History of an historic province, part I


by Nabil Rastani

The deep red sunset and scent of orange blossom causes one to smile and deeply fall in love with this historical place.
-- “90 Places to Visit Before You Die Book" on Shiraz, Fars

My interest on this matter occurred after I was interoperating an article on Fars during the late 19th century. After which I decided to research the history of (Originally Pārs or Pars) to see what information I could gather, my findings were indeed interesting or at least in my view. This part concentrates on pre-Islamic Iran (550BC-651AD).

Geography of Fars

The southern province of Fars is generally hot and humid with mountains and lakes. Sub tropical forests cover the southern strip of the province which causes agriculture and wildlife to flourish. There are three distinct climatic regions in the Fars Province. First, the mountainous area of the north and northwest with moderate cold winters and mild summers secondly, the central region, with relatively rainy mild winters, and hot dry summers. The third region located in the south and southeast, has moderate winters with very hot summers. The average temperature of Shiraz is 16.8 °C, ranging between 4.7° and 29.2 °C.Animals such mountain lions, Leopards, Flamingos, Persian fallow deer, water Buffalo and the critically endangered Asiatic Cheetah which extinct elsewhere and now can only be found in Iran can be found in Fars. Fars is famed for its high quality red grapes and is seen across the world as first class, it is imported and made into the “Shiraz wine” by other countries, namely Australia.

Fars during the Achaemenid era (559BC-330BC)

The Achaemenid Persians were originally from Fars and created many towns and cities before their vast conquests under Cyrus the Great (559-539BC) the Persians of Fars used Kārīzs, a water management system that had been invented by the tribal forefathers of the Persians, but was heavily developed to provide a reliable fast form water supply for the Empire, used like an underground aqueduct. Kārīz’s are still used by Iranians and people of the east now days.

Cyrus carved an empire that stretched from the river Indus to Hellespont in the boarder between Europe. After doing so he decided to create a new capital city of Pasargadae, in present day Fars province. The construction of the capital city by Cyrus the Great, begun in 546 BCE or later, was left unfinished, for Cyrus died in battle in 530 BCE or 529 BCE. The tomb of Cyrus' son and successor, Cambyses II, also has been found in Pasargadae. The remains of his tomb, located near the fortress of Toll-e Takht, were identified in 2006. Surrounding Pasargadae is a flat land and a valley.

It was during the Achaemenid era that the inhabitants of Fars began to grow the dark and rich grapes it is so famed for, its main purpose was to be made into wine which was then drunk by high ranking members of the royal court and the King, and it was especially enjoyed in banquets.

Achaemenid Fars has appeared to be the homeland of many Biblical characters, such as the Jewish prophet Daniel (Daniyyel) who served as an adviser to King Cyrus and more famously Darius I of Persia. Daniel is referred to serve Darius in Persepolis, Fars. Daniel was buried in Susa, Khūzestān “aged 100” according to biblical records.

The ceremonially capital of the mighty Persian Empire was built under the ruler ship of Darius I, Persepolis (Takht-e Jamshid) Persepolis is near the small river Pulwar, which flows into the river Kur (Cyrus). The site includes a 125,000 square meter terrace, partly artificially constructed and partly cut out of a mountain, with its east side leaning on Kuh-e Rahmet ("the Mountain of Mercy "). Herzfeld believed the reasons behind the construction of Persepolis were the need for a majestic atmosphere, a symbol for their empire, and to celebrate special events, especially the “Nowruz”. For historical reasons, Persepolis was built where the Achaemenid Dynasty was founded, although it was not the center of the empire at that time. Construction of Persepolis continued throughout the remaining Achaemenid era, with Darius I and Xerxes constructing the most out of the Achaemenid rulers.

Achaemenid kings especially Cyrus, Darius I and Xerxes wished to show their strength, and depicted this by hunting lions these lions, the “Asiatic lion” (Panthera leo persica) are extinct, but were apparently numerous in Fars and southern Iran during the ancient era and survived until 1941 where they became extinct in the region.

Alexander the Great and his highly disciplined force of heavily armoured phalanxes and cavalry marched into the Persian Empire and crushed every army that opposed them, at the Battle of Issus (333BC) and the siege of Tyre (332BC). The King at the time Darius III of Persia attempted to make a final gamble at the Battle of Gaugamela (331BC) in northern Iraq, where his 110,000 strong army (including Immortals, chariots and war elephants) met the heavily out matched Greek army of 47,000. Despite the heavy numeric advantage Darius failed to destroy the Greek forces and was subsequently crushed. After small but fierce resistance at the “gates of Persia”, Alexander’s forces moved into the heart of the Persian Empire. Arriving at imperial city of Persepolis, the Greeks seemed met no opposition and Alexander ordered the sack and looting of the city of Persepolis, later on in Media. Darius was killed by his officer and cousin Bessus and with this on 330BC the Achaemenid Empire ceased to exist.

