Wednesday, January 19, 2022


Iran in the late third millennium BC

Active ImageDuring the third and the early years of second millennium BC, the plateau of Iran was divided into some cultural regions quite distinct from each other. Gorgans culture included the entire region in the east of the Caspian Sea. Also the culture of Gian III-IV and Godin IV prevailed in the east of Lurestan. Yanics culture prevailed in an area extending from the east Azarbaijan to the central parts of Iran. In south, southeast, and east, three different cultures, all having painted ceramics, prevailed in Fars, Kerman and Sistan.

Elamite Empire

Cyrus Shahmiri

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The Iranian Plateau did not experience the rise of urban, literate civilization in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia on the Mesopotamian pattern but the lowland Khuzestan did. It was the Elamite Civilization.

Geographically, Elam included more than Khuzestan; it was a combination of the lowlands and the immediate highland areas to the north and east. Elamite strength was based on an ability to hold these various areas together under a coordinated government that permitted the maximum interchange of the natural resources unique to each region. Traditionally this was done through a federated governmental structure.

Closely related to that form of government was the Elamite system of inheritance and power distribution. The normal pattern of government was that of an overlord ruling over vassal princes. In earliest times the overlord lived in Susa, which functioned as a federal capital. With him ruled his brother closest in age, the viceroy, who usually had his seat of government in the native city of the currently ruling dynasty. This viceroy was heir presumptive to the overlord. Yet a third official, the regent or prince of Susa (the district), shared power with the overlord and the viceroy. He was usually the overlords son or, if no son was available, his nephew. On the death of the overlord, the viceroy became overlord. The prince of Susa remained in office, and the brother of the old viceroy nearest to him in age became the new viceroy. Only if all brothers were dead was the prince of Susa promoted to viceroy, thus enabling the overlord to name his own son (or nephew) as the new prince of Susa. Such a complicated system of governmental checks, balances, and power inheritance often broke down despite bilateral descent and levirate marriage (i.e., the compulsory marriage of a widow to her deceased husbands brother). What is remarkable is how often the system did work; it was only in the Middle and Neo-Elamite periods that sons more often succeeded fathers to power.

Elamite history can be divided into three main phases: the Old, Middle, and Late, or Neo-Elamite, periods. In all periods Elam was closely involved with Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria, sometimes through peaceful trade, more often through war. In like manner, Elam was often a participant in events on the Iranian Plateau. Both involvements were related to the combined need of all the lowland civilizations to control the warlike peoples to the east and to exploit the economic resources of the plateau.

Old Elamite Period

The earliest kings in the Old Elamite period may date to approximately 2700 BCE. Already conflict with Mesopotamia, in this case apparently with the city of Ur, was characteristic of Elamite history. These early rulers were succeeded by the Awan (Shustar) dynasty.

The 11th king of this line entered into treaty relations with the great Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2254 - c. 2218 BCE). Yet there soon appeared a new ruling house, the Simash dynasty (Simash may have been in the mountains of southern Luristan). The outstanding event of this period was the virtual conquest of Elam by Shulgi of the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2094 - c. 2047 BCE). Eventually the Elamites rose in rebellion and overthrew the 3rd Ur dynasty, an event long remembered in Mesopotamian dirges and omen texts. About the middle of the 19th century BCE, power in Elam passed to a new dynasty, that of Eparti. The third king of this line, Shirukdukh, was active in various military coalitions against the rising power of Babylon, but Hammurabi (c. 1792 - c. 1750 BCE) was not to be denied, and Elam was crushed in 1764 BCE. The Old Babylon kingdom, however, fell into rapid decline following the death of Hammurabi, and it was not long before the Elamites were able to gain revenge. Kutir-Nahhunte I attacked Samsuiluna (c. 1749 - c. 1712 BCE), Hammurabis son, and dealt so serious a defeat to the Babylonians that the event was remembered more than 1,000 years later in an inscription of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. It may be assumed that with this stroke Elam once again gained independence. The end of the Eparti dynasty, which may have come in the late 16th century BCE, is buried in silence.

Middle Elamite Period

After two centuries for which sources reveal nothing, the Middle Elamite period opened with the rise to power of the Anzanite dynasty, whose homeland probably lay in the mountains northeast of Khuzestan. Political expansion under Khumbannumena (c. 1285 - c. 1266 BCE), the fourth king of this line, proceeded apace, and his successes were commemorated by his assumption of the title "Expander of the Empire." He was succeeded by his son, Untash-Gal (Untash (d) Gal, or Untash-Huban), a contemporary of Shalmaneser I of Assyria (c. 1274 - c. 1245 BCE) and the founder of the city of Dur Untash (modern Chogha Zanbil).

In the years immediately following Untash-Gal, Elam increasingly found itself in real or potential conflict with the rising power of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (c. 1244 - c. 1208 BCE) campaigned in the mountains north of Elam. The Elamites under Kidin-Khutran, second king after Untash-Gal, countered with a successful and devastating raid on Babylonia.

In the end, however, Assyrian power seems to have been too great. Tukulti-Ninurta managed to expand, for a brief time, Assyrian control well to the south in Mesopotamia, Kidin-Khutran faded into obscurity, and the Anzanite dynasty came to an end.

