Origins of Indo-Europeans
Aryan or Indo-European is the general name given to the people thought to be originated from the steppe of central and southern Asia. Around 4000-3000 BC., these peopel started to emigrate to the warmer places in the south or west. Most scholars think of this as the beginning of the distinction between Indo-European tribes. Tribes who emigrated to the west became the ancestors of Germans, Slavs, Greeks, Latins, and probably Celts. People who chose the south as their destination came to be known as Indo-Iranians. There are also a rather small group of people who most likely chose not to participate in this great migration. These later entered the pages of history as Scythians and Sarmatians, although they are also believed to be nomadic Indo-Iranians since their language and customes are closely tide to the Ancient Persians.
There are scholary arguments going on for a long time about the truth of the theory of Indo-Europeans, whether this migration really happened or not, and whether these people are infact related. Reasons presented to support this theory are based on language and cultural evidence. Linguistic studies suggest close similarities between the ancient forms of modern Indo-European languages, in their grammar and in their vocabulary structure. Many words still in use are alike, and many others are the changed forms of similar ancient forms. Cultural background also provide basis for this theory, horse breeding, similar agricultural methods, strong fighting abilities, similar religious beliefs and mythological superstitions seem to suggest that all this started from a common background, probably from a time when all these people were the same. Today, the most wide spread theory specifies the people of Europe (with the exceptions of Estonians, Finns, and magyars), Iran, and Indian subcontinent to belong to a common, Indo-European background. Until a strong argument proves otherwise, we shall undertake this theory as the closest thing to the truth.
4000-3000 BC is the aproximate date for the migration of Indo-Iranian tribes from their Central Asian settlement, however, recent Archaeological,and Anthropological discoveries in Central Asia seem to provide information leading us to believe that this date could have been later, closer to 2500 or 2000 BC.
The Indo-Iranian settlement known as Iran-Vij to the Iranologists, based on the term Aerianem-Vaejou in Avesta, is a half mithical place whose location is an object of controversies. Opinions vary from Northern Caucasus to the western shore of Lake Aral (Kharazm) and the Oxus river. In Avesta and Veda, this place is described as "Heart of Cold" and supposedly the capital of the last common Indo-Iranian king. This king-hero, Yima (Yama in Sanskrit, Jamm in Modern Persian) was the source of all technology, and expander of the land. In one of the stories in Avesta, Yima realised that Iran-Vij is no longer big enough to hold all his people, so he decided to expand his land. He shoved his sword into the earth three times, and made it expand, respectively 1/3, 2/3, and 3/3, during a period of three 600 winters (Each winter being a year, since Iran Vij had only two seasons, Winter and Summer). This can be seen as a metaphor for the furthur Indo-Iranian migrations which led them into the Iranian Plateau and later on into India.
Indo-Iranians themselves were later divided into two major sections, Indians and Iranians. Indians continued their way furthur into the Dakan (Northern India), were stopped by local Dravidians, and settled there. They mixed up with the people, kept their own religion, and became present day Indians. Iranians, on the other hand, were themselves divided into three major tribes with each having its own sub-tribes. These tribes and range of their initial domination in the Iranian Plateau were
Maad(Medians): central and north-western parts. Paars(Persians): In south and south-western parts. Parthav(Parthians):north-eastern and eastern parts.
Out of these, Parthians are believed to be half Iranian and half Scythian. This can be true, since the first Parthian who entered the pages of history, Arashk or Arsaces, is surely from a Scythian/Iranian nomadic background.
These tribes started their career in Iran as the hired warriors for the local chiefs, many arcaeological discoveries such as Syalk suggest this. Since they knew the secret to horse riding and had Iron weapons, these warriors were able to put a stop on the constant invasion of villages by foreign powers, namely Sumerians and Babylonians. As the time went by, these merceneries occupied the position of their superiors, and since they would reproduce faster than the local inhabitants, they soon took over the whole land. They also fought with some of the locals to submit them, these wars are reflected on the ancient mythologies talking about Iranians fighting the evil Deevs, huge stature creatures who hated Iranians. There is a theory going on that these Deevs could have been the ancient inhabiatants, mainly the kadusis who lived behind the Alborz Mountains, who were defending their homes from the invading, horse riding foreigners.
When they finally took over most of the plateau, Iranian tribes started organising their domains as they have been doing in their original homeland. Small villages, headed by local mayors, and each independent of each other with almost no unity. This method soon proved useless, especially under the constant attack of new masters of Mesopotemia, Assyrians. Slowly, the Iranian tribes re-organised themselves into kingdoms, and then empires. The first of these kingdoms was Medes.
