Introduction to Iranian History

Iran as a country has been home to one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, with agricultural settlements dating back to the 6th millennium BC. The Iranian peoples are, however, a historical ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family. Their historical areas of settlement were on the Iranian plateau, certain areas of Central Asia such as Tajikestan, most of Afghanistan, parts of Iraq, Turkey, Amenia, Pakistan and scattered parts of the Caucasus Mountains – a region that is sometimes termed the Iranian cultural continent.

The term Iran is derived from the Old Persian adjective Aryana (“the land of the Aryans”) which is itself a cognate of the Sanskrit word Arya. The original meaning of the term is not clear. It has been said the most likely translation is “the noble people” – based on the famous “Noble Eightfold Path” of Buddhism (āryā ṣṭāṅga mārga) which in turn is divided into three main groups closely resembling the three pillars of  Zoroasterian belief in “Noble Thoughts, Noble Words, Noble Deeds”.

Although the term “Iran” has been used since ancient times to refer to both the country and its people, it was only in 1936 when it was adopted as the official name of the state. However, the academic usage of the term “Iranian People” is distinct from the state of Iran. Many citizens of Iran are not necessarily “Iranian people” by virtue of not being speakers of Iranian languages and may not have discernible ties to ancient Iranian tribes. Not to mention the fact that in recent decades millions of Iranians have escaped the clerical persecution in Iran and are now scattered all over the world.

In the following collection we have included all those dynasties, regardless of their ethnic origins, who have ruled parts or all of what is now called Iran.

Elam, 3200–1100 BC

Elam was an ancient civilization located in what is now southwest Iran. The name is a transcription from Biblical Hebrew. In the Old Elamite period (Middle Bronze Age), Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands. Its culture played a crucial role in the development of later Persian dynasties, especially the Achaemenids.

At least three proto-Elamite states merged to form Elam: Anshan (modern Fars), Awan (probably modern Luristan), and Shimashki (modern Kerman). References to Awan are generally older than those to Anshan. Elamite sites are found well outside this area, spread out on the Iranian plateau; such as Warakshe, Sialk (now a suburb of the modern city of Kashan) and Jiroft (in Kerman Province). The state of Elam was formed from these lesser states as a response to invasion from Sumer during the Old Elamite period. Elamite strength was based on an ability to hold these various areas together under a coordinated government.

The Medes, 728–550 BC

The Medes were an ancient Iranian people who lived in Iran in an area known as Media and spoke a northwestern Iranian language referred to as the Median language. Their arrival in the region is associated with the first wave of Iranian tribes in the second millennium BCE. Historical references to their existence in Western Iran around lake Orumieh appear from 9th century BC.

In the 7th century BC a unified Median state was formed which together with Babylonia, Lydia, and Egypt became one of the four major powers of the ancient Near East. An alliance with the Babylonians helped the Medes to capture Nineveh in 612 BC which resulted in the collapse of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Medes were subsequently able to establish their Median kingdom (with Ecbatana as their royal centre) beyond their original homeland. The Median kingdom was overtaken in 550 BC by the Achaemenid dynasty.

Achaemenid Empire, 550–330 BC

The Achaemenid Empire was the successor state of the Median Empire, expanding to eventually rule over significant portions of the ancient world, which at around 500 BC stretched from the Indus Valley in the east, to Thrace and Macedon on the northeastern border of Greece and eventually controlling Egypt. It was unified by a complex network of roads, ruled by monarchs, to become the largest and greatest empire the world had yet seen. By the 5th century BC the Kings of Persia were either ruling over or had subordinated territories encompassing not just all of the Persian Plateau and all of the territories formerly held by the Assyrian Empire (Mesopotamia, the Levant, Cyprus and Egypt), but beyond this all of Anatolia and the Armenia, as well as the Southern Caucasus and parts of the North Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, all of Bulgaria, Paeonia, Thrace and Macedonia to the north and west, most of the Black Sea coastal regions, parts of Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea, the Oxus and Jaxartes to the north and north-east, the Hindu Kush and the western Indus basin (corresponding to modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) to the far east, parts of northern Arabia to the south, and parts of northern Libya to the south-west, and parts of Oman, China, and the UAE. In the 5th century BC, it is estimated that 50 million, or around 45% of the world population lived in the Achaemenid Empire, which would make it the largest empire in history in terms of percentage of world population.