After a short period of dynastic troubles, the second half of the Middle Elamite period opened with the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte (c. 1160 BCE). Two equally powerful and two rather less impressive kings followed this founder of a new dynasty, whose home was probably Susa, and in this period Elam became one of the great military powers of the Middle East. Tukulti-Ninurta died about 1208 BC, and Assyria fell into a period of internal weakness and dynastic conflict. Elam was quick to take advantage of this situation by campaigning extensively in the Diyala River area and into the very heart of Mesopotamia. Shutruk-Nahhunte captured Babylon and carried off to Susa the stela on which was inscribed the famous law code of Hammurabi. Shilkhak-In-Shushinak, brother and successor of Shutruk-Nahhuntes eldest son, Kutir-Nahhunte, still anxious to take advantage of Assyrian weakness, campaigned as far north as the area of modern Kirkuk. In Babylonia, however, the 2nd dynasty of Isin led a native revolt against such control as the Elamites had been able to exercise there, and Elamite power in central Mesopotamia was eventually broken. The Elamite military empire began to shrink rapidly. Nebuchadrezzar I of Babylon (c. 1124 - c. 1103 BCE) attacked Elam and was just barely beaten off. A second Babylonian attack succeeded, however, and the whole of Elam was apparently overrun, ending the Middle Elamite period.

It is noteworthy that during the Middle Elamite period the old system of succession to, and distribution of, power appears to have broken down. Increasingly, son succeeded father, and less is heard of divided authority within a federated system. This probably reflects an effort to increase the central authority at Susa in order to conduct effective military campaigns abroad and to hold Elamite foreign conquests. The old system of regionalism balanced with federalism must have suffered, and the fraternal, sectional strife that so weakened Elam in the Neo-Elamite period may have had its roots in the centrifugal developments of the 13th and 12th centuries BCE.

Neo-Elamite Period

A long period of darkness separates the Middle and Neo-Elamite periods. In 742 BCE a certain Huban-nugash is mentioned as king in Elam. The land appears to have been divided into separate principalities, with the central power fairly weak.

The next 100 years witnessed the constant attempts of the Elamites to interfere in Mesopotamian affairs, usually in alliance with Babylon, against the constant pressure of Neo-Assyrian expansion. At times they were successful with this policy, both militarily and diplomatically, but on the whole they were forced to give way to increasing Assyrian power. Local Elamite dynastic troubles were from time to time compounded by both Assyrian and Babylonian interference. Meanwhile, the Assyrian army whittled away at Elamite power and influence in Luristan. In time these internal and external pressures resulted in the near total collapse of any meaningful central authority in Elam. In a series of campaigns between 692 and 639 BCE, in an effort to clean up a political and diplomatic mess that had become a chronic headache for the Assyrians, Ashurbanipals armies utterly destroyed Susa, pulling down buildings, looting, and sowing the land of Elam with salt.

Iran during the first millennium BC (Medians)


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The comprehensive study of Irans history, culture and geography at the time of Media can be considered as the most complicated part of Irans history. Different linguists, ethnologists and theologians believe that although the great Median Empire did not last so long and was replaced with the Achaemenians, a very important fact is that, they were but the continuation of Medians. The same tribes and people continued the past trends with more vigor and dynamism. They gave credit to this dynasty and extended it into the greatest kingdom ever known.


The Median Empire, was the first Iranian dynasty corresponding to the northeastern section of present-day Iran, Northern-Khvarvarana and Asuristan (now days known as Iraq), and South and Eastern Anatolia. The inhabitants, who were known as Medes, and their neighbors, the Persians, spoke Median languages that were closely related to Aryan (Old Persian). Historians know very little about the Iranian culture under the Median dynasty, except that Zoroastrianism as well as a polytheistic religion was practiced, and a priestly caste called the Magi existed.

Traditionally, the creator of the Median kingdom was one Deioces, who, according to Herodotus, reigned from 728 to 675 BCE and founded the Median capital Ecbatana (Hâgmatâna or modern Hamadan). Attempts have been made to associate Daiaukku, a local Zagros king mentioned in a cuneiform text as one of the captives deported to Assyria by Sargon II in 714 BCE, with the Deioces of Herodotus, but such an association is highly unlikely. To judge from the Assyrian sources, no Median kingdom such as Herodotus describes for the reign of Deioces existed in the early 7th century BCE; at best, he is reporting a Median legend of the founding of their kingdom.

According to Herodotus (History of Herodotus), Deioces was succeeded by his son Phraortes (675-653 BCE), who subjugated the Persians and lost his life in a premature attack against the Assyrians. Some of this tale may be true. Assyrian texts speak of a Kashtariti as the leader of a conglomerate group of Medes, Scythians, Mannaeans, and miscellaneous other local Zagros peoples that seriously threatened the peace of Assyrias eastern borderlands during the reign of Esarhaddon (680-669 BCE). It is possible that Phraortes is this Kashtariti, though the suggestion cannot be proved either historically or linguistically. That a Median king in this period exerted political and military control over the Persians is entirely reasonable, though it cannot be proved.

