Histroy of Iran
Owing to its special geographical location, which connects Central Asia and the Far East to the near east and Europe, the Iranian plateau has since pre-historic times been one of the most attractive regions of the world from the viewpoints of migration, inhabitation, war, and various kinds of other developments.It is not clearly known when human settlement in the Iranian plateau first began. Nevertheless, some researchers have referred to the possibility of human exodus from Africa, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Indian subcontinent towards this region. Apparently, the oldest region belonging to the Stone Age to have been discovered in Iran thus far is located in the Khorāsān province and on the bed of the Kashafrud river and the age of the excavated stone objects discovered from these areas have been estimated to be 8,00,000 years old. Some of the stone effects belonging to the middle Stone Age (middle Paleolithic), too, have been discovered in Central Iran, south-east of Shirāz. Following the course of these periods, Iran, like the other parts of the Middle East too had entered the Copper Age at a time when Europe was still in the Stone Age.Evidences and effects of the presence of human life and the earliest human civilizations have been discovered from various parts of Iran. The excavations from the Kamarband Cave (near Behshahr) and the Hutu Caves (near Torijān, west of Behshahr) prove that civilization in Iran dates back to about 9000 BC. Similarly, the effects excavated from the Asiyab Hill (East of Kermānshāh), Ganjdarreh (Southwest of Kangāvar), the Ghorān Hill (in the valley of the Holaylān river in the Kermānshān province), the Alikosh Hill (Southeast of the Dehlorān Valley), the Sarāb Hill (Northeast of Kermānshāh), the Zāgheh Hill (in Buin Zahrā), Talleh Bākun (Southwest of the Persepolis), the Yāniq Hill (Southwest of Tabriz), the Chaghamish Hill (Southwest of Dezful), the Gudin Hill (West of Kangāvar), the Giyān Hill (near Nahāvand), the Cheshmeh Ali Hill (near the Rey city), Talleh Iblis (in Kerman), and the Yahyā Hill (South of the Bāft region of the Kermān province) indicate the presence of human life in this region between the 9th and the 4th millenniums BC. The excavations from Bampur (in the Halilrud Valley), Shahre Sukhteh (South of Zābol), the Shush Valley, and Haft Tappeh (Southeast of the Shush city), the Hasanlu Hill (near Naqadeh), the Marlik or Chirāg Ali Hill (in the Rudbar city of the Gilān province), the Turang Hill (Northeast of Gorgān), the Ziviyeh Hill (East of Saqqez), the Hesār Hill (near Dāmghan), the Musiyān Hill (in the Dehlorān region), the Shahdād or Khabis Hill and graveyard (East of Kermān), and Ganjtappeh (in the Kelārdasht region of the Māzandarān province), too, are evidences of the existing civilizations in the Iranian plateau up to the beginning of the 1st Millennium BC.One of the earliest known pre-historic civilizations of Iran is the Sialk civilization. Evidences of this civilization found from the Sialk Hills, southwest of Kāshān, indicate that this was one of the earliest regions to have been inhabited in the Iranian plains. The age of the oldest Sialk Hills dates back to between the latter part of the 6th millennium BC and the early 5th millennium BC. The earthenware excavated from these hills is among the oldest in Iran. A large number of decorated pots have been discovered from this region, the ages of some of which date back to c. 4000 BC and it is for this reason that researchers believe that the Iranian plateau has been the birthplace of decorated pottery.Owing to its interaction with Mesopotamia, the western and the southwestern parts of the Iranian plateau entered the historical age before the other regions of this plateau. In the early 3rd millennium BC, the pictographic script – generally referred to as the early Elamite (Ilāmi) script – was invented in the Khuzestān province. Some samples of this script have been discovered from Sialk, the Gudin Tappeh of Kangāvar, Talleh Malayān of Fārs and even the Shahre Sukhteh of Zābol, indicating to the cultural relations shared between the western part of the Iranian plateau and the other regions of this plateau during those times. The most important native communities that inhabited the western part of the Iranian plateau – from the south to the north – comprised the Elamites, the Kassites, the Lullubis, and the Gutis. These communities were related to each other and were very close from the racial and linguistic viewpoints. The main territory of the Elamites comprised the plains of Shush (Susā) and the valleys of the rivers Kārun, Karkheh, and Dez as well as the mountainous regions and the elevated parts of the north and northeast of the Shush plains. However, the Elamite Empire comprised larger territories and included Liān (the present Bushehr) on the southern side and Anshān or Anzān (Talleh Malyān near present-day Marvdasht in the Fārs province) on the eastern side. In the ancient times, the economy of Mesopotamia depended on the natural resources of the Iranian plateau and the Zagros Mountains and this was the main reason for the frequent military expeditions of the Sumerians and the Akkadis to Khuzestān and the foothills of the Zagros. These military expeditions eventually prompted the small neighboring autonomous kingdoms of the Zagros and Khuzestān to unite politically and militarily and to establish a unified Elamite empire that lasted up to 646 BC or a little longer, when it was toppled by Āshurbanipāl. The Elamite empire included several dynasties. The most important rulers of the various Elamite dynasties were Pozur (Kutic) – Inushinak, Shilhaha, Awntash – Gal, Shutruk – Nahawnteh, Kutir – Nahawnteh, and Shilhak -Insushinak. Besides Shush and Anshān, the other important large cities of the Elamite Empire included Avan (probably the present-day Shushtar), Simash (the present Khorramabād), Madaktu (probably the northern part of Shush), and Hidalu (in the mountainous regions of the east, on the way to Fārs).
The Kassite, the Lullubi, and the Guti communities lived in central Zagros. From among these, the Kassites lived in the present-day Lorestān towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC but their place of origin in not clearly known. From the 17th or 16th centuries BC up to about 1155 BC Babylon (Bābel) was also part of the Kassite territories, making this the longest period of foreign occupation in the history of Mesopotamia. The gun-metal works of Lorestān that were the best examples of the art of western Iran towards the end of the 2nd millennium BC and the early 1st millennium BC have been attributed to the Kassites by some research scholars. Apparently the Lullubis had a large part of the mountainous regions of Zagros, from the upper parts of the Diāleh river up to Lake Orumieh, under their control and their capital was the Zur city. The most important relic that has survived from that age is an engraving of the Lullubi king Anubanini, found near Sare-pole Zahāb, which is a short inscription in the Akkadian language. The Gutis who probably lived in the north of the Zur city conquered Babylon towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC and apparently also gained control over Ilām after some time.
However, the history of “Iran” as the “Land of the Āryans” began with the exodus of a group of Aryans (Indo-Iranian) to the Iranian plateau. The Aryans were from the Indo-European community who lived in central Asia in the 2nd millennium BC after separating from others of their own race. Zoroastrian texts refer to the ancient land of the Iranians as “Irānvij”. As per the Vendidād, “Irānvij” is the first land that was created by Ahurā Mazdā. According to some researches, the Aryan immigrants entered the western part of the Iranian plateau some time around 1000-800 BC when this plateau was still in the Iron Age. As regards the route of the migration of the Aryans to the Iranian plateau, some researchers are of the opinion that these immigrants headed westwards from central Asia, until they reached the Zagros Mountains. Some other scholars, on the other hand, believe that the migration of the Aryans took place on two separate routes on both sides of the Caspian Sea, and that the Median and the Persian tribes entered the Iranian plateau through the Caucuses. Accounts of the Kiyāni rulers, although mixed with mythological elements, depict the historical evidences after the settlement of the Aryans in eastern Iran until the advent of Zoroaster (Zardosht). It appears possible to regard the Kiyāni dynasty of eastern Iran to be the first establisher of the great and organized Aryan political system in the Iranian plateau. In any case, with the advent of the Aryans a new phase began in the history of the Iranian plateau.
From the early 9th century BC, the Aryans increased their pressure on the original inhabitants of the Zagros Mountains and managed to gradually conquer the cities and settlements of these regions on their westward journey, eventually rising up to the Assyrians. It is from this context that the names of the Median and Persian tribes first appeared in the Assyrian texts along with their lands called Madai (near present day Hamedān) and Parsua (in the west and southwest of Lake Orumieh). The chronological accounts of the Assyrian king, Shalamnasr III, makes mention of the Persians in the year 844 BC and the Medians in the year 836 BC.
The power of the Assyrians declined towards the end of the 9th century BC and the early 8th century BC resulting in the strengthening of the Orārtu (Ārārāt) rule. The spread of the power of Orārtu evoked concern among the Assyrians and the Assyrian kings were forced to post huge armies on their borders with the Orārtu kingdom in order to encounter any possible attacks. One of the Orārtu kings managed to invade the Assyrian kingdom in the early 8th century BC and to conquer the western coasts of Lake Orumieh as well as parts of the lands belonging to the Mannai tribes on the eastern coasts of this lake. However, it was a difficult task to monitor the movements of the freedom-loving and warrior Median and Persian Aryans who had settled in these regions, resulting in the intensification of the sense of independence of these communities. With the advent of the reign of Tiglath Pilesar III (744-727 BC) the attacks of the Assyrians on the east, in order to stop the spread of the Orārtu rule, were resumed and large parts of the Zagros fell into their hands. These military operations brought the Assyrians face to face with the Medians and in the year 737 BC the Assyrians entered the Median territories. The Assyrian inscriptions depict the exaction of tributes (tolls) from the Medians and their hold on their lands up to the Bikni Mountains. The location of the Bikni Mountain – earlier believed to be the same as Mt. Damāvand but now identified as the Mt. Alvand – can indicate the extent of the advancement of the Assyrians into the Median territories.
The Median and Persian tribes had very close ties and bonds at the time of their exodus and settlement in the Iranian plateau and their internal independence did not come in the way of the continuation and expansion of such ties and bonds. Although recent etymological studies indicate that the term “Mede” has no specific Indo-European root, according to Herodotus, in the ancient times, all the Medians were referred to as “Aryans”. According to Herodotus, Medes comprised six large tribes, the Moghs being one of them. This Greek historian had categorized the Persians into ten tribes and referred to the “Pasargadis” which included the Achaemenians as the superior Persian tribe. As a matter of fact, even the Persians moved southwards from their original lands of settlement in the Iranian plateau when the Median tribes gained power c. 815 BC and settled around the northeast of Shush, at a little distance from Anshān, in a region which was referred to as Parsumash. The ruler of the Persian tribes the Achaemenid apparently had allied with Ilām and Babylon in a war that resulted in the defeat of the Assyrian king, Sennākhereb during c. 700 BC. Thus, like the Medians, the Persians too had entered into the political arena of their times. However, the conditions and situations turned in favor of the Median chiefs and by uniting the various Median tribes they managed to establish a powerful rule before the Persians.
The accounts of the two ancient Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, relating to Median history differ completely. The record of the number of Median kings and the extent of their reigns as mentioned by Thucydides – now proved as baseless – by far exceeds what has been reported by Herodotus.
It has been reported that Rusā, the Orārtu king, initiated a revolt in some parts of the Assyrian kingdom in c. 716 or 715 BC with the help of Dayāukku. However, the Assyrian king, Sargon II, suppressed the rebellion and exiled Dayāukku and his family to Hamāh in Syria. Although there appears to be a difference of ten to fifteen years between the times of this Dayāukku and the times of Deioces, to whom Herodotus refers to as the founder of the Median rule, in all probability “Deioces” is none other than the “Dayāukku” of the Assyrian sources. Nevertheless, the account given by Herodotus about Deioces’s independent rule and his capital in Ecbatana (the present-day Hamadān), with its seven labyrinthine forts, is subject to doubt since it seems very unlikely that the Assyrian kings would tolerate the existence of such a large citadel.
According to Herodotus, the Medians had selected “Deioces” as the judge of their community and to administer justice among them because of his honesty. He adds that “Deioces” had shied away from this responsibility several times until he was ultimately chosen by the people as their king. However, Dayāukku’s rule was merely a local one and the independent Median rule was only established years later. Farvartish (known to the Greeks as Phraortes) succeeded Dayāukku in 675 or 674 BC, and apparently after managing to subjugate the Persians, tried to initiate an alliance against the Assyrians by uniting the Mannai and the Cimmerian tribes that had entered the Iranian plateau from the Caucasus, towards the end of the 8th century. When Farvartish and his allied forces reached the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, the Sakās unexpectedly attacked the Medians. Farvartish was killed during this attack – that was apparently inflicted on the request of the Assyrians – and the Sakas came to dominate the Median territory for a period of twenty-eight years.
When Cyaxares succeeded his father, Farvartish, he was very young and had no other choice but to make peace with the Sakas. However, he finally managed to kill the Saka king and his commanders and put an end to their dominance over the Median territory. Cyaxares is, therefore, the actual founder of the Median rule. He organized his army into various divisions of infantry and cavalry and deployed the remaining Sakas in his army. After managing to subjugate all the Median, Persian, and Mannai tribes he took advantage of the internal and external problems facing Āshur and prepared his army to attack the ancient Assyrian Empire. Cyaxares and his ally Nabopolassar, the Babylonian ruler, unsuccessfully attacked Āshur several times but finally succeeded in besieging Nineveh, and after conquering it, plundered and razed it completely in 612 BC. Shortly, all the vestiges of resistance on the part of the Assyrians were crushed and this defeat marked the end of the Assyrian Empire in 610 or 609 BC. The Assyrian kingdom was then divided between the Median and the Babylonian kings and from this point on the Median dynasty carved a niche for itself as a new power in Persian history. Consequently, Cyaxares began to expand his empire and confronted the Lydian empire in Asia Minor. The battle between these two newly established empires lasted for five years but finally came to an end with a solar eclipse that came to be interpreted as a bad omen by them on May 28, 585 BC and the Hālis River (present-day Kizilirmak) came to be recognized as the boundary-line between the two empires. Cyaxares died some time during the course of the peace talks and his son, Ishtuvigu (Hystaspes), known to the Greeks as “Astyages” in 585 BC came to power. Little information is available regarding the thirty-five year rule of Ishtuvigu. It is said that towards the end of his rule, the ideas of attacking Babylonia and conquering Harrān stirred up in his mind. However, news of the rebellion of the Persian tribes under the leadership of Cyrus, the Achaemenian, and the King of Anshān – who was apparently his own grandson – reached his ears and he was left with no choice but retreating to his own capital. This war between the two rivals lasted for three years and finally Ishtuvigu’s army rebelled against him and handed over the Median king to Cyrus in 550 or 549 BC. In no time, the Median capital fell into the hands of Cyrus, and in this manner, the first independent Iranian reign came to an end
With the rise of the Achaemenian Dynasty, Iran came to play a strategic role in the global politics of those times. Achaemenes (Hakhamanesh), the great grandfather of Cyrus, had established a small local kingdom in Anshān in c. 700 BC. His son, Chishpish (ruled 675-645 BC) expanded his kingdom and besides Anshān also gained dominion over Persia. After him, his empire came to be divided between his two sons. Pars fell into the hands of Aryāramnah while Anshān was bequeathed to Cyrus I. From then on, the Achaemenian Dynasty got divided into two main branches that divided the rule between themselves throughout the history of this dynasty.
