History of Iran (Page 1)
Land of free, noble, and steady people
ايران: سرزمين آريايی ها، برگرفته از واژه «آريا» به معنی نجيب و شريف
Swastika, "wheel of Mithra (Sun/Fire)", the oldest Aryan symbol
(Eexcavated from Kaluraz, Gilan, Iran)
Full Story of Iran
more than 12,000 Years Old Civilization
Image (follow in
The Cyrus Cylinder
first human rights charter
deposited by Cyrus the Great in the foundations of Babylon
Cyrus the Great biography (in Persian) [pdf]
Will of Dariush the Great (in Persian) [pdf]
(see also Old Persian Language)
“Bustling bazaars and ancient sights, parched deserts and snowcapped mountains, awesome architecture and simple hospitality”
Lonely Planet’s guide to Iran
"چو ايران نباشد تن من مباد"
History of the Ancient Aryans: Outlined in Zoroastrian scriptures
[The following article is quoted from the book:
The Saga of the Aryans
Iran is the ancient name of Persia, and it is derived from the root "Arya" or Aryan, the Indo-European branch of peoples who settled in that land. The Aryans of ancient Iran were Mazdayasni Zarathushtris, ie. Worshippers of Ahura Mazda (the name of God in Avestan) as revealed by the ancient prophet Zarathushtra, thousands of years before Christ.
However, all the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures speak of an earlier homeland from where our people came, the lost "Airyane Vaejahi" or seedland of the Aryans. From this homeland, the Indo- Europeans or Aryans moved to upper India, Iran, Russia and the nations of Europe such as Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Scandinavia, England, Scotland and Ireland.
Sanskrit, Latin, Avestan are all sister languages, and the present day upper Indian, Persian and European languages are related eg. Baradar in persian = Brata in sanskrit = Brother in english. "Persia" is actually a late European term for the land of "Farsi" language ie. Iran. The Arabic phase in Iran only began 1300 years ago, and we had to escape to India to preserve our Zoroastrian religion.
The "Vendidad" is one of the ancient scriptures of the Zoroastrians, actually called the "Vi-daevo-dat" or the law to fight against evil. In the first "Fargad" or chapter, the Golden Age of the ancient Aryans is outlined with their greatest king, "Yima Kshaeta" (Yam Raj in the Indian Vedas) who banished old age and death. Then, the ice age broke on the ancient home and the Aryans were forced to migrate southwards, to the southeast and the southwest.
Mr. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a great Brahmin (Indian Aryan) scholar of India in the last century studied the Vedas and the Vendidad to find an ancient homeland of the Aryans. The Vedas are scriptures written by the Indo-Europeans or Aryans after they migrated to India. From the descriptions of the weather patterns mentioned in the Vedas, Tilak concluded that the ancient home must be in the Artic regions ie. above present Russia.
The Aryans migrated from the ancient home to Iran and from there to India and Greece and Europe. Tilak also said that the most ancient historical scripture was the Iranian Vendidad, which actually describes the ancient homeland of the Aryans, the Aryan King Yima Kshaeta who ruled over it (Yama Raja, lord of the underworld in latter day Indian Hinduism) and the onrush of winter, sent by ahriman (the devil) which caused the great migration. This is the famous first "Fargad" of the Vendidad which fascinated a lot of European scholars in the last century.
The ancient Aryans believed that the world as created by Ahura Mazda was perfect, with no evil. The first man Gayo Maretan had no disease, no illness, no hunger and thirst. Only the good creation of God existed eg., the Dog, Cow and Bull, Horse, Cock, Birds etc. Then ahriman the evil one attacked the world and caused evil to appear, disease and illness and old age, and the animals and the first man started to die. Night began to fall (before the sun was at the noon position - fixed, so there was no time). The evil brood of animals appeared eg. snakes, insects, and the cat breed. So evil in the ancient faith is an external introduction, which one day will be purged when the world will be bathed with the purification of fire - the latter also found in old German mythology. Paradise itself will be established on the earth, in the form of the Kingdom of Ahura Mazda. The English word "paradise" itself stems from the Avestan "PairiDaize", meaning the same. Also, the word "garden" probably stems from the Avestan "Garod-man" meaning the House of songs - the ancient name of heaven for the Aryans.
The Kings of ancient Iran were very proud to call themselves Aryans, their rock edicts indeed say so. "I am an Aryan, the son (Puthra) of an Aryan." This was righteous pride, because the word Aryan occurs time and again in the ancient scriptures of the Aryans - such as the Yashts (prayers to the divine elements) and the Vendidad (the law against evil).
About a time frame - today, many scholars tend to place Zarathushtra very late in time (around 1500 BC). The Greek historians at the time of Cyrus placed the first prophet at around 8000 years bc, that seems a more possible time to the former. However, the ancient Aryans were much sooner than that. Note that as per the Vendidad, Yima Kshaeta (King Yima) is the ancient king of the Aryans in the ancient homeland Airyanam Vaejahi (the seedland of the Aryans), and his memory is retained by even the Indian Vedas as Yama Raja (Yama King) because the Indian Aryans still remembered their ancient king after their split up in the migration, but they made him "Lord of the netherworld" later on.
Unlike the Indians, the Iranian Aryans still retained a perfect memory of days gone by -the perfect time in the ancient homeland, when Yiam banished disease, death and hunger from the homeland. This was indeed the true "Golden age" of humankind.
So, what about the time? The migration actually started before the ice age struck. When the ice and winter set in (sent by the evil one), the ancient homeland was destroyed. If the home was in the North Pole, look for a time when the North Pole was not covered by ice - that would be thousands and thousands of years before. I have estimated that time when the ice age struck as 20,000 years ago in my book, but the time could be much earlier. There were kings before Yima too, ruling over the Aryans.
Note too that the civilizations of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in old India were actually Aryan, and they were starting to decay around 4000 bc. which means they had been in existance for thosands of years before (scholars admit this). They would have been built by the Indo-Aryans much after their initial separation from the Aryans of Iran.
An American friend said:
"Observation: There's an incredible thread here between something I've seen mentioned about a "Golden Age" of humankind..when humans were so close to their Creator they didn't need writing or speech or tools to sustain themselves..and the Zoroastrian story."
Thats right. Zarathushtra was sent by Ahura Mazda to reaffirm the ancient faith (that was taught to Yima Kshaeta and before him, the first man Gayo-Maretan). He was also given the "AGUSTO-VACHO" ie revelations unheard before. He was thus the first prophet, to be followed by three Saviours. When the final Saviour comes, the world will be purged by fire and evil destroyed in a final great battle. Then Ahura Mazda will rule. The mightiest words in the religion are in the Ahunavar, a great prayer. The ending words of this prayer in Avestan are, Kshrethamchai (Kingdom) Ahurai (God) Ayim (will come).
"Does the Vendidad have one set of general principles in one place, like the Old Testament Bible, or is it necessary to read the whole..."
The Vendidad is itself the ancient Law against evil. Throughout the book, there are Fargads (chapters) which explain the various evils in the eyes of Ahura Mazda. For instance, [ . . . ] and [ . . . ] are abhorred, so is ill-treatment to dogs. Ahura Mazda praises the Dog as His Glorious Creation, who He created as the guardian of the Aryan household and farm. One Fargad details the ancient history of Yima Kshaeta, and the ancient homeland.
- Migration of the Aryans from the Ancient homeland -
As translated from the Vi-Daevo-Dat, ancient Avestan scripture
of the Aryans of Iran (Avestan is a sister to Vedic Sanskrit)
According to Lokmanya Tilak, one of the great fathers of Indian Independance and a Vedic scholar who had also made a detailed study of other Aryan cultures, the Vi-Daevo-Dat contained the most ancient history of mankind, since it properly explained the origins and the migrations of the Aryans.
In a translation from "The Saga of the Aryans", the history of the migration is explained in the form of a talk between the ancient Aryan prophet Zarathushtra, and Ahura Mazda (Avestan name of God in the Vi-Daevo-Dat.) :
Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda:
"O Ahura Mazda, righteous Creator of the corporeal world, who was the first person to whom You taught these teachings?
Then spoke Ahura Mazda:
"YIMA the splendid who watched over his subjects, O righteous Zarathushtra. I first did teach the Aryan religion to him, prior to you.
"Yima spoke to me, and said he would like to spread the religion among mankind by teaching others. It was then that I replied:
"O Yima you are not created for this task by Me. You are not learned enough to increase the religion among mankind - you are not the Messenger of the religion.
"Yima the righteous told me then:
"O Ahura, if I am not created for the task of increasing the good religion, then I would like to advance the world, to increase it and be a righteous king and protector. I ask You this, that in my kingdom there be neither cold wind nor hot wind (neither extreme winter or summer), there be no sickness nor death. That my subjects be undying and unwanting, and gloriously happy under my reign.
"I Who am Ahura Mazda, was pleased with this. I brought Yima a weapon - a Golden plough which was dagger shaped with golden forks, to signify that his authority was divine, sanctioned by Me. He became the mightiest King (KSHAETA) the Aryans had ever known, the most righteous and most splendid Aryan man.
"When Yima's rule extended to 300 years, then the Aryan land had prospered so much that the land became full of cattle, men, dogs, birds and red flaming fire (the fires kept burning in the house of every Aryan). Place could no longer be found for cattle or men.
"I made this known to Yima, and he proceeded towards the south, towards the path of the high sun (west), increasing the land with his golden plough (conquering and cultivating the lands). The boundaries of the Aryan kingdom were thus extended in breadth, one third greater than before. The king stood as an Aryan on the mother earth, praising the country with words fit for prayer.
"When Yima's rule extended to 600 years, the state of abundance reoccurred. This led to Yima proceeding again towards the south and the west, extending the boundaries of the Aryan kingdom two thirds greater than before. Thus happened the second great migration of the Aryans.
"When Yima's rule extended to 900 years, abundance again led to Yima increasing the land with his golden plough, towards the south and west. This third great migration made the Aryan kingdom three times larger than before.
"In the first 1000 years of his rule, Yima the splendid enjoined righteous order on his Aryan subjects. He controlled invisible time itself, making it so much large in size so as to praise and spread the righteous law.
"That glorious age of the Aryans did not last for ever, O Zarathushtra! It was time for the evil one's attack. I Who am Ahura Mazda spoke then to Yima Kshaeta:
"O splendid Yima, towards the sacred Aryan land will rush evil as a severe fatal winter; evil will rush as thick snow flakes falling in increased depth. From the three directions will wild and ferocious animals attack, arriving from the most dreadful sites.
"Before this winter, any snow that fell would melt and convey the water away. Now the snow will not melt (but will form the Polar ice cap). In this place, O Yima the corporeal world will be DAMAGED. Before in this seedland the grass was so soft the footprint of even a small animal could be observed. Now, there will be no footprints discernible at all on the packed sheets of hard ice that will form.
"So, Yima; make a mighty VARA, an enclosure as long as a riding ground, with equal four sides. Here bring the families of Aryan men and women, cattle, dogs, birds and the red flaming fire.
"Inside the Vara, make water flow in a canal, one Hathra long. Keep earth inside the Vara, to grow green vegetables as food. Make cattle pens, to house the cattle of the Aryan people.
"Let love blossom unfailing in the enclosure, among the young couples therein - make for them a residence, with rooms, pillars, long extended walls and an enclosing wall."
People of Iran: The Origins of Aryan People
[The following atricle is quoted from:
The Origins of Aryan People
(By: M. Sadeq Nazmi-Afshar)
I am Dariush, the great king, the king of kings
"From the Darius the Great's Inscription in Naqshe-e-Rostam"
The king of many countries and many people
The king of this expansive land,
The son of Wishtaspa of Achaemenid,
Persian, the son of a Persian,
'Aryan', from the Aryan race
The above scripture is one of most valid written evidences of the history of the Aryan race, and as can be seen, Darius I (Dariush in persian), the Achaemenian king, in the 5th century BCE, declares himself a Persian and form the Aryan race. Herodotus, the father of history, writes (in his book: "History of Herodotus") at the same times: "In ancient times, the Greeks called Iranians "Kaffe", but they were renowned as Aryans among themselves and their neighbors". In another part of his book, Herodotus writes that the Medians were known as Aryans during a certain period. So in two of the oldest written human documents, the race of the Iranians have been mentioned as Aryan.
On the other hand, in many contemporary books, one reads that the Aryans were not original residents of the land of Iran, and that they migrated to Iran from Central Asia or somewhere in the north of Europe. The point is that if some of the oldest written records of the human history confirm that the residents of the Iranian Plateau were Aryans, why should some claim otherwise?
We will discuss the origins of the Iranian race, and we will try to shed light on some unknown corners of history, which has been mixed with ignorance and lies.
We want to extract the facts out of centuries and millennia and out of paleontological studies, old and new, to prove that Iran is the original land of the Aryan race, that this people has never migrated to any other land, and it has defended its homelands for centuries on end.
There are all numerous reasons that the Aryan race has undergone its evolution from the primitive man to the white man in the Iranian Plateau. These reasons can be categorized as historical, geographical, mythological, anthropological and linguistically.
Against the reasons we will discuss, no valid evidence has been produced to prove that the Aryans migrated from Central Asia or any other place to Iran. What European historians have written in this regard is based on unscientific and unproven hypotheses influenced by anti-Iranian and political ideas.
The reason for the migration of Aryans from Iran to other places of the world should be searched in climatic events. At the end of Ice Age, as a result of excessive rainfall on the Alborz and Zagros Mountains and the melting of the ice accumulated on the mountains, the rivers flowing through the Iranian Plateau were much larger than they are today. Therefore there was a large lake in the place where to day is the Central Desert. One of the most interesting mythological texts says in this regard:
"...In the second phase of the creation of the world, Ahura Mazda created the waters, and the waters flowed towards Farakhekrat Sea which covers one third of the world from the southern outskirts of Alborz." With the continuous warming of the earth and the decrease in rainfall, this lake gradually dried up and the peoples living around it, who had a common language and Aryan culture, was forced to migrate from Iran. The routes of this great migration are an evidence for the central position of Iran, for the Aryan peoples have set Iran as the center and set out on migration in any direction.