Beginning as early as the 9th century, and with increasing impact in the late 8th and early 7th centuries, groups of nomadic warriors entered western Iran, probably from across the Caucasus. Dominant among these groups were the Scythians, and their entrance into the affairs of the western plateau during the 7th century may perhaps mark one of the important turning points in Iron Age history. Herodotus speaks in some detail of a period of Scythian domination, the so-called Scythian interregnum in Median dynasty history. His dating of this event remains uncertain, but traditionally it is seen as falling between the reigns of Phraortes and Cyaxares and as covering the years 653 to 625 BCE. Whether such an interregnum ever actually occurred and, if it did, whether it should not be dated later than this are open questions. What is clear is that, by the mid-7th century BCE, there were a great many Scythians in western Iran, that they, along with the Medes and other groups, posed a serious threat to Assyria, and that their appearance threw previous power alignments quite out of balance.

Herodotus reports how, under Cyaxares of Media (625-585 BCE), the Scythians were overthrown when their kings were induced at a supper party to get so drunk that they were then easily slain. It is more likely that about this time either the Scythians withdrew voluntarily from western Iran and went off to plunder elsewhere or they were simply absorbed into a rapidly developing confederation under Median hegemony. Cyaxares is a fully historical figure who appears in the cuneiform sources as Uvakhshatra. Herodotus speaks of how Cyaxares reorganized the Median army into units built around specialized armaments: spearmen, bowmen, and cavalry. The unified and reorganized Medes were a match for the Assyrians. They attacked one of the important Assyrian border cities, Arrapkha, in 615 BCE, surrounded Nineveh in 614 BCE but were unable to capture it, and instead successfully stormed the Assyrian religious capital, Ashur. An alliance between Babylon and the Medes was sealed by the betrothal of Cyaxares granddaughter to Nabopolassars son, Nebuchadrezzar II (605-562 BCE). In 612 BCE the attack on Nineveh was renewed, and the city fell in late August (the Babylonians arrived rather too late to participate fully in the battle). The Babylonians and the Medes together pursued the fleeing Assyrians westward into Syria. Assyrian appeals to Egypt for help came to nought, and the last Assyrian ruler, Ashur-uballit II, disappeared from history in 609 BCE.

The problem, of course, was how to divide the spoils among the victors. The cuneiform sources are comparatively silent, but it would seem that the Babylonians fell heir to all of the Assyrian holdings within the fertile crescent, while their allies took over all of the highland areas. The Medes gained control over the lands in eastern Anatolia that had once been part of Urartu and eventually became embroiled in war with the Lydians, the dominant political power in western Asia Minor. In 585 BCE, probably through the mediation of the Babylonians, peace was established between Media and Lydia, and the Halys (Kizil) River was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms. Thus a new balance of power was established in the Middle East among Medes, Lydians, Babylonians, and, far to the south, Egyptians. At his death, Cyaxares controlled vast territories: all of Anatolia to the Halys, the whole of western Iran eastward, perhaps as far as the area of modern Tehran, and all of south-western Iran, including Fars. Whether it is appropriate to call these holdings a kingdom is debatable; one suspects that authority over the various peoples, Iranian and non-Iranian, who occupied these territories was exerted in the form of a confederation such as is implied by the ancient Iranian royal title, king of kings.

Astyages followed his father, Cyaxares, on the Median throne (585-550 BCE). Comparatively little is known of his reign. All was not well with the alliance with Babylon, and there is some evidence to suggest that Babylonia may have feared Median power. The latter, however, was soon in no position to threaten others, for Astyages was himself under attack. Indeed, Astyages and the Medians were soon overthrown by the rise to power in the Iranian world of Cyrus II the Great.



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With the establishment of Acheamenian dynasty by Cyrus, the Great, from a famous family (near 550 BC), Iran achieved an important status in the worlds history. Also, the empire is known as the founder of an excellent culture and civilization in Asia and the whole world. Cyrus, who put an end to the Median tribe rule over Iran, expanded his kingdom. The wars in the eastern regions, in the vicinity of Gorgan and the fields between the Caspian Sea and Aral Lake, led to his death. After him, Kamboujieh, Darius I, King Khashayar, Darius II and Ardeshir II ruled over Iran.


This kingdom lasted for 230 years and their rule - especially in the early stages - led to agricultural development, commercial security and even encouraged scientific achievements. Especially during the reign of Cyrus and Darius, the Great, the grounds were prepared for peaceful coexistence among the followers of different religions and protection of the needy. Researchers maintain that the declaration of Cyrus issued during the conquest of Babylonia, is an example of human right principles in the ancient times. Finally, the Achaemenian dynasty was overthrown with the defeat of Darius III (330-336 BC).

By 546 BCE, Cyrus had defeated Croesus, the Lydian king of fabled wealth, and had secured control of the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, Armenia, and the Greek colonies along the Levant. Moving east, he took Parthia (land of the Arsacids, not to be confused with Parsa, which was to the southwest), Chorasmis, and Bactria. He besieged and captured Babylon in 539 and released the Jews who had been held captive there, thus earning his immortalization in the Book of Isaiah. When he died in 529, Cyruss kingdom extended as far east as the Hindu Kush in present-day Afghanistan.

His successors were less successful. Cyruss unstable son, Cambyses II, conquered Egypt but later he died in July, 522 BCE, as the result of either an accident or suicide during a revolt led by a priest, Gaumata, who usurped the throne by pretending to be Bardiya (Cambyses brother, who had been assassinated secretly before Cambyses started out for his Egyptian campaign in 525 BCE) until overthrown in 522 BCE by a member of a lateral branch of the Achaemenid family, Darius I (also known as Darayarahush or Darius the Great). Darius attacked the Greek mainland, which had supported rebellious Greek colonies under his aegis, but as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 was forced to retract the limits of the empire to Asia Minor.

