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Achaemenid Empire


ca. 550 BC–330 BC

Standard of Cyrus the Great.

Achaemenid Empire around 500 BC shortly before its greatest extent under Emperor Darius the Great (without the conquest of Punjab).
Capital Pasargadae, Ecbatana, Persepolis, Susa, Babylon
Language(s) Old Persian, Imperial Aramaic, Elamite, Akkadian
Religion Zoroastrianism
Government Monarchy
 - 559 BCE–529 BC Cyrus II the Great
Darius I the Great
 - 336 BCE–330 BC Darius III
Historical era Ancient history
 - Established ca. 550 BC
 - Construction starts at Persepolis 515 BC
 - Conquest of Egypt by Cambyses II 525 BC
 - Greco-Persian Wars 498–448 BC
 - Conquered during Wars of Alexander the Great 330 BC
 - Darius III is killed by Bessus 330 BC
Currency Daric and Siglos
Faravahar background
History of Greater Iran
| until the rise of modern nation-states |
See also
Kings of Persia

The Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC), also known as the Persian Empire, was the successor state of the Median Empire, ruling over significant portions of what would become Greater Iran. The Persian and the Median Empire taken together are also known as the Medo-Persian Empire, which encompassed the combined territories of several earlier empires.

At the height of its power, the empire encompassed approximately 8 million km2.[1][2] The empire was forged by Cyrus the Great, and spanned three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. At its greatest extent, the empire included the territories of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, parts of Central Asia, Asia Minor, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and all significant population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya. It is noted in western history as the foe of the Greek city states during the Greco-Persian Wars, for emancipation of slaves including the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting the usage of official languages throughout its territories. The Achaemenid Persian empire was invaded by Alexander III of Macedon, after which it collapsed and disintegrated in 330 BC into what later became the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence after its collapse.

In universal history the role of the Persian empire founded by Cyrus the Great lies in their very successful model for centralized administration and a government working to the advantage and profit of all.[3]




The Persian domination by the Achaemenid empire over the Iranian people started by an extension of the Achaemenid dynasty who expanded their earlier ruling clan over the Persians going, possibly, back to the 9th century BC. The eponym of this dynasty was Achaemenes (Old Persian: Haxāmaniš, a bahuvrihi compound translating to "having a friend's mind").[4] Achaemenes even if he was a historical personage, may have built the state Parsumash. Teispes (Cišpi) who was the first to take the title King of Anšān after seizing Anšān city from the Elamites and enlarging his kingdom to include Persis.[3] The early Teispid rulers of Achaemenids, consistently identified themselves with the indigenous name of Elamite highlands, Anshanite. Furthermore, there is no mention of Achaemenes in genealogy of Teispids, in Cyrus Cylender. [5] According to Cyrus Cylinder[6] and other inscriptions, Teispes had a son called Cyrus succeeding his father as "King of Anshan".

There are no arguments[7] in favor of the previously held view that the kingdom of Teispes may have been divided between Cyrus and his brother Ariaramnes (Ariyāramna, 'Having the Iranians at Peace'),[8] who were succeeded by their respective sons Cambyses I of Anshan (Kambūjiya, "the Elder"), and Arsames (Aršāma "Having a Hero's Might") of Persis, thus forming two branches of the Achaemenid royal house.

Formation and expansion of the empire

The tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire in Iran.
The Cyrus cylinder, a contemporary cuneiform script proclaiming Cyrus as legitimate king of Babylon.

The empire took its unified virgin form with a central administration around Pasargadae erected by Cyrus the Great. The empire ended up conquering and enlarging the Median empire to include in addition Egypt and Asia Minor. During the reigns of Darius I and his son Xerxes I it engaged in military conflict with some of the major city-states of Ancient Greece, and although it came close to defeating the Greek army this war ultimately led to the empire's overthrow. However evidences of elements of continuity including restoration of the empire almost to the exact limits given to it by Darius the Great and the maintenance of system of satrapies has made some modern scholars to reconsider Alexander as the “last of the Achaemenids“.[9]

In 559 BC, Cambyses I the Elder was succeeded as king of Anšān by his son Cyrus II the Great, who also succeeded the still-living Arsames as King of Persia, thus reuniting the two realms. Cyrus is considered to be the first true king of the Persian empire, as his predecessors were subservient to Media. Cyrus II conquered Media, Lydia, and Babylon. Cyrus was politically shrewd, modeling himself as the "savior" of conquered nations. To reinforce this image, he instituted policies of religious freedom, and restored temples and other infrastructure in the newly acquired cities. (Most notably the Jews of Babylon, as recorded in the Cyrus Cylinder and the Tanakh).

His immediate successors were less successful. Cyrus' son Cambyses II conquered Egypt, but died in July 522 BC as the result of either accident or suicide, during a revolt led by a sacerdotal clan that had lost its power following Cyrus' conquest of Media. These priests, whom Herodotus called Magi, usurped the throne for one of their own, Gaumata, who then pretended to be Cambyses II's younger brother Smerdis (Pers. Bardiya), who had been assassinated some three years earlier. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Perses, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68).

The claim that Gaumata had impersonated Smerdis, is derived from Darius. Historians are divided over the possibility that the story of the impostor was invented by Darius as justification for his coup [2]. Dr. Ranajit Pal holds that Gaumata was the same as Gotama Buddha. In his view, Davadatta, the adversary of Gotama was Zoroaster.[10] Darius made a similar claim when he later captured Babylon, announcing that the Babylonian king was not, in fact, Nebuchadnezzar III, but an impostor named Nidintu-bel. [3]

According to the Behistun Inscription, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown in 522 BCE by a member of a lateral branch of the Achaemenid family, Darius I (Old Persian Dāryavuš "Who Holds Firm the Good", also known as Darayarahush or Darius the Great). The Magi, though persecuted, continued to exist, and a year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (Gaumata), had a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.

Herodotus writes[11] that the native leadership debated the best form of government for the Empire. It was agreed upon that a oligarchy would divide them against one another, and democracy would bring about mob rule resulting in a charismatic leader resuming the monarchy. Therefore, they decided a new monarch was in order, particularly since they were in a position to choose him. Darius I was chosen monarch from among the leaders. He was cousin to Cambyses II and Smerdis, claiming Ariaramnes as his ancestor.

The Achaemenids thereafter consolidated areas firmly under their control. It was Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great who, by sound and farsighted administrative planning, brilliant military maneuvering, and a humanistic world view, established the greatness of the Achaemenids and, in less than thirty years, raised them from an obscure tribe to a world power. It was during the reign of Darius I that Persepolis was built (518–516 BC) and which would serve as capital for several generations of Achaemenid kings. Ecbatana (Hagmatāna "City of Gatherings", modern Hamadan) in Media was greatly expanded during this period and served as the summer capital.

Darius I attacked the Greek mainland, which had supported rebellious Greek colonies under his aegis; but as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Marathon, he was forced to pull the limits of his empire back to Asia Minor.

Greco-Persian Wars

Persian warriors, possibly Immortals, a frieze in Darius's palace at Susa. Silicious glazed bricks, 510 BC, Louvre.

Nonetheless, by the 5th century BC the kings of Persia ruled over territories roughly encompassing today's Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Caucasia, many parts of Greece, parts of Central Asia, Libya and northern parts of Arabia. Eventually by 480 BC the Achaemenids went on to hold the greatest percentage of world population for an empire,[12][13] and became the largest empire in ancient history.

The Ionian Revolt in 499 BC, and associated revolts in Aeolis, Doris, Cyprus and Caria, were military rebellions by several regions of Asia Minor against Persian rule, lasting from 499 to 493 BC. At the heart of the rebellion was the dissatisfaction of the Greek cities of Asia Minor with the tyrants appointed by Persia to rule them, along with the individual actions of two Milesian tyrants, Histiaeus and Aristagoras. In 499 BC the then tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, launched a joint expedition with the Persian satrap Artaphernes to conquer Naxos, in an attempt to bolster his position in Miletus (both financially and in terms of prestige). The mission was a debacle, and sensing his imminent removal as tyrant, Aristagoras chose to incite the whole of Ionia into rebellion against the Persian king Darius the Great.

The Persians continued to reduce the cities along the west coast that still held out against them, before finally imposing a peace settlement in 493 BC on Ionia that was generally considered to be both just and fair. The Ionian Revolt constituted the first major conflict between Greece and the Achaemenid Empire, and as such represents the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Asia Minor had been brought back into the Persian fold, but Darius had vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for their support for the revolt.[67] [The Athenian support was particularly troubling to Darius since he had come to their aid during their conflict with Sparta]. Moreover, seeing that the political situation in Greece posed a continued threat to the stability of his Empire, he decided to embark on the conquest of all Greece. However, the Persian forces were defeated at the Battle of Marathon. Darius would die before launching a formal invasion of Greece.

Xerxes I (485–465 BC, Old Persian Xšayārša "Hero Among Kings"), son of Darius I, vowed to complete the job. He organised a massive invasion aiming to conquer Greece. His army entered Greece from the north, meeting little or no resistance through Macedonia and Thessaly, but was delayed by a small Greek force for three days at Thermopylae. A simultaneous naval battle at Artemisium was tactically indecisive as large storms destroyed ships from both sides. The battle was stopped prematurely when the Greeks received news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. The battle was a strategic victory for the Persians, giving them uncontested control of Artemisium and Aegean Sea.

