Iran History – From the Origins to the Arsacidic Domination

By | December 16, 2021

Iran is a state of southwestern Asia, bordering Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to the North (where the limit is also provided by the Caspian Sea), Afghanistan and Pakistan to the East, Turkey and Iraq to the West, while to the South it overlooks the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. For Iran society, please check

From the origins to the Arsacidic domination. The oldest known political formation on Iranian territory is the empire of the Medes, an Iranian population that between the 8th and 6th centuries. BC dominated in the northern area of ​​the plateau. The supremacy of the Medes was first joined and then (mid-6th century) by that of the Persians based in the southern part of the country. With the royal family of the Achaemenids and its progenitor Cyrus the Elder, first king of Anzan in Susiana, then king of Persia, the Persian empire assumed a leading position in the history not only of Asia but of the whole ancient world. Under Cyrus, the kingdom of the Medes was demolished (550), then the Lydian kingdom (546), and finally the Babylonian one (538). When in 528 Ciro died fighting on the northeastern frontier of the empire, it already extended from the Caucasus to the Indian Ocean, from the Mediterranean to Central Asia. Cyrus’s son Cambyses undertook the conquest of Egypt (525), but died in 522, while returning to Persia. From the dramatic and dark events that followed (usurpation of the magician Gaumata and conspiracy of the Persian nobles) emerged the cadet branch of the Achaemenids, ascended to the throne with Darius I, son of Istaspe (522-485), who accomplished the work of Cyrus and brought the Persian empire to the height of power. The reign of Darius is known to us not only for the Greek sources, but also for the inscriptions of the Great King themselves, especially for those of Persepolis, the capital of the empire. The immense empire was divided into 20 satrapies, connected by an admirable road network and governed by a firm and elastic bureaucratic organization, headed by the sovereign: the central power respected religious freedom and ensured the economic prosperity of the individual subjugated peoples, drawing once, with taxes and services in kind, the means for the sumptuous life of the court and for an impressive building activity (residences of Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis). The Persian expansion led Darius to war against the peoples of the North (Scythian expedition, circa 514) and against the Greeks (Ionian insurrection: 498-494; punitive expedition of 490, battle of Marathon). Darius died or retired by abdication in 485, the son Xerxes continued its anti-Hellenic policy (battles of Salamis, 480, and of Plataea, 479) and the further history of the Achaemenids up to the conquest of Alexander is known almost exclusively as a function of Greek history, and narrated by Greek sources. The main episodes of this story are the disputes for the kingdom between Artaxerxes II and Cyrus the Younger, which ended with the defeat of this in Cunassa (401) the peace of Antalcida of 386, which reaffirmed the Persian dominion over the Greek colonies of Asia Minor, and the wars of the 4th century, under Artaxerxes III (358-338), to tame the rebel provinces. The recovery of Greece, which put an end to the two-century duel of Hellenic Europe against Persian Asia, was then accomplished with the expedition of Alexander the Great and the collapse of the ancient Persian empire (battle of Issus, 333; of Gaugamela, 331; death of the last Achaemenid, Darius III, 330). The death of Alexander, in 323, concluded for Persia, deprived of independence and sovereignty, the oldest period in its history. For a few decades the region gravitated to the orbit of the Seleucid empire, but these direct bonds of subjection quickly eased, and in the mid-3rd century. new political formations, more or less Hellenized, emerged on Iranian soil: in the extreme East, the Indo-Greek kingdom of Bactriana, dissolved from the vassalage of the Seleucids and remained for some time the extreme propugnant of Hellenism in the heart of Asia; further to the West, the kingdom of the Arsacids of Parthia, whose eponym Arsace, assumed the title of king in 250 BC, first established its capital at Dara (od. Kalat), then to Ecatompilo. Thus arose, with its center in Mesopotamia and Media, the feudal and military state of the parts, for five centuries the most vital and aggressive eastern adversary first of the Seleucids, then of Rome. Artabanus V (d. 224 AD), was the last Arsacide (➔ Arsacids). In fact, in the first decades of the 3rd century. the old Arsacid team was attacked, from the South, by an internal revolt movement which had its outbreak in Persis and its leader in Ardashir, son of Papak, of a southern noble lineage that claimed to reconnect with the ancient Achaemenids. The triumph of Ardashir, who entered the Parthian capital Ctesiphon in 226, marked a reaffirmation of the purely national tradition against the Hellenized parts and ushered in the last period of power of pre-Muslim Persia.

Iran History - From the Origins to the Arsacidic Domination