Persian Fire

The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Tom Holland

Preface by the author

Hand-drawn maps and a new image selection illustrate the Folio Society edition of Persian Fire – the bloodthirsty clash of civilisations by the master of classical history, Tom Holland.


In 480 BC, Xerxes, the King of Persia, led an invasion of mainland Greece as part of his greater plan of world domination. With a force greatly outnumbering the opposition, conquest seemed a formality: the city states of Greece were considered small strategic obstacles to be swept aside. However, the reality panned out rather differently and a dramatic and bloody half-century of warfare ensued with the Greeks ultimately forcing the Persians to retreat and retaining control of their homeland against incredible odds. 

‘Masterly, panoramic, gripping’

  1. Guardian

Production Details

Bound in printed and blocked cloth with a design by Kent Barton

Set in Spectrum

440 pages

Frontispiece, 24 pages of colour plates and 15 black & white integrated maps

Plain slipcase

10˝ x 6¾˝

A compelling history

Tom Holland’s epic account of this pivotal period in history grips from the outset with gritty realism and dramatic tension. The bloody conflict involved great tactical clashes on land and sea that tested the mettle of both sides; and what the Greeks lacked in numbers, they made up for with superior military tactics, many of which were unfamiliar to the Persian invaders. Hoplites – Greek citizen soldiers – fought in a phalanx formation, whereby the shields of each man overlapped slightly with his neighbour’s to offer greater protection, while lighter armour and weaponry allowed for greater mobility. 

The superlative writer of classical history

Holland’s skill at placing readers in the epicentre of the action is apparent in the exhilarating scenes that liberally populate the narrative. Historical integrity is at the heart of all Holland’s writing but it is his ability to elucidate the drama of the battles that makes his books so memorable – factual history that usurps fiction at every turn.

‘All the elements that made the first book (Rubicon) so exhilarating – his erudition and narrative zest – are present and correct in Persian Fire, and the book contains one moment of drama (his description of the charge at the battle of Marathon as seen from inside the Greek hoplites’ helmets) that will give you goosebumps.’

  1. Sunday Times

The battles are recounted with dramatic narrative zeal, including Marathon – the encounter that revealed the courage and superior tactics of the Greek hoplite soldiers while highlighting chinks in the armour of the Spartan battle-plan; Salamis – a pivotal naval battle that brought together several disparate Greek states to fight as one opposing force; and the legendary battle of Thermopylae; the heroic last stand of King Leonidas and his Spartan forces.

A unique edition of a best-seller

Our edition is illustrated with a new picture selection which includes gold artefacts from the Oxus treasure, statues and reliefs from the royal palaces of Persepolis and Susa, and a bronze Persian helmet from the Battle of Marathon. Fifteen new hand-drawn maps detail political boundaries – such as Greece, Attica and the West – and battle strategies, including Marathon, Plataea and Thermopylae. The cloth binding features an imposing full-page portrait of a sculpture from Persepolis by celebrated artist Ken Barton.

About Tom Holland

Tom Holland is one of Britain’s foremost writers on the ancient world. He is the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (2003); Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom (2008); In the Shadow of the Sword (2012), which covers the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the Near East and the rise of Islam; Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar (2015), and Athelstan: The Making of England (2016). Persian Fire won the Anglo-Hellenic League’s Runciman Award, and Rubicon was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History. Holland has also published a translation of Herodotus’ Histories (2013) and has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for BBC Radio. In 2007, he was the winner of the Classical Association prize, awarded to ‘the individual who has done most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilisation of Ancient Greece and Rome’.


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