Sasanian Dynasty

224 — Ardeshir I founded the Sasanian dynasty. The Sasanians revived Persian culture and Zoroastrianism and made a conscious effort to return to the Achaemenian norms. They sponsored trade both with their arch-enemy, the Romans/Byzantines, and the Chinese. Excavations in China have unearthed gold and silver Sasanian coins covering a span of many centuries.

260 — Shahpur I invaded the Roman Empire and took Emperor Valerian prisoner. He also established Jondi Shahpur, a major center of higher learning.

274 — Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, tried to introduce a new universal world religion, shapurII_Sasanian Dynastycombining elements of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Buddhism.

528 — Mazdak advocated abolition of private property, the division of wealth, as well as nonviolence and vegetarianism. His ideas brought about a major class struggle between the peasants and the nobility. He could be considered the world’s first “communist/socialist.”

531-579 — The reign of Khosrow I (Anushiravan) marked the height of the Sasanian dynasty. He promoted scholarship and sponsored the translation of Indian and Greek scientific and medical texts into Middle Persian or Pahlavi, Persia’s native language. By the time of Khosrow I, Jondi Shahpur’s library had amassed one of the largest collections of books in the world. He also gave refuge and financial assistance to philosophers fleeing oppression in the Byzantine Empire. Khosrow I was also a populist king, possibly a reflection of Mazdak’s ideology and the civil conflicts that subsequently ensued. He made himself available to all his subjects; anyone could rattle his chain of justice and have an audience with the king. His famous prime minister, Bozorgmehr, reportedly invented the game of backgammon.

570 — The Prophet Mohammad was born.

608-622 — The long war between the Sasanians and the Byzantines significantly weakened both sides.

622 — Fearing persecution for his beliefs, the Prophet Mohammad migrated from Mecca to Medina. His migration or Hijra marked the birth of Islamic civilization and the starting point of all Islamic calendars. God conveyed the beliefs of Islam to the Prophet Mohammad through the angel Gabriel in a series of visions and revelations. Muslims consider the Prophet Mohammad as the last prophet in a line of prophets that includes the prophets Moses and Jesus.

629-632 — Two consecutive female monarchs ruled over the Sasanian Empire, Purandokht and her sister Azarmidokht. Purandokht signed a peace treaty with the Byzantines.

632 — The Prophet Mohammad died. Subsequently, his revelations were gathered and compiled into the holy book of Islam – The Koran.

Alexander to Parthian Dynasty

334 BC — Alexander Invaded Persia. After his victory over the Persian army, he ordered the execution of many Persians, allowed his troops to indulge themselves in plunder and rape and, in a drunken rage, set torch to Persepolis. However, he also considered himself a successor to Achaemenian Kings and paid tribute to Cyrus the Great at his tomb. He emulated Persian court customs and attempted to create a new culture, a mixture of both Persian and Hellenistic. He married a Persian woman (Roxana) and ordered all his generals and 10,000 of his soldiers to follow suit in a mass wedding.

parthian_dynasty323 BC — Alexander died. Although a masterful general, he lacked administrative skills. Shortly after his death, his empire was divided among his contesting generals. An important legacy of his conquest of Persia was the introduction of the Persian imperial practices into the West. Many of these practices particularly those relating to state administration and the rule of law were later adopted by the Roman Empire.

323-141 BC — The Seleucid Dynasty was established by one of Alexander’s generals.

247 BC-224 AD — The Parthians, a tribal kingdom from northeastern Iran, gradually defeated the Greek Seleucids and consolidated their control over all of Persia. The name of the founder of the dynasty, Arsaces, became the title of all Parthian kings in much the same way that the name of Caesar was later to become the title of all Roman emperors. They fought numerous times with the Romans. Their victory over the Romans in 53 BC elevated the Parthians into a superpower of their era. The Romans were especially in awe of the expert mobile Parthian archers (hence the term: the Parthian Shot) who inflicted enormous casualties upon successive Roman armies. Although the Parthians ruled for almost five centuries, very little of their civilization has survived, except for some small art objects.

Achaemenian Dynasty Civilizations

559-530 BC — Cyrus the Great established the Persian Empire in 550 BC, the first world empire. His respect for local traditions, laws, languages, and religions set the foundation of a relatively benevolent empire.