Following his victory at the Battle of Thermopylae, Xerxes sacked the evacuated city of Athens and prepared to meet the Greeks at the strategic Isthmus of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf. In 480 BCE the Greeks won a decisive victory at the Battle of Salamis and forced Xerxes to retire to Sardis. The army which he left in Greece under Mardonius retook Athens but was eventually destroyed in 479 BCE at the Battle of Plataea. The final defeat of the Persians at Mycale encouraged the Greek cities of Asia to revolt, and marked the end of Persian expansion into Europe.

The cultural phase

Achaemenid golden bowl with lion imagery.
Achaemenid gold vessels from the Oxus Treasure.
Ancient bracelet, Achaemenid period, 500 BC, Iran.

Xerxes I was followed by Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC), who moved the capital from Persepolis to Babylon. It was during this reign that Elamite ceased to be the language of government, and Aramaic gained in importance. It was probably during this reign that the solar calendar was introduced as the national calendar. Under Artaxerxes I, Zoroastrianism became the de-facto religion of state, and for this Artaxerxes I is today also known as the Constantine of that faith.

Artaxerxes I died in Susa, and his body was brought to Persepolis for internment in the tomb of his forebears. Artaxerxes I was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Xerxes II, who was however assassinated by one of his half-brothers a few weeks later. Darius II rallied support for himself and marched eastwards, executing the assassin and was crowned in his stead.

From 412 Darius II (423–404 BC), at the insistence of the able Tissaphernes, gave support first to Athens, then to Sparta, but in 407 BCE, Darius' son Cyrus the Younger was appointed to replace Tissaphernes and aid was given entirely to Sparta which finally defeated Athens in 404 BCE. In the same year, Darius fell ill and died in Babylon. At his deathbed, his Babylonian wife Parysatis pleaded with Darius to have her second eldest son Cyrus (the Younger) crowned, but Darius refused.

Darius was then succeeded by his eldest son Artaxerxes II Memnon. Plutarch relates (probably on the authority of Ctesias) that the displaced Tissaphernes came to the new king on his coronation day to warn him that his younger brother Cyrus (the Younger) was preparing to assassinate him during the ceremony. Artaxerxes had Cyrus arrested and would have had him executed if their mother Parysatis had not intervened. Cyrus was then sent back as Satrap of Lydia, where he prepared an armed rebellion. Cyrus and Artaxerxes met in the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BCE, where Cyrus was killed.

Artaxerxes II (404–358 BCE), was the longest reigning of the Achaemenid kings and it was during this 45-year period of relative peace and stability that many of the monuments of the era were constructed. Artaxerxes moved the capital back to Persepolis, which he greatly extended. Also the summer capital at Ecbatana was lavishly extended with gilded columns and roof tiles of silver and copper (Polybius, 10.27.12). The extraordinary innovation of the Zoroastrian shrine cults can also be dated to his reign, and it was probably during this period that Zoroastrianism was disseminated throughout Asia Minor and the Levant, and from there to Armenia. The temples, though serving a religious purpose, were however not a purely selfless act: they also served as an important source of income. From the Babylonian kings, the Achaemenids had taken over the concept of a mandatory temple tax, a one-tenth tithe which all inhabitants paid to the temple nearest to their land or other source of income (Dandamaev & Lukonin, 1989:361–362). A share of this income called the quppu ša šarri, "kings chest"—an ingenious institution originally introduced by Nabonidus—was then turned over to the ruler. In retrospect, Artaxerxes is generally regarded as an amiable man who lacked the moral fibre to be a really successful ruler. However, six centuries later Ardeshir I, founder of the second Persian Empire, would consider himself Artaxerxes' successor, a grand testimony to the importance of Artaxerxes to the Persian psyche.

Fall of the empire

Achaemenid Empire during the wars of Alexander.
The Battle of Issus, between Alexander the Great on horseback to the left, and Darius III in the chariot to the right, represented in a Pompeii mosaic dated first century BCE - National Museum of Archaeology in Naples.

According to Greek sources[citation needed], Artaxerxes' successor Artaxerxes III (358 BCE–338 BC) came to the throne by bloody means, ensuring his place upon the throne by the assassination of eight of his half-brothers. In 343 BC Artaxerxes III defeated Nectanebo II, driving him from Egypt, and made Egypt once again a Persian satrapy. In 338 BCE Artaxerxes III died under unclear circumstances (natural causes according to cuneiform sources but Diodorus, a Greek historian, reports that Artaxerxes was murdered by Bagoas, his minister).[14] while Philip of Macedon united the Greek states by force and began to plan an invasion into the empire.

Artaxerxes III was succeeded by Artaxerxes IV Arses, who before he could act was also poisoned by Bagoas. Bagoas is further said to have killed not only all Arses' children, but many of the other princes of the land. Bagoas then placed Darius III (336–330 BCE), a nephew of Artaxerxes IV, on the throne.

Darius III, previously Satrap of Armenia, personally forced Bagoas to swallow poison. In 334 BC, when Darius was just succeeding in subduing Egypt again, Alexander and his battle-hardened Macedonian troops invaded Asia Minor.

At two different times, the Achaemenids ruled Egypt although the Egyptians twice regained temporary independence from Persia. After the practice of Manetho, Egyptian historians refer to the periods in Egypt when the Achaemenid dynasty ruled as the twenty-seventh dynasty of Egypt, 525–404 BC, until the death of Darius II, and the thirty-first dynasty of Egypt, 343–332 BC, which began after Nectanebo II was defeated by the Persian king Artaxerxes III.

Alexander defeated the Persian armies at Granicus (334 BC), followed by Issus (332 BCE), and last at Gaugamela (331 BC).

Afterwards, he marched on Susa and Persepolis which surrendered in early 330 BCE. From Persepolis, Alexander headed north to Pasargadae where he treated the tomb of Cyrus II with respect. From there he headed to Ecbatana, where Darius III had sought refuge.

Darius III was taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men murder Darius and then declared himself Darius' successor, as Artaxerxes V, before retreating into Central Asia leaving Darius' body in the road to delay Alexander, who brought it to Persepolis for an honorable funeral.

The Achaemenid Empire was succeeded by the Seleucid Empire, ruled by the generals of Alexander and their descendants. They in turn would be succeeded by the Parthian Empire.

Istakhr, one of the vassal kingdoms of the Parthian Empire, would be overthrown by Papak, a priest of the temple there. Papak's son, Ardašir I, who named himself in remembrance of Artaxerxes II, revolted against the Parthians, defeated them and established the Sassanid Empire.


The Behistun Inscription tells the story of Darius the Great's conquests, with the names of twenty-three satrapys subject to him.
Behistun Inscription, column 1 (DB I 1–15).

The Achaemenids were absolutists[citation needed] who allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the a satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A satrap (governor) administered the region, a general supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a state secretary kept official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the central government.

Accomplishments of Darius' reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system upon which much of later Iranian law would be based, and construction of a new capital at Persepolis, where vassal states would offer their yearly tribute at the festival celebrating the spring equinox.

The practice of slavery in Achaemenid Persia was generally banned, although there is evidence that conquered and/or rebellious armies were sold into captivity.[15] Zoroastrianism, the de facto religion of the empire, explicitly forbids slavery,[16] and the kings of Achaemenid Persia, especially the founder Cyrus the Great, followed this ban to varying degrees, as evidenced by the freeing of the Jews at Babylon, and the construction of Persepolis by paid workers.

The twenty three satrapies were linked by a 2,500-kilometer highway, the most impressive stretch being the Royal Road from Susa to Sardis, built by command of Darius I. Relays of mounted couriers could reach the remotest of areas in fifteen days. Despite the relative local independence afforded by the satrapy system, royal inspectors, the "eyes and ears of the king", toured the empire and reported on local conditions. The king also maintained a personal bodyguard of 10,000 men, called the Immortals.

Darius revolutionized the economy[citation needed] by placing it on a silver and gold coinage system. Trade was extensive, and under the Achaemenids there was an efficient infrastructure that facilitated the exchange of commodities in the far reaches of the empire. Tariffs on trade were one of the empire's main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute.

The vexilloid of the Achaemenid Empire was a gold falcon on a field of crimson.[17][18]


The ruins of Persepolis.
Golden Rhyton excavated at Ecbatana; kept at National Museum of Iran.

Herodotus, in his mid-5th century BCE account[citation needed] of Persian residents of the Pontus, reports that Persian youths, from their fifth year to their twentieth year, were instructed in three things - to ride a horse, to draw a bow, and to speak the Truth.

He further notes[citation needed] that:

the most disgraceful thing in the world [the Perses] think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt: because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.

In Achaemenid Persia, the lie, druj, is considered to be a cardinal sin, and it was punishable by death in some extreme cases. Tablets discovered by archaeologists in the 1930s[19] at the site of Persepolis give us adequate evidence about the love and veneration for the culture of truth during the Achaemenian period. These tablets contain the names of ordinary Iranians, mainly traders and warehouse-keepers.[20] According to Professor Stanley Insler of Yale University, as many as 72 names of officials and petty clerks found on these tablets contain the word truth.[21] Thus, says Insler, we have Artapana, protector of truth, Artakama, lover of truth, Artamanah, truth-minded, Artafarnah, possessing splendour of truth, Artazusta, delighting in truth, Artastuna, pillar of truth, Artafrida, prospering the truth and Artahunara, having nobility of truth. It was Darius the Great, who laid down the ordinance of good regulations during his reign. King Darius' testimony about his constant battle against the lie is found in cuneiform inscriptions. Carved high up in the Behistun mountain on the road to Kermanshah, Darius testifies[citation needed]:

I was not a lie-follower, I was not a doer of wrong ... According to righteousness I conducted myself. Neither to the weak or to the powerful did I do wrong. The man who cooperated with my house, him I rewarded well; who so did injury, him I punished well.

