Iran has one of the most complex and rich historical stories in the Middle East and even in the world. A history full of great men such as Cyrus - Darius and great conquerers names such as Alexander and Genghis who had coveted its wealth. Iran is home to one of the oldest continuous major civilizations in the world with historical and urban settlements dating back to 10,000 BC. They established the greatest empire in the center of the world, which ruled from the Balkans to North Africa and also to Central Asia on three continents from their seat of power in Persis (Persepolis).
When we speak about Iranian history we must see whether we are talking about the history of tribes and people who have lived from the beginning of recorded history within the boundaries of the existing Iran or the history of tribes and people who called themselves Iranian and lived in a geographical boundary which covered the existing Iran or territories which belonged to the Greater Iran or Iranshahr. Some writers believe that the history of Iran began from the date of arrival of Aryan tribes into the Iranian plateau, but this does not mean that before their arrival the country was void of population and civilization. Before the arrival of the Aryans into the Iranian plateau much older civilizations had blossomed and vanished in Iran, and when they arrived some of these indigenous civilizations such as the burnt civilization in Sistan, the llam Empire north of Khuzestan, Jiroft civilization in Kerman, the Tappeh Sialk civilization in Kashan, Urartu civilization in Azerbaijan, Tappeh Gyan civilization in Nahavand and the Mannayan civilization in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan, and the Cassites tribe in the existing Lorestan still existed.
Before the arrival of Aryans
Studies conducted about ancient Iran during the Paleolithic Age shows that because of geographical and climatic conditions, small groups of aboriginals were living like cavemen in Sistan and Azerbaijan regions and earned food by hunting. Prehistoric handmade tools have been unearthed in Zagros Mountain Range, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Lorestan during Paleolithic Age which ended 40 thousand
years ago. During the Neolithic Period which began 9 thousand years ago, these early humans gathered at the above regions and gathered food. Their paintings and handmade tools can be found in Ali-Tappeh, Hatoo, and Kamarband caves near Behshahr. The oldest human settlement in the Iranian plateau was the Tappeh Sialk (Sialk Hill) near Kashan.
At the beginning of the third millennium B.C., the first civilized government known as Ilam was established in Susiana Plain, The inhabitants of Susa (present Shush) invented their first Proto Elamite alphabet. Ilam stretched from south and southeast to the center of the Iranian plateau. Before the arrival of the Medes and Persians in the first millennium B.C., the history of Iran was that of Ilam. Our information about other regions and territories in Iran during that period is exclusively derived from Babylonian tablets (in which they have described the governments and states neighboring Babylon) from the finding of archeologists. The tribes settled from south to north were the Elamites, the Kassites, the Lullubi, and Guti, all of which had descended from a single tribe. Recently remains of an ancient civilization have been discovered in the burnt city near Zabol dating back to 3500 years B.C. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Shahdad and Tappeh Yahiya had advanced civilizations before the arrival of Aryans into the Iranian plateau.
-After the arrival of Aryans
From the 2nd millennium until the 6th century B.C. gradually Indo-Iranian tribes moved to the south along with their cattle from regions in the north where their farms had been destroyed by freezing climate. One branch of these immigrants settled in India, another in Iran and the third marched towards Europe. These Indo-European immigrants still led primeval nomadic life but in their route, especially west of Iran, old Asiatic civilizations existed. During the arrival of Aryans at the western Iranian plateau, the Urartu state stretched from Aras Valley to Van Lake and possessed considerable power. The Assyrians who lived in Mesopotamia and west of Zagros Mountain Range had conquered strong empires in the East. Meanwhile, the southwest of the Iranian plateau was occupied by the Elamite tribe which had a rich ancient civilization. There is no information about the arrival of the first Aryans into Iran, neither we know whether the Elamites were dominated by the Aryans or not, but we are sure that the Kassite tribes that neighbored llam at north were under the influence of Aryan tribes. The influence of the Aryans was not only manifest in the use of horses which helped them move faster but their religion. Although the first invading Aryans or Indo-European tribes into Iran minus Kassites had little impact, their second invasion 500 years later had a far stronger impact. This second group of Aryans acquired their knowledge, culture, art from the native inhabitants, and gradually a single race is known as Aryans flourished in the country who called the country the land of Aryans which gradually changed to Iran. By 'Iran' they meant Aryan or the land of noble, hospitable, and dependable people. The aboriginal tribes in Iran were gradually defeated by the Aryan immigrants and the relationship between the Aryans and the aboriginal was the relationship between dominant invaders and the defeated tribes because the Aryans considered the aboriginals lower in dignity and in the beginning they killed every local inhabitant they encountered. Aryans were divided into many branches among which the Medes (at northwest and center), Parsis (at the south), and Parthians (at northeast) left a great impact upon Iranian history.
