Abu Ali Sina (Avecenna)


Abu Ali al-Hussain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina was a Persian physician and philosopher. He was born in 980 A.D. at Afshana near Bukhara then capital of the Samanid Dynasty.. The young Abu Ali received his early education in Bokhara, and by the age of ten had become well versed in the study of the Qoran and various sciences. He started studying philosophy by reading various Greek, Muslim and other books on this subject and learnt logic and some other subjects from Abu Abdallah Natili, a famous philosopher of the time. While still young, he attained such a degree of expertise in medicine that his renown spread far and wide. At the age of 17, he was fortunate in curing Nooh Ibn Mansour, the Samanid King, of an illness in which all the well-known physicians had given up hope. On his recovery, the King wished to reward him, but the young physician only desired permission to use his uniquely stocked library.

On his father’s death, Bu Ali left Bokhara and travelled to Jurjan where Khawarazm Shah welcomed him. There, he met his famous contemporary Abu Raihan Al-Biruni. Later he moved to Ray and then to Hamadan, where he wrote his famous book Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb. Here he treated Shams al-Daulah, the King of Hamadan, for severe colic. From Hamadan, he moved to Esfahan, where he completed many of his monumental writings. Nevertheless, he continued travelling and the excessive mental exertion as well as political turmoil spoilt his health. Finally, he returned to Hamadan where he died in 1037 A.D.

He was the most famous physician, philosopher, encyclopaedist, mathematician and astronomer of his time. His major contribution to medical science was his famous book al-Qanun, known as the “Canon” in the West. The Qanun fi al-Tibb is an immense encyclo- paedia of medicine extending over a million words. It surveyed the entire medical knowledge available from ancient and Muslim sources. Due to its systematic approach, “formal perfection as well as its intrinsic value, the Qanun superseded Razi‘s Hawi, Ali Ibn Abbas’s Maliki, and even the works of Galen, and remained supreme for six centuries”. In addition to bringing together the then available knowledge, the book is rich with the author’s original contribution. His important original contribution includes such advances as recognition of the contagious nature of phthisis and tuberculosis; distribution of diseases by water and soil, and interaction between psychology and health. In addition to describing pharmacological methods, the book described 760 drugs and became the most authentic materia medica of the era. He was also the first to describe meningitis and made rich contributions to anatomy, gynaecology and child health.

His philosophical encyclopaedia Kitab al-Shifa was a monu- mental work, embodying a vast field of knowledge from philosophy to science. He classified the entire field as follows: theoretical knowledge: physics, mathematics and metaphysics; and practical knowledge: ethics, economics and politics. His philosophy synthesises Aristotelian tradition, Neoplatonic influences and Muslim theology.

Ibn Sina also contributed to mathematics, physics, music and other fields. He explained the “casting out of nines” and its applica- tion to the verification of squares and cubes. He made several astronomical observations, and devised a contrivance similar to the vernier, to increase the precision of instrumental readings. In physics, his contribution comprised the study of different forms of energy, heat, light and mechanical, and such concepts as force, vacuum and infinity. He made the important observation that if the perception of light is due to the emission of some sort of particles by the luminous source, the speed of light must be finite. He propounded an interconnection between time and motion, and also made investigations on specific gravity and used an air thermometer.

In the field of music, his contribution was an improvement over Farabi’s work and was far ahead of knowledge prevailing else- where on the subject. Doubling with the fourth and fifth was a ‘great’ step towards the harmonic system and doubling with the third seems to have also been allowed. Ibn Sina observed that in the series of consonances represented by (n + 1)/n, the ear is unable to distinguish them when n = 45. In the field of chemistry, he did not believe in the possibility of chemical transmutation because, in his opinion, the metals differed in a fundamental sense. These views were radically opposed to those prevailing at the time. His treatise on minerals was one of the “main” sources of geology of the Christian encyclopaedists of the thirteenth century. Besides Shifa his well-known treatises in philosophy are al-Najat and Isharat.


Iranian Currency


The Iranian Rial is the currency of Iran. The ISO 4217 code is IRR, and the unicode “﷼” is ﷼.
Though “Toman” is no longer an official unit of Iranian currency, but Iranians commonly express amounts of money and prices of goods in Tomans (1 Toman = 10 Rials). Despite this usage, amounts of money and prices of goods are virtually always written in Rials.

Old currency name In Dinar Issued by
Shahi 50 Dinars Samanid Dynasty
Mahmoudi (Sannar) 100 Dinars Sultan Mahmoud, Qaznavid Dynasty
Abbasi 200 Dinars Shah Abbas I, Safavid Dynasty
Naderi (Dah-Shahi) 500 Dinars Nader Shah, Afsharid Dynasty
Qiran 1000 Dinars Fath Ali Shah, Qajar Dynasty
Rial 1250 Dinars Fath Ali Shah, Qajar Dynasty
Do-Zari 2000 Dinars Qajar Dynasty
Panj-Zari 5000 Dinars Qajar Dynasty
Toman 10000 Dinars Ilkhanate

The Rial was first introduced in 1798 as a coin worth 1,250 dinars or one eighth of a Toman. In 1825, the Rial ceased to be issued, with the Qiran of 1,000 dinars, one tenth of a Toman, being issued as part of a decimal system. The Rial replaced the Qiran at in 1932 at a rate of 1 Rial = 1 Qiran and 10 Rials = 1 Toman, the Rial was also divided into one hundred (new) dinars.

Prior to decimalisation in 1932, these coins and currencies were used, and some of these terms still have wide usage in Iranian languages and proverbs.




History of Banking in Iran


Before a bank in its present form was established in Iran, banking operations had been carried out in traditional form, or in other words in the form of money changing. Simultaneous with promotion of trade and business in the country, more people chose money changing as their occupation. Exchanges of coins and hard currencies were also common in Iran.

Before the advent of the Achaemenid Dynasty, banking operations had been carried out by temples and princes and seldom had ordinary people been engaged in this occupation.

During the Achaemenid era, trade boomed and subsequently banking operation expanded to an extent that Iranians managed to learn the banking method from the people of Babylon.

Following a boost in trade and use of bank notes and coins in trade during the Parthian and Sassanian eras, exchange of coins and hard currencies began in the country.

Some people also managed to specialize in determining the purity of coins. Bank notes and gold coins were first used in the country following the conquest of Lidi by Achaemenid king Darius The Great in 516 B.C. At that time, a gold coin called Derick was minted as the Iranian currency.

During the Parthian and Sassanids eras, both Iranian and foreign coins were used in trade in the country. However, with the advent of Islam in Iran, money changing and use of bank notes and coins in trade faced stagnation because the new religion forbade interest in dealing.

In the course of Mongol rule over Iran, a bank note which was an imitation of Chinese bank notes was put in circulation. The bank notes, called Chav bore the picture and name of Keikhatu. On one side of the bank notes there was the following sentence: “Anybody who does not accept this bank note, will be punished along with his wife and children.” The face value of the bank notes ranged from half to 10 dirhams. Besides Chav, other bank notes were used for a certain period of time in other Iranian cities and then got out of circulation. These bank notes were called `Shahr-Rava’ which meant something that was in use in cities.

Before the printing of first bank notes by the Bank Shahanshahi (Imperial Bank), a kind of credit card called Bijak had been issued by money dealers. It was in fact a receipt of a sum of money taken by money dealers from the owners of Bijak. The credence of the Bijak depended on the creditability of the money dealer who had issued it.

As mentioned before, money changing got out of fashion with the advent of Islam under which usury is strictly forbidden. At that time, only a few persons with weak religious faith continued their occupation as money dealers. It was the same persons who promoted usury even during the post-Islamic era. They offered various excuses to justify their unlawful act.

With a boost in trade during the rule of Safavid Dynasty, particularly during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, money changing brisked again and wealthy money dealers started their international activities by opening accounts in foreign banks. Major centers for money changing at that time were Tabriz, Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz and Boushehr.

Money changing continued until the establishment of New East Bank in 1850. With the establishment of the bank, money changing actually came to a standstill. The New East Bank was in fact the first banking institute in its present form established in Iran. It laid the foundation of banking operations in the country. It was a British bank whose headquarters was in London. The bank was established by the British without receiving any concession from the Iranian government.

The bank opened its branches in the cities of Tabriz, Rasht, Mashhad, Esfahan, Shiraz and Boushehr. Of course, at that time, foreigners were free to engage in economic and trade activities in the country without any limitations. For the first time, the New East Bank allowed individuals to open accounts, deposit their money with the bank and draw checks. It was at this time that people began to draw checks in their dealings.

In order to compete with money dealers, the bank paid interest on the fixed deposits and current accounts of its clients. The head office of the bank in Tehran issued five `qeran’ bank notes in the form of drafts. These drafts were used by people in their everyday’s dealings and could be changed into silver coins when offered at the bank. According to a concession granted by the Iranian government to Baron Julius De Reuter in 1885, Bank Shahanshahi (Imperial Bank) was established. This bank purchased the properties and assets of the New East Bank, thus putting an end to the baking operations of the former.

The activities of Bank Shahanshahi ranged from trade transactions, printing bank notes, and serving as the treasurer of the Iranian government at home and abroad in return for piecework wage.

In return for receiving this concession, Reuter obliged to pay six percent of the annual net income of the bank, providing that the sum should not be less than 4,000 pounds, and 16 percent of incomes from other concessions to the Iranian government.

The legal center of the bank was in London and it was subject to the British laws but its activities were centered in Tehran.

In 1894, the right of printing bank notes was purchased from Bank Shahanshahi for a sum of 200,000 pounds and ceded to the Bank Melli of Iran.

Bank Shahanshahi continued its activities until 1948 when its name was changed into Bank of Britain in Iran and Middle East. The activities of the bank continued until 1952.

In 1856, a Russian national by the name of Jacquet Polyakov, received a concession from the then government of Iran for establishment of Bank Esteqrazi for 75 year. Besides, banking and mortgage operations, the bank had an exclusive right of public auction. In 1898 the Tzarist government of Russia bought all shares of the bank for its political ends. Under a contract signed with Iran, the bank was transferred to the Iranian government in 1920. The bank continued its activities under the name of Bank Iran until 1933 when it was incorporated into the Bank Keshavarzi (Agriculture Bank).

Bank Sepah was the first bank to be established with Iranian capitals in 1925 under the name of Bank Pahlavi Qoshun, in order to handle the financial affairs of the military personnel and set up their retirement fund. The capital of the bank was 388,395 tomans (3.88 million rials).

With Bank Sepah opening its branches in major Iranian cities, the bank began carrying financial operations such as opening of current accounts and transfer of money across the country. The Iran-Russia Bank was formed by the government of the former Soviet Union in 1926 with an aim of facilitating trade exchanges between the two countries.

The headquarters of the bank was in Tehran with some branches being inaugurated in northern parts of the country. The bank dealt with financial affairs of institutes affiliated to the government of the former Soviet Union and trade exchanges between the two countries. The activities of this bank, which were subjected to Iranian banking regulations, continued until 1979. In that year, this bank along with 27 other state-owned or private banks were nationalized under a decision approved by the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The proposal to establish a national Iranian bank was first offered by a big money dealer to Qajar king Naser-o-Din Shah before the Constitutional Revolution. But the Qajar king did not pay much attention to the proposal. However, with the establishment of constitutional rule in the country, the idea of setting up a national Iranian bank in order to reduce political and economic influence of foreigners gained strength and at last in December 1906 the establishment of the bank was announced and its articles of association compiled.

