A brief history of Iran (2023)

A brief history of Iran (1)

The Achaemenid Empire of Persia gradually became the largest territorially contiguous empire known to man at the time, with a relatively moderate government based on religious ideas later associated with Zoroastrianism (a pre-Islamic religion in Iran) to friends and foes alike It left a deep impression. Words, good thoughts, and good deeds". He looms large in the Western imagination, as his failed attempt to conquer the Greek states was defeated by Alexander the Great some 150 years later, in 330 BC. Alexander's succession The Hellenistic rule of the Seleucid dynasty lasted for a century until the arrival of the Parthians, a new Iranian dynasty from the east.

Parthian Empire

The Parthian Empire reshaped Iranian history by importing myths and legends from the East and replacing the Achaemenid dynasty in popular memory. The kingdom of decentralized power - the king is first among equals; one kingexistArguably, the other kings compensated their rebellion with longevity (it was the longest-lived dynasty in Iran) and proved to be serious enemies of the emerging dynasty.Roman Empire, brought him one of his greatest failures. This is the Plain of Callai in 53 BC. The Roman commander Crassus (famous for defeating Spartacus) was decisively defeated by a smaller Parthian army composed mostly of cavalry archers, losing about two-thirds of his legion and a few "hawks" . ' [Roman Standard]. 500 years later, 224 days. C., The Parthians were overthrown by yet another dynasty, this time the Sassanids from the center of Persia.

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The Sassanids were certainly the heirs of the Parthians, but their empire was more centralized, and the "king of kings" was second to none. The government was consolidated and Zoroastrianism was promoted as an official and increasingly explicit creed. In time, the Sasanian kings, especially Khosroys II, would become symbols of all that was good about pre-Islamic Iran and its government.

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Like their predecessors, the Sasanians proved to be formidable opponents of the Roman and Byzantine empires, embroiled in a series of conflicts that eventually drained both empires and left them vulnerable to hitherto unforeseen challenges .

islamic age

at 7thIn this century, a new force emerged on the Arabian Peninsula: Islam. By defeating the Byzantines, Muslim Arab armies finally conquered the Sasanian Empire and incorporated it into the new caliphate. The Iranian Empire was too large for the Caliphate to fully digest, and as a result Iranian ideas about the nature and practice of "just" government and culture began to shape the way the Iranian Empire developed.

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Islam transformed Iran's worldview, but the political and religious culture of the Islamic world was in turn influenced by the deep heritage of ancient Iran and by many leading administrative and scientific minds of the classical Islamic era, including the scholar Ibn Sina. (Avicenna)). And the famous Bamajid family (Ministerial) from the Iranian world.

In fact, with the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate in 749 CE, the enormous influence of the Iranian world became apparent. C. and moved the capital from Damascus to the newly founded city of Baghdad (around 762 AD), not far from the old capital of the Sasanian dynasty. This transformation in Iran is exemplified by the development of the "new" Persian language, which is now, thanks to the adoption of the Arabic alphabet, the lingua franca of the Islamic world of the East and eventually one of the world's greatest literary languages.

The Islamic era would witness another profound development in the history of Iran, beginning in the 11th century with the entry of Turkic peoples from Central Asia, but more importantly the invasion of the Mongols (nomadic warriors from the steppes of the interior of Iran. Asia) in the 13 century. century. The Mongol conquest facilitated the migration of Turkic tribes to the plateau, forced a chain migration of Iranians to the Anatolian plateau, and fundamentally changed the political economy of the country from a predominantly sedentary state to one with a significant nomadic component. country, especially in the northern part of the country.

In addition, Mongolian and Turkic words (such as "Khan") were incorporated into Persian, adding a further dimension to the vocabulary of an already rich and diverse language. From an economic standpoint, however, the wave of nomadic invasions that started with the Mongols and culminated in the devastation wrought by Timur in the 14th century caused widespread economic dislocation. It took many years for the economic lifeline to truly recover.

A brief history of Iran (2)

Meanwhile, in the long run, the Mongol conquest ensured the reemergence of "Iran" as a distinct political entity after centuries of isolation from the wider Islamic world. It speaks to the cultural confidence and wealth of Iranian civilization, its ability to reform itself into a unique state in its own right, and the fact that a new dynasty would rise in the 16th century, adding yet more layers to this distinction.

