2017: A Persian Prelude
After turning 73 on 1/7/16, I watched the crowning achievement of silent cinema, Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece "Metropolis" for the first time since attending a "Theology in the Cinema" class when I was 27. This time I was beginning a long planning period by trying to understand the culture underlying the modern nation of Iran and the people who live within its borders.
The moral of the film is not “let’s abolish all inequities and rebuild a world where everyone is equal” and it is certainly not “let’s be democratic and vote for who we want as a ruler.” It is more “let’s send the workers back to the depths where they belong, but with the addition of a "Mediator/Atoner", who will be the link between the workers and the thinkers”. So, when all is said and done, the movie is intrinsically “elitist,” as it still calls for the existence of an elite group of people holding most of the resources and managing a working class. In the end, the workers were duped, believing that their conditions would change. In fact, the status-quo remained and a new illusionary distortion provided to give the elite a friendly image while reporting everything happening in the depths, resulting in tighter surveillance and control.
The film shows the workers and their city, situated deep below the earth’s surface. They are shown dressed alike, walking in sync, holding their heads down in submission, resignation and desperation. Throughout the movie, the human cattle are depicted as being physically and mentally exhausted, highly impressionable and, let’s say it, all-around dumb. Like a flock of sheep, the workers move in crowds, are very impressionable and can easily be deceived. This description of the masses corroborates that of Walter Lippmann, an American thinker who, five years before the film, compared the general public to a “bewildered herd” that is not qualified to manage its own destiny. Joseph Goebbels, the head of propaganda of the Nazi regime, was also in accord with the movie’s conception of the general public. Hitler famously said “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think”.
The workers labor in a monstrous "machine", a hellish industrial complex where they must accomplish repetitive and dehumanizing tasks. At one point, the machine is compared to Moloch, the ancient Semitic deity honored by human sacrifices. A visionary moment in the film presents the machine turning into Moloch. The workers are fed to the beast as human sacrifices. Moloch, the God Baal, the Bull of the Sun, was widely worshipped in the ancient Near East and wherever that culture extended. Baal/Moloch was conceived in the form of a calf or an ox or depicted as a man with the head of a bull. The sacrifices went through the “belly of the beast”.
If the workers live in a hellish underground dystopia, the thinkers conversely evolve in a gleaming utopia, a magnificent testimony of human achievement. This shiny city could not, however, be sustained without the existence of the machine and its herds of workers. On the other hand, the machine would not exist without the need to sustain a city. We find here a dualistic relation where two opposite entities exist in mutual dependence, a concept that has deep occult resonance. In a thinly veiled reference to the hermetic Masonic seal axiom “As Above, So Below”, the movie describes the mirroring yet opposite environments in which the thinkers and the workers live. I found the Masonic Seal of Solomon which visually depicts the concept of “As above, So below” while representing opposite energies mirroring each other to achieve perfect balance. I also found William Blake’s representation of the gnostic demiurge, creator and ruler of the imperfect lower plane, where sin and suffering prevails. The compass borrows from Masonic symbolism for God as the “Great Architect of the Universe”. Fritz Lang’s world perfectly recreates this concept.
At one point in Metropolis, the heroine tells the story of the tower of Babel, upon which would be written:
“Great is the world and its Creator! And great is Man!”
This statement has a deep resonance in mystery schools as it is taught that men have the potential to become gods through enlightenment. Throughout the ages, monuments and architecture were used to communicate the principles of the mysteries and to celebrate the greatness of the human mind. The "Ziggurat" of Babel of course represented a masonic enterprise and early expositors reaped full benefit from the facts. They remembered that the people, who were of ‘one language and one speech’ journeyed from the East to the West, like those who have been tried and proved as master masons. When they reached an abiding place in the Shinar plains, it is affirmed that they dwelt therein as 'Noachide" or children of Noah, being the first characteristic name of masons. It was here that they built their high tower of confusion.
The term coined by the Iranian secular intellectual Jalal al-e Ahmad to describe the current evolution of the Metropolis dystopia machine as it is imposed on Iran by 'Euromania'. This fascination joins the twin dangers of cultural imperialism and political domination. This sense of intoxication or infatuation then impairs rational judgment and confers an inability to see the dangers presented by the toxic substance. The West's inherent dangers are described as moral laxity, social injustice, secularism, devaluation of religion, and obsession with money, all of which are fueled by capitalism and its common result in cultural alienation.
This 'Moloch' is held responsible for turning Iran into an unproductive consumption society. It is feared that its cities and villages will become flea markets hawking European manufactured goods so that they will end up as heaps of dilapidated machines like the American 'junkyards'. According to the theorists this Euromania has created an all-embracing world market, after which Marxist class analysis no longer explains much, for now rhe world is divided into the poor and the rich, one the creators of machines and the other the consumers. The appetites created by this consumption economy has gripped the townspeople throughout Iran; the towns day by day demand more Western goods as fodder, and day by day they become more homogenous in decline, rootlessness and ugliness. They are lacking in social services, empty of libraries and centers of social life, and stripped of significant communal buildings.
In his commencement address to the Harvard graduating class Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn restated Al-e Ahmad's critique as follows:
"The persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of the globe should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented 9by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and i comprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick."
Among Al-e Ahmad's admirers were Iran’s revolutionary clerics, such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his disciple Ali Khamenei (Iran’s current supreme leader). Al-e Ahmad was skeptical of the clerics’ hierarchy and rigidity, but he thought their preeminence in Iranian society was natural and was pleased that they took Gharbzadegi seriously. He shared with them a view of Shiite Islam as carrying the moral prestige of perpetual insurgency: virtue in the face of corrupt materialism, steadfastness against imperial power. Iran could and should import machines, they agreed -- piety should not block technology. But as for the freedom of inquiry that produced the technology, that was a different question: if it inevitably brought agnosticism, sexual nonconformity, and greed, then Iran would be better off refusing that part of the bargain.
Gilgamesh, named in the ancient King List as the fifth ruler of Uruk, was remembered as "the strongest of men--huge, handsome, radiant, perfect." He may well have existed but soon acquired a legendary aura. It was said that he had seen everything, traveled to the ends of the earth, visited the underworld, and achieved great wisdom. By the early third millennium BCE, Uruk, in what is now southern Iraq, was the largest city-state in the federation of Sumer, the world's first civilization. The poet Sin-leqi-uninni, who wrote his cuniform version of Gilgamesh's remarkable life in about 1200 BCE, was still bursting with pride in its temples, palaces, gardens, and shops. He began and ended his epic with an exuberant description of the magnificent city wall, six miles long, that Gilgamesh had restored for his people. "Walk on the wall of Uruk!" he urged his readers excitedly. "Follow its course around the city, inspect its mighty foundations, examine its brickwork, how masterfully it is built!" This splendid fortification showed that warfare had become a fact of human life. Yet this had not been an inevitable development. For hundreds of years, Sumer had felt no need to protect its cities from outside attack. Gilgamesh, however, who probably ruled around 2750 BCE was a new kind of Sumerian king, "a wild bull of a man, unvanquished leader, hero on the front lines, beloved by his soldiers--fortress they called him, protector of the people, raging flood that devours all defenses."
Despite his passion for Uruk, Sin-leqi had to admit that civilization had its discontents. Poets had begun to tell Gilgamesh's story soon after his death because it is an archetypal tale, one of the first literate accounts of the hero's journey. But it also wrestles with the inescapable structural violence of civilized life. Oppressed, impoverished, and miserable, the people of Uruk begged the gods to grant them some relief from Gilgamesh's tyranny:
The city is his possession, he struts
Through it, arrogant, his head held high,
Trampling its citizens like a wild bull.
He is king, he does whatever he wants
The young men of Uruk he harries without a warrant,
Gilgamesh lets no son go free to his father.
These young men may have been conscripted into the labor bands that rebuilt the city wall. Urban living would not have been possible without the unscrupulous exploitation of the vast majority of the population. Gilgamesh and the Sumerian aristocracy lived in unprecedented splendor, but for the peasant masses civilization brought only misery and subjugation.
The Sumerians seem to have been the first people to commandeer the agricultural surplus grown by the community and create a privileged ruling class. This could only have been achieved by force. Enterprising settlers had first been drawn to the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates in about 5000 BCE. It was too dry for farming, so they designed an irrigation system to control and distribute the snow melt from the mountains that flooded the plain each year. This was an extraordinary achievement. Canals and ditches had to be planned, designed, and maintained in a cooperative effort and the water allocated fairly between competing communities. The new system probably began on a small scale, but would have soon led to a dramatic increase in agricultural yield and thus to a population explosion. By 3500 BCE, Sumer numbered a hitherto unachievable half-million souls. Strong leadership would have been essential, but what actually transformed these simple farmers into city dwellers is a topic of endless debate. Probably a number of interlocking and mutually reinforcing factors were involved: population growth, unprecedented agricultural fecundity, and the intensive labor required by irrigation--not to mention sheer human ambition--all contributed to a new kind of society.
All that we know for certain is that by 3000 BCE there were twelve cities in the plain of Shinar, each supported by produce grown by peasants in the surrounding countryside. Theirs was subsistence-level living. Each village had to bring its entire crop to the city it served, officials allocated a portion to feed the local peasants, and the rest was stored for the aristocracy in the city temples. In this way, a few great families with the help of a class of retainers--bureaucrats, soldiers, merchants, and household servants--appropriated between half and two-thirds of the revenue. They used this surplus to live a different sort of life altogether, lived for various pursuits that depend on leisure and wealth. In return, they maintained the irrigation system and preserved a degree of law and order. All pre-modern states feared anarchy: a single crop failure caused by drought or social unrest could lead to thousands of deaths, so the elite could tell themselves that this system benefited the population as a whole. But robbed of the fruits of their labors, the peasants were little better than slaves: plowing, harvesting, digging irrigation canals, being forced into degradation and penury, their hard labor in the fields draining their lifeblood. If they failed to satisfy their overseers, their oxen were kneecapped and their olive trees chopped down. They left fragmentary records of their distress. "The poor man is better dead than alive," one peasant lamented. "I am a thoroughbred steed," complained another, "but I am hitched to a mule and must draw a cart and carry weeds and stubble."
Sumer had devised the system of structural violence that would prevail in every agrarian state until the modern period, when agriculture ceased to be the economic basis of civilization. Its rigid hierarchy was symbolized by the ziggurats, the giant stepped "organization charts" that were the hallmark of the Mesopotamian civilization. Sumerian society too was stacked in narrowing layers culminating in an exulted aristocratic pinnacle, each individual locked inexorably. Yet, historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry. By no coincidence, when the Sumerians invented writing, it was for the purpose of social control.
What role did religion play in this damaging oppression? All political communities develop ideologies that ground their institutions in the natural order as they perceive it. The Sumerians knew how fragile their groundbreaking urban experiment was. Their mud-brick buildings needed constant maintenance; the Tigris and Euphrates frequently broke their banks and ruined the crops: torrential rains turned the soil into a sea of mud; and terrifying storms damaged property and killed livestock. But the aristocrats had begun to study astronomy and discovered regular patterns in the movements of the heavenly bodies. They marveled at the way the different elements of the natural world worked together to create a stable universe, and they concluded that the cosmos itself must be a kind of state in which everything had its allotted function. They decided that if they modeled their cities on this celestial order, their experimental society would be in tune with the way the world worked and would therefore thrive and endure.
The cosmic state, they believed, was managed by gods who were inseparable from the natural forces and nothing like the "God" worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims today. These deities could not control events but were bound by the same laws as humans, animals, and plants. There was also no vast ontological gap between the human and divine; Gilgamesh, for example, was one-third human, two-thirds divine. The Anunmaki, the higher gods, were the aristocrats' celestial alter egos, their most complete and effective selves, differing from humans only in that they were immortal. The Sumerians imagined these gods as preoccupied with town planning, irrigation, and government, just as they were. Anu, the Sky, ruled this archetypal state from his palace in the heavens, but his presence was also felt in all earthly authority. Enlil, Lord Storm, was revealed not only in the cataclysmic thunderstorms of Mesopotamia but also in the Divine Council (on which the Sumerian Assembly was modeled), and Enki, who had imparted the arts of civilization to human beings, was its minister of agriculture.
Every polity--even our modern secular nation-state--relies on a mythology that defines its special character and mission. The word myth has lost its force in modern times and tends to mean something that is not true, that never happened. But in the pre-modern world, mythology expressed a timeless rather than a historical reality and provided a blueprint for action in the present. At this very early point in history, when the archaelogical and historical record is so scanty, the mythology that the Sumerians preserved in writing is the only way we can enter their minds. For these pioneers of civilization, the myth of the cosmic state was an exercise in political science. The Sumerians knew that their stratified society was a shocking departure from the egalitarian norm that had prevailed from time immemorial, but they were convinced that it was somehow enshrined in the very nature of things and that even the gods were bound by it. Long before humans existed, it was said, the gods had lived in the Mesopotamian cities, growing their own food, and managing the irrigation system. After the Great Flood, they had withdrawn from earth to heaven and appointed the Sumerian aristocracy to govern the cities in their stead. Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had no choice in the matter.
Following the logic of the perennial philosophy, the Sumerians' political arrangements imitated those of their gods; this, they believed, enabled their fragile cities to participate in the strength of the divine realm. Each city had its patronal deity and was run as this god's personal estate. Represented by a life-sized statue, the ruling god lived in the chief temple with his family and household of divine retainers and servants, each one of whom was also depicted in effigy and dwelled in a suite of rooms. The gods were fed, clothed, and entertained in elaborate rituals, and each temple owned huge holdings of farmland and herds of livestock in their name. Everybody in the city-state, no matter how menial his or her task, was engaged in divine service--officiating at the deities' rites; working in their breweries, factories, and workshops; sweeping their shrines, pasturing and butchering their animals; baking their bread; and clothing their statues. Their was nothing secular about the Mesopotamian state and nothing personal about their religion. This was a theocracy in which everybody--from the highest aristocrat to the lowest artisan--performed a sacred activity.
Mesopotamian religion was essentially communal; men and women did not seek to encounter the divine only in the privacy of their hearts but primarily in a godly community. Pre-modern religion had no separate institutional existence; it was only embedded in the political, social, and domestic arrangements of society, providing it with an overarching system of meaning. Its goals, language, and rituals were conditioned by these mundane considerations. Providing the template for society, Mesopotamian religious practice seems to have been the direct opposite of our modern notion of "religion" as a private spiritual experience: it was essentially a political pursuit, and we have no record of any personal devotions. The gods' temples, were not simply places of worship but were central to the economy, because the agricultural surplus was stored there. The Sumerians had no word for priest: aristocrats who were also the cities' bureaucrats, poets, and astronomers officiated at the city cult. This was only fitting, since for them all activity--and especially politics--was holy.
This elaborate system was not simply a disingenuous justification of the structural violence of the state but was primarily an attempt to invest the audacious and problematic human experience with meaning. The city was humanity's greatest artifact: artificial, vulnerable, and dependent upon institutionalized coercion. Civilization demands sacrifice, and the Sumerians had to convince themselves that the price they were exacting from the peasantry was necessary and ultimately worth it. In claiming that their inequitable system was in tune with the fundamental laws of the cosmos, the Sumerians were therefore expressing the inexorable political reality in mythical terms.
It seemed like an iron law because no society ever found an alternative. By the end of the fifteenth century CE, agrarian civilizations would be established in the Middle East, South and East Asia, North Africa, and Europe, and in every one--whether in India, Russia, Turkey, Mongolia, the Levant, China, Greece, or Scandinavia--aristocrats would exploit their peasants as the Sumerians did. Without the coercion of the ruling class, it would have been impossible to force peasants to produce an economic surplus, because population growth would have kept pace with advances in productivity. Unpalatable as this may seem, by forcing the masses to live at subsistence level the aristocracy kept population growth in check and made human progress feasible. Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being. As the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton pointed out, all of us who have benefited from this systemic violence are implicated in the suffering inflicted for over five thousand years on the vast majority of men and women. Or as the philosopher Walter Benjamin put it: "There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism."
Not everybody in the Middle East aspired to civilization: nomadic herdsmen preferred to roam freely in the mountains with their livestock. They had once been part of the agricultural community, living at the edge of the farmland so that their sheep and cattle did not damage the crops. But gradually they moved farther and farther away until they finally abandoned the constraints of settled life and took to the open road. The pastoralists of the Middle East had probably become an entirely separate community as early as 6000 BCE, though they continued to trade their hides and milk products with the cities in return for grain. They soon discovered that the easiest way to replace lost animals was to steal the cattle of nearby villages and rival tribes. Fighting, therefore, became essential to the pastoralist economy. Once they domesticated the horse and acquired wheeled vehicles, these herdsmen spread all over the Inner Asian Plateau, and by the early third millennium, some had reached China. By this time they were formidable warriors, equipped with bronze weaponry, war chariots, and the deadly composite bow, which could shoot with devastating accuracy at long range.
The pastoralists who settled in the Caucasian steppes of southern Russia in about 4500 BCE shared a common culture. They called themselves Arya (noble/honorable), but we know them as Indo-Europeans because their language became the basis of several Asiatic and European tongues. In about 2500 BCE some of the Aryans left the steppes and conquered large areas of Asia and Europe, becoming the ancestors of the Hittites, Celts, Greeks, Romans, Germans, Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons. Meanwhile, those tribes who had remained in the Caucasus drifted apart. They continued to live side by side--not always amicably--speaking different dialects of the proto-Indo-European tongue until about 1500 BCE, when they too migrated from the steppes, the Avestan speakers settling in the lower Zagros mountains of southwestern Iran and the Sanskrit speakers colonizing the Asian sub-continent.
We have no firm evidence, but it was probably pastoralists living in the Zagros Mountainous regions near the Fertile Crescent who introduced warfare to Sumer. The herdsmen would have found the cities' wealth irresistible, and they had perfected the art of the surprise attack, their speed and mobility terrifying the city dwellers, who had not yet mastered the art of horsemanship. After a few such lightning raids, the Sumerians would have taken steps to protect their people and storehouses. But these assaults probably gave them the idea of using similar techniques to seize loot and arable land from neighboring Sumerian cities. By the middle of the third millennium BCE, the Sumerian plain was mobilized for warfare: archeologists have discovered a marked increase in walled fortifications and bronze weapons in this stratum.
We can only piece together the progress of Sumerian militarization from fragmentary archeological evidence. Between 2340 and 2284 BCE, the Sumerian King Lists record thirty-four intercity wars. The first kings of Sumer had been priestly specialists in astronomy and ritual; now increasingly they were warriors like Gilgamesh. They discovered that warfare was an invaluable source of revenue that brought them booty and prisoners who could be put to work in the fields. Instead of waiting for the next breakthrough in productivity, war yielded quicker and more ample returns. During these inconclusive wars, Sumerian aristocrats and retainers were wounded, killed, and enslaved, but the peasants suffered far more. Because they were the basis of of any aristocrat's wealth, they were slaughtered by an invading army, their barns and homes demolished, and their fields soaked with blood. The countryside and peasant villages would become a wasteland, and the destruction of harvests, herds and agricultural equipment often meant severe famine. The inconclusive nature of these wars meant that everybody suffered and that there would be no permanent gain for anybody, since today's winner was likely to be tomorrow's loser. This would become the besetting problem of civilization, since equally matched aristocracies would always compete aggressively for scarce resources. Paradoxically, warfare that was supposed to enrich the aristocracy often damaged productivity. Already at this early date it had become apparent that to prevent this pointless and self-destructive suffering, it was essential to hold these competing aristocracies in check. A higher authority had to have the military muscle to impose the peace.
We have archeological evidence in the "Stele of the Vultures" on display in the Louve, that somewhere around 2460 BCE, Eannatum, a king of the first dynasty of Lagash some 17 miles southeast of Uruk, may have been the first to get the idea of establishing an empire. He set about the conquest of all of Sumer, including Ur, Nippur, Akshak, Kish, and Uruk. He made Umma a tributary, where every person had to pay a certain amount of grain into the treasury of the goddess Nina and the god Ingurisa after he personally commanded an army to subjugate the city.
The inscriptions on the stele are divided into four horizontal registers. The upper register shows Eannatum, the ensi or ruler of Lagash, leading a phalanx of soldiers into battle, with their defeated enemies trampled below their feet. Flying above them are the vultures after which the stele is named, with the severed heads of the enemies of Lagash in their beaks. The second register shows soldiers marching with shouldered spears behind the king, who is riding a chariot and holding a spear. In the third register, a small part of a possibly seated figure can be seen. In front of him, a cow is tethered to a pole while a naked priest standing on a pile of dead animal bodies performs a libation ritual on two plants spouting from vases. Left of these scenes is a pile of naked bodies surrounded by skirted workers with baskets on their head. Only a small part of the fourth register has been preserved, showing a hand holding a spear that touches the head of an enemy.
In 2350 BCE a new type of ruler emerged in Mesopotamia when Sargon, a common soldier of Semitic origins, staged a successful coup in the city of Kish, marched to Uruk, and deposed its king. He then repeated this process in one city after another until, for the very first time, Sumer was ruled by a single monarch. Sargon had created the world's first agrarian empire. It was said that with his massive standing army of 5,400 men, he conquered territory in what is now Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. He then built Akkad, an entirely new capital city, which may have stood near modern Baghdad. Contact with the Avan dynasty in Elam/Susa (named for the Noah's son Shem's eldest son Elam and his son/daughter Susan) became more frequent, as the Akkadians had developed an interest in their resources (such as wood, stone, and metal) from the Iranian Plateau, and military expeditions to the area became more common. Akkad was remembered as an exotic, cosmopolitan city and an important trade center, but its site has never been discovered. The empire has left little archeological trace, and what we know of Sargon's life is largely legendary.
Yet his empire was a watershed. The world's first supra regional polity, it became the model for all future agrarian imperialism, not simply because of Sargon's prestige but because there seemed to be no viable alternative. Warfare and taxation would be essential to the economy of every future agrarian empire. The Akkadian Empire was achieved by the conquest of foreign territory, subject peoples were reduced to vassals, and kings and tribal chieftains became regional governors, their task to extort taxes in kind from their people--silver, grain, frankincense, metals, timber, and animals--and send them to Akkad. The agrarian empire made no attempt to represent the people or serve their interests. The ruling class regarded the peasant population as virtually a different species. The ruler saw his empire as his personal possession and his army as his own private militia. As long as their subjects produced and relinquished the surplus, the ruling class left them to their own devices, so peasants produced and governed their own communities; pre-modern communications did not permit the imperial ruling class to impose its religion or culture on the subject peoples. A successful empire supposedly prevented the destructive tit-for-tat warfare that had plagued Sumer, but even so Sargon died suppressing a revolt.
After the decline of the Akkadian Empire, there were other imperial experiments in Mesopotamia. From 2113 to 2029, Ur ruled the whole of Sumer and Akkad from the Persian Gulf to the southern Jezirah as well as parts of western Iran. Then, in the nineteenth century BCE Sumu-abum, a Semitic-Amorite chieftain, founded a dynasty in the small town of Babylon. King Hammurabi (c. 1792-1750), the sixth in line, gradually gained control of southern Mesopotamia and the western regions of the middle Euphrates. Around 1760 BCE, Hammurabi drove out the Elamites from the Iranian plateau and overthrew Rim-Sin of Larsa.
Early one morning in about 1200 BCE, an Avestan-speaking priest in the Caucasian steppes went to the river to collect water for the morning sacrifice. There he had a vision of Ahura Mazda, "Lord Wisdom," one of the greatest gods in the Aryan pantheon. Zoroaster had been horrified by the cruelty of the Sanskrit-speaking cattle raiders, who had vandalized one Avestan community after another. As he meditated on this crisis, the logic of the perennial philosophy led him to conclude that these earthly battles must have a heavenly counterpart. The most important daevas--Varuna, Mithra, and Mazda who had the honorary title ahura (Lord)--were guardians of cosmic order and stood for truth, justice, and respect for life and property. But the cattle raider's hero was the war-god Indra, a second ranking daerva. Perhaps, Zoroaster reflected, the peace-loving ahuras were being attacked in the heavenly world by the wicked daervas. In his vision, Ahura Mazda told him that he was correct and must mobilize his people in a holy war against terror. Good men and women must no longer sacrifice to Indra and the lower daevas but worship the Wise Lord and his fellow ahuras instead, the daevas and the cattle raiders, their earthly henchmen, must be destroyed.
Zoroaster concluded that there must be a malevolent deity, Angra Mamyu, the "Hostile Spirit" who was equal in power to the Wise Lord but was his polar opposite. Every single man, woman, and child therefore, must choose beween absolute Good and Absolute Evil. Aligned with good are light, fire, summer, water, fertility, and health. Aligned with evil are darkness, cold, winter, drought, sickness, and death. The Wise Lord's followers must live patient, disciplined lives, bravely defending all good creatures from the assault of evildoers, caring for the poor and weak, and tending their cattle kindly instead of driving them from their pastures like the cruel raiders. They must pray five times a day and meditate on the menace of evil in order to weaken its power. Society must not be dominated by these fighters (nar-) but by men (viras) who were kind and dedicated to the supreme virtue of truth.
Zoroaster's apocalyptic thinking was unique and unprecedented. Traditional Aryan ideology had long acknowledged the disturbing ambiguity of the violence that lay at the heart of human society. Indra may have been a "sinner," but his struggles against the forces of chaos--however tainted by the lies and deceitful practices to which he had to resort--had contributed as much to the cosmic order as the work of the great ahuras. Yet by projecting all the cruelty of his time onto Indra, Zoroaster demonized violence and made him a figure of absolute evil. Zoroaster made few converts in his lifetime: no community could survive in the steppes without the fighters whom he had rejected. The early history of Zoroastrianism remains obscure, but we do know that when the Avestan Aryans migrated into the Iranian Plateau, they took their faith with them. Suitably adapted to the needs of the aristocracy, Zoroastrianism would become the ideology of the Persian ruling class, and Zoroastrian ideals would infiltrate the religion of Jews and Christians living under Persian rule.
The first Iranian cities were set up in the Susa plain to the east of the lower Zagros Mountains and on the western borders of what is now called Iraq. The Elamites, as they were called, had a tug-of-war with the Sumerians in the third millennium BCE linked by trade but also by rivalry. During the tumultous twelfth century BCE while the Sea Peoples were invading the Fertile Crescent from the west, the Elamites were attacking from the east, defeating Babylon and Assyria and bringing back a copy of the Code of Hammurabi that eventually ended up in the Louvre.
By the late second millennium BCE two new Indo-European tribes, the Medes and the Parsuas, infiltrated the Iranian highlands from the north, most likely from the Austro-Hungarian plain. The former set up an empire in the northern part of the country and were the ones who sacked Nineveh in the seventh century BCE. The latter set up a rival region in the south, called Pars, which became the root for the word Persia when Cyrus the Great merged the two regions in the middle of the first millennium BCE. Under Cyrus, Persia became the dominant player in the ancient Near East and the newest, least understood major influence on the Bible.
As I wrote above, from their earliest days, the Indo-Europeans had a different religious tradition from the Mesopotamians, mostly localized polytheistic beliefs developed to echo and reinforce the needs of the agrarian aristocracy. By the first millennium BCE these beliefs were folded into the most mysterious religion to emerge in the Axial Age. In some ways, Zoroastrianism has startling parallels with Judaism. Its central figure (Moses for Judaism, Zoroaster for his faith) left behind no archeological traces; its canonical texts (the Torah for Judaism, the Avesta for Zoroastrianism) were not written down until hundreds of years after their events took place. The Avesta, recorded in the sixth century BCE, is so fragmentary one scholar has compared writing about Zoroastrianism from its sources to writing about Judaism based only on a few psalms and fragments from the Talmud.
Also like Judaism's, Zoroastrianism's influence on world affairs, has been disproportionate to its size--both then and now--. Thomas Hyde, the Oxford don who coined the word cuneiform, claimed in 1700 that Zoroaster taught Pythagoras and prophesied about Jesus. Voltaire, writing in the mid-eighteenth century, used Zoroastrianism to prove that truth existed outside of Christianity. Mozart based a central character in The Magic Flute, Sorastro, the benevolent priest of sun and light, on Zoroaster. And a century later, Friedrich Nietzsche used Zoroaster as the mouthpiece for his effort to emancipate humanity from the grip of religion. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche, using the original version of the prophet's name, said the Iranian sage was a source of the most profound error in human history, the invention of morality. As a result, Nietzsche argued, Zarathustra himself must reverse that mistake and inspire humans to think beyond traditional Christian morality.
In many ways, Nietzsche's anti-Zarathustra tract became a sort of anti-Bible, a canonical text for those skeptical of religion. During World War I, the German government printed 150,000 copies of the book and distributed them to conscripts along with the Bible. Freud praised Nietzsche's self-awareness, and in the 1930s. Carl Jung held weekly seminars on the meanung of Thus Spake Zarathustra with the Zurich Psychological Club. Both Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss set Nietzsche's work to music. The fanfare to Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra was used as the theme to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey An ancient Persian prophet who left behind no historical record had suddenly become the spiritual guru of an iconic science-fiction film of the 1960s.
Zoroastrianism became the dominant religion of Persia at exactly the moment that Persia became the dominant player in the ancient Near East. Not surprisingly, Zoroastrian ideas began to infiltrate other belief systems of the region, including Judaism. Zoroastrianism, for instance, stressed that life had not just a beginning but an ending, at which point one's deeds were judged and one's soul sent to a heavenly paradise or an underworld hell. In biblical writings before the Babylon Exile, the word heaven was used as a synonym for firmament and a vague description of where God resided.
After the Exile, heaven began to be a place where certain humans could visit during their lives and everyone might have a chance to live after death. The idea of hell as a place of punishment also deepened at this time, as did the notion of Satan, one of the angels sent by God to obstruct good human behavior. Though scholars dispute the origin of these ideas, most agree that they began to enter Western religion during the years when Persia stood astride the Near East. It seems safe to conclude that in the same way Mesopotamian ideas crept into the biblical notion of creation, Persian (Zoroastrian) ideas crept into the Jewish and later Christian notions of afterlife.
In a nutshell, the Zoroastrian alliance between king and priest forshadowed the later alliance between Muslim clergy and king beginning in the sixteenth century and unraveling in the twentieth, when the priest emerged as king.
The Achaemenid Empire was an empire founded in the sixth century BCE. The dynasty draws its name from a hypothetical king Achaemenes of the Pasargadae tribe who would have ruled the Iranian Plateau region between 705 BCE and 675 BCE. Darius repeatedly calls himself an Achaemenid, in all of his inscriptions. He explains to us that he is the son of Wishtaspa who later becomes the governor/satrap of Parthia. Wishtaspa was son of Arsham, king of Parsa who was deposed by Cyrus. Arsham was the son of Aryaramna, king of Parsa, and he was the eldest son of Chishpesh, or Tespes, King of Anshan and Parsa, and great grandfather of Cyrus the Great.
Thus, the kingdom held by Tespes, that of Anshan and Parsa, had been divided between his two sons, the elder son (Aryaramna) getting the heartland, and the younger (Cyrus I) receiving the mountain city of Anshan. In 559 BCE, Cambyses I was succeeded as the king of Anshan by his son Cyrus II the Great, who also succeeded the still-living Arsames as the King of Persia, thus reuniting the two realms. Cyrus is considered to be the first true king of the Persian Empire, as his predecessors were thought to be subservient to the Medes.
The empire expanded to eventually rule over significant portions of the ancient world, which at around 500 BCE stretched from parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria) and Thrace-Macedonia in the west, to the Indus valley in the east. Under Cambyses II, the Achaemenid Empire gained control over Egypt as well. It was ruled by a series of hereditary monarchs who found a way to help unify its disparate tribes and nationalities by effective administration and construction of a complex network of roads.
Begun during the rule of Darius the Great (Darius I) and completed some 100 years later, the city of Persepolis was a symbol of the Achaemenid Empire serving both as a ceremonial hub and a center of government. It had gradually progressive stairways named "Gate of All Nations" around which were carved relief decorations depicting scenes of heroism, hunting, natural themes, and presentation of the gifts to the Achaemenid kings by their subjects during the spring festival, Nowruz (Zoroastrian New Year). Nowruz is also a holy day for Sufi Muslims, Bektashis, Ismailis, Alawites, Alevis, Babis and adherents of the Bahá'í Faith. .
Cyrus's conquest in 539 BCE of Babylonia marked the first step in the rise of the Achaemenid Empire; the way he conquered Babylonia ensured its subsequent success. The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum tells the tale of the Babylonian victory in the king's own words: "...my great army entered this city without incident. The holy places of the city moved my heart. I accorded to all men the freedom to worship their own gods and ordered that no one had the right to bother them. I ordered that no house be destroyed, that no inhabitant be dispossessed ....I requested that the temples that had been closed be reopened ....I accorded peace and quiet to all men."