The term Achaemenid is in fact the Latinized version of the Old Persian name Haxāmaniš (a bahuvrihi compound translating to “having a friend’s mind”. Achaemenes was himself a minor 7th-century ruler of the Anshan (Ansham or Anšān) located in southwestern Iran. It was not until the time of Cyrus the Great, a descendant of Achaemenes, that the Achaemenid Empire developed the prestige of an empire and set out to incorporate the existing empires of the ancient east. The historical mark of the Achaemenid Empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, and religious influences as well. Many other countries adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange. The impact of Cyrus the Great’s Edict of Restoration is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts and the empire was instrumental in spread of Persian cosmology as far east as China. The Acahemenids fell the invading armies of Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great defeated the Persian armies at Granicus (334 BC), followed by Issus (333 BC), and lastly at Gaugamela (331 BC). Afterwards, he marched on Susa and Persepolis which surrendered in early 330 BC. Darius III was taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men murder Darius III and then declared himself Darius’ successor, as Artaxerxes V, before retreating into Central Asia. Bessus would then create a coalition of his forces, in order to create an army to defend against Alexander. Before Bessus could fully unite with his confederates at the eastern part of the empire, Alexander, fearing the danger of Bessus gaining control, found him, put him on trial and ordered his execution in a “cruel and barbarous manner”. Alexander generally kept the original Achaemenid administrative structure, leading some scholars to dub him as “the last of the Achaemenids” Upon Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided among his generals, the Diadochi, resulting in a number of smaller states. The largest of these, which held sway over the Iranian plateau, was Seleucid Empire, ruled by Alexander’s general Seleucus I Nicator. Native Iranian rule would be restored by the Parthians of northeastern Iran over the course of the 2nd century BC.

Selucid Empire, 330–150 BC

The Seleucid Empire was created out of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great. It was centred in the Near East and regions of the Asian part of the earlier Achaemenid Persian Empire.

The Seleucid Empire was a major centre of Hellenistic culture which maintained the preeminence of Greek customs and where Macedonian political elite dominated. Seleucid expansion into Greece was however abruptly halted after decisive defeats at the hands of the Roman army. Much of the Persian part of the empire was later retaken by the Parthians, yet the Seleucid kings continued to rule a rump state from Syria until their ultimate overthrow by the Roman general Pompey.

Greco-Bactrian Empire, 250–125 BC

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was the easternmost part of the Hellenistic world, covering Bactria and Sogdiana in Central Asia from 250 to 125 BC. The Greco-Bactrians were known for their high level of Hellenistic sophistication, and kept regular contact with both the Mediterranean and neighbouring India. They were on friendly terms with India and exchanged ambassadors.

Their cities, such as Ai-Khanoum in northeastern Afghanistan and Bactra (modern Balkh) where Hellenistic remains have been found, demonstrate a sophisticated Hellenistic urban culture. Greek and Chinese influences on each other belong to this period. Some technology exchanges also occurred. The Greco-Bactrians used an alloy technology in the production of their coins only known by the Chinese at the time. Most parts of their empire were eventually taken over by the Parthians.

Parthian Empire, 248 BC–224 AD

The Parthian Empire also known as the Arsacid Empire (Ashkāniān) was founded in the mid-3rd century BC by Arsaces I of Parthia, leader of the Parni tribe, when he conquered the Parthia region (roughly western Khorasan), then a satrapy (province) in rebellion against the Greek Seleucid Empire. Mithridates I of Parthia (171–138 BC) greatly expanded the empire by seizing Media and Mesopotamia from the Seleucids. At its height, the Parthian Empire stretched from the northern reaches of the Euphrates, in what is now Kurdistan, to eastern Iran. The empire, located on the Silk Road trade route between the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean Basin and the Han Dynasty in China, quickly became a center of trade and commerce.

The Parthians largely adopted the art, architecture, religious beliefs, and royal insignia of their culturally heterogeneous empire, which encompassed Persian, Hellenistic, and regional cultures. For about the first half of its existence, the Arsacid court adopted elements of Greek culture, though it eventually saw a gradual revival of Iranian traditions. The Arsacid rulers were titled the ‘King of Kings’, as a claim to be the heirs to the Achaemenid Empire. The Parthian era thus witnessed an Iranian cultural revival in religion, the arts, and even clothing fashions.

Kushan Empire, 30–275

The Kushan Empire originally formed in the early 1st century AD under Kujula Kadphises in the territories of ancient Bactria on either side of the middle course of the Oxus River or Amu Darya in what is now northern Afghanistan, and southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The Kushan kings were a branch of the Yuezhi. Previously a nomadic people residing in the steppes northwest of China, they moved southwest and settled in northern Afghanistan. They had diplomatic contacts with Rome, Persia and Han China. While much philosophy, art, and science was created within its borders, the only textual record we have of the empire’s history today comes from inscriptions and accounts in other languages, particularly Chinese. The empire declined from the 3rd century and fell to the Sassanid and Gupta Empires.

