Persia is not one of the early cradles of civilization and Persian civilization did not develop in river valley. Persian civilization developed east of the Fertile Crescent on the Iranian plateau of central Asia. The Iranian plateau was not settled until about 1500 BC by Aryan tribes, especially the Medes. The name Persian comes from the Parsua, another Aryan tribe. The first great war chief was Hakhamanish or Achaemenes who founded the Achaemenid dynasty about 700 BC. The Achaemenids built a great capital city at Persepolis. They conquered a vast empire from Egypt to India. Conquered were allowed to keep their own religion, customs, and laws and were governed by natove princes. The Persians encouraged cultural diversity. They saw the world as a cosmic struggle between good and evil, concepts that profoundly influenced Jewish and Christian theology. Darius the Great after crushing a Ionian Greek revolt in Anatolia was defeated by the Greeks in the epic battle of Marathon in 490 BC, one of the decisive battles of history. Alexander defeated Darius III in battles 334-331 BC, destroying the Persian Empire. Alexander hoped to unite the Greeks and Persians into one great empire. His early death undid these ambitious plans. Following a civil war among his generals, Seleucus, gained control over the Persian part of his empire. At the same time Potolomy gained control of Egypt. Unlike Alexander's plans, Seleucus ruled Persia as a conquered land through Greek troops and satraps. The Parthians overthrew the Greeks, who were unable to generate Persian support, about 250 B.C.
The Parthians came from the deserts of central Asia. Unlike the Greeks, they were impressed with Persian civilization and ruled Persian through native kings. The
Parthian empire lasted more than four centuries and during that period there was no important Persian revolt. The Parthians were one of the few people who successfully resisted the Roman Empire, desimating a Roman army led by Anthony. This played a major role in the defeat of Anthony and Cldeopatra by Octavian. Gradually Christianity spread to Persia and the power of the Parthians wained. Artaxerxes, a descendant of Sassan, in 226 A.D., declared Persia independent of Parthia and began a military campaign aginst neignoring countries and the Parthians. The revived Persian Empire like the Parthians were able to challenge Rome at the height of its power.
Persia is not one of the early cradles of civilization and Persian civilization did not develop in river valley. Persian civilization developed east of the Fertile Crescent on the Iranian plateau of central Asia. The time line here is a subject of archeological debate. Some had thought that the Iranian plateau was not settled until about 1500 BC by Aryan tribes, especially the Medes. The Medes in the north and Persians in the south were the two major tribal groups peopleing the Iranian plateau. Both were at first nomasdic people who gradually developed settle agriculture. The Medes were ar first the dominant group. The name Persian comes from the Parsua, another Aryan tribe. Other archeologists report evidence of advanced civilization much earlier. Literary accounts from Mesopotamia describe the mysterious Broze Age civilization of Aratta. Some believe this is a mythical civilization. Others believe that Aratta was located in Armenia or Persia. An Iranian archeologist is escavating ruins in the Halil River Valley of southeastern Iran at Tepe Yahya and Jiroft. Artifacts suggest that urban centers were on trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Indus River culture. One archeologist theorizes that it may be the oldest Oriental civilization and perhaps may predate Mesopotamia. That claim seems fanciful at this time, but ruins there are clearly quite old. He dates artifacts to the mid 3rd mellennium. There are drainage systems and stone foundations. The drainage system and irrigation canals appears to have been the technological leap that allowed the Persians to gain superiority over the Medes and other rival tribes.
One early archeological find is a mound which appears to have been a kind of Ziggurat temple comple made with 3-4 million mud bricks. Archeologists Yousef Madjidzadeh dates the civilization at 2700 BC. [Lawler]
The history of ancient Persia can be divided into several different dynastic eras. Here there are both geographic and ethnic ways of dessribing the Persains. The native Persian dynasties were interupted by Alexander and a relatively brief period of Macedonian rule. While there are quite a number of Persian dynasties, the one that most people think of is the vasr empire created by Cyrus and the Achaemenids. It was one of the great emires of history and along with Rome and Britain a virtual text book example of empire. Nore of the previous or subsequent imperial systems had either the reach or importnce of the Achaemenids. One of the most important aspects of the Achaemenian Empire was cultural tolerance and diversity.