Such words radically departed from the kingly norm of Cyrus's era, which celebrated the death and destruction of the conquered city in declarations intended to inspire fear. Even if Cyrus exaggerated the peaceful nature of his invasion, the fact that he promoted tolerance came as something new. Consider the declaration of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal, the previous ruler of Babylonia, written just one hundred years earlier: "I conquered in a single attack the city of Ginabou....I decapitated six hundred enemy soldiers on the spot and burned alive three thousand prisoners ....I carved up the governor with my own hands ....I grilled others on fire; I cut off the hands, fingers, ears, and noses of a large number of prisoners; ripped thousands of eyes from their sockets and tongues from their mouths ....I razed the temples to the ground and suppressed their gods ....I sowed salt and thorns."
In 480 BCE, it is estimated that 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire. The empire at its peak ruled over 44% of the world's population, the highest such figure for any empire in history. It is noted in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city states during the Greco-Persian Wars, for emancipation of slaves including the Jewish exiles in Babylon, and for building infrastructure such as a postal system and road systems, and the use of an official language, Aramaic, throughout its territories. The empire had a centralized, bureaucratic administration under a king and a large professional army and civil services, inspiring similar systems in later empires.
Cyrus seems to have been primarily a conqueror who dazzled his contemporaries and stirred their imagination with his rise from relative obscurity to mastery of an empire of unprecedented dimensions--but one with an enviable ability to do so without making unnecessary enemies and to come away with a remarkably unscathed historical reputation. The Achaemenid Empire gave rise to the first outlines of a world civilization. Standing astride the Old World, Persia suddenly pulled peoples into a common experience. Indians, Medes, Babylonians, Lydians, Greeks, Jews, Phoenicians, and Egyptians were for the first time governed by one empire whose eclecticism showed how far civilization had already come. The era of civilization embedded in distinct historical entities was over in the Near East. Too much had been shared, to much diffused for the direct successors of the first civilizations to be the building blocks of world history. The base of a future world civilization was in the making.
Ultimately the Achaemenid Empire was to crumble from its failed foreign policy with the Greeks. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus the Great conquered the Greek-inhabited region of Ionia in 547 BCE. Struggling to rule the independent-minded cities of Ionia, the Persians appointed satraps to rule each of them. This would prove to be the source of much trouble for the Greeks and Persians alike. In 499 BCE, the satrap of Miletus, Aristagoras, embarked on an expedition to conquer the island of Naxos with Persian support; however, the expedition was a debacle and, pre-empting his dismissal, Aristagoras incited all of Hellenic Asia Minor into rebellion against the Persians. This was the beginning of the Ionian Revolt, which would last until 493 BCE, progressively drawing more regions of Asia Minor into the conflict. Aristagoras secured military support from Athens and Eretria, and in 498 BCE these forces helped to capture and burn the Persian regional capital of Sardis. The Persian king Darius the Great vowed to have revenge on Athens and Eretria for this act. The revolt continued, with the two sides effectively stalemated throughout 497–495 BCE. In 494 BCE, the Persians regrouped, and attacked the epicenter of the revolt in Miletus. At the Battle of Lade, the Ionians suffered a decisive defeat, and the rebellion collapsed, with the final members being stamped out the following year.
Seeking to secure his empire from further revolts and from the interference of the mainland Greeks, Darius embarked on a scheme to conquer Greece and to punish Athens and Eretria for the burning of Sardis. The first Persian invasion of Greece began in 492 BCE, with the Persian general Mardonius conquering Thrace and Macedon before several mishaps forced an early end to the campaign. In 490 BCE a second force was sent to Greece, this time across the Aegean Sea, under the command of Datis and Artaphernes. This expedition subjugated the Cyclades, before besieging, capturing and razing Eretria. However, while en route to attack Athens, the Persian force was decisively defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, ending Persian efforts for the time being. Darius then began to plan to completely conquer Greece, but died in 486 BCE leaving responsibility for the conquest to his son Xerxes. In 480 BCE, Xerxes personally led the second Persian invasion of Greece with one of the largest ancient armies ever assembled. Victory over the allied Greek states (led by Sparta and Athens) at the famous Battle of Thermopylae allowed the Persians to torch an evacuated Athens and overrun most of Greece. However, while seeking to destroy the combined Greek fleet, the Persians suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Salamis. The following year, the confederated Greeks went on the offensive, defeating the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea, and ending the invasion of Greece.
In 334 BCE Alexander III of Macedon invaded the Achaemenid Empire and began a series of campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander broke the power of the Achaemenid Empire in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela (east of Mosul in Iraq). After failing to capture Darius III at Gaugamela on October 1, 331 BCE, Alexander took care to rest his army for several days after the Tigris crossing before pursuing him through Susa. We don't know how long Alexander stayed in Susa, but he can hardly have left before the middle of December, by which time the weather would have been quite pleasant. He now had to choose between two courses: to move into Persia and seize its treasures and palaces, or to make for Ecbatana (Hamadan) to prevent Darius from reorganizing his forces. Strategically, the latter course was almost mandatory: the capture of the king must take precedence over further conquest of territory and treasure. Yet Alexander chose the other alternative and we don't know why. Perhaps he had found out that it was inadvisable to attack Ecbatana in mid-winter; though he was to show often enough that snow and ice did not frighten him, and this reason does not seem wholly adequate. Perhaps the capture of the Achaemenian religious center was regarded as essential for prestige and propaganda.
The route he took cannot be clearly discerned because our sources, both immediate and original, were Greeks, and they had never seen a map of Iran. Even those who took part in the march would not thereby become able to give a geographically satisfactory account of it. In particular, they could not come to know much about the country they were traversing, beyond what they could themselves observe. The way in which Alexander succeeded in moving with assurance and apparent ease through countries totally unknown to him is perhaps his most remarkable achievement. It was done with brilliant intelligence work, using prisoners and local guides, as we can see in many detailed instances; and we are lucky to know something about the man in charge of the interrogation of prisoners.
He was Laomedon, who with his brother Erigyius, had left his native Lesbos and settled at Amphipolis under Philip II. The two brothers became close friends with the crown prince and were banished when he fell into disgrace. When he became king, they reaped their reward: Erigyius at the time of his early death had risen to the position of commander of the allied cavalry; while Laomedon, who was bilingual, was put in charge of the enemy prisoners. We must deduce an organized intelligence section,which Laomedon headed. Its work did not attract the attention of authors in search of color and action, and we cannot observe him at his work. But we know that he remained close to Alexander, even thought the literary sources hardly mention him.
East of Susa the Achaemenian road system is almost unknown, and argument from medieval and modern caravan routes always leaves a large margin of error; nor can we be sure that Alexander always followed the royal road: in the case of his march to Persepolis, we know he did not, at least for part of the way. It is certain that he went south from Susa, probably crossing the Karun River near Shustar, where there was a permanent Bridge of Boats. He subsequently overthrew the Achaemenid King Darius III and conquered the entirety of the Achaemenid Empire. At that point, Alexander's empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River.
After the death of Alexander and the division of his empire, domination of Iran and Mesopotamia was wrested from the Seleucids by the Parthians, a people said to have been originally a Scythian tribe but who obtained the name by which they are known in world history from the eastern Iranian province of Parthava. The province already existed in Achaemenid times and only some time after the middle of the third century BCE was it occupied by this new Central Asiatic people.
According to tradition, the first ruler of the Parthians and founder of the Parthian empire was Arsaces I, who had been a governor under Diodotus, king of the Bactrian Greeks, and who revolted and fled westward to establish his own rule (c. 250-c. 211 BCE). The Parthian kingdom was thoroughly anti-Hellenic. It appealed to patriotic feelings, and to the hate universally felt towards the stranger. It set itself to undo the work of Alexander, to cast out the Europeans, to recover to the Asiatics the possession of Asia. It was naturally almost as hostile to Bactria as to Syria, although danger from a common enemy might cause it sometimes to make a temporary alliance with that kingdom. It had, no doubt, the general sympathy of the populations in the adjacent countries, and represented to them the cause of freedom and autonomy.
Arsaces lived, however, but a short time after obtaining the crown. His authority was disputed within the limits of Parthia itself; and he had to engage in hostilities with a portion of his own subjects. We may suspect that the malcontents were chiefly, if not solely, those of Greek race, who may have been tolerably numerous, and whose strength would lie in the towns. Hecatompylos, the chief city of Parthia, was among the colonies founded by Alexander; and its inhabitants would naturally be disinclined to acquiesce in the rule of a "barbarian." Within little more than two years of his coronation, Arsaces, who had never been able to give his kingdom peace, was killed in battle by a spear-thrust in the side; and was succeeded (247 BCE) by his brother, having left, it is probable, no sons, or none of mature age.
Tiridates, the successor of Arsaces, took upon his accession his brother's name, and is known in history as Arsaces II. The practice thus begun passed into a custom, each Parthian monarch from henceforth bearing as king the name of Arsaces in addition to his own real appellation, whatever that might be. In the native remains the assumed name almost supersedes the other; but, fortunately, the Greek and Roman writers who treat of Parthian affairs, have preserved the distinctive appellations, and thus saved the Parthian history from inextricable confusion. It is not easy to see from what quarter this practice was adopted; perhaps we should regard it as one previously existing among the Dahan Scyths.
If the Parthian monarchy owed its origin to Arsaces I., it owed its consolidation, and settled establishment to Arsaces II., or Tiridates. This prince, who had the good fortune to reign for above thirty years, and who is confused by many writers with the actual founder of the monarchy, having received Parthia from his brother, in the weak and unsettled condition above described, left it a united and powerful kingdom, enlarged in its boundaries, strengthened in its defences, in alliance with its nearest and most formidable neighbor, and triumphant over the great power of Syria, which had hoped to bring it once more into subjection. He ascended the throne, it is probable, early in 247 BCE, and had scarcely been monarch a couple of years when he witnessed one of those vast but transient revolutions to which Asia is subject, but which are of rare occurrence in Europe. Ptolemy Euergetes, the son of Philadelphus, having succeeded to his father's kingdom in the same year with Tiridates, marched (in 245 BCE) a huge expedition into Asia, defeated Seleucus II. (Callinicus) in Syria, took Antioch, and then, having crossed the Euphrates, proceeded to bring the greater part of Western Asia under his sway. Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia, Media, submitted to him. He went in person as far as Babylon, and, according to his own account, was acknowledged as master by all the Eastern provinces to the very borders of Bactria. The Parthian and Bactrian kingdoms cannot but have trembled for their newly won independence. Here was a young warrior who, in a single campaign, had marched the distance of a thousand miles, from the banks of the Nile to those of the Lower Euphrates, without so much as receiving a check, and who was threatening to repeat the career of Alexander. What resistance could the little Parthian state hope to offer to such an enemy? It must have rejoiced Tiridates to hear that while the new conqueror was gathering somewhat too hastily the fruits of victory, collecting and despatching to Egypt the most valuable works of art that he could find in the cities which he had taken, and levying heavy contributions on the submitted countries, a revolt had broken out in his own land, to quell which he was compelled to retire suddenly and to relinquish the greater part of his acquisitions. Thus the threatened conquest proved a mere inroad, and instead of a power of greater strength replacing Syria in these regions, Syria practically retained her hold of them, but with enfeebled grasp, her strength crippled, her prestige lost, and her honor tarnished. Ptolemy had, it is probable, not retired very long, when, encouraged by what he had seen of Syria's weakness, Tiridates took the aggressive, and invading the neighboring district of Hyrcania, succeeded in detaching it from the Syrian state, and adding it to his own territory. This was throwing out a challenge which the Syrian monarch, Callinicus, could scarcely decline to meet, unless he was prepared to lose, one by one, all the outlying provinces of his empire.
Accordingly in 237 BCE, having patched up a peace with his brother, Antiochus Hierax, the Syrian monarch made an expedition against Parthia. Not feeling, however, altogether confident of success if he trusted wholly to his own unaided efforts, he prudently entered into an alliance with Diodotus the Bactrian king, and the two agreed to combine their forces against Tiridates. Hereupon that monarch, impressed with a deep sense of the impending danger, quitted Parthia, and, proceeding northwards, took refuge with the Aspasiacae, a Scythian tribe which dwelt between the Oxus and the Jaxartes. The Aspasiacae probably lent him troops; at any rate, he did not remain long in retirement, but, hearing that the Bactrian king, whom he especially feared, was dead, he contrived to detach his son and successor from the Syrian alliance, and to draw him over to his own side. Having made this important stroke, he met Callinicus in battle, and completely defeated his army.
This victory was with reason regarded by the Parthians as a sort of second beginning of their independence. Hitherto their kingdom had existed precariously, and as it were by sufferance. It could not but be that the power from which they had revolted would one day seek to reclaim its lost territory; and, until the new monarchy had measured its strength against that of its former mistress, none could feel secure that it would be able to maintain its existence. The victory gained by Tiridates over Callinicus put an end to these doubts. It proved to the world at large, and also to the Parthians themselves, that they had nothing to fear—that they were strong enough to preserve their freedom. Considering the enormous disproportion between the military strength and resources of the narrow Parthian State and the vast Syrian Empire—considering that the one comprised about fifty thousand and the other above a million of square miles; that the one had inherited the wealth of ages and the other was probably as poor as any province in Asia; that the one possessed the Macedonian arms, training, and tactics, while the other knew only the rude warfare of the Steppes—the result of the struggle cannot but be regarded as surprising. Still it was not without precedent, and it has not been without repetition. It adds another to the many instances where a small but brave people, bent on resisting foreign domination, have, when standing on their defence, in their own territory, proved more than a match for the utmost force that a foe of overwhelming strength could bring against them. It reminds us of Marathon, of Bannock-burn, of Morgarten. We may not sympathize wholly with the victors, for Greek civilization, even of the type introduced by Alexander into Asia, was ill replaced by Tatar coarseness and barbarism; but we cannot refuse our admiration to the spectacle of a handful of gallant men determinedly resisting in the fastness of their native land a host of aliens, and triumphing over their would-be oppressors. The Parthians themselves, deeply impressed with the importance of the contest, preserved the memory of it by a solemn festival on the anniversary of their victory, which they still celebrated in the time of Trogus.
By 200 BCE Arsaces' successors were firmly established along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Later, through the conquests of Mithradates I (reigned 171-138 BCE) and Artabanus II (reigned 128-124 BCE), all of the Iranian Plateau and the Tigris-Euphrates valley came under Parthian control. The Parthians, however, were troubled by nomad attacks on their northeastern borders as well as attacks by the Scythians. Mithradates II the Great (reigned 123-88 BCE), by defeating the Scythians, restored for a while the power of the Arsacids. He also defeated Artavases, king of greater Armenia, whose son Tigranes became a hostage in Parthian hands and was redeemed only for considerable territory. In 92 BCE Mithradates II, whose forces were advancing into north Syria against the declining Seleucids, concluded the first treaty between Parthia and Rome. Though beset by insurrections and border wars, Mithradates II continued to control Iran and northern Mesopotamia until his death, after which rival dynastic claimants fought for major territories. The confusion came to an end about 76/75 BCE, when the octogenarian king Sanatruces (perhaps a son of Mithradates I) was set on the Parthian throne by the central Asian tribe of the Sacaraucae. Yet it was not until Sanatruces' son and successor, Phraates III (reigned 70-58/57 BCE), that the empire was once again in a fairly settled state.
The Parthians left the local administrations and rulers intact when they conquered Mesopotamia. According to Pliny the Elder the Parthian empire consisted of 18 kingdoms, 11 of which were called the upper kingdoms (or satrapies), while 7 were called lower kingdoms, meaning that they were located on the plains of Mesopotamia. The center of the lower kingdoms was ancient Babylonia, called Beth Aramaye in Aramaic, and it was governed directly by the Parthian ruler. In the south was Characene, while to the northeast of Ctesiphon, which had supplanted Seleucia as the Parthian capital, was Garamea, with its capital at modern Kirkuk. Adiabene had Arbela as its capital, and farther north was a province called Beth Nuhadra in Aramaic, which seems to have been governed by a general who was directly responsible to the Parthian king, because this province bore the brunt of Roman invasions. Nisibis was the main city of the desert area of Arabistan, but at the end of the Parthian period the desert caravan city of Hatra claimed hegemony over this area. There were other principalities in the northwest: Sophene, where Tigranes' capital was located; Gordyene and Zabdicene (near modern Çölemerik in eastern Turkey), located to the east of Sophene; and Osroene, with its capital Edessa (modern Urfa, Tur.), which lay inside the Roman sphere of influence. Rule over so many small kingdoms gave Mithradates II the title "King of Kings," also borne by later Parthian rulers.
The complete triumph of Orodes over Mithridates, and his full establishment in his kingdom, cannot be placed earlier than BCE 56, and most probably fell in BCE 55. In this latter year Crassus obtained the consulship at Rome, and, being appointed at the same time to the command of the East, made no secret of his intention to march the Roman legions across the Euphrates, and engage in hostilities with the great Parthian kingdom. According to some writers, his views extended even further. He spoke of the wars which Lucullus had waged against Tigranes and Pompey against Mithridates of Pontus as mere child's play, and announced his intention of carrying the Roman arms to Bactria, India, and the Eastern Ocean. The Parthian king was thus warned of the impending danger, and enabled to make all such preparations against it as he deemed necessary. More than a year elapsed between the assignment to Crassus of Syria as his province, and his first overt act of hostility against Orodes.
Plutarch tells us that the general whom Orodes deputed to conduct the war against Crassus came into the field accompanied by two hundred litters wherein were contained his concubines, and by a thousand camels which carried his baggage. His dress was fashioned after that of the Medes; he wore his hair parted in the middle and had his face painted with cosmetics. A body of ten thousand horse, composed entirely, of his clients and slaves, followed him in battle. We may conclude from this picture, and from the general tenor of the classical notices, that the Parthians revived and maintained very much such a court as that of the old Achaemenian princes, falling probably somewhat below their model in politeness and refinement, but equalling it in luxury, in extravagant expenditure, and in display. The defeat of the Roman legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus by the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE heralded a period of Parthian power and expansion in the Middle East, but the tide turned under Mark Antony in 36-34 BCE, and thereafter the power structure in the east remained volatile, with the two great states, Rome and Parthia, contending for predominance in the region. Armenia was a perennial bone of contention between the two powers, each of which sought to put its candidate on the throne.
Parthian rule was not firm over all Mesopotamia; thus, for example, during the reign of Artabanus III (CE 12-38) the Jewish brigands Asinaeus and Anilaeus set up a free state north of Ctesiphon that lasted 15 years before it was overcome by the Parthians. With the end of cuneiform records and with the attention of classical sources turned to the wars between the Romans and the Parthians, information about internal affairs in Mesopotamia becomes almost nonexistent. Hellenism continued to flourish, for many Parthian kings had the epithet "Philhellene" placed on their coins, but during the last two centuries of Parthian rule Greek influences declined in favor of Iranian ones, while central authority suffered from the usurpations of powerful nobles and local kings. From coinage it is known that the city of Seleucia revolted against central control at the end of Artabanus' reign and maintained its independence for a number of years. Peace was broken by the Roman emperor Nero, who sought to put his client on the throne of Armenia, but, after several years of conflict, peace was arranged in 63. Vologeses I (c. CE 51-80) founded the city Vologesias, near Seleucia, as his capital, but the whole area (including Ctesiphon and Seleucia) became an urban complex called Mahoze in Aramaic and Al-Mada'in in Arabic; both names mean "The Cities." Internal rivalries in the Parthian state gave the Romans an opportunity to attack, and control over Armenia was the casus belli for the Roman emperor Trajan's advance into Mesopotamia in 116. Adiabene, as well as the entire Tigris-Euphrates basin of northern Mesopotamia, was incorporated as a province into the Roman Empire. Trajan advanced to the Persian Gulf, but he died of illness and his successor Hadrian made peace, abandoning the conquests in Mesopotamia, although client states remained.
The second century of the Common Era was a dark period in Parthian history, but it was a time of growth in wealth and influence of the caravan cities of Palmyra, Hatra, and Mesene (formerly Characene, situated at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates). Armenia continued to be a bone of contention between the two great powers, and hostilities occasionally flared up. In 164-165 the Roman general Gaius Avidius Cassius captured the capital cities Ctesiphon and Seleucia, but an epidemic forced the Romans to retreat and peace was restored. Returning soldiers spread the disease throughout the Roman Empire, with devastating consequences. The terms of peace favored the Romans, who secured control of Nisibis and the Khabur River valley. The next great war was the invasion of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus to punish the Parthians, who had supported his rival Pescennius Niger and had annexed some territory in Mesopotamia in return for their support. Severus took and sacked Ctesiphon in 198. Because the devastated countryside contained no supplies for the Romans, they were soon compelled to retreat. A siege of Hatra in 199 by Severus failed, and peace was made. Conflict between two claimants to the Parthian throne, Vologeses IV or V and Artabanus V, gave the Roman emperor Caracalla an excuse to invade Adiabene, but in 217 he was assassinated on the road from Edessa to Carrhae, and the Romans made peace. The end of the Parthian kingdom was near, and the advent of the Sasanians brought a new phase in the history of Mesopotamia.
Parthian rule brought little change in the administration and institutions of Mesopotamia as it had existed under the Seleucids, except for a general weakening of central authority under the feudal Parthians. The Parthians instituted a new era, beginning in 247 BC, but it paralleled rather than replaced the Seleucid era of reckoning, and the Parthian vanished at the end of the dynasty. As far as can be determined, Hellenism was never proscribed under the Parthians, although it grew weaker toward the end of Parthian rule. From archaeological surveys around Susa, located in the kingdom of Elymais in modern Khuzestan, and from the Diyala plain northeast of Ctesiphon, it seems that the population of the land increased greatly under the Parthians, as did trade and commerce. The coinage of the later Parthian rulers became more and more debased, probably as a result of the many internecine wars and the lack of control by the central authority. Local rulers also issued their own coinages in Persis, Elymais, Mesene, and elsewhere.
Changes took place in the demography of Mesopotamia under the Parthians, and perhaps the most striking development among the population was the increase of Arab infiltration from the desert, which resulted in Arab dynasties in the oasis settlements of Palmyra and Hatra. Similarly, an influx of Armenian settlers in the north changed the composition of the local population. After the fall of the Temple of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70, many Jews fled to Mesopotamia, where they joined their coreligionists; Nehardea, north of Ctesiphon, became a center of Jewish population. Naturally also many migrants from the east came to Mesopotamia in the wake of the Parthian occupation. With many merchants from east and west passing through or remaining in Mesopotamia, the population became more diverse than it had previously been.
During the Parthian occupation the ancient religion and cults of Mesopotamia came to an end and were replaced by mixed Hellenic and Oriental mystery religions and Iranian cults. Local Semitic cults of Bel, Allat, and other deities flourished alongside temples dedicated to Greek gods such as Apollo. The sun deity Shamash was worshiped at Hatra and elsewhere, but the henotheism of the ancient Middle East was giving way to acceptance of universalist religions, if the prevalent view cannot yet be called one of monotheism. In Mesopotamia, in particular, the influence of Jewish monotheism, with the beginning of rabbinic schools and the organization of the community under a leader, the exilarch (resh galuta in Aramaic), must have had a significant influence on the local population. Toward the end of the reign of Artabanus III, the royal family of Adiabene converted to Judaism. In the first two centuries of the Common era, Christianity and various baptismal sects also began to expand into Mesopotamia. So far no Mithraeums (underground temples for the worship of the god Mithra), such as existed in the Roman Empire, have been found in Mesopotamia, except at Dura-Europus, where Roman troops were stationed. Many local cults and shrines, such as that of the Sabians and their moon deity at Harran, however, continued to exist until the Islamic conquest. Parthian Zoroastrianism reinforced local Zoroastrian communities in Mesopotamia left from the time of the Achaemenians, and one of the Gnostic baptismal religions, Mandaeanism, which is still in existence, had its beginning at this time. Although Christian missionaries were active in Mesopotamia in the Parthian period, no centers, such as the one established later at Nisibis, have been reported, and it may be supposed that their activity at first was mainly confined to Jewish communities.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the Parthians had a more marked influence on art and architecture. Local schools of art flourished, and at first Greek ideals predominated, but in the last two centuries of Parthian rule a "Parthian style" is evident in the art recovered from Mesopotamia and other regions. Whereas Achaemenian and Sasanian art are royal or imperial and monumental, Parthian art, like Seleucid art, can be characterized as "popular." Parthian works of art reflect the many currents of culture among the populace, and one may say that it is expressionist and stylized, in contrast with Greek and Roman naturalistic or realistic art. The characteristics of Parthian art in Mesopotamia are total frontality (i.e., the representation of figures in full face) in portraits, along with an otherworldly quality. In Middle Eastern art from previous periods, figures were almost always shown in profile. Another new feature of Parthian art is the frequent portrayal of the "flying gallop" in sculpture and painting, not unexpected in view of the importance of cavalry and mounted archers in the Parthian armies. Likewise, Parthian costume, with baggy trousers, became the mode over much of the Middle East and is portrayed in painting and sculpture. In architecture the use of ayvans (arches in porticoes) and domed vaults is attributed to the Parthian period; they may have originated in Mesopotamia. Parthian art influenced that of the Nabataeans in Roman territory, as it did others throughout the Middle East.
Parthian was an Iranian language written in the Aramaic alphabet. It had an enormous number of words and even phrases that were borrowed from Aramaic, and scribal training was necessary to learn these. Syriac, being a Semitic language with emphasis on consonants, evolved several alphabets based on the Aramaic alphabet. The Aramaic alphabet was better suited to Syriac than to Parthian phonology. Parthian was therefore difficult to read and was mainly used by scribes or priests for official or religious writings.
The largest historical gap is in literature from the Parthian period. The largely oral literature of the Parthians, famous for their minstrels and poetry, does not seem to have found many echoes in Mesopotamia, where the settled society contrasted with the heroic, chivalric, and feudal society of the Iranian nomads that continued to dominate Parthian mores even after they had settled in Mesopotamia. Nonetheless, the end of the Parthian period saw the beginning of Syriac literature, which is Christian Aramaic, and some of early Syriac literature, such as the "Song of the Pearl," contains Parthian elements. In the realm of language, rather than literature, the writing of Aramaic changes to Parthian in the 2nd century AD, as can be seen from a bilingual (Greek and Parthian) inscription on a bronze statue from Seleucia dated AD 150-151. It tells how Vologeses III defeated the king of Mesene and took over the entire country. After this period one no longer speaks of Aramaic, but of Parthian and Syriac written in a new cursive alphabet.
Little is known about foundations of towns in Iran by the Parthians, since the sources for the internal history of this period are very fragmentary. There are some indications, however, of increased settlement at that time, at least in Khuzistan, where a systematic survey of the settlement pattern has been made. Darabgird, in Fars, and Takht-i Suleiman, the ancient Shiz in Azerbaijan--romantically associated by some with the legend of the Holy Grail--have been considered Parthian foundations, although the first-mentioned site has not been excavated and the latter has not yet yielded any Parthian remains. The Parthian palace at Ashur could be reconstructed and may be discussed in some detail because its façade without doubt influenced that of the later Sasanian palace of Ctesiphon, perhaps indirectly through an earlier Parthian structure which may have been erected at that site. This façade of the palace at Ashur, made of stucco with strips of colonnettes and framed niches, is related to elaborate Roman façades, especially the scenae frontes of a theatre, through the idea for the simulated decorative storys which characterize some of these scenae frontes may have originated in the Hellenistic architecture of the Near East.
The overthrow of the Arsacid royal house in 224 CE and the establishment of the Sassanid dynasty was the outcome of the simultaneous decline of the Parthian state brought about by chronic civil strife, a devastating epidemic of smallpox, repeated wars with Roman forces, and the gradual ascendancy of a Persian family with religious and political bases of support. The Parthian empire was divided between two rival brothers: Vologeses VI (207-27), who ruled from Ctesiphon, and Ardavān (212-24), who held Media and Khuzistan. The Roman emperor Caracalla encouraged discord between the two, and himself trapped and massacred Ardavān’s supporters and sacked Arbela and many Armenian forts in 217. Although Ardavān regrouped and even defeated the Romans in the same year, his authority was seriously weakened.
The Sassanid tradition of rule owed a great deal to the Parthians. It is generally accepted that through a substantial part of their history the Arsacids ruled through a decentralized system of government, the backbone of which was the feudal nobility. From their heiritage of the Achaemenids and the Selucids, the administrative structure of the Parhian empire was a heterogenous medley: there was first the predominantly Semitic, and substantially urbanized Mesopotamia; independent states in Mespotamia and Iranian frontiers; and finally the social and political conditions existing in the heartland of Parthia, the east and northeast of Iran. Ancient cities in the east had for a long time operated on the basis of slavery and were run by temple priests and city councils that had substantial land under their control. During the Hellenistic period these cities were granted self-rule as a polis. The Hellenistic kingdoms relied on theser semi-independent cities in order to run their realms. These kinds of cities were the instrument for implementing the policies of Hellenistic dynasties and were required to give part of the income from their vast lands to the central treasury.
From Ferdosi's "Shahnameh" we learn that troubles between the king and his nobles evoked political ambition in “Lord Sāsān", “a great warrior and hunter,” the custodian of the “Fire Temple of Anāhid” at Eṣṭaḵr, who married a princess of the Bāzarangid family, the vassal dynasty of Fārs. Their son Pāpak consolidated his power with the help of his own sons, Šāpur and Ardašir. The three of them are represented on the wall of the Harem of Xerxes at Persepolis—evidence, it has been suggested, of a claim to Achaemenid heritage. The coins of Šāpur bear his image and that of his father, and its combined legend reads: Shapur the King, son of divine Pāpak the King”. Ardašir was more ambitious. After making himself the castle master of Dārābgerd and enticing his father to kill the Bāzrangid king of Eṣṭaḵr, he rose in open rebellion in 212 CE. Claiming that he was the inheritor of the ancient kings and destined to revive their glory and reunite all peoples of Persia, he began to conquer local rulers of Fārs. His coins show his father’s image on the reverse but he himself is represented on the obverse and full-faced (a well-known sign of rebellion in Parthian numismatics), with the combined legend Ardašir, son of divine Pāpak the King. With the death of Pāpak Šāpur succeeded him in Eṣṭaḵr but was accidentally killed at Persepolis.
Thereupon Ardašir reigned as the leader of the Sassanid house; and he went on to conquer, within 12 years, local dynasts of Fārs and neighboring regions. Well acquainted with military advancements, he adopted the newer, more flexible chain armor of the Roman type, while the Parthians still used the older lamellar and scale armor. On 28 May 224 Ardašir vanquished Ardavān at the battle of Hormzdagān and assumed the title “King of Kings of Iran.” He commemorated the event in his victory relief carved at the approach to his early capital, Firuzabad, as well as in three investiture reliefs showing him receiving the symbol of sovereignty from Ohrmazd. Afterwards, Ardašir captured Ctesiphon, annexed parts of Armenia and northwest Arabia, and reduced eastern Iran and the western provinces of the Kushan empire, an area which henceforth was ruled by Sasannian princes known as the “Kushano-Sassanian” kings. Then he returned to the western front and took some Roman border towns and besieged Hatra. This brought about the war with Rome. Ardašir, pretending to be the heir of the Achaemenids, laid claim to the eastern provinces of the Roman empire and fought with a good measure of success against Alexander Severus.
In his last years, Ardašir had made Šāpur, his eldest son, co-regent, and the latter participated in the capture of Hatra. Then Ardašir retired, and Shapur succeeded him as the sole ruler and reigned until May 270. He left several inscriptions, most notably one on the walls of the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt which is in Parthian, Middle Persian, and Greek. Historically it is the most important inscriptional record next to that of Darius I at Bisotun; it records his Roman wars and it provides a clear picture of the extent of his empire by naming its provinces, describing religious foundations, and mentioning relatives and senior officials who lived at the court of Pāpak, Ardašir, and Šāpur. He tells us that upon his accession, the emperor Gordianus “marched on Assyria, against Ērānšahr and against us” but perished in battle, and his successor Philip “came to us for terms, and he became our tributary.” Afterwards Šāpur annexed most of Roman Armenia, appointed his own son, Hormozd-Ardašir “Great King of Armenia”, and plundered many cities of Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia. Finally, in 260 he trapped and captured the emperor Valerian and his entire army of 70,000 (which included many senators, dignitaries, and officers) near Carrhae. All were deported, together with many of the inhabitants of the captured cities, and settled in royal domains throughout Iran. A number of the deportees were Christian; who no longer persecuted by pagan Roman authorities, began to flourish. For a long time they continued to speak and write in their native Greek or Syriac languages.