Median empire started by election of Diaoco (Greek: Dioces) as the king of all Median tribes (c. 730 BC). Diaoco was the chief of a local tribe who was proved to be the wisest in the council of cheiftains. He established a judicial system which became the basis for the laws of Cyrus and Darius. He organised his realm into several provinces, and created a strong army to stop Assyrians.
Diaoco was succeeded by his son, Fravartish, a military genius who defeated Asyrian kings for the first time in their history. After Fravartish came several kings whose name are not known to us, and many of them are thought to be either legendary or just rulers fighting over the crown. After this period of small struggles came Hovakhshatra, the greatest of Median rulers. He organised his countries struggle against the Assyrian threat and defeated Assyrians in their capital, Nineveh. he order the destruction of the city and declared the end of Assyrian empire. He inherited a small territory from his ancestors, and left it an empire to his successor and son, Ishtivogo.
Last king of Meded was Ishtivogo or Dahak. Under him, the Median empire started to decline, the simplistic life style of Aryans whcih provided Medians with their amazing conquests was replaced with a Mesopotamian elegant and extravagant court life. Medians who were use to hard work and hard life, now started to decorate themselves with the jewelry and to make large and extravagant houses. All of these, added to the weakness and brutality of the king, made Medes ready for its new master, maternal grandson of Dahak and son of Kambodhia of Persia, Kourosh II, better known to history as Cyrus the Great (550 BC).
Kourosh II (Cyrus) son of Kambodhia (Kambeses) King of Persia, and maternal grandson of Dahak, last king of Media, was initialy the ruler of Anshan, a province of Persia roughly corresponding to present day Lorestan and Northern Khuzestan provinces of Iran. After succeeding Kambodhia as king of Persia, Cyrus started building a strong military in order to expand his territory. After conquering and submitting all of the sattelites of Persia and establishing himself as strong man of the southern Iranian plateau, he decided to take over his grandfather's kingdom. The people of Medes , hoping he will save them from Dahak's unjust and wasteful rule, helped him in his conquest. Cyrus did not disappoint them by deposing his grandfather and giving them back their freedom, only within his Persian Empire. There started rumours about Dahak's brutalities, stories that might have been supported by the Persian court.
Unstoppeble and hyperactive, Cyrus turned his attention to Babylon, the strongest power of the ancient world.. Putting a long siege around the walls of the great capital, he waited there for over three months, during which Shalamnazar of Babylon took his time partying! Finally Cyrus gave up the siege and entered the city through the opening under the wall, made for the Tigris to pass through. Unlike what was expected and norm, he did not salughter the people and did not older a plunder, rather, he ordered the freedom of the Jews who have been there for 170 year and funded their return to their homeland. He issued the first declaration of Human Rights, in which he banned his soldiers to treat the inhabitants of the conquered lands as inferiors. In this law code, now kept in London's British Museumit, he guaranteed the freedom of religions, something that his great admirer, Alexander the Great copied from him gladly.
Cyrus' next destination was the small, but rich central Asian state of Lydia. Ruled by Crosus, the richest man of the ancient worled, Lydia was a natural target. The story of Crosus' councilation with the Oracle of Delphie is well known, as is the story of his defeat from Cyrus. Cyrus was now the master of half of the ancient civilised world when he decided to take on the uncivilised ones. They were Massaghets, Scythian nomads of North Eastern Iran, ruled by a Queen. This was the end for Cyrus. He was killed in the battle, and buried in his hometown of Pasargadae, where his tomb is still the Mecca of admirers.
Cyrus left a serious impact of Iran, he created it! He was the first unifier of all Iranian tribes, and the conqueror of the world. Still perhaps his most powerful impact was his way of thinking and ruling. As mentioned in Xenophones' biogrophy of Cyrus (Cyropaedia), he was a world conqueror unlike any other. He was a truly civilised ruler who guaranteed the human rights of his subjects. He was the first ruler to grant freedom of religion, and he even coronated himself with the blessing of the Babylonian god, Shamash. Cyrus is remembered in Iran and in world as the perfect king and the ideal ruler.