As a matter of fact, many Western historians have declined to accept the politicized version of history, admitting that Iran was the origin of the Aryan race.
Hegel writes in his book The Philosophy of history: "The principle of evolution begins with the history of Iran". Another prominent orientologist says that: A large part of our cultural and material legacy was unveiled in southwestern Asia the center of which was Iran." Petri, in a famous speech, said that "When Egypt had only just begun the art of pottery, the people of Susa (in Iran) were painting beautiful pictures on ceramics." this shows that the Iranian civilization was 3,000 years ahead of that of Egypt, dating back at least to 12,000 years ago. In other words, when Central Asia was totally buried under thick layers of ice, Iranians were creating pictures on earthenware, which indicates their art and creativity.
Considering the existence of this 12,000 years-old civilization in Iran, would it not be unlikely that 6,000 years ago, a group of people spontaneously crossed the ice covered Siberian lands, suddenly wiping such a civilization off the earth. The word Aryan has roots in world that Iranians called themselves by Ayria, meaning free, noble and steady. The world Iran is derived from this very root, having been transformed from to Ayran Iran, meaning the land of the Aryans. This is the most ancient term applied to the Iranian Plateau, and such a term has never been detected anywhere else in the world, e.g. Europe or Turkistan.
The myth of Aryan's migration to Iran implies that a people have come to Iran from a remote land, giving their name to an already inhabited land which had no name, and that no trace of their name has been remained in their name has been remained in their original homeland. In historical records, Central Asia has been mentioned as the land of Sakas, Masagets, Touran, Soghd, Kharazm, Khiveh, and Turkistan, none of which words has any relation to the word Aryan.
Paleontology is one of the sciences that confirm the formation of the white race in Ian. The Homo sapiens evolved from its Neanderthal ancestors in a 30,000- year process between 50,000 to 20,000 years ago. In the Hutu and Kamarband caves near Behshahr, Iran, bones of men from different historical periods have been found, showing that a kind of human race has continuously dwelled in this area and evolved, meaning that there has been no migration.
In Babylonian and Assyrian sources, one of the largest ancient Iranian tribes has been mentioned as Kas Su, Kassi and Kashi, which in ancient languages and also in the modern language of the people of Gilan means fair-eyed and fair-faced. The name of central city of Kashan (Kassan) is a relic of this ancient Aryan tribe. Many relics of the Kassi tribe has also been found in the Khorramabad region, including paintings in the cave of Dusheh which date back to 15,000 BC. In these paintings, people can be seen riding horses. This is a very valid evidence against the erroneous theories which say that the Aryans brought the horse form Central Asia to Iran around 4,000 BC. Like its ancient riders, the horse is indigenous to Iran since at least 17,000 years ago.
Geology and meteorology confirm the evolution of man in the Iranian Plateau. The supporters of the theory of the migration of the Aryans from the north to Iran assume that with the fall in the temperature during the ice age, men were forced to migrate from the north (Central Asia) to the south (Iran). But the homo race was formed at the end of the third ice age, i.e. when the weather was gradually warming from the south to the north. Therefore, it would have been natural for people to migrate from south to north, and not the other way round. In fact, Central Asia was not habitable for men for thousands of years after the ice age, it only became so in the historic age as a result of the melting and receding of the arctic ice cap. Later groups of Iranians and Chinese migrated to these areas and formed the Turk race through cross breeding. The Indians are a hybrid of early Dravidians and the white Iranian race, a fact, which is evident from their dark skin.
So why have some European historians said that the origin of the Iranians is Central Asia? Because in 1833, an Oxford University professor used the term Aryan to describe a group of languages with common origins. Although he later admitted that parts of his theory were erroneous, the theory of an Aryan race was used by a group of romanticist writers and western historians in quest for an ancient identity.
The Germans, eyeing vast expanses of land in Central Asia, called themselves Aryans and cried for a return to the homeland. They used the Swastika, which, as a "wheel of Mithra (Sun/Fire)" used to be the arm of the Iranians since ancient times, as a Nazi symbol, to have an alibi to invade Russia.
The French, British, Russians and recently Americans found different reasons to call themselves Aryans.
An autosomal DNA plot of genetic distances derived
from 120 allele frequencies in Cavalli-Sforza's
"The History and Geography of Human Genes"
Photo source: Aryans' Immigration (By: Dr Reza Moradi Ghiasabadi)
A Brief History of Persian Empire
[The following atricle is quoted from
The civilization on the Iranian plateau is very ancient; copper was smelted there about 5500 BC, and Elam in the lowlands lagged only slightly behind Sumer in the development of hieroglyphic writing 5,000 years ago. However, the Elamites adopted the written language of Akkadian as the most universal language of the area for two millennia. An overlord in Susa ruled over vassal princes.
The oldest written document of a treaty found so far was between the Akkadian Naram-Sin and an Elamite king about 43 centuries ago. Much of what is known about Elamite civilization comes to us from Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian records. The cities of Susa and Anshan were important links for trade and communication between Mesopotamia and the Harrapan culture of the Indus valley. Elam overthrew the Third dynasty of Ur in the 21st century BC; three centuries later they were conquered by Babylon's Hammurabi, but they were able to defeat his son.
In the 17th century BC when the Kassites began to take over Babylon, they also dominated Elam, as Aryans came through Iran on their way to India bringing Indo-Iranian languages in the first half of the second millennium BC. Elam clashed with Assyria in the thirteenth century BC but reached its height of power in the twelfth century BC when Shutruk-nahhunte I overthrew the Kassites in Babylon, and his son took the statue of Marduk to Susa. King Shilkhak-Inshushinak invaded Assyria as far as Ashur and besieged Babylon, establishing a brief Elamite empire which used the proto-Elamite script in its inscriptions. However, before the twelfth century was over, Babylon's Nebuchadrezzar I defeated the Elamites and took Marduk's statue back. For the next three centuries little is known of Elamite culture. Assyrian military campaigns against Elam in the eighth century BC increased in the seventh century climaxing in 639 BC when Ashurbanipal's armies destroyed Susa and sowed the land with salt. Elam continued to exist for another century but never rose to power again.
The name Iran derives from the word "Aryan," and in the first half of the first millennium BC Iranian-speaking peoples moved gradually into the area of the Zagros mountains, the largest groups being the Medes and the Persians. More effective use of iron tools and irrigation from the ninth to the seventh centuries BC enabled the Iranians to farm more successfully and increase population in the plains. The Aryans brought horses and chariots, and their use of cavalry stimulated the Assyrians to do the same. The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III conquered and deported 65,000 Medes replacing them on the plateau with Aramaeans. Urartu led by its king Rusas I tried to fight back against the Assyrians, and the semi-legendary first king of the Medes, Daiukku, was said to have united dozens of tribal chiefs to join the effort. According to Herodotus Daiukku had been made king because of his reputation for making fair judgments. Assyria's Sargon II defeated dozens of Median chiefs and settled 30,000 captured Israelis in the towns of the Medes in the late eighth century BC. From the northwest came Scythians and Cimmerians who devastated Urartu so badly that Rusas committed suicide.
While Assyrian king Sennacherib was busy fighting Babylon, Elam, Egypt, and Judea, the Medes rallied around Khshathrita (called Phraortes by Herodotus), the son of Daiukku, and with Cimmerians as allies and Persians as vassals they attacked Nineveh in 653 BC but were defeated, and Khshathrita was killed. The Scythians took advantage of this opportunity by invading and subjugating the Medes for 28 years. Herodotus told how the next Median king Cyaxares killed the drunken Scythian chieftains at a banquet and went on to recover Median power. The prophet Nahum indicated that the growing hatred of the Assyrian nobility, priests, military, administrators, and merchants was going to bring about the downfall of that empire. Adopting the specialized military units that had been used by the Urartians and Assyrians for more than a century, the Medes marched west and took Arrapkha in 615 BC, surrounded Nineveh the next year, and then went on to take Ashur by storm. Nineveh fell in 612 BC with help from the Babylonians. The Assyrian empire was divided between the Medes and the Babylonians.
Babylon ruled over the fertile crescent, while Media controlled the north and east. The Medes came into conflict with Lydia, the major power in Asia Minor, and fought with them for five years before an eclipse of the sun stimulated them to agree to a truce mediated by Babylonians in 585 BC. That same year Astyages succeeded as Median king and ruled for 35 years. Perhaps influenced by Zarathushtra, Astyages was reluctant to engage in continual conquest and thus alienated the ambitious aristocracy. A plot of the nobles was organized by Hypargus, and border tribes were incited to rebel by Oebares and others. After Persian king Cyrus II revolted, Babylonian king Nabonidus took back Harran in 553 BC while the Medes were defeating Cyrus, who was forced to retreat. Faced with the Persian revolt and the betrayal of the aristocracy, Astyages was captured, and the royal city of Ecbatana had to submit to Cyrus, according to Ctesias because Cyrus threatened to torture his daughter Amytis, whom Cyrus later married.
Cyrus II inherited a Persian kingdom in the Median empire from his father Cambyses I in 559 BC. The mother of Cyrus was a daughter of the Median king Astyages. Herodotus, who delighted in relating stories of how oracles and dreams unexpectedly came true, wrote that because of a dream Astyages tried to have Cyrus murdered when he was a baby; but Hypargus did not want to kill him and left it to another who saved the child. When the boy was found to be acting like a king he was discovered and returned to his true mother and father. This ironic story may have been fabricated to justify Cyrus for overthrowing his grandfather.
As a vassal king in Anshan Cyrus ruled from his capital at Parsagarda and united seven Persian princes into a royal council under his leadership. Cyrus initiated diplomatic relations with Babylon's king Nabonidus and was able to win over Hypargus and much of the Median aristocracy when he revolted against Astyages and took over the Median empire in 550 BC. Cyrus bypassed the fortresses of Babylon and marched north to capture the Assyrian cities of Arbela and Ashur whose gods' statues had been taken to Babylon. Harran, the city sacred to Nabonidus, must also have fallen, as Cyrus proceeded on to invade Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Armenia. In each of these cases Cyrus allowed native kings to retain power under his rule as he established satrapies.
Croesus, who held the regional power as king of Lydia, formed an alliance with Egypt's Amasis, Babylon's Nabonidus, and the Spartans who wanted to defend the Greek city states in Asia. Believing the Delphic oracle, which declared he would destroy a great empire, Croesus refused to be a king under Persian sovereignty. Croesus crossed the Halys River, which divided the empires, and began to devastate the Syrian lands in Cappadocia and enslave the inhabitants not driven out. The Median general Hypargus suggested placing camels in the front line which intimidated the Lydians' horses and enabled the Persians to win a victory and take Sardis after a two-week siege. Herodotus told how Croesus was saved from being burned to death by rain and a reprieve from Cyrus. The great empire Croesus destroyed was his own Lydian empire. Croesus blamed Apollo for his defeat, saying, "No one is fool enough to choose war instead of peace - in peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons."7 Yet he had chosen war.
Since Miletus was the only Greek city state to surrender, the others were conquered by the Persian army led by Hypargus; then the islanders surrendered. Cyrus once again was able to use local disaffection for another easy victory over a Mesopotamian power, this time Babylon, winning over their general Gobryas, who took Uruk in 546 and Babylon in 539 BC and become satrap of the new province of Babirush. Nabonidus was severely criticized by Persian propaganda, and the Akkadian gods were returned to their temples, as Cyrus tried to legitimize his taking the kingship of Babylon. Business went on without much change under Persian rule, but the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland under generous conditions that allowed them to take the precious utensils that had been stolen from their temple a half century before by the Babylonians. Cyrus had been heralded as the Lord's anointed by Jewish prophets.
Cyrus also expanded the Persian empire greatly in the east to the edge of India; but if he was influenced by the new religion of Zarathushtra, it did not quell his desire for imperial conquest. Near the Jaxartes River he ran into the Massagetae led by Queen Tomyris who sent him the following message:
King of the Medes, I advise you to abandon this enterprise, for you cannot know if in the end it will do you any good. Rule your own people, and try to bear the sight of me ruling mine. But of course you will refuse my advice; as the last thing you wish for is to live in peace.8
In 529 BC a bloody battle was fought, destroying most of the Persian army and killing Cyrus.
Eight years before he died Cyrus had made his son Cambyses king of Babylon, while a second son Bardiya administered the eastern provinces. When Cambyses II succeeded his father, he had his brother Bardiya secretly assassinated and then invaded Egypt. With the advice of a defecting Greek general, Cambyses was able to get Bedouin help in crossing the desert. In a battle, in which Greek mercenaries fought on both sides, the Egyptian forces of Psamtik III fled to Memphis, which then fell to the Persians. From Egypt Cambyses tried to attack Carthage, but his Phoenician allies refused to fight against their own colony. According to Herodotus, a venture against a Libyan oasis failed because of a sandstorm. Cambyses did manage to invade Nubia, but the Persians suffered great losses on their return. Greek accounts of Cambyses' atrocities in Egypt probably reflect Egyptian resentment for the Persian domination they suffered until 402 BC. In 522 BC a man saying he was Bardiya rose up and tried to rule in Persia, and Cambyses headed home but died on the way.
Darius, a prince and governor of Parthia who had commanded the ten thousand immortals against Egypt, led a group of seven Persian nobles, maintained control of the army, and put down the revolt, killing the false Bardiya two months after the death of Cambyses, though it took two years to put down the various revolts in the empire. Darius sent forces led by Otanes to help Syloson, the exiled brother of Polycrates, to retake the island of Samos. He appointed Zerubbabel governor of Judah, and when the order of Cyrus to restore the temple was discovered, Darius supported that project. In 519 BC Darius himself crossed the Caspian Sea and led the invasion of the eastern Scythians, and the following winter he marched to Egypt where he sought wise men and reinstated the former Egyptian laws. He also ordered the digging of a canal 150 feet wide from the Nile River to the Gulf of Suez.