Darius had his hands full dealing with large-scale rebellion which broke out throughout the empire. After fighting successfully with nine traitors in a year, Darius records his battles against them for posterity and tells us how it was the lie that made them rebel against the empire. At Behistun, Darius says:

I smote them and took prisoner nine kings. One was Gaumata by name, a Magian; he lied; thus he said: I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus...One, Acina by name, an Elamite; he lied; thus he said: I am king in Elam... One, Nidintu-Bel by name, a Babylonian; he lied; thus he said: I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus. King Darius then tells us, The Lie made them rebellious, so that these men deceived the people.[22]

Then an advice to his son Xerxes, who is to succeed him as the great king:

Thou who shalt be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from the Lie; the man who shall be a lie-follower, him do thou punish well, if thus thou shall think. May my country be secure!


The Persian queen Atossa, Darius the Great's wife and mother of Xerxes I.
Silver rhyta such as this were ubiquitous and used as a drinking vessels in Persia, underscoring the eclectic taste of the Achaemenids; the fanciful beast that forms its base is both mammal and bird.

During the reign of Cyrus and Darius, and as long as the seat of government was still at Susa in Elam, the language of the chancellory was Elamite. This is primarily attested in the Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets that reveal details of the day-to-day functioning of the empire.[20] In the grand rock-face inscriptions of the kings, the Elamite texts are always accompanied by Akkadian and Old Persian inscriptions, and it appears that in these cases, the Elamite texts are translations of the Old Persian ones. It is then likely that although Elamite was used by the capital government in Susa, it was not a standardized language of government everywhere in the empire. The use of Elamite is not attested after 458 BCE.

Following the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Aramaic language (as used in that territory) was adopted as a "vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic or Imperial Aramaic, can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenids in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did."[23] In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an "official language", noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language.[24] Frye reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the "lingua franca" of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought. Many centuries after the fall of the empire, Aramaic script and - as ideograms - Aramaic vocabulary would survive as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi writing system.[25]

Although Old Persian also appears on some seals and art objects, that language is attested primarily in the Achaemenid inscriptions of Western Iran, suggesting then that Old Persian was the common language of that region. However, by the reign of Artaxerxes II, the grammar and orthography of the inscriptions was so "far from perfect"[26] that it has been suggested that the scribes who composed those texts had already largely forgotten the language, and had to rely on older inscriptions, which they to a great extent reproduced verbatim.[27]


Herodotus mentions[citation needed] that the Persians were given to great birthday feasts, which would be followed by many desserts, a treat which they reproached the Greeks for omitting from their meals. He also observed that the Persians drank wine in large quantities and used it even for counsel, deliberating on important affairs when drunk, and deciding the next day, when sober, whether to act on the decision or set it aside.

On their methods of greeting, he asserts that equals kissed on the lips, persons of some difference in rank kissed on the cheek, and the lowest ranks would prostrate on the ground to the upper ranks. It is known that men of high rank practiced polygamy, and were reputed to have a number of wives and a greater number of concubines. On their same-sex relations, high ranked men kept favorites, such as Bagoas who was one of Darius III's favorites and who later became Alexander's eromenos. Persian pederasty and its origins were debated even in ancient times. Herodotus claimed they had learned it from the Greeks,[28] however, Plutarch asserts that the Persians used eunuch boys to that end long before contact between the cultures.[29]

Also from Herodotus we learn that the Persians had a very high regard for truth, teaching the respect of truth to their children and despising nothing so much as a lie. On the education of the children, we learn that from the age of five until twenty they were taught to ride, shoot the bow, and speak the truth. Until the age of five children spent all their time among the women and never met the father, so that, should they die in infancy, he would not sorrow over their loss. (Herodotus, The History, passim)


Bas-relief of Farvahar at Persepolis, Iran.
The image of a lioness used as a pendant, late sixth–fourth centuries BCE, from Susa - Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre.

It was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism reached South-Western Iran, where it came to be accepted by the rulers and through them became a defining element of Persian culture. The religion was not only accompanied by a formalization of the concepts and divinities of the traditional (Indo-)Iranian pantheon but also introduced several novel ideas, including that of free will.

Under the patronage of the Achaemenid kings, and by the fifth century BCE as the de-facto religion of the state, Zoroastrianism would reach all corners of the empire.

During the reign of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, Herodotus wrote "[the Perses] have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine." He claims the Persians offer sacrifice to: "the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times. At a later period they began the worship of Urania, which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, whom the Arabians call Alitta, and the Persians Anahita." (The original name here is Mithra, which has since been explained to be a confusion of Anahita with Mithra, understandable since they were commonly worshipped together in one temple).

From the Babylonian scholar-priest Berosus, who—although writing over seventy years after the reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon—records that the emperor had been the first to make cult statues of divinities and have them placed in temples in many of the major cities of the empire (Berosus, III.65). Berosus also substantiates Herodotus when he says the Persians knew of no images of gods until Artaxerxes II erected those images. On the means of sacrifice, Herodotus adds "they raise no altar, light no fire, pour no libations." This sentence has been interpreted to identify a critical (but later) accretion to Zoroastrianism. An altar with a wood-burning fire and the Yasna service at which libations are poured are all clearly identifiable with modern Zoroastrianism, but apparently, were practices that had not yet developed in the mid-fifth century. Boyce also assigns that development to the reign of Artaxerxes II (fourth century BCE), as an orthodox response to the innovation of the shrine cults.

Herodotus also observed that "no prayer or offering can be made without a magus present" but this should not be confused with what is today understood by the term magus, that is a magupat (modern Persian: mobed), a Zoroastrian priest. Nor does Herodotus' description of the term as one of the tribes or castes of the Medes necessarily imply that these magi were Medians. They simply were a hereditary priesthood to be found all over Western Iran and although (originally) not associated with any one specific religion, they were traditionally responsible for all ritual and religious services. Although the unequivocal identification of the magus with Zoroastrianism came later (Sassanid era, third–seventh century CE), it is from Herodotus' magus of the mid-fifth century that Zoroastrianism was subject to doctrinal modifications that are today considered to be revocations of the original teachings of the prophet. Also, many of the ritual practices described in the Avesta's Vendidad (such as exposure of the dead) were already practiced by the magu of Herodotus ' time.

Art and architecture

Winged sphinx from the palace of Darius the Great at Susa.
Lion on a decorative panel from Darius I the Great's palace.

Art, like religion, was a blend of many elements. Just as the Achaemenids were tolerant in matters of local government and custom, as long as Persians controlled the general policy and administration of the empire, so also were they tolerant in art so long as the finished and total effect was Persian. At Pasargadae (Pāsargad), the capital of Cyrus II and Cambyses II, and at Persepolis, the neighboring city founded by Darius the Great and used by all of his successors, one can trace to a foreign origin almost all of the several details in the construction and embellishment of the architecture and the sculptured reliefs; but the conception, planning, and overall finished product are distinctly Persian.

Moreover, when Cyrus chose to build Pasargadae, he had a long artistic tradition behind him that probably was distinctly Iranian already and that was in many ways the equal of any. The columned hall in architecture can now be seen as belonging to an architectural tradition on the Iranian Plateau that extended back through the Median period. The rich Achaemenid gold work, which inscriptions suggest may have been a specialty of the Medes, was in the tradition of the delicate metalwork found in Iron Age II times at Hasanlu and still earlier at Marlik.

This artistic style is particularly evident at Persepolis: with its carefully proportioned and well-organized ground plan, rich architectural ornament, and magnificent decorative reliefs, the palace there is one of the great artistic legacies of the ancient world. In its art and architecture, Persepolis celebrates the king and the office of the monarch and reflected Darius' perception of himself as the leader of a conglomerate people to whom he had given a new and single identity. The Achaemenids took the art forms and the cultural and religious traditions of many of the ancient Middle Eastern peoples and combined them into a single form.

In describing the construction of his palace at Susa, Darius records that "The cedar timber from there (a mountain by name Lebanon) was brought, the yaka timber was brought from Gandara and from Carmania. The gold was brought from Sardis and from Bactria . . . the precious stone lapis-lazuli and carnelian . . . was brought from Sogdiana. The turquoise from Chorasmia, the silver and ebony from Egypt, the ornamentation from Ionia, the ivory from Ethiopia and from Sindh (Pakistan) and from Arachosia. The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Ionians and Sardians. The goldsmiths were Medes and Egyptians. The men who wrought the wood, those were Sardians and Egyptians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians. The men who adorned the wall, those were Medes and Egyptians."

This was an imperial art on a scale the world had not seen before. Materials and artists were drawn from all corners of the empire, and thus tastes, styles, and motifs became mixed together in an eclectic art and architecture that in itself mirrored the empire and the Persian understanding of how that empire ought to function.