Fars during the Parthian Era (250BC-224AD)

Alexander died premature at the age of 32 and with him his vast empire fell, to many of his generals and native peoples. One such people the Parthians native to north eastern Iran, reunited the Iranian peoples together.

In 238BC the local tyrants the Greek Seleucids were defeated by the Parthians and Fars was occupied by the Parthian kings. However by 205BC Seleucid king Antiochus III was able to restore power over Fars. These conflicts ended when Mithridates I of Parthia, led an army to Fars and victoriously took the province he even captured the Seleucid King Demetrius II, and held him captive for 10 years while consolidating his conquests. Demetrius II later married Mithridates I's daughter Rhodogune and had several children with her.


Parthian kings ruled Fars and it seems that the “Silk Road” crossed through its northern part. This road connecting China and Iran together made to two countries very prosperous. Fars also provided large amounts of industry to the empire, the main industry was creating weapons and amour, and the type of metal used was reliable and powerful “Margiana steel” according to Romans imported from Marv in modern day Turkmestan.


Fars during the Sassanian Era (224AD-651AD)

Ardashir I of Persia was originally a vassal king of Fars during the late Parthian Empire. During his rule of this province Parthia was a very weak Empire losing many of it’s terrorizes to Romans and was almost bankrupt. In Ardashir’s view the Parthians were obsolete and were heretics. The reason for this was because the Parthians cared little for the “good religion” which was Zoroastrianism a monotheistic religion that had been adopted by the Achaemenid Empire as the state religion and by the Parthian era, people seemed to believe in Greek Gods and became polytheistic. This motivated Ardashir to destroy the Parthian Empire.

Parthia was ruled by Artabanus IV a ruler who had was struggling to keep power over his realm he however made himself was able to defeat Roman invader at the battle of Nineveh in 217AD but this was even by the narrowest of margins. Ardashir expanded his empire and influence from Fars into central and northern Iran, it was here were he forged an alliance with the powerful ruler of Hyrcania (modern day Golestān, Gilān and Māzandarān). This suddenly caught the attention of Artabanus, and he prepared to attack what was in his view a petty rebellion.

Artabanus met Ardashir and his son, Shapur at the jousting battle of Hormozgan; Hormozgan was a battle between two very similar armies both containing the heavily armored knight style “cataphract” cavalry. These both contained and it was here that Ardashir was killed the Parthian king Artabanus in a one on one jousting battle. Over the dead Parthian king’s body Ardashir was crowned king by Zoroastrian Magi and his soldiers, with this the Parthians were vanquished.

Fars was indeed a rich province it provided the Sassanian rulers with grain, corn, timber, precious gems and other natural materials. Like their predecessors, industry flourished. Fars was very important to the Sassanian on both economic and religious levels. The holy "Fire Temple of Anāhid" was located in Fars; Sasan was the custodian of the temple and the grandfather of Ardashir I. Fars also provided a defensive ground were troops could quickly be moved to the Persian Gulf and to both eastern and western parts of the Empire. The Persian Gulf was used to import and exports goods to other terrorizes and Empires such as India, China, Arabia and the Kushan Empire.

Ardashir I build a large city in Fars, Firuzabad. It had a circular plan so precise in measurement that the Persian historian Ibn Balkhi wrote it to be "devised using a compass". It was protected by a trench 50 meters in width, and was 2 kilometers in diameter. The city had four gates; to the north was the Hormoz Gate, to the south the Ardashir Gate, to the east the Mithra Gate and to the west the Bahram Gate. In the centre of the city was a large fire temple of Zoroaster, similar to the one in Yazd. The Castle of Ardashir e Babakan is a very popular tourist attraction in modern Iran.

After Shapur I inflicted a catastrophic triple defeat on Romans, and capturing the Roman emperor Valerian and apparently using him as a footstool until his death. Valerians troops were ordered to begin construction of a new city, Bishapur in 266AD. Bishapur (“Shapur’s victory”) was build in Fars the homeland of the Sassanians, and the city contained reliefs these include in a semicircular shape, has rows of registers with files of soldiers and horses, in a deliberate imitation of the narrative scenes on the Trajan column in Rome.

Bahram V or Bahramgur (421–438) decided to construct the Sarvestan Palace in the sites purpose is unknown; it may have been a palace or a fire temple. The monument was registered in Iran’s National Heritage list in 1956 but sadly the site in danger as the result of unprofessional restorations.

