History Of Iran

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Iran was influenced by the Iranian, Persian, Turkish, Arabian, Mughal, Greek and Muslim cultures until it adopted Islam as a way of life. The early period saw allegiance to Prophet Zoroaster who worshipped Ahura Mazda as an omniscient god. Iran witnessed prosperity and devastation with the rise and fall of empires, invasions and adherence to religious beliefs. Prophet Mohammad’s death in 632 CE triggered altercations over the leadership of Islam. The Shi’ites (abbr. for Shi’atu ‘˜Ali, followers of Ali) believe that the Prophet should have been succeeded by his son-in-law Ali. Ali’s son Hussein fought against the harsh rule of the Umayyad dynasty and was martyred in Karbala, now the most holy shrine for the Shi’ites.

Persia was a city in south west Iran and was known as Pars or Fars. The westerners used ‘˜Persia’ to mean ‘˜Aryana’ the Land of the Aryans. On March 21, 1935, Iran was substituted for Persia.
Below is a glimpse into the making of Iran, its rich heritage, values and cultural beliefs.

The Empire of Elamite (3500 ‘“ 645 BCE)

The Elamite kings are known to have ruled vast areas of different topographies and to have generated economic benefits by using the natural resources unique to those areas. Susa was the Elamite capital. Government was by way of inheritance and power was held by the overlords, the viceroys, the prince of the district, all from the family and relatives. Elam had economic ties with Babylon, Sumer and Assyria.

The period between 27th century and the late 16th century, saw wars between the Elamites and the 3rd dynasty of the Ur, massive defeat of Hammurabi’s son Samsuiluna (1749-12 BCE) and the end of the Eparti dynasty. In the years that followed, Khumbannumena (1285 ‘“ 66 BCE) and later his son Untash Gul of the Anzanite dynasty ruled Elam. The invasion of Assyrians brought an end to this dynasty. After more wars and the rise and fall of many kings, Elam saw Huban-Nugash as a king in 742 BCE.

Between 745 ‘“ 645 BCE, Elamites settled to an agrarian life, used bronze and copper and made metal dishes. Metal and pottery industries flourished during this period. Building of roads enabled trade. Elamites are known to have kept meticulous records of their trade. Many of their clay inscriptions are still undecipherable. The Elamites believed in Inshushinak as their god. They also believed in life after death.

Elamites negotiated with the Babylonians to stop the power of the Assyrians. However, between 692 ‘“ 639 BCE, the Assyrians under the leadership of Ashurbanipal, destroyed the Elamites, looted and pulled down their buildings and mixed salt with the Elam soil, thus bringing an end to the Elam period that lasted for about 3000 years.

The Median Empire (728 ‘“ 550 BCE)

The Scythians are believed to have entered Iran and their presence along with the Medes and other groups seemed to have disturbed the power equations of the Assyrians.

Deioces, who ruled from 728 ‘“ 675 BCE, was the founder of the Median Empire. He established Ecbatana (now Hamadan) as his capital. Phraortes (675 ‘“ 653 BCE), Deioces’ son succeeded him.

Cyaxares of Media (625 ‘“ 585 BCE) overthrew the Scythians at a supper party by killing them when they were overdrunk. He organised the Median army into specialised units of spearmen, bowmen and the cavalry. In 615 BCE, this army attacked the Assyrian cities of Arrapkha, Nineveh in 614 BCE and Ashur. The Babylonians and the Medes negotiated peace, together dislocated the Assyrians from Nineveh and pushed them westward into Syria.Astyages inherited the kingdom from Cyaxares (585 ‘“ 550 BCE) but was soon overthrown by Cyrus II The Great.

The Achaemenid Empire (550 ‘“ 330 BCE)

The first Achaemenid Emperor was Cyrus The Great (580 ‘“ 529 BCE). He is known for his generous attitude and tolerance towards those whom he defeated. He founded Persia by uniting the Medes and the Persians and appointing them as civilian officials. Cyrus built his capital at Pasargadae, incorporating other cultural values and beliefs.