In April 1927, the Iranian Parliament gave final approval to the law allowing the establishment of Bank Melli of Iran. But, due to problems arising from preparing a 150 million rial capital needed by the bank, the Cabinet ministers and the parliament’s financial commission approved the articles of association of the bank in the spring of 1928. The bank was established with a primary capital of 20 million rials, 40 percent of which was provided by the government. The bank was formally inaugurated in September 1928.

The Central Bank of Iran was established in 1928, tasked with trade activities and other operations (acting as the treasurer of the government, printing bank notes, enforcing monetary and financial policies and so on). The duties of the CBI included making transactions on behalf of the government, controlling trade banks, determining supply of money, foreign exchange protective measures (determining the value of hard currencies against rial) and so on.

In June 1979, Iranian banks were nationalized and banking regulations changed with the approval of the Islamic banking law (interest free), and the role of banks in accelerating trade deals, rendering services to clients, collecting deposits, offering credits to applicants on the basis of the CBI’s policies and so on was strengthened.

The Cyrus the Great Cylinder


The Cyrus the Great Cylinder is the first charter of right of nations in the world. It is a baked-clay cyliner in Akkadian language with cuneiform script. This cylinder was excavated in 1879 by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in the foundations of the Esagila (the Marduk temple of Babylon) and is kept today in the British Museum in London.

Cyrus the Great Cylinder, The First Charter of Rights of Nations

On October 12 (Julian calendar; October 7 by the Gregorian calendar) 539 BC, Achaemanid army without any conflict entered the city of Babylon. Cyrus the Great himself, on October 29, entered the city, assuming the titles of “king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world”. Cyrus The Great, on this cylinder, describes how he conquers the old city of Babylon and how his mighty army in peace marched into the city; his claim that he entered the city peacefully supports the same statement in the Chronicle of Nabonidus. The last king of Babylon, Nabonidus, is considered a tyrant with odd religious ideas, which causes Marduk, patron deity of the city of Babylon to intervene. Cyrus considers himself chosen by a supreme god, is confirmed by Second Isaiah, the chapters 40-55 of the Biblical book of Isaiah. The Cyrus Cylinder then was placed under the walls of “Esagila” as a foundation deposit, following a Mesopotamian tradition.

Cyrus The Great Cylinder, in the British Museum, London

There were three main premises in the decrees of the Cyrus Cylinder: the political formulization of racial, linguistic, and religious equality, slaves and all deported peoples were to be allowed to return to home; and all destroyed temples were to be restored.[1]

In 1971, the Cyrus Cylinder was described as the world’s first charter of human rights,[1, 2, 3, 4] and it was translated into all six official U.N. languages.[4] A replica of the cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in the second floor hallway, between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council chambers.[5]

Passages in the text of cylinder have been interpreted as expressing Cyrus’ respect for humanity, and as promoting a form of religious tolerance and freedom; and as result of his generous and humane policies, Cyrus gained the overwhelming support of his subjects.[6]

The Cyrus Cylinder is not the only reason that the Cyrus legacy is admired. According to Professor Richard Frye[7]:

“In short, the figure of Cyrus has survived throughout history as more than a great man who founded an empire. He became the epitome of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well as brave and daring. His personality as seen by the Greeks influenced them and Alexander the Great, and, as the tradition was transmitted by the Romans, may be considered to influence our thinking even now.”

The size of Cyrus Cylinder is 23 cm long, 11 cm wide with 40+ lines of writing (although broken) and it is dated 539 BCE.

(Rogers 1912: 380-84)
(Adapted from Rogers 1912: 380-84)
1 [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]-ni-Šu [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] his troops
2 [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]-ki-ib-ra-tim [. . . . . . . . . . . . four] quarters of the world
3 [. . .]-ka gal ma tu-û i Š -Šak-na a-na e-nu-tu ma-ti- Šu [. . .] a weakling was established as ruler over his land
4 Ši-[. . . . . . . . . . ta-am]-Ši-li ú- Ša-aŠ-ki-na si-ru-Š u-un and [. . . . .] a similar one he appointed over them,
5 ta-am-Ši-li É-sag-ila i-te-[. . . . . . -ti]m a-na Uriki ù si-it-ta-tim ma-ha-za like Esagila he made [. . .] to Ur and the rest of the cities,
6 pa-ra-as la si-ma-a-ti- Šu-nu ta-[. . . . . l]i û-mi- Šá-am-ma id-di-ni-ib-bu-ub ù ana na-ak-ri-tim a command dishonouring them [. . . . .] he planned daily and in enmity,
7 sat-tuk-ku ù-Šab-ti-li ú-ad-[di . . . . . . ] -tak-ka-an ki-rib ma-ha-zi pa-la-ha iluMarduk Šar ilâni [Šá]-qi- Še a-Šu-uŠ- Šu he caused the daily offering to cease; he appointed [. . .] he established within the city. The worship of Marduk, king of the gods [ . . . ]
8 li-mu-ut-ti ali-Šu [i-te]-ni-ip-pu-uŠ &ucirc-mi- Šá-am-ma na-[. . . . niŠe ] i-na ab-Ša-a-ni la ta-ap-Š ú-úh -tim ú-hal-li-iq kul-lat-si-in he showed hostility toward his city daily
[. . .] his people; he brought all of them to ruin through servitude without rest.
9 a-na ta-zi-im-ti-Ši-na iluEllil lililani iz-zi-iŠ i-gu-ug-ma [. . .] ki-su-úr-Šú-un ilâni a- Ši-ib lib-bi-Š ú-nu i-zi-bu ad-ma-an- Šú-un On account of their complaints, the lords of the gods became furiously angry and left their land; the gods, who dwelt among them, left their homes,
10 i-na ug-ga-ti Šá ú- Še-ri-bi a-na ki-rib Babili ilu Marduk ti-[. . . .] li-sa-ah-ra a-na nap-har da-ád-mi Šá in-na-du-ú Šú-bat-su-un in anger over his bringing into Babylon. Marduk [. . .] to all the dwelling places, which had become ruins,
11 ù niŠe mât Šú-me-ri ù Ak-ka-dikiŠ a i-mu-ú Ša-lam-ta-aŠ ú-sa-ahhi-ir ka- [. . . .]– Ši ir-ta-Š i ta-a-a-ra kul-lat ma-ta-a-ta ka-li- Ši-na i-h i-it ib-ri-e-Šu and the people of Sumer and Akkad, who were like corpses [. . . .] he turned and granted mercy. In all lands everywhere
12 iŠ-te-‘-e-ma ma-al-ki i- Ša-ru bi-bil lib-bi Šá it-ta-ma-a h qa-tu-uŠ-Šú m Ku-ra-aŠŠar ali An- Šá-an it-ta-bi ni-bi-it-su a-na ma-li-ku-tim kul-la-ta nap- h ar iz-zak-ra Šú-[ma- Š u] he searched; he looked through them and sought a righteous prince after his own heart, whom he took by the hand. He called Cyrus, king of Anshan, by name; he appointed him to lordship over the whole world.
13 mâtQu-ti-i gi-mir Um-man Man-da ú-ka-an-ni- Ša a-na Š e-pi-Šu ni Še sal-mat qaqqaduduŠa ú- Š á-ak-Ši-du ka-ta-a-Šu The land of Qutu, all the Umman-manda, he cast down at his feet. The black-headed people, whom he gave his hands to conquer,
14 i-na ki-it-tim ú mi-Š a-ru iŠ-te-ni-‘e-Ši-na-a-tim iluMarduk belu rabu ta-ru-ú niŠ e- Šu ip-Še-e-ti Šá dam-qa-a-ta ù lib-ba-Šú i-Šá-ra ha-di-i Š ip-pa-al-li-is he took them in justice and righteousness. Marduk, the great lord, looked joyously on the caring for his people, on his pious works and his righteous heart.
15 a-na ali-Šú Bab-ilani ki a-la-ak-Šú ik-bi ú- Š a-as-bi-it-su-ma har-ra-nu Babili ki-ma ib-ri ú tap-pi-e it-tal-la-ka i-da-a-Šu To his city, Babylon, he caused him to go; he made him take the road to Babylon, going as a friend and companion at his side.
16 um-ma-ni-Šu rap- Ša-a-tim Šá ki-ma me-e nari la &uacute-ta-ad-du-ú ni-ba-Š&uacute-un kakke-Š ú-nu sa-an-du-ma i-Šá-ad-di- ha i-da-a- Šú His numerous troops, in unknown numbers, like the waters of a river, marched armed at his side.
17 ba-lu qab-li ù ta-ha-zi ú- Še-ri-ba-aŠ ki-rib Babili ala- Šú Bab-ilaniki i-ti-ir i-na Š ap-Šá-ki m, iluNabu-na’id Šarru la pa-li-hi-Š ú ú-ma-al-la-a qa-tu-u Š- Šu Without battle and conflict, he permitted him to enter Babylon. He spared his city, Babylon, a calamity. Nabonidus, the king, who did not fear him, he delivered into his hand.
18 niŠe Babili ka-li- Šú-nu nap-har mâtŠ ú-me-ri u Ak-ka-diki ru-bi-e ù Š ak-ka-nak-ka Šá-pal-Š ú ik-mi-sa ú-na-aŠ -Š i-qu Še-pu-u Š- Šú ih-du-ú a-na Š arru-ú-ti- Šú im-mi-ru pa-nu-uŠ – Šú-un All the people of Babylon, Sumer, and Akkad, princes and governors, fell down before him and kissed his feet. They rejoiced in his sovereignty; their faces shone.
19 be-lu Šá i-na tu-kul-ti- Šá ú-bal-li-tu mi-tu-ta-an i-na bu-ta-qu ú pa-ki-e ig-mi-lu kul-la-ta-an ta-bi-iŠ ik-ta-ar-ra-bu- Šu iŠ-tam-ma-ru zi-ki-ir-Š ú The lord, who by his power brings the dead to life, who amid destruction and injury had protected them, they joyously blessed him, honoring his name.
20 a-na-ku mKu-ra-aŠ Šar kiŠ-Š at Šarru rabu Šarru dan-nu Š ar Babili Šar mât Š ú-me-ri ú Ak-ka-di Šar kib-ra-a-ti ir-bit-tim I am Cyrus, king of the world, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world,
21 mar mKa-am-bu-zi-ia Šarru rabu Šar alu An-Š á-an mar mari mKu-ra-aŠ Šarru rabu Šar alu An-Š á-an ŠA.BAL.BAL m Š i-iŠ-pi-iŠ Š arru rabu Šar alu An-Š a-an son of Cambyses, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, the great king, king of the city of Anshan; great-grandson of Teispes, the great king, king of the city of Anshan;
22 ziru da-ru-ú Ša Šarru-ú-tu Ša iluBel u ilu Nabu ir-a-mu pa-la-a-Š ú a-na tu-ub lib-bi- Šú-nu i h-Ši-ha Šarru-ut-su e-nu-ma a-na ki-rib Babili e-ru-bu sa-li-mi-i Š eternal seed of royalty whose rule Bel and Nabu love, in whose administration they rejoice in their heart. When I made my triumphal entrance into Babylon,
23 i-na ul-si ù ri- Š á-a-tim i-na ekal ma-al-ki ar-ma-a Š ú-bat be-lu-tim iluMarduk belu rabu lib-bi ri-it-pa- Š ú Šá mare Babili ú . . . an-ni-ma û-mi- Šam a-Š e-‘-a pa-la-ah– Šú I took up my lordly residence in the royal palace with joy and rejoicing; Marduk, the great lord, moved the noble heart of the residents of Babylon to me, while I gave daily attention to his worship.
24 um-ma-ni-ia rap-Ša-tim i-na ki-rib Babili i-Šá-ad-di-ha Šú-ul-ma-niŠ nap-har mat [ Šu-me-ri] ù Akkadiki mu-gal-[l]i-tim ul ú- Šar-Ši My numerous troops marched peacefully into Babylon. In all Sumer and Akkad I permitted no enemy to enter.
25 dannat Babili ù kul-lat ma-ha-zi- Šu i-na Šà-li-im-tim a Š -te-‘-e mare Babi[li . . .] ki ma-la lib-[. . .]-ma ab- Š a-a-ni la si-ma-ti-Šu-nu Š ú-bat-su-un The needs of Babylon and of all its cities I gladly attended to. The people of Babylon [and . . .], and the shameful yoke was removed from them. Their dwellings,
26 an-hu-ut-su-un ú-pa-a Š -Ši-ha ú-Š á-ap-ti-ir sa-ar-ba- Šu-nu a-na ip- Še-e-ti-[ia] iluMarduk belu rabu ú-ih-di-e-ma which had fallen, I restored. I cleared out their ruins. Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced in my pious deeds, and
27 a-na ia-a-ti mKu-ra-a ŠŠarru pa-li-ih-Š u ù mKa-am-bu-zi-ia mari si-it lib-bi-[ia ù a]-na nap- har um-ma-ni-ia graciously blessed me, Cyrus, the king who worships him, and Cambyses, my own son, and all my troops,
28 da-am-ki-iŠ ik-ru-ub-ma i-na Ša-lim-tim ma-har-Š a ta-bi-iŠ ni-it-ta-[‘-id i-lu-ti- Šu] sir-ti nap-har Šarri a- Ši-ib parakke while we, before him, joyously praised his exalted godhead. All the kings dwelling in palaces,
29 Ša ka-li-i Š kib-ra-a-ta iŠ-tu tam-tim e-li-tim a-di tam-tim Šap-li-tim a-Ši-ib kul-[. . . .] Šar-ra-ni mati A-mur-ri-i a- Ši-ib kuŠ-ta-ri ka-li-Š u-un of all the quarters of the earth, from the Upper to the Lower sea dwelling [. . .] all the kings of the Westland dwelling in tents
30 bi-lat-su-nu ka-bi-it-tim ú-bi-lu-nim-ma ki-ir-ba Babili ú-na-aŠ-Š i-qu Še-pu-ú-a iŠ-tu [. . . .] a-di alu A ŠŠurki ù Šu-Š anki brought me their heavy tribute, and in Babylon kissed my feet. From [. . .] to Asshur and Susa,
31 A-ga-deki mâtu E Š -nu-nak aluZa-am-ba-an aluMe-túr-nu Deriki a-di pa-at mât Qu-ti-i ma-ha-za [ Šá e-bir]-ti nâruDiqlat Š á i Š-tu ap-na-ma na-du-ú Šú-bat-su-un Agade, Eshnunak, Zamban, Meturnu, Deri, with the territory of the land of Qutu, the cities on the other side of the Tigris, whose sites were of ancient foundation—
32 ilâni a-Ši-ib lib-bi- Šu-nu a-na aŠ-ri-Šú-nu ú-tir-ma ú-Šar-ma-a Š ú-bat da-er-a-ta kul-lat niŠe- Šu-nu ú-pa-ahhi-ra-am-ma ú-te-ir da-ád-mi- Šu-un the gods, who resided in them, I brought back to their places, and caused them to dwell in a residence for all time
33 ù ilâni mât Šú-me-ri ù AkkadikiŠ á m, iluNabu-na’id a-na ug-ga-tim bel ilâni ú- Še-ri-bi a-na ki-rib Babili i-na ki-bi-ti iluMarduk belu rabû i-na Š á-li-im-tim And the gods of Sumer and Akkad—whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon—by the command of Marduk, the great lord,
34 i-na maŠ-ta-ki- Šu-nu ú-Še-Ši-ib Šú-ba-at tu-ub lib-bi kul-la-ta ilâni Š a ú-Še-ri-bi a-na ki-ir-bi ma-ha-zi- Šu-un I caused them to take up their dwelling in residences that gladdened the heart. May all the gods, whom I brought into their cities,
35 û-mi-Ša-am ma- h ar iluBel ù iluNabu Š a a-ra-ku ume-ia li-ta-mu-ú lit-taŠ-ka-ru a-ma-a-ta du-un-ki-ia ù a-na iluMarduk beli-ia li-iq-bu-ú Ša mKu-ra-aŠ Šarri pa-li- hi-ka u mKa-am-bu-zi-ia mari- Šu pray daily before Bêl and Nabû for long life for me, and may they speak a gracious word for me and say to Marduk, my lord, “May Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son,
36 da [. . .] ib-Šu-nu lu-ú [. . .] ka-li-Ši-na Š ú-ub-ti ni-ih-tim ú-Še- Ši-ib [. . .] paspase u TU.KIR.HU [. . .] their [. . .] I permitted all to dwell in peace [. . .]
This translation of Cyrus the Great Cylinder is the courtesy of K. C. Hanson’s HomePage.

