Greater Iran: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Faravahar background
History of Greater Iran
| until the rise of modern nation-states |
See also
Kings of Persia

Greater Iran (in Persian: ایران بزرگ Irān-e Bozorg, or ایران‌زمین Irān-zamīn; the Encyclopædia Iranica uses the term Iranian Cultural Continent[1]) refers to the regions that have significant Iranian cultural influence. It roughly corresponds to the territory on the Iranian plateau, stretching from the Caucasus to the Indus River in Pakistan and conform to the historical understanding of the full territory of "Iran."

Because the concept is a cultural one, representing regions settled by Iranian tribes, it does not correspond to any particular political entity, and—because it represents a late Bronze Age dispersion—predates such political entities by many centuries. For the Sassanids, in whose 3rd century inscriptions the term 'Iran' first appears as a political concept, the multinational Iranian state included Asia Minor but excluded territories east of the two Iranian salt desert basins. This situation is however reversed in the cultural context, i.e. that of the Iranian nation.



Richard Nelson Frye defines Greater Iran as including "much of the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, with cultural influences extending to China, western India, and the Semitic speaking world." According to Frye, "Iran means all lands and peoples where Iranian languages were and are spoken, and where in the past, multi-faceted Iranian cultures existed."[2]

Richard Foltz states: "It is often assumed that various people of "greater Iran" - a cultural area that streched from Mesopotamia and the Caucasus into Khwarizm, Transoxiana, Bactria, and the Pamirs and included Persians, Medes, Parthians and Sogdians among others—were all "Zoroastrians" in pre-Islamic times[3]. To the Greeks, Greater Iran ended at the Indus[4]

According to J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams most of Western greater Iran spoke SW Iranian languages in the Achaemenid era while the Eastern territory spoke Eastern Iranian languages related to Avesta[5].

George Lane also states that after the dissolution of the Mongol empire, the Ilkhanids became rulers of greater Iran[6] and Uljaytu, according to Judith G. Kolbas, was the ruler of this expanse between 1304-1317 A.D.[7]

Primary sources including Timurid historian Mir Khwand define Iranshahr (Greater Iran) as from the Euphrates to the Oxus[8]

Geographically and culturally, Greater Iran includes all of the Iranian plateau, stretching to Central Asia (Bactria) and the Hindukush to the northeast and Afghanistan and Western Pakistan in the southeast and into eastern Syria and the Caucasus to the northwest.

Traditionally, and until recent times, ethnicity has never been a defining separating criteria in these regions. In the words of Richard Nelson Frye:

Many times I have emphasized that the present peoples of Central Asia, whether Iranian or Turkic speaking, have one culture, one religion, one set of social values and traditions with only language separating them.

Only in modern times did western colonial intervention and ethnicity tend to become a dividing force between the provinces of Greater Iran. As Patrick Clawson states, "ethnic nationalism is largely a nineteenth century phenomenon, even if it is fashionable to retroactively extend it."[9] "Greater Iran" however has been more of a cultural super-state, rather than a political one to begin with.

In the work Nuzhat al-Qolub (نزهه القلوب), the medieval geographer Hamdollah Mostowfi writes:

چند شهر است اندر ایران مرتفع تر از همه
Some cities of Iran are better than the rest,
بهتر و سازنده تر از خوشی آب و هوا
these have pleasant and compromising weather,
گنجه پر گنج در اران صفاهان در عراق
The wealthy Ganjeh of Arran, and Esfahān as well,
در خراسان مرو و طوس در روم باشد اقسرا
Merv and Tus in Khorasan, and Konya (Aqsara) too.

The Cambridge History of Iran takes a geographical approach in referring to the "historical and cultural" entity of "Greater Iran" as "areas of Iran, parts of Afghanistan, and Chinese and Soviet Central Asia".[10] A detailed list of these territories follows in this article.


In Persian, Greater Iran is called Iranzamin (ایرانزمین) which means "The Land of Iran". Iranzamin was in the mythical times opposed to the Turanzamin the Land of Turan, which was located in the upper part of Central Asia.[11]

In the pre-Islamic period, Iranians distinguished two main regions in the territory they ruled, one Iran and the other Aniran. By Iran they meant all the regions inhabited by ancient Iranian peoples. That region was much vaster than it is today. This notion of Iran as a territory (opposed to Aniran) can be seen as the core of early Greater Iran. Later many changes occurred in the boundaries and areas where Iranians lived but the languages and culture remained the dominant medium in many parts of the Greater Iran.