Cyrus II, popular as “Cyrus the Great”, was the son of Cambyses I and hailed from the Anshān branch of the Achaemenids and was, in fact, the founder of a global rule. His local rule in Anshān began in the year 559 BC. However, by uniting all the Persian tribes he managed to wrest the power out the hands of the Medians throughout the Iranian plateau. With the downfall of Hamadān, the independent rule of Cyrus began. Thereafter the Persian army attacked Sārd and brought about the downfall of the Lydian empire in 547 BC. Gradually, all of Asia Minor as well as the Greek colonies in Anatolia fell into the hands of the Achaemenians (546 BC). This was the first direct encounter between the Greeks and Achaemenians that turned into a permanent state of rivalry and conflict. Cyrus succeeded in adding the eastern parts of Iran and parts of Central Asia to his empire in the next few years, and after a few short battles, captured Babylonia despite its strong fortresses in the year 539 BC. Cyrus proclaimed himself also as the “King of Babylonia” and after stressing upon peace and harmony ordered the reconstruction of the places of worship. Following the conquest of Babylonia, all of the Syrian, Palestinian, and Phoenician territories fell into the hands of the Achemenians after 539 BC. Apparently, Cyrus was killed during a battle with one of the nomad Sakan tribes but his end is, however, shrouded in mystery and many various narrations are to be found in this regard.
Cyrus’s kingdom was so vast that it was unprecedented in human history. He named his capital as “Pāsārgād” in honor of his tribe. As a great ruler and a conqueror, Cyrus was not only very popular during his lifetime but also for centuries after his death. In times during which murder, plunder, bloodshed, and religious fanaticism were the trend of the day and the traditions of the kings, Cyrus introduced a fresh system of rulership to the world by refraining from such customary traditions.
After Cyrus, his son Cambyses (ruled 530-522 BC) materialized his father’s plans of the conquest of Egypt in the year 525 BC and annexed a part of northern Africa to the Achaemenian Empire. In the absence of Cambyses from Iran, a Magi by the name “Gaumata” (Greek: Comates) claimed to be “Bardiyah” (Greek: Smerdis), the slain brother of Cambyses and seized the throne of Persia. Cambyses who was returning to Iran to quell this rebellion died under mysterious circumstances on his way back. Ultimately, Darius I who hailed from the Persian branch of the Achaemenian tribe gained dominion by slaying Gaumata in 522 BC.
As per the proclamations of Darius I recorded in the Behistun inscriptions (column 4, paras 52, 56, 57, 59, and 62), until one year after ascending to the throne, Darius was occupied in crushing the various rebellions throughout the Achaemenian Empire. Nevertheless, skepticism has been raised about the authenticity of Darius’s claims recorded in the Behistun inscriptions, particularly those concerning the Gaumata episode. The Achaemenian Empire gained extraordinary expansion during the reign of Darius I. Darius’s sagacity and resolution brought about the establishment of security throughout the empire. By establishing a skillfully organized administrative, economic, and military system, he fortified the power of the Achaemenian Empire. Grand architectural structures were erected under his command in Persepolis and Shush, gold coins were minted, the royal roadway connecting Shush to Sārd (Sardis) in Lydia, and the “Sepāh Jāvidān” (lit. “The Everlasting Army”) was formed, and thus, Darius came to be known as the “Architect of the Persian Empire” and gained the title of “Darius the Great”. However, his army faced difficulty in the western parts of his empire and his forces were defeated by the Greeks in the historic Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. This unexpected incident encouraged the Greeks to indulge in amplification and exaggeration over the outcome of this battle. Shortly later, Darius I who was perhaps the most powerful ruler of the East in the ancient world died in the year 486 BC.
His son and successor, Xerxes I, lacked the resolution of his father. After violently suppressing the rebellions of Egypt and Babylonia, he led an expedition to Greece and conquered Athens. However, the Achaemenian navy faced great damage in the Strait of Salamis (480 BC). The Greeks hastened in their exaggerated claims over this battle and especially indulged in making legendary claims about the size of the Achaemenian naval fleets and the number of their troops. There is no doubt that this defeat was most unexpected by Xerxes even though it was publicized only as an ordinary incident and a temporary defeat in Iran.
With the murder of Xerxes, who was killed as the result of a conspiracy in the year 465 BC, gradually the Achaemenian court came to be plunged into the internal intrigues of the harems and the political games of the harem officials. Most of the successors of Darius I lacked his competence and skills and the only reason why the Achaemenian Empire did not face any major instability was because of the well-organized administrative system and the powerful rule that Darius I had left behind. Moreover, despite the fact that Egypt had separated from the Achaemenian kingdom towards the end of the reign of Darius II (ruled 423-404 BC), and notwithstanding the revolt of his son Cyrus against his elder brother Ardeshir II (ruled 404-359 BC) in the year 401 BC as well as the return of ten thousand Greek warriors from the heart of the Achaemenian Empire to their own lands – in fact indicating the military deterioration of the Achaemenians – the Achaemenian Empire almost remained untouched, and a few years later, in 342 BC and during the reign of Ardeshir III (ruled 359-338 BC) Egypt once again came to be annexed to the Persian Empire. Darius I had divided his kingdom into various provinces or satrapies and this division continued to prevail until the downfall of the Achaemenian Empire with slight changes. Although the account of Herodotus of the division of the Achaemenian Empire differs from what has been recorded in the inscriptions left behind by the Achaemenian kings, it provides interesting information of the extent of the taxes collected from these regions. Despite his political and military achievements, Ardeshir III practically pushed the Achaemenian Empire towards its downfall by killing his brothers and close relatives. Ultimately, the last Achaemenian king, Darius III (ruled 336-330 BC) was forced to encounter Alexander, the King of Macedonia. The first battle between the two armies took place on the banks of river Granicus, east of Asia Minor, which resulted in the defeat of the Achaemenian army (334 BC). Following Alexander’s other victory at Issus, near the Gulf of Eskandarun (Alexandretta) in northeastern Syria in 333 BC, Darius’s family along with large amounts of booty fell into the hands of the invaders. After conquering Egypt in 332 BC Alexander headed for Babylonia and in Gaugamela, near present-day Mosul, encountered the well-organized Achaemenian army for the last time and as a result of his victory in the battle, Shush and Persepolis, too, were captured by him in 331 BC. Alexander chased Darius III and finally found his dead body near the present-day Dāmghān in 330 BC said to have been killed by his own companions
Some years following the downfall of the Achaemenian Empire, Alexander of Macedonia, died in Babylonia in 323 BC and his vast empire came to be divided among his commanders. Eleven years after the death of Alexander and following the internal conflicts among his successors, Babylonia fell into the hands of a Macedonian commander by the name of “Seleucid” (312 BC). Consequently, he also added on Ilām and parts of the Median territories to his own kingdom and named himself “Seleucus Nicator” (The Conqueror) and proclaimed himself to be an independent ruler. He also gained control over Syria and a large part of Asia Minor in the year 301 BC. Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I tried to spread the Hellenistic culture throughout the eastern parts of their kingdom by establishing new cities. Two of the most prominent of these cities were Sulukiyah (Seleucia) on the western banks of the River Tigris and Antioch in Syria. Selecting Antioch as the capital as well as the conflicts between the Seleucids and the Egyptian Ptolemies drew their attention towards the western part of their empire as a result of which the Greek rulers of the eastern part of the Seleucid Empire began to think of gaining autonomy, prompting Andragoras and Diodotus to revolt against them in Parthia and Bactria (Balkh) in the years 245 BC and 239 BC respectively. Later on Arsaces (Persian: Arshak) proclaimed independence in Parthia (the historical land of Khorāsān) in the year 238 BC, as a result of which the Seleucids could not regain dominion over the eastern regions. Eventually, the victory of the Parthian army over Antiochus VII in 129 BC ended the Seleucid dominion over Iran completely.
The Parthians (Arsacids)
The revolt of the Parthian tribes under the leadership of Arsaces against the Seleucid rulers in Iran was in fact the reaction of the Iranians against the West which resulted in the revival of Persia and the continuation of the Persian culture. The family of Arsaces which was the head of the Aparni branch of the Dāheh tribes hailed from Ostovā (present-day Quchān). Arsaces revolted against the Greek ruler of the Ostovā region and in 238 BC freed Parthia, and later on, Gorgān from the Seleucid domination. After him, his younger brother Tirdād who succeeded him called himself “Arsace II” in honor of his older brother. From then on, all the kings of this dynasty added the title of “Arsace” to their names and it is for this reason that their successors were all called the “Arsacids” or the “Ashkāniyān”. The ascension of Mehrdād I to the throne of the Parthian Dynasty in c. 171 BC was an important event in the history of this dynasty. He first conquered a part of Bactria or Balkh and subsequently, after the conquest of the Median territories and Hamadān (148 or 147 BC) annexed Babylonia and Seleucia to his empire in 141 BC. Thereupon, he also conquered Ilām and minted coins under his name in Sush. A little later, Persia, too, came under his control and all of Ilām fell into his hands. Mehrdād I had proclaimed himself as “The Great King” on his coins. At the time of his death in 138 BC the Parthian rule had turned into a great global empire from being merely a local rule in the eastern part of the Iranian plateau.
After Mehrdād I, the Parthian kingdom was threatened and invaded by the Sakas in the east.
Nevertheless, Farhād II managed to drive away the remaining Seleucids from Iran in 129 BC. His successor Mehrdād II (ruled 123-87 BC) engaged himself in bringing about order and solving the internal and external problems facing the empire. After conquering Babylonia (121 or 120 BC), he invaded Armenia and captured Dura Europos in Mesopotamia in 113 BC. Thereafter, he led an expedition to the east in order to put an end to the Saka rebellion and recaptured Herāt and annexed Sistān to his conquests. At this time, apparently, the satrapies of the eastern part of the Caspian Sea were also part of Mehrdād II’s empire. A little later, he again attacked Mesopotamia and by overthrowing the small local kings, extended the boundaries of his empire up to the River Euphrates. From then on, the Parthians came to become the neighbors of the Romans. During the times of Mehrdād II, Iran and China also exchanged ambassadors. Like the Achaemenian kings, he, too, gave himself the title of “King of Kings”. During his reign, administrative and tribunal reforms took place and topography was given importance.
With the expansion of the Parthian Empire and their neighborhood with Rome, the first serious differences between these two governments erupted during the reign of Farhād III and Pompey, the great Roman ruler, which however never developed into a serious war. However, during the reign of Herod I, a Roman general, Crassus, attacked the Parthian territory that resulted in war between the two empires. In this war, Crassus was slain and the Parthians won the battle of Harrān in 53 BC. A few years later and during the reign of Farhād IV, Mark Anthony, the Roman general and the ruler of Syria invaded the Parthian kingdom in 36 BC but eventually suffered heavy casualties and had to retreat. Even after this battle, the Parthians and the Romans repeatedly fought over Armenia and the Syrian borders. The last great Parthian king was Balāsh I (ruled 51-80 AD) who spent most of his reign in stabilizing the rule of the Iranians in Armenia. Following his death Iran plunged into internal conflicts, prompting the Roman generals to think of conquering the Parthian territory. During the course of their military expeditions, the Roman invaders did not make much gain even though they did manage to capture Ctesiphon – the capital of the Parthians – several times. The last Parthian king, Ardavān V (or according to the latest narrations Ardavān IV) crushed the Roman army in 127 AD and even forced them to pay compensation. However, he could not withstand the revolt of his rival Ardashir Bābakān (Ardashir I) and was defeated in the “Hormezdagān” plains and was killed in 224 AD, marking the collapse of the Parthian Empire.
The Sassanids (Sassanian)
Ardashir Bābakān established a rule in Iran one of whose most important features was the presence of close ties between religion and government. The other important feature that distinguished the Sassanid rule from that of the Parthians was unity and a centralization of power. As a matter of fact, with the establishment of the Sassanid Dynasty by Ardashir I, the Iranian territories were once again united together gradually after their disintegration following Alexander’s invasion of Iran.
The Sassanid Dynasty began the gradual expansion of its authority and power in the Persian territories from early 2nd Century AD. Sāssān, the great grandfather of the Sassanids, was a grand priest at the Anahitā Temple in Estakhr who had married a girl from a local dynasty of Persia called Bāzrangi and his son, Bābak, was born some time around 155 AD, who later on succeeded his father. Bābak’s son, Ardashir, who was later called “Argbad Dārābgerd”, began invading the neighboring cities some time around 211 or 212 AD and instigated his father to revolt against Guchehr, the Bāzrangi ruler of Persia. As a result, Bābak killed Guchehr in about 220 AD and expanded his territories with the help of Ardashir. The Parthian King, Ardavān V (and according to some historians Ardavān IV), who was concerned over the turn of events in Persia accused the Sassanids of rebellion and initiated a war against them in which Ardashir Bābakān succeeded in conquering Ctesiphon and formally proclaimed himself as the king. Ardashir abolished the feudal system of governance of the Parthian period, diminished the power of the noble families, and by establishing an organized army brought about a unity in his empire. However, the actual establishment of Ardashir’s rule only took place a few years after Ardavān was overpowered. After his coronation in Ctesiphon, and following a military expedition to the north of Mesopotamia, he got involved in a conflict with the Roman Empire over Armenia and remained at war with the Romans almost until the end of his reign. In any case, Ardashir managed to gain extraordinary honor and importance among his successors and came to be looked upon as an exemplar of astuteness and wisdom.