After seizing a great empire Darius endeavored to judge it by establishing laws. The empire was divided into twenty provinces, each ruled by a Persian satrap and a commander-in-chief. The Persians were exempted from taxation, and India's gold provided nearly a third of the total annual tribute valued at 14,500 talents of silver. Inspectors called "the ears of the king" kept him informed and had their own armed forces. The laws were intended to keep the stronger from destroying the weak. Judges were appointed for life unless they were removed for miscarriage of justice. Darius claimed that he loved what is right and hated lies and what is wrong, that he was not angry but restrained those who were angry. Those who injured he punished. Those who did not speak the truth he did not trust, believing that anyone who lies destroys. He even withdrew a death sentence when he realized that he had violated his own law not to execute anyone for only one crime, but in weighing the man's services against his crime ended up making him a governor. However, the death penalty was used for offenses against the state or the royal family, and mutilation was common for lesser crimes.
Darius encouraged trade and economic development in a number of ways. He standardized weights and measures and coinage on a bimetallic system of gold and silver that had been introduced by Croesus in Lydia. Darius created a network of roads including a royal highway from Susa to Sardis in Lydia. He commended the satrap of Asia Minor and Syria for transplanting fruit trees from beyond the Euphrates. Sesame spread to Egypt, and rice was planted in Mesopotamia. Generally large estates were worked by serfs and war-captured slaves who belonged to the land. Industry not only produced luxury goods made from precious metals, but also trade of useful tools, household products, and inexpensive clothing raised the living standards of many people. However, the empire did have to be supported, and there were taxes on ports, internal trade, and sales as well as on estates, fields, gardens, flocks, and mines. The wages of skilled workers, laborers, and even women and children were strictly regulated.
The Indus valley had been subdued and made into the satrapy of Hindush by 513 BC when Darius crossed the Bosphorus and led an attack against the European Scythians. With the vassal help of hundreds of Greek ships the Persians defeated the Getae and got the Thracians to submit. However, the Scythians destroyed their own land and while retreating harassed the Persian army with arrows from horsemen. King Darius fled back to Asia but left behind 800,000 soldiers led by Megabazus, satrap of Dascyleium, to continue the fighting. The next year Libya was conquered after a nine-month siege of Barca, while Megabazus was taking the towns of Thrace one by one and deporting their warriors to Phrygia. Envoys demanded of Macedonia's Amyntas earth and water, the sign of submission, and he complied. Darius appointed his brother Artaphrenes satrap in Sardis to oversee the Greek cities of Ionia, and he replaced Megabazus with Otanes, who controlled the grain trade through the straits, cutting off the Scythians from Greek art treasures, Milesian business, and threatening the food supply of the European Greeks. Megabazus strengthened this blockade by capturing the islands of Lemnos and Imbros.
Persian-Greek Wars In 500 BC the Greek Ionian cities revolted and burned Sardis. The war went on sporadically until the Persians defeated the Greek fleet off Miletus in 494 BC. Most of the men in Miletus were killed, and the women and children were enslaved. The next spring Chios, Lesbos, and Tenedos were taken along with mainland cities. Handsome boys were made eunuchs, and beautiful girls were put in the royal harem. Cities and temples were burned. Only the historian Hecataeus, who had opposed the revolt, was spared. The Ionian cities that had been allowed local autonomy before were now brought under imperial administration. Private wars between cities were no longer allowed but were arbitrated. A census was taken, and the taxation imposed on the weakened cities was burdensome. Darius appointed his son-in-law Mardonius, who according to Herodotus ejected irresponsible despots from Ionian cities and set up democracies. The Persians took gold-rich Thasos even though it had not been hostile, after which much of the Persian fleet and over 20,000 men were destroyed by a storm off Athos. At the same time a Thracian tribe of Brygi inflicted heavy losses on the Persian army on land while wounding Mardonius, who eventually subdued them before retreating to Asia.
In 490 BC Darius sent envoys to Greek cities demanding the earth and water of submission. The trading island of Aegina cooperated, but Sparta and Athens were determined to resist. The Persian attack was led by Datis. When the people of Naxos fled to the interior, the city was burned. Eretrians were divided but decided only to defend themselves, not to attack. After the Persians had assaulted Eretria for six days, two democrats betrayed the city hoping their party would gain power; but the Persians made the moral mistake of destroying the temples and enslaving the people. This stimulated the Athenians to attack the Persians on the plain of Marathon, defeating them so badly that the Persians fled for home.
In Egypt where graft had been rampant, Darius instituted a new code of laws. Suffering under a heavy Persian garrison and severe taxes, Egyptians complained that the great building projects in Persepolis, Susa, and Ecbatana had been financed by Egyptian wealth. The Egyptian satrap Aryandes was executed for violating Persian coining laws, probably for melting down royal coins with the king's image and selling the bullion at an enormous profit, which was considered treason. Upset by the heavy taxation imposed to raise money for the war against Greece, in 486 BC a revolt erupted in Egypt and was soon followed by the death of Darius.
His oldest son by Queen Atossa, Xerxes, who had been administering Babylon as viceroy for twelve years, became King of the Persians and the Medes and spent his first royal year putting down the Egyptian revolt. Xerxes inflicted more severe treatment than his predecessors had there and also in Babylon after their satrap Zopyrus was killed in a revolt in 482 BC that was ruthlessly defeated. Not only were the Babylonian fortifications demolished and the temples destroyed, but the great, solid-gold statue of Marduk was removed and melted down. No longer could anyone take the hand of Bel to show their divine-approved rulership at the Babylonian New Year's festival. Babylon was incorporated into the Assyrian satrapy, which had to provide a thousand talents of silver and 500 boys for eunuchs. Even the name Babylonian was banned, and after this time they were known as Chaldeans.
Urged on by the war party led by Mardonius, Xerxes amassed a huge army formed from 46 nations and commanded by 29 Persian generals to launch an attack against Greece. Gold raiment marked the 10,000 immortals, elite Persian and Median soldiers allowed to bring their concubines and servants on the march. The navy of 1200 ships was mostly furnished by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Anatolians, and by Dorian, Aeolian, and Ionian Greeks. Half of the Persian imperial army was used - about 180,000 men. So confident were they that when they caught three men in Sardis spying for the Greek allies, they showed them the vast army and let them go make their report.
However, the Persians suffered losses when they met determined resistance from 300 Spartans at the Thermopylae pass, though eventually the Spartans were killed, and the Thebans surrendered and were branded. The army of Xerxes then burned deserted Plataea and Thespiae before entering Athens and burning the acropolis. In the major naval battle at Salamis the imperial navy lost 200 ships, the Greek allies only 40. Xerxes reacted by executing the Phoenician captains, causing the Phoenicians and Egyptians to go home. Xerxes then went back to Sardis, leaving Mardonius in command. At Plataea both armies had been promised victory by seers if they stayed on the defensive. Mardonius refused to retire and use bribery. When the allies were withdrawing, which might have broken up the coalition, the Persians attacked, causing the desperate Greeks to fight. Mardonius himself entered the battle and was slain along with his guard of a thousand Persians. This and news of the Persian defeat at the island of Mycale caused the imperial army to retire from Europe.
Xerxes retired to his harem and used bribery and diplomacy to try to win over the Greeks, who formed the Delian league led by Athens which attacked Thrace in 476 BC, driving Persian imperialism out of Europe except at Doriscus. Xerxes in his romantic affairs aroused the jealousy of the queen, who at the New Year's feast requested the woman be mutilated. The victim's family fled and was going to raise a revolt, but they were overtaken and killed. Another Achaemenid prince violated a virgin from a prominent family and was ordered to circumnavigate Africa; but when he returned without matching the Phoenician feat, he was impaled. In 466 BC two hundred Greek ships invaded Caria and shot arrows into besieged Phasaelis, persuading them to pay ten talents and join the war to liberate Greek cities. Xerxes sent a navy, but eighty ships were delayed at Cyprus and captured after the battle at the Eurymedon. The Persian threat against Europe had been replaced by Greek influence in Asia Minor.
In 465 BC Xerxes was assassinated in the royal bedchamber by a conspiracy led by Artabanus, Megabyzus, and the eunuch chamberlain Aspamitres. Artabanus was able to persuade 18-year-old Artaxerxes that his older brother Darius, who hated Xerxes for seducing his wife, had killed their father, causing Artaxerxes to murder his brother Darius. When Artabanus tried to get rid of Artaxerxes, he was betrayed by Megabyzus and killed after wounding the young king. The eunuch Aspamitres was tortured to death. Hystaspis, another brother of the new king, revolted in Bactria and was defeated by Artaxerxes, who then made sure that all his brothers were killed. Artaxerxes ruled the Persian empire for forty years collecting annual taxes that totalled about 10,000 talents plus nearly half as much again from India. Little value from this ever went back to the satrapies that provided it except in payment to imperial soldiers from their countries. Taxes were so heavy that many had to borrow money at 40% interest until they were ruined and lost their land to the original owners, who were also being taxed. Many revolts resulted from this oppression.
In Egypt Inaros, a son of Psamtik of the Saite line, drove out the tax collectors and requested aid from Athens in 460 BC. The satrap Achaemenes was killed, and most of Memphis was taken. While this revolt continued, Ezra was given permission by Artaxerxes to take the written law of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. Persian money aided Sparta in defeating Athens at Tanagra in 457 BC, and a pacified Judah allowed safe passage of the Persian army led by Syrian satrap Megabyzus on its way to Egypt where it drove the Athenians out of Memphis, capturing 6,000 Greeks. Inaros and the Greeks were taken to Persia, and several years later the queen ordered him and fifty Greeks executed. Some Greeks were still holding out in the Nile Delta when Cimon of Athens attacked Cyprus with 200 ships, but the Persians successfully resisted this and the ships that were sent to Egypt.
In 449 BC a peace treaty was made between Athens and Persia which confirmed what had been the situation before the long war. Persia acknowledged the autonomy of the Greek cities in Asia, while the Athenians renounced attempts to liberate others there as long as the Persian king would recognize the autonomy of his vassal Greek cities and their low tribute amount from before the war. A demilitarized zone was proclaimed around the borders between the two empires. Athens also agreed not to support rebellions in Egypt and Libya. However, when the queen had the Greeks and Inaros executed, Megabyzus, upset that his pledge had been violated, revolted in Syria. After redeeming his honor in two victories against the empire, Megabyzus agreed to return to loyalty provided he remain satrap. This Syrian revolt may have stimulated rebellious feelings in Jerusalem where the walls were being rebuilt. Artaxerxes ordered this building stopped and the work destroyed, but later his cupbearer Nehemiah with the help of wine persuaded the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, and Nehemiah was even given an armed guard for his journey.
Herodotus recited his History in Athens in 445 BC, as Pericles made a thirty years' peace with Sparta and moved toward challenging the Persian empire by accepting a large present of gold and grain from Libyan rebel Psamtik and establishing tribute districts from cities in Caria, Ionia, Hellespont, and the islands. When democratic Miletus appealed to Athens after having been defeated by oligarchic Samos, Pericles in 441 BC sent an expedition to re-establish the democracy. The oligarchs driven out turned to Pissouthnes, the satrap of Sardis, who allowed 700 mercenaries to be hired to recover the island and capture the Greek garrison for the satrap. Samos, however, was taken over by the Athenians when Phoenician ships failed to defend it. Thus the peace treaty was broken. Persia regained some cities, and Pericles countered with imperial gains in the Black Sea area.
Megabyzus, who on a hunt had saved Artaxerxes from a charging lion, was exiled for killing an animal before his master, and his son Zopyrus aided by Athenians assaulted Caunus and was killed. Megabyzus eventually was invited back to the king's table; but when he died, his wife Amytis, the king's sister, became the mistress of a Greek physician, who when it was discovered was buried alive for polluting the royal blood, Amytis dying the same day.
Jews complained of the Persian taxes, but Nehemiah who as governor was supported by the imperial bureaucracy, blamed the rich Jews and said he loaned money without interest. Nehemiah's criticism of the wealthy probably led to his recall by Artaxerxes in 433 BC, but he returned to Jerusalem again to institute reforms such as forbidding commerce on the Sabbath. Meanwhile a plague spread from Ethiopia through Egypt and into Athens and the Persian empire that further oppressed the overtaxed. The Persian court sent the great beauty Thargelia and courtesans to gather information from lusty Athenian statesmen.
When Artaxerxes and his queen died on the same day in 424 BC, Xerxes II became king but was killed a month and a half later while sleeping after heavy drinking at a festival. Secydianus, the assassin, was a son of Artaxerxes by a Babylonian concubine; but he was replaced by a different Babylonian concubine's son, who raised an army in Babylon and declared himself Darius II, promising Secydianus half the kingdom but half a year later causing his death; other conspirators in the assassination of the king were put to death or committed suicide. His sister and wife Parysatis became an influential queen especially on behalf of Cyrus, who was the next son born to them. Darius II began by renewing the treaty with the Athenians, but continued imperial taxation caused more fields to go out of cultivation and only be used for grazing.
In 413 BC Pissouthnes in Sardis revolted; Persian forces led by Tissaphernes compelled him to surrender, and Darius II ordered him killed. When Darius' own son Amorges rebelled in Caria with Athenian aid, Darius decided to help the Spartans fight the Athenians. Governing Sardis now, Tissaphernes started collecting taxes from the Greek cities and offered to support Spartan troops in Asia. Clazomenae, Teos, Lebedos, Ephesus, Phocaea, and Cyrene accepted Persian garrisons and paid their owed tribute. Persia signed a treaty with Sparta through Tissaphernes, agreeing to wage war together against Athens. However, in Sparta politicians refused to ratify a treaty that recognized Persian territory that had belonged to ancestors of the Persian king. When the Spartan ambassador Lichas demanded this change in 411 BC, Tissaphernes left in a rage. Meanwhile the Athenian Alcibiades, who had gone over to the Spartan side, persuaded Tissaphernes to delay most payments to the Spartans, because a triumphant Sparta would challenge Persian imperialism. In a third treaty Sparta acknowledged Persian taxes in Asia while excluding them from Europe and the islands, and Tissaphernes agreed to pay for Spartan ships. Miletus and Cnidus reacted to this Spartan abandonment by driving the Persian garrisons out.
