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The Essential History of Persia

1- Pre-History

Thousands of years ago, in the land that is called Iran today, there were no signs of towns or villages- not even a single house. Mountains soared into the skies, and between the two seas to the North and South, and another great sea in the middle that dried up later, there were thick forests everywhere. In these forests, small numbers of people lived here and there.

These people took shelter in natural or manmade caves in order to stay out of the cold at nights, and to take cover during rain and snow. Their food was mainly fruits, seeds and roots of wild plants. Other than that, sometimes they would hunt an animal, or catch fish by the seas, and satisfy their hunger by eating them.

In order to hunt, they would use pointy stones or large bones. Sometimes, they would strike their prey with thick tree branches. They covered their bodies either with animal hides or tree leaves.

These people didn’t yet know that you can plant a seed and grow many more seeds from it. They didn’t have homes either. So they had no reason to stay in any one place. Every family constantly roamed in search of food.

After a while, they learned to light fires. This was a great advancement. We don’t know what these people thought, how they communicated, or what they believed in. We do know however that they buried their dead which is a sign of some kind of religious belief. Also, since graves were found in clusters, we know they lived in small groups.


Life was difficult for these early men. Thousands of years passed this way. By and by, they took steps to improve their lives. Signs of this progress began to appear around eight thousand years ago. In some caves, we’ve found sickles with sharp stone edges. It appears they were used to cut down plants. They still hadn’t learned to sow seeds, but they had figured out that certain plants and animals were better for eating than others. The bones that have been found near these tools are mostly the bones of sheep, goats and pigs. Of all the animals, they had probably only domesticated the dog by this time. Another thousand years went by before they were able to domesticate sheep, cows, goats and pigs. Soon, they learned to plant seeds. It is possible that these discoveries were made by women. Men used to hunt all day and women stayed near their caves to keep the fires burning, and to gather seeds and fruits.

One day, women observed that wherever they spilled some seeds by accident, new plants would sprout after a while. So they spread a few seeds in a good spot and watched them grow. This was the beginning of agriculture. In the mountains of Western Iran, next to buried bodies, wheat and barley seeds have been found. It is obvious that they were planting them. The sickles to reap these plants were also found in the same caves.

Women also shaped the clay they found along river beds into rough pottery and put them in the fire to dry and harden. These dishes were covered in a layer of black soot from the fire.

Since women were responsible for all this innovation, they had a higher place in their communities those days. Families were matriarchies. These people believed in their own gods and would make idols in human form from clay. All the idols that have been found from this period look like women.


As the central sea dried up, there was less and less rainfall in these lands. The nutrient rich silt that the drying sea left behind was very fertile and many plants and trees grew there. The animals that had lived in the mountains up to this time came down to the lowlands to graze. People who hunted those animals followed them and stayed in the lowlands. There were no caves here to take shelter in from the cold and the elements. They had no homes, so they made rudimentary shelter from branches & leaves at first. After a while, they build walls made of mud and covered the roof with leaves and brush. Agriculture, which was started in the mountainsides, flourished in the plains. It could be that agriculture spread to other parts of the world from here.

Agriculture provided a steady supply of food, and world population began to grow. Groups of them got together and built mud houses near each other- the first village.

The inhabitants of these villages got by with farming and hunting. They also had domesticated animals. One of the oldest of these villages was recently excavated in the foothills of Sialk, near today’s Kashan. There was an in-ground oven in every home where they both cooked food and baked pottery. Instead of soot blackened vessels cooked directly in fire back in the mountains, these dishes had a reddish color with some dark spots. They started drawing vertical and horizontal markings on these pots.

The agrarian life began about seven thousand years ago and reached its peak about a thousand years later. It was at this point when a new phase of progress began in the life of mankind. Up to this time the tools people used to hunt & tear the meat off animals, or cut down trees & plants, or dig up roots, were all made of stone. They had learned to use some stones as tools to sharpen the edges of other stones. But these tools were still not enough. About this time, they learned to smelt metals. They put ore rich rocks in the fire until molten metal separated from the rock. Then they shaped the hot, pliable metal into various tools. First, they used copper which was easier to smelt and form. Later they learned to mix in a little tin and came up with bronze, which was harder than copper. They made all their tools from bronze for a long time. Then they found gold and silver. Finally, they found a way to separate iron ore from rocks. This metal was tougher than all others and was good for making sharp cutting edges, like sickles or swords.

Pre-historic Times

Despite all these advances, mankind still did not know how to write. This means they could not record their thoughts & beliefs. For this reason, they did not leave enough information for us to know their true life conditions and what they experienced. History, which is the story of all the human family, begins when we learned to write. Therefore, this very long period during which our ancestors slowly and painstakingly made these exciting discoveries and crucial advances is unknown to us for the most part. For this reason we call them “pre-historic” times.

Our knowledge of these times is scant. What we do know is based on what we have discovered in graves, caves, and the few artifacts that have been found so far.


1- How did cavemen hunt and what did they wear?

2- How did people learn agriculture?

3- What was their pottery made of and how did they make them?

4- How did the first settlements happen?

5- How did they get to use metals and what did they do with them?

6- What does "pre-historic" mean?

[* 2- First Civilizations *]

The success of agriculture led to an explosion in population and some pioneers fanned out to look for more farmland. One of the places they settled in was Mesopotamia. The area where rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet before flowing into the Persian Gulf was made fertile by rich silty deposits at the end of the last ice age. These lands proved to be highly suitable for agriculture. Large numbers of people from the mountains of Iran migrated there and built many settlements. The population of these lands kept growing.

Around six thousand years ago, another people arrived there; the Sumerians. It could be that these new people came from the Caucuses or areas in Northwestern Iran.


Along the shores of Persian Gulf where Euphrates meets the Tigris, Sumerians built cities and formed a government. They were the first people to invent symbols for writing. These characters looked like fallen or standing nails, or wedges. That is why this system of writing is called Cuneiform script. They wrote on clay tablets and baked to harden them so they would last longer. Many Sumerian tablets have survived and were excavated & deciphered recently. By reading them, we can learn about the living conditions, history and beliefs of these people.

Sumerians then wrote books in this fashion to record their literature & knowledge, and passed them down to their children. They built a well functioning bureaucracy. They had schools. They made statues of great men & women, or their gods, out of stone or baked clay. Tens of thousands of Sumerian clay tablets have been discovered and are kept in museums across the world. Establishing a system of laws was among the greatest contributions of Sumerians.


Farther north of Sumer, near today’s Baghdad, lived another people called the Akkadians. These Semitic people overcame the Sumerians and their king Sargon built a monarchy that stretched from Western borders of Iran to Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. Akkadians ruled for nearly 300 years. Then the Sumerians became powerful again and their leader, Gudea, made Lagash their capital city. During this period, instead of the Semitic language of Akkadians, Sumerian language became the official language. Books and official documents were written in Sumerian.


At the same time, meaning around five thousand years ago, a people whose race we don’t know for certain, established a government in today’s Khuzestan province and around the Zagros Mountains in Iran. They called themselves the Elamites. Their capital was the city of Susa, and today’s Ahvaz was also one of their important cities. Elamites were nearly always at war with the Sumerians and Akkadians. For the most part, the Sumerians dominated them until Rim-Sin became the king of Elamites. He managed to defeat the unified armies of Sumer and Akkad. That was the end of Sumerian and Akkadian monarchies, when those people dissolved into populations of other Semitic people of Mesopotamia.

But the history of Elamites is long and complicated, as they continued clashing with Assyrian and Chaldeans. Sometimes they would win, and sometimes they would be defeated. Finally, in 646 B.C., after nearly two thousand years on the scene, the Elamites were defeated and forever extinguished by the great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.


At the same time as the Elamites, the Chaldeans, another Semitic people, had migrated from the Arabian peninsula and had set up powerful kingdom in Mesopotamia. They lasted nearly two thousand years.

The capital of their kingdom was Babylon, an old Sumerian city. When they first arrived, they lived under the rule of Sumerians and Akkadians. Over time, they managed to overcome their rulers and established important kingdoms of their own. Chaldeans had an important culture. They learned writing from the Sumerians and left many works about history, religion, literature and knowledge of all kinds.


Assyrians were also a Semitic people who had lived as subjects of Babylonians at first. Over time, they had settled along the banks of the Tigris River and in the foothills. Eventually, they formed their own government whose first center was the town of Assur or Ashur. Later, they moved the seat of power to Dur-Sharrukin, and eventually to Nineveh. Assyrians attacked their neighboring settlements relentlessly & mercilessly, looting their stores of food, domesticated animals & women. Perhaps this was a natural result of the success of agriculture when one people had the clever idea that it may be easier to loot other people’s harvest than to grow your own. Striking fear in their victims ahead of time was a key part of this strategy. In their proclamations, Assyrian kings often boast about their massacres proudly. They obliterated both the Babylonian and the Elamite kingdoms.

But some Assyrian kings were fond of knowledge and sciences, encouraging writing and research. Ashurbanipal, the brutal Assyrian king, compiled a great library on clay tablets which has been excavated and is kept in the [+ Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in London+].

The savage era of Assyrian dominance finally came to an end twenty seven centuries ago at the hands of Medes and was extinguished forever.


1- Who were the Sumerains and where did the live?

2- What was the Sumerian writing and what did they write it on?

3- Who were the Akkadians and what was their race?

4- Where was Elam?

5- Where was Babylon and who were the Babylonians?

6- What was the capital of Assyrians?

[* 3- The World Before Persian Empire *]

Lydia In a land which is part of today’s Turkey, a mix of native Semitic people and new migrants had formed a government whose capital was the city of Sardis. This country was very wealthy and had a superb civilization. Their opulence and the treasures of their kings are legendary.

Israelites were a small tribe who lived in Palestine, meaning in the territories west of the Assyrians. They were from the Semitic race and their capital was Jerusalem. Assyrians and Babylonians sacked them several times and enslaved the tribes of Israelites, or Jews. They sent some to Media. Eventually they destroyed their great temple in Jerusalem, and took all the Jews to Babylon as prisoners.

Greece On the tip of the Balkan Peninsula, there is a mountainous land with small islands jutting out of the sea around it. In the narrow valleys of this land, people whose ancestry & language was quite similar to Persians, grew olives and grapes. Some of them also moved to the Western edges of Asia Minor, or today’s Turkey, and built settlements.

Greeks were intelligent & cultured. They were masters in textiles, ceramics & pottery, which were adorned with beautiful motifs and human figures. They sold honey and olive oil to others and grew wealthy from trading. They also loved sports and martial arts, and

built large, beautiful arenas for these competitions where many spectators could sit and watch.

They were good at poetry and drama too. They had good teachers and built schools where they taught their children literature and different subjects. Greece did not have a single government. Each city had its own system of administration. The two largest cities, Athens & Sparta, were the most famous. In Athens, arts & sciences were very advanced, while Spartans, who competed with Athens, were warriors and pursued martial arts.

Phoenicia On the shores of the Mediterranean, where Lebanon is today, lived another Semitic people who were excellent sailors. They build magnificent ships and transported their own goods, and all types of merchandise from the East across the sea to settlements in Europe and Africa- even beyond to India and China, where they would sell them. Then they would buy goods from those places and bring them back to sell to people around where they lived.

Seafaring and trading had been very profitable for them. They also were good at making textiles and dishes which were popular all over the world. There were two great trading cities in Phoenicia: Sidon & Tyre.

Egypt The great river Nile flows in Africa and pours into the Mediterranean. The banks of this river are very fertile and an abundance of trees and vegetations grow there. Since the earliest of times, people had settled there and lived off the land. Then they chose leaders to establish order in their relationships & affairs who were called Pharaohs. Pharaohs were essentially kings.

Pharaohs set up government systems, built palaces, and hired managers to help carry out their responsibilities. Since they spent their own life serving the public and had no time left to labor to earn their own food & clothing, arrangements were made for everyone in society to give them a share of their own earnings. This was the beginning of taxation systems.

Pharaohs lived in luxurious palaces. Over time, they hired soldiers to fight neighboring tribes and take away their belongings and enslave the inhabitants. They made these slaves work very hard. Many houses & palaces were built by these miserable souls who were flogged into doing all the hard labor.

Egyptians believed they would return to life after death and they believed even when they were dead they would need the things living people needed. Therefore they built great tombs for the Pharaohs and buried them with lots of food, drink and all the necessities they could think of. They also mummified their dead in the hopes of preserving their bodies for when they come back to life. Mummified remains of many Egyptian Pharaohs have been recovered from their tombs and still exist.

Egyptians had devised a writing system to record their materials which was called the “holy script” or hieroglyph. At first this writing consisted of images, meaning they would draw what they were trying to say. Phoenicians learned this writing from them and improved it. Later they taught it to Greeks and others. The root of the most common writing systems today is this ancient writing system of Egyptians.


1- Who were the Israelites? What happened to them?

2- What was Sardis the capital of?

