THE MEDIAN EMPIRE
Zarathushtra preached his religion at the end of the mythical Kyanian dynasty in the reign of King Vistashpa. Modern scholars put the date of Zarathushtra around 1200 BCE. Soon after the death of Vishtaspa the Kyanian kingdom seems to have disintegrated, or even the mythical records are absent. However the religion of Zarathushtra flourished among the Iranian people of north eastern Iran, even without the support of the Kyanian dynasty. Some of the customs and beliefs of the religions with which the Zoroastrian Iranians came in contact with, were adopted into the religion as well as some of the pre-Zoroastrian traditions and beliefs.
The first mention of the Iranian people in recorded history is 869 BC, in Assyrian documents. The history of the Iranian people between 1200 and 869 BCE remains a mystery, and we can only guess what happened. It seems that the Iranians were migrating along the mountains of Iran. They started migrating west from Bactria (Afghanistan) towards Mazinderan (Caspian Sea area) along the Elburz mountains and the south and east along the Zagros range between the desert of Iran and the Persian Gulf.
About 850 BCE we know that the Iranians were divided into two large groups. One living in Media and the other in Parsua (Persia). Media is the region southwest of the Caspian Sea and east of the Tigris river, and Parsua is south and east of Media. At this time the Medians and the Parsuans were under the nominal rule of the Assyrian empire and paid tribute to the Assyrian empire when forced to do so by Assyrian invaders. Between invasions they were left very much on their own and even had their own kings. The first Median king in recorded history is Deioces (known to Assyrians as Daiaukku) who in 670 BCE overthrew the Assyrian ruler of Media and set up a free Median kingdom. His capital city was Ecbatana (today known as Hamadan).
His son was Froartes (Median name Fravartish) who ruled for twenty years. He tried to take over Assyria but was defeated. He conquered Parsua and made it a vassal state of Media.
Fravartish was succeeded by his son Cyarxes I. In 614 BCE he made an alliance with Babylonia and attacked Assyria and captured the capital Nineveh. He then tried to expand his empire into Lydia (modern Turkey). A long war with Lydia ended when the total solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BCE frightened the two armies into making peace. This exact date of the end of the war is available to us because eclipses of the sun and moon can be calculated exactly both backward and forward in time.
Astyages was the next king of Media. He ruled for a very long time until he was overthrown by Cyrus the Great who established the first Persian empire.
From the time of Fravartish the Parsuans(Persians) were under Median rule but had their own kings. Hakhamanish (700-675 BCE) was the first Persian king . His son was Teispis (also known as Chispish) who ruled from 675 to 640 BCE. He divided his kingdom between his two sons and from that time on to 659 BCE, there were two kingdoms in Persia. One of Chispishs’ son was Cyrus I (640 to 600 BCE) his rule was followed by his son Cambyses I (590-559 BCE), whose son Cyrus II known in history as
Cyrus the Great founded the Hakhamanian empire named after the first Persian king Hakhamanish. The other son of Chispish was Ariamnes (640 to 615 BCE). His son Arsamnes ruled to about 590 BCE and was followed by Hystaspes (Persian name Vishtashpa, not to be confused with the Kyanian king Vishtashpa). His son Darius I, became the Persian emperor after Cambyses II the son of Cyrus the Great.
THE HAKHAMANIAN EMPIRE
CYRUS THE GREAT (Persian name KURUSH) 559 – 529 BCE
Cyrus II became king of Anshan (one of the two Persian kingdoms) on the death of his father Cambyses I (Persian name Kambujiyeh) . Soon after he became king he conquered the other Persian kingdom of his cousins and established a single Persian kingdom. Cyrus was an extremely ambitious man. From the beginning he showed signs of independence from the Median king Astyages who was his overlord. Around 550 BCE Astyages saw the danger from the Persian king and decided to teach him a lesson. He declared war on Cyrus who met him in battle on the plain of Pasargadae. Cyrus was a natural leader, men looked up to him and he had a charisma about him, such that seeing him, the Median army revolted against their king Astyages and presented to Cyrus their own king as a prisoner. Ecbatana the capital of Media surrendered to Cyrus.
Unlike previous kings, Cyrus spared both the city of Ecbatana and Astyages, neither were harmed. Median officials kept their jobs and their titles, but were supervised by Persians.
Cyrus now had at his command the excellent Median army and he turned his attention to Lydia ruled by king Croesus. King Croesus saw the defeat of the Medians by the Persians as a sign weakness and a chance to conquer some Median territory. Cyrus was ready to defend his newly won empire. In one month he took his army 1200 miles to Pteria and there the two armies fought. Neither side won, but Croesus decided to pull out, since winter was coming. He returned to Sardis his capital and believing that there would be no more fighting until spring, he paid off his soldiers. Cyrus believed in a strategy of surprise, doing things that his opponents never expected. He waited just long enough for Croesus to pay off his troops and then advanced swiftly to Sardis. Croesus hurriedly called back his troops and the two armies met in battle outside of Sardis. Now Cyrus had another surprise. Knowing that horses are always afraid of camels, he put his baggage camels mounted by soldiers out in front and charged the Lydian cavalry. The smell of the charging camels spooked the Lydian horses and they bolted in every direction. The Lydians lost the battle but were able to retreat into the fort of Sardis. With winter coming Cyrus was in no position to lay siege to the fort. On the 13th day he attacked the fort from the most difficult, least defended side. He managed to enter and conquer Sardis. Croesus committed suicide by having himself burned at the pyre. The conquest of Lydia brought all of Ionia (modern west Turkey) under the Persian empire.
Cyrus turned east again making sure that the Medians were still under his rule and then went on north and east, conquering Parthia (old Mazinderan) and Bactria (Afghanistan) then north to the Oxus river to the Aral sea, across the Central Asian plains to the Jaxartes river (also known as Syr Daria). These areas inhabited by nomadic tribes became part of the empire. He declared the Jaxartes river as his north eastern boundary. He built a series of seven fortresses to guard his north eastern boundary. All these conquests in the north east were done in one year. He had doubled the area of his empire and now had the greatest army in the whole world.
Cyrus was now ready to take on Babylon, the richest city known to him. Babylon was ruled by Nabonidus, who was not popular with his subjects as he did not take care of the gods and temple of Babylonia. In 540 BCE, Cyrus started his campaign. His army arrived at the Gyndes river and founded it to be not fordable (could not be crossed by foot). The Babylonians regarded this river as a boundary across which no army could come. Again Cyrus did the unexpected, he told his soldiers to start digging 180 channels so as to divert the water. The water level fell in the river as the water spread out into the diversions and his army crossed the river Gyndes into Babylonia. The Babylonians met his army at Opis and were defeated and sixteen days later Cyrus was at the gates of Babylon. The city wall was insurmountable and only broken where the river Euphrates entered and left the city. Babylon had food supplies to last twenty years, a siege would not have succeeded. Cyrus used his ingenuity once again. He had his soldiers dig trenches round the city wall deep enough to divert much of the rivers water round the city. The water level of the river fell and Cyrus’ army entered the city using the river bed where the Euphrates entered the city, Babylon fell to the Persians.
In those times it was customary for the invaders to kill off the inhabitants or take them prisoner as slaves, burn and loot the city. As soon as the city was firmly in his control, he ordered his soldiers not to harm the citizens. He left their temples alone and went to pay respect to their chief god Marduk. The result was that the Babylonians regarded Cyrus as their own king rather than an invader. At this time the Jews were slaves in Babylonia. Cyrus ordered them freed and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. He even promised to pay for the rebuilding of the temple. Today, the ruins of the second Jewish temple still stand, known as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is a holy site for the Jews. In the Old Testament Cyrus is regarded as anointed by the Lord for his magnanimity to the Jews.
Cyrus left his son Cambyses and a noble Gobryas to govern Babylon and returned to Ecbatana. He was now the ruler of the greatest empire known to history up to that time. Each captured land became a Satrapy, governed by a Satrap. The military garrison in each Satrapy reported directly to the great King. Frequently royal inspectors traveled openly or in disguise to report conditions in each Satrapy to Cyrus, King of Kings, King of all Lands, the tittle that Cyrus most often used.
After his return from Babylon Cyrus built his new capital Pasargadae, on the plain where he had defeated the Median king Astyages and started his conquests. In Pasargadae he built his tomb. Some years later the tribes north of the Jaxartes river united under a queen Tomyris and invaded his empire. Cyrus led his army to fight the invasion. In the battle that followed Cyrus was killed. His body was brought back to Pasargadae and entombed in the tomb that he had built. At the entrance to the tomb an inscription says: “Adam Kurush Kshayathia Hakhamanish” “I am Kurush the Hakahamanian”. According to Plutarch who visited the tomb during the empire, there was an inscription on the tomb, now worn away, which read “O man whoever you are and where so ever you come from, I am Kurush who founded the empire of the Persians, grudge me not therefore this little earth that covers my body”.
THE DECLARATION OF CYRUS AT BABYLON
The declaration written on a clay cylinder in Akkadian Cuneiform, was discovered in 1879. The text in English translation reads as follows:
“ When I entered Babylon without any battle, people welcomed my arrival with rejoicing. In the palace of the Kings of Babylon I sat upon the royal throne. Marduk (the God of the Babylonians) inclined the hearts of the noble people of Babylon favorably towards me because I looked upon Him with respect and love. My large army entered Babylon comfortably. I did not allow any calamity to befall the people of this city and this country.
“The internal conditions of Babylon and its sacred places touched my heart. I ordered that all the people were free to worship their God—and irreligious persons should not harm them.
“I ordered that none of the houses should be ruined. I ordered that none of the citizens should be put to death. The great God (Ahura Mazda?) was pleased with me and bestowed upon me Cyrus and upon my son Cambujiyeh and upon all my soldiers the gifts of his blessings.
“Kings who are sitting in their palaces in all the countries of the world, kings from across the seas and the kings of the west, all of them brought rich tributes and in Babylon they kissed my feet. I ordered that all the temples of Babylon, Sussa, Akkad and in the territory beyond the Euphrates which were built in ancient times and were closed should be reopened.
“I restored all the gods of this temple to their places so that they may remain there for ever. I gathered together the people of the areas and rebuilt their houses which had been demolished, the gods of Sumer and Akkad safely restored to their palaces known as “Delight of the Heart’. I bestowed upon all the people peace and happiness”
This was the human behavior of Cyrus. Previous rulers at their time of victory killed and destroyed the conquered cities, while Cyrus declared his pride in the freedom and happiness of his people. The declaration lays down the freedom of rights and worship of conquered people for the first time in history.
Contrast this with the behavior of Ashur Banipal (who lived only a hundred years before Cyrus) when he conquered Susa. In his own words: “I conquered Susa, I removed the seals from the treasuries and stores, accumulated by the kings from olden times. All the silver, gold, jewels cloaks and furniture of the palaces, statutes of kings made from gold and silver and precious stones were sent to Assyria. Then I rooted out the temples of Susa and reduced their gods to sand and rubble. The territory which was within the marching distance of one month and twenty days I made barren from end to end, loaded thorns into it and converted it into a marshy land. The sons and daughters of kings and all the members of the royal family, governors, officers weapon makers, artisans, men or women all the cattle were taken to Assyria. I crushed the head of Elam and removed the cries of joy and rejoicing from that territory. I converted the country into the abode of wild donkeys, wild boars, devils and wild beasts.”