Achaemenid kings and rulers


The epigraphic evidence for these rulers cannot be confirmed and are often considered to have been invented by Darius I




  1. ^ Vasseghi, Sheda, "The other Iran story: Re-engineering the nation's cultural DNA", Breaking... World Tribune News, (12 October 2009).
  2. ^ Stewart, Basil, "Restoration of Palestine", (In reference to the Achaemenid Empire), p. 3 (2003).
  3. ^ a b Schmitt Achaemenid dynasty (i. The clan and dynasty)
  4. ^ Schlerath p. 36, no. 9. See also Iranica in the Achaemenid Period p. 17.
  5. ^ Stronach, David "Anshan and Parsa: Early Achaemenid History, Art and Architecture on the Iranian Plateau". In: John Curtis, ed., Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 539–331, 35–53. London: British Museum Press 1997. (see pages: 37, 38, 39, 49, 50)
  6. ^ e. g. Cyrus Cylinder Fragment A. ¶ 21.
  7. ^ [1], Josef Wiesehöfer
  8. ^ A. Sh. Shahbazi, Ariaramnes. See also R. Schmitt, Schmitt Achaemenid dynasty (i. The clan and dynasty)
  9. ^ P. Briant
  10. ^ Ranajit Pal, "Non-Jonesian Indology and Alexander", New Delhi, 2002.
  11. ^ Herodotus. The Histories Book 3.80-83. 
  12. ^ While estimates for the Achaemenid Empire range from 10-80+ million, most prefer 50 million. Prevas (2009, p. 14) estimates 10 million 1. Langer (2001, p. 40) estimates around 16 million 2. McEvedy and Jones (2001, p. 50) estimates 17 million 3. Strauss (2004, p. 37) estimates about 20 million 4. Ward (2009, p. 16) estimates at 20 million 5. Aperghis (2007, p. 311) estimates 32 million 6. Scheidel (2009, p. 99) estimates 35 million 7. Zeinert (1996, p. 32) estimates 40 million 8. Rawlinson and Schauffler (1898, p. 270) estimates possibly 50 million 9. Astor (1899, p. 56) estimates almost 50 million 10. Lissner (1961, p. 111) estimates probably 50 million 11. Milns (1968, p. 51) estimates some 50 million 12. Hershlag (1980, p. 140) estimates nearly 50 million 13. Yarshater (1996, p. 47) estimates by 50 million 14. Daniel (2001, p. 41) estimates at 50 million 15. Meyer and Andreades (2004, p. 58) estimates to 50 million 16. Pollack (2004, p. 7) estimates about 50 million 17. Jones (2004, p. 8) estimates over 50 million 18. Safire (2007, p. 627) estimates in 50 million 19. Dougherty (2009, p. 6) estimates about 70 million 20. Richard (2008, p. 34) estimates nearly 70 million 21. Mitchell (2004, p. 16) estimates over 70 million 22. Hanson (2001, p. 32) estimates almost 75 million 23. West (1913, p. 85) estimates about 75 million 24. Zenos (1889, p. 2) estimates exactly 75 million 25. Cowley (1999 and 2001, p. 17) estimates possibly 80 million 26. Cook (1904, p. 277) estimates exactly 80 million 27.
  13. ^ Historical Estimates of World Population U.S. Census Bureau.
  14. ^ Chr. Walker, "Achaemenid Chronology and the Babylonian Sources," in: John Curtis (ed.), Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism, 539-331 BC (London 1997), page 22.
  15. ^ M. Dandamayev, “Foreign Slaves on the Estates of the Achaemenid Kings and their Nobles,” in Trudy dvadtsat' pyatogo mezhdunarodnogo kongressa vostokovedov II, Moscow, 1963, pp. 151-52
  16. ^ "Volume 2". 
  17. ^ "Vexilloid of". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. 
  18. ^ "Flags". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. 
  19. ^ Garrison, Mark B. and Root, Margaret C. (2001). Seals on the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Volume 1. Images of Heroic Encounter (OIP 117). Chicago: Online Oriental Institute Publications. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  20. ^ a b Dandamayev, Muhammad (2003). "Persepolis Elamite Tablets". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  21. ^ Insler, Stanley (1975). "The Love of Truth in Ancient Iran". Retrieved 2007-01-09.  In Insler, Stanley; Duchesne-Guillemin, J. (ed.) (1975). The Gāthās of Zarathustra (Acta Iranica 8). Liege: Brill. .
  22. ^ "Darius, Behishtan (DB), Column 1".  From Kent, Roland G. (1953). Old Persian: Grammar, texts, lexicon. New Haven: American Oriental Society. 
  23. ^ Shaked, Saul (1987). "Aramaic". Encyclopedia Iranica. 2. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 250–261.  p. 251
  24. ^ Frye, Richard N. (1955). "Review of G. R. Driver's "Aramaic Documents of the Fifth Century B. C."". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 18 (3/4): 456–461. doi:10.2307/2718444.  p. 457.
  25. ^ Geiger, Wilhelm & Ernst Kuhn (2002). Grundriss der iranischen Philologie: Band I. Abteilung 1. Boston: Adamant.  pp. 249ff.
  26. ^ Ware, James R. and Kent, Roland G. (1924). "The Old Persian Cuniform Inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 55: 52–61. doi:10.2307/283007.  p. 53
  27. ^ Gershevitch, Ilya (1964). "Zoroaster's own contribution". Journal of Near Eastern Studies 23 (1): 12–38. doi:10.1086/371754.  p. 20.
  28. ^ Herodotus. Histories. "[...]moreover they adopt all kinds of luxuries when they hear of them, and in particular they have learnt from the Hellenes to have commerce with boys[...]"
  29. ^ Plutarch. On the Malice of Herodotus. "The same Herodotus says that the Persians learned the defiling of the male sex from the Greeks. And yet how could the Greeks have taught this impurity to the Persians, amongst whom, as is confessed by many, boys had been castrated before ever they arrived in the Grecian seas?"

See also

Ancient history

Ancient Near East

Sumer · Elam · Akkad · Babylonia · Hittite Empire · Syro-Hittite states · Neo-Assyrian Empire · Urartu

Ancient Africa

Egypt · Nubia · Land of Punt · Axum · Nok · Carthage · Ancient Ghana

Classical Antiquity

Archaic Greece · Median Empire . Classical Greece · Achaemenid Empire · Seleucid Empire · Dacia · Thrace · Scythia · Macedon · Roman Republic · Roman Empire · Parthia . Parthian Empire · Sassanid Empire · Late Antiquity

East Asia

Hồng Bàng Dynasty · Gojoseon · Shang China · Qin Dynasty · Han Dynasty · Jin Dynasty

South Asia

Vedic India · Maha Janapadas · Mauryan India · Chola India · Satavahana India · Gupta India

Pre-Columbian Americas

Paleo-Indians, Incas · Aztecs · Wari · Tiahuanaco · Moche · Teotihuacan · Chavín · Mayas · Norte Chico · Olmecs · Poverty Point · Hopewell · Mississippians
see also: World history · Ancient maritime history · Protohistory · Axial Age · Iron Age · Historiography · Ancient literature · Ancient warfare · Cradle of civilization
Middle Ages


Modern Sources

Further reading

  • Wiesehöfer, Josef; Azizeh Azodi (translator) (2001). Ancient Persia. London, New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1860646751.  There have been a number of editions since 1996.
  • Curtis, John E.; Nigel Tallis (editors) (2005). Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0520247310.  A collection of articles by different authors.
  • From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Pierre Briant, Eisenbrauns: 2002, ISBN 978-1-57506-0316
  • The Greco-Persian Wars, Peter Green
  • The Greek and Persian Wars 499–386 BCE, Philip De Souza
  • The Heritage of Persia, Richard N. Frye
  • History of the Persian Empire, A.T. Olmstead
  • The Persian Empire, Lindsay Allen
  • The Persian Empire, J.M. Cook
  • Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, Tom Holland
  • Pictorial History of Iran: Ancient Persia Before Islam 15000 B.C.–625 A.D., Amini Sam
  • Timelife Persians: Masters of the Empire (Lost Civilizations)
  • Dandamaev, M.A. A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1989 (ISBN 90-04-09172-6).
  • Hallock, R., Persepolis Fortification Tablets

External links

Faravahar background
History of Greater Iran
Kings of Persia

The Persian Empire was a series of successive Iranian or Iraniate empires that ruled over the Iranian plateau, the original Persian homeland, and beyond in Western Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.[1] The first Persian Empire formed under the Median Empire (728–559 BC) after defeating and ending the Assyrian Empire with the help of Babylonians.

The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 BC) was the largest empire of the ancient world and it reached its greatest extent under Darius the Great and Xerxes the Great — famous in antiquity as the foe of the classical Greek states (See Greco-Persian Wars). It was a united Persian kingdom that originated in the region now known as Pars province (Fars province) of Iran.

It was formed under Cyrus the Great, who took over the empire of the Medes, and conquered much of the Middle East, including the territories of the Babylonians, Assyrians, the Phoenicians, and the Lydians. Cambyses, Son of Cyrus the Great, continued his conquests by conquering Egypt. The Achaemenid Persian Empire was ended during the Wars of Alexander the Great, but Persian Empire arose again under the Parthian and Sassanid Empires of Iran, followed by Iranian post-Islamic Empires like Tahirids, Saffarids, Buyids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Seljuks, Khwarezmshahids and Safavids, up to the modern day Iran.

Most of the successive states in Greater Iran prior to March 1935 are collectively called the Persian Empire by Western historians.

Virtually all the successor empires of Persia were major regional and some major international powers in their day.