539 BC — Babylonia surrendered peacefully to Cyrus the Great. Welcomed as a liberator because of his compassionate policies, Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and assisted them to migrate to their homeland and to reconstruct their temple in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, Cyrus is hailed as the Shepherd of the Lord. I am Cyrus, King of the World. When I entered Babylon I did not allow anyone to terrorize the land. I kept in view the needs of its people and all its sanctuaries to promote their well being. I put an end to their misfortune. The great God has delivered all lands into my hand, the lands that I have made to dwell in peaceful habitation.

522-486 BC — The reign of Darius the Great marked the zenith of the Persian Empire. Upholding the tradition established by Cyrus, Darius valued the rights of all people under his rule. The following inscription appears on his tomb: By the favor of the great God I believe in justice and abhor inequity. It is not my desire that the weak man should have wrong done to him by the mighty….Darius’ goal was to be a great law-giver and organizer. He structured the empire under the satrapy system (similar to national and local governments). He built many roads, ports, banking houses (the word “check” comes from Old Persian), elaborate underground irrigation systems and a canal to link the Nile to the Red Sea (an early precursor of the Suez Canal). In the 19th century, archeologists in Egypt discovered an inscription by Darius commemorating the completion of the canal: I am a Persian. I commanded to dig this canal from a river by name of Nile which flows in Egypt….After this canal was dug, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, thus as was my desire.

Darius revolutionized mankind’s economic activities by introducing one of the earliest (certainly the first on such a massive scale) forms of common coinage in history, the darik. This initiative, along with the standardization of weights and measures and the codification of commercial laws, stimulated world trade and elevated the Persian Empire’s economy to new levels of prosperity.

Reflecting the wealth and the multi-cultural dimension of the Persian Empire, Darius initiated the building of the Persepolis palace. For its construction, artisans and materials were gathered from different corners of the empire. Another project undertaken by Darius was the royal road, the world’s longest, extending 1,500 miles (see map). Due to an extensive network of relays, postmen could travel the road in six to nine days, whereas normal travel time was three months. The motto of the Persian postal service became memorable: stopped by neither snow, rain, heat or gloom of night. The US postal service also adopted this motto and the famous Pony Express mail delivery resembled the original Persian design. The origins of polo date back to this time. Persian nobility played an early form of polo for both sport and combat training.

490-479 BC — In their wars with Persia, the Greek city-states were never a threat to the Persian heartland. What Persia did not achieve through war, it obtained through diplomacy. After the Achamenian DynastyPersian-Greek wars ended, Persian kings successfully played the Athenians and Spartans against each other for 150 years. Persia’s financial and naval assistance was instrumental in Sparta’s victory over Athens in the Great Peloponnesian War. Afterwards, Persia began supporting the Athenians. The Persian influence over the two Greek city-states was such that the Persian King Artaxerxes II was asked to mediate between them, leading to the King’s Peace of 387 BC.

550-334 BC — The Persian Empire became the dominant world power for over two centuries. It made possible the first significant and continuous contact between East and West. It was the world’s first religiously tolerant empire and consisted of a multitude of different languages, races, religions and cultures. Prior to the rise of the Roman Empire, it set a precedent for the importance of the rule of law, a powerful centralized army and an efficient and systematic state administration. However, the greatest legacy of the Persian Empire was that it demonstrated for the first time how diverse peoples can culturally flourish and economically prosper under one central government.

The Ancient Persian Empire

Parthian Prince, from Sham-Izeh, Malamir, 50 BCE
Parthian Prince, from Sham-Izeh, Malamir, 50 BCE

The early history of man in Iran goes back well beyond the Neolithic period, it begins to get more interesting around 6000 BC, when people began to domesticate animals Continue reading The Ancient Persian Empire

Persecutions during Sassanid Rule

The high-priest of Zoroastrianism, Kartir Hangirpe, believed that he represented the one true religion. He was an absolutist,

Sasanid map
Sasanid Dynasty Map

believing that there was good and evil, with nothing in between. Into the later half of the 200s CE, he continued with his persecution of competing religions: the Manichaeans, Christians, Jews and Buddhists. Then, sometime during the reign of Bahram II (276-293), Kartir died, and religious tolerance began to reassert itself. Continue reading Persecutions during Sassanid Rule

More Persecutions during Sassanid Rule

The high-priest of Zoroastrianism, Kartir Hangirpe, believed that he represented the one true religion. He was an absolutist, believing that there was good and evil, with nothing in between. Into the later half of the 200s CE, he continued with his persecution of competing religions: the Manichaeans, Christians, Jews and Buddhists. Then, sometime during the reign of Bahram II (276-293), Kartir died, and religious tolerance began to reassert itself. Continue reading More Persecutions during Sassanid Rule