PERSIA (Heb. פָּרָס, Paras), empire whose home coincided roughly with that of the province of Fars in modern Iran. Its inhabitants, calling themselves Persians, are first mentioned in Assyrian records of approximately 640 b.c.e. According to these records, the king of "Parsuwash" acknowledged the
suzerainty of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. According to the Persian tradition followed by Herodotus, the Persians had submitted to the *Medes in the second quarter of the seventh century. Several central terms of political life, such as the word for king and even the name Pārsa, appear to show Median peculiarities. On the other hand, the Persians came under the cultural influence of *Elam, and it was in the Elamite language that accounts were kept in the Persian treasury at Persepolis, in the Persian homeland, as late as 459 b.c.e. The Persians' dependence on the Medes was terminated by *Cyrusii who rebelled against the last of the Median kings, Astyages. Astyages marched against him, but the Median army revolted and handed over their king to Cyrus in 550. Plundering Ecbatana (now Hamadan), the Median capital, Cyrus became ruler of Media. According to official Persian tradition, he was a maternal grandson of Astyages and was supported by Median nobles. To the outside world, his seizure of the Median crown looked like a mere change of dynasty. Media, which in alliance with *Babylon had destroyed the Assyrian Empire in 612, was a great power, whereas the Persians had been unknown before Cyrus. Therefore, foreigners (e.g., Herodotus) continued to speak of "Medians" when meaning "Persians." In Daniel 8:3 the two-horned ram is a symbol of Media and Persia.
Cyrus went on to conquer the Lydian kingdom of Croesus in 547, and the Babylonian Empire of *Nabonidus in 539. His son *Cambysesii (525) added Egypt to the Persian dominions, which now extended from the Nile to the Syr-Darya (Jaxartes) and the Indus. The death of Cambyses (522) was followed by a civil war, won by *Dariusi, a distant relation of Cambyses. Direct descendants of Darius i ruled the empire for six generations after him. *Dariusiii, from another branch of the same family, lost the empire to Alexander the Great. Kings from Cyrus to Darius iii were:
Cyrus 559–530 b.c.e.
Darius i 522–486
Xerxes i 486–465
Artaxerxes i 465–424
Xerxes ii 424–423
Darius ii 423–404
Artaxerxes ii 404–359
Artaxerxes iii 359–338
Darius iii 336–330
The paramount fact in the history of the Achaemenids was the failure of Darius i in 490 and Xerxes i in 480–479 to conquer Greece. The Athenians and their allies wrested the Aegean coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands from the Persians during 479–469, and also supported the Egyptian revolt in 459–454. The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (432–404) allowed Persia to recoup its territorial losses, but economically and culturally the Greeks remained preeminent. Greek silver, and in the fourth century its imitation, was the money used in the Persian Empire; Greek merchandise, as illustrated by finds of Greek vases, dominated the foreign commerce of Persia; and Greek mercenaries became an essential part of Persian armies. For the first time in history, the monarchical, hierarchical, and priestly "East" faced the republican, egalitarian, and secular "West," and the Persian bowman following his king was always outdone by the Greek infantryman ready to die in obedience to the law of his city.
The king ruled "by the favor of Ahuramazda," the supreme god, and his power of life and death was unlimited. Nevertheless, once fixed in a certain prescribed form, his decisions could not be revoked by him, "according to the law of the Medes and the Persians" (Dan. 6:9). In practice, the king consulted his counselors (Ezra 7:14; cf. Esth. 1:13; Jonah 3:6), and could not afford to offend the Persian nobility. He could execute a wicked judge, and with his skin upholster the judge's seat, but it was a son or another relative of the judge who would be appointed to judge from the same bench (Herodotus 5:25). Though the high officials, the royal guard, and the standing army were recruited from among Persians and Medes, non-Iranians could occupy high posts. Of the 23 high royal officers (ustarbar) who are mentioned in the *Murashu documents, only eight have Iranian names. Though the Achaemenian king stressed that he was a "Persian, son of a Persian, Aryan of Aryan lineage," the Persians were not "nationalists." "Nationalism" in the ancient Near East meant belonging to a city (e.g., Babylon, Jerusalem) and its deities. The Persians were tribesmen; their grandees were not citizens, or even inhabitants of a city, but lived on their estates. Being aristocrats, they did not need to be "nationalists," and used the talents of their subjects freely and easily.
Cyrus and his heirs, following the Assyrian practice, used Aramaic as the language of administration throughout the Persian Empire. As the Persian kings and their grandees were illiterate, the written language of administration was of no concern to them. Even in the ritual, the written language was Aramaic (R.A. Bowman, Aramaic Ritual Texts from Persepolis, 1970). The interpreters were on hand to translate the Persian orders into Elamite or Aramaic and to read aloud in Persian, an Indo-European language, the documents written in Aramaic or Elamite. The Persian script, borrowed indirectly from the Babylonians, was also cuneiform and as such inconvenient for writing on papyrus or leather. It seems to have been used only for monumental inscriptions engraved on stone or on metal.
The empire was divided into enormous administrative units known as satrapies. The satrapy "Beyond the River" (Abar-Nahara, e.g., Ezra 5:3), to which Judah belonged, extended from the *Euphrates to the Mediterranean. The satrap was the head of the administration, commander of the troops, and supreme judge and tax collector of his satrapy. Each satrapy had to pay a fixed tribute to the king, in cash and/or kind. The provinces within the satrapies had to maintain the troops, the administration of the satrapy, and the viceroy. Nehemiah, governor of the miniscule province of Judah, had to feed over 150 men daily (Neh. 5:17). There were various taxes (Ezra 4:13; 7:24), and taxation was heavy (Neh. 5:4). In addition, there was the baksheesh (Mal. 1:8). The satrap was virtually omnipotent in his satrapy, as the story of the temple of *Elephantine shows, but he had to consult his advisers and it was prudent to submit controversial questions to the king (Ezra 5:6). However, the dimensions of the satrapy made local self-administration necessary, and Nehemiah in his quarrel with the neighbors of Jerusalem does not appeal to the satrap of Abar-Nahara ("trans-Euphrates"), but mobilizes the Jewish militia (Neh. 4:7ff.). Self-administration extended to private law, and the scribes drafting private contracts made the Aramaic common law prevalent throughout the Persian Empire.
In Ezekiel 27:10 and 38:5, the name "Persia" is probably a corruption. Deutero-Isaiah expected that Cyrus would rebuild Jerusalem (44:28; 45:1). Having conquered Babylonia, Cyrus reversed the Babylonian policy and returned captive gods and their worshipers to their homes. However, by taking care of *Marduk in Babylon and of "the God who is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:3), Cyrus became the legitimate successor of the kings of Babylon and of the kings of the House of David. After the restoration of the Temple and Darius i and until the revolt against Rome in 66 c.e., the priests of Jerusalem offered a sacrifice daily for the welfare of the heathen overlord of Zion. Written in the first half of the fourth century b.c.e., the work of the Chronicler (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah) expresses this recognition of alien domination: the Temple was restored "by command of the God of Israel and by order of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes, king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). However, Jerusalem was an insignificant town in an enormous empire, and if the Persian kings took the trouble to humor the God of Jerusalem, they did it rather for the sake of the Babylonian and Persian Jewry. Knowledge of the latter is almost nil. The story of *Susanna in the Apocrypha reflects Jewish self-government in Babylonia. The story of *Tobit illustrates the family life, faith, and also the superstitions of Persian Jews. However, the society which produced *Zerubbabel, *Ezra, and *Nehemiah was not that of Tobit and Susanna.
Again, almost nothing is known about contacts between the Persians and the Jews. Yet Gadal-Yama (Gadal-yhwh, Gedaliah), who in 422 was called upon to serve as a cuirassier to the royal army in a campaign at Erech (Uruk) and was the beneficiary of a fief, must have had Iranian comrades. One source indicates that a Persian magus was on friendly terms with a servant of the Lord in Elephantine (E.G. Kraeling, Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri (1953), 4:24, 175). Because so little is known about the Iranian religions in Achaemenian Persia, it is difficult to determine the nature and extent of their influence on the Jews in the Persian period. The Jews preserved a favorable memory of the Persian kings, as their rule brought them two centuries of peace. By favoring the clergy, the Persian king laid the foundation for the later role of the high priests. For the first and last time, Jerusalem and the whole Diaspora, from the Indus to the Nile, remained under the sway of the same overlords. From Babylonia, Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah came to the aid of Jerusalem. The Jews at Elephantine could ask Jerusalem for assistance. When, after the death of *Alexander, the unity of the political world of which the Jews were a part was destroyed, the religious and spiritual link that had been forged between Jerusalem and the Diaspora under the Achaemenids remained, and it has persisted for 23 centuries.
[Elias J. Bickerman]
Traditions and legends connect the origin of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia with various events in Israel's ancient history, the starting points being regarded as the deportation of the Israelites in the time of Tiglath-Pileser iii (d. 727 b.c.e.) from Samaria to the "cities of Media and Persia," the forced migration in the time of Sargon ii of Assyria (d. 705) and of his son Sennacherib (681), or the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (d. 586). When the famous "Cyrus Declaration" (538 b.c.e.) allowed those Jews who were living as exiles on the "rivers of Babylon" to return to their homeland, Judea, and to rebuild their national life, some of them, who had established themselves economically and socially in their new surroundings, preferred to remain on Babylonian-Persian soil. These remaining exiles can be regarded as the nucleus of the permanent Jewish settlements which gradually expanded from the chief centers in Babylon to the interior provinces and cities of Persia, Ecbatana, Susa, and other places. The emergent group of Jewish colonies spread, in the words of the Book of Esther, "over all the provinces of the king… scattered among all peoples of the Persian Empire."
Favored by the tolerant attitude of the rulers toward their Jewish subjects, such dignitaries as Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther emerged from these settlements and were able to play a leading role at the royal Persian court. The gratitude of the Jews toward the Persian Achaemenid rulers found expression in subsequent generations in a mishnaic injunction that a picture of Susa, the capital of the Persian kings, should be affixed on the eastern gate of the Temple to remind the Jews of their deliverance and the tolerance of the Achaemenids (Mid. 1:3b; Men. 98a). The overthrow of the Achaemenid dynasty resulting from Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia and the rule of the Seleucids over the eastern parts of Alexander's empire does not seem to have hindered the existence and expansion of Jewish settlements in Persia.
Under the Parthian dynasty (249 b.c.e.–226 c.e.) the size and influence of well-organized Jewish communities beyond the Euphrates and Tigris was acknowledged in contemporary literature. Philo, in his Embassy to Gaius (245), mentions the "large number of Jews in every city" in the trans-Euphratian Diaspora. Josephus refers to Jews in Babylonia, Media, and other distant provinces, and stresses that "Jews beyond the Euphrates are an immense multitude and not estimated by numbers." Apocryphal literature, in particular the Book of the Maccabees, alludes to the existence of Jews in "the cities of Persia and Media"; and the anonymous author of the Sibylline Oracles refers to Jews "in every country and every sea." The New Testament makes special mention of Jewish pilgrims coming to Jerusalem from the eastern Diaspora, from Elymais, Susa, and other territories. The Book of Tobit refers to Jews in Media, in particular to the city of Rhages. The Mishnah mentions a R. Nahum of Media (Naz. 5:4; BB 5:2) and talmudic sources contain a reference to an epistle sent by Rabban Gamaliel "to our brethren in the exile of Babylon, Media, and other remote provinces" (Sanh. 11a).
