The History of Iran is the knowledge of the civilisations, Islam and some of the names from history that are unforgettable.
The Medes (ancient Iranian people) merged Iran as a single unit in 625 B.C.
When the Sassanid Empire in Iran ended, Iran’s history changed with the Islamic Conquest of Persia (633-656).
From 1501 until 1979, Iran had been ruled by a Shah (emperor). This system of governance came to an end with the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Iran’s history is as follows:
The Pre-Islamic Period
The Elamites and Medes:
This is the time when Iran was not called Iran and therefore, the Iranians did not live there. Instead, some other group of people lived in Iran. These people were known as the “Elamites”.
These people are discussed in the Bible as well. The Kingdom in which the Elamites lived was called Elam. The Medes conquered Elam because the Elamites gradually became weak.
Elam was near Mesopotamia and the Elamites established their capital at Susa. This region was blessed with natural resources. These natural resources were the biggest strength of the Elamites.
According to the historians, present-day Western Iran, the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Tigris Valley were under the Elamites in 12 Century B.C.
This was the time when Aryan (Persian) tribes arrived from the North. The Medes increased their influence in present-day northwestern Iran. Ecbatana was the place where the Medes established their capital.
In 612 B.C, the Medes managed to sack the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. The main reason behind this was that the Medes gradually developed into a disciplined military force with some strong alliances.
The Achaemenids And The Rise Of Cyrus:
In Southern Iran in the 7 Century B.C, Achaemenes (a king of one of the Persian tribes) set up a unified state. This was the first Persian empire, the “Achaemenious”.
This empire within 20 years emerged as one of the greatest empires in the world. Cyrus || (grandson of Achaemenes) developed a strong military force.
Cyrus conquered modern-day Turkey and some part of Pakistan. It is no surprise that Cyrus developed a very good reputation.
However, Cyrus made the Massagetae queen, Tomyris, angry when he captured her son and assassinated her soldiers. This battle of Cyrus with the Massagetae made Cyrus lose the bulk of his army.
Cambyses And Darius:
The son of Cyrus, Cambyses, in 525 B.C, took over most of Egypt and present-day Libya. It is popularly believed that Cambyses assassinated his brother, Smerdis.
Cambyses died mysteriously in 522 B.C and this was seen as a opportunity by Darius | (relative off Cambyses).
This disarray paved way for Darius to take over the empire but he had to put in some effort to re-establish it. Darius was keen to expand his empire for which he moved towards India and Danube river in the North.
The Achaemenids developed their empire to an enormous level and they even introduced the world’s first Postal service. Unfortunately, Darius was defeated at the well-known battle at Marathon in 490 B.C. He died in 496 B.C.
The Time Of Alexander The Great:
The first Persian empire came to an end with the arrival of Alexander the Great who made a significant impact on the history of Iran.
Alexander the Great defeated the Egyptians and Greeks and then he marched towards the Persian armies in 333 B.C. He inflicted defeats on the Persian armies under Darius III.
Darius managed to escape but he was killed by his cousin in the later years. Alexander the Great expanded his empire towards the West into Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Later, the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia ruled and this was replaced by the Sassanian dynasty (224-651).
The Sassanian Dynasty:
Under Ardashir I, the Sassanids emerged as a threat to the nightly Roman Empire. The son of Ardashir fought gallantly with the Romans and in his quest, he added Bactria to their empire.
His son again defeated the Romans in 260 and this time, the Roman Emperor was held captive. The main strength of the Sassanids was their trade across the Persian Gulf.
They developed industries on small scale to strengthen themselves. However, the empire gradually became weak due to its conflicts with the Byzantines.
Islamic Persia | The History Of Iran
The Rise of Islam:
The Arabs defeated the Sassanids in 637 and their influence gradually increased in the Middle East. Persia was governed by the Ummayad Caliph from their capital in Damascus.
However, the Abbasid dynasty soon gained prominence with a rebellion in 750. The Abbasids established their capital near Baghdad. This was the time when the Arabic language became vital for day-to-day activities.
When the local governors tried to gain power and rejected the authority of the centre, the Abbasid dynasty became infirm. Even with all this, the culture and identity of Iran continued to survive.
This was the time when other powers became influential in the East, such as:
- The Tahirids (820-872)
- The Safarrids (868-903)
- The Samanids (874-999)
The Seljuk Turks Arrive:
The Seljuk Turks proved way to powerful for the local dynasties as they (Seljuks) pushed their way forwards and took over Esfahan in 1051. Esfahan later became the capital of the Seljuk Empire.
The Seljuk Empire faced a serious challenge from Eastern Turkey but their disciplined and well-trained army managed the rebellions with ease.
With the coming of the Seljuks, art and literature flourished. This was because the Seljuks had some of the most talented people such as the poet, Omar Khayyam. Moreover, efforts were made to spread Sunni Islam in all parts of the empire.
The end of the Seljuk Empire was similar to the previous dynasties. When the Seljuks lost their leader, Malek Shah, in 1092, the empire shattered into pieces.
The Rise of the Mongols
There is no doubt that the Mongols completely changed the history of Iran and its culture.
Genghis Khan managed to unify several Mongol tribes and under his command, the Mongol Empire managed to expand in all directions. The Mongols under Genghiz Khan planed to move towards Iran in 1219, but why?
Two Diplomatic missions were murdered (brutally) in Iran that were sent by Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan destroyed everything in his way and he captured all of Persia including an empire that stretched from Beijing to Turkey. The Mongols destroyed a lot of Persian cities but at the same time, the managed to preserve some art and literature.
