sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 12

Chiara Matarese: Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit

Greek accounts of Persian imperial expansion in the Teispid and Achaemenid periods (respectively 550-522 and 522-330 BCE) include several dramatic episodes of forced deportation, which uprooted the populations of conquered cities in the imperial borderlands and relocated them thousands of kilometers from their original homes to new settlements in Mesopotamia and Iran. A number of recent studies have sought to contextualize these narrative anecdotes against other evidence for Teispid-Achaemenid labor recruitment as well as precedents for frontier deportation in the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires. Chiara Matarese's monograph is the most extensive treatment of the subject to date, and combines a rigorous case-by-case study of textual testimonies with a persuasive final argument for parallels between Persian and earlier Mesopotamian deportation strategies.

The introduction opens by defining the terminology of Ancient Near Eastern deportation with respect to the theoretical framework of modern migration studies. Matarese establishes her study's parameters by distinguishing deportation, a process of coercive movement and controlled resettlement inside the boundaries of imperial space, from mass population expulsions generating fugitive movement across frontiers, and from the selective punitive exile of targeted individuals (4-6). She also introduces the diverse categories of evidence for Teispid-Achaemenid history, which, while familiar to specialists in the field, may be useful to scholars trained in either Greco-Roman or Assyriological scholarship but lacking grounding in both, or to students of deportation in other historical contexts who wish to engage in comparison with the Achaemenid case. The introduction's most salient point is the problem of the sources' predominant Greco-Roman orientation, and the scarcity of internal and primary evidence for Persian deportations (25). The Persian kings famously refrained from annalistic compositions along the lines of Assyrian royal texts which frequently boast of deportations among other military accomplishments; only one surviving deportation account stems from an internal Achaemenid source, a Babylonian chronicle entry describing the Persian king's reconquest of rebellious Sidon in 345 BCE (145-51). Matarese acknowledges the frustration that this poses for researchers but argues that there is sufficient material for a contextual discussion that makes the best of the existing evidence. (In fact, the documentary situation has improved in the short time since this book's publication, with the appearance of new journal entries from the Persepolis Fortification Archive that attest provisions of supplies to Lycian captives at the end of their journeys from western Anatolia to Iran. [1])

The bulk of Matarese's book consists of twelve case studies, assembling all the available textual descriptions of Persian deportations and deportee communities (29-162). The majority of these accounts stem either from Herodotus' narratives of the campaigns of Darius I and Xerxes (Chapters 4 to 8), or from the Alexander historians' references to encounters with deportees or their descendants in the Persian heartland (Chapters 9 to 11). Each chapter begins by reproducing the relevant source passage in the original language and in translation, and proceeds to critical analysis of the event's historicity, with adept comparative use of relevant Near Eastern sources that either provide earlier precedents for deportations from the same region or offer parallels that bolster the historical plausibility and shed light on the wider purpose of deportations described by Greek authors. Chapter 3 (39-44), for instance, pursues the origins of the Carian "settlers" (anaspastoi) in Babylonia, from their appearance in Arrian's list of Persian army contingents at the Battle of Gaugamela, back to 7th-century Carian migrations to Saite Egypt and 6th-century deportations to the city of Borsippa after Nebuchadnezzar II's military victories over Egypt; it finally raises the possibility of a second wave during Cambyses' conquest, as part of a wider group of Egyptian deportations reported by Diodorus and Ctesias and assessed in Chapter 2. Overall, Matarese shows many of the reported deportation episodes to be historically plausible when read against the wider Near Eastern context, but she casts appropriate doubt on certain melodramatic exceptions, such as the Vulgate story of Alexander's discovery of mutilated Greek prisoners outside Persepolis, which appears incompatible with typical Near Eastern practice towards resettled laborers and is more likely to reflect the echoes of Macedonian propaganda (116-25).

The remainder of the book moves from individual case studies to more synthetic discussions and conclusions. Part 2 (165-198) begins by surveying the most notable characteristics that the various deportation accounts have in common and shows that although deportation could be a practical side effect of conquest, most resettlements ultimately came to serve practical economic purposes through selective enhancement of imperial labor forces (168-78). Considering the relationship between deportees and the kurtaš workers employed by the state administration in the Persepolis tablets, Matarese is careful not to oversimplify the equation between the two categories, but rightly concludes that the former could plausibly serve as one of the sources for the latter (182-83), a point that is now supported explicitly in the newest travel texts on Lycian captives. She also stresses the distinctions between communal disposal of deportee groups by imperial authorities and the individual ownership of chattel slaves, while recognizing that deportees still occupied an unfree status within the imperial labor pool (185-90).

Part 3 (201-228) engages in structural comparison between Persian and Mesopotamian deportation goals and methods, drawing in particular on the 1979 monograph by Bustenay Oded on the well-attested Assyrian evidence. Matarese outlines numerous points of common ground, as both Persians and Assyrians, not to mention the Babylonian enforcers of Judean captivity, implanted deportee populations in other regions of the empire not merely as sadistic punishments, but in service of the empire's economic development in the areas of resettlement as well as the stability of the newly conquered territories (206-11). Despite certain differences in ideological shading, such as the greater Achaemenid emphasis on diversity of subject populations, the stereotypical assumptions of contrast between Persian tolerance and Assyrian cruelty can be rejected, and Assyrian exaggerations of deportee numbers suggest that the empires' approaches to deportation may have been more similar in scale than often realized (219-22).

Matarese's book succeeds in elucidating the broader contexts of Persian imperial deportations, and her judicious integration of both Greco-Roman and Assyriological evidence is an exemplar of current methodology in the field of Achaemenid Studies. It will serve as a strong foundation for future studies, which may continue to expand on the logistical aspects of long-distance deportee travel through further engagement with the Persepolis evidence, as well as comparing Achaemenid approaches to deportation with its later resumption as an imperial strategy in the Sasanian period.


[1] see John Hyland: Persia's Lycian work force and the satrap of Sardis, in: Arta 2022.002.

Rezension über:

Chiara Matarese: Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit (= Classica et Orientalia; Bd. 27), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2021, XII + 318 S., ISBN 978-3-447-11594-0, EUR 78,00

Rezension von:
John Hyland
Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
John Hyland: Rezension von: Chiara Matarese: Deportationen im Perserreich in teispidisch-achaimenidischer Zeit, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2021, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 12 [15.12.2022], URL:

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