Under the Sassanid dynasty (226–642) the Jewish Diaspora in Persia had grown considerably; it also increased with the voluntary movements of Jews from the Roman provinces into Persia, as well as through the forced migration of Jews from territories adjacent to Persia. According to the Armenian historian, Moses of Chorene, in 364 c.e. Shapur ii (309–379) transferred a great number of Jews, some say 7,000, to the interior of Persia. The Babylonian Talmud, a product of Babylonian Jewry in the Sassanid period, though concentrating mainly on Jewish life within the boundaries of Babylon, affords glimpses into the geographical diffusion of Jewish settlements beyond the Euphrates and Tigris, and apart from the dense Jewish population in such cities as *Sura, *Pumbedita, *Nehardea, *Mahosa, *Nisibis, *Naresh, *Ctesiphon (Be-Ardashir), there were Jewish settlements remote from Babylonian centers, in the interior provinces of the Sassanid Empire, in Media, *Elam, Khuzistan, Susiana, in such cities as Hulvan, *Nehavend, *Hamadan (Ecbatana), Be Lapat (Gundashapur), *Ahwaz (Khurramshahr), *Susa, and Tustar, and up to the Persian Gulf. The spread of Jewish settlements throughout the Sassanid realm is also indicated by the express reference to them in the inscription of Karter, one of the leaders of the Mazdaan priesthood in the period following Shahpur i.
The First Six Centuries under the Caliphate (642–1258)
The battle at Nehavend in 642 which signaled the defeat of the Sassanid army by the invading Arab Muslims terminated the national and political independence which Persia had enjoyed for nearly 12 centuries, from the time of Cyrus the Great until Yazdegerd iii. The changes resulting from the Muslim Arab conquest of Persia affected the whole structure of the Persian Empire in its political, religious, cultural, and linguistic aspects. Politically, Persia ceased to be an independent entity, being incorporated as a province into the great Arab-Islamic empire. The development of Persia was henceforth controlled and shaped to a large degree by the political authorities, the *Umayyad and *Abbasid caliphs of *Damascus and *Baghdad respectively, and the viceroys appointed by them. Increasingly Arabic words infiltrated the Persian language, written from then on in Arabic script. The Islamic conquest replaced Zoroastrianism with *Islam as the state religion. These changes had a profound impact on the many religious minorities within Persia and in particular on the Jewish settlements within the Babylonian-Persian Diaspora, affecting first their legal and political status. The attitude of Islam toward the non-Muslims living within an Islamic realm was regulated by a contract which deprived the *dhimmis of social and political equality, making them in effect "second-class" citizens. At various periods in history this led to the enactment of discriminatory measures which were embodied in the so-called "Covenant of *Omar."
the cradle of jewish sectarianism
The religious and social fermentation affecting the Persian population in the early centuries of Islamic rule also touched Jewish life, giving rise to Jewish sectarian movements, freethinkers, heretics, and pseudo-messianic claimants. The first recorded sectarian movement initiated by a Persian Jew was connected with the name of *Abu ʿĪsā, a tailor who lived in the time of the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān (d. 705). Greatly influenced by the heterodox tendencies manifest within the Islamic environment, he proclaimed himself a messiah, acknowledged Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as true prophets, advocated fundamental changes in the Jewish calendar, Jewish ritual, and prayer, aimed at a reform of and a revolt against rabbinic Judaism. He seems to have gained a considerable following among the Jews of Isfahan and other places. His adherents were described as a community of simpleminded, uneducated Jews: "barbarian, ill-bred peoples, destitute of intellect and knowledge." Abu ʿĪsā's messianic claims and political ambitions brought him into open conflict with the Islamic authorities and he is said to have been killed in a battle with the troops of the caliph. After his death his movement continued under his disciple *Yudghan of Hamadan, who broke even more radically with the halakhah. His adherents, known as Isunians or Isfahanians, are said to have been eagerly awaiting the return of their mahdi, Abu ʿĪsā, in Isfahan until the tenth century. A certain Mushka of Qum created another movement proclaiming Muhammad as a true prophet, and calling on his adherents to wage a "holy war." In the remote region of *Khurasan in the ninth century, a Jew from the city of Balkh, known as *Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, arose among the scattered Jewish communities. Hiwi's heretical teachings are known mainly through the 200 answers which *Saadiah Gaon wrote in refutation of his beliefs.
The greatest schism in Oriental Jewry in these early centuries was the rise of the *Karaite movement founded by *Anan b. David in the eighth century; some of its most distinguished leaders hailed from Persia, such as Benjamin b. Moses *Nahāwendī, Daniel b. Moses al-Qūmisi, and others. The Karaite scholar and traveler Jacob al-*Kirkisānī (tenth century) depicts the spread and distribution of Karaite communities over many Persian provinces and cities, such as Isfahan, Tustar, Jibāl, Khurasan, Fars, etc. Due to Saadiah Gaon's intervention and the activities of subsequent geonim and exilarchs, rabbinic-talmudic Judaism asserted its influence on the Persian communities, though Karaite communities continued to exist in many Persian cities well into the 16th century.
relationship between center and periphery
The backbone of the communal organization of Babylonian Persian Jewry was the *exilarch, the resh galuta, appointed by the Islamic authorities, who was responsible for the collection and prompt delivery of the annual poll tax levied on every male. He and the gaon of the talmudic academies in Babylonia were the recognized authorities for the widely scattered Jewish Diaspora in the East. The relationship between the Babylonian authorities, the center, and Persia, the periphery, expressed itself in subsequent centuries in a twofold way, financially and culturally. The Persian communities were expected to send financial support to Babylonia for the maintenance of the talmudic academies of Sura and Pumbedita. Available sources refer to the annual contributions made by Nehavend, Fars, Hulvan, and other communities, but also indicate that some Persian communities refused or were delinquent in sending their contributions, which sometimes led to the despatch of special envoys from Babylonia to collect the revenue through the intervention of the Islamic authorities. The tenth-century chronicle of *Nathan b. Isaac ha-Kohen ha-Bavli, and a parallel version in *Seder Olam Zuta, recount a dispute between *Kohen Zedek b. Joseph, the head of the academy in Pumbedita, and the exilarch *Ukba over the jurisdiction over the Jews of Khurasan.
The Babylonian authorities made their influence felt on the Persian communities by controlling their education and by exercising their prerogative of appointing judges, dayyanim, and rabbis for the Persian communities. The chief rabbi of Isfahan, in the time of *Benjamin of Tudela, was Sar Shalom and the spiritual leader of *Samarkand Obadiah ha-Nasi, both appointed by the Babylonian gaon. As the 12th-century "Iggeret" of Gaon *Samuel b. Ali indicates, vigorous efforts were made to foster talmudic education in the Persian communities culminating in the establishment of a yeshivah in Hamadan, which together with Isfahan seemed to have been the cultural center of the Persian Diaspora at this period. According to the Iggeret, the Babylonian gaon sent his own son-in-law, *Zechariah b. Barachel, and later dispatched a distinguished student of his, Jacob b. Eli, to Hamadan to deal with halakhic questions and advise the community. There is mention also that a young rabbinical student, David of Hamadan, arrived in Baghdad with a letter of recommendation from the pakid, the trustee of the Hamadan yeshivah. It is noteworthy that part of the correspondence preserved between Baghdad and Hamadan was written in Persian.
economic activities of the jews
The position as dhimmī within Islamic society allowed the Jews complete freedom in the pursuit of economic opportunities. Scanty though the data are, a thorough examination of the available Muslim and Hebrew sources indicates that Persian Jews were engaged in many branches of artisanship and handicraft, as weavers, dyers, gold and silversmiths, and also as merchants and shopkeepers, jewelers, wine manufacturers, and dealers in drugs, spices, and antiquities. Due to the imposition of heavy land taxes, their share in agriculture declined to a great extent. When Baghdad became the capital of the Abbasid caliphate (762), a fundamental change occurred in the economic stratification of Babylonian-Persian Jewry. With the ever-increasing urbanization of the Islamic east and the development of trade and commerce on an international scale, a wealthy class of Jewish merchants emerged in the leading centers of the Diaspora, such as Baghdad, Ahwaz, *Isfahan, and *Shiraz.
From the tenth century on, Jewish merchants began to participate in banking and moneylending and to play a leading role as financial experts and bankers (see *Banking) in the service of the caliphs and their viziers. Known as Jahābidha ("court bankers"), they carried out major financial transactions such as the administration of deposits, remittance of funds from place to place through the medium of suftaja ("letter of credit") – widely used instrument of the prevailing credit economy – and by supplying huge loans for the caliph, his viziers, his court, and his army. Jewish court bankers were also to be found at the courts of the Buyids, the Ghaznavids, and the Seljuk sultans. In the time of Sultan Mahmud (997–1030) of the Ghaznavid dynasty, the Jew Isaac, a resident of Ghazni, was in the sultan's service and was entrusted with the administration of his lead mines in Balkh in Khurasan. Numerous Court Jews also served the Seljuk sultans. Their celebrated vizier, Niẓām al-Mulk (d. 1192), though in his Persian work, Siyāsat Nameh, he emphatically rejected the employment of dhimmī in governmental service, at the same time maintained close and friendly associations with Jewish officeholders, tax-farmers, bankers, and money experts who had been called upon to assist him. Many of the wealthy Jewish merchants were subjected to extortion, confiscation, and torture at various intervals, causing a wave of emigration to other parts of the Islamic world. Notable among those Persian Jews who emigrated in the 11th century were the two Jewish merchants from Tustar known as the Banu Sahl al-Tustari, who rose to great influence and position in the service of the Fatimid caliphs in *Egypt.
the geographical setting
The status of *dhimmī allowed the Jews complete freedom of movement and settlement within the Islamic realm. During the first six centuries of Islamic rule over Persia, the Jewish Diaspora experienced an unprecedented expansion and remarkable geographical diffusion into all the provinces of Persia and the eastern lands of the caliphate. Muslim geographers and historians, rabbinic and geonic sources, and the account of *Benjamin of Tudela and other 12th-century travelers make it possible to discern the major areas of Jewish settlement. Jewish colonies were established in all the interior provinces of Persia. These settlements seemed to have served as a springboard for further expansion into the easternmost provinces of Khurasan and *Transoxiana and even China. Jewish communities are recorded in *Nishapur, *Balkh Ghazni, Kabul, Seistan (Sistan), *Merv, Samarkand, Khiva, *Bukhara, and other regions. No clear picture emerges of the numerical strength of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia in this period. Some Persian and Arab geographers of the tenth century make comparative statements showing the relative strengths of some non-Muslim groups in various Persian provinces. Thus, the tenth-century Arab geographer, al-Muqaddasī, in comparing the various non-Muslim minorities stated, "in the province of Jibāl Jews are more numerous than Christians; in the province of Khuzistan Christians are few and Jews not numerous; while in the province of Fars the Zoroastrians are more numerous than the Jews and there are only a few Christians."