3- Where did the Greeks live? What race were they? What did they do?

4- Where was Phoenicia and what did the Phoenicians do?

5- What river is Egypt next to?

6- Why did the Egyptians bury their dead with food and drinks?

7- What was the Egyptian script like?

[* 4- Coming of Aryans *]

About 3000 years ago, a people who called themselves “Aryans” descended from the north and both sides of the Caspian Sea, and settled into this land which was later named Aryana or Iran. They bred horses, were good riders, and had chariots. Soon after, they overcame the indigenous people of these lands.

Iranians came in groups and settled in different areas of the land. They were herders who raised cattle and sheep. They knew agriculture too. They would settle with their families wherever they found good land. They were brave people who at first served the local rulers, and then replaced them. There were several small kingdoms in these lands with great orchards & plantations. Iranians overcame these governments and little by little took over the whole land.

Iranians were made up of several different tribes. One of them was called the “Medes”, who lived in northern & western regions. Their center was the city of Kasi which was renamed Ecbatana once they were established. Today, we call it Hamedan. Hamedan is believed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.

Another tribe was called the “Persians” who settled in the south in a land that became known as Persis or Persia. They chose Anshan, an old city from the time of Elamites as their center which today is in Khuzestan province of Iran.

Iranians continued to farm and build. They bred good horses and prospered from the bounty of the land as well as the mines & metals that were abundant in the area. Because of their success, Assyrians raided them from time to time and looted their belongings.

Median Kingdom

At first, the Medes were not that powerful and paid tribute to Assyrian government as subject people. As their numbers grew, and because they were brave & tough, they started to fight back.

Medes and Persians were separate until about twenty seven centuries ago, and didn’t have a unified government. Because of this, enemies would attack them from time to time. They had no regular army nor a trained command structure so they could not defend themselves and fight back.

Around 2700 years ago, Medes came together and chose a king who they felt was brave and righteous. This man, Deioces, made Ecbatana his capital. Then he assembled a court, an army and guards. He built a magnificent royal residence with gardens, forests and orchards, surrounded by seven concentric walls. They called these gardens Pardis, or Paradise. The legend of these gardens spread all over the known world such that it came to mean heaven. Even now, most cultures call their idea of the ideal heaven by terms that are rooted in this word.

Deioces ruled for fifty three years. He was a wise man who united all the Median tribes. The Persians who lived in Anshan also became his followers.


When Deioces died, his son Phraortes succeeded him. This king spread his domain eastward. Up to this time, Iranians used to pay tribute to Assyrian kings. Phraortes wouldn’t pay taxes and revolted. Iranian armies were not yet trained and experienced enough. Phraortes was defeated and killed in battle.


When Cyaxares succeeded his father, he knew he needed a professional army to defend against the powerful and brutal Assyrian forces. So he formed a great army and went to war against Assyrians. He laid siege to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Median cavalry were just about the best in riding & archery in their time. Therefore, once Cyaxares organized them well, they were able to overcome the Assyrian warriors.

But at the same time Median king & army were busy fighting the Assyrians, another Iranian people called “Scythians” descended from behind Caucus Mountains and conquered the un-defended Median kingdom in a surprise.

Cyaxares had no choice but to abandon the siege of Nineveh and return to defend his capital. Scythians succeeded at first, and for twenty eight years made mayhem all over Iran and surrounding lands. Eventually Cyaxares managed to defeat them and chase them away. It could be that today’s city of Saqqez in western Iran is named after those Scythians.

After this, the governor of Babylon revolted against Assyria. Cyaxares joined forces with him and attacked Nineveh, broke through and destroyed it.

The government of Assyria, who had terrorized the world for a long time, thus was destroyed and vanished forever. Medes ruled all the lands in northern Mesopotamia and southern Asia Minor after this and became neighbors with Lydia.

Lydia was very glamorous and rich at this time, and their people were engrossed in pleasures & excess. A conflict came up between Cyaxares and king of Lydia which led to a war that lasted six years. Finally king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II, intervened and arranged for Lydian king’s daughter to marry Cyaxares, putting an end to hostilities.


Astyages succeeded his father to the throne. He ruled for a long time and enjoyed every pleasure & luxury imaginable. Median elite grew rich and lived a life of indulgence and ease. Country’s affairs faltered and people grew dissatisfied. So when a charismatic Persian prince, who was also a grandson of the Median king revolted, Medes welcomed him and joined him.

This remarkable man was Cyrus the Achaemenid.

Median Civilization

Language- Medes spoke a language similar to Old Persian such that Persians and Medes could understand each other. But there are no written records in this language.

Religion- One of the six tribes of Medes called “Magi” were in charge of religion. Medes worshipped multiple gods.

Army- Medes started organized armies and Persians perfected it. Median army uniforms were common in Persian times as well.


p<>{color:#000;}. Who were the Aryans? Where did they come from? Where did they settle?

p<>{color:#252525;}. Where did the Medes settle?

p<>{color:#252525;}. What was the capital of Medes?

p<>{color:#252525;}. What does Pardis mean?

p<>{color:#252525;}. Which Median king captured Nineveh?

p<>{color:#252525;}. Who was the last Median king?

p<>{color:#252525;}. What language did the Medes speak?

p<>{color:#252525;}. What was the Medes religion?

p<>{color:#252525;}. What did the Medes do to organize their army?

5- Achaemenid Empire

Persians, who arrived around the same time as other Aryans, had settled in Persia and the city of Anshan was their center. They were made up of several clans, one of which was the Pasargadae clan. At first, these clans lived apart until one man by the name of Achaemenes of Pasargadae united all of them under a single command.

Achaemenes’ son, Teispes, took Anshan from the Elamites and added it to Persian lands. After him, Persia was divided between his two sons. Anshan was ruled by Cyrus I (grandfather of Cyrus the Great) and Parsa was ruled by Ariaramnes (great-grandfather of Darius the Great). Cyrus’ son Cambyses was a vassal king of Media and married to Astyages’ daughter Mandane. He named his son from this marriage after his own father, Cyrus. This Cyrus II went on to become the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.

Cyrus’ Childhood- There is a legend about Cyrus’ birth. One night Astyages had a dream in which vines were coming out of his daughter’s belly, and they kept growing until they covered the whole country. He asked the dream interpreters about this, and they said, “Your daughter will give birth to a son who will conquer all of Asia”. The king decided not to marry his daughter to any of the important Median princes in the court because he worried their son might grow up and replace him one day. So he married her to the Persian Cambyses, a lesser ruler, and sent her to live in far away Persia.

When Astyages heard his daughter had given birth to a boy, he remembered his dream and brought Mandane and the newborn back to the capital. He ordered one of his generals to kill the infant boy. The general hired a shepherd to carry out the deed. But the shepherd had just lost his own infant son, and secretly adopted Cyrus.

One day when Cyrus was 12 years old, he was playing a game with other children in town. In this ancient game, kids would take turns playing grown-up roles. When it was Cyrus’ turn to be the king, he was so serious and strict that the other kids were taken aback and complained to the king. The king called little Cyrus to the court. As he questioned him, he realized he was his own lost grandson, son of Mandane & Cambyses who was supposed to have been killed. He called the Magi and asked them what to do. They said since the boy had already been king once (in the game), then he won’t be king again in real life, and the threat to Astyages’ rule had passed. The king was happy and send Cyrus safely back to Persia with his mother.

Cyrus the King of Persians- Cyrus grew up riding & hunting back in Persia until he succeeded his father as king of the Anshan clan. Once in power, he united all the Persian clans under his own rule and mobilized a well trained army to fight the Medes. He wanted to unite all the Iranian people and form a large, formidable nation.

War with the Medes- Astyages was not a capable king, and his subjects were not happy with him either. So when Cyrus approached, Median generals & commanders revolted against their own king, and joined forces with the Persians. Astyages was imprisoned and Cyrus conquered Ecbatana with all its treasure of silver and gold.

Reign of Cyrus- Once Persians & Medes united, and Cyrus ruled over all of Iran, the three major powers of the time, Lydia, Babylon & Egypt grew apprehensive. They made a pact to confront Cyrus. Lydia was a prosperous country at this time, and their king, Croesus, was at the height of his power. His treasures were legendary. Croesus struck first. Cyrus countered and defeated him. Lydia was defeated and its capital Sardis fell to Cyrus & the Persians.

A Lesson in Amnesty- Croesus was so despondent that he wanted to set himself and his own family on fire. In those times, when a king was captured, he would die under the most gruesome tortures and all his family would be killed as well. But the Persian king gave him full amnesty. From then on, Croesus lived with respect in Persian courts. The two kings became good friends and Croesus was an advisor to Cyrus. This magnanimity was unprecedented in the history of the world until then. With it, Cyrus taught the world a lesson that shall never be forgotten. From then on, everyone knew that Persians were both brave and noble.

The Story of the Flute Player- In Asia Minor, where western Turkey is today, Ionians lived in small cities and ran their own governments. Ionians were essentially eastern Greeks. When Cyrus was fighting the Lydians, he sent word asking these people to join him. They refused.

Once Lydia was defeated, Ionians grew weary and sent messages to Cyrus that they wanted to join him and cooperate. Cyrus told their ambassador this story in reply:

Once a flute player was sitting by the sea watching the fish. He thought surly these fish will love my music and dance to it. He played his flute for a while but none of the fish danced. So he cast a net and caught the fish. When he tossed his catch on the land, the fish started jumping up & down. Flute player said, “It’s too late to start dancing now. You should have danced when I was playing my flute so things would not have come to this”.

Cyrus went on to conquer many cities and countries like this. Once he won a war, he would choose new governors from among the local people so that people would not feel as if they were living under foreign rule.

[* 6- Reign of Cyrus *]


Fall of Babylon- Egypt and Babylon had once joined forces with Lydia in order to stop Cyrus. So they were watching Cyrus’ moves closely. But after conquering Lydia, Cyrus turned his attention eastward and advanced as far as Syr Darya in Central Asia, near where Uzbekistan is today.

He then turned back and headed for Babylon, which had near impenetrable defenses. The Persian army crossed the Tigris and defeated the Babylonian army who had come out to fight. Babylonians retreated back to the safety of their walled city. Cyrus ordered the army engineers to divert the waters of river Tigris upstream of the city. As the water levels dropped, Persian soldiers slipped under the walls where the riverbanks had been exposed.

Once the Persian army entered, there was no resistance inside the city, and nobody looted or massacred the citizens. The Babylonian king had no choice but to surrender & submit. The Persian king headed straight for the palace. People were relieved and rejoiced.

Babylonians worshipped their god Marduk at this time. Cyrus respected their religion and crowned himself in the Temple of Marduk.

On this occasion, Cyrus issued a decree which was written on a round, cylindrical clay tablet. This writing has been discovered by archeologists and is now known as the Cyrus Cylinder. On it, it is written:

When people turned from their faith, Marduk was angry. He looked all over the world to find a just ruler. He chose Cyrus who was the king of Anshan and called on him to rule the world and for all the people to obey him. Cyrus treated all his subjects justly. So Marduk, who looks after all his creatures, rewarded Cyrus, ordering him to go to Babylon and He [Mardu] accompanied Cyrus along like an ally. He let Cyrus into the city and saved Babylon …”

Then all the people of Babylon and all the land Sumerians Akkadian, whether they were kings or commanders, knelt before him and kissed his feet. They rejoiced in his kingship & thanked him for he had brought them back to life from death and he made suffering stop. They worshipped his name.

I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, true king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer & Akkad, king in four corners of the world, son of Cambyses, grandson of Cyrus, descendant of Teispes, from a family who have always been kings …”

When I entered Babylon as a friend and sat on the throne with happiness, Marduk made Babylonians love me. Many soldiers passed through the city peacefully. I did not permit anyone to loot the city nor Sumer nor Akkad. I forbade idleness and did not permit people’s homes being destroyed. I ended people’s suffering. Marduk was happy with what I did. He favors me who is king and my son Cambyses and my army…”

All the kings of the world arrived with gifts and kissed my feet in Babylon …”

In the same declaration, he said he ordered everything that all the tyrants had stolen and brought to Babylon to be returned to where they were stolen from. Babylonian kings had destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and had looted all the gold & silver. Nebuchadnezzar had enslaved all the Jews and brought them to Babylon. Cyrus freed the Jews and sent them back to Jerusalem with their stolen belongings so they could re-build their temple.

Jews were so happy with what Cyrus did that they considered him a prophet of God (“So said God to His Messiah, to Cyrus …” Isaiah 45:1-7).

After Babylon fell to Cyrus, all the countries that were subservient to Babylon fell under his control. Therefore, Syria, Palestine and Phoenicia also joined the Persian Empire. Cyrus then returned to Iran and went to war against the barbarians who used to attack Iran from the North. Apparently he was killed in one of these battles. They brought his lifeless body back to Persia and buried him in Pasargadae in a tomb that still stands. Cyrus died in 530 B.C.