Culture, Power and Poetry in Shiraz


Recent months have witnessed a surge of discussions and analyses of the current political situation in Iran and its uncertain outcomes. When newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV in Europe and United States take a wider social view of things, they often note the relevance of intellectual engagement among Iranians. They describe the ways in which they respond to the present political and social situation by avidly reading and discussing social theorists and analysts of different persuasions and positions: Iranian such as Abdul Karim Sorush or Mohsen Kadivar; as well as foreign: Habermas, Popper and lately, Foucault. Even these more expanded accounts, however, are confined to immediate political concerns and focused almost solely on the city of Tehran, the megalopolis that seems to contain all of Iran into itself. If one, instead, takes an ethnographic and thus slower look at transformations and travels to other cities, other dynamics emerge.

What receives less attention is the degree to which debates and confrontations are caught up in questions about the limits and possibilities of “culture,” a word that began to be used in Iran early in the twentieth century with an anthropological meaning and a prescriptive bend. Nowadays, the concept is particularly resilient in official discussions as well as in informal settings. Farhang (culture) encompasses a broad spectrum of practices, intersects with religious and political trajectories, and is crucial in reflections about identity and the nation. Culture is today the defining articulation of social needs and desires.

I study these dynamics in a specific city, Shiraz, which has been since its foundation in the eighth century an important cultural centre, so much so that it is often called the “City of Knowledge”. In the twentieth century the city became more and more identified as the site of “classical Persian culture” in opposition to the modern and bustling Tehran. During the Pahlavi monarchy, in conjunction with orientalist trajectories, the discourse of Shiraz as repository of Persian culture connected the main ruins of the Achaemenid Empire (which are in large part in the region surrounding Shiraz) with two of the major poets from Shiraz, Sa’di and Hafez. The pre-Islamic imperial past and poetry were mobilized to celebrate a racial and nationalized vision of culture. The revolution of 1979 reversed this discourse by rejecting the monarchy’s interpretation of the past, substituting it with a religious paradigm. As several scholars have noted, however, national trajectories loomed large in the emergent state and nowadays, twenty-five years after the revolution, several of the elements of “Persian classical culture” are emerging anew, though in a transformed constellation. The municipality and other institutions in Shiraz are promoting a vision of the city as the “cradle of Islamic-Iranian civilization” while reinterpreting the Achaemenid Empire according to the limits of acceptability of public state discourse. These initiatives are in conjunction with a growing attention to the amelioration of public space and the production of a public through spectacles of entertainment like pop concerts, which are regularly organized by the local Office of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Recent ambitious plans envisage the construction of a host of cultural theme parks: the Park of Culture, the Historical Museum of the Literature of Iran, the Cultural House of the Tribes of Fars, the Museum of Philosophy, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the City of Civilizations (a clear homage to the “dialogue of civilizations” of President Khatami). All of these “administrative” activities, with far reaching political and economic entailments concur in producing a “culture” for consumption that offers a neutralized ground beyond the political constituencies of the day. This public culture appears superficial to many inhabitants, but provides a powerful trajectory for the articulation of the politically sceptical and culturally satisfied citizen.

Power and the selective production of culture
For an ethnographer as I am, however, studying the production of culture does not stop at tracing the genealogy of certain discourses; it implies foremost spending time with people who are engaged in this production. During my many stays in Shiraz, I became more and more interested in the ways in which the discourses mentioned above were articulated in people’s lives. Over the years, in my conversations, I came to realize how history and poetry functioned as different modalities in the reproduction of what people called the “culture of Shiraz.” Fragments of national and local history combine with poetry to produce a less uniform and more conflicted version of “culture” in which comments about the dire economic situation and the price of books mix with a vague nostalgia or a particularly evocative verse.

History, especially the history of the twentieth century, is a matter of contention. History is a crucial element of the articulation of the “culture of Shiraz”, which is deemed essential to its understanding and celebration. The nation is mostly envisaged in historical terms, but history itself is also considered relevant at the local level, as an important tool to understand the present and be aware of the past. People in Iran mention singular historical events or figures to articulate their sense of belonging. Both among professional historians and among those who read them however, there is a widespread uneasiness about available historical narratives. They consider them incomplete, inapt to account fully for “things as they were.” Historians point to the lack of sources, to the impossibility of writing without being caught up in political entanglements, or to the difficulties of engaging in kˆar-e jeddi (serious research), while cultural institutions pursue superficial projects. Readers, who often engage in conversations at bookstores around the city, complain about the “emptiness” of narratives, which contain mistakes, silence regarding certain figures while exaggeration for others, and in the overall, are unable to celebrate the greatness of Shiraz both for itself and for the nation.

Concerns for history and the projection of its inability to represent the past focus both on broad themes, as well as on specific fragments. The events of the 1950s, for example, elicit a great deal of discussion, and the position of the different religious leaders and their followers is still a matter of contention, especially since several of their descendants still play significant political roles today. Heated debates take place around a charismatic ayatollah who opposed Mosaddeq’s National Front and was said to have “British leanings” but is celebrated today as an “anti-colonialist” leader and a precursor of the Islamic Republic. Historians are afraid to write about him and have a hard time finding materials because supporters of the aforementioned leader refuse to give them newspapers, documents, and other relevant sources. Readers complain that available biographies or standard accounts found in local histories, often published by state cultural institutions, distort the activities of this leader and fail to reveal his political strategies. Different trajectories intertwine in such opinions that touch on questions of social constituency as well as religious interpretation and social imagination. The aforementioned leader, for example, heralded a populist approach geared at gaining consensus and power through turning ritual practices such as ashura (day commemorating the death of Imam Hossein) into political occasions, while staunchly opposing mystical brotherhoods. However, discussions around this episode, and others, also point to the ways in which causality and agency are interpreted in history and how they are linked to considerations that are more general about the state of the nation. All these tensions underline how history is a crucial site for the production of the “culture of Shiraz.” Related to the institutional investment in culture and in part articulated on the same discourse, history plays out many of the conflicting views that make up the Shiraz of today while partaking in the reproduction of its “culture.” At the same time as a specific modality, history, at least in the present, is considered inapt to fully articulate this “culture” and is therefore supplemented or often substituted by poetry.

