History of Ancient Persia
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The history of ancient Persia is largely that of the Achaemenid Empire. This was the world’s largest to date, and far larger than the old Near Eastern centers of power in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Assyria. It demonstrated that good communications are the sinews of empire, and messengers rode the Royal Road to deliver letters from one end of the empire to the other in just five days. Founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE, it stretched from India’s Hindu Kush to the far reaches of Upper Egypt. The Achaemenid Empire develop a centralized bureaucracy and mandated a multicultural policy.
After Cyrus defeated the Media Empire, the empire grew to reach its greatest extent under Xerxes, who conquered Greece in the bargain. This brought on the Greco-Persian Wars and the vengeance of Alexander the Great, who conquered the Persian Empire in 330 BCE. The Sassanid Empire re-established Persia as a great power in the Near East, bringing it into conflict with Rome. It brought Iran to its highest level of cultural affluence, and Zoroastrianism flourished as the legitimizing force of its rule. Persian culture was advanced in architecture, art, and music. For example, the high tide of Persian architecture is seen in its mosque at Isfahan and Darius’s palace at Susa. What’s more, Persian paintings portrayed the court life of the ruling class in scenes of great refinement and detail.
Persia was again conquered by the Islamic Empire in the 7th century by the Safavids, who ruled Iran from 1501 to 1736. They and the Ottomans became known as “gunpowder empires” that conducted much of their empire-building with heavy artillery. Most of modern-day Iran came under Safavid rule, and their legacy established Iran as an economic buffer between east and west. This would cause Britain and Russia to become embroiled in the Great Game, enacted in both Iran and Afghanistan over control of this strategically vital area. This intrigue would extend into modern times with the ouster of Mossadeq, who had angered the West by nationalizing Persia’s oil industry. The turmoil continued with Islamic Revolution, launched by the return of the aging Ayatollah Khomeini in a drive to restore traditional Islam to paramountcy in Iranian life.
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Ancient Persia Index | Culture: Architecture • Language • Science and Technology | Religion: Zoroastrianism • Zoroaster | Power: Progression • Persian Empire • Media • Achaemenid Empire • Governance • Kingship • Satrapies • Law • Trials • Military • Safavid Dynasty: Ismail • Abbas • Tahmasp • Decline | Economy: Agriculture • Infrastructure | Pre-Modern Persia: Culture • Art | Power: Zand Dynasty • Qajar Dynasty • The Great Game | Economy
Ancient Persia: Index
Culture: Science and Technology
Power: Persian Empire
Power: Achaemenid Empire
Power: Safavid Dynasty
Safavid Dynasty: Ismail
Safavid Dynasty: Abbas
Safavid Dynasty: Tahmasp
Safavid Dynasty: Decline
Pre-Modern Persia: Index
Power: Zand Dynasty
Power: Qajar Dynasty
Power: The Great Game