Give Iran Some Credit

Impact on Western science and medicine


Give Iran Some Credit
by Nabil Rastani

This article is written in memory and honour of my grandfather Siavash Rastani who passed away on September 4th 2010.


The ancient world contained only a few countries that had any form of knowledge of medicine and science, the main were Egypt, Greece China, India and Rome. Iran had for its time a through knowledge of the sciences more than most countries. From the Achaemenid Empire to the late Sassanian Empire Iran has had an effect on the worlds understanding of science. Even the civilised world was influenced by Iran’s vast amount of understanding of the sciences. A few examples include the fact that the Greeks used the same form of building as the Iranians, the Romans attempted to create their own form of “Baghdad Battery” which was invented by the Parthians.

During Achaemenid Empire (550-330BC)

In Achaemenid Iran science had an effect on everyday life for example in the deserts of southern Iran the kārīz, a water management system that had been invented by the tribal forefathers of the Achaemenid’s, 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.

"Of all the healers O Spitama Zarathustra, namely those who heal with the knife, with herbs, and with sacred incantations, the last one is the most potent as he heals from the very source of diseases." (Ardibesht Yasht)

During the ruler ship of Darius I of Persia whose interest in medicine was said to be so great that he re-established the school of medicine in Sais , Egypt which previously had been destroyed, restoring its books and equipment. The sixth book of the Zend Avesta contains some of the earliest records of history of ancient Iranian medicine.

The Vendidad in fact devotes most of the last chapters to medicine one of the surviving texts of the Zandavesta, three kinds of medicine were distinguished: medicine by the knife (surgery), medicine by herbs, and medicine by divine words and the best medicine was, according to the Vendidad, healing by divine words (prayers). The Vendidad tells that if a patient dies in the care of a physician then he would not be allowed to work in the same profession any longer.

The Achaemenid Shah Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358BC) died age 93 because he was provided with high quality medicine and “prays which helped heal [Artaxerxes] when needed”. Artaxerxes was surrounded by the finest doctors and healers in the empire much of which were from Greece , Egypt and India . Apparently Artaxerxes II would grind the bones of pure white horses and rather oddly bath in the blood of white horses. The bones would have been used to make flour, and the blood was supposedly from a pure and majestic animal.

During Parthian Empire (250BC-224AD)

The Parthians created their own calendar system using astronomy, In addition, the Parthian King of Kings was called the "brother of the sun and the moon," perhaps indicating the importance of astrology to the Parthians. The crescent moon and star motifs appear on many coins adjacent to the king's portrait.

The most famous example of scientific inventions in the Parthian era is the Baghdad Battery. Scientists believe that the battery were used to electroplate items such as a layer of one metal (gold) onto another surface (sliver),a method still used it parts of the Near East and Central Asia. The battery is the first ever device to be created that used electricity in the history of the world.

The Parthians in the late 3rd century BC seemed to have been nomads relying on the land and for food for them and grazing their horses. They were masters of hunting and foraging. According to some historians of the times the Parthians probably had a very in-depth knowledge of herbs, spices and teas of the regions of Greater Khorasan, Turkmenistan and Hyrcania (which comprised of modern day Golestān, Māzandarān and Gilān) .The Parthians used this to their advantage and used herbs to create new, cheap and effective forms of medicine for their own uses. It is interesting to note that Parthians even had medicines for their horses in battle and Parthian doctors were apparently very good at cleaning wounds and infections quickly for their time.

Parthia was according to historians of the time, a centre of science were many astronomers would have gathered together and studied the heavens in the Parthian Empire, the famous “three wise men” were Parthian magi who were astrologers (based possibly in the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon). According to the Bible (accounts of Gospel of Matthew) the three wise men found Jesus by following a star known as the “Star of Bethlehem”, the journey began from in the Parthian Empire to Bethlehem then apart of the Roman Empire.

During the Sassanian Empire (224-651AD)

Ardashir I overthrow the Parthian kings and established himself as the first Sassanian Emperor, Ardashir was fascinated by science and studied many ancient scientific works, as did his son Shapur I of Persia. During the reign of Anushiravan the Just, the great Academy of Gundishapur (Dânešgâh e Gondišâpur) was founded. This academy was "the greatest intellectual center of the time", drawing students and teachers from every quarter of the known world. According to Cyril Elgood “to a very large extent, the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia ”. Sciences and arts flourished with vast faculties containing a medical school.

