Early peoples inhabiting the area were the Guti and Lullubi, Semitic peoples who lived in the Zagros mountains c. 2200 - 2000 BC. It was subject to Caucasian and Indo-Aryan invasions c. 2000 BC, by the Hittites (North Anatolia) c. 1800 BC by the Kassites (central Zagros, Diyala/Tigris plain, est. Dynasty in Babylon 1700-1200BC) c. 1600 by the Mitanni (feudal overlords of Hurrians, northern Syria and Palestine) and c. 1000 BC by the Cimmerians and Iranians (Assyria and Asia Minor).
Settled civilizations were developed around 900 BC by the Urartians around Hasanlu and Lake Van, by the Madai or Medes south-east of northern Kurdistan hills, and the Parsua or Persians south and south-west of Lake Urmiya and from c. 1000-750 by the Mannai in the hills east of Sulaimanyah.
The C8th and 7th BC saw frequent invasions by Assyrian kings and some tribal alliances were made against them. Sargon II made Parsuash (Kirmansah) an Assyrian province in 719 and tribute was exacted from several tribes although there was resistance from the Mannai and Madai in particular. The Medes under Kashtaritu (Phraortes) began to establish a large kingdom in northern Iran from 710 onwards. His father, Cyaxares I, is said to have been the first Median leader to subjugate the Persians but this did not last long as a Parsua tribe led by Hakamanish (Achaemenes) took over in Parsumash.
The Medes under Cyaxares II defeated Assyria in 612 to rule the whole of Mesopotamia from the Halys river in the north to Susa in the south, with the rival claimants, the Achaemenid Persians, Ariaramnes and Cyrus, as vassals. This began to change when Cyaxares' successor, his son, Astyages, married his daughter to Cambyses, the son of Cyrus. Their son, Cyrus II, made an alliance with Nabonidus (Nabunaid) who had taken the throne of Babylon from Nebuchadnezzar. The Persians conquered the Median empire, subjugating Cyrus' cousin, Arsames, in 549 BC and defeating Astyarges in 548. Nabonidus took over Arabia, leaving Babylon to decline and become part of Cyrus' territories.
Cyrus conquered the fabulously rich Croesus of Lydia in 547, acquiring the Greek settlements of Ionia as a frontier problem and subdued Nabonidus and Babylonia by 539, 'liberating' Palestine and Syria which had been conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. When he was killed fighting the Massagetae in 530 BC, his son Cambyses was easily accepted as king. He took over Egypt which became the satrapy of Mudraya and established a trading centre at the capital, Memphis, where Greek and Phoenician mercenaries were quartered. He also added Cyprus to the Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus.
After some succession problems following Cambyses' death, Darius I (Darayavaush) took the throne from the imposter Gaumata in 522 BC. He was a descendant of Ariaramnes who had been subjugated by Cyaxares and whose line remained purely Persian unlike that of Cyrus which had Median blood through marriage with Cyaxares' family. Revolts throughout Cyrus' empire were put down despite the attempt to revive Median kingship by Phraortes, a descendant of Cyaxares. He had a series of troubles with the Greek cities but it was under his son, Xerxes (Khshyarsha) and his generals, Mardonius and Tigranes, that Persia suffered heavy defeats by land at Termopylae and Mycale and by sea at Salamis.
Darius' son, Artaxerxes I, was rebelled against in Egypt by Inarus, son of a former pharaoh whom he had killed at his mother Amestris' encouragement, after promising him a safe conduct to Susa. Relations with Athens were friendly under the Archon Pericles and the Persian general, Zopyrus, was well received there due to his merciful treatment of captured Greek generals. He met Herodotus there in 445. The peace was not very stable, however, and it appears that hostilities might have resumed if the Peloponnesian war had not occupied Athens and Sparta.
Artaxerxes' death in 425 led to a series of murders and usurpations. His son, Xerxes II, was killed after just forty days by his half-brother Secydanius. He was soon rebelled against in Babylon by a third half-brother, Ochus, who had himself declared king as Artaxerxes III in 423 and had Secydanius and anyone else connected with Xerxes' murder killed. He managed to largely control the Empire despite the rise of Macedonia under Philip II, who unified Greece under his rule, but was poisoned by the eunuch Grand Vizier, Bagoas, who made Ochos' young son, Arses, king. As soon as he showed signs of taking power from Bagoas, he and his family were also killed and Bagoas made one of the few Achaemenid survivors, Darius III 'Kodomannes' king.
Darius easily reduced Egypt but did not take the Macedonian threat seriously, especially as Philip II was murdered in the year Darius became king to be succeeded by his son Alexander III, then only twenty and not considered a threat. Alexander heavily defeated Persia's western army at the river Granikos in 334, routed Darius (who fled leaving his family) at Issos the year after, conquered Egypt while Darius raised another army which was virtually destroyed at Gaugamela in 331. Darius ran away again but was killed within a few days by his relative, Bessos who took the throne as Artaxerxes IV but fell to Alexander in 327 to leave the whole Persian Empire under Macedonian control.
Alexander's vast conquests fell apart when he died with no heir but an unborn baby in 323. The eastern province went to his half-Greek, half-Iranian general, Seleucus, satrap of Babylon, who founded new cities with Greek colonies and established Seleucid rule and Hellenic influence over the whole of western Asia. The Parthian Empire resisted Roman expansion and managed to remain outside the empire.
For later history, see Iran
The two Iranian tribes who became the Medes and Persians were ethnically and linguistically similar. Most names are given in the Greek forms used by Herodotus although some Persian versions are included.
|Ormuzd/Ahura-Mazda||Chief, winged disc|
|Mitra / Mithras||Bull, order|
Monotheism, Mazda as sole god
Probably a priestly caste but listed as one of five aboriginal tribes of Iran by Herodotus. They may have been repudiated by Zoroastra, although both Achaemenid and Zoroastrian religions worshipped fire. Zoroastrian priests were called 'athravan' which means 'fire-tenders' and the Magi were probably sacrificial priests like the Vedic Aryans had.
|Greek Name||Persian Name||Reign||Lineage|
|Deioces||Daiaukku||c 715 Media|
|Cyaxares I||Ukshatar||c 712 Zagros|
|Teispes||Chishpish||c 678-39 Anshan||Son of Achaemenes|
|Cyrus I||c 639 Anshan + Parsumash||Son of Teispes|
|Ariaramnes||c 640-15 Parsa||Son of Achaemenes|
|Phraortes||Kashtaritu-Khshathrita||-653 Media||Son of Deioces|
|Cyaxares II||Khuvakhshatra||625-585 Media||Son of Khshathrita|
|Cambyses I||-559 Anshan||Son of Cyrus I|
|Cyrus II the Great||558-30 Anshan + 547 Parsa||Son of Cambyses I|
|Arsames||-548 Parsa||Descended from Ariaramnes|
|Cambyses II||529-3||Son of Cyrus II|
|Smerdis||Bardiya||522||Son of Cyrus II|
|Darius I||Daryavaush||521-486||Grandson of Arsames|
|Xerxes I||485-65||Son of Darius I|
|Artaxerxes I Longimanus||465-24|
|Artaxerxes II Mnemon||404-359|
|Artaxerxes III Ochos||359-38|
|Darius III||335-2 def by Alex|
|Arsaces I||c 247 BC|
|Tiridates||c 231||Brother of Arsaces|
|Phraates IV||c 10-3|
|Phraates V||3 BC - AD 2 usurper|
|Artabanus III||AD 12-38|
|Artabanus IV||c 216|
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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