Similarly Nebuchadnezar who rule Babylon a few years before Cyrus’ invasion of Babylon writes ”I ordered that a hundred thousand eyes may be brought before me and a hundred thousand shanks of the legs may be broken. With my own hands I gorged out the eyeballs of the commander of the enemy from the sockets. Thousands of boys and girls were burnt alive. I battered the houses in such a way that the sound of living persons may not come out of them again.”
CAMBYSIS II (KAMBUJYEH) 529-521 BCE
Cambyses, Cyrus’ first born son became King of the empire in 529 BCE. He put into action the plan that Cyrus had drawn out for the conquest of Egypt. Five years later Cambyses conquered Egypt and Pharaoh Psammenitos was taken prisoner. From that time forward for 124 years the Persian kings made up the 27th dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs.
While Cambyses was still in Egypt, a man named Gaumata (also known as Bardya or Smerdis) and according to some historians a half brother of Cambyses, seized power in Media and proclaimed himself emperor. On hearing the news Cambysys hastened towards Pasargadae but died on the way. One story has it that he fell off his horse onto his own spear and was killed. Confusion followed the revolt of Gaumata and the accidental death of Cambyses. Within eight months the empire started to fall apart and the conquered countries rebelled and declared their independence.
Darius, the son Hystaspes from the other royal Persian family, had accompanied Cambyses to Egypt and was his spear bearer ( a high military rank). Seeing the disintegration of the family empire Darius returned to Pasargadae and plotted with seven other Persian nobles and killed Gaumata. He proclaimed himself King of Kings, King of all Lands.
Darius I (Darayush) 522-486 BCE
Darius became King of Kings in 522 BCE. At that time it was an empty tittle. The empire that Cyrus had built was in rebellion, little kings proclaimed their independence n Media and even in Persia. Babylon was in rebellion as was Egypt, Parthia and the Scythian territories in the north. In fourteen months of hard fighting from one end of the empire to another Darius recovered most of the empire putting down one rebellion after another with his small army and a few Persian nobles. In two years he had brought back all the territories that Cyrus had conquered back under the Persian empire.
Darius now had time to reflect. He realized the weaknesses of Cyrus’ empire. Nothing bound the empire together other than the military might of the Persian army. Darius set about to correct this by passing a set of reforms that applied to all the empire and bound it into an economic and administrative unit.
A uniform set of laws.
Darius’ first project was to have a uniform set of laws for the whole empire. A law book was quickly prepared based on the older laws of Hamurabi an ancient king of Babylon. Darius called his laws (Persian Dat) The Ordinance of Good Regulation. Its introduction read “ a great God is Ahuramazda, who created earth, who created the sky, who created man, who created all good things for man, who made Darius, King, one King of many, one Lord of many. a great God is Ahuramazda, who gave this beautiful work, who gave favor to man, who gave wisdom and friendliness to Darius the king.”
The king’s laws were enforced with great equality through out the empire, a Persian noble or a Babylonian slave both had to obey and observe the same laws. The penalties for breaking the laws was applied equally to all rich or poor and the laws remained unchanged throughout the 300 years of rule by the Hakhamanian dynasty. So remarkable was the incorruptible use of these laws that the words “The Laws of the Medes and Persians” became a by-word of judicial incorruptibility and harshness.
A uniform set of weights, measures and currency.
Darius also introduced a single set of weights and measures throughout the empire. Using these weights and measures, allowed commerce to proceed without confusion and time consuming translation of one countries weights and measures to another.
A new currency to be used through out the empire was introduced in which the highest denomination was a gold coin called the Daric. Again commerce could proceed without the need for conversion of one currency to another.
Darius also introduced uniform taxation throughout the empire. All subjects paid the same taxes with the exception of the Persians and Medes who paid none. The taxes were moderate and allowed Darius a regular income to use for the administration of empire and to build his capital cities, without destroying the economy.
Under the peace established by Persia, trade between nations of the empire grew tremendously and a general increase in the living standard of all the people was seen.
The Kings Roads.
Darius also built roads throughout the empire and introduced a system of king’s messengers (the worlds first postal system). The messengers called Angarum rode day and night in a relay system, a fixed distance each, passing the message from one to the next. By this system a message could be sent from Susa to Sardis a distance of 1500 miles in a week and Darius could know all that happened in his empire within a week of its occurrence.
In the government of his empire he kept to the system of Satrapies and Satraps that Cyrus had used. The military garrison in each Satrapy reported directly to the King of Kings, and royal inspectors made announced and unannounced visits to the Satrapies to report conditions to Darius.
Cities of the Empire.
There were five important cities of the empire. Susa and Babylon cities older than the empire were administrative centers. Pasargadae built by Cyrus was the site of the coronation of all Hakhamanian kings a symbol of the memory of Cyrus, founder of the empire. Ecbatana the old Median capital, 6000 feet above sea level was used as the summer capital.
The gem of the empire, the pride of Darius and the following kings was Persepolis or Parsua as the Persians called it. It was started by Darius and it reflected the power and riches of the empire. Here every Jamshedi Nowrooz the Persian king received tribute of jewelry, horses, cattle, silk etc. from the subjects of every satrapy. It was here that special envoys from the empire were received in great pomp and glory. Great feasts and festivals were held here on special occasions. At Persepolis were stored all the treasures of the empire. A great library of books on Zoroastrianism, written in golden ink on hides also existed.
Some important achievements of Darius I and the dates
|521 BCE||Start of the building of Palaces at Susa|
|519 BCE||Darius defeated the Scythian (Saka) tribes which had rebelled against Cyrus and caused the war in which Cyrus was killed.|
|518 BCE||Darius arrived in Egypt and quelled the Egyptian rebellion|
|518 BCE||Start of the building of Persepolis. Work on the city continued throughout the reign of Darius and construction was completed be his son Xerxes I|
|518 BCE||Started construction of a canal to connect the Nile to the Red Sea, this was the first connection of the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea allowing ships a short cut between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The Suez canal which achieved the same thing was built in 1869. Darius’ canal was completed in 500 BCE.|
|517-508 BCE||Conquest of western India (the Indus valley).|
|515 BCE||Completion of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Funds promised by Cyrus were continued by Darius until the temple was completed.|
|513 BCE||Darius built a bridge of 600 boats across the Bosphorous and entered Europe and conquered eastern Greece. He started an unsuccessful campaign against the western Saka tribes (north of Greece). He returned to Persia leaving behind his general Megabazus in command of 80,000 soldiers to continue the war against Greece. Thrace and Macedonia were conquered but in attempting to conquer Athens, the Persian army was defeated at Marathon.|
|512 BCE||The Satrap of Egypt conquered Libya for the empire.|
After a long reign of 38 years during which he brought the Persian empire to the height of its glory, Darius died at the age of 65. He was a warrior, a statesman, an economist, a great benefactor of his subjects. He brought peace and prosperity to the world which he ruled. The laws and institution he created became the foundation of the Hakahamanian dynasty so that even though the rulers who followed him were not as good as he was, the empire survived for nearly 300 years. He ruled most of the known world with justice and righteousness as a true Zoroastrian. He was one of the greatest rulers of the world. He was certainly one of the greatest personalities of human history. He was buried in a cave on a cliffside near Persepolis.
Persepolis, or Parsa as the Persians (the Parsua) called it, was the grandest of the five capital cities of the empire. The city was started by Darius I and building continued during the reigns of Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I. The buildings were renovated and new buildings were added towards the end of the empire under the reign of Artaxerxes III. It was destroyed by the Greek conqueror Alexander in the year 331 BCE.
Persepolis was built 45 miles from Pasargadae, the capital city built by Cyrus, and 300 miles from Susa. It was built on an outcrop of rock, which formed a natural platform 40 feet above the plain. On the backside of the city was protected by high cliffs.
Let us visit Persepolis in the year 467 BCE. It is early March, Xerxes I is the great King. As we approach Persepolis on the road from Susa we see estates of Persian nobles set back from the road. The road itself is lined with the huts of the laborers who are working on the construction of the city. These have come from all parts of the empire, some are freemen, some are slaves. There are Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Scythians, people from the entire known world. At last we come to the main entrance of the city. We notice that the entire terrace on which the city is built is guarded by a wall 40 ft high and 30 ft thick. Guard towers string along the wall every few hundred feet. The wall starts at he cliffs at the back and goes around the entire city back to the cliffs at the other end.
Unlike any other city this one must be entered by climbing stairs. A grand double stairway leads us to the gates of the city. Each step is 20 feet wide, 4 inches high and a foot deep. Horses can easily negotiate these steps. The climb of 40 feet is almost effortless. We arrive at the top and are awed by the two winged bulls of stone that stand on either side of the gate house. As you step into the gate house soldiers meet you with spears to ask your business. You better have a good reason to gain entrance otherwise you will not be allowed to proceed further. The doorway of the gate house is 40 feet high. The huge wooden gates are decorated with brass. You enter into the gate house which is 80 x 80 ft. and the roof is supported by four columns 60 ft high.
We turn right at the gate house and come out into a courtyard 200X 500 ft. At the other end of the court yard is the magnificent Apadana, the audience hall where all important public ceremonies take place. Thirty six columns support the roof of the central room of the Apadana. Another 12 columns on each of three sides support the roofs of the three porticos.
Two magnificent identical stairways on the north and east sides take us up to the Apadana itself. As we climb up we notice the carvings on the walls of the stairway, depicting the ceremony of Navrooz. Subjects from all the lands of the empire are bringing gifts of jewelry, gold, silver, horses, camels, bulls, sheep, silks and spices, the best of each land, offered to the King of Kings. You enter the Apadana and the size of the building overwhelms you, 10,000 people can fit into the building. This is the hall of public audience. Today it is empty but in a few days it will be Navrooz and there will be room for you here at the invitation of the great King only.
Let us now go back to the gate house and come out on the other side. A grand avenue stretches out in front of you and takes you to another courtyard. Across it stands the beautiful throne room, the hall of private audience. Somewhat smaller than the Apadana it is a more beautiful building. One hundred columns support its roof. Unlike the columns of the Apadana these are slender and delicate. Here the king meets his court daily when he is in Persepolis and much of the business of the court is transacted in this building, including receiving governors and ambassadors. The court is not in session today and you may peek into the throne room.
We now proceed to the rear of these two main buildings. Behind the throne room is the treasury. We walk through the building escorted by soldiers. The goldsmiths are working away on the taxes that have just arrived from Babylon. The gold coins sent from there are being melted down after counting, weighing and recording on clay tablets under the supervision of treasury officials. The molten gold is poured into earthen jars for easy storage and safeguarding. Treasury officers are directing others to get ready a shipment of gold to pay for the army that is being raised to fight in Greece.