Median Empire (728 BC-559 BC)

Median Empire

728 BC–559 BC
Capital Ecbatana
Religion Zoroastrianism, possibly also Proto-Indo-Iranian religion
Government Not specified
Historical era Classical Antiquity
 - Deioces 728 BC
 -  Cyrus the Great 559 BC

The Medes are credited with the foundation of the first Iranian empire, the largest of its day until Cyrus the Great established a unified Iranian empire of the Medes and Persians, often referred to as the Achaemenid Persian Empire, by defeating his grandfather and overlord, Astyages the shah of Media. The Median capital was Ecbatana, the modern day Iranian city of Hamedan. Ectbatana was preserved as one of the capital cities of the Achaemenid Empire, which succeeded the Median Empire.

File:Persepolis Apadana noerdliche Treppe
Iranian Median (left) and Persian (right) soldiers, Carvings of Persepolis.

According to Herodotus, the conquests of Cyaxares the Mede were preceded by a Scythian invasion and domination lasting twenty-eight years (under Madius the Scythian, 653-625 BC). The Mede tribes seem to have come into immediate conflict with a settled state to the West known as Mannae, allied with Assyria. Assyrian inscriptions state that the early Mede rulers, who had attempted rebellions against the Assyrians in the time of Esarhaddon and Assur-bani-pal, were allied with chieftains of the Ashguza (Scythians) and other tribes - who had come from the northern shore of the Black Sea and invaded Armenia and Asia Minor; and Jeremiah and Zephaniah in the Old Testament agree with Herodotus that a massive invasion of Syria and Philistia by northern barbarians took place in 626 BC. The state of Mannae was finally conquered and assimilated by the Medes in the year 616 BC.

In 612 BC, Cyaxares conquered Urartu, and with the alliance of Nabopolassar the Chaldean, succeeded in destroying the Assyrian capital, Nineveh; and by 606 BC, the remaining vestiges of Assyrian control. From then on, the Mede king ruled over much of Iran, Assyria and northern Mesopotamia, Armenia and Cappadocia. His power was very dangerous to his neighbors, and the exiled Jews expected the destruction of Babylonia by the Medes (Isaiah 13, 14m 21; Jerem. 1, 51.).

When Cyaxares attacked Lydia, the kings of Cilicia and Babylon intervened and negotiated a peace in 585 BC, whereby the Halys was established as the Medes' frontier with Lydia. Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon married a daughter of Cyaxares, and an equilibrium of the great powers was maintained until the rise of the Persians under Cyrus.

Median Kings were:

Modern research by a professor of Assyriology, Robert Rollinger, has questioned the Median empire and its sphere of influence, proposing for example that it did not control the Assyrian heartland.[5]

The Achaemenid Empire (550 BC–330 BC)

File:Map achaemenid empire
Achaemenid empire at its greatest extent.

[[File:|thumb|right|200px|Persepolis, ceremonial capital of Achaemenid Persian Empire.]]

Bas-relief in Persepolis - a symbol Zoroastrian Nowruz - in day of a spring equinox power of eternally fighting bull (personifying the Earth), and a lion (personifying the Sun), are equal
The Cyrus Cylinder, deposited by Cyrus the Great in the foundations of Babylon

. Silicious glazed bricks, c. 510 BC.]] The earliest known record of the Persians comes from an Assyrian inscription from c. 844 BC that calls them the Parsu (Parsuaš, Parsumaš)[6] and mentions them in the region of Lake Urmia alongside another group, the Mādāyu (Medes).[7] For the next two centuries, the Persians and Medes were at times tributary to the Assyrians. The region of Parsuash was annexed by Sargon of Assyria around 719 BC. Eventually the Medes came to rule an independent Median Empire, and the Persians were subject to them.

The Achaemenids were the first to create a centralized state in Persia, founded by Achaemenes (Haxamaniš), chieftain of the Persians around 700 BC.

Around 653 BC, the Medes came under the domination of the Scythians, and Teispes (Cišpiš), the son of Achaemenes, seems to have led the nomadic Persians to settle in southern Iran around this time — eventually establishing the first organized Persian state in the important region of Anšan as the Elamite kingdom was permanently destroyed by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal (640 BC). The kingdom of Anšan and its successors continued to use Elamite as an official language for quite some time after this, although the new dynasts spoke Persian, an Indo-Iranian tongue.

Teispes' descendants may have branched off into two lines, one line ruling in Anshan, while the other ruled the rest of Persia. Cyrus II the Great (Kuruš) united the separate kingdoms around 559 BC. At this time, the Persians were still tributary to the Median Empire ruled by Astyages. Cyrus rallied the Persians together, and in 550 BC defeated the forces of Astyages, who was then captured by his own nobles and turned over to the triumphant Cyrus, now Shah of a unified Persian kingdom. As Persia assumed control over the rest of Media and their large empire, Cyrus led the united Medes and Persians to still more conquest. He took Lydia in Asia Minor, and carried his arms eastward into central Asia. Finally in 539 BC, Cyrus marched triumphantly into the ancient city of Babylon. After this victory, he issued the declaration recorded in the Cyrus cylinder, which portrayed him as a benevolent conqueror welcomed by the local inhabitants and their gods.[8] Cyrus was killed in 530 BC during a battle against the Massagetae or Sakas.

File:Sphinx Darius
Winged sphinx from the palace of Darius the Great at Susa.

Cyrus's son, Cambyses II (Kambūjiya), annexed Egypt to the Achaemenid Empire. The empire then reached its greatest extent under Darius I (Dāryavuš). He led conquering armies into the Indus River valley and into Thrace in Europe. A punitive raid against Greece was halted at the Battle of Marathon. A larger invasion by his son, Xerxes I (Xšayārša), would have initial success at the Battle of Thermopylae. Following the destruction of his navy at the Battle of Salamis, Xerxes would withdraw most of his forces from Greece. The remnant of his army in Greece commanded by General Mardonius was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

Darius improved the famous Royal Road and other ancient trade routes, thereby connecting far reaches of the empire. He may have moved the administration center from Fars itself to Susa, near Babylon and closer to the center of the realm. The Persians allowed local cultures to survive, following the precedent set by Cyrus the Great. This was not only good for the empire's subjects, but ultimately benefited the Achaemenids, because the conquered peoples felt no need to revolt.

It may have been during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism reached South-Western Iran, where it came to be accepted by the rulers and through them became a defining element of Persian culture. The religion was not only accompanied by a formalization of the concepts and divinities of the traditional (Indo-)Iranian pantheon, but also introduced several novel ideas, including that of free will, which is arguably Zoroaster's greatest contribution to religious philosophy. Under the patronage of the Achaemenid kings, and later as the de-facto religion of the state, Zoroastrianism would reach all corners of the empire. In turn, Zoroastrianism would be subject to the first syncretic influences, in particular from the Semitic lands to the west, from which the divinities of the religion would gain astral and planetary aspects and from where the temple cult originates. It was also during the Achaemenid era that the sacerdotal Magi would exert their influence on the religion, introducing many of the practices that are today identified as typically Zoroastrian, but also introducing doctrinal modifications that are today considered to be revocations of the original teachings of the prophet.

The Achaemenid Empire united people and kingdoms from every major civilization in south West Asia and North East Africa. It was overthrown during the Wars of Alexander the Great.

The Seleucid Empire (312 BC–63 BC)

The Seleucid Empire in 200BC, (before Antiochus was defeated by the Romans).

The Seleucid Empire /sə'lusɪd/ (312 - 63 BC) was a Hellenistic empire, i.e. a successor state of Alexander the Great's empire. The Seleucid Empire was centered in the near East and at the height of its power included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan. It was a major centre of Hellenistic culture which maintained the preeminence of Greek customs and where a Greek-speaking Macedonian elite dominated, mostly in the urban areas. [9]

Alexander had conquered the Achaemenid Empire within a short time-frame and died young, leaving an expansive empire of partly Hellenised culture without an adult heir. The empire was put under the authority of a regent in the person of Perdiccas in 323 BC, and the territories were divided between Alexander's generals, who thereby became satraps, at the Partition of Babylon in 323 BC.

Alexander's generals (the Diadochi) jostled for supremacy over parts of his empire, and Ptolemy, one of his generals and satrap of Egypt, was the first to challenge the new rule, leading to the demise of Perdiccas. His revolt led to a new partition of the empire with the Partition of Triparadisus in 320 BC. Seleucus, who had been "Commander-in-Chief of the camp" under Perdiccas since 323 BC but helped to assassinate the latter, received Babylonia, and from that point continued to expand his dominions ruthlessly. Seleucus established himself in Babylon in 312 BC, used as the foundation date of the Seleucid Empire.

The Parthian Empire (250 BC–AD 226)

[[File:|200px|right|thumb|The Parthian Empire.]]

The Parthian Empire or Arsacid Empire (Persian: اشکانیان),is the name used for the third imperial Iranian dynasty (250 BCE - 226 CE).The Parthian dynasty was founded by Arsaces I(Persian: اشک Ashk) and ended when the last parthian Shahanshah (King of Kings), Artabanus IV defeated by Ardashir I who later founded The Sassanid Empire.

Its rulers, the Arsacid dynasty, belonged to an Iranian tribe that had settled there during the time of Alexander. They declared their independence from the Seleucids in 238 BC, but their attempts to unify Iran were thwarted until after the advent of Mithridates I to the Parthian throne in about 170 BC.

[[File:|150px|thumb|Metallic statue of a Parthian prince (thought to be Surena), AD 100, kept at The National Museum of Iran, Tehran.]]