The Elamite Empire was te first or a kind pf pre-Persian Empire. It played an important role in the history of Mesopotamia. How you categorize Elam depeds if you define Prsia in geographic or ethnic terms. The Iranian Plateau was not part of the birth of th urban, literate civilization in Mesopotamia (late 4th and early-3rd millennia in Mesopotamia. This did occur in lowland Khuzestan on the eastern fringe of Mesopotmia hich became known as the Elamite Civilization. Elam was centered on Khuzestan, but not limited by it. It included both the lowlands and the adjacent highland areas to the north and east. Elamite emerged as a competitor within the Mesopotamian world because it included both highland and lowland areas and sucessfully held the diverse areas together as part of an imperial system that enabled an interchange of the products and natural resources of each region. Elam today is located in western Iran at the border beween the Arab and Iranian cultural divide.
The Medes unlike the Elamites were an ancient Iranian people migrating from the Eurasian Stepe onto the Iranian Plain. They were the first important people to do so (late-second millennium - beginning of the first millennium BC). This period has been described as the Bronze Age collapse. The Median migration was in part due to a power vacuum in the Middle East. The major factor was the virtual collapse of the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1020 BC). This permitted new peoples to enter the region from the Eurasian Steppe. This was also a period of decline for Elam and Babylon. These loosly associated tribal reople spoke a northwestern Iranian language which we now call Median. Knowledge of the Medians is limited because the Medes unlike the Mesopotamian peoples were a pre-literate people. Archaeologists have found no written documents of any kind. As a result their spiritual and economic life is a matter of conjecture. These Steppe tribes formed a unified Median state (7th century BC). Along with Babylonia, Assyria, Lydia, and Egypt they became one of the major powers of the ancient Middle East. An alliance with the Babylonians was instrumental in the Medes to capturing and destoying Assyria (612 BC) which had dominated the region for centuries because of its military prowess. The Medes subsequently established a kingdom based at Ecbatana. This was beyond their initial homeland on the Iranian lin, central-western Iran. The Medin Kingdom which might be called an empire extended from modern northeastern Iran to the Halys River in Anatolia, meaning most of Mesopotami. At the time, the Persians were a related subject state within the Median Kingdom. Cyrus the Great conquiered the Medes (550 BC). This provided the core of the the Persian Empire, one of the great imperial states in world history. Cyrus integrated the Median nobility and social system into his Empire, thus the Medes remined a recognizable people for centuries.
When we think about the Persian Empire, what commonly comes to mind is the Achaemenids. The first great war chief was Hakhamanish or Achaemenes who founded the Achaemenid dynasty about 700 BC. The Achaemenids built a great capital city at Persepolis. They conquered a vast empire from Egypt to India. The conquered were allowed to keep their own religion, customs, and laws and were governed by native princes as long a they accepted Persian soverignty and paid tribute. The Persians encouraged cultural diversity. Persia was dominated by the Medes until Cyrus the Great rose to the throne (558 BC). Cyrus overthrew the Median rulers and conquered important neighboring territories, Lydia (546 BC) and Babylon (539 BC)--establishing the Perian Empire as the preminent power of the age. Cyrus is one of the most famed rulers of the ancient world. He styled himself as a liberator rather than a conqueror. Of course this was a kind of early propaganda, but his relativelyly enlighted and tolerant rule was often a relief from despotic local rulers. Cyrus and his descendents brought many diverse people into the Persian Empire. The walls of the royal palaces in Persepolis were decorated with relief sculptures of subject people bearing tribute. One of Cyrus' many actions which is a central event in the Bible was freeing the Jews from their Babylonian impoed captivity. Such was the prosperity of the Persian Empire, not all Jews returned to Palistine, but some did. How many rulers from the ancient world are known for freeing a captive people. His son Cambyses II extended the Empire further by defeating the last Egyptian pharaoh and bringing Egypt within the Empire (525 BC). Darius I, a distant relative, succeded Cambyses and conquered territory as far east as the Indus River bringing him the title of Darius the Great. The Persians engaged in vast building projects. Under Darius a canal was built from the Nile to the Red Sea ocer 2 milenia before Suez. Darius next turned his attention west. After brutally crushing an Ionian Greek revolt in Anatolia (499-93 BC) he moved against the mainland Greek city states which had aided the Ionians. His huge army was defeated by the Greeks in the one of the epic battle of history -- Marathon (490 BC). This was one of the decisive battles of history and can be viweed as essentially the birth of the west and the idea of freedom. Darius' son Xerxes was determined to avenge this defeat. He assembled an even larger army and again invaded Greece. His navy, however, was defeated by the Athenians in the battle of Salamis (480 BC). Deprived of supplied by the destruction of the Persian fleet, large elements of the Persian army had to with draw and the reamining units were defeated by the Greeks (439 BC). The Oxus River Treasure gives us a fascinating view of Achaemenid Persia.