Behind the Apadana is the palace of Darius where he used to stay, when in Persepolis. Xerxes is building his own palace behind that of his father. Further behind are the store rooms and the barracks for the 10,000 immortals, the kings guardian army. They are called the immortals because the strength of this army is always at 10,000. If a immortal dies or is killed in battle, he is immediately replaced by a new soldier.
On the cliff behind Persepolis we see the just completed tomb of Darius.
Persepolis(Parsa) was not a city designed for daily living. It was a monument to the glory of the Persians. Its remoteness ensured the exclusiveness of the state rituals and provided a measure of safety for the treasures of the empire that were stored there. Among these treasures were two copies of the 21 Nasks, the entire holy books of Zoroastrianism.
THE INSCRIPTIONS OF DARIUS I (THE GREAT)
During his long, prosperous rule of the Persian Empire, Darius left a number of inscriptions on rocks and buildings, to leave behind for humanity an idea of what kind of person he was and his achievements. The inscriptions can be found at Persepolis, at Naksh-I-Rustom, where his tomb is and most importantly on the rock face at Bisitun (Behistun, Bagastana).
The Bisitun inscription
On the main caravan route between Ecbatana and Babylon, where the road enters Iran, the mountains on the side of the road have many rocky cliffs. One of these provided Darius with just the right place to have his biography inscribed for all posterity to see. The inscription itself can not be seen from the road. After it was made, the cliff itself was chiseled smooth so that no one could climb to it easily. Darius had this done deliberately so that the inscription would not be vandalized. It took Henry Rawlinson 12 years, from 1835 to 1847 to make a full copy of the inscription. Often he worked dangerously perched on ladders, or hanging from a rope.
The inscription describes how he came to power, how he defeated Gaumata, the impostor on the Persian throne, how he rebuilt the empire and gives the names of the countries that were part of the empire. Here he even left some blank spaces to be filled in as his conquests increased. A forty foot carving showing Darius victorious over Gaumata and the other rebellion leaders, as prisoners accompany the inscription. Over this scene hovers the carving of the Farohar symbol. Copies of this symbol are worn by many Zoroastrians today.
The inscription is written in three languages, Old Persian, the language of Darius, Elamite and Akkadian, using the cuneiform script used in those days. This inscription was used as a rosetta stone to decipher Elamite and Akkadian.
Let us listen to some of Darius, own words:
“A great God is Ahura Mazda, who created the earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king over many, one lord over many———–. Ahura Mazda, when he saw this earth in trouble, he bestowed it upon me, he made me king. I am king. By the grace of Ahura Mazda I set the earth in place——. This which has been done, all that by the will of Ahura Mazda I did. Ahura Mazda bore me aid, until I finished the work.”
On his idea of justice:
“Ahura Mazda bore me aid because I was not hostile, I was not deceitful, I did not act falsely, neither I nor my family. I conducted myself according to justice. Neither to the weak nor to the powerful did I do wrong. The man who was excellent, him I rewarded well; him who was evil, I punished well. By the grace of Ahura Mazda I am of such a sort that I am a friend to right, I am not a friend to wrong. It is not my desire that the weak man should have wrong done to him by the mighty; nor is it my desire that the mighty should have wrong done to him by the weak. What is right, that is my desire—— It is not my desire that a man should do harm; nor is it my desire that if he should do harm, he should not be punished.”
On his strong belief in Ahura Mazda:
“Who so shall worship Ahura Mazda as long as his strength shall be, for him both while living and in death there is happiness”
On his belief that Drauga (deceit, falsehood) as being the greatest evil:
“Thou who shall be king hereafter, protect thyself from Drauga. May Ahura Mazda protect this land from a hostile army, from famine, from Drauga.”
On his pride in the palaces he constructed at Susa:
“A splendid work was ordered, very splendid did it turn out!”
His burial inscription:
“King whoever you are, who may arise after me, protect yourself well from Drauga (deceit). Do not trust the man who lies—-Believe what I did and tell the truth to the people. Do not conceal it. If you do not conceal the truth, but you tell the people, may Ahura Mazda protect you.”
Xerxes I (Ksakhshaya I) 486 – 465 BCE
The great king Darius I died in November of 486 BCE. Four years before his death the Persian army had tried to conquer Athens and Sparta. It was defeated at the battle of Marathon by the Greeks. Some historians consider this battle one of the most significant in the history of the western world, because had the Persians won, Persian culture and language instead of Greek culture and language may well have become the origin of western culture. In reality, the defeat did not change much except the psychological balance. It was the first victory of any state over the Persians and it surprised both parties. Before Darius could avenge the defeat, he died in Persepolis at the age of 64 having ruled for 36 years. His son Xerxes, became King.
In the first year of Xerxes’ reign Egypt revolted, four years later Babylon did the same. Both rebellions were vigorously put down and the two countries were dealt with harshly. The autonomy that Cyrus had granted to Babylon was taken away. In fact the Satrapy of Babylon was combined with that of Assyria so that Babylon lost its identity. Xerxes had been the Satrap of Babylon for 12 years during his fathers reign and the rebellion of Babylon was a personal insult to him. After the seventh year of his reign he did not use the title King of Babylon among his other titles.
Xerxes now turned his attention to Greece. With a huge army of 200,000 and 1200 ships he crossed the Hellespont, like his father on a bridge of boats. His first bridge was broken up by a storm. To teach the sea a lesson he had it lashed 400 strokes! His second bridge was successful and the huge army crossed over into Europe. It had taken Xerxes four years to get his army and navy ready. The Greeks had time to prepare themselves. They united under the leadership of Sparta and chose the battles carefully. At Thermopylae, a narrow pass in the mountains the two armies met. In the narrow confines of the pass, the huge Persian army was ineffective and the Greeks were able to block the Persians and inflicted huge losses on the Persian army until the Persians were able to find a way around the mountain pass to Athens. Athens was easily taken and the city was burned and looted. Xerxes failed to behave like his predecessors and did not spare the city and its inhabitants One hundred and fifty years later Alexander would avenge this act by burning Persepolis. Further conquest of Greece was given up when the Persian navy was badly defeated at Salamis. As at Thermopylae, the Greeks chose to fight in a narrow waterway which was to their advantage, since their ships were smaller and more maneuverable. Xerxes retreated back across the Hellespont leaving behind his general Mardonius to continue to conquer the Greek states. Mardonius was defeated in 479 BCE and Greece did not become a part of Xerxes’ empire.
After the loss of Greece, Xerxes gave up ideas of further conquest and concentrated in governing the empire and completing the work his father had started at Persepolis.
Xerxes was not quite the man his father was. He had lived too long in the shadow of his illustrious and powerful father and was no longer a young man when he became King of Kings. Instead of innovating and thinking ahead he was satisfied in doing things his father’s way. Even the inscriptions he left behind sound like copies of his father’s inscriptions. His harshness in handling the rebellions of Egypt and Babylon, and his destruction of Athens were unlike the behavior of Cyrus and Darius. Unlike them he failed to win over the hearts of the conquered people. Most importantly Xerxes seems not to have controlled his own family and his court. There was corruption and intrigue at home. The Persian king in the Biblical story of Esther is believed to be Xerxes I, known by the name Ahasuerus.
Xerxes was killed by the captain of his own bodyguard, Artabanus, in conspiracy with the kings personal attendant Mithridates. His tomb is the one on the extreme right among the three tombs on the hillside behind Persepolis.
Artaxerxes I, 465-424 BCE
Artaxerxes is the Greek form of the old Persian word Artakshaksha, made up from the two words Arta (justice) and Kshatra (kingdom), it could mean having just rule.
Artaxerxes ruled for forty one years. The war between the Greeks and Persians continued. Persian diplomacy managed to divide Sparta and Athens. At this time Egypt revolted again and the Greek navy and army sided with the Egyptians. The Persians countered with a huge army and navy and defeated the Greeks in the Nile delta and the Egyptian rebellion was put down. A peace treaty was signed between the Greeks and the Persians. Diplomacy and the military might of the Persians maintained the empire intact. The taxes that the Persians were exacting from the countries they ruled over resulted in increasing wealth in Persepolis but a draining of wealth away from the Satrapies, resulting in an increasing inflation through out the empire. The kings who followed were blind to this.
Xerxes II and Sogdarius 424 BCE
These two kings followed Artaxerxes, who died a natural death, were murdered. The jealousies in the court which started with Xerxes I remained a problem for the smooth succession to the throne.
Darius II 424 – 404 BCE
During the twenty year reign of Darius II the Persians were able to re-establish control over most of Greece. Though the Greek city states did not become Satrapies of the empire, they were forced to pay tribute to the king and Persian garrisons were kept in the Greek cities.
Artaxerxes II 405 – 358 BCE
Artaxerxes II succeeded his father Darius II. He is said to have great memory. He was a wise and generous ruler, perhaps the best Hakhamanian king since Darius I and the longest ruling. He started reconstruction of Persepolis after an interval of 100 years. He won the respect of the Greek states that were warring among themselves and he imposed a peace on them, known as the King’s peace. Under this agreement certain Greek cities became part of the Persian Empire, some were free but paid tribute to Persia and others were under the jurisdiction of Athens, which was recognized as the chief city state of Greece. During his time Zoroastrians started worship in fire temples. Artaxerxes II ruled for 46 years and died peacefully at the age of 94.
Artaxerxes III 359 – 338 BCE
He was the third son of Artaxerxes II. The eldest, Darius was killed because he plotted against his father and the second seems to have committed suicide. Artaxerxes III was a particularly bloody king. He had most of his relatives killed, yearly in his rule to prevent any one from challenging him on the throne. He ruled for twenty years and his reign is not very significant. He was poisoned by courtier named Bagobas.
Arses III 338 – 336 BCE
He ruled for two years and was also poisoned by Bagobas.
Darius III 336 – 331 BCE
He was the grand nephew of Artaxerxes III. He was the last Hakhamanian king. By this time the empire which had not seen a good ruler for 22 years, was crumbling from corruption and poor administration. The institutions which Darius I had established were corrupted. The Persian army was a large collection of men of different nations and not the fighting machine of old. The Persian nobles had become rich, lazy and corrupt while the rest of the empire was reeling from the ever higher taxation.
At this time, a young Greek became king of Macedonia and raised an army to conquer all of Asia. He was Alexander of Macedonia. With an army of 35,000 he crossed the Helespont. The Persian Satrap of Asia minor (present day Turkey) met this army. Though the Persian army was larger, it lacked the cunning and discipline of old. Even though the Persians fought well, they were defeated. During that year Alexander conquered Asia Minor. In 333 BCE he marched south and was met by Darius III and his army at Isus. Darius seems to have panicked and fled before the battle was decided, when they saw the king flee, the Persian army gave up. In 332 BCE, Alexander conquered Egypt and in 331 BCE he arrived at the gates of Persia itself. Darius met him in battle at Gaugamela. Darius seems to have panicked again before the outcome of the battle was decided. At one point, a Persian soldier was able to strike at Alexander himself and brought him down, before he could deliver the fatal blow, he was killed by Alexander’s body guards. Again Darius fled from battle and the Persians gave up. Alexander’s army entered Persia, Babylon and Susa fell and then Persepolis. In order to carry off the treasures of Persepolis, Alexander had to order mules and camels from Babylon. While awaiting their arrival he conquered Pasargade. There he ordered that Cyrus’s tomb not be touched. Returning to Persepolis, he arranged for the treasures of Persepolis to be sent back to Greece and on his last day there he ordered the city burned. Some say it was in revenge for the burning of Athens by Xerxes I, others say that it was a drunken Alexander who ordered it. The looting and burning of Persepolis resulted in the loss of all the religious books stored in the library.