The Parthian Confederacy shared a border with Rome along the upper Euphrates River. The two polities became major rivals, especially over control of Armenia. Heavily-armoured Parthian cavalry (cataphracts) supported by mounted archers proved a match for Roman legions, as in the Battle of Carrhae in which the Parthian General Surena defeated Marcus Licinius Crassus of Rome. Wars were very frequent, with Mesopotamia serving as the battleground.

During the Parthian period, Hellenistic customs partially gave way to a resurgence of Iranian culture. However, the area lacked political unity, and the vassalary structure that the Arsacids had adopted from the Seleucids left the Parthians in a constant state of war with one seceding vassal or the other. By the 1st century BC, Parthia was decentralized, ruled by feudal nobles. Wars with Romans to the west and the Kushan Empire to the northeast drained the country's resources.

Parthia, now impoverished and without any hope of recovering its lost territories, was demoralized. The kings had to give more concessions to the nobility, and the vassal kings sometimes refused to obey. Parthia's last ruler Artabanus IV had an initial success in putting together the crumbling state. However, the fate of the Arsacid Dynasty was doomed when in AD 224, the Persian vassal king Ardashir revolted. Two years later, he took Ctesiphon, and this time, it meant the end of Parthia. It also meant the beginning of the second Persian Empire, ruled by the Sassanid kings. Sassanids were from the province of Persis, native to the first Persian Empire, the Achaemenids.

The Sassanid Empire (226–651)

[[File:|200px|thumb|The Sassanid Persian Empire at its greatest extent under Emperor Khosrau II.]]

Persia and its neighbors in AD 600.

The Sassanid Empire or Sassanian Dynasty (Persian: ساسانیان) is the name used for the fourth imperial Iranian dynasty, and the second Persian Empire (226–651). The Sassanid dynasty was founded by Ardashir I (Persian: اردشیر یکم) after defeating the last Parthian (Arsacid) king, Artabanus V (Persian: اردوان پنجم Ardavan) and ended when the last Sassanid Shahanshah (King of Kings), Yazdegerd III (632–651), lost a 14-year struggle to drive out the early Islamic Caliphate, the first of the Islamic empires.

Ardashir I led a rebellion against the Parthian Confederacy in an attempt to revive the glory of the previous empire and to legitimize the Hellenized form of Zoroastrianism practised in southwestern Iran. In two years he was the Shah of a new Persian Empire.

The Sassanid dynasty (also Sassanian, named for Ardashir's grandfather) was the first dynasty native to the Pars province since the Achaemenids; thus they saw themselves as the successors of Darius and Cyrus. They pursued an aggressive expansionist policy. They recovered much of the eastern lands that the Kushans had taken in the Parthian period. The Sassanids continued to make war against Rome; a Persian army even captured the Roman Emperor Valerian in 260.

The Sassanid Empire, unlike Parthia, was a highly centralized state. The people were rigidly organized into a caste system: Priests, Soldiers, Scribes, and Commoners. Zoroastrianism was finally made the official state religion, and spread outside Persia proper and out into the provinces. There was sporadic persecution of other religions. The Eastern Orthodox Church was particularly persecuted, but this was in part due to its ties to the Roman Empire. The Nestorian Christian church was tolerated and sometimes even favored by the Sassanids.

File:Bas relief nagsh-e-rostam
Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam of Iranian emperor Shapur I (on horseback) capturing Roman emperor Valerian (kneeing) and Philip the Arab (standing)

The wars and religious control that had fueled the Sassanid Empire's early successes eventually contributed to its decline. The eastern regions were conquered by the White Huns in the late 5th century. Adherents of a radical religious sect, the Mazdakites, revolted around the same time. Khosrau I was able to recover his empire and expand into the Christian countries of Antioch and Yemen. Between 605 and 629, Sassanids successfully annexed Levant and Roman Egypt and pushed into Anatolia.

However, a subsequent war with the Romans utterly destroyed the empire. In the course of the protracted conflict, Sassinid armies reached Constantinople, but could not defeat the Byzantines there. Meanwhile, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius had successfully outflanked the Persian armies in Asia Minor and attacked the empire from the rear while the main Iranian army along with its top Eran Spahbods were far from battlefields. This resulted in a crushing defeat for the Sassanids in Northern Mesopotamia. The Sassanids had to give up all their conquered lands and retreat.

Following the advent of Islam and collapse of the Sassanid Empire, Persians came under the subjection of Arab rulers for almost two centuries before native Persian dynasties could gradually drive them out. In this period a number of small and numerically inferior Arab tribes migrated to inland Iran.[10]

Also some Turkic tribes settled in Persia between the 9th and 12th centuries.[11]

In time these peoples were integrated into numerous Persian populations and adopted Persian culture and language while Persians retained their culture with minimal influence from outside.[12]

Conquest of Persia by Muslims

[[File:|200px|thumb|Stages of Islamic conquest      Expansion under the Prophet Mohammad, 622-632      Expansion during the Patriarchal Caliphate, 632-661      Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750]] The explosive growth of the Arab Caliphate coincided with the chaos caused by the defeat of Sassanids in wars with the Byzantine Empire. Most of the country was conquered between 643 and 650 with the Battle of Nihawand marking the total collapse of the Sassanids.[13] Arabs defeated Persians and other Iranians and introduced their religion.

Yazdgerd III, the last Sassanid emperor, died ten years after he lost his empire to the newly-formed Muslim Caliphate. He tried to recover some of what he lost with the help of the Turks, but they were easily defeated by Muslim armies. Then he sought the aid of the Chinese Tang dynasty. However, the Chinese never intervened on behalf of the Sassanids and instead, appointed Peroz, son of Yazdgerd as the governor over his own territory which the Tang named the "protectorate of Persia". This territory was overrun by the Arabs around the early 660s and Peroz escaped to the Tang court. The Umayyads would rule Persia for a hundred years. The Arab conquest dramatically changed life in Persia. Arabic became the new lingua franca, Islam eventually replaced Zoroastrianism, and mosques were built.

In 750 the Umayyads were ousted from power by the Abbasid dynasty. By that time, Persians had come to play an important role in the bureaucracy of the empire.[14] The caliph Al-Ma'mun, whose mother was Persian, moved his capital away from Arab lands into Merv in eastern Iran.

Tahirid Persian Empire(821–873)

The Tahirid Persian empire (821-873) is considered to be the first independent Iranian empire from the Abbasid caliphate, established in Khorasan. The dynasty was founded by Tahir ibn Husayn and their capital was Nishapur. They ruled over the northeastern part of Iran (Persia), in the region of Khorasan (parts that are presently in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). Tahir's military victories were rewarded with the gift of lands in the east of Persia, which were subsequently extended by his successors as far as the borders of India. They were overthrown by the Saffarids.

Saffarid Persian Empire

Saffarid Persian Empire

Ya'qub, the founder of Saffarid dynasty, seized control of the Seystan region, conquering all of modern-day eastern Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Using their capital (Zaranj) as base for an aggressive expansion eastwards and westwards, they overthrew the Tahirid Persian dynasty and annexed Khorasan in 873. By the time of Yaqub's death, he had conquered Kabul Valley, Sind, Tocharistan, Makran (Baluchistan), Kerman, Fars, Khorasan, and nearly reached Baghdad but then suffered defeat.[15]

Samanid Persian Empire

Persia in AD 900 AD, divided between the Samanids, Saffarids, and Abbasids.

In 819, Samanids carved out a semi-independent state in eastern Persia to be among the first native Iranian rulers after the Arabic conquest. Despite having roots in Zoroastrianism theocratic nobility, they embraced Islam and propagated the religion deep into the heart of Central Asia. They made Samarqand, Bukhara and Herat their capitals and revived the Persian language and culture. The Samanid rulers displayed tolerance toward religious minorities as Zoroastrian clerics compiled and authored major religious texts, such as the Denkard, in Pahlavi. It was approximately during this age, when the poet Firdawsi finished the Shahnameh, an epic poem retelling the history of the Iranian kings. This epic was completed by AD 1009.

Buwayhid Persian Empire

In 913, western Persia was conquered by the Buwayhid, a Deylamite Persian tribal confederation from the shores of the Caspian Sea. Buyids were a Shī‘ah Iranian[16][17] dynasty which founded a confederation that controlled most of modern-day Iran and Iraq in the 10th and 11th centuries.

They made the city of Shiraz (In the Pars Province of Iran) their capital. The Buwayhids destroyed Islam's former territorial unity. Rather than a province of a united Muslim empire, Iran became one nation in an increasingly diverse and cultured Islamic world.

Turco-Persian rule (1037–1219)

Ghaznavid Empire(963–1187)

Ghaznavid Empire at its greatest extent.
Ghaznavid era art: Free-blown, wheel-cut carafes. First half of 11th century.

The Ghaznavids (Persian: غزنویان) were an Islamic and Persianate Empire of Turko-Persian mamluk[18] origin which existed from 975 to 1187 and ruled much of Persia, Transoxania, and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent.[19][20][21] The Ghaznavid state was centered in Ghazni, a city in present Afghanistan. Due to the political and cultural influence of their predecessors - that of the Persian Samanid Empire - the originally Turkic Ghaznavids became thoroughly Persianized.[19][21][22][23][24][25][26]

The dynasty was founded by Sebuktigin upon his succession to rule of territories centered around the city of Ghazni from his father-in-law, Alp Tigin, a break-away ex-general of the Samanid sultans.[27] Sebuktigin's son, Shah Mahmoud, expanded the empire in the region that stretched from the Oxus river to the Indus Valley and the Indian Ocean; and in the west it reached Rayy and Hamadan. Under the reign of Mas'ud I it experienced major territorial losses. It lost its western territories to the Seljuqs in the Battle of Dandanaqan resulting in a restriction of its holdings to Afghanistan, Balochistan and the Punjab. In 1151, Sultan Bahram Shah lost Ghazni to Ala'uddin Hussain of Ghor and the capital was moved to Lahore until its subsequent capture by the Persian Ghurids in 1186.