The Kushans adopted elements of the Hellenistic culture of Bactria. They adopted the Greek alphabet to suit their own language (kharoshti). The Kushan religious pantheon is extremely varied, as revealed by their coins and their seals, on which more than 30 different gods appear, belonging to the Hellenistic, the Iranian (including deities of Mithraism), and to a lesser extent the Indian world. The Kushans are believed to have later become predominantly Zoroastrian. However, during the earlier period, Buddhism grew much faster in the area. Kanishka I, fifth Kushan king, is renowned in Buddhist tradition for having convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir. Some later kings also gravitated towards Saivism (a sect of Hinduism).

Sasanid Empire, 224–651

The Sasanid Empire, known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān, was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire. The Sasanid Empire was recognized as one of the two main powers in Western Asia and Europe, alongside the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire, for a period of more than 400 years. The Empire was founded by Ardashir I, and lasted until Yazdegerd III lost control of his empire in a series of invasions from the Arab Caliphate.

During its existence, the Sasanid Empire encompassed all of today’s Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan), southwestern Central Asia, part of Turkey, certain coastal parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf area, and areas of southwestern Pakistan, stretching into India.

Patriarchal Caliphate, 637–651

The Muslim conquest of Persia led to the end of the Sassanid Empire in 644, the fall of Sassanid dynasty in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. Arabs first entered Sassanid territory in 633, when they invaded what is now Iraq. The Arabs eventually lost their holdings to Persian counterattacks. The second invasion began in 636, when a key victory at the Battle of Qadisiyyah led to the permanent end of Sassanid control west of Persia. The Zagros mountains then became a natural barrier and border between the Rashidun Caliphate and the Sassanid Empire. Caliph Umar ordered a full invasion of the Sassanid Persian empire in 642, which was completed with the complete conquest of the Sassanids by mid 644.

Persia, on the verge of the Arab invasion, was a society in decline and decay and in many areas the over-taxed population embraced the invading Islamic army. Once politically conquered, the Persians, however, began to resist the Arabs culturally and maintained Persian, as opposed to Arabic culture. Regardless, Islam was adopted by many, either for political or socio-cultural reasons, and gradually became the dominant religion.

Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750

The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the city of Mecca, Damascus was the capital of their Caliphate.

At its greatest extent, it covered more than five million square miles (13,000,000 km2), making it one of the largest empires the world had yet seen, and the fifth largest contiguous empire ever to exist.

Abbasid Caliphate, 750–1258

The Abbasid Caliphate was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphs from all but the Al Andalus region.

The Abbasid caliphate was founded by Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, in Harran in 750 and shifted its capital in 762 to Baghdad. It flourished for two centuries, but slowly went into decline with the rise to power of the Turkish army it had created (the Mamluks). Within 150 years of gaining control of Persia, the caliphs were forced to cede power to local dynastic emirs who only nominally acknowledged their authority.

The Abbasids’ rule was briefly ended for three years in 1258, when Holaku Khan, the Mongol khan, sacked Baghdad, resuming in Mamluk Egypt in 1261, from where they continued to claim authority in religious matters until 1519, when power was formally transferred to the Ottomans and the capital relocated to Constantinople.

Tahirid dynasty, 821–873

The Tahirid dynasty was an Iranian dynasty that ruled from 820 to 872 over the northeastern part of Greater Iran, in the region of Khorasan (parts that are presently in Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). The Tahirid capital was Merv and was then moved to Nishapur. The Tahirid dynasty is considered to be the first independent dynasty from the Abbasid caliphate established in Khorasan.

Although nominally subject to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the Tahirid rulers were effectively independent. The dynasty was founded by Tahir ibn Husayn, a leading general in the service of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun. Tahir’s military victories were rewarded with the gift of lands in the east of Persia, which were subsequently extended by his successors as far as the borders of India.

Alavid dynasty, 864–928

The Alavids were a Shia emirate based in Mazandaran (Tabaristan) of Iran. They claimed to be the descendants of the second Shi’a Imam (Imam Hasan ibn Ali) and brought Islam to the south Caspian Sea region of Iran. Their reign was ended when they were defeated by the Samanid empire in 928 AD. After their defeat some of the soldiers and generals of the Alavids joined the Samanid dynasty. Mardavij the son of Ziar was one of the generals that joined the Samanids. He later founded the Ziyarid dynasty. Mardāvīj successfully defeated the Abbasid’s army firstly in Hamadan (in the midwest of Iran), and finally in Kashan and Isfahan (the central cities of the country).

On December 2, 931, Mardāvīj arrived in Isfahan, declared himself Amir of Iran and made Isfahan the capital of his kingdom. Ali, Hassan and Ahmad the sons of Buye (that were founders of the Buyid or Buwayhid dynasty) were also among generals of the Alavid dynasty who joined the Samanid army. Their capital was the city of Amol.