Šāpur I was known as a builder and a patron of knowledge. He constructed dams and bridges, forts and towns, and developed industries and trade. He had Indian and Greek scientific works translated into Middle Persian and even incorporated them into the Avesta. His tolerant religious policy encouraged Mani, the founder of Manicheism, to preach freely; he even attempted to convert the Great king. Mani dedicated a compendium of his doctrine in Middle Persian translation to the king, calling it Šāhbuhragān. Šāpur declined the offer of salvation, and kept to his Mazdean faith; but, like his father, he did not give it the status of the national religion.
In the first century of Sassanid rule, the empire was extended in the East at the expense of the Kushans of north-western India, whose power was already on the decline. In the West expansion was limited by Roman counter-measures so that the Sassanid frontiers never extended for long beyond the Euphrates. In the north Sassanid troops held the frontiers against the ever threatening incursions of nomads. The danger of invasion by hordes of barbarians from the steppes was so fully realized by Byzantine politicians that large sums of Byzantine coins were sent to Iran for support of the troops on the frontiers. At other times the Sassanids were fighting the armies of Byzantium over the towns of northern Syria like Antioch, or over the wealthy kingdom of Armenia. In the east a dangerous element appeared in the reign of Shapur II (310-379 CE) in the form of the White Huns, called Chionite-Hephthalites. Shapur warred against these Huns, perhaps with some success, because he obtained auxiliaries from them for his campaigns in the West. But they settled as 'confederates' in former Kushan territory and harassed the empire in the following centuries.
At the same time as the frontiers of the Sassanid empire were threatened and often embattled, men and goods must have passed across them, coming and going from the Sassanid centers to the kingdoms of Central Asia. Excavations of palaces and castles have brought to light wall-paintings which indicate close relationship with Sassanid Iran in such portable commodities as textiles and other products of the luxury trade. Their kings and generals were immortalized in later Persian literature not only for their rectitude and wisdom but also for their prowess as hunters, poets, and musicians. Their dress and jewelry were exquisite; their imperial headgear fabulously ornate, The life of the Sassanid nobility was cultured and luxurious: from them chess, tennis, and polo were bequethed to the West.
The greatest territorial extension of the Sassanid empire and the last apogee of its artistic activities were reached in the time of Khosrow II (591-628 CE), a well known figure in the history and legend of the West, who had taken the Holy Cross from Jerusalem to his capital, Ctesiphon. At this point the commander of one of Khosrow II's three armies had reached the city of Chalcedon, across the Sea of Marmara from Constantinople. The emperor Heraclius had agreed to stand down, allow the Roman Empire to become a Sassanid client state, and even allow Khosrow II to chose the next Roman emperor. Heraclius would become a "son rather than a brother of the Sassanid king. But in the late 620s, the Sassanids suffered "one of the most astonishing reversals of fortune in the annals of war."
It is said that as the Sassanid general (Farrukan) was celebrating his victory over the Byzantines he turned to his companions and said "I had a dream, and it was as if I saw myself on Khosrow's throne." When the news of the general's design reached Khosrow II, the latter wrote a letter to another of his generals (Shahrvaraz) demanding Farrukhan's head. Shahrvaraz entreated Khosrow II to change his mind, arguing that he would "never find anyone like Farrukan who had inflicted so much damage on the enemy or had such a formidable reputation among them." Confronted with the obstinancy of Shahrvaraz, Khosrow II, furious, had a radical change of heart and declared to the people of Persia: "I hereby remove Shahrvaraz from power over you and appoint Farrukan over you in his stead". He then sent a letter containing the transfer of power from one to the other as well as the order of the execution of Shahrvaraz by Farrukan. At this point Farrukan relinquished power back to Shahrvaraz. This then instigated Shahrvaraz's rebellion and his cooperation with Heraclius.
The collapse of the empire began then as a result of the Byzantine counter-attack mounted by Shahrvaraz and the Emperor Heraclius, who won back the western territories occupied by Khosrow II and even besieged the latter in his capital, Ctesiphon, where he was murdered by his son. Shortly thereafter came the attack of the Arabs, who had only recently appeared as a redoubtable power in the Near East. Resistance of the Sassanians was broken in the battle of Nihavend in 642 CE. Yezdegerd III, the last king, who had taken flight with his court towards the East, was murdered in the region of Merv in 651 CE.
In 610, the year that saw the outbreak of the Persian-Byzantine war, a merchant from Mecca in the Arabian Hejas experienced a dramatic revelation during the sacred month of Ramadan. For some years, Muhammad ibn Abdullah had made an annual retreat on Mount Hira, just outside the city. There he fasted, performed spiritual exercises, and gave alms to the poor while he meditated deeply on the problems of his people, the tribe of Quraysh. Only a few generations earlier, their ancestors had been living a desperate life in the intractable deserts of northern Arabia. Now they were rich beyond their wildest dreams, and since farming was virtually impossible in this arid land, their wealth had been entirely created by commerce. For centuries the local nomads (badawin) had scratched out a meager living by herding sheep and breeding horses and camels, but during the sixth century, they had invented a saddle that enabled camels to carry heavier loads than before. As a result, merchants from India, East Africa, Yemen, and Bahrain began to take their caravans through the Arabian steppes to Byzantium and Syria, using the Bedouin to guide them from one watering hole to another. Mecca had become a station for these caravans, and the Quraysh started their own trade missions to Syria and Yemen, while the Bedouin exchanged goods in an annual circuit of regular suqs (markets) around Arabia.
Mecca's prosperity also depended on its status as a pilgrimage center. At the end of the suq season, Arabs came from all over Mecca during the month of Hajj to perform the ancient rituals around the Kabah, the ancient cube-shaped shrine in the heart of the city. Cult and commerce were inseparable: the climax of the hajj was the tawaf, the seven circum-ambulations around the Kabah that mirrored the suq circuit, giving the Arabs' mercantile activities a spiritual dimension. Yet despite its extraordinary success, Mecca was in the grip of a social and moral crisis. The old tribal spirit had succumbed to the ethos of an infant market economy and families now vied with one another for wealth and prestige. Instead of sharing their goods, as had been essential for the tribe's survival in the past, families were building private fortunes, and this emerging commercial aristocracy ignored the plight of the poorer Qurayshis and seized the inheritances of orphans and widows. The rich were delighted with their new security, but those who fell behind felt lost and disoriented.
Poets exalted Bedouin life, but in reality it was a grim, relentless struggle in which too many people competed for too few resources. Perpetually on the brink of starvation, tribes fought endless battles for pastureland, water, and grazing. The ghazu, or "acquisition raid", was essential to the Bedouin economy. In times of scarcity tribesmen would invade their neighbors' territory and carry off camels, cattle, food, or slaves, taking care to avoid killing anybody, since this would lead to a vendetta. Like most pastoralists, they saw nothing reprehensible in raiding. The ghazu was a kind of national sport, conducted with skill and panache according to clearly defined rules, which the Bedouin would have thoroughly enjoyed. It was brutal yet simple way of redistributing wealth in a region where there was simply not enough to go round.
Although the tribesmen had little interest in the supernatural, they gave meaning to their lives with a code of virtue and honor. They called it muruwah a term that is difficult to translate: it encompasses courage, patience, and endurance. Muruwah had a violent core. Tribesmen had to avenge any wrong done to the group, protect its weaker members, and defy its enemies. Each member had to be ready to leap to the defense of his kinsmen if the tribe's honor was impugned. But above all, he had to share his resources. Tribal life on the steppes would be impossible if individuals hoarded their wealth while others went hungry; nobody would help you in a lean period if you had been miserly in your good days. But by the sixth century, the limitations of muruwah were becoming tragically apparent, as the Bedouin got caught up in an escalating cycle of tribal warfare. They began to regard those outside their kin group as worthless and expendable and felt no moral anguish about killing in defense of the tribe, right or wrong. Even their ideal of courage was now essentially combative, since it lay not in self-defense but in the preemptive strike. Muslims traditionally call the pre-Islamic period jahiliyyah which is usually translated as "the time of ignorance." But the primary meaning of the root JHL is "irascibility"--an acute sensitivity to honor and prestige, excessive arrogance, and, above all, a chronic tendency to violence and retaliation.
Muhammad had become intensely aware of both the oppression and injustice in Mecca and the martial danger of jahiliyyah. Mecca had to be a place where merchants from any tribe could gather freely to do business without fear of attack, so in the interests of commerce, the Quraysh had abjured warfare, maintaining a position of aloof neutrality. With consummate skill and diplomacy, they had established the "sanctuary" (haram) a twenty-mile zone around the Kabah where all violence was forbidden. Yet it would take more than that to subdue the jahili spirit. Meccan grandees were still chauvinistic, touchy, and liable to explosions of ungovernable fury. When Muhammad, the pious merchant, began to preach to his fellow Meccans in 612, he was well aware of the precariousness of this volatile society. Gathering a small community of followers, many from the weaker, disadvantaged clans, his message was based on the Quran (Recitation), a new revelation for the people of Arabia. The ideas of civilized peoples of the ancient world had traveled down the trade routes and had been avidly discussed among the Arabs. Their own local lore had it that they themselves were descended from Ishmael, Abraham's eldest son, and many believed that heir high god Allah, whose name simply meant "God," was identical with the god of the Jews and Christians. But the Arabs had no concept of an exclusive revelation or of their own special election. The Quran was to them simply the latest in the unfolding revelation of Allah to the descendents of Abraham, a "reminder" of what everybody knew already. Indeed, in one remarkable passage of what would become the written Quran, Allah made it clear that he made no distinction between the revelations of any of the prophets.
The bedrock message of the Quran was not a new abstruse doctrine, such as had riven Byzantium, but simply a "reminder" of what constituted a just society that challenged the structural violence emerging in Mecca: that it was wrong to build a private fortune but good to share your wealth with the poor and vulnerable, who must be treated with equity and respect. The Muslims formed an ummah, a "community" that provided an alternative to the greed and systematic injustice of Meccan capitalism. Eventually the religion of Muhammad's followers would be called Islam, because it demanded that individuals "surrender" their whole being to Allah: a muslim was simply a man or a woman who had made that surrender. At first, though, the new faith was called tazakka, which can be roughly translated as "refinement." Instead of hoarding their wealth and ignoring the plight of the poor, Muslims were exhorted to take responsibility for one another and feed the destitute, even when they were hungry themselves. They traded the irascibility of jahiliyyah for the traditional Arab virtue of hilm--forbearance, patience, and mercy. By caring for the vulnerable, freeing slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, even hourly basis, they believed that they would gradually acquire a responsible, compassionate spirit and purge themselves of selfishness. Unlike the tribesmen, who retaliated violently at the slightest provocation, Muslims must not strike back but leave revenge to Allah, consistently treating all others with gentleness and courtesy. Socially, the surrender of Islam would be realized by learning to live in a community with human beings, whom they would strive to treat as they would wish to be treated themselves. "Not one of you can be a believer," Muhammad is reported to have said, "unless he desires for his neighbor what he desires for himself."
Some scholars argue that when Muslims were still a vulnerable minority in Mecca, God told them to avoid fighting and confrontation. However, after the hijrah (migration to Medina) when they had achieved a degree of power, God gave them permission to fight--but only in self-defense. As they grew stronger, some of these restrictions were lifted, and finally, when the prophet returned in triumph to Mecca, Muslims were told to wage war against non-Muslims wherever and whenever they could. God had therefore been preparing Muslims gradually for their global conquests, tempering his instructions to their circumstances. It would not be surprising if there were disagreements and factions within the early ummah. Like the Christians, Muslims would interpret their revelations in radically divergent ways and, like any other faith, Islam developed in response to changing circumstances.
Muhammad's confederacy broke up after his death in 632, and his "successor" (khalifa), Abu Bakr, fought the defecting tribes to prevent Arabia from sliding back into chronic warfare. The only way to stop such infighting was to establish a strong hegemonic power that could enforce the peace. Within two years, Abu Bakr succeeded in restoring the Pax Islamic, and after his death in 634, Umar ibn al-Khattab (634-644), the second caliph, believed that peace could be preserved only by an outwardly directed offensive. These campaigns were not religiously inspired: there is nothing in the Quran to suggest that Muslims must fight to conquer the world. Umar's campaigns were driven almost entirely by the precarious economy of Arabia. There could be no question of establishing a conventional agrarian empire in Arabia, because so there was so little land suitable for cultivation. The Quraysh's modest market economy could not sustain the entire peninsula, and the Quran forbade members of the Islamic confederacy to fight one another. How, then, could a tribe feed itself in times of scarcity? The ghazu, the acquisition raid against neighboring tribes, had been the only way to redistribute the meager resources of Arabia, but this was now off-limits. Umar's solution was to raid the rich settled lands beyond the Arabian Peninsula, which, as the Arabs knew well, were in disarray after the Persian-Byzantine wars.
In 637 the Arab forces occupied the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (which they renamed Madain), and in 641-42 they defeated the Sassanid army at Nahavand. After that, Iran lay open to the invaders. The Islamic conquest was aided by the material and social bankruptcy of the Sassanids; the native populations had little to lose by cooperating with the conquering power. Moreover, the Muslims offered relative religious tolerance and fair treatment to populations that accepted Islamic rule without resistance. It was not until around 650, however, that resistance in Iran was quelled. Conversion to Islam, which offered certain advantages, was fairly rapid among the urban population but slower among the peasantry and the dihqans (farmers). The majority of Iranians did not become Muslim until the ninth century. These events have been variously seen in Iran: by some as a blessing, the advent of the true faith, the end of the age of ignorance and heathenism; by iothers as a humiliating national defeat, the conquest and subjugation of the country by foreign invaders. Both perceptions are valid, depending on one's angle of vision. What is significant is that there is a remarkable difference between what happened in Iran and what happened in all of the other countries of the Middle East and North Africa that were conquered by the Arabs and incorporated into the Islamic caliphate in the seventh and eighth centuries.
These other countries of ancient civilization, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, were Islamized and Arabized in a remarkably short time. Their old religions were either abandoned entirely or dwindled into small minorities, their old languages almost disappeared. Some survived in scriptures and liturgies, some were still spoken in a few remote villages, but in most places, among most people, the previous languages were forgotten, the identities expressed in these languages were replaced, and the ancient civilizations of Iraq, Syria, and Egypt gave way to what we now call the Arab world.
Iran was Islamized, but it was not Arabized. Persians remained Persians. And after the interval of silence, Iran re-emerged as a separate, different and distinctive element within Islam, eventually adding a new element even to Islam itself. Culturally, politically, and most remarkable of all even religiously, the Iranian contribution to this new Islamic civilization is of immense importance. The work of Iranians can be seen in every field of cultural endeavor, including Arabic poetry, to which poets of Iranian origin composing their poems in Arabic made a very significant contribution. In a sense, Iranian Islam is a second advent of Islam itself, a new Islam sometimes referred to as Islam-i Adjam. It was this Persian Islam, rather than the original Arab Islam, that was brought to new areas and new peoples: to the Turks, first in Central Asia and then in the Middle East in the country that came to be called Turkey, and of course to India. The Ottoman Turks brought a form of Iranian civililization to the walls of Vienna. A seventeenth century Turkish visitor who went to Vienna as part of the Ottoman embassy, notes with curiousity that the language which they speak in Vienna is a corrupt form of Persian. He had of course observed the basic Indo-European kinship between Persian and German, and the fact that the Germans say ist and the Persians say est, almost the same thing, for the verb "to be," present indicative third-person singular.
By the time of the great Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century, Iranian Islam had become not only an important component; it had become a dominant element in Islam itself, and for several centuries the main centers of Islamic power and civilization were in countries that were, if not Iranian, at least marked by Iranian civilization. For a while this supremacy was challenged by the last center of power in the Arab world, the Mamluk Sultinate based in Egypt. But even that last stronghold disappeared, after the contest between the Persians and the Ottomans to decide which should conquer Eqypt and the Ottoman success in what might be called the preliminary bout. Arabian Islam under Arab sovereignty survived only in Arabia and in remote outposts like Morocco. The center of the Islamic world was under Turkish and Persian states, both shaped by Iranian culture. The major centers of Islam in the late medieval and early modern periods, the centers of both political and cultural power, such as India, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, were all part of this Iranian civilization. Although much of it spoke various forms of Turkish, as well as other local languages, their classical and cultural language was Persian. Arabic was of course the language of scripture and law, but Persian was the language of poetry and literature.
Although the conquerors, especially the Umayyads (the Muslim rulers who succeeded Muhammad from 661-750), tended to stress the primacy of Arabs among Muslims, the Iranians were gradually integrated into the new community. The Muslim conquerors adopted the Sassanid coinage system and many Sassanid administrative practices, including the office of vizier, or minister, and the divan, a bureau or register for controlling state revenue and expenditure that became a characteristic of administration throughout Muslim lands. Later caliphs adopted Iranian court ceremonial practices and the trappings of Sassanid monarchy. Men of Iranian origin served as administrators after the conquest, and Iranians contributed significantly to all branches of Islamic learning, including philology, literature, history, geography, jurisprudence, philosophy, medicine, and the sciences.
The Arabs were in control, however. The new state religion, Islam, imposed its own system of beliefs, laws, and social mores. In regions that submitted peacefully to Muslim rule, landowners kept their land. But crown land, land abandoned by fleeing owners, and land taken by conquest passed into the hands of the new state. This included the rich lands of the Sawad, a rich, alluvial plain in central and southern Iraq. Arabic became the official language of the court in 696, although Persian continued to be widely used as the spoken language. The shuubiyya literary controversy of the ninth through the eleventh centuries, in which Arabs and Iranians each lauded their own and denigrated the other's cultural traits, suggests the survival of a certain sense of distinct Iranian identity. In the ninth century, the emergence of more purely Iranian ruling dynasties witnessed the revival of the Persian language, enriched by Arabic loanwords and using the Arabic script, and of Persian literature.
Another legacy of the Arab conquest was Shi'a Islam, which, although it has come to be identified closely with Iran, was not initially an Iranian religious movement. It originated with the Arab Muslims. In the great schism of Islam, one group among the community of believers maintained that leadership of the community following the death of prophet Muhammad rightfully belonged to Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, and to his descendants. This group came to be known as the Shiat Ali, the partisans of Ali, or the Shi'as. Another group, supporters of Muawiya (a rival contender for the caliphate following the murder of Uthman), challenged Ali's election to the caliphate in 656. After Ali was assassinated while praying in a mosque at Kufa in 661, Muawiya was declared caliph by the majority of the Islamic community. He became the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, which had its capital at Damascus.
Ali's youngest son, Husayn, refused to pay the homage commanded by Muawiya's son and successor Yazid I and fled to Mecca with his sons, brothers, and the sons of Hasan. There he was asked to lead the Shi'as--mostly those living in present-day Iraq--in a revolt. Yazid immediately instructed the governor of Medina to compel Hussayn and few other prominent figures to pledge their allegiance. Husayn, however, refrained from it believing that Yazid was openly going against the teachings of Islam in public and changing the sunnah of Muhammad.
The people in Kufa who were informed about Muawiyah 's death, sent letters urging Husayn to join them and pledge to support him against Umayyads. Husayn wrote back to them saying that he would send his cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel to report to him on the situation. If he found them united as their letters indicated, he would speedily join them, because Imam should act in accordance with the Quran, uphold justice, proclaim the truth, and dedicate himself to the cause of God. The mission of Ibn Aqeel was initially successful and according to reports 18,000 men pledged their allegiance. But the situation changed radically when Yazid appointed Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad as the new governor of Kufah, ordering him to deal severely with Ibn Aqeel. Before news of the adverse turn of events arrived in Mecca, Husayn set out for Kufa.
On the way, Husayn found that his messenger, Muslim ibn Aqeel, was killed in Kufa. He broke the news to his supporters and informed them that people had deserted him. Then, he encouraged anyone who so wished, to leave freely without guilt. Most of those who had joined him at various stages on the way from Mecca now left him. Later, Husayn encountered the army of Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad in his path towards Kufa. Husayn addressed the Kufans army, reminding them that they had invited him to come because they were without an Imam. He told them that he intended to proceed to Kufa with their support, but if they were now opposed to his coming, he would return to where he had come from. However, the army urged him to choose another way. Thus, he turned to left and reached Karbala, where the army forced him not to go any further and to stop at a location that was without water.
Umar ibn Sa'ad then sent a messenger to Husayn to inquire about the purpose of his coming to Iraq. Husayn answered again that he had responded to the invitation of the people of Kufa but was ready to leave if they now disliked his presence. When Umar ibn Sa'ad, the head of Kufan army, reported it back to Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, the governor instructed him to offer Ḥusayn and his supporters the opportunity to swear allegiance to Yazid. He also ordered Umar ibn Sa'ad to cut off Husayn and his followers from access to the water of the Euphrates. At the Battle of Karbala Husayn's band of 200 men and women followers, unwilling to surrender, were finally cut down by about 4,000 Umayyad troops. The Umayyad leader received Husayn's head, and his death in 680 on the tenth of Moharram (Assura) continues to be observed as a day of mourning for all Shi'as.
Today's Shi'a Muslims ritually, and sometimes passionately, weep for Husayn's martyrdom. In the years before Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, opposition groups of all stripes, even Communists, used the image of the revolutionary Husayn as a means to stir the masses to action, even to martyrdom, if necessary. Husayn's martyrdom forms such a central role in Shi'a history and ritual that Iranians traveling to the shrines of other Shi'a heroes and martyrs, like Imam Reza, call out to Husayn and mourn his death along with that of the martyr they have come to mourn.
In today's Iran,sayyed is an honorific title denoting males accepted as descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through his grandsons, Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali, sons of Muhammad's daughter Fatimah and his son-in-law Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib).
In 750 the Umayyad Dynasty was removed from power by rebels, and a new
dynasty, the Abbasid, ruled most of the Muslim world from 750 to 1258. The
city of Baghdad was built in 762 as the capital of the new caliph,
Abu-al-Abbas, a descendant of the Prophet's uncle. The Abbasids owed their
initial success to the discontent of the non-Arabic Muslims, who were the
primary leaders in the towns and in the Shia communities.
The fall of the Umayyad Dynasty marked the end of Arab domination within
Islam; the Abbasid caliph made a great effort to establish equalitarian
treatment of all Muslims. The Arab aristocracy had led the forces of conquest
during the great period of Islamic expansion, but with the advent of more
stable political conditions, the important status previously held only by the
Arab soldier was given to non-Arab administrators, merchants, and scholars.
The traditional Arabic patterns of nomadism and warfare gave way before
economic prosperity, the growth of town life, and the rise of a merchant
class. Caliph Abu-al-Abbas forecast that Baghdad would become the "most
flourishing city in the world"; and indeed it rivaled Constantinople for that
honor, situated as it was on the trade routes linking West and East.
Furthermore, Abbasid patronage of scholarship and the arts produced a rich and
complex culture far surpassing that then existing in western Europe.
The location of a new capital at Baghdad shifted Islam's center of gravity to the province of Iraq, whose soil, watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, had nurtured the earliest human civilization. Here the Abbasid caliphs set themselves up as potentates in the traditional style of the ancient Persians so that they were surrounded by a lavish court that contrasted sharply with the simplicity of the lifestyle of the Prophet. The empire ruled by these caliphs was greater in size than the domain of the Roman Caesars; it was the product of an expansion during which the Muslims assimilated peoples, customs, cultures, and inventions on an unprecedented scale. From the eighth to the twelfth century the Muslim world enjoyed enormous prosperity. In close contact with three continents, the Muslims could shuttle goods back and forth from China to western Europe and from Russia to central Africa. The absence of tariff barriers within the empire and the tolerance of the caliphs, who allowed non-Muslim merchants and craftsmen to reside in their territories and carry on commerce with their home countries, further facilitated trade. The presence of such important urban centers as Baghdad, Cairo and Cordova stimulated trade and industry throughout the Muslim world.
The cosmopolitan nature of Baghdad was evident in its bazaars, which contained goods from all over the known world. There were spices, minerals, and dyes from India; gems and fabrics from Central Asia; honey and wax from Scandinavia and Russia; and ivory and gold dust from Africa. One bazaar in the city specialized in goods from China, including silks, musk, and porcelain. In the slave markets Muslim traders bought and sold Scandinavians, Mongolians from Central Asia, and Africans. Joint-stock companies flourished along with branch banking organizations, and checks (an Arabic word) drawn on one bank could be cashed elsewhere in the empire. Muslim textile industries turned out excellent cottons (muslins) and silks. The steel of Damascus and Toledo, the leather of Cordova, and the glass of Syria became internationally famous. Notable also was the art of paper-making, learned from the Chinese. Under the Abbasids, vast irrigation projects in Iraq increased cultivable land, which yielded large crops of fruits and grains. Wheat came from the Nile valley, cotton from North Africa, olives and wine from Spain, wool from eastern Asia Minor, and horses from Persia.
Just as the Abbasid Caliphate was the most impressive Islamic dynasty, so the rule of Harun al-Rashid (786-809) was the most spectacular of the Abbasid reigns. A contemporary of Charlemagne, who had revived the idea of a Roman Empire in the West there can be no doubt that Harun was the more powerful of the two and ruler of the more highly advanced culture. The two monarchs were on friendly terms, based on self-interest. Charlemagne wanted to exert pressure on the Byzantine emperor to recognize his new imperial title. Harun, on the other hand, saw Charlemagne as an ally against the Umayyad rulers of Spain, who had broken away from Abbasid domination. The two emperors exchanged embassies and presents. The Muslim sent the Christian rich fabrics, aromatics, and even an elephant named Abu-Lababah, meaning "the father of intelligence." An intricate water clock from Baghdad seems to have been looked upon as a miracle in the West. Relations between the Abbasid caliphate and the Byzantine Empire were never very cordial, and conflicts often broke out along the constantly shifting border that separated Christian and Muslim territories. Harun al-Rashid once replied to a communique from the Byzantine emperor in the following terms: "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. From Harun, Commander of the Faithful, to Nicephorus, the dog of the Greeks, I have read your letter, you son of a she-infidel, and you shall see the answer before you hear it." Whereupon the irate caliph sent forth expeditions to ravage Asia Minor.
In the days of Harun al-Rashid, Baghdad's wealth and splendor equaled that of Constantinople, and its chief glory was the royal palace. With its annexes for eunuchs, officials, and a harem, the caliph's residence occupied a third of Baghdad. The caliph's audience chamber was the setting for an elaborate ceremonial, which imitated that of the Byzantines and Persians. In some ways, the opulent reign of Harun al-Rashid marked the highpoint of Abbasid achievement. In others it exhibited the warning signs of weakness. Despite the unprecedented prosperity of the far-flung Abbasid Empire, the political unity of Islam began to crumble soon after the accession of the Abbasid caliphs. The first sign of political disintegration appeared in 756 when a member of the deposed Umayyad family founded his own dynasty at Cordova in Spain; in 929 his decendant assumed the title of caliph. Also in the tenth century the Fatimids--Shiites who claimed descent from Muhammad's daughter Fatima who had married Ali, the fourth caliph--proclaimed themselves the true caliphs of all Islam. From their capital at Cairo, which they founded, their rule eventually extended from Morocco to northern Mesopotamia.
Meanwhile, in the latter part of the tenth century Turkish nomads, called Seljuks, had migrated from Central Asia into the Abbasid lands, where they accepted Islam. After annexing most of Persia, the Seljuks gained control of Baghdad in 1055 and subjugated Iraq. Subsequently they conquered Syria and Palestine at the expense of the Fatimids and proceeded to annex most of Asia Minor from the Byzantines. It was the Seljuks' advance that prompted the First Crusade in 1095.
The Seljuks rose originally as mercenary guards in the service of the Karahanids. Later they acted to defend towns in Khorasan and Transoxania against nomads and military adventururs. And, finally, they assumed the role of protectors of the later Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad against threats to their dominions. In 1055 the real founder of the Seljuk dynasty, Tugrul Bey, forced the Abbasid caliph to make him protector of orthodox Islam and to recognize him as sultan, or temporal ruler. The Seljuks were not the first military protectors of the powerless later caliphs, but they were the first to complete the process of regularizing and institutionalizing the relationship.
With northern Iran entirely under Seljuk control and Iraq professing submission, the Seljuks were confronted with the problem of consolidating their rule and restoring order and prosperity in the Middle East while providing their nomadic vassals with the booty and grazing lands they demanded. Were the Seljuks still leaders of nomadic Turkomans, or were they now rulers and protectors of the civilization they had conquered? It was the latter role that came to dominate, leading to conflicts between the Seljuk rulers and their nomadic commanders and followers, who were dissatisfied with the restrictions imposed on them to save the settled populations of the area. The Seljuk leader, as sultan, assumed most of the caliph's authority to legislate and rule in matters concerning administrative, military, and secular questions not directly regulated in the Muslim law. The caliph remained more as a spiritual leader with the power to regulate matters of personal behavior and individual relationships. As temporal rulers of the Islamic state the Seljuks took over, restored, and elaborated the traditional Perso-Islamic administrative apparatus developed in late Abbasid times, relying largely on Persian ministers who emphasized their own culture, reviving the Persian language and largely eliminating Arabic in government and culture alike, using Persians in most of the administrative positions of the empire, even those in areas inhabited mainly by Arabs.
In return for caliphal recognition the Seljuks became champions of orthodoxy in the Islamic world and leaders of the movement to eradicate the political, military and religious influence of Shiism. Shias were routed out of administrative positions and replaced by orthodox officials. To provide the latter in sufficient quality and numbers the Muslim educational system was reorganized and centered in the mosque schools and higher medrese schools, which strengthened the orthodox religious institution. The sufi mystic movement, which was fulfilling the popular need for more personal religion, was reconciled as orthodox and spread all over the empire to counteract the efforts of the heterodox Shias to capture the masses.
What was to be done with the Turkoman nomads who were driving out the settled populations of eastern Iran and Azerbaijan to the northwest and establishing their own pastoral economy? As long as the nomads formed the main element of the Seljuk army, their demands for booty and fodder could not be entirely ignored. But controlling them was very difficult. The Seljuk solution provided the key to the sultans' success in maintaining power and organizing their administration. They first used their position as sultans to institute a new regular salaried army of mameluk slaves brought from the highlands of the Caucusus and of prisoners taken in conquests. Once the new army gave the Seljuks a sufficient military alternative to the Turkomans, they solved the remainder of the problem by using it to drive the Turkomans out of Iran and Iraq into the territories of their enemies.
But these solutions created a new financial problem. How were the bureaucrats and soldiers to be paid? Clearly, the booty that had satisfied the nomads could no longer be relied on. But the state was not yet strong enough to establish direct rule and levy sufficient taxes to meet its obligations. The solution was a system of indirect revenue assignment (ikta), developed originally in Iran by the Buyids as a means of tax collection and now used also as the primary unit of administration. The essential premise of the system was the idea that all wealth (though not necessarily all property) belonged to the ruler. To exploit it he acted not through salaried officials of state, but rather by superimposing ikta units, each of which gave its possessor the right to administer a source of wealth and to collect its revenues. Officers of the new army and officials of the administration were given these iktas in return for performing their duties, thus as the equivalent of a salary. This relieved the treasury of the problem of finding money to pay its soldiers and civil servants and also gave the ikta holders and interest in preserving the prosperity of agriculture and trade. They could no longer ravage the land and move on as nomads had done in the past.
With the new army and bureaucracy organized and financed, the Turkomans could be and were pushed out of the settled areas of Iran and Iraq as rapidly as possible. At the end of the eleventh century the Seljuks actually seem to have wanted the nomads to move against the Fatimids in Egypt as a further means of ending the heterodox threat against Islamic orthodoxy. But the more natural road for the Turkomans was to the north and west. The plateaus of Iran and Iraq running into the highlands of eastern Anatolia seem to have been far more convenient conduits to pastures than were the mountains of southwestern Iran and the deserts of Syria and Sinai. In addition, the Byzantine and Armenian states in Anatolia appeared to be much weaker and offered the prospect of much more booty than did that of the Fatimids. The Seljuks opposed the Turkoman pushes into Anatolia because of their own efforts to ally with the first Crusaders and even with the Byzantines against the Fatimids, and they made little effort to follow up on the early Turkoman onslaughts with formal occupation. Eventually, however, the momentum of the Turkomans carried the Seljuks along.