Concrete figures appear for the first time in the 12th century thanks to the travels of Benjamin of Tudela and *Pethahiah of Regensburg. According to Benjamin's account, 30,000 Jews lived in *Hamadan; 15,000 in *Isfahan; 10,000 in *Shiraz; 25,000 in *ʿAmadiya; 4,000 in Tabaristan; 7,000 in Susa; 4,000 in Hulvan; 80,000 in Ghazni; 50,000 in Samarkand; and in the region of the Persian Gulf, 500 in Kish and 5,000 in Qatif. There is no doubt that all these figures are unreliable and exaggerated, arrived at by hearsay alone. This far-flung Diaspora in Persia and Khurasan was not just an agglomeration of immigrants without guidance and leadership; it was dependent, culturally and religiously, on the official Jewish authorities in Baghdad, the exilarchs and the gaon, who controlled and guided them throughout this period. Benjamin of Tudela emphasizes that the Jewish leadership in Babylonia had considerable authority over all the Jewish communities under the caliph and stresses the extent of their jurisdiction "over all the Jewish communities in Mesopotamia, Shinear, Media, Elam, Khurasan, Persia, Saba, Armenia, over the mountains of Ararat, Caucasus, Georgia, unto the borders of Tibet and *India." Similarly, Pethahiah of Regensburg speaks of the power of the gaon "in all the lands of Assyria, Damascus, in the cities of Persia and Media, in Babylon." The extent and scope of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia must have been well known to the Persian authorities, as illustrated in the appearance of pseudo-MessiahDavid *Alroy in ʿAmadiya in the time of the Seljuk sultan Sanjar (d. 1156). Realizing that the messianic movement might encroach on his authority, the sultan, according to the report of Benjamin of Tudela, threatened to eliminate "all the Jews in all the parts of the Persian Empire" unless the movement was stopped.
Under the Il-Khan Dynasty (1258–1336)
The invasion of Persia by Hulagu Khan, culminating in the conquest of Baghdad and the overthrow of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258, also brought about a fundamental change in the situation of the Jews in the Persian Diaspora. Under Hulagu and some of his successors of the newly established Il-Khan dynasty, the concept of the dhimma ("the protected people") and the division between "believers" and "nonbelievers" were abolished, and all the various religions put on equal footing. Thus Persian Jews were afforded a unique opportunity to participate actively in the affairs of the state and in the time of Arghun Khan (1284–91), a Jew by the name of *Saʿd al-Dawla al-Safī ibn Hibatallah achieved an unexpected and spectacular rise to power and influence. Under subsequent Il-Khan rulers another Persian Jew, Faḍl Allah ibn Abi al-Khayribn Ali al-Hamadhānī, had a similarly meteoric rise and fall. The cultural climate which had enabled these two Jews to achieve power in the economic and political sphere also led to the genesis and growth of *Judeo-Persian literature.
Under the Safawid Dynasty (1502–1736)
The fate of the Jews in Persia and Babylonia under Tamerlane (d. 1405), the greatest world conqueror Asia has produced after Genghis Khan, is shrouded in obscurity. It must be assumed that in the wake of the devastating campaigns which spread destruction and annihilation over all the lands of western Asia, the Jews did not escape the atrocities which Tamerlane and his army committed everywhere. The Jewish settlements were undoubtedly reduced and decimated through warfare, the intolerance of the authorities, and the fanaticism of the masses. But that the Jewish settlements in Persia, although weakened and reduced in numbers, survived these troubled centuries became evident with the emergence of a new dynasty, the Safawids. Under this dynasty the Jews once again appear on the scene, and according to European travelers of that period they were living in "all the cities of Persia" and were estimated at about 30,000.
The founders of the Safawid dynasty put the country on entirely new political and religious bases. They introduced Shiʿism as the state religion and established a hierarchy of clergy with almost unlimited power and influence in every sphere of life. The concept of the "ritual uncleanliness" of non-believers, the principal cornerstone of their interconfessional relationship, made the life of the Jews in Persia a sequence of suffering and persecution. Under no other Persian dynasty was the hatred of the Jews more intense. They experienced a temporary improvement under Shah *Abbasi (d. 1629) who introduced reforms in order to weaken the theocratic basis of the state and free Persia from the fetters of its all-too-powerful Shiʿa clergy, and to break the political, economic, and cultural isolation of the country.
Realizing that the most urgent requirement for Persia was increased population and economic ties with the outside world, Shah Abbas fundamentally changed the policy of the state toward non-Muslims and foreigners. Far from being antagonistic, as were his predecessors, toward Europeans and nonbelievers, he encouraged the immigration of foreigners–merchants, settlers, and artisans – from neighboring countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and also from Europe. By granting freedom of religion and special privileges and facilities to all who were prepared to come to his territory, he was able to succeed. This liberal and tolerant attitude made Persia at that time the meeting place of European envoys, emissaries, diplomats, merchant-adventurers, and missionaries – all eager to obtain commercial, political, or religious concessions and privileges. Never before in the history of Persia's relationship with the outside world were the economic and political ties between Persia and Europe closer.
For the Jews of Persia, the second part of the 17th century was a time of great suffering and persecutions. The conception of the ritual uncleanliness of the Persian Jew, which led to the introduction of a special headgear enforced on all Jews in Persia and to a crusade against Hebrew books, culminated under Shah *Abbasii (1642–66) in the forced conversion of all the Jews in Persia, a catastrophe which brought them to the very brink of destruction. This persecution, a tragic parallel to the Inquisition of Spain, was regarded as more cruel than that of the time of Ahasuerus and Haman. European sources as well as the Judeo-Persian chronicles of *Babai ibn Lutf and Babai ibn Farhad describe in great detail the sufferings of the Jews during the time of Shah Abbas ii. They show how in Isfahan, the capital, and in other communities the Jews were compelled to abandon their religion, how their synagogues were closed and they were led to the mosque, where they had to proclaim a public confession of Muslim faith. After their forced conversion, they were called new Muslims; they were then, of course, freed from the payment of the poll tax and from the wearing of a special headgear or badge. Despite all the measures on the part of the Shiʿa clergy to supervise the Islamization of the Jews, most of them adhered tenaciously and heroically in secret to their religion and began to live a dual life as secret Jews, repeating the phenomenon of *Marranos in an Islamic version. The double life of these forcibly converted Jews did not escape the attention of the Persian authorities, and led finally to an edict issued in 1661 allowing the Jews to return openly to their religion.
When J. Fryer visited Persia a decade later (1672–81), he found the Jews "congregated on their Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days in synagogues without disturbance." Under the successors of Shah Abbas ii, Shah Suleiman (d. 1694) and Shah Husein (d. 1722), the persecution and oppression of the Jews were, however, renewed, and it was only with the rise of a new and remarkable ruler, *Nadir Shah (1736–47), that the Jews of Persia were saved from complete annihilation.
communal and religious life
The establishment of Persia as a national state under the Safawid dynasty had far-reaching repercussions on Jewish community life in Persia. During the Abbasid period, the exilarch or the gaon, from his central seat in Baghdad, exerted supreme authority in all religious and cultural matters over all the Jewish communities in the far-flung Diaspora of Asia, including Persia, which then formed a part of the Eastern caliphate. With the rise of the Safawids, the official bonds which the Persian Jewish communities might still have maintained formally with Jewish authorities outside the borders of the country were completely severed. The official representative of the Jews in Persia, the chief rabbi of Isfahan, was no longer appointed by the gaon of Baghdad as in preceding centuries, nor were Persian Jews expected or willing to support the Jewish academies in Baghdad. Persian Jews ceased to be responsible to any central Jewish leadership and their communal life was put on a purely territorial basis.
Due to their geographical proximity to the central government and their numerical strength the Jews of Isfahan, the new capital of the Safawid dynasty, assumed the religious and cultural leadership and functioned as representatives and spokesmen for all Persian Jewry. At the head of the community of Isfahan was a nasi, who was assisted by the rabbi, mullah, or dayyan. The nasi, who was highly respected, was responsible for the prompt payment of taxes to the local authorities. If the taxes were not paid in due time or in the due amount requested, he could be dismissed by the authorities or even imprisoned. On the other hand, if the authorities were satisfied, the nasi would receive a sign of distinction and honor. It seems that in the time of the Safawids there existed in Isfahan, as part of the general administration, a special divan which regulated the financial affairs of the non-Muslims and examined petitions of protest, grievances, requests, or complaints from the Jews against officials of the administration. At the head of the divans stood a high official appointed by the grand vizier, sometimes assisted by a Jewish apostate who acted as adviser or spy for the authorities.
The frequent mention of a "Jewish quarter" indicates the geographical separation of the Jews from the Christian and Muslim population. The Jewish quarter housed the residences of the Jewish population, their synagogues, and schools, the mikveh, and other religious institutions. In the time of the Safawids Isfahan had at least three synagogues, while *Kashan is said to have had ten; it can be assumed that at least one synagogue existed in every Jewish settlement in Persia. The religious life of the Jews in Safawid Persia was established on a rigid, rabbinical, traditional basis. There were also some Karaite communities, especially in Kazerun. A typical feature in the religious life of the Persian Jew at this, and indeed at all times, was the custom of making pilgrimages to some of the Jewish "holy places" in Persia, in particular to the mausoleum of Mordecai and Esther in Hamadan, to the tomb of the prophet Daniel in Susa, and to the burial places of other biblical heroes believed to be interred on Persian soil. At this period another "holy place" came into prominence, the alleged visiting place of Serah bat Asher in the vicinity of Isfahan at Pir Bakrān.
Despite the territorial limitation, the Jews of Persia had contacts with the outside Jewish world, particularly with Ereẓ Israel through "messengers from Zion" who toured the Jewish communities in that period, fostering the love for Zion and collecting funds for the charitable institutions in the Holy Land. Among these early sheliḥim were R. Moses *Alshekh (c. 1593) from Safed, Baruch Gad of *Jerusalem, and above all, R. Yahuda Amram Divan (d. 1752) who repeatedly visited the Jewish communities in Persia. The messianic movement of *Shabbetai Ẓevi made an impact on Persian Jewry. It was in this period that the Jews began to migrate to territories outside the border of Persia to neighboring regions such as *Afghanistan, Turkestan, Samarkand, and Bukhara in the east, and to Kurdistan, the Caucasus, and Egypt in the west. Persian Jews also moved to India; most famous of them was *Sarmad, the Jew of Kashan, who became a fakir and a Sufi dervish.
Under the Kajar Dynasty (1794–1925)
The political and religious foundations of the Kajar dynasty which ruled over Persia were essentially a continuation of those of the Safawid dynasty. The Shiʿite concept of the ritual uncleanliness of the nonbelievers prevailed, with the related attitude of the Persian authorities toward their non-Muslim minorities, Christians and Jews alike. The intolerant attitude toward the Jews led to innumerable legal and political restrictions which made their daily life, throughout the 19th century, an uninterrupted sequence of persecution, oppression, and discrimination. The reports of many European missionaries and travelers to Persia describe the tragic fate of the Jews in Persia during the Kajar dynasty. Whole Jewish communities, as well as many individual Jews, were forcibly converted to Islam in many provinces of the Persian Empire, a movement which reached its peak in the forced conversion of the whole Jewish community in *Meshed in 1839 under Muhammad Shah (1834–48).
Even during the reign of Nasr-ed-Din Shah (1848–96), who realized the necessity for thorough reform of the whole Persian administration and social structure, persecution of the Jews continued, coupled with legal and social discriminations of the severest nature, including the enforcement of a special Jewish badge and Jewish headgear. The entire community was held responsible for crimes and misdemeanors committed by its individual members; the oath of a Jew was not accepted in a court of justice; and a Jew who converted to Islam could claim to be the sole inheritor of family property, to the exclusion of all relatives who had not changed their religion.