Saffarid dynasty, 861–1003

The Saffarid dynasty ruled in Sistan (861-1003), a historical region in southeastern Iran, southwestern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Their capital was Zaranj, located in present-day Afghanistan. The dynasty was founded by – and took its name from – Ya’qub bin Laith al-Saffar, a man of humble origins who rose from an obscure beginning as a coppersmith (ṣaffār) to become a warlord. He seized control of the Sistan region, conquering all of Afghanistan, modern-day eastern Iran, and parts of Pakistan.

Using their capital (Zaranj) as base for an aggressive expansion eastwards and westwards, they overthrew the Tahirid dynasty and annexed Khorasan in 873. By the time of Ya’qub’s death, he had conquered Kabul Valley, Sindh, Tocharistan, Makran (Balochistan), Kerman, Fars, Khorasan, and nearly reached Baghdad but then suffered defeat. The Saffarid empire did not last long after Ya’qub’s death. His brother and successor Amr bin Laith was defeated in a battle against Ismail Samani in 900. Amr bin Laith was forced to surrender most of their territories to the new rulers. The Saffarids were subsequently confined to their heartland of Sistan, with their role reduced to that of vassals of the Samanids and their successors.

Samanid dynasty, 819–999

The Samanids were a Persian state that reigned for 180 years, encompassing a territory which included Khorasan (including Kabul), Ray, Transoxiania, Tabaristan, Kerman, Gorgan, and west of these provinces up to Isfahan. The Samanid Empire was the first native Persian dynasty to arise after the Muslim Arab conquest. At the peak of their power, the Samanids controlled territory extending as far south as the Sulaiman Mountains, Ghazni and Kandahar. The Samanids were descendants of Bahram Chobin, and thus descended from the House of Mihrān, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran. It was named after its founder Saman Khuda, who converted to Sunni Islam despite being from Zoroastrian theocratic nobility.

Ziyarid dynasty, 928–1043

The Ziyarids were an Iranian dynasty that ruled in the Caspian sea provinces of Gorgan and Mazandaran from 928-1043 (also known as Tabarestan). The founder of the dynasty was Mardavij (from 927 to 935), who took advantage of a rebellion in the Samanid army of Iran to seize power in northern Iran. He soon expanded his domains and captured the cities of Hamadan and Isfahan.

Perhaps among the more interesting things from this era is that we know that Abu Rayhan Biruni, the great scientist of the Middle Ages, was supported by Qabus, the ruler of the Ziyarid state, in 1000 in Gorgan. In fact he dedicated his work Chronology to Qabus around 1000 and observed eclipses of the moon from there.

Buyid dynasty, 934–1055

The Buyid dynastywere a Shī‘ah Persian dynasty that originated from Daylaman in Gilan. They founded a confederation that controlled most of modern-day Iran and Iraq in the 10th and 11th centuries. The Deylamites were an Iranian people inhabiting the mountainous regions of northern Iran on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Many of them were employed as soldiers from the time of the Sassanid Empire, and they are known for having long resisted the Arab conquest of Iran and its subsequent Islamization.

The founders of the Būyid confederation were Alī ibn Būyah and his two younger brothers, al-Hassan and Aḥmad. Originally a soldier in the service of the Ziyārīds of Ṭabaristān, Alī was able to recruit an army to defeat a Turkish general from Baghdad named Yāqūt in 934. Over the next nine years the three brothers gained control of the remainder of the Abbāsid Caliphate. While they accepted the titular authority of the caliph in Baghdad, the Būyid rulers assumed effective control of the state.

Ghaznavid Empire, 975–1187

The Ghaznavids were a Persianate Muslim dynasty of Turkic slave origin which existed from 975 to 1187 and ruled much of Persia, Transoxania, and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent. The Ghaznavid state was centered in Ghazni, a city in present Afghanistan. Due to the political and cultural influence of their predecessors – that of the Persian Samanid Empire – the originally Turkic Ghaznavids had become thoroughly Persianized. In terms of cultural championship and the support of Persian poets, they were far more Persian than the ethnically Iranian Buyids rivals, whose support of Arabic letters in preference to Persian is well known.

The dynasty was founded by Sebuktigin upon his succession to rule of territories centered around the city of Ghazni from his father-in-law, Alp Tigin, a break-away ex-general of the Samanid sultans.[ Sebuktigin’s son, Shah Mahmoud, expanded the empire in the region that stretched from the Oxus river to the Indus Valley and the Indian Ocean; and in the west it reached Rey and Hamadan. Under the reign of Mas’ud I it experienced major territorial losses. It lost its western territories to the Seljuqs resulting in a restriction of its holdings to what is now Afghanistan, as well as Balochistan and the Punjab. In 1151, Sultan Bahram Shah lost Ghazni to Ala’uddin Hussain of Ghor and the capital was moved to Lahore until its subsequent capture by the Ghurids in 1186.