The Achaemenids thereafter consolidated areas firmly under their control. It was Cyrus and Darius who, by sound and farsighted administrative planning, brilliant military maneuvering, and a humanistic worldview, established the greatness of the Achaemenids and in less than thirty years raised them from an obscure tribe to a world power.

The quality of the Achaemenids as rulers began to disintegrate, however, after the death of Darius in 486 BCE. His son and successor, Xerxes, was chiefly occupied with suppressing revolts in Egypt and Babylonia. He also attempted to conquer the Greek Peloponnesus, but encouraged by a victory at Thermopylae, he overextended his forces and suffered overwhelming defeats at Salamis and Plataea. By the time his successor, Artaxerxes I, died in 424 BCE, the imperial court was beset by factionalism among the lateral family branches, a condition that persisted until the death in 330 of the last of the Achaemenids, Darius III, at the hands of his own subjects.

The Achaemenids were enlightened despots who allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in the form of the satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A satrap (governor) administered the region, a general supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a state secretary kept official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the central government. The twenty satrapies were linked by a 2,500-kilometer highway, the most impressive stretch being the royal road from Susa to Sardis, built by command of Darius. Relays of mounted couriers could reach the most remote areas in fifteen days. Despite the relative local independence afforded by the satrapy system however, royal inspectors, the "eyes and ears of the king," toured the empire and reported on local conditions, and the king maintained a personal bodyguard of 10,000 men, called the Immortals.

The language in greatest use in the empire was Aramaic. Old Persian was the "official language" of the empire but was used only for inscriptions and royal proclamations.

Darius revolutionized the economy by placing it on a silver and gold coinage system. Trade was extensive, and under the Achaemenids there was an efficient infrastructure that facilitated the exchange of commodities among the far reaches of the empire. As a result of this commercial activity, Persian words for typical items of trade became prevalent throughout the Middle East and eventually entered the English language; examples are, bazaar, shawl, sash, turquoise, tiara, orange, lemon, melon, peach, spinach, and asparagus. Trade was one of the empires main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute. Other accomplishments of Dariuss reign included codification of the data, a universal legal system upon which much of later Iranian law would be based, and construction of a new capital at Persepolis, where vassal states would offer their yearly tribute at the festival celebrating the spring equinox. In its art and architecture, Persepolis reflected Dariuss perception of himself as the leader of conglomerates of people to whom he had given a new and single identity. The Achaemenid art and architecture found there is at once distinctive and also highly eclectic. The Achaemenids took the art forms and the cultural and religious traditions of many of the ancient Middle Eastern peoples and combined them into a single form. This Achaemenid artistic style is evident in the iconography of Persepolis, which celebrates the king and the office of the monarch.



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Eleven years after the death of Alexander, the Babylonia province was captured by Seleucus, a Macedonian commander, whose father, Antiokus, was also one of the commanders of Philips, Alexanders father (312 BC). All these eleven years and even some years late were passed in battles over succession among Alexanders commanders. Then he annexed Ilam province (Khuzestan and a part of todays Lurestan) and Medes (except Azarbaijan) to his kingdom. So an autonomous government was established after his own name which was called Seleucid (in Persian Soluki) dynasty. Later, his coronation became a historical reference point for the calendar of this dynasty. The downfall of Seleucid was in 64 BC.


Jens Jakobsson

The Hellenistic period is one of the most controversial in the history of Iran. The Greek or Macedonian dynasties were never fully accepted as more than occupants, and in hindsight their reign has been neglected. In the West, where the Hellenistic kings were defeated by Rome, most historians tend to look down on them as degenerated tyrants. The criticism is not wholly unfounded, but in many aspects the kingdoms of the age were vital and dynamic states with an eclectic and progressive view of the different cultures they embraced. The Seleucid Empire was by far the largest of them and its ambition was no less than to maintain the great empire of Alexander in the east.

The Chaos after Alexander

The death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE) saw the Macedonian army in a great confusion. The centralised Persian Empire was easy to govern once it was conquered, and the Macedonian military hegemony was by and large unthreatened, but the king had died without appointing a successor. Even a powerful heir would have found it hard to maintain Alexanders unifying authority, but as things were the kingship was divided between his feeble half-brother Philip III and his posthumous son Alexander IV. None of them were more than puppets in the hands of the Macedonian generals, the Diadochs, who soon sliced up the empire between them.

Their wars started soon after Ptolemy I seceded from the empire in the province of Egypt, but the complicated details of the fighting could not be accounted for here. Suffice to say that Persia proper was divided between various Macedonian satraps, who tried as best as they could to gain local support but relied mostly on their Greek mercenaries. In the outskirts of the empire, Persian satraps managed to claim independence during the wars; small kingdoms were established in Cappadocia and in the so-called Media Atropatene (todays Azerbaijan).