-The Median Empire (615 BC - 549 BC)
The Medians were the first group of Aryans who succeeded nearly seven centuries B.C. to form a government stretching from west to northwest and center of Iran - which was the most important development in Iranian history. Thanks to immense public support Diacose succeeded to unify several feudal governments in the Iranian plateau and formed the biggest kingdom in the year 788 B.C. Some historians believe that thanks to the strength and prowess of Median tribes and their repeated wars with the Assyrians and Sogdians, Phraorte, the second Median king, succeeded to establish the Median Empire. He was the son of Diacose and had a big role in introducing order in the Median government. Hegmataneh or the present Hamadan was chosen as the capital of the Median Empire. He built a big palace surrounded by several walls, each painted with a different color, to glorify his capital. The Medians were very skillful metalworkers and goldsmiths and precious antiques have survived from them. After 200 years (550 B.C. (Cyrus, the son-in-law of the last king of Media, put an end to the Median rule.
-The Achaemenid Empire (550 BC -230 BC)
With the start of the Achaemenid Empire on or about 550 B.C. by Cyrus, a descendant of the Achaemenid family, he chose Susa, the ancient capital of Ilam, as his capital. The Achaemenid state was known as the cradle of Asian civilization in the ancient world. The Empire expanded rapidly by Cyrus thanks to his repeated victories. The young and energetic man was a first-class commander and strategist and was able to seize Lydia, Babylon, and other countries swiftly and announce himself king of Anshan and Ilam. His human rights charter which he inscribed on a cylinder tablet in Babylon in the year 538 B.C. was shown to various tribes and nationalities that lived in Babylon With that charter Cyrus provided that he was magnanimous enough to observe human rights at such early times. Darius, the Great, the third Achaemenid King extended the boundaries of the Achaemenid Empire from India at East to the Adriatic Sea at West and from Caucasus mountains, Caspian Sea and Transoxiana at north, to Egypt, Ethiopia and Sea of Oman. Darius was the true architect of the Achaemenid Empire. He was the real architect of the Empire who invented his 10 thousand immortal soldiers who were ready to fight and die for him.
Iranian art flourished rapidly and reached its peak during the Achaemenid Period. By building very good roads, establishing a very swift courier service throughout the empire, introducing gold and silver coins for trade, applying a suitable legal code and introducing a comprehensive taxation system Darius succeeded to set up an advanced civilization. According to historians the later Achaemenid kings turned to luxury and neglected their army and the strength of the Empire. This encouraged young Alexander of Macedonia to attack them by surprise in 330 B.C. and defeat and destroy the Empire which had governed the country and nearly the world of that time for 230 years.
|Cyrus's Human Charter OR Cyrus's Cylinder
This cylinder made of baked clay was manufactured in 538 B.C. upon the decree of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Half of the cylinder has been inscribed in Babylonian language and the other half containing the code of Cyrus is written in cuneiform Akkadian (modern Babylonian) language. The cylinder was discovered in Murdoch's temple in ancient Babylon and is now being preserved in the British Museum in London. Cyrus' human charter is an excellent manifestation of the patience and magnanimity of the Iranians.
-Seleucid Empire (312 BC - 63 BC)
After the invasion of Iran by Alexander of Macedonia and his sudden death, his commanders fought for 11 years to occupy his throne. After nine years of fighting Seleucus, whose father had served Philips, Alexander's father, occupied Babylon. He annexed Ilam (present Khuzestan) and Median provinces to Babylon and called his government 'Seleucid Empire' in the year 312 B.C. For 248 years the Seleucid kings governed the country in a feudal system and were able to rule the whole of Iran for 65 years.