Poetry speaking the unspeakable
Poetry affords the recognition that history cannot deliver. While history with its embedded quest for truth remains controversial and is seen as mostly untrustworthy, poetry constitutes a more secure ground. Poetry is not subject to the same rules of interpretation of history. Lapses, silences, or ambiguities in poetry are not seen as making it incomplete, but rather as a characteristic of poetic discourse itself. Poetry is considered as something that always requires interpretation and its layering are seen as adding to its aesthetic appreciation, thus making poetry more effective. For example, when the topic comes up in conversations, listeners substitute the “absent” historical account of the practices and political position of the aforementioned religious leader by referring to and sometimes quoting verses from Al-Tafasil (The Commentary), a satirical book that the Shirazi poet Fereidun Tavallali composed in the early fifties using the famed Sa’di as a model. In the book, without mentioning him by name, Tavallali depicts a certain ayatollah as a kˆasib al-khutab ˆa (merchant of sermons) and attacks him vehemently: “He who called people towards God, when the veil was lifted, Satan he was, Look! The rahbar-i khalq (guide of the people) was the very one who robbed mind, faith and religion.”[1] This portrait, while elusive, is for Shirazi readers, who are interested in history, an explicit reference to the character in question. It is a depiction whose allusions are not considered as an inaccurate or incomplete account, but rather as more effective through the aesthetic dimension; a dimension that the translation cannot convey. Moreover, the verses, because of their intended vagueness, open up parallels between the past and present. For those who are not familiar with the specific historical context, the verses are still an indication of the power of poetry.

Poetry’s relevance is not limited to its satirical efficacy in relation to the past or the present, nor should it be reduced to a counter discourse through which is expressed what could not have been otherwise. Certainly, there are these dynamics at play, as the success of magazines like Golagha and others attest. However, there is much more at stake. As mentioned above, Shiraz can claim a special poetic relevance within the national literary constellation, and even if poetry in itself is not something specific to the city, people in Iran in general and in Shiraz in particular grant a special place to Shiraz in poetic practice and imagination. The extent to which the place of poetry relates to its social practice requires careful ethnographic consideration, since it might lend itself to certain naturalizations about poetic knowledge and capabilities. These attributions while celebrating certain skills do not consider how socially differentiated and selective was, and is, the access to a learned tradition that might be, or have been, widespread but was not, and is not, general. This being said, I have rarely met Iranians who dislike or distance themselves from poetry and those who do, have a specific critical agenda, such as that of the nationalist and modernist Ahmad Kasravi. Poetry is sometimes language, sometimes articulation of common sense, and sometimes just the names of a few poets, or a visit to their tombs.

The widely different approaches to poetry reinforce its pervasiveness. Often it is said that the poet Hafiz embodies and expresses “Iranian-ness” at its fullest. Poetry, even when used as an empty signifier, is an articulation of the self. In my encounters, women and men, university professors, shopkeepers, students and local intellectuals rely on poetry as a stable imaginary, as something that could dispense answers not only to the large and small questions of social and personal life but also grant a location and an identity in the world. It is this poetic power of recognition that makes poetry the dominant discourse of culture: a discourse that crosscuts differences of religion and politics. While it might offer a venue for the expression of discontent, poetry is a hegemonic articulation that goes well beyond the administrative initiatives of the state, and whose aesthetic effects heighten its emotional grip. Poetry’s inclusiveness makes it appear almost as a natural quality of the “culture of Shiraz,” and thus a particularly effective modality of power.


The Iranian Educational System


Having the world’s youngest population, the Islamic Republic of Iran bears the responsibility of educating more than 18 million students at segregated schools. General education is free and parents are obliged to enrol their six years old children at schools. It comprises 5 years of primary, 3 years of lower secondary, 3 years of upper secondary and one year of pre-university education. The language of instruction is Farsi. The first day of school year is 22 September (1st Mehr), which is annually celebrated joyfully.

In the past two decades, the education system and curricula have been reformed several times. The new system of secondary education is the result of several reforms made according to the changes in society, job market and the needs of youth. This new system is oriented toward vocational training and has provided young people with many options to select desirable fields of study, jobs and careers. In the past five years the number of technical- vocational schools has increased noticeably and efforts have been made to lead more female students to technical-vocational education.

Since education is considered a top priority in the development plans of the country, the authorities have endeavoured to increase the primary education enrolment rate. The net intake rate had an ascending trend in the 1990’s such that the rate grew from 89.4% in 1990 to 97.8% in 2000.

Iran is one of the few developing countries with great success in girls’ education. At present, girls comprise 49% of the total student population in the country. Attempts are being made to remove the obstacles in the way of girls’ education and to provide equal educational opportunities for them. In 2000 the net intake rate was 97.8% at primary, 90.3% at lower secondary, and 69.1% at upper secondary levels.

Application of modern educational equipment and technologies such as information and communication technologies is developing considerably and the number of schools enjoying computer use is rapidly rising. Some schools in Tehran and other large cities are linked to the Internet. A project has recently been launched for linking some high schools via a national electronic network (Intranet). Teaching methods and approaches are constantly being reviewed and updated. Although traditional methods and teacher-based approaches are still widely used, efforts are being made to provide teachers with in-service training aiming at updating their knowledge on new teaching methods and classroom control so that cooperative and student-based approaches replace the traditional ones.

Decentralization of education and attracting community participation as well as vesting more authority in provinces and schools for decision making and selection of curricula geared to local needs are among the plans on which emphasis has been placed in the past few years.

Higher education in Iran
Universities and higher education institutes are governed by a board of trustees. Newly founded and smaller higher education institutes are governed by a joint regional board of trustees. The number of state universities has grown from 22 in 1978 to 98 in 2000.

Public sector
Presently, 54 universities and institutes of higher education are active under the Ministry of Science, research and Technology. In addition, the comprehensive Applied Sciences University was established in order to strengthen technical and vocational education and train skillfull manpower needed for industry, agriculture and service sectors.

Private sector
Islamic Azad University; as the first private university, Azad University benefited from educational facilities including buildings, equipment and laboratories offered by local officials and generous people. The university is presently active in over 110 cities in Iran with more than half a million students.

Other private institutes of higher education
Some 33 private institutes of higher education, offering both undergraduate and postgraduate courses with about 23,000 students are active in Iran.

Distance Education
Payam-e-Nour University aimed to expand higher education in remote areas for employed candidates, takes part in training of specialized manpower and make efficient use of educational potentials and facilities. The university admitted students in 18 disciplines through nationwide entrance examinations in 147 centers across the country. Of a total of 146,990 students in the academic year 1998-99, 52% were female.

The number of students enrolled in all institutions in the academic year 1998-99 was 1,308,150 including 47.62% students in the public sector and 52.38% students in the private sector. The proportion of female students was 42.26% in the public sector and 44.46% in the private sector. A total of 347,722 students were admitted by universities and higher education institutes of public and private sectors. The number of enrolments in the public sector was 45.64%, including 45.52% female students.

In academic year 1997-98 a total of 246,437 students graduated from universities and higher education institutes, including 36.41% graduates from public and 63.59 graduates from private universities.

Safavid Empire 1502 – 1736


After the disastrous invasion of Mongols, in the 1200s, migrated Turks and Mongolian tribes adopted the Persian customs and even language. In the 1300s, the Ilkhanids, a dynasty founded by the “Genghis Khan’s” grandson, Holagu Khan, had been an influential factor in Persia. During these turbulent years of 13th century, the Persians had submerged themselves deeper in Islamic devotion and Sufism.

Towards the end of 14th century, Timur (Tamerlane) claimed to be descent from Genghis Khan’s family. The disturbed conditions in Mongol Transoxania gave him in the town of Kish the chance to build up a kingdom in Central Asia. He entered Iran in 1380 and in 1393 reduced the Jalayirids power and domination after taking their capital, Baghdad. In 1402 he captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid at Ankara; and conquered Syria then turned his attention to campaigns to the east of his quickly acquired and ill-cemented empire; he died in 1405 on an expedition to China. He showed interest in Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism; Timur may have hoped to find popular leaders whom he could use for his own purposes. But he encounters ill-treated Iranians proved that they knew him perhaps better than he knew himself. His legacy was the reverse of stability to Iran; and division of his ill-assimilated conquests among his sons ensured that an integrated Timurid Empire would never be achieved.

Shah Esmail killing Uzbek leader Mohammad Sheybani in a battle near Merv, 1510

Timurid state came to being an integrated Iranian Empire was under Timur’s son Shahrokh Shah (1405-47), who endeavored to weld Azerbaijan, which demanded three military expeditions, and western Persia to Khorasan and eastern Persia to form a united Timurid state for a short and troubled period of time. He only succeeded in loosely controlling western and southern Iran from his beautiful capital at Herat. He made Herat the seat of a splendid culture, the atelier of great miniature painters of Herat school, Behzad notable among them, and the home of a revival of Persian poetry and philosophy. This revival was not unconnected with an effort to claim for an Iranian center once more the leadership in the propagation of Sunni ideology; Herat used to send copies of Sunni canonical works on request to Egypt. The reaction in Shi’ism’s ultimate victory under the Safavid shahs of Persia was, however, already in preparation.

In the mean time, the “Qara Qoyunlu” (Black Sheep) Turkman, used to dominate Western Iran. In Azerbaijan they had replaced their former masters, the Jalayirids. Timur had put these Qara Qoyunlu to run away, but in 1406 they regained their capital, Tabriz. On Shahrokh’s death, Jahan Shah (reigned c. 1438-67) extended Qara Qoyunlu rule out of the northwest deeper into Iran. The Timurids relied on their old allies, the Qara Qoyunlus’ rival Turkman of the “Aq Qoyunlu” (White Sheep) clans, whose Jahan Shah was destroyed by the Uzun Hasan of Aq Qoyunlu by the end of 1467.

Uzun Hasan (1453-78) achieved a short-lived Iranian Empire, but under his son Yaqub (1478-90), the state was subjected to fiscal reforms associated with a government-sponsored effort to reapply hard purist principles of orthodox Islamic rules for revenue collection. Yaqub attempted to purge the state of taxes introduced under the Mongols and not sanctioned by the Muslim canon. His Sunni fanaticism was discredited when the inquiries made into his activities by the orthodox religious authorities.

The attempts to revive religious orthodoxy through revenue reform gave momentum to the spread of Safavid Shi’a propaganda. Economic decline, which was resulted by the fiscal reforms of Yaqub, must have been another factor as well.