Darius III fled east to Bactria, there he was killed by the Satrap, who thought he would gain favor with Alexander. It took Alexander six years to conquer the rest of the empire. On his return to Babylon from the conquest, he died of a mysterious fever. Three of his generals divided up his conquered territories. General Seleucus ruled over Iran.
THE SELEUCID RULE OVER IRAN
The conquest of Iran by Alexander marked the end of the Hakhamanian Empire. Alexander died in 323 BCE and Iran was ruled by one of his generals Seleucus Nicator, who founded the Seleucid Dynasty. From 312 BCE to 250 BCE Iran was part of the Seleucid Empire. During this time considerable Greek influence entered into Iran’s culture, religion and language. At the same time Iranian culture also influenced the Greeks. Many Zoroastrian books were taken away to Greece and they influenced Greek philosophy, science and culture and through the Greeks all Western culture.
THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE.
In 250 BCE in Parthia a man of Iranian origin named Arsaces (Arshak) rebelled against the Seleucid Greeks and started his own kingdom in Parthia. He started a long line of Iranian kings who built an empire almost as large as the Hakhamanian empire. This was known as the Parthian or Arshakian empire. Originally the Parthians were a warlike people. During the first 123 years the Parthian kings Arsaces (250-247 BCE), Tridates (247-211 BCE), Artabanus (211-191 BCE), Priapatus (191-176 BCE) and Phrates I (176-171 BCE), slowly drove the Greeks out of Iran. The next king Mithradates I (171- 138 BCE) really established the Parthian empire, he conquered Babylonia and Mesopotamia and then entered Persia. Mithradates I issued his own coinage. The next king Phrates II (138-128 BCE) completed the task of throwing the Seleucid Greeks out of Iran. He was followed by Artabanus II (128-123 BCE) and then Mithradates II (123-87 BCE). Mithradates II brought the Parthian empire to its height extending it from the Indus river in the east through Afghanistan and Iran to the Oxus river in the north and south to the Persian gulf. In the west it extended to modern day Turkey. At this time in the west Greece had been replaced by Rome as the super power. Mithradates II was the first Parthian king to come into contact with the Romans. Ambassadors were exchanged between the two countries.
After Mithradates II the kings were Sinaturkes (80-69 BCE), Phrates III (69-57 BCE) and Orodes II (57-37 BCE). During the reign of Orodes II, the Roman proconsul of the east, Crassus decided to conquer the Parthian empire. He crossed the Euphrates and entered Parthian territory and defeated the army of the Parthian Satrap (governor). The central Parthian army under General Suren attacked the Romans and in the battle of Carrhae (53 BCE) the Roman army was crushed. The Parthians refrained from chasing the Romans beyond the Euphrates. This began a period of conflict with Rome that would last beyond the Parthian empire into the Sassanian period of Iranian history. In 37 BCE Mark Anthony, general under Julius Caesar attacked Parthia and like Crassus suffered a resounding defeat from the Parthian army. Again the Parthians remained east of the Euphrates.
During the reign of Phrates IV (38-2 BCE) Rome and Parthia were friends again during the time when Augustus was consul of Rome. Phrates V (2 BCE-4 CE) was king of Parthia at the time of Jesus’ birth in Palestine which was part of the Roman empire.
During the reign of Vologese I (51-80 CE), Nero was emperor of Rome, they fought a bitter war over Armenia and after several Parthian victories, Rome agreed to Vologeses’ brother Tridates to be king of Armenia. Tridates was a devout Zoroastrian and during his time Zoroastrianism became the official religion of Armenia. Vologeses I ordered the collection of all the oral and written texts of the Zoroastrian religion, which had been scattered since the time of Alexander’s invasion.
The Roman emperor Trajan attacked Iran and came across the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and captured the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon. The Parthian emperor fled to the east, raised an army and drove the Romans back across the Euphrates. The Roman emperor Hadrian signed a peace treaty with Parthia, which lasted only a short while.
In the time of Parthian emperor Vologeses II (148-192 CE) war broke out again. Ctesiphon was again captured by the Romans under emperor Severus in 198 CE, when Vologeses IV was emperor of Parthia.
In 218 CE Artabanus V (Ardavan) defeated emperor Macrinus of Rome. He was the last Parthian emperor. He was defeated by the king of Persia Ardeshir Papakian who founded the Sasanian Dynasty.
CHANGES IN THE ZOROASTRIAN RELIGION FROM ZARATHUSHTRA’S BIRTH TO THE END OF THE PARTHIANPERIOD
Zarathushtra brought his religion to the Iranian people around 1200 BCE, in the time of the Kyanian king Vishtaspa. Before his time the Iranians worshipped a large number of gods associated with different aspects of nature, such as the sea, moon, water, fire, wind, rain etc. The form of worship involved offering sacrifices to these gods, who in return would be pleased and reward the worshipper with good fortune. The priests of that time performed these sacrifices and sang hymns of praise to the gods.
Zarathushtra taught an entirely new way of looking at life. He was the first to teach that there was only one powerful, almighty, wise God, who was the creator, the law-giver and the final judge. Zarathushtra called him Ahura-Mazda, the wise lord. Ahura Mazda did not want sacrifices of animals or food made to him. He required that mankind for its own happiness, live a life of righteousness and actively fight for the good and fight against evil. If man chose to do only that, he would be happy and bring about the perfection of God’s creation. By this act he would become a co-worker with God.
Zarathushtra introduced the concept of the six Amesha Spenta, the personified attributes of Ahura Mazda, which are: Asha-righteousness, Vohu Mano-wisdom, Kshathra Variya- the good power, Aramaity- benevolence or right mindedness, Houravat- perfection and Ameretat- immortality. He also introduced the concept of Spenta Mainyu the spirit of goodness and Angre Mainyu the spirit of evil. These are two opposing forces that pull creation towards perfection or away from it.
Zarathushtra was the first to teach that man’s soul exists after death and that man is responsible for his actions while living. After death, man will be judged for his actions while living. He also taught that there would be a final judgment at the end, before which a savior would appear and would bring about the total triumph of good over evil.
Soon after the death of Zarathushtra and king Vishtaspa, the Kyanian dynasty ended. The special protection granted to Zoroastrianism as a state religion also came to an end. The new ideas of Zarathushtra were accepted by the people of north eastern Iran, but the older Iranian tradition of multiple gods could not be drawn out of their culture. The priests who became Zoroastrian priests incorporated the older gods into Zoroastrianism making them the Yazatas or Adorable ones, aspects of God associated with various aspects of nature such as wind, fire water etc. or qualities such as justice, victory etc. The hymns that used to be sung to the older gods were modified to fit Zoroastrian philosophy and these became our prayers that are called Niyayeshs and Yasht. This was the state of Zoroastrianism when the Hakhamanian dynasty came to power in 559 BCE.
During the rule of the Hakhamanian kings, Zoroastrians spread out to many different parts of the empire and came into contact with other cultures and religions which were often older than theirs. Hakhamanian kings respected the religions of the territories they conquered. There is no evidence that Zoroastrianism was forced upon the subjects of any conquered lands. On the contrary we know that Cyrus the Great paid his respects to the god Marduk of Babylon, soon after he conquered the city. Because, the Hakhamanian kings, who were Zoroastrians (we know that from the inscriptions of Darius, Xerxes and the later kings) were open minded about the religion of their subjects, many Zoroastrians started to respect the gods of other religions. There appears to be a considerable mixing of religious beliefs. The Yazata, Anahaita, the female Yazata associated with water, became synonymous with the Greek goddess Artemis and the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Similarly, the Yazata, Mehr, and the god Mithra became synonymous. The later Hakhamanian kings regarded Anahaita and Mithra almost as important as Ahura-Mazda.
Just as Zoroastrianism was influenced by other religions, it influenced the other religions of the empire. Cyrus had liberated the Jews from Babylon and allowed them to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish scholars studied the religion of their new rulers, a religion which like theirs believed in one God. They were profoundly influenced by the ideas introduced by Zarathushtra. It is after this period that we see, in Judaism the idea of a universal God, as opposed to a tribal God, the soul existing after death, the idea of a judgment after death, the coming of a savior (Zoroastrian Soshyant) and the final judgment of creation. Through Judaism these ideas were introduced into Christianity and into Islam. These ideas are the central tenets of all three religions.
When Alexander conquered the Hakhamanian empire, the central library at Persepolis was destroyed, the religious books were scattered and many were taken away to Greece. Aristotle who was the tutor of Alexander and had accompanied him on his conquests is said to have gathered up most of the Zoroastrian books and was influenced by Zoroastrian philosophy. Through Aristotle and other Greek philosophers who studied these religious books, Zoroastrian ideas spread into western culture.
The invasion of Iran by Alexander was a set back to Zoroastrianism. Many temples were destroyed and learned priests who had memorized the religious literature were killed and both the written and the oral tradition suffered a great loss. Under these circumstances, the tendency of Zoroastrians believing in foreign gods seems to have increased. One of the religions that became very powerful, was Mithraism. It believed in a war-like god Mithra (in Zoroastrianism the Yazata Mehr) associated with the sun and victory in battle. Mithraism spread in Iran and spread to Greece and then to Rome. It contained many of the ideas of Zoroastrianism. It believed in the ideas of a supreme creator, an immortal soul, which is judged after death, a final victory of good over evil, and a savior at the end of time who is the god Mithra himself. In Mithraism, Ahura-Mazda is still respected but not as the supreme god. In Mithraism, time (Zurvan) is the supreme creator, Mithra acts as mediator between God and mankind. The winter solstice, after which the days become longer again, when the sun appears to grow stronger again, was celebrated as a great Mithraic festival by the Romans. When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire, this same festival was celebrated as the birthday of Christ.
In spite of these many influences, Zoroastrianism did not die out. In eastern Iran and in Pars it was still the dominant religion. The Parthian kings, at least the later ones were staunch Zoroastrians. Like the Hakhamanian kings they were tolerant not only of other religions but also different forms of Zoroastrianism. At this time there were two kinds of Zoroastrian temples. One kind had a consecrated fire which was worshipped as a symbol of Ahura-Mazda, this kind of temples were started in Hakhamanian rule around 400 BCE. The other kind of temples had statues of the Yazatas and Ahura-Mazda as the central focus of worship. The Parthian king Vologeses I, ordered the collection and bringing together for safe-keeping every existing oral and written pieces of the Avesta. The Parthian dynasty kept the Greeks and Romans out of Iran and prevented these western influences from spreading in Iran. In this way it allowed Zoroastrianism to flourish again. Since the Parthian kings did not interfere in the religious practices of their subjects, Zoroastrianism existed in many different forms of practice and belief from place to place in the empire. This was the state of our religion at the end of the Parthian rule in 226 CE, when Ardeshir Papakian overthrew the Parthian emperor and started the Sasanian dynasty which was to change Zoroastrianism profoundly.
