history

History of Iran

When “Persia” became “Iran”

In 1935 the Iranian government requested those countries which it had diplomatic relations with, to call Persia “Iran,” which is the name of the country in Persian.

The suggestion for the change is said to have come from the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of the Nazis. At the time Germany was in the grip of racial fever and cultivated good relations with nations of “Aryan” blood. It is said that some German friends of the ambassador persuaded him that, as with the advent of Reza Shah, Persia had turned a new leaf in its history and had freed itself from the pernicious influences of Britain and Russia, whose interventions in Persian affairs had practically crippled the country under the Qajars, it was only fitting that the country be called by its own name, “Iran.” This would not only signal a new beginning and bring home to the world the new era in Iranian history but would also signify the Aryan race of its population, as “Iran” is a cognate of “Aryan” and derived from it.

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out a circular to all foreign embassies in Tehran, requesting that the country thenceforth is called “Iran.” Diplomatic courtesy obliged, and by and by the name “Iran” began to appear in official correspondence and news items.

At first “Iran” sounded alien (for non-Iranians), and many failed to recognize its connection with Persia. Some (Westerners) thought that it was perhaps one of the new countries like Iraq and Jordan carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, or a country in Africa or Southeast Asia that had just been granted independence; and not a few confused it with Iraq, itself a recent entity.

As time passed and as a number of events, like the Allied invasion of Iran in 1941 and the nationalization of the oil industry under Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq, put the country in the headlines, the name “Iran” became generally accepted, and “Persia” fell into comparative disuse, though more slowly in Britain than in the United States.

persian empire

The history of Iran, commonly also known as Persia in the Western world, is intertwined with the history of a larger region, also to an extent known as Greater Iran, comprising the area from Anatolia, the Bosphorus, and Egypt in the west to the borders of Ancient India and the Syr Darya in the east, and from the Caucasus and the Eurasian Steppe in the north to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the south.

Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations, with historical and urban settlements dating back to 7000 BC. The southwestern and western part of the Iranian Plateau participated in the traditional Ancient Near East with Elam, from the Early Bronze Age, and later with various other peoples, such as the Kassites, Mannaeans, and Gutians. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel calls the Persians the “first Historical People”. The Medes unified Iran as a nation and empire in 625 BC. The Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC), founded by Cyrus the Great, was the first Persian empire and it ruled from the Balkans to North Africa and also Central Asia, spanning three continents, from their seat of power in Persis (Persepolis). It was the largest empire yet seen and the first world empire. The First Persian Empire was the only civilization in all of history to connect over 40% of the global population, accounting for approximately 49.4 million of the world’s 112.4 million people in around 480 BC. They were succeeded by the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian Empires, who successively governed Iran for almost 1,000 years and made Iran once again as a leading power in the world. Persia’s arch-rival was the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire.

history

The Persian Empire proper begins in the Iron Age, following the influx of Iranian peoples. Iranian people gave rise to the Medes, the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian Empires of classical antiquity.

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Once a major empire, Iran has endured invasions too, by the Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and the Mongols. Iran has continually reasserted its national identity throughout the centuries and has developed as a distinct political and cultural entity.

The Muslim conquest of Persia (633–654) ended the Sasanian Empire and is a turning point in Iranian history. Islamization of Iran took place during the eighth to tenth centuries, leading to the eventual decline of Zoroastrianism in Iran as well as many of its dependencies. However, the achievements of the previous Persian civilizations were not lost but were to a great extent absorbed by the new Islamic polity and civilization.

Iran, with its long history of early cultures and empires, had suffered particularly hard during the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. Many invasions of nomadic tribes, whose leaders became rulers in this country, affected it negatively.

Iran was reunified as an independent state in 1501 by the Safavid dynasty, which set Shia Islam as the empire’s official religion, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam.[8] Functioning again as a leading power, this time amongst the neighboring Ottoman Empire, its arch-rival for centuries, Iran had been a monarchy ruled by an emperor almost without interruption from 1501 until the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when Iran officially became the Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979.

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Over the course of the first half of the 19th century, Iran lost many of its territories in the Caucasus, which had been a part of Iran for centuries, comprising modern-day Eastern Georgia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, to its rapidly expanding and emerged neighboring rival, the Russian Empire, following the Russo-Persian Wars between 1804–13 and 1826–8.

Achaemenid Empire

By 546 BCE, Cyrus the Great 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, Cyrus’s kingdom extended as far east as the Hindu Kush in present-day Afghanistan.

His successors were less successful. Cyrus’s 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 empire’s main sources of revenue, along with agriculture and tribute. Other accomplishments of Darius’s 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 Darius’s 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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Pre-Islamic

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.

Before Iran was called Iran, and before Iranians lived there, a different group of people lived in Iran. These people were called the Elamites. The Elamites are mentioned in the Bible. The Elamites lived in a kingdom called Elam. Elam was conquered by Iranian peoples, such as the Medes (a type of Iranian) because the Elamites became weak after fighting the Assyrian people (a different people) for too long. The Iranians would then go on to conquer the Assyrians, as well.

The name Iran comes from Aryan and is also mentioned in the ancient book of the Zoroastrians, which was called the Avesta. Iran means “Aryan” in Persian. In the 19th and early 20th century, the name Aryan was used by Europeans to mean all Indo-Europeans.

Around 500 BC, present-day Iran was the center of the Persian Empire. Then, Alexander the Great took the country by fighting and the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia later ruled. After them, the Sassanian dynasty (224-651) took over.

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Islamic Persia

Other people took Persia by fighting, like the Arabs (7th century), Turks (10th century) and Mongols (13th century). However, Iran has always maintained a distinct culture and continued to survive.

The Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) made Islam and Shi’a the religion of Iran although Islam was always popular then. The latest kings of Iran were from the Pahlavi dynasty and ruled from 1925 until 1979 when there was a revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini created an Islamic republic.

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In 1951, Mohammed Mossadegh was brought to power after being elected as prime minister by nearly all members of the Majlis (parliament) in Iran. His first act in office was to take control of the oil industry in Iran which had been controlled by Great Britain. Most of Britain’s oil was pumped from Iran at the time. This move was seen as a danger to Great Britain’s security and empire, so they tried to overthrow the government but failed. After this, they convinced the United States through diplomacy that the government of Iran was a communist threat.

The CIA worked in Iran to create riots which led to the removal of Prime Minister Mossadegh. The United States and Great Britain then made the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi King of Iran, again.

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