Sheikh Jonayd’s son Sheikh Heydar led a movement that had begun as a Sufi order under his ancestor Sheikh Safi od-Din Ardabili (of Ardabil 1252-1334). This order may be considered to have originally represented a puritanical, but not legalistically so, reaction against the corruption of Islam, the staining of Muslim lands, by the Mongol infidels. What began as a spiritual, unearthly reaction against irreligion and the betrayal of spiritual aspirations developed into a manifestation of the Shi’a quest for dominion over Islamic authority. By the 15th century, the Safavid movement could draw on both the mystical emotional force and the Shi’a appeal to the oppressed masses to gain a large number of dedicated adherents. Sheikh Heydar toke his numerous followers to warfare by leading them on expeditions from Ardabil into the nearby Caucasus. He was killed on one of these campaigns in 1488. His son Esma’il, then was one year old, was to avenge his death and lead his devoted army to a conquest of Iran whereby Iran gained a great dynasty, a Shi’a regime, and in most essentials its shape as a modern nation state. Yaqub did not kill Sheikh Heydar’s sons, whose mother was Yaqub’s sister, but instead sent them to exile in Fars province. Death of Yaqub in 1490 caused turmoil and paved the path for Esmail and his brothers to leave their exile and secretly taking refuge in Lahijan, Gilan province, as its governor had sympathy toward Shi’a.

A militant Islamic Sufi order, the Safavids, appeared among Turkish speaking people of west of the Caspian Sea, at Ardabil. The Safavid order survived the invasion of Timur to that part of the Iran in the late 13th century. By 1500 the Safavids had adopted the Shi’a branch of Islam and were eager to advance Shi’ism by military means. Safavid males used to wear red headgear. They had great devotion for their leader as a religious leader and perfect guide as well as a military chieftain, and they viewed their leaders position as rightly passed from father to son according to the Shi’a tradition. In the year 1500, Esma’il the thirteen-year-old son of a killed Safavid leader, Sheikh Heydar, set out to conquer territories and avenge death of his father. In January 1502, Esma’il defeated the army of Alvand Beig of Aq Qoyunlu, ruler of Azerbaijan, and seized Tabriz and made this city his capital. Safavids went on and conquered rest of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Khorasan; they became the strongest force in Iran, and their leader, Esma’il, now fifteen, was declared Shah (King) on 11 March 1502.

In that era Iran had a variety of settled peoples; in addition to Persians it had Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans and Baluchis to name a few. Safavid’s power over various tribes was not strong enough to consolidate an absolute supremacy; tribal leaders remained those who had been tribal chieftains and consider their tribes to be independent. However, the Safavids laid claim to authority over all that had been Persia.

Turkish language was spoken at Shah Esma’il’s court, but having adopted Persian as official language and much of Persian culture the Safavids were mistakenly thought by outsiders to be Persian, but they were truly Iranian with a unifying spirit. To help organize the state the Safavids used Persian bureaucrats with a tradition in administration and tax collecting, and they tried to create a religious unity. Shah Esma’il described himself as a descendant, on their father’s side, of the Prophet Mohammad and claimed to have royal Sassanian blood as well. Shi’ism became the state religion, Esma’il ignored the Sunni branch of Islam and tried to force people to become Shi’a, which was a difficult task with a variety of tribes and less than complete authority.

The newly established Iranian Empire lacked the resources that had been available to the Islamic Caliphs of Baghdad in former times through their dominion over Central Asia and the West in order to consolidate their power over the Islamic authority. Asia Minor and Transoxania were gone, and the rise of maritime trade in the West was unfavorable to a country whose wealth had depended greatly on its position on important east-west overland trade routes like the famous Silk Road. The rise of the Ottomans held back Iranian westward advances and contested with the Safavids’ control over both the Caucasus and Mesopotamia. Shah Esma’il by 1506 had been conquered Iraq-e Ajam (Arak), Esfahan, Fars, Kerman, Yazd, Kashan, Semnan, Astarabad (Gorgan) and in 1507 he added Shi’a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to Iran.

In 1507 Portuguese invaded Persian Gulf and captured Hormuz Island. It became a naval base and trade outpost, which lasted more than a hundred years. Shah Esma’il with the lack of navy reluctantly accepted this European presence. In the mean time Safavids extended their rule by capturing Baghdad and Iraq in 1508. Later on after defeating the Uzbeks and killing their leader, Mohammad Sheybani, nicknamed Sheibak Khan, in a battle near Merv on December 1510, Shah Esma’il absorbed the large province of Khorasan into his state as well as Marv, Herat and Qandahar. But Uzbeks remained a formidable rival to the Safavids domination of Northern Khorasan throughout 16th century.

The Ottoman sultan, Bayezid II, in his message congratulated Shah Esma’il on his victories and advised him to stop destroying the graves and mosques of Sunni Muslims. Shah Esma’il was convinced of the righteousness of his cause and the evil of the Sunni branch of Islam; he did ignore the request. With many Shi’a Muslims in Asia Minor under the authority of the Ottoman sultan, Bayezid II was concerned about the power of the Safavids. The new sultan in Constantinople after 1512, Sultan Selim, warred against Shi’a Muslims under his rule, killing thousands and relocating others. Sultan Selim waged war also against the Safavids. On 23 August 1514, just west of Tabriz in Chalderan plain, Shah Esma’il’s army suffered a crushing defeat, which its cavalry and infantry were armed with spears, bows and swords, fighting against Ottoman’s superior numbers as well as field artillery and musketeers. Shah Esma’il and his followers firmly believed that Allah was on their side, but they were confused by their military setback, Tabriz, their capital was briefly occupied. This battle and defeat of Safavid Shah paved the path for the Ottoman conquest of Diyarbakr, Erzinjan, and other parts of eastern Anatolia as well as northern Iraq. Shah Esma’il himself found relief from psychological depression in wine, and died ten years later, at the age of thirty-seven.

Shah Esma’il’s descendants Shah Tahmasp I (1524-1576), Shah Esma’il II (1576-1577) and Shah Mohammad (1577-1587), ruling in succession, recovered some of the original Safavid confidence and expanded in the opposite direction of the Ottomans, as far as Transoxiana. Safavid shahs tightened their controls over Iran; each district had its own Safavid leader, a “Qezelbash” chief, answerable to the shah. In time of war the Qezelbash chiefs were responsible for providing soldiers for the shah’s army and to collect revenues to pay for war. The local Qezelbash chiefs grew wealthy in land and in collecting taxes. Shah Tahmasp I the eldest son of Shah Esma’il ascended the throne at the age of ten, and for the first ten years of his reign, real power was held by a number of leaders of competing Qezelbash factions, which caused much political instability. In 1533 Shah Tahmasp I asserted his authority. One of his legacies was the introduction of converted slaves into court and the military. They were drawn from thousands of Georgian, Circassian and Armenian prisoners captured in campaigns fought in the Caucasus in the 1540s and 1550s. Female slaves entered the royal harem, becoming mothers of princes and a force in court politics and dynastic quarrels. Some of the male slaves began to acquire positions of influence, under Shah Abbas I, reaching high offices that challenged the supremacy of the Qezelbash.

During the reign of Shah Tahmasp I, Uzbeks launched as many as five major invasions of Khorasan with the intent of retaking the area. Safavids were successful in driving back the Uzbeks threat; and in 1545 they captured of Qandahar from the Mughal Empire. The Safavid capital was moved to Qazvin in 1548, following the temporary capture of Tabriz by the Ottomans. Despite periodic wars between Iran and the Ottoman Empire, they maintained an extensive trade, especially in the highly prized Iranian silk, which large quantities of silk were shipped from Iran to commercial centers such as Aleppo and Bursa and from there re-exported to Marseilles, London, and Venice.

Shah Tahmasp I, encouraged carpet weaving on the scale of a state industry. The exquisite miniatures illustrating the Iranian national epic known as the “Shahnama” (Epic of Kings) were painted at the request of Shah Tahmasp. This masterpiece is known as “Shahnameh of Tahmaspi” and was presented by the Safavid ruler to the Ottoman sultan Selim II in 1568.

In 1576 Qezelbash faction interested in a prince whose mother was Turkman rather than Circassian or Georgian, brought Shah Esma’il II son of Shah Tahmasp I to power. Shah Esma’il II reign was marked by brutality and a pro-Sunni policy. Consequently in November 1577, he was poisoned with the participation of his sister Pari Khan Khanom.

Mohammad Shah was the only surviving brother of Shah Esma’il II, proved to be a weak leader. His wife Mahd-e Olya initially dominated him; but after her assassination in 1579 the Qezelbash took control. Meanwhile Ottomans took advantage of Iran’s political turmoil to launch a major invasion of the country. Consequently extensive territories were lost to Ottomans, including most of Azerbaijan, with Tabriz, and Georgia.

With their self-esteem and power derived from their increased wealth, some local Qezelbash chiefs wished to have more freedom from the shah’s authority. They tried to convince Mohammad Shah that he should select a successor agreeable to them. Some of these chiefs tried to reduce the chances of another choice by executing the heir apparent, his mother and some other possible heirs within the royal family. As often happens, politics by murder was less than efficient. The younger brother of the murdered heir apparent was secretly send away to Khorasan, and Qezelbash chiefs loyal to the royal family fought and defeated Qezelbash chiefs who were not, and full power was returned to the old dynasty of shahs.

Abbas I (1587-1629), who succeeded Mohammad Shah, learnt from his family’s experience with the local Qezelbash chiefs, and he broke their power and confiscated their wealth. He extended state-owned lands and lands owned by the shah. Provinces were now to be administered by the state replacing the Qezelbash chiefs. He strengthened his government’s bureaucracy and managed to relocate tribes in order to weaken their power. The Sufi bands, Qezelbash, which had been formed into artificial tribal units mainly for military purposes during the dynasty’s formative period, as a source of recruitment, were replaced by a standing strong army of his own. He recruited soldiers from Persian villages and from among Christians, Georgians, Circassian, Armenians and others, equipped them with artillery and muskets. The Christians were proud to serve the shah and to call themselves “Ghulams” (slaves) of the shah although slaves they were not. To finance the new army, Shah Abbas converted large pieces of land traditionally granted to tribal chiefs as assignments into crown lands that he taxed directly. This new military force was trained on European lines with the advice of Robert Sherley. Sherley was an English adventurer expert in artillery tactics who, accompanied by a party of cannon founders, reached Qazvin with his brother Anthony Sherley in1598. In a short time Shah Abbas created a formidable army, consisting of cavalry, infantry and artillery.

Shah Abbas was open to the ideas and was mentally active as well. He was curious and in ways more tolerant than his predecessors. Previously, “infidels” (foreigners and non-Muslim subjects) had been denied entry to the shah’s court. He welcomed foreigners and his non-Muslims subjects to his court, and enjoyed discussing with foreigners the complexities of religious ideology. He took an unusual step among Islamic rulers by allowing Christians to wear what they wanted and allowing them to own their own home and land.

Shah Abbas defeated the Uzbeks in April 1598 and recovered Herat and territories in Khorasan, including Mashhad, lost several years earlier. He consolidated the Safavid power strongly in Khorasan. He rebuilt and developed the shrine of Ali ar-Reza (Imam Reza) at Mashhad, the eighth Shi’a Imam, as a pilgrim, which was damaged by the Uzbeks. The shrine became a major center for Shi’a pilgrimage, and a rival to Shi’a holy places in Mesopotamia, like Najaf and Karbala, where visiting pilgrims took currency and attention out of Safavid into Ottoman territory.