Cyrus was succeeded by his son, Kmabodia III (529 BC). kambodhia is known to the history as the mad kingof Persia, and probably responsible for the first version many "false" claiments to the throne stories. Kambodhia's first act after claiming the throne was to kill his brother Bardia, and then to set of for Egypt. He He invaded Egypt (525 BC) and created the dynasty of Persian kings in Egypt. He also sent a navy for the invasion of Carthage , but since the navy was made mostly of Phoenician sailors and Carthage was essentialy Phoenician, the mission faced a defeat. The stories about him goes on to say that Kambodhia commited several crimes in Egypt and ordered the massacre of the defeated people. There is also a story about him killing the sacred Egyptian cow, Apis. kambodhia's invasion of Egypt ended the rule of the last Egyptian Pharaoh and established the Persian rule in Egypt until 330 BC. Kambodhia supposedly commited suicide when on his way back home he heard the rumours of an imposter who claimed to be Kambodhia's brother Bardia. The imposter, originally a Mogh (magi) named Geomata (Greek: Smerdis), ruled the country for a year in unexpectable manner, and then was dethrones and killed by Darius, Cyrus' distant cousin, and seven other Persian nobles.
Traditionally, historians have treated this story by face value. Yet, careful observations about the sources mentioning Smerdis' regin and also reading what has been left afetr him may suggest otherwise. Smerdis was the first historical imposter, and his similarities to other imposters also rises a question, was he really an imposter? Comparing with the later examples such as False Dmitri Ivanivich of Russia and what happened between him and Boris Gudonov and Prince Shuiskii, the story of Smerdis seems interestingly similar. First, we have a single source about all of these, Darius' famous carving explaining them all. All of later sources such as Herodotus have got their information from similar, governmental sources. Second, Kambodhia's supposed "madness" seems rather unbelievable, since Cyrus' would not have left the country to a mad man, and a mad man should not be able to conquer a country like Egypt! In my oppinion, the story goes as followed:
Darius, son of Vishtaspa, and grandson of Aryaramna, saw himself as the true successor of Cyrus, since his grandfather Aryaramna was the original king of Persia who was deposed and replaced by Cyrus' father, Kambodhia II. Thus, Vishtaspa, Darius' father should have been in place of Cyrus, and Darius was certainly more deserving than kambodhia III! Since Kambodhia went to Egypt and was actually not a good king, his true brother Bardia was chosen by some courtiers to be the new king. Bardia was somehow very liberal, as most of foreign sources suggest, and very much people oriented. There are sources that talk about him giving more rights to the peasants and removing many taxes as well as creating a parliamental style government. This was of course unacceptable for the Persian caste system, so Darius along with his friends, deposed and killed the king, and called him an imposter. This was strengthened by Darius' marriage to Atosa, wife of the "imposter" and sister of Kambodhia (the institution of marrying sisters and daughters was well established in ancient Persia). For gaining popular acceptance, Darius' needed a good story, and calling Bardia an imposter and claiming that kambodhia was mad would do the trick! Plus the fact that Bardia's unusual acts and governing system was a good prove for this accusation.
Darius the Great (Dariush, Dayara-Vahusha) was the Greatest ruler of his time. He created a major road system for Iran, coined money(Darik), and finished Cyrus’ incomplete job of invasion. He conquered North India and some parts of Greece, as well as whole of Asia minor and southern Europe. He also re-captured Egypt, and ordered the first version of Suez Canal to be digged! In one case, he even ventured to Northern Black Sea region and fought the Scythians, who inturn retreated from his sight and made him realise that conquering steppe is not a good idea! Darius captured all of southern Europe and established his Eskodara Satrapi (province).
The famous account of Darius' unbelievable defeat in the Marathon from the Athenian army is well known. This "defeat" has been immortalised by the myths about the runner who ran to Athens to give the news of the victory. Although widely accepted as fact, I doubt these accounts, which have been mainly retold by Herodotus. Generally what is known to the Greek and western world as "Great Persian Wars" is nothing more than a footnote in the Achaemenid governmental records. Marathon, although most likely happened the way it was told, has been greatly exaggeretad. The army of Darius was certainly not as large as reported, since Darius used much smaller armies for invading countries like Egypt, and Greeks were not particularly reputated for being invincable! The battle of Marathon was not a struggle for the Persian emperor to invade Athens, since it was financialy and strategically insignificant. It was, as reported by other historians and witnesses, motivated by a deposed Athenian official and the desire of the Great King to support him in regaining his position. Anyway, this battle has become a major chapter in the history of the west, as the small but much exaggereted defeat of Roland became a legend for Charlemagne and French history.