-Parthian Empire (247 BC - 224 AD)
During the Seleucid rule (250 B.C.) an independent government had flourished at Parthia Province which was called the Arsacid Dynasty in the Persian language because the name of their first king was Arsac. After they consolidated their power the Parthian kings expelled the Seleucid rulers and built a big empire, sixth in size in the ancient world. During several centuries of rule, their only rival and enemy was Rome. 29 Parthian kings governed Iran for approximately 470 years. During the Parthian Period trade expanded from Syria and Phoenicia at west to India and China at east. The Parthian kings spent most of their time fighting with barbarian invaders that harassed their country from the east and checked the advance of Rome which was gradually expanding towards the east. Their system of government was feudal and the provincial rulers had complete autonomy. The Parthian system of government was interesting because they had two consultative parliaments. One parliament was composed of princes and nobles and the other of priests. The two parliaments limited the royal authority and the kings did not possess absolute power.
-Sassanid Empire (224 AD - 651 AD)
The Sassanid Dynasty which succeeded the Parthians governed Iran until the invasion of Arabs. The Sassanid Empire was the strongest dynasty after the Achaemenid Empire in Iran and during their 400 years of reign, they left much impact on Persian culture and civilization. The Sassanid kings claimed to be the descendants of the Achaemenids. Contrary to Parthian rulers Ardashir laid his government on the basis of unity and central government. Since for a long time Ardashir's ancestors had served as Zoroastrian priests at Anahita Temple in Fars he installed the Zoroastrian faith as the official faith of the country. During the Sassanid Dynasty, the empire expanded considerably and the Sassanid kings defeated Rome several times. But due to the intervention of Zoroastrian priests in government affairs and inefficient kings the Sassanid Empire gradually deteriorated and weakened. During the reign of unfortunate Yazdgerd III, the last Sassanid king, the Muslim Arabs attacked and defeated his rudderless army and the Achaemenid Empire was dissolved in the year 651 A.D.
-Iran after the Arab invasion
A great change happened in the history and religion of the Iranians during the seventh century A.D. After the birth of Islam and the defeat of the Sassanid Empire, the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750) and the Abbasid Dynasties (750-1258) governed the Islamic world for a period of approximately 650 years, but their influence in Iran did not exceed more than a century and many Arab caliphs in Baghdad were elected by the Iranian governors. During 650 of Arab rule, many Iranian tribes revolted against Arabs. The first was the Taherian Dynasty which opened defied Baghdad and dominated a considerable part of the east of Iran in the ninth century A.D. After that and before the arrival of the Seljuks the Alavi Dynasty in Tabarestan (present Mazandaran) north of Iran near the Caspian Sea set up an independent government. The Saffarids ruled Sistan and the Samanids governed east of Iran, part of Afghanistan, and Greater Khorassan.
|Sialk Hills 10.000 years ago|
-Ale-Ziyar (930 AD - 1090 AD) and Ale-Buye (934 AD - 1062 AD)
After the semi-autonomic Taherrid and Saffarid governments during the rule of the Samanids Dynasty at Transoxiana, several tribes from Mazandaran and Gilan succeeded to capture large territories between Khorassan and Baghdad from the Arabs. The Ale-Ziar, the Deylams, and the Ale-Buye dynasties emerged at this juncture. Tabarestan (Mazandaran) and Deylam, which was surrounded by lofty Mount Alborz and dense jungles, remained independent even before the arrival of Arabs. After the Arab conquest, thanks to lofty mountains and difficult roads the people in Mazandaran and Deylam retained their customs and faith and swayed a big part of Iran. After conquering Khuzestan Ali ibne Buye conquered Fars and Ahmad Buye conquered Kerman. Ahmad marched to Baghdad in the lunar year 324 (10th century A.D.) and compelled the caliph to obey him. The Buye family was the first Iranian dynasty that formed a Shia system of government in Iran.
Ale Buye can be divided into three branches:
A family that ruled in Iraq, Khuzestan, and Kerman.
A second family that governed Iraq and Fars.
