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By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Achaemenid Empire (559 - 330 BC)

Cyrus the Great (reigned about 559 – 530 BC) founded the Achaemenid Empire. He was a Persian whose legendary ancestor Achaemenes was the namesake for the dynasty and empire. Cyrus annexed Medea and expanded his boundaries beyond Persia to include Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and the Levant. At Pasargadae, Cyrus’ columned places and stone tomb still stand.

His son Cambyses (reigned 530 – 522 BC) briefly controlled Egypt. At the death of Cambyses, Darius I (522 – 486 BC) claimed the throne and conquered rebellious territories to consolidate hegemony over his empire. He built palaces and Susa, Ecbatana (modern Hamadan), and Babylon; and began construction of Parsa. His armies invaded Greece, but were turned back at the battle of the Marathon (490 BC). (This event was celebrated in poetry by Lord Byron.)

Darius’ son Xerxes (reigned 486 – 465 BC) also invaded Greece (480 - 479 BC) and he, too, was defeated. Xerxes continued his father’s work at Parsa. Its massive entrance gateways with lamassu and stone relief decoration followed Assyrian traditions.

The Achaemenid Persian dynasty came to an end with the defeat of Darius III (reigned 336 - 330 BC) following a series of battles between the Persians and invading Greek armies under the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great (reigned 336 - 323 BC). The conquests of Alexander ultimately extended into ancient Bactria and Sogd, regions in western Central Asia formerly under Achaemenid hegemony.

Darius the Great500 BCHegemony extends to present-day Afghanistan.
Cyrus the Great

Cyrus entered Babylon and was enthroned as the representative of Marduk in the Temple of Esagila. At once he carried out what he had promised. Between September and August 538, all the effigies of the Assyrian gods which had been captured by the Babylonians were returned to their native cities and their temples were rebuilt. ... Cyrus' Perisan empire was run along entirely different lines from the empires of Assyria and Babylon. He gave his subjects a certain autonomy because it was cheaper and more efficient: there would be less resentment and rebellion. (Armstrong, p 91)

Greek Rule (Seleucids) (323 BC – late 3rd century BC)

Greek Rule330 - 150 BC

Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC and one of his generals, Seleucus I (reigned 305 – 281 BC) established a Hellenistic dynasty that ruled over the eastern provinces of Alexander’s empire. The Seleucid kings oversaw a period of Greek colonization and rule. Greek cities were built and Greek immigrants and craftsmen settled in West Asia, tranforming societies and cultures.

In Iran during the Seleucid and subsequent Parthian periods (3rd century BC - 3rd cenutry CE), expanded land and sea routes led to increasing contacts to China in the east and Rome in the west.

Parthian Empire (247 BC - 224 CE)

Parthian Rue150BC - ~50 BC
Kushan Kingdom~50 BC - AD 224ishBased in Afghanistan.

The rule of the Seleucid kings in Mesopotamia, Iran, and western Central Asia was brief. By the late 3rd century BC, an Iranian people from the northeast, the Parthians, had established the Arsacid dynasty. They expanded their control first from a capital city at Nysa in Turkmenistan and then from Hecatompylos in northeastern Iran.

Under Mithradates I (reigned 171 - 138 BC) the Arsacids conquered Babylon and built at new capital city at Ctesiphon on the Tigris River opposite the old Seleucid capital of Seleucia. The mixed Graeco-Iranian culture of the Arsacid Parthians combined Greek Hellenistic features with Iranian and Scytho-Sarmatian steppe traditions.

The increasingly weak Arsacid central government led to political divisions. In the early 3rd century CE, Iranians in the province of Fars in southern Iran challenged Arsacid authority. In 224 CE, Ardeshir defeated the Arsacid king Artabanus V, and became the first king of the new Sasanian dynasty (224 - 651 CE).

Sassanian Empire

Sassanian RuleAD ~224 - AD 561The last pre-Islamic Persian empire.
Hepthalite Kingdom4th cent - AD 561Based in Afghanistan.

Trade in spices across the Indian Ocean was profitably pursued in the Parthian and Sasanian eras. Archaeological finds document Sasanian and Persian influence as far east as Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and conquests in Arabia and the establishment of merchant posts led to influence there, also.

At various times, the Sasanians controlled parts of the Kushan and Hephtalite lands in western Central Asia, where Hellenistic culture had been adopted and still persisted. Sasanian royal iconography and luxury arts in silver, silk, and gold came to be imitated as well, and influenced material culture of the Kushans, Kidarites, Hepthalites, and Turks (who were now in lands east of Iran).

Later in the Sasanian era (6th - 7th century CE), the Byzantine emperors succeeded in their efforts to trade more directly with India and China. They did so by establishing alternative trade routes that avoided the Sasanian realm, thus contesting Sasanian power in West Asia.

Safavid Dynasty

Safavid Dynasty Established1501The Safavid Dynasty was established by Shah Isma'il (شاه اسماعیل), the young but charismatic leader of the dervish brotherhood founded by his ancestor, Shaykh Safi al-Din. Isma'il reunited Iran and made a branch of Islam known as Shi'ism the religion of the state, which it has remained until today. Many of Shah Isma'il's successors, including his son Tahmasp, were great patrons of the arts. They developed a dynastic style in which human figures played an important role, in strong contrast to their main rivals, the Sunni Ottomans, who generally avoided such motifs. The first Safavid capital was Tabriz, followed by Qazvin and Isfahan, from where Shah Abbas the Great (ruled 1588 - 1629) reorganized the state on more efficient lines. The country was opened up to international trade and the economy grew.
Shah Abbas the Great
شاه عباس بزرگ
Safavid Collapse1722Isfahan fell to Afghan invaders and the Safavid state collapsed.

Islamic Republic of Iran

1946A group of Iranian Kurds established a short-lived Kurdish Republic in Mahabad in Iran. Mullah Mustafa Barzani was the father of Masoud Barzani and co-founder in the same year of the Iraqi KDP, led a group of fighters to Mahabad to provide military support to the rebels.