Page 0327

327 PERSIA-MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.

CHAPTER XXX-MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.

WHAT kind of people the Persians were can be easily determined from their sculptures. In

these the national physiognomy and person are so clearly delineated as to leave no doubt.

The figures are sufficiently numerous and varied to satisfy all curiosity respecting the

personal appearance and bearing of the subjects of the Achaemenians. The Persian face and

general type differ so markedly from the representations of the human form and countenance

as delineated in the sculptures of Assyria and Egypt, as to be unmistakable even by

amateurs in ethnic peculiarities. The remains of Persepolis also present us with many

figures of foreigners done by native artists, and the truthfulness of such work furnishes

good ground for belief that they were equally- perhaps more-faithful in carving the

features and form of their own countrymen.

In stature the Persians were rather tall. They differed not much in form from the typical

European. They were not so heavy and strong-muscled as the Assyrians, but surpassed them

in agility and freedom. Their features were striking and regular. The expression was mild,

vivacious, benignant-in no case coarse or brutal. The head was high and oval, and (if we

may credit Herodotus) the skull was much thinner than that of other peoples.1

As far as it is possible to generalize on such a subject, it may be averred that the

Persians were witty and vivacious. They seem to have had neither the sedateness of

Egyptians nor the meditative habits of the Babylonians. Their sculptures and architecture

show that they had the artistic fancy, though in a less degree than the Greeks. It was,

however, in state-craft

1 The Father of History accounts for this fact on the theory that the Persian skull was

protected by a head- dress.

and war that the intellectual superiority of the people was best illustrated. In these

respects the Persian genius was conspicuous. The ability of the Achaemenian kings in

conducting the affairs of a great Empire which they had conquered-an Empire composed of

heterogeneous populations widely scattered and speaking diverse languages-can in no way be

questioned; and their warlike spirit was such as to give them for a considerable period an

indisputable ascendancy over all Western Asia. Even in their great combats with the Greeks

it was discipline rather than courage that gave to the latter their victories.

What were the literary-especially the poetical-abilities of the ancient Persians we have

no means of knowing. It is not likely that in this manner their imagination found much

relief or pleasure. It is true that the Persian poet Firdusi, who flourished in the latter

half of the tenth century, has ascribed to his countrymen of ancient times the possession

of sentiments and passions kindled with poetic fire. But this perhaps is like the

ascription of epic enthusiasm to the Gael in McPherson's Ossian- to be taken with many

grains of allowance.

In the heroic virtues the Persians were hardly inferior to the Greeks and Romans. They

believed that destiny pointed to them as the conquerors of the world. Under this

inspiration, they went to battle with the rash courage of crusaders and met death with the

indifference of the Moslems. It was believed by the great kings that they ought to go to

war. It was the precedent of the Empire to conquer, and when opportunity was wanting, when

the energies of the people seemed to be turned to pursuits less daring and dangerous, the

monarchs felt that the Achaemenian star was waning in the heavens. The valor of the

Persian soldiery all be amply illustrated in the chapter on the military and civil history

of the nation. Of moral qualities the most conspicuous