A third family which ruled Kerman and Fars and was defeated by Sultan Mahmud, the Ghaznavid
-The Ghaznavid Dynasty (977 AD - 1186 AD)
The Ghaznavid were Muslim Turks who spoke Persian and had an Islamic system of government. Their empire stretched from the southeast of the Samanid Empire to the mountainous parts of present Afghanistan. During their short rule this dynasty (which ruled during the lunar years 388 until 432) governed Khorassan, Sistan, Gorgan, Semnan, Ray, Isfahan, the present Afghanistan, Kharazm, Chaghanian Province (north of Jeyhoon River), Marv, Balkh, Harat, Sand Valley, Punjab and Multan in India.
|Roud Khan castle - Gilan Province|
-The Seljuk Dynasty (1037 AD - 1194 AD)
The Seljuk Turks came from Transoxiana which was a part of Greater Khorassan. They set up the largest, strongest, and most stable government in the world from the lunar year 429 until 590 (10th to 12th century A.D.) There were two reasons for the consolidation of the Seljuk Empire. First of all, it was a very vast empire that extended from the Seyhoon River near present Turkistan at east to the Mediterranean Sea at the west and from Oman at the south to Georgia at the north. The other reason was the employment of learned Iranian statesmen and competent ministers who set up an efficient administrative system for the Empire. The Seljuk Empire was so vast that Malekshah, the Seljuk king, used to say that the sun rises and sets within Seljuk Empire. In order to show the vastness of the empire Nezamolmulk, a wise Seljuk minister of Iranian descent, issued money orders to soldiers fighting at Khorassan to receive money from the governor of a town at the Mediterranean Sea in order to show the vastness of the Seljuk Empire. At last, after about 150 years of rule, the Seljuks were defeated by the Nemez tribe which dwelt north of Khorassan. The Nemez tribe governed Khorassan, Fars, and Kerman for 50 years.
-Attabaks and Khwarezmian (aka Kharazm Shahian) dynasties (1077 AD - 1256 AD)
After Iran rescued itself from Arab governors the provinces in Iran remained feudal and semi-independent. Such a system of small governments had spread greatly especially during the end of the Ghaznavid and Seljuk period. Before the invasion of the Moguls, the Attabaks and the Kharazmshahi tribes dominated parts of the country. The Kharazmshahians governed from south of Ural Lake up to the Caspian Sea, Abuyard and Seyhoon River at east, and their capital which had been a famous satrapy during the Achaemenid Period was called Kharazm. The Attabaks governed Fars, Azerbaijan, Lorestan, Syria, and Mussel.
-The Mongol Ilkhanite (1256 AD - 1353 AD)
Genghis (aka Changiz Khan) consolidated his power in the 13th century. After conquering Beijing, the capital of China, he decided to establish trade with the West in order to improve the life of people living in Central Asia. He established a diplomatic tie with the Kharazm kings to expand his trade towards the west, but the silly and hostile behavior of the Kharazm king incited Changiz Khan to attack Iran. The Mongols advanced towards the West through north and south of the Caspian Sea. In their first onslaught, they destroyed Khorassan. Their attacks continued during the reign of Changiz Khan's successors also. After complexly defeating the Kharazm Dynasty and conquering Armenia and Georgia the Mongols turned their attention toward the west and defeated the Anatolian Seljuks. At first, the Mongol commanders in Iran were obeying the great Mongol Khan in Beijing and called themselves 'ilkhans' (meaning the dependents of the great khan). But gradually the Mongols who were impressed with the advanced culture and civilizations of the Iranians changed their tactic and after many wars of destructions, they adopted Islam as their faith began propagating the religion. Having lost their wild tempters and become civilized the Mongol lords because of fond of various arts including painting, calligraphy, and the sciences of the day. They had no system of government and their goal in life was to fight and Lut. Having got tired of their savage life the Iranian learned statesmen and lords found a good opportunity to endear themselves to the Mongol rulers and dictate their code of government. After Hulaku Khan, a grandson of Changiz Khan put an end to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad the Mongols became masters of the vast Islamic world. But due to a poor system of government and economic problems the Mongol rulers were compelled to adopt Islam and make a series of economic, social, and commercial reforms. Islam helped the Mongols to expel their barbarian tribal customs and even Ghazan, a strong Mongol governor, changed his name to 'Mahmud”. He eliminated the name of the Great Khan from his coins and announced that he would no more obey him.