Iran had been annexed by the caliphate, but retained its own language and culture, thus beginning to influence the shape and direction of the Islamic world. Even nomadic Turks, in turn, appreciated the cultural powerhouses Iran and the Persian world represented, adopting and adapting many of their cultural attributes, including the Persian language. This cultural trust again took political form with the rise of the Safavids in the 16th century, which, in an effort to consolidate their position, imposed Shia, a minority branch of Islam, as the new state religion from 1501 onwards.


Today, Shiites make up 10 percent of Muslims and are a minority branch of Islam. It arose out of disputes over the succession of the Prophet Muhammad, but developed a unique method of interpreting Scripture that valued the biblical authority of its "imams," the prophet's cousins ​​and sons-in-law, the first Descendants of Imams. , Ali. (“Shia” from which Ali’s party derives), and, in the absence of imams, religious scholars who are held in high esteem by society.

There are several Shiite sects, the two most prominent relative to the number of recognized hereditary Imams are the Twelve and Seven (or Ismailis). In 1501, the Safavid dynasty introduced the Twelfth Shia to Iran, and it is still the state religion of Iran today. The twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, is believed to have gone into obscurity in the ninth century.thFor centuries, his followers have been "in hiding", waiting for his reappearance at some unspecified time, when he will usher in an age of justice. During his time in hiding, leading religious scholars (known today as "Ayatollahs") made various claims to his authority.

It turns out this is a double-edged sword. Shia adoption helped to differentiate the Iranian state from its Ottoman counterparts in the West. But it also hindered political connections with the Persian world to the east. However, for two centuries the Safavid dynasty saw the prosperity of Iranian civilization, especially under Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), the only king after the Islamic conquest known as "the Great". In fact, just as Iranians attribute all pre-Islamic achievements to the reign of Khusrao I, Shah Abbas attributes to him every achievement of the Islamic period.

It was during this period that the first systematic contacts between Iran and Europe were established, and European merchants began to establish commercial and, in some cases, political ties.

A brief history of Iran (3)

modern challenge

Unfortunately for Iran, the period of the most dramatic increase in European power and Western civilization in the eighteenth century coincided with a period of political turmoil in Iran. The crushing defeat of the Safavid dynasty in 1722 led to decades of war, with the first Iran rising under Nader Shah (1736-1747), only to descend into turmoil after his death.

As a little-known historical footnote, Nader Shah's 1739 invasion and defeat of the Mughal Empire only opened India to European infiltration in the 18th century.thcentury. when iran emerged from turmoil at the end of the eighteenth centurythIn the 19th century it faced a whole new challenge in the Russian Empire and the British Empire. These are not only political threats, but also ideological ones, directed against assertive European powers that have no awe of Iranian civilization. Instead, they see the Iranian state's political economy as antiquated, dependent on the authority and authoritarian power of its rulers. king.

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The European powers went out to the world with new ideas about state organization, the rule of law, and constitutionalism, all of which were foreign to the Iranian world, but which gained strength among a group of intellectuals who believed passing the bill would save Iran. These new and innovative forms of political and economic organization. Iranians, accustomed to educating the world, find themselves in the position of reluctant students. Throughout the 19th century, Iranian intellectuals and activists attempted to push for reforms, but were ultimately most eager to maintain the balance of power in the face of opposition from domestic reactionaries in Iran (especially a monarchy unwilling to relinquish power) and the ambivalence of European powers. .

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Finally, in the early 20th centurythIn 1906, Iran's first revolution - the Constitutional Revolution - established a parliamentary system on the British model, including a constitution and separation of powers, in 1906. This is an important moment in changing the political landscape of the country. But his ambitions were big, but his promise was broken as the new dynasty, the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979), tried to push the revolution from the top down.

With the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, the new monarch inherited with some vigor the revolutionary momentum of 1906, initially supported by many intellectuals of the time who were eager to see the establishment of a modern state that would allow his rule to accomplish. Multiple reforms. education and justice system. The Reza Shah government oversaw the transformation of the country, but the reforms he oversaw were only partially implemented, and the growth of state power did not match the growth of civil society and civil rights.