He was known as ‘˜the king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world’. He marched into Babylon without any resistance and freed the Jews captured there. Cyrus was known as a humanitarian, a ruler extraordinaire, tolerant and altruistic.

The Cyrus Cylinder is considered as the first Charter of Human Rights. It is a baked clay cylinder in Akkadian language in the cuneiform script. It outlines three major points regarding the political liberalism of racial, linguistic and religious equality, slaves and all deported people to be allowed to return home and all destroyed temples to be restored.

Cyrus and Darius achieved great heights by designing administrative and military strategies with a humane approach. The empire however, deteriorated after the death of Darius in 486 BCE.

Aramaic was the common language. Old Persian was used for inscriptions and royal declarations. Darius built the Royal Road of 2500 kilometres, from Susa to Sardis enabling couriers to reach remote regions. This also facilitated trade. Agriculture, trade and tributes were the main sources of income. Darius built Persepolis as his new capital. He also enabled a legal framework. The art and architecture of the Achaemenid empire emerged as a new style with inputs from the religious and cultural traditions of the people of Middle East. The ‘˜Eye of the king’ were inspectors who took up functions of collection of tributes and controlling any uprising in the Empire. King Darius inscribed his conquests against rebelling kings and his belief in Ahuramazda and his doings, on the stone relief near Kermanshah.

Xerxes I (Khashayar Shah) (486 ‘“ 465 BCE, period of rule) was the eldest son of Darius The Great and succeeded him. He imposed his will on his empire and did not abide by the policies followed by Cyrus and Darius. Xerxes was self-indulgent and abandoned the happenings in his kingdom. He is believed to have been assassinated on the instructions of his son Artaxerxes I (465 ‘“ 425 BCE period of rule), who succeeded him. Xerxes II (425 -424 BCE), Darius II (424 ‘“ 405 BCE), Artaxerxes II (405 ‘“ 359 BCE), Artaxerxes III (359 ‘“ 338 BCE), Arses (338 ‘“ 336 BCE) and Darius III (336 ‘“ 330 BCE) ruled.

The battle of Gaugamela marked the end of the Achaemedian Empire where Darius III was defeated by Alexander The Great of Macedon in 331 BCE.

Alexander plundered the prosperous city of Persepolis, looted all the wealth and burnt the palace. In 324 BCE, Alexander ordered his men to marry Iranian women to bring about a mix in the Persian and Greek cultures. Alexander however died in 323 BCE leaving his empire to his four generals ‘“ Seleucus, Antigonus, Ptolemy and Cassander.

The Seleucus Empire (306 ‘“ 150 BCE)

In Babylon, Seleucus crowned himself the king in 306 BCE. He undertook the building of cities with squares, arenas for sports and recreation and infrastructure and incorporating the Greek culture. The elite adopted Greek while the common man preferred Persian. His army had Greek, Persian and Babylonian soldiers. Antiochia was the capital and other important cities were Syria, Babylonia and Seleucia.

Trade prospered and brought in revenues. Coins of this period were accepted along the Silk Route and became famous. The Mauryan kings of north India and Seleucus shared an amicable relationship. Wars and uprisings were laid to rest. Egypt and Greece were defeated. Antiochus I was Seleucus’ son. He was bestowed with the title ‘˜soter’ meaning saviour. The Parthians, over a period of time, rose to power and drove the Greeks out of Iran. Parthian king Phraates II defeated Antiochus VII and by 140 BCE, the Greeks left Iran. However, Antiochus VII, The Benefactor ruled Babylonia and Media till 128 BCE.

The Parthian Empire (247 BCE ‘“ 224 CE)

Andragoras, a satrap, revolted against Seleucus II in 245 BCE. In the confusion that followed, Parni, a nomadic tribe from Central Asia occupied Parthia and by 238 BCE, occupied Astavene and slowly seized the whole of Parthia. Arsaces I was the first king and he made Hecatompylus his capital. The Parni people were called the Parthians.