At this time, Darius was the master of the largest empire the world had ever known to itself . Having one end by the banks of the River Indus to Nile on the other end, and from the Nobian desert to Volga and Danube, administering such a gigantic land was the job of a wise ruler, and Darius was just that. Maybe not a great army general, but certainly the greatest of politicians, Darius recognised the first need for the rule of his empire, and that was roads. Wide and long roads connceted all of the Persian empire together, and along wiht the first postal system in the world (Barid), helped facilitate the communication. His political plays with his neighbors like Greek chiefs and Scythian kings and Indian Raja's show the extent of his political knowledge. He established the institution of political marriage by marrying his son and his brother to minor foreign sovereigns. He conquered Massagets through marriage to their Queen, and he was more successful in that than Cyrus. He also was the first ruler to ask for sons and heirs of the defeated kings as the hostages and guarantors of their father's loyalty. By educating these sons in the Persian way, he created a network of Perso-phile kings who were always faithful the the Great King. Darius is known in Iranian history as the greatest of the politicians.
After Darius his son Khashayar(Xerxes) inherited the throne. Khashayar aimed for the full invasion of Greece, especially Athens and Sparta who were suspicious of encouraging Greek provinces of Iran to rebel against the great king. Khashayar was stopped in Salamis because of his lack of sea power, although he had success in burning the famous Acropolis and stopping Greeks from any furthure attempts to irritate Iranian provinces. Mardonius, Khashayar's General and best friend, stayed in Northern Greece for several years to ensure the Greek peace!!! Khshayar's reign was the hight of the Achaemenid power. the empire was at it largest extent, and the internal affairs were perfect, thanks to Darius' wise plannings. Khshayar himself was a powerful and able sovereign, but not as sharp as his father. His extravagant ways set the basis for the world famous stories about the riches of Persia and established the legendary reputation of the Great Kings. He was the party king who would get serious when needed.
Ardeshir the Long-Armed (Artaxerxes Langimanus) was son and successor of Khashayar. He was one of the best rulers of Achaemenids and responsible for strengthening of the Persian power even in the farthest lands. Ardeshir sent ambassadors to Early Rome and Carthage and treated his subjects well. His reign was the last prosperous of Achaemenids, and he is generally considered the last great of the "Great Kings".
Ardeshir's reign was followed by a period of unrest caused by the struggle between his sons. Khashayar II, the youngest of Ardeshir's son was chosen as the new emperor since he was the only one with a Achaemenid mother. On the other hand, Ardeshir's other sons, Soghdian and Darius saw that as a bad excuse. Soghdian became the regent for the young Khashayar, and eventually murdered him. Since Soghdians mother was a slave, Darius became the new emperor as Darius II Nothus. Darius eliminated Soghdian and became the sole ruler. Darius II's rule was a peaceful one, despite its uneasy start, and he is remembered as a good king, although far from his name sake.
Darius' sons, Ardeshir and Cyrus the Younger started a struggle after their father's death. Despite being the eldest son and also Achaemenid from both mother and father, Ardeshir lacked the support of his powerful mother, Paroshat. This woman, comparable with Catherine de Medici of France, was a great politician and a Machiavelist preceeding Machiaveli. She sided with her younger son, Cyrus, and fought against her elder son. When Cyrus was killed in a war by mistake, Ardeshir forgave his mother because of that unfortunate accident, and paroshat returned to her palace in peace. Ardeshir II ruled from 404-359 BC and was known the the Greeks as Mnemon, since he never forgot anything.! He was a pious but weak ruler whose wrong decisions left the country in a state of chaos upon his death.
Ardehsir III, son of Ardeshir II, became emperor after slaughtering his brothers and nephews. He ruled for 20 years, and has been often compared with Caligula, atlhough he did not the bad habits of him! The last of Achaemenids was Darius III. He was a person born NOT to rule! His reign was matched with the beginning of Alexander's reign in Macedonia, a great disadvantage. Alexander defeated Darius in Isus battle and captured all of the Persian Empire in less than 5 years. Darius was killed by his guards while hiding. His murderors were severly punished by Alexander, who considred Persian kings as respectable.
Alexanders's conquest and reign is out of our means. Just to mention that he burned the beautiful and legendary capital of Persia, Persepolis, and died in Babylon at 32. His successors in Iran were Selucids , descendants of Selucus Nicator, Alexander's general. They ruled the country from 312 to 247 BC, when Antiochus II was defeated by Arsaces the Parthian.