Indeed, times were propitious for a Seljuk move into Anatolia. The Christian defenses there were extremely weak. The regular Byzantine army was weakened by internal political dissension and military revolts. The Armenian vassal chiefs who defended much of the southeastern frontier also were fighting among themselves and generally were unwilling to accept Byzantine direction. Moreover, the Byzantine derense system consisted of a few large garrisons stationed in widely separated forts, and it was not too difficult for the Turkomans to slip past them. The Christians relied mainly on heavy armour, pikes, and axes and found it almost impossible to compete successfully with the mobile nomadic cavalrymen who used the bow and arrow with deadly effectiveness. And, finally, Byzantine economic policy and religious strife left the populace largely unwilling to support the efforts of their masters against invaders, whoever they might be.
The Turkoman raids began in 1048, pillaging Armenia, Erzurum, and Trabzon to the north and the valley of the Murat Su to the south. The Seljuk sultan Tugrul Bey led a campaign into the same areas in 1054 while the Turkomans raided farther and farther west each year. The centralizing policies of Sultan Alp Arslan (1063-1072) caused more Turkomans to flee Seljuk rule in Iran. Since most of them entered Anatolia in flight, they were willing to hire themselves out as mercenaries, helping Armenian and Byzantine feudal nobles and princes against each other as well as against Turkoman raids, but this situation made the Christians even more vulnerable.
As soon as Alp Arslan settle his position in Iraq, he undertook a new campaign (1065) in eastern Anatolia to consolidate his control over the frontier Turkomans as well as te Christian princes in the area. Byzantine efforts to stop the invasion by raiding along the upper Euphrates into Syria were beaten back (1068-1069) while the nomads raided farther and farther into western Anatolia. Alp Arslan still hoped to make a truce with the Byzantines so that he could concentrate against the Fatimids; but when he heard that Emperor Roman Diogenus was leading a new offensive to the east, he moved north for a direct confrontation with the Byzantine army, the first time that the Turks had risked such a battle. The two armies came together at Manzikert, north of Lake Van (August 19, 1071), where one of the great momentous battles of history took place. Turkish maneuverability and superiority with the bow and arrow, combined with dissension in the Byzantine army, caused the latter to flee while the emperor was captured. Because Alp Arslan still considered the Fatimids as his primary objective, he did not use the victory to make further organized attacks into Anatolia. But whether he intended to or not, the victory destroyed the old Byzantine border defense system and organized resistance against the Turkomans, opening the gates for the latter to enter in increasing numbers as they sought to evade the organized governmental controls being extended by the Seljuks. The Turkomans, therefore, stepped up the attack, devastating agriculture and trade and paralyzing Byzantine administration. Within a few years all of Byzantine Anatolia east of Cappadocia was occupied by the nomads except for a few forts in the Taurus mountains and Trabzon, on the Black Sea, which was to hold out for centuries. Continued Byzantine internal disputes and feudal anarchy also enabled the Turkomans to raid westward all the way to Iznik (Nicaea) and the Bosphorus, though here they were unable to settle down to the extent that they had in the east.
At this point some of the Turkomans were led by their own hans. Others submitted to the authority of individual Seljuk princes, mililtary commanders, and others who sought to make their fortunes on the western frontiers rather than accepting the authority of the sultan of in Iraq. Some of these established their own small states and left them to heirs, thus founding their own dynasities. In Cilicia one of these, Suleyman, son of Tugrul's cousin Kutlumus, led a group of Turkomans that helped several Byzantine emperors and princes and in return was recognized as ruler of much of south-central Anatolia, forming the base of the Seljuk Empire of Rum, which later rose to dominate most of Turkoman Anatolia.
While Anatolia was gradually transformed into a Turkish dominion, the Great Seljuk Empire, now centered at Isfahan, reached its peak. Alp Arslan was killed a year after Manzikert during a campaign against the Karahanids and was succeeded by his son Maliksah (1072-1092), whose reign inaugurated the decline. Because of his youth the new sultan had to rely heavily on his father's trusted chief minister, Nizam ul-Mulk. The establishment of the Seljuks of Rum posed a threat to Maliksah, who responded by establishing his dominion in northern Syria and reaching the Mediterranean. With the help of the Byzantines he also extended his power into Anatolia, gaining the allegiance of most of the Turkomans against the Rum Seljuks, who were left in control of only a few areas of central and eastern Anatolia from their capital, Konya.
These activities prevented Nizam ul-Mluk from consolidating the Seljuk Empire as he had hoped to do. The Fatimids remained in Egypt and southern Syria and extended their disruptive Shia missionary activities throughout the sultan's dominions. The Seljuks were also undermined by the activities of a new Shia movement that arose within their own boundaries, that of the Ismaili Assasins founded by Hasan al-Sabbah from his fortified center at Alamut, south of the Caspian Sea. He began a successful campaign of assassination and terror against political and religious leaders of the Seljuk state. In addition, the Seljuks were weakened by the old nomadic idea that rule had to be shared among all members of the ruling dynasty. The sultan gave large provinces to members of his family, and they began to create their own armies and treasuries. Maliksah also compensated his mamluk officers with similar feudal estates where they built autonomous power and thus prepared for the day when a weakening of the central authority would enable them to establish independent states. Finally, divisions between the orthodox establishment of the sultans and the heterodox Turkoman tribes became increasingly serious. Alp Arslan had solved this problem by pushing the tribes into Anatolia. But this outlet was cut off when the Seljuks of Rum rose in Cilicia along with petty Armenian states and the Crusaders in northern Syria. The Turkomans, therefore, now remained in the Great Seljuk possessions, continuing their attacks on the settled populations and resisting Nizam ul-Mulk's efforts to strengthen orthodoxy as the basis of the Seljuk Empire.
As long as Maliksah and Nizam ul-Mulk lived, these disruptive tensions were controlled. But with their deaths in 1092 anarchy and dissolution soon followed. The Middle East fell into a new era of anarchy and foreign invasion that lasted through most of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the east the Great Seljuks were replaced by a number of small Turkoman states, some ruled by tribal chiefs with nomadic armies, others by Seljuk princes under the tutelage and domination of military chiefs appointed as regents (atabegs) by the decaying sultanate. In Anatolia, the Seljuks of Rum managed to extend their rule though they were cut off from their kingdoms in Cilicia and at Antioch and Edessa. The last Great Seljuk ruler was Sultan Sancar, son of Maliksah, who gained control (1096) of the province of Khorasan, in the northeast, shortly after the death of his father. To him fell the bleak task of defending the Middle East against the Mongol hordes that now threatened it from Transoxania, but after his death in 1157 there was little left to stand in their way. At the same time, a strong and able caliph, al-Nasir suppressed many of the independent Turkomans in Iraq and established direct caliphal rule once again, even getting the Assassins of Alamut to refrain from their terroristic policies in return for recognition of autonomy. He also continued the Seljuk's work of reviving Islamic orthodoxy through the sufi mystic orders, using the futwah brotherhoods originally formed by lower-class artisans in the large cities as guilds and mutual-aid organizations, absorbing them into the sufi system, giving them religious ideals into which they could channel their energies, and making them into a kind of chivalric society and an instrument through which Islamic society could revitalize itself in the age of political disruption.
With the death of al-Nasir and the extinction of the Great Seljuk line the Middle East fell mostly to two new Mongol invaders from the east. In the middle and late twelfth century most of the Mongols were driven out of northern China. Those Mongols who fled westward formed the Kara Hitay Empire, which took much of Transoxania in the late twelfth century in succession to the Seljuks. Other Mongols stayed in China, forming confederations and alliances against the continued attacks of their enemies from north and south. In 1205 the united Mongol confederation came under the leadership of one Temujin, who took the title Genghis Han (Great Han) to manifest his claim and ambition of uniting all the Mongols and, perhaps, all of the Ataic peoples under his leadership. Between 1206 and 1215 he incorporated most of the Asian steppes between northern China and Transoxania into his empire, in the process adding large numbers of Turkomans to his army while building a society devoted almost entirely to war. He next aimed at moving back into China, but when he was unable to establish a peaceful relationship with the Hvarezmsahs who had displaced both the Great Seljuks and the Kara Hitays in Transoxania, he responded with an attack that overwhelmed the Middle East in a relatively short time. In the end the invasion was stopped not by the Middle East's military defenses, but rather by periodic crises within the Mongol Empire caused by the deaths of Genghis Han and his successors. In 1242 the Mongols defeated the Seljuks of Rum and forced them to recognize the Mongol Great Han as suzerain.
Genghis Khan established four large states in the vast swaths of of Muslim territory in Mesopotamia, the Iranian Mountains, the Syr-Oxus Basin, and the Volga Region. He innovated many ways of organizing his army, dividing it into decimal subsections of arbans (10 people), zuuns (100), mingghans (1000), and tumens (10,000). The Kheshig, or the Imperial Guard, was founded and divided into day (khorchin torghuds) and night guards (khevtuul).Genghis rewarded those who had been loyal to him and placed them in high positions, placing them as heads of army units and households, even though many of his allies had been from very low-rank clans. Compared to the units he gave to his loyal companions, those assigned to his own family members were quite few. He proclaimed a new law of the empire, Ikh Zasag or Yassa, and codified everything related to the everyday life and political affairs of the nomads at the time. He forbade the selling of women, theft of other's properties, fighting between the Mongols, and the hunting of animals during the breeding season.
Mongol violence was not caused by religious intolerance: they acknowledged the validity of all faiths and usually built on local traditions once a region had been subjugated; so by the early fourteenth century, the Mongol rulers of all four states had converted to Islam. The Mongol aristocracy, however, still followed the Yasa, Genghis Khan's military code. Many of their Muslim subjects were dazzled by their brilliant courts and were fascinated by their new rulers. But so much Muslim scholarship and culture had been lost in the devastation that some jurists decreed that the "gates of ijtihad (independent reasoning)" had closed. This was an extreme version of the conservative tendency of agrarian civilization, which lacked the economic resources to implement innovation on a large scale, valued social order over originality, and felt that culture was so hard won that it was more important to conserve what had already been achieved. This narrowing of horizens was not inspired by the inherent dynamic of Islam but was a reaction to the shocking Mongol assault. Other Muslims would respond to the Mongol conquests very differently.
Genghis Khan died in 1227 but campaigning continued under his grandson Hulegu Khan who moved on Baghdad in 1258. The Great Khan, brother to Hulegu, considered the man-worship of the Abbasid Caliph to be insulting to his status and ordered that the city be taken and the caliph killed. On the way he encountered the Ismailis of Alamut and defeated their small force with no great difficulty. The Caliphate was in theory still powerful enough to defend themselves against the Mongols but the Shiite minority in Baghdad as well as Christians and other non-Muslims under their control joined the invading force and helped to bring the 500-year old dynasty to an abrupt end. With the disintegration of the greater Mongol Empire, a local Khanate was established in Tabriz to rule over the Persian lands. Mongol rulers from the time of Hulegu Khan onwards thus took the title Il-Khans which meant provincial khan or ruler. Ilkhanid Persia became an independent empire based in the Azerbaijan region, with its capital first in Maraqeh, then in Tabriz and later in Sultanieh.
The results of the Mongol invasion for the Iranian economy were disastrous. The well-developed networks of qanat irrigation systems that had previously made possible a largely continuous pattern of habitation across large areas of Iran were laid to waste, leaving a series of isolated oasis towns in its place. Furthermore, since the population had been decimated, Iran was left without the workforce required to recover itself. At the end of the 13th century Iran faced famine due to the devastation of agricultural production wreaked by the Mongols. In cultural terms too Iran suffered greatly. The library of Alamut was put to fire, denying subsequent scholars the knowledge that could have unlocked the secrets of the Ismailis and the schools and libraries founded by Nezam al-Molk were also destroyed. It is said that the madreseh at Nishapur burned for months before all of its treasures were finally consumed.The rule of law that the Mongols established was as uncompromising as it was efficient. Death penalties for even minor offences were ruthlessly and consistently enforced. This resulted in an empire which was extremely safe for travel and trade. Banditry on the all-important trade routes of the Silk Road was greatly reduced and commerce between East and West flourished. Foreign visitors were greatly surprised by the security that prevailed in the Mongol lands where it was said that a woman could carry a bag of gold from one end of the empire to the other without coming to harm.
Like the Seljuks before them, the Mongols were very open to the cultural influences of the civilisations that they had conquered. They were practical enough to admit Persian scholars, physicians, jurists and soldiers into circles of the highest rank. Persian was even made the official language of the Ilkhanid court and many of the descendants of Genghis Khan would marry into the lineages of Persian tribes. It is a little known fact that Shah Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, could trace a direct line of descent back to the great Khan himself. In terms of religion, this openness to influence was not limited solely to Islam. Hulegu Khan converted to Islam only under social pressure after having flirted with Buddhism. However he is primarily regarded as a traditional Mongol Shamanist as evidenced by the several young women that were buried with him in his grave. Neither Islam nor Buddhism would have sanctioned human sacrifice. Following Hulegu came a series of Buddhist Il-Khans that persecuted Muslims and even promoted Christian interests ahead of those of Islam. Sadly, none of the numerous Buddhist temples that were built in Persia during this period survived into the 14th century. The first truly Muslim Il-Khan was the most renowned of the Mongol rulers of Persia, Mahmud Qazan Khan (r. 1295-1304). He affected a partial recovery in the ravaged empire by reducing taxes on artisans and rebuilding irrigation systems. As an ardent supporter of agriculture, a patron of the arts and a builder of fine monuments, he turned on its head the reputation the Mongols had won for destruction and pillage. Qazan reacted to the persecution of Muslims of the previous 30 years by persecuting Buddhists. Monks were forced to either convert to Islam or be repatriated to India, China and Tibet. Temples were converted to mosques and Mongol law was replaced with the Sharia, or Islamic code of law. By the time of Qazan's death almost all elements of the Il-Khanate had been effectively absorbed into Islam but his brother and successor Uljai-to was a Shiite Muslim who began, as if to complete the set, to persecute Sunni Muslims. This caused major friction with neighbouring Sunni states, and brought the Ilkhanids to the point of renewing their war with the Mamelukes of Egypt when Uljai-to died in 1316. His successor Abu Said, the first Il-Khan to have a Muslim name since birth, reinstated Sunnism as the state religion. The large extent of cultural absorption sowed the seeds of the end for the Il-Khanate. The switch from nomadic warrior to state-building politician required a cultural shift of no small significance. Tensions existed between the increasingly Islamic and Persianised court and the more traditional elements of the unconverted Mongol nobility. Abu Said left no clear successor when he died in 1334 and the rule of Iran once again fell to petty dynasties under Mongol commanders, old Seljuk retainers and regional chiefs. This disunity paved the way for the third invasion of Iran from Central Asia under the Mongol chief known to the west as Tamerlane.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century, Timur (Tamerlane) claimed to be descended from Genghis Khan's family. The disturbed conditions in Mongol Transoxania gave him in the town of Kish the chance to build up a kingdom in Central Asia. He entered Iran in 1380 and in 1393 reduced the Jalayirids power and domination after taking their capital, Baghdad. In 1402 he captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid at Ankara; and conquered Syria then turned his attention to campaigns to the east of his quickly acquired and ill-cemented empire; he died in 1405 on an expedition to China. In showing interest in Sufism, Timur may have hoped to find popular leaders whom he could use for his own purposes. But his encounters with ill-treated Iranians proved that they knew him perhaps better than he knew himself. His legacy was the reverse of stability to Iran; and the division of his ill-assimilated conquests among his sons ensured that an integrated Timurid Empire would never be achieved.
A Timurid state did come into being in Iran under Timur's son Shahrokh Shah (1405-47), who used three military expeditions to unite Azerbaijan and western Persia to Khorasan and eastern Persia to form a united Timurid state for a short and troubled period of time. He only succeeded in loosely controlling western and southern Iran from his beautiful capital at Herat. He made Herat the seat of a splendid culture, the atelier of the great miniature painters of the Herat school, and the home of a revival of Persian poetry and philosophy. This revival was not unconnected with an effort to claim for an Iranian center once more the leadership in the propagation of Sunni ideology.
The emergence of the Ilkhanate had an important historical impact in the Middle Eastern region. The establishment of the unified Mongol Empire had significantly eased trade and commerce across Asia. The communications between the Ilkhanate and the Yuan Dynasty headquartered in China encouraged this development. The Ilkhanate also helped to pave the way for the later Persian Safavid dynastic state, and ultimately the modern country of Iran. Hulagu's conquests had also opened Iran to Chinese influence from the east. This, combined with patronage from his successors, would develop Iran's distinctive excellence in architecture. Under the Ilkhans, Iranian historians also moved from writing in Arabic, to writing in their native Persian tongue. The rudiments of double-entry accounting were practiced in the Ilkhanate. Their accounting practice for recording tax payments and liabilities (merdiban) was then adopted by the Ottoman Empire. These developments were independent from the accounting practices used in Europe.This accounting system was adopted primarily as the result of socio-economic necessities created by the agricultural and fiscal reforms of Ghazan Khan in 1295-1304.
The founder of the dynasty, Ismāʿīl I, as head of the Sufis of Ardabīl, won enough support from the local Turkmens and other disaffected heterodox tribes to enable him to capture Tabrīz from the Ak Koyunlu (Turkish: “White Sheep”), an Uzbek Turkmen confederation, and in July 1501 Ismāʿīl was enthroned as shah, although his area of control was initially limited to Azerbaijan. In the next 10 years he subjugated the greater part of Iran and annexed the Iraqi provinces of Baghdad and Mosul. Shah Ismail's most important decision was to declare that the state religion would be the form of Islam called Shi'ism, which at the time was quite foreign to Iranian culture. The Safavids launched a vigorous campaign to convert what was then a predominantly Sunni population by persuasion and by force. The Sunni ulama (a religious council of wise men) either left or were killed. To promote Shi'ism the Safavids brought in scholars from Shi'ite countries to form a new religious elite. They appointed an official (the Sadr) to co-ordinate this elite - and ensure that it did what the shah wanted. The religious leaders effectively became a tool of the government.
The Safavids also spent money to promote religion, making grants to shrines and religious schools. And most craftily of all, they used grants of land and money to create a new class of wealthy religious aristocrats who owed everything to the state. The Safavids not only persecuted Sunni Muslims, but Shi'ites with different views, and all other religions. Alien shrines were vandalised, and Sufi mystic groups forbidden.This was a complete turnabout, since the Safavids owed their origins to a Sufi order and to a form of Shi'ism that they now banned. They also reduced the importance of the Hadj (pilgrimage to Mecca), replacing it with pilgrimage to Shi'ite shrines. This early Safavid empire was effectively a theocracy. Religious and political power were completely intertwined, and encapsulated in the person of the shah.
The people of the Safavid Empire soon embraced the new faith with enthusiasm, celebrating Shi'ite festivals with great piety. The most significant of these was Ashura, when Shia Muslims mark the death of Hossain. A Turkish traveler to Iran describes the climax of a vast public mourning on Ashura held before 'the nobles and notables and all the people of the city, great and small':
When the reader of the book of Hosain's martyrdom reaches the part describing the manner in which the accursed Shemr killed the oppressed Imam Hosain, at that very moment, they bring out to the field...mock representations of the bodies of the dead children of the Imam. Upon seeing this spectacle, shouts and screams and wailings of 'Alas, Hosain' mount from the people to the heavens and all spectators weep and wail. Hundreds of Hosain's devotees beat and wound their heads, faces, and bodies with swords and knives. For the love of Imam Hosain they make their blood flow. The green grassy field becomes bloodied and looks like a field of poppies. Then the mock dead are carried from the field and the reading of Imam Hosain's martyrdom is completed.
Sometimes Ashura processions in the Safafid period also included tableaux of butchered martyrs smeared with blood which were then moved along on wheeled platforms. The Europeans medieval theater of the Stations of the Cross, with its fixed scenes and moving viewer-penitents, had been an antecedent to the full theater of the latter Middle Ages; and the Ashura celebrations are only a step away from the full-blown modern Shi'a theater of martyrdom.
Self-mutilation in emulation of the 'passion' of heroes who are human yet divine is no stranger to the West, flagellants who whipped themselvesboth in penance and remembrance of the scourging and crucifiction of Jesus appeared in almost every western European country in the Middle Ages, sometimes with the disapproval of the church. Sometimes, like the group of flagellants who at the opening of of the fifteenth century followed Saint Vincent Ferrer on his journey to preach the need of repentance and the coming of the judgment, they were at the very heart of what conscientious churchmen most admired. Flagellation survives in Spain and in many parts of the Hispanic world. It survives, in fact, in the USA in New Mexico, where, in spite of a century of horrified disapproval by Protestants and non-Hispanic Catholics, the brotherhood of Penitentes commemorates the passion of Jesus by flagellation, the carrying of heavy wooden crosses, and many other forms of discipline, physical and spiritual. The resemblance of the form of Penetente religiousity to Shi'a practices extends to tableaux from the life of Jesus and even to the drama of simulated crucifiction.
In August 1514 Ismāʿīl was seriously defeated at Chāldirān by his Sunni rival, the Ottoman sultan Selim I. Thereafter, the continuing struggle against the Sunnis—the Ottomans in the west and the Uzbeks in the northeast—cost the Ṣafavids Kurdistan, Diyarbakır, and Baghdad; the Ṣafavid capital had to be relocated to Iṣfahān temporarily and then permanently by about the early 17th century. Iran weakened appreciably during the reign of Ismāʿīl’s eldest son, shah Ṭahmāsp I (1524–76), and persistent and unopposed Turkmen forays into the country increased under his incompetent successors. In 1588 ʿAbbās I was brought to the throne. Realizing the limits of his military strength, ʿAbbās made peace with the Ottomans on unfavorable terms in 1590 and directed his onslaughts against the Uzbeks. Meeting with little success, ʿAbbās engaged (1599) the Englishman Sir Robert Sherley to direct a major army reform. Three bodies of troops were formed, all trained and armed in the European manner and paid out of the royal treasury: the ghulāms (slaves), the tofangchīs (musketeers), and the topchīs (artillerymen). With his new army, ʿAbbās defeated the Turks in 1603, forcing them to relinquish all the territory they had seized, and captured Baghdad. He also expelled (1602, 1622) the Portuguese traders who had seized the island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf early in the 16th century. Shah ʿAbbās’s remarkable reign, with its striking military successes and efficient administrative system, again raised Iran to the status of a great power. Trade with the West and industry expanded, communications improved. The capital, Iṣfahān, became the centre of Ṣafavid architectural achievement, manifest in the mosques Masjid-i Shāh and Masjid-i Sheykh Loṭfollāh and other monuments including the ʿAlī Qāpū, the Chehel Sotūn, and the Meydān-i Shāh.
With the Ottomans remaining quiet, the Safavid shahs became complacent, and then corrupt and decadent. Power passed to the Shia ulama (a religious council of wise men) which eventually deposed the shahs and proclaimed the world's first Islamic Republic in the eighteenth century. The ulama developed a theory that only a Mujtahid - one deeply learned in the Sharia (Qur'anic law) and one who has had a blameless life, could rule. Another difference between Sunni and Shia Islam is that the latter believe that Allah shielded or hid Muhammad al-Mahdi as the Twelfth Imam until the end of time. Shias expect the Twelfth Imam, which Jews and Christians would recognize as a messianic figure, to return to save the world when it has descended into chaos.
The Ghilzai tribe of the Afghani Pashtuns overthrew the weakened and disintegrated Safavid shah Sultan Husayn in 1722. At the same time, Ottoman and Russian forces seized Persian land. Nader Shah joined forces with Sultan Husayn's son Tahmasp II and led the resistance against the Ghilzai Afghans, driving their leader Ashraf Khan easily out of the capital in 1729 and establishing Tahmasp on the throne. Nader fought to regain the lands lost to the Ottomans and Russians and to restore Persian hegemony in Persia. While he was away in the east fighting the Ghilzais, Tahmasp allowed the Ottomans to retake territory in the west. Nader, disgusted, had Tahmasp deposed in favour of his baby son Abbas III in 1732. Four years later, after he had recaptured most of the lost Persian lands, Nader was confident enough to have himself proclaimed shah in his own right at a ceremony on the Moghan Plain.
Nader initiated a new religious policy aimed at reconciling Shia with Sunni Islam. The Safavid dynasty had relied heavily on the support of Shi'ites (the Qizilbash and the so-called ghilmans, who were converted Circassians, Georgians and Armenians), but many soldiers in Nader's army were Sunnis. Nader also wanted to set himself up as the new arch rival of the Ottoman sultan (who had before been Iranian Safavids), for supremacy within the Muslim world, which would have been impossible had he remained an orthodox Shi'ite.
He wanted Persia to adopt a form of religion that would be more acceptable to Sunnis and suggested that Persia adopt a form of Shi'ism he called "Ja'fari", in honour of the sixth Shi'a imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. He banned certain Shi'a practices which were particularly offensive to Sunnis, such as the cursing of the first three caliphs. Personally, Nader is said to have been indifferent towards religion and the French Jesuit who served as his personal physician reported that it was difficult to know which religion he followed and that many who knew him best said that he had none. Nader hoped that "Ja'farism" would be accepted as a fifth school (mazhab) of Sunni Islam and that the Ottomans would allow its adherents to go on the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, which was within their territory. In the subsequent peace negotiations, the Ottomans refused to acknowledge Ja'farism as a fifth mazhab but they did allow Persian pilgrims to go on the hajj. Nader was interested in gaining rights for Persians to go on the hajj in part because of revenues from the pilgrimage trade. Nader's other primary aim in his religious reforms was to weaken the Safavids further since Shi'a Islam had always been a major element in support for the dynasty. He had the chief mullah of Persia strangled after he was heard expressing support for the Safavids. Among his reforms was the introduction of what came to be known as the kolah-e Naderi. This was a hat with four peaks which symbolised the first four caliphs.
Flexing his combined religious muscles, Nader next started his campaigns, first waging a war against the Afghans and capturing Kandahar, their last bastion. In 1738, he invaded Mughal India, massacred 30,000 of the inhabitants of Delhi, and sacked the entire city. In this single campaign he captured an incredible amount of wealth, including the legendary Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Nor diamond. With the wealth he gained, Nader started to build a Persian navy. With lumber from Mazandaran, he built ships in Bushehr. He also purchased thirty ships in India and recaptured the island of Bahrain from the Arabs.
Nader Shah soon fell out with his eldest son Reza Qoli Mirza, who had ruled Persia during his father's absence. Having heard a rumor that Nader was dead, he had prepared to seize the throne by having the Safavid royal captives, Tahmasp and his son Abbas, executed. Nader was not pleased with the young man's behaviour and humiliated him by removing him from the post of viceroy. Nader became increasingly despotic, taxing his subjects heavily to pay for his military campaigns, and his health decayed. When there was an assassination attempt on him during an expedition to Daghestan, Nader blamed Reza and in 1742 he had him blinded so he could not succeed to the throne. Nader's despotism and excessive demands for tax provoked many revolts. In 1747 while on his way to crush one of them, he was assassinated by two of his own officers on June 20, 1947, sending Iran into civil war.
After Nader's death, he was succeeded by his nephew Ali Qoli, who renamed himself Adil Shah ("righteous king"). Adil Shah was probably involved in his father's assassination plot. Adil Shah was deposed within a year. During the struggle between Adil Shah, his brother Ibrahim Khan and Nader's grandson Shah Rukh almost all provincial governors declared independence, established their own states, and the entire Empire of Nader Shah fell into anarchy. Finally, Karim Khan founded the Zand dynasty and became ruler of Iran by 1760, while Ahmad shah Durrani had already proclaimed independence in the east, marking the foundation of modern Afghanistan.
After Adil shah was made king, Karim Khan and his soldiers defected from the army along with Ali Morad Khan Bakhtiari and Abolfath Khan Haft Lang, two other local chiefs, became a major contender but was challenged by several adversaries. Abolfath Khan was the Prime Minister, Karim Khan became the army chief commander and Ali Morad Khan became the regent. Karim Khan declared Shiraz his capital, and in 1778 Tehran became the second capital . He then gained control of central and southern parts of Iran. In order to add legitimacy to his claim, Karim Khan placed the infant shah Ismail III, the grandson of the last Safavid king, on the throne in 1757. Ismail was a figurehead king and real power was vested in Karim Khan. Karim Khan chose to be the military commander and Alimardan Khan was the civil administrator. Soon enough Karim Khan managed to eliminate his partner as well as the puppet king and in 1760, founded his own dynasty. He refused to accept the title of the king and instead named himself Vakil "The Advocate of the People."
An Iranian tradition held that to govern, a person must possess the aura or quality of leadership, "khvarnah" which derives ultimately from the higher being. It is not so much to speak the words of God as a prophet, but to enact the will of God on earth in government, or even leadership at a smaller scale, throughout history among the Iranians. The invading tribes following orthodox forms of Islam as opposed to Shiism, whether Arabian, Mongol, or Turkomen who forcibly occupied the throne of Iran in the centuries preceding and following the Zands, largely lacked that characteristic. Most eyed the power, wealth, and the possibility of tyrannical rule that kingship brought.
As for the king, the actual presence of the khvarenah depended on his loyalty to the Essential Rule (arta, asha), and was therefore granted in accordance with his personal worth. It was a gift that not only the king, but actually every man received from the Creator...In man this khvarnah is susceptible of developing itself (for instance in the case of a common man who becomes a king), for it is continuously nourished by wisdom, energy and virtues. Its presence within man actually depends on his spiritual awareness, that is, the extent to which he is conscious of his own original 'I-ness'...
Originally, 'king' meant a man capable of realizing, in full awareness, his own destiny by developing his inborn khvarnah...Thus the theory of the sacral kingship in ancient Iran appears to convey a meaning far beyond a class ideology; indeed, it points to an eschatological ideal regarding the mystical liberation of humankind as such. The Iranian people, through the tormented vicissitudes of their history, even after major changes in religion, have never lost sight of this ideal, sometimes personified as a worthy monarch or as a righteous dynasty.
There are more stories told of Karim Khan's kindness, simplicity, generousity, and sense of justice than about any other Iranian monarch. As the archetype of the good king with a genuine concern for his people and who thus gained their respect and love, he ranks with Anushirvan the Just, Sultan Sanjar, and Shar Abbas. Where these and other rulers surpass him in military glory and international prestige, the Vakil quietly trtains even today an unparalleled place in his countrymen's affection as a good man who became and remained a good monarch.
When his major military campaigns were finished in the middle of the 1760s, Karim Khan devoted the rest of his rule to organizing his kingdom. A shrewd politician and diplomat, he managed to conclude lucrative contracts with the British East India Company and thus promoted international trade. Internally, his policies regarding taxation were quite promotional, temporarily helping the agricultural sector to rise. He is known to have imported several light industries, including promoting modern weaving methods in Kerman. His fair taxation, effective diplomacy, and abilities to provide relative internal calm brought an unprecedented amount of prosperity to Fars, Isfahan, Khuzestan, and central Iran, which was unknown since the high Safavid times in the early decades of the 17th century.
Karim Khan died peacefully in 1779, leaving the Zand throne to his weak son, Abolfath Khan. The rule of both Abolfath Khan and his brother, Mohammad Ali Khan, were overshadowed by the power of Zakki Khan, their half-uncle, who acted as a regent. The competition among Zand princes continued into the 1780’s, with a short period of relative stability under a nephew of Karim Khan, called Jafar Khan. However, the rising power of the Qajar Khan, Agha Mohammad Khan, who had escaped Shiraz following the death of Karim Khan, was a major threat to the weak Zand throne. Competition from a rival branch also further weakened the rule of Jafar Khan, and upon his death, the power was nominally inherited by his son, Lotf Ali Khan. The latter, a brave and capable military commander, despite his young age, spent most of his rule fighting the ruthless Qajar Khan. He was finally defeated in the city of Bam, in eastern Kerman, tortured, and finally killed as a captive, with his remains being buried in two different cities. The bloody end of the Zand dynasty, their reputation as fair leaders, and Karim Khan’s skills as an administrator, however, guaranteed their place as one of the most popular, and nostalgic, Iranian dynasties.
Like virtually every dynasty that ruled Persia since the eleventh century, the Qajars came to power with the backing of Turkic tribal forces, while using educated Persians in their bureaucracy". In 1779 following the death of Karim Khan of the Zand dynasty, Mohammad Khan Qajar, the leader of the Qajars, set out to reunify Iran. Mohammad Khan was known as one of the cruelest kings, even by the eighteenth century Iranian standards. In his quest for power, he razed cities, massacred entire populations, and blinded some 20,000 men in the city of Kerman because the local populace had chosen to defend the city against his siege.