The satrap of Babylonia, the focal point between east and west, was called Seleucus and was a formidable administrator who soon formed a solid network of local supporters. After several wars with the leading Diadoch Antigonos the One-eyed, Seleucus crowned himself king in Babylonia in the year 306 BCE. A few years after, all the satrapies to the east of Babylonia had yielded to him. In 301 BCE, Antigonos was defeated by a coalition of other generals, and Seleucus became master of Syria as well, and in 281 BCE he took Asia Minor and the wars of the Diadochs ended. At the age of eighty Seleukos was murdered by a fugitive Egyptian prince, but the throne passed on to Antiochus I (281-261 BCE), his son by Persian noblewoman Apamea, and after that to his son Antiochus II (261-246 BCE), who ruled as Great Kings from Samarkhand to the Aegean Sea.

The Seleucid Administration

The Seleucids built hundreds of cities and maintained or reformed the infrastructure of the Persian kings. The cities were based on the Greek polis-model with gymnasiums, amphitheatres and squares. Members of the indigenous upper classes often became hellenised, but the demotic languages were used in administration as well. The Greek influence was strictly limited to the cities and did not affect the countryside at all.

Though the army was based on Greek soldiers, a wide array of troops from Persia and Babylonia were incorporated, among them the cataphracts, the heavy cavalry of the Achaemenids. There were several nationalistic outbursts in Persis, but they were all suppressed, and the Seleucids strived for acceptance by acting as protectors for Persian and Babylonian cults. Ethnically the dynasty became partly Persian by marriages into the Persian kings of Cappadocia, who claimed ancestry from one of the seven followers of Darius I the Great.

Greek settlements in the empire were largely centered in Syria, the capital Antiochia being the most important, and to some extent Babylonia where the city Seleucia on Tigris succeeded Babylon as eastern city of residence. Paradoxically, many Greeks also lived in the outmost province of Bactria (Afghanistan/eastern Iran) many of them ethnic Greeks as opposed to ethnic Macedonians. Alexander had left his Greek infantry there, since he did not trust them, but historians also suggest that the Achaemenids used to deport rebellious Greek subjects there.

Unlike Alexandria in Egypt, the Seleucid Empire was no center of Hellenistic culture and science, but some of the Stoic philosophers came from Syria, and the world-leading physician Erasistratos lived at the court of Seleucus I. The Babylonian chronicles are the main source to the ancient Middle East history and was written by native Babylonian Berossos. The empire was the center of several important trade routes which gave the kings large revenues. Seleucid coins were a well renowned currency along the Silk route. Friendly relations were kept with the Mauryan kings of northern India, to whom Seleucus I had ceded eastern Pakistan in exchange for war elephants to use against his opponents in the west.

The First Crisis and Brief Restoration

The mid-3rd century BCE saw great turmoil in the Seleucid state after one of its many wars with Ptolemaic Egypt had gone terribly wrong. King Seleucus II, a son of Antiochus II, faced a civil war and during his reign the easternmost provinces broke free. These were the vast Bactria and Parthia, where nomads led by the Arsacid dynasty (from 247 BCE) formed a small but warlike state on the verges of northern Iran.

By and large though, most of Iran seems to have remained in the Seleucid fold even if the empire was continuously shaken by wars in all directions. Sadly the sources on the Seleucid empire focus on its western parts since most of the authors lived west of Syria. In the last years of the 3rd century BC the king Antiochus III, who was the last to claim the Persian title of Great King and therefore is called "the Great", brought the Seleucid army to the borders of India in a legendary campaign called the anabasis, during which the Parthian were defeated and Seleucid hegemony restored throughout the eastern dominions. He then defeated Egypt soundly and then invaded Greece to reclaim almost the entire part of Alexanders empire.

Defeat and Civil Wars

This over ambitious scheme did however bring him to a war with the rising Romans, and after the disastrous battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE, the Seleucid main army was annihilated and the empire had to accept a paralysing war indemnity, give up Asia Minor and send hostages to Rome.

Antiochus the Great now plundered temple treasures, but this policy got him killed in Luristan in western Persia and seriously damaged loyalty to the dynasty. The weak empire could do little to prevent central Iran to break loose, led by the Parthians who expanded in all directions. In Bactria, the kings were Greek and long independent. These kings now invaded Pakistan and northern India to form a legendary but almost forgotten empire, the farthest outreach of Hellenistic culture.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE), notorious in history for his conflict with the Jews (the Maccabean insurrection) carried out an initially successful campaign in Persia but died along the way. After his death, the Seleucids collapsed into devastating civil wars which were encouraged by the Romans and the Ptolemies.

The Parthian Conquest of Persia

Persis, the heartland of the Persian kings, had begun its route back to independence in the late 3rd century when the first indigenous Seleucid satraps were appointed. The earliest is supposed to be Bagadates, whose coin is shown here. The reverse depicts a king standing before a Zoroastrian sacred edifice or a fire-alter. With the weakening of the Seleucid Empire, the satraps became kings, some of which used names like Darius and Artaxerxes as tokens of their nationalistic spirit. Several other small kingdoms emerged as mushrooms in the temporary power vacuum.

It was however Parthia under its king Mithradates I that now rose as the main power in Persia, after having defeated the Medians and the Greeks of Bactria in the middle of the 2nd century BCE. The latter disappeared soon afterwards, crushed by civil wars and the pressure of nomadic tribes who probably were allies of the Parthians. The other kingdoms of Iran were now turned into Parthian vassals.

