A Concise History of Iran

By: Saeed Shirazi

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Publisher's Synopsis

Never before has a book of this caliber (brief but thorough) been printed in English regarding the entire history of Iran. Although the writer does not claim to be a historian, he realized the need for just such a timely book. A Concise History of Iran sheds light on the heretofore unfamiliar and often unrecognized relationship between Persia and the world; it is filled with information in a historical sequence with accurate and multiple references that may be used academically. Unlike the United States, where separation of church and state is a mandated fact of the Constitution, in Iran, wise Clerics—religious Magi—have had and still have enormous political influence. These learned theologians and magistrates were respected for their religious wisdom and, therefore wisely and/or unwisely, trusted to be politically astute. While the Clerics may or may not outwardly run for the highest office, they judiciously choose who will run and, in some cases, they even appoint a succeeding ruler or influence the elections. The systems of choosing leadership in both The U.S. and Iran are vulnerable to mistakes. For example, the U.S. action in the Middle East has had some serious, unfortunate results, whatever the original intention was—for example, loss of innocent lives from West and East (the new Viet Nam in Afghanistan and Iraq) and the imminent danger of World War III.


Iranians born outside Iran often cannot read Farsi (their nativelanguage), though they may speak or understand it. English-speaking
readers have not had a chance to study this subject within such a short format, either. This fact is the inspiration for my book, A Concise History Of Iran in English. I hope this book will acquaint and interest Iranians outside Iran with their historical past, so that they may do further research on their own. With this purpose in mind, I have put the information from many sources in Farsi and English in this text rather than in footnotes. The main ideas will be apparent to the reader. However, I must advise my readers that a lot of contiguous but short information is inserted
into every paragraph. As David Fischer points out in his Historians’ Fallacies, New York, 1970, p. 64, history is an ocean of facts. This is why
historians select information with certain criteria of factual significance as well as relevancy to a purpose. My purpose in this book is to be thorough and brief. Generally, history is a study about a land and its people. Therefore, it is imperative to start our voyage through time by reflecting on the land (Pars) and its people (Aryans) in the country of Persia. (Persian government requested all foreign countries at the
U.N. meeting in 1935 to call the country Iran for the sake of consistency)...


A few pages of the book

The Plateau of Pars
Ancient Aryans and Their Beliefs

Coming back to the early Aryans and their gradual southward migration, one has to look at the elevated Plateau of Pars. Archeological evidence dating from 5000 to 3000 B.C. indicates massive settling of the regions all around Pars plateau. Early traveling tribes of Aryans slowly scattered in this plateau with an area of thousands of square miles (East to west from today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq and north to south from Russia and north Caspian sea to the south Persian Gulf). Throughout this vast green land, these Aryans had carried their language, rituals, crafts, and homes from one area to another in all conditions and terrain. Sometimes they had to find shelter from the elements, and on the other hand, they learned to cherish and respect its beauty and mild climate. Thus, love and respect for nature and its elements became the pivotal foundation for Aryans.

But what is noteworthy is that although these Aryans were growing fast, they were not the only traveling tribes. Around the same period, village life as well as tribal gatherings—at a slower rate—were also introduced in other areas in the world, such as North America, Africa and the Far East. Ruins of structures made by Yang Shao people in China and old city of Jericho near today’s Jordan are a few substantial evidences of other civilizations. Writing, however, had not appeared in China until around 2800 B.C. (The Sumerians had discovered the early alphabets around 3200 B.C.)

As time went by, some tribes of farmers and herders living in the plains of Pars detached from their Aryan relatives around 2500 B.C.
They began to move towards the Indus Valley that is in today’s Pakistan and West of India. They created a newer civilization called Harappa near Ravi River. But around 1500 B.C., Indus Valley civilization, as we know it, suddenly disappeared. Historians mostly believe that Aryans of Pars conquered the area again and later added it to their future Persian Empire.