As an example, the Persian language (referred to, in Persian, as Farsi) was the main literary language and the language of correspondence in Central Asia and Caucasus prior to the Russian occupation, Central Asia being the birthplace of modern Persian language. Furthermore, according to the British government, Persian language was also used in Iraqi Kurdistan, prior to the British Occupation and Mandate in 1918-1932 [3].

With Imperial Russia continuously advancing south in the course of two wars against Persia, and the treaties of Turkmenchay and Gulistan in the western frontiers, plus the unexpected death of Abbas Mirza in 1823, and the murdering of Persia's Grand Vizier (Mirza AbolQasem Qa'im Maqām), many Central Asian khanates began losing hope for any support from Persia against the Tsarist armies.[12] The Russian armies occupied the Aral coast in 1849, Tashkent in 1864, Bukhara in 1867, Samarkand in 1868, and Khiva and Amudarya in 1873.

"Many Iranians consider their natural sphere of influence to extend beyond Iran's present borders. After all, Iran was once much larger. Portuguese forces seized islands and ports in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century, the Russian Empire wrested from Tehran's control what is today Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan, and part of Georgia. Iranian elementary school texts teach about the Iranian roots not only of cities like Baku, but also cities further north like Derbent in southern Russia. The Shah lost much of his claim to western Afghanistan following the Anglo-Iranian war of 1856-1857. Only in 1970 did a UN sponsored consultation end Iranian claims to suzerainty over the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain. In centuries past, Iranian rule once stretched westward into modern Iraq and beyond. When the western world complains of Iranian interference beyond its borders, the Iranian government often convinced itself that it is merely exerting its influence in lands that were once its own. Simultaneously, Iran's losses at the hands of outside powers have contributed to a sense of grievance that continues to the present day." -Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy[13]
"Iran today is just a rump of what it once was. At its height, Iranian rulers controlled Iraq, Afghanistan, Western Pakistan, much of Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Many Iranians today consider these areas part of a greater Iranian sphere of influence." -Patrick Clawson[14]
"Since the days of the Achaemenids, the Iranians had the protection of geography. But high mountains and vast emptiness of the Iranian plateau were no longer enough to shield Iran from the Russian army or British navy. Both literally, and figuratively, Iran shrank. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Azerbaijan, Armenia, much of Georgia, and Afghanistan were Iranian, but by the end of the century, all this territory had been lost as a result of European military action."[15]


In the Middle Ages, the territory of Greater Iran was known to be composed of two portions: Persian Iraq (western portion) and Khorasan (eastern portion). The dividing region was mostly along with Gurgan and Damaghan cities. Especially the Ghaznavids, Seljuqs and Timurids divided their Empire to Iraqi and Khorasani regions. This point can be observed in many books such as "Tārīkhi Baïhaqī" of Abul Fazl Bayhqi, Faza'ilul al-anam min rasa'ili hujjat al-Islam (a collection of letters of Al-Ghazali) and other books. Transoxiana and Chorasmia were mostly included in the Khorasanian region.


Central Asia

Gerard Mercator's map of 1595 showing the Central Asian region.

"Khwarazm is one of the regions of Iran-zameen, and is the home of the ancient Iranians, Airyanem Vaejah, according to the ancient book of the Avesta."[16] Modern scholars believe Khwarazm to be what ancient Avestic texts refer to as "Ariyaneh Waeje" or "Iran vij".[17] These sources claim that Urgandj, which was the capital of ancient Khwarazm for many years, was actually "Ourva": the eighth land of Ahura Mazda mentioned in the Pahlavi text of Vendidad.[18] Michael Witzel, a researcher in early Indo-European history, believes that Iran vig was located in what is now Afghanistan [4], the northern areas of which were a part of Ancient Khwarezm and Greater Khorasan. Others such as University of Hawaii historian Elton L. Daniel believe Khwarazm to be the "most likely locale" corresponding to the original home of the Avestan people,[19] while Dehkhoda calls Khwarazm "the cradle of the Aryan tribe" (مهد قوم آریا). Today Khwarazm is split between several central Asian republics.