The Qajar armies were composed of a small number of Turkoman bodyguards and Georgian slaves. By 1794, Mohammad Khan had eliminated all his rivals, including Lotf Ali Khan, the last of the Zand dynasty. He reestablished Persian control over the territories in the entire Caucasus. Agha Mohammad established his capital at Tehran. In 1796 he was formally crowned as shah. In 1797, Mohammad Khan Qajar was assassinated in Shusha, the capital of Karabakh Khanate, and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.
In 1803, under Fath Ali Shah, Qajars set out to fight against the Russian Empire, in what was known as Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813, due to concerns about the Russian expansion into the Caucasus, which was an Iranian domain, although some of the Khanates of the Caucasus were considered independent or semi-independent by the time of Russian expansion in the 19th century. This period marked the first major economic and military encroachments on Iranian interests during the colonial era. The Qajar army suffered a major military defeat in the war and under the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, Iran recognized Russian annexation of Georgia and most of the Caucasus region. The second Russo-Persian War of the late 1820s ended even more disastrously for Qajar Iran with temporary occupation of Tabriz and the signing of Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828, acknowledging Russian sovereignty over the entire South Caucasus, the area north of the Aras River.
Fath Ali Shah's reign saw increased diplomatic contacts with the West and the beginning of intense European diplomatic rivalries over Iran. His grandson Mohammad Shah, who fell under the Russian influence and made two unsuccessful attempts to capture Herat, succeeded him in 1834. When Mohammad shah died in 1848 the succession passed to his son Nasser-e-Din, who proved to be the ablest and most successful of the Qajar sovereigns.
During Nasser-e-Din Shah's reign, Western science, technology, and educational methods were introduced into Persia and the country's modernization was begun. Nasser ed-Din Shah tried to exploit the mutual distrust between Great Britain and Russia to preserve Persia's independence, but foreign interference and territorial encroachment increased under his rule. He was not able to prevent Britain and Russia from encroaching into regions of traditional Persian influence. In 1856, during the Anglo-Persian War, Britain prevented Persia from reasserting control over Herat. The city had been part of Persia in Safavid times, but Herat had been under non-Persian rule since the mid-18th century. Britain also extended its control to other areas of the Persian Gulf during the 19th century. Meanwhile, by 1881, Russia had completed its conquest of present-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, bringing Russia's frontier to Persia's northeastern borders and severing historic Persian ties to the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Several trade concessions by the Persian government put economic affairs largely under British control. By the late 19th century, many Persians believed that their rulers were beholden to foreign interests.
Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir, was the young prince Nasser-e-Din's advisor and constable. With the death of Mohammad Shah in 1848, Mirza Taqi was largely responsible for ensuring the crown prince's succession to the throne. When Nasser ed-Din succeeded to the throne, Amir Nezam was awarded the position of prime minister and the title of Amir Kabir, the Great Ruler.
By this time, Persia was nearly bankrupt. During the next two and a half years Amir Kabir initiated important reforms in virtually all sectors of society. Government expenditure was slashed, and a distinction was made between the private and public purses. The instruments of central administration were overhauled, and Amir Kabir assumed responsibility for all areas of the bureaucracy. Foreign interference in Persia's domestic affairs was curtailed, and foreign trade was encouraged. Public works such as the bazaar in Tehran were undertaken. Amir Kabir issued an edict banning ornate and excessively formal writing in government documents; the beginning of a modern Persian prose style dates from this time.
One of the greatest achievements of Amir Kabir was the building of Dar ol Fonoon, the first modern university in Persia and the Middle East. Dar-ol-Fonoon was established for training a new cadre of administrators and acquainting them with Western techniques. Amir Kabir ordered the school to be built on the edge of the city so it could be expanded as needed. He hired French and Russian instructors as well as Persians to teach subjects as different as Language, Medicine, Law, Geography, History, Economics, and Engineering. Unfortunately, Amir Kabir did not live long enough to see his greatest monument completed, but it still stands in Tehran as a sign of a great man's ideas for the future of his country.
These reforms antagonized various notables who had been excluded from the government. They regarded the Amir Kabir as a social upstart and a threat to their interests, and they formed a coalition against him, in which the queen mother was active. She convinced the young shah that Amir Kabir wanted to usurp the throne. In October 1851 the shah dismissed him and exiled him to Kashan, where he was murdered on the shah's orders.
After Nasser al-Din shah Qajar was assassinated, the crown passed to his son Mozaffar-e-din. Mozaffar-e-din Shah was a moderate, but relatively ineffective ruler. Royal extravagances coincided with an inadequate ability to secure state revenue which further exacerbated the financial woes of the Qajar. In response the shah procured two large loans from Russia (in part to fund personal trips to Europe.) Public anger mounted as the shah sold off concessions – such as road building monopolies, authority to collect duties on imports, etc. – to Europeans interested in return for generous payments to the shah and his officials. Popular demand to curb arbitrary royal authority in favor of rule of law increased as concern regarding growing foreign penetration and influence heightened.
The shah's failure to respond to protests by the religious establishment, the merchants, and other classes led the merchants and clerical leaders in January 1906 to take sanctuary from probable arrest in mosques in Tehran and outside the capital. When the shah reneged on a promise to permit the establishment of a "house of justice", or consultative assembly, 10,000 people, led by the merchants, took sanctuary in June in the compound of the British legation in Tehran. In August the shah, through the issue of a decree promised a constitution. In October an elected assembly convened and drew up a constitution that provided for strict limitations on royal power, an elected parliament, or Majles, with wide powers to represent the people, and a government with a cabinet subject to confirmation by the Majles. The shah signed the constitution on December 30, 1906, but refusing to forfeit all of his power to the Majles, attached a caveat that made his signature on all laws required for their enactment. He died five days later. The Supplementary Fundamental Laws approved in 1907 provided, within limits, for freedom of press, speech, and association, and for security of life and property.
Mozaffar-e-din shah's son Mohammad Ali shah (reigned 1907–1909) with the aid of Russia, attempted to rescind the constitution and abolish parliamentary government. After several disputes with the members of the Majlis, in June 1908 he used his Russian-officered Persian Cossacks Brigade (almost solely composed of Caucasian Muhajirs, to bomb the Majlis building, arrest many of the deputies, and close down the assembly. Resistance to the shah, however, coalesced in Tabriz, Isfahan, Rasht, and elsewhere. In July 1909, constitutional forces marched from Rasht to Tehran lead by Mohammad Vali Khan Sepahsalar Khalatbari Tonekaboni, deposed the shah, and re-established the constitution. The ex-shah went into exile in Russia. Mohammad Ali shah died in San Remo, Italy in April 1925. As fate would have it, every future shah of Iran would also die in exile.
On 16 July 1909, the Majles voted to place Mohammad Ali shah's 11 year old son, Ahmad Shah on the throne. Although the constitutional forces had triumphed, they faced serious difficulties. The upheavals of the Constitutional Revolution and civil war had undermined stability and trade. In addition, the ex-shah, with Russian support, attempted to regain his throne, landing troops in July 1910. Most serious of all, the hope that the Constitutional Revolution would inaugurate a new era of independence from the great powers ended when, under the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, Britain and Russia agreed to divide Persia into spheres of influence. The Russians were to enjoy exclusive right to pursue their interests in the northern sphere, the British in the south and east; both powers would be free to compete for economic and political advantage in a neutral sphere in the center.
Due to the young age at which Ahmad Shah assumed the throne, his uncle Azud al-Mulk, took charge of his affairs as regent. He inherited a kingdom in turmoil, and a constituency frustrated with British and Russian imperialism and the absolute rule of his father. In February 1921, Reza Khan, commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, staged a coup d'état, and became the effective ruler of Iran. In 1923, Ahmad Shah went into exile in Europe.
Reza Shah had ambitious plans for modernizing Iran. These plans included developing large-scale industries, implementing major infrastructure projects, building a cross-country railway system, establishing a national public education system, reforming the judiciary, and improving health care. He believed a strong, centralized government managed by educated personnel could carry out his plans. He sent hundreds of Iranians, including his son, to Europe for training. During 16 years from 1925 to 1941, Reza Shah's numerous development projects transformed Iran into an urbanized country. Public education progressed rapidly, and new social classes developed. A professional middle class and an industrial working class had emerged.
Reza Shah tried to avoid involvement with Britain and the Soviet Union. Though many of his development projects required foreign technical expertise, he avoided awarding contracts to British and Soviet companies. Although Britain, through its ownership of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, controlled all of Iran's oil resources, Reza Shah preferred to obtain technical assistance from Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries. This created problems for Iran after 1939, when Germany and Britain became enemies in World War II. Reza Shah proclaimed Iran as a neutral country, but Britain insisted that German engineers and technicians in Iran were spies with missions to sabotage British oil facilities in southwestern Iran. Britain demanded that Iran expel all German citizens, but Reza Shah refused, claiming this would adversely impact his development projects.
Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Britain and the Soviet Union became allies. Britain and the USSR saw the newly opened Trans-Iranian Railway as an attractive route to transport supplies from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet Union. In August 1941, because Reza Shah refused to expel the German nationals, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran, arrested the shah and sent him into exile, taking control of Iran's communications and railroad. In 1942, the United States, an ally of Britain and the USSR during the war, sent a military force to Iran to help maintain and operate sections of the railroad. Over the next few months, the three nations took control of Iran's oil resources and secured a supply corridor for themselves. Reza Shah's regime collapsed, and the American, British and Soviet authorities limited the powers of the rump government that remained. They permitted Reza Shah's son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to accede to the throne.
Despite his vow to act as a constitutional monarch who would defer to the power of the parliamentary government, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi increasingly involved himself in governmental affairs. He concentrated on reviving the army and ensuring that it would remain under royal control as the monarchy's main power base. In 1949 an assassination attempt on the shah, attributed to the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party, resulted in the banning of that party and the expansion of the shah's constitutional powers.
In 1951, the Iranian council named Mohammad Mossadegh as new prime minister by a vote of 79–12, who shortly after nationalized the British-owned oil industry. Mossadegh was opposed by the shah who feared a resulting oil embargo imposed by the West would leave Iran in economic ruin. The shah fled Iran but returned when the United Kingdom and United States staged a coup against Mossadegh in August 1953. Mossadegh was then arrested by pro-shah army forces.
In the context of regional turmoil and the cold war, the shah established himself as an indispensable ally of the West. Domestically, he advocated reform policies, culminating in the 1963 program known as the White Revolution, which included land reform, extension of voting rights to women, and the elimination of illiteracy. Major plans to build Iran's infrastructure were undertaken, a new middle class began flourishing and in less than two decades Iran became the indisputable major economic and military power of the Middle East. However, these measures and the increasing arbitrariness of Mohammad Reza's rule provoked religious leaders who feared losing their traditional authority, and intellectuals seeking democratic reforms. These opponents criticized the shah for his reforms or for violation of the constitution, which placed limits on royal power and provided for a representative government.
Mohammad Reza saw himself as heir to the kings of ancient Iran, and by the mid-1970s, relying on increased oil revenues, he began a series of even more ambitious and bolder plans for the progress of his country and the march toward the "White Revolution". But his socioeconomic advances increasingly irritated the clergy. Islamic leaders, particularly the exiled cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were able to focus this discontent with an ideology tied to Islamic principles that called for the overthrow of the shah and the return to Islamic traditions, called the Islamic revolution. The Pahlavi regime collapsed following widespread uprisings in 1978 and 1979. Mohammad Reza fled the country, seeking medical treatment in Egypt, Mexico, the United States, and Panama, and finally resettled with his family in Egypt as a guest of Anwar Sadat. Upon his death his son Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi succeeded him in absentia as heir apparent to the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Pahlavi and his wife live in the United States in Potomac, Maryland with three daughters.
The Islamic Revolution's opening phase covered a full decade, from 1979 to 1989, and is often referred to as the first republic. It began when Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, with a small jar of Iranian soil in his hand and Empress Farah Diba at his side, reluctantly abandoned the Peacock Throne and flew off to become a political vagabond on an "open-ended" vacation. The first republic lasted the entire final years of Ayatollah Khomeini's life, ending only with his sudden death of a heart attack
The strongest images of Iran's revolution come from those early years. Many still linger in the minds of outsiders: the demonstrations by rifle-totting mullahs and chador-clad women. The morgue slabs with bullet-riddled bodies of officials from the monarchy and other loyalists who were summarily executed in the course of evolutionary justice. The seizure of the United States Embassy and fifty-two hostages who, over the next 444 days, were often paraded with crude blindfolds in front of cameras as effigies of Uncle Sam were burned in the background by angry youths.
It was also the period of the toughest challenges. In a lightening 1980 invasion ordered by President Saddam Hussein, Iraq swiftly captured thousands of square miles of Iran, including several strategic oil fields. Since Iraq invaded shortly after most of the shah's military had fled or been imprisoned or executed, Iran's physical survival was suddenly precarious. But the greatest trauma was the political bloodshed and turmoil as the fragile young Islamic Republic of Iran struggled to create a whole new system of rule. The revolutionaries who came to power knew virtually nothing about running a state and a lot had to be improvised.
Iran's emergence as a modern theocracy was never written in the heavens. Quite the contrary. In earlier pronouncements about a just government, Ayatollah Khomeini actually said he didn't advocate clerical rule. And in one of his last interviews before leaving Paris, he told Le Monde, "our intention is not that religious leaders should themselves administer the state." Once the tumultuous fanfare of his return died down, the Imam seemed almost uninterested in day-to-day government affairs. The ayatollah, already in his late seventies, instead went back to the dusty theological center of Qom. He seemed content to leave politics to the first revolutionary government of secular technocrats. His role was limited to settling disputes with guidance relayed either through his son Ahmad or to government officials who made the pilgrimage to Qom. The very idea of mullahs involved in government was actually anathema among Shi'ites, who historically were wary of political power.
The turning point was the furor over a new constitution in the autumn of 1979. The first two formal drafts called for a strong president, based on the French model, to lead the nation. Both were largely secular in structure. Neither mentioned special powers for the clergy. But secular parties balked. They wanted other changes or further reviews or simply more input. So Iran was thrown into even deeper debates. The compromise was a proposal to elect an Assembly of Experts to sort through the differences and write a final draft for the nation to vote on.
That was the moment Iran's future fell under the leadership of the clergy. Fearful that other changes might marginalizes or even exclude them, Ayatollah's followers introduced a process to vet candidates' credentials--a precedent that time and again allowed them to manipulate future elections. It worked, they won a majority, and the final draft ended up thoroughly Islamic. The most popular change was at the top. The presidency was weakened to titular status--to avoid a strong head of government creating a new dynasty, as had happened with the first Pahlavi king. Real leadership was instead invested in the Supreme Leader, a Velayat-e Faqih, commonly called a Faqih.
This position was created to check secular influences in all branches of government and to keep the revolution on an Islamic course. But it also had appointment powers over the judiciary and the military. It had ultimate veto power over candidates. It included the title of commander in chief. And in a departure from the rules established for the other branches of government, the term was for life. The Supreme Leader was the closest thing to a political papacy in any government of the world.
The idea grew in part out of Ayatollah Khomeini's fascination with Plato's Republic, which he'd studied as a young theologian. The Faqih was adapted from Plato's idea of a philosopher-king--with an Islamic twist. Borrowing from Western models, the republican constitution called for three separate branches of government--executive, judicial, and legislative--to provide checks and balances. But the theocracy also had another parallel layer of power: virtually every branch of government had a shadow position or institution with equal power--at least equal--usually led by, loyal to, or largely made up of clerics.
Unbeknownst to most of us in the West, the clerics can be thought of as the last true scholastics on earth, people who have experienced the education that the founders of our Ivy League universities felt that they should pay tribute to. The Shi'a seminarians begin by studying grammar, rhetoric, and logic. These three comprise the trivium, the first three of the seven liberal arts as they were defined in the late classical world, after which they continued to constitute the foundation of the scolastic curriculum as it was taught in many parts of medieval and Renaissance Europe.. So basic were the subjects of the triviumthat people who had passed on to more advanced levels of learning considered the elementary knowledge of all three commonplace and therefore of little importance hence our word 'trivial.' Here was a living version of the kind of education (with its tradition of classroom disputation and of commentaries and super-commentaries on long-established 'set texts') that had produced in the West such men as the saintly and brilliant Thomas Aquinas and the intolerant and bloodthirsty grand inquisitor, Torquemada, and in the East thinkers such as Averoes among the Muslims and Maimonides among the Jews.
For the first presidential election in January 1980, a full year after the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini decreed that no clerics could run for president--further proof that he still didn't intend to establish a theocracy. Over the next eighteen months, however, Iran was racked by bloodshed as the ruling clergy and their adjutants gradually eliminated former partners--leftists, nationalists and intellectuals--from any claim to power. The reign of terror sparked equally bloody counterattacks. In 1981, more than a thousand officials were killed by former allies who'd turned against the revolution.
Tens of thousands of Iran's middle class had found it best to flee Iran. Stoning to death for adultery was in the offing, and death for homosexuality. Many films, Iranian and foreign, were banned or heavily censored. Movie theaters were denounced as channels for Western propaganda, and hundreds of theaters were burned to the ground. Patrols were formed to confront violations such as women showing their hair or wearing lipstick. Khomeini and the Shia clerics around him relished the success of their return to what they saw as Islam's fundamentals, and they wished it to be an influence outside Iran. Many in the Middle East were enthusiastic about the creation of Khomeini's Islamic Republic – much as the Bolshevik capture of state power had encouraged socialists in the West. Half of the people of the region was under twenty-five years of age, and many tried shaming their parents into adopting Islamic dress. Sermons at mosques increased the demand for militant action in behalf of advancing Islam.
PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, had been the first foreign dignitary to visit Khomeini, back in 1979, greeted warmly by Khomeini. In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was inspired and supportive of the success of Iran's Islamic revolution. In Afghanistan, beginning in 1980, Islamic militants, the Mujahadeen, were fighting Russian atheist forces. In Iraq, which had many Shi'a, the Sunni ruler, Saddam Hussein was maintaining a secular but strictly Sunni rule and was afraid of Iranian influence. In 1980 he started a war with Iran. International politics was changing. U.S. foreign policy experts were hostile toward Iran – as were most Americans. These experts were supportive of what they saw as Saddam Hussein's resistance to Iranian influence, and material support and friendly relations with Saddam Hussein followed.
The Islamic Republic went “all in” on the Iran-Iraq War. In part, Iran’s enduring obsession with “resistance” and sacrifice stems from this cataclysmic event. The war remains a timeless analogy in Iran, the root of many domestic political disputes, and the international case study for both war-making and peace making with the Islamic Republic. With the postwar generation yet to come to power, Iran’s leaders today are mostly the same men who fought in that conflict or oversaw it. It was a system that they, and many of their deceased and martyred colleagues fought for in the 1980s, endured despite every possible setback. For many, the war epitomized the ceaseless struggle of “truth against falsehood.” To those soldiers and statesmen, the war was not a prelude to normalization. It was a divine and righteous test to a continuing Islamic Revolution.
Iranians aren’t eager for another revolution, or regime change from abroad. There’s a crucial difference between the tyrannies of the Pahlavi dynasty and the Islamic Republic: the latter is the product of a homegrown revolution, and has deeper roots. Belittled by the Pahlavi monarchs for their backwardness and superstition, Khomeini and his clerical allies established what Reza Shah and his son could only dream of: an independent modern Iran, with the status and prestige of a regional power whose reach now extends to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine. The revolution’s great casualty has been the vision of freedom that Al-e Ahmad and Ali Shariati put forward, and to which Khomeini paid lip service in Neauphle-le-Château. These leaders decried both the stodgy mullahs, who replaced scholarship with cant, and capitalism, which encouraged a human being to be a mere consumer, “an economic animal whose only duty is to graze.” They foresaw a new type of religious leader who would model himself after Mohammad, one who earned his leadership not by tyrannizing people, but by inspiring the best in them. The Quran proclaims that God and the people are one. Thus to know God’s will the leader must look to the deepest longings of the people.
Ali Shariati tells them that the Prophet and the great Imams were transformational figures. They were not conservatives. They were radicals. The essence of Islam was dynamic, vibrant, and revolutionary. Shariati reminded his readers of Hussein, who stood up against the tyranny of his ruler and was beheaded for it. His final words were “Dignified death is better than humiliating life.” Shariati said that any modern Muslim who accepted injustice was living a humiliating life. He believed that if every Muslim lived by the example of Hussein, injustice on this earth would end. "…My Lord, grant me such a life that on my death-bed, I may not be resentful of its worthlessness. And grant me such a death, that I may not mourn for its uselessness. Let me choose that, but in the way that pleases you the most. My Lord, You teach me how to live; I shall learn to die".
Since the collapse of Khatami’s reform project, the state became more authoritarian, more paranoid and more brutal in its treatment of dissidents. Young people, chastened by the ferocity of the basij, are cynical about the potential for reform and have turned away from politics. Their main concern is making ends meet in an era of punitive sanctions. For some Islamic revolutionaries the cosmic struggle of good and evil could easily acquire political and even military dimensions. Mohammad was not only prophet and teacher, like the founders of other religions; he was also the head of a state and of a community, a ruler and a soldier, and the founder of what became one involving states and their armed forces as well as individual believers. If the fighters in the war for Islam, the holy war "in the path of God," are fighting for God and against evil, it follows logically that their opponents are fighting against God. And once God is in principle the sovereign, the supreme head of the Islamic state, with the Prophet, and after the Prophet the caliphs, as His regents, then God as sovereign commands the army. The army is God's army and the enemy is God's enemy. The duty of God's soldiers is to dispatch God's enemies as quickly as possible to a place where God will chastize them, that is to say in the afterlife. In the chronicles of the various holy wars that Muslims waged against infidels, the reported death of a Muslim is customarily followed by some such formula as "Peace be upon him" or "God have mercy on him"; the death of an infidel enemy is often accompanied by the phrase "God speed his soul to hell."
The holy war fought in the cause of God and against God's enemies is normally fought against infidels who must be induced, by the force of arms if necessary, either to accept Islam or to submit to the rule of the Muslims. But there is another enemy, more insidious and more dangerous than the alien infidel beyond the frontiers of Islam, and that is the apostate--one who was brought up in Islam and bears a Muslim name and appearance but has abjured the faith and works in secret to destroy it from within. Already in medieval times, some jurists discussed the possibility of an internal jihad against a renegade regime. Among modern fundamentalists this has been developed into an ideology of revolution.
The West's sanctions are intended to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear program, which, not very plausibly, it insists is for merely peaceful purposes. But the sanctions aren’t likely to work. Iran has nuclear-armed enemies and fresh memories of being attacked by chemical weapons while the world looked the other way; and in any event, refusing to back down under foreign pressure is a first principle for the Islamic Republic. Though it craves international recognition, it has weathered isolation before and is in some ways more comfortable with it. In this it is not unlike Israel, a state which also speaks in the name of a persecuted minority and justifies its defiance of international law with a rhetoric of religious nationalism and righteous victimhood. Isolation has nourished self-reliance, self-reliance has encouraged sacrifice, and sacrifice is widely seen as proof of virtue. The Islamic Republic’s tenacity during the war with Iraq should give pause to anyone who imagines that it will bend under sanctions – or as a result of Israel’s assassination of its nuclear scientists. The nuclear program is broadly popular with the public, which sees it as a deterrent and can’t understand why Israel, Pakistan and India should be allowed the bomb, but not Iran. Resistance to western pressure has defined Iranian nationalism for more than a century, and remains one of the few cards the otherwise unpopular regime has left to play.
What happened in Iran, for better or for worse, was a real revolution, in the sense that the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution were real revolutions. Like them, the Iranian revolution has had a tremendous impact on all those countries with which it shares a common universe of discourse. As with other revolutions, there are contrasting views of the Islamic revolution in Iran. In one of them, we see actions and statements which have made the name of Iran, even the name of Islam, stand for a regime of bloodthirsty bigots, maintained by a tyranny at home and by terror both at home and abroad. In the other, that which they themselves prefer to present, we see an alternative diagnosis and alternative prescription for the ills and sufferings of the region, an alternative, that is to the alien and infidel ways that have long prevailed, and a return to authenticity.
At the present time, with the ending of direct outside rule and the rapid diminution of outside influence, a familiar pattern is beginning to re-emerge in the Middle East. Today there are again two major powers in the region, this time the Turkish Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The rivals have both been established by revolution, both embodying certain basic ideologies, secular democracy in Turkey, Islamic theocracy in Iran. As in earlier times, neither is impervious to the temptations of the other. In Turkey we see religious parties win large shares of the votes in free elections and play an important and growing role in national politics. We do not know how many Iranians would prefer secular democracy, since in an Islamic theocracy they are not permitted to express that preference. But from various indications one may say that their number is not inconsiderable.
The advent of Islam was itself a revolution, which after long struggles has been only partially successful. After the Islamic conquests of the seventh century, there was a continuing tension between the new religion and its message and the very old societies of the countries that the Muslims conquered. Islam came, not into a new world, like Christiandom in Europe, but to lands of ancient civilization and deep-rooted traditions. This tension between Islamic dynamism and the older forces of the river valley societies continued through medieval into modern times. For example, Islamic doctrine is basically egalitarian. It is true that the equality of Islam is limited to free adult male Muslims, but even this represented a very considerable advance on the practice of both the Greco-Roman and the ancient Iranian world. Islam from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected monarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents.
Resistance to all of this was very powerful. On the whole Islam triumphed only in certain limited spheres of social and family life. In most political and public matters it was overwhelmed by the more ancient traditions of the autocratic, monarchical form of government. Through the centuries we find a recurring theme of revolt: a feeling that history had somehow taken a wrong turn, that Islam had been perverted; that the Islamic community was being ruled by non-Muslims, by bad Muslims, by renegade Muslims, by those who had betrayed the heritage of the Prophet and were leading the community as a whole into sin; and that therefore it was the duty of the Muslims to overthrow and replace such an evil regime. In time, this belief began to acquire a messianic character, and a whole cluster of traditions and practices developed, associated with the figure of the Mahdi, the divinely guided one who will come in God's good time, overthrow the kingdoms of evil, and establish the world of justice and divine law.
Normally this was to be accomplished by armed insurrection against the existing order. But armed insurrection was not always feasible and when it was not, according to more extreme Shi'ites, it was permissible to have recourse to what we now call terrorist methods. At quite an early stage there were extremist and deviant Shi'ite groups who not only practiced terror but made a kind of sacrament out of it. The most famous of course were the Assassins, the ones who took up the patent of the procedure that still bears their name. Theirs was a revolutionary struggle against the Lords of Islam at the time.
A familiar feature of revolutions, such as the French and the Russian, is the tension, often conflict, between moderates and extremists--Girondins and Jacobins in the French Revolution, Mensheviks and Bolseviks in the Russian, as well as numerous smaller splinter groups. Some historians have found similar differences in Islamic revolutions of the past; some observers have discerned them in the course of events in Iran. Certainly there has been no lack of such tensions and conflicts between rival groups, factions, and tendencies within the revolutionary camp. The distinction between moderates and extremists is, however, one derived from western history, and may be somewhat misleading when applied to the Islamic revolution in Iran.
A more accurate description, for this and other previous Islamic revolutions, would present the conflict as one between pragmatists and ideologues. The latter are those who insist, against all difficulties and obstacles, on maintaining the pure doctrine of the revolution as taught by them. The former are those who, when they have gained power and become involved in the processes of government at home and abroad, find it necessary to make compromises. Sometimes they go so far as to modify their revolutionary teachings; more often, they tacitly disregard them. This conflict, between those who reject and those who practice compromise, can be traced throughout Islamic history, from the venerated Companions of the Prophet--those who embraced Islam and joined him during his lifetime--to the henchmen of Khomeini. In times of revolution, it becomes particularly bitter.
Each side has certain advantages. The ideologues have the better rhetoric, the stronger appeal, the greater popular support. The pragmatists are better equipped to deal with the practical problems of government, at home and abroad. Part of their pragmatism is to try to avoid an open clash with the ideologues. When they fail, and a clash occurs, they are usually defeated, since in a time of revolutionary change the ideologues are better placed to mobilize support. It is not easy to rouse the masses for such tasks as compromising with Iraq, mending fences with the United States, or slowing the pace of revolutionary change. When pragmatists in office go too far, they are ruthlessly suppressed, and their careers end in exile, imprisonment or death. At best, they fade out of public life and become innocuous. Such have been the various fates of once prominent figures like the former president Abolhasan Bani Sadr, who escaped to Paris; and the first prime minister of the revolutionary regime, Medhi Bazargan, who, though alive and in Iran, has been excluded from power and reduced to insignificance. The ideologues rule, and since the practical problems remain, in time a new group of pragmatists emerges among the victorious ideologues, and the conflict is renewed, usually with the same result. The process continues until the revolutionary passion is spent, and a group of pragmatists survives, succeeds, and remains in power. Then the ways of government return to normal, and the ideologues return to the world of theory and preaching from which the revolution had enabled them, briefly to emerge. It would seem that this stage has not yet been reached in Iran.
3/2/17 - I will arrive before dawn at Imam Khomeini International Airport about twenty-five miles southwest of Tehran. I have dreamed of this trip for so many years and will be giddy with excitement at having reached Iran's capital city. I anticipate that I will not immediately fall in love with the city as I have with many of the other cities of the world. Tehran is more of a collection of interest points like Los Angelos in our country
I will be driven north on the Persian Gulf Freeway where I will pass the huge Behesh-e Zahra Cemetery with its golden-domed tomb of Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini brightly illuminated on our right. I will then check in at the Ferdosi Grand Hotel to freshen up before spending the remainder of the morning at the National Archeological Museum nearby.
The first part of the museum is dedicated to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, culminating in the splendid pottery from Susa. I will pass a nice Elamite sculpture of a cow from Choga Zanbil, to arrive at the Iron Age, where I will find an Assyrian and an Urartaean inscription, and countless other small objects. My attention will next be drawn to the great relief next to it, from the northern stairs of the apadana in Persepolis. Next to it, about half-way through the exhibition, is the statue of Darius the Great carved in Egypt out of greywacke from the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat, but later erected near the east gate of the Achaemenid king's palace in Susa. It is not entirely clear why it was moved from the ancient country along the Nile to the capital of Elam, but a probable explanation is that this happened after 486 BCE, when the Egyptians revolted against Darius' son and successor Xerxes. He reconquered the country and it is possible that he carried off the statue of his father from Heliopolis to Susa. The inscription on his robe is known as DSab and reads as follows:
A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, and who made Darius king.
This is the statue, made of stone, which Darius ordered to be made in Egypt. This is how everyone who will see this in the future, will know that the Persian man ruled in Egypt.
I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, king of all peoples, king in this great earth far and wide, the son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid.
King Darius says: May Ahuramazda protect me and what I did!
Just a short walk up Ferdosi Avenue from the National Archeological Museum I will stop for a glittery visit to the National Treasury of Iran located in the Central Bank as Iran's equivalent of our Ft. Knox treasury reserves. In the middle of the first room is a globe made of 35-kg pure gold and 51,366 pieces of jewelry. Made by the order of Nasir Al Din Shah of the Qajar Dynasty, on this globe the water is emerald and the earth is ruby. Iran and England are displayed with diamonds. The globe stands 44" high, has a diameter of 18 inches and is covered with over 51 thousand gemstones. Next on my attention list will be the world largest uncut diamond of Daryayeh-E-Noor the sister diamond to the world's largest cut diamond, the "Kooh-e Noor", both taken by Nader Shah from India.The Kooh-e Noor diamond was looted by Ahmed Beg upon the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747. The gem was later taken to England where in 1850 it was presented to Queen Victoria.
In another room I will find the so called Naderi Throne formerly used to seat the shah. There has long been confusion about the origins of the Peacock (or Naderi) Throne that now sits in the National Jewels Museum. The real story is that in 1798 Fath Ali Shah ordered a new throne to be built. His artists made quite a job of it, encrusting the vast throne that looks more like a bed with 26,733 gems. Set into its top was a carved sun, studded with precious stones, so the throne became known as the Sun Throne. Later Fath Ali married Tavous Tajodoleh,nicknamed Tavous Khanoum or Lady Peacock, and the throne became known as the Peacock Throne in her honour. Fath Ali certainly had a taste for gems, but one of his predecessors, Nader Shah, liked the finer things too. So much so, in fact, that he invaded India in order to recover the Kuh-e Nur diamond. During the expedition he also bagged the Moghuls‘ famous Peacock Throne. But during the haul back to Persia, this piece of booty fell into the hands of rebellious soldiers, who hacked it up to spread the wealth among themselves. In the intervening years the stories of the Peacock Thrones have become muddled, so you might still hear people say that this Peacock Throne originally came from India.