The Final War

In 140 BCE, the Seleucid king Demetrios II deciced that enough was enough and summoned whatever resources he had to check the Parthian advance. He was initially victorious and several vassals seceded from Mithradates II. The Parthians were however well-known for their defensive strength in their own country, and soon managed to ambush the Seleucid army and take Demetrious II captive. Babylonia now became a Parthian province.

The last round of the war came after the able Antiochus VII, the brother of Demetrios II, finally managed to win the civil wars in the remaining Seleucid dominions. He summoned a huge army of mercenaries and attacked the Parthians with great vigor. After three victories he had liberated Babylonia and western Iran and was already compared with Antiochus the Great.

The inhabitants had been happy to shake off the severe Parthian rule, but when the giant Seleucid army was divided put into winter quarters this turned out to be just as bad for the hosting cities. Parthian spies were able to stir up rebellions against the Seleucids, and when Antiochus VII tried to assemble his troops he was routed and killed by the Parthian king Phraates II in a battle outside Ecbatana. The rest of the leaderless army was shattered or put into the Parthian ranks. This was the definite end of the Hellenistic period in Iran.

The Greeks Disappear

The last remaining Seleucid kings only controlled ever-decreasing parts of Syria. Their last half-century was plagued by unending civil wars, until the Romans made Syria a Roman province in 64 BC. The Greek influence in the east survived its rulers for a while, even though few of the Hellenistic cities were found east of Babylonia. The Parthian rulers continued throughout their reign to strike coins in Greek, and several of them gave themselves the epithet Philhellenos (friend of the Greeks). This was probably to ensure support from the Greek societies, which were still important (and heavily fortified) centers of commerce. But eventually Greek impact faded. The Roman campaigns in Parthia in the 2nd century CE seems to have swept away the last of the Greek colonists.

It is as mentioned odd to note that Bactria, the hinterland on the eastern Iranian plateau, despite its distance to Greece boasted a numerous and prospering Greek colony. The Greeks here also seemed to have been better integrated and even managed to expand beyond the former Achaemenid frontiers beyond Punjab and Kashmir, as well as becoming masters of todays Pakistan in the early 2nd century BCE. Even though the empire soon collapsed, the Greeks left a pronounced cultural heritage, the so-called Gandhara culture.

The dream of reuniting Alexanders empire was long alive among the Hellenistic kings, and the references to him were legion in Hellenistic kingship. At the donations of Alexandria in 34 BCE, queen Cleopatra and the Roman general Marcus Antonius even went so far as to crown their son Alexander Helios (the Sun) to Great King of Parthia and Media. This was however but an arrogant empty gesture, since these countries were by that time far beyond the grasp of Greeks as well as Romans.


The reign of Seleucid didnt last long (despite their militaristic violence) and after 65 years, the dynasty collapsed. Even at the peak of their military strength, simultaneous with the years when the Greek immigrants of Bacteria province (Bakhtar, Balkh) under the leadership of Diodotus, declared their independence (near 250 BC), an autonomous Iranian state was established in the Part province (Partia, Porsooh). This government was called after the name of its founder, Arshkan (Ashkan, Arsacid). Later, after the downfall of Seleucid, this government was converted to a great kingdom which was the sixth great kingdom on the earth. For some centuries, this government was considered a rival to the Roman Empire.
The main achievement of Arsacid was keeping Irans civilization away from the destructive invasions of tribes on the eastern borders and also maintaining Irans territorial integrity against the gradual invasion of Rome toward the east. In both cases, their efforts were of great importance in Irans history. The period of Arsacid lasted for 420 years when 29 Ashks ruled over Iran.

Sasanian Dynasty

The rule of Sasanian, after the downfall of Parthian (Arsacid), lasted for four centuries. Theres a controversy between researchers (about 3 years) on the beginning of the reign of Ardashir I, the first king of Sasanian Dynasty. During the 400 years of their reign, the Sasanian government was one of the two great governments of the day (West Asia).The borders of the region under their reign stretched to Peshawar and the Sind River valley in the east and Kashmar in the northeast. In the north, the borders reached Cacasus Mountains and Darband on the shores of the Caspian Sea and sometime to the Black Sea. In the west, the Euphrates River was the border of Iran and Rome and also its successor state, Eastern Rome with Byzantine of course. Sometimes the border went beyond the Euphrates River. However apart from expansions and shrinkages, Euphrates could be considered the natural border between the two states of Byzantine and Sasanian. During this period, medicine and astronomy made huge progress and music developed quite well. There was also some progress in other fields of art. However, the Sasanian state is one of the important phenomena of the world which is acknowledged by almost all historians.

Iran and the Advent of Islam

After the migration of Hazrat Mohammad (P.B.U.H) from Mecca to Medina and when most of the tribes of Arabia embraced Islam, he decided to invite the people of neighboring countries to Islam as well. In order to accomplish this task, he wrote some letters to kings of those countries including Khosrow Parviz of Persia. During those years, a number skirmishes broke out between Sasanian and Muslims and finally considering the status which Islam had gained among the Iranians, Islam could easily enter Iran without any serious resistance. The Iranians didnt become Muslim by force, but when they found Islam compatible with their spirits, they embraced it with consent5, i.e., Islam didnt impose itself on Iranians. After the Sassanian, the Taherian, Saffarian, Al-Bouyeh, Abbassid, Samanian, Ghaznavian, Alavian, Al Ziyar, Siljukid, Atabakan and Kharazmshahian ruled over Iran.