It is believed there had been an inscription in his tomb that read (in part):

I am Cyrus the King, an Achaemenian.

Justice, tact, and forgiving defeated enemies were traits that Cyrus introduced the ancient world to. Before him, kings of Assyria, Babylon, Phoenicia and Egypt enslaved and oppressed the people they ruled. Achaemenid dynasty which was founded by Cyrus gave all people three freedoms:

First, freedom of religion- Cyrus let everyone in the empire keep the religion of their ancestors and worship his or her gods in any way that they chose. The Persian system of government respected everyone’s religious beliefs,

Second, freedom of language- in the Achaemenid government, Persian, which was the official language of the kings, was not forced on other nations. People didn’t have to abandon their own language and start speaking & writing in a different language. Cyrus & Darius built an army of translators who served in every government office and court of law throughout the empire. Achaemenid kings wrote their inscriptions in several languages.

Third, freedom to work- before the Persian Empire, it was normal for nations to enslave anyone they captured in wars and force them to work for free. All the palaces of Babylon and Assyria, and all the tombs of Egyptian kings, were built by slave labor. But Cyrus prohibited forced labor, and from then on, Achaemenid kings always paid their workers no matter where they came from. Payment records of workers of those who built Persepolis have been found on clay tablets under that palace.


1- What strategy did Cyrus use to capture Babylon?

2- How did Cyrus' army treat the inhabitants of Babylon?

3- Which tribe did Cyrus free from captivity?

4- Where is Cyrus' tomb?

5- What were the three freedoms Cyrus granted the people of the world?

7- Cambyses

Cambyses was Cyrus’ older son and succeeded him to the throne of the largest empire the world had ever known. Cyrus had another son Bardiya who had died soon after his father, but this was kept a secret.

Cambyses set off to conquer Egypt and added it to the Persian Empire. From this time on Egypt stayed a part of the Persian Empire and was governed by Persian kings.

In the beginning, Cambyses continued his father’s tolerant ways, treating Egyptians with respect and honoring their beliefs. But after a while he got sick and started to mistreat the Egyptians. Finally he heard somebody back in Persia had claimed to be his dead brother and proclaimed himself king. Cambyses decided to go back. Somehow, he was injured and died on the road. One version of the story is that he cut himself by his own sword while mounting his horse.

Bardiya the Imposter- In the three years that Cambyses was away from Persia, people knew Cyrus’ other son Bardiya as a popular prince and a just governor in the northwest. But when he died, nobody heard the news.

A Magi priest from Media named Guamata claimed to be Bardiya. At first, Iranians believed this lie, and accepted him as king. But Guamata was afraid he would be found out as an imposter. So he murdered anyone who was related to, or knew Bardiya. Eventually, everyone was fed up and Guamata was exposed.

One of the Achaemenid generals, Darius, who was also a cousin of Cyrus, together with six other generals united and killed Guamata. Soon after Darius claimed the throne.

Darius the Great

Most of the Persian Empire was in revolt at this time. In just about every country or territory, some strong man was recruiting support & claiming to be in charge. Darius first put down all the revolts and secured the empire.

He then went to Egypt, where people had revolted as a result of Cambyses’ mistreatment. There, he punished the Persian governor who was responsible for the oppression. Darius went to great lengths to restore good will with the Egyptians, and honored their gods as much as he could. He then ordered engineers to dig a canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean so that ships could sail through it and trade with Iran and India.

On the occasion of the opening of this waterway, an inscription was erected that still stands. This cuneiform inscription is written in Old Persian and translates:

Great God is Ahuramazda, who created the skies, created this earth, created people, made Darius king. I am Darius, great king, king of kings, king of countries far & wide, king of this vast and far away land, son of [_ Hystaspes_] Achaemenid. King Darius says:

I am a Persian. I came from Persia and conquered Egypt. I commanded this canal to be dug from river Nile that flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. When this canal was dug as I had ordered, ships go from Egypt to Persia, as I had wished.

When Darius returned from Egypt, he headed east, and added northern India, including Punjab & Sind, to the empire. He then turned north to put down a revolt by Scythians. Scythians were also an Aryan people who lived in what is known today as southern Soviet Union, and used to sack Azerbaijan & Media in northwestern Iran.

Persian army then passed through Anatolia & Asia Minor, and the Ionians who were part of the empire, helped built a bridge of boats across the Bosphorus so that Darius’ army could cross into Europe. Darius then conquered Macedonia, and chased the retreating Scythians deep into heart of what is the Soviet Union today.

After a while, Greeks, some of whom where independent city-states and some were subservient to Persia started to fight each other. Some asked the Persian king to intervene. Darius sent some of his forces to fight the insurgents. In most places, Persians restored order, but one Persian contingent was defeated in a place called “Marathon”. Darius was making plans to return to and finish up the task himself, but died before he could go.


1- How did Cambyses treat Egyptians?

2- What did Guatama lie about and what became of him?

3- What did Darius do in Egypt and which corridor did he build?

4- How did Darius' army cross the Bosphorus?

5- Why did Darius go to war against the Greeks?

[* 8- Legacy of Darius *]

Not only the Persian Empire was the largest the world has ever known (governing est. 46% of world population), but Persians administered their realm through a system far better than what was thought possible in those times. It was the first time so many different nations made up of different races & religions were coexisting under the same system, and the government tried to ensure that everyone had peace, freedoms and equal rights under the law.

Extents of the Empire- At this time, Persia was the sole superpower in the world, and ruled over nearly the entire civilized world. Darius has listed the names of all the countries that were part of the Persian Empire, which, including Persia itself, add up to thirty.

Hierarchy- In the Achaemenid system of government, the Persian king held the highest position. This position passed from father to son.

The countries that had joined the empire often kept the same system of government as before, and their own kings continued to rule over them. But, their king served under the Persian king, who was in charge of the central government of the empire. The role of the central government, in return, was defense, safe roads, and disseminating knowledge & technologies among disparate peoples who had heretoforth been out of touch with each other. For this reason, the Persian king was called the King of Kings, meaning a king who rules other kings.

Capital- The ancestral city of Achaemenids was Pasargadae. This was the capital during Cyrus’ reign. When Darius became king, he made Persepolis the capital. But this city was out of the way and too far from the Western realms of the empire such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, Ionia, and others. Therefore, Darius and his successors made Susa their capital and built fine buildings & palaces there. But, Persepolis remained the ceremonial center of the empire for coronations, receiving ambassadors, New Year celebrations, and other rituals. Ecbatana was also used as a summer base for the court and palaces were also built there.

Administration of the Empire- This vast empire was administered in a way that each nation, called a Satrapy, would be ruled by a local king, or a Satrap, appointed by the King of Kings. This Satrap had full authority to govern. But the military affairs would be trusted to a general who was also appointed by the Persian king. The third authority was a scribe who oversaw the bureaucracy, and made sure the Satrap and the military commander were in compliance with all the laws. Each of these three reported directly to King of Kings and the central government.

In addition, there was a system of oversight. Special inspectors visited each country in the empire once a year to examine the records, evaluate the government & the state of affairs, and report back to the King of Kings. These inspectors were called “king’s eyes & ears”.

Structure of the Army- Darius built a regular, standing army from the best & most experienced soldiers and officers in the empire. They were ten thousand in number. If one of them grew old or died, the next best soldier on the reserve list would immediately replace him such that their number was always exactly ten thousand. Because of this, they were known as “the Immortals”. They were always prepared to go anywhere and confront any enemy anytime they were ordered to. They were what we call “Special Forces” today.

There was another standing army of four thousand cavalry & infantrymen who were in charge of protecting the capital and the palaces. In addition, whenever a large campaign was underway, each Satrapy would mobilize an army under the command of their own generals and send them to join the effort.

Roads- In order to run such a vast empire efficiently, good road were essential. They needed to travel quickly to communicate the king’s commands throughout the empire, and for armies to reach trouble spots.

For this reason, they built a network of roads to connect the four corners of the empire. The most famous of these was the road from Sardis to Susa, which continued to Persepolis. This road was 2,400 kilometers, or 1,500 miles long. Another went went from Egypt to a city Cyrus had built by Syr Darya river in Central Asia.

Along these roads, at set intervals, comfortable inns were built. They kept saddled horses at these stops, ready to go at a moment’s notice. If a royal courier arrived with a tired horse, he could quickly switch horses and continue on a fresh horse to deliver the king’s commands. The Greek historian Herodotus described the mission of these couriers in these words:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds

Taxation- Before Darius, there was no coherent system of taxation in the empire. Each Satrap would tax people as much as he could, or thought was expected of them, and send it in to the central treasury. Darius meticulously set the exact & fair tax rate for each and every Satrapy, making sure it would not burden anybody too much. This tax was paid both is currency and in merchandise. Each Satrapy, every year, would bring a set amount of money, and a portion of what they had produced and give it to King of Kings in the capital. This money was used to administer the empire, and to pay the expenses of the army.

Currency- Darius ordered that a standard currency be established for trade. Gold coins were minted and were called the Daric, meaning golden. For the first time in Iran, money was used widely. Achaemenid kings wanted trade and businesses to flourish. They encouraged merchants to trade across the empire so that everyone, everywhere had access to what they needed. Building good roads, minting coins, opening shipping lanes from Red Sea to Mediterranean, and, most importantly, keeping peace & order, made trade possible.


1- Why were Achaemenid kings called King of Kings?

2- Where was the capital of Achaemenid kings?

3- What did "king's eyes & ears" mean?

4- Who were "the Immortals"?

5- What were the most famous Achaemenid roads?

6- What was the currency called at the time of Darius?

9- Xerxes I

Darius was married to Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great and sister of Cambyses & Bardiya. They had a son Xerxes who became king after him.

Xerxes first campaigned in Egypt and put down a revolt there. He then quelled another revolt in Babylon.

Greeks had also revolted at this time. Xerxes mobilized a huge army from all over the empire and went to war against the Greeks. He sacked Athens and destroyed their temple as punishment for their revolt. Then he went back to Iran.

Artaxerxes Artaxerxes succeeded his father to the throne. Greeks gave him the nickname “Long Armed”. Egyptians again revolted and Greeks joined their revolt. Artaxerxes went to war with them in Egypt and the revolt ended.

Other Kings- There were seven more Achaemenid kings after Artaxerxes, the last of which was Darius III. During this period, Achaemenid system grew weaker and the kings indulged themselves more and more in luxuries and lavish parties. Intrigue & plots were rampant, and courtiers & women competed for influence.

Macedonia & Greece- Macedonia was a state in the northern Greek Peninsula and was considered a vassal state of the Achaemenid Empire. Greece, as was explained earlier, was divided into many independent city-states who were always at war with each other. Sometimes, one would ask the Persian king for aid in defeating the other. Towards the end of Achaemenid rule, Macedonia had grown into a powerful force. Their king, Philip II, conquered most of Greece and united them under one command. His son Alexander the Great succeeded him and mobilized an experienced, powerful army to go to war against the Persians, and free the Greeks and Ionians from Persian rule.

The End of Achaemenids- Darius III, who was not a capable ruler, was King of Kings. Alexander defeated the Persians in Asia Minor. Even though the Persian Army fought courageously, once Darius III fled the battlefield, their ranks collapsed and they were defeated.

Alexander then conquered Syria & Egypt and headed east to Euphrates. Alexander and Darius III faced each other again in today’s northern Iraq. Again, due to Darius’ ineptitude, Persian army was defeated and Babylon fell. Next fell Susa with much of the vast Persian treasury.

One Persian general, Ariobarzanes, Satrap of Persis, cut off Alexander in the mountains of southwest Iran and made a last stand. Greek soldiers managed to circle around and attack him from the rear as well. The Persian army fought valiantly on both fronts, but was eventually overcome. This brave general and all his army fought to the last man, but Alexander triumphed, and the Greek army marched to Persepolis over their dead bodies.

Once in Persepolis, the Greeks committed many atrocities. Alexander ordered massacres and burnt down Persepolis.

Meanwhile, Darius III fled north to gather another army but was killed by two treacherous commanders and the Achaemenid dynasty, who had ruled the world for 220 years, was overthrown. Darius III died in 330 B.C.

Alexander- Alexander was a brave commander, but a drunkard and egotistical. He fought many battles in Iran and India, then returned to Babylon. He fell ill and died there at the age of 32.

Greeks have praised Alexander in excess and he is a great legend in the West. But because of his actions in Iran, Persians called him Alexander the Atrocious. In Persian writings before Islam, this Greek warrior who ruined Iran and burned down Persepolis is always cursed.


1- Who succeeded Darius?

2- Why did Xerxes go to war against Greece?

3- What did Artaxerxes "The Long Armed" do?

4- Where was Macedonia and who was their king?

5- Which Persian general made a last stand against Alexander and scarified himself for Iran?

6- Who was the Last Achaemenid king and how did he die?