In the turmoil of World War II, he was overthrown after the Allied occupation (1941-1946) and was succeeded by his youngest son, Mohammad Reza Shah (1941-1979), who ruled in The first period also had to deal with growing factional fighting. . With the continuous interference of foreign forces. The crisis over the continued Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan was resolved in 1946, but a more serious crisis triggered by Iran's oil industry led to a coup d'état planned by the Anglo-Americans to overthrow the nationalist Prime Minister Dr Mohammad Mosaddegh, who had encouraged Shah's revolutionary rule rather than rule. . Like the 1906 revolution, the 1953 coup cast a long shadow over Iranian politics, and the shah struggled to shake off it.

A brief history of Iran (4)

Royal Despotism and the "Islamic" Revolution

In the 1960s, the king felt powerful enough to launch his own "white" revolution, further changing the country's socio-economic landscape, but failed to introduce any political reform measures to accompany these dramatic changes. In fact, far from democratizing, the 1970s saw a reduction in royal despotism. Political stagnation and social and economic change proved a flammable combination, coupled with a religious revival centered on Ayatollah Khomeini. By 1978, the king no longer had political clout in the face of opposition from nationalists, leftists and religious groups, and was increasingly at a loss as to how to respond to waves of discontent.

He went into exile in January 1979. Two weeks later, the Ayatollah Khomeini was again adored by the crowd (pictured above), and shortly afterMonarchy replaced by Islamic Republic. But this new "Islamic" revolution has not been more successful in reconciling Iran's traditions with the challenges of modernity. The capture of the US embassy in November 1979 and the protracted war with Iraq in 1980 (which lasted until 1988) marked and defined the emerging Islamic Republic. A violent crackdown on the left has not eliminated rampant factionalism, and the Islamic Republic has been characterized by bitter debate over the nature and character of the state, divided between those who support republican institutions and those who seek to establish an Islamic government.

The dominance of the "Islamists" and the growing despotism of the "Supreme Leader" suggest that the problems of 1906 remained unresolved, and that in 1979 only the "crown" replaced the "turban".

A Brief History of Iran: A Timeline

c2700 ACThe Emergence of Elamite Civilization
c1500 ACIranian immigrants from Central Asia
c1000 ACZoroastrian Minister of Eastern Iran
539 communicationConquer Babylon and liberate the Jews.
490 exchangesFirst Invasion of Greece - Battle of Marathon
480 ACSecond Invasion of Greece - Battle of Salamis
331 communicationAlexander the Great Conquers the Persian Empire
312-247a。C。Seleucid Empire
247 communicationRise of the Parthian Empire
53 communicationRomans defeated at the Battle of Calle
224 DCThe Rise of the Sasanian Dynasty
651 DCCollapse of the Sasanian Empire and annexation by the Muslim Arabs
749 DCEstablishment of the Abbasid Caliphate, beginning of the Persian revival
1010ferdowsi completeShahnameh
1040The Rise of the Sarjuk Dynasty
1219The First Mongol Invasion Under Genghis Khan
1258Mongols sack Baghdad
1370-1405Timurid government
1501The Rise of the Safavid Empire and the Establishment of Shiaism
Chapter 1722Safavid empire collapses in face of Afghan invasion
1736–47nader shah government
1785The emergence of the Qajar dynasty
1804–13First Russo-Polish War - Treaty of Golestan
1826–28Second Russo-Polish War - Treaty of Turkmenistan
1856–67Anglo-Polish War - Treaty of Paris
1901british oil concession
1906constitutional revolution
1907Anglo-Russian Convention
1919Anglo-Polish agreement
1921The February Coup and the Rise of Reza Shah
1925Establishment of the Pahlavi Dynasty
1941–46Allied occupation of Iran
1946Azerbaijan crisis
1951–53oil nationalization crisis
1953Anglo-American coup against Mossadegh
1963Initiation of the White Revolution
1979The Islamic Revolution overthrew the monarchy
1980–88Iran-Iraq War
in 1989Ayatollah Khomeini dies


Ali M Ansari is Professor of History at the University of St Andrews, specializing in Iranian history and the author of several books, includingIran: a very brief introduction(Oxford University Press, 2014);Nationalist Politics in Modern Iran(Cambridge University Press, 2012); andIran, Islam, and Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change3RDEd. (Ginkgo/Casa Chatham, 2019)


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