It will be hard not to notice the Pahlavi Crown with its 3380 diamonds (totalling 1144 carats), the largest (60 carats) being the central yellow diamond, in the middle of the diamond sunburst. In three different rows there are a total of 369 natural pearls and around the crown there are 5 emeralds (the largest around 100 carats) and some sapphires as well. Many of the elements of the design of the crown were inspired by the crowns of the Sassanian Dynasty crowns of Iran.
The tiara of the Iranian Crown Jewels, called the "Noor-ol-Ain" Tiara was worn by Empress Farah for her wedding in 1959. The centerpiece of this tiara is the Noor-ol-Ain diamond - a brilliant cut, almost tear shaped diamond of approximately 60 cts - and one of the largest pink diamonds in the world.
After lunch I will be taken to Laleh Park in the south of Tehran to visit the Carpet Museum, with its facade resembling a carpet-weaving loom. It is composed of two exhibition galleries covering an area of 3400 sq. meters. Persian carpets and rugs of various types were woven in parallel by nomadic tribes in villages and town workshops and by royal court manufacturies. They represent different simultaneous lines of tradition and reflect the history of Iran and its various peoples.
The exceptional Pazyryk carpet in St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum was discovered among the ices of Pazyryk Valley, in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. Radiocarbon testing revealed that Pazyryk carpet was woven in the 5th century BCE. This carpet is 1.83 by 2 meters and has 36 symmetrical knots per square centimeter. The advanced weaving technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience of this art. Most experts believe that the Pazyryk carpet is the final achievement of at least one thousand years of experience and history. According to this theory the art of carpet-weaving in Iran is at least 3500 years old.
I have a later intention of visiting Shiraz and Na'in so I pay a visit to the Qashqai Collection made by the Qashqai tribe with very fine hand-spun wool and vegetable dye in the southern province of Fars around Shiraz. In the past 100-150 years, people of Varamin just south of Tehran favored making gelims (flat weaves with no pile) over piled rugs. In recent years,however, the situation is reversed so that today, rug weaving has replaced gelim weaving as a typical Varamin textile.
The city of Na'in is famous for its magnificent rugs. The history of fine woolen men's cloak and cloth making dates back to centuries, but carpet making is relatively new and less than a century old. All the Na'in rugs have asymmetrical (Persian) knots, wool pile and cotton warps. In some instances silk warps are used. In higher and finer knotted rugs, kork (baby lamb wool) is used for pile. Using a touch of silk around the flowers and arabesques is common. It is not unusual to see Na'in rugs with more than 500 knots per square inch. Making very big Na'in rugs especially for Arab customers is a common practice in Na'in.
The Tree of Life symbol found in both Persian and Indian rugs evolved from crude tree roots without leaves in around 1400 A.D., to elaborate flowering trees by 1600. Flowers in trees have been used as an uplifting symbol for people who live in arid environments. Common trees are the cypress, the cedar, the willow and the fig tree. While these trees symbolized immortality in the afterlife as well as divine power, by contrast, palm trees were metaphors for fulfillment and blessing. Persian palm trees represented fulfillment of secret wishes.
3/3/17 - I will start the day with a visit to the Sa'ad Abad Complex starting with a tour of the two story White Palace built between 1931 and 1936 to serve as the Pahlavi summer residence. The two bronze boots standing outside of the White Palace are the remains of a giant statue of Reza Shah. The 54 room palace is no Versailles, instead it's a modern building filled with interesting if extravagant furnishing, painting and vast, made to measure fine persian carpets, the tiger pelt in the bedroom, among the other subjects, reveals the shah as a man of dubious taste.
I will likely opt next to visit the Car Museum to see the rare Mercedes-Benz 500 K that carried Hitler to review his troops. Next I will drool over the Rolls-Royce Phantom IV ordered by a safety-minded Shah Reza Pahlavi after an assassination attempt against his son. These two automobiles are among about 40 classic cars seized after the Islamic revolution 25 years ago that are now on permanent display at the Sa'ad Abad Complex. A huge warehouse behind the museum houses another 140 cars waiting to be restored. Closed to the public, the damp, dusty warehouse holds piles of broken Mercedeses, a handful of early Rolls-Royces, and coveted models of Austin Healys, Citroëns and other examples of the world's finest automobiles. The museum provides silent testimony to an era when the power and wealth of Iran's rulers placed them on the level of Europe's royal families. For example, Rolls-Royce built only 18 of the Phantom IV models, from 1950 to 1956, reserving them for the most pampered customers, including the British royalty.
My next stop will be the Glass and Ceramics Museum in the building which formerly served as the Egyptian Embassy to view a rare collection of glass and clay ork. The collection of clay pots dates from the 4th millennium BCE including a wonderfully modern ceramic deer from an Elamite city near Susa. The first floor is connected to the second with handsome wooden steps in the Russian style.
Macedonian Invasion Route
After lunch at the Ferdosi Hotel I will retrieve my luggage and board a one and a half hour flight from the Mehrabad Airport southwest over Hamadan to Ahvaz where I will begin to follow the footsteps of Alexander during the winter of 331/330 BCE. Hamadan is the oldest Iranian city and one of the oldest in the world. During the time of the Medes, at the dawn of human history, the city was called Hegmataaneh. When it was conquered by Alexander the Great, however; the city was called Ecbatana and it was here that Alexander's beloved friend Hephaistion died after seriously juicing up in 324 BCE. The valley of Hegmataaneh around the city contains a lot of the relics of the Medes, Achaemenid, Sassanidae and Islamic era civilizations.
Hamadan was visited by Jewish pilgrims to see what is called the mausoleum of Esther, the Achaemenian Queen wife of Xerxes and her uncle Mordocai. Under its simple brick dome there are two graves with some Hebrew inscriptions up on the plaster work of the wall. Two exquisite wooden tomb-boxes are also to be seen, one of which is of an earlier date and bears an inscription in Hebrew.
A few minutes later we fly over the modern city of Bisotun, Iran. In antiquity, Bagastna, which means 'place where the gods dwell', was the name of a village and a remarkable, isolated rock along the road that connected Babylon and Ecbatana. Many travellers passed this way, so it was the logical place for the Achaemenid king Darius I the Great (522-486 BCE) to proclaim his military victories. The inscription is approximately 15 metres high by 25 metres wide, and 100 metres up a limestone cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana). It is extremely inaccessible as the mountainside was removed to make the inscription more visible after its completion.
The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius, holding a bow as a sign of kingship, with his left foot on the chest of a figure lying on his back before him. The prostrate figure is reputed to be the pretender Gaumata. Darius is attended to the left by two servants, and ten one-metre figures stand to the right, with hands tied and rope around their necks, representing conquered peoples. Faravahar floats above, giving his blessing to the king. One figure appears to have been added after the others were completed, as was (oddly enough) Darius' beard, which is a separate block of stone attached with iron pins and lead.
When the carvings were completed, the ledge below the inscription was removed so that nobody could tamper with the inscriptions. This allowed the monument to survive and made it impossible for future archeologists to read the texts.
Ahvaz is located on the central Lower Khuzestan plain at the apex of the Karun River fan with its toe about 70 miles downstream at its Khorramshahr confluence with the Shatt al-Arab. In the time of Alexander's conquest, the area where Khorramshar exists today was under the waters of the Persian Gulf, before becoming a part of the vast marshlands and the tidal flats at the mouth of the Karun River. During the Islamic centuries, the Daylamite Buwayhid king, Panah Khusraw Adud ad-Dawlah ordered the digging of a canal to join the Karun River to the Shatt al-Arab (the joint estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The extra water made the joint estuary more reliably navigable.
Though part of Iran, this area existed as an autonomous Arabistan until 1924, when the centralising regime of Reza Khan Pahlavi crushed a rebellion. A year later, he abolished the emirate and had himself crowned Shah-an-Shah ('King of Kings'). Khuzestan's Arabs ultimately were pawns in Saddam's attack on Iran in 1980, which he thought would be a 'Whirlwind War' that would secure him the control over the Shatt-al-Arab, all the oil in Khuzestan and, finally, the coveted mantle of undisputed leadership over the Arab world. In fact, the war, which lasted until 1988 and cost the lives of over a million soldiers and civilians, ended in stalemate and proved the beginning of Saddam's endgame.
My luggage will be driven from the Ahvaz Airport to the Pars Fajr Hotel at the eastern end of the Sefid Bridge where I will check in for the evening. By the way, for all of my readers who seek out the negative aspects of Iran, Ahvaz is regarded as the most polluted city on our planet. After dinner I take a short walk to the east of the hotel to see the Martyrs Square honoring the 150,000 young Iranians who fought to save their city from the Iraqi invaders.
3/4/17 - Next morning I will be driven north on Route 37 about eighty miles to the modern city of Shush which occupies the ground of ancient Susa, the capital city of Elam. Elam, located at the extreme eastern end of the Fertile Crescent, was, therefore, in somewhat of a frontier position, being one of the regions where territory populated and generally dominated by Semitic races confronted or merged with races thought to have descended from Noah’s other sons, conceivably the Japhetic/Aryan line. The land of Elam was called elamtu by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Elymais by the classical Greek writers, who also at times referred to it as “Susiana” after the city of Susa, or Shushan, at one time evidently the capital of Elam. In entering Susa after a 20 day march from Babylon, Alexander announced: 'I have not come to Asia to destroy nations; I have come here that those who have been subdued by my arms shall have naught to complain of my victories.
After the fall of the Achaemenid empire and the reign of Alexander the Great, the city became part of the Seleucid empire and was called Seleucia on the Eulaeus. A palace in Greek style was erected, next to Darius' palace.The administrative center, however, was in the southern part of the city, where nearly all Greek and Parthian inscriptions were discovered.
During the Sassanian age, the city had a large Christian community. It was sacked by the Sassanian king Shapur II, but Susa was sufficiently recovered in the early seventh century to fight against the Arabs, who nevertheless captured the city. They discovered a mummy which was buried with a seal of a man standing between two lions; although Caliph Umar ordered its destruction, people were soon convinced that this body belonged to the prophet Daniel, who has ever since been worshipped in Susa.
Shush Castle, located in the ruins of ancient Susa, was built by the French archaeologist Jean-Marie Jacques de Morgan in the late 1890s by using bricks taken from the Achaemenid apandama and the Elamite ziggurat at Choqa Zanbil. It is an example of the pre-scientific era of archaeology, when explorers mutilated or destroyed sites in the process of examining them.
The most famous building at Susa is probably the Apadana, the audience hall of the Palace of Darius. It was accessible from the south through the second and third courts. The hall measured 109 by 109 meters and had thirty-six large columns to support the roof. Three times twelve columns supported the roof of the porticos to the west, north, and east sides of the building. It must have been hard for someone to make his way around this high maze of splendors; everywhere tall columns of marble or porphory or malachite, with gilded capitals and twisted shafts. On every wall there were reliefs colored and glazed brighter than life, of marching warriors ot tribute bearers from the further empire, lrsding bulls or dromedaries bearing bales or jars.
From this great hall Darius III took his magnificent entourage northeast to meet Alexander at what is called the Battle of Gaugamela. On September 18 of 331 BCE as the Macedonians forded the Tigris River near what is now the Eski Mosul dam in Iraq, the Persians under the Babylonian satrap Mazaeus charged with guarding the ford pulled back after a brief skirmish and the Macedonians reached the opposite bank without significant difficulty.
Most writers believe that Alexander had done exactly what the great king wanted him to do. On 20 September, immediately after sunset, Darius’ soldiers watched the moon turn blood red and then go dark. By leaving the fordable stretches of the Euphrates and the Tigris practically unguarded, the Persians had managed to guide the enemy to the smoothed battlefield of their choice. Darius was completely in command of the situation and seemed guaranteed of victory. Educated Babylonians in Darius' army, such as Mazaeus, would have known the fate of their king was sealed. Morale declined visibly, especially when the following day brought word that the Macedonians had made short work of the cavalry unit responsible for laying waste to the land through which Alexander was marching. The Astronomical Diaries record a new omen in the early hours of September 23rd: A meteor flashed a path that was highly visible on the ground. When daylight came, one of the Persian courtiers taken prisoner during the battle of Issus arrived at Darius' camp, released in order to bring the great king more bad tidings: his wife Stateira, captured at Issus by Alexander, had died in childbirth two days before. Alexander had buried her in accordance with Persian rites.
On the twenty-fourth, Darius sent a messenger to the Macedonian army with a third peace proposal. This time he offered his enemy all the land to the west of the Euphrates and the hand in marriage of one of his daughters who had been captured by Alexander. This proposal shows that the Persian king was keen to avert a battle. His army had been so heavily demoralised by bad omens that he felt forced to make concessions. It was no use. The messenger returned the following day to report that Alexander had rejected his offer.
When the sun rose on 30 September, Darius sent scouts to the far side of the field to study his opponents' battle formation. It looked similar to their formation at Issus. In the Macedonian centre was the phalanx (under the leadership of Craterus) and on the right wing stood the shield-bearer infantrymen (under the command of Parmenion's son Nicanor), the companion cavalry (led by Nicanor's brother Philotas and Alexander) and the light cavalry. On the left wing stood the Thessalian and Thracian horsemen, commanded as ever by Parmenion. A second line, invisible to the Persians, consisted of Greek troops and lightly armed soldiers who were to intervene if the Persians attempted a flanking movement.
Accompanied by generals and relatives Darius made the rounds of his troops.. He invoked the sun, Mithra, and the holy eternal fire, to lend the kind of courage to his men that would be appropriate to the ancient fame and memory of their ancestors. 'If the human spirit is capable of understanding the signs of divine assistance,' Darius went on, 'then the gods are definitely with us. We caused panic recently among the Macedonians and our enemies are still stiff with fear, throwing down their weapons. The tutelary deities of the Persian Empire will give those madmen everything they deserve. And their leader has not acquired a single grain of wisdom! Like a wild animal, he sees nothing but the prey he is after as he storms into the trap set for that very same prey.' The comparison between Alexander and a 'wild animal' is also worth noting. In the Persian holy book, the Avesta, the same imagery is used to describe Angra Mainyu, the evil counterpart of Ahuramazda.
The battleground at Gaugamela was a sandy plain, and the sand they kicked up would have made it impossible for the Macedonians and Persians to see what was happening. After a day of fighting in a dust storm, Alexander's army emerged in control of the field. No one could say how this had come about, although the Macedonians naturally assumed that their plan of attack had proved successful: an advance by the companion cavalry on the right wing, led by Alexander, while Parmenion's left wing and the second line took up defensive positions. There is also firm evidence that at some point Mazaeus' Babylonian horsemen broke through the Macedonian lines, only to take the Macedonian camp instead of attacking the enemy from the rear.
The Babylonian account of the engagement, which was written a few days after the battle, makes sense in the light of what had happened in the days leading up to it. Despite Darius' meticulous preparations and the fact that his enemy behaved like a puppet in his hands, his soldiers, many of whom had no combat experience at all, were demoralised and ran away. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the battle of Gaugamela amounted to an attack on a large group of deserters. It wasn't Alexander's courage or Darius' cowardice that decided the fate of the Persian Empire, it was the signs that were seen in the sky. Nevertheless, Darius escaped to Arbela leaving his own chariot and much treasure in the city and then fled on across the Zagros Mountains to Ecbatana.
Although Mazaeus fought bravely on the Persian right wing, his king's flight made the Persian army collapse. After this defeat, the Macedonians could invade Babylonia. When Alexander reached Sippar, he announced that Babylon would not be plundered, after which Mazaeus surrendered the great city. Mazaeus entertained the new king in Babylon and gave him advice. In return, Alexander appointed him as satrap of Babylonia; the first Persian in Alexander's empire to receive such an important office. Mazaeus must have done his job well, because in the next years there were many similar appointments. He must have played a very important role, convincing his compatriots that after Gaugamela, it was better to join than to fight the invaders.
A short drive south of Susa we will make a stop at Haft Tepeh which is thought to be the remains of an Elamite town named Kabnak and dates back to the fifteenth century BCE. Three parts have been identified: a large temple built by Tepti-Ahar where the god Kirwashir was worshiped, the palace area, and the artisans' quarter. Beneath the temple lay a vaulted subterranean funerary complex intended for the king and his family. Skeletal remains were found in the tomb, though it is not certain that they belong to royalty. Another large structure found at the site was perhaps the foundations of a ziggurat, along with courtyards and suites of rooms. The temple complex was decorated with bronze plates and wall paintings. Administrative texts belonging to the reigns of Tepti-Ahar and Inshushinak-zunkir-nappipir were also found at the site. Recently some clay statuettes of fertility goddesses have been unearthed at the site.
Our next stop will be the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil which must have been one of the most impressive monuments of ancient Elam. Chogha Zanbil can be dated to 3,300 years back, built by the then emperor of Elamite, King Untash-Napirisha .The temple was dedicated to the Sumerian god Inshushinak and also sacred to Napirisha, the god of Anshân.. The structure was originally called Dur Untash or the ‘town of Untash', having three concentric walls. The ziggurat occupies the inner area constructed over an earlier temple and dedicated to the main god. The middle area consists of eleven temples dedicated to the lesser gods. The outer area holds the royal palaces and a funeral place for the royal tombs. The construction in the city ended with the death of King Untash-Napirisha but it continued to be used until it was destroyed in 640 BCE by Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian king.
Following the Achaemenid royal road along the contoured red ridges of the Zagros mountains between Susa and Parsargadae we next get a look at the bridge dam of Band-e Kaisar just north of Shustar on the Karun River. Here in January of 330 BCE Alexander's Macedonians crossed the Karun River on a "Bridge of Boats". The Band-e Kaisar is named after the Roman emperor Valerian (253–260 CE) who was captured with his entire army by the Sassanid ruler Shapur I after having been defeated in the Battle of Edessa. This vast labor force, which may have numbered up to 70,000 men and included the Roman engineering corps, was employed by the victors for construction work in Shushtar, an important agricultural center in south-western Iran. To service its large stretches of arable land, altogether some 150,000 hectares, the Romans set out to construct three structures: a canal called Ab-i Gargar, and the two dams of Band-e Kaisar and Band-e Mizan which directed the water flow of the Karun river into the artificial watercourse.
After an hour's drive south on Route 39 we will arrive back at the Pars Fajr Hotel in Ahvaz where I will have dinner with my comrades before wandering off to try to take a proper sunset picture of the famous Sefid Bridge.
3/5/17 - During the late 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, the two ancient capitals of southwest Iran were Susa and Anshan. While Susa had been identified as modern Shush in the 19th century, the site of Anshan was only located in 1970, when inscribed bricks were discovered on the surface of Tal-e Malyan, in the Kur River Basin. These two cities lay over 500 kms apart, and it was possible to travel between them by following one of a number of routes through the mountains.
After breaking my fast at the hotel I will leave Ahvaz to follow one of these routes to Anshan by traveling southeast on Rt. 86 to reconnect with Alexander's 330/331 BCE march route toward Persepolis. After crossing the Karun River at Shushtar Alexander's army first met battling resistance at Masjid-e Suleiman. Little now remains of the fortress at Masjid-e Suleiman. We can see several walls of piled up stones ("cyclopean walls"), which have been dated to the age before the ancient Achaermenids started to build more regular walls, like the Tall-i Takht at Pasargadae. The terrace itself, which measured some 90 by 50 meters, is usually interpreted as a sanctuary, but this may not be the original function. After a quick photo opportunity we continue driving on to Ramhormoz by taking a left onto Rt. 72 near Haftgel where the Macedonian army was divided for approaching Persepolis. Shortly after passing through Ramhormoz we turn south onto Rt. 45 at a traffic circle to follow the Marun River Valley toward Behbahan where we will rejoin Rt. 86.
Alexander's general Parmenion was to take one half of the army along the Royal road, and the king himself took a more dangerous road through the Zagros mountains. After a tribe of pastoralists, the Uxians, had been massacred, no one dared to obstruct his passage. Without any problems, Alexander crossed the river Marun (the border of Elam and Persis) and reached the plain north of modern Yasuj.
Our first stop of the day is at the Sassanid rock relief at Bahraim's Well (Sarab-e Bahram). The relief is 2.66 meters high and 4 meters wide, and shows how four courtiers salute their king with a typical gesture of the hand. The king himself is seated on his throne, resting upon his sword, and can be recognized by his distinctive crown, which is also shown on his coins. The man with the sword to the far left is Bahram's vizier Papak, recognizable by the flower on his cap, and the second man from the left is Kartir, with the scissor-like badge.
Leaving Sarab-e Bahram I will continue south to the town of Kazerun where we turn left to travel 12 more miles to the ruins of the ancient Sassanid capitol of Bishapur (Shapur's City). The city itself was founded in 266 by Shapur I (241-272), who was the second Sassanid king who inflicted a triple defeat on the Romans, having killed Gordian III, captured Valerian and forced Philip the Arab to surrender. Outside the city, Shapur decorated the sides of the Bishapur River gorge with huge reliefs commemorating his triple triumph over Rome.
The oldest monument was Relief Number 1, in the Tang-e Chowgan gorge, which celebrates one of Shapur's earliest victories. Two horsemen are facing each other. From the left, the supreme god Ahuramazda hands over the symbol of power, the cydaris ring, to Shapur, to the right. Ahuramazda's horse tramples upon the devil (Ahriman), whereas the horse of Shapur steps on the body of the Roman emperor Gordian III.
Bishapur Relief Number 2 again shows Roman Emperor Gordian III defeated and trampled under Shapur's horse, as in Relief Number 1, but is more recent, as it also shows Philip the Arab on his knees begging for mercy. Philip was spared by Shapur I and later became the Roman emperor. The most interesting part of this relief is the presentation of Valerian, the third Roman emperor defeated by Shapur I. Shapur has Valerian by the hand to underline Valerian's slavehood. Valerian and his legion went on to build many constructions for Shapur, among which are the Shadervan Bridge and the Shushtar Water Mills. Even though this relief depicts Shapur's victory over Philip and Gordian, a small Greek inspired Nike-like figure hovers over Shapur, carrying the cydaris which would normally belong in an investiture, rather than a victory relief.
Relief Number 6 shows Shapur II resting on his throne in the center of the first register with his hand on his sword. Compared to many reliefs, although in accordance with the eastern apadama staircase reliefs at Persepolis, the order is reversed in this relief, such that the gift bearers arrive here from the left, and the soldiers from the right, accompanied by prisoners of war. One of the soldiers even carries decapitated heads.
The fourth relief is the only Sassanid monument that shows an embassy. It is brought to the king Bahram II (276-294) by a Persian nobleman with a long sword and includes the image of a dromedary. The core of the city is the old castle, situated in a steep rock, which is in itself one of the most interesting geological features of the southern Zagros. While the reliefs were being cut, the city, palace, and the so-called Temple of Anahita were built by the Roman POWs. Another monument from the founding period is the cave monument located about 5 miles to the south. In the cave, on the fourth of five terraces, stands the colossal statue of Shapur I. The statue was carved from one stalagmite. The statue is 7 meters. high and its shoulders are 2 meters wide.
About 1400 years ago, after the invasion of Iran by Arabs and the collapse of the Sasanid dynasty, this grand statue was pulled down and a part of one of its legs was broken. About 70 years ago, again, parts of his arms were also broken. The statue had been lying on the ground for about 14 centuries until 1957 when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi asked a group of his military men to raise it again to its feet and fix his foot with iron and cement. The project of raising the statue, building the roads from Bishapur to the area and paths in the mountain, stairs and iron fences on the route to the cave took six months in 1957.
We continue to drive through Kohgiluyeh va Boyer Ahmad Province to a pass now known as Tang-e Meyran north of Yasuj where the Macedonians stormed the Persian Gates ("Darvazeh-ye Fars") against the Persian forces under the command of Ariobarzanes, and cleared a way into the Persian heartland in January of 330 BCE. Ariobarzanes successfully ambushed Alexander's army, inflicting heavy casualties. However the Persian success was short lived. After being held off for 30 days Alexander outflanked and destroyed the defenders. Ariobarzanes himself was killed either during the battle or during the retreat to Persepolis. Some sources indicate that the Persians were betrayed by a captured tribal chief who showed the Macedonians an alternate path that allowed them to outflank Ariobarzanes.
Leaving Yazul we continue south into the Kur River Basin to rejoin Rt. 67 passing the mound of Tal-e Malyan, the site of the ancient Elamite city of Anshan. Although first occupied in the Jari Period (ca. 5500 BCE) or earlier, Anshan flourished during three great eras: the Banesh Period, (ca. 3500-2800 BCE), the Kaftari Period (ca. 2200-1600 BCE), and the Middle Elamite Period (ca. 1300-1000 B.C.). Evidence of later occupation includes Parthian and Sassanid coins found in burials, a Sassanid pottery kiln, and surface evidence for Sassanid and Islamic occupations.
Manishtushu from the Sumerian king lists claimed to have subjugated Anshan, but as the Akkadian empire weakened under his successors, the native governor of Susa, Kutik-Inshushinak proclaimed his independence from Akkad and captured Anshan. Following this, Gudea of Lagash claimed to have subjugated Anshan, and the Neo-Sumerian rulers Shulgi and Shu-Sin of Ur are said to have maintained their own governors over the place. However their successor, Ibbi-Sin, seems to have spent his reign engaged in a losing struggle to maintain control over Anshan, ultimately resulting in the Elamite sack of Ur in 2004 BCE. In the Old Babylonian period, king Gungunum of Larsa dated his 5th regnal year after the destruction of Anshan. Elamite rulers at Susa began using the title "King of Anshan and Susa" it seems probable that Anshan and Susa were in fact unified for much of the "Middle Elamite period". The last king to claim this title was Shutruk-Nahhunte II (ca. 717-699 BCE).
From Tal-e Malyan we continue south on the Yasuj-Shiraz Highway (Rt. 67) for 46 km through the suburbs of Shiraz passing the Arg of Karim Khan built by the founder of the Zand Dynasty. To this day, Karim has a reputation as one of the most just and able rulers in Iranian history. A wealth of tales and anecdotes portray him as a compassionate ruler, genuinely concerned with the welfare of his subjects. During his reign, relations with Britain were restored, and he allowed the East India Company to have a trading post in southern Iran. He made Shiraz his capital and ordered the construction of several architectural projects there. He is buried in the "Nazar Garden", now known as the Pars Museum.
After crossing the mostly dry riverbed of the Roodkhaneye Khoshk we arrive at the south west corner of the lovely Azadi Park and check into the Homa Grand Hotel. The earliest reference to Shiraz is on Elamite clay tablets dated to 2000 BCE, found in June 1970 during digging for the construction of a brick kiln in this corner of the city. The tablets name a city called TirazišPhonetically, this is interpreted as /tiračis/ or /ćiračis/. This name became Old Persian /širājiš/; and through regular sound change comes the modern Persian name Shirāz.
3/6/17 - Very early in the morning, I will start my tour of Shiraz with the Nasīr al-Mulk or Pink Mosque located in Goade-e-Araban place. The mosque was built during the Qājār era, and is still in use under protection by Nasir al Mulk's Endowment Foundation. It was built by the order of Mirza Hasan Ali Nasir al Mulk, one of the lords of the Qajar Dynasty, in 1876 and was finished in 1888. It is one of the more visually stunning buildings in the world. The famous stained glass windows cast a rainbow of vibrant colors on the walls and floor of the mosque during early hours of the day. Its colored tiling (an unusually deep shade of blue) is exquisite. There are some particularly fine muqarnas in the smallish outer portal and in the northern iwan, but the stained glass, carved pillars and polychrome faience of the winter prayer hall are the most eye-catching features.
A short walk away I will next visit the Shah Cheragh, housing the tomb of the brothers Ahmad and Muhammad, sons of the seventh Imam and brothers of Imam Reza. The two took refuge in the city during the Abbasid persecution of Shia Muslims. Though its golden minarets and intricately tiled facades are impressive, the most stunning parts are the interiors lined with millions of tiny, glittering mirror shards and hung with chandeliers. Visiting can be a somber and, for lack of a better word, spiritual experience, yet the interior of the central temple looks as though a disco ball exploded, covering nearly every surface with glittering shards of glass and mirror. In the 14th century the site's signature mirrorball decoration was ordered at the behest of Queen TashKhātūn who wanted the mosque to intensify any light a thousand times over, the name "Shah Cheragh" roughly translating to "King of the Light" in Persian.
Embedded in the walls everywhere are verses from the Quran written on silk paper and framed. The green marble floor is covered with thick red Iranian carpets and magnificent crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling above. The tombs, with their latticed railing transema, are in an alcove in the space beneath the dome and the mosque. And this custom of placing the tomb in this position, so that it is not directly under the dome, is to be seen in other famous places of pilgrimage in the city of Shiraz, and may be considered a special feature of Shiraz shrines. Two short minarets, situated at each end of the columned portico, add impressiveness to the mausoleum, and to the spacious courtyard, which surrounds it on threesides.
Next stop is the Vakil Mosque which covers an area of 8,660 square meters. It has only two iwans instead of the usual four, on the northern and southern sides of a large open court. The iwans and court are decorated with typical Shirazi haft rangi tiles, a characteristic feature of the art and industry of Shiraz during the latter half of the 18th century. Its night prayer hall (Shabestan), with an area of approximately 2,700 square meters, contains 48 monolithic pillars carved in spirals, each with a capital of acanthus leaves. The minbar in this hall is cut from a solid piece of green marble with a flight of 14 steps and is considered to be one of the master pieces of the Zand period. The exuberant floral decorative tiles largely date from the Qajar period.
After lunch I will spend some leisure time strolling through the Vakil Bazaar. The Vakil Bazaar was constructed of yellow bricks following the design of the earlier royal bazaar in Isfahan. It has five entrances with two rows of shops, situated north-south and east-west direction and perpendicular to each other. The floor of these shops is elevated about 70 centimeters from the street level, leaving a shelf in front of the shops running the length of the street. The bazaar has beautiful courtyards, caravansarays, bath houses, and old shops which are deemed among the best places in Shiraz to buy all kinds of Persian rugs, spices, copper handicrafts and antiques.
Later in the afternoon I will pay homage to one of Iran's most famous sons, the Sufi poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfiz-e Shīrāzī, known by his pen name Hāfiz. His collected works are regarded as the pinnacle of Persian literature and are to be found in the homes of most literate people in Iran, who learn his poems by heart and use them as proverbs and sayings to this day. It seems that different cultures put their energies into different arts at different times; as with painting in Italy or music in Germany; but in the medieval period, the artistic energies of Iran went largely into poetry. This poetry has become part of the Persian cultural identity in a way that is true of very few other cultures. Like William Shakespeare in English speaking countries, his life and poems have been the subject of much analysis, commentary and interpretation, influencing post-fourteenth century Persian writing more than any other writer.
I have learned so much from God
that I can no longer call myself
a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddist, a Jew.
The truth has shared so much of itself with me
that I can no longer call myself a man,
a woman, an angel, or even a pure soul.
In his memory in 1452 a small, dome-like structure was erected in Shiraz near his grave at the Musalla Gardens that featured in his poetry. A much more substantial memorial was constructed in the gardens in 1773 during the reign of Karim Khan Zand. Situated on the north bank of the seasonal Rudkhaneye Khoshk river, the Hāfezieh consisted of four central columns, with two rooms built at the east and west end and with the north and south sides remaining open. Later alterations to the tomb involved elevating it one meter above ground level and encircling it with five steps. Eight columns, each ten meters tall, support a copper dome in the shape of a Sufi dervish's hat. The underside of the dome is an arabesque and colorful mosaic. The gardens are split into two regions, with an orange grove in the front and the cemetery in the back. The actual tomb is outside of the structure, in the middle of the cemetery, with a marble slab placed over the grave. The marble was engraved by a calligrapher with excerpts from his poetry.
Next on my list of things to do in Shiraz is paying respect to Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī, Saadi Shirazi's tomb in the north-east of Shiraz. Set in a pleasant garden, the present tomb was built in 1952 and replaces an earlier much simpler construction. Unlike Hafiz, Saadi travelled extensively in Iraq and Syria, where he was even taken prisoner by the crusaders. Upon his return to Shiraz, Saadi wrote his most famous works, the Bustan (The Orchard) and the Golestan (The Rose Garden), which are moral tales written either in verse or in a mixture of prose and verse. Saadi is said to have died in 1290 at the age of 101.
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!
The wisdom of this poem in particular has spread far outside of Iran, with Barack Obama using it in a speech with Iranian leaders, and the message even being inscribed on the entrance to the UN building in New York as perfectly summing up its objectives. This shows us why Saadi is seen as such a great thinker in Iran; after all, in this poem he delivers a message of hope for humanity in the 13th century that would take leaders two world wars and nearly seven centuries to express in the establishment of the United Nations.