7- What did Alexander do in Iran and how do Persians remember him?

[* 10- The Legacy of Persians *]

The advent of Persian Empire was a new chapter in the history of human civilization. Before them, North Africa, western Asia and southeastern Europe were home to many different tribes & nations, each with their own culture and religions. The world was a chaotic place in those days. Nations were constantly at war with each other. There was no secure place to live. Anybody who was stronger would prey on the weak. The Iranian Medes first defeated the Assyrians, but soon after assuming power, they became ostentatious and chose a life of luxury & ease.

The Achaemenid Persians were brave, simple people who suddenly rose up and united the known world under one system. From the first days, it was clear that the noblest & the most liberal of human beings were in charge. Their love of justice, kindness to others and bravery shone in such contrast to the prior atrocities of Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians, that it stunned the world. The world found respite from great hardships and lived in peace for a time. Many historians, as well as the Book of Isaiah, refer to this period as the “Era of Peace”.

The Achaemenid Persians also contributed greatly to the advancement of human civilization. They taught the world lessons on administration, benefits of free exchange among nations- both of goods & knowledge, ethics, arts and religion.

World Order- The Achaemenid system of administration was the first example of how to manage a vast empire under a central federal system. For many centuries afterwards great governments of the world copied it. This method of management was an example of the capabilities & brilliance of Persians.

Law & Ethics- Achaemenid Persians adhered to a strict observance of law; called “Ordinance of Good Regulation”. Others have attested to this throughout history as well. The Old Testament cites “the laws of Persians & Medes that altereth not …”.

Truth & justice was the foundation of Persian ethics. Before he died, Darius left a rock inscription which gives a glimpse of his character and his government. This inscription, which still stands, shall always be a source of pride for the Iranian nation. Parts of this inscription at the tomb of Darius translate:

A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king of many, one lord of many.

I am Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries containing all kinds of men, king in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage… King Darius says: Ahuramazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king.

If now you shall think that “How many are the countries which King Darius held?” look at the names in the inscription, then shall you know, then shall it become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone forth far; then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia.

Darius the King says: By the favor of Ahuramazda I am of such a sort that I am a friend to right, I am not a friend to wrong. It is not my desire that the weak man should have wrong done to him by the mighty; nor is it my desire, that the mighty man should have wrong done to him by the weak.

What is right, that is my desire. I am not a friend to the man who is a Lie-follower. I am not hot-tempered. What things develop in my anger, I hold firmly under control by my thinking power. I am firmly ruling over my own (impulses).

The man who cooperates, him according to his cooperative action, him thus do I reward. Who does harm, him according to the damage thus I punish. It is not my desire that a man should do harm; nor indeed is that my desire, if he should do harm, he should not be punished.

What a man says against a man, that does not convince me, until he satisfies the Ordinance of Good Regulations.

What a man does or performs (for me) according to his (natural) powers, (therewith) I am satisfied, and my pleasure is abundant, and I am well satisfied.

Of such a sort is my understanding and my command: when what has been done by me you shall see or hear of, both in the palace and in the warcamp, this is my activity over and above my thinking power and my understanding.

This indeed is my activity: inasmuch as my body has the strength, as battle-fighter I am a good battle fighter. Once let there be seen with understanding in the place (of battle), what I see (to be) rebellious, what I see (to be) not (rebellious); both with understanding and with command then am I first to think with action, when I see a rebel as well as when I see a not-(rebel).

Trained am I both with hands and with feet. As a horseman I am a good horseman. As a bowman I am a good bowman both afoot and on horseback. As a spearman I am a good spear-man both afoot and on horseback.

Arts- Persians ruled over the great civilizations of the world and since they were not ashamed to learn from others, they learned & spread the knowledge of all civilized nations.

Achaemenid kings invited artists & craftsmen from all corners to work in Iran and gave them good wages. Construction & architecture made great strides in this period. What remains of buildings & palaces in Persepolis & Susa today bear witness to this.

Homes were built from mud and bricks at this time. Iranians worshipped their gods outdoors and under the skies. They did not build large temples & did not carve idols out of stone.

They built large building only for royal palaces and government building. They learned making colorful glazed tiles with animal & human motifs from Babylonians & Assyrians, and improved on it. They made beautiful ceramic vessels with elaborate designs. Bas relief sculpture & motifs in rock were widely used, in palaces as well as on natural rock walls.

Iranian engineers were masters of road building and were capable of building large bridges over rivers and straits.

Upbringing- Persian children learned three things first: ride straight, shoot straight and talk straight.

Strength of body & soul was the foundation of Persian education.

Persians were noble, righteous and unassuming people then. Exercise & martial arts strengthened their bodies. Truth telling, righteousness and discipline built their character. Xenophon, a classic Greek author, wrote a book about Cyrus titled “Cyropaedia”, using him as the exemplifier of perfection in leadership & human character.

Language & Script – Achaemenids and everyone in their dynasty spoke a language that is now classified as “Old Persian”. This language is the mother of the language we speak today. Of course, it has changed drastically over the span of two thousand five thousand years. Still, many of today’s words & expressions bear striking similarities to the ones in the old language.

They used the cuneiform script to write. This script was probably invented by Sumerians at first. Akkadians, Elamite and Assyrians used it too with some modifications. But the Persians made major changes to it and simplified it. This script was written from left to right. A sample of a few letters in it looks like this:


Which spells DARIOUSH, or Darius as we refer to it today.

Persians & Medes wrote on animal skin with pen, as opposed to clay tablets like Sumerians and Assyrians. Because of this, not much is left of their records except for their inscriptions in rocks.

Religion- Before coming to Iran, the Aryans worshipped many gods. Some were gods of goodness and some were evil. But Achaemenids only speak of one god, Ahuramazda, which was the god of wisdom, the creator of earth and people.


During the time when Medes were in power, or perhaps long before that, an enlightened man rose up to question old dogmas. This great man was Zoroaster. Legend has it that when Zoroaster was born, unlike other newborns, he laughed instead of crying. When he was thirty years old, he had a vision of a god who told him to fight against injustice and to never lie. Zoroaster tried to spread this message, but the priests of the established religion opposed him and made life difficult for him. He fled west, where he found a patron in a king named Vishtaspa who welcomed his message and urged people to follow him.

Over time, Zoroastrian ideas spread throughout Iran. Perhaps Achaemenid kings became followers of it towards the end.

Zoroaster believed in a single, omnipotent god called Ahuramazda. He believed there were two powerful opposing forces of good and evil in the outside world as well as inside each of us.

Zoroaster said that these two forces would forever be at odds with each other, and that it is the moral duty of each human being to bear aid to the good, and to help defeat the evil. He said the struggle within each human being can not be won unless one is truthful and fair. According to him, good will eventually overcome evil, light will overcome darkness, and all pains, disease, hunger and other ills, which are the result of evil, would vanish and go away.

In the Zoroastrian faith, darkness represented Satan and light was the sign of goodness. Therefore, Zoroastrians held the sun & fires as sacred signs of good, and built temples with eternal flames. There, they would worship Ahuramazda and the angels and sing Zoroastrian hymns called Gathas.

The Zoroastrian holy book was called the Avesta. One of the chapters is the hymns, or Gathas, which were written by Zoroaster himself.

The language that was used in Avesta is very similar to Persian. It is called Avestan. But the script was different from cuneiform and was written from right to left. Here is an example of it:

Which reads, “ahuramazda”.

Zoroastrian religion was based on morality, doing good, cultivating the land, and striving for peace. Their motto is three things:

Good thoughts. Good words. Good deeds.

No other ancient religion emphasized being good & kind as much Zoroastrianism. It was the religion of Iranians throughout the land until the advent of Islam, and it is the best embodiment of our nobility.


1- Why was the Achaemenid times called the "Era of Peace"?

2- What were the morals of Persians?

3- How did Achaemenid kings treat artists?

4- What were homes built out of during these times?

5- What were Persian engineers good at?

6- What skills did the Persian youth learn?

7- What was the language of the Persians, and how did they write it?

8- What was the religion of ancient Iranians?

9- Who was Zoroaster and what langauge was his book written in?

10- What did Zoroaster teach his followers?

11- What type of script is Avestan?

[* 11- Alexander's Successors *]

Alexander’s wars, and the overthrow of Achaemenid dynasty, ended the peace & order that had been put in place by men like Cyrus & Darius. Suddenly, the world was in chaos again. Greeks & Macedonians were not capable of managing such a vast empire. While Alexander was still alive, he tried to follow the Achaemenid ways and run the empire the same way as it was done before. But when he died, it all fell apart.

Knowing that the Greeks were not ready to replace the Persians, Alexander tried to bring the Persians & the Greeks together, and make them one nation. He married a Persian himself, and ordered his generals to marry Persian women.

When Alexander died, he did not have a son to succeed him. Therefore, the vast lands that Greeks & Macedonians had captured in wars, was divided up among his generals. These generals fought each other from the start, and there was disorder everywhere. Eventually, one of the generals by the name of Seleucus took control of eastern part of the empire, and established a dynasty which became known as the Seleucids. This dynasty was established in 305 B.C, and included large parts of Iran.

Since the Greeks were unfamiliar with administration of an empire, they tried to imitate the Persians, and employ the same structure as the Achaemenids had. But they couldn’t manage such a vast empire. Most of the successors of Seleucus were born to Iranian mothers, and Seleucid kings respected Persian customs, which were superior to Greek ways. Many Greeks moved to Iran during these times and settled in different parts. But Iranians always considered the Greeks foreigners, and would not obey them. From the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty, one of the Iranian governors who had been appointed by Alexander to rule Azerbaijan, revolted. He then took over a large province in the east called Bactria, and set up an independent government. Then, the Iranian family of Parthians, who were from what is called Khorasan today, also revolted and defeated the Seleucids in the northeast, establishing the Parthian dynasty (249 B.C.).

Seleucids ruled over Iran for 67 years. Once they lost most of the Iranian territories, they ruled in Syria, parts of Asia Minor, and parts of western Iran. Seleucids and Parthians were constantly at war with each other, until finally the Parthian king [+ Mithridates+] took Babylon in 139 B.C., and captured Demetrius II, the Seleucid king. Later, the Romans defeated the Seleucids in Syria, and finished the Seleucids.


1- Why did Alexander want to make one nation out of Iranians & Greeks?

2- What happened after Alexander died?

3- Who was Seleucus and what did he do?

4- Which Iranian province was the first to become independent from Greeks?

5- Which Dynasty drove the Seleucids out of Iran?

6- How long did the Seleucids rule over Iran?

7- Which Seleucid king was captured by Parthians?

12- Parthian Empire

Parthians were Aryans who had migrated to Iran and settled in the northeastern parts. During the Achaemenid dynasty, Parthia was one of the Satrapies subservient to the King of Kings.

When the Achaemenids were overthrown and Greeks conquered Iran, Alexander’s successors ruled over Parthia. But Iranians were always rebelling. Among them, Parthians living in Khorasan & Gorgan, led by their leader Arsaces, defeated the Greek Seleucids and drove them out.

They began a new dynasty named after their founder Arsaces, or Arashk in Persian, and called themselves Ashkanian.

Arsaces I- When Arsaces united his people and began fighting the Seleucids, these skirmishes lasted for six years. Eventually, the Seleucids were defeated and Arsaces was crowned in 249 B.C.

At this time, northeastern Iranian provinces such as Sogdia, Marv and Balkh- parts of today’s Uzbekistan & Afghanistan, were called Bactria at the time, and had set up an independent kingdom there. After defeating the Seleucids, Arsaces went to war against these Bactrians and was killed fighting them.

Artabanus After Arsaces I, Artabanus became king under the throne title of Arsaces II. He continued the war with Seleucids and was defeated. His capital was near today’s Damghan. Western Iran was still under the control of Seleucids.

[* Mithridates I*] or Arsaces VI was one of the great Parthian kings. He defeated the Seleucids, added most of Iran to the Parthian empire, and captured the Seleucid king Demetrius. Azerbaijan, parts of northern India, Persia and Babylon were once again part of the Persian empire, and Mithridates was called King of Kings for the first time since the Achaemenid times.

Phraates II was crowned Arsaces VII and had to go to war with the Seleucids again. Antiochus VII attacked Iran with a great army, but he was eventually defeated by Phraates and killed. After this, the Seleucids never ruled any part of Iran again.

Scythian Ambush- Scythians were one of the Iranian people who had settled east of the Caspian Sea. Under the Achaemenids, they were part of the Persian empire.

During Parthian times, yellow skinned people of southern Siberia, who used to attack Chinese towns before, turned east and drove Scythians out of part of their homeland. Scythians, in turn, started attacking Parthian lands and Bactria. Once Phraates II had driven the Seleucids out, he set out to deal with the Scythians. But he was killed in a battle and the Scythians occupied Sistan & parts of today’s Afghanistan. Sistan, which was called Zarangae at the time, became known as Sakastan, meaning the land of Sakas or Scythians. Over time, the name Sakastan morphed into Sistan, which is what we call it today.

