Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Historical travel > Persian Empire
The ancient Persian Empire included areas far beyond modern Persia, now called Iran. At 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. They ruled Egypt at one point — as well as much of the Caucasus and Central Asia and parts of what are now Pakistan and India. At the height of its power, more than 40 per cent of the world's population were Persian subjects, a higher ratio than any other empire ever.
Perhaps the longest on-again-off-again war in recorded history was between the Persian and Roman empires beginning with an ill-fated expedition under Crassus in the first century BCE, enduring past the replacement of Parthian with Sassanian Persia and the fall of the Western Roman Empire and only coming to a close with the defeat of Persia (much weakened by a then recent fight with Rome) at the hands of Muslim invaders.
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 7th century CE, and by the Mongol Empire in the 13th. Every time, it has risen again to create another Persian Empire. The Sunni-Shia split coincides with the Persian-Arab cultural split to a large extent (historically Persian lands being largely Shia) and some argue that the cultural differences rather than religious or theological ones are the main reason for the sectarian violence in modern times.
Persia 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.
The modern game of chess is believed to have originated in the Persian game shatranj, which also gave rise to other chess variants in parts of the world such as Chinese Xiangqi, Japanese Shogi, and the Korean and Thai variants. While shatranj originated in the Indian game chaturanga, it was the Persian version that spread to other parts of the world and gave rise to all the modern-day national and international chess variants. Some chess terms also go back to Persian terms "checkmate" comes from "shah mat" or "the King is dead" which is however less evident in the English version than some other languages.
Persia also had a strong influence on religion in various areas; for one thing, the ancient Persian faith Zoroastrianism still exists, mainly in India and Iran. As for Christianity, the empire supported the Church of the East, apparently mainly for political reasons; the Persians did not want a church with strong ties to either Byzantium or Rome becoming too influential in their territory.
That church never accepted the condemnation of Nestorius as a heretic by the western bishops. It sent missionaries east along the Silk Road to spread its Nestorian version of the Gospel. They reached China and Korea by the 7th century, hundreds of years ahead of other Christians. Later, Persia sent Muslim missionaries along the same routes.
Old Persian was only one of many languages spoken and used officially by the First Persian Empire, the Achaemenid, along with Babylonian, Elamite, Aramaic and even Greek. This multilingual approach to governance continued during the course of the Parthian and early Sasanian Empires. By the late Sasanian however, Middle Persian had emerged as the prestige and dominant language in the Greater Iranian sphere, which over the centuries evolved into Modern Persian and kept its dominance to the modern day.
At its peak, around 500 BCE, the empire was enormous. These areas retained Persian culture for centuries:
- 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 other modern towns there.
- 1 Baku (Azerbaijan). For much of its history, was a Persian city, and its old core's architecture reflects this fact.
- 2 Balkh. Former capital of Bactria, now a town in northern Afghanistan with interesting buildings
- 3 Bokhara (Uzbekistan). Great trading city on the Silk Road
- 4 Ctesiphon (Iraq). Now a ruined city on the eastern banks of the Tigris river, was capital of the empire until the Islamic conquest of Persia.
- 5 Derbent (Dagestan). "The Barred Gates" in Persian, often identified with the legendary Gates of Alexander, was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Its beautiful fortress is thought to date from the reign of Khosrau I.
- 6 Herat. Now Afghanistan's westernmost city, it's heavily influenced by Persia and sometimes part of the empire
- 7 Isfahan. Capital of Persia under the Safavids from the 16th to 18th centuries. It features a world heritage listed square surrounded by historic buildings including a fine mosque, the royal palace and a huge bazaar.
- 8 Pasargadae, 90 km northeast of Shiraz (Iran). The capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC), who ordered its construction. The world heritage archaeological site covers 1.6 km2 (0.62 sq mi) and includes a limestone structure commonly believed to be the mausoleum of Cyrus, the fortress of Toll-e Takht sitting on top of a nearby hill, and the remains of two royal palaces and gardens. Pasargadae Persian Gardens provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or fourfold garden design.
- 9 Persepolis (Iran). Now only ruins, was the empire's capital in its days of glory
- 10 Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Silk Road city and once capital of the empire's northernmost province, Sogdia
- 11 Shiraz (Iran). A city with a vast array of historic buildings, was the capital of the Empire under the short-lived Zand dynasty.
- 12 Tehran. The capital of Iran under the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties and an Islamic Republic since 1979, the city features a royal palace inscribed as a world heritage site.
- 13 Zaranj (Afghanistan). Near the border of Iran, this city has seen the birth of Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar, who founded the Saffarid dynasty when it was the capital during the 9th century.
|History of Iran|