As evening approaches I will travel to the north of Shiraz to visit the mausoleum of Abu’l-ʿAṭā Kamāl-al-Din Maḥmud (1280–1352). Khaju-Kermani was a famous Persian poet and Sufi mystic who's tomb is in the Allah Akbar Gorge close to the Quran Gate of Shiraz where I can watch the sunset over the city.
Reason is a bird from our nest;
Galaxies are some dust risen from our doorstep.
The world-illuminating sun, the sovereign of the East,
Is an ornamental image on the ceiling of our hall of mirrors.
The blood you see in the eye of the horizon at sunset
Is the sips of our nocturnal wine.
What we hunt is no one but the hunter;
Our trap is the same as our bait.
Our arrow pierces through the armour of the firmament,
For our target is the heart of the universe.
No charm can lure us away from the path
Since the two worlds are full of our fascinating tale.
Though with the people of the time we are not happy,
Happy are those who live in our time.
If there exists a paradise, it lies in the dust of his doorstep,
Where we have our eternal abode.
A short walk from the tomb of Khaju-Kermani is Darvazeh Quran, located at the entrance of the city formerly housing two huge Qurans, known as the Hefdah-man Quran. All who entered or left the city had to pass through Darvazeh Quran, thus passing beneath the two Holy Qurans. Most Muslims believe that if a man walks under the Holy Quran before he sets out in a trip, he will safely return home.
Another short walk and I will arrive at the Jahan Nama garden. This large walled garden has existed since at least the 13th century. Much of the present design may be 18th century. In a classic Persian garden arrangement, four broad avenues, bordered with orange trees, cypresses and roses converge on an octagonal stone pavilion at the center. This 18th century pavilion contains an internal fountain pool from which water flows down steep chadars to pools on each side. In the center of one of the four avenues from the central pavilion is a long rill, lined with 64 fountains, which stretches nearly to the garden wall. The number 8 is a theme: 8 cypresses on each of the main paths, 8 sections to the long rill, 8 fountains to each section etc.
3/7/17 - This is to be the most awaited day of my visit to Iran as I travel before dawn on Route 65 to the magnificent ruins of Parsa (Persepolis) lying at the foot of Kuh-i-Rahmat (Mountain of Mercy) in the plain of Marv Dasht about 35miles northwest of Shiraz. It was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the Achaemenid king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models. Before any of the buildings could be erected, considerable work had to be done: mainly involving cutting into an irregular and rocky mountainside in order to shape and raise the large platform and to fill the gaps and depressions any as five stepswith rubble.
After approaching the western wall I will turn left to walk up the 110 steps of the Persepolitan Stairway which symbolize the 110 postal offices of Persia’s postal system–the world’s first. The low and finely shaped double flights are cut to perfection for ease of ascent, often as five steps from a vast slab of limestone.
Once up the stairs, the Xwexes's Gate of All Lands loom. Guarded by massive sculptures of fantastic beasts known as lamassu, the gate is still impressive 2.5 millenia after it was built. The lamassu consist of a bull’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a man’s face. Each creature signified a specific ideal: the bull was the Protector, the eagle symbolized freedom, and the man represented wisdom. The lamassu were thought to be royal guardians, protecting the rulers of Persia from their enemies. The giant Assyrianesque propylaea with gigantic winged bulls convey a calm sense of power.
Here I can either turn right, through the doors to the main Hall of Audience, or pass straight ahead down the wide street on which the king's inner thousands of Imortal guards may have processed on the days of the festivals. Ahead lie the two halls, the soaring Hundre-Columned Hall of Xerxes, near the terrace's center or the stair to the Hall of Audience, rising some sixty feet high on its pillars and commanding the view of the terrace's dteep front edge, as high again above the plain.
Persepolis's purpose still has to be guessed. The guess is that houses had spread near the palace terrace. Fine pavilions were scattered over the plain, to which old records of the king's household now show their owners traveling from as far as India. The scenes of the sculpted reliefs suggest that the terrace was the scene of a great annual festival for delegates from all the Great King's subjects. Probably this occurred at the spring equinox, thoughnothing can tell us how recently or how widely the festival was observed by the king and his subjects after Xerxes's reign. The stone work was parceled out between gangs of royal work-parties whom we can see at work elsewhere in the old Persian documents.
The building of Persepolis is proof in stone of this basic system of the Persian economy. It was also conceived as the extended household of the king. Passages lead off from the Hall of Audiences to the inner palaces built for almost every monarch. Their reliefs show domestic scenes of his household, his dinner in preparation and his private servants climbing the stairs. On one side, they connect privately to his huge public Chamber of Audience. On the other they lead down further stairs to the large walled complexes of similairly shaped rooms, claimed as a harem and the treasury by their discoverers. The king could thus leave his private household and emerge at his convenience into the public reception of his subjects in Persepolis's northern half.
The studied lightening of the roofing and the use of wooden lintels allowed the Achaemenid architects to use, in open areas, a minimum number of astonishingly slender columns. They were surmounted by typical capitals where, resting on double volutes, the forequarters of two kneeling bulls, placed back-to-back, extend their coupled necks and their twin heads, directly under the intersections of the beams of the ceiling.
In 1933, archaeologists working at Persepolis, clearing the ruined palaces of Kings Darius, Xerxes, and their Achaemenid Persian successors, found clay tablets in two small rooms of a bastion in the fortification wall at the edge of the great stone terrace. There were tens of thousands of tablets and fragments, of four main kinds: pieces with text in cuneiform script and Elamite language, the remains of about 15,000–18,000 original documents; pieces with text in Aramaic script and language, the remains of about 500–1000 original documents; pieces with no text, but with seal impressions, the remains of about 5,000–6,000 original documents; and some oddities (a tablet in Greek, a tablet in Phrygian, a tablet in Old Persian, tablets marked with Greek or Persian coins in lieu of seals, and others). These were records produced by the operations of a single administrative organization in the years around 500 BCE, all strands of a single information system.
It is about ten minutes north of Persepolis to Naqsh-e Rustam to visit the Achaemenid necropolis. As is shown by a pre-Achaemenid relief and several old graves, Naqš-i Rustam was already a place of some importance when king Darius I (522-486) ordered his monumental tomb to be carved into the cliff, which is known as the Huseyn Kuh. This tomb is well-known for the king's "autobiography", which is contained in two inscriptions. The central thought is that Darius wanted to rule according to justice: "It is not my desire that a man should do harm, nor is it my desire that he goes unpunished when he does harm".
Later, similar royal rock tombs were added. Because they carry no inscriptions, they can not be identified with any certainty, but they must obviously have belonged to Darius' son and successor Xerxes (486-465), his son Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (465-424) and his grandson Darius II Nothus (423-404). Each tomb could contain three to nine people. The later Achaemenid kings, Artaxerxes II Mnemon, Artaxerxes III Ochus and Darius III Codomannus were probably buried in tombs at Persepolis.
Facing the cliffs of Naqsh-i-Rustam and their royal tombs stands the Ka'bah-i-Zardusht, which was probably built in the first half of the sixth century BCE. This square tower, forty-one feet high and twenty-four feet square, rises from a terraced platform. It is constructed of large blocks of limestone joined without mortar and held together by means of iron cramps. Stone steps lead up to the entrance, which opens into a large single room. Scholarly opinions about the purpose of the Ka'bah are divided. Some think that it was the burial place of an early Achaemenian king; others, that it was later used as a fire temple of the goddess Anahita, where the Sassanid kings were crowned.
In 1936 excavations of the tower uncovered a Sassanid trilingual inscription, in Middle Persian, Greek, and Parthian, that Shapur I had engraved on three sides of the structure. In it he described his three victorious campaigns against Rome (between 243 and 260 A.D.). Scholars today accept this description as historical fact. It is also an important record, for this was the last time that Greek was used in Iranian inscriptions.
3/8/17 - After checking out of the hotel we again drive northeast on Route 65 through Marvdasht and the Tang-e Bolaghi Valley running between ancient Pasargadae and Persepolis. With the completion of the Sivand Dam in 2007 this valley has begun filling with water and will inundate some 130 archeological sites with the dammed Polvar River. Our first stop is at at Pasargadae to visit the palace and tomb of Cyrus the Great. The oldest monument of Pasargadae is the citadel, which is known as Tall-i Takht or "throne hill". Situated on one of the few hills in the valley, it overlooks the palace complex itself. The citadel may or may not predate the reign of Cyrus, and reminds one of the fortified terrace complex at Masjid-e Solaiman, although masonry is more refined. Cyrus' palace, situated to the southwest of the Tall-i Takht, consists of two units: the residential Palace P (built from cold white natural stone) and a columned audience hall, Palace S.
The audience hall was approached from the south-east; the visitor first had to pass a gate and then cross a bridge over a branch of the river Polvar. It is best to imagine Pasargadae as a group of garden pavilions in a park: essentially a camp of nomads, but made out of natural stone. Stylistically, the Audience Hall, the Residential Palace, the garden pavilions A and B, and the Gate belonged to the architectural tradition of the Iranian nomads, who lived in large tents. However, Cyrus used elements from other cultures as well: sculptures from the Assyrian palaces were used as models, work may have been done by stonemasons from Greek Ionia, and a hybrid demon guarded the gate. Perhaps the population of the city had a similar, mixed character.
The small tomb of king Cyrus is situated a little to the southwest. It was venerated by later rulers including the Macedonian king Alexander the Great, who ordered restorations in January 324 BCE. King Darius I the Great (522-486) built a new capital, Persepolis, forty-three kilometers downstream along the river Polvar. However, Pasargadae remained an important place, probably as the religious capital of the Achaemenid empire where the inauguration of the kings took place.
From Pasargadae we will continue to travel northeast on Route 65 through Qaderabad and Safashahr to make a right turn onto the ancient Silk Road to China (Route 78) at Surmaq where we soon arrive at the town of Abarkooh. The people of Abarkooh dug canals which they used to trap water during the winter months. On cold nights, the water would freeze, allowing it to be chopped into blocks and stored in the ice house. Hollow and dug out well below ground level, the house’s domed design draws heat up and away, allowing the ice to remain frozen even in the scorching summer months. I got a chance to look at an ancient cypress tree, Sarv-e Abarkooh. According to locals, the old sentinel is about 4,500 years old and is assumed to be the 2nd oldest (non-clonal) tree in the world.
Our final stop in Abarkooh was the Agha-Zadeh, an old mansion owned by an 18th century mullah. As we were entering, our attention was drawn to the metal door knockers. They were different shapes: one was a ring and the other a long, thin block. Women were required to use one knocker and men the other, allowing the host (or hostess, more likely) to make themselves decent for whichever gender of visitor they were about to greet. The mansion was huge, consisting of two parts: one for the mullah and his family, and the other for his guests. Each section consisted of a beautiful courtyard surrounded by pillars and a multi-level dwelling. Atop eachwas an open roof crowned with domes and Baud-Geer, an ancient means of air conditioning. The large, hollow towers have vents designed to catch gusts of hot desert air and funnel them down to water brought in via underground canals–known as qanat. The subterranean water cools the air, which is then circulated by way of the rounded domes on top of the house. This air-conditioning system provides a welcome respite from the blistering summer days. In the nearby village of Islamiyeh, archaeologists have identified the the remains of an earthen wall covered with chopped straw and plaster inside a cave They believe the wall is part of a Parthian era (248 BCE-224 CE) fire temple.
The next leg of our journey through the Zagros Mountains takes us past the village of Farasha adjacent to the city of Taft.
The most famous landmark of this village is Eagle Mountain, which looks like an eagle in a sitting position. Continuing southwest through the mountains toward Mehriz we next stop at the Zoroastrian temple of Pir-e-Naraki. The shrine at Pir-e Naraki is dedicated to Nazbanu the daughter of the governor of Pars. We are not told if Nazbanu was part of the royal party that fled the advancing Arabs or if she fled separately. However, being a member of the ruling elite, she faced the same dangers.
According to legend, Nazbanu's escape route led her to Taft from where she began to seek refuge in the nearby mountains, climbing the slopes of Dar-e Zanjir or Kuh-e La-Anjir. Arriving exhausted at the Pir-e Naraki site, she prayed and asked for divine intervention, when as with other Zoroastrian shrines, a portal opened in the mountain side to welcome her into its womb. When the portal closed, at the place where she entered the mountain, a spring started to gush water. That was on Soroush day in the month of Farvardin. Around the spring, plants took root.
Later, a traveler's route took him past the spring. He was drawn to the spring, the greenery and the fragrance in the air. Seeking respite from his travels, he stopped to drink of the spring's water and lay down amongst the verdant plants. It wasn't long before his tired eyes closed and he drifted into a deep sleep. In his dreams he understood not just the significance of the site but what he needed to do as well. He returned a build a shrine and invited others to visit.
Our sleeping destination for the night is another 10 miles to the south at the beautifully restored Zein-o-din Caravanserai. Taken over by an extended family of Iranian Baluchis it is a testament to sensitivity and a commitment to ‘doing it right’. Such is the quality and authenticity of their ‘resurrection’ that thecaravanserai was granted a UNESCO award in 2005. Restoration took more than three years and some 13,000 pumice stones wereused to scour centuries of grime from the walls and arched roof. The building has been returned to near original condition.Back to a little more history of the place – it was built more than 400 years ago and was part of a network of 999 such hostels built on the orders of Shah Abbas I to promote trade. One of only two circular caravanserais (the other is near Esfahan and is largely destroyed) Zein-o-din now stands as a unique, living monument to the importance of the fabled Silk Road trade route.
At dawn and dusk, the surrounding desert will be transformed into intense beauty as light and shadow, colors and hues swirl and blend.. This is the time to make my way to the roof of the caravanserai, face towards the mountains and drink in the intoxicating mix.
3/9/17 - After breakfast at the Zein-o-din Caravanserai we return to Mehriz for a better look at the city founded by "Mehrnegar" the beloved daughter of Anoushirvan, the Sassanid King who ordered the digging ofsome canals (Qanats) fed by water from local mountain springs. After gardens were developed, it was called "Mehrigard". Mehriz consists of one central district and some separated villages named Ernan, Bahadoran, Tangeh-Chenar, Khormiz and Miyankooh. The oldest traces of civilization are known to be in the Ernan part of Mehriz. Archeological finds which are still incomplete, include an adobe building which is similar to an ancient religious house dated back to the Parthian Empire. This building with the area of around 1600 square meters is known to be the first excavated site in the central part of Iran and includes a vertical grave cemetery.
Saryazd village is located about a mile northeast of the city of Mehriz, 12 miles southwest of Yazd. Archeological research conducted on the earthenware found in the area has provided proof that this region has passed its most lively times during Seljuk, Ilkhanid and Safavid eras. According to some historical evidence and what experts believe, before the city of Yazd came to existence, there had been an area near Saryazd village named Farafar which fell into ruins after a period of drought.
With its natural and historical setting, green gardens and farms, aqueducts brimful of water, and numerous historical monuments, the village has many tourist attractions. The old Chapar-Khaneh or traditional post office dates back to the Sassanid era and the Saryazd castle dates back to the Seljuk and Safavid eras, Robat Kohne (old caravanserai) dates from the Seljuk era, and Robat No (new caravanserai) from the Safavid era.
The Saryazd castle is one of the largest defense castles in Iran's central desert. According to experts, the initial core of this castle had been constructed during Sassanid period and it was renovated and restored in the Safavid era. Defensive elements like trench entrance, fence, winding walls and supportive towers are visible there. Rooms for temporary settlement, stores for keeping food stuffs, and stables and barns are among the most important spaces in the castle.
After driving northwest to the city of Yazd we climb to a dakhmeh or Tower of Silence, a circular, raised structure used by Zoroastrians for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds for the purposes of excarnation. Zoroastrian exposure of the dead is first attested to in the mid-5th-century BCE Histories of Herodotus, but the use of towers is first documented in the early 9th century BCE. The doctrinale rationale for exposure is to avoid contact with earth or fire, both of which are considered sacred.
The towers, which are fairly uniform in their construction, have an almost flat roof, with the perimeter being slightly higher than the center. The roof is divided into three concentric rings: The bodies of men are arranged around the outer ring, women in the second circle, and children in the innermost ring. Once the bones have been bleached by the sun and wind, which can take as long as a year, they are collected in an ossuary pit at the center of the tower, where – assisted by lime – they gradually disintegrate, and the remaining material – with run-off rainwater – runs through multiple coal and sand filters before being eventually washed out to sea. The ritual precinct may be entered only by a special class of pallbearers, called nasellars, a contraction of nasa.salar, caretaker (-salar) of potential pollutants (nasa-).
The province of Yazd has Iran's only Atash Bahram, a Fire Temple that houses the highest grade of consecrated fire used in Zoroastrian worship. The fire now burning in the Atash Bahram was originally the Verahram Izad fire from the Pars Karyan Fire temple in southern Pars district of Larestan. The date of its consecration is recorded as 470 CE. From there it was transported to Aqda, Yazd, where it was housed for about 700 years. In 1173 CE, the flame was transferred from Aqda to the Nahid-e Pars temple in neighbouring Ardakan where it remained for 300 years. In 1473 CE the flame was transported from Ardakan to Yazd and maintained in the house of high priest Tirandaz Azargoshasp in Yazd's Khalaf Khan Ali district. Finally, the fire was brought to the present Atash Bahram upon its completion in 1934 CE.
The Zoroastrians of Yazd, even those living outside of Yazd, maintain a strong affiliation to their ancestral village or deh. When meeting for the first time, during introductions, Yazdi Zoroastrians seek to establish the village affiliation of the other. Each of the villages have a stereotyped characteristic attached to it and its members are similarly thought to have a stereotyped temperament. For instance, people from Sharifabad, one of the oldest villages, are thought to be the most conservative and orthodox, while those from Khorramshah are presumed to be wealthy. Qasemabad, the district closest to the Yazd city dakhmas is a relatively new deh. Mahal-e Yazd / Mahale-ye Yazd, is the Zoroastrian section of old Yazd city proper. Recently, families from other dehs such as Maryamabad, Khorramshah and Qasemabad, have taken up residence in the Mahale and therefore its residents are considered to be cosmopolitan and progressive.
The Amir Chakhmaq is a prominent structure with a three-story elaborate façade of symmetrical sunken arched alcoves. It is the largest structure in the center of Yazd with two very tall minarets.The spiral staircase in one of the minarets creates a feeling of claustrophobia, while it provides a great overview of Yazd. At night, the building is lit up with orange lighting in the alcoves and makes quite a spectacle. The complex also contains a caravanserai, a bathhouse, a cold water well, and a confectionary. The bathhouse, in the front of the building is around 600 years old. Arcades have been added recently on the flanks to provide safety from traffic. Only the first floor above the ground level is accessible and there is a shopping complex in the basement of the structure.
Next we visit Yazd's Jame Mosque distinguished by its tall entry portals, called pishtaq. The Yazd Jame Mosque is a particularly fine example, crowned with two lofty minarets for added effect. The portal is so massive that it nearly collapsed when it was being expanded to its current height in the 15th century, requiring a rather unwieldy buttress to be added to one of its sides..
Most Iranian Jamé, or Friday mosques, feature a four-iwan plan with an open courtyard at the center (Jamé mosques are distinguished from regular masjid by their use as places of worship for the community each Friday). A variation on this design peculiar to the Yazd area is the tendency to flank the iwan leading to the sanctuary with long transverse vaults aligned with the axis of the mosque. This design technique may have been borrowed from Ilkhanid-era buildings that the founder of the mosque, Shams al-Din Nizami, may have seen in the Tabriz area.
Late in the afternoon we stroll through Mostafa Khomeiny Square and then head to the Moshir-Al-Mamalek Garden Hotel for dinner and an overnight stay. Set in a beautifully landscaped Persian garden with many water fountains, the traditional hotel is styled with vaulted and domed ceilings, murals, and tile work.
The hotel is also wonderfully located on one of the main streets in Yazd and close to the main tourist attractions and sites for evening and early morning photographs.. The two resident Macaws who reside in the courtyard add to the hotel's charm..
3/10/17 - After breakfast at the Moshir-Al-Mamalek we journey northwest on Route 71 past the delicate Quran Gate and out into the edge of the Dasht-e-Kavir salt-marsh desert. Vegetation in the Dasht-e Kavir is adapted to the hot and arid climate as well as to the saline soil in which it is rooted. Common plant species like shrubs and grasses can only be found in some valleys and on mountain tops. The most widespread plant is mugwort often used medicinally, especially in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean traditional medicine. Some mugworts have also found a use in modern medicine for their anti-herpetic effect.
The Persian ground jay is a bird species living in some parts of the desert plateaus, along with Houbara bustards, larks and sandgrouses. Persian gazelles live in parts of steppe and desert areas of the central plateau. Wild sheep (Ovis orientalis), camels, goats (Capra aegagrus)and leopards are common in mountainous areas. Night life brings on wild cats, wolves, foxes, and other carnivores. In some parts of the desert, the Persian onager (gur in Persian) and sometimes even the Asiatic Cheetah can be seen.
Near Ashkezar we take a drink break at the abandoned village of Kharanaq. Our next stop is Narej Castle in Meybod. The building is one of the most important relics of the province dating back to the Sassanid period before the Islamic Conquest.. This ancient castle has been constructed on the top of Galeen hill and overlooks the city. The architecture of the castle rindicates that it was a fire temple in the pre-Islamic period.
The cistern (ab anbarin) in Meybod has four windcatchers or badgirs. The way windcatchers work is that the moving air masses at the top of windcatchers create a pressure gradient between the top of the windcatcher and its base, inside, at the bottom of the shaft. This pressure gradient sucks out rising hot air from inside the shaft while the colder dense air remains. The superb heat-resistant material of the walls of the ab anbar further create an insulating effect that tends to lower the temperature inside an ab anbar, similar to a cave. The ventilating effect of the windcatchers prevent any stagnant air and hence any dew or humidity from forming inside, and the overall effect is pure, clean, cold water all year round.
Returning to Route 71 north we pass to Ardakan where we pay a visit to the village of Pir-e Sabz also known as Chak Chak. The village consists of a pir perched beneath a towering cliff face in the desert of central Iran. It is the most sacred of the mountain shrines of Zoroastrianism. Pir-e Sabz serves as a pilgrimage point for pious Zoroastrians. Each year from June 14–18 many thousands of Zoroastrians from Iran, India and other countries flock to its fire temple. Tradition has it that pilgrims are to stop the moment that they see the sight of the temple and continue their journey on foot the rest of the way.
About midway in today's journey we stop for lunch in the city of Na'in. Unique to Na’in are some of the most outstanding monuments in all of Iran: the Jame Mosque, one of the first four mosques built in Iran after the Arab invasion; the Pre-Islamic Narej Fortress; a Pirnia traditional house; the Old Bazaar; Rigareh, a qanat-based watermill; and a Zurkhaneh (a place for traditional sport). Besides its magnificent monuments, Na’in is also famous for high-quality carpets and wool textiles.
The initial construction of Jame Mosque dates back to the 8th Century, but the whole of the complex has been constructed incrementally. One of the oldest mosques in Iran, its magnificent plasterwork over the niche, the marvellous brickwork around the yard, and its silent basement—which may have been used as a fire temple before the mosque was built here—are only a few of the remarkable features of this mosque. The mosque has no Iwan and dome as do the other famous mosques in Esfahan and Yazd. A tall octagonal minaret was added to the mosque almost 700 years ago.
Standing in the middle of the yard, you find yourself surrounded by fourteen columns, each one adorned with a unique and intricate pattern of brickwork.One of the most exquisite pieces of artwork inside the mosque is the wooden marquetry pulpit (Persian: menbar). The carpenter matched the wooden parts together like pieces of a puzzle. The pulpit is decorated with organic geometrical designs. According to the wooden inscription on the left side of the pulpit, it was created about 700 years ago.
An underground water channel runs underneath the mosque. There's a stairway connecting the mosque to the water channel and to chambers above the pool. In the past, people used the water for ablutions before prayers. The basement was a prayer chamber in hot summers and cold winters. The temperature in the basement is always moderate, never varying more than 10 to 15 degrees. The basement wasn’t actually built; it was dug into the ground, which means no materials were used to construct it.
Narej Qal'e is a remnant of a structure that was also known as Narej Castle. The construction materials used in the castle, as well as its style of architecture support the idea that it was built in the pre-Islamic era. The exact use of the castle is not known. However, it is thought to have been part of the military and official compounds of the city. Many researchers of the Safavid era have spoken of numerous castles known as Narikh Qalae, which were used for military purposes. Hence, it can be concluded that Na'in's Narej Qalae was also a military establishment. There was a once a moat with a 3,000 ft perimeter dug around the castle.
The Pirnia traditional house is a perfect example of this region's desert houses in terms of architecture and art and was constructed in the Safavid Period. The house consists of an exterior, an interior, a deep garden, a silo room and all of the facilities that a lord’s house needed to have at the time it was constructed.
When you enter the house and pass the first corridor, you reach an octagonal room called “hashti”, which used to be a waiting room for clients and visitors. Beautiful paintings, amazing plasterwork of Qur'anic stories, a book of famous poems and exquisite calligraphy decorate the living room. First, a judge of Na'in lived there. Then, during the Qajar Period, the house belonged to a governor of Na'in. Just a few decades ago, the house was purchased by the Ministry of Culture and Art. After renovation in 1994, the house was converted into the desert ethnology museum.
The bazaar is another of Na'in's remarkable, historical attractions. It extends 340 m in a curved line from the Gate of Chehel Dokhtaran to the mosque of Khajeh Khezr and is connected by main alleys as well as by tributary passages to centers of neighborhoods. The bazaar has two crossroads or chahar su and has been renovated many times. Nowadays the bazaar has been almost deserted as the retailers have moved to the city's streets. A number of Na'in's important monuments, such as the mosque of Sheikh Maghrebi, the mosque of Khajeh, and the Hosseinieh of Chehel Dokhtaran are still noteworthy facets of Na'in’s extraordinary bazaar.
The ancient Rigareh—a qanat-based water mill—is located in the Mohammadieh neighbourhood of Na'in. Some historians believe that it dates back to the pre-Islamic era. The water is supplied by the Keykhosrow qanat channel and the mill is placed almost 28 m underground. The access corridor to the mill is about 133 m long. A qanat channel crosses 9 meter above the mill and fills the huge 9 meter diameter water tank. When enough pressure is provided, the water is released and rotates the turbine. The waste water flows out along the channel and joins the main qanat channel with a gradual slope 15 meter further down.
While in Mohammadieh we also visit some man-made caves which locals call sardab and aba bafi. Evidence shows that they were dug by the Zoroastrian inhabitants who used to live there asthe cave entrances open to the east where the sun rises. After they were abandoned by the Zoroastrians, Muslim inhabitants used them as loom workshops to weave cloaks and rugs. Weaving cloaks by hand is one of the most valuable handicrafts and historical arts of Na'in and some of the workshops are 700 years old. Na'in’s winter textiles are very famous and are woven from two types of sheep and camel wools. Clothing styles have changed, but the cloaks are still quite famous in some Arab countries.
The architectural style of Na'in's Mosallah is characteristic of the Qajar dynasty and a number of literary, political and religious figures are buried at this site. “Mosallah” is an Arabic word for a place of prayer but, no one knows if any praying was ever done at this location. The Mosallah is an octagonal mausoleum of dervishes and Qajar and Pahlavi political figures. It is encompassed by a Qajar-era military fort with a high wall thick enough for a horse to be ridden along the top. The pistachio trees around the turquoise-domed mausoleum and two tall wind towers make the complex very photogenic.
Leaving Na'in in the afternoon we drive on Route 62 east toward Isfahan. We pass another abandoned caravanserai and then about halfway to Isfahan, we pass through a notable village of Kupayeh located about 43 miles east of Isfahan. Kupayeh was the home of Soraya Manutchehri, whose death is recounted in a 1990 best selling novel and 2008 film, The Stoning of Soraya M.
In the early evening we arrive at the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan. The Abbasi is among the surviving works of Safavid architecture and was once a caravanserai here on Chahar Bagh Street. It was built on the orders of Shah Soltan Hossein Safavi who offered it to his mother
3/11/17 - All great cities are hard to describe and Isfahan is one of the greatest. It was larger than London, more cosmopolitan than Paris, and grander, by some accounts, than even storied Istanbul. Elegant bridges crossed its modest river, lavishly outfitted polo players dashed across the world's largest square and hundreds of domes and minarets punctuated the skyline. Europeans, Turks, Indians and Chinese flocked to the glittering Persian court, the center of a vast empire stretching from the Euphrates River in what is today Iraq to the Oxus River in Afghanistan.
Isfahan's architecture was shaped by the building traditions of diverse ethnic groups which for centuries competed to rule the territory, mainly, Arabic, Turkish, and local Iranian peoples. A uniquely Iranian, eastern Islamic, architecture emerges only in the 11th and 12th centuries with the arrival in Iran of the SeljukTurks in 1038. The Seljuks implanted creative and bold structural ideas in Iran, as well as new spatial concepts, which would later serve as a foundation for Safavid architectural developments. The Seljuks replaced the traditional western Islamic hypostyle mosque layout (brought to Iran in 749 by its first Islamic rulers, the Arab Abbasids) with the four-iwan plan. The Seljuk Turks excelled in the design of very large vaulted spaces and in the decorative articulation of buildings inside and out using complex brick patterns. They also promoted the custom of organizing important urban buildings around an open maidan, a large rectangular piazza or town square. Most of these design schema were unknown or eschewed in the Islamic west.
Nearly four centuries after the fall of the Seljuks, Shah Abbas I selected Isfahan as the Safavid capital. The Safavids were a local, Iranian dynasty. Initially, Abbas did little to alter the physical appearance of Isfahan, preferring merely to associate his reign with pre-existing symbols of authority. He established his royal palace on the old maidan (city square) near the Great Friday Mosque, a legacy of Seljuk rule. Understandably concerned with preparing the foundations for the city's infrastructure, Abbas rebuilt and refurbished old bazaars and laid some foundations for new shops. He did not neglect the emperor's duty of providing public entertainments. He leveled the old maidan and spread sand on it so that it could be used for polo, horse racing, and wine drinking.
When restoring Seljuk buildings, Abbas left the Safavid mark in an unmistakable yet respectful manner. His renovation of the Great Friday Mosque, for instance, visually accentuated the features most associated with imperial authority using the brilliant colored tiles favored by Persian architects. He focused on the mosque's iwans and courtyard which he had sheathed in polychromatic patterned tile veneer. The iwan vaults were elaborated with muqarnas (applied ornament which looks like stalactites or honeycombs) to which glazed mosaic tile was applied. Two minarets were added to the main iwan and clad with colored tiles, creating a new iconographic symbol of authority in which the new (twin minarets) was grafted onto the old. In general, Abbas demonstrated sensitive, if self-serving, reverence for Isfahan's glorious past and concern for its fitting display.
Abbas I's designers differentiated the new city from the old historical center by organizing the street patterns on orthogonal grids not oriented toward Mecca. The old city had narrow winding streets and the old maidan was oriented toward Mecca. The old and new maidans were connected by the winding covered street of the Great Bazaar (2 km long) covered by high stone and brick vaults by the order of Abbas I. English and Dutch traders lived near the bazaar, as Isfahan was home to one of the East India Company's warehouses. Where the Great Bazaar met the new maidan, a group of buildings was built that constituted the Qaisariya Bazaar (Imperial Bazaar--built and maintained by the emperor). They housed imperial manufactures (wholesale silks and fine textiles, goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewelers), the state mint, a hospital, public bath, and a caravanserai. Unlike the shops of the Great Bazaar, these were arranged on a regular grid and aligned with the new city. Their importance to the regime was represented by the Qaisariya Gateway on the new maidan; no other imperial bazaar in the Safavid realm had a monumental entrance.
The grand scale and inorganic mathematical order of the new city implied that the values embodied in the old capital had been surpassed and supplanted by Abbas's priorities: religious tolerance, capitalism, state Shiism, Sufi reverence for saintly teachers and concern for the welfare of the masses. The new maidan turned its back on the old center, creating instead an alignment with the new Chahar Bagh Avenue (1596-1602) and the multi-ethnic, multi-faith sacred sites and suburbs south of the Zayandeh River. The latter included Hindu cremation platforms, a Zoroastrian cemetery, and the suburbs of New Julfa (for silk-trading Christian Armenians) and Abbasabad Chahar Bagh (for Tabrizi war refugees). Many new bridges were built linking the northern city with the southern suburbs.. Operable flood gates on the lower level of the Khwaju Bridge (1650-51) celebrated Safavid technological control of nature, while on the upper level social amenities such as a promenade and pavilions invited passers-by to linger and enjoy the view of the river -- source of the city's pleasure and prosperity. By designing the avenue, bridges, and streets of the suburbs in alignment with the orthogonal layout of new city, the designers succeeded in embedding Abbas's ideology inescapably into the fabric of urban life. Note that the italicized descriptions are stolen shamelessly from "The Road to Oxiana by Robert Bryon.
