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History of Iran

History of Iran

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Published by glsbiz1
A brief look at Iranian history
A brief look at Iranian history

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Published by: glsbiz1 on Feb 19, 2009
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The Elamites, Medians, and AchaemenidsThe early history of Iran may be divided into three phases: (1) theprehistoric period, beginning with the earliest evidence ofhumans on the Iranian plateau (c. 100,000 BC) and ending roughlyat the start of the 1st millennium BC, (2) the protohistoric period,covering approximately the first half of the 1st millenniumBC,and (3) the period of the Achaemenian dynasty (6th to 4th centuryBC), when Iran entered the full light of written history. Thecivilization of Elam, centred off the plateau in lowland Khūzestān,is an exception, for written history began there as early as it did inneighbouring Mesopotamia (c. 3000 BC).The sources for the prehistoric period are entirely archaeological.Early excavation in Iran was limited to a few sites. In the 1930sarchaeological exploration increased, but work was abruptlyhalted by the outbreak of World War II. After the war ended,interest in Iranian archeology revived quickly, and, from 1950until archaeological study was dramatically curtailed after 1979,numerous excavations revolutionized the study of prehistoricIran.For the protohistoric period the historian is still forced to relyprimarily on archaeological evidence, but much informationcomes from written sources as well. None of these sources,however, is both local and contemporary in relation to the eventsdescribed. Some sources are contemporary but belong toneighbouring civilizations that were only tangentially involved inevents in the Iranian plateau—for example, the Assyrian andBabylonian cuneiform records from lowland Mesopotamia. Someare local but not contemporary, such as the traditional Iranianlegends and tales that supposedly speak of events in the early 1stmillennium BC. And some are neither contemporary nor local butare nevertheless valuable in reconstructing events in theprotohistoric period (e.g., the 5th-century-BC Greek historianHerodotus).For the study of the centuries of the Achaemenian dynasty, thereis sufficient documentary material so that this period is theearliest for which archaeology is not the primary source of data.Contributing to the understanding of the period are, among othersources, economic texts from Mesopotamia, Elam, and Iran;historical inscriptions such as that of Darius I (the Great) atBehistun (modern Bīsotūn); contemporary and later classicalauthors; and later Iranian legends and literature.The prehistoric periodThe Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age)Enigmatic evidence of human presence on the Iranian plateau asearly as Lower Paleolithic times comes from a surface find in theBākhtarān valley. The first well-documented evidence of humanhabitation is in deposits from several excavated cave and rock-shelter sites, located mainly in the Zagros Mountains of westernIran and dated to Middle Paleolithic or Mousterian times (c.100,000 BC). There is every reason to assume, however, that futureexcavations will reveal Lower Paleolithic habitation in Iran. TheMousterian flint tool industry found there is generallycharacterized by an absence of the Levalloisian technique ofchipping flint and thus differs from the well-defined MiddlePaleolithic industries known elsewhere in the Middle East. Theeconomic and social level associated with this industry is that offairly small, peripatetic hunting and gathering groups spread outover a thinly settled landscape.Locally, the Mousterian is followed by an Upper Paleolithic flintindustry called the Baradostian. Radiocarbon dates suggest thatthis is one of the earliest Upper Paleolithic complexes; it may havebegun as early as 36,000 BC. Its relationship to neighboringindustries, however, remains unclear. Possibly, after somecultural and typological discontinuity, perhaps caused by themaximum cold of the last phase of the Würm glaciation, theBaradostian was replaced by a local Upper Paleolithic industrycalled the Zarzian. This tool tradition, probably dating to theperiod 12,000 to 10,000 BC, marks the end of the IranianPaleolithic sequence.The Neolithic Period (New Stone Age)Evidence indicates that the Middle East in general was one of theearliest areas in the Old World to experience what the Australianarchaeologist V. Gordon Childe called the Neolithic revolution.That revolution witnessed the development of settled villageagricultural life based firmly on the domestication of plants andanimals. Iran has yielded much evidence on the history of theseimportant developments. From the early Neolithic Period(sometimes called the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age) comesevidence of significant shifts in tool manufacture, settlementpatterns, and