Seljuk Empire, 1037–1194

The Seljuq Empire was a medieval Turko-Persian Sunni Muslim empire, originating from the Qynyq branch of Oghuz Turks. The Seljuq Empire controlled a vast area stretching from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf. From their homelands near the Aral sea, the Seljuqs advanced first into Khorasan and then into mainland Persia before eventually conquering eastern Anatolia.

The Seljuq empire was founded by Tuğrul Beg in 1037 after the efforts by the founder of the Seljuq dynasty, Seljuq Beg, back in the first quarter of the eleventh century. Seljuq Beg’s father was in a higher position in the Oghuz Yabgu State, and gave his name both to the state and the dynasty. The Seljuqs united the fractured political scene of the Eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades. Highly Persianized in culture and language, the Seljuqs also played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition, even exporting Persian culture to Anatolia.

Ghurid dynasty, 1149–1212

The Ghurids were a medieval Muslim dynasty of Iranian origin that ruled during the 12th and 13th centuries in Khorasan. At its zenith, their empire, that was centered in Ghōr (now a province in Afghanistan), stretched over an area that included the whole of modern Afghanistan, the eastern parts of Iran and the northern section of the Indian subcontinent, as far as Delhi. The Ghurids were succeeded in Persia by the Khwārazm-Shāh dynasty and in North India by the Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate.

The origins of the dynasty are obscure. According to legend, the Shansabānī family (founders of the dynasty) had ancestral lines to the Sassanian royal family who – led by Pirōz II – fled with some hundred thousand of followers from Western Iran to Khorasan, following the Arabic conquest of Persia. There is evidence of such a migration but the ancestral claims cannot be verified. It has also been claimed, but not proven, that the inhabitants of Ghor were still Zoroastrians, isolated from all Arab-Islamic influence until the 11th century when they were eventually converted to Islam by the Samanid and Ghaznavids.

Khwarezmid dynasty, 1077–1231

The Khwarezmian dynasty was a Persianate Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turkic mamluk origin. They ruled Greater Iran in the High Middle Ages, in the period of about 1077 to 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuqs and later as independent rulers, up until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The dynasty was founded by Anush Tigin Gharchai, a former slave of the Seljuq sultans, who was appointed the governor of Khwarezm. His son, Qutb ud-Dīn Muhammad I, became the first hereditary Shah of Khwarezm.

In 1218, Genghis Khan sent a trade mission to the state, but at the town of Otrar the governor, suspecting the Khan’s ambassadors to be spies, confiscated their goods and executed them. Genghis Khan demanded reparations, which the Shah refused to pay. Genghis retaliated with a force of 200,000 men, launching a multi-pronged invasion. In February 1220 the Mongolian army crossed the Syr Darya, beginning the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. The Mongols stormed Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Khwarezmid capital Urgench. The Shah fled and died some weeks later on an island in the Caspian Sea.

Ilkhanate, 1256–1353

The Ilkhanate was a Mongol khanate established in Persia in the 13th century, considered a part of the Mongol Empire. The Ilkhanate was based, originally, on Genghis Khan’s campaigns in the Khwarezmid Empire in 1219–1224, and founded by Genghis’s grandson, Hulagu, in what territories which today comprise most of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and some regions of western Pakistan. The Ilkhanate initially embraced many religions, but was particularly sympathetic to Buddhism and Christianity. Later Ilkhanate rulers, beginning with Ghazan in 1295, embraced Islam.

Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and brother of both Möngke Khan and Kublai Khan. He was charged with subduing the Muslim kingdoms to the west “as far as the borders of Egypt.” Hulagu brought with him many Chinese scholars and astronomers and with the help of the famous Persian astronomer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi built an observatory in Maragheh using Chinese calculating tables. The Chinese science of astronomy was considered to be more advanced than the Islamic one.

Kartids dynasty, 1231–1389

The Kartid Dynasty was a Persian dynasty that ruled over a large part of Khorassan during the 13th and 14th centuries. Ruling from their capital at Herat (Afghanistan) and central Khorasan in the Bamyan-Valley, they were at first subordinates within the Ilkhanate, and upon the fragmentation of the Ilkhanate in 1335 they became de facto independent rulers up until the invasion of Timur in 1381.

The first important Karts were two brothers, named Taju’d-Din ‘Uthman-i-Marghini and ‘Izzu’d-Din ‘Umar-i-Marghini. Both served under the ruler of Ghor, Sultan Muhammad of Ghor. One of their descendant, Shamsu’d-Din was given authority over Herat, Jam, Ghor, Khaysar, Firuz-Kuh, Gharjistan, Farah, Sistan, Kabul, Tirah, and Afghanistan (the Sulaiman Mountains) all the way to the Indus River by the Ilkhan ruler.