The reign of his successor, Shāpur I (ruled 240-270 AD) was spent in numerous wars with the Kushanas and the Romans in the east and the west. It was during the course of these very wars that the Roman emperor, Gordian was killed (244 AD) and Valerianus (Valerian) and his army were taken captive in 259 or 260 AD. The powerful rule of Shāpur I strengthened the foundations of the Sassanian rule in Iran. The spread of the teachings of Māni throughout the Sassanian Empire under the aegis of Shāpur I displeased the Zoroastrian priests (mobedān) and during the reign of Bahrām I (ruled 271-274 AD), Māni was arrested under the insistence of the Zoroastrian chief priest, Kartir, and met his end in prison (277 AD). After Bahrām, Nārsi (Narses) became the king (ruled 293-302 AD) with the help of the court nobles. He put an end to the powerful influence of Kartir in the royal court but faced severe defeat at the hands of the Romans in Armenia in the year 298 AD, as a result of which, he was forced to hand over the north of Mesopotamia as well as Armenia to the Roman Empire, thus, rendering the River Tigris as the borderline between the two empires. No war erupted between these two rivals for nearly forty years. This defeat and its consequences rendered Iran weak and powerless for quite some time. Ultimately, the nobles of the country placed Shāpur II (309-379 AD), the minor son of Hormezd II (ruled 302-309 AD)), on the throne and took the reigns of power into their own hands. However, Shāpur II freed himself from their influence as soon as he reached maturity and managed to revive the withering rule of the Sassanids with his resolution and tenacity and led it to the zenith of its power. He initially crushed the invading Arabs and earned the title of “Zul Aktāf” among the Arabs and “Hu Beh Sunbā” (lit.: The One Who Bores Holes in Shoulders). Shāpur II once again resumed war with the Roman Empire and in one of the battles in 363 AD, the Roman emperor, Gallienus was killed and vast territories were captured by the Sassanids.
The successors of Shāpur II were mostly incompetent. During the reign of Yazdgerd I (ruled 399-420 AD) many opportunities to regain dominance over Rome appeared. However, Yazdgerd I was a peace-loving king who preferred to stay away from conflict. His son, Bahrām V (ruled 420-438 AD), popular as “Bahrām Gur”, engaged in wars, both, on the eastern as well as the western fronts of his empire. At the time of Piruz (ruled 459-484 AD) Iran got involved in the invasions of the Hephthalites from the east which plunged the country into chaos and insecurity, resulting in the domination of the nobles and the Zoroastrian priests over the affairs of the country. When Qobād I (Kavadh) gained rulership in 488 AD he supported Mazdak and his teachings in order to cut short the hands of the Zoroastrian priests from the reigns of power. However, he faced severe opposition at the hands of the priests and the nobles as a result of which he was dethroned and imprisoned in 496 AD. Subsequently, when he regained power in 498 AD he exercised caution and moderation and even supported the enemies of Mazdak in order to remain in power. In 528 or early 529 AD Mazdak was forced into a simulated debate, at the end of which, he was slain along with a large number of his followers.
Khosrow I or Khosrow Anushirvān (ruled 531-579 AD) on whose behest Mazdak and his followers were massacred continued the killings of the Mazdakites and resumed wars with Byzantium in 540 AD. His military expeditions placed the eastern Roman Empire in great difficulty. Ultimately, in the year 561 AD, a peace treaty was signed between the two empires for a period of fifty years. Khosrow Anushirvān overthrew the rule of the Hephtalites in 557 AD and with the help of the Arabs of Yemen and after expelling the Abyssinians from Yemen c. 575-577 AD spread his power up to the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The reign of Khosrow Anushirvān not only marked the zenith of territorial and military expansion of the Sassanian period but it was also a period of extensive social and administrative reforms. Khosrow brought about a change in the imperial tax system and introduced reforms in the administrative and military affairs of the country. During his times, Greek and Indian books were translated into the Syriac and Pahlavi languages and taught at the Jondishapur Medical School. Similarly, it was during his times that the Iranians were introduced to the game of chess and the book “Kalilah and Demnah” (The Panchatantra Fables). It is for this reason that he came to be remembered as an “ideal ruler” and a “sagacious king”.
After his death, his son, Hormezd IV ascended to the throne in 579 AD. The most important event of his reign was a rebellion by Bahrām Chubin who led an expedition to Ctesiphon in order to overthrow the Sassanian king. The nobles and the priests or mobeds who were unhappy with Hormezd deposed him from power and instead placed his son, Khosrow II or Khosrow Parviz on the throne in 590 AD. The new king, however, fled from Bahrām Chubin’s army and took asylum in Byzantium and, finally, managed to defeat Bahrām with the help of the Byzantine emperor in 591 AD. In order to compensate for the help extended to him by the Byzantine emperor, Khosrow Parviz handed over parts of the Sassanian kingdom to Byzantium and a peace treaty was signed between the two emperors. However, when the Roman emperor was deposed and slain, Khosrow found himself free to attack the Roman Empire. Two of the Iranian generals, Shahbarāz and Shāhin, led a considerable number of conquests against that empire such that Byzantium almost lost all of its Asian territories and even Constantinople was threatened by them. Egypt, too, fell into the hands of the Sassanian army in 619 AD, and in this manner, Khosrow Parviz’s empire reached the vastness of the empire of the Achaemenians. However, the prolongation of the war and Khosrow’s obstinacy in continuing it, gave Byzantium the opportunity for retaliation. From 627 AD, Byzantium began a series of attacks against Khosrow’s empire. Āzarbāyjān (Atropatene) was razed and plundered and the Byzantine army captured Mesopotamia. Khosrow Parviz fled to Ctesiphon but rejected the offer for peace. Ultimately, in the course of a rebellion by the people and his generals, Khosrow Parviz was deposed and imprisoned and his eldest son, Shiruyeh (Siroes) or Qobād II, ascended to the throne, while Khosrow was slain in prison a few days later in 628 AD. His entire reign was spent in tyranny, arrogance, and debauchery and the wars that he imposed on the country made Iran impoverished and desolate.
On the other hand, Qobād II immediately made a peace treaty with Byzantium and exempted people from taxes for a period of three years. He also freed his father’s prisoners and tried to please the army generals. However, his reign did not last for even one whole year because the plague that had spread in Iran as a result of the destructive wars of Khosrow Parviz also put an end to the life of Qobād II (628 AD). With his death, Iran was plunged into chaos and signs of deterioration began to show up. During the next four years since the death of Khosrow Parviz, until Yazdgerd III (628-632 AD), more than ten kings ascended the royal Iranian throne. One of them was Ardashir III who was only a minor child while another was “Burān”, the daughter of Khosrow Parviz, who was the first lady to be officially coronated with the Iranian crown. Khosrow Parviz’s other daughter, Āzarmidokht II, had also ascended to the Sassanian thrown for some time.
When the nobles of the empire appointed Yazdgerd III, the grandson of Khosrow Parviz as the king in 632 AD he was still a minor. In the second year of his rule, Yazdgerd III encountered the forces of the Arab Muslims in the eastern frontiers of the country. By then, a few years had passed from the advent of Islam in Hejāz but the Sassanians had not found the time to pay any attention to that reality. Some time later and following the collapse of al-Hirah at the hands of the Muslims (12 AH/633 AD) the Arab army camped in al-Qādisiyah (near al-Hirah). Following a few months of negotiation, war finally broke out, at the end of which, Rostam Farrokh Hormezd, the chief commander of the Sassanian army was killed (16 AH/637 AD). Thereafter, despite all its resistance, Ctesiphon collapsed and Yazdgerd III fled to the interiors of the country and was defeated for the last time in Nahāvand (21 AH/642 AD). The Arab Muslims regarded this victory as “Fath al-Futuh” (The Victory of Victories) since from then onwards they did not face any organized resistance. Yazdgerd III who had fled to the far off regions of the country was killed in a mill near Marv after years of wandering in 31 AH/651 AD. With his death, not only did the Sassanian Dynasty come to an end, but Iran, too, entered the period of its Islamic history after putting behind its ancient past.
After the collapse of Nahāvand at the hands of the Muslim Arabs – which they referred to as the “Fath al-Futuh” – in the year 21 AH/642 AD or perhaps a little after the murder of Yazdgerd III, the last Sassanian king who was killed during his escape (31 AH), Iran officially became part of the Islamic caliphate and entered into the Islamic phase of its own history. Even though the Islamization of Iran resulted in the loss of its national government as well as the existing unity among the various communities of Iran, which was a feature of the Sassanian rule, this phenomenon led it into the arena of a new and universal life. It introduced Iran to the civilizations of the various Islamic communities, put an end to the quasi caste system which was a salient feature of the Sassanian society, provided the members of the lower classes with the opportunity to acquire knowledge and to attain to high official posts, and generally gave the Iranian society the opportunity and possibility of an active participation in a mixed universal culture more than ever before in the Sassanian period. Unlike what has been suggested by some scholars, a transition from the religion of their forefathers to the new religion did not merely mean exchanging Ahurā Mazdā for Allah, Ahriman for Shaytān, Zardosht for Ibrāhim, or Kiyomarz for Adam, but it rather involved a change in the entire belief system, customs, and traditions. The belief in dualism got eliminated and was replaced by a belief in one God or monotheism (tawhid). The acceptance of prophethood in its general and specific senses was beyond the comprehension of the Mazdayasnians. Despite some similarities, there was a wide gap between the two religions as far as issues like resurrection and the Hereafter were concerned. Similarly, even in daily living, this transition involved the negation of the beliefs and customs of their forefathers; for instance, the consumption of pork and carrion which came to be strongly prohibited, the indulgence in wine and gambling that came to be considered as filthy and satanic acts, and a prohibition on marriage between immediate blood relatives which came to be strictly endorsed. Major changes were also made in the systems of inheritance and adoption and even trading in some goods came to be prohibited or disapproved. Thus, it was rather arduous on the part of the Mazdayasnians to embrace the new religion, which act was also considered as conceding to a kind of revolution in all the aspects of society.
The wars that had emboldened the Muslim Arabs to invade Iran were initially and in the early years of Islam out of sheer enthusiasm on the part of the Muslims to spread Islam. Certain scholars believed that it was famine and the total starvation that dominated the Arab settlements as well as the outbreak of certain kinds of life-threatening plagues that prompted these invasions. They also believed that the growing redundancy among, both, the nomad as well as the settled Arabs as a result of the prohibition on the system of interest, trading in wine, and murder and dacoity instigated the caliphs and the other Arab leaders to engage in war and to acquire booty from the non-Muslims. At the same time, in their views, besides the attractive Islamic teachings what interested the Iranians from the period following the Arab conquests until the death of Yazdgerd III was their hope in attaining equality between the weak and the powerful, getting liberated from the impositions of the mobeds, as well as their inclination towards a rather simple form of religion that was devoid of all the complicated Zoroastrian rituals. The idea that their preference towards the religion would provide them with the same privileges as the Arab Muslims from the social security point of view or perhaps the idea that by accepting Islam and participating in wars they would also gain their share of the war booty also inspired the conversions of the Mazdayasnians even after the caliphate of the first four caliphs. However, in the opinion of some scholars, following the initial phase of victories the sincerity and religious enthusiasm of the early Muslims subsided and was replaced by ambitiousness, covetousness, and racism and nationalism. As a result, the Iranians were disillusioned and gradually a wide gap arose between them and the Arabs leading to a number of movements and revolts, some of which were in the guise of religiosity and some in the name of Iranian patriotism and, thus, the extent of inclination or fervor towards Islam was not equal and collateral throughout the country.
However, the conquest of Iran with all its major ups and downs is one of the most important events in the history of the ancient world. Any study of the causes and the manner of the collapse of Iran without taking into consideration the political developments towards the end of the Sassanian period, both, in Iran and the Arabian subcontinent, and particularly the episode of the apostates and the Yemen wars, would undoubtedly be incomplete. On the other hand, great exaggeration and major blunders have been made regarding the narrations of the conquest of Iran. The narrations of the Iraqi narrators are full of exaggeration and self-adulation in the same manner as the “Khodāināmehs” of the Iranians that are not free from aversion and pretexts. The narrations of the Arabs of Hejāz are to some extent filled with beliefs in miracles and Divine aid. The narrations of the “Khodāināmehs”, some of which have appeared in books like the “Akhbār al-Tawāl” of Dinvari, the “Ghorar al-Muluk” of Tha’ālabi Marghani, and even the “Tajārob al-Umam” of Abu ‘Ali Maskuyah as well as the books of Hamzah Isfahāni, Mas’udi, Tabari, Biladhari, and Muqaddasi apparently have been added to these “Khodāināmehs” by the mobeds after the death of Yazdgerd III. The narrations of the Iraqis have mainly appeared in the reports of Abu Mikhnaf and Saif bin Omar which are very distorted and unacceptable according to many writers, and especially in terms of the great exaggeration and amplification that can be found as regards the statistics and numbers. Similarly, there is a lot of inaccuracy concerning the dates and the years of events and incidents in these narrations and as regards the situation in Iran at the time of the beginning of the period of the conquests there are some details, parts of which are not commensurate with authentic sources.
During the short and bloody reigns that followed the rule of Khosrow Parviz, some Arab tribes like the Taghlab, the Bakr, the Namr, and the Tanukh, which lived alongside the deserts of the western borders of Iran began a series of plunders on the neighboring settlements and villages. These nomads had during the period of Khosrow Parviz defeated a division of the Iranian army in a border conflict at a place called Ziqār and were, therefore, not in any awe of the power and grandeur of the Iranian army. After Khosrow Parviz’s death, they escalated their attacks and the Iranian border security forces were unable to completely suppress them. In fact, even the forces that were dispatched from Burāz city to expel these Arabs faced defeat and this emboldened the Arabs even further.
