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