The Jewish minority in Persia had been left entirely to itself and no outside organization, Jewish or other, had taken any interest in its fate. Contact with the Jewish world at large, and particularly with the Jews in Ereẓ Israel, was occasionally maintained through the sheliḥim sent on behalf of the communities of Hebron, Tiberias, Safed, and Jerusalem, to the remote Jewish communities in Persia, Bukhara, and Afghanistan. In the middle of the 19th century four brothers of one Jewish family were the busiest and most popular physicians in the city of *Teheran. One of them, Hak Nazar, was for some time court physician of Muhammad Shah. They had, however, just as little influence on the actual political situation of their coreligionists as did the European physicians subsequently appointed by Nasr-ed-Din and his successors, among whom figured most prominently the Austrian physician, J.E. *Polak. In the second half of the 19th century the Persian Jews acquired a powerful ally in their struggle for justice and emancipation – Western European Jewry.
the intervention of western jewry
Reports on the plight of Persian Jews moved the *Board of Deputies of British Jews and later the *Anglo-Jewish Association under Sir Moses *Montefiore and the *Alliance Israélite Universelle under Adolphe *Crémieux to action, urging intervention by the British and French ministers in Teheran. When news of a terrible persecution of Jews in Hamadan reached London in 1865, Sir Moses Montefiore decided to leave for Persia and to obtain from the shah an edict of safety for the persecuted Persian Jews. However, he was dissuaded by the British Foreign Office, who stated that "the journey would be perilous even to a younger man and could be undertaken by him at the risk of his life." In addition to their political plight, the Jews of Persia experienced new hardship through the outbreak of a famine in 1871, which the leaders of European Jewry tried to alleviate through a relief fund. The Jewish leaders in Paris and London were again on the point of considering sending a Jewish delegation to Persia when the news reached them in 1873 that Nasr-ed-Din Shah, anxious to appear as a tolerant and progressive monarch, had embarked on a visit to Europe. Seizing their opportunity, the leaders of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Anglo-Jewish Association organized a movement intended to impress the shah with the importance and influence of European Jewry, to stress their equality and emancipation in all European countries and their unanimous desire to see an improvement in the condition of their coreligionists in Persia.
In every European capital through which the shah planned to travel, committees of the most influential Jews were organized to present him personally with petitions calling for the improvement of the Persian Jews' situation. This was carried out in Berlin on May 4, 1873, in Amsterdam on June 10, in Brussels on June 17, in London on June 24, in Paris on July 12, in Vienna on August 6, and in Constantinople on August 20. In London the shah had a meeting with *Disraeli and also received Sir Moses Montefiore in private audience in Buckingham Palace. In all these petitions the spirit of Cyrus the Great was recalled and the grievances of the Jews in Persia were listed. The highlight of these activities was the memorable interview in Paris between the shah and Adolphe Crémieux and his associates on July 12, 1873. Apparently impressed by the strength and unity of European Jewry, the shah promised to make the protection of his Jewish subjects his own and his grand vizier's special responsibility, to establish a special court of justice for the Jews, and above all to help in the establishment of Jewish schools in Persia as suggested by the European representatives. In order to encourage and strengthen the persecuted Persian Jews, the text of the petitions submitted to the shah in the various capitals of Europe, together with the reply of the shah and his minister, were translated into Hebrew and published as a booklet called Mishlo'aḥ Manot (1874), which was distributed among the Jewish communities in Persia. Despite all the well-meaning promises of the shah, the central government in Persia failed to prevent new outbreaks of hostilities against the Jews. There was, therefore, enough reason to intervene again and to remind Nasr-ed-Din during his last journey to Europe of his previous promises and assurances. On July 4, 1889, a deputation of British Jewry, led by Sir Albert Sassoon, had an interview with the shah in Buckingham Palace. The members of the deputation included Lord Rothschild, Sir J. Goldsmid, and Sebag Montefiore. The demand for the establishment of Jewish schools in Persia was again the central issue.
Under Shah Muzaffar-ed-Din (1896–1907) a definite improvement in the destiny of Persian Jews took place in connection with the constitutional movement, which had far-reaching consequences for all religious groups in Persia. Persian Jews took an active part in this constitutional movement, receiving official thanks for their efforts from the first parliament of Persia in 1906, although neither the Jews, the Armenian Christians, nor the Zoroastrian minority were yet permitted to send their own deputy to parliament and had to agree to be represented by a Muslim deputy. For Persian Jews the constitutional movement meant a step forward toward their emancipation and equality. The dualism in legislation between the religious laws, the shariʿa, and the civil law, was abolished, as were the discriminatory and humiliating medieval restrictions against the Jews. Unfortunately for the country, three months after parliament convened Shah Muzaffar-ed-Din died, and under the new ruler, Shah Muhammad Ali (1907–09), the constitutional movement quickly disappointed the high hopes placed in it by the liberal elements among the Muslims and the Jews in Persia.
At this stage the Persian Jews were assisted in their struggle for survival by the intervention of the U.S. diplomatic representative in the country. Reference to Persian Jews appeared in U.S. diplomatic correspondence in 1918, in connection with the relief activities of the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The State Department, as well as U.S. diplomatic representatives abroad, helped the committee in distributing funds, food, and other necessities to the starving Jews everywhere. This intervention also continued in the period after World War i, through the U.S. representative in Persia from 1921 to 1924, namely the minister plenipotentiary, Joseph Saul *Kornfeld, a former rabbi. The dissolution of the Persian parliament; the deposition of Shah Muhammad Ali by the National Assembly; the reconvening of a second parliament in 1909 by Ahmed Shah (1909–25); the great financial crisis which brought the American experts, M. Shuster and A.C. Millspaugh, to Persia; the steady changes in the cabinet and the government; and the encroachment of Russia in the north and Great Britain in the south – all this contributed to a state of unrest and danger, so that at the outbreak of World War i, Persia stood at the very brink of disintegration.
the establishment of jewish schools in persia
For the Persian Jews the rule of Muzaffar-ed-Din was a turning point, since at this period the first Jewish schools of the Alliance Israélite Universelle were established in Persia. The idea of Jewish schools in Persia, conceived in 1866, became in 1873 the central issue in the discussions between the Jewish authorities in Europe and the Persian government; in 1889 it was still a matter of discussion alone, but finally, after ten years, it was realized. In 1898 the first school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle was opened in Teheran, followed by similar schools in Hamadan in 1900, in Isfahan in 1901, in Shiraz and Sena in 1903, and in *Kermanshah in 1904. As two main dangers threatening Jewish survival in Persia during the 19th century were Christian missionary activities and the *Bahai movement, the Jewish schools of the Alliance played an important role in the struggle for spiritual survival. The educational facilities available to Persian Jews were considerably strengthened and augmented from 1944, not only through the activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the establishment of vocational training schools and workshops under the auspices of the *ort, but also by a new educational movement sponsored by a group of prominent U.S. and European philanthropists and generously supported by the Joint. This movement, known as "Oẓar ha-Torah" or "Gandj Danesh," which aimed at strengthening traditional Judaism and Hebrew education among the Jewish communities in *Morocco, Persia, and elsewhere, succeeded in establishing, in close cooperation with the Alliance Israélite Universelle, new schools, teacher training seminars, summer camps, and other educational facilities. Under the leadership of its first director, Rabbi I.M. Levi, Oẓar ha-Torah instilled a new religious spirit into the younger generation.
aliyah to the holy land
The 19th century was also characterized by a mass immigration of Persian-speaking Jews from Persia and neighboring countries to Ereẓ Israel. Almost parallel with the *Ḥibbat Zion movement in Russia, but probably without any direct contact with it, a great number of Persian-speaking Jews set out for the Holy Land. They came from Teheran and Shiraz, from Hamadan, *Yezd, and Isfahan, from Kashan and Meshed, from *Herat and Kabul, from Bukhara and Samarkand. The awakening of Persian Jews in the 20th century was also expressed in a Zionist movement which spread throughout most of the Jewish communities in Persia. This renaissance found literary expression in the establishment of a Judeo-Persian and Hebrew press in Teheran, which printed the first Persian textbook of modern Hebrew. This was followed by a history of the Zionist movement, written in Persian in Hebrew characters (1920) by Aziz b. Jonah Naim, and a Hebrew translation of Herzl's Der Judenstaat and his biography by A. Bein. This circle also published a Jewish newspaper in Persian, Ha-Ge'ullah, and another called Ha-Ḥayyim, which became the mouthpiece of the Jewish renaissance movement founded by Shmuel Haim who functioned as Jewish representative in the Majles in 1923–26. Some of Bialik's poems were translated into Persian by Aziz b. Jonah Naim and published in these periodicals.
Under the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925–1979)
The political and social conditions of Persian Jews were fundamentally changed with the ascent to the throne of Riza Khān Pahlavi and the establishment of the new Pahlavi dynasty in 1925. In 1921, Riza Khān Pahlavi took Teheran; in 1923 he became prime minister; and on Oct. 31, 1925 the parliament in Teheran deposed the last Kajar ruler and entrusted Riza Khān with the provisional government. On Dec. 15, 1925, he was crowned shah of Persia and became the founder of the new Pahlavi dynasty. Bent on secularization and Westernization of his country, Riza Shah, and after him his son Muhammad Riza, carried out far-reaching reforms affecting the social, cultural, and political structure of the country. By breaking the power of the Shiʿa clergy, which for centuries had stood in the way of progress, by freeing the country from the fetters of fanatical and intolerant circles, and by eliminating the Shiʿa concept of the ritual uncleanliness of the nonbelievers – once the basic foundation of the state attitude toward non-Muslims – the shah laid the foundations for a revival which had most beneficial effects on the Jewish sector of the population. No other country except *Turkey went through so fundamental a change in so short a time as Persia (or, as it has since been called, *Iran) under the new dynasty. This change brought about the political emancipation of the Jews in Persia, for which they, assisted by Western European Jewry, had struggled in the latter half of the 19th century. When World War ii broke out, with the subsequent political upheavals and the deposition of Riza Khān Pahlavi, the whole process of the Jewish regeneration in Iran was in jeopardy. Yet under Riza Shah's successor, Muhammad Riza, a very favorable climate was provided for the continuous improvement of Jewish life in Persia.
For the modern period, see *Iran.