THE SASANIAN DYNASTY
ARDASHIR PAPAKIAN 261-241 CE
The family of Papak were the ruling princes in Pars under the Parthian emperors. To this family was born a prince Ardashir (old Persian name Artakshir, Artaxerxes). His father’s name was Sasan. Ardashir grew up in the court of the Parthian emperor Ardavan but he rebelled against Ardavan. He fled to Pars and raised an army and challenged Ardavan to battle. After some reluctance Ardavan decided to suppress this rebellious prince and in the battle that followed Ardavan was killed. Ardashir proclaimed himself emperor of all Iran. His army conquered all the parts of the Parthian empire within a few years and he started the Sasanian dynasty.
Ardashir was a religious person and probably came from a priestly family, he was also ambitious and a strong administrator. He was determined to make Zoroastrianism the state religion of Iran. Since there were many forms of Zoroastrian beliefs and practice at this time in Iran, he chose the practice and beliefs that were followed in his home province Pars as the standard form of Zoroastrianism. In this task he was helped by a brilliant priest, Tansar, who he made the high-priest of the empire. Tansar and his successor high-priests were comparable in authority and power to the Christian popes. Ardashir and Tansar gathered all the scattered teachings of the religion, all the books, the oral traditions, the different practices and ceremonies. From these Tansar selected one tradition and one set of scriptures as the true one and this Ardashir tried to enforce all over Iran. This was not well accepted by the Zoroastrians of other provinces who had their own old traditions and practices. Ardashir, even ordered the destruction of Zoroastrian temples which did not confirm to the version that Tansar had decided on. New temples were built in their place. History records considerable fighting between Zoroastrians of other areas and the armies of Ardashir. In the end Ardashir and Tansar prevailed, partly by force and partly by Tansar’s power of persuasion and an uniform Zoroastrianism became the state religion of the land. Ardashir introduced a new 365 day calendar in place of the old 360 day calendar adding the 5 Gatha days at the end of the calendar year. This also caused great confusion and anger amongst Zoroastrians.
Ardashir’s reign of 15 years seems to have been very busy. He had not only to bring about the unification of Iran under his rule but also simultaneously fight the Romans. He sent a delegation of Persian nobles to Rome to demand the return of all Iranian territory and the withdrawal of Romans back to Europe. The Romans regarded this as a declaration of war. The Roman emperor Alexander Servus took to battle. The years of fighting that followed changed the boundary between Rome and Iran very little and both sides gave up on the fighting for the time being.
Ardashir organized the empire along traditional lines following the Hakhamanian and Parthian tradition of forming Satrapies governed by a Satrap, who now was a Persian noble. There was also a military governor in each Satrapy directly responsible to Ardashir. He tried his best to claim descent from the Hakhamanian kings who were also Persian (i.e. from Pars). Not far from Persepolis, near the tombs of the Hakhamanian kings at a place that is now called Naksh-i-Rustom, Ardashir had a huge carving made. Here he is shown receiving the divine glory (Khwaraneh) from Ahura-Mazda. He is also shown stepping on the dead body of Ardavan, the last Parthian king, while Ahura-Mazda is shown stepping on Ahriman. This carving has a great similarity to that of Darius the Great at Behistun. On Ardashir’s carving the three languages used are Middle Persian, Parthian and Greek. These were the common languages of the empire. Ardashir died in 241 CE.
SHAPUR I 241-271 CE
On the death of Ardashir his son Shahpur became king. His reign was marked by continuous fighting with Rome.. From 235 CE to 254 CE, seven Roman emperors were proclaimed and murdered. Shapur took advantage of the instability in Rome and drove the Romans from the Tigris to the Euphrates. He also put down rebellion in Armenia and Asia Minor and conquered Syria.
Valerian became Roman emperor in 254 CE and tried to regain territory lost to the Iranians. In the battle with Shahpur, Valerian and much of his army was captured at Edessa. This great victory of Shahpur is recorded in a monument near Persepolis. In honor of this victory, Shahpur built many Atash Behrams all over Iran.
Shapur’s high priest was Kirder (Kartir), probably the most powerful priest in Zoroastrian history. He was allowed to have his own inscriptions like royalty and after Shapur’s death was also king-maker. In his inscription at Sar Mashed he says” Through my actions, religious activities were increased, many Vahram fires (Atash Behrams) were founded and many priests became happy and prosperous, much benefit accrued to Hormazd and the Yazads and there was much harm to Ahriman and the Devs and the doctrine of Ahriman and the Devs departed the land and was no more believed. And Jews, Buddhists, Brahmans, Mandeans, Christians and Manichaeans are being defeated in the land.”
At this time there seems to have been controversies between Zoroastrianism and the minority religions of the land and Kirder played an important role in defending the doctrines and practices of Zoroastrianism against the priests and missionaries of other religions.
One particular off-shoot of Zoroastrianism was Manichaeism which was started by an Iranian prophet Mani. He kept some of the basic teachings of Zoroastrianism, such as belief in one God, the devil, existence of the soul after death, the individual judgment after death and the final victory of good over evil. However instead of teaching men to fight evil and work for the good he taught that mankind would be best off, if they gave up earthly duties and became hermits. Much to the unhappiness of Kirder, Shahpur invited Mani to his court, where he spent many years. Shapur had a great religious curiosity and liked to hear about the different religions of his empire. He died in 271 CE.
EMPERORS AFTER SHAHPUR I
After Shahpur I’s death, there was a rapid succession of kings, Hormazd I (271-272 CE), Bahram (Vahram) I (272-275 CE), Bahram II (275-292 CE) and Bahram III (292-293 CE). During this time, the Romans took advantage of the instability in Iran and won back some of the territories that Shapur had won from them. On the religious front, Kirder was still in charge. He was at the height of his power and was able to play an important role in choosing the succession of kings. He managed to have Mani tried and killed in the reign of Bahram I.
After these kings, Narseh the youngest son of Shapur became king and ruled from 292-302 CE. During his reign the Romans managed to push the boundary to the Tigris river. Narseh abdicated the throne in shame and Hormazd II became king, ruling from 302-309 CE. He died in 309 CE. His queen was expecting and the nobles chose this unborn child as the next ruler. Luckily the child was a boy and as we shall see he turned out to be one of the greatest Sasanian kings.
SHAPUR II THE GREAT 309-379 CE
Shahpur II was crowned king when he was only 40 days old. A wise counselor ran the country for 16 years until Shapur took the reigns of power at the age of 16. The early part of his long reign was spent in fighting the Romans who had again occupied some territories east of the Tigris. In a war of 27 years Shahpur II managed to drive the Romans back to the Euphrates. He also won back Armenia from the Romans.
It was during Shapur II’s reign that the Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian and Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire. Now to be a Christian in Iran or a Zoroastrian in Rome was almost like being a traitor because one was following the religion of the enemy.
Though both religions worshipped one God, their approach was quite different. Zoroastrians showed great respect for nature and worshipped Ahura Mazda through the worship of his creations. Physical cleanliness and maintaining the purity of the elements was of great importance to them. The Christians paid no attention to their personal cleanliness and did not respect nature. Zoroastrians considered life to be a blessing to be enjoyed while one performed good deeds and fought evil. Many Christians believed
asceticism and a life of poverty and suffering insured them a place in heaven. Many Christians believed in celibacy. These conflicting views and the fact that the Christians were always trying to convert people to their religion, caused considerable enmity between the two and Christians were often persecuted in Iran.
During the reign of Shapur II, a great Zoroastrian High Priest by the name of Adurbad Marespand, reinterpreted the old Avestan prayers and made many free translations from Avestan into the then current language, Pahlavi. Avesta, by now was a dead language, understood only by a few learned priests. Zoroastrians could now pray in a language they could understand. To prove the world that his translations were authentic, Adurbad Marespand underwent and survived the ancient ordeal of having molten metal poured on his chest. To this day, we honor this great priest by remembering his name in our prayers of remembrance for the dead.
In spite of the conflict with Rome and the internal conflicts with Christians (mostly in western Iran), Shapur’s long reign was a prosperous and happy time for Zoroastrian Iran. The initial conflicts created by the unification of the Zoroastrian church were in the past. A great rejuvenation and understanding of the faith among its followers was taking place. The power of the church was supreme but not yet oppressive. Shahpur II died in 379 CE.
After Shahpur II, three kings ruled for short periods.
Aratakshir (Ardashir)II, Shapur’s brother, 379-383 CE, was deposed by the ruling council.
Shahpur III, Shahpur II’s son, 383-399 CE, died in an accident.
Bahram IV, son of Shahpur III, 389-399 was killed by assassins.
YAZDEGARD I 399-420 CE
Shahpur II’s son, Yazdegard became king in 399 CE and ruled for 21 years. Initially he was kind to the Christians and Jews in Iran. He even allowed them to bury their dead (pollute the earth, from the Zoroastrian point of view). For this, he is known in Zoroastrian liIterature as Yazdegard the sinner. Because of his leniency towards the Christians, the Christians became quite bold. There are records of Christians in Iran destroying fire-temples, extinguishing sacred fires and celebrating mass in those temples. Incidents like these turned Yazdegard against the Christians and in the end he took stern measures against them.
Around this time two great national fires were started. Adur Faranbag in Pars was the special fire of the priestly class and Adur Gushnasp in Media was the special fire of the kings and warrior class. These two fires now rivaled the ancient fire Burzin-Mihr, which had been started by the Parthian kings in eastern Iran and which had been their kingly fire. Adur Burzin-Mihr now became the special fire of the farmers.
The ruins of Adur Gushnasp can still be seen in Azerbaijan province of Iran. Adur Gushnasp was built on a very beautiful location. It was on the top of a flat mountain, where there was a natural lake. The temple was built on the side of the lake and was surrounded by brick walls on three sides. From the gates of this wall a magnificent roadway took the pilgrims to the entrance of the temple. The Sasanian kings made pilgrimages to this temple on many important occasions and sent large gifts to the temple on the birth of royal children, on the occasion of a great victory, etc.
These three fires are still remembered at the end of the Atash-Ni-Niyaesh.
BAHRAM V 420-439 CE
Yazdegard’s son Bahram V became king on his death. It seems that the royal council wanted Khusrow, another royal family member, to become king. There was danger of a war between the two factions. Instead, it was decided that the royal crown be placed on the throne, to which two wild lions were tied and whoever was able to subdue the lions and sit on the throne would be crowned king. Bahram V, won this contest.
Bahram V was also known as Bahramgur, because he was fond of hunting wild asses (onagers). This king was religious minded but he loved riding, hunting and wrote poetry. His rule seems to have been kind and benevolent, he reduced taxes and ruled justly and he was a very popular king. During his reign the Romans again started a war, Bahramgur successfully fought them and in the end signed a treaty which granted religious freedom for Zoroastrians in Rome and Christians in Iran.