The Safavids had earlier moved their capital from the vulnerable Tabriz to Qazvin. Since the Uzbek threat from east of the Caspian had been overcome, Shah Abbas could move to his newly built capital at Esfahan in 1598, more centrally placed than Qazvin for control over the whole country and for communication with the trade outlets of the Persian Gulf.

Ali Qapou Palace in Shah Square, Esfahan

Under Shah Abbas I, Iran prospered; he also transplanted a colony of industrious and commercially astute Armenians from Jolfa in Azerbaijan to a new Jolfa next to Esfahan. He patronized the arts, and he built palaces, mosques and schools, Esfahan becoming the cultural and intellectual capital of Iran. Shah Abbas encouraged international trade and the production of silks, carpets, ceramics and metal ware for sale to Europeans. Shah Abbas also founded a carpet factory in Esfahan. Royal patronage and the influence of court designers assured that Persian carpets reached their zenith in elegance during the Safavid period. He advanced trade by building and safeguarding roads. He welcomed tradesmen from Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere to Iran. His governmental monopoly over the silk trade enhanced state revenues. Merchants of the English East India Company established trading houses in Shiraz and Esfahan. After Shah Abbas ousted the Portuguese from the island of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf in 1622, Bandar Abbas (Port of Abbas) became the center of the East India Company’s trade. But Later the Dutch East India Company received trade capitulations from Shah Abbas. The Dutch soon gained supremacy in the European trade with Iran, outdistancing British competitors. They established a spice-trading center at Bandar Abbas. In 1623-24 Shah Abbas I launched an offensive against Ottomans and established control over Kurdish territories, Baghdad and the Shi’a Holy Cities of Najaf and Karbala.

During his reign, Shah Abbas I paid considerable attention to the welfare institutions in Esfahan and other cities like establishing hospitals. Medical practice was still depended on medieval guides for the treatment of most illnesses. The standard reference work remained the Canon of Ebn Sina (Avicenna) (d. 1037), but new clinical works were written during the Safavid period as well. In the 17th century, a unique work, The Treasury of Surgery, was written by an army surgeon known as Hakim Mohammad and was dedicated to Shah Safi I. It included a detailed list of the instruments available to surgeons, including a special device for the removal of bullets; outlined various forms of anesthesia; and advocated surgery for cancerous tumors.

The bureaucracy, too, was carefully reorganized, bold reforms in the military, administrative, and fiscal structures helped to centralize state authority to a degree not achieved by Shah Abbas I predecessors. But the seeds of the sovereignty’s weakness lay in the royal house itself, which lacked an established system of inheritance by primogeniture. One of Shah Abbas I innovations, however, weakened the Safavid state in the long run; fear of revolts by his sons led him to abandon the traditional practice of employing the princes to govern provinces. Instead, he instituted the practice of confinement of infant princes in the palace gardens away from the direct reach of conspiracies and the world at large. A reigning shah’s nearest and most acute objects of suspicion were his own sons. Among them, brother plotted against brother over who should succeed on their father’s death; and conspirator, ambitious for influence in a subsequent reign, supported one prince against another. The new practice, followed also by his successors, resulted in ill-educated, indecisive shahs of lower competence, easily dominated by powerful religious dignitaries to whom the Safavids had accorded considerable influence in an attempt to make Shi’ism the state religion

After Shah Abbas I death in 1629, his son Shah Safi I, who ruled from 1629 to 1642, is known for his cruelty, sat on the throne. He was the first of the Safavid shahs to be raised in the palace gardens. Shah Safi I put to death potential rivals to the throne as well as some of his male and female relatives on his accession. He executed most of the generals, officers and councilors he had inherited from his father’s reign. The dominant influence of Mirza Taqi, known as Saru Taqi, the Grand Vezir (chancellor) at the Safavid court allowed the government to be run smoothly despite the shah’s lack of interest in affairs of state.

On 17 may 1639, peace treaty with the Ottomans, which established the Ottoman-Safavid frontier and put an end to more than a hundred years of sporadic conflict. The treaty forced Shah Safi I to accept the final loss of Baghdad in Mesopotamia, recaptured by the Ottomans in 1638, and instead gave Yerevan in the southern Caucasus to Iran.

Era of Shah Abbas II, who ruled from 1642 to 1667, was the last fully competent period of rule by a Safavid shah. Shah Abbas II took an active role in government matters. Under his rule Iran revived, and some of Persia’s glory in the eyes of the outside world returned. He increased the central authority of the state by increasing crown lands and often intervened in provincial affairs on the side of the peasants, but with peace on the frontiers the army declined in size and quality. He stuck to the notion that the Safavid ruler was sacred and perfect, and disputed openly with members of the Shi’a religious establishment who had begun to articulate the idea that in the absence of the hidden Imam Zaman (twelfth Shi’a Imam), true temporal authority rightly belonged to the mojtahid (similar to the position to be known as ayatollah), who merited emulation by the faithful. Safavid Shi’ism had not improved monarchy as an institution, but instead recognized the state as a theocracy. The olama, religious leaders rebuked the shahs, questioned the religious legitimacy of their power and claimed that the mojtahids has a superior claim to rule.

After Abbas II died in 1667, decline set in again when Shah Soleyman (Safi II), who ruled from 1667 to 1694, took power. He was renamed, superstitiously, to Soleyman because the first year and half of his reign was so disastrous. Shah Soleyman was not a competent ruler, and shortly after his accession food prices soared and famine and disease spread throughout the country. Although pressing problems faced him, he increasingly retreated into the harem and left his grand vezir to cope with affairs of state.

Shah Sultan Hossein, who ruled from 1694 to 1722, have been described as the most incompetent shah of Safavids. He was similar to some others who had inherited power by accident of birth. Indifferent to affairs of state, Shah Sultan Hossein effectively brought Safavid Empire to its sudden and unexpected end. He was of a religious temperament and especially influenced by the Shi’a religious establishment. At their insistence, he issued decrees forbidding the consumption of alcohol and banning Sufism in Esfahan. In 1694 Shah Sultan Hossein appointed Mohammad Baqir Majlesi, the most influential member of Shi’a religious establishment, to the new office of “Mulla Bashi” (Head Mulla). Majlesi wrote “Bihar al-Anwar” (The Seas of Light), an encyclopedic work dedicated to the preservation of the prophet Mohammad’s words and deeds. He devoted himself to the propagation of a legalistic form of Shi’ism and to the eradication of Sufism and Sunni Islam in Iran. Under his guidance specifically Shi’a popular rituals, such as mourning for the martyred third Shi’a Imam Hossein (d. 680), Ashora, were encouraged, as were pilgrimages to the tombs of holy Shi’a personages. Majlesi’s policies also included the persecution of non-Muslims in Iran, including Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. Unchecked by the Safavid regime, Majlesi and the Shi’a clergy emerged with increased strength and independence from the ruling government in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Safavid Empire had also declined militarily, leaving it more vulnerable to invasion, which came out of the east. In 1722 Afghan invaders under Mahmoud, a former Safavid vassal in Afghanistan, captured Esfahan and murdered Shah Sultan Hossein. The Afghan invasion was disastrous for Iran, which consequently in 1723 the Ottomans took advantage of the disintegration of the Safavid realm and invaded from the west, ravaging western Persia as far as Hamadan, while the Russians seized territories around the Caspian Sea. In June 1724 the two powers agreed on a peaceful partitioning of Iran’s northwestern provinces.

Safavid Court; a painting on the wall of Ali Qapou Palace in Esfahan

Nader Khan (Nader Qoli), an able general from the Turkman tribe of Afshar, from northern Khorasan, assembled an army and began the reconsolidation of the country under his control. He effectively became ruler of Iran, although he acknowledged the Sultan Hossein’s son, Tahmasp II, who had escaped the Afghans, as Safavid shah until 1732, then Tahmasp’s infant son Abbas III until 1736, at which time he declared himself shah. Nader expelled the Afghans by 1730 and cleared the country of them; regained control over the northwestern provinces of Iran from the hands of Ottomans in 1730; and had the lands occupied by the Russians restored in 1735.

Safavid Kings:

    • 1502 – 1524 : Ismail I


    • 1524 – 1576 : Tahmasp


    • 1576 – 1577 : Ismail II


    • 1577 – 1587 : Mohammad


    • 1587 – 1629 : Abbas I, The Great


    • 1629 – 1642 : Safi I


    • 1642 – 1667 : Abbas II


    • 1667 – 1694 : Safi II


    • 1694 – 1722 : Soltan Hossein


    • 1722 – 1732 : Tahmasp II


    • 1732 – 1736 : Abbas III



  1. Safavid Government Institutions; by: Willem Floor; Mazda Publishers 2001.
  2. The Timurid and Safavid Periods Vol 6, The Cambridge History of Iran; Cambridge University Press 1986.
  3. Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid Empire; by: Rula Abisaab; I.B. Tauris Publishers 2003.
  4. The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver 1600-1730 (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization); by: Rudolph P. Matthee; Cambridge University Press 1999.
  5. Safavid Medical Practice: Practice of Medicine, Surgery and Gynaecology in Persia Between 1500 and 1750; by: Cyril Elgood; Luzac Publishers 1971.
  6. Iran Under the Safavids; by: Roger Savory; Cambridge University Press 1980.
  7. History of Iran’s foreign affairs: from Safavids to the end of WWII; by: Abdulreza Houshang Mahdavi; Tehran, Amir Kabir Publishers 1996.

History of Iran: Qajar Dynasty


The Qajars were a Turkmen tribe that held ancestral lands in present-day Azerbaijan, which then was part of Iran. In 1779, following the death of Mohammad Karim Khan Zand, the Zand Dynasty ruler of southern Iran, Agha Mohammad Khan, a leader of the Qajar tribe, set out to reunify Iran. Agha Mohammad Khan defeated numerous rivals and brought all of Iran under his rule, establishing the Qajar dynasty. By 1794 he had eliminated all his rivals, including Lotf ‘Ali Khan, the last of the Zand dynasty, and had reasserted Iranian sovereignty over the former Iranian territories in Georgia and the Caucasus. Agha Mohammad established his capital at Tehran, a village near the ruins of the ancient city of Ray (now Shahr-e Rey). In 1796 he was formally crowned as shah. Agha Mohammad was assassinated in 1797 and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath Ali Shah.

Fath Ali Shah, 1797 – 1834
Under Fath Ali Shah, Iran went to war against Russia, which was expanding from the north into the Caucasus Mountains, an area of historic Iranian interest and influence. Iran suffered major military defeats during the war. Under the terms of the Treaty of Golestan in 1813, Iran recognized Russia’s annexation of Georgia and ceded to Russia most of the north Caucasus region. A second war with Russia in the 1820s ended even more disastrously for Iran, which in 1828 was forced to sign the Treaty of Turkmanchai acknowledging Russian sovereignty over the entire area north of the Aras River (territory comprising present-day Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan).