Antiochus III (a Seleucid king) took control over the eastern regions between 209 and 204 BCE. Arsaces I, Arsaces II, Phriapathus, Phraates I were Parthian kings. King Mithradates I The Great (171 ‘“ 138 BCE) brought Bactria, Medes, Assyria, Babylon, Seleucia, Uruk and Elam.

This empire was not centrally controlled. The elite were Greek. There were also many languages, cultures and economic systems. This conglomerate came to an end after the acquisition of Mesopotamia and Iran.

Toll and tribute were the main sources of the royal income. The Parthians controlled the Silk Road. Mithradates II (123 ‘“ 88 BCE) the most accomplished of the Parthian rulers, established trade with China. Coins were a speciality of this period. The Parthians did not have a standing military. They called their subordinate kings, regional and tribal lords to gather their men and armoury as the need arose.

Parthians founded Ctesiphon as their capital, on the site of Opus, near the confluence of Tigris and Diyala. Later, Ctesiphon became a famous Christian centre.

In 114 CE, war broke out between the Parthians and the Romans and by 165 CE, the latter were the lords. There were many revolts and uprisings in the Parthian cities but were put to rest. In 224 CE, the Persian king Ardasir revolted and in 226 CE, captured Ctesiphon bringing an end to the Parthian rule.

The Sassanid Empire (224 BCE ‘“ 642 CE)

The Sassanid dynasty ruled Iran for more than four centuries and by as many as thirty one kings.

The Sassanid kings made efforts to revive the Iranian culture and traditions. Kings adopted the title of ‘˜Shahanshah’ meaning king of kings, to establish their authority over many small rulers called shahrdars. The society was divided into four classes ‘“ the priests, the warriors, secretaries and the common man. The rulers, landlords and priests occupied the highest strata.

Ardeshir (224 BCE- 241 CE), was the first emperor of the Sassanid Empire. He was a priest and established theocracy as a rule in Iran. On one side of the coins of this period was a fire altar with armed men on either side symbolising the importance given to religion.

Zorashtranism became the state religion. Ardeshir’s son Shahpur I (240 ‘“ 272 CE) fought against the Romans. Shahpur II regained lost territory from the Romans. Khosro I (531- 579 CE) was a prominent king. He reformed the tax systems, centralised the army, built new towns and canals, restored the farms, and constructed new buildings and strong fortifications. However Khosro II (591 ‘“ 628 CE) indulged in wasteful expenditure. Yezdegerd, the grandson of Khosro became the king in 633 CE but could not unite the vast kingdom. Khalid ibn Walid, leader of the Arab army, threatened the royal, marking the end of the Sassanid empire.

The Islamic Conquest 636 CE

Prophet Muhammad of Mecca (571 ‘“ 632 CE), a member of the Hashimite clan of the Quraysh tribe was the founder of the Islam religion. The Arabs destroyed the Sassanid Empire and were driven by their religion Islam to conquer new lands. Ctesiphon (renamed Madain) was captured in 637 CE. Those who accepted the Islamic rule were given concessions. Islam became the state religion. However, only by the ninth century did the majority of the Iranians become Muslims. Literature, history, philosophy, science and medicine were influenced by Islam. Arabic became the official language in 696 CE even as Persian remained the language of the people.

Muawiya became the first caliphate of the Umayyad dynasty in 661 CE. Damascus was the then capital. Followers of Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, were called Shias. In the 16th century many Iranians adopted the Shia sect. Shia Islam became the state religion of Iran.