The adoption of Islam by the Mongols, the fall of Baghdad and the existence of the great Iranian scholars in Mongol courts, and their love of new sciences such as astrology, medicine, and historiography paved the way for the growth of these sciences in Mongol courts to the extent that the largest observatory in the Islamic world was set up in Maragheh by Hulaku Khan. Moreover many precious books of history were written during the Mongol rule in Iran. Their conversion to Islam and their adoption of Iranian-Islamic culture incited them to adopt the Shia faith. When Uljaitu was converted to Shia faith and built magnificent buildings in Maragheh, Tabriz, and Soltanieh, he caused his tribesmen to gradually forget their barbarian customs and rites. After that, the Turks and the Mongols became united in Iran. The growth of the Iranian version of mysticism is quite notable at this juncture and eminent mystic poets such as Mowlana (Jalaleddin Rumi), Attar, Jami, Hafez, and Saadi produced excellent books. The strength of Ilkhani Mongols increased with the arrival of Hulaku Khan and ended with the death of Abu Saeed, son of Uljaitu, in the thirteenth century.
It was the custom of the Mongol khans to appoint governors in various provinces in the country and receive tax at the end of each year. As a result, many local governments were established in Iran during the 13th and 14th century including Gharakhtaiyans in Kerman, Injus in Fars, Lorestan emirs, Choopanians, Jalayeries, and Sarbedars. After the death of Abu Saeed, the last Mongol khan, the Ilkhanid Empire fell into chaos. At this juncture, Timur, who believed he was a descendant of Changiz, attacked Iran from Transoxiana and put an end to the petty governments which had been set up in Iran.
-Timurid Dynasty (1370 AD - 1507 AD)
After invading and conquering Iranian towns Timur laid the foundation of a government which continued from the lunar year 772 until 911 (13th to 15th century A.D.(He chose Samarqand as the capital of his empire which stretched from Eastern Turkmenistan and China to Izmir at the Mediterranean Sea and from Russian Steppes and Moscow to Delhi in India. Of course, the Timurid rulers could not preserve all these vast territories. Their fierce armies only attacked and plundered new countries and withdrew with their booty. Nevertheless, the Timurid territories extended from Transoxiana (which was the seat of his government) to Kharazm, Khorassan, Sistan, Afghanistan, Gorgan, Iraq, Georgia, Nakhjevan, Moghan, Shervan, Armenia, Zanjan, and to the border of the Ottoman Turkey. They also governed Fars, Yazd, Kerman, Isfahan, Mazandaran, Lorestan, and Khuzestan provinces. After the fall of the Timurid Dynasty, several local governments were established in various points in Iran until the arrival of the Safavid Dynasty. Ismaeel, the founder of the Safavid Dynasty, and his grandson, Shah Abbas the Great put an end to all these feudal territories and united them under a single banner.
-Safavid Dynasty (1501 - 1736)
The Safavid government which must be considered as a new system in the Iranian political and religious system led to the independence of Iran with the Shia faith as their official religion and with a centralized government. Moreover, the establishment of the new dynasty incited the Iranian artists to display their culture, architecture, and fine arts. Meanwhile, trade was expanded with the start of diplomatic ties with Europe and neighboring countries. Shah Abbas and his successors built many caravansaries in the country to promote trade and they made the highways safer. The Iranian petty dynasties which had emerged after the Arab conquest normally did not enjoy national unity and often a dynasty governed several separate territories at the same time. Shah Esmaeel established the Safavid Dynasty in 1500 A.D. and spent most of his time fighting with hostile tribes east and west of Iran. Shah Abbas the Great set up a very strong army and equipped it with modern weapons. This enabled him to defeat all the Iranian enemies including the Ottoman Turks and expel the Portuguese aggressors from the Persian Gulf. Besides his military adventures, Shah Abbas built magnificent places, mosques, and bridges and spent all his life for the beautification of Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Empire. In the end, the Safavid Dynasty weakened and deteriorated because of the resort to luxury and court intrigues. The Afghans, who neighbored Iran at east, benefitted from the weakness and timidity of the last Safavid king, Shah Sultan Hussein. They attacked the Iranian capital and destroyed the Safavid Dynasty.