From the latter part of the life of the noble Prophet (s) until the early days of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, the tribes of Bakr and Shaybān took advantage of the turmoil in the court of Ctesiphon and began attacking and plundering the Iranian bordering settlements and since the Hanifa tribe which was an Iranian ally was unable to expel these invaders due to their involvement in the Raddah episode, the Shaybān tribals increased and expedited their attacks on these settlements. After eliminating the apostates of Yamāmah, Khāled bin Walid set off for Iraq where some of the apostate tribes and the Arab allies of the Iranian government became arrogant. In the meanwhile, the Bani Shaybān and Bani Ijl that had been waiting for years for an opportunity to plunder the Savād province took advantage of the disturbed situation and the weakness of the Sassanian government and got into action. Mathnā bin Hāritha, the leader of Bani Shaybān was one of the people who played a decisive role in the events of this period and had been permitted by Abu Bakr to attack the Iranian territories under the commandership of Khāled bin Walid. There are contradictory records concerning the first regions that came under the attack of Mathnā and Khāled. Peace treaties with some settlements and townships of the Savād province that were inhabited by the Christians as well as some Arab tribes and the aristocrats of Hira paved the way for attacking the Iranian border forces. The first of such wars was the “Zāt al-Salāsal”, followed by the conquest of Hirā and the absconding of Āzadbeh, the commander of the border security forces and the defeat of the Iranians that opened the path for the Muslims to gain control of the northern and western cities of Hirā. The farmers of these regions gradually made peace with Khāled and accepted to pay the jizyah on the condition that they are allowed to retain their own lands and to only submit the lands of the kings to the Muslims. Subsequently, Khāled gained control of ‘Ayn al-Tamar and this was apparently when the first bunch of the Iranian prisoners of war was dispatched to Hejāz. It was during that period that Khāled was sent on a mission to Syria and Abu Obayd bin Mas’ud was dispatched to the Iranian borders. At the same time, Rostam Farrokhzād, the general of the Iranian army organized his troops and called on the farmers of Savād to revolt without much success. Nevertheless, in the battle of Jasr in the Eastern bank of the Euphrates, the Arabs were severely defeated and Abu Obayd was killed (13 Ramadhān). Omar bin Khattāb sent Jarir bin ‘Abdullāh Bajli to that region who recaptured all the lost territories with the help of Mathnā bin Haritha after the Buyab Battle and also managed to conquer the townships of Ablah, Suq Baghdād, Mazār, Dasht Mishān, and Abr Qobād.
At this time, Yazdgerd III ascended to the Iranian throne and the Iranians were hopeful that the affairs of the country would gain stability. However, at this time Sa’d bin Abi Waqqās camped in Qādisiyah and there was an exchange of messages between the Arabs and the Iranians which made war inevitable and Rostam Farrokhzad prepared his troops for war. In the war, the Iranian was defeated and all of the territories between the River Tigris and the River Euphrates fell into the hands of the Muslims and Madāyen (Ctesiphon) came under the threat of an attack. Under the instructions issued by Omar, the farmers of Savād and their dependents were granted amnesty and were allowed to retain their lands who in return accepted to pay the jizyah and, in fact, this paved the way further for the conquest of Ctesiphon.
As regards one of the main causes for the defeat of the Iranians in Qādesiyah, besides the internal differences of the Iranians and Rostam’s despair of victory, mention should be made of the news of the victory of the Muslims over the Romans in Yarmuk as well as the cooperation between the farmers of Savād and the Muslims. Nevertheless, the collapse of Ctesiphon and the fleeing of Yazdgerd mark the beginning of the advent of Islam in the Iranian mainland. The Qādesiyah event was followed by the Jelulā Battle and the conquest of Halvān. Peace reigned over Iraq after these incidents since Omar was not in favor of making any further advances but an unexpected incident, once again, ignited the flames of war. Alā Hazrami, the leader of the Muslims of Bahrain suddenly invaded Khuzistān and advanced up to Estakhr in the Fārs province. The Iranians stood up in confrontation and Omar was left with no choice but to dispatch an army to the aid of Alā. Therefore, even the attacks made by Hormizān did not bear any significant fruit and the Muslims managed to conquer Rāmhormoz and Shushtar and sent Hormizān as a captive to Medina. With the conquest of Shush and Jondishāpur as well as the defeat of the Marzbān township in Fārs, a significant part of the region fell into the hands of the Muslims and on a suggestion made by Ahnaf bin Qays, Omar permitted the Muslims to conquer all of Iran.
The Battle of Nahāvand played a decisive role in the destiny of Iran, following which the Muslims did not face any serious resistance and easily captured Fārs, Āzarbāyjān, Khorāsān, and Ray. When the Jebāl province was conquered, the Muslims turned to the east and the north-east with the support that was available to them and eventually captured all of Sistān and Kermān and then headed towards Mesopotamia. In this manner, a major part of Iran, up to the River Jayhun (Amu Daryā or the Oxus) was conquered but national and religious revolts and rebellions continued in the southern and eastern provinces as well as the north of Iran.
The records pertaining to these wars as well as the spread of Islam in Iran indicate that some of the significant factors contributing to the gradual Islamization of Iran included the lack of resistance on the part of some of the army commanders, aristocrats, farmers, and even the mobeds in face of the Arab invasions, the acceptance of Islam, and an empathy towards the Muslims while the resistance and the anti-Arab rebellions that took place in some cities were not powerful enough to withstand the slow and steady spread of Islam. The empathy of some of the Iranians aristocrats and generals shown towards the Muslims not only ensured the safety and immunity of their lives and property but also earned them grants and at times even allowed them to retain their social and political status. Numerous examples can also be cited, revealing the dissatisfaction and even hatred of the Iranian troops and their commanders towards their own kings including Ābān Jāduyeh’s betrayal of Yazdgerd in order to save his own life and property; the cooperation of Hirbad of Nahāvand with the Muslims; and the alliance between the farmers of Neishābur, Hirbad of Dārābgard – a Savād army commander – and the marzbān of Tus with the invaders. It is worth noting that the conquest of Iran and the spread of Islam in cities like Rey and Esfahān resulted in rivalry and even animosity among the Iranian officials, instances of which can be cited in the cases of Māhuyeh, the marzban of Marv, Bahmaneh, and Kanārang. In return, when Omar established the “tribunal of grants”, he included the Iranian nobles who had allied with the Muslims as the benefactors from such grants, which itself became a contributing factor to the further advancement of the Muslims.
The peace treaties signed between the Iranians and the Arabs show that the Muslims treated the Iranians with tolerance while some of the Iranians showed empathy towards them. As per the clauses of these treaties, the Iranians were allowed to retain their own religion as well as property and, instead, had to pay the jizyah and taxes or alternately, leave their towns and property without persecution. In any case, they were not allowed to revolt against the Muslims. Interestingly, the first peace treaty was signed in Tabarestān, Damāvand, and Khāwr on the basis of which the Espahbod and Masmoghān of Damāvand agreed not to permit the enemies of the Muslims into their territories in return for which the Muslims would refrain from entering into their regions while their people were allowed to travel wherever they wished. Within less than two years following the conquest of Nahāvand, Omar was assassinated by an Iranian named “Firuz” in the Medina mosque (23 AH/644 AD). Firuz was a Christian from Nahāvand who had been taken captive from Jalulah and was known as “Abu Lolo” in Medina and worked as a slave for Moghairah bin Sho’bah. According to some records, Hormozān, the Iranian general residing in Medina, too, was involved in this incident and, therefore, on the basis of this suspicion he, too, was executed along with Firuz. The spread of Islam was not confined to Iran and continued during the caliphates of Othmān and Imām ‘Ali (‘a) despite all kinds of turmoil, and especially, right until the year 31 AH when Yazdgerd was still alive, sporadic battles would take place between the Iranians and the Arabs. The advancement of the Arabs in Iran was rather slow and repeated local resistance proved to be the barrier. However, after the death of Yazdgerd, all hope was lost and local resistance did not prove to be of much avail. And in this manner, contrary to Saif’s report, the battles for conquering Iran continued through the early days of the Omayyad period.
The Omayyad rule which was in fact a sheer pan-Arabic government demonstrated particular violence and antagonism towards non-Arabs and, therefore, the Iranian Muslims (popularly known as the “mawāli”) joined hands with the Shiites and the other groups that revolted against the Omayyad government. This phenomenon was more evident in Iraq where the local government considered itself as being attached to Shām (Syria) that was the capital of the Omayyad rule. Therefore, when Mokhtār revolted against the Omayyads to avenge the blood of Imām Husayn (‘a), many of the mawālis who were Iranian Muslims joined him and demonstrated their hatred and fury more than all others towards the Omayyads. These mawālis who lived in a large number in Kufa and mostly controlled the trade and business in this city joined the avenging army in order to take revenge against all the atrocities and injustices meted out to them by the Omayyads. Their large presence in the army of Mokhtār and Ibrāhim bin Mālek and the attention that they received from these two commanders ignited the wrath of the Arab nobles who believed the revolt of Mokhtār and Ibrāhim to be not only a movement against the Omayyads but also looked upon it as an anti-Arab movement.
The struggles of the mawālis against the Omayyads were not confined to this revolt. After this, too, they did not spare any opportunity to renew their struggles against the Omayyads. It can be observed that when Zayd revolted against the Omayyads some time during the middle of their period, the mawālis of Iraq were the most important groups that joined him. The manner in which Zayd invited people to join him in revolt proved to be very inspiring for the mawālis and, thus, the revolt was welcomed even in Khorāsān, Jorjān, and Rey and when Zayd was killed, his son Yahya, found no better asylum than in the lands of Khorāsān and Balkh, notwithstanding the fact that the mercenaries of the Omayyad caliph did ultimately manage to locate and assassinate him there. A short while later Abu Muslim initiated his revolt.
Another phenomenon that took place, particularly during the Omayyad period, and which expedited the Islamization of Iran and also proved to be very detrimental to the continuation and the power of the Omayyad rule was the immigration of Arab tribes to Khorāsān, Mesopotamia, and around Qumas, Qom, Kāshān, and some parts of Fārs, as well as the surrounding areas of Sistān, and Kermān. The Arabs acquired great power and wealth in some of these regions and since they found the natural geographical conditions suitable to their temperaments and way of living, they preferred to settle down there. Khorāsān and Qom were such regions to which the Arabs immigrated from the early days of the conquest of Iran and, gradually, intermingled with the Iranians and adopted their customs, traditions, and language and even developed kinship bonds with them. This was however not a general case. In Sistān, the immigrant Arabs were called the “Ahriman” and people refrained from interacting with them. In Bokhārā, too, at some time the settlements of the Muslims were segregated from those of the non-Muslims and in Qom, people even persecuted them. Moreover, it has been reported that the Arabs had even killed seventy of the hostile Zoroastrian leaders before the local people consented to any interaction with them.
On the other hand, the internal differences of these tribes that reflected the age-old conflicts between the Adnānis and the Qahtānis and the branches of both these tribes made coexistence between them very difficult. Ultimately, these conflicts and the behavior of the Arabs with the non-Arab Muslims increased the hatred towards them and, gradually, instigated the inhabitants of the various cities and settlements to revolt against them. As a result, the invitations of the various Omayyad sects extended to the mawālis who lived near the migratory Arab settlements increased and, as a matter of fact, Iran ultimately turned into an anti-Arab center towards the end of the Omayyad period and the early Abbasid period, leading to the emergence of certain sects in this land, not to be found in any of the other conquered regions. Nevertheless, the spread of Islam throughout Iran did not take place until the early 3rd Century AH/9th Century AD. Rarely did all the inhabitants of an entire region convert together to Islam as in the odd case of Qazvin. Although the people of certain southern and western regions of Iran had converted to Islam since the early conquests and some of the local tribes like the Zat, the Siyābjeh, and the Asāvareh of Daylam had even supported the Arabs in their wars against Iran, some regions and, particularly, Fārs and Jebāl of Gilān and Daylam refrained from conceding to the Arab domination for quite some time.
Meanwhile, a group of Mazdayasnians who were unwilling to accept Islam traveled to Gujarat in India via the Persian Gulf coasts and came to be known as the “Pārsis” and although the ruler of Gujarat had some reservations about accepting them initially, he welcomed them ultimately and permitted the migrant Iranians to live among them. Nevertheless, the people of Iran gradually began to accept the newcomers because whenever Islam entered any city it brought about personal and social transformations in that area. Islam had introduced new personal rights for every individual that were unheard of earlier. The hope was that the caste system and family privileges would be abolished and the new religion would bridge the gap between the aristocrats and the downtrodden. Whoever accepted Islam would pay the same amount of taxes as alms, zakāt, et cetera as he earlier paid to the kings but the ones who chose to retain their ancestral religion would have to pay the jizyah and would in turn be exonerated from army services and would have relative freedom in practicing his own religion. No longer were there any signs of the oppression and pressure of the mobeds on the commoners. The new converts to Islam who had not participated in wars against the Muslims and were not taken as captives were called the “mawālis” (meaning “freed slaves”) who played a significant role in the developments in Iraq from the very first century AH. In some cities the “mawālis” outnumbered the Arabs and constituted a special social class. Owing to the large number of “mawālis” living in Iraq and their significant role in the developments of the region some Iraqi governors had no choice but to learn the Persian language. Nevertheless, these “mawālis” were under severe pressure and degradation.
The immediate reaction to this degradation, pressure, and Arab chauvinism surfaced in the form of the emergence of the Sha’ubiyah movement that rejected the superiority of Arabs over non-Arabs, considered all human communities as equal, and regarded Arab chauvinism to be against the tenets of Islam and the Qur’an. They gradually started to show sarcasm towards the Arabs and even went to extremes in doing so. A glance at the works produced by the “mawālis” in this regard in the first century AH as well as the poems of poets like Esmāil bin Yasār, Bashār bin Bard, Kharimi, and others, whose names have been recorded among the Sha’ubiyah and who had composed large numbers of poems on the vices and wickedness of the Arabs, prove the level of hatred that was held agaisnt them. Towards the end of the Omayyad rule and the early Abbasid period the influence of the Sha’ubiyah on the prevalent culture and literature led to the emergence of the “zandaqah” and atheism against Islam. The existing relations between the Sha’ubiyah as well as the class of farmers in Khorāsān made their struggles against the Omayyad racism somewhat successful. All theses trends resulted in the emergence and spread of a sense of belonging towards the Iranian community on the part of the “mawālis”. Furthermore, when the Barmakis and the Āl-e Sahl succeeded in “Iranianizing” the Baghdad court it motivated the racist fanatical trends among the Arab aristocrats. However, the influence of the Turk elements in the courts of the caliphs gradually put an end to fanatical Sha’ubiyah trends and the Iranian “mawālis” dispersed from Baghdad and were absorbed in the independent and semi-independent Iranian governments in Khorāsān, Sistān, and Transoxiania.
Besides the mawālis, even the dhimmis (lit. “the protected people”) who were also called the “moāheds”, came under the severe pressure of the Omayyad officials, which particularly escalated during Hajjāj’s rule over Iraq. For example, even if the dhimmis did convert to Islam, either to free themselves from such pressures and persecution or merely out of sincere faith and inclination, they were still forced to pay the jizyah in order to ensure that no loss was suffered by the Omayyad public treasury (bayt al-māl). This attitude was so unjust and so against the principles of Islam that at times it would even force the pious Arabs to express their hatred towards the Omayyad rule. At one time, it even made the Omayyad caliph Omar bin ‘Abdul Aziz to express his objection.