Although the Ghaznavids were of Turkic origin and their military leaders were generally of the same stock, as a result of the original involvement of Sebuktigin and Mahmud in Samanid affairs and in the Samanid cultural environment, the dynasty became thoroughly Persianized, so that in practice one cannot consider their rule over Iran one of foreign domination. In terms of cultural championship and the support of Persian poets, they were far more Persian than the ethnically Iranian Buyids rivals, whose support of Arabic letters in preference to Persian is well known.[28]

In fact with the adoption of Persian administrative and cultural ways the Ghaznavids threw off their original Turkish steppe background and became largely integrated with the Perso-Islamic tradition.[29]

Seljuk Empire

The Seljuks created a very large Middle Eastern empire. The Seljuks built the Friday Mosque in the city of Isfahan. The famous Persian mathematician and poet, Omar Khayyám, wrote his Rubaiyat during Seljuk times.

In the early 13th century the Seljuks lost control of Persia to another group of Turks from Khwarezmia, near the Aral Sea. The Shahs of the Khwarezmid Empire later ruled.

Mongols and their successors (1219–1500)

Mosques with Persian names and designs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India illustrate just how far east Persian culture extended due to their conquests. The actual architectural domed design of Mosques were borrowed from the Sassanid era, which then spilled into the Muslim world.

In 1218, Genghis Khan sent ambassadors and merchants to the city of Otrar, on the northeastern confines of the Khwarizm shahdom. The governor of Otrar had these envoys executed. Genghis attacked Otrar, Samarkand and other cities of the northeast in 1219.

Genghis' grandson, Hulagu Khan, finished the invasions that Genghis had begun when he defeated the Khwarzim Empire, Baghdad, and much of the rest of the Middle East from 1255 to 1258. Persia temporarily became the Ilkhanate, a division of the vast Mongol Empire.

In 1295, after Ilkhan Mahmud Ghazan converted to Islam, he forced Mongols in Persia to convert to Islam. The Ilkhans patronized the arts and learning in the great tradition of Iranian Islam; indeed, they helped to repair much of the damage of the Mongol conquests.

In 1335, the death of Abu Sa'id, the last well-recognized Ilkhan, spelled the end of the Ilkhanate. Though Arpa Ke'un was declared Ilkhan his authority was disputed and the Ilkhanate was splintered into a number of small states. This left Persia vulnerable to conquest at the hands of Timur the Lame or Tamerlane, a Central Asian conqueror seeking to revive the Mongol Empire. He ordered the attack of Persia beginning around 1370 and robbed the region until his death in 1405. Timur is known for his brutality; in Isfahan, for instance, he was responsible for the murder of 70,000 people so that he could build towers with their skulls[citation needed]. He conquered a wide area and made his own city of Samarkand rich, but he failed to forge a lasting empire. The Persian Empire was essentially in ruins.

For the next hundred years Persia was not a unified state. It was ruled for a while by descendants of Timur, called the Timurid emirs. Toward the end of the 15th century, Persia was taken over by the Emirate of the White Sheep Turkmen (Ak Koyunlu). But there was little unity and none of the sophistication that had defined Iran during the glory days of Islam.

Safavid Persian Empire (1500–1722)

File:Esfahan Shah
Naghsh-i Jahan Square is one of the many monuments built during the Safavid era.
File:Ali Qapu
Persian art and architecture reached an apex during the reign of the Safavid dynasty.

The Safavid Dynasty hailed from the town of Ardabil in the region of Azarbaijan. The Safavid Shah Ismail I overthrew the White Sheep (Akkoyunlu) Turkish rulers of Persia to found a new native Persian empire. Ismail expanded Persia to include all of present-day Azerbaijan, Iran, and Iraq, plus much of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ismail's expansion was halted by the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, and war with the Ottomans became a fact of life in Safavid Iran.

Safavid Persia was a violent and chaotic state for the next seventy years, but in 1588 Shah Abbas I of Persia ascended to the throne and instituted a cultural and political renaissance. He moved his capital to Isfahan, which quickly became one of the most important cultural centers in the Islamic world. He made peace with the Ottomans. He reformed the army, drove the Uzbeks out of Iran and into modern-day Uzbekistan, and (with English help) recaptured the island of Hormuz from the Portuguese. Abdur Razzaq was the Persian ambassador to Calicut, India, and wrote vividly of his experiences there.[30]

The Safavids were followers of Shi'a Islam, and under them Persia (Iran) became the largest Shi'a country in the Muslim world, a position Iran still holds today.

Under the Safavids Persia enjoyed its last period as a major imperial power. In 1639, a final border was agreed upon with the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin; which delineates the border between the Republic of Turkey and Iran and also that of between Iraq and Iran, today.

Persia and Europe (1722–1914)

[[File:|thumb|right|200px|An 18th century Persian astrolabe. Throughout the Middle Ages, the natural philosophy and mathematics of ancient Greeks were furthered and preserved within the Muslim world. During this period, Persia became a centre for the manufacture of scientific instruments, retaining its reputation for quality well into the 19th century.]]

In 1722, the Safavid state collapsed. That year saw the first European invasion of Persia since the time of Heraclius: Peter the Great, Emperor of Imperial Russia, invaded from the northwest as part of a bid to dominate central Asia. Ottoman forces accompanied the Russians, successfully laying siege to Isfahan.

The Russians conquered the city of Baku and its surroundings. The Turks also gained territory. However, the Safavids were severely weakened, and that same year (1722), the Afghans launched a bloody battle in response to the Safavids' attempts on trying to forcefully convert them from Sunni to Shi'a sect of Islam. The last Safavid shah was executed, and the dynasty came to an end.

The Persian empire experienced a temporary revival under Nader Shah in the 1730s and 1740s. Nadir checked the advances of the Russians and defeated the Afghans, later recapturing all of Afghanistan. He also launched successful campaigns against the nomadic khanates of Central Asia, and the Arabs of Oman. He also recaptured the territories lost to the Ottomans and invaded the Ottoman Empire. In 1739, he attacked and looted Delhi, the capital of Moghul India. After Nadir Shah was assassinated, the empire was ruled by the Zand dynasty. Iran was left unprepared for the worldwide expansion of European colonial empires in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century.

Persia found relative stability in the Qajar dynasty, ruling from 1779 to 1925, but lost hope to compete with the new industrial powers of Europe; Persia found itself sandwiched between the growing Russian Empire in Central Asia and the expanding British Empire in India. Each carved out pieces from the Persian empire that became Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Georgia and Uzbekistan amongst other previous provinces.

Although Persia was never directly invaded, it gradually became economically dependent on Europe. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 formalised Russian and British control over the north and south of the country, respectively, where Britain and Russia each created a "sphere of influence", wherein the colonial power had the final say on economic matters.

At the same time Mozzafar-al-Din shah had granted a concession to William Knox D'Arcy, later the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, to explore and work the newly-discovered oil fields at Masjid Soleiman in southwest Persia, which started production in 1914. Winston Churchill, as First Sea Lord to the British Admiralty, oversaw the conversion of the Royal Navy to oil-fired battleships and partially nationalized it prior to the start of war. A small Anglo-Persian force was garrisoned there to protect the field from hostile tribal factions.

World War I and the Interbellum (1914–1935)

File:Baghe Eram Shiraz
Eram Garden, built in the Qajar era is an example of Persian architecture of that time.
Persian low relief from Qajar era in the style of Persepolis, located at Tangeh Savashi.

The Persian Campaign was waged on the Persian land during World War One.[31] Persia was drawn into the periphery of World War I because of its strategic position between Afghanistan and the warring Ottoman, Russian, and British Empires. In 1914 Britain sent a military force to Mesopotamia to deny the Ottomans access to the Persian oilfields. The German Empire retaliated on behalf of its ally by spreading a rumour that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany had converted to Islam, and sent agents through Iran to attack the oil fields and raise a Jihad against British rule in India. Most of those German agents were captured by Persian, British and Russian troops who were sent to patrol the Afghan border, and the rebellion faded away. This was followed by a German attempt to abduct Ahmad Shah Qajar which was foiled at the last moment.

In 1916 the fighting between Russian and Ottoman forces to the north of the country had spilled down into Persia; Russia gained the advantage until most of her armies collapsed in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. This left the Caucasus unprotected, and the Caucasian and Persian civilians starving after years of war and deprivation. In 1918 a small force of 400 British troops under General Dunsterville moved into the Trans-Caucasus from Persia in a bid to encourage local resistance to German and Ottoman armies who were about to invade the Baku oilfields. Although they later withdrew back into Persia, they did succeed in delaying the Turks access to the oil almost until the Armistice. In addition, the expedition’s supplies were used to avert a major famine in the region, and a camp for 30,000 displaced refugees was created near the Mesopotamian frontier.

In 1919, northern Persia was occupied by the British General William Edmund Ironside to enforce the Turkish Armistice conditions and help General Dunsterville and Colonel Bicherakhov to contain Bolshevik influence (of Mirza Kuchak Khan) in the north. Britain also took tighter control over the increasingly lucrative oil fields.