Genghis Khan marched towards western Azerbaijan some years before his death. After his death, Iran was controlled by various experienced Mongol commanders.
This was the time when Hulagu Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) marched towards the west to expand the Mongol dynasty. Hulagu Khan captured Baghdad in 1258 and then he killed the last Abbasid Caliph.
Hulagu Khan destroyed Baghdad completely and all the citizens were brutally killed. Even the children were not spared. However, Hulagu Khan continued to face threat from another Mongol commander, Burke Khan, who had accepted Islam.
The Timurid Empire (1370-1507):
Timur, an Iranified Turco-Mongol, tried to unite divided Iran. Timur marched towards Iran in 1381 and he successfully crushed most of the opposition. His rule is described with bloodshed and violence but he also introduced several administrative reforms.
After his death, his successors maintained control over Iran until the Safavid Dynasty emerged.
The Safavid Empire:
The Safavids emerged as a prominent power and threat to various dynasties at that time. During their peak time, the Safavids ruled:
Ismail or Shah Ismail | founded the Safavid ruling dynasty. The dynasty expanded when Tabriz was conquered in 1501 (Tabriz became the capital of the Safavid dynasty).
Under Ismail’s son, the capital was moved from Tabriz to Qazvin. Shah Abbas | was the one who took the Safavid dynasty to its peak. Shiaism gradually spread with time under the Safavids. At the same time, Sunni-Shia conflict also started.
The Safavid dynasty began to collapse after the death of Shah Abbas | as political instability increased. Later in 1722, the Afghans conquered Esfahan and killed most of the Safavids.
The Arrival of Nadir Shah in Iran:
One of the most important events in the history of Iran is when Nadir Shah arrived.
Nadir Shah defeated the Afghans, the Ottomans and the Safavids. Till 1736, he became extremely powerful and he crowned himself as “Shah”. In 1739, Nadir Shah defeated the Mughal army in India and returned to Persia with immense wealth.
Nadir Shah managed to administer his empire peacefully but not for too long. His pleasure-loving nature and extravagant lifestyle were disliked by many people.
Unfortunately, Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1747 because he provoked some people against him. With his death, a wave of disturbance erupted in Iran.
The Qajars and the Qajar Dynasty (1796-1925):
After the death of Nadir Shah, a civil war broke out in Iran after some years. Agha Muhammad Khan emerged as a prominent leader during the civil war and he even managed to reunite Iran during his time period.
This was the time when Russia and the British were keen to gain access to Iran. Russia wanted to gain authority over the Persian Gulf while the British wanted to keep them away.
The Qajar Shah’s were pleasure loving and they preferred an extravagant lifestyle. Therefore, it is no surprise that they sold almost all the assets of Iran. This was the time in the history of Iran when worst form of anarchy was witnessed.
In 1906, the Qajar shah introduced an embryo Parliament. This incident was later known as the Constitution revolution. Under Shah Muhammad Ali, Marshal Law was declared in 1908 which led to an uprising in Tabriz in 1909.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, some part of Iran was under the Turks, the Russians and the British. In 1920, Gilan broke up and became a territory of the Soviet Union. This event could have changed the history of Iran completely.
The incapable Qajar ruler could not respond properly. This was the time when Reza Khan (with the support of the British) took action and took back Gilan.
The Pahlavi Rule:
Reza Shah (who ruled for almost 16 years) was a man who supported secularism and nationalism. He managed to shape an authoritative government with strong censorship.
Reza Shah brought certain reforms with his arrival. These include social, economical and political reforms. There are two different perspectives concerning him.
His supporters say that he brought political instability with him and he managed to shape Iran properly (in terms of law and order situation). However, some historians say that his vision of modernisation was disliked by many people and his approach was unrealistic.
During his era, some incidents of violence are also reported. The discouragement of Hijab for Muslim women and the promotion of western dresses was widely accused by the Iranians.
What Impact Did the World War || had on The History of Iran:
When the second World War broke out in 1939, Germany managed a powerful campaign against the Russians. The Germans had their eye on Iran as they planned a coup in Iran to overthrow the Pahlavi Shah.
Iran expected Germany to win the war and therefore, they rejected the offer of the British and the Russians to expel the Germans from Iran. Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (son of Reza Shah) meanwhile replaced his father.
During the early years of his reign, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi allowed the parliament to hold some power.
The Revolution of 1979:
The Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 aimed at transforming Iran from monarchy to an Islamic state. Ayatollah Khomeini was the leader who founded the Islamic republic. This step by Ayatollah Khomeini is one of the most significant events in the history of Iran.
Muhammad Reza Pahlavi went into exile in January 1979 when violent protests started in Iran. Following the scenario, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran. After a referendum in Iran in 1979, it transformed into a Islamic Republic.
The period under Khomeini could have been more glorious if the Iran-Iraq war didn’t break out between the two Muslim countries. The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussain took advantage of the disorder in Iran (following the revolution).
On September 22, 1980, the Iraqi forces invaded Iran which led to a conflict between the two countries. Saddam Hussain did this because he wanted to make himself a prominent figure in the Middle East. This attack on Iran was a surprise to them.
Iran managed to force the Iraqi forces out of Iran within 2 years. However, the war continued for 6 more years till the United Nations intervened. The loss of lives on both sides was massive.
Khomeini on his deathbed in 1979, made certain changes in the constitution of Iran which he thought were necessary.
The history of Iran is very significant because the events in Iran directly affected the history of the Middle East (and indirectly the history of the world).
Despite all odds, Iran survived and flourished.