Darius II had to contend with a revolt by the Medes which he put down and palace intrigues that included a eunuch who tried to make himself king but failed. In Egypt a revolt was motivated by the desire to destroy the Jewish temple at Elephantine that was offensive because of its animal sacrifices. In 409 BC the Athenians invaded Asia and burned the grain in Lydia. The queen got her 16-year-old son Cyrus appointed commander of the Persian forces in Asia Minor, and he began paying Sparta what had been promised; but he kept the Spartan general Callicratidas waiting two days while he drank. Cyrus also had two sons of the king's sister executed for showing their hands in his presence. Recalled to his ill father, Cyrus turned his money over to Lysander which enabled the Spartans to win the battle at Aegospotami and cut off grain supplies from Russia, starving Athens into surrender in 404 BC.
By the time Darius II had died in 404 BC Egypt had revolted and was lost to the Persian empire. Artaxerxes II began his rule by cruelly executing Udiastes for having assassinated Teriteuchmes. Cyrus was caught plotting to murder the new king at his coronation; but their mother pleaded for her favorite, and Cyrus was allowed to return to his satrapy. Cyrus was able to win over the Ionian cities abandoned by the Spartans except for Miletus, which was held by Tissaphernes after they banished their aristocrats. The exiles were received by Pharnabazus, giving Cyrus a reason to gather an army that included 13,000 Greek mercenaries to besiege Miletus. As Cyrus and his army headed east, the mercenaries demanded more money. At Cunaxa near Babylon Cyrus met the Persian army that might otherwise have been used to reconquer Egypt. Cyrus wounded Artaxerxes but was then killed. The next year the queen-mother Parysatis poisoned Queen Stateira and was banished to her native Babylon, but later the forgiving Artaxerxes recalled his mother.
Tissaphernes succeeded Cyrus as margrave of Anatolia, but ungrateful Sparta, roused by accounts of the ten thousand mercenaries' escape from Persia, sent Thibron to liberate Asian Greek cities. He incorporated into his army the mercenaries, who had made it to the Black Sea after their generals were killed. Accused of allowing his troops to plunder their allies, Thibron was replaced by Dercylidas, who made a truce with Tissaphernes and attacked Pharnabazus, who was supported by the Dardanian widow Mania and her Greek mercenaries until she was murdered by her son-in-law Meidias, who allied himself with Spartan Dercylidas and used Mania's treasure to pay 8,000 soldiers for a year. The Spartan army plundered Bithynia, and agreeing to another truce Pharnabazus returned to the king to urge a naval war. Five hundred ships were to be built at Cyprus and put under the command of Athenian admiral Conon and the satrap.
The Spartans marched into Caria, but Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus joined together to defend it and then attacked Ionia; then these two satraps and Dercylidas agreed to a truce for a year. In 396 BC Spartan king Agesilaus himself arrived and, after a three-month truce which enabled Tissaphernes to send for reinforcements, was ordered to leave Asia. With Caria defended, Agesilaus invaded Phrygia and captured towns of Pharnabazus, whose attacks were avoided by using captives as screens. While Pharnabazus sent Persian money to stir up rebellion against Sparta in Europe, Agesilaus defeated Tissaphernes and captured their camels, the Greeks plundering much unprotected land. Forgiven and plotting once again, Parysatis arranged to have Tithraustes sent to murder Tissaphernes which was accomplished by Ariaios and his men.
Since Agesilaus would not leave Asia without instructions from home, Tithraustes gave him 30 talents to invade Pharnabazus' satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia again. Pharnabazus reacted by confiscating the property of Tissaphernes and giving 220 talents to the Athenian Conon. Tithraustes provided another 700 talents to his generals Ariaios and Pasiphernes for diplomatic maneuvering. By these bribes and diplomatic machinations the Greek cities of Asia were garrisoned by Persian money. Conon had to fight off mercenaries at Cyprus and then went to the winter palace at Babylon to get funds from Artaxerxes II. After ravaging Phrygia, Agesilaus was recalled to Sparta; he said it was because of the king's ten thousand golden archers, by which he meant the gold coins used for diplomacy. Obviously we know more about this west side of the Persian empire and these long wars because of Greek sources; yet the lack of business documents in this period may be because of the devastation and looting in these wars which accomplished little except destruction.
In 394 BC the Persian navy manned by Phoenicians and Greeks defeated the Spartan navy off Cnidus. The old alliance of Persia and Athens established democracies in numerous Asian cities under the auspices of the Persian empire. Only Abydos and Sestos resisted. The Persians and Athenians even ravaged European Laconia and established a Persian garrison on the island of Cythera threatening the Peloponnese. The allies at Corinth were given money, and the walls of Athens were rebuilt by Conon. However, the new satrap of Sardis from Armenia, Tiribazus, now feared the Athenian Empire and had Conon imprisoned and secretly gave money to Antalcidas to build up the Spartan navy. At a peace conference in Sparta, representatives of Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and Argos agreed on a treaty, but Athens rejected it by denouncing and banishing their delegates. At the same time Tiribazus was replaced by Struthas as satrap of Ionia, and he sided with Athens against Sparta. Thibron returned from Ephesus and resumed the war; but he was slain by Struthas at a discus game, and his army was devastated by the Persian cavalry. However, Thibron's successor Diphridas held some cities loyal to Sparta and got money for mercenaries by ransoming the daughter of Struthas and her husband Tigranes.
In all this confusion many rulers showed their independence by issuing coins, including Euagoras of Cyprus, Milkyaton of Citium, Hecatomnus of Caria, and Autophradates of Lycia. Autophradates and Hecatomnus were ordered to put down the rebellion of Euagoras, while the Spartan governor of Abydos regained Aeolian cities from Pharnabazus. Athenians assisted Euagoras and replaced Milkyaton and his coins. Athens even allied itself with Egypt, stimulating Artaxerxes to change sides again and to replace both Autophradates and Struthas with the pro-Spartan Tiribazus. Sparta responded by sending Antalcidas from Ephesus to Susa to meet the king. Then Tiribazus and Antalcidas used Spartan and Syracusan fleets to destroy the Athenians guarding the Hellespont, threatening Athens with the same starvation that ended the Peloponnesian War seventeen years before. Delegates soon gathered at Sardis in 386 BC and agreed to the King's Peace named after Antalcidas in which Persia retained the cities in Asia and the islands of Clazomenae and Cyprus, except that Lemnos, Lesbos, and Scyros would belong to Athens as they had before. The Persian empire had lost Egypt, but they had retained Asia.
Imperial taxation was still oppressive, stimulating many revolts and uprisings by workers that were often put down by local tyrants, while newly minted coins indicated a growing wealthy class and economic development. Barred by the peace treaty from helping Cyprus, Athenian mercenaries led by Chabrias went to defend Egypt, which thus was able to resist for three years and turn away the long delayed Persian invasion to regain Egypt, while Euagoras of Cyprus allied himself with Egypt and invaded Cilicia and Phoenicia, capturing Tyre. The Persian army led by Aroandas (Orontes) regained Cilicia and invaded Cyprus to restore Milkyaton at Citium. With the help of pirates Euagoras tried to cut off their food, causing a mutiny by the Ionian mercenaries which was put down; but after losing a naval battle Euagoras had to submit, asking to be treated as a king, which was denied in 380 BC, the same year Isocrates tried and failed to raise a crusade against the Persians at the Olympic games.
When Pharnabazus complained that Chabrias' mercenary activity in Egypt violated the treaty, Athens recalled him on pain of death. Though Tiribazus was winning over mercenaries with money, the rivalry of Aroandas caused Artaxerxes II to have Tiribazus arrested; but Aroandas had to accept the terms of Euagoras at Cyprus that Tiribazus had rejected. The Cadusian revolt was so nearby that Artaxerxes took the field himself; after much suffering, a peace was made, and the Persian king only escaped on foot. Out of this frustration Artaxerxes had several nobles executed for disloyalty. With Cypress settled Pharnabazus prepared to invade Egypt again and enlisted Athenian general Iphicrates to lead the Greek mercenaries. In Asia Bithynia was independent, and Hecatomnus passed on his rulership of Caria to his son Mausolus in 377 BC. Three years later Artaxerxes imposed another treaty on the Greeks and with the younger Dionysius of Syracuse.
By 373 BC Pharnabazus had gathered 300 triremes, 12,000 Greeks, and countless Persians and easterners. They landed on the Delta, but unable to take Memphis had to retreat from the flooding Nile to Asia. In 371 BC Thebes won a big victory over Sparta at Leuctra and refused to accept the latest King's Peace. A year later Jason of Pherae, who united Thessaly and aimed at conquering Persia, was assassinated. The king's money was also used to contribute to the famed oracle at Delphi, but Thebes still refused to accept the imperial terms.
Within the Persian empire revolts led by Datames and Ariobarzanes were breaking out. Needing the loyalty of Carian satrap Mausolus, Artaxerxes II punished envoys who had complained about Mausolus. When Aroandas felt he had been demoted from Armenia to Mysia, he accepted the leadership of the coalition of revolting satraps. Ordered to send tribute, Mausolus merely collected more money for himself. Aroandas' presence in Syria stimulated more rebellions there and among Lycians, Pisidians, Pamphylians, and Cilicians; even Autophradates joined him, and Artabazus was imprisoned. The Persian empire had lost half its revenues.
Djedhor, the new king of Egypt in 361 BC, known to the Greeks as Tachos, seized on this opportunity and, with the help of rivals Agesilaus of Sparta and Chabrias of Athens, joined the revolted satraps and invaded Palestine and Phoenicia. However, his brother in Egypt used resentment against taxes to put forth as king of Egypt his son Nekht-har-hebi, who had joined the satrap revolt in Syria. All kinds of rebellions were breaking out, and Nekht-har-hebi was forced by the feudal chiefs to abandon Asian conquest and return to Egypt, where he was saved from a siege by Agesilaus; but when his uncle Tachos was captured by the Persian prince Ochus and died on his return to Egypt to be a vassal king for Artaxerxes, Nekht-har-hebi ended up ruling Egypt from 359 to 340 BC. All this enabled the army of Artaxerxes to slowly advance and cross the Euphrates, and Aroandes, abandoned by the Egyptians, returned to loyalty and surrendered the other rebels with him. Autophradates also freed Artabazus and came to terms with the empire. Then Aroandes and Artabazus fought the mercenaries, and Datames was eventually murdered at a conference of the revolting satraps by Mithridates, who had also betrayed his own father Ariobarzanes to crucifixion.
Darius, the oldest son of Artaxerxes II by Queen Stateira, was executed for plotting with fifty of the king's sons by concubines to kill their father. Ochus, the youngest son of the queen, persuaded his only other brother of the queen to take poison, because he thought his father was angry at him. Arsames, another son, beloved by Artaxerxes for his wisdom, was also murdered, and the king soon died of grief in 359 BC after ruling the Persian empire for 45 years. Ochus became Artaxerxes III and ruthlessly had his relatives killed regardless of age or sex. He ordered the satraps in Asia Minor to get rid of their mercenaries, causing Artabazus to revolt and appeal to Athens when an army of 20,000 was raised against him in Phrygia. In 356 BC Mausolus organized a confederacy with Rhodes, Chios, Cos, Erythrae, and Byzantium, his coins showing himself as a Heraclean leader. Artabazus got 5,000 mercenaries from Thebes, but sensing treachery from agents bribed by the king, he fled to Philip in Macedonia. Aroandes, who had joined his revolt, held out for a while in Lydia but eventually came to terms again. Mausolus, whose magnificent funeral sculptures in Halicarnassus his wealth financed coined the word mausoleum, died in 353 BC.
Ochus spent a year campaigning in Egypt, but once again the Persian army had to retire in 350 BC. However, seven years later as the captives taken at Sidon entered Babylon and Susa, Egypt finally fell to the Persian reconquest that was supported by 10,000 Greek mercenaries. Nekht-har-hebi retreated to Ethiopia and claimed to rule from there. The Greeks and Persians fought over the spoils, and Ochus carried off the leading Egyptians to Persia.
In 338 BC while Philip of Macedonia was on his way to defeating the Athenians and Thebans at Charoneia, Ochus was poisoned by his physician by order of the eunuch Bagoas. Arses, the son of Ochus, became king and refused to pay reparations to Philip for Persia's having helped Perinthus. So Philip led a Greek crusade to liberate all the Greek cities under Persian domination. Arses tried to poison Bagoas, but was poisoned himself, and all his children were killed. Bagoas found a 45-year-old Achaemenid noble remaining he made Darius III but, trying to poison him too, had at last to drink his own brew.
Philip's assassination was blamed on the king of Persia by his son Alexander. Macedonian troops already in Asia were defeated by the Persian fleet at Magnesia, and Darius III was able to put down a revolt in Egypt. In 334 BC Alexander's army crossed the Hellespont into Asia at the same place Xerxes' army had come the other way 146 years before. The Greeks won a narrow victory over the Persian army at Granicus. Persians who surrendered were sent home, but Alexander had most of the captured Greek mercenaries slaughtered, sending the rest to Macedonia as slaves. Halicarnassus was burned during a siege. Alexander replaced the Persian satrap, general, and treasurer of each conquered province with Macedonians. At Issus the Greeks met the army of Darius, who fled. Parmenio then took Damascus, the Persian baggage train, and the rest of the royal family. The Phoenician cities surrendered to the Greeks except Tyre, which was destroyed after a seven-month siege. After taking Gaza, where he was wounded, Alexander was welcomed by the Egyptians glad to be rid of the hated Persians.