Interestingly in addition to systemizing medical treatment and knowledge, the scholars of the academy also transformed medical education; rather than apprenticing with just one physician, medical students were required to work in the hospital under the supervision of the whole medical faculty. There is even evidence that graduates had to pass exams in order to practice as accredited Gundishapur physicians. When the schools of science and philosophy were closed down in Athens 6th century, many scholars, doctors and philosophers fled to the court of Anushiravan were they served as academics in the academy of Gundishapur .

Knowledge of medicine came from a mixture of sources; these include influences from Byzantine and China , many Indian physicians were welcomed to teach at Gundishapur they taught the art of Ayurveda, Chinese physicians taught acupuncture.

Another source came from experiments many were interestingly made on captured Roman soldiers. And medicines of good quality were disputed the across the Empire. Neoplatonists too, came to Gundishapur, where they planted the seeds of Sufi mysticism the medical lore of India , Persia , Syria and Greece mingled there to produce a flourishing school of therapy.

In the battlefields Sassanian doctors needed a through knowledge of how to efficiently clean and cover wounds. Many doctors were required, amazingly rich soldiers were given medicines before and after the battle. They were also offered prays and blessings by Magi.

The Sassanians ingeniously used the fist from of chemical warfare” according to recent archeological finds in western Syria . The Sassanians “gassed” Roman soldiers during a siege at Dura. The study shows that the Persians dug a mine underneath the wall in order to enter the city. They also ignited bitumen and sulphur crystals to produce dense poisonous gas. Simon James suggested that “The Roman assault party was unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes.” After this the Sassanians took over the city of Dura and probably slaughtered the remaining Roman troops in the city.

The Stor-bezashk regiments within the Sassanian army were veterinarians whose purpose was to ensure the safety and health of the steeds before battles. It was these men would care for the horses feeding them and grooming them. According to some of the sources if the steeds would die in their care the Stor-bezashk would be fined, they had a thorough knowledge of herbs.

Astronomers of the Sassanian Empire drew up very complex tables on how the planets moved in the future, Sassanians under Shapur I, Shapur II, Bahram “Gur” and Khosrow Anushiravan “the Just” gathered vast quantities of books and scientific works from across the world .The Sassanian Kings complied works from the Roman Empire, India and China. Together these came into the great library of Ctesiphon and Gundishapur.

The Sassanians attacked the Byzantine Empire in 603AD under their King Khosrow Parveez and took control of Anatolia (Central Turkey), Syria Coele (South Turkey and Syria) Judea (Israel and part of Lebanon) and Africana (Egypt, north Sudan and Ethiopia and Libya) this vast amount of terrorizes came with much wealth looted from Byzantine cities and palaces. With this wealth the Sassanian Shah began to hire more Scientists to work with his palace interestingly Khosrow becoming insane with power and wealth attempted to make himself immortal, a rather odd idea in the late ancient world.

Khosrow’s mighty conquests fell as quickly as they began; the provinces were recaptured by Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. Soon after this in 628AD Khosrow was killed by his nobles and in 637AD the Muslim Arabs attacked the heavily weaken Sassanian Empire and took it over relatively quickly. The great library of Ctesiphon was burned and with it “one thousand years of knowledge was burned” as well as this many of the teachers and scientists were killed. Gundishapur’s libraries were mostly burned or destroyed by the Arabs who did not understand it.

In the modern world scholars (mostly of the west) give credit to the Greeks and Romans for being the founders of science, this is a very common misconception the first hospital was invented during the Sassanian era, the first true scientific library was created in ancient Iran . Even the first battery was invented in Iran . So it is clear that Rome and Greece should not take the full credit; but Iran should be given some form of credit, only if Iran its self teaching of its great history and influence on the world then, will people gives some form of credit to Iran as well. Seeing as this current government/regime of Iran takes no pride in its history it will take a long time for people to understand and appreciate Iran’s contribution to the world’s scientific knowledge.


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more from Nabil Rastani

Nabil: You have enriched this website with …

by reader1 on

… this high quality and well researched article of yours. Thanks for educating this humble reader.

Nabil Rastani

Thank you prophet of Khorasan

by Nabil Rastani on

Nabil A Rastani

For your kind comments regarding this artical

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Nabil Jan

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on



A very fine article. This is a very good article and contains a lot of good information. Thank you Nabil for providing it. I apologize for previous humor. I hope to read more of your posts.