The Abbasids, an Arab dynasty, overthrew the Umayyads in 750 CE. They enjoyed the support of the Iranians and the Arabians. Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasids. Culture, trade and economy prospered under the Abbasids. Turk warrior who migrated from Central Asia, were taken as slave warriors. As the Abbasid caliph’s rule began to decline, the Turks rose. Iran was ruled by the Tahirids in Khorasan (820-72); the Saffarids in Sistan (867-903); and the Samanids (875-1005). The Samanids, over a period of time, ruled from central Iran to India. In 962, Alptigin, a Turkish slave governor of the Samanids, conquered Ghazna (in present-day Afghanistan) and established the Ghaznavid Dynasty that lasted to 1186 CE.

Toghril Beg, a Seljoks Turk fought against the Ghaznavids. He was declared the King of the East in 1055 CE. Malik Shah was the successed Toghril Beg. Culture and science revived by his brilliant Iranian vizier, Nezam al Molk. Omar Khayyam, his work on the new calendar, and Abu Hamid Ghazali, a great Islamic theologian, were patronised.Ismailis were assassins who murdered important officials and posed a threat to the Seljoks.

The Saffarid Dynasty (861 ‘“ 900 CE)

Yakub was the army general of Dirham ibn Nasr. He successfully seized Bost, Kabol, Harat, Kerman, Shiraz, Neishapour, Gorgan, Tabarestan, Chalous and Khouzestan. He was defeated by the Caliph’s army at Deyrol-aqul, seventy kilometres from Baghdad. He died in 878 CE.

Amr ibn Layth, Yaub’s brother and successor was awarded the leadership over Kerman, Fars, Esfahan, Kuh-ha, Tabarestan, Sistan, extending upto Sind in the east. He was defeated and captured in 900 CE.

This was the end of the Saffarid dynasty and the Iranians took over.

The Samanid Dynasty (818 ‘“ 999 CE)

Saman- Khoda was the founder of the Samanid dynasty. His grandsons were awarded territories for their allegiance to the Abbasid caliph. Persian became the official language displacing Arabic. Ismail (892 ‘“ 907 CE) is a noted ruler and is known for his equality, political strength, reformation of taxes and just systems of rule. He made Bukhara his capital.

During Nasr ibn Ahmad’s rule (914 ‘“ 943 CE), scholars like Abu Abdellah Jayhani and Abul Fazl Mohammad Balami and many more, revived the Iranian culture in Bukhara. Political stability enabled renewal of agriculture, trade, commerce, coinage, literature, religion, textiles, architecture and metal works. Badakhshan and Farghana, the two famous silver producing areas were under their control.

The prosperity of Bukhara spread to neighbouring areas too. The ninth and tenth centuries saw the rise of Islamic architecture.

Turks and Mongols (10th ‘“ 15th century)

The Mongols invaded Iran in the 13th century and destroyed major cities of Hamadan, Ardabil, Neyshabur, Maragheh and Qazvin. They destroyed major cropland and irrigation systems. Economy was on a decline during their rule.

The Mongols were Buddhists and did not accept the Islamic way of life, leading to religious disparity. However in 1295, Ghazan Khan, a Mongol ruler, converted to Islam and made Islam the state religion.

The kingdom saw civil disruptions from 1335 to 1380. Turk conqueror Tamerlane, destroyed more Iranian cities between 1381 and 1405.

Ziyarids Dynasty (927 ‘“ 1043 CE)

Mardaviz Ebne Ziyar (927-935) was the founder of the Zirarids dynasty. He seized the territories of Hamadan and Esfahan. In the 11th century, Qaboos the Ziyarids ruler, supported Al-Buruni, the great scientist who observed the eclipses of the moon. Mil or Tomb of Gonbad-e Qaboos is an architectural monument.

Ghaznavid Dynasty (962 ‘“ 1186 CE)

Alptigin founded the Ghazna dynasty in 962 CE. Mahmud of Ghazna, grandson of Alptigin was a staunch Muslim. He took the title of Emir and also that of Sultan. He plundered India and built palaces and mosques with the precious booty. Art and culture flourished. Architecture bore semblance to some Central Asian style. Mahmud died in 1030 CE, bringing an end to the dynasty.