All these civilizations neighbored one another for thousands of years. Of course there are similarities in beliefs and myths of different cultures in different territories. Naturally, in many shapes, they must have influenced one another. In Joseph Campbell’s The Mythic Image in pages 118-121, there are references made to the similarities between T’ao-t’ieh mask in China around 1300 B.C., and The Kirttimukha of India around 800 A.D. It is only logical to wonder about their possible connections. On the other hand, the Mexican Olmec culture and the Chavin culture of Peru in about 800 – 400 B.C. show similarities about the jaguar-man mythic figure that resembles the Kirttimukha.

As mentioned in the next chapters, Persian myths also mention about Deev or Ghoul as human-beast cannibal. For unknown reasons, Joseph Campbell does not cover the old mythology of Persians in his book. Nevertheless, the mythic figures of Deevs have an ancient root in the Persian culture going back to the time of creation. Are these images a result of pure chance? Did different people and cultures have a way of affecting one another?

Still, the study of Myths clarifies many archeological mysteries, including the ancient languages. There are many excavated findings and ancient texts, forming a historians’ consensus, that tell about these traveling tribes’ language and faith. Through artifacts and pictographic objects belonging to Indus civilization, one may see similarities in the language, myths and religion of original Aryan Settlers in Pars Plateau. As mentioned before, Farsi language that Iranians speak today is based on “Mikhi Language” immortalized by cuneiforms and pictographs left on clay and stone. The history of Farsi goes back to over 3000 B.C., and the languages of Medes, Sakkas, Sumerians and Zarathustra’s Avesta gradually helped to shape this language.

Dr. M.J. Mashkoor explains that the traditions and lifestyles of early Aryans were preserved through ancient historical writings. The prophet Zarathustra (Zartosht in Farsi) formed the Book of Vedas or Sacred Writings. These writings were commonly used among Aryans of Indu Valley. Book of Vedas is the oldest source of such historical facts about Aryans—It is interesting to know that in rewriting Vedas an older root of Farsi writings is used called Din-Dabireh. By referring to the facts mentioned in Vedas, it is understood that Aryans, at some point in time,
believed that people were born into a caste and remained in it for life. Thus, people were categorized into three major sectors: Brahmans or
Priests, Kshatriyas or Military caste, and Vaishiyas, which consisted of farmers, shepherds and merchants. The Book of Vedas, thus, became a
gradual and continuous collection of psalms, prayers and hints of all the sectors. Dr. Mashkoor confirms the fact that these writings form an
abundant source of cultural history pertaining to the Aryans who lived in a plateau called Aria Varte. In Avesta, the holy book of Zarathustra,
this name is mentioned as Aeryana Vaejeh that means the “Prairies of the Aryans.” This land was in eastern part of today’s Iran—neighboring on
the west with today’s Pamir in Pakistan and India, also stretching to the west or Mesopotamia.

In addition to the above, the western historic documents reflect the same information. The fact that Aryans paid tribute to the elements of nature, Sun, Moon and Stars, has remained intact in the history. This explains why the “Father of History,” Herodotus, has also mentioned in his ancient Greek notes that Iranians never worshipped statues or idols as gods. Interestingly, Greeks, however, made statues of their gods in their
own image. Unlike Egyptians, whose gods were not made in the human image and sometimes fearsome, the Greek gods were a part of
daily activities of the Greeks.7 Persians tried to find inner peace through their harmonic existence with the universe, and they did not propitiate or bow to any idols or statues of gods in any shape or form. Thus, Aryans commonly sought spiritual enlightenment in the early light of day. These inner qualities differentiated them from their Mesopotamian neighbors. Aryans referred to the bright elements in nature as Davos meaning Bright Source. The early Aryans celebrated the forces in nature, particularly the brightness. As per Tarikh Iran Zamin by Dr. Mashkoor, Andra (Indra) was the symbol of wars and lightning. Varona represented skies, Mithra or Mehr was the agent of the Sun, and Agni was the agent of fire. Of course, Dr. Mashkoor found this information in the ancient texts of Veda.