Offered half the empire by Darius III, Alexander refused and crossed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers unopposed. The two armies met again at Gaugamela in 331 BC, and once again Darius deserted his army. Alexander entered Babylon and ordered the temple of Bel that had been destroyed by Xerxes rebuilt. The major capital of Susa surrendered to the Greeks without resisting, and the immense treasure accumulated by the Persian empire was found in the palace. Alexander began to train Persians by his new military methods. More treasure was found at the other main capital at Persepolis, where the men were killed, the women were enslaved, and the city was burned, perhaps in revenge for the burning of Athens. Alexander then went east in pursuit of the viceroy of Bactria who had imprisoned Darius, and by 330 BC Darius was dead and Alexander ruled over his former empire. Uncooperative satraps were punished; others were retained by Alexander, who founded numerous cities named after himself. Two years were spent in putting down the resistance of the Sogdians in the north. Alexander went as far as India before his troops demanded to return; by 324 BC they were back in Susa.
Alexander married the daughter of Darius III and had 10,000 of his men marry Persian girls, hoping to breed an army for his new empire. He was already treating Persians equally with Greeks and using them in his army, and the Persian nobility was being educated by Greek teachers. The Persian treasure was coined as money and distributed. Warned that if he entered Babylon he would die, Alexander finally did and succumbed to an illness in 323 BC. The immense empire was divided and ruled by the Greek generals of the armies who had conquered it. The Persian empire was no more, and the Hellenistic era had begun.
The Persians and their Subjects In general the Persians represent their conquests of foreign peoples as liberation from previous oppression. For example, when conquering Babylon, Cyrus is careful to discredit Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king, as a tyrant.
In each area the king of Persia is represented as the protector of the native gods. This is true at Babylon, where Cyrus is keen to show favour to the local priests, and in 538 has his son Cambyses ceremonially crowned as king of Babylon. It is also true in Egypt, where (it appears from local records) that the Persians mostly respect the temples and gods, and in Jerusalem.
In Egypt, Cambyses is shown to have reduced temple revenues by taxation but now seems to have had himself crowned "pharaoh" as a concession, though the evidence is controversial. It is Darius who consolidates Persian rule most effectively in Egypt, identifying himself (as was traditional) with the Egyptian son-god, and it seems making ceremonial visits to important temples - as to the temple of Hibis in 496 for example. In Judea, Cyrus decrees that the Jews and other native groups should be allowed to return from captivity in Babylon, a process that Babylonian documents show to continue into Darius's reign. Cyrus also decrees that the Temple at Jerusalem be restored, and regular worship continue - again a major way of conciliation towards a native people.
Darius is also responsible for asking Udjahorresne to systematically codify the Egyptian legal system, so that Darius can effectively govern the province by their own laws.
In administration, the Persian satrap is often assisted by a local official with previous experience in government - it is a policy that in general works well for Cyrus (though not a first in Lydia). But Ionia responds less well to this technique. For there is no tradition of priestly control, as there was in Egypt or Babylon, so that the favours shown by Persian rulers to Greek gods do not bring any immediate political advantage. And the practice of appointing native rulers as tyrants is sufficiently unpopular to be a major cause of the Ionian Revolt. This shows that the Persians were mis-guided in their calculations. So the same techniques that help the Persians to exercise effective control in some conquered territories are ineffective in Greece. Examples of Persian respect to Greeks: Delos is respected before the Marathon campaign as Apollo is a god that often told the truth.
A letter exists from Darius to the satrap Gradates, who appears to have controlled Western Asia Minor, before Artaphernes. In it, Darius reproaches Gradates for taxing the priests of Apollo, and forcing them to cultivate sacred ground, "disregarding the will of my ancestors towards the god, who has spoken the truth for the Persians." The chance survival of this letter shows that it is official Persian imperial policy to cultivate good relations, especially with the presets of Apollo. But of course despite the efforts of Apollo at Delphi, the priests cannot significantly affect Greek political behaviour. They are no a ruling class either in Ionia or in mainland Greece.
World History: Iran
[The following atricle is quoted from
The Medes and the Persians: from the 9th century BC
Of the two main Indo-European tribes moving south into Iran, it is at first the Medes who play the dominant role. With a capital at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan), they establish themselves as powerful neighbours of Assyria. In 612 they combine with Babylon to sack the Assyrian capital at Nineveh. Their spoils are northern Assyria and much of Anatolia, where the Halys river becomes the border between themselves and Lydia.
The Medes already control much of Iran including Fars, in the southwest. This is the heartland of the Parsa or Persians, whose king is a vassal of the Medes.
Cyrus the Great: 559-530 BC
The balance between the Medes and the Persians rapidly changes after Cyrus II becomes king of the Persians in 559 BC. He rebels against the Medes in 553. Three years later he captures their king and their capital city, Ecbatana. He then presses west to secure and expand his new empire. He seizes the Lydian capital, Sardis, in 546, together with Croesus, its famously rich king. His armies then continue west to dominate the Greek cities of Ionia, extending his power to the shores of the Aegean.
Babylon and Mesopotamia fall to him next, in 539. The basis of the first Persian empire (the Achaemenid empire) has been set in place within a mere eleven years of Cyrus defeating the Medes. He has earned his title 'the Great'.
Cyrus is a politician as well as a conqueror. He presents himself as liberator of Babylon, releasing the people from the yoke of an unpopular king, and he is received as such. He makes a point of respecting the Babylonian religion. He allows the Jews to return from their Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, and encourages the rebuilding of their Temple.
There is in these actions a genuine basis for his reputation. But Cyrus also uses propaganda more successively than any previous ruler, to spread and reinforce his fame. People succumb to this conqueror partly because they believe it in their interest to do so.
Cyrus dies in 530, campaigning against nomadic tribesmen in the northeast, near the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers. He is buried in the place which he has made his capital, Pasagardae.
His tomb, massive but superbly simple, stands today as an impressive monument to the emperor - though now in parched surroundings where once everything was well watered, in an early version of a Persian garden. Its interior, in which the body lies in a gold sarcophagus on a gold couch, is broken into and stripped two centuries after his death during the campaign of Alexander the Great.
The brief reign of Cyrus's son, Cambyses II, includes another important extension of the empire. He defeats the Egyptians in battle, at Pelusium in 525, and enters their capital city at Memphis. Egypt becomes the province of a Persian satrap.
In Cambyses' absence the throne in Persia is seized by a rebel. On the way home to challenge him, Cambyses dies. A cousin of his leads the attack, kills the impostor and takes the throne. He is Darius.
Darius: 522-486 BC
During the long rule of Darius I, the conquests of Cyrus and Cambyses are consolidated and the Achaemenid empire reaches its greatest extent - from Macedonia in the west to northern India in the east. Never before has such a large area, including so many people of different cultures and traditions, been controlled under a single system.
The genius of Darius lies in creating a workable structure for the empire. This depends on such details as a sustainable system of taxation; a communication network based on good roads and efficient message-carrying; a single language, Aramaic, used in government documents throughout the empire; and firm control in the armed forces.
The Persian empire: c.500 BC
The Persian system of taxation is tailored to each satrapy (the area ruled by a satrap, or provincial governor). At differing times there are between 20 and 30 satrapies in the empire, and each is assessed according to its supposed productivity. It is the responsibility of the satrap to collect the due amount and to send it to the emperor, after deducting his expenses. (The expenses, and the power of deciding precisely how and from whom to raise the money in the province, offer maximum opportunity for rich pickings.)
The quantities demanded from the various provinces give a vivid picture of their economic potential.
Babylon is assessed for the highest amount, and for a startling mixture of commodities - 1000 silver talents, four months' supply of food for the army, and 500 eunuchs. India, clearly, is already fabled for its gold; the province is to supply gold dust equal in value to the very large amount of 4680 silver talents. Egypt is known for the wealth of its crops; it is to be the granary of this empire (as later of Rome's) and is required to provide 120,000 measures of grain in addition to 700 talents of silver.
This is exclusively a tax levied on subject peoples. Persians and Medes pay no tax. But they are liable at any time to serve in the army.
The Persian army: c.500 BC
The regular army of the Persian empire contains an elite corps involving a brilliant element of propaganda. These crack troops are known as the Immortals, for the simple and inspired reason that there are always 10,000 of them (in theory as soon as one dies, another soldier is ready to take his place). At the heart of this 10,000 are an even more special thousand - the royal bodyguard.
The army is precisely decimal. Divisions of 10,000 are divided into battalions of 1000, companies of 100 and squads of 10. The bow is the chief Persian weapon, and the armies' tactics are based on rapid movement and light armour.
Imperial communication: 522-486 BC
Darius extends the network of roads across the Persian empire, to enable both troops and information to move with startling speed. At the centre of the system is the royal road from Susa to Sardis, a distance of some 2000 miles (3200 km). At intervals of a day's ride there are posting stations, where new men and fresh horses will be available at any moment to carry a document on through the next day's journey. The Greek historian Herodotus marvels at these Persian couriers.
By this method a message can travel the full distance of the road in ten days, at a speed of about 200 miles a day. A similar road goes down through Syria to the Mediterranean coast and Egypt. Another goes east to India.
Many different tongues are spoken in the Persian empire, from Egypt to India. But all the official messages travelling on the imperial roads are in one language, Aramaic. This Semitic tongue, deriving from a tribe in northern Syria, first spreads through Assyria. Then Babylonian merchants carry it further afield until, by the 6th century, it is in general use as a lingua franca throughout Mesopotamia.
As a language for the Persian civil service, Aramaic also has a practical advantage. It uses the Phoenician alphabet, a language to which it is related. So its letters can be written on papyrus (easily portable) instead of needing to be pressed with a cuneiform stylus into wet clay.
The architecture of empire: 522-486 BC
As well as setting in place the administrative structure of the empire (and adopting Zoroastrianism as the state religion), Darius proves himself the greatest builder of the Achaemenid dynasty. In 521 he moves his capital to Susa, building there an audience hall and a palace. An inscription found at Susa reveals his pride in his far-flung empire of craftsmen.
In 518 he moves them all - stone cutters, masons, carpenters, sculptors - some 250 miles (400 km) to the southeast, to start work on an even grander creation. It will become known to history by its Greek name, Persepolis, the city of the Persians.
Persian carpets: 6th century BC
Persian emperors of the 6th century BC are among the first to make a display of lavish floor coverings. Carpets becomes one of the characteristic art forms of people living on the high plateau of west Asia, from Turkey through Iran, where winters can be extremely cold.
They are a particularly important form of wealth and comfort for the nomadic tribes which live in these regions and in the steppes to the north. One of the earliest true carpets to survive (woven with a knotted pile, and Persian in origin) belongs to a tribal ruler in about 500 BC. It is discovered in his frozen tomb at Pazyryk.
Darius and the Greeks: 514-486 BC
Amid all the successes of Darius's reign, his only real failure is at the hands of the Greeks.
It is one of profound significance for Persia's future. Since about 545 Greek-speaking Ionia (modern southwest Turkey) has been part of the Persian empire. To protect this western region against nomads raiding from the north, Darius attempts in 514 to extend his power in this direction. He crosses the Bosphorus and pushes northwest. By the time he withdraws, Thrace and Macedonia are within the empire. Greece itself is now clearly under increasing threat from Persian intentions.
In 499 BC the cities of Ionia rebel against their Persian satrap. They are supported to a limited extent by Athens. The rebellion continues fitfully until finally put down in 493. But this region is now established as an area of friction between Persia and Greece. Geographically Ionia seems a natural extension of Persia's great land empire. But culturally the Ionians are linked to all the other Greek-speaking peoples round the Aegean Sea.
Athens becomes the main target of the Persian emperor's hostility - partly because of her support for the Ionian rebels, but also because the tyrant Hippias, expelled from Athens, is at the Persian court offering treacherous encouragement. In 490 Darius launches his attack.
The astonishing Greek victory at Marathon causes the Persians to withdraw. They have every intention of returning. But Darius dies in 486, and his death delays the renewed invasion of Greece. It is eventually launched in 480 by Darius's son and successor, Xerxes I. It has an early success (the capture and destruction of the city of Athens) but soon ends like its predecessor in total disaster, after defeat at Salamis and Plataea.
The defiance of the emperor by the small independent Greek states severely damages Persia's aura of invincibility - a significant loss in the difficult matter of controlling any far-flung empire.
Lesser emperors: 486-334 BC
The reign of Xerxes marks a change in the ruling house of Persia, following a pattern familiar in the story of many empires. The hard men who create empires tend to be followed by descendants growing up in isolated splendour, pampered by palace eunuchs and surrounded by intrigue and corruption.
Xerxes is murdered in 465 by a palace official, and two of his successors in the following century suffer the same fate. Meanwhile other emperors are weakened by a succession of rebellions - usually by ambitious provincial satraps, but on one occasion by the emperor's younger brother.
Cyrus and Xenophon: 401 BC
The attempt by Cyrus the Younger to seize the Persian throne (from his elder brother Artaxerxes II) is famous, beyond its importance, because it is the subject of the world's first book of eyewitness history.
In 401 Cyrus gathers at Sardis (in western Turkey) an army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries. Among them is Xenophon. Cyrus marches east with his army. Only when he reaches Mesopotamia does he reveal to the Greeks that his treacherous purpose is to topple his brother. They meet the imperial Persian army at Cunaxa, and in the battle Cyrus is slain. The defeated Greeks are a thousand and more miles from home. Xenophon, in his Anabasis, tells the story of their five-month trek to safety.
The main effect of the escape of Xenophon and his army, from a distant and supposedly powerful Persian province, is on the Greeks rather than the Persians. The gossip now in the streets of Greece, full of exciting anecdote and often based on direct personal experience, is that the great empire to the east is soft-centred.
The smouldering Greek resentment of Persia, the bully of the neighbourhood, is eventually carried forward into decisive action by the Macedonians - themselves rough provincials in the eyes of civilized Greece. In 334 Alexander the Great marches east from Macedonia and crosses the Hellespont, entering the empire now ruled by Darius III.
The destruction of the Persian empire: 333 - 330 BC
Within a mere eighteen months Alexander has cleared the Persians out of Anatolia, which they have held for two centuries. The conqueror now moves south along the coast through present-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The ports here are the home bases of the Persian fleet in the Mediterranean. By occupying them he intends to cripple the fleet and deprive it of contact with the cities of the empire, including Persepolis. Most of the Phoenician towns open their gates to him. The exception is the greatest of them all, Tyre, which he besieges for seven months.