From this point on, Iranian powers were always at war with yellow skinned nomads who would attack from the northeast and sack cities and settlements. It became Iran’s historic duty to protect civilization from the attack of these barbarians from north Asia, and the task kept getting more important and more difficult with time. Attacks from the northeast were always a problem for Iranians. Even Cyrus the Great had been killed fighting similar attacks centuries earlier.

[* Mithridates II*] was the ninth Parthian king. He contained the Scythians, and dealt with marauders from the north in a way that they stopped sacking border towns.

Meanwhile, another serious enemy arrived on the scene. That was the Roman Empire. The Persians & Romans would be at war with each other for centuries to come.

[* 13- Rome & Iran *]

Rome- In the heart of the beautiful boot shaped Italian peninsula, people from many different backgrounds, including Greeks, had settled and formed a government in the ancient city of Rome. Rome’s power grew slowly and spread in northern & western Europe. Soon, wars broke out between Romans and Phoenicians who had migrated to north Africa and established powerful colonies there. These wars went on for years until the Romans triumphed.

Starting in the third century B.C., Romans marched east and fought the Greeks in Macedonia. In the end, they conquered all of Greece & Egypt, which were then being ruled by the descendants of one of Alexander’s generals. Then the Romans turned their attention to Asia and locked horns with the remaining Seleucid kings who had been driven from Iran but still controlled parts of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine; all the way to the banks of river Euphrates.

Finally, the Seleucids who were under attack from east & west were vanquished and the Romans conquered western Asia, becoming neighbors with Parthian Persians.

The first contacts between Parthians and Romans occurred during the reign of Mithridates II. As the two emerging powers eyed each other, the Parthian king sent an ambassador to open talks.

Armenia- Around the same time Aryans were moving south into Iran, another people from the same race had settled around Mount Ararat, and established a presence north of what is Azerbaijan today. They had replaced the indignant powers in the area and established a government of their own. These were the Armenians and their country was called Armenia.

During the Achaemenid dynasty, Armenia was a Persian Satrapy, and was later rule by the Seleucids like the rest of the empire. When Mithridates drove the Seleucids out of Iran, Armenians were independent again, and somehow a Parthian prince became their king. Thereafter, they were an ally, and guardedly subservient to the Parthian kings.

When the Romans established themselves in Asia Minor, Armenia became a buffer state between the two superpowers. Armenia was caught in the middle and became a testing ground for Persia and Rome to clash and contest each other’s ambitions. This tug-of-war went on for centuries.

Orodes II was the 20th king in the Parthian dynasty (Arsaces XX) who beat his brother [+ Mithridates III+] to the throne with the help of his brilliant general Surena. At this time, Roman empire was ruled by three separate governors. [+ Crassus+], an ambitious general who was perhaps the wealthiest man in Rome, ruled Syria and Roman territories of Western Asia. He wanted to add Iran and India to the Roman Empire. Crassus mobilized a great army to attack Iran and convinced Armenia to join him. Orodes sent an ambassador suggesting negotiations instead of war. Crassus, who was confident of his military superiority, said, “I will negotiate with you once I am in your capital city”, meaning I’ll talk after I defeat your army and capture your capital. Orodes’ ambassador stretched out his hand and said, “You will see our capital just as surely as you see a strand of hair on this palm”.

War ensued. Orodes first headed for Armenia to prevent the Armenians from cooperating with the Romans. There, he dispatched one of his great generals Surena and his army to go face the Romans. Surena’s army was superbly trained as riders & archers. The two forces clashed in Battle of Carrhae, and the Iranian army soundly defeated a numerically superior Roman force, killing Emperor Crassus and his son Herod. Roman ranks suffered greatly and the few Roman soldiers who weren’t killed or captured, escaped with great difficulty. Battle of Carrhae was an important victory for the Parthians as it put an end to Roman ambitions in the east.


1- Where was Rome and how did it come to prominence?

2- When did the Parthians and Romans first make contact?

3- Where is Armenia and who were their kings?

4- Why did Orodes and Crassus go to war?

5- What did Orodes' ambassador say to Crassus?

6- What was Crassus' fate in the end?

[* 14- Parthian Empire *]


Phraates IV son of Orodes II succeeded him to the throne as Arsaces XXII. It was during his reign that the famous Roman general Mark Antony attacked Persia again. But the Parthian army defeated him so soundly that most of his army was killed, and Mark Antony barely escaped with his life. The key to this victory was the role of Parthian archers. Parthians had invented the stirrup just a few years earlier, and quickly learned to use it to their advantage in battles. Their strategy was to confuse the enemy by pretending to be in retreat, and as the enemy gave chase to finish them off, they would suddenly stand up on their stirrups, turn around and fire at their pursuers from their galloping horses. Parthian archers performed this technique so superbly that the term “Parthian shot” became known the world over as an example of deadly accuracy from then on. (Today we call it the “parting shot”.)

Antony returned two years later to avenge his defeat, but was again defeated so completely that Rome did not think of attacking Iran for the next 100 years or so.

Birth of Jesus Christ- two years after Phraates IV died, Jesus, the prophet of Christianity was born. Christianity, which had few followers at the beginning, grew to become the religion of Greeks, Romans, and most of Europe. Western history is marked from his birth, and events before this are marked as “B.C.”, or “Before Christ”. This calendar is the most common in the world today.

Birth of Christ was 622 years before the Hejrat of Prophet of Islam Muhammad, which is the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

Fights over Armenia- We know little about Parthians except the stories of their wars against Rome. Most of these wars were because Romans wanted to be the sole superpower in the world. Once they occupied Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Asia Minor, they became neighbors with Iran. They naturally wanted to keep going and conquer the rest of Asia.

The main bone of contention between these two powers was ostensibly their differences over Armenia. Armenian kings, many of whom were related to Parthians by blood, had historically been Iranian allies. But the Romans cleverly tried to drive a wedge between the two monarchies, and supported Armenian princes who pledged to side with Romans if they succeeded to power.

Parthian kings were determined to keep Armenia within Iranian sphere of influence, and not let it become a base for future Roman attacks. Stakes were high for both Rome & Iran, which led to many wars between these two great powers.

One of the most important events of Parthian dynasty was the attack of Roman Emperor Trajan. Trajan tricked the Armenian king, who was related to, and an ally of Parthians, and killed him. He then attacked Iran from the west.

The Parthian king at this time was Osroes I (Arsaces XL) who retreated, and Trajan captured western Iran. (117 A.D.)

The Romans committed another act of treachery towards the end of Parthian era. The Roman emperor  Caracalla had a plan to kill the Parthian king Artabanus V and conquer Iran. To do this, he wrote and asked to marry the king’s daughter. Artabanus agreed but said the Emperor himself must come and take his bride. Caracalla went with an army, set up camp near the Parthian border, and invited Artabanus to a party in celebration of the occasion. When Artabanus arrived with his entourage, the treacherous Romans ambushed them. Artabanus himself escaped death, but several of his commanders were killed there.

Once Artabanus returned, he mobilized a great army and returned to fight. Meanwhile, Caracalla had already been murdered in Carrhae. Artabanus soundly defeated Caracalla’s successor and the Romans sued for truce, agreeing to give up all their earlier conquests, return the booty, and pay heavy reparations to Parthians.

The end of Parthian Dynasty- Centuries of war with Romans was taking its toll on Parthians, and things began to fall apart. Local governors were squeezing the population too much, and disobeying the overwhelmed kings. People were unhappy and dreamt of days when powerful, functioning governments were in charge, like the days of Achaemenids. That is why when a Persian ruler named Ardashir rose up; they joined him wholeheartedly and in great numbers.

Ardashir took Kerman and Khuzestan provinces, and came face to face with Artabanus in the plains of [+ Hormozdgan+]. Artabanus was killed in this battle and his respective dynasty, after 474 years of rule and 49 kings in succession, came to an end. This was the year 224 A.D.

Ardashir was crowned the sole king of Iran in Ctesiphon and thus was the Sassanian dynasty founded.


1- Who was Mark Antony and when did he attack Iran?

2- When was Jesus Christ born?

3- What is the significance of Jesus' birth to our calendar?

4- Which country was the catalyst for clashes between Iran & Rome?

5- Who was Caracalla and what was his treachery?

6- Why did Parthian dynasty fall?

[* 15- Parthian Civilization *]

Parthian capital- Parthian’s first capital was near today’s Damghan which was known as the “city of thousand gates”. But since they were constantly at war with Seleucids and later Romans, they made Ctesiphon on the banks of river Tigris their capital. Ctesiphon was flourishing for centuries after the fall of Parthians. Today’s Baghdad was one of its suburbs.

Government structure- Parthian empire was divided into several provinces. Each province was usually ruled by a local ancestral king. When Parthians conquered a new land, they would often re-appoint the same presiding king to continue ruling the state so long as he obeyed the King of Kings and paid taxes to the Parthian central government. Sometime they would appoint new kings.

Philhellenism When the Parthians first came to power, Seleucids ruled over all of Iran and large number of Greeks had built cities for themselves & lived there. The most important of these was Seleucia-on-Tigris. Parthians, like other Iranians, tolerated them and treated them fairly. They also called themselves Hellenophiles, meaning “Greece loving”, in order to appease the Greeks and avoid revolts. This word can be seen on some Parthian coins.

System of government- In the Parthian system, the king was the highest authority in the land, and had to be a descendant of Arsaces I. This position was hereditary and passed from father to son.

They also had two councils. One was the council of nobles, which was made up of all the adult men of the Parthian family. The other was council of elders, which was made up of experienced statesmen, commanders and religious leaders. The two councils were together called “Magistan”. When a king died, Magistan congress would select a successor from among his children, or other Parthian princes.

Religion- In the beginning, Parthians practiced the ancient Aryan religion. When they were rulers of all of Iran, they grew close to Medians & Persians, and began to also worship some of their gods, like Mithra and Anahita. By the middle of their dynasty, Zoroastrianism had spread everywhere, and some Parthian kings favored this religion.

Vologases I who was a great Parthian king ordered copies of Avesta be distributed all over the country so that people learn about Zoroastrianism.

But like Achaemenids, Parthians let people choose their own religion and worship their own gods. During their time, in some cities, Greek religions were practiced and Christianity was also practiced widely. Leaders of Christianity made western Iran the center of Christian religion.

Language & script- Parthians spoke an Iranian language called Pahlavi, which is a variation of the word Parthavi, or Parthian. This language has the same root as Old Persian, which was the language of Achaemenids. Pahlavi script was called by the same name as the language, and was written from right-to-left. This is an example of Pahlavi script from a rock inscription:

Life & upbringing- Parthian youth were trained in riding and archery more than anything else. Parthians were so skilled in these martial arts that they were examples of excellence in horsemanship & archery all over the world. In the many wars with Seleucids & Romans, it was usually the skills of these riders that would lead to Parthian victory.

Young people had to learn to be good hunters as well. Parthian men wore long tunics with baggy pants. They wore headband instead of hats while they rode to keep their hair from blowing around. They wore their hair long, and curled their beards, or sometimes shave.

Their weapons were powerful bows and straight swords. All men carried wide, straight daggers in their belts. Parthian cavalry wore armor, metal pointy helmets, and carried a spear.


1- What was the Parthian capital city?

2- How did the Parthian government operate?

3- Why did Parthians call themselves Hellenophiles?

4- What is Magistan?

5- What was the religion of Parthians?

6- What language did Parthians speak and how did the write it?

7- What were young Parthians learn growing up and what did Parthian men dress?

16- Sassanian Empire

During the Parthian dynasty Iran was divided into many provinces, each with their own autonomous local governors who ran the affairs on the ground. In turn, they each would send in their share of taxes every year towards the defense of the empire. When there was a war, each province would send troops.

Persia, one of those provinces, was being governed by local tribal rulers. A man named Sassan was in charge of an important fire temple there in the city of Istakhr. Sassan married the daughter of a local ruler. Their son Papak became the ruler of small area when he grew up. He then sent one of his own sons, Ardashir, to govern the city of Darabgard.

Ardashir was a charismatic, brave and ambitious man. He wouldn’t be satisfied with this petty assignment. First, he united other cities in the vicinity, then went to war with the governor of Kerman and defeated him. He put one of his sons in charge there. Next, he captured Isfahan and added it to his growing realm.

The Parthian king Artabanus IV took note of the commotion and ordered the governor of Ahvaz to arrest Ardashir and send him to the capital Ctesiphon in chains. But Ardashir attacked Ahvaz preemptively and killed the governor. Finally, Ardashir came face to face with the Parthian king in the plains of Hormozdgan. A ferocious battle ensued in which the Parthian King of Kings was killed. Parthian government imploded, and suddenly, Ardashir was in Ctesiphon atop a great empire. He named his new dynasty Sassanians, after his grandfather Sassan (224 A.D.). In a nod to his father, he became known as Ardashir-i-Papakan.