The sense of antagonism that the Omayyads had breathed into influential Muslim groups as well as the mawālis and the dhimmis paved the grounds for turning Khorāsān into a favorable center for the spread of secret invitations to Shiism towards the end of the Omayyad rule. The presence of differences and fanatic tendencies among the Arab tribes, too, proved to serve as contributing factors for the spread of such secret invitations in Khorāsān. The various Shiite movements like those of the tawwābin, the Zaidis, the Kaysānis, and the Hāshemis, that were generally supported by the mawālis did not gain much success in Iraq and the Omayyads managed to suppress them. However, when Ebrāhim, the Abbasid leader, gathered these groups in order for those movements to continue, they progressed in Khorāsān because the mawālis of Khorāsān as well as the inhabitants of the villages and settlements that found the Shiite principles of Imamate appealing, favored these invitations with open arms, more so since some of the great Abbasid leaders and their generals were all Iranians. For instance, Abu Muslim, regarding whose activities in the Abbasid movement various narrations can be found, was also a mawāli who managed to unite the people of Khorāsān as well as the farmers, the merchants, the artisans and the mawālis and finally succeeded in overthrowing the Omayyads. Abu Muslim did not hold back from suppressing movements like Behāfarid’s revolt that had emerged at the same time as the Abbasid movement in order to succeed in his mission.
Nevertheless, the contribution of the people of Khorāsān towards the victory of the Abbasid movement as well as the structure and the organization of their government was such that it came to be known popularly as the “Khorāsāni Caliphate”. This was the first major role played by the Iranians in the political history of Islam and marked the beginning of other movements and revolts and the emergence of subsequent Iranian governments. It has been said that immediately following the victory of the Abbasids, Abu Muslim and his “siyāh jāmegān” (lit. the “black-robed ones”) started thinking of causing secession between Khorāsān and the caliphate or this is at least what was claimed by the caliphate and, thus, suspicions regarding him and his intentions were raised in the minds of Saffāh and, especially, Mansur. Saffāh even attempted to begin a revolt against him in Khorāsān but did not succeed, and ultimately, it was Mansur who dragged him to Kufa through a conspiracy and killed him brutally (137 AH/754 AD). Although no conclusive evidence is available confirming Abu Muslim’s intentions for revolt and secession, keeping in view the various revolts led by his followers and close associates in order to commemorate him, it is quite possible for researchers to give some credence to the skepticism held by the Abbasid caliphs towards Abu Muslim. As a matter of fact, there were a large number of people from other regions besides the eastern part of Khorāsān – from Neishābur, Qumas, Rey, and Tabarestan – who were constantly ready to revolt for the sake of Abu Muslim and who could support his movement against the Abbasid caliphate. Moreover, Abu Muslim also had a large number of supporters from the eastern regions of Khorāsān, proof of which can be found in the forms of the revolts of Eshāq Tork and Moqna’. In order to win the support of the people of the eastern parts of Khorāsān, Abu Muslim began activities even on the borders of China and in a battle near Tarāz, he had managed to inflict great damage on the Chinese army, also indicating that as far as his uprising for the independence of Khorāsān was concerned, he had no apprehension from the Chinese front. In any case, the oppressive stance adopted by the Abbasids soon disheartened many of the leaders and supporters of the Abbasid caliphate, a fact that was also reflected within Arab poetry. On the other hand, the credibility and the influence that Abu Muslim enjoyed in Khorāsān prompted many of his supporters and followers to begin religious and national movements in Khorāsān, thereby weakening the Abbasid hold over Khorāsān. A number of these uprisings in Transoxiania, Khorāsān, Rey, Tabarestān, and Āzarbāyjān were wars of attrition and even though all of them ended in defeat, they made the Abbasid caliphs realize that it was extremely difficult to rule over far-off regions, and particularly over Khorāsān, from Baghdad. The first person to lead a revolt after the killing of Abu Muslim was “Sanbād”. He was from among the “siyāh jāmegān” and had won the favor and support of Abu Muslim. Although his uprising was short, it was nevertheless very bloody and gruesome. Most of Sanbād’s associates were from among the mountainous regions of Rey and Tabarestān. Sanbād managed to gain hold over Rey, Qazvin, Qumas, and Neishābur rapidly, as a result of which, many other people became part of his movement. However, he faced defeat at the hands of the Abbasid army and fled, and a little later, got killed by one of the associates of the ruler (espahbod) of Tabarestān. Nevertheless, soon another person by the name of “Moqna’”, one of the commanders of Abu Muslim’s army, arose to avenge his blood. The associates of Moqna’ were known as the “sepid jāmegān” (lit. “the white-robed ones”) and mostly comprised the mawālis and the peasants of Khorāsān who had left the Muslims petrified in Soghd, Bokhārā, Kosh, and Naqshab for a period of more than fourteen years. No information, however, is available regarding the end of Moqna’, except that he gave up after a rather prolonged besiegement of the Sanām Fortress around Kosh and disappeared after surrendering the fortress.
However, this was not the last movement to take place under the name of Abu Muslim. Abu Muslim’s name was brought up once again through Bābak’s uprising that had left the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad alarmed for quite a period of time. Following these uprisings, the Abbasid caliphate came to the conclusion that it is not possible to suppress such movements and uprisings with the sword. Ma’mun, who had gained insight of this point, appointed Tāher Zulyaminayn, the Iranian general from Khorāsān as the governor of Khorāsān after settling the existing disputes that threatened his caliphate. Tāher succeeded in transferring the caliphate from Amin to Ma’mun with the help of the armies of Khorāsān. Tāher’s power and influence, during the early days of Ma’mun’s caliphate was so great that it reminded people of Abu Muslim’s power and influence during the times of Saffāh. Tāher’s brothers, sons, as well his paternal uncles, too, had gained influence in the court of the caliph. Apparently, Tāher initially ruled over Khorāsān on behalf of the caliph but towards the end dropped the name of the caliph from his sermons and almost rebelled against him. However, he died a day or a few days later (205 AH/820 AD).
Nevertheless, Ma’mun did hand over the governorship of Khorāsān to Taher’s son as his successor and although Mo’tasem, too, was not very happy with Tāher’s successors, he continued to permit them to govern Khorāsān. Therefore, even though Tāher may not be recognized as the founder of the first independent Iranian government during the Islamic period, it can undoubtedly be claimed that he was the first great Iranian commander who turned the governorship of Khorāsān into a family legacy. There are many narrations as regards the end of Tāher. Some believe that since Ahmad bin Abi Khāled Ahwal, or as per others, Ma’mun himself, held that Tāher would possibly declare an independent rule in Khorāsān, he made one of his close confidants accompany Tāher, instructing him to poison and kill Tāher in case of any rebellion on his part. However, this claim appears to be baseless. Nevertheless, Tāher had succeeded in eliminating the Khawārej who had gained some power in Khorāsān during the internal conflicts (between Ma’mun and Amin) and had subsequently appointed his son as the governor of Sistān and sent him on a mission to fight against the Khawārej as well as the supporters of Hamzah bin Āzarak. Although the mischief of the Khawārej was not completely eliminated during Tāher’s lifetime, his power and influence had awed security and stability into Khorāsān, as a result of which the chaos that had been created after Hamzah and the Khwārej had taken over Khorāsān and before Tāher’s governorship, subsided to a great extent.
After Tāher, his son, ‘Abdollāh took over as the governor of Khorāsān. ‘Abdollāh was highly favored and supported by Ma’mun and he had even supported the caliph in crushing some rebellions in Mesopotamia and was the chief of the Baghdad security forces for quite some time. His rule, which as a matter of fact marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Iran and was the establishment of the first comparatively independent Iranian government during the Islamic period, as well as the rules of his brothers left good memories in Khorāsān owing to their sincere efforts towards the elimination of chaos and the spread of justice in that region. His role in putting an end to the rebellions of Bābak and Māziyār came to be regarded as significant services to the Baghdad caliphate. In fact, his grandson, Mohammad bin Tāher, who was defeated by Yāqub Layth was also favored and supported by the Abbasids. The last Tāherid governor was more interested in poetry and revelry than he was in his governorship. During his times, Hasan bin Zayd, an Alavid, claimed governorship and Imamate in Tabarestān and following a few battles with Mohammad bin Tāher’s army, eventually managed to wring the caliphate out of the hands of the Tāherids. He later on even succeeded in getting Rey and Qazvin out of the hands of the Tāherids in the year 251 AH/865 AD. Thereafter, Ya’qub Layth captured Neishābur in 259 AH and took Mohammad bin Tāher captive. After Ya’qub’s defeat at the hands of Mowaffaq Abbāsi in 262 AH/876 AD, Mohammad escaped to Khorāsān but did not succeed in reviving his father’s rule.
In spite of its internal independence, the Tāherid rule that was under the command of the caliphate, proved that it was more probable to gain independence for Khorāsān and other far-off regions by declaring submission to the caliphate rather than by rebellion and war. However, Ya’qub Layth Saffār – the Ayyār of Sistān – was not of the same opinion. Even though Ya’qub, who had emerged from a disturbed region that was mostly under the control of the Khawārej and the anti-caliphate elements, did not initially oppose the caliph openly and even delivered sermons in the name of the caliph in Shirāz, internally and within of himself he did not consider his power and influence to be at the mercy of the caliph, and a short time later he even turned his movement into an uprising against the caliphate. Not much time had lapsed between the period when Ya’qub Saffār joined hands with the Ayyārs of Sistān and the time when he succeeded in ending the caliph’s rule in Sistān and Pushanj of Herāt in 253 AH and Kermān and Fārs in 255 AH, and subsequently added Khuzestān to his own territories, thus turning into a great and powerful commander.
After killing Ratbil and capturing Neishābur in 259 AH, Ya’qub deposed the Tāherid rule and established a dynasty that is famous by the name “Saffārid” (Saffāryān) because of the profession (brass-smiths) of its founders. According to the account of Gordizi, during the conquest of Neishābur, when Mohammad bin Tāher’s envoys asked Ya’qub to show them the caliph’s letter of appointment, instead of showing the decree, he pulled out his sword, indicating that the legitimacy of his rule depended upon his personal might and power and that it relied on his own sword. Thereafter, Ya’qub took off for Taberestān and defeated Hasan bin Zayd, thereby turning into a serious and formidable threat to the caliphate. It was at this point that the caliphate decided on eliminating him from the scenes. Since another rebellion led by Sāheb al-Zanj was also simultaneously threatening Baghdad and the caliphate, while recognizing Ya’qub’s rule over Sistān, the caliph handed over the regions of Takhārestān and Sind to him in order to encourage him to continue his advancements eastwards, towards Balkh, instead of moving towards Baghdad. However, his successes in the eastern lands did not prevent him from leading an expedition to Baghdad and without accepting any union with Sāheb al-Zanj, he initiated a battle against the caliph. However, in a place called “Deyr Āqul” near Baghdad, he was defeated by Caliph Mo’tamed’s army under the commandership of the caliph’s brother, Mowaffaq. Ya’qub died a little later in Jondishāpur (265 AH/879 AD). Notwithstanding this defeat and without buying into any temptation, Ya’qub had refused to compromise with the caliph right until the end and he apparently had no other aim in his life except the downfall of the caliph and the caliphate. Although Ya’qub’s brother, Amro Layth, who ruled over parts of his territories, did not shrink back from compromising with the caliph he, too, was forced to disregard the caliph several times during his rule and was eventually arrested in a confrontation with the Sāmānid army that had simultaneously been given the authority over Khorāsān without any conflict (287 AH/900 AD); and in this manner the caliph was relieved of the threat of the Saffārids at the hands of the Sāmānids. Despite Amro’s defeat, his successors ruled over parts of Sistān and Transoxiania for years to come.
The Sāmānid Dynasty that emerged during the same period in Khorāsān did not show any apparent resistance against the caliphate in spite of their relatively more independent rule. Not only did Asad bin Sāmān, the ruler of Transoxiania, who was supported by Ma’mun continue to remain submissive towards the Baghdad rule, his successors, too, continued with his policy of compliance. Emā’il bin Ahmad, the actual founder of the Sāmānid rule came to power after crushing the Khawārej and the other opponents of the caliph. His descendants, too, exercised considerable effort towards the elimination of the Zaydis and the opponents of the caliphate. The Sāmānids, of course, did not pay any tributes or taxes to the caliph with the exception of some small gifts and neither did they send any reinforcement troops for him during times of war. Nevertheless, their façade of submission towards the caliph granted considerable legitimacy to their rule in the eyes of the masses.
Towards the middle of the Sāmānid rule and the emergence of the Āle Buyeh, another Iranian dynasty known as the Āle Elyās who were originally from Soghd ruled over Kermān (317-357 AH/929-968 AD). The founder of this dynasty was Abu ‘Ali Mohammad bin Elyās who was from among the Sāmānid commanders. His father, too, was the commander-in-chief of the Sāmānid army who had been sent to Tabarestān by Nasr bin Ahmad Sāmāni to fight Nāser Kabir Alavi. Abu ‘Ali Mohammad was forced to abscond from Nasr bin Ahmad’s army during the internal conflicts of the Sāmānids and in the year 317 AH he turned from Neishābur towards Kermān and captured it and after a series of battles and escapes, finally delivered his sermon in Kermān with the name of Emād al-Dowlah of Āle Buyeh. Nevertheless, the honesty in his claim of submissiveness towards the Āle Buyeh cannot be ascertained especially since towards the end of his rule, he decided to conquer the territories under the rule of Rukn al-Dowlah. In any case, according to Atabi, he was submissive towards the Sāmānids. Nevertheless, as a result of the efforts of Moiz al-Dowlah Ahmad he received honor and recognition from the caliph. Three members of this dynasty ruled in Kermān. The last emir of Āle Elyās was Soleymān bin Mohammad who was killed in a battle with Gurgir bin Jastān, the viceroy of Azad al-Dowlah, thus putting an end to that dynasty.
During the same period, another dynasty called the “Āle Mohtāj” ruled over parts of Khorāsān for over half a century from 321-381 AH/933-991 AD under the patronage and supervision of the Sāmānids, even though at times they also claimed independence. They are said to have descended from the ancient Chaghāniān rulers who reigned on the banks of Āmu Daryā and who were known as “Chaghān-Khadāt”. The founder of this dynasty was Mohtāj bin Ahmad after whom seven of his sons and grandsons ruled over that region until the last of them, Abu al-Mozaffar Ahmad bin Mohammad, was eliminated from the scenes during the conflicts between the Ghaznavids and the Sāmānids.