Muzaffarid dynasty, 1314–1393

The Muzaffarids were a Sunni family that came to power in Iran following the breakup of the Ilkhanate in the 14th century. The Muzaffarids originated as an Arab family that settled in Khorasan from the beginning of Caliphate rule. They stayed in Khorasan up until the Mongol invasion, at which point they fled to Yazd. Serving under the Il-Khans, they gained prominence when Sharaf al-Din Muzaffar was made governor of Maibud.

His son, Mubariz ad-Din Muhammad, was brought up at the Il-Khan’s court. In around 1319 he overthrew the atabeg of Yazd and was subsequently recognized as governor of the city by the central Il-Khan government. In the wake of the loss of Il-Khan authority in central Iran, Mubariz ad-Din carried out his expansionary policy. In 1339 or 1340 he invaded the province of Kirman and seized it from its Mongol governor. The city of Bam was besieged and conquered a few years after this.

Sarbadars state, 1337–1381

The Sarbadars (“head on gallows”) were a mixture of religious dervishes and secular rulers that came to rule over part of western Khorasan in the midst of the disintegration of the Mogul Ilkhanate in the mid-14th century. Centered in their capital of Sabzevar, they continued their reign until they submitted to Teymur in 1381, and were one of the few groups that managed to mostly avoid Teymur’s famous brutality.

Its rulers were Shi’ite, though often Sunnis claimed leadership among the people with the support of Ilkhanid rulers. The leadership of the Shi’is stemmed rom Sheykh Khalifa; a scholar from Mazandaran, who had arrived in Khurasan some years before the founding of the Sarbadar state and was subsequently murdered by Sunnis. His successor, Hasan Juri, established the former’s practices in the Sarbadar state. The followers of these practices were known as “Sabzavaris” after the city. As the Sarbadars conquered the neighboring territory, they acquired cities with significant Sunni populations.

The Sarbadars are unique among the major contenders in post-Ilkhanid Persia in that none of their leaders ruled as legitimate sovereigns. None of them had a legitimate claim to the Ilkhanid throne, or were related to a Mongol or any other royal house, and none of them had previously held a high post within the Ilkhanate. While they on occasion recognized claimants to the Ilkhanid throne as their overlord, they did so purely as a matter of convenience, and in all other aspects they had no ties to the Ilkhanate. This fact had a strong influence regarding the nature of the Sarbadar political state.

The Sarbadar state came into existence around early 1337. At that time, much of Khurasan was under the control of the Ilkhanid claimant Togha Temur. In the summer of 1337 Sarbadar took possession of Sabzavar. Togha Temur was most likely campaigning in the west at this time, against the Jalayirids, making him unable to deal with the revolt. ‘Abd al-Razzaq took the title of amir and had coins made in his name, but he was stabbed to death by his brother Vajih al-Din Mas’ud during an argument in 1338. Mas’ud, taking command of the Sarbadars, made peace with Togha Temur, promising to recognize him as sovereign and to pay taxes to him. The khan agreed, in the hope that it would put a stop to the Sarbadar raids on his supply trains. Following the death of Timur, the Sarbadars slowly fell out of prominence.

Chupanid dynasty, 1337–1357

The Chupanids were descendants of a Mongol family of the Suldus clan that came to prominence in 14th century Persia. At first serving under the Ilkhans, they took de facto control of the territory after the fall of the Ilkhanate. The Chupanids made Azerbaijan their stronghold, while the Jalayirids took control in Baghdad.

The early Chupanids were members of the Soldus tribe. Sorgan Sira, one of the first important Chupanids, served Genghis Khan during the latter’s rise to power. Later on, the Chupanids came to live under the authority of the Ilkhanate. A descendent of Sorgan Sira, Amir Tudahun, was killed in 1277 fighting against the Mamluks at the battle of Eblistan. He left a son, Malek, who in turn fathered Amir Chupan, the namesake of the Chupanids.

Timurid Empire, 1370–1506

The Timurids were a Persianate, Central Asian Sunni Muslim dynasty of originally Turko-Mongol descent whose empire included the whole of Central Asia, Iran, modern Afghanistan, as well as large parts of contemporary Pakistan, North India, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Caucasus. It was founded by the militant conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th century.

In the 16th century, Timurid prince Babur, the ruler of Ferghana, invaded North India and founded the Mughal Empire, which ruled most of the North India until its decline after Aurangzeb in the early 18th century, and was formally dissolved by the British Raj after the Indian rebellion of 1857. Later princes of the dynasty predominantly used the title Mirza to show descent from the Amir.