By the autumn of 332 Alexander is in Egypt. The Persian governor rapidly surrenders.
In the spring of 331 Alexander is ready to move northeast into Mesopotamia, where he meets and defeats the Persian emperor Darius in the decisive battle of Gaugamela. His way is now open to the great Persian capital city of Persepolis.
In a symbolic gesture, ending conclusively the long wars between Greeks and Persians, he burns the palace of Xerxes in 330 (legend maintains that he is prompted to this act of vandalism by his Athenian mistress, Thaïs, after a drunken party). To make plain who now rules the Persian empire, Alexander adopts the ceremonial dress and court rituals of the emperor.
The legacy of Alexander: from 323 BC
Alexander dies in Babylon in 323. He has no heir, so after his death his generals set about carving up the new Hellenistic empire.
After prolonged warfare two of them emerge with sizable portions. Ptolemy establishes himself in Egypt. And Seleucus wins control of a vast area - Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Persia and the eastern part of the empire, including at first even the territories in India.
The region acquired by Seleucus proves impossible for his descendants to hold, even with the help of new Greek cities. These are established in strategic places and are populated with soldiers and administrators imported from Greece and Asia Minor.
As early as 305, within the lifetime of Seleucus, the Indian conquests of Alexander the Great have to be abandoned. Within the next half century much of Anatolia asserts its independence (of many small new states Pergamum is the most significant), soon to be followed by Parthia and Bactria to the northeast. But the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia are at first secure.
New routes to the west: from 300 BC
The presence of Greeks in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean encourages a new trade route. To ease the transport of goods to Greece and beyond, Seleucus founds in 300 BC a city at the northeast tip of the Mediterranean. He calls it Antioch, in honour of his own father, Antiochus. Its port, at the mouth of the river, is named after himself - Seleucia.
Here goods are put on board ship after arriving in caravans from Mesopotamia. The journey has begun in another new city, also called Seleucia, founded in 312 BC by Seleucus as the capital of his empire. It is perfectly placed for trade, at the point where a canal from the Euphrates links with the Tigris.
Doura-Europus, a frontier town: from the 3rd century BC
The first major stopping point for the caravans on the route from Mesopotamia to Syria is the old Babylonian town of Doura, on the west bank of the Euphrates. Rebuilt by Seleucus in about 300 BC, it is given the new name of Europus.
This settlement later becomes of great importance as a frontier post, when the Euphrates is the boundary between successive empires.
Palmyra: from 300 BC
The other great staging post on the route to Antioch is also an important site, and today a much more visible one. It is Palmyra, famous as one of the great ruined classical cities.
From Doura-Europus, on the Euphrates, the caravans strike west through the desert to the Mediterranean coast. Palmyra is an oasis half way across this difficult terrain. Its wealth derives from its position on the east-west axis from Persia to the coast, in addition to being on the older routes up from Mesopotamia. In the 1st century BC, when Palmyra is on the verge of its greatest prosperity, a rich new supply of goods begins to arrive from the east along the Silk Road. But by now neither Persia nor Mesopotamia are Greek.
The dwindling Greek presence: 3rd-1st century BC
From the middle of the 3rd century BC the Seleucid empire is under constant pressure from Ptolemaic Egypt in the south, from the increasing might of Parthia to the east and from Rome, a new power in this region, to the west. It is gradually reduced until it comprises just Syria.
Eventually Rome and Parthia squeeze the Seleucids to extinction. Their dynasty officially lasts until the Romans annexe Syria in 64 BC. The Euphrates then becomes the dividing line between the Mediterranean empire of Rome and the Persian empire of the Parthians. The frontier town of Doura-Europus, on the Euphrates, bears witness to the rich blend of cultural influences in this historic region.
The Parthians: 3rd century BC - 3rd century AD
The origins of the Parthian dynasty lie with a tribe of nomads, the Parni, in the steppes near the Caspian. After gradually infiltrating to the south, they overthrow the Seleucids and take power as a royal house in Parthia in about 247 BC. The founder of their line is Arsaces I, and the dynasty is sometimes known as Arsacid.
The Parthians never lose touch with their origins as horsemen of the steppes, and their brilliance in fighting from the saddle is a large part of their fame. It brings them a great victory over the Romans at Carrhae in 53 BC. The 'Parthian shot', in which a horseman fires an arrow over the rump of the horse as he gallops away, becomes a favourite image of the ancient world.
An agreed boundary with the Parthians is one of the achievements of the peaceful foreign policy of the emperor Augustus. He even recovers for Rome the imperial standards captured by the Parthians at Carrhae, the loss of which has been a cause of deep shame. Negotiations result in the Parthians recognizing Roman sovereignty over Armenia, while Rome agrees not to challenge Parthian rule in Mesopotamia east of the Euphrates.
These friendly arrangements do not prevent Rome from meddling in the affairs of the Parthian royal dynasty by underhand means, in the extraordinary affair of an Italian slave girl, Musa.
Pressure from the east: 1st century BC - 1st century AD
While engaged in the evenly matched tussle with Rome in the west, the Parthians are subject to much more relentless pressure from the east. Just as the Parthians themselves moved down from the steppes into Persia, nomadic tribes from north of the Himalayas are now pressing on the eastern part of the empire. By the 1st century BC the Yuezhi are settled in Bactria.
This pressure from the east, combined with the lush appeal of Mesopotamia, has the effect of transferring the centre of Parthian rule westwards. By the 1st century BC they are developing Ctesiphon as their capital, on the opposite bank of the Tigris from the Greek city of Seleucia.
Decline of Parthia: 2nd - 3rd century AD
On several occasions during the 2nd century the Romans invade Parthia, sometimes even reaching Ctesiphon and beyond. They are never able to hold for long any territory which they gain beyond the Euphrates, but their incursions weaken the Parthian royal dynasty.
In keeping with their nomadic origins, the Parthians rule in a feudal fashion - as leaders of a loose hierarchy of powerful local dynasties. One such dynasty, that of the Sassanians, brings the Parthian empire to an end. Repeating a pattern eight centuries old (when Cyrus overthrew the Medes), the rebellious feudal vassal comes from the most ancient land of Persia, the kingdom of Fars, known at this time by the Greek name of Persis.
The Sassanians: 3rd - 7th century AD
The founder of the Sassanian dynasty, Ardashir, has strong links with the ancient Persian religion. His father is in charge of a temple to Zoroaster in the region of the ruined Persepolis before he kills the local ruler and takes his place. Ardashir inherits this petty kingdom and enlarges it - by defeating and killing local princes - until he is in a position to be crowned king of Fars in about 208.
A continuous process of slow expansion, at the expense of the Parthians, brings him to Ctesiphon. He enters the Parthian capital in triumph in about 224 and is crowned 'king of kings'. The new king is proud of one particular ancestor, Sassan; his dynasty becomes known as Sassanian.
Near Persepolis, at Naqsh-e-Rustam, Ardashir commissions a great relief sculpted high in the rock face. It depicts him on horseback, with a dead Parthian beneath his horse's hooves, while he receives the royal crown from Ahura Mazda.
With the restoration of the first authentically Persian dynasty since the Achaemenids, the cult of Ahura Mazda becomes again the official state religion. There is now a ritual hierarchy throughout the empire, with chief priests for each major district and a supreme priest wielding overall authority.
In the following centuries the Sassanian empire is at its greatest extent in two periods: under Ardashir's son Shapur, when Antioch is captured and the Roman emperor Valerian taken prisoner (in 260); and in the time of Khosrau I, who raids into Byzantine Syria, again takes Antioch (in 540) and carries off its famous craftsmen to work on his palace at Ctesiphon (famous for its spectacular Spring Carpet). In both reigns the empire includes territories across the Persian Gulf, in Arabia.
But though there may be brief triumphs, as in the double capture of Antioch or similar Roman successes at Ctesiphon, the overall effect of this long contest between Persia and Rome (or Byzantium) is debilitating to both.
Byzantium and Persia: 6th - 7th century AD
The final and most destructive chapter in the rivalry between the Byzantine empire and Persia begins in an improbable way. In AD 591 both emperors find themselves fighting on the same side.
Khosrau II has fled from Persia after the murder of his father. He enlists the support of the Byzantine emperor, Maurice, who marches east to restore Khosrau to his inheritance - in return for some useful territorial concessions in Armenia and Mesopotamia. The result is peace between the two sides until 602, when Maurice is murdered in a Byzantine upheaval. Khosrau, seeing his own opportunity, moves to avenge his friend's death. In the next few years the Persians devastate the Byzantine cities of the Middle East.
The first Christian city to fall to Khosrau's armies is Antioch, in 611. Damascus follows in 613. In the spring of 614 a Persian army enters Palestine and moves through the countryside, burning churches. Only the church built by St Helena in Bethlehem is spared; the Persians recognize themselves in the costumes of the Magi, seen bringing their gifts to the infant Jesus in a mosaic above the entrance.
The army reaches Jerusalem in April. The Patriarch urges the inhabitants to surrender, so as to avoid bloodshed, but they resist for a month. When the city falls, it is said that some 60,000 Christians are massacred and another 35,000 sold into slavery.
From the point of view of the Christian hierarchy, far away in Constantinople, the Persians commit one even greater affront. After sacking Jerusalem, they carry off to Ctesiphon the most holy relic of Christendom, the True Cross of Christ.
Its restoration to Jerusalem becomes an urgent matter of state.
Recovering the relic: AD 622-629
Under the emperor Heraclius, Byzantium has been quietly regaining its strength. In AD 622 Heraclius feels ready to take the field against the Persians. His successes are as rapid and spectacular as the reverses of the previous decade. By 624 he has swept through Asia Minor and Armenia to reach Azerbaijan, to the north of Persia between the Black Sea and the Caspian.
Here, as if avenging the violation of the True Cross, he destroys one of the most sacred fire temples of Zoroastrianism.
In the next few years the swings of fortune become even more extreme. In 626 a Persian army reaches the Bosphorus, but fails to cross the water to support a siege of Constantinople's massive walls by a barbarian horde of Slavs and Avars. In 627 a Byzantine army under Heraclius penetrates Mesopotamia far enough to defeat the Persians at Nineveh and destroy Khosrau's palace at Ctesiphon.
From a position of strength Heraclius negotiates the return of the True Cross. He takes it back to be displayed in Constantinople, and then personally returns it, in 629, to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. But the relic proves powerless against the next threat to Jerusalem in 638.
The Arab conquests: 7th century AD
One of the most dramatic and sudden movements of any people in history is the expansion, by conquest, of the Arabs in the 7th century (only the example of the Mongols in the 13th century can match it). The desert tribesmen of Arabia form the bulk of the Muslim armies. Their natural ferocity and love of warfare, together with the sense of moral rectitude provided by their new religion, form an irresistible combination.
When Muhammad dies in 632, the western half of Arabia is Muslim. Two years later the entire peninsula has been brought to the faith, and the Arab nomads are Muslim in the desert to the east of Palestine and Syria.
Muslim Persia: AD 637-751
Persia falls to the Arabs as a consequence of the battle of Kadisiya, close to the Euphrates, in 637. After their victory the Arabs sack the city of Ctesiphon (carefully sharing out the famous Spring Carpet). The last Sassanian emperor, Yazdegerd III, is five at the time. He and his court escape to the east, but he is eventually assassinated, in 651, at Merv. His name remains, even today, in use in the chronology of the Parsees. They number their years from the start of his reign in 632.
Meanwhile the Arabs win another victory over Persian forces at Nahavand in 641. They capture Isfahan in 642 and Herat in 643. Persia becomes, for a century, part of the Umayyad caliphate.
The Abbasid caliphate: from AD 750
Persia is the region in which resistance comes to a head against the caliphate of the Umayyads in Damascus. The uprising is partly a simple struggle between Arab factions, each of impeccable pedigree in relation to the pioneers of Islam. A revolt in Persia in 747 is headed by descendants of al-Abbas, an uncle of the prophet Muhammad. Their new caliphate, established in 750, will be known as Abbasid.
The involvement of Persia is also significant. The Umayyad caliphate in Damascus derives from the early days of Islam when all Muslims are Arabs. But many Muslims in the east are now Persian, and Persian sophistication is beginning to divert Muslim culture from its simple Arab origins.
Abbasid forces reach and capture Damascus in 750. Abul Abbas is proclaimed the first caliph of a new line. Male members of the Umayyad family are hunted down and killed (though one survives to establish a new Umayyad dynasty in Spain).
The centre of gravity of the Muslim world now moves east, from Syria to Mesopotamia. In 762 a new capital city, Baghdad, is founded on the Tigris. It is about twenty miles upstream from Ctesiphon, one of the leading cities of the preceding Persian dynasty, the Sassanians.
Baghdad: 8th century AD
In their new city of Baghdad the Abbasid caliphs adopt the administrative system of the long-established Persian empire. Persian Muslims are as much involved in the life of this thriving place as Arab Muslims. Here Islam outgrows its Arab roots and becomes an international religion. Here the Arabic and early Persian languages coalesce to become, from the 10th century, what is now known as Persian - combining words from both sources and using the Arabic script. Here Mesopotamia briefly recovers its ancient status at the centre of one of the world's largest empires.
At no time is this more evident than in the reign of the best-known of the Abbasid caliphs, Harun al-Rashid.
The luxury and delight of Harun al-Rashid's Baghdad, in the late 8th century, has been impressed on the western mind by one of the most famous works of Arabic literature - the Thousand and One Nights. Some of the stories are of a later date, but there are details in them which certainly relate to this period when for the first time a Muslim court has the leisure and prosperity to indulge in traditional oriental splendour.
The caliphate is now at its widest extent, with reasonable calm on most borders. The international fame of Harun himself can be judged by the emphasis of Charlemagne's biographers on the mutual esteem of these two contemporary potentates, who send each other rich gifts.