subsistence methods, including the fumblingbeginnings of domestication of both plants and animals, at suchwestern Iranian sites as Āsīāb, Gūrān, Ganj Dareh (Ganj Darreh),and Ali Kosh. Similar developments in the Zagros Mountains, onthe Iraqi side of the modern border, are also traceable at sites suchas Karīm Shahīr and Zawi Chemi–Shanidar. This phase of earlyexperimentation with sedentary life and domestication was soonfollowed by a period of fully developed village farming asdefined at important Zagros sites such as Jarmo, Sarāb, upper AliKosh, and upper Gūrān. All these sites date wholly or in part tothe 8th and 7th millennia BC.By approximately 6000 BC these patterns of village farming werewidely spread over much of the Iranian plateau and in lowlandKhūzestān. Tepe Sabz in Khūzestān, Hajji Firuz in Azerbaijan,Godin Tepe VII in northeastern Lorestān, Tepe Sialk I on the rimof the central salt desert, and Tepe Yahya VI C–E in the southeastare all sites that have yielded evidence of fairly sophisticatedpatterns of agricultural life (Roman numerals identify the level ofexcavation). Though distinctly different, all show general culturalconnections with the beginnings of settled village life inneighbouring areas such as Afghanistan, Baluchistan, CentralAsia, and Mesopotamia.The 5th to mid 3rd millenniaRather less is known of the cultures in this time range in Iran thanof contemporary cultures elsewhere in the ancient Middle East.Research has tended to concentrate on the Neolithic and
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protohistoric periods, and the scattered evidence for importantcultural and artistic developments in the Chalcolithic Period(Copper Age) and Early Bronze Age resists coherent summary. Itis clear that trends that began in the late Neolithic Periodcontinued in the millennia that followed and that the rugged,broken landscape of the Iranian plateau forced people into avariety of relatively isolated cultures. In no instance, with theimportant exception of Elam (see The Elamites, below), did Iranparticipate in the developments that led to fully urban civilizationin lowland Mesopotamia to the west or in the Indus valley to theeast. Throughout prehistory the Iranian plateau remained at theeconomic and cultural level of village life achieved in theNeolithic Period. The separate cultural areas on the plateau are asyet barely understood by the modern archaeologist in any termsother than through the painted pottery assemblages found atseveral sites throughout Iran. Though they developed incomparative isolation, each of these areas does yield someevidence of cultural contact with its immediate neighbours and, insome striking cases, with developments in the centres of highercivilization in Mesopotamia. Trade would appear to be theprincipal mechanism by which such contacts were maintained,and often Elam appears to have acted as an intermediary betweenSumer and Babylon on the one hand and the plateau cultures onthe other. Trade across the northern part of the plateau, throughthe sites of Tepe Hissar and Sialk, most probably involvedtransshipping semiprecious stones such as lapis lazuli fromAfghanistan to Mesopotamia. The appearance of proto-Elamitetablets in Sialk IV may bear witness to such trade. So also may theappearance of similar proto-Elamitetablets at Tepe Yahya south ofKermān and in the great central desert provide evidence of tradeconnections between Mesopotamia and the east—in this case atrade that may have centred on specific items such as steatite andcopper. Parsa perhaps also participated in such trade networks, asis suggested by the appearance there, alongside strictly localceramics, of wares that have clear Mesopotamian affinities. In thewest-central Zagros, outside influences from both the north andthe west can be traced in the ceramic record; such is also the casefor local cultures in Azerbaijan to the northwest. In general,however, these millennia represent a major dark age in Iranianprehistory and warrant considerably more attention than theyhave received.The late 3rd and 2nd millenniaThe beginning of this period is generally characterized by an evenmore marked isolation of the plateau than earlier, while the latterhalfof the period is one of major new disruptions, heretoforeunique in Iranian history, that laid the groundwork fordevelopments in the protohistoric period. In northwestern andcentral western Iran, local cultures, as yet barely defined beyondtheir ceramic parameters, developed in relative isolation fromevents elsewhere. All occupation had ceased at Tepe Sialk, but thepainted pottery cultures characteristic of earlier Hissar and of thesites in the Gorgān lowland in the northeast continued. LittleMesopotamian influence is evident, though some contactsbetween Elam and the plateau remained. Beginning perhaps asearly as 2400 BC but more probably somewhat later, a radicaltransformation occurred in the culture of the northeast: earlierpainted potteries were entirely replaced by a distinctive gray