Aq Qoyunlu Turcomans, 1378–1508

The Ak Koyunlu or Aq Qoyunlu, also called the White Sheep Turkomans was an Oghuz Turkic tribal federation that ruled parts of present-day Eastern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, northern Iraq, and Iran from 1378 to 1508.

Ak Koyunlu Turkomans first acquired land in 1402, when Tamerlane granted them all of Diyarbakır, in present-day Turkey. For a long time, the Ak Koyunlu were unable to expand their territory, as the rival Kara Koyunlu kept them at bay. However, this changed with the rule of Uzun Hassan who defeated the Black Sheep Turkoman leader, Jahān Shāh, in 1467.

Qara Qoyunlu Turcomans, 1407–1468

The Kara Koyunlu or Qara Qoyunlu, also called the Black Sheep Turkomans were a Shi’ite Oghuz Turkic tribal federation that ruled over the territory comprising the present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, north-western Iran, eastern Turkey and Iraq from about 1375 to 1468.

The Kara Koyunlu Turkomans at one point established their capital in Herat in eastern Persia, and were vassals of the Jalayirid dynasty in Baghdad and Tabriz from about 1375, when the leader of their leading tribe, ruled over Mosul. However, they rebelled against the Jalayirids, and secured their independence from the dynasty with the conquest of Tabriz by Qara Yusuf.

Safavid Empire, 1501–1722

The Safavid dynasty was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran. They ruled one of the greatest Persian empires since the Muslim conquest of Persia and established the Twelver school of Shi’a Islam as the official religion of their empire, marking one of the most important turning points in Muslim history. The Safavids ruled from 1501 to 1722 and at their height, they controlled all of modern Iran, Republic of Azerbaijan and Republic of Armenia, most of Iraq, Georgia and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. Safavid Iran was one of the Islamic “gunpowder empires”, along with its neighbours, the Ottoman and Mughal empires.

The Safavid dynasty had its origin in the Safaviyya Sufi order, which was established in the city of Ardabil in the Azerbaijan region. It was of mixed ancestry (Kurdish and Azerbaijani, which included intermarriages with Georgian and Pontic Greek dignitaries). The bulk of the Safaviyya were nomadic Oghuz Turkic-speaking clans from Asia Minor and Azerbaijan and were known as Qizilbash (“Red Heads”) because of their distinct red headgear. The Qizilbash were warriors, spiritual followers and a source of the Safavid military and political power. From their base in Ardabil, the Safavids established control over all of Greater Iran and in 1501 Shāh Ismāil I founded the Safavid dynasty.

Hotaki dynasty, 1722–1729

The Hotakis were a Pashtun tribe and dynasty that ruled parts of the Persian Empire from 1722 to 1729, after defeating and replacing the Safavid dynasty. The dynasty was founded in 1709 by Mirwais Hotak, chief of the Ghilzai Pashtuns of Kandahar who successfully revolted against the Safavids rule in Kandahar. After his death in 1715, the monarchy passed on to his brother followed by his sons and nephew until the dynasty finally ended in 1738 when Nader Shah and his Afsharids defeated Hussain Hotaki at Kandahar.

Kandahar province was captured and ruled by the Shi’a Safavids during the early 18th century but the native Afghan tribes living in the area were Sunni Muslims. immediately to the east began the Sunni Moghul Empire of India, who occasionally fought wars with the Safavids over the territory of Kandahar. In April of 1709, Mirwais along with his followers revolted against the Safavid rule in Kandahar City and defeated a Persian army that was dispatched from Isfahan.

Afsharid dynasty, 1736–1750

The Afsharids were of Turkmen origin from Khorasan who ruled Persia in the 18th century. The dynasty was founded in 1736 by the military commander Nader Shah who deposed the last member of the Safavid dynasty and proclaimed himself King of Iran. During Nader’s reign, Iran reached its greatest extent since the Sassanid Empire. Under Nader Shah, Persia regained lost territories from the Ottomans, Afgans, and Russians. Military campaigns into India also brought back treasures such as the famous Peacock Throne and Koh-i-Nor diamond.

Nader initiated a new religious policy aimed at reconciling Shia with Sunni Islam. The Safavid dynasty had relied heavily on the support of Shi’ites, but many soldiers in Nader’s army were Sunnis. Nader also wanted to set himself up as a rival of the Ottoman sultan for supremacy within the Muslim world, which would have been impossible had he remained an orthodox Shi’ite.