Zoroastrians and Parsees: from the 7th century AD
For three centuries after the Muslim conquest of Persia, Zoroastrianism remains of importance in the region. But gradually the majority of Persians convert to the religion of the new ruling caste, whether for reasons of conviction or convenience. A minority of Zoroastrians seek greater liberty elsewhere. They move to India, where they establish themselves in Gujarat as the Parsees (the Persian word for 'Persians').
A few Zoroastrians remain in Iran, to be found even today in the remote desert cities of Yazd and Kerman. They have been known to Muslims until recently as gabar, probably a version of the Arabic kafir ('infidel').
An increasingly nominal caliphate: from the 9th c. AD
From the 9th century the rule of the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad is often, in many parts of the Muslim world, more nominal than real. In Palestine and Syria there are uprisings from supporters of the previous Umayyad dynasty, whose base was Damascus. In the rich province of Egypt, governors are increasingly unruly (as many as twenty-four are appointed and then dismissed during the 23-year caliphate of Harun al-Rashid).
In the further extremes of the empire independence from the Abbasids is even more marked. Spain is ruled by Umayyads. North Africa has Berber dynasties from 790. And eastern Persia, by about 870, is in the hands of Persians hostile to Baghdad.
Persian independence from Baghdad: 9th century AD
From about 866 the whole of eastern Persia, to Kabul in the north and Sind in the south, is gradually overrun by a Persian from a family of metal-workers; he is known as al-Saffar ('the coppersmith'), giving his short-lived dynasty the name of Saffarids. In 876 he is strong enough to march on Baghdad, though he is prevented from reaching it by the army of the caliph.
In 900 the Saffarids are defeated by another Persian dynasty, the Samanids. The new rulers are aristocrats, descended from a nobleman by the name of Saman Khudat. They preside over the first conscious revival of Persian culture since the Arab conquest.
The Samanids make their capital at Bukhara, bringing this city its first period of splendour. Their court becomes famous for its celebration of Persian (as opposed to Arab) history and traditions. The patronage of Saminid sultans launches the classic period of Persian literature, soon to find its highest national expression in the Shah-nama of Firdausi.
But the Samanids make the same mistake as the caliphs in Baghdad. They entrust provincial power to Turkish governors. In 999 the ruling family is driven from Bukhara by Turks, and in 1005 the last in the Samanid line is assassinated. Ironically the Shah-nama is not complete until 1010. Firdausi presents it not to a Samanid Persian but to Mahmud the Turk, ruler of Ghazni.
Mahmud of Ghazni: AD 999-1030
Mahmud's rule coincides with the crumbling of the Samanid dynasty in Persia. From AD 999, when the Samanid emperor loses his capital city (Bukhara), Mahmud treats Ghazni as his own kingdom. Over the next thirty years he greatly extends his territory, until it reaches to Isfahan in the west.
It also stretches eastwards into India, where Mahmud regularly campaigns from 1000 onwards. His incursions begin the process by which northern India falls to a succession of Muslim invaders. But his own empire in Afghanistan and eastern Iran succumbs soon after his death to a new wave of Turkish tribesmen pressing in from the north. The newcomers in this case are the Seljuks.
The rise of the Seljuks: 10th - 11th century AD
Seljuk is the chieftain of a group of Turkish tribes who migrate, in the late 10th century, from the steppes to the northern borders of the Persian empire - in the region around the Syr-Darya river. They embrace Islam, and are expected to play their part in the frontier defences of the Muslim world. But in the recurrent pattern of barbarians in the suburbs of civilization, they have their own ideas. They fancy a more central position.
The obvious stepping stone towards greater power is the newly formed Turkish realm, founded by Mahmud and centred on Ghazni. Mahmud, an experienced conqueror, dies in 1030. His son, Mas'ud, becomes the focus of Seljuk attention.
Mas'ud is campaigning in the eastern part of his empire, in India, when Togrul Beg, a grandson of Seljuk, strikes in the west. Mas'ud hurries home to confront this threat. He meets the Seljuk army in 1040 at Dandandqan, to the northeast of Mashhad, and is defeated.
The Seljuks establish their base in this border region between modern Iran and Afghanistan, while Togrul Beg looks further west for even greater prizes. Persia is in a state of anarchy, ruled by many petty princes (the majority of them Shi'as). The authority of the Sunni caliph in Baghdad is no more than nominal.
Togrul Beg gradually fights his way westwards through Persia. By 1055 he is in a position to enter Baghdad itself. He does so without violence, being welcomed by the caliph as a liberator from the Shi'as. The caliph gives him the title of sultan and an ambitious task - to overwhelm the Fatimids, the Shi'ite dynasty controlling the caliph's Egyptian territories.
This is beyond the powers of Togrul Beg and his still somewhat unruly Turkish tribesmen. But for the next two generations the Seljuk dynasty retains control in Baghdad and governs a Persian empire restored to extensive boundaries.
Togrul Beg is succeeded by his nephew and then by his great-nephew, Alp Arslan and Malik Shah. By the time of Malik Shah's death in 1092, the empire stretches from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Most significant of all, Turkish tribes loosely under Seljuk control have spread through Anatolia.
After Malik Shah's death the Seljuk inheritance is shared between so many family members that the empire loses all cohesion. Only in Anatolia does the Turkish presence have a lasting effect - as a result of the campaign conducted from 1064 to 1071 by Malik Shah's father, Alp Arslan. In Persia the collapse into chaos is hastened by an alarming new sect, the Assassins.
Assassins: 11th - 13th century
It is not known why their contemporaries give the name Assassins to the Nizari Ismailis who become promiment in the 11th century. All that is certain is that the political activities of the Nizari amply justify the subsequent use of 'assassin' in its modern meaning. (The old theory that the word comes from hashish, which the Assassins supposedly use to get in the mood for murder, derives from Marco Polo and other western writers but seems to have little basis.)
The Assassins first show their hand when they begin to seize strongholds in Persia in the late 11th century, particularly the almost impregnable fortress of Alamut. In the 12th century they also acquire bases in Syria.
The Assassins train terrorists and employ a network of secret agents in the camps and cities of their enemies. These enemies are legion. Foremost among them are the Seljuk Turks and the caliphs in Baghdad (the Assassins murder two caliphs). But the terrorists also act against their fellow Ismailis, the Fatimids in Cairo. They assassinate at least one prominent crusader. Most eccentrically of all, they make two attempts on the life of Saladin.
No way is found to eliminate this troublesome sect until the Assassins are finally crushed between two great rival powers in the 12th century - the Mameluke sultans of Egypt and the Mongols, led by Hulagu.
Mongols in Persia and Mesopotamia: from AD 1256
Hulagu crosses the Amu Darya river in January 1256, beginning the Mongol campaign against Islamic Persia. The region has been terrorized in recent years by the Assassins, but this extremist Ismaili sect meets its match in the Mongols. One by one Hulagu takes the Assassin fortresses, including the supposedly impregnable Alamut.
At the end of 1257 Hulagu presses further to the west, into even richer lands. He and his horde move into Mesopotamia - the territory of the caliph, and as such the ostensible centre of the Islamic world.
In 1259 Hulagu and the Mongols take Aleppo and Damascus. The coastal plain and the route south to Egypt seem open to them. But in 1260 at Ayn Jalut, near Nazareth, they meet the army of the Mameluke sultan of Egypt. It is led into the field by Baybars, a Mameluke general.
In one of the decisive battles of history Baybars defeats the Mongols. It is the first setback suffered by the family of Genghis Khan in their remorseless half century of expansion. This battle defines for the first time a limit to their power. It preserves Palestine and Syria for the Mameluke dynasty in Egypt. Mesopotamia and Persia remain within the Mongol empire.
The Il-khans of Persia: AD 1260-1335
After defeat by the Mamelukes at Ayn Jalut, Hulagu and his descendants make their capital at Tabriz, on the trade route from the east to the Black Sea. They rule as Il-khans ('subordinate khans'), accepting the great khan in Mongolia as their overlord. They make several further attempts to wrest Syria and Palestine from the Mamelukes, but the Euphrates remains the western border of their empire.
It is the western extreme of a very large territory. The Il-khans rule as far as the Indus in the east, and from the Amu-Darya in the north down to the Indian Ocean.
The last Il-khan in Hulagu's line dies in 1335. His death is followed by a succession of petty rulers in different parts of Persia, until the arrival of another conqueror from the steppes of central Asia - a man accustomed to a horizon almost as broad as the one claimed by Genghis Khan.
The army of Timur reaches northern Persia in 1383.
Timur's conquests: AD 1383 - 1405
Timur begins his campaign with the capture in 1383 of Herat, a city on the border of Afghanistan and Iran which will later, under his own descendants, become a great centre of Persian culture. In the next two years he subdues the whole of eastern Persia.
By 1394 he has extended his rule throughout Persia and Mesopotamia and up between the Black Sea and Caspian into Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In 1396 he storms into Russia and occupies Moscow for a year.
Timur's rule is brutal. In Persia frequent uprisings are put down with a severity similar to that of Genghis Khan. Populations of entire cities are massacred, and Timur develops an effective new form of memento mori. The skulls of the dead form the masonry for towers, firmly cemented together to stand as cautionary tales.
In 1398 Timur outdoes one of Genghis Khan's expeditions. He invades India, but unlike his predecessor he does not stop at the Indus. He marches on to Delhi and devastates the city. He then spends several months collecting treasure, which he carries home on 120 elephants.
Home is Samarkand, the city closest to his birthplace. Timur is busy turning it into a great centre of Muslim architecture and art. Together with the Indian elephants come the best craftsmen of Delhi, who will be set to work in Samarkand - where they join, in 1399, a community of skilled captives from previous expeditions.
This is connoisseurship of an unusually violent kind, but it is a genuine passion. Inherited by Timur's descendants, in less rapacious form, it results in a great Timurid tradition in the visual arts.
The Timurid tradition: AD 1405-1510
Shahrukh, Timur's favourite son, is his family's greatest patron of the arts. From about 1405 he rebuilds Herat, devastated by his father in 1383, and actively encourages the Persian school of miniature painting - which has already begun to flourish under the patronage of the Mongol Il-Khans.
With some difficulty Shahrukh maintains control over the empire conquered by his father in central Asia and Persia. In subsequent generations the descendants of Timur fight constantly among themselves over their shared inheritance, weakening their joint defence against their enemies. But Herat remains a centre of Timurid civilization until it falls, in 1510, to the founder of the new Safavid dynasty.
Ismail I and the Safavids: AD 1501-1524
After four centuries of dominance by powerful intruders (Seljuk Turks, Mongols), Persia acquires in the 16th century a new dynasty from the heartland of the classical Persian empire.
Azerbaijan was the territory of the Medes, founders of Iran's first empire. Recently it has become the centre of a a Sufi sect, established by Sheikh Safi al-Din. His descendants, known from his name as the Safavids, govern the city of Ardabil as a small theocratic state. In the 15th century they develop a passionate commitment to the Shi'a version of Islam (the family claims descent from one of the twelve Shi'a imams). The characteristics of Iran in the late 20th century have their roots in Azerbaijan 500 years ago.
One of the sheikh's descendants, Ismail, drastically enlarges the family's power in the early 16th century. At the age of fourteen he leads the local tribes in the capture of Tabriz, where he is enthroned in 1501 as the shah of Azerbaijan. (Ismail is not alone in teenage achievements of this kind; four years previously Babur, also aged fourteen, briefly captures Samarkand.)
Ismail extends his control over much of Mesopotamia and Persia, using the Shi'a faith as a rallying cry. By the end of his reign Shi'ism, a minority sect within Islam, has become the faith of the majority of Persians. In this process conversion and compulsion often go together. But a newly defined nation is now able to identify its enemies as the Sunnis.
Sunnis are pressing against Persia from both west and east, but the more immediate threat is from the east. Uzbek tribes, under the leadership of Shaibani Khan, are moving southwest from Samarkand and Bukhara. By 1507 Shaibani has reached Herat, which he captures in that year.
Ismail confronts the Uzbeks at Merv in 1510 and wins a resounding victory. Shaibani is taken and killed (his skull, set in gold, becomes one of Ismail's favourite drinking cups). Another Sunni ruler to the east of Persia is Babur, now established in Kabul. But Babur has no aggressive intentions against Persia. Ismail contents himself with diplomatic efforts to convert him to the Shi'a faith.
The real Sunni threat now comes from the Ottoman Turks. Recent military successes have secured the western boundary of their empire, in the Balkans. Now they find they have a strong and aggressive neighbour in Persia, heretical in his religious beliefs and with his power base (Azerbaijan) and his capital (Tabriz) close to their own regions of Anatolia.
A clash is inevitable. It occurs at Çaldiran in 1514. Ismail is defeated; his tribesmen are no match for the highly trained janissaries, and unlike the Turks he has no artillery. But this encounter between Ottoman and Persian is only the beginning of a long struggle, in which Persian fortunes in the east are intimately linked to those of the Balkans in the west.
Abbas I: AD 1587-1629
When Shah Abbas begins his reign in 1587, at the age of sixteen, he is confronted by exactly the problem which his great-grandfather Ismail I faced eighty years previously. Ottoman Turks are pressing in from the northwest at the same time as Uzbeks from the northeast.
The young shah's solution is to make a disadvantageous treaty with the Turks, in 1590, surrendering valuable territory but leaving himself free to confront the Uzbeks. But first he undertakes a reorganization of the Persian army, replacing a feudal system of tribal levies with professional troops paid from the imperial treasury.
The military reforms benefit from Persia's experience against the better trained and better equipped Turks, and also - rather oddly - from the practical advice of an Englishman, Sir Robert Shirley, who arrives as a member of an English embassy in 1599 and stays in Persia for eight years.
The resulting army has three specialist regiments - cavalry, musketeers and artillerymen. Their successes enable Shah Abbas to extend the Persian empire as far as Kandahar in the east, while in the west recovering Mesopotamia and the regions ceded to the Turks in the treaty of 1590.
The proximity of the Turks has made Tabriz, the original base of the Safavid dynasty, dangerously insecure. In 1548 the capital has already been moved southeast to Kazvin by Tahmasp I, son of Ismail I.