[Walter Joseph Fischel]
pre-islamic period: J. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien (1929); Neusner, Babylonia (incl. bibl). muslim period; W.J. Fischel, Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Medieval Islam (1937, 19692); idem, in: Tarbiz, 6 (1935), 523–6; idem, in: Zion, 1 (1935), 49–74; 2 (1937), 273–93; idem, in hj, 7 (1945), 29–50; 8 (1946), 66–77; idem, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 203–30; idem, in: jsos, 12 (1950), 119–60; idem, in: htr, 45 (1952), 3–45; idem, in: Ha-Kinnus ha-Olami le-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut 1947 (1952), 477–86; idem, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 111–28; idem, in: paajr, 22 (1953), 1–21; idem, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jews (19603), 1149–90; idem, in: jaos, 85 (1865), 148–53. 19th–20thcenturies: H. Levy, Tarikh Yahud Iran, 3 vols. (1956–60); A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965); I. Ben-Zvi, Meḥkarim u-Mekorot (1967), 285–410. add. bibliography: M. Gil, Tustaries, Family and Sect (1981); V.B. Moreen, Iranian Jewry's Hour of Peril and Heroism (1987); V.B. Moreen, Iranian Jewry during the Afghan Invasion (1990); A. Netzer, "Redifot u-Shemadot be-Toledot Yehudei Iran ba-Me'ah ha-17," in: Pe'amim 6 (1980), 32–6; idem, "Aliyat Yehudei Paras ve-Hityash evutam be-Ereẓ-Yisrael," in: Miqqedem u-Miyyam (1981); idem, "Kivrot Ester u-Mordekhai ba-Ir Hamadan she-ba-Iran," in: Amve-Areẓ (1984), 177–84; idem, "Tekufot u-Shelavim be-Maẓav ha-Yehudim ve-ha-Pe'ilut ha-Ẓiyyonit be-Iran," in: Yahadut Zemanenu, vol. i (1983), 139–62; idem, "Anti-Shemiyut be-Iran, 1925–1950," in: Pe'amim, 29 (1986), 5–31; idem, "Jewish Education in Iran," in: H.S. Himmelfarb and S. Dellapergola (eds.), Jewish Education Worldwide (1989), 447–61; idem, "Korot Anusei Mashhad lefi Ya'akov Dilmanian," in: Pe'amim, 42 (1990), 127–156.
Persia is the European name for the plateau land in the Near East extending from the lowlands of Mesopotamia to India. The native name has always been Iran, from Aryan. The name Persia is derived from the southwestern province of modern Fars, called Persis by the Greeks and Parsa by the ancient Persians. The political boundaries of Persia have changed throughout its long history, but at its peak, it encompassed not only the sovereign nation now known as Iran, but also the entire Iranian cultural area, including Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Transcaucasus.
The Aryan invaders of the plateau probably came from the north in successive waves, beginning about the 16th century b.c. or earlier. Cuneiform inscriptions from this early period reveal Aryan personal names and Aryan deities. Although the Aryans or Indo-Iranians may have come into the Near East and into India both from over the Caucasus and through Central Asia, the expansion of the Iranians in the 9th century b.c. seems to have come mostly from the Caucasus. The Iranian tribes spread over the plateau and settled down in areas to some of which they gave their names. The two main tribes of the western section were the Mada or Medes and the Parsa or Persians. Others were the Asagarta or Sagartians in the central portion, and the Parthians, Bactrians, Sogdians, Khwarazmians, and others in eastern regions. From the Avesta and from the Old Persian inscriptions, one may surmise that the Iranian tribes were subdivided into clans and extended families. For example, Darius, son of Vishtaspa, belonged to the family of the Achaemenids, the clan of the Pasargadai, and the tribe of the Parsa. When the tribes settled down, the clans lost their importance, and tribal loyalties were tempered by a greater national or imperial allegiance.
The earliest Iranian state recorded in history was that of the medes. The frequent raids of the Assyrians probably brought the Medes together into a confederacy and then into a kingdom (c. 700 b.c.). At that time an invasion of Cimmerians and Scythians from the north disrupted the Median state. The Medes recovered and defeated the Assyrians, taking their place in creating an empire. The Medes in turn were overthrown (c. 549 b.c.) by the Persians under cyrus ii.
Achaemenid Dynasty. Cyrus II (559–530) took over the empire of the Medes and extended its frontiers. He captured Sardis (c. 547 b.c.) and took prisoner Croesus, king of Lydia, annexing his kingdom. The Greek cities of Ionia were absorbed later, one by one. In 539 Cyrus entered Babylon and brought an end to the kingdom of Nabu-na'id (Nabonidus). He further incorporated Syria and Palestine into his extensive empire. Evidence points to the tolerance of Cyrus in respect to subject peoples; his ending of the Jewish Exile in Babylon is well known from the Bible. Cyrus was killed while fighting against nomads in Central Asia.
Cambyses II (530–522), the son and successor of Cyrus II, conquered Egypt; but then a revolt broke out in Persis, and during his return journey Cambyses died, probably from an accident. According to the Behistun inscription of darius i (522–486) and classical sources, the revolt in Persis was led by a Magian who claimed to be Bardiya (Greek Smerdis), Cambyses' brother who was supposed to have been secretly murdered by Cambyses before he left for Egypt. Some scholars discount Darius's story and claim that Bardiya was the true brother of Cambyses and that Darius overthrew him in 522. In any case, Darius was the real organizer of the Achaemenid empire.
Darius started building palaces at Persepolis; his capital, however, at least in winter, was at Susa, although Ecbatana and Babylon retained their past importance. Herodotus (8.98) tells of the various institutions of the Achaemenid empire, such as the postal service, the royal road from Susa to Sardis, the special agents of the king, and the bureaucracy. The lingua franca of the bureaucracy was apparently Aramaic, and inscriptions in this language have been found all over the area of the Achaemenid empire. It would seem that Darius also instigated a revision and codification of the laws in use in various parts of the empire. The Iranian word for law, dāta, was borrowed by Akkadian, Hebrew, and Aramaic, indicating the importance of law to the Achaemenid rulers. Darius also made a new division of satrapies or provinces of the empire, and Herodotus (3.89) lists 20. Darius further reorganized the system of taxes and tribute. The ruling Persians were exempted from paying taxes, since they supplied troops and officials. The royal guard was called "the Immortals" by Herodotus (7.83), but in time of war a vast army of various peoples from all over the empire could be assembled. Herodotus (7.61) gives a description of the various contingents of the army of Xerxes that invaded Greece.
The coinage of the Achaemenid empire was in gold, silver, and copper. The first, the daric, called στατήρ by the Greeks, shows the king kneeling with a bow and could have been minted only by the Achaemenid ruler. Silver and copper coins were struck by satraps and generals, while some autonomous cities, such as the Phoenician seaports, also struck their own coins. The striking of gold coins by a satrap was usually a sign of rebellion. The gold daric, probably so called after Darius, weighed 8.4 grams, and the silver shekel, Greek σίγλος, was 5.6 grams. The silver-to-gold ratio was 13⅓ to 1. The imperial coinage, however, apparently did not have a wide circulation, for Greek silver coins have been found in various parts of the Achaemenid empire, from pre-Alexander hoards, which attest the importance of Greek commerce in the 4th century b.c.
The empire reached its largest extent under Darius, who invaded the Balkans and south Russia c. 510 b.c. He was unsuccessful in this campaign against the Scythians (Herodotus 4.83–92), but many lands north of Greece submitted to the Persians. The defeat of Darius at Marathon in 490 b.c. is well known, but only after the final defeat of the Persians in 478 b.c., in the time of Xerxes (486–465), was the Achaemenid empire put on the defensive. Egypt proved to be the most rebellious province of the empire and was lost and regained several times before Alexander's conquests. Persian gold and bribery proved more effectual than the army of Xerxes in Achaemenid relations with the Greeks.
The history of the empire after Xerxes, from the time of Artaxerxes I (465–424) on, is one of intrigues, assassinations, and dominance of the central government by the harem. That the empire was able to survive is a tribute to the fine organization of the state and bureaucracy by the early Achaemenids. One attempt to seize power is known through Xenophon's Anabasis, the story of 10,000 Greek mercenaries employed by Cyrus the Younger in his ill-fated attempt to overthrow his brother Artaxerxes II (404–359) in 401. Later, Egypt and several satrapies in Anatolia were able to gain and maintain their independence. It seemed as though the Achaemenid empire were falling apart. The accession of the capable monarch Artaxerxes III (359–338) was the beginning of a reconsolidation of the empire. Egypt was reconquered, and the rebel satraps were won back to allegiance. The murder of Artaxerxes, however, coincided with the conquest of Greece by Philip of Macedon. The last Achaemenid, Darius III Codommanus, had to face alexander the great and lost his empire at the battle of Gaugamela in 331 b.c.
The οἰκουμένη (world) of the Achaemenids made a great impression on later peoples, but the lack of a historical tradition in their homeland caused the Persians to forget the Achaemenids, although the memory of a Persian world empire did persist in legend in later times. The bureaucracy, using Aramaic, was maintained by Alexander and his successors of the Seleucid dynasty side by side with Greek. For the Persians, however, the period from the death of Alexander in 323 b.c. to the establishment of the Sasanian dynasty c. a.d. 225 was a dark age of warring princes.
Hellenism had an even greater influence in the Orient than Achaemenid culture had, and the Seleucid empire, as well as the Greco-Bactrian kingdom in the area of present Afghanistan, maintained Greek political dominance until the Parthians took over the Seleucid heritage in the west and the Kushans that of the Greco-Bactrians in the east of the Iranian Plateau. The founding of many cities by Greeks in the east, with the Greek πόλις (city-state) culture, provided important avenues of influence on the local populations. Undoubtedly the Greek colonists were influenced also by the Iranian peoples among whom they settled. The mother of Antiochus I, son and successor of Seleucus I, who was killed in 281 b.c., was an Iranian noblewoman. The mixture of Greeks and Iranians must have proceeded apace. Strabo in his geography (11.509) well characterized Seleucid rule in the east when he said that they were so occupied with wars (in the Mediterranean area) that they could not attend to their remote possessions.
A chronological list of the rulers of the Achaemenid Dynasty follows:
- Achaemenes (Hakhamanish)
- Teispes (Chishpish)
- Cyrus I (Kurush)
- Cambyses I (Kambujiya)
- Cyrus II (559–530 b.c.)
- Cambyses II (530–522)
- Smerdis (Bardiya or Gaumata; 522)
- Darius I (Darayavahush; 522–486)
- Xerxes I (Khshayarsha; 486–465)
- Artaxerxes I Longimanus (Artakhshassa; 465–424)
- Xerxes II (424–423)
- Darius II Nothus (423–404)
- Artaxerxes II Mnenon (404–359)
- Artaxerxes III Ochus (359–338)
- Arses (Arsha) (338–336)
- Darius III (336–330)
Arsacid Dynasty. The heirs of the Seleucids in Persia were the Parthians. Parthia was the Achaemenid satrapy covering most of the modern Province of Khurasan, but the rise of Parthia was caused probably by nomadic invaders from Central Asia, chief of whom was a tribe called the Parni by Strabo (11.508). The first ruler of the new state was Arsaces (Parthian Arshak), a name that became a generic term for later rulers. Most of the Parthian coins have only "Arsaces" on them, making identifications of various rulers very difficult. The Arsacid Dynasty was founded c. 250 b.c., but the expansion of the state was slow. The Seleucids regarded the Parthians as rebels against their authority similar to other rebels in the East. The Seleucid Antiochus III probably brought the Parthians back under Seleucid suzerainty between 209 and 189 b.c., when Antiochus was defeated by the Romans at the battle of Magnesia.
The real founder of the Parthian empire was Mithradates I, who became ruler c. 171 b.c. He had to fight against antiochus iv epiphanes, who tried to restore Seleucid hegemony but died in 164. In 141 Mithradates entered Seleucia on the Tigris. The Seleucid King Demetrius II Nikator was defeated and captured by Mithradates in 139. In the reign of Phraates II (138–128), son and successor of Mithradates I, Antiochus VII tried to restore Seleucid rule in Mesopotamia and Persia. Although successful at first, he was subsequently defeated and slain by the Parthians. Phraates, however, lost his life in battle against nomadic invaders in eastern Iran. His uncle and successor Artabanus II (128–123) also was killed in the east, but Mithradates II (c. 123–87 b.c.), son of Artabanus, restored Arsacid power in the east, defeated the Armenians, and concluded the first treaty with Rome in 92. Even before the death of Mithradates II, however, the Parthian state suffered from revolts, and a period of disorders prevailed. King Tigranes of Armenia extended his boundaries, much at Parthian expense. It was not until Phraates III (69–57 b.c.) that Parthian unity was restored.