Ardashir Son of Papak

After overthrowing the Parthians, Ardashir set out to unite the empire and put affairs in order. First he raced with a great army to the northeast and quelled uprisings in Khorasan and Central Asia. Then he went to India and took Punjab which had been part of the Persian Empire during Achaemenids. On his return, he subdued Armenia and Georgia which had seceded recently.

War with Rome- Romans, who had been taking advantage of the decline of Parthian weakness towards the end, began to worry about rise of Ardashir.

Caesar Alexander Severus wrote a letter to Ardashir reminding him of recent Persian defeats in an attempt to intimidate him. Ardashir sent a delegation of 400 tall, handsome knights to the Caesar in Rome with a message that Asia belonged to Persia and that the Romans better give up Syria & Asia Minor and go back to Europe. Ardashir’s emissaries were dressed in stunning garbs, riding beautiful caparisoned horses with gold stirrups & bits, and delivered their message with such confidence that the Roman emperor became furious. Disregarding all the usual customs & protocols, he threw the Persian emissaries in jail and prepared for war.

Romans attacked on three fronts. The first army attacked Azerbaijan in the northwest, the second headed for Susa, and the third, led by the emperor himself, went for the heart of Iran, Persia. Ardashir first crushed the second army. The first army faltered in Azerbaijan and withdrew. When Ardashir turned to head for the emperor’s army, Severus realized he had bitten off more than he could chew and made a hasty retreat back to Rome. All the cities Rome had captured in the last years of Parthians were retaken and rejoined the Persian Empire.

Ardashir’s Accomplishments- Once Ardashir was done with fighting and order was restored, he made the interior of the empire safe and repaired the government bureaucracy. He established a Persian dynasty that would last for some 400 years after him.

Zoroastrian religion- was already widespread throughout Iran. Parthian kings, except for a few, didn’t pay much attention to religion. Ardashir, whose ancestors had been clerics and guardians of fire temples, made Zoroastrianism the official religion of state. New fire temples were built, chief Magi’s joined the highest ranks of government, and their holy book Avesta was redistributed throughout the empire.

End of Federalism- People had grown tired of local rulers and their in-fightings. Ardashir put an end to this and brought the whole empire under one central rule. No more local kings. Everyone would be governed by a central, unified government in the capital.

Social order- Ardashir established a caste system and divided people into classes. This system would last for four centuries.

Law Reforms- Harsh punishments for some crimes, such as cutting off hands, were banned.

The Immortals- After the Achaemenids, Iranian kings stopped keeping a standing army ready at all times to face enemies and revolts. Ardashir returned to that practice and formed the Immortal Guard exactly as they were during the Achaemenids.

Wisdom- Ardashir is considered one of the wisest Persian kings in history. His examples were closely followed, and he was quoted by his successors for centuries.

Iranian Awakening- for Sassanians, Iranian race & nationality were central. Unlike Parthians who called themselves Hellenophiles, and treated all citizens of the empire the same way, Ardashir built his dynasty on Iranian identity & customs, and made Zoroastrianism the official religion of the state.

Sassanians considered themselves descendants of Achaemenids, and traced their line to Artaxerxes “the Long Armed”. Because of this, they believed ruling Iran was their right. Sassanian kings were called “Mazda worshipping king of Iranians and Aniranians”. The term Aniranian referred to anyone who was a subject of the empire, but not Iranian. It shows they thought Iran & Iranians were different and superior to others.

The rise of Sassanians to power was the result of Iranian nationalistic tendencies, who still remembered the greatness of Achaemenids after 5 centuries, and dreamed of repeating that grandeur.

Shapur I

When Ardashir died, his son Shapur was crowned king in 240 A.D. In his first days on the throne, Armenia and Hatra revolted. Shapur put down the Armenian revolt quickly, but Hatra, with its high walled fortifications was challenging to put down. Then the daughter of Hatra’s king, who was in love with Shapur and hoped to marry him, led the Persians in, where her father was killed during the fighting. Instead of marrying her, Shapur ordered her to be punished for betraying her father.

War with Rome- Iran and Rome continued their wars after Shapur became king. First, Shapur captured Roman fortresses in Nisbis & Carrhae, and emperor Gordian III confronted him with a great army, re-took Nisbis & Carrhae, and drove Shapur back. But when he pressed on, he was killed in one of the battles with the Persians. His successor Philip sued for peace giving up Armenia to Iran, and paying enormous reparations to Shapur.

Philip soon reneged and war broke out again. Shapur advanced and captured Antioch by the Mediterranean Sea. Roman legions were out-maneuvered and surrounded. Roman emperor Valerian was captured alive by a local unit and turned over to the Persian army. Shapur insisted the emperor kneel before his horse and beg for forgiveness. Later, Shapur would use the defeated Roman emperor as a foot stool when mounting his horse. This victory and humiliation gained great respect for the new Sassanian Empire and extended Sassanian borders to the Mediterranean Sea. Shapur carved a grand bas relief depiction of Valerian and Philip submitting to him at Naqsh-e-Rostam.

Rebuilding the Country- Once Shapur had settled with Rome, he turned to rebuilding Iran. One of his great projects that has survived to this day is a large dam on river Karun near Susa.

New cities were built. One of them was Bishapur near today’s Kazerun. Another was Gundeshapur between today’s Dezful & Sushtar, which was home to a medical school and a center for research for centuries. Its hospital was legendary. He also built the famed city of Neishapur in Khorasan.

There is a [+ Colossal Statue of Shapur+] inside a cave near Kazerun that is more than 20 feet high. It was broken and fallen for centuries but has been repaired and re-erected recently.

Mani During Shapur’s reign, a charismatic man by the name of Mani claimed to be a prophet with a new religion. Mani was a great painter and had illustrated his book with beautiful colorful illustrations. This book was called “Arzhang”. At first, Shapur welcomed him but after a while he grew worried that the new religion could cause rifts and lead to upheavals in the land. He exiled Mani.

Religion of Mani, Manichean, spread throughout Asia and Europe in time, and had followers from high deserts of central Asia to southern France. Later, when Christianity and Islam spread, Manichean religion was put out.

Shapur’s successors did not distinguish themselves as capable rulers or commanders. The seventh king in the Sassanian dynasty, Narseh, was defeated by the Romans and the Romans re-took most what they had ceded to Ardashir & Shapur earlier. Narseh took these defeats hard. He abdicated the throne in favor of his son and died shortly after from grief and depression.


1- Who was Ardashir's father?

2- Why was Ardashir's dynasty called Sassanians?

3- Why did Ardashir and Rome went to war, and what was the outcome?

4- What did Ardashir do to restore order in Iran?

5- How did Shapur capture Hatra?

6- How far did Sassanian borders stretch to the west?

7- Which Roman emperor was captured by the Persians?

8- What did Shapur do to rebuild Iran?

9- Who was Mani and what was his art?

[* 17- Sassanian Dynasty *]


Shapur II The tenth Sassanian king was Shapur II who is one of the greatest men in Persian history. When his father [+ Hormizd II+] died, Shapur had not yet been born. Since there were no other princes qualified to rule & succeed, he was chosen to rule the empire before birth. A crown hung over his mother’s belly as she went into labor. Shapur II is the only king in history to be crowned in utero. By the time he was sixteen, he assumed full control.

War with Arabs- When Shapur was a child, the empire was in chaos. Arabs used to sack cities and even the capital Ctesiphon was sometimes threatened. As soon as he took control, he mobilized a naval armada and put down the Arab menace so decisively that Arabs did not venture north for centuries.

Christian Rome- Romans were pagans up until this time, meaning they believed in many gods and worshipped idols carved from stone. Three centuries after the birth of Jesus Christ, Christian faith slowly spread throughout territories and Rome itself. But the Roman emperors and the court were still pagans and killed Christians under the harshest of tortures.

During Shapur II’s reign, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and made it Rome’s state religion. Constantine also pledged to protect Christians everywhere, including inside the Persian Empire.

At the same time, the Armenian king Tigranes VII, who had up to now been an enemy of Christians, also converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of Armenia. He harshly forced everyone else to convert.

From this time on, in addition to political differences, religious differences entered into Perso-Roman relations. Some Assyrian citizens of Iran, and some Iranians themselves converted and sympathized with Rome and Armenia inside Iran.

War with Huns Chinese Hunnic tribes were a yellow skinned people from Central Asia. They were vicious nomads who would attack Iran periodically from the northeast and had become a constant scourge for the locals. In order to secure east of the empire from these savages, Shapur went to war with them and fought for seven long years until he broke them. Some of the surviving Huns joined Shapur’s army and the northeast was safe for a long time after this.

War with Rome- As soon as Shapur had settled matters in the east, he set out to retake territories lost to Rome during his grandfather Narseh’s reign. Shapur’s wars with Rome lasted five years until the Roman Emperor Julian was killed by a Persian dart, and his successor Emperor Jovian escaped the Persians with great difficulty, agreeing to Shapur’s terms. In a rock relief in Taq-Bostan, Shapur II is depicted standing atop the fallen Roman Emperor, whose face bears a striking resemblance to his official portrait on Roman coins. With this victory, Sassanians regained the territories lost during Narseh’s reign. Romans were expelled from eastern Mesopotamia and pledged not to interfere with Armenia’s affairs anymore.

In addition to this, they agreed to pay an annual supplement to help Iran protect both powers from incursions of local nomads in the Caucuses.

Shapur II was one of the greatest kings of Persia, and is called Shapur the Great. He was king for more years than seventy years. His victories against the Huns relieved the country from savage assaults and his defeat of Romans restored Iranian borders to their heyday. The world recognized Iran as a prestigious power. He died in 379 A.D.

Division of Roman Empire- In the reign of Bahram IV, Rome was divided into two parts. The eastern empire was centered in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, and the capital of the western empire was still Rome. From here on out, whenever we talk about the Roman Empire, we refer to this eastern part because the western part was lost and vanquished in wars with semi-barbarian Goths soon afterward.

Yazdegerd I Shapur II’s son Yazdegerd was a kind and honorable man. Sensing the Zoroastrian clergy were treating people harshly and unjustly, he reined them in. Because of this, they bore animosity towards him and called him “sinner”.

By this time, Rome had grown very weak. Yazdegerd could, if he wanted to, wrest all of Syria and Asia Minor away from them. But this gentle king didn’t care for wars & bloodshed, and had good relationships with Romans. His treatment of Roman emperor’s son is a good example of Iranian honor.

The Roman emperor Arcadius knew he was near death, and was worried that his little boy would be killed in the intrigues that were sure to follow his death. He sent his son to the Persian king for safekeeping. Yazdegerd received him with open arms and appointed the wisest teachers in Iran to educate him. He then sent a message to Roman Senate warning them that anyone who was an enemy of the emperor’s son, would be considered an enemy of Persia.

This boy grew up to return to Rome and rule as Emperor Theodosius II. Yazdegerd continued to support him and as long as the two were alive, there were no conflicts between Rome and Persia. It is fitting that we shall call him Yazdegerd the Magnanimous.

Theodosius sent an ambassador to Iran asking the king to protect Christians within his empire and not allow anyone to harm them. Persian king replied that all Iranian citizens, regardless of their beliefs, were his children under his protection. He made sure Christians and Jews would be free to build their own churches and temples, and worship as they wished. Yazdegerd died in a hunting accident when he was kicked by a horse in 420 A.D.


1- Who was Nersah and how did his wars with Rome end?

2- Why did they suspend a crown over Shapur II's mother's bed?

3- What did Shapur do with Arabs?

4- What was the great change in Rome's makeup during Shapur's reign?

5- Who were the Hunnics and what did Shapur do about them?

6- How did Shapur II regained the five territories lost to Rome earlier?

7- When and how was Rome divided into two?

8- What favor did Yazdegerd do for the Roman emperor?

[* 18- Sassanian Dynasty *]


Bahram V “The Hunter”- Yazdegerd had sent one of his sons to be educated by [+ Nu’man+], the king of Lakhmids in Mesopotamia, near today’s city of Kufa in Iraq. These people were Arabs and their kingdom was subservient to the Persian king. Bahram grew up in a legendary palace called Khawarnagh.

Lion & the Crown- When Yazdegerd died, Iranian establishment & clergy, who were not happy with his policies, did not wish for his son to succeed, fearing that he would continue with his father’s peaceful, tolerant ways. So they installed a prince by the name of Khosrau to the throne. Bahram would not accept this arrangement, and rushed back to the capital to contest. It has been said that it was agreed to place the Sassanian crown between two wild lions, and whoever prince was brave enough to retrieve it, shall be the next king. Khosrau flinched, but Bahram stepped up bravely, killed both lions, and took the crown.

