Ferdowsi and the ‘Epic of Kings’ in Medieval Persia

He was the author of the Shāhnāmeh (Epic of Kings), the national epic of the Persian-speaking world. Introduction Hakīm Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī Tūsī, more commonly transliterated as Ferdowsi (also Firdowsi), (935–1020) was a highly revered Persian poet. He was the author of the Shāhnāmeh (Epic of Kings), the national epic of the Persian-speaking world. He[…]

Cyrus the Great and Religious Tolerance in Achaemenid Persia

Cyrus was far different from other kings of his time in the ways he chose to rule. “Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth–these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”[1] Vision and Motivation In 550[…]

Darius I: Revising the Administrative System of Ancient Persia

Darius thoroughly revised the Persian system of administration and also the legal code. Introduction Darius the Great (Darayawush I) (ca. 549 B.C.E. – 485/486 B.C.E.; Old Persian Dārayawuš: “He Who Holds Firm the Good”), was the son of Hystaspes and Persian Emperor from 522 B.C.E. to 485/486 B.C.E. His name in Modern Persian is Dariush,[…]

Zorvanism: Zorastrian Sect in the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

It is often referenced as a Zoroastrian heresy because it departed significantly from central Zoroastrian beliefs. Introduction Zorvanism (also given as Zuvanism, Zurvanism) was a sect of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism which emerged in the late Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) and flourished during the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). It is often referenced as a[…]

Avesta: Scripture of Zoroastrianism

It was developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. Introduction The Avesta is the scripture of Zoroastrianism which developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht) sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. The title is generally accepted as meaning “praise”, though this interpretation is[…]

Zoroastrianism: Monotheism in Ancient Persia

Zoroastrianism was adopted by the Achaemenid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and found its fullest expression under the Sassanian Empire. Introduction Zoroastrianism is the monotheistic faith established by the Persian prophet Zoroaster (also given as Zarathustra, Zartosht) between c. 1500-1000 BCE. It holds that there is one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom), creator and[…]

Zarathustra: Zoroaster By Any Other Name

Introduction Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra) was an important religious figure in ancient Persia (present-day Iran and surrounding areas), whose teachings became the foundation of a religious movement named Zoroastrianism, a tradition that would largely dominate Persia until the mid-7th century CE, when Islam gained ascendancy in the region after the fall of the Sasanian[…]

Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Persia

Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day. Introduction A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of[…]

Ancient Persian Mythology

The ancient Persian religious tradition was passed down orally, and the only written texts relating to it come from after the prophet Zoroaster. Introduction The mythology of ancient Persia originally developed in the region known as Greater Iran (the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia). The Persians were initially part of a migratory[…]

Iran’s History and Culture from the Ancient World to Today

Developments here had a decisive impact on the progress of human history. Introduction Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and formerly known as “Persia” in the West, is one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations, and is one of the few states that comprise the Cradle of Humanity. The history of Iran covers[…]

The Ancient Roots and Modern Forms of Traditional Persian Music

Iran’s traditional music carries messages of beauty, joy, sorrow and love to the world. Introduction Weaving through the rooms of my Brisbane childhood home, carried on the languid, humid, sub-tropical air, was the sound of an Iranian tenor singing 800-year old Persian poems of love. I was in primary school, playing cricket in the streets,[…]

Ancient Persian Silk Spinning Still Practiced in Iran

There are silk makers in different parts of Iran who still practice the trade their ancestors did some 3,000 years ago. For more than three millennia, silk thread produced in Iran has been used to make clothing fabric and for weaving Persian rugs. In many of these small villages along the Iran-Afghanistan border, families receive[…]

The Safavid Empire of Early Modern Persia

The Safavid dynasty had its origins in a long established Sufi order, called the Safaviyeh. Introduction The Safavids were a native Iranian dynasty from Azarbaijan that ruled from 1501 to 1736, and which established Shi’a Islam as Iran’s official religion and united its provinces under a single Iranian sovereignty in the early modern period. This[…]

The Early Medieval Persian Sassanid Empire

Although often engaged in conquest, the Sassanids also entered into peace treaties and engaged in widespread trade. Introduction Sassanid Empire or Sassanian Dynasty is the name used for the third Iranian dynasty and the second Empire. The dynasty was founded by Ardashir I after defeating the last Parthian (Arsacid) king, Artabanus IV Ardavan). It ended[…]