Shah Abbas goes further in the same direction when he moves the capital in 1598 to Isfahan. Here he creates, during the remaining 30 years of his life, a splendid city of elegant domes. Isfahan comes to symbolize the Persian style in the same way as the Shi'a doctrine, introduced by Abbas's great-grandfather, becomes part of the nation's identity. This region has had 2500 years of richly varied history, but modern Iran is essentially a Safavid creation.
Isfahan: 17th century AD
Isfahan is already a city of ancient history and considerable wealth when Shah Abbas decides, in 1598, to turn it into a magnificent capital. It has a Masjid-i-Jami, or Friday Mosque, dating from the Seljuk period (11th-12th century), still surviving today and noted for its fine patterned brickwork. And it has a thriving school of craftsmen skilled in the making of polychrome ceramic tiles.
Shah Abbas favours in architecture what comes to seem almost the theme of his city - gently curving domes covered in a glorious array of Isfahan's coloured tiles.
The new centre of the city is a vast rectangular space, the Maidan-i-Shah (Royal Parade), designed for parades and polo. At its southern end there rises the most magnificent of Isfahan's swelling blue domes, on the Masjid-i-Shah (Royal Mosque). The tiles are shaped where necessary to fit the curve of the dome, as are those which clad the mosque's circular minarets. The dome is reflected in a great pool in the courtyard.
On the east of the Maidan-i-Shah is a smaller blue dome, on the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah - built by Shah Abbas in honour of his father-in-law and used as his private chapel. There are other glorious buildings in Isfahan, but these domes have become the trademark of Persian Islamic architecture.
Pampered heirs: 17th century AD
In both Turkey and Persia a major change is made in royal protocol during the first half of the 17th century. The development is the same in each place, and it has a profound effect on future sultans and shahs.
In Turkey it has been an official policy of state for each new sultan, on achieving power, to kill his brothers and nephews. Without a system of primogeniture, the crown goes to the strongest among the candidates within the ruling family. Once a winner has emerged, this drastic measure is a way of ensuring an untroubled reign. The sultan Mehmed III, winning power in 1595, murders his unusually large family of nineteen brothers.
In Persia this principle of violence is not enshrined in law, but in practice the result is similarly brutal. Shah Abbas, ruling in the early 17th century, blinds and imprisons his deposed father, his two brothers and one of his sons.
Shah Abbas in Persia and his contemporary, Ahmed I, in Turkey independently put in place a more merciful system. Abbas decrees that in future all royal princes will live in the harem, out of harm's way, until such time as the ruling shah dies. Ahmed's solution in Turkey is similar, but each prince here is to have a pavilion of his own in a walled garden (the merciful Ahmed was five, in 1595, when his father killed his nineteen uncles).
The result is the same in both empires. Less royal blood is shed but the standard of leadership declines. Sultans and shahs, previously on the battlefield from their teens, learning the harsh ways of the world, now emerge in a state of sheltered ignorance to take up the responsibilities of power. The politics of the harem impinge upon, and sometimes even replace in importance, the politics of the real world.
In Persia the Safavids retain the throne for a century after this change. In Turkey the royal line survives three times as long, to the end of the Ottoman empire. But the heyday of each dynasty has passed.
Decline of the Safavids: AD 1722-1736
The first major threat to the enfeebled Safavid dynasty comes in 1722 when Afghan rebels march west and capture Isfahan. This disaster is soon followed by the simultaneous invasion of Persia by Russia and Turkey. Each is determined to prevent the other gaining an advantage in this strategic region, but in 1724 they agree to divide the spoils. Both remain in possession of part of the Persian empire.
The shah is briefly saved from this unwelcome situation by Nadir Quli Beg, leader of a gang of tribal brigands. By birth a Turk, from the Meshed region, he brings 5000 men to the support of the shah in 1726.
The brigand proves a brilliant general. Transforming the Persian army, he leads a disciplined body of men to victory over the Afghan rebels holding Isfahan. He then drives the Turks out of the western regions of Persia. And by the mere threat of war he persuades the Russians to relinquish the territories they have seized.
But brigands acquiring this much power are not easily controlled. In 1736 Nadir Quli Beg deposes the last Safavid shah and takes the throne for himself, changing his name to Nadir Shah.
Nadir Shah: AD 1736-1747
Nadir Shah, in a reign of eleven years, devotes himself to conquest with the single-minded determination of Timur, the last great conqueror to sweep through these regions.
First, after a long siege in 1736, he recovers Kandahar - the stronghold of the Afghan chieftains who have until recently been in possession of Isfahan. With Afghanistan safely back under imperial control, Nadir Shah is next tempted further east (like Timur before him) into the fabulously wealthy empire of India. The Moghul dynasty, possessing probably a greater number of precious stones than any other ruling family in the world, is itself in a feeble state. A visit to Delhi is irresistible - as is Nadir Shah himself.
In December 1738 Nadir Shah crosses the Indus at Attock. Two months later he defeats the army of the Moghul emperor, Mohammed Shah. In March he enters Delhi. The conqueror has iron control over his troops and at first the city is calm. It is broken when an argument between citizens and some Persian soldiers escalates into a riot in which 900 Persians are killed. Even now Nadir Shah forbids reprisals until he has inspected the scene. But when he rides through the city, stones are thrown at him. Someone fires a musket which kills an officer close to the shah.
In reprisal he orders a massacre. The killing lasts for a day. The number of the dead is more than 30,000.
Amazingly, when the Moghul emperor begs for mercy for his people, the Persian conqueror is able to grant it. The killing stops, for the collection of Delhi's valuables to begin.
Untold wealth travels west with the Persians. The booty includes the two most spectacular possessions of the Moghul emperors - the Peacock Throne, commissioned by Shah Jahan, and the Koh-i-Nur diamond. Nadir Shah is able to send a decree home from Delhi remitting all taxes in Persia for three years. In addition to the jewels and the gold, he takes with him 1000 elephants, 100 masons and 200 carpenters. The parallel with the visit of Timur, 341 years previously, is almost exact.
But Timur was at least creating a capital city at Samarkand. Nadir Shah has little interest in any activity other than conquest. He takes Bukhara in 1740 and continues to campaign (though with diminishing success and increasing ferocity) until his death in 1747, stabbed in his tent by an assassin.
Nadir Shah's achievement has been to reassemble by conquest the Persian empire. After his death it rapidly falls apart again. The eastern part now begins its separate existence as Afghanistan. The west enjoys a rare period of peace under a leader of the Zand tribe, Karim Khan, who rules from 1757 to 1794 with his capital at Shiraz. He is followed by the last of Persia's lengthy dynasties, the Qajars.
This History is as yet incomplete [
History of Iran: Timeline
[The following atricle is quoted from
[For details, Text search, Related images, HistoryWorld, Place, and Map related to each event please study the article from
c -4000 BC
Grapes are cultivated, for use as wine rather than for eating, in the Caspian region
c -3800 BC
Copper is extracted from ore by smelting at various sites in Iran
c -580 BC
The Iranian prophet Zoroaster teaches that there is one god, Ahura Mazda
Cyrus, king of the Persians, takes Ecbatana, capital city of the Medes, and establishes the first Persian empire
c -550 BC
Polo originates in the Persian empire, probably as part of the training of the imperial cavalry
c -545 BC
Cyrus annexes the Greek territory of Ionia as part of his empire, giving Persia a presence on the Aegean
A Persian army captures Babylon and brings it into the empire of Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great is buried in an austerely impressive tomb at Pasagardae, in Persia
Darius I wins the Persian throne and ushers in the heyday of the Achaemenid empire
Darius starts to build a spectacular new palace and capital at Persepolis
c -500 BC
A Persian rug, woven with a knotted pile, is placed in the tomb of a Scythian chieftain and survives to this day
c -500 BC
The 10,000 elite troops of the Persian empire, known as the Immortals, demonstrate the power of a professional standing army
c -500 BC
The great network of roads built by Darius I has at its centre the 2000-mile royal road from Susa to Sardis
c -500 BC
Darius I adopts Zoroastrianism as the religion of the Persian empire
c -500 BC
The Magi, possibly converting from an earlier Iranian religion, become the priests of Zoroastrianism
c -500 BC
Hockey, like polo, is a team game in the Persian empire
After six years the Persians recover control of Ionia, but Athens is now identified as a target for invasion
Darius sends a fleet across the Aegean, carrying a large army of infantry and cavalry for an attack on Athens
The Persian fleet moves south towards Athens, but then heads home across the Aegean without attempting an assault on the city
The Persians, renewing their interest in the Aegean, fund the Spartans in the building of a fleet to match that of Athens
Moving northeast into Mesopotamia, Alexander again defeats Darius III (at Gaugamela), leaving Persia open to his advances
As a conclusive end to the long rivalry between Greece and Persia, Alexander destroys the great palace of Xerxes at Persepolis
Alexander adopts the ceremonial dress and court rituals of of his new Persian empire
Alexander begins two years moving with his army through his vast new territories, establishing Greek settlements
Back in Persia, to emphasize that Greece and Persia are now one, Alexander marries eighty of his senior officers to Persian wives
Alexander and his companion Hephaestion marry daughters of Darius III
When the army reaches Ecbatana, Hephaestion dies of a fever and the grief-stricken Alexander erects shrines in his memory
A caravan leaves China with goods destined for Persia - proof that the eastern half of the Silk Road is now open
Ardashir is crowned king of Fars - a first step towards his founding of the Sassanian dynasty in Persia
Ardashir, the Persian king, commissions a relief of himself in triumphant mood - carved high on a rock face at Naqsh-e Rustam
The Persian prophet Mani establishes the dualistic Manichaean religion
The Arabs defeat a Persian army at Kadisiya and then sack the city of Ctesiphon, effectively bringing to an end the Sassanian dynasty
A document makes the first known reference to windmills, in use in Persia
Nestorian beliefs become the orthodoxy of the Christian community in Persia, spreading from there to India and China
The eastern part of the Persian empire comes under the control of the Saffarid dynasty
Zoroastrians migrate from Muslim Persia to India, where they become known as Parsees
Firdausi completes his great chronicle of Persian history, the Shah-nama, which becomes established as Iran's national epic
The Persian scholar Avicenna, author of encyclopedic works on philosophy and medicine, spends the last part of his life in Isfahan
The Seljuk Turks win a victory at Dandanqan, which gives them a base in the north of Iran and Afghanistan
Omar Khayyám, mathematician and astronomer, writes four-line verses, or quatrains, in his spare time
The Assassins, a sect of Nizari Ismailis, begin to acquire strongholds in Persia
Hulagu and his horde of Mongols cross the Amu Darya river and move against Muslim Persia
The Persian poet Sa'di publishes his Bustan ('Orchard'), a collection of moral tales in verse
Hulagu and his Mongol descendants rule Persia as Il-khans, subordinate to the great khan in the east
Tabriz under the Mongol Il-khans is the first centre of Persian miniature painting
The Persian poet Hafiz perfects a form of short poem, the ghazal, dwelling on the pleasures of life with an undercurrent of Sufi mysticism
Herat, under Timurid princes, succeeds Tabriz as the main centre of Persian art
The lively realism of Kamal-ud-din Bihzad lays the basis of both the Persian and the Mughal schools of painting
The 14-year-old Ismail I is enthroned as shah of a new Persian dynasty, the Safavids
16-year-old Abbas I, subsequently one of the greatest of shahs, inherits the throne of Persia
Shah Abbas builds up Isfahan as a spectacular new capital of the Persian empire
The leader of a gang of tribal brigands seizes the Persian throne and takes the name Nadir Shah
A leader of the Ismaili sect is granted, by the shah of Persia, the hereditary title of Aga Khan
A stele is found at Susa, in Iran, giving the text of the Code of Hammurabi
The Burman Oil Company, developing a concession granted in 1901 to William Knox D'Arcy, discovers oil in Iran
An army officer, Reza Khan, becomes war minister after seizing control of Tehran with his Cossack brigade
Reza Khan, by now prime minister of Iran, mounts a second coup to depose the last Qajar shah and begin his own Pahlavi dynasty
British and USSR troops invade Iran to depose the oil-rich Reza Shah, fearing that he may take the side of the Germans
With British and Russian support, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi succeeds his deposed father as shah of Iran
The new Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, passes the Oil Nationalization Act, seizing Britain's assets in the region
The Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh is removed from office in an armed coup sponsored by the CIA and Britain's MI6
Ruhollah Khomeini, a leading ayatollah in Qom, denounces the Shah of Iran and declares a fatwa against his regime
Ayatollah Khomeini is arrested in Qom, and imprisoned for eight months in Tehran, after instigating riots against the Shah
Ayatollah Khomeini, exiled by the shah from Iran, moves first to Turkey and then makes his base in Iraq
Demonstrations take place throughout Iran, demanding Islamic rule under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini
An Islamic revolution forces the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to flee from Iran
Ayatollah Khomeini receives a rapturous welcome on his return to Iran to head the Islamic Revolutionary Committee
Supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini seize the US embassy in Tehran, taking hostage 66 US citizens
A US helicopter mission fails disastrously in its attempt to rescue the embassy hostages in Tehran
Saddam Hussein invades Iran, beginning an 8-year war that will bring massive human cost
Iran releases the US embassy hostages immediately after the end of Jimmy Carter's presidency
President Reagan's administration breaks a US embargo with secret arms sales to Iran in return for assistance in the release of US hostages in Lebanon
Ayatollah Khomeini declares a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses
The Iran-Iraq war ends with the border between the countries unchanged and more than a million dead
Ayatollah Khomeini dies and is succeeded by Sayed Ali Khamenei as Iran's leading ayatollah
The historic city of Bam, in Iran, is destroyed in a massive earthquake, with more than 40,000 deaths
Fundamentalist politician Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected president of Iran
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad causes international outrage by describing Israel as a blot that should be 'wiped off the map'
2009 February 2
Iran launches a satellite into orbit on an Iranian-built rocket
2009 June 12
Iran's declaration that its presidential election has been a landslide victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad brings vast crowds of protesters onto the streets
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