Fath Ali’s reign saw increased diplomatic contacts with the West and the beginning of intense European diplomatic rivalries over Iran. His grandson Mohammad Shah, who fell under the influence of Russia and made two unsuccessful attempts to capture Herat, succeeded him in 1834. When Mohammad Shah died in 1848 the succession passed to his son Naser-e-Din, who proved to be the ablest and most successful of the Qajar sovereigns.

Naser o-Din Shah

Naser o-Din Shah, 1848 – 1896
During Naser o-Din Shah’s reign Western science, technology, and educational methods were introduced into Iran and the country’s modernization was begun. Naser o-Din Shah tried to exploit the mutual distrust between Great Britain and Russia to preserve Iran’s independence, but foreign interference and territorial encroachment increased under his rule. He contracted huge foreign loans to finance expensive personal trips to Europe. He was not able to prevent Britain and Russia from encroaching into regions of traditional Iranian influence. In 1856 Britain prevented Iran from reasserting control over Herat, which had been part of Iran in Safavid times but had been under non-Iranian rule since the mid-18th century. Britain supported the city’s incorporation into Afghanistan; a country Britain helped create in order to extend eastward the buffer between its Indian territories and Russia’s expanding empire. Britain also extended its control to other areas of the Persian Gulf during the 19th century. Meanwhile, by 1881 Russia had completed its conquest of present-day Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, bringing Russia’s frontier to Iran’s northeastern borders and severing historic Iranian ties to the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand. Several trade concessions by the Iranian government put economic affairs largely under British control. By the late 19th century, many Iranians believed that their rulers were beholden to foreign interests.

Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir, was the young prince Nasser o-Din’s advisor and constable. With the death of Mohammad Shah in 1848, Mirza Taqi was largely responsible for ensuring the crown prince’s succession to the throne. When Nasser o-Din succeeded to the throne, Amir Nezam was awarded the position of prime minister and the title of Amir Kabir, the Great Ruler.

Iran was virtually bankrupt, its central government was weak, and its provinces were almost autonomous. During the next two and a half years Amir Kabir initiated important reforms in virtually all sectors of society. Government expenditure was slashed, and a distinction was made between the privy and public purses. The instruments of central administration were overhauled, and the Amir Kabir assumed responsibility for all areas of the bureaucracy. Foreign interference in Iran’s domestic affairs was curtailed, and foreign trade was encouraged. Public works such as the bazaar in Tehran were undertaken. Amir Kabir issued an edict banning ornate and excessively formal writing in government documents; the beginning of a modern Persian prose style dates from this time.

One of the greatest achievments of Amir Kabir was the building of Dar-ol-Fonoon, the first modern university in Iran. Dar-ol-Fonoon was established for training a new cadre of administrators and acquainting them with Western techniques. Amir Kabir ordered the school to be built on the edge of the city so it can be expanded as needed. He hired French and Russian instructors as well as Iranians to teach subjects as different as Language, Medicine, Law, Georgraphy, History, Economics, and Engeneering. Unfortunatelly, Amir Kabir did not live long enough to see his greatest monument completed, but it still stands in Tehran as a sign of a great man’s ideas for the future of his country.

These reforms antagonized various notables who had been excluded from the government. They regarded the Amir Kabir as a social upstart and a threat to their interests, and they formed a coalition against him, in which the queen mother was active. She convinced the young shah that Amir Kabir wanted to usurp the throne. In October 1851 the shah dismissed him and exiled him to Kashan, where he was murdered on the shah’s orders.

Mozaffar o-Din Shah

The Constitutional Revolution
When Naser o-Din Shah was assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani in 1896, the crown passed to his son Mozaffar o-Din. Mozaffar o-Din Shah was a weak and ineffectual ruler. Royal extravagance and the absence of incoming revenues exacerbated financial problems. The shah quickly spent two large loans from Russia, partly on trips to Europe. Public anger fed on the shah’s propensity for granting concessions to Europeans in return for generous payments to him and his officials. People began to demand a curb on royal authority and the establishment of the rule of law as their concern over foreign, and especially Russian, influence grew.

The shah’s failure to respond to protests by the religious establishment, the merchants, and other classes led the merchants and clerical leaders in January 1906 to take sanctuary from probable arrest in mosques in Tehran and outside the capital. When the shah reneged on a promise to permit the establishment of a “house of justice”, or consultative assembly, 10,000 people, led by the merchants, took sanctuary in June in the compound of the British legation in Tehran. In August the shah was forced to issue a decree promising a constitution. In October an elected assembly convened and drew up a constitution that provided for strict limitations on royal power, an elected parliament, or Majles, with wide powers to represent the people, and a government with a cabinet subject to confirmation by the Majles. The shah signed the constitution on December 30, 1906. He died five days later. The Supplementary Fundamental Laws approved in 1907 provided, within limits, for freedom of press, speech, and association, and for security of life and property. The Constitutional Revolution marked the end of the medieval period in Iran. The hopes for constitutional rule were not realized, however.

Mozaffar o-Din’s son Mohammad Ali Shah (reigned 1907-09), with the aid of Russia, attempted to rescind the constitution and abolish parliamentary government. After several disputes with the members of the Majlis, in June 1908 he used his Russian-officered Persian Cossacks Brigade to bomb the Majlis building, arrest many of the deputies, and close down the assembly. Resistance to the shah, however, coalesced in Tabriz, Esfahan, Rasht, and elsewhere. In July 1909, constitutional forces marched from Rasht and Esfahan to Tehran, deposed the shah, and re-established the constitution. The ex-shah went into exile in Russia.

Ahmad Shah

Although the constitutional forces had triumphed, they faced serious difficulties. The upheavals of the Constitutional Revolution and civil war had undermined stability and trade. In addition, the ex-shah, with Russian support, attempted to regain his throne, landing troops in July 1910. Most serious of all, the hope that the Constitutional Revolution would inaugurate a new era of independence from the great powers ended when, under the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, Britain and Russia agreed to divide Iran into spheres of influence. The Russians were to enjoy exclusive right to pursue their interests in the northern sphere, the British in the south and east; both powers would be free to compete for economic and political advantage in a neutral sphere in the center. Matters came to a head when Morgan Shuster, a United States administrator hired as treasurer general by the Persian government to reform its finances, sought to collect taxes from powerful officials who were Russian protégés and to send members of the treasury gendarmerie, a tax department police force, into the Russian zone. When in December 1911 the Majles unanimously refused a Russian ultimatum demanding Shuster’s dismissal, Russian troops, already in the country, moved to occupy the capital. To prevent this, on December 20 Bakhtiari chiefs and their troops surrounded the Majles building, forced acceptance of the Russian ultimatum, and shut down the assembly, once again suspending the constitution. There followed a period of government by Bakhtiari chiefs and other powerful notables.

Ahmad Shah, was born 21 January 1898 in Tabriz, who succeeded to the throne at age 11, proved to be pleasure loving, effete, and incompetent and was unable to preserve the integrity of Iran or the fate of his dynasty. The occupation of Iran during World War I (1914-18) by Russian, British, and Ottoman troops was a blow from which Ahmad Shah never effectively recovered. With a coup d’état in February 1921, Reza Khan (ruled as Reza Shah Pahlavi, 1925-41) became the preeminent political personality in Iran; Ahmad Shah was formally deposed by the Majles (national consultative assembly) in October 1925 while he was absent in Europe, and that assembly declared the rule of the Qajar dynasty to be terminated. Ahamd Shah died later on 21 February 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Qajar Kings:
Agha Mohammad Khan
Fath’Ali Shah
Mohammad Shah
Naser o-Din Shah
Mozaffar o-Din Shah
Mohammed Ali Shah
Ahmed Shah
1794 – 1797
1797 – 1834
1834 – 1848
1848 – 1896
1896 – 1907
1907 – 1909
1909 – 1925

Province of Khuzestan


The province of Khuzestan is 63,213 km2 (24,407 sq mi) in the south-west of Iran, bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Ahvaz is the capital of this province and its cities are Abadan, Behbahan, Dezful, Khorramshahr, Bander Imam, Shoush (Susa), Masjed Soleiman, Andimeshk, Mah Shahr, Ramhormoz, Omidiyeh, Shushtar, Izeh, Hoveizeh, Aqa Djari, Shadegan and Soosangerd.

Basically, the province of Khuzestan can be divided into two regions, the plains and mountainous regions. The agricultural lands are fertile and mainly in the west of the province, which are irrigated by the Karun, Karkheh and Jarahi rivers. These three large and permanent rivers flow over the entire territory contributing to the fertility of the land. Karun, Iran’s largest river, 850 kilometers long, flows into the Persian Gulf through this province.

The name Khuzestan, which means “The Land of the Khuzi,” refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the Khuzi people. Khuzestan is situated on the southern part of the Zagros mountain ranges, which covers the north and east of the province. The climate of Khuzestan is generally hot and humid, particularly in the south, while winters are much more pleasant and dry.

The ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil in Khuzestan was a magnificent structure of the Iranian Elamite Empire.

Khuzestan is inhabited by a number of ethnic groups and peoples. Indigenous Persians in major cities, Iranian Arab tribes, the Bakhtiari, Behbahani and Luri of the north, the Qashqai and Afshari tribes, Armenians, the peoples of Dezful, Shushtar and the inhabitants of the coastal regions of the Persian Gulf all make up the population of the province of Khuzestan.

The Persian groups of western Khuzestan all speak distinct dialects unique to their areas. Many Khuzestanis are bilingual, speaking both Persian and Arabic. It is also not uncommon to find people able to speak a variety of indigenous dialects in addition to their own.

Khuzestani folk music is colorful and festive, and each native group has their own rich traditions and legacy in this area.

The people of Khuzestan are predominantly Shi’a, with small Sunni, Jewish and Christian minorities. Khuzestanis are also very well regarded for their hospitality and generosity.

Seafood is the most important part of Khuzestani cuisine, some few to mention are “qaliye-mahi” (fish stew), “qaliye-meygu” (shrimp stew), “ashe-mohshala” (a Khorramshahri breakfast soup) and “soboor” which is prepared with heavy spices, onions and cilantro.

Shushtar, mostly lies on a rocky plateau where the Karun River makes a sharp bend. Shushtar is famous for its ancient hydraulic engineering works of
dams, canals and bridges.

The province of Khuzestan is one of the centers of ancient civilization, based around Susa. French archeologists such as Jaques De Morgan date the civilization here as far back as 8000 BCE when excavating areas such as Tal-e Ali Kosh. The first large scale empire based here was that of the powerful 4th millennium BCE Elamites, a non-Semitic kingdom independent of Mesopotamia. Archeological ruins verify the entire province of Khuzestan to be home to the Elamite civilization.

In previous ages, Iranians referred to Khuzestan as Elam; and historically historians refer to this province as ancient Elam, whose capital was in Susa. Khuzestan is the most ancient Iranian province and is often referred to in Iran as the “birthplace of the nation”, as this is the area where Aryan tribes first settled, assimilating the native Elamite population, and thus laying the foundation for the future Persian Empires of Median, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid.