Bahramgur is said to have journeyed to India, disguised as his own ambassador to the court of king Vasudeva of Kanoj in western India (north of Bombay).
YAZDEGARD II 439-457 CE
During the reign of Yazdegard II, there was a threat to Iran from nomadic tribes in the north east and Yazdegard had to move his court to the north eastern part of Iran for seven years, to be closer to the action. He was influenced during this time by the more ancient customs and names of the north east and these were introduced into the Iranian court.
HORMAZD II (457-459 CE) was followed by PEROZ (459-483 CE).
Peroz introduced a calendar reform to bring Nowruz back to spring. It had moved away from spring because the Iranian calendar had no correction for the leap year. However it resulted in two Nowruz days. One on the first day of spring and one on the traditional first day of the month Farvardin (the first month).
VALASH 483-487 CE succeeded Peroz and was followed by KOBAD I 487-531 CE
For a period of 100 years, from Shahpur II’s death to the reign of Kobad I, the Zoroastrian church grew steadily in size and in power. Iranian Zoroastrian society became a feudal system in which most of the land was owned by the church or the nobility and the common man was left to pay the taxes. Neither the priesthood nor the nobility was subjected to taxes. The judicial system was also in the hands of the priesthood, so that in conflicts with the church, justice favored the church. The same combination of church and state which had worked to unify and rejuvenate Zoroastrianism was now working to oppress the masses, often in the name of religion.
During Kobad I’s reign a new religion, an off shoot of Zoroastrianism was started by Mazdak. He taught that men should not kill animals and eat flesh. He taught that asceticism and withdrawal from worldly attachments was a good thing because it reduced greed. He taught that all men should share everything equally, food, property and even wives! He was the first to teach a communistic way of life, where no one owned anything. To the oppressed masses whose share in the riches of Iran was negligible, Mazdakism made sense and he had many followers.
Kobad liked his teachings and supported Mazdak. The noble and priests opposed this movement and after a few years Kobad was deposed and his brother Zamasp became king. Kobad fled to the nomads of the north east and with their help he regained his throne. However, he gave up his support for Mazdak. His eldest son had become a Mazdakite and he made his third son Khusrow heir to the throne. In 528 CE, Khusrow invited all the Mazdakites to a royal banquet and while they were there he had them massacred, including Mazdak their leader. That was the end of the Mazdakite movement. Kobad died soon after and Khusrow became king.
KHUSROW I (ANOSHIRAWAN) 531-579 CE
Khusrow ruled for 50 years. He was a strong king and his rule is well documented and historically he is one of the best known Sasanian kings.
Having destroyed the Mazdakite movement, he introduced far reaching reforms that benefited the common man and the farmers. He lowered the tax on the common man, including the land tax on farmers and reformed the judicial system. He made reforms that benefited the farmers and increased agricultural production, which brought prosperity to Iran.
He was a religious king and worked closely with the priests. In a document called the Karnamag-I-Anoshirvan, he says, “ I give thanks to Ahura Mazda for the favors he has shown me. These favors require in return a deep sense of obligation on my part, which I express in both words and deeds. I, therefore, choose a course of action, which will support the Law of Asha, which is the great cosmic moral principle that governs life and sustains all the good creation of Ahura Mazda.” Guided by these feelings Khusrow earned the title Anoshirwan (of immortal soul) by his kind and just rule.
He had to fight the Romans and also nomadic tribes in the north. After subjugating the nomads he made them defenders of his northern borders. He sent priests to teach them Zoroastrianism and built fire-temples in these areas.
A major event that happened during Khosrow I’s reign or some time before that, was the invention of the new Avestan alphabet. Up to this time there always had been a difficulty in the writing of the Avestan language. There was no alphabet available that would guarantee the correct pronunciation of the words. The Avesta therefore depended on a oral transmission from generation to generation, with the written word used only as a rough guide. An unknown genius priest, invented the Avestan alphabet by expanding the 20 letter Pahlavi alphabet to a 46 letter completely phonetic alphabet. With this tool the priests started to write down the entire Avesta, the 24 Nasks. Along with this the Pahlavi commentary was also written down using this alphabet. This written Avesta and the commentary, which is called the Zand is still available to us in part. Much of it was destroyed or lost, after the Arab invasion of Iran.
Another major event was the birth of the prophet Mohammed in Arabia, who started Islam, which was soon to invade and destroy Zoroastrian Iran.
HORMAZD IV 570-590 CE
Hormazd succeeded his father in 579 CE. He was tolerant to Christians and to other religions in Iran. In a war with Rome, the Iranian army under the general Bahram Chobin, was defeated. Hormazd heaped insults on the general. In anger against his unfair treatment, Bahram attacked the capital Ctesiphon, defeated Hormazd and put him to death. However, the Persian nobles did not regard Bahram to be the rightful heir and supported Hormazd’s son Khusrow. The new Roman emperor Maurice also supported Khusrow and with his help, Khusrow was able to regain the throne. Bahram fled east and died soon after.
KHUSROW II (PERVEZ, THE VICTORIOUS) 590-628 CE
Khusrow II’s reign was the last long reign of a Zoroastrian king in Iran. The beginning of his reign saw his armies conquering Palestine and Egypt from the Romans. The Iranian army was at the gates of Constantinople, the capital of Byzantine Rome. The treasure of the Roman emperor was captured by the Iranians and with it the Cross on which Jesus had been crucified. These early victories earned Khusrow II the title “Pervez” (the victorious).
His victories were short lived. The Romans rallied and invaded Iran, captured Ctesiphon and also destroyed the great fire temple, Adur-Gushnasp. Now the Iranians fought back and recaptured their capital and the Romans were driven out of Iran and Adur Gushnasp was rebuilt. In all this fighting, Khusrow II ignored the danger in the south. The Arab tribes were uniting under the banner of Islam and starting to conquer the world.
Khusrow II lived in great splendor and made large gifts to various fire-temples. Near Hamadan in a grotto called Taq-I-Bastan, in today’s Iran, Khusrow had a huge carving made which depicted his coming to the throne of Iran. During his reign the Zoroastrian church became very powerful, controlling the lives of the ordinary Zoroastrian. Zoroastrians were expected to have large number of ceremonies performed on every occasion and observe the strict rules of cleanliness and ritual purity.
Like his father Khusrow blamed his generals for the defeats he suffered against Rome. They were insulted and rebelled and killed him. His son Kobad became king in 628 CE.
END OF THE SASANIAN DYNASTY AND ZOROASTRIAN IRAN.
With the death of Khusrow II we enter a terrible time in our history. Just when Iran needed a strong king to keep it together and stand up against the Arab forces which were moving north, there was none. The Sasanian royal family was divided and struggling for power amongst themselves. The royal council and the generals could not agree on who should be king. Iran now had a succession of eight kings and two queens within five years. Their names are: Kobad (628), Ardashir III (628-629), Shahrbaraz (629-630), Queen Purandokht (630-631), Zurvanshah Gushnabad (631), Queen Azarmidokht (631), Farrokhzad (631), Peroz II (631), Khurzad Khusrow (631-632) and Hormazd V (632).
After five disastrous years in which the affairs of the country were neglected and the confidence of the Iranians in the Sasanian royal family destroyed, the last Sasanian king Yazdegard III came to the throne at the age of 21, in 632 CE. Since this was the last Zoroastrian king we still follow the calendar which starts with the first year of his reign as year 1. Thus 632 CE is year 1 in the Zoroastrian calendar, whether it is Shanshahi, Kadimi or Fasli. The prophet Mohammed died in the same year.
Four years after the death of their prophet, the Arab armies having conquered Egypt, and Syria, were at the gates of the Iranian empire. Yazdegard now had to defend Iran, his army under Rustom Farrokhzad met the Arab army under Saad-ibn-Waqqas at Qadisiyya and after a fierce battle the Iranians were defeated. The Arabs entered Ctesiphon and plundered it. Yazdegard retreated east and in 641CE with another army fought the Arabs at Nihavand. The Iranians, even though they fought fiercely, were defeated again. Yazdegard fled further east. He moved from place to place trying unsuccessfully to raise another army while being pursued by the Arabs. In 652 CE, he was betrayed and killed by a miller named Khusrow, at whose place he had taken refuge, in the city of Merv. This was the end of the Sasanian dynasty.
The Arabs continued their conquest of Iran eastward. Individual provinces and cities held out against the Arabs, for a while. Many local Zoroastrian princes ruled for a considerable time, especially in the mountainous regions of Iran and it was almost three hundred years before all of Iran came under Moslem rule. For a time there were small Zoroastrian kingdoms in western China, Tabaristan, Mazendaran, Khurasan and Kerman.
The Sassanian period of Zoroastrianism was unique. It was the only time that a major unification of the church took place. Sometimes it was bloody and politically motivated, yet it was an honest attempt to rid the faith of heresies, foreign modes of worship and differences in religious practice that had accumulated over nearly 2000 years. It was also the only time that the rituals and practice underwent a controlled change resulting in a faith that suddenly became alive, as its rituals, ceremonies and prayers became understandable in the language of the day. Under the Sassanians the literature of the faith was written down in an alphabet that did not require oral transmission. Finally it was Sassanian Zoroastrianism that stood up to the missionary zeal of Christianity and Buddhism and later was able to survive the holocaust of the Islamic invasion. Perhaps without the unification imposed on it by Sassanian monarchs, Zoroastrianism may well have disappeared under the onslaught of Christianity, and Islam.
HISTORY OF ZOROASTRIANS IN IRAN UNDER THE CALIPHS (642 CE To the 10th Century).
The Arab invasion of Iran was quite different from that of Alexander, the Greek many centuries before. The purpose of the Arabs was not only to conquer but to spread Islam. Unlike the Greeks, the Arabs set out to destroy Zoroastrianism in Iran. This was accomplished not by killing Zoroastrians but by making laws and rules which made life difficult for Zoroastrians.
All non-Moslems were made to pay an extra tax called the Jizya. The penalty for not paying, was death, enslavement or imprisonment. Even when the Zoroastrians paid the tax, they were subjected to insults by the tax-collectors. Zoroastrian temples were systematically destroyed and mosques built in their place. Zoroastrians who were captured as slaves in wars were given their freedom if they converted to Islam. Because of these many difficulties Zoroastrians started to convert to Islam. Many who converted just for the convenience were unable to return to their faith, even if they wanted to, because the penalty for re-conversion was death. Once a Zoroastrian family converted to Islam, the children had to go to Moslem religion school and learn Arabic and the teachings of the Quran. These children lost their Zoroastrian identity.
Many Zoroastrians found similarity between the two religions. These similarities were the ideas of heaven and hell, the final judgement, prayers five times a day (similar to the five Zoroastrian Gehs. These similarities made it easy to convert. Early Islam was free of rituals and ceremonies and this was an attraction to some Zoroastrians who were tired of the multitude of rituals and ceremonies in Sasanian Zoroastrianism. Once a Zoroastrian converted to Islam, he or she did not have to observe the strict laws of personal and ritual purity and cleanliness, that were so much a part of our religion at that time.