War with Rome- Another war broke out between Rome and Iran. Romans were persecuting Zoroastrians in their realm, and Iranians were doing the same to Christians in Persia. A group of Christians fled Persia and took amnesty with the Romans. When the Roman emperor refused to force these Persian citizens to return, war broke out.

Bravery of the Immortals- Romans advance through several fierce battles, and Bahram was getting ready to negotiate for peace. The Persian Immortal Guard, who were some of the bravest fighters anywhere, pleaded with their king to let them fight on. They struggled valiantly to drive the Romans back. Horrendous battles took place. At first, the Immortals advanced, but then the tide turned with the arrival of fresh Roman legions. The Immortals continued to fight until they were killed to the last man.

Peace with Rome- Eventually, both sides agreed to peace and returned to status quo. They both agreed not to persecute Christians and Zoroastrians in their respective empires. To settle the problems in Armenia, Bahram installed a new king, but most of the Armenian establishment were unhappy, and asked to join the Persian empire, and be governed directly from the capital.

Attack of the Hephthalites Hephthalite hordes were a yellow skinned people related to Huns. They attacked Iran from the northeast in waves, and caused a horrific panic in the bordering provinces.

When the news reached Bahram in Ctesiphon, instead of mobilizing a great army, he, ostensibly, set out on one of his hunts and headed northwest to Azerbaijan. As more & more troops joined him along the way, Bahram’s turned east traveling at nights, and reached the borders of Khorasan without being noticed by the enemy. From there, they ambushed the Hephthalite forces with large numbers and wiped them out until their ranks imploded and they retreated in chaos. Their king, or Khan, was killed in the battle and his crown was sent back to Iran as a memento. With this victory, Iran was safe from menace of these barbaric hordes for a while.

Sind & Makran Before returning, Bahram went to India, and the Indian king who was relieved they too were rid of Hephthalite attacks, ceded Sind & Makran provinces to the Sassanians as his contribution.

Bahram died in 438 A.D.

Bahram’s Administration- Besides being a brave commander, protecting Iran from Roman and Hephthalite threats, he also worked to make the empire prosperous. He loved to hunt. Whenever he found an opportunity, he would go on long, elaborate hunting expeditions. He is known as Bahram the Hunter. He also encouraged learning and arts, respected skilled craftsmen. He made sure there was justice in the empire and that all citizens were treated equally under the law.

Stories of his charity, patronage, justice and hospitality spread and Bahram became a legend among Persians who celebrated him for centuries after his death.

Many of his exploits are related in Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. Of the five books of Nezami, his Quinary “Five Gems” includes some of Bahram’s life & romances. It is said that Bahram brought twelve thousand musicians back with him from India, and sent them out to all corners of the empire to make people happier by playing & teaching music.

Bahram’s Successors

Bahram’s successors were constantly busy fighting on two fronts, one from northeast with Hephthalites, the other in the west where Armenians, urged on by the Romans, would revolt and cause instability. But the danger from the northeast was getting more and more serious, until Bahram’s grandson, Peroz I, was killed in a battle near today’s Balkh against the enemy king Khoshnavaz.

Kavadh I

Peroz’ brother Balash succeeded to the throne. Peroz’ own son, Kavadh was the governor of Sistan at this time. He joined forces with Khoshnavaz, the Hephthalite king who once fought his father, and headed for Iran to contest the throne. Meanwhile, Balash died, and Kavadh became king.

Kavadh spend most his life fighting the Romans, Hephthalites, and the Iberians of Eastern Georgia. Iberians lived in northern Caucuses, and continually attacked northern Iran and eastern Rome. Iranian dynasties always maintained fortifications along mountain passes of Caucuses to prevent these attacks. Romans, who were also suffering from these continuous attacks, would contribute their share of defending against Iberians to Iran, and this topic was always included in negations between the two powers going back to early Parthian times. Iberians attacked Iran again at the beginning of Kavadh’s reign. Kavadh defeated them, and drove them away.

Then war broke out with Rome again. Iranians were advancing well, until word arrived that Hephthalites had again attacked the other end of the empire. Kavadh had no choice but to make peace with the Romans, and head east. He fought the Hephthalites for the next ten years until they were wiped out and the danger passed. He then returned west and went to war with Romans, who had united with northern Hunnic tribes. These wars lasted several years and were inconclusive.

Mazdak In the beginning of Kavadh’s reign, a man by the name of Mazdak claimed to be a prophet, and urged people to rise up against the Zoroastrian establishment. Since he advocated equal distribution of wealth among citizens, large numbers of poor and disaffected joined him. At first Kavadh saw Mazdak as counter-balance to the influence & excesses of the Zoroastrian priesthood. But the priest class revolted and overthrew the king, replacing him with his brother Djamsp.

Kavadh escaped imprisonment and took refuge among Hephthalites, returning the next year at the head of their army to take back the throne. This time, he killed Mazdak and banned his religion.

Kavadh’s Administration- Kavadh also worked hard to build up the country and make it more prosperous. He built beautiful cities, one of which was on the road between Kazeroun and Fars, and the other is today’s Ganja in Azerbaijan.


1- Where was Bahram raised and how did he become king?

2- What did the Immortal Guard do in the war against Rome?

3- How did Bahram's war with Rome conclude, and what happened to Armenia?

4- Who were the Hephthalites, and how did Bahram drive them out?

5- How did the provinces of Sind & Makran were added to the Persian empire?

6- Why was this king called "Bahram the Hunter"?

7- Who was Peroz and how did he die?

8- Who were the Iberians, and during which king's reign did they attack Iran?

9- What did Mazdak say and why did people follow him? What did Kavadh do to him?

10- What did Kavadh do inside the empire?

[* 19- Sassanian Dynasty *]


Khosrow I When Kavadh lost his throne in a palace coup for a while, he escaped prison and headed northeast until he found refuge in the home of a small landowner in Neishapur. He married that man’s daughter, and when they had a son, they named him Khosrow. Those were hard days for a great king; homeless, wandering without allies nor a plan. Maybe because of this he loved Khosrow more than his other children once he regained the throne, and wanted him to be his heir. When he died, his oldest son claimed the throne. But since the great Vizier favored Khosrow, and he was also brave and intelligent himself, he eventually became king. He was nicknamed Khosrow the Just, because of his wisdom and love of justice.

Peace with Rome- When Khosrow took power, the empire was in chaos. As a result of mismanagement and famines, people were hungry and poor. Government officials were squeezing the people on top of that. Mazdak and his message had further divided the country along class lines.

Khosrow thought it wise to forget about the threat of foreigners, and focus on the internal affairs. Therefore, he made peace with Rome. One of the conditions of this peace was that the Roman Empire would pay an annual stipend to Iran for keeping both great powers safe from the marauding hordes of the Caucuses. Another was that Lazika, a section of today’s Georgia, shall stay under Persian rule. After settling this agreement, Khosrow turned to restoring order within Iranian society.

End of Mazdakism- Kavadh had dealt with Mazdak and prohibited the practice of his religion, but he still had fervent followers who continued to disrupt order in society. Khosrow wiped them out and ended all Mazdakism practices.

Reforms in the Country- Khosrow knew that the root cause of Mazdak’s appeal was oppression and inequalities in society. So he set out to end these ills and make people’s lives better. First, he reformed the tax system, making sure nobody was forced to pay more than what was fair, or they could afford. Then he sent inspectors to every city to investigate mistreatments, listen to people’s grievances, and restore faith in the rule of law and deliver justice.

He divided the empire into four parts and appointed governors with far reaching powers to root out corruption. The king himself also worked everyday as a judge, hearing cases and resolving disputes of ordinary citizens.

Up to now, whenever there was a war, each province would mobilize all the men they could, and send them to help in the campaign. When the war was over, each would get his salary and go back to his homeland. Khosrow formed a standing army with hierarchy and discipline, where officers and soldiers received regular salaries in peace or in war.

Begging & idleness were not tolerated those days, and anyone who was idle would be punished. Agriculture flourished. Silk worms were brought over from China and the textile industry was revived. Indigo was brought over from India. Khosrow made trade easier by building good roads and making sure they were safe for caravans. During his time, Persia’s position as a center of world trade improved drastically.

Khosrow supported universities and encouraged research. The most famous was the University in Gundeshapur which had a prestigious medical school. Some of the best doctors in the world from Rome, India and Persia taught there and did research.

War with Rome- Once Khosrow put things in order at home, he turned to foreign affairs and went to war against Rome. The Roman emperor at this time was Justinian, who had conquered many lands in Europe and had made Rome mighty powerful.

In the first war, Khosrow attacked Syria and captured the beautiful city of Antioch, stretching Iranian borders to the Mediterranean Sea once again. Roman emperor signed what is known as Eternal Peace, agreeing to pay reparations, plus an annual contribution as their share towards the defense of Caucuses.

The second war happened a few years later over Lazika (today’s Georgia). Khosrow triumphed in this war as well and Rome agreed to return these lands to Iran and pay 30,000 gold coins to Iran for the next fifty years.

The third war happened when Khosrow was seventy years old, and had defeated all his adversaries. Persia was at the height of her prosperity.

The emperor Justin II figured the Persian king was old, and thought it were a good time to take advantage. He broke the peace pact and attacked.

Khosrow took command of the Persian army himself. He attacked the Roman forces in an ambush and crushed their ranks. Justin abdicated the throne and his successor Tiberius had to pay 45,000 gold pieces to cease hostilities for a year. Even after that he never attacked Iran again and renewed the truce another 3 years by paying another hefty sum.

Clashes with Rome continued till the end of Khosrow’s life but Rome never managed to defeat him.


1- How did Khosrow become king?

2- What reforms did Khosrow make?

3- How many times did Khosrow went to war with Rome, and what were the results?

4- Which Roman emperors were contemporaries of Khsorow?

5- What did Khsorow do to Mazdak and Mazdakites?

[* 20- Khosrow the Just *]


Defeat of Hephthalites- After Khosrow’s second war with Rome; he had to face another threat from the east. Hunnic Hephthalites were again attacking from the north. Khosrow united with Khan of Turkmens and attacked the Huns. Hephthalite king was killed in this battle, and his kingdom was divided between Persia and Turkmens. The new borders of Persia were fixed at Oxus River from then on. Sind & Punjab rejoined the empire once again. He also fought the Iberians again, and ended their threat for good.

Yemen- Ethiopians who had just converted to Christianity attacked and conquered Yemen. One of the Yemeni princes took refuge in Persia, and asked the king to help take his country back. Khosrow sent general Vahrez to liberate Yemen. Persian army defeated the Ethiopians, but the Yemeni prince- the future king, was killed in the process. Somehow, the Persian general Vahrez ended up becoming king of Yemen. This turned out to be a significant event for the future of Arabs, as they learned about Persian ways of administration, and Yemen became a haven for dissatisfied Persians, including one Salman the Persian, who eventually advised the Arab armies when they conquered Persia.

War with the Turkmens- Once the Turkmens ruled half of Hephthalite kingdom as a result of their alliance with Khosrow, and grew richer & more powerful, they sent an ambassador to the Persian king to negotiate better terms in their relationship. When the Khan’s ambassador was ignored at the court, the Turkmen Khan was infuriated, and offered his allegiance to Rome. Khosrow found out about this, and sent his army to confront the Khan. Turkmens realized they were no match for Khosrow’s forces, and dispersed. This was right before Khosrow’s third war with Rome.

Death of Khosrow- After 48 years of being king, Khosrow died in 579 A.D. at the age of 77. He is regarded as the greatest Sassanian monarch, and perhaps the most beloved and best known of ancients kings among Iranians.

Khosrow’s Justice- There are many stories about Khosrow’s generosity and fairness. One of them is from Roman writings. It is said that a visiting Roman ambassador was on a tour of the Sassanian capital. While strolling through one of the palace gardens, he noticed that a wall was crooked and curved-in at a certain spot. He asked about it, and they told him that on the other side of the wall was a simple shack where an old lady lived. When the architects were designing the grounds, they wanted to buy the old woman out and include her plot of land in the gardens. The old woman said she would never sell, as it had been her home most her life, and that she wished to live out her days in it. When they told the king about this, he said, “If the woman doesn’t want to sell her home, it can’t be taken away from her by force. Build around her shack!” So it was done. The Roman ambassador is said to have remarked, “This sort of crooked wall is prettier than any straight wall anywhere”.

Science & Literature- Khosrow encouraged scholarship and spread of knowledge. Many Cyrillic and Greek works were translated into Pahlavi during his time. Panchatantra, an Indian book of fables, was one of these. Academy of Gundeshapur which specialized in medicine flourished at this time. Khosrow held scientists in great esteem. Once when a group of Roman scientists asked for asylum in Persia after being harassed in their own country, Khosrow welcomed them and treated with the utmost respect. When they decided to return to their home after a while, the king made sure they would be treated well, and included a clause in his peace treaty with Rome to that effect. He had a prime minister, or a Grand Vizier, known as Bozorgmehr who is a legend in Persian history for his wisdom & knowledge.