Although the early Parthian kings were known as Philhellenes and used Greek on their coins, their empire was variegated under many local feudal rulers and local influences. There were many vassal states and autonomous Greek cities in the Parthian domain. The most important of the latter was Seleucia on the Tigris.
The actual territory of imperial rule under the Parthians was not extensive, comprising mostly the lands on the plateau following the trade route described by Isidore of Charax in his Parthian Stations. In the east, the region of modern Kandahar in Afghanistan was probably under an independent Indo-Parthian state, although at times it may have submitted to Arsacid rule. In Mesopotamia there was a series of vassal states: osrhoene (Edessa), Gordyene, Adiabene, and in the south, Mesene, also called Characene. Ancient Elam was a kingdom called Elymais, and in Persis there were local rulers called frataraka (more likely than fratadara ). Azerbaijan in the north, called Atropatene, also was a vassal state, and there may have been others.
The Parthians had their own era of time reckoning beginning from 247 b.c., but the Seleucid era, from 311 b.c., was widely used all over the Near East. Although remains from the early Parthians show an overwhelming influence of Hellenism in both art and objects of material culture, native features became more prominent with the passage of time. The first Christian century seems to have been the period of greatest change, when Parthian replaced Greek as the language of administration, and Parthian appeared together with a debased Greek in the coin legends. A token of the change was the seven-year revolt of Seleucia (a.d. 35–42) and the subsequent founding of a new though short-lived capital, Vologesia, by the Parthian king.
During the last two centuries of Parthian rule, the kingdom was on the defensive, against the Romans in the west and the Kushans in the east. The latter, invaders from Central Asia, established a kingdom in the area of present-day Afghanistan and northwest India in the 1st Christian century. Under the Kings Kanishka and Huvishka, whose dates are uncertain, the Kushans expanded, in the west probably at the expense of the Parthians, although there is no source material. The Kushan rulers were patrons of buddhism and of the Buddhist art called Gandharan.
The wars with Rome began with the defeat and death of Crassus at Carrhae in 53 b.c. Mark Antony defeated the Parthians in 36 b.c. but suffered a setback in the following year. Under Augustus, peace was made between the two empires, and for a time pro-Roman rulers sat on the throne of Parthia. In the middle of the first Christian century a conflict over Armenia broke out, and a Roman army under Corbulo invaded Parthian domains. In a.d. 63 peace was restored, leaving Roman suzerainty over Armenia but with the presence of a Parthian royal family, the origin of the Arsacids of Armenia.
The later history of Parthia is filled with civil wars and rival claimants to the throne. The Romans took advantage of the internal struggles of the Parthians to invade Mesopotamia, under Trajan. He occupied Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital opposite Seleucia, in a.d. 115 and then sailed down the Tigris to the Persian Gulf. In 117, however, Trajan had to retreat, and after his death his successor Hadrian made peace and evacuated Parthian domains. The Parthians under Vologeses III (148–192) in turn invaded Syria in 161, provoking a Roman reaction. A Roman army again conquered Ctesiphon in 165, but an epidemic caused the Romans to retreat. Septimius Severus fought the Parthians, and in 198 he captured Ctesiphon but again could not hold it long. None of the Roman expeditions succeeded in taking the Arab-fortified city of Hatra in northern Mesopotamia, which always remained a threat to the Roman line of communications in Mesopotamia. As a result of internal strife and the Roman invasions, the Parthian state was greatly weakened. From c. 211 to the end of the kingdom (c. 227) there were two rival kings in Parthia, Vologeses V and Artabanus V, known from their coins. The invasion of Parthian territory in the north by Caracalla was matched by the rebellion of a vassal prince in Persis. By 226 Ardashir I, founder of the Sasanian empire, had overthrown both Parthian kings.
The rulers of the Arsacid Dynasty are listed below (most dates are approximate):
- Arsaces I (247–? b.c.)
- Tiridates (?–211)
- Artabanus I (211–191)
- Priapatius (191–176)
- Phraates I (176–171)
- Mithradates I (171–138)
- Phraates II (138–128)
- Artabanus II (128–123)
- Mithradates II (123–87)
- Gotarzes I (91-c. 80)
- Orodes I (?–77)
- Sinatrukes (80–69)
- Phraates III (69–57)
- Mithradates III (57–55)
- Orodes II (57–37)
- Phraates IV (38–2)
- Tiridates II (30–25)
- Phraataces (2 b.c.–a.d. 4)
- Orodes III (4–7)
- Vonones I (7–12)
- Artabanus III (12–38)
- Tiridates III (36)
- Vardanes (39–47)
- Gotarzes II (38–51)
- Vonones II (51)
- Vologeses I (51–80)
- Artabanus IV (80–81)
- Pakores (79–115)
- Oroses (109–128)
- Vologeses II (105–147)
- Mithradates IV (128–147?)
- Vologeses III (148–192)
- Vologeses IV (191–207)
- Vologeses V (207–227)
- Artabanus V (213–224)
- Artavasdes (226-c. 227)
Sasanian dynasty. The rise of Ardashir, son of Papak, descended from Sasan, parallels the story of Cyrus, founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty. Papak established his capital at Istakhr, near Persepolis, and he and then Ardashir extended the frontiers of their principality. The conquest of Mesene by Ardashir brought him into conflict with his Parthian overlords. Much fighting was necessary before Ardashir was able to take the place of the Parthian ruler. His victory over Artabanus V is symbolically represented on a bas-relief at Naqsh-i Rustam, near Persepolis; another success, possibly over Artavasdes, son of Artabanus, is depicted on a rock carving near Firuzabad.
In the east, Ardashir wrested much territory from the Kushans and possibly secured Kushan submission to his overlordship. Unfortunately the chronology of the early Sasanian rulers is disputed, and dates of accession and other events may vary by as much as 3 years. Ardashir became "King of Kings," with more power than the Parthian monarch, who had ruled more as the chief of many feudal princes than as a king or emperor.
Shapur I, son and successor of Ardashir, seems to have been the Darius of his time. Shortly after becoming king he defeated the Romans in a battle in which the Emperor Gordian III (238–244) was killed. The new Emperor, Philip the Arab (244–249), sued for peace and paid a heavy tribute to the Persians. A decade later a dispute over Armenia led to an invasion of Roman territory by Shapur in 256 (or in 253 according to some scholars). Antioch, capital of the Roman East, was captured, as well as many cities in Syria and Cappadocia. In 259 the Roman Emperor Valerian (253–260) was defeated and captured by Shapur, who proclaimed this extraordinary event on several bas-reliefs and in a great trilingual (Greek, Parthian, and Middle Persian) inscription at Naqsh-i Rustam. Persian troops again ravaged Syria and Anatolia, but on the return trip to Ctesiphon, Odenathus, king of palmyra, defeated the Persian army and secured much booty. From 260 to 263 the troops of Palmyra dominated northern Mesopotamia. The Romans put an end to Palmyra, and in 283 the Emperor Carus captured Ctesiphon. Internal disorders and wars in the East reduced Persian resistance, but the Romans retreated. Sporadic warfare ended in 296 with a truce favorable to Rome, by which Armenia and parts of northern Mesopotamia remained under Roman rule.
The long rule of Shapur II (309–379) saw a renewal of the struggle with Rome. The conversion of the king of Armenia to Christianity c. 298 and of the Roman Emperor constantine i two decades later brought religious factors into the struggle of the two powers. In 337, the year Constantine died, Shapur II laid siege to nisibis, but fighting was desultory until Julian the Apostate (361–363) invaded the Sasanian domain. He was killed near Ctesiphon, and his successor, Jovian (363–364), made peace by relinquishing Armenia and many Roman possessions in northern Mesopotamia, including the key fortress of Nisibis, to the Persians. One of the features of the reign of Shapur II was his persecution of the Christians living within the Sasanian empire. Persian policy in this matter varied, and under Yazdagird I (399–421) Christians were not molested, although at the end of his reign persecutions were resumed. Varahran (Bahram) V (421–439), known to popular tradition as Gor (the onager) because of his prowess in the hunt, lost a war to Rome in 422, and in the peace treaty he guaranteed freedom of worship to the Christians.
In the second half of the 5th century the Sasanian empire in the east was subjected to invasions of huns or Hephtalites from Central Asia. Peroz (459–484) lost his family and his life in fighting them. His son Kavad I (488–531) was restored to the throne in 499 with the aid of the Hephtalites, after a revolution had deposed him. These eastern successors of the Kushans usually proved more than a match for the Sasanian armies. It should be noted that nestorianism became the dominant form of Christianity in Iran, especially after a synod in 483 favored Nestorianism in the Sasanian domains.
Kavad I (488–531) is noted for his espousal of the Mazdakites, a communist sect of Zoroastrianism (see zoroaster) that flourished at the beginning of his reign. Toward the close of Kavad's reign, however, his son together with the chiefs of the Zoroastrian faith instigated a massacre of the Mazdakites. Afterward the name Mazdakite vanished, but it reappeared again and again in Persia as the term for arch-heretics even in Islamic times.
Khusrau I (Khusro, Chosroes; 531–579), surnamed Anushirvan (immortal soul), reestablished orthodoxy and made peace with the Byzantine Emperor justinian i (527–565) in 532. He instituted a new system of taxation, based probably on a post-Diocletian Roman model, with a fixed sum based on the land, rather than a variable amount based on yield. A reform of the bureaucracy was carried out, especially after the disruption caused by the Mazdakites. Later in Khusrau's reign, war against Justinian broke out again. Khusrau was able to capture Antioch, but the armistice of 561 left matters much the same as before the hostilities.
Following Khusrau's reign, the throne of Persia changed hands several times in a short period, and weak rulers and rebels hindered stability in the empire. The Hephtalites in the east were defeated by new invaders from Central Asia, the Turks, and after initial cooperation, hostilities between Persians and Turks followed. Under Khusrau II Parviz (591–628), the Sasanian empire reached a pinnacle, but after his time it suffered a rapid decline. In 602, after the assassination of the Emperor Maurice (582–602), Khusrau invaded the Byzantine Empire. Antioch was taken in 611, Jerusalem in 614; and shortly afterward Egypt was conquered, and Persian troops appeared before Constantinople. A brilliant counterstroke by the Emperor Heraclius (610–641) carried the war to the heart of the Sasanian empire. In 624 he invaded Azerbaijan and then Mesopotamia. Khusrau was assassinated, and the Sasanian empire fell into disorder. The Persians, by the terms of the peace treaty, evacuated all Byzantine territories. Thereafter one Sasanian ruler followed another in rapid succession, until Yazdagird III (632–651), the grandson of Khusrau, ascended the throne.
The rulers of the Sasanian Dynasty are listed as follows:
- Papak King (208–222?)