The Safavid Empire (1502 ‘“ 1736 CE)

During the 13th century, the Persians adopted Islam and Sufism. Timur or Tamerlane who professed his lineage to Genghis Khan, entered Iran in 1380. He was known for his brutal ways. In 1393, he captured Baghdad and in 1402, Syria. He died in 1405.

Shahrokh Shah (1405 ‘“ 47), Timur’s son succeeded him and was successful in consolidating the empire for a short time. Herat was his capital which encouraged Persian philosophy and religion.

Other kings like Jahan Shah, Uzun Hasan and Yaqub ruled different parts after Shahroh Shah. Religion and politics were intertwined which resulted in an economic decline.

The Safavid dynasty propagated Shi’ism through military conquests during the 1500s. They expanded their territory under Esma’il, a then thirteen old boy and was crowned the Shah in 1502 at fifteen years. Turkish was the court language. Persian however remained the official language. Shah Esma’il declared himself to be the descendent of Prophet Mohammad and made Shi’ism the official religion. By 1507, the Shah conquered Esfahan, Fars, Kerman, Tazd, other major cities and also the religious cities of Najaf and Karbala. By the 16th century, the Saffavid’s empire expanded to include Khorasan, Merv, Herat and Qandahar.

The Shah’s descendants consolidated their rule. They encouraged silk trade, carpet weaving to improve economic resources. Abbas I (1587 ‘“ 1629) used different political tactics to subdue the tribals and he made great efforts to strengthen the army with European help. He also allowed the Christians to enter his court. He rebuilt the shrine of Ali ar-Reza which became a famous Shi’a pilgrim centre. Iran prospered under the Shah. Persian carpets were made famous. Roads enabled trade. Monopoly of the Silk Road increased state revenues. Hospitals ensured better health facilities.

Shah Safi I, Shah Abbas II, Shah Soleyman, Shah Sultan Hossein were disastrous rulers of the Saffavid dynasty. By 1724, Iran was sliced among the Afghans, the Ottomans and the Russians. However Nader Khan of Afshar, a general of the Turk tribe, regained control by 1735 for the Saffaivds. In 1736, he declared himself the King.

The Afsharid Dynasty (1736 ‘“ 1757)

Nader Khan was a conqueror but was very brutal and cruel. He killed people in tens of thousands and established his superiority. He was assassinated by his nobles. He was succeeded by Ali Gholi, Ebrahim and Shahrokh, bringing an end to the dynasty in 1749.

The Zand Dynasty (1757 ‘“ 1794)

Karim Khan Zand emerged as a successful contender to the throne. Renewing economic, social and secular interests, facilitating trade, allowing the establishment of the East India Company in Bushire, strengthening trade ties with India were some of his attempts to revive the war stricken economy. He died in 1779.

Disputes broke over the succession. Five Zand kings ruled till the 1789. Loft Ali Khan declared himself the new Zand king in 1789. However one Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar defeated Loft Ali Khan in Kerman in 1794, bringing an end to the Zand dynasty.

The Qajar Dynasty (1794 ‘“ 1925)

Agha Mohammad Khan was the first ruler of the Qajar dynasty. He became the Shah in 1796. He was however assassinated in 1797 and was succeeded by his nephew Fath Ali Shah. Iran suffered defeats against the Russians and had to cede part of their territory. He initiated diplomatic ties with the West. His great grandson Naser o Din Shah was a successful king of the dynasty.

Iran was influenced by the Western culture during the rule of Naser. He tried to maintain Iran’s independence from foreign interference. In 1856, the British did not allow Iran from claiming their rule in Herat, an ancient Iranian city. British and Russians influences spread and Iran’s once vast empire diminished. Amir Kabir, the advisor of Naser, formulated ingenious reforms to revive the failing economy. His major reforms included curtailing expenditure, encouraging trade, minimising foreign influence in decision making, building Dar-ol-Fonoon, the first modern university in Iran, establishing the Persian prose in place of ornate writings, making arrangements for teaching languages like Russian and French. He was however misunderstood to usurp the throne and was executed in 1851.