Alexander defeated Darius III in battles 334-331 BC, destroying the mighty Persian Empire and inheriting their vast empire. Alexander is said to have dreamed of uniting the Greeks and Persians into one great empire. Here this was a possibility given the relatively culturally tolerant nature of the Persian Empire. Alexander left no witings so we can really know his plan. History does record his actions. He incorporated Persian soldietrs into his army. He demanded that his important officers, all Macedonians, take Persian wives. His followers resented this, but complied. His early death undid whatever plans he may have had (323 BC).
Following a civil war among his generals, Seleucus Nicator, gained control over much of Alexander's Empire, except for Greece itself and Egypt. Seleucus conquured Babylon (312 BC). He annexed it to Persia, lands as farv east as the Indus River, Syria and Analtolia. At the same time Potolomy gained control of Egypt. Unlike Alexander's plans, Seleucus ruled Persia as a conquered land through Greek troops and satraps. Persia for nearly 5 centuries was ruled as a province of the Selecuid Empire.
The Parthians overthrew the Greeks, who were unable to generate Persian support, about 250 B.C. The Parthians came from the deserts of central Asia. Unlike the Greeks, they were impressed with Persian civilization and ruled Persian through native kings. The Parthian empire lasted more than four centuries and during that period there was no important Persian revolt. The Parthians were one of the few people who successfully resisted the Roman Empire, desimating a Roman army led by Anthony. This played a major role in the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra by Octavian. Gradually Christianity spread to Persia and the power of the Parthians wained.
Artaxerxes or Ardashir I, a descendant of Sassan, rebelled against the Parthians (226 A.D.). He founded the Sassanian dynasty. He defeated the Parthians at the the battle of Hirmuz and annexed neighboring kingdoms. He invaded India but close to levy tribute rather than annex the defeated principalities. He then conquered Armenia. He established Zoroastrianism as the state religion of the Persian Empire. His son Shapur succeded him (240 AD) and began a long series of wars with the Romans. The revived Persian Empire like the Parthians were able to challenge Rome at the height of its power. Shapur waged two long wars with the Romans gaining territory in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Syria. Odenathus, the Prince of Palmyra and an ally of Rome managed to regain the lost Roman territories (260-263 AD). Narses became king of Persia (293 AD) and renewed the wars with Rome, but lost a devestating battle (297 AD). He had to seek peace with the Romans and boundary of Persia was moved east to the Tigris River. Shapur II became king (309 AD) and during his long reign conducted three wars with Rome, regaining the lost territoiries. Yazdegerd I became king (399) and lived in peace with Rome. He considered conversion to Christianity but launched a ruthless campaign of suppression. His son Bahrum V continued the syppression and decalred war on Rome (420). The Romans defeated his army (422) and in the peace traety the two empires pledged mutual religiius toleration of (Zoroastrianism and Christianity). At the Council of Dad-Ishu, the eastern Christian church broke away from Rome and the western church. King Firuz II was defeated by barbaric tribes called the Ephthalites (White Huns) (483) and Persian for some years was firced to pay tribute. Nestorianism became the official faithn of Persian Christians (483). Kavadh I became king (485) and supported the communist teachings of Mazdak, a Zoroastrian priest. His more orthodox brother deposed him (498) but with the help of the Ephthalites regained his throne (501). He enagaged in two inconclusive wars with Rome and then withdrew his suppoirt from Mazdak and slaughtered his followers (523). His son Khosrau I greatly expanded the boundaries of the empire to the Caucauses and Black Sea through two successfulm wars with the Byzantine Empire. He also restored Zoroastrianism as the state religion. Khosrau became king (590) and began a war with the Byzantine Empire (602) with resulted in the conquest of most of southwest Asian and Egypt, but the Emoeror Eraclius regained much lost territory. Yazdegred III who rose to the throne (632). He was the last Persian king.