orgray-black ceramic associated with a variety of other artifacts,primarily weapons and ornaments in copper or bronze, whichwere also unique. Whether this cultural change represents astrictly local development or testifies to an important intrusion ofnew peoples into the area is still under debate. In any case, noneof these developments can be traced to Mesopotamia or tootherareas to the west, regions which had previously been the sourcesof outside influences on the Iranian plateau. Somewhat later thelocal cultures of central and northwestern Iran were apparentlyinfluenced by developments in northern Mesopotamia andAssyria, along patterns of contact that had been well establishedin earlier periods. Yet this contact, as it is observed at Godin III,Hasanlu VI, and Dinkha Tepe, did not cause any majordislocation of local cultural patterns. In the second half of the 2ndmillennium, however, western Iran—at first perhaps graduallyand then with striking suddenness—came under the influence ofthe gray and gray-black ware cultures that had developed earlierin the northeast. There the impact of these influences was such asto definitely suggest a major cultural dislocation and theintroduction of a whole new culture—and probably a new people—into the Zagros. It was this development that marked the end ofthe Bronze Age in western Iran and ushered in the earlyprotohistoric period.The ElamitesWhereas the Iranian plateau did not experience the rise of urban,literate civilization in the late 4th and early 3rd millennia on theMesopotamian pattern, lowland Khūzestān did. There Elamitecivilization was centred. Geographically, Elam included morethan Khūzestān; it was a combination of the lowlands and theimmediate highland areas to the north and east. Elamite strengthwas based on an ability to hold these various areas together undera coordinated government that permitted the maximuminterchange of the natural resources unique to each region.Traditionally this was done through a federated governmentalstructure.Closely related to that form of government was the Elamitesystem of inheritance and power distribution. The normal patternof government was that of an overlord ruling over vassal princes.In earliest times the overlord lived in Susa, which functioned as afederal capital. With him ruled his brother closest in age, theviceroy, who usually had his seat of government in the native cityof the currently ruling dynasty. This viceroy was heirpresumptive to the overlord. Yet a third official, the regent orprince of Susa (the district),shared power with the overlord andthe viceroy. He was usually the overlord's son or, if no son wasavailable, his nephew. On the death of the overlord, the viceroybecame overlord. The prince of Susa remained in office, and thebrother of the old viceroy nearest to him in age became the newviceroy. Only if all brothers were dead was the prince of Susapromoted to viceroy, thus enabling the overlord to name his ownson (or nephew) as the new prince of Susa. Such a complicatedsystem of governmental checks, balances, and power inheritanceoften broke down, despite bilateral descent and levirate marriage(the compulsory marriage of a widow to her deceased husband'sbrother). What is remarkable is how often the system did work; itwas only in the Middle and Neo-Elamite periods that sons more
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often succeeded fathers to power.Elamite history can be divided into three main phases: the Old,Middle, and Late, or Neo-Elamite, periods. In all periods Elamwas closely involved with Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria,sometimes through peaceful trade but more often through war. Inlike manner, Elam was often a participant in events on the Iranianplateau. Both involvements were related to the combined need ofall the lowland civilizations to control the warlike peoples to theeast and to exploit the economic resources of the plateau.The Old Elamite periodThe earliest kings in the Old Elamite period may date toapproximately 2700 BC. Already conflict with Mesopotamia, inthis case apparently with the city of Ur, was characteristic ofElamite history. These early rulers were succeeded by the Awan(Shūstar) dynasty.The 11th king of this line entered into treatyrelations with the great Naram-Sin of Akkad (reigned c. 2254–c.2218 BC). Yet a new rulinghouse soon appeared, the Simashdynasty (Simash may have been in the mountains of southernLorestān). The outstanding event of this period was the virtualconquest of Elam by Shulgi of the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2094–c.2047 BC). Eventually the Elamites rose in rebellion and overthrewthe 3rd Ur dynasty, an event long remembered in Mesopotamiandirges and omen texts. About the mid 19th century BC, power inElam passed to a new dynasty, that of Eparti. The third king ofthis line, Shirukdukh, was active in various military coalitionsagainst the rising power of Babylon, but Hammurabi was not tobe denied, and Elam was crushed