Another dynasty that emerged towards the end of the Sāmānid period as a local government was called the “Āle Ma’mun”. The emirs of this dynasty ruled over Khwārazm for a short period between 385-408 AH/995-1017 AD and some of them even came to be called “Khwārazmshāh”.
The first known member of this dynasty was Abu ‘Ali Ma’mun I, the son of Mohammad Khwārazmshāh, who was the commander of Gorgānj and who had also managed to gain hold over Kāth because of the weakness of the Sāmānids and who overthrew Mohammad bin Ahmad Khwārazmshāh of Āle Arāq. After him Abu al-Abbās Ma’mun bin Ma’mun took over the reigns in 399 AH/1009 AD but he feared Mahmud Ghaznavi and tried to avoid giving him any excuse for conflict. Nevertheless, after some time he was forced to deliver his sermons in Mahmud Ghaznavi’s name. Abu al Hārith Mohammad bin ‘Ali who was the last emir of Āle Ma’mun got overthrown by Mahmud who had captured Khwārazm. The Āle Ma’mun Dynasty is considered to be among the patrons of knowledge and learning of Transoxiania and their court was a refuge for renowned scholars like Abu Rayhān Biruni (Al-Biruni), Abu ‘Ali Sina (Avicenna), Abal Khayr Khammār, and Abu Sahl Masihi.
The Ghaznavids, too, who inherited the rule of Khorāsān continued with the policy of swearing allegiance to the caliph – at least as a formality. In the daily governmental affairs of their rule, Mahmud and his son, Mas’ud, feigned to be submissive to the caliph and when they took over their reigns, they also received honor and recognition from him. Moreover, they were also in correspondence with the caliphate during times of celebration and mourning and sent gifts to the caliph from the war booty of their expeditions to the bordering areas of India. This superficial obedience towards the caliphate bestowed legitimacy upon the Ghaznavid rule in the eyes of most of the Muslims. Nevertheless, their rule was totally independent and like the Sāmānids, their commands were issued on the basis of their own strength and autocracy, even though they were executed under the name of the caliph.
The Ghaznavid Dynasty began with Abu Eshāq Ālop Takin, one of the slaves of Ahmad bin Esmāil and Nasr bin Ahmad Sāmāni, who later on became the commander of the Khorāsān army. After a conflict erupted between Ālop Takin and Mansur bin Nuh and grew into a battle he set off for Kabul with the intention of jehād (holy war) and when he reached Ghazni (351 AH/962 AD) he captured that city and made it his capital. After his death and the short period of the rule of his son, Eshāq, Ghazni’s rule was inherited by Saboktagin, the slave and son-in-law of Ālop Takin who is considered to be the actual founder of the Ghaznavids. From the time of Ālop Takin’s rule over Ghazni until the time that they were overthrown by the Ghuris in 582 AH/1186 AD the Ghaznavid rule lasted for about 230 years. For a part of their rule, the Ghaznavids reigned independently while for the rest, they were subjugated by the Seljuqs. The last Ghaznavid rulers, Taj al-Dowlah Khosrow Shah and his son Serāj al-Dowlah Khosrow Malek, were driven out of Ghazni and, thus, made Lahore their capital.
Certain other families, too, who were contemporaries of the Tāherids, the Sāmānids, and the Ghaznavids established their own rules that were not based on submission to the Baghdad caliphate but were usually independent rules established in different regions in rebellion to the caliph. These included the Alavids of Tabarestān, who, both, defied the caliphate by professing Shiism and also claimed their right to the caliphate. As a matter of fact, it was Hasan bin Zayd – titled as “Dāi-e Kabir” (The Great Claimant) – who established the Alavid rule of Tabarestān and who had escaped to Rey following the defeat of Yahyā bin Omar, the grandson of Zayd and who then went to Deylam and started inviting people to his plans. During this period, the people of Tabarestān who had reached exasperation at the hands of the oppression of the officials of Mohammad bin ‘Abdollāh bin Tāher accepted Hasan’s invitation and swore allegiance to him (250 AH/864 AD). Hasan soon gained control over large parts of Tabarestān and Ruyān and defeated Qāren bin Shahriyār, one of the commanders of the Āle Qāren and the Tāherid army. Following this, he was defeated by Yaq’ub Layth but soon managed to regain his rule. His son, Mohammad who had ruled between 270 AH and 281 AH (883-894 AD) also seized Gorgān and then set off for Herāt and Sistān but was eventually killed. After him, Hasan bin ‘Ali – popular as “Nāser-e Kabir” (Nāser the Great) – took the reigns in his hands and confronted the Sāmānids a few times in battle and managed to conquer all of Tabarestān as well as a part of Gilān. His son-in-law and successor, Hasan bin Qāsem ruled during a period (304-316 AH/916-928 AD) when, on the one hand, he faced the challenges of the sons of “Nāser the Great” while on the other he had to fight the Sāmānids. Two leaders of Deylam, Mākān Kāki and ‘Ali bin Buyeh, also joined him in his battle against the enemies of the Alavids. Nevertheless, he could not endure much longer and was defeated at the hands of Asfār in 316 AH and was subsequently killed by some of Asfār’s associates, thereby bringing an end to the Alavid rule.
Other revolts that also took place during this period for the independence of the northern regions, Jebāl, and Fārs, were the one of Asfār bin Shiruyeh Deylami and Mardāvij Ziyāri as well as the uprising of Deyālamah of the Āle Buyeh Dynasty, the leaders of some of whom, like Mardāvij, apparently had other intentions in mind instead of deposing the caliphate. All the regions that fell into Mardāvij’s hands were subjected to plunder and massacre while the weakness of the caliphate made it impossible for the caliph to extend his support to these regions. The murder of Asfār, too, did not help the caliph to any significant extent since Mardāvij who was one of Asfār’s commanders and who also had a hand in masterminding his murder (319 AH/931 AD) was still left unchecked to continue his atrocities. Mardāvij soon gained control over the conquests of Asfār and founded a dynasty under the name of “Āle Ziyār”. He initially thought of following in Asfār’s footsteps by establishing a new rule similar to that of the Sassanids and commissioned a throne and crown for himself like those of the Sassanids. He began collecting heavy taxes from the people of Hamadān, Esfahān, and Dinvar and showed intolerable harshness towards his troops, and particularly towards the Turk slaves, and was eventually killed by them while bathing in the year 323 AH/935 AD. Mardāvij’s brother, Voshngir, who was a warrior, albeit a rustic one, took over the rule after him. Voshngir, however, did not pursue his brother’s bizarre plans, and notwithstanding his spite towards the Abbasid caliphate, did not hold back from compromising with the caliph and also showed submission towards the Sāmānids. The Āle Ziyār Dynasty, after him, fell into the hands of his son, Bisotun, and then transferred on to Qābus bin Voshngir, and then to his grandson, Manuchehr bin Qābus. From then onwards, the Āle Ziyār gave up their rebelliousness towards the Baghdad caliphate and like the Sāmānids and the Tāherids, conceded to the caliph. However, they did not have any significant influence and role in the course of the events of their period.
Nevertheless, the caliph did not manage to get rid of the opposition and the threat that he faced at the hands of the Deylami elements who were mostly Shiites and who were brought up under the influence of the Alavids of Tabarestān. After the murder of Voshngir, the caliph was faced with the challenges of ‘Ali, Hasan, and Ahmad, the sons of Abu Shoj’ā Buyeh, a fisherman by profession, who like Ya’qub and Mardāvij, began capturing the cities surrounding Fārs, Esfahān, and Karaj of Abu Dalf, expelling the caliph’s governors who had been officially appointed by the caliph to the governorship of these cities. By remaining united, they managed to conquer vast territories, including Esfahān, Fārs, and Khuzestān by rebelling against the caliph and divided these territories among themselves. Fārs was bestowed upon ‘Ali bin Buyeh, the older brother, while Esfahān and some regions of the erstwhile Media were handed over to Hasan bin Buyeh, the middle brother, while Khuzestān was given to Ahmad bin Buyeh, the younger brother. A little while later, Ahmad took advantage of the turmoil in the caliphate and by attacking Khuzestān, conquered Baghdad (334 AH/946 AD). He then deposed Mostaqfā, the caliph of the time, and replaced him with another caliph, titled “Moti’” (lit. subservient), who was in reality, “subservient” towards him.
The new caliph accepted Ahmad’s dominance and bestowed the title of “Moiz al-Dowlah” upon him while his older brother, ‘Ali, was given the title of “Emād al-Dowlah”, and their middle brother, Hasan got the title of “Rokn al-Dowlah”. Although Moiz al-Dowlah and his brothers were of the Shiite and Zaydi sect, they, to some extent, treated the new caliph who had been appointed by them, with respect and dignity. However, the Shiite essence of their rule began to reveal itself in the territories that had been conquered by them, including Baghdad, gradually leading to the establishment of an independent rule in parts of Iran and Iraq by creating solidarity among the Shiites of Iraq. This dynasty can probably be called the first independent Iranian dynasty after the fall of the Sassanids. Azad al-Dowlah, the son of Rokn al-Dowlah, who became the ruler of Fārs after Emād al-Dowlah in 338 AH/949 AD tried to push aside Ez al-Dowlah Bakhtiyār, the son of Moiz al-Dowlah, but faced severe opposition and threat at the hands of his own father and, thus, postponed his plans until after Rokn al-Dowlah’s death. Even though the earlier solidarity no longer existed among the descendents of the sons of Buyeh after Azad al-Dowlah’s death in 372 AH/982 AD, the caliph of Baghdad continued to remain a puppet in the hands of the descendents of Buyeh who were still at the helm of affairs in Baghdad. It should not be left unmentioned that because of the relatively deep socio-political developments that the Āle Buyeh brought into existence in the eastern territories of Islam, they carved a special niche for themselves in the history of Islam and Iran, especially since it was this dynasty that should be considered as the intermediary for the transfer of power to the Turk rulers in the Iranian Islamic territories. From the religious point of view, the Āle Buyeh managed to subjugate the Sunni caliph to a Shiite emir for the very first time in history. From the cultural point of view, this period was one of the most outstanding ones in the Islamic civilization and the great scientific and literary works of the scholars of the territories under the rule of the Āle Buyeh could not have been possible without the patronage of the elite rulers of this dynasty. However, towards the end of their rule, Iran and Iraq were plunged into so much chaos and turmoil that had it not been for the emergence of the Seljuqs who ultimately succeeding in eliminating the Āle Buyeh influence on the caliph, the Abbasid caliphate would have faced destruction because of the existing chaos caused by the internal conflicts among the emirs and the coup d’état-like dominance of Arsalān Basāsiri who also delivered a sermon in the name of the Fātemid caliph of Egypt.
During the period in which the Buyid Dynasty was on the verge of a collapse and the Seljuqs were rising up there were other emirs belonging to Deylamiyān Dynasty of northern Iran that threatened the caliphate and the rulers appointed by the caliph. These emirs belonged to the, two, Espahbodiyah and Kin Khwaziyah branches of the Āle Bāvand who claimed that they were the descendents of the Sassanians. The Āle Bāvand ruled over parts of Māzandarān from the first century AH/7 AD and despite the serious battles between them and the Abbasids, did not lose their independence. In the second half of the third century AH/9 AD, and after Hasan bin Zayd’s movement and the spread of Islam and the Zaydi school in Tabarestān and Deylamān, they converted to Islam. Several battles took place between the Espahbodiyah and the Kin Khwaziyah and the Seljuqs and Ātsiz Khwarazmshāhs but the Deylamis did not let them penetrate into their territories.
Yet another dynasty that led a semi-independent rule over parts of the Jebāl region as well as Kordestān and Lorestān in the second half of the 4th Century AH/10 AD was called the “Āle Hasanuyah” and were originally Kurds. Hasanuyah bin Hosayn who was a Shiite was the founder of this dynasty had his eyes fixed on the territories under the Āle Buyeh rule. The Āle Hasanuyah had a significant role to play in the internal conflicts of the Āle Buyeh and was ultimately eliminated at the hands of Buyid ruler, Sham al-Dowlah, and Abu al-Shuk Anāzi, the ruler of Kermānshāh.
Another dynasty established by the emirs of Deylamid origin that ruled in central and western Iran from 398-536 AH/1008-1142 AD was called the Āle Kākuyah. The first branch of this dynasty ruled in Hamadān and Esfahān until it was eliminated at the hands of the Seljuq ruler, Toghrol II. However, another branch of this dynasty called the “Atābaks of Yazd” ruled for a longer period. The founder of this rule was Alā al-Dowlah Mohammad bin Doshmanziyār, popularly known as “Ibne Kākuyah” who began ruling over Esfahān towards the end of the Āle Buyeh period and who also received a title and recognition from the caliph. Following the domination of the Ghaznavids over the Jebāl region, he delivered his sermon in the names of “Mahmud” and “Mas’ud” and minted coins in their names. One of the main factors that led to the fame of Alā al-Dowlah was his friendship and proximity with Ibn al-Sinā (Avicenna) who had dedicated his book, “Dāneshnāmeh Alāyi” to him. After Alā al-Dowlah, his sons ruled over Esfahān, Nahāvand, and Hamadān, some of whom exhibited submission towards Toghrol while some others fled from him. However, Alā al-Dowlah’s son Farāmarz gained control over Yazd. The rule of this branch of the Āle Kākuyah lasted for about a century and had four rulers who were mainly submissive towards the Seljuqs and who were finally deposed by the Karakitais. Farāmarz, the grandson of Alā al-Dowlah and the last emir of this dynasty who was killed in the year 536 AH was the most famous and learned emir of the Āle Kākuyah dynasty.
Another branch of the Atābaks of Yazd ruled over this region after the murder of Farāmarz bin ‘Ali. The founder of this dynasty was Rokn al-Din Sām who was the son of Alā al-Dowlah ‘Ali’s daughter and who had been appointed by the Seljuq Sultān Sanjar as the guardian (Atābak) of Farāmarz Kākuyah’s daughters. Sām took the reigns in his hands in the year 538 AH and ruled for a long period but his expansionist efforts did not bear much fruit. After him, his brother, Ez al-Din Langar began his rule in 584 AH/1188 AD and the subsequent rulers of the Atābak Dynasty were all his sons and grandsons. There were ten rulers from this dynasty, the last of whom called “Hāji Shāh” did not command much power as a result of which Yazd was practically in the hands of the rulers and officials of Ilkhān (Bāydu Khān) until two other rulers by the names “Mohārez al Din Mohammad Mozaffari” and “Qiyās al-Din Keikhosrow Inju” finally gained control over that region. Nevertheless, the Atābaks had left behind great civil works in Yazd.