Architecture of the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

The Achaemenid Empire was a period of artistic growth that left an extraordinary architectural legacy. Introduction Achaemenid architecture includes all architectural achievements of the Achaemenid Persians manifesting in construction of spectacular cities used for governance and inhabitation (Persepolis, Susa, Ecbatana), temples made for worship and social gatherings (such as Zoroastrian temples), and mausoleums erected in[…]

Persepolis: Capital of the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

Persepolis has a long and complex history, designed to be the central city of the ever expanding Persian empire. Introduction Persepolis was an ancient ceremonial capital of the second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenid Empire, situated some 70 km northeast of modern city of Shiraz. It was built by Darius the Great, beginning around 518 B.C.E.[…]

Key Elements of Persian Architecture since Ancient Mesopotamia

Iran has inherited numerous architectural traditions over the course of history. Introduction From the Islamic period the architectural achievements of the Seljuq, Il-Khanid, and Safavid dynasties are particularly noteworthy. During that time Iranian cities such as Neyshabur, Isfahan, and Shiraz came to be among the great cities of the Islamic world, and their many mosques,[…]

The Immortals: Ancient Persia’s Elite Fighting Force

Introduction The Ten Thousand Immortals were the elite force of the Persian army of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE). They formed the king’s personal bodyguard and were also considered the shock troops of the infantry in Persian warfare. Their name comes from the policy of always keeping their number at exactly 10,000; if one[…]

Ancient Persia’s Behistun Inscription of Darius I

The relief is accompanied by text in three languages – Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian. Introduction The Behistun Inscription is a relief with accompanying text carved 330 feet (100 meters) up a cliff in Kermanshah Province, Western Iran. The work tells the story of the victory of the Persian king Darius I (the Great, r.[…]

Ancient Greece, from the Persian Wars to the Athenian Empire

The most famous series of wars in ancient Greek history broke out with a revolt against Persian control by the Greek city-states of Ionia. Introduction An Athenian blunder in international diplomacy set in motion the greatest military threat that the ancient Greeks had ever faced and put the freedom of Greece at desperate risk from[…]

Dogs in Ancient Persia

Dogs played a major role in religious rituals as recorded by Zoroastrian texts. Introduction Dogs have been an integral aspect of the human condition in virtually every world culture for thousands of years. Some of the greatest civilizations of the past have kept dogs as companions, for various chores, and featured dogs in their art,[…]

Twelve Ancient Persian Mythological Creatures

Introduction The mythology of any civilization reflects its core values, greatest fears, and highest hopes and so it is with the mythology of ancient Persia. The great heroes like Karsasp, Thraetaona, and Rustum express particularly Persian values but, as with all mythical figures, are recognizable to people of any culture as role models whose best[…]

Alexander the Great and the Burning of Persepolis

He looted the city and burned it to the ground. Introduction In the year 330 BCE Alexander the Great (l. 356-323 BCE) conquered the  Achaemenid Persian Empire following his victory over the Persian Emperor Darius III (r. 336-330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. After Darius III’s defeat, Alexander marched to the Persian[…]

Persepolis, Capital of the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

It was the capital from the reign of Darius I (the Great, r. 522-486 BCE) until its destruction in 330 BCE by Alexander the Great. Introduction Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire from the reign of Darius I (the Great, r. 522-486 BCE) until its destruction in 330 BCE. Its name comes[…]

Climate Change and the Rise and Demise of the Ancient Neo-Assyrian Empire

What caused the rise and then collapse 2,600 years ago of this vast empire centered on Mesopotamia? Introduction Ancient Mesopotamia, the fabled land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, was the command and control center of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. This ancient superpower was the largest empire of its time, lasting from 912 BC to[…]

Ancient Persian Governors

Persian governors and the satrapy system established the paradigm recognizable in the present day of a central government. Introduction The Achaemenid Persian Empire functioned as well as it did because of the efficient bureaucracy established by its founder Cyrus the Great (r. c. 550-530 BCE) which was administered through the satrapy system. A Persian governor of[…]