- Shapur King (c. 222)
- Ardashir I King of Kings (222?–240)
- Shapur I King of Kings (240–c. 272)
- Hormizd I Ardashir (272–273)
- Varahran (Bahram) I (273–276)
- Varahran II (276–293)
- Varahran III (293)
- Nerseh (293–302)
- Hormizd II (302–309)
- Shapur II (309–379)
- Ardashir II (379–383)
- Shapur III (383–388)
- Varahran IV (388–399)
- Yazdagird I (399–421)
- Varahran V (421–439)
- Yazdagird II (439–457)
- Hormizd III (457–459)
- Peroz (459–484)
- Valash (484–488)
- Kavad I (488–531)
- Zamasp (496–498)
- Khusro I (531–579)
- Hormizd IV (579–590)
- Varahran Chobin (590–591)
- Khusro II (591–628)
- Kavad II (628)
- Ardashir III (628–629)
- Boran (629–630)
- Hormizd V Khusro III (630–c. 632)
- Yazdagird III (c. 632–651)
Persia under Islam. The rise of Islam in the Middle East brought a speedy end to the Sasanian empire. In the battles of Qadisiya in 637 and Nihavend in 641, the Persians were defeated, and Yazdagird fled from the Arabs eastward until he was killed (651) near the city of Merv in Central Asia.
The Arab conquest of Islam brought an end not only to the state but also to the official Zoroastrian church. Zoroastrians became fewer; eventually only a few thousand existed in the country, primarily in Yazd and Kirman. Others, however, fled to India, where their descendants, primarily in Bombay, the parsees, became a flourishing community.
The early history of Persia under Islam should be distinguished from the history of the Arabs in Persia. For several centuries, under the Umayyad and early ’abbĀsid Caliphates, many conversions to Islam took place, but old Persian customs, such as the celebration of Noruz or new year's day, remained little changed. The writing of Persian in the cumbersome Pahlavi script became more and more restricted to Zoroastrian priests, while Arabic became the language of government and bureaucracy and also of literature and learning. There are indications, however, that spoken Persian was widely used in the eastern Islamic world, not only by natives but also by the Arabs as a lingua franca. Probably in the second half of the 9th century, Persian was written down in the Arabic alphabet. The resultant flowering of New Persian literature at the court of the independent dynasts in Bukhara, the Samanids, ushered in a new phase of Persian culture. The New Persian renaissance, as it has been called by some scholars, was based on an Islamic-Persian language and literature, a brilliant and successful fusion of ancient Iranian (not just Persian, but also Sogdian, Parthian, and Khwarazmian) elements with the Arab-Islamic culture from the Arabic-speaking Near East. Henceforth Islam was not bound to Arab or Bedouin mores and backgrounds but became universal, a manifold and variegated world culture. The Samanids ruled Central Asia and Khurasan from c. 875 to 999.
Boyid, Turkish, and Mongol Dynasties. The 10th century saw the rise also of petty principalities in western Persia, the most important of which was the Boyid Dynasty, which ruled western Persia and Mesopotamia, including the caliphal capital Baghdad, until 1055. Under the Boyids there was an interesting flowering of pro-Islamic motifs in art and other domains. For example, the ancient title shah an-shah (king of kings) reappears in the sources. The Boyids participated also in the New Persian renaissance, but rule passed from the hands of the Iranians to the Turks after the turn of the millennium.
The seljuk Turks took Baghdad in 1055 and soon established a large empire extending from Central Asia to the Mediterranean Sea. The empire was organized along feudal lines, and the Persian language was generally the language of administration. The extent of Persian influence on the Turks is revealed by such books as the Siyasat name (book of state) by Nizam al-Mulk, the prime minister of the Seljuk Sultan Malikshah. The Turks were replaced by Mongols, who ruled over Persia from c. 1256 to 1335.
Turko-Mongol rule in Persia brought into the land many influences from Central Asia and even China. Pottery and miniature painting both reflected strong Far Eastern elements, and the administration and army also were greatly influenced. This can be seen in the many words and terms introduced into Persian from the Turkish and even Mongolian languages, e.g., ordu (army) and tufangchi (rifleman). Persian influence on the Turks, however, was much stronger than the reverse, and even ottoman sultans composed poetry in Persian rather than Turkish.
After the Mongol Dynasty of the Il-Khans, Persia was ruled for a short period (c. 1380–1469) by timur (Tamerlane) and his successors. These Central-Asian Turkish rulers, with their capitals of Samarqand or Herat, were great patrons of the arts and literature. Under them the regions of Central Asia and present Afghanistan experienced a flowering of culture, the architectural remains of which still embellish the cities mentioned above.
Safavid Dynasty. The modern history of Persia really begins with the rise of the safavid dynasty in 1500. Although these rulers were also Turkish in origin, they espoused the shi'ite form of Islam and established a state church different from the sunni faith that prevailed elsewhere. The land again had a national solidarity closely resembling that of Sasanian and even Achaemenid times. The militant Shi‘ite state soon came into conflict with its neighbors, and just as in the past, Persia had to fight on two fronts, the Ottoman Empire in the west and a new Özbek Turkish state in Central Asia, both Sunni. So the wars of the 16th and 17th centuries were religiously as well as politically motivated.
The greatest of the Safavid rulers was Shah 'Abbas I (1587–1629), who defeated both Ottoman Turks and Özbeks (or Uzbeks, a Turkic people of the region north of Afghanistan), but who is known chiefly for his building activity, especially in his new capital of Isfahan, where some of the masterpieces of Persian architecture are found. Shah 'Abbas also moved rebellious people from one part of his kingdom to another, a common practice as old as the Assyrian Empire. Some Kurds were moved from their homeland in western Persia to Khurasan, while Armenians were transferred from Julfa in Transcaucasia to a suburb of Isfahan that they called New Julfa. The Armenian church and other buildings of New Julfa are surviving masterpieces of Safavid architecture. Under Shah 'Abbas, Europeans began to arrive in Persia as merchants, missionaries, and even as mercenaries. The British East India Company established a base on the island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf (c. 1622).
The later Safavids proved so weak that in 1722 a force of Sunni Afghans under a chief called Mahmud was able to take the Safavid capital of Isfahan. As a result of the ensuing disorders in Persia, foreign powers were able to annex parts of the land. In the north, peter i (the great) of russia took the Caspian Provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran (1723), as well as Baku and parts of Transcaucasia that had been under Persian rule. The Ottoman Turks invaded Azerbaijan, Kirmanshah, and Hamadan and in 1724 made a treaty with Russia that in effect divided northern Persia between them.
For the Safavid period of history there are fortunately many European travel accounts and a valuable chronicle of the Carmelites who were established at Isfahan. As a result of the disintegration of central authority following the Afghan occupation, however, many of the western Europeans established in the country left, so that there is less information about the 18th century than about the earlier periods.
The Safavids represented the high point of culture in modern Persian history. From the time of their rule come the finest rugs, miniatures, and architecture in the history of Persia. Such was the fame of Shah 'Abbas as a builder that even today the common folk believe most Islamic ruins in the country were edifices raised by the Safavid ruler. The elegance of the court of the grand sophy, as the ruler of Persia was called in Western sources, has been described by several European embassies. The importance of Safavid religious leaders, such as Mulla Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, in laying the present foundations of Shi‘ite Islam must be emphasized. Philosophy also, which enjoyed little development in the Ottoman Empire, experienced a revival in Persia, especially in the Ishraqi (illuminist) school of Mulla Sadra of Shiraz and others.
The Afghan occupation did not last long, for a new conqueror rose in Khurasan, a Turk called Nadir from the Afshar tribe. In 1729 he took Isfahan from Mahmud's successor, Ashraf the Afghan, but Nadir was not crowned ruler until 1736, when he deposed 'Abbas III, the boy Safavid ruler. Nadir Shah made many military expeditions, enlarging Persia's frontiers. In 1739 he took and plundered Delhi, and in the following year he obtained the submission of the Özbeks in Turkistan, including Bukhara, Samarqand, and Khiva. In 1742 he conquered part of Daghistan and much of the Caucasus area. The empire built by Nadir Shah quickly fell apart, however, after his assassination in 1747.
The chronology of the rulers of the Safavid Dynasty is as follows:
- Ismail I (1500–24)
- Tahmasp I (1524–76)
- Ismall II (1576–77)
- Muhammad Khudabanda (1577–87)
- ’Abbas I (1587–1629)
- Sail I (1629–42)
- ’Abbas II (1642–67)
- Sulaiman (1667–94)
- Husain (1694–1722)
- Tahmasp II (1730–32)
- ’Abbas III (1732–36)
Qajar Dynasty. From 1750 to 1779 Karim Khan Zand, with his capital at Shiraz, maintained unity and order in the country, but at his death troubles recurred, and only in 1794 did a eunuch Called Aga Muhammad reunite the country. This tyrant was assassinated in 1797, and his nephew Fath 'Ali Shah ascended the throne as the real founder of the Qajar Dynasty. During Fath 'Ali Shah's reign, the European powers brought Persia into the international politics and diplomacy of the Napoleonic period. British and French rivalry in Persia was replaced by British and Russian rivalry, after the final defeat of Napoleon. In 1813, after a disastrous war with Russia, Persia was obliged by the Treaty of Gulistan to cede her Transcaucasian possessions, save Armenia, to Russia. Another war ended in 1828 with the Treaty of Turkmanchai, whereby the boundary between Russia and Persia was set at the Aras River and Russia obtained extraterritorial rights in the domains of the shah.
The 19th-century history of Persia is largely the story of Russian and British diplomacy trying to obtain a favored position at the court of the shah. A new religious movement called babism was partially suppressed with the execution of its leader, the Bab, in 1850, but his successor, Baha Allah, changed the movement and founded the religion known as baha’ism, which, with the flight from Persia of the leader and many of his followers, became an international faith. Baha’is, however, have continued to exist in Persia down to the present day.
The Persians captured Herat from the Afghans in 1856, but the British declared war on Persia and forced it to give up all Afghan territory in a treaty of 1857; the boundary between the two countries was not settled until 1872. Rivalry between the British and Russians was intensified with the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the second half of the 19th century. The growth of foreign influence usually took the form of loans to the shah, although more obvious indices of influence were the Persian Cossack brigade, trained and led by Russian officers, established in 1878, and the Imperial Bank of Persia opened by the British in 1889.
Nasir al-Din Shah was assassinated in 1896, a sign that the absolutism and tyranny of the Persian rulers would not last long. Not until December of 1905, however, did the revolution begin. The Persian revolution, from which dates the rise of contemporary Persia, began as a movement against the extension of foreign influences and as a protest against the corruption and tyranny of the prime minister of the shah. The revolutionary movement that began as a protest soon changed to a demand for a constitution and a representative assembly. After a great demonstration in the grounds of the British legation in July of 1906, the shah was constrained to agree to the convocation of an assembly (majlis ) that met in the autumn of 1907 and drew up a constitution. Muzaffar al-Din Shah signed the order creating constitutional government in Persia shortly before his death on December 30 of the same year.
At the same time, the discovery of oil in the area heightened the interest of both the British and Russians in finally establishing hegemony. This conflict was temporarily resolved in 1907 with the Anglo-Russian Entente, which divided Persia into spheres of influence. During World War I, Persia was occupied by both Britain and Russia, but in 1921 the newly formed Soviet government renounced imperial claims to Persian lands.
- The rulers of the Qajar Dynasty are as follows:
- Aga Muhammad (1794–97)
- Fath 'Ali Shah (1797–1835)
- Muhammad Shah (1835–48)
- Nasir al-Din Shah (1848–96)
- Muzaffar al-Din Shah (1896–1906)
- Muhammad 'Ali (1906–09)
- Ahmad Shah (1909–25)
Pahlavi Dynasty. In 1921, a popular military officer named Reza Khan engineered a coup that established him as minister of war and later as prime minister. As Reza Khan's popularity eclipsed that of Ahmad Shah, the latter was forced into exile; in December of 1925, the majlis officially deposed the last of the Qajar rulers and elected Reza Khan hereditary shah.
