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July 24, 2004

A Brief History of the Iranics - Part II
Guest Author: Eswin Oakman

Bam Citadel in Kerman

The Persian Empire

Persians managed to create the very first Indo-European global empire which was the vastest at that time. It is said that Persians showed tolerance and respect towards all people in their empire. However, one should note that, this was mostly because they were smart enough to desire political stability which is often destroyed by ethnic clashes. They had at the same time a great appetite for conquering other nations and assimilating them into the Persian culture. In this respect they followed the style of their neighbors, the Babylonians and Assyrians. They brought stability to a Mesopotamia in which for example there was no tradition of releasing the war captives at the time.

It is a historical fact that Persians showed great tolerance towards the Jewish people who were basically prisoners in Babylonia, but one might ask the question: Would the Jews have been tolerated, had they been in the way of the Persian supremacy in the Middle East? Indeed, it is quite possible that Persians would have assimilated the Jews. That was after all what happened to the Persians' own kinsmen, the Medians.

There are many inscriptions made by the Great Kings of Persia, in which they boast about how tolerant they were towards different races, religions and backgrounds, distancing themselves from the oriental tyrants of the Middle East who kept boasting about how many people they had killed and captured in battles. But, what would Medians, Scythians, Armenians, Greeks, Babylonians and Africans (especially Egyptians) have to say about that? One may say, well, Medians and Scythians ended the Assyrian dominance in the Middle East also! True, but it was mainly because Assyrians oppressed them (and so many others). Assyrians were well-known for their ruthless and brutal hunger for power and the Median vassal king Fravartish was killed in a battle trying to keep his own territory. Much Later, the Medians rebelled several times against the Persian dominance in their land, but they were defeated every time and their leaders were executed. Thus the Medians lost any long-lasting influence in the global Iranic culture.

Finally, even the Persian Achemaenids fell to Alexander of Macedonia and Persians lost their vast empire to Greeks and Macedonians. After the Macedonian invasion, a Greek dynasty, the Seleucids was established in Iran and they in turn tried to "Hellenize" the culture. This was not considered to be a great loss by the Persian aristocracy, as the incorporation of foreign elements into their already multicultural world was normal. Eventually, and not much later, the Seleucids military weakness and the lack of political power initiated the rise of the Parthian dominance in the eastern provinces of Iran. Parthians were Scythians and belonged to the Parni, which was a branch of the Dahae confederation of Scythians. The Parthians managed to gradually reestablish an Iranic domination of the Iranian plateau. The Parthians ruled Iran for nearly 400 years. They created the first institutionalized elective system of kings (although it failed eventually) through their own parliament Mahestan. This is perhaps the first known "House of Lords" in the Indo-European history. The Parthians revived the Iranic martial ardor lost under the Seleucids, and restored the Iranic culture in Iran against the continuous Roman aggressions, but never accepted by their Persian antagonists, they eventually lost their power to the Persian Sassanids.

The Sassanids warred with Romans for almost four centuries, and later with the Byzantine Empire, and the Huns and the Turks. Most of their wars ended disastrously for the Iranian people. Outside Persia they firmly held the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley. The Sassanids promoted and redesigned the Zoroastrian religion, punishing by death those who left the official faith. Zoroastrianism, which is by many, considered as one of the purest Iranic cultural remains, was opposed vehemently by many Iranic tribes who preferred their own Mithra and Anahita to Zoroastrian paradigm of duality. The Sassanids are also honorably responsible for other cultural contributions, such as the spectacular architecture they produced in Iran and Mesopotamia, some of which remain until this day.

In the 7th century Sassanid Persia fell to the conquering armies of Islam of Arabia. Both the Sassanids and their enemies, the Byzantines, had been seriously weakened by exhausting wars they had fought between 603-629 ACE. The Persian Sassanids, shaken by defeat, ruled by an unstable and corrupt dynasty, with a disrupted army and civil service and with a people alienated by crushing taxation and parasitic landlords, and a non-organic religion had to give in for the "vigorous impulse of Islam". Islamic rule, under the Caliphate, persisted for seven centuries. It gave the Persians a wholly new religion and altered their way of living. Yet Persian culture did not die.

Eswin Oakman von Falkenhausen was born an orphan from a German, British, and Iranian background in 1971. He was raised in Iran and spent most of his childhood in North of Tehran. He later studied history in political science in England and is currently residing in Canada.

an Iranic at July 24, 2004 05:17 PM [permalink]:

Dear Author,

I was just wondering if your name is Iranic.

eswin at July 24, 2004 06:28 PM [permalink]:

Actually my first name Eswin is a version of the old english Oswin, meaning something like "friend of the heathen God" and Oakman means literally 'the man of the oak tree'. Thus my name is Anglo-Saxon and thereby Germanic not Iranic.

sirius at July 24, 2004 06:59 PM [permalink]:

Can you give us a sense of the ordinary people's life style in ancient Iran and compare it with other nation's life style?

an iranic at July 24, 2004 07:13 PM [permalink]:

ďfriend of the heathen GodĒ:
If Iím not mistaken the crusaders were calling muslims, the heathens, right? Heathens are those who donít believe in the god of the bible.
I mean no offence but it sounds a strange name.