Nabil Rastani

Sources for this article

by Nabil Rastani on

Nabil A Rastani

Here are my sources for the article

   Hormoz Ebrahimnejad. RELIGION AND MEDICINE IN IRAN: FROM RELATIONSHIP TO DISSOCIATION. Hist. Sci., xl (2002) Gorji et al. History of epilepsy in Medieval Iranian medicine. Neurosci-Biobehav-Rev. 2001 Jul; 25(5): 455-61 M. Meyerhof, Science and medicine. In: T. Arnold and A. Guillaume, Editors, The legacy of islam, Oxford University Press, London (1952), pp. 314–315. Mohammad-Hossein Azizi. History of Ancient Medicine in Iran. Arch Iranian Med 2007; 10 (4): 552 – 555 BBC “Persian gas” Bernard S. Bloom, Aurelia Retbi, Sandrine Dahan, Egon Jonsson (2000), "Evaluation Of Randomized Controlled Trials On Complementary And Alternative Medicine", International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 16 (1), p. 13–21  Medicine throughout Antiquity. Benjamin Lee Gordon. 1949. p.306 Ward English, Paul (June 21, 1968). C. Elgood, A medical history of Persia, Cambridge Univ. Press. p.173

Nabil Rastani

That is a relief

by Nabil Rastani on

Nabil A Rastani


Thank you for explaining your earlier comments to me, I was not clear on the fact that in America “boy” is a common expression (thank you for pointing that out). I am also glad to be on the same page as you. Regarding your comment of “We are” I also agree that this is the time for Iran rise again to the glory of the Sassanians and Achaemenid.


Thank you


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Regarding Boy:  It was meant as "Oh boy" indicating surprise. A common expression in the USA. Not meant to address a person such as you Nabil or any other specific person. Therefore you have misunderstood the context in which the term "boy" was used. I see how it can be mistaken. However it was not intended to address Nabil. This is  as opposed to "boy" when used to directly address a person. So please do not take offense at an expression that you have misunderstood.

Regarding Civilized: I was mostly joking as I did figure out you were not meaning it. As it goes it "read" like that so I mentioned it. You are right that Iran is  not appreciated. I was at Epcot Center last year. They were doing a "history of mankind" deal. They pretty much attributed all the Persian contributions to either Greek or Arabs. It really pissed me off. It is our job to point it out every time when this happens. I am glad you and I are on the same page here.

Nabil Rastani

thanks for your comments

by Nabil Rastani on

Nabil A Rastani

Please stop reffering to me as "boy" it is rather offensive,I never said or even implyed that Iran was not civilized if anything I said the opposite. I clearly stated that if  modern people do not appreciate what Iran has done for the world in terms of sciences and medicine, I then countined by stating the fact that even some of the other civilized countiries was influenced by them (such as Greeks and Romans etc).

Please take into mind that I whole heartly believe our great land was at one point THE most civilied country on earth,inventing even the first academy. So please think about what you said,clearly you were misinterpreted.


Thank you.

Maryam Hojjat

Arabs Burned Library in Gundishapour

by Maryam Hojjat on

Can tells enough about this barbaric ISLAM from the time they stepped on the land of Persia.  There have been destructions, downfalls and superstitions since these barbaric culture influenced IRAN & Iranians.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

We are

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


not spent. Iranians like other people go through phases. We got burned out during the Ghajars. Much of the trouble was IMHO due to the Shia nonsense pushd by Safavi. It robbed us from originality. Then there was a colonial period which made us doubt our selves and whether we are able to stand on our own feet. Then came the Islamic revolution. The real cause was our desire to prove we our not anyone's slaves. No more masters: USA or West or even the Soviets. Now we are over all that.

Hopefully we have proved we can be just as much of assholes as anyone :-) Given this we can now move on to have some of our own ideas. Heck we are building rockets and submarines albeit not the top of the line. Time for a revived Iran is now. 


Boy! We Sure USED to be Great!!!

by eroonman on

So your point seems to be that we've run out of ideas.

I say, we're spent, and shouldn't aspire to anything more really. I mean, if we've done so much. We are all out of inventions, and brilliance, because since the Qajar era, apparently, we haven't done Sh**.

Nope, I'm not buying it.

I say, we took the ideas of those we conquered and reformulated them to common use.That fits better with the way things usually work vis-a-vis conqueror-conquered

That also works more logically with the way we are, here and now. Largely uselss, and lazy, not even willing to change our own destiny.

If you think about it, the truth is that Iranians, haven't done squat since they stopped conquering other people, which explains us and how we work.

Or actually how we don't work.

Give us someone else's ideas, or something we can easily conquer and take over, and we'll make it into a huge success.

Classic Quintessential Bazari.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Even the civilized world!!

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Boy talk about putting your foot in your mouth:

Even the civilised world was influenced by Iran’s vast amount of understanding of the sciences.

Are you implying that Iran was not civilized and somehow managed to influnce others!!