Zand Dynasty, 1750–1794

The Zand dynasty ruled southern and central Iran in the 18th century. The dynasty was founded by Karim Khan, chief of the Zand tribe which was from Northern Luristan. He became one of Nader Shah’s generals. Nader Shah moved the Zand tribe from their home in lakestan to the eastern steppes of Khorasan. After Nader’s death, the Zand tribe, under the guidance of Karim Khan, went back to their original land. Karim Khan and his soldiers defected from the army and in 1760, founded his own dynasty. Karim Khan declared Shiraz his capital. He gained control of central and southern parts of Iran. He refused to accept the title of the king and instead named himself The Advocate of the People (Vakilol Ro’aya).

Karim Khan’s death in 1779 left his territory vulnerable to threats from his enemies. Soon enough, the country was under attack from all sides. The biggest enemies of the Zands, the Qajar chiefs, led by Agha Mohammad Khan, eventually defeated Lotf Ali Khan, a grand-nephew of Karim Khan putting an effective end to the Zand Dynasty .

Qajar Dynasty, 1794–1925

The Qajar family took control of Iran in 1794, deposing Lotf Ali Khan Zand and re-asserted Persian sovereignty over parts of the Caucasus. In 1796 Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar was formally crowned as shah. He established his capital at Tehran, a village near the ruins of the ancient city of Rayy. A year later he was assassinated and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath Ali Shah Qajar. Overall, the Qajar period is one of major retrograde steps for Iran. It is in this crucial stage in the development of the world economy that Iran failed to modernise its economy and state and undertake the necessary reforms.

The Qajar rulers were decendents of Turkmen peoples. Qajars first settled during the Mogul period in the vicinity of Armenia and were among the seven Qizilbash tribes that supported the Safavids. The Safavids left Arran (the greater Azerbaijan) to local Turkic speaking khans. Qajars were one such tribe governing parts of southern Arran. The Qajar armies were composed of Turkoman bodyguards and Georgian slave soldiers.

During the Qajar period Iran lost some of its territory in Afghanistan (to the British), North Azerbaijan (to Russia) and Kurdistan (to the Ottomans). The Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 which limited the absolute power of the Shah and established an elected parliament was defeated with the help of the Russian Kossack army supporting Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar. The Qajar dynasty was eventually overthrown by a British backed coup in 1921 which led t the establishment of Pahlavi Dynasty in 1925.

Pahlavi Dynasty, 1925–1979

In February 1921, Reza Khan, an officer in the Persian Cossack Brigade (which came under British command after the Russian Revolution of 1917), used his troops to support a British backed coup against Ahmad Shah Qajar. In 1923, Ahmad Shah was forced into exile in Europe and in October 1925 Reza Khan induced the Majles to depose the Ghajar dynasty and proclaim him as the new Shah. He ruled for the next 16 years with absolute power. Reza Shah had ambitious plans for modernizing Iran. These plans included developing large-scale industries, implementing major infrastructure projects, building a cross-country railroad system, establishing a national public education system, reforming the judiciary, and improving health care. He believed only a strong, centralized dictatorship managed by loyal personnel could carry out his plans.

Following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Britain and the USSR saw the newly-opened Trans-Iranian Railway as an attractive route to transport supplies from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet Union. In August 1941, under the pretext of alleged Reza Shah’s support for Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran, arrested the Shah and sent him into exile in South Africa. Following the collapse of Reza Shah’s regime the occupying powers allowed his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to accede to the throne.

In the context of regional turmoil and the Cold War, Mohammad Reza Shah established himself as an indispensable ally of the USA. Domestically, he advocated reform policies, culminating in the 1963 program known as the White Revolution, which included land reform, extension of voting rights to women, and the elimination of illiteracy, whilst banning all freedom of expression and establishing a single-party rule. His autocratic regime became more and more unpopular and his government collapsed following widespread uprisings in 1978 and 1979. He left the country in January 1979.

The Islamic Republic, 1979-

In February 1979, following a poular uprising which led to the collapse of the Bakhtiar government (appointed by the Shah before he left the country), a new government headed by Mehdi Bazargan came to power with the backing of the army, security services and a clandestine committee set up by Ayattollah Khomeini representing a coallition of shiite hierarchy and the bazar. The new government organised a referendum seeking poular approval of the as yet undefined “Islamic Republic”! Having obtained its “majority” it then disfranchised the population by electing an assembly of “Islamic experts” to write up a constitution for the Islamic Republic, which despite claiming to be a republic is in effect a theocracy giving absolute power to an unelected cleric appointed by clerics. Currently all the basic democratic rights are denied to the Iranian population.

Millions of Iranians have been forced into exile and Iranian art and culture has been pushed back centuries. Corruption and nepotism in government is endemic and the supporters of the regime have turned Iran into a merchants haven where most internal production is sacrificed for the benfit of the merchants and hoarders. The current levels of poverty and unemployment in Iran has not been seen for a hundred years.