Toghrol, the Seljuq, who had restored the Abbasid caliph to Baghdad after eliminating the Bassāsiri rebellion maintained a moderate attitude towards the caliph, unlike the Buyids and the Sāmānids. His attitude towards the caliph was affectionate from the very beginning, but at the same time, he considered himself as equal to the caliph and did not regard himself as submissive or subservient to him. For this reason, he married his nephew to caliph Qāyem and at the age of seventy years, even proposed to marry the daughter of the caliph. This attitude towards the caliphate continued during the reign of his grandson, Malekshāh, who apparently was encouraged and pushed by his favorite wife Torkān Khātun to propose a renewed kinship with the caliph – which was considered to be a sign of equality between the two families – and married his daughter to Caliph Moqtadā. Later on, Torkān Khātun tried to get Ja’far bin Moqtadā to be appointed as the heir to the caliphate and even though she did not succeed, this equal attitude exhibited by the Seljuqs, also prevailed among the other dynasties like the Atābaks of Āzarbāyjān and the Sultāns of Khwarazm that were also the offshoots of the Seljuq Dynasty. It has been reported that once Atābak Jahānpahlavān sent a message to the caliph of his time pointing out that the rule actually belonged to the warriors and the statesmen and that the caliph’s duty was only confined to the supervision of affairs, worship, and in ensuring the implementation of the religious laws.
The Atābak dynasties and rules were of significant importance during this period and despite the fact that they were often dependent upon the powerful central rules, at times they also declared themselves as independent rulers. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in the political, social, and cultural developments of Iran. The most important Atābak dynasties were:
A. The Atābaks of Āzarbāyjān: A dynasty belonging to Turk emirs who were also famous as the “Ildgazyān” and that emerged around the year 541 AH/1146 AD when the Seljuq rule was on the decline and which had gained control over Arān and Āzarbāyjān until 622 AH/1225 AD. Ildgaz (the founder of this dynasty) was actually a slave belonging to the Seljuq, Sultān Mahmud, or maybe his minister Kamāl Samirami who had received Arān as a gift. During the reign of Atābak Arsalān, the son of Toghrol II gradually expanded his dominion. The last ruler of this dynasty was Mozaffa al-Din Ozbak who made a lot of efforts towards the revival of this dynasty’s rule but who was eventually overthrown by Jalāl al-Din Khwarazmshāh who captured his entire territory.
B. The Atābaks of Fārs popularly known as the “Salghoriyān” (Salghorids): This dynsty, too, emerged during the same period and ruled over Fārs and some neighboring regions from 543 to 685 AH (1148-1286 AD) and had a significant impact on the developments of the region. The founder of this dynasty was Buzābeh, the grandson of Salghor, one of the Atābaks (lit. caretaker) of the Seljuqs who had been appointed as the governor of Fārs by Malekshāh where he revolted against the central rule and was ultimately defeated and killed. According to some historians, Songhor bin Mo’dud was the actual founder of the Atābak rule in Fārs who established a semi-independent rule subjugated to the Seljuqs, the Khwārazmshāhs, and the Mongols, in this way, allowing the subsequent rulers of Fārs to protect this region from the invasions of the powerful neighboring rules, turning it into a center of learning and literature. Mozaffar al-Din Sa’d bin Zangi and his son, Abu Bakr, were the most important rulers of this dynasty and were very just, religious-minded and honest rulers who have even been praised by the great Iranian poet, Sa’di. The Atābaks of Fārs were eliminated at the time of the rule of Abesh Khātun or her daughter Kordochin.
C. The Atābaks of Lorestān: This dynasty, which ruled over large areas of Khuzestān and Lorestān for about four centuries beginning towards the end of the Seljuq rule was divided into two branches. a) The Greater Lor Atābaks who were originally Kurds and because they were the descendents of Abu al-Hasan Fazluyah, they were also known as the Bani Fazluyah and since they were also the descendents of the second ruler of this dynasty, Nosrat al-Din Hezār Asb, they also came to be know as the Hezārasbiyān. Their rule lasted from 550 to 827 AH (1155-1424 AD) and was finally overthrown by the Timurid ruler, Shāhrokh. b) The Lesser Lor Atābaks who were also called the Bani Khorshid, after the name of their founder, Shoja’ al-Din Khorshid. Their rule lasted from 580 to 1006 AH (1184-1597 AD) when they were overthrown by the Safavid king Shāh Abbās. In spite of facing military attacks at the hands of the Mongols and the Timurids as well as their neighboring rivals like the Āle Mozaffar, the Atābaks of Lorestān ruled for several centuries and played a significant role in the history of the region.
Besides the Atābaks, several other rules emerged from within the Seljuq empire in Iran, Asia Minor, and Syria. Notwithstanding the fact that most of these rules were subjugated to the central rule, at least following Malekshāh’s reign they were under the patronage of either of the rival sultans. However, more often than not they acted independently within their own territories. A branch of Seljuqs, known as the “Āle Qārud” established an independent rule when the Seljuqs were at the helm of power and despite the challenges faced from the central rule managed to rule over Kermān, Sistān and Baluchestān. They even ruled over Fārs and Oman for sometime. The founder of this dynasty, that was also referred to as the “Seljuqs of Kermān”, was called “Qārud” and was the oldest son of Choghri Beig, and in all probability, came to power in Kermān in 442 AH/1050 AD and overthrew Bahrām bin Lashkarsetān who ruled over that region on behalf of the Buyids. He then captured Fārs in 455 AH/1063 AD by defeating Fazl bin Hasan, popularly known as “Fazluyah”. Some time later he revolted against his own brother Ālb Arsalān but was soon forced to make peace with him. He eventually turned rebellious towards Malekshāh and lost his life in the bargain. After Qārud’s death, eleven of his sons and grandsons ruled over Kermān, and at times even over Fārs and Oman until the last of them, Mohammad, the son of Bahrām Shāh who ruled over Kermān under the subjugation of the Ghoz dynasty was deposed in the year 583 AH/1187 AD. Most of the rulers of the Āle Qārud were sincere and just and left behind numerous civil works.The approach adopted by the Seljuqs in maintaining a relationship of, both, compliance as well as equality with the caliphate was not exclusive to them and apparently even the Khwārazmshāhs had adopted the same approach and considered themselves to be of the same rank as the caliphs, at least from the political point of view, and at times did not even refrain from threatening the caliph and even turning rebellious towards him. For instance, in order to put an end to the caliph’s instigation of the Ghuris and the Esmāilis against the Sultān of Khwārazm, Mohammad Khwāramshāh decided to declare a war against the caliph and, subsequently, deposed the caliph, Nāser, and replaced him with a “Sayyid” called “Alā al-Molk Termizi”. Subsequently, he led an expedition to Baghdad in order to depose Nāser and place the caliphate into the hands of Termizi. However, he ultimately decided against moving any further in his expedition due to severe winter conditions as well as the news that he received regarding the Mongol invasions and returned in 614 AH/1217 AD. Nevertheless, these moves on the parts of Khwārazmshāh and his father, Takesh, against the caliph lowered the dignity of the caliphate in the eyes of the masses, thereby taking away the sanctity that the caliphate earlier held in the eyes of the Sunni masses.
The final anti-caliphate movement that began during the Seljuq reign and lasted until the rise of the Mongols in Iran was the Esmāiliyah Movement under the leadership of Hasan Sabbā and although it was of no significant importance in terms of magnitude, Hasan Sabbā had for quite some time breathed terror into the heart of the caliph and all the territories under the caliphate through his “Fadāis” (lit.: those ready to sacrifice their lives). Ultimately, the Esmāiliyah threat was eliminated by the Mongolian ruler, Hulāku Khān (Hulāgu), in the year 654 AH/1256 AD considering that the caliph and his regional governors had already failed in this regard. A little later, the Abbāsid caliphate that had deteriorated severely during the reign of Mosta’sem and which had almost lost its political and religious standing fell in the year 656 AH/1258 AD.
Following the fall of the Baghdad caliphate and the murder of Mosta’sem, although a branch of the descendents of the Abbāsids had managed to take over the caliphate in Egypt for some time, Iran was freed from the dominance of the Abbāsid rule. The rule that came to be established in Iran under Hulāku Khān and which later on came to be known as the “Il-Khānid Dynasty” abided by the “Great Yāsā” or the legal code of Changiz Khān (Genghis Khān) instead of the tenets of Islam, during which period, the Jews and the Christians commanded more trust than the Muslims. Ultimately, with the conversions of the third, the seventh, and the eight Mongol Il-Khānid rulers (Ahmad Takudār, Mohammad Ghāzān, and Oljāitu Mohammad respectively) to Islam, the Ilkhānid Iran reverted to its earlier Islamic position. After the downfall of the Ilkhānids in 736 AH/1336 AD – and in fact even during the final years of the decline of the Il-Khānid Dynasty – several new dynasties claimed independence in different parts of Iran. For a period of almost two centuries following the death of Oljāitu in 716 AH/1316 AD, until the rule of the Safavids in 907 AH/1501 AD, numerous independent feudal dynasties that were generally unpopular emerged, the most important of which were:
a. The Āle Kart Dynasty: This dynasty was founded by Shams al-Din Mohammad bin Abi Bakr Kart in the year 643 AH/1245 AD and its kings ruled over a region in eastern Iran up to the borders of Sind until 783 AH/1381 AD. The Āle Kart were apparently the descendents of Tāj al-Din Othmān Marqani who was a close associate of Ghiyās al-Din Ghuri. His son, Rokn al-Din, became subservient to the Mongols as the head of the Khisār Fortress and supported them in their expeditions and in this manner, the path for the establishment of the Āle Kart rule was paved through his son or grandson, Shams al-Din. Six members of this dynasty ruled over that region for more than two centuries and were finally overthrown by Teymur Gurkāni (Timur or Tamerlane).
b. The Āle Mozaffar Dynasty: This dynasty which was founded in Yazd by Emir Mobārez al-Din Mohammad in the year 718 AH/1318 AD is considered to be one of the important rules of this period from the political and cultural points of view. Mobārez al-Din was one of the emirs and close associates of Oljāitu and Abu Said, the Mongol Ilkhānid rulers, and subsequently became the ruler of Yazd. He and his sons gradually expanded their territories and captured Esfahān, Kermān, and Fārs as well and at times their power also spread up to Āzarbāyjān. Seven members of this dynasty ruled over these regions for about eighty years until they were ultimately overthrown by the Timurid king Shāh Mansur. Several members of this dynasty have earned the acclamation of the great Iranian poet, Khājeh Hāfez Shirāzi (popular as “Hafez”).
c. The Jalāyeri Dynasty: The founder of this dynasty was Shaykh Hasan Bozorg, one of the emirs of the Ilkhānid period, who established his rule after Shāhjahān Teymur, the grandson of Geykhātu was deposed in 740 AH/1339 AD or a little earlier and his descendents ruled for about half a century over parts of the Iranian and Arab Iraq.
Besides Iran, the bloody invasions of Teymur (771-807 AH/1369-1404 AD) that renewed the disasters of Changiz and Hulāku’s invasions, also plunged India, Asia Minor, and the Caucuses up to Russia into terror. Immediately after the death of Teymur, his descendents were challenged with internal conflicts as well as domestic claimants and foreign invasions. From among his descendents, only his son “Shāhrokh” ruled for a long time and managed to compensate for the disasters inflicted by his father. The last descendent of Teymur, Sultān Husayn Bāyqarā, only had Herāt and its surrounding areas under his control from among the vast empire of Teymur. The foreign challengers of this dynasty were the unions of Qaraqoyunlu and Āq-Qoyunlu that were generally engaged in mutual conflict in Āzarbāyjān and the neighboring regions. Eventually, the Safavid Dynasty emerged over the ruins of their rule in Āzarbāyjān putting an end to the two-hundred year old feudal domination in Āzarbāyjān after the downfall of the Ilkhānids.
Nine hundred years following the fall of the Sassanids, according to researchers, the Safavid rule (907-1135 AH/1501-1723 AD) raised the rule in the Islamic Iran to the national level and established the first great and consolidated rule in post-Islamic Iran, making it parallel to the Sassanid rule in terms of size and credibility. In other words, the Safavids salvaged Iran from the inevitable destruction that it was geared to face at the hands of the Uzbeks and Ottomans. By relying on Shiism and by making it the official religion of Iran, the Safavids established themselves as a Shiite rule in order to confront the invasions of the neighboring Sunni rules that were aiming at dividing and sharing Iran among themselves. With the establishment of a national government along with the formalization of Shiism, Iran came to be placed under the threat and ostracism of the contemporary Sunni governments. However, by taking steps towards winning the confidence of the European countries and by entering into an alignment with them, the Safavid rule managed to strengthen its position against the Ottoman Empire and, simultaneously, put an end to the Uzbek threats.
From the religious viewpoint, although Shia Islam had been declared as the official religion throughout Iran by Shāh Esmāil I, the founder of this dynasty, the actual spread of Shiism materialized during the reign of his son, Shāh Tahmāsb I (Tahmāsp I) who invited the Shiite scholars from Bahrain, Lebanon, Karbala, and Najaf to Iran. He issued instructions to all the nobles, officials, and rulers of his time to follow the renowned mujtahid (jurist) of that age, Shaykh ‘Ali bin Husayn Āmili, popular as “Mohaqqiq Karaki” or “Mohaqqeq Thāni”, in all affairs. According to the author of “Rozāt al-Jannāt”, Shāh Tahmāsp declared Mohaqqeq Karaki as a deputy of the Imam of the Age (the twelfth Shiite Imām who is currently in occultation) and called himself his representative and claimed that it was obligatory on him to follow Mohaqeq Karaki’s commands. Mohaqeq Karaki accompanied Shāh Tahmasb most of the times and this companionship projected the Shiite clergy as the main cause for the Shi’a-Sunni differences. The reaction of the Sunni scholars to this policy was open hatred towards and deep fear from the Shi’a Islam to the extent that when the Sunni scholar, Fazlollāh bin Ruzbehān Khanji, popularly know as “Khwājeh Mollāye Esfahāni” took refuge in the court of the Uzbeks he issued a verdict that it was obligatory on all the Sunnis to wage war against the “Qezelbāsh Mortads” (lit. religious outlaws). In a similar move, he sent a poem to the Ottoman Sultān, Salim, and instigated him to take an expedition to Iran. These were some of the serious covert steps taken by the Sunni scholars in order to unite the Sunni kings to eliminate the Shiites. Such efforts also instigated the Shaybak Shāhs of Esfahān to invade Khorāsān that was already plunged in internal conflicts and turmoil.