Fravartish at July 24, 2004 08:17 PM [permalink]:

I suppose, what our friend Eswin meant by a "heathen God" is that he wanted to emphasize a non-christian god. So (Eswin correct me if I am wrong) "Oswin" means simply "friend of God". The component "Os" is derived from the Old English language and means "God". The Old English "Os" is related to Scandinavian "As" (Icelandic "Assur") and ultimately stems from the Proto-Germanic "Ansuz". "Ansuz" is in turn related to the Proto-Iranic "Asura"(which became the Persian Ahura)!

Eswin at July 24, 2004 10:59 PM [permalink]:

You are completely right Farvartish, and you certainly must be a linguist. The 'god' part of the name pre-dates Christianity concerning its origin.

Mohammad at July 25, 2004 12:02 AM [permalink]:

Couple of points as usual:

Arab rule did not last for seven centuries. By late 10th century CE many local dynasties were ruling Iran, so if we put the final defeat of Sassanids at 650 CE, the direct Arab rule lasted almost three hundred years. May be less. I have heard this allegation that Zoroastrianism was not organic and it died fast. Then it makes me wonder why up to Saljuk rule in Iran still the country side was firmly Zoroastrian, and why by the time of Mongol Khans conversion to Islam, in 12th century CE, still the number of Zoroastrians in Southern Iran was so significant that the equivalent of a crusade was declared to forcibly convert them? Islam became the majority religion in Iran (not in mesopotamia) and central Asia only after the Ilkhanid rule. Vast numbers of Zoroastrians, Budhists, Jews, and Christians lived in these lands. The official histories did not bother with them since they were 2nd class subjects.

Fravartish at July 25, 2004 09:14 AM [permalink]:

Did Eswin claim that the Arab rule lasted for 7 centuries?
The only thing that I have seen in his article is, and I quote, "In the 7th century Sassanid Persia fell to the conquering armies of Islam of Arabia".

An Iranian Student (AIS) at July 25, 2004 11:04 AM [permalink]:

Medians were 'assimilated' because they were very near to Persians culturally and ethnicaly. The fact that Babylonia or Lydia, Ionia and Egypt which all were 'in the way of' Persian expansion all contniued in their own respective culutural and national heritage, that Cyrus the great even explains in detail how he brought the costums of Babylon back to their normal procedures, after the religious innovations of Nebunid the last Babylonian king, or the fact that the defeated Lydian king remaind as a political advisor in the Persian courts or the documents showing Xerxes perfoirming Egyptian rituals as Pharaohs all show that Persians were indeed keen on preserving the cultural and national identities of the lands they conquered. The Jewish revival is no exception and although it might seem normal, callinh Cyrus, who was not even an Israelite as the Lord's Messiah and savior in the Bible is extremely odd. Such a title is given to very few other characters in the Bible and to no other non-Israelite as far as I know. There must have been more than just startegic indifference on the side of Achamenids.

As for the question of whether or not Persian boastings of tolerance contains any truth or not, well if you are judging by standards of the 21 Century I guess nothing of that age would qualify. But in a realistic view the very fact that the Persians made such remarks in those days shows their different moral system. As everyone knows Babylonian and especially Assyrians were very fond of explaining in details the kinds of torture or mischief they brough upon the people they conquered.

Darius at November 10, 2004 12:41 AM [permalink]:

As the world's first international empire that had an area which included lands in Africa, the Middle East, India, Central Asia, and Europe the ancient Iranians where known for their tolerance and love of culture and art. They helped develop schools, state monoments, religious buildings (for many faiths, including the rebuilding of the Jewish temple of Jerusalem)and other forms of infrastructure. The first highway was build under Iranian rule along with the first organized mint, where money was issued. The world's first postal system was introduced, as well as standerdized weights and systems of measurement. Canals where build in the Fertile Cresent, eastern Greece (which was under Persian rule with more than two thirds of the Greek world), and Egypt. Even religions like Islam, Christianity, Jeudism, Hinduism, and Bah'ism talk about ancient Iran's religious tolerance. The United Nations even keeps a copy of an ancient declarition by a Cyrus the Great giving an edict on tolerance and the moral responsability of monarchs and imperial governments of the Iranian's ancient empire, which was the greatest empire of the ancient world.

paymane at November 24, 2004 01:34 AM [permalink]:

I appreciate what you all are doing here
very very much.
can I ask you to do me a favor? can any one who comments also introduce a reference so that people like me who want to know more can follow up on that.
Thank you very much