Superimposed on and overlapping with Chorasmia was Khorasan which roughly covered nearly the same geographical areas in Central Asia (starting from Semnan eastward through northern Afghanistan roughly until the foothills of Pamir, ancient Mount Imeon). Current day provinces such as Sanjan in Turkmenia, Razavi Khorasan Province, North Khorasan Province, and Southern Khorasan Province in Iran are all remnants of the old Khorasan. Until the 13th century and the devastating Mongol invasion of the region, Khorasan was considered the cultural capital of Greater Iran.[20]


Afghanistan was part of Greater Khorasan, and hence was recognized with the name Khorasan (along with regions centered around Merv and Neishabur), which in Pahlavi means "The Eastern Land" (خاور زمین in Persian).[21]

Afghanistan is where Balkh is located, home of Rumi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Sanāī Ghaznawi, Jami, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari and where many other notables in Persian literature came from. The Dari language of Afghanistan, is a nearly identical to the Persian language spoken in Iran. It is widely spoken in Afghanistan and has been granted official status next to Pashto language. Historically, it was also the official language of the Sassanids Persians.

At the latest, Nasereddin Shah lost control of Herat to the British in 1857. But still even today, Persian names are far abound across the towns and districts of the country: Gulistan District, Farah, Farah City, Farah and its Persian-Iranian-Shiite minority in Yazdi, Shuhada District, Badghis, Maymana, Qala i Naw, Murghab District, Puli Khumri, Mazari Sharif, Band-e Amir, Pusht-e-Koh, Fāryāb Province, Ajristan, Qara Bagh, Jowzjan Province, Safid River, Nuristan, Dih Bala, Hisarak, Nimruz Province, Nurestan Province, Panjshir Province, Parvan Province, Samangan Province, Sar-e Pol Province, Maidan Shahr, and Zabul Province among others.

ز زابل به کابل رسید آن زمان
From Zabul he arrived to Kabul
گرازان و خندان و دل شادمان
Strutting, happy, and mirthful
---Ferdowsi in Shahnama


The national anthem in Tajikistan, "Surudi Milli", attests to the Perso-Tajik identity, which has seen a large revival, after the breakup of the USSR. Their language is almost identical to that spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, and their cities have Persian names, e.g. Dushanbe, Isfara, Rasht Valley, Garm, Murghab, Vahdat, Zar-afshan river, Shurab, and Kulob ([5]).


Home of the Parthian Empire (Nysa). Merv is also where the half-Persian caliph al-Mamun moved his capital to, inorder to move the center of the caliphate away from Arab speaking lands. The city of Eshgh Abad (some claim that the word is actually the transformed form of "Ashk Abad" literally meaning "built by Ashk", the head of Arsaced dynasty) is yet another Persian word meaning "city of love", and like Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, it was once part of Airyanem Vaejah.


The famous cities of Afrasiab, Bukhara, Samarkand, Shahrisabz, Andijan, Khiveh, Navā'i, Shirin, Termez, and Zar-afshan are located here. Many experts point to these cities as the birthplace of modern Persian language[citation needed]. The Samanids, who claimed inheritance to the Sassanids, had their capital built here.

ای بخارا شاد باش و دیر زی
Oh Bukhara! Joy to you and live long!
شاه زی تو میهمان آید همی
Your King comes to you in ceremony.

Western China

The Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County regions of China harbored a Persian population and culture.[22] Chinese Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County was always counted as a part of the Iranian cultural & linguistic continent with Kashgar, Yarkand, Hotan, and Turpan bound to the Iranian history.[23]


Culturally and historically Kurdistan has been part of what is known as Greater Iran. Kurds who speak a Northwestern Iranian language known as Kurdish comprise the majority of the population of the region there are also communities of Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Azeri, Jewish, Ossetian, Persian, and Turkic people traditionally scattered throughout the region. Most of its inhabitants are Muslim, but there are also significant numbers of other religious sects such as Yazidi, Yarsan, Alevi, Christian,[citation needed] Kurdish Jews, Mandean and believers of Zarathushtra.

Western Pakistan

The western provinces of Pakistan, which comprise the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan are Iranian-speaking regions[citation needed] where Pashtuns and Baluchis comprise the majority of the local populations[citation needed]. The Baluch and Pashtun tribes are the easternmost of the Iranic peoples and Baluchistan is the easternmost region of the Iranian plateau[citation needed].

The Caucasus region

Northern Caucasus region in today's Southern Russia including the republics of Daghestan, Chechniya, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkariya & other republics & oblasts of the region long formed part of Persia & the Iranian cultural sphere until they were annexed by Imperial Russia over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Strong Persian cultural influence can be traced up as far as Tatarstan in central Russia. Fine examples of Iranian architecture in many caucasus cities like the Sassanid citadel in Derbent bear witness to the importance of these territories before the arrival of Russians to the region, when it was under Persian influence, rule & suzerainty. (Even today, after decades of partition, some of these regions retain a sort of Iranian identity, as seen in their old believes, traditions and customs (e.g. Norouz)). For a discussion see[24].