Researchers are skeptical about whether the Safavids were actually authentic “Sayyids”, a belief that had come to be spread among the masses from the early days of their emergence on the basis of which those kings were said to be the descendents of Imam Musā Kāzem (‘a).
In fact, taking into consideration the political, military, and social history of the Safavid period, it could be said that their reliance on Shiism and the insistence on the part of the early Safavid kings on the spread of Islam in Iran was mainly in order to create a barrier against the expansionist policies of the Ottoman emperors as well as the Uzbek invasions and a big gap can otherwise be found between their claims and rigor as well as their personal adherence to Islamic principles and the tenets of Shiism. The harshness they had adopted towards the non-Shiite Muslims had turned the Sunni tribes and communities of the neighboring states hostile towards the government and the people of Iran. For instance, towards the end of the Safavid period the Afghan, Mir Vays, made this attitude of the Safavids an excuse and convinced the Sunni scholars of Mecca and Medina to issue verdicts for an uprising against them. The activities of the Tabarrā’iyān and the Tavallā’iyan, that had started in some regions even before the emergence of the Safavids gave opportunists the necessary impetus to deepen the existing Sunni-Shia differences even further, both, within and outside Iran. Nevertheless, the moves adopted by the Safavids in order to win the support of the European governments to push back the Ottoman empire succeeded in winning their confidence for waging war against the Ottomans since it fell in alignment with the plans of the European kings.
In spite of the fact that the Europeans did not take any serious and categorical steps towards signing a treaty with Iran against the Ottoman Empire and nor did they undertake any part of the war expenses or even commit to provide Iran with firearms, the exchange of Ambassadors between the Safavid Iran and some European countries, at times, proved to be a deterrent to the frequent aggressions of the Ottomans against Iran. Moreover, the silence and the non-cooperation of the Sunni Moghul kings of India – because of their relationship with Iran and because of the support that Humāyun had received during the period of his refuge in Iran – made the union between all the Sunni forces of the east and west impossible against Iran. As a result, despite the repeated attacks of the Uzbeks on Khorāsān and notwithstanding their extreme violence against the Shiites of Khorāsān, it was not possible to break away Khorāsān from the Safavid Empire. Moreover, the Ottomans who repeatedly attacked Iran from the sides of Āzarbāyjān and Iraq and even managed to advance up to Tabriz as well as Kordestān and Hamadān did not gain much success in their invasions.
The thought of an alliance between Sufi A’zam and Europe and the constant exchange of ambassadors between them fanned the already existing doubt in the minds of the Ottomans about the danger of Iran. From among the Safavid kings, Shāh Abbās I succeeded in pushing back the Uzbeks and regaining the Iranian territories from the Ottoman invaders and prevented them from uniting against Iran. Moreover, because of his acumen in the political affairs of his times –at a time when Europe was occupied in inventing and progressing its war industries – Shāh Abbās made efforts towards the establishment of an artillery division in the Iranian army and the use of firearms with the help of the Sherley brothers of England who had traveled to Iran in the guise of tourists but had in fact come to him on a political mission. Shāh Abbās’s employment of their expertise for the establishment of an organized and fresh army called the “Shāhsavand” as well as the establishment of an efficient artillery division indicate towards his powerful ingenuity in taking due advantage of opportunities.
As Powell Horne rightly puts it, a careful comparison between the condition of Iran at the time of the ascension of Shāh Abbās as well as the situation of the country at the time of his death, proves Shāh Abbās’s worthiness of the title of “Abbās the Great”. However, the greed for gathering wealth and property existed, both, among his predecessors as well as his descendents and that, to some extent, could be attributed to the constant instability in the conditions of the country. Nevertheless, what tainted the ethical character of Shāh Abbās was his violence and cruelty towards his sons and family members, which deprived the Safavid Dynasty from producing competent successors after him. Moreover, his fanatic approach towards some tribes and individuals that would arouse his suspicion and would make him resort to barbaric acts against them has tarnished his image in history to a great extent. His violence towards the Noqtavis (a religious sect) and his atrocities towards them in the forms of murder and exile aroused great hatred against him. Moreover, the episode of Shāh Abbās making Yusuf Tarkishduz sit on his throne portrayed him as a highly superstitious person. If only Shāh Abbās would have paid heed to the advise sent out to him in a famous letter by Akbar, the great Indian emperor, to stop indulging in irrational acts and if only his descendents would have used this letter as good counsel, it would perhaps have prevented the downfall of the Safavid Dynasty with the reign of Shāh Sultān Husayn.
The fall of the Safavids with the reign of Shāh Sultān Husayn should not merely be attributed to the military domination of the Afghan rebels of Qandahar and, in fact, certain other factors that prevailed in the Safavid society should also be taken into due consideration. These included the lustful indulgences of Shāh Sultān that kept him confined to his harem, his prejudice towards the Sunnis that would end up in committing atrocities against them, his suspicion towards the non-Qezelbāsh commanders and governors, the appointment of cruel and irresponsible rulers in the Sunni-dominated regions, a lack of attention to the security of far-off regions like Kermān and particularly the safety and security of the Zoroastrian subjects, as well as his extreme gullibility that made him immediately believe whatever he heard thereby earning him the title of “Shāh Sultān Husayn Yakhshi Dor” and making the army and the people lose faith in him. There were also some other factors that contributed to the downfall of the Safavid Dynasty that included:
– Economic disorderliness that at times resulted in the closure of the borders because of a stalling of trade which was a destructive factor in the financial status of the public treasury;
– The surrender of the Persian Gulf as well as the port cities to Portuguese and English colonialism, thereby making trade with India difficult;
– The false financial accounts that were being sent to the court by the regional rulers and their delays in sending in the taxes; and
– The growing escalation of the prices of goods by greedy and interest-eating merchants during hard times as well as the hoarding of food stuff and the lack of flow of food grains from the rural areas to the cities and various other tricks that resulted in paralyzing trade and commerce further resulting in insolvency and poverty among small retailers and weakening the spirits of the people and the army in resistance against foreign invaders. Moreover, the peace and tranquility that had spread in Iran because of the internal problems of the Ottomans and the Uzbeks preventing them from invading Iran had, in turn, resulted in the dispersal of the army and a lack of fighting skills among them.
Although the Safavid crown was humbly handed over to Mahmud Ghalzāyi, the Afghan invader, even after a long siege by the Afghans and their supporters and following the death of Mahmud Ghalzāyi and the transfer of power to his cousin Ashraf Afghan, they could not succeed in gaining hold over Esfahān. In order to impose their rule over the Iranian people, the Afghans resorted to great violence and massacre, but were eventually defeated by the Ghezelbāsh army under the leadership of Nāder Gholi Afshār, who was the commander-in-chief of the army of Shāh Tahmāsp III. In this battle, Ashraf was killed and the Afghans were forced to leave Iran completely (1142 AH/1729 AD). The Afshār commander who climbed to power after a series of incidents and after deposing the Safavid prince in 1148 AH/1735 AD expelled the Turk and Russian invaders, punished the Uzbeks and the Ottomans, severely suppressed the internal and local rebellions, conquered India and returned with large amounts of booty. He even made great effort towards the establishment of a navy with the help of an Englishman named “John Elton” but did not succeed. Nāder also tried to reduce the Shi’a-Sunni difference to the minimum but with not much avail. A little later, he was killed in 1160 AH/1747 AD and the Afshārid Dynasty was subsequently plunged in internal differences, weakness, and the disintegration of the kingdom.
It was from these differences and disintegrations that Karim Khān Zand emerged. The rule of his ancestors – despite his efforts towards establishing a unified and consolidated government and bringing in peace and welfare – failed to resolve the economic, military, and political crises of Iran owing to the inevitable wars with the Afghans, the Ottomans as well as some internal rivals and the existing disturbances of the south and west Iran. After Karim Khān the Zand Dynasty found itself in a crisis.
Following the downfall of the Zand Dynasty, for the prevention of which Lotf ‘Ali Khān Zand had put up brave resistance, the rule of Iran fell into the hands of Āghā Mohammad Khān Qājār. With the establishment of his rule and the subsequent rule of his nephew, Fath ‘Ali Shāh, the unified system between religion and government – albeit in a rather erratic form like the one that existed during the reign of Shāh Sultān Husayn – returned to Iran as a result of which it came to be deprived of the new political atmosphere that had emerged globally around the same time as the French Revolution. In fact, Iran was unable to reap the benefits of these developments even to the extent that Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and India had managed and even the positive efforts of the crown-prince, Abbās Mirzā, towards ushering in cultural, industrial, and military changes in the country remained fruitless. The main reason for the inclination that Fath ‘Ali Shāh and Abbās Mirzā showed towards France – the new European power – as well as the eagerness that Napoleon demonstrated towards Iran stemmed from the fact that both sides were interested in eliminating or at least restricting the interests of England and Russia in the East. This mutual relationship had ignited the flame of hope for some time among the Iranians. However, despite General Gardane’s posting to Iran and the signing of the Treaty of Finkenstein between the two countries and some other small reforms, no major changes took place in Iran. In the meantime, Iran was imposed by wars with Russia and the disgraceful treaties of Golestān (1228 AH/1813 AD) and Turkmanchai (1243 AH/1828 AD) despite the bravery shown by the Iranian army as well as Abbās Mirzā. Although these events made thinkers realize the need for reforms and reconsiderations in the military, cultural, and administrative organization of the country, the implementation of these reforms was practically stalled until the period of Mirzā Taghi Khān Amir Kabir because of the existence of despotic kings and statesmen. Amir Kabir, too, faced a number of obstacles rendering many of his reformative objectives thwarted and unfulfilled.
The Constitutional Revolution, which emerged as a result of the new political atmosphere in the East and the West as well as some other contributive factors, somewhat freed Iran from the severe autocracy of the Qājār kings. The think-tanks of this Revolution included Sayyid Jamāl al-Din Asadābādi, Malkum Khān, Fath ‘Ali Ākhundzādeh, Mirzā Āghā Khān Kermāni, and Tālbof Tabrizi while its socio-political promoters included ‘Ali Khān Amin al-Dowlah, Nasrollāh Khān Nāini, Mirzā Ja’far Khān Moshir al-Dowlah, Mirzā Yusuf Khān Mosta’shār al-Dowlah, Malek al-Motakallemin, and Sayyid Jamāl Esfahāni. The reigns of the actual leadership of this Revolution were in the hands of the great mojtahids (jurists) of Tehran, Sayyid Mohammad Tabātabā’i and Sayyid ‘Abdollah Behbahāni who came to be known as the “Sayyidaine Sanadain”. Mozaffar al-Din Shāh Qājār who signed the constitutional decree and because of whom it came to referred as the “Adle Mozaffar” died a little after the endorsement. Mozaffar al-Din Shāh’s crown-prince, Mohammad ‘Ali Mirzā who was opposed to the very foundations of this movement from the very beginning revealed his opposition immediately after ascending the throne. After a series of struggles between the Majlis (parliament) and the new king that resulted in the shelling of the Majlis as well as the detainment, trial, and killing of a number of freedom fighters, the movements that subsequently began in the different parts of the country gradually overcame the Shāh’s tyranny and Tehran soon fell into the hands of the freedom fighters of Gilān and Bakhtiyāri (26 Jamādi al-Thāni, 1327 AH), and Āzarbāyjān which had fought against this tyranny under the leadership of its two brave commanders, Sattār Khān and Bāgher Khān, lagged behind in gaining control over Tehran although it did share in the honor.
Mohammad ‘Ali Shāh who had insisted on opposing the Constitutional Revolution under the instigation and backing of the Czarist Russia took asylum in the Russian Embassy and resigned subsequently. In this manner, the Constitutional Revolution once again emerged victorious. However, since this Revolution was the manifestation of the justice-seeking ideals of the merchants, clerics, and the elite, it did not go beyond establishing a court of justice and a consultative assembly and the events of the World War I and the covert conspiracies of the powerful European governments blocked its further progress. Ahmad Shāh who superceded Mohammad ‘Ali Shāh when he was only a child was unable to earn any power or credibility for his position. After freeing himself from the influence of the two viceregents, Azad al-Molk Qājār and Nāser al-Molk Qarāguzlu, the new king found himself under the pressure of the statesmen of his time. Ultimately, Rezā Khān Sardārsepah, led a coup d’état against Ahmad Shāh with the help of Sayyid Ziā al-Din Tabātabā’i, following which the king left Iran for Europe in 1302 AH. This coup d’état took place under the pressures of the English military forces and General Ironside, gradually resulting in the ouster of Ahmad Shāh and the appointment of Sardār Sepah, first, as a provisional monarch (Ābān 9, 1304 AS/October 30, 1925) and then as a permanent ruler (Āzar 22, 1304/December 12, 1925).
From then onwards, there remained no sign of the Constitutional Revolution, excepting for a few superficial vestiges like three separate government departments, some periodicals, the Majlis, and a ministerial cabinet, all of which were a new guise for a renewed form of autocracy. The main policy adopted by Sardār Sepah under the instructions of those who had brought him to power and to some extent, under the influence of Mostafā Atāturk who was his role-model, was the material progress of Iran and he, thus, tried his best to prevent the clerics from participating in the affairs of the country. His son, Mohammad Rezā, who ascended the throne after him on Shahrivar 25, 1320/September 15, 1941 continued with his father’s autocratic and anti-clergy policies and by relying on foreign agents, and particularly the Americans, showed more aggression and violence towards his opponents until he was finally forced to leave Iran Dey 26, 1357/January 16, 1979) as a result of the Islamic uprising, and the monarchy system was eliminated permanently from Iran on Bahman 22, 1357/February 11, 1979 only to be replaced by the Islamic Republic of Iran founded by Imām Ruhollāh Khomeini.
 Zarrinkoob ,Roozbeh “Iran Entry” The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V. 10 , pp. 522 – 530