In 640 BCE, the Elamites were defeated by Ashurbanipal coming under the rule of the Assyrians who wrought destruction upon Susa and Chogha Zanbil. But in 538 BCE Cyrus the Great was able to re-conquer the Elamite lands. The city of Susa was then proclaimed as one of the Achaemenian capitals. Darius the Great then erected a grand palace known as Hadish there in 521 BCE. But this astonishing period of glory and splendor of the Achaemenian dynasty came to an end by the invasion of Alexander of Macedon. And after Alexander, the Seleucid dynasty ruled the area.

As the Seleucid dynasty weakened, Mehrdad I the Parthian (171-137 BCE), gained victory over the region. During the Sassanid dynasty this area thrived tremendously and flourished, and this dynasty was responsible for the many constructions that were erected in Ahvaz, Shushtar and Andimeshk.

The intellectual center or city of Sassanid Empire was Jondishapour (or Gundishapur), founded in 271 CE, by Shapur I, one the most powerful rulers of the Sassanid dynasty, in Khuzestan near Ahvaz and not far from the Karun River. Gundishapur was home to the world’s oldest known teaching hospital, and also comprised a library and a university. According to “The Cambridge History of Iran (vol 4, p396.)”, it was the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries. Jondishapour medical center was the Mecca of its time, and used to attract the distinguished medical scientists from Greece, Egypt, India, and Rome, shows the importance and prosperity of this region during ancient times.

Bakhtiari people of Izeh, Khuzestan, Iran

Jondishapour (or Gundishapur) Academy offered training not only in medicine but also in philosophy, theology and science. The faculties were versed not only in the Zoroastrian and Persian traditions, but in Greek and Indian learning as well

In 639 CE, Arabs Muslims, under the command of Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari from Basra, invaded Khuzestan and drove the Persian Hormozan out of Ahvaz. Susa fell in two days, so Hormozan fled to Shushtar where his forces were besieged by Arab invaders for 18 months. Shushtar finally fell in 642 CE, they, Arab invaders purged the entire Nestorian population of the city along with the Bishop of Hormizd. There after followed the conquests of Jondishapour and of many other districts of Kuzestan. The battle of Nehavand finally secured Khuzestan for the Muslim invaders.

The Arab settlements, by military garrisons in southern Iran, were soon followed by other types of colonization. Some Arab families, for example, took the opportunity to gain control of private estates. Like the rest of Iran, the Arab invasion thus brought Khuzestan under occupation of the Arabs Muslims of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, until Ya’qub bin Laith as-Saffar, from Sistan on the eastern part of Iran, raised the flag of independence once more, and ultimately regained control over Khuzestan, among other parts of Iran, founding the short-lived Saffarid dynasty. From that point on, Iranian dynasties would continue to rule the region in succession as an important part of Iran.

In 1440 CE an Arab extremist Shi’a sect, Mshashaiya, initiated a wave of attacks on Khuzestan, leading to a gradual increase in the Arab population of Khuzestan. From the middle of the 15th century to the 19th century, they came to dominate much of western Khuzestan and were in continual conflict with the Safavid rulers during the reign of that dynasty, as well as with Iranian Arab tribes. In the latter part of the 16th century, the Bani Kaab, from Kuwait, settled in Khuzestan. And during the succeeding centuries, many more Arab tribes moved from southern Iraq to Khuzestan, and as a result, Khuzestan became “extensively Arabized” (Encyclopedia Iranica, p216).

City of Abadan, lies on the bank of Arvand Roud (or Shat-ol Arab).
Abadan during Iran-Iraq war was heavily damaged; and its oil refinery was totally ruined.

In the mid 1800s Britain initiated a war with Iran in a failed attempt to conquer Khuzestan. Having lost, the British continued in their attempts to wrest control of the province by supporting a number of foreign Arab tribes that had invaded Iran. Sheikh Khaz’al, of Kuwaiti origin, was the ruler of the last remnants of these tribes, who was the first person to launch secessionist unrests in Khuzestan.

Sheikh Khaz’al rose to power in 1897 and had originally been supported by the British colonialists. He was finally defeated and arrested in 1925 by Reza Shah of Pahlavi and the area of Khuzestan he had dominated returned to the province. Reza Shah Pahlavi, however, restored the original name of the province from Arabistan to Khuzestan.

Domination of Khuzestan was also Saddam Hussein’s primary strategic objective that launched the Iran-Iraq war. Being on the border with Iraq, Khuzestan suffered the heaviest damage of all Iranian provinces during the 8 years of imposed war, which forced thousands of Iranians to flee the province.

What used to be Iran’s largest refinery at Abadan was totally destroyed by Iraqi shells. Many of the famous Nakhlestans (Date palm tree grove) were annihilated, cities were destroyed, historical sites were demolished, and half the province went under the boots of Saddam’s invading army.

However, by 1982, Iranian forces managed to push Saddam’s forces back into Iraq. The battle of “the Liberation of Khorramshahr” (one of Khuzestan’s largest cities and the most important Iranian port prior to the war) was a turning point in the war and of course one the most heroic battles ever taken place in defending the country, and is officially celebrated every year in Iran. The city of Khorramshahr was completely decimated as a result of Saddam’s barbaric invasion.

The Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980 in London was a terrorist siege and initiated by Arab separatists, backed by Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. Arab separatists supported Saddam’s invading army and attacking the both Persian and Iranian-Arab townships, soldiers and civilians. During eight years of war the majority of the Khuzestani Arab population was loyal to Iran and fought alongside fellow countrymen against Saddam. This was one of biggest miscalculations of Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, as they expected that all Khuzestani Arabs will welcome and support the invading Iraqi army. But at later months of war when they didn’t receive support as it was expected, they went on rampage and started to rape, torture and kill the Iranian-Arab children, women and men; and burn their villages and towns to ashes. Those Iranian-Arabs did one thing to suffer like that in the hands of Iraqi army and their separatist supporters, and that was “not supporting the separatist movement”. After the withdrawal of Iraqi forces towards the end of the war, the remainder of these Arab separatists fled to Iraq, though Saddam continued to entertain the notion of a potential future invasion of Khuzestan for many years afterwards.

The massive Karun-3 dam, was in 2004 inaugurated as part of a drive to boost Iran’s growing energy demands.

In the last century, except during the Iran-Iraq war, the province of Khuzestan thrived and prospered and today counts for one of the regions in Iran that holds an economic and defensive strategic position.

Khuzestan is the major oil-producing region of Iran, and as such is the wealthiest province in Iran. Karun River is the only river in Iran capable of sailing. The British, up until recent decades, after the oil discovery in Khuzestan by Sir Henry Layard, transported their merchandise via Karun’s waterways, passing through Ahvaz all the way up to Masjed Soleiman to the site of their first oil wells in the Naftoon oil field. Karun is capable of the sailing of fairly large ships as far up as Shushtar.

Karkheh, Jarrahi, Arvand, Handian, Shavoor, Bahmanshir (Bahman-Ardeshir), Maroon-Alaa’, Dez, and many other rivers and water sources in the form of Khurs, lagoons, ponds, and marshes demonstrate the vastness of water resources in this region, and are the main reason for the variety of agricultural products such as wheat, barley, oily seeds, rice, eucalyptus, medical herbs; the existence of many palm and citrus farms. The abundance of water supplies, rivers, and dams, also has an influence on the fishery industries

The Karun 3 / 4 and Karkheh Dam, as well as the petroleum reserves provide Iran with national sources of revenue and energy. The petrochemical and steel industries, pipe making, and the power stations that feed the national electricity demand, the chemical plants, and the large refineries are some of Iran’s major industrial facilities. Khuzestan is also home to Yadavaran Field, a major oil field.

History of Iran: Ctesiphon (Parthian: Tyspwn)


Ctesiphon (Parthian: Tyspwn), ancient city on the Tigris, founded by the Parthians. The city was the capital of the Parthian and the Sassanid empires.

Ctesiphon was built on the site of an older town, Opis, not far from the confluence of Tigris and Diyala. This city was situated on the so-called Royal Road, which connected Elam’s capital Susa with the Assyrian heartland and -later- the Lydian capital Sardes.

At the end of the fourth century, king Seleucus, the successor of Alexander the Great and founder of the Seleucids empire, built Seleucia on the opposite bank of Opis. From now on, Opis was a mere suburb. The Roman historian Tacitus informs us that in the first century, Greek and native inhabitants were still recognizable and had institutions of their own. The Parthians, who took over the country in the second century BCE, had hardly any cultural influence.

Tagh-e Kasra in ancient city of Ctesiphon

However, the Parthians needed a western capital, and therefore, they moved the goverment center from Seleucia to the eastern bank, and renamed ancient Opis Tyspwn or Ctesiphon. The city served as winter residence of the kings after 129 BCE. It is not clear when Ctesiphon became the most important city in the Parthian empire, but what is reasonably clear is that the spoils of a large campaign against the Roman empire in 41 BCE were invested in the new capital, which became one of the greatest cities in the ancient world.

The city became even more important after a rebellion of Seleucia against king Vardanes, which ended in 43 CE. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus calls Vardanes the founder of Ctesiphon, which suggests that he did something to improve the status of this city. A generation later, king Pacorus is said to have increased its inhabitants and built its walls. Ctesiphon measured 30 square kilometers (cf. the 13,7 square kilometers of imperial Rome).

In the second century CE, the large city became the natural target for Roman aggression, because the Romans thought that the capture of the Parthian capital would inevitably result in the fall of the eastern empire. In 116, 165, and 198, the emperors Trajan, Lucius Verus, and Septimius Severus took Seleucia and Ctesiphon. But the Parthian state was organized in a very loose fashion, which gave it a certain resilience.

However, in the long run, the capture by Septimius Severus had a disastrous result. According to a modern estimate, the Romans took away so much gold and silver that they were able to postpone a European economic crisis for three or four decades, and we can imagine the consequences for the Parthians. Their empire was seriously weakened and in 224 CE, the Persian vassal king Ardašir revolted. Two years later, he took Ctesiphon, and this time, it meant the end of Parthia. It also marked the beginning of the second Persian empire, ruled by the Sassanid kings.

Although Ctesiphon was the capital of the Sassanid empire, Seleucia was not forgotten; it was renamed Veh-Ardašir (“the good city of Ardašir”). The cities remained a military target. In 238, he Roman emperor Gordian III wanted to capture Ctesiphon in order to prevent the new Sassanid empire from becoming too powerful, but was murdered before he reached his goal. Odenaethus of Palmyra was more successful in 262 CE, and so was the emperor Carus, who took the city in 283 CE. But when Julian wanted to do the same thing, he was defeated and killed in action (363 CE).

In the fifth century, Ctesiphon became a very important center of Nestorianism, a Christian church that accepts a larger distance between the two natures of Christ than the churches of the West. Missionaries from Ctesiphon christianized many people along the Silk road, e.g., at Rhagae and Maracanda, and in Margiana and Aria. In 635 CE, the first Christians reached China.

In 540 CE, the Sassanid king Khusrau I conquered the capital of Roman Syria, Antioch. The inhabitants were deported and settled in a new city near Ctesiphon and Veh-Ardašir, which was called Khusrau’s Antioch. There were perhaps four comparable settlements. As a consequence, the Arabs started to call the place Al-Madain, “the cities”.

In 637 CE, the Muslims took and looted Ctesiphon and the other cities. This was the beginning of their conquest of Mesopotamia. In 762 CE, they built a new government center, 35 kilometers upstream: Baghdad.