Southern Caucasus

Also by the Treaty of Gulistan, Iran had to cede all the Khanates of the South Caucasus, which included Baku khanate, Shirvan Khanate, Karabakh khanate, Ganja khanate, Shaki Khanate, Quba Khanate, and parts of the Talysh Khanate. Derbent (Darband) was also lost to Russia. These Khanates comprise what is today the Republic of Azerbaijan.By the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Iran was forced to cede Nakhichevan khanate and the Mughan regions to Russia, as well as Erivan Khanate. These territories roughly constitute the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan and Republic of Armenia. Most localities in this region bear Persian names or names derived from Iranian languages.


Armenia was a province of various Persian Empires since the Achaemenid period and was heavily influenced by Persian culture. Armenia however, has historically been largely populated by a distinct Indo-European-speaking people who merged with local Caucasian peoples, rather than being directly associated with the Iranian peoples. Ancient Armenian society was a combination of local cultures, Iranian social and political structures, and Hellenic/Christian traditions.[25] Due to centuries of independent indigenous development, conquests by western powers including the Romans and Russians, and its diverse diasporic population that has absorbed many cultural traits, especially those of Europe and Lebanon. [6]

Iran continues to have a sizeable Armenian minority that links Armenians to Iranian culture. Many Armenians such as Yeprem Khan were directly involved and remembered in the History of Iran.


Early in antiquity, Narseh of Persia is known to have had fortifications built here. In later times, some of Persia's literary and intellectual figures from the Qajar period have hailed from this region. Also separated from Greater-Iran/Persia in the mid-1800s, by virtue of the Gulistan Treaty and Turkmenchay Treaty.

که تا جایگه یافتی نخچوان
Oh Nakhchivan, respect you've attained,
بدین شاه شد بخت پیرت جوان
With this King in luck you'll remain.


Prince Muhammad-Beik of Georgia, 1620. Artist is Reza Abbasi. Painting is located at Berlin's Museum Für Islamische Kunst.

Georgia, or "Gorjestan" was a Persian Province during Sassanid times (particularly starting with Hormozd IV). During the Safavid era, Georgia became so culturally intertwined with Iran that they almost replaced the Qezelbash in the Safavid courts. Persian language was even the official administrative language of Georgia in the time of Shah Tahmasb, and Allah-verdi Khan, whom the famous landmark of 33 pol in Isfahan is named after, was among the Georgian elite that were involved in the Safavid government. And Amin al-Sultan, Prime Minister of Iran, was the son of a Georgian father.[26] Georgia was again a direct province of Persia from 1629 until 1762 when the Russian influence arrived.

The aforementioned is especially true of "Eastern Georgia". Eastern Georgia historically was attached to the south for support, as opposed to Western Georgia, which looked for help to the North. The city of "Teflis" ( Tbilisi in Georgian) was Persianized for quite some time. The Qajarid heir to the throne prince Abbas Mirza spent much time there.

In the end, Persia was unable to challenge Russia in Georgia, and officially gave up claim to Georgia according to the text of the Gulistan Treaty and Turkmenchay Treaty.

Due to the Treaty of Gulistan, Iran was forced to cede to Russia all the cities, towns, and villages of Georgia, including regions on the Black Sea coast, such as Megrelia, Abkhazia, Imeretia, and Guria.

For a lengthy discussion, see Gorjestan.


Iraq was a province of various Persian Empires since the Achaemenid period and was heavily influenced by Persian culture. It is where one of the Sassanid capitals was located (Ctesiphon). There are still cities and provinces in contemporary Iraq where the Persian names of the city are still retained. e.g. al-Anbar or Baghdad. Other cities of Iraq with originally Persian names include Nokard (نوكرد) --> al-Haditha, Suristan (سورستان) --> Kufa, Shahrban (شهربان) --> Miqdadiya, Arvandrud (اروندرود)--> Shatt al-Arab, and Asheb (آشب) --> Imadiyya.[27]

Patrick Clawson verifies this:

"Arab nationalists may seek retroactively to extend the present into the past, but this skews reality. Iranian domains once extended well into what is now Iraq. The first Sassanian capital was at Ctesiphon, 21 miles southeast of Baghdad." said Patrick Clawson.[28]

Even after Iraq was Arabized during the Islamic conquests of the 7th century, the Persian presence was still quite recognizable and dominant at times, as many famous Persian Shia clerics are buried in Najaf and Karbala. At the latest, the Safavids lost control of these areas to the Ottoman Empire.