The Arabs emerged from the Arabian desert and invaded both Mesopotamia amd Persia. Arab armies after the conquest of the Levant turned east to Persia. The Persian Empire confronted by Arab armies had been weakened by war with the Byzantine Empire. Arab armies after their victory over the Byzantines turned east. They first seized Mesopotamia (modetn Iraq) from the Persians and then conquered Persia itself. Aran warriors, fired by Islamic fervor, smashed much lasrger Persian armies. Persia was incorporated into the Islamic Calipate. Zoroastrianism was gradually replaced by Islam as the majority religion of the Persian people.. Persia was not, however, Arabized like Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, Somalia, and Sudan. At in part out of resistance to the Arabs, the Shiia sect of Islam became dominant in Persia. ThecArab comquest of Persia was but one phase of a much wider advance of Islam spread by Arab armies.
Persian with the Arab conquests became part of Islamic Capiphate (7th century). Persia during the Caliphate became largely Shi'a, separating it from the larger Suni faith of the Arabs and the rest of the Islamic worl. The Caliphate was destroyed by the Mongol kinvasions (13 th century). After the decline of the Mongols, a Persian kingdom rose. While the Arabs were largely conquered by the Ottomon Turks, the Persiabs successfully resisted Otttomon encroachments. Modern Persian history is addressed within the wider context of Middle Eastern history.
The ancient Persians saw the world as a cosmic struggle between good and evil, concepts that profoundly influenced Jewish and Christian theology.
One of the interesting aspects of the Persian Empire is the question of slavery. And it is a much more nuanced issue than the politically correct detractors of Western civiization would have you believe. First of all it is not true that there was no slavery in Persia, but it is absolutely true that slavery was not a vital component of the Persian economy and society. And that the Achaemenid Persian Empire was am unsually tolerant and diverse entity. This was in sharp contrast to the Greeks who fought one of the great conflicts in history with the Persians. The Greek city states in contrast to the Persians to the Persians had economies in which slavery was a very imprtant factor. This is absolutely true and important to understand in any comparison betweem Persia and Greece. The politically correct academicians who are intent on reducuing the cultural heritage of the West, however, are careful not to tell the whole story. While it is true that slavery was a minor factor in Persia, it is also true that the great bulk of the population were peasants with very few rights or prospects. It is true that they were not slaves, but the peasantry in Persia and the Middle East in general were economically and culturally only moderately removed from slavery. They were people whose labor and energies were primarily reaped by the elites and rulers. This varies from state to state, and the Persian Empire was among the most just of the ancient empires, butt the basic pattern was the same--societies ruled by despotic leaders who benefitted most from the social structure. The Greek city states even with slavery were different. The citizens of these states including the peasantry outside the walls of the cities were the first peopl in ghistort to make their laws, including the laws that governed the economy and the distribution of wealth. Rulers unlike Persian emperors and other Midle astern rulers were not only answerable to the people, but chosen by them. eople wre not only free to criticize their elected officials, but to remove them as well. Thus it is why it is in Greece with all its flaws and not Persia that the whole concept of freedom was born--the great gift of the West.
An artifact part of the Oxus River Treasure provide an indication of boys' hair styling in the Persian Empire.
Lawler, Andrew. "Rocking the cradle," Smithsonian (May 2004), pp. 40-48.
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