In 654 A.H., Mongols attacked Iran and took the helm after devastating Iran. Next to the Mongols, in 771 A.H. Teymurian came to power and ruled over Iran until 903 A.H.

Safavid Dynasty

The establishment of the Safavid Dynasty in the early 10th century A.H. (early 16th century AD) is one of the important events of Iran. It should be considered the beginning of a new age in Irans political landscape and religion and for the first Shiism was announced as the state religion which also paved the way for a centralized administrative structure. The  establishment of the Safavid Dynasty paved the way for promotion of cultural, artistic and architectural activities. Therefore, a number of new artistic and architectural monuments were created. Political contacts with European and neighboring countries caused led to commercial development. As a result the domestic economy dramatically flourished, boosting production, particularly the trade of silk which led to the  establishment of large textile centers.

In 907 A.H., Shah Ismail I (Son of Sheikh Heidar Safavi) after defeating Farrokh Yasar (king of Shervan) and Alvand Beig, Aq-Qoyunlu conquered Tabriz (the capital of Aq-Qoyunlu government) with the help of Ghezelbash from Ardebils Khangah. It was in this city that the Safavi government was established and the twelver-Shiism was announced the official religion of Iran. Sultan Hussein was the last king of the Safavid Dynasty (before its final fall by Nadir Shah Afshar). He reigned after Shah Suleyman from 1106 to 1135 A.H. The reasons that had already set the stage for the downfall of the Safavid, surfaced during the period of Sultan Hussein. Some of these reasons were: increase in taxes, oppression of autocratic governors, severe pressure on the minority religious sects, infiltration of irresponsible and harem eunuchs into government, expulsion of experts and efficient officials from the administrative and military systems, and the kings lack of willpower in facing the events. The uprising of Ghalzaei tribe in Kandahar in 1113 A.H. which was provoked by India and the revolt of Harats Abdalis in 1118 A.H. were the preludes to the downfall of the government. The king and his attendants couldnt prevent the downfall during 17 years.

Afshar Dynasty

Nadir Gholi, son of Imam Gholi, was from the "Gharokhlu" tribe which was a branch of Afshar tribe. From the early days of the Safavid rule, the mentioned tribe was moved to and settled in Abivard and Dareh Gaz in order to prevent the attack of Uzbeks and Turkomens. The downfall of Isfahan in 1135 A.H. was a good pretext for domestic rebels and foreign claimants to create riot. Nadir who was also the head of a group in support of the people of Abivard, first served the Khan of the region and after two successive marriages with the Khans two daughters, became the heir to the throne of local government. In 1139 A.H. the wandering Safavi prince (Tahmasb Mirza) who was looking for some devoted companions, joined him and established the Afsharian dynasty. Finally Nader was killed by a group of commanders.

Zand Dynasty

Karim Khan Zand is the founder of Zand dynasty. He owed his conquest first and foremost to the riot and revolts that ensued Nadirs assassination. These revolts had their roots in the previous 70 or 80 years. For about three years after Nadir, Karim Khan didnt have any fame in his tribe which was moved to Khorasan in 1144 A.H.

In the light of his insight, good intention and sincerity, he overcame the opponents. From 1179 A.H. he ruled over Iran independently. The last 14 years of his life were important for Iranians, because he could bring security in all internal regions and Persian Gulf in any confrontation. Generally speaking, the 50-year period of Zand dynasty (1160-1209 A.H.) was the era of domestic challenges and the foreign opponents did not dare attack Iran. The countrys frontiers were under the control of Iranian clans.

Qajar Dynasty

By forming a well-organized army (after the death of Karim Khan) the Ghovanlu tribe under the leadership of Agha Mohammad Khan defeated the opponents and established the Qajar dynasty. Tehran was selected as the capital of the dynasty. During the rule of Qajarid the tribal rule cam to an end in Iran, but in its foreign relations, Iran faced the influence of Czarist Russia and Great Britain. For about a century this influence changed the situation in all fields and caused many drawbacks. The death of Agha Mohammad Khan resulted in some domestic skirmishes while the reign of Fath Ali Shah led to the domination of foreigners. During Fath Ali Shahs reign, the influence of foreign powers such as Russia and Britain increased so dramatically that the ambassadors of the two countries practically played the main role in the process of decision making in Iran. This influence and direct interference of the said powers reached its peak during the reign of Ahmad Shah, the last kind of the Qajar dynasty, undermining the sovereignty of the central government causing public protests and finally leading to his dethronement.   

Pahlavi Dynasty

Ten days after the dethronement of Ahmad Shah, the British ambassador to Tehran visited Reza Khan and in a formal letter from the British  government recognized his regime. The next day the Soviet ambassador to Tehran too formally announced the Soviet recognition of Reza Khans government. In December 1925 the National Consultative Assembly was convened with members three times the members of the parliament, while Mirza Sadeq Khan Mostashar-u-dolah was the speaker. The assembly elected Reza Khan as the king and made the monarchy hereditary in his dynasty. The new king coronation took place in April 1926. In 1941, with the forced abdication of Reza Khan, his son Mohammad Reza, the 20 year-old crown prince, ascended the throne.