Pro-Western in his approach, Reza Shah Pahavi enacted a number of reforms intended to modernize Persia, including the official renaming of the country as Iran in 1935. His son and successor, Muhammad Reza Shah Palevi (1941–79), continued with pro-Western, promodernization reforms, but nationalist and Islamic opposition grew steadily. In 1979 the shah was deposed in a violent revolution and Iran officially became an Islamic republic under the cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
See Also: iran, the catholic church in
Bibliography: Pre-Islamic history of Persia. r. n. frye, The Heritage of Persia (Cleveland 1963), extensive bibliog. The rise of the Safavids. l. lockhart, The Fall of the Safavĭ Dynasty and the Afghan Occupation of Persia (Cambridge, Eng. 1958). p. m. sykes, A History of Persia, 2 v. (3d ed. London 1951), gen. popular hist. g. bardy, "Les Églises de Perse et d'Arménie au Ve siècle," Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours, ed. a. fliche and v. martin (Paris 1935) 4:321–336, with bibliog. r. mayer and w. de vries, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 8:283–287, with bibliog.
[r. n. frye]
Persia (pûr´zhə, –shə), old alternate name for the Asian country Iran. The article Iran contains a description of the geography and economy of the modern country and a short account of its history since the Arab invasion of the 7th cent. This article is concerned with the history of the ancient Persian Empire, in which present-day Iran has its roots.
Origins of the Persian Empire
The speakers of Iranian languages may have migrated into that part of Asia as early as 1500 BC Presumably they were originally a nomadic tribe who filtered down through the Caucasus to the Iranian plateau. They apparently subjugated peoples already there and mingled with them, but their dominance of particular areas is recorded in the place names Parsua and Parsumash. The Assyrian rulers were by the 9th cent. BC sending expeditions against them, and the recurrence of those campaigns is evidence of the strength of the early Persians.
By the 6th cent. BC the early Persians were established in the present-day region of Fars and were benefiting from the decline of Elam. Fars (or Persis to the Greeks) was a recognizable district of the Assyrian Empire (see Assyria) like the neighboring but greater Media. The Persian rulers, claiming descent from one Achaemenes, or Hakhamanesh (see Achaemenids, were associated with the Medes, who created a strong state in the 7th cent. Cyaxares, son of Phraortes, founder of Median power, was one of the kings who brought about the fall of Nineveh (612 BC) and broke the hegemony of the Assyrians. The Persian ruler of about the same time, Cambyses I, was vassal to Cyaxares. According to Herodotus he married the daughter of the Median ruler Astyages (Cyaxares' son), and his son Cyrus was thus also grandson of Cyaxares; this account has been branded by some scholars as a pious attempt to falsify genealogy.
Cyrus the Great
After the Persians had aided the Medes in establishing the power of the Medes, Cyrus, who later became known as Cyrus the Great, took over the rule of Media from Astyages in the middle of the 6th cent. BC In an amazingly short time Cyrus had extended his conquests from Elam and Media west and north. He pushed into Asia Minor, where Croesus, the king of Lydia, vainly sought by an alliance with Nabonidus of Babylonia and Amasis II of Egypt to withstand the conqueror. Cyrus crushed the coalition, and by 546 BC the greatness of the Persian Empire was established. It was to endure long under his successors, the Achaemenids. From the beginning the Persians built on the foundations of the earlier states. The organization of the Assyrians was taken over and improved, and Cyrus himself imported artists and artisans from Babylonia and Egypt to create his palace and tomb at Pasargadae.
Darius I and His Immediate Successors
The dynamic new state was, however, troubled almost from the start by dynastic troubles. Cambyses II, son of Cyrus, did away with Smerdis, another son of Cyrus, in order to have unchallenged power, but when Cambyses was absent on a successful raid into Egypt, an imposter claiming to be Smerdis appeared, and usurped the throne. A civil war ensued, and after Cambyses died, a new claimant, Darius I, appeared against the false Smerdis and made his claims good. After putting down disorders, Darius molded the administration of the empire into a centralized system that was remarkable for its efficiency. Satraps, or governors, were set up to rule firmly and arbitrarily over the various regions, but to keep check on the satraps, who were potential aspirants to central power, each was accompanied by a secretary and a military commander who were responsible to the great king alone. This centralized system was supported by an intricate and excellent system of communication, for the Persians were the first important ancient people to use the horse efficiently for communication and transport.
Darius also continued and broadened Cyrus' policy of encouraging the local cultures within the empire, allowing the people to worship their own gods and to follow their own customs so long as their practices did not conflict with the necessities of Persian administration. Despite this tolerance there were rebellions by the Egyptians, Lydians, and Babylonians, all of which Darius ruthlessly suppressed. The religion of Persia itself was Zoroastrianism, and the unity of Persia may be attributed in part to the unifying effect of that broadly established faith. Darius was also a patron of the arts, and magnificent palaces standing on high terraces beautified the capitals of Susa and Persepolis (see Persian art and architecture). His conquests to the east extended Persian rule beyond the Arius (Hari Rud) River into modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Egypt had already been attacked by Cambyses, and although it was to prove recalcitrant and rebellious, succeeding Persian kings were to maintain hegemony there. Darius pushed as far north as the Danube in his exploits, but the fighting against the Scythians was obscure and certainly unfruitful.
Even more unprofitable for Persia was its embroilment with the Greeks. The Persians in taking over Lydia had come into contact with the Greek colonies in Asia Minor (Ionia). There were Greeks (notably the exiled Athenian tyrant Hippias) at the court of Darius, and the Persians immediately began to borrow from Greek art and thought, as they did from all advanced cultures to the enrichment of Persia. At the beginning of the 5th cent. BC, however, the Ionian cities were involved in trouble with the great king. Darius put down their rebellion, then organized an expedition to punish the city-states in Greece proper that had lent aid to the rebellious cities. This expedition began the Persian Wars. Ultimately Darius' army was defeated at Marathon, and his son Xerxes I, who succeeded to the throne in 486 BC, fared no better at Salamis. The Greeks had successfully defied the power of the great king.
The effects of the Greek victory were, however, confined to Greece itself and had no consequences in Persia. Nor did the Greek triumph exclude Persia from taking part in the affairs of the Greek world. Persian influence was strong, and Persian gold was poured out to aid one Greek city-state or another in the interminable struggle for power. It is noteworthy that when Themistocles, the victor of Salamis, was exiled from Athens, he took refuge at the court of Artaxerxes I, who had succeeded Xerxes I in 464 BC
Decay of the Empire
In the time of Artaxerxes the difficulties of maintaining so wide an empire had begun to appear. Some of the satraps showed ambitions to rule, and the Egyptians, helped by the Athenians, undertook a long rebellion. Violence against the great king himself was a disturbing factor. Xerxes I had been murdered, and Xerxes II, son of Artaxerxes, was killed after a reign of 45 days by a half-brother, who was in turn overthrown by another half-brother, Darius II. In the reign of the second Darius the power of the satraps was shown in the careers of Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes, who interfered with some effect in the affairs of Greece.
When Darius II died, the most celebrated of the dynastic troubles occurred in the rebellion of Cyrus the Younger against Artaxerxes II, which came to an end with the death of Cyrus in the battle of Cunaxa (401 BC). Cyrus' defeat was recorded in Xenophon's Anabasis, and although the importance of Cyrus' revolt may be exaggerated it cannot be denied that there were signs of decay in the empire. Although Evagoras of Cyprus was brought to heel after the Peace of Antalcidas (386 BC; see Corinthian War) was dictated to Greece by the great king, Egypt, which had become independent again in 405 BC, continued to revolt and the efforts of the armies of Artaxerxes II to reassert control were fruitless. Artaxerxes III, who gained the throne by massacring his brother's family, was more successful in Egypt, but his triumph was brief. He was himself killed by his counselor, the eunuch Bagoas.
Darius III in turn murdered Bagoas and ruled with considerable splendor after 336, but only for a short period. In 334, Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army crossed the Hellespont and routed the Persians on the Granicus. The battle of Issus followed in 333, and in 331 the battle of Gaugamela brought an end to the Achaemenid empire. Darius, last of the great kings, fled east before the conqueror to the remote province of Bactria, where he was assassinated by his own cousin, Bessus. Alexander also came east and, defeating Bessus, had the whole empire in his grasp. Alexander went on to India and created the greatest empire the world had yet seen. It lasted, however, only for the brief period of his life and then was torn apart by the quarrels of his successors (the Diadochi).
The Seleucids and the Parthian Empire
After Alexander the Great's death, Persia fell for the most part to Seleucus I and his successors (the Seleucids), but their grasp on the vast territories was weak administratively, although they did introduce a vital Hellenistic culture, mingling Greek with Persian elements. Media Atropatene (see Azerbaijan) was never really under Seleucid rule. The rulers of Bactria from the beginning were at least quasi-independent and in the middle of the 3d cent. revolted and established absolute independence.
At the same time Parthia under the leadership of the Arsacids (see under Arsaces) cast off Seleucid rule and established a Parthian empire as a sort of successor to the old Persian Empire. Although even under the greatest of the Parthians (Tiridates, Mithradates I, and Mithradates II) the realm did not have the old extent, it was formidable and was a rival to Rome. The Romans in almost continuous warfare failed to halt the Parthian drives to the west, which were often supported by local ambitious or frightened rulers under Rome. Only in the 2d cent. AD did the Parthian rule begin to wane.
The Sassanid Dynasty
The Parthians were replaced (c.AD 226) by the more vigorous Sassanid dynasty, when Ardashir I (whose name is another form of Artaxerxes) ousted and killed the last Parthian ruler and built a new empire out of the ruins of Parthian and Seleucid power. The Sassanids were the true heirs of the Achaemenids. Ardashir I, Shapur I, and Shapur II all were strong kings, able and successful opponents of the Romans. Ctesiphon became the center of a magnificent state that persisted while the Roman Empire was whittled away. The Byzantines were unable to match them. Khosrow I in the 6th cent. invaded Syria, and under Khosrow II (whose affairs were linked with those of the Byzantines) the Sassanid court was legendary in its splendor. Ctesiphon and Firuzabad were magnificent cities, the administration of the empire was efficient, the productivity of the cities was remarkable, and the art in metalwork, in architecture, in sculpture, and in textiles was superb.
Persia developed as a strong centralized state, based on a revived Zoroastrian religion and a class society. Shortly after the death of Khosrow II, however, the old Sassanid power toppled. Invading Arabs succeeded in taking Ctesiphon in 637. Islam replaced Zoroastrianism, and the caliphate made Persia a part of a larger pattern, from which later was to emerge modern Iran.
See E. E. Herzfeld, Archaeological History of Persia (1935); G. G. Cameron, History of Early Iran (1936, repr. 1969); P. S. R. Payne, The Splendor of Persia (1957); A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (2d ed. 1969); R. Girshman et al., Persia, the Immortal Kingdom (1971); and M. W. Shuster, The Strangling of Persia (1912, repr. 1987).
Persian Wars the wars fought between Greece and Persia in the 5th century bc, in which the Persians sought to extend their territory over the Greek world.