1- How did the Turkmens come to share a border with Iran?

2- What is the story of the old woman's shack?

3- How did Khosrow treat the scientists who took refuge in Iran?

4- How did Yemen end up part of the Iranian Empire?

5- What was the name of the book that was translated from Indian into Pahlavi?

6- How long was Khosrow's rule and how old was he when he died?

[* 21- Khosrow I Successors *]

After Khosrow, his son Hormizd IV succeeded to the throne. Again there were wars with Rome and Turkmens. The commander of the army was [+ Bahram Chubin+] who defeated the Turkmens. Then, Rome and Iran fought over Lazika, today’s Georgia. When Bahram was defeated in this war, Hormizd humiliated the valiant general. The army rank & file resented this. Hormizd was already unpopular because of his other policies. Politicians and warriors united to overthrow him, and he was put in jail where he was later killed.

Khosrow Parviz

When Khosrow II, nicknamed Khosrow Parviz, became king in 590 A.D., the country was in chaos. [+ Bahram Chubin+] had revolted with an army and had declared himself king. Khosrow Parviz offered him amnesty and tried to reconcile with him, but Bahram would not relent. So the king mobilized his army and went to war against him. Bahram ambushed him, forcing Khosrow Parviz to flee and take refuge with the Byzantine Roman emperor Maurice.

Maurice received the Persian king graciously, and gave his daughter to him in marriage. (In another account, Khosrow was married to Shirin, an Armenian or Roman princess, who accompanied him on his adventures, and returned with him to become the Queen of Persia) . Maurice also gave him an army to go back and reclaim the throne. Parviz returned to Persia and after gathering a second army of Persians faced Bahram again. Bahram was defeated in this war, and took refuge with the Turkmen king, but was killed. Khosrow Parviz then returned to the capital Ctesiphon, and sent the Roman army back with gifts and handsome rewards.

Bahram’s failure to succeed and his eventual demise was due to the fact that Persians believed only Sassanian princes could be kings, and Bahram did not have Sassanian blood.

War with Rome- While Khosrow Parviz’ father-in-law Maurice was alive; Iran & Rome had friendly relations. In 602 A.D. Maurice was killed by a Roman general named Phocas who declared himself the emperor. Maurice’s eldest son, Theodosius went to Iran and asked for help. Khosrow refused to recognize the new emperor and went to war against Rome. Persians captured large parts of Western Asia together with their Roman garrisons. One army lead by Khosrow himself advanced in Asia Minor and approached Constantinople, the capital of Roman Empire. There was a great panic in Rome because of this. Roman general Heraclius who was campaigning in Africa at this point, rushed back to Constantinople with his forces aboard an armada of ships, and became Emperor.

Khosrow Parviz took full advantage of the chaos within Rome and quickly conquered Damascus & Antioch in Syria. Then, with the help of 24,000 Jewish soldiers who had joined him, he conquered Jerusalem. From there, he took the True Cross, which was the most precious & the holiest object to all Christians, and sent it back to Ctesiphon in triumph.

One of his most famous generals Shahrbaraz went past Syria and captured Alexandria and the rest of Egypt.

Another general, Shahin, captured Asia Minor cities one by one until he reached the outskirts of Constantinople. Heraclius was desperate and sent an ambassador asking to negotiate a peace. At this point, Persian Empire was as great as it had ever been, almost as great as during Achaemenids times. If Khosrow Parviz had negotiated a peace then, he could have retained most of his gains and make Iran the greatest superpower on earth. But he was quite a conceited person. He considered all the victories of great Persian generals his own personal accomplishment, and arrogantly turned down the offer to negotiate.

Romans, lead by Heraclius, had no choice but to fight on. With their backs against the wall, the Romans at first won a few battles. Little by little, they regrouped and gathered strength until they clashed with Khosrow’s forces in the battle of Nineveh and defeated the Persian army. Khosrow himself fled, but the rest of the Persian army fought valiantly and managed to push the Romans back.

Khosrow’s mistreatment of the generals, together with his cowardice in running away from battle, turned the nation against him. He was imprisoned by the army and killed a short time after.

Khosrow’s ambitious wars had worn down the mighty Persian army. The greatest commanders had either been killed in battle, or died at the hand of their own king. The country was in ruins, and people were poor. The king was exceedingly indulgent and lived a life of luxury in magnificent palaces. The stories of his excesses have become legendary. He died in 628 A.D.

Khosrow Parviz’ Successors

After him, his son Kavadh II, or Shiruya, acceded the throne. He made peace with Rome and returned the True Cross to Christians. But he was an unpopular king and died two years later from the plague. Iran was in chaos at this time. Different Sassanian princes became kings but were overthrown almost as soon as they assumed power. Anyone who became king, would kill his own brothers and relatives out of fear of being challenged as the ruler, and replaced. In the next 4 years, twelve separate kings came and went, including two of Khsorow’s daughters.

Yazdegerd III

Finally, one of Khosrow’s grandsons who had somehow survived succeeded to the throne. Yadegerd III would be the last Sassanian king.

The country was still in deep chaos. Generals were fighting each other. When the Arabs who had just converted to Islam united and attacked Persia, the great Sassanian Empire was powerless to stop them. Their magnificent capital Ctesiphon fell in 636 A.D. and its palaces were looted.

Yazdegerd retreated and mobilize another army. His last battle against the Arabs was near [+ Nahavand+]. This was Sassanian Empire’s final battle. The Arabs called this battle [+ Victory of All Victories+].

The battle of Nahavand occurred in 643 A.D. Yazdegerd fled northeast after this loss to try and regroup. He asked the Chinese emperor for help. In the end, he was murdered by a local miller near the city of Merv in 651 A.D. The great Sassanian dynasty was thus extinguished after 440 years. Muslim Arabs soon occupied all of Iran.


1- Who was Bahram Chubin and why did he rebel against Sassanian kings?

2- Who did Khosrow Parviz asked for help regaining his throne?

3- Who were two of the greatest generals of Sassanian army during Khosrow Parviz' campaigns?

4- What ere the extents of Persian Empire during Khosrow Parviz' times?

5- What was the end result of Parviz' wars with Rome?

6- Who were the successors of Khosrow Parviz, and what shape was the country in at that time?

7- Who was Yazdegerd III and what was his fate?

8- What was the decisive battle between Arabs and Persians?

[* 22- Sassanian Civilization *]

Iranian Nationalism- Sassanian system was founded on an Iranian nationalistic ideology and favored Iranian tastes in arts, religion and industry. Sassanian kings considered themselves descendents of Persian Achaemenid kings and tried to revive their ideals and their system of government.

Government- During Parthian dynasty, each province was ruled by a local king and was autonomous for the most part. They only paid taxes in order to support a common defense and sent troops when there was a war. Sassanians did not completely end this system, but they did bring local governments under a central rule.

The day to day affairs of the state were overseen by a prime minister, Great Commander, or vazurg farmandeh, who served under the king.

Army- The whole army was under the command of one top general, Iran Spahbed.

During Khosrow the Just times, Iran was divided into four divisions, each with it’s own commander or Spahbed. The elite of the Sassanian army was the cavalry, who were the most experienced and bravest of the ranks. They were counted on the most to ensure victory in wars. Armored cavalry wore scaled armor that covered them from neck to knees, and had raised collars & sleeves. They wore steel helmets ribbons signifying rank & experience by different colors. In fact, the work “rank” comes from the Persian word for color, rang. The rider’s horse was also clad in armor on the chest and neck.

Cavalry usually carried a spear about two meters, or about 6 feet long, and carried a round metal shield in the left hand. They carried a quiver of arrows strapped to the back, a bow on the shoulder, a sword on the belt, and a mace slung by the saddle.

Next was the infantry, which were called Pawygan in Pahlavi, or pawns. Infantry wore helmets, carried a shield woven tightly from plant twigs, and a short sword on the belt.

Persian army always kept a number of elephants as a sort of tanks of their times. They carried a number of soldiers and archers on their back, as these colossal animals charged through enemy ranks.

The Persian standard at this time was a square of leather on a long post adorned with colorful silks and jewels. This standard went wherever the Great Spahbed was, and it was called the Standard of Kings, or Derafsh Kaviani.

Religion- Since the beginning of the dynasty, Ardashir made Zoroastrianism the religion of state. The highest religious authority was called the Great Magi who had a special place in the king’s court. Iranians worshipped in fire temples that kept immortal fires. Three of these temples were the most important: one in Persia, one was in Azerbaijan, and the third was in Khorasan.

Industry- Metallurgy techniques advanced greatly during Sassanians. Silver vessels with intricate ornamental hunting scenes- some with inlaid gold, are good examples of this art. Textiles reached a peak too at this time. Fabulous Persian carpets interwoven with gold & silver thread were world famous. One of the most famous of these carpets was called "Reflections of Spring" was made by the order of Khosrow Parviz and laid in the great hall of Ctesiphon palace, where it was cut up into pieces by the victorious Arab army and divvied up among the soldiers as spoils. Textile designs from Sassanian period were the most popular in the world, and were imitated in Europe for centuries after.

Architecture- Sassanians loved architecture & building. They built magnificent palaces. The most famous was the great palace in Ctesiphon near today’s Baghdad. Remaining ruins of palaces in Sarvestan and Firuzabad show great arches, domes and intricate plaster work.

Many bridges & dams were built during Sassanians. Sometimes, captured Roman soldiers were forced to build these structures.

Education & Upbringing- Sassanian children were raised learning how to ride and shoot arrows. But not everybody could go to school. Only children of scribes & nobility classes were allowed to learn reading & writing. This was one of the main faults of Sassanian society.

Language & Script- Sassanian language was called Pahlavi, which is the predecessor of today’s Persian. But the pronunciations & word forms have changed drastically.

The script was also called Pahlavi. Here is an example of Pahlavi script:

Which reads: “Book of Deeds of Ardashir Papakgan

But the script they used in rock inscriptions was different.

Sculpture & Rock Relief- Like Achaemenid kings before them, Sassanians recorded their most important expressions on rock faces in the mountains. In most of these carvings, Sassanian kings are seen on horses. The most famous shows Shapur on a horse with Valerian the Roman Emperor kneeling before him, begging him for mercy.

Another great rock sculpture of Shapur on his horse, 8 meters or about 25 feet high, still remains near Kazeroun and has been recently restored.

Painting- Painting was a popular art during Sassanians. Mani the prophet was a great painter as well and examples of his style survive.

Music- Sassanians loved music very much. Bahram brought many musicians back from India to introduce new instruments, and help spread different musical styles. Barbad was a renowned court musician who had composed 365 songs, one for each day of the year.

Calendar- In the Sassanian calendar, a year was divided into twelve months. Each month was 30 days, and the remaining 5 days were special year-end days not counted in any month. The name of the months is almost the same as today’s Persian calendar, and the start & end days are the same as today’s zodiac signs. But the days of the week had different names then. Each day of every month had its own name, like Hormozd day of Farvardin month.

Origin of History- Sassanians did not have an absolute year for the beginning of history. Instead, they counted the years of each king’s reign starting with the first year of assuming of the throne. For example, they would say “in the fifth year of Khosrow Parviz’ reign”. When a new king sat on the throne, they would start a new year count at one.

Festivals- There were many festivals in Sassanian times, some of which are still celebrated. The most important was Nowruz, or New Year, when the king would hold open court and everyone could visit him.

Another was the fall festival of Mehregan , which was the sixteenth day of the first month of fall. And since twelve of every month's days were named after months, when the name of the day and the month coincided, that day would be celebrated as well. For example, the fifth day of each month was called Immortal's day. So was the fifth month of the year. So, the fifth day of the fifth month of the year- Immortal day of Immortal month would be a special day. Tirgan, which is the thirteenth day of the month Tir, was a great summer celebration which is still observed in Iran.


1- What was the Sassanian dynasty founded on?

2- How was Sassanian administration structured?

3- What do you know about the Sassanian Persian army?

4- What was the Iranian religion?

5- What were the important crafts of Sassanian period?

6- What are some examples of the surviving Sassanian architecture?

7- How were Sassanian children educated?

8- What was the language & script of Sassanians?

9- What are some of the examples of their sculpture?

10- What do we know about painting & music of the time?

11- What was the Persian calendar like?

12- What were some of the Persian festivals?

The Essential History of Persia

This brief but complete history of Iran before Islam was first published as a textbook in 1964. Written & illustrated by the best scholars of Iranian Studies, it's the fascinating history of one of the most important nations in the history of the world. From the arrival of Aryans, to Cyrus the Great and the world's first superpower, defeat to Alexander the Great, rivalries of Parthians & Sassanians with Rome, and finally the Arab Conquest. This edition is hyper-linked throughout for reference

  • Author: Mahmoud Shahbodaghi
  • Published: 2016-03-10 15:20:16
  • Words: 21326
The Essential History of Persia The Essential History of Persia