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Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Historical travel > Persian Empire

Persian Empire

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The ancient Persian Empire included areas far beyond modern Persia, now called Iran.


At some times the Persians controlled much of the Middle East — they were a main antagonist of Ancient Greece a few centuries BCE (and later the Roman Empire), and ruled Egypt at one point — as well as much of the Caucasus and parts of what are now Pakistan and India.

In Western canon, the Persian Empire was famous for the liberation of Jews from Babylon, as well as the Persian Wars with Ancient Greece.

They had a huge influence on Central Asia, much of which they ruled for centuries. Marco Polo, for example, describes cities like Bukhara and Balkh as Persian. Even today, one dialect of Persian is the main language of Tajikistan and another is widely used in Afghanistan. They also had a tremendous influence on South Asia which was repeatedly invaded by Persian speakers, from Darius taking Gandhara in the 6th century BCE to the Mughal Empire which ruled much of the subcontinent from the 16th century CE into the 19th.

Persia has been conquered three times: by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, by Arabs during the great expansion of Islam in the 8th century CE, and by the Mongol Empire in the 13th. Every time, it has risen again to create another Persian Empire.


The main dialects of Persian are Farsi in Iran, Tajik in Tajikistan and Dari in Afghanistan. They are different enough to create difficulties, but not to completely prevent understanding.



Peak of Achaemenid Empire

At its peak, around 500 BCE, the empire was enormous. Here we list some areas that retained Persian culture for centuries beyond that.

  • Afghanistan has always shown a strong Persian influence
  • Bactria has been a center of trade for several thousand years
  • Iran was the center of the empire
  • Sogdia was the northernmost part of the empire a few centuries BCE
  • Gandhara, a civilization centered in what is now Pakistan, with much fine Buddhist art


See Iran#Cities for the main modern towns there. This section lists only places not on that list.

  • Balkh, former capital of Bactria, now a town in northern Afghanistan with interesting buildings
  • Bokhara, great trading city on the Silk Road
  • Herat, now Afghanistan's westernmost city, heavily influenced by Persia and sometimes part of the empire
  • Persepolis in Iran, now only ruins, was the empire's capital in its days of glory
  • Samarkand, Silk Road city and once capital of Sogdia


See also[edit]

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History of Iran