The Huns, a nomadic tribal peoples who originated in Mongolia made a fierce and swift attack on Iran and penetrated as far as the Persian Gulf the attack was crippling, destroying and ravaging many of the cities and country side of Fars and other parts of Sassanian Iran, a powerful counter attack was made by Bahramgur that included elite cataphracts, Indian armored war elephants and heavy Dailamites infantry .This thus crushed the Hunnic horde, and their chieftain was apparently shot in the eye with an arrow. Rewards were rich for this victory, much gold and precious gems were taken from the Hunnic camp and cities and the harem of the Hunnic chieftain was transported back to Ctesiphon, the Hunnic princess married Bahramgur and provided him with a son, this was possibly the easiest way to legitimize his claim to the Hunnic throne without bloodshed in the late ancient world and would be until the late 19th century.

By the era of Anushiravan the Just or Khosrau I (531–579) Fars was a fully flourishing modernized province with roads, sewers and an effective police force within it. Roads connected all the main cities to each other and the main capital of Ctesiphon. The police were as organized as the imperial army and were made up of highly trained officers. Inns, farms, mines, granaries, taverns, public baths (adopted from the Romans), sewers, temples, thick stone walls, bridges, underground aqueduct systems, academies, hospitals and large bazaars were set up within the province. Through this the province grew from a relatively backwards and ruined place to become one of the main centers of a Sassanian Empire.

The reign of Khosrau Parveez (590-628AD) saw the fall of this province, during his rule floods, droughts, plagues and a heavy tax on the people caused the government and order to simply collapse. According to Roman and Persian sources there was such a lack of food, that people began to fight against the imperial army and steal from their supply lines and forts, it seems because of the flood many of the inhabits of the province began to moved towards the north and east of the Iran, making parts of the once rich province abandoned and unused. The people rebelled against the King who was at the time attacking the Byzantine Romans with success, capturing Egypt, Turkey and even invading Constantinople in Europe, for a moment it seemed that the old Achaemenid Empire had been revived in size. However under Heraclius the Byzantine king a strong counter was lead and this forced the Sassanians back to Iran. The war was indeed devastating according to Farrokh perhaps 200,000 causalities were inflicted on both sides and left the two hyper powers at the mercy of the newly converted Muslim Arabs.

Yazdgerd III was the final Sassanian king and the Muslim Arabs of the South began to invade, and began to invade Iran. For the first time the Sassanians was being pushed to the brink of destruction and by “barbarians”. After the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah the imperial capital of Ctesiphon was captured and sacked. The Battle of Nahāvand known to Muslims as the “Victory of Victories” saw the Sassanian organized resistance crumple and Iran was free to be harassed by the Arab forces. It seems that Fars fell with little resistance. Its satrap (or governor) Hormuzan even converted to Islam along with the vast majority of Fars’ inhabitants. Yazdgerd III was killed by a miller in Marv and with his death a dynasty that shaped Iran and its surrounding territories, fell.


Many thanks to Dr Touraj Daryaee and Dr Kaveh Farrokh for their research into Sassanian Fars province, via the books Sassanian Elite Cavalry AD 224-642 (Dr Kaveh) and Sassanian Iran (224-651 CE): Portrait of a Late Antique Empire by Touraj Daryaee. Both these books are a must read and provide a reliable and detailed look on Sassanian Iran.

The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3. Provinces of Iran, Iranian chamber, Nationalkirchen, Göttingen, 1981. W. Schwaigert, Das Christentum in ūzistān im Rahmen der frühen Kirchengeschichte Persiens bis zur Synode von Seleukeia-Ktesiphon im Jahre 410, Marburg, 1989. J. Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia .M. Alram, Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis: Materialgrundlagen zu deniranischen Personennamen auf antiken Münzen, Iranisches Personennamenbuch 4, Vienna, 1986. Idem, “Die Vorbildwirkung der arsakidischen Münzprägung,” Litterae Numismaticae Vindobonenses 3, 1987, pp. 117-46P. Briant, Histoire de l’Empire Perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre, Paris, 1996. E. Carter, “Bridging the Gap between the Elamites and the Persians in Southeastern Khuzistan . Cities, Towns and Villages in Fars Province: Persepolis, Shiraz, Abadeh, Evaz, Lar, Iran, Firouzabad, Marvdasht, Neyriz, Estakhr, Gerash, Khonj. Land of Lion, Land of Sun Rafie Hamidpur PHDD Coogan, Michael. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 200.


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I love history...

by Ara on

I love reading about ancient history, specially the stories of my nation. But why can't you post a great article which has been spell-checked or at least grammatically correct? 

I would love to share this with my non-Iranian friends who I know will appreciate this.  But due to the poor quality of this, I just can not.  

 Let us try to better ourselves, always.



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by Maryam Hojjat on

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