In 1896, Naser o-Din Shah was assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani and Mozaffar o-Din Shah was made the king. He was inefficient and used the loans from Russia to fund his foreign trips. Europeans were given concessions in trade in exchange of personal favours granted to the king and his officials. This angered the people and they revolted.

The Constitutional Revolution was the outcome of the inefficiency of the rulers and the growing foreign influences. In August 1906, the shah was forced to issue a decree enabling the formation of a Constitution; placing restrictions on the royal spend, electing a people’s parliament or Majles. The Shah signed the Constitution in December 1906 and died five days after. This marked the beginning of right of speech, press, security of life and property and the end of the medieval period.

The Anglo- Russian Treaty of 1907 empowered the British and the Russians to exert circles of power in Iran. One Morgan Shuster of the USA was appointed by the Persians as their treasurer general. He was prevented from collecting revenues from the Russian zone. Russians demanded his dismissal. However on refusal by the Persians, the Russian troops surrounded the Majles building and shut down the assembly, thus forcing an end to the constitution. Bakhtiari chiefs took over the rule.

The Pahlavi Dynasty (1925 ‘“ 1979)

Reza Khan or Reza Shah Pahlavi was the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. He took over as shah in 1925. He aimed at making Iran a modern society by building infrastructure, good transport system, developing large scale industries, enabling education and healthcare, etc. His rule for sixteen years converted Iran into a modern state. However, the new intellectual middle class did not approve of his dictatorial rule. He tried to minimise the British and the Russian influences by turning to Germany, France and other European countries for technical assistance for his projects. The British owned Iran’s oil company. The British and the Germans were enemies in World War II. The Shah announced the neutrality of Iran. The British however insisted on the withdrawal of German engineers from Iran. In August 1941, the USSR and the British invaded Iran when the Germans were not expelled, arrested Reza Shah and sent him to exile. They asserted their dominance over the communication and the railroad in Iran. Reza’s son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi succeeded him.

In 1944, the Majlis elections were held. Britain continued to produce and market Iranian oil. In 1946, nationalisation of Iran’s oil fields became a major movement, efforts for which were started in 1930. Reza did not confine himself to being a constitutional monarch. He supported reform policies and brought about the White Revolution in 1963 to enable women voting rights, land reforms and the eradication of illiteracy. The religious leaders felt threatened of their position because of these reforms. His celebrations of 2500 years of Persian sovereignty in 1971 and the replacement of the Islamic calendar with the Imperial calendar in 1976 were viewed as anti-Islamic and protests erupted. The gap between the haves and the have-nots increased. The exiled Islamic preacher Ayatollah Khomeini mustered the common people into a religious movement to overthrow the Shah. The insurrections of 1978 and 1979 met their objective and the Islamic Government under Ayatollah Khomeini was established.

The Establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Ayatollah Khomeini, who was in exile in Iran and later France, spread his messages by way of music cassettes which were smuggled into Iran. Civil unrest ensued. On April 1, 1979, following a decisive national referendum, Ayatollah Khomeini declared Iran as an Islamic Republic with a new Constitution. He became the Valy-e-Faqih or the Supreme Spiritual Leader of Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is now a theocratic republic which implies that it has its laws compatible with the laws of Islam.

Power lies with the Supreme Spiritual Leader who outlines Iran’s domestic and foreign policies, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and controls the intelligence and security operations and the one person who can declare war or peace. The judiciary and the media are under him. He appoints six members of a total of twelve to the Council of Guardians that oversees the activities of the Parliament. He also determines persons who qualify to run for public office.

Other governing bodies of Iran are The President, a unicameral Parliament, the Assembly of Experts, the Council of Guardians and the Expediency Council.

Iran’s National Security and Intelligence wing consists of the Supreme National Security Council, the Regular Army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

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