athenaeus 4.26) gives details of Persian feasts and the luxury of the table. It treats the political, social, and economic dimensions, in effect the “ideology,” of royal and aristocratic banquets and drinking parties (symposia). Particular attention is given to the relationships and encounters between ruler and aristocrats, especially the “royal table companions” (syndeipnoi), as expressed in specific forms of repasts taken in common. It further describes the connection between provisioning the king and reciprocal royal munificence and between service to the king and the awarding of honors by him. Finally, in Frag. 5 (Athenaeus 2.31) there are detailed accounts of the royal honors and rewards bestowed on meritorious Greeks (Entimus of Gortyna, Timagoras of Athens, and Antialkidas of Sparta) through the granting of material benefits and proximity to the ruler.


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

P. Briant, “Table du roi: Tribut et redistribution chez les Achéménides,” in P. Briant and C. Herrenschmidt, eds., Le tribut dans l’empire perse, Paris, 1989, pp. 35-44.

Idem, “L’eau de Grand Roi,” in L. Milano, ed., Drinking in Ancient Societies, Padua, 1994, pp. 45-65.

Idem, Histoire de l’Empire perse, Paris, 1996, pp. 266-366.

H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg, “Persian Food: Stereotypes and Political Identity,” in J. Wilkins et al., eds., Food in Antiquity, Exeter, 1995, pp. 286-302.

(J. Wiesehöfer)

Originally Published: December 15, 2003

Last Updated: March 22, 2012

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