Originally Published Online in 2005
The ancient history of Iran, like many other countries, is believed to be based upon the archeological findings and a mixture of documented myths and information recorded by historians or religious entities of the time. Archaeology, which is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of cultural and environmental data, has been carried out in Iran since quite a long time.
Survived mythological stories of the ancient Iran have been turned into verses by poet Ferdowsi in his famous epic book of Shahnameh. Other sources of the ancient history of Iran are the writings of historians particularly those reported by Greek Herodotus and Xenophanes. (Whether there was no Iranian historians like these two Greeks at the time or the Iranian historical records were destroyed by the invaders are the questions still remaining to be answered). Many evidences indicate that Ancient Persians used the term Aryan to describe their ancestry and their language.
This term was used as AIRYA in Avesta, the Zoroastrian holy book. Avestan AIRYA, Old Persian and Sanskrit ARYA, and Middle Persian ER mean straight going and noble. ERAN or Iran is the plural. The meaning given by the Shahnameh as noble and wise for IRAJ is quite close. Darius (521-486 BC), in an inscription in Naghsh-Rostam (near Shiraz in present-day Iran) proclaims: “I am Darius the great king, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, and having Aryan lineage.” The ancient Persians or Aryans have always been regarded as one of the nobler peoples of the East, loyal, chivalrous and humane. “Young Persians,” said Herodotus, “are taught three things: to ride a horse, to shoot with the bow, and always to tell the truth.”
Archaeological studies during the first half of the twentieth century indicate that before the Aryans moved to Iran and as early as 10000 BC, different tribes lived on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea (north of present-day Iran), one of the few regions of the world which according to scientists escaped the Ice Age.
These tribes were neither Aryan (Iranians) nor Semitic (races that existed in ancient times). They belonged to a certain race which inhabited in western Asia, a region extending from the present republic of Turkestan to the Mediterranean. These Old Asians formed a settlement which gradually spread over the western parts of the plateau running into the Zagros
Apparently this group was the first who discovered agricultural cultivation (especially the growth of barley and wheat), and the art of pottery, which began with the primitive sun-baked brick. Gradually they had to face other neighboring peoples and civilizations quite different from their own. From the north, the tribes came peacefully, mixed with the natives and settled on their land. But on the west there was a different story.
There, relations developed between the natives of Iran and the Semites of Mesopotamia who were developing an urban, agricultural civilization with well planned political and military structures. The Old Asians were still more or less nomadic but were beginning to show some home turf of identity as various civilizations: the Elamites, the LuIlubi, the Guti, and the Kassites occupying the western pads of present Iran from Khuzistan northwards to the end of Luristan.
One would think that one group of the Old Asians living in mountainous regions that were rich in raw materials; and the other group, a wealthy people with abundance of food and manufactured goods should have lived in peaceful coexistence with prosperous trade. But these two groups fought for centuries. Although the latter was generally superior and often victorious, it was the Old Asians who overcame the other group.
Meanwhile, on the inner side of the Zagros Mountains, the Aryans were moving in peacefully from the north, mixing with the native Old Asians, and thus began to glimmer on the plateau the star of a great civilization. The Aryans began their migrations 3000-4000 years ago in three groups; one moved westward to Asia Minor, the second eastward to India; the third group took the middle route, southwards to the Iranian plateau, probably first via the present day Azerbaijan, and later also from the east of the Caspian crossing the Oxus River. The Oxus River was the name that Herodotus used for the Amu Darya (Darya is the Persian word for sea), the river which runs along the southern border of Uzbekistan, separating it from Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
Migration to the plateau was initially slow but by the beginning of the first millennium the pace and the number increased. It continued for a few centuries at an ever expanding rate, but still peacefully, the newcomers mixing with and settling among the natives. Eventually, two kingdoms appeared which were to play a most significant role in the history of the Persian Empire and Iran: (a) the Medes in the present-day Iraq and in the northwestern parts of the present-day Iran, and (b) the Persians or Persis in the south of the plateau, in and around the present day provinces of Fars and Khuzistan.
In other words, the first Iranians emerging in history were the Medes. In 612 BC, their king Cyaxares (625 584 BC) took Nineveh and destroyed the Assyrian Empire, which was divided between the Medes and their allies, the Babylonian-Chaldeans and the Syrians. In 550 BC, the Median Empire was overthrown by other Iranian people, the Persians, whose King, Cyrus the Great, there upon annexed all Media, Asia Minor, eastern Iran as far as the Indus River, and finally, the Babylonian Empire, including Syria. His dynasty, the Achaemenid, ruled until 330 BC. Cyrus the Great is an Iranian who is internationally known for his Charter of Human Rights.
The charter of Cyrus the Great, a baked-clay Aryan language cuneiform cylinder, was discovered in 1878 in excavation of the site of Babylon. In it, he described his human treatment of the inhabitants of Babylonia after its conquest by the Iranians. The document has been hailed as the first charter of human rights, and in 1971 the United Nations published a translation of it in all the official UN languages.
“May Ahura Mazda protect this land, this nation, from rancor, from foes, from falsehood, and from drought”, he said. Cyrus the Great also declared: “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 Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being. I put an end to their misfortune”.
The first Iranians who lived on the Iranian plateau, however, differ mythologically from those already named. Firdowsi in his Shahnameh glorified idealized mythological characters, in particular, the first ten Persian kings in order to remind about greatness of pre-Islamic history of Iran and consolidate peoples in their struggle for the country independence and progress. The poet thought that actually equitable king should equally concern both about his administration and ordinary people, that social equity and strong state would consolidate the people before enemies and disasters. The first ten kings were recalled as Kayumars, Hushanga, Tahmuras, Jamshid and others. One of these kings, Kayumars, ruling the country during 30 years, embodied the utopian ideal of equitable king, hero who allayed nature, granted good and won evil. (Utopia is the idea of a perfect society in which everyone works well with each other and is happy).
Kayumars also drew attention of well-known historians like Tabari and Mas’udi and he is among the personages of many legends. According to one of the legends, living on a mountain (a sign of closeness to gods), Kayumars was the first who had set the order on the land, gave crafts to the people, taught them cooking, sewing of clothes from skins and led them out the caves to mountain villages under the sunlight.
Long after those historic glorious times, Iranians still pray God to protect them from HATE, from INTERNAL & EXTERNAL ENEMIES, from DECEPTION, and from NATURAL DISASTERS, and live in a country where everyone can enjoy life, feel HAPPY & CONTENT, and do not be TERRORIZED!
1. The English and Persian texts of a poem on “My Homeland is My Identity” composed by this author may be viewed Online here
2. “My Iran, a Poem as a Road to Various Locations in Iran” composed by this author may be also viewed here
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Browne, E. G. (1998): Literary History of Persia, ed., (Four volumes, 2,256 pages, and twenty-five years in the writing).
Frye, R. N. (1963): The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World’s Great Civilizations, ed., The World Publishing Company, New York.
Frye, R. N. (1993): The Golden Age of Persia, ed., Weidenfeld, London.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1984): Notes on the History of Iran, in “The Itinerary of General Sir Percy Sykes” (in Persian: Safar Nameh-e-General Sir Percy Sykes), ed., Loheh Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Various Articles on Persian Culture and the History of Iran.
Shahbazi, A. (2005): Article on ARIYĀRAMNA, ed., Encycloaedia Iranica.
Various Sources (2005): Notes and Articles on the Persian Empire.
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