Though many Zoroastrians converted, many more could not give up their old familiar religion for a foreign one, whose religious book was written in a foreign language of the conquerors. They could not give up the worship of Ahura Mazda through the Holy Fires, for the veneration of a distant stone, the Kaaba in Mecca, of which they had no idea. They could not bring themselves to kneel in prayer before a blank wall facing towards Mecca, instead of standing before a bright fire. Mostly they could not believe that the supreme God, Allah could be both the source of evil and good and therefore a God you could not understand. In contrast, in our own religion, Ahura Mazda is the source of all that was good, and evil comes from a separate force that has to be battled against, with the help of Ahura Mazda and the Yazatas. They could not understand the new customs of not eating certain meats such as pork and not drinking wine.
Under the first four Caliphs (632-661 CE), the direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed, Iran remained predominantly Zoroastrian and the high priest of the Zoroastrians still made his home in Ctesiphon, the Sasanian capital.
The first four Caliphs were followed by the Umayads (661-750 CE), who ruled from Syria. They seemed to have left the Zoroastrians alone as long as they paid the Jizya tax. During this time, the official language of Iran became Arabic instead of Persian. While Moslem Iranians readily learned the new language, the Zoroastrians hated it, and avoided it as the language of Moslems. Thus they were left out of all government positions.
The Iranian Moslems at this time started a new tradition, which made Islam appear as a partly Iranian religion. They pointed out that an Iranian Zoroastrian, Salaman -I-Farsi had a great influence on Mohammed, the prophet. They also created the myth that Husayn, the son of the fourth Caliph had married a Sasanian princess, named Shahr-Banu, whose son became the fourth Shia Imam (and started the Shia branch of Islam). The Iranian Moslems believed that Shia Islam was derived from Sasanian Royalty! These two beliefs made it easier for Zoroastrians to convert
The Umayads were followed by the Abbasid dynasty which came to power with the help of Iranian Moslems. They respected not only the Iranian Moslems but also the Zoroastrians. Iranian Moslems were welcomed to the court, but not Zoroastrians and some Zoroastrians found it advantageous to convert to Islam. Thus even the kindness of the Abbassids seemed to have worked to convert more Zoroastrians to Islam.
The Abbasids were followed by the Saffavids (869-903 CE). During their reign the Zoroastrians, for the first time became a minority in Iran. The Zoroastrians lived under the leadership of their High Priest, since they had no king. The great fire temple of Adar Gushnasp was still functioning up to the middle of the 10th century. Zoroastrian priests and even some lay persons wrote books on our religion. It was at this time that the Dinkard was written. This book which is still available to us has many discussions on our religion. Most importantly it summarizes the contents of the 19 of the 21 Nasks (the religious literature written in 21 books). By this time one of the Nasks was entirely lost and another only existed in its Avesta form, its Zand (the Phalli commentary) was lost.
At the beginning of the 10th century a small group of Zoroastrians living around the town of Sanjan in the province of Khorasan, decided that Iran was no longer safe for Zoroastrians and their religion. They decided to emigrate to India. They traveled to the port of Hormazd on the Persian Gulf and set sail for India. They landed on a small Island called Div on the coast of Gujarat in the year 936 CE. There they lived for about 20 years in great difficulty. They learned the local language and presented their case to Jadi Rana, the king of that region. Jadi Rana in return for some promises of behavior, allowed them to settle in his kingdom. The Zoroastrians founded a settlement, which they called Sanjan, after the town they had left behind in Iran nearly 30 years ago. They consecrated their first Atash Behram fire within five years of coming to Sanjan. This attracted other Zoroastrians from Iran and also some Zoroastrians who had individually come over the years and settled in various parts of western India. This was the start of the Parsis in India.
It is said that on their journey by sea from Div to Jadi Rana’s kingdom on the mainland, their ships were battered by a violent storm. The Zoroastrians made a pledge to Ahura Mazda that if they survived, they would consecrate an Atash Behram fire. They fulfilled this pledge in five years. This first fire consecrated in Sanjan by our Parsi forefathers still burns today. It is called the Iran Shah fire and is kept in a temple in Udvada, a small town 100 miles north of Bombay.
ZOROASTRIANS IN IRAN 10TH TO 20TH CENTURY
The tenth century BCE was a period of calm for the Zoroastrians in which they could follow their religion, write religious books and make a calendar change to bring Noruz back to the spring equinox. This was the calm before the storm.
Early in the 11th century the Seljuk Turks swept into Iran killing Moslems and Zoroastrians alike as they conquered Iran. Once established they persecuted the Zoroastrian Iranians like the regimes before them. As if this was not enough the 13th century brought the Mongol invasion of Iran under Chengiz Khan. The Mongols were fierce barbarians, who killed Moslems, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians without discrimination. They destroyed all kinds of books and killed all those who professed learning. It was probably in this holocaust that the last great collection of Zoroastrian books perished. The last of the great fire temples was also destroyed.
Within 50 years of their conquest of Iran the Mongols, themselves were converted to Islam. Islam revived in Iran but for Zoroastrians, persecution continued, now by these new converts to Islam.
For the Zoroastrians, now, the best way to survive was to be as inconspicuous as possible. The high priest of the Zoroastrians moved to an obscure village called Turkabad, near Yazd, in the early 14th century. The fires from the two great temples Adur Faranbagh and Adur Anahid were brought and placed in an obscure mud brick building, in the village of Sharifabad. These two villages became the religious centers for the Zoroastrians. A priest school was maintained there to educate new priests. A pilgrimage to the province of Yazd became an obligation for all Iranian Zoroastrians. Kerman also became a center of Zoroastrianism.
From 1502 to 1747, the Saffavid dynasty came to power in Iran. Shah Abbas the great who ruled from 1587 to 1628, was the most famous king. The Saffavids made Isfahan the capital of Iran. Because of the stability and prosperity brought about by the Saffavids, Zoroastrians came to settle in Isfahan. They worked here as laborers, carpet weavers, gardeners and field hands. There was a large community of Zoroastrians, about 3000 families who lived in a suburb of Isfahan, which was called Gabr-Mahal, Gabristan or Gabrabad. The word Gabr was an insulting term that the Moslems used for Zoroastrians.
Many western travelers visited the court at Isfahan and described the Zoroastrian community in Gabrabad. They described the Zoroastrians as mild, gentle people who lived under the guidance of their elders. The women, unlike the Moslem women wore no veils and talked readily to strangers. Both men and women were modestly dressed but the Zoroastrian men were not allowed to wear clothes which were dyed. They could always be made out by their dress. The western travelers found the Zoroastrians were not willing to talk about their religion and their customs because they did not want the Moslems to learn about them. By now the Zoroastrians had invented a new dialect, which only they could understand, which they called Dari. The Zoroastrians built a psychological wall between themselves and the Moslems in order to survive. Even the sacred fires were now hidden away in the fire temple. A false fire would be kept in the open, so that any marauding Moslem who came to defile the temple would most likely destroy or pollute the false fire. Living in this tyrannical atmosphere, the Zoroastrians still managed to enjoy life as much as possible, celebrating their festivals with merry making.
Though under Shah Abbas the Great, the Zoroastrians were allowed to live near Isfahan and left more or less alone, the later Saffavid kings were not so kind. Shah Abbas II, through them out of Gabrabad, because he wanted to build a place there. The last Saffavid king, Sultan Hossayn decreed that all Zoroastrians in Isfahan should convert to Islam. The Zoroastrians fire temple was destroyed and many Zoroastrians were forced to convert at sword point. Those that refused were killed. A few escaped tom Yazd. Today there are families in Yazd who trace their descent from these refugees from Isfahan. In 1821 a western traveler, Ker Porter, visiting Isfahan described that there were hardly any Zoroastrians in Isfahan and Gabrabad was in ruins.
In 1719 the Afghans rebelled against Iran and invaded it by way of Sistan and Kerman, both Zoroastrian centers. In Kerman, the Zoroastrians were not allowed to live in the walled city. They lived in an area called Gabar Mohalla, outside the fortified city. When the Afghans attacked they first killed all the defenseless Zoroastrian men, women and children in Gabar Mohalla. A few rich and powerful Zoroastrians such as the high priest of Kerman who lived in the city escaped. So many Zoroastrians were killed that there was no way to place them in the Dokhma. The bodies were collected together on the plain and a wall was built around them to create a make-shift Dokhma. This makeshift Dokhma can be seen today some distance from the ruins of Gabar Mohalla, in Kerman.
The Afghans ruled Iran for 7 years and were driven out by the Qajars, a Turkish tribe of northern Iran. The first ruler was Nadir Shah who invaded India and sacked Delhi. Among the loot he brought back was the Peacock Throne of the Mogul kings of India. Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1747. One of his captains Karim Khan Zaid, started the Zaid dynasty. During the rule of Karim Khan, a Parsi, Mulla Kaus, visited Kerman, with the last of the Rivayet questions. He found the Zoroastrians devastated, and still paying the same amount of Jizya tax, they had been paying before, in spite of their far smaller numbers. Mulla Kaus took their case to Karim Khan and obtained relief from the excessive tax.
The Zaid dynasty was overthrown by the Qajar, Aga Mohamed and this dynasty ruled Iran until 1925. Under the early Qajar dynasty the Iranian Zoroastrians saw the worst time of their existence. They were not allowed to ride horses or to tie their turbans neatly or to wear socks! Often they were threatened, beaten and robbed and their religious books destroyed.
The news of their plight reached the Parsis who by this time had become quite prosperous. Parsi funds were set up to help the Iranian Zoroastrians. A Parsi, Manekji Hataria, was sent to help them. He found only 7000 Zoroastrians in Kerman, Yazd and Tehran (now the capital of Iran). Using his influence with the British government he managed to get some of the repression against Zoroastrians removed. He also founded western style schools for Zoroastrians.
As soon as the Zoroastrians got some freedom from oppression, their innate ability to work hard and intelligently, expressed itself. Some Zoroastrians became quite prosperous, helped by the fact that they were the only community in Iran to get a western education, at the beginning of the 20th century. Jamshid Bahman started the first bank in Iran and became a very influential man in Iran. He led the movement for constitutional reform. A parliament was set up in 1906 and he was one of its first members. In 1909 when it was decided that each minority send one representative to the Iranian parliament (Majlis), Kaykhosrow Shahrokh became the first Zoroastrian representative. In 1925 the Majlis deposed the last Qajar ruler and placed Reza Shah Pahlevi on the throne. Reza Shah set out to modernize Iran. Iranian Zoroastrians who were already educated in the western style, started to play important roles in his government. Reza Shah introduced a new Solar calendar, getting rid of the Islamic calendar. It was essentially the Zoroastrian calendar, with dates 1 to 30 instead of the names of the days. The months had the same Zoroastrian names.
A movement of Zoroastrians from Yazd and Kerman to Tehran took place. While the community prospered financially, it failed to keep up some of the institutions that existed in Yazd and Kerman. The priestly schools were not maintained. The number of priests decreased rapidly so that the community had to depend on priests from India or Iranian Zoroastrian priests trained in India.