-Afshar Dynasty (1736 - 1747)
After brief conquest of Iran by the Afghans the Iranian army under the command of Nader, a brave commander of Tahmasb Mirza, the son of the last Safavid king, defeated the Afghans after four battles and routed them out of Iran. Meanwhile, after a series of battles with Ottoman Turkey Nader Shah emerged victories in all fields. He defeated the Turkish armies and pushed them to the Black Sea and expelled them from Armenia and Georgia. He also frightened the Russian soldiers to escape the Caucasus. After all these conquests this brave army commander laid the foundation of the Afshar Dynasty, but after his death, the vast Iranian empire which had been unified under a single banner suddenly disintegrated. Nader's army commanders who had found dignity under Nader warred with each other to claim the crown and at last Karim Khan emerged victorious.
-Zand Dynasty (1760 - 1794)
As we mentioned before after Nader's death his generals started fighting with each other and threw the country into chaos. At last Karim Khan Zand, a Lor chieftain defeated his rivals and after 16 years of chaos brought peace into the country. Karim Khan, who never called himself a king, chose his capital in Shiraz. He succeeded to capture Basra from the Ottoman Empire in the lunar year 1189 (17th century) and helped the Iranian statesmen to control the Arvandrud River, Bahrain, and the southern ports in the Persian Gulf. After his death, his successors fought each other for the throne. They weakened each other with their unwise battles and paved the way for Aqa Mohammad Khan, a Qajar tribal chieftain, to dissolve the Zand Dynasty.
-Qajar Dynasty (1789 - 1925)
The founders of the Qajar Dynasty were Turkmen tribesmen, known as Qajars, who had been pushed into Iran from Central Asia during the invasion of Mongols. During the arrival of this tribe many feudal governors in different parts of the country either destroyed each other or united with each other and eventually obeyed the king in the capital of the country in a federal system. After this unification, the Iranians became united under a single banner. Their tribal colors have still survived in the existing Iranian banner. During the Qajar Period, the British and Russian colonist powers increased their influence in Iran. They interfered in the affairs of the state and imposed shameful and degrading treaties such as Turkmenchay, Golestan, and Paris treaties by fighting a weakened Iran and they separated vast territories from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Khorassan, and Afghanistan. The Qajar Dynasty is famous for its incompetence and lethargy. During their rule which started in 1781 and continued until 1925, the Iranian economy deteriorated badly. Amir Kabir was one of the most efficient prime ministers of Iran during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah. He was the founder of the Dar-al-Fonoon (College of Arts) which was established in Tehran to teach the Iranian youth new sciences. He also founded a daily newspaper called Vaghay-e E'tefaqieh (daily events). The constitution revolution occurred during the Qajar Dynasty.
-Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979)
The Pahlavi Dynasty was established in Iran after the dissolution of the Qajar Dynasty in 1925 and continued until 1979 (for a period of 53 years). The Pahlavi regime was dissolved with the start of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Two kings, namely Reza Khan and his son Mohammad Reza ruled the country during this period. By setting a constitutional parliament Reza Shah officially declared himself as a king. He governed the country for 16 years, but in 1941 he was compelled to resign from his post and leave the country after the occupation of the country by the Allies. He died in 1944 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Reza Shah took a series of steps to modernize the system of government by establishing a modern army, founding modern banking systems, and constructing of railways and roads. He set up the state radio, Tehran University, expanded mother industries, etc. Reza Shah was forced by the invading British to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who replaced his father as Shah on the throne on 16 September 1941. After the Islamic Revolution and the fall of the Pahlavi regime in 1979, Mohammad Reza died in 1980 in Egypt. Upon the victory of the Islamic revolution in February 1979 the monarchic system was abolished and was replaced by the Islamic Republic.
-Establishment of the Islamic Republic
The Islamic Republic of Iran triumphed in the year 1979 under the guidance of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini thanks to the massive participation of the Iranian people, political parties, and the intelligentsia. The Islamic Republic, which is the existing system of government in Iran, was established in a referendum in which 98.2% of the people voted for it.
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