Backgrounds of Islamic Revolution in Iran and its victory

The democratic process and peoples protests against the suppressive and unfair behavior of Irans rulers began from the Qajar dynasty. The constitutional movement in 1907 and the nationalization of oil industry in 1952 are the most important manifestations of peoples protests against foreign interference in their national affairs and despotic regimes of Qajar and Pahlavi kings. But the movements were suppressed or diverted from their direction for different reasons. But after Mohammad Reza Shah and the 1953 coup detat, that paved the way for dictatorship in its most destructive manner, the Iranians launched a movement under the leadership of Imam Khomeini6 and finally overthrew the monarchical system..
In June 1962, Alams cabinet approved a bill on Local Councils. It was imposed on Irans king under the pressure of the new US administration headed by president J.F. Kennedy. The event provided the Iranians and Imam Khomeini with a new opportunity to play launch a spiritual movement under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. Thus on July 3 1962 the uprising of people led by clerics was launched with two main characteristics: unique leadership; Islamic ideology. The slogans and objectives of the uprising opened a new chapter in peoples struggles against the regime. Imam Khomeini and outstanding clerics of Qom and Tehran expressed their opposition to the bill after its approval made public.

Under the circumstances, Imam Khomeini played a key role in exposing the real purposes of the regime and pointed to the great mission of clerics and theological schools. Open protests letters and telegram of clerics to Shah and Asadullah Alam were supported by people from different walks of life. Thus the struggle against the Local Councils was a valuable experience for Iranian nation because they released the characteristics of the person who deserved the leadership of Iranian nation. Despite the Shahs defeat in the Local Councils event, the US pressure for the intended reforms continued. In January 1963, the Shah announced his six-point reform plan and called for a referendum. Imam Khomeini invited the clerics of Qom  to discuss the new development and sought a solution. Imam Khomeini called for boycotting the New Year celebrations (Nowruz) of 1963 to express their opposition to the regimes measures. The Imam termed the so-called White Revolution of the Shah the black revolution and disclosed his cooperation with the US and Israel. Since the Shah had assured Washington officials of peoples readiness to welcome US-sponsored reforms, the White Revolution, clerics opposition cost him dearly.

Imam Khomeini in his public meetings bravely blamed the Shah for the regimes crimes and disclosed the regimes relations with Israel. He also called for a public uprising. Imam Khomeini seized the opportunity of Muharram to encourage the people to revolt against the Shahs despotic regime.

The regime transferred the Imam to Tehran and imprisoned him. In the morning of June 3, the news of the detention of the leader of Irans revolution reached Tehran, Mashad, Shiraz and other cities where the situation became like that of Qom. In April 1963 without previous notice, the Imam was released and transferred to Qom. When the people learned about the release of Imam they held great celebrations in Feizieh School for several days. The first anniversary of June 3 uprising was held in 1963. Imam Khomeini and other religious authorities issued a joint statement and separate statements were issued by the theological schools announcing national mourning on the event. Imam Khomeini issued a revolutionary statement in November 1343 in which he blamed the US and Israel for Shahs crimes against the Iranian nation. Imams disclosure of the approval of the Capitulation bill caused another revolution in November 1963. In the dawn of November 4, 1963 the armed commandos from Tehran surrounded Imams house in Qom. The Imam was arrested and the security forces transferred him directly to Tehrans Mehrabad Airport from where he was taken to Ankara under security measures by a military plane that had previously been prepared. After a month the Imam and his son, Ayatollah Haj Agha Mustafa were transferred from Turkey to the second exile in Iraq.

After Imam Khomeini arrived in Iraq, by sending letters and messages to Iran he kept his relations with the fighters and asked them to follow up the objectives of June 3 uprising. During the exile period, in spite of the difficulties, he never gave up fighting and by his speeches and messages raised hopes in peoples hearts. Ayatollah Haj Agha Moastafa Khomeinis martyrdom and the mourning ceremonies held in Iran to mark his martyrdom were the beginning of a fresh protest move by the theological school against the regime. The Imam termed the martyrdom of his son a blessing in disguise. The publication of an article in the Persian daily Itelaat in January 1978 led a public uprising. In the course of uprising a number of revolutionary seminarians were killed. In spite of massive killings, the Shah couldnt put off  the flames of public uprising.
In October 1978, Imam was forced to live Iraq (Najaf) and hence he went to Paris and formed the Revolution Council in the same month. Finally, under the public pressure expressed in nation-wide demonstrations against his despotic rule the Shah formed the Royal Council. In his next step he introduced Shapour Bakhtiar as prime minister who won a vote of confidence from the Parliament. The Shah escaped from Iran in January 1979 and then Imam Khomeini returned to Tehran in the dawn of February 1, 1979. Upon his arrival the uprising against the Shah gained momentum. Finally this popular uprising culminated in triumph on February 11, 1979.

After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, it was necessary to determine the new political system. Hence, a referendum was held on April 1, 1979 in which 98.2 percent of Iranians voted for the Islamic Republic.

It was necessary to restore peace to the country to pave the way for reconstruction. Hence the constitution had to be written down. The representatives of the Constituent Assembly who were elected by the nation, studied the constitution of Islamic Republic and the nation voted for it in a referendum in October 1979.

Next to the approval of the constitution, the institutions enshrined in it had to be practically established to create political institutionalization. This was the most important stage of stabilization of the Islamic Republic. In addition to some institutions such as president office, premiership and parliament, which are common in most countries, some new institutions were also established. They will be explained in detail in the following sections.