In the generations before the Peloponnesian War, Persia had been Greece's most persistent enemy. After Alkibiades led the Athenian military to victory over Sparta (and the whole of the Peloponnesian War), he consolidated a tyrannical rule. He further, cynically, planned a joint Athenian-Spartan war against Persia. Alkibiades had grand plans of conquering the entire Persian Empire, burning down its capital Persepolis, and reaching all the way to India. He assumed that once the conquest was achieved, the victorious Greeks would fall out with each other - and was preparing in advance to turn on and defeat the Spartans and other rivals, and establish his own personal power.
In the seventh century, Khorsau II of Persia aggressively expanded westward into the territory of the Roman Empire while the latter was in turmoil over the succession by Emperor Phokas. Among other provinces, the Persians occupied Syria and held it for about 15 years before the Romans drove them off.
For more than two thousand years, the Persian Empire and the Roman Empire had existed side by side. They were rivals which occasionally went to war and conquered some territory from each other but neither was able to or particularly interested in totally defeating the other empire. Wars were almost invariably confined to peripheral areas and did not touch the heartlands of either empire. The introduction of gunpowder and artillery changed the means by which such wars were conducted but not the basic pattern.
On its other flank, Persia had rather similar relations with the westernmost of the two empires into which India was divided.
In between wars, Persia had long periods of peace with its neighbors, during which there were considerable trade and significant cultural influences.
Persia was at peace with the Roman Empire when the Slavs and Avars invaded the empire in the east in the sixth century. When the two empires were at peace, Persian traders periodically visited Thessalonica. However, no traders were present during the siege of the city. George reflected that, if they had been, their worship of a fire-god may have rendered their fires proof against an Avar spell which extinguished all flames in the city's Christian homes.
Although Persia fully embraced modernity, it was perceived as being prickly about its modernity. Persia had adopted modernity much earlier than its Arab neighbors, and so looked down its nose at them. Persia maintained its own language and Shi'aIslam to distinguish itself, and in many ways, leaned more theocratic than much of the rest of the Dar al-Islam. The influence the Grand Ayatollah at Qom wielded over Persia was akin to the influence the Aquinists had in Europe. Consequently, Persia was entangled sporadically in bloody wars with its neighbor Iraq.
Persia had a sizable firearms industry; Persian rifles were used by militaries around the world, including the Grand Duchy of Italy. On a more positive note, a Persian healer had laid the foundation for smallpox vaccination.