Life of the Common Man, and the governments
Unfortunatelly, thousands of years of attacks by the foreigners on Iran has left us with almost nothing about the life of the common folk during the Achaemenid era. Alexander burned Persepolis and whatever it contained, and took the only remaining version of Avesta, the Zoroastrian holy book and an encyclopaedia of knowledges, to Greece. Greeks translated this text, and used it to advance their own knowledges, many of them presented to the western world as Greek. Later, Arabs burned the Gondi Shapour University and its library, thus destroying all signs of intellectual life in pre-Islamic period. So, at the first glance, it seems like for over a thousand years, Iranians achieved no scientific results, and almost lacked the intelectual life of their neighbours like Greeks and Romans. However, an educated man realises that this can not be possible for an empire which ruled a large part of the world for such a long time, and few books which remain from that era prove that Iranians have been very advance in knowledges of Medicine, Astrology, Mathematics, Architecture, and Literature.
During Achaemenid period, a major advancement took place in field of literature and writing. We see Persians adopting the Babylonian cunieform they have got through Medes, and modify it to become an alphabetical writing system, rather than its traditional syllable based system. They also adopted the Aramaic scripts for their everyday life and for regular government work, and Aramaic speaking secretaries became the back-bone of Achaemenid beaurocracy. This led to the creation of ideograms in later Iranian scripts such as Sassanian Pahlavi which caused a major handicap for writing and reading those languages.
For the common man however, these matters were not worth considering. A usual Persian folk during this era was most likely a farmer or a cattle breeder, this was the most common of the works at that time. Peasants either owned the lands, or they rented it from the owners. They would work on it individually, or occasionally form a common farm and work on it with other fellow farmers. Slavery existed, but only for the non-Persians, never a Persian became a slave as a result of a financial matter as it was common in many other societies later on. People of the conquered lands were left alone on the matters of their belief and their local economy. In most cases, a local dynasty ruled the people on behalf of the Great King, and most of these foreign subjects were happy, since they knew the independent locals would not be as kind as the ones answering to the Persians.
On the matter of religion. Early Achaemenids were most likely followers of the old Aryan religion of worshiping natural gods, mainly Mithra, god of sun, and Anahita, goddess of water and fertility. It has been proposed that after Xerxes (Khashayar) the Zoroastrianism became the most wide spread religion, although it existed way before Achaemenids. It can be viewed that the followers of Deevayasna (evil worshipers) were greatly out numbered by Mazdayasna (truth worshipers). Although there is no evidence of an Achaemenid king ever claiming a particular religion, it is most certain that by the time of Alexander, most Iranians were Zoroastrians. Never this affected their treatment of conquered subjects, since they respected Cyrus' freedom of religion laws very seriously, and never forced their religion on their subjects.
Persians hated lying and breaking promises, so they did not enagage in trade and left it to their subjects. Persian people were tall with strong features, men left their beard and hair to grow long, and men and women covered their whole body but their hands. They wore three trousers over one another, with long sleeved shirts that would cover the top part of the trousers, both of them made from fine cotton. Over them they occasionally wore long jackets. Soft shoes and small hats were part of the fashion, and men and women used almost identical clothes. Even the king wore the same clothes, with the exception of its deep orange colour.
Fine arts were not very popular by the Persians, rather architecture and design, fine arts were mostly works of the foreign people sent to the king as part of the tax, although there are evidence of pure Persian goldsmithery which is awfully similar to the works of their Scythian cousins. From the examples of Persan architecture, Palacesof Susa and Persepolis are well known. Persian road system was the bestof its time, and it made it possible for Barid (post) messangers to travel from Shusha to Sardis in a week, same as with a car today. Navigation was not their strongest point, they would either rent or capture Phoenician ships.
In the government, the country was divided into 20 Khshtrapti (Greek: Satraps), each ruled by a governor (Satrapi), who was the highest authority on the state. He could lay taxes as much as he wanted, so long that he sent the annual tax dictated by the central government on time. These Satrapis were controled by the Great King's "Eyes and Ears" which would secretly report the actions of the governor, and were also responsible for the occasional need to make one of them disapear! A noble class existed within the country, supposedly the members of the six families who helped Darius become king. These nobles held land, formed armies, and could even lay taxes. Much like their 18th century French counterparts, nobles were residents of the capital, either in Pasargedae (The Official capital), Hegmatana (Summer Capital) or Babylon (Capital of the west), but most likely in Susa, since it was where the king spent most of his time, much like what Louis XIV did with Versailles. Persian system of government was so well planned that it became a patern for other empires and survived until the fall of Rome.
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