Map gallery


See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Frye, Richard Nelson, Greater Iran, ISBN 1-56859-177-2 p.xi
  3. ^ "Richard Foltz", "Religions of the Silk Road: Overland Trade and Cultural Exchange from Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century", Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. pg 27
  4. ^ J.M. Cook, "The Rise of the Achaemenids and Establishment of Their Empire" in Ilya Gershevitch, William Bayne Fisher, J. A. Boyle "Cambridge History of Iran", Vol 2. pg 250. Excerpt: "To the Greeks, Greater Iran ended at the Indus".
  5. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Adams, D. Q. (1997), Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture, London and Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn, ISBN 1884964982. pg 307: "Dialetically, Old Persian is regarded as a southwestern Iranian language in constract to the east Iranian Avestan which covered most of the rest of Greater Iran
  6. ^ George Lane, "Daily life in the Mongol empire", Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. pg 10" The year following 1260 saw the empire irrevocably split but also signaled the emergence of the two greatest achievements of the house of Chinggis, namely the Yuan dynasty of greater China and the Il-Khanid dynasty of greater Iran.
  7. ^ Judith G. Kolbas, "The Mongols in Iran", Excerpt from 399: "Uljaytu, Ruler of Greater Iran from 1304-1317 A.D.",
  8. ^ Mīr Khvānd, Muḥammad ibn Khāvandshāh, Tārīkh-i rawz̤at al-ṣafā. Taṣnīf Mīr Muḥammad ibn Sayyid Burhān al-Dīn Khāvand Shāh al-shahīr bi-Mīr Khvānd. Az rū-yi nusakh-i mutaʻaddadah-i muqābilah gardīdah va fihrist-i asāmī va aʻlām va qabāyil va kutub bā chāphā-yi digar mutamāyiz mībāshad.[Tehrān] Markazī-i Khayyām Pīrūz [1959-60]. ایرانشهر از کنار فرات تا جیهون است و وسط آبادانی عالم است. Iranshahr streches from the Euphrates to the Oxus, and it is the center of the prosperity of the World.
  9. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005 ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.23
  10. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. III: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods, Ehsan Yarshater, Review author[s]: Richard N. Frye, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Aug., 1989), pp.415. Link: [1]
  11. ^ Dehkhoda Dictionary, Dehkhoda, see under entry "Turan"
  12. ^ Homayoun, N. T., Kharazm: What do I know about Iran?. 2004. ISBN 964-379-023-1, p.78
  13. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.9,10
  14. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.30
  15. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.31-32
  16. ^ Homayoun, N.T., Kharazm: What do I know about Iran?. 2004. ISBN 964-379-023-1, p.111
  17. ^ Farahvoshi, Bahram. Iranovich, Tehran University Press. 1991, p.8
  18. ^ Javan, Musa. Tarikh-i Ijtima'i Iran-i Bastan (The social history of ancient Iran), 1961, p24
  19. ^ Daniel, E., The History of Iran. 2001. ISBN 0-313-30731-8, p.28
  20. ^ Lorentz, J. Historical Dictionary of Iran. 1995. ISBN 0-8108-2994-0
  21. ^ Dehkhoda, Dehkhoda dictionary, Tehran University Press, p.8457
  22. ^ See:
  23. ^ "Persian language in Xinjiang" (زبان فارسی در سین کیانگ). Zamir Sa'dollah Zadeh (دکتر ضمیر سعدالله زاده). Nameh-i Iran (نامه ایران) V.1. Editor: Hamid Yazdan Parast (حمید یزدان پرست). ISBN 964-423-572-X Perry-Castañeda Library collection under DS 266 N336 2005.
  24. ^ Encyclopædia Iranica: "Caucasus Iran" article, p.84-96.
  25. ^ See:
  26. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.168
  27. ^ See: محمدی ملایری، محمد: فرهنگ ایران در دوران انتقال از عصر ساسانی به عصر اسلامی، جلد دوم: دل ایرانشهر، تهران، انتشارات توس 1375.: Mohammadi Malayeri, M.: Del-e Iranshahr, vol. II, Tehran 1375 Hs.
  28. ^ Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6,

Further reading

External links

In English

In Persian


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address