I begin my attempt to understand Isfahan with a visit to the Friday Mosque of Isfahan or Masjed-e Jāmé located in the historical center of Isfahan. The monument illustrates a sequence of architectural construction and decorative styles of different periods in Iranian Islamic architecture, covering 12 centuries, most predominantly the Abbasid, Buyid, Seljuq, Ilkhanid, Muzzafarid, Timurid and Safavid eras. Following its Seljuq expansion and the characteristic introduction of the four iwans (Chahar Ayvān) around the courtyard as well as two extraordinary domes, the mosque became the prototype of a distinctive Islamic architectural style.
"The two dome chambers were built at about the same time, at the end of the eleventh century. In the larger, which is the main sanctuary of the mosque, twelve massive piers engage in a Promethean struggle with the weight of the dome. The struggle in fact obscures the victory: to perceive the later demands a previous interest in medieval engineering or the character of the Sejuks. Contrast this with the smaller chamber, which is really a tomb tower incorporated into the mosque. The inside is roughly thirty feet square and sixty high; its volume is perhaps one third of the other's. But while the larger lacked the experience necessary to its scale, the smaller embodies that precious moment between too little experience and too much, when the elements of construction have been refined of superfluous bulk, yet still withstand the allurements of superfluous grace; so that each element, like the muscles of a well-trained athlete, performs its function with winged precision, not concealing its effort, as over-refinement will do, but adjusting it to the highest degree of intellectual meaning. This is the perfection of architecture, attained not so much by the form of the elements, but by there chivalry of balance and proportion."
Next I walk from the Friday Mosque to the Royal (Imam) Mosque along the northern edge of the Bazaar of Isfahan which is one of the best-preserved examples of the kind of large, enclosed, and covered bazaar complex that was typical of most cities in the Muslim world prior to the 20th century.
Beginning in 1602, a one-story façade of arches and porticoes was built, which faced the new maidan. Through a number of large and small gates people could access the square and the covered bazaar complex behind them. Next, an upper-story (bālā-ḵāna) was built, with commercial offices and artisan shops that were open to the square. Initially, some 200 shops surrounded the square; each was two stories and about five meters high. The lower-story each contained two shops, and the upper-story four smaller shops, two facing the square and two at the back, which had a small balcony with a protective brick railing. Most of the original floors were made of marble, while the floors added later were colored tiles and stone.
When the bazaar was expanded over time, the original regular, linear structure slowly and subtly adapted itself to the demands of each historical period. The combination of streets, passageways, sarāys, timčas, mosques, madrasas etc., were reproduced many times over within the growing bazaar complex over the course of the centuries. Also, the pattern, whereby each sector of the bazaar was occupied by a single trade or craft, was less strictly adhered to, while there were also movements of trades and craft within the bazaar complex. Moreover, the streets in the newer parts sometimes were not covered, especially in the 20th century, while other vaulted older parts (outside of the central section) have become dilapidated, especially towards the periphery of the bazaar.
I make a stop at the Hakim Mosque located on the site of the Buyid Jorjir/Rangrezān Mosque of which only a carved doorway (Jorjir Portal) has survived. Unlike the Safavid mosques, here the vast surfaces, especially inside the ivans and the domed chamber over the meḥrāb are decorated with alternating glazed and unglazed tiles. For me the Hakim serves as a sort of developmental history of mosque architecture as I find examples of an arch tent, wide and narrow roof arches, a dome cruciform, a Roman arch, and a skullcap arch.
The Royal Square of Isfahan is a monument of Persian socio-cultural life during the Safavid period (until 1722). It is an urban phenomenon which is an exception in Iran where the cities are ordinarily tightly parcelled without spatial fluidity, the exception being the interior courts of the caravanserais. It is an example of the form of naturally vulnerable urban architecture.
It is bordered on each side by four monumental buildings linked by a series of two-story arcades: to the north, the Portia of Qeyssariyeh (1602-19) at the entrance to the bazaar, to the south, the Royal Mosque (1612-30), to the east, the Mosque of Sheikh Loffollah (1602-18) and to the west, the pavilion of Ali Qapu, a small Timurid palace (15th century), enlarged and decorated by the shah and his successors.
Imam Mosque (Masjid-e Jam 'e Abbasi), also called Masjid-e Shah (Royal Mosque) before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, is one of the finest and the most stunning buildings in the world standing at the south side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square.The mosque, begun in 1612 during the reign of Shah Abbas I represents the culmination of a thousand years of mosque building and is a magnificent example of architecture, stone carving, and tile work. The mosque is grafted on to the south side of the square by means of a deep and immense sectioned porch. It is crowned by a half dome, whose interior walls are dressed with enamelled faïence mosaics, bound by two minarets, and prolonged to the south by an iwan (three-sided, vaulted hall open at one end), leading to an interior courtyard that describes a right angle. Thus although it is in part on a north/south axis, the mosque is, in keeping with tradition oriented north-east/south-east.
Through the outer portal one enters a noble vestibule, which is octagonal, and has no particular direction; it can therefore serve as a pivot on which the axis of the building is turned, the gateway to another world of splendor and concentrated power.
Of the classical-four ivans the west ivan has a wide porch surmounted by a minaret. The south ivan (also the largest) opens to reveal a great prayer hall surmounted by a double cupola 38 m high on the inside and 52 m on the outside (leaving a 12-meter empty space which serves as an extraordinary "echo chamber", since a speaker in the mehrab can be distinctly heard in all other parts of the mosque), its surface decoration being of the most sumptuous richness, a floral design in gold, yellow and white spiraling on a deep blue ground. In the center of the great prayer hall I will look for a few black paving stones underneath the dome, which when stamped upon create seven clear echoes.
The pavilion of Ali Qapu forms the monumental entrance to the palace zone and to the royal gardens which extend behind it. Its apartments, which are completely decorated with paintings and have wide exterior openings, are renowned. On the square is a high portal, flanked by several storys of rooms and crowned by a covered terrace (talar), whose refined roofing is carried by thin wooden columns.
Of the four monuments that dominated the perimeter of the Royal Square, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was the first to be built. The purpose of this mosque was to serve as a private mosque of the royal court, unlike the Royal Mosque, which was meant for the public. For this reason, the mosque does not have any minarets and is of a smaller size. Indeed, few westerners at the time of the Safavids even paid any attention to this mosque, and they certainly did not have access to it. It wasn't until centuries later, when the doors were opened to the public, that ordinary people could admire the effort that Shah Abbas had put into making this a sacred place for the ladies of his harem, and the exquisite tile- work, which is far superior to those covering the Royal Mosque.
"The dome of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is unlike any other dome in Iran .. Round a flattened hemisphere made of tiny bricks and covered with pinkish wash runs a bold branching rose tree inlaid in black and white. Here and there, at the juncture of the branches or in the depths of the foliage, ornaments of ochre and dark blue mitigate the harshness of the black and white tracery, and bring it into harmony with the soft golden pink of the background: a process which is continued by a pervadding under-foliage of faint light blue. But the genius of the effect is in the play of surfaces. The inlay is glazed. The stucco wash is not. Thus the son strikes the dome with a broken hoghlight whose intermittent flash, moving with the time of day, adds a third texture to the pattern, mobile and unforeseen.
The interior of the dome is inset with a network of lemon-shaped compartments, which increase in size as they descend from the formalized peacock at the apex and are surrounded by plain bricks; each is filled with a foliage pattern inlaid on plain stucco. The walls, bordered by broad white inscriptions on dark blue, are similarly inlaid with twirling arabesques or baroque squares on deep ochre stucco. The colors of this inlay are dark blue, light greenish blue, and a tint of indefinite wealth like wine. Each arch is framed in turquoise corkscrews. The mithrab in the west wall is enameled with tiny flowers on a deep blue meadow."
To avoid having to walk across the maidan when getting to the mosque, Shah Abbas had the architect build a tunnel spanning across the piazza, from the Ali Qapu palace, to the mosque. When reaching the entrance of the mosque, you would have to walk through a passage that winds round and round, until you finally reach the main building. Along this passage there were standing guards, and the obvious purpose of this design was for the women of the harem to be shielded as much as possible from anyone entering the building. At the main entrance of the mosque there were also standing guards, and the doors of the building were kept closed at all times. Today, these doors are open to visitors, and the passage traversing underneath the field is no longer in use.
All of these architectural elements of the Meidan-e Shah, including the arcades, are adorned with a profusion of enamelled ceramic tiles with paintings, where the floral ornamental is dominant, flowering trees, vases, without a prejudice for the figured compositions in the style of Riza-i Abbasi, renowned both inside and outside of Persia, who was head of the school of painting at Isfahan during the reign of Shah Abbas. The Royal Mosque remains the most celebrated example of the colorful architecture which, in Iran, reached its height under the Safavid dynasty.
After a midday lunch I make my way to Chehel Sotoun, a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool built by Shah Abbas II to be used for his entertainment and receptions. In this palace, the shah and his successors would receive dignitaries and ambassadors, either on the terrace or in one of the stately reception halls. The name, "Forty Columns," was inspired by the twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion, which, when reflected in the waters of the fountain, are said to appear to be forty.
As with Ali Qapu, the palace contains many frescoes and paintings on ceramic. They depict specific historical scenes such as a reception for an Uzbek King in 1646, when the palace had just been completed; a banquet in honor of the Emir of Bukhara in 1611; the battle of Chalderan against the Ottoman Sultan Selim II in 1514 in which the Persians fought without firearms; the welcome extended to the Mughal Emperor, Humayun who took refuge in Iran in 1544; the battle of Taher-Abad in 1510 where the Safavid Shah Ismail I vanquished and killed the Uzbek King. A more recent painting depicts Nadir Shah's victory against the Indian Army at Karnal in 1739. There are also less historical, but even more aesthetic compositions in the traditional miniature style which celebrate the joy of life and love.
The magnificent talar or verandah is the dominant feature of the palace and the slender columns, over 40m tall, which support it are cut from single chenar trees (platanus orientalis). The roof is also made from chenar tree beams and inset with complex decoration. The surface of much of the throne room is still covered with mirrored glass and this probably also was used on the pillars, as it was in the palace of Ali Qapu, so as to give the appearance of a roof floating in the air.
3/12/17 - Today I will set out northwest on Route 7 to Kashan. The city has long been known as a flourishing center of arts and a cradle of Iranian artists. The cultivated, talented and dynamic people of this historic city have been particularly famous as manufacturers of excellent glazed vessels and tiles, weavers of fine brocades, velvets and silk fabrics, creators of superb carpets and rugs, and producers of various handicrafts, consistently being ranked as outstanding exponents of these arts and crafts.
My first point of interest is the Iranian-Qajari architecture of the Agha Bozorg Mosque and theological school (Madreseh Agha Bozorg) located in the center of Kashan. The mosque consists of two large "ivans", one in front of the "mehrab" and the other by the entrance. The courtyard has a second court in the middle which is comprised of a garden with trees and a fountain. Surrounding the courtyard are arcades. The ivan in front of the mehrab has two minarets with a brick dome. The colors of arcades and ivan are restricted to blue, red, or yellow against a brick ground.
The Tabatabaei House is a historic house built in the early 1880s for the affluent Tabatabaei family. It is 4730 square meters in area and it consists of four courtyards, delightful wall paintings with elegant stained glass windows and includes other classic signatures of traditional Persian residential architecture such as biruni and andaruni. The andaruni, is the part of the house in which the private quarters are established. This is specifically where the women of the house are free to move about without being seen by an outsider. The only men allowed in the Andaruni are those directly related to the Lord of the House.
The Borujerdi House was built in 1857 by architect Ustad Ali Maryam, for the bride of Haji Mehdi Borujerdi, a wealthy merchant. The bride came from the affluent Tabatabaei family, for whom Ali Maryam had built the Tabatabaei House some years earlier. It consists of a rectangular courtyard, delightful wall paintings by the royal painter Kamal-ol-molk, and three tall wind towers which help cool the house to unusually cool temperatures. It has three entrances, and all the classic signatures of traditional Persian residential architecture, such as biruni and andaruni.. The house took eighteen years to build using 150 craftsmen.
Next I pay a visit to to the village of Fin to have a look at Bagh-e Fin. The garden expresses a series of accentuared contrasts between the arid, inhospitable landscape outside the walls and the lush foliage within. Outside, water is scarce and precious; here it flows with superabundance to produce a dense jungle of growth. The monotone of the landscape is replaced by the colors of foliage, of flowers, of blue tiles, of fountains, and of painted plaster and woodwork, Axial symmetry contrasts with areas of almost impenetrable growth. The plan of Fin calls sharply to mind the Persian garden carpet, for all elements of multiple channels, orchards, flowers, and pavilions are present in similar relationship. At Fin, all the channels are lined, sides and bottom, with blue faience tiles so that the very water seems bright and gay until it flows into one of the larger pools, lined with great trees. The largest pool mirrors the remains of the central pavilion, ascribed to Fath Ali Shah' .
Not far from the Fin Garden is the archaeological complex known as Tepe Sialk consisting of two hills, about half a kilometer apart, and two cemeteries, known as A and B. The excavators have distinguished six main phases of occupation. The oldest settlement has been identified in the northern hill and belongs to the first half of the fifth millennium BCE. The inhabitants, primitive peasants, lived in simple huts, made of reeds and covered with mud. Among the finds are stone axes and objects made of bone.
At the beginning of the fourth millennium BCE, the northern hill was abandoned, and the southern hill was occupied, probably by descendants of the people who lived on the northern hill. In this third period, the houses were made of rectangular bricks. The dead were still buried underneath the floors. The most impressive cultural advance was the introduction of the potter's wheel: the new ceramics, decorated with animal and human figures, were comparable with the fourth millennium pottery of Susa. The smiths were now capable of handling silver, and people were trading with the inhabitants of Khuzestan. A great fire put an end to this town; it is possible that it was captured by enemies.
The fourth period was more or less contemporary with the Early Dynastic Period in southern Iraq, and lasted from about 3000 to 2500 BCE. Although the ceramics of this age were plainer than the pottery of the fourth millennium, there is no doubt that there had been great progress. Cylinder seals prove that interregional trade flourished, there is evidence that the people had learned to read and write in a proto-Elamite cuneiform script, and the inhabitants were now capable of making bronze. The prosperity of this age can also be deduced from the construction of a ziggurat, which is the largest and tallest structure on the southern hill, and the oldest monument of this type in Iran. It had three platforms and was ascended from the south.
3/13/17 - Rising early from my bed in the Abbasi Hotel, I begin a north to south walk of Chahar Bagh Boulevard. The avenue, historically, is the most famous in all of Iran. It connects the northern parts of the city to the southern sections and is about 4 miles long. I begin at the Hasht Behesht (eight paradises), currently located inside the beautiful Nightingale Garden, the only palace left behind from the Safavid dynasty in Isfahan. The construction of this palace was finished in 1669, in the third year of Shah Soleiman's reign (1666-1694). Shah Soleiman ordered this incredibly fine palace to be built for his eight favorite wives. This two-story palace is built on an octagonal platform. The building has four iwans, each architecturally and aesthetically different from the other, with many rooms, each having unique design and decorations. Fine stuccowork and paintings decorate the rooms in the first floor. The second floor has become more elaborate due to beautiful porches, rooms, arches and windows. The walls are covered with delicate mirror work, and superb mosaics adorn the ceilings.
Chahar Bagh is the main boulevard of Isfahan and was built as a part of a larger urban project undertaken between 1596 and 1597 by the Safavid Shah Abbas I. Its name, literally translated as "four gardens", refers to a popular garden typology consisting of four plots divided by waterways or paths forming a cruciform plan.
The boulevard is consists of four quadpartite gardens arranged along a north-south axis that slopes towards the south. Each quadpartite unit is composed of two square and two rectangular plots separated by pathways and is located slightly lower than the preceding unit. Together, they are experienced as a single boulevard with a central promenade flanked by axial garden plots. "I take a course along its alleys of unequalled plane trees, stretching their broad canopies over my head, their shade being rendered yet more delightful by the canals, reservoirs and fountains which cool the air and reflect the flickering light through their branches. Thickets of roses and jasmine, with clustering parterns of poppies and other flowers embanked the ground, while the deep green shadows from the trees, the perfume, the freshness, the soft gurgling of the waters and the gentle rustle of the breeze, combine with the pale golden rays of the morning sun, altogether formed an amazing scene, as tranquilizing as it is beautiful".
At the south end of Chahar Bagh Boulevard I arrive at the Zayandeh River and cross it t at its broadest spot. Most people reference the bridge as Si-o-Seh Polor Bridge of 33 Arches because of its continuous 33 robust pier arches. Already as early as the 17th century, the bridge separated pedestrian lanes from a central vehicle lane, and furthermore covered the pedestrian lanes on both sides with roofs for protection against the sun.
On the south side of the Zayandeh River I arrive in New Julfa. At first glance, New Julfa immediately shows a distinct character compared to the rest of the urban fabric of Isfahan: an elegant residential neighborhood, which is also the shopping destination for the urban bourgeoisie. Among the many shops available, and some small shopping centers, I catch sight of a Benetton store. The streets seem very well kept, with wide paved walkways that make pleasant strolling.
Another distinctive feature of the quarter, and giving it somehow a European character, is the presence of some squares where young and old spend their time talking. Above all, surrounded by a beautiful colonnade, is the Julfa square: here is the Armenian supermarket Ararat, where you can also buy pork ham with the curious lettering “reserved to the religious minorities”.
Wanting to devote some of my remaining time in Iran to examing other forms of supernatural fanaticism, I pay a visit to the Vank Cathedral. In 1604, when Shah Abbas realized that the lands of Nakhchivan and its surrounding areas might fall into Ottoman hands, he decided to force the entire Muslim, Jewish and Armenian population of the city to leave their homes and move to Iran.
The Armenian immigrants settled in Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Dynasty, and populated the city's New Julfa district, which was named after their original homeland in today's Azerbaijan Republic.
Upon entering Iran, Armenian refugees started building churches and monasteries to continue their religious activities in their new home. The first monastery in Jolfa was built in 1606 and included a little church called Amna Perkich, which means 'All Healing.' The little church was later expanded and turned into the magnificently designed Vank Cathedral, which was built 50 years later under the supervision of Archbishop David.
The entrance ceiling is adorned with floral motifs and the top of the walls are covered with murals depicting events from the life of Jesus. The interior is adorned with paintings, gilded carvings and eye-catching tile work and the pendentives have painted images of typical Armenian cherubs' heads surrounded by folded wings. On the northern wall of the cathedral paintings of the Judgment Day may be seen with heaven depicted above and hell below. The bottom portions of the interior walls are covered with paintings depicting Armenians being tortured and killed by the Ottoman Turks.The double-layer brick dome of the church is beautifully gilded and adorned with paintings and floral patters in its azure interior. The paintings depict the Biblical story of the creation of the universe and man's expulsion from Eden. Eight windows surround the dome with biblical scenes painted between them. The creation of Adam and Eve, eating the forbidden fruit, and the death of Abel are among the stories painted between the windows. The Narthex is also adorned with four paintings which are surrounded with floral patterns and show tortures inflicted upon holy figures. The birth of Jesus, the Last Supper, the crucifixion of Jesus and the Ascension of Jesus are also among the biblical stories depicted in the paintings inside the cathedral.
From the Vank Cathedral I return to the south bank of the Zayandeh and follow the river downstream to the Khaju Bridge constructed by Shah Abbas II in 1650. Here both the lower part near the water level and the pedestrian lane separated from the vehicle lane on the upper part have protruding hexagonal spaces at the center and both ends as observation platforms, where people could enjoy views and chats, and the Shah occasionally used the whole bridge as a feast venue. Despite having no shops, the Khaju Bridge had Chay Hanes (Tea Houses) on the lower level and at both feet of the bridge, which are still used, functioning as a civic spot for amusement.
The decorations with glazed tiles on walls over the arches also indicate that this was not only intended to be a practical bridge but also a composite facility of traffic and pleasure. It also functions as a dam, incorporating equipment to adjust the quantity of water flow. Its external appearance is a series of brick arches, almost the same as those of caravanserais and madrasas. its spurting waters narrowed by its piers has a soothing sound and provide a dynamic viewof Isfahan.
Just in case I am later asked about it, I next pay a visit to Monar Jonban. This structure still remains of wonder to architects and engineers around the world. It was constructed to cover the grave of Amu Abdollah Soqla in 14th century. What makes this building a wonder is the fact that the minarets on top of this building would shake side to side for up to a 10 inches to each side, and it would also shake the second minaret at the same paste.
This remarkable structure is so carefully designed, that the weight distribution, height to width ration of the minarets, minarets dimensions to the iwan's ratio all play a role in the shaking of the minarets. This coupled oscillation can be observed from meters away at the ground level.
Finally I drag my tired feet back to the Abassi Hotel where I load my baggage onto the airport shuttle for an evening flight to Mashhad where I will check into the Homa Hotel occupying a vast park in a quiet part of the city center. The capital of Khorasan province in northeast Iran and the second largest city in the country. The name Mashhad comes from Arabic, meaning the place of martyrdom. the place where Ali ar-Ridha ( Imam Reza), the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, was martyred.
3/14/17 - Mashhad is best known for its beautiful pilgrimage shrine of Imam Reza. The shrine was built on the site of the village of Sanabad, where Imam Reza died in 818 CE. Imam Reza, the eighth Shi'ite Imam, was born in Medina in 765 CE and was widely known to be a person of both extraordinary scholarship and saintly qualities. At the age of 51 he was surprisingly appointed by the Abbasid Caliph Mamun (a Sunni Muslim) to become his successor as the next caliph. Mamun summoned Imam Reza to Sanabad, publicly proclaimed him his successor, and gave him his daughter in marriage. Mamun's actions, while welcomed by members of the Shi'ite sect, deeply disturbed the rival Sunnis, with the result that several violent uprisings ensued. After staying for a while in Sanabad, Caliph Mamun and Imam Reza departed for Baghdad (to retake the city from political rivals) but during the journey Reza fell ill and rapidly died. The suddenness of the Imam's death aroused suspicions among Shi'ite believers who believed Mamun had poisoned him in order to quell the political unrest resulting from a Shi'ite Imam being proclaimed caliph-to-be of the vastly more numerous Sunni believers.
The caliph, however, showed sings of deep mourning and built a mausoleum over the Imam's grave in 818, adjacent to his own father's tomb. Because of the widespread Shi'ite belief that Mamun had murdered Reza, the tomb and the village of Sanabad were given the name of Mashhad ar-Rizawi, meaning 'the place of the martyrdom of Riza'. A tradition (legendarily attributed to Imam Reza's father) told that a pilgrimage to Imam Reza's grave would equal 70,000 pilgrimages to Mecca and the tomb of the Imam became a holy place of pilgrimage to which people throng from throughout Iran.
My day begins with breakfast in the hotel and a walk along Ayatollah Shirazi Avenue past an array of shrine related shops catering to the pilgrims. Here the visitor can buy mourning music on tape, prayer beads, rugs, plastic replicas of the shrine, and an assortment of electronics, leather goods, and Chinese made sneakers.
After a brief frisking near the entrance we will enter the first of a dazzling series of open-aired courtyards. Arched doorways with intricate drawings of flowers and vines lead to even more splendid courtyards. Beautifully curved Islamic calligraphy flows easily from vouryard to wall to minaret.. Light and illumination form an important part of Iranian Muslim Shi'a tradition, a remnant of the country's Zoroastrian religion. In the eleventh century, an Islamic philosopher, Suhrawardi, incorporated a theory of light into a mystical philosophy that occupies an important place in both popular and religious tradition as in the seminary education of a cleric. At the Imam Reza shrine, the intensity of light and color and refraction increases as you go deeper into the shrine complex, culminating in an intense glow just outside the room housing Imam Reza's tomb.
The supreme beauty of the Imam Reza shrine, the most elaborate Shi'a Muslim shrine in the world, has much to do with its location.
The grand complex of the holy shrine is round in structure and includes nine courtyards (Sahn), twenty-six porches (Riwaq), the Gowharshad Mosque, Razavi University of Islamic Sciences, Islamic Research Foundation, Museums, the Central Library Complex, Offices, Hospital, Inn and the buildings for performing ablutions. The present surface area of the holy shrine is 267,079 sq.meters.The first building abutting building that I visit is the Gohardshah Mosque, the first and perhaps the greatest surviving, Persian monument of the fifteenth century Timirud Dynasty. Its portal continues the Samarkand style of arch within arch, enriched by a succession of bevels and reveals that give it depth and power. The thick, tower-like minarets, merging with the outer corners of the portal screen, extend to the ground and, together with the high foundation revetment of marble, give the ensemble the impression of solidity necessary to support its exuberant color. The entire court facade is faced with enamel brick and mosaic faience of the finest quality.
The full scale of colors includes a dominant cobalt blue and turquoise, white, a transparent green, yellow, saffron, aubergine and mirrorblack - all tones fluctuating through several shades. The patterns lucid and vigorous, are artfully adapted to their decorative role, whether for eye-level panels, or dome ornament meant to be effective at a thousand feet. Monotony, difficult to avoid in such a large area, and a distracting intricacy that might compete with the essential architectural forms are both forestalled. by the energy of the faience floral patterns and brick geometrical schemes; and by the emphatic rhythm of the arcades, open galleries and deep recesses; and especially by the contrast of the ivans.
Just in front of the Gohardshah Mosque is a Saqqa Khaneh in the middle of the Sahn Qods,which was inaugurated in 1990. This Saqqa Khaneh is built in the shape of Masjid-i Aqsa, the first Qeblah (direction faced in the prayers) of the Muslims, situated in Jerusalem. This beautiful drinking water repository occupies 1/8 of the area of the original Masjid-i Aqsa in Jerusalem. The exterior of it features the architecture and mosaic tile work of the Aqsa Mosque and its dome is completely made of gold.
The holy burial chamber of Imam Reza is connected to a network oftwenty-six Riwaqs (porches) covering an area of 5638 square meters.Riwaqs are the roofed buildings with different heights and designs built around the holy burial chamber during various phases of the one thousand and two hundred year long history of the holy shrine. While the site has been considered a locus of pilgrimage since the death of the Imam, historians argue that Shah Abbas began promoting the site in order to “deflect the flow of pilgrims and their money from the more important shrines of Ottomancontrolled Iraq.” Abbas's attention to Mashhad reflects a desire tolegitimize Iran as a Muslim Shi’i poweron the international stage and to challenge the prestige of the Ottoman Caliphate, despite their control over major holy sites like Mecca, Medina, Karbala, and Najaf.
In the afternoon we drive twenty five kilometers north on Route 22 to the village of Tous to visit the mausoleum of Ferdosi. The highly revered Persian poet and father of the modern Persian language was born 935 in Bazh a village near Tus and died around 1020 in poverty andembittered by royal neglect.
Ferdowsi was buried at the yard of his own home, where his mausoleum now lies. It was not until Reza Shah Pahlavi's rule, in 1925, that a mausoleum was built for the great poet.
His great epic The Shahnameh (The Epic of Kings), to which he devoted more than 35 years, was originally composed for presentation to the Samanid princes of Khorasan, who were the chief instigators of the revival of Iranian cultural traditions after the Arab conquest of the seventh century.
The overall shape of Ferdowsi's tomb is reminiscent of the Mausoleum of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae and in it there are a series of modern bas-reliefs illustrating the main episodes from Shahnameh. Each side wall of the building is approximately 30 m. x 30 m. representing 30 years of work on the Shahnameh, Worked with marble it is adorned by verses from the Shahnameh in the Nasta'liq script..
At the western edge of Pardis Boulevard and about 800 meters from the Ferdosi Tomb I pay a visit to the Harounieh Dome. Based on historical documents it is a tomb dated to the early eighth century Ilkhanian Period. The huge entrance veranda once had decorations that are now erased by time and vandalism. The usage of the Harounieh is not clear but it is mentioned in many diaries as the Tus Tomb, The architecture, decorations, and construction period of the dome indicate that it is not associated with Harun ar-Rashid who ruled from 786 to 809, during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age. His time was marked by scientific, cultural, and religious prosperity. This attribution is probably due to people's interest in Imam Reza and oral opinion among the natives.
On our return from Tous we stop at the Naderi Garden in the center of Mashhad to view the Tomb of Nader Shah.
This structure with inspiration from Nader's aggressive manner and his gypsy way of life, is constructed from rough and uneven rocks on a platform similar to a gypsy tent. The
statue of Nader and his fighters was cast in Italy and is erected on a platform, overlooking the tomb.
The interior of the tomb is comprised of a central tomb area with open walls; two halls on South and West sides for museum exhibitions , and a small library.
Nader's body, after his assassination in Fath-abad, 1740, was buried in a tomb, build by himself, in Mashhad. That tomb was subsequently destroyed during political tensions In 1876. The current construction was initiated in 1957 and finished in 1962.
3/15/17 - I must get up early to travel about eighty miles east on Route 44 to Neishabour. Located along the famous Silk Road, Neishabour has supplied the world with turquoise for at least two millennia. In the year 1000, Neishabour was among the 10 largest cities on earth until Chengiz Khan ordered the massacre of all residents in 1221. Neishabour has been destroyed and rebuilt more times than any other city in history.
My first stop in Neishabour is at the Tomb of Farid ud-Din Attar to pay homage to the great Sufi poet born here. There is disagreement over the exact dates of his birth and death but several sources confirm that he lived about 100 years.
As a younger man, Attar went on pilgrimage to Mecca and traveled extensively, seeking wisdom in Egypt, Damascus, India, and other areas, before finally returning to his home city.
The name Attar means herbalist or druggist, which was his profession. It is said that he saw as many as 500 patients a day in his shop, prescribing herbal remedies which he prepared himself, and he wrote his poetry while attending to his patients. About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). In this collection, he describes a group of birds (individual human souls) under the leadership of a hoopoe (spiritual master) who determine to search for the legendary Simurgh bird (God). The birds must confront their own individual limitations and fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest. The 30 birds who ultimately complete the quest discover that they themselves are the Simurgh they sought, playing on a pun in Persian (si and murgh can translate as 30 birds) while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us.
Attar's poetry inspired Rumi and many other Sufi poets. It is said that Rumi actually met Attar when Attar was an old man and Rumi was a boy, though some scholars dispute this possibility. Farid ud-Din Attar was apparently tried at one point for heresy and exiled from Neishabour, but he eventually returned to his home city and that is where he died.
A traditional story is told about Attar's death. He was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the invasion of Neishabour. Someone soon came and tried to ransom Attar with a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol not to sell him for that price. The Mongol, thinking to gain an even greater sum of money, refused the silver. Later, another person came, this time offering only a sack of straw to free Attar. Attar then told the Mongol to sell him for that was all he was worth. Outraged at being made a fool, the Mongol cut off Attar's head.
Just a few yards from the Atta Tomb is simple but beauriful set of arches marking the Tomb of Mirza Mohammad Khan Ghaffari Kashani, or Kamalolmolk remains one of the greatest and most highly revered artists in the history of Iran. The representational and miniature art communities will forever remain indebted to the legacy of this man's genius, and its expression through a life of prolific, stunning artistic output. In the twilight of his accomplished life, Kamalolmolk, now a nationally-revered figure, became a recluse, passing his remaining years in the in the tiny village of Neishabour. Having lived through the deaths of his children, colleagues and friends, he remained in hiding until his death, a staunchly independent, free artist to the end.
After lunch we go on to visit the Tomb of Hakim Omar Khayyam ( 18 May 1048 – 4 December 1131). Khayyam, was a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet. He also wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy and music. As amazing as his mathematican and scientific contributions to the world were, Omar Khayyam is best known, especially to non-Muslims, for his literature and poetry. In the 19th century, more than seven hundred years after his death, the writer Edward Fitzgerald translated a number of Khayyam’s poems into English and had them published collectively as the Rubaiyet of Omar Khayyam. Many of these poems suggest that Khayyam was skeptical about organized religion, and may have been persecuted in his day as an Islamic Galileo Galilei.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
At the end of the day we leave Mashhad airport for a return flight to Tehran.
Images of Greece 1989