in 1764 BC. The Old Babylonkingdom, however, fell into rapid decline following the death ofHammurabi, and it was not long before the Elamites were able togain revenge. Kutir-Nahhunte I attacked Samsuiluna (c. 1749–c.1712 BC), Hammurabi's son, and dealt so serious a defeat to theBabylonians that the event was remembered more than 1,000years later in an inscription of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. Itmay beassumed that with this stroke Elam once again gainedindependence. The end of the Eparti dynasty, which occurredpossibly in the late 16th century BC, is buried in silence.The Middle Elamite periodAfter two centuries for which sources reveal nothing, the MiddleElamite period opened with the rise to power of the Anzanitedynasty, whose homeland probably lay in the mountainsnortheast of modern Khūzestān. Political expansion underKhumbannumena (c. 1285–c. 1266 BC), the fourth king of this line,proceeded apace, and his successes were commemorated by hisassumption of the title “Expander of the Empire.” He wassucceeded by his son, Untash-Gal (Untash [d] Gal, or Untash-Huban), a contemporary of Shalmaneser I of Assyria (c. 1274–c.1245 BC) and the founder of the city of Dūr Untash (modernChoghā Zanbīl). In the years immediately following Untash-Gal'sreign, Elam increasingly found itself in real or potential conflictwith the rising power of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyriacampaigned in the mountains north of Elam in the latter part ofthe 13th century BC. The Elamites under Kidin-Khutran, thesecond king after Untash-Gal, countered with a successful anddevastating raid on Babylonia. In the end, however, Assyrianpower seems to have been too great. Tukulti-Ninurta managed toexpand, for a brief time, Assyrian control well to the south inMesopotamia. Kidin-Khutran faded into obscurity, and theAnzanite dynasty came to an end.After a short period of dynastic troubles, the second half of theMiddle Elamite period opened with the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte I (c. 1160 BC). Two equally powerful and two ratherless impressive kings followed this founder of a new dynasty,whose home was probably Susa, and in this period Elam becameone of the great military powers of the Middle East. Tukulti-Ninurta died about 1208 BC, and Assyria fell into a period ofinternal weakness and dynastic conflict. Elam was quick to takeadvantage of this situation by campaigning extensively in theDiyālā River area and into the very heart of Mesopotamia.Shutruk-Nahhunte I captured Babylon and carried off to Susa thestela on which was inscribed the famous law code of Hammurabi.Shilkhak-In-Shushinak, brother and successor of Shutruk-Nahhunte's eldest son, Kutir-Nahhunte, still anxious to takeadvantage of Assyrian weakness, campaigned as far north as thearea of modern Kirkūk. In Babylonia, however, the 2nd dynastyof Isin led a native revolt against such control as the Elamites hadbeen able to exercise there, and Elamite power in centralMesopotamia was eventually broken. The Elamite military empirebegan to shrink rapidly. Nebuchadrezzar I of Babylon (c. 1119–c.1098 BC) attacked Elam and was just barely thwarted. A secondBabylonian attack succeeded, however, and the whole of Elamwas apparently overrun, ending the Middle Elamite period.It is noteworthy that during the Middle Elamite period the oldsystem of succession to, and distribution of, power appears tohave broken down. Increasingly, son succeeded father, and less isheard of divided authority within a federated system. Thisprobably reflects an effort to increase the central authority at Susain order to conduct effective military campaigns abroad and tohold Elamite foreign conquests. The old system of regionalismbalanced with federalism must have suffered, and the fraternal,sectional strife that so weakened Elam in the Neo-Elamite periodmay have had its roots in the centrifugal developments of the 13thand 12th centuries BC.The Neo-Elamite periodA long period of darkness separates the Middle and Neo-Elamiteperiods. In 742 BC a certain Huban-Nugash is mentioned as kingin Elam. The land appears to have been divided into separateprincipalities, with the central power fairly weak. During the nextcentury the Elamites constantly attempted to interfere inMesopotamian affairs, usually in alliance with Babylon, againstthe constant pressure of Neo-Assyrian expansion. At times theywere successful with this policy, both militarily anddiplomatically, but on the whole they were forced to give way toincreasing Assyrian power. Local Elamite dynastic troubles werefrom time to time compounded by both Assyrian and Babylonianinterference. Meanwhile the Assyrian army whittled away atElamite power and influence in Luristan. In time these internaland external pressures produced a near total collapse of anymeaningful central authority in Elam. In an effort to clean up apolitical and diplomatic mess that had become a chronic headache
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