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Mutual Ignorance

The motive of the Athenian embassy to Persia1 was to seek added security for the democratic reforms of Cleisthenes2 against possible Spartan intervention. Seeking security through an alliance with Persia made sense because the Persian Kingdom (or Persian Empire, as it is more often called, despite its monarch being referred to as a king, not an emperor) had become the richest, largest, and most militarily powerful state in the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world. Since Athens had never before had any official contacts with the Persian Kingdom, the diplomatic mission necessarily had to be sent off without precise instructions. The Athenian diplomats would simply have to feel their way as best they could in dealing with the Persians3because they had no idea what to expect. The Athenian emissaries met with a representative of the king at Sardis, the Persian headquarters in western Anatolia (today Turkey). When the royal representative, who served as the governor of the surrounding territory for the king, had heard the Athenians' plea for an alliance to help protect them against the Spartans, he first replied, “But who in the world are you and where do you live?”4

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