Under Reza Shah Pahlevi and his son Mohamed Reza Pahlevi, the Zoroastrians were again able to play useful roles in Iranian society. They became prosperous business men such as Arbab Rostom Guiv and Meherban Zarthoshti. Zoroastrians became doctors, engineers and served in the Iranian armed forces earning the respect of non-Zoroastrian Iranians. Dr. Farang Mehr served the last Shah as a deputy prime-minister.
The Islamic revolution in 1979, set the Zoroastrians back some what and led to a migration of Zoroastrians from Iran to the countries of the West.
HISTORY OF THE PARSIS IN INDIA
The Parsis first settled in Sanjan on the West Coast of India in the kingdom of Jadi Rana. The account of their arrival in India is to be found in a poem written in Sanskrit by a Parsi priest Bohman Kaikobad in 1600 A.D. English translations of the poem are available. The first 300 years after their arrival is clothed in mystery. However by the 10th century they had spread out from Sanjan into the cities and villages of Gujarat north and south of Sanjan. Parsi settlements could be found in Anklesahvar, Bharuch, Khambat, Navsari, Surat, Vankaner and Variav. About the year 1290 the Parsis were under 5 different groups of priests based on the geographical location in Gujarat. These priestly groups were: The Bhagarias (Navsari), Bharucha, Godavra (Surat), Khambatta and Sanjanas
One of the earliest records of the Parsis is a couple of graffiti in the Kanheri caves near Bombay written in Pahlevi on October 10,1009 and November 24, 1009.
Towards the end of the 11th century the Parsi settlement at Variav had become prosperous and strong and they refused to pay the Rajput prince of the area the excessive tribute he demanded. When the prince sent in troops to enforce the payment the Parsis fought them and defeated them. A little later the prince sent in a fresh force that arrived while the Parsi men were at a wedding feast out of town. The Parsi women put on armor and fought the Rajput force and were about to win when one of the ladies lost their helmet and Rajputs seeing that they were fighting women rallied. The Parsi women were about to be defeated and instead of surrendering, drowned themselves in the sea along whose shore the battle had been fought. This early tragedy is still remembered by a special ceremony performed in Surat every year.
Around the year 1400 the Hindu kingdom of Sanjan was invaded by the Muslims who ruled north Gujarat, the Hindu king asked the Parsis for help and the Parsis raised an army of 1400 men under their leader Ardeshir. Fighting alongside the Hindus they defeated the invading Muslims. The Muslims returned with a larger force and this time the Hindus and Parsis were defeated and Sanjan was destroyed, but not before the Parsis were able to take their holy fire IranShah to a nearby mountain forest called Bahrot. The fire was kept there for 12 years and then taken to a nearby village called Bansda, where it stayed for another 14 years. Then at the invitation of the Navsari Parsis the IranShah fire was brought to Navsari. The Sanjana priests who came with the fire from Bansda and the Bhagaria priests of Navsari had an agreement that the Sanjana priests would only take care of the IranShah fire and not perform priestly services for the Navsari Parsis. Services such as the performance of Navjote, Jashans etc. in Navsari were the exclusive right of the Bhagaria priests.
IranShah remained in Navsari for 320 years except for a period of 3 years (1733-1736) when it was moved to Surat because of political instability in Navsari. In 1740 IranShah was moved into Bulsar and then in 1742 to Udvada, back in the territory of the Sanjana priests and there it remains to this day. IranShah was not the only fire temple of the Parsis. As early as the10th century one knows of the existence of a fire temple in Bharuch.
The Parsis had come to India to preserve the purity of their religion. In the 15th century they became conscious of the fact that they were losing their religious knowledge. They decided to send messengers to Iran to see how much the observance of their religion differed from that of the Zoroastrians of Iran. They also wanted to try and resolve some of the religious controversies brewing in India by getting advice from the Zoroastrian priests in Iran.
Over a period of almost 300 years, from 1478 to 1773, twenty-six messengers took questions to Iran and brought back answers from the Zoroastrian priests in Iran. This discourse between the 26 messengers from India and the Zoroastrian priests in Iran, are known as the Revayats. Additionally, manuscripts of Avesta and Pahelvi texts as well as information about the state of the two communities were exchanged. Many of the Revayat questions originated in Navsari and were answered by Iranian priests of Kerman, Isfahan, Sharafabad, Turkabad, and Yazd. Nariman Hoshang brought back to India the first Revayat. The travel expenses for Nariman Hoshang were paid by Changa Asha a famous leader of the Navsari Parsis who lived from 1450 to 1512.
By the 11th century, Parsis were well established in Gujarat and are frequently mentioned in the travel accounts of Arab, Portuguese, French and English travelers to India. These foreigners recognized the Parsis as a separate group of Indians who originated from Iran.
The Parsis were traders, farmers, merchants, brokers, doctors (vaids), weavers, and performed all kinds of trades except ironsmiths. This last trade required working with fire and required quenching it with water and they felt it was not a religious thing to do.
In the reign of the great Moghul emperor of India, Akbar, Parsis priests were invited to the Delhi court to explain their religion to Akbar. Dastur Meherji Rana led the delegation and so impressed the Moghul emperor, that he instructed that a holy fire be kept in the court at all times. He even replaced the Muslim calendar and adopted the Parsi calendar. Akbar also observed Zoroastrian feasts according to the calendar.
Other Parsis honored by Akbar were Meherji Vacha and Mehervaid, a great Parsi doctor of that time. Parsis continued to be in frequent attendance at the court of the Moghul emperors after Akbar. Meherji Kamdina and Hoshang Ranji received grants of land from Emperor Jehangir. Rustom Maneck Seth of Surat visited the court of Aurangzeb.
Rustom Maneck Seth, was a powerful Parsi who lived from 1635-1721 in Surat. He was a broker by trade employed by English and Portuguese . He helped them to set up trading factories in Surat which at that time was under the Moghul emperors of Delhi.
The first Parsi to arrive in Bombay was Dorabji Nanabhoy in 1640, soon after the Portuguese established the town of Bombay. He worked as a manager for the Portuguese. In 1668 when Bombay was given to the British, Dorabji became the tax collector and his family held the position through 1834. After 1668, more and more Parsis came to Bombay from Gujarat and eventually it became the center of the Parsis in the 19th and 20th centuries. The arrival of the Parsis in Bombay coincided with the rule of the British over most of India, and a golden period for the Parsis started.
Parsis in Bombay
Lowji Nasserwanji Wadia built the first dry dock in India at Bombay. He started building ships, many of which were ordered by the Royal British Navy. The Ship Foudroyant built in 1817 at the Wadia docks is still in service and served in World War II.
The Parsis after coming to Bombay eagerly studied western science, medicine, engineering and other professions and became proficient in the English language long before the rest of the populations in India. With their advanced Western learning, they led the Indians in starting almost every industry in India. Many Parsis involved in trade within India and with the outside world made large fortunes. Kavasji Davar started the first textile mill in 1851.
The Jeejeebhoy, Petit, Tatas and Cowasji Jehangir families and their descendants played an important role in the development of the Parsis in India and particularly of Bombay.
Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy made his fortune by trading with China. He used his immense wealth to found the Parsi Benevolent Institution which runs schools for the poor of all communities and religious backgrounds. He also built fire temples and towers of silence for the Parsis and financed the Poona waterworks, the first of its kind in India. During the potato famine in Ireland Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy donated large amounts of money to feed the Irish.
Dinshaw Petit made his fortune trading in cotton. He also started the Bombay Stock Exchange. He used his fortune to build the first engineering school in Bombay. His charities helped less fortunate Zoroastrians in India and Iran.
Cowasji Jehangir also made his fortune in cotton trading. He also used his fortune for charitable purposes such as building colleges and hospitals.
Jamsetjee Tata was born of a poor priestly family. He managed to educate himself in engineering and started the first steel works in India. His family has become a great industrial power in India by carrying on the tradition and pioneering new industries in India. Today the Tata name is well known for being the first to start industries like chemicals, locomotives, truck and car manufacturing. The Tatas were the first to start an airline in India out of which both Air India and Indian Airlines developed. In more recent years they were the first in India to start computer consulting services. Jamsetjee Tata was also responsible for building hydroelectric works at Lonavla to supply Bombay with electricity. The Tata family built the first school of Social Sciences in India. The family also founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, where research in nuclear sciences and mathematics is carried out. It was started at the recommendation of Dr. Homi Bhabha, the father of Indian nuclear industry who was working at this institute until his tragic death. In subsequent years the Tata family has branched into the manufacture of health and beauty aids, and food products.
The Godrej family is another important industrial family involved in the manufacture of electrical appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, fans etc.) and items such as office equipment, locks and safes, soaps. In more recent years they manufacture several other items and are in direct competition with Procter and Gamble.
Another illuminary, Sorabji Pochkhanawalla started the Central bank of India.
Dadabhoy Navroji started the Indian National Congress, which fought for India’s independence from Britain and from which the ruling Congress party in India emerged.
Phirozshah Mehta was the great and popular mayor of Bombay for many years and under him Bombay became one of the greatest cities in the British Empire. He was also involved in the Indian National Congress.
Bhikaiji Cama a Parsi lady who lived in London designed and flew the first flag of an independent India for which she was exiled from Britain and lived the rest of her life in France.
Field Marshal Sam Manecksha led the Indian Army to victory against Pakistan in the war that created the country of Bangladesh. Until recently, the Naval Chief of Staff in India was Admiral Jal Cursetjee. Air Marshal Aspi Engineer headed the Indian Air Force for many years.
Arts, Sciences and Law
Dr. Jal Cowasji Paymaster is a world famous cancer specialist. Dr. Rustom Jal Vakil was the first to treat high blood pressure with Rawolfia plant extract and bring the drug to the notice of the west. From Rawolfia one gets Reserpine a very useful drug for hypertension. Dr. Vakil won the international Lasker award for his work. Dr. Noshir Antia is India’s leading plastic surgeon. These are but a few of the long list of Parsi doctors who were and are the forefront of Indian medicine.
The first Indian to conduct a western symphony orchestra is the great Maestro Zubin Mehta. For many years he conducted one of the world’s greatest orchestras, the New York Philharmonic.
Fardoonji Marazban started the first Gujarati press in 1812. He published the first Gujarati newspaper “The Bombay Samachar”, which is still published today.
Nani Palkhiwalla is India’s leading constitutional lawyer and lead the fight against the imposition of emergency rule and the suspension of democracy in India during the time of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was India’s ambassador to the United States after democracy was restored in India.
The population of Parsis in India is less than 0.02 per cent, but their contributions to India’s economy, politics, educational institutions, science and the arts has been colossal. By following the tenets of the Zoroastrian religion which requires them to make the wise choice in all their actions, they have leaders in all walks of life. By serving their communities and by performing their duties to the best of their ability they have brought success to themselves, their community and to their country. When Parsis came to India they promised to live in peace with all of India and to sweeten the life in India. This promise made generations ago has been well kept. Their contributions to India have earned the Parsis great respect in India.