As mentioned in Tarikh Iran Zamin , Veda is originated from the earlier ancestors of Aryans of Pars and Indu Valley. During thousands of years these aspects of universal harmony on basis of purity of light made the scintillating foundation for Zorastherianism. This new ideology from the holy book of Avesta has brought forth and introduced the incisive idea of Unity of the Almighty. Historians also believe that “Vandi Dad,” which is one of five major parts of Avesta, is a revision of ancient texts of Veda gathered by the Prophet Zarathustra. His birth date is estimated about 2000 to about 1000 B.C. His name originally meant: “The owner of Yellow Camel.”

In other words, messages in the texts of Veda existed before Zarathustra. So did the religion of Mithra, common between Aryans of Pars and Indu. There are only two references in Avesta about Andra (only as an agent or angel), however there is a reference to Andra in the mythological tale of Rostam in Shah Nameh. Actually the Persian warriors received their strength from this agent of war, which was common in both Indu and Persian mythology. So were the two Ashvins, the two gods, (Khordad and Amordad in Avesta) who heal the sick and bring lovers close together.9 Khordad and Amordad are also the names for two months in spring and summer from the Persian calendar and respectively mean “Perfect in all” and “Immortal.”

Therefore, many of these ancient beliefs are based on common history between Indus and Persians. Yet, Zarathustra is uniquely Persian. Interestingly, the exact birth date of this great prophet is not set, some historians, such as Voltaire and Plato, set this date much earlier and to about 6500 B.C.10 It seems that the ancient beliefs of Aryans regarding Mithra (going back to over 7000 B.C.) had been the basis for Plato and Voltaire’s assumption of the birth date of Zarathustra.

But truly all these ideologies, with variations, actually existed among Aryans for thousands of years before Zarathustra. There are archeological evidences that prove farmers lived in “Mehrgarh” west of Indus River by 6000 B.C. who believed in Mehr.11 These people could be the early Aryans who had continued East from Plateau of Pars. The occupants of Mehrgarh also believed in the divinity of the forces of nature and worshiped Mehr the symbol of Sun. Never the less, Zarathustra of Persia can be called the pioneer of universal theory of Good versus Evil as well as The Judgment Day in the history of religions.

The extent of the popularity of Mithraism does not end at the East. This Persian religion had penetrated the West until mid-4th Century A.D.; the remainders of numerous caves or underground shrines are still found in many European countries. Philip K. Hitti believes that these caves were secret places of gathering for earlier believers of Mithra. However, the construction of such underground tunnels or wells had to do with the underwater springs in the Plateau of Pars— they still do—as a source of drinking water for peasants in the Middle East. The believers of Mithra celebrated “Sol Invictus” or “The immortal Sun” on the 25th day of December. This date was marked as the rising cycle of the Sun in the sky showing the arrival of longer days. Hitti believes that Europeans actually borrowed this date from the religion of Mithra and used it as the birth date of Prophet Jesus, because of the existing popularity of such date among their people.

Also, William Culican testifies to the fact that the history of this period—about 2500 B.C—evolves through the cultural development of this branch of Indo-Europeans on the Plateau of Pars who believed in the natural elements as their guardians or gods. But Culican also believes that they gradually divided into two different groups. Some continued southeast to Indu Valley and Panjab and some towards western and southern fields of today’s Iran later forming bigger civilizations respectively called Medes and Pars.

The pivotal myths and ideologies of Aryans have affected the worldviews of their descendants up to the present time. The role of the individual in nature as well as in the society was of great importance to these Aryans. All members of the tribes believed they could assist the elements in nature to do their jobs. Sacrificing animals or crops did help this. Ancient writings also show how the early Aryans respected family and valued its members as the vital units of their society. This basic idea has been kept throughout history up to the present. Man was the head of the family and was named “Pati” which meant protector or “Pitri” which meant feeder. The name Father is a derivative of these words. The lady of the house was “Matri” or Mother, which meant maker of home. These details can be found in Veda texts.

Even in old age, the head of the family , men and women, gained more respect as well as wealth among their tribes. This trend of life in pastoral and horticultural societies is referred to as “Gerontocracy,”...