In 1925, Reza Shah Pahlavi seized power from the Qajars and established the new Pahlavi dynasty, the last Persian monarchy before the establishment of the Islamic Republic. However, Britain and the Soviet Union remained the influential powers in Persia into the early years of the Cold War.

On March 21, 1935, Iran was officially accepted as the new name of the country. After Persian scholars' protested this decision on the grounds that it represented a break with their classical past and seemed to be unduly influenced by the "Aryan" propaganda from Nazi Germany, in 1953 Mohammad Reza Shah announced both names "Iran" and "Persia" could be used.[citation needed]


The role of Persia (Iran) in history is highly significant; In fact, the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel considered the ancient Persians to be the first historic people and stated: "In Persia first arises that light which shines itself and illuminates what is around... The principle of development begins with the history of Persia; this constitutes therefore the beginning of history".[32]

Richard Nelson Frye:

Few nations in the world present more of a justification for the study of history than Iran.[33]


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Persia in fiction

See also

[[Image:|32x28px]] Iran portal
[[Image:|32x28px]] Zoroastrianism portal



  1. ^ Iranians, including Persians, Medians, Parthians and Bactrians and other Iranian ethnic groups. Iranians are Aryans of Iran (Iran means "Land of the Aryans"). Persian language is an Iranian language of Indo-Iranian branch.
  2. ^ R. Schmitt, DEIOCES in Encyclopedia Iranica [1]
  3. ^ I.M. Diakonoff, “Media” in Cambridge History of Iran 2
  4. ^ I.M. Diakonoff, “Media” in Cambridge History of Iran 2
  5. ^ Robert Rollinger, The Median “Empire”, the End of Urartu and Cyrus’ the Great Campaign in 547 B.C. (Nabonidus Chronicle II 16)
  6. ^ Hammond, N. G. L.; M. Ostwald (1988-11-24). The Cambridge Ancient History Set: The Cambridge Ancient History Volume 4: Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean, c.525-479 BC: Persia, Greece and ... C.525-479 B.C. Ed.J.Boardman, Etc v. 4. John Boardman, D. M. Lewis (eds.) (2 ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 15. ISBN 0521228042. 
  7. ^ Parpola, Simo. "Assyrian Identity in Ancient Times and Today" (PDF). Assyriology. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. 3. "Ethnonyms like Arbāyu "Arab", Mādāyu "Mede", Muşurāyu "Egyptian", and Urarţāyu "Urartian" are from the late eighth century on frequently borne by fully Assyrianized, affluent individuals in high positions." 
  8. ^ Pierre Briant "Cyrus the Great" The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. Oxford University Press, 1998.
  9. ^ Britannica, Seleucid kingdom, 2008, O.Ed.
  10. ^ Zarinkoob, pp. 355-357
  11. ^ Zarinkoob, pp. 461, 519
  12. ^ Zarinkoob, p. 899
  13. ^ A Short History of Syriac Literature By William Wright. pg 44
  14. ^ ISBN 1-84212-011-5
  15. ^ Britannica, Saffarid dynasty
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica: DEYLAMITES
  18. ^ "Encyclopedia Britannica - Ghaznavid Dynasty"
  19. ^ a b C.E. Bosworth: The Ghaznavids. Edinburgh, 1963
  20. ^ C.E. Bosworth, "Ghaznavids", in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition 2006, (LINK)
  21. ^ a b C.E. Bosworth, "Ghaznavids", in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition; Brill, Leiden; 2006/2007
  22. ^ M.A. Amir-Moezzi, "Shahrbanu", Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, (LINK): "... here one might bear in mind that non-Persian dynasties such as the Ghaznavids, Saljuqs and Ilkhanids were rapidly to adopt the Persian language and have their origins traced back to the ancient kings of Persia rather than to Turkish heroes or Muslim saints ..."
  23. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica, Iran: Islamic Period - Ghaznavids, E. Yarshater
  24. ^ B. Spuler, "The Disintegration of the Caliphate in the East", in the Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. IA: The Central islamic Lands from Pre-Islamic Times to the First World War, ed. by P.M. Holt, Ann K.S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970). pg 147: One of the effects of the renaissance of the Persian spirit evoked by this work was that the Ghaznavids were also Persianized and thereby became a Persian dynasty.
  25. ^ Anatoly M Khazanov, André Wink, "Nomads in the Sedentary World", Routledge, 2padhte padhte to pagla jayega aadmi, "A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia", Blackwell Publishing, 1998. pg 370: "Though Turkic in origin and, apparently in speech, Alp Tegin, Sebuk Tegin and Mahmud were all thoroughly Persianized"
  26. ^ Robert L. Canfield, Turko-Persia in historical perspective, Cambridge University Press, 1991. pg 8: "The Ghaznavids (989-1149) were essentially Persianized Turks who in manner of the pre-Islamic Persians encouraged the development of high culture"
  27. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, Ghaznavid Dynasty, Online Edition 2007 (LINK)
  28. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica, Iran, EHSAN YARSHATER, Online Edition 2008, ([3])
  29. ^ Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The new Islamic dynasties: a chronological and genealogical manual, Edition: 2, Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2004, ISBN 0748621377, p. 297
  30. ^ "European Domination of the Indian Ocean Trade". Retrieved on 2007-01-10. 
  31. ^ William J. Olson "Anglo-Iranian Relations During World War I" Routledge, 1984, pp. 1–305
  32. ^ Georg Hegel in The Philosophy of History, (trans.) J. Sibree, Buffalo, 1991, p. 173.
  33. ^ Richard Nelson Frye in The Golden Age of Persia.

Further reading

  • Bailey, Harold (ed.) The Cambridge History of Iran, Cambridge University Press 1993, Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-45148-5
  • Wiesehofer, Josef: Ancient Persia
  • J. E Curtis and N. Tallis: Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia
  • Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Eisenbrauns: 2002, ISBN 978-1-57506-0310
  • Richard N. Frye: The Heritage of Persia
  • A.T. Olmstead: History of the Persian Empire
  • Lindsay Allen: The Persian Empire
  • J.M. Cook: The Persian Empire
  • Tom Holland: Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West
  • Amini Sam: Pictorial History of Iran: Ancient Persia Before Islam 15000 B.C.-625 A.D.
  • Timelife Persians: Masters of the Empire (Lost Civilizations)
  • Houchang Nahavandi, The Last Shah of Iran - Fatal Countdown of a Great Patriot betrayed by the Free World, a Great Country whose fault was Success, Aquilion, 2005, ISBN 1-904997-03-1
  • Farrokh, Kaveh: Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey: 2007, ISBN 978-1-84603-108-3
  • Brosius, Maria: The Persians: An Introduction, Routledge:2006, ISBN 978-0-41532-090-0
  • Wiesehofer, Joseph Ancient Persia New York:1996 I.B. Tauris

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to Persian Empire article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Collocation of 'Persian' (as a demonym of Latinate Persia in the sense of Greek Persis, Old Persian Pārsa) and 'empire'. Translates Latin Imperium Persarum, as attested e.g. in the 1st century (e.g. Quintus Curtius Rufus "Life and exploits of Alexander the Great" 3.3.8).

In English from the 17th century[1][2], invariably in reference to the Achaemenid Empire (550 BC–330 BC) conquered by Alexander the Great. Sometimes expanded to Medo-Persian Empire[3] (translating Imperium Persarum et Medorum, "empire of (ruled by) Persians and Medians"). The 'et Medorum' is not a reference to Median empire (625 BC–550 BC), but rather to (1) the tribal affiliation and shared status of the Persians and Medians, (2) the mixed Persian-Median parentage of the founder of the dynasty, Cyrus I.

The term 'Persian empire' has sometimes been extended to the later, "restored" empire ruled by the Sassanid dynasty[4][5][6], the ruling dynasty of which was also from Persia in the sense of Greek Persis, Old Persian Pārsa. It is sometimes taken more loosely to refer to the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid states taken together (so Encyclopædia Britannica 2009: "historical empire from about 550 BC-640 AD")

Proper noun

Persian Empire


Persian Empire

  1. (historical) The empire ruled by the Achaemenid dynasty 550 BC–330 BC, also simply Persia.
    • 1652, Thomas Fuller, Holy and Profane State, 140
      We know how Darius got the Persian Empire from the rest of his fellow Peers, from the first neighing of his generous Steed.
  2. (historical) The empire ruled by the Sassanid dynasty AD 224–651, also Neo-Persian Empire, Second Persian Empire.
    • 1880, George Rawlinson, A manual of ancient history, from the earliest times to the fall of the Sassanian empire, 569
      The geographical limits of the Sassanian or Later Persian Empire were so nearly identical with those of its predecessor, the Parthian, ...


See also

Simple English

The Persian Empire (Persian: شاهنشاهی ایران - Shahanshahi-e Iran) is the name for a few empires, that ruled over modern-day Iran.

The best-known of those empires is probably the Achaemenid Empire. It was formed under Cyrus the Great who took over the empire of the Medes. He conquered the territories of the Babylonians, Assyrians, the Phoenicians, and the Lydians. It had land that went west from Iran to Turkey. It existed from about 550 BC to about 330 BC. The Greek city states fought against the Persian armies led by Darius and Xerxes. The third Persian empire was the Sassanid Empire.

Most of the following states in Greater Iran before to March 1935 are collectively called the Persian Empire by Western historians.

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