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Special Edition Iran – Timeline Part II

Persian Empire, 490 B.C., map from United States Military Academy, West Point

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I have a passion for history because if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. In my last post, we began an analysis of the current situation in Iran, which means taking a look at Iran’s past. (See Iran’s Present is Iran’s Past – Part I.) Today, we look at the Persian Empire up through the Islamic Arab Invasion.

c. 1,000 B.C.

The struggle between Babylonian kingdoms and the Elamites continued, but it created an opportunity for outsiders. Fierce nomadic horsemen entered the Iranian plains from the north. They spoke a language that is believed to be the root language for modern Persian. They were very mobile and avoided direct confrontations with large armies from Babylon and from what remained of Elam.

The largest and most organized of the invading nomads were known as the Medes. They formed the foundation of what would become a strong military group that lent strength to a Persian expansion.

c. ? Who Knows When

Somewhere between 6,000 B.C. and 100 B.C. a man known in the West as Zoroaster founded what most historians believe to be the first organized monotheist religion to survive to modern times.

Zoroastrian religion states that God (Ahura Mazda) is benevolent and compassionate. Man may only enter the kingdom of heaven through acts of compassion and kindness. It is a religion that preaches cooperation and free thought. According to Zoroaster, all people have and should embrace free will. Based on available historical literature, the religion has roots as far back as 1,800 B.C. Zoroastrianism had a strong developmental influence on Persian civilization and economy.

612 B.C.

The Babylonians helped the Medes capture the Assyrian center of Nineveh, a city in the north of modern Iraq. The Assyrian Empire collapsed.

c. 600 B.C.

The now-settled Median people formed an alliance state with Babylonia, Lydia, and Egypt. The great federation allowed for more organized trade and agriculture. Arts flourished across the region. Wealth increased.

c. 590 B.C.

Cyrus the Great was born in Anshan, Iran. In Persia he was known as Kurus. He grew up to change the course of south Asian history.

c. 559 B.C.

Cyrus ascended the Achaemenid throne. He ruled under the over-lordship of the powerful Medians.

553 B.C.

Cyrus raised a revolt against the Median overlords. He used remarkable diplomatic skill and inspired various tribes from fringe areas to join him.

549 B.C.

Cyrus’ army defeated the city of Ecbatana and completed his conquest of the Medians. Cyrus was wise and magnanimous in conquest. He co-opted many of the most popular and most skilled Medians and allowed them local rule under his over-lordship. Cyrus allowed for local religions and customs to continue unmolested.

547 B.C.

Cyrus defeated Lydia at the battle of Tymbra, thanks to good but unusual advice from his general, Harpagus. With the wind at his back, Cyrus placed his malodorous dromedaries in the front of his main army to lead the charge against Lydian cavalry. The Lydian horses had never been near dromedaries before. The horses panicked, and the Lydian cavalry were defeated.

546 B.C.

Before defenses could be organized, Cyrus moved quickly against Lydian strongholds, and he defeated Lydia decisively by the end of the year.

540 B.C.

Cyrus ordered his laborers to dig a canal to lower ground from the Euphrates River. The river was a natural protective barrier for the east side of the otherwise walled city. The river receded to a passable level, and Cyrus’ troops entered Babylon by crossing the river. They forced the surrender of the Babylonian garrison.

Two thousand, three hundred years later, General Sherman remembered Cyrus’ achievement and attempted to use the Mississippi River to form canals that allowed the flanking of Vicksburg from beyond the range of her guns above the cliffs.

530 B.C.

Cyrus the Great died in battle in central Asia. His son, Cambyses II, took his place.

525 B.C.

Persia conquered Egypt. The Persians eventually extended their conquests until their kingdom stretched from India to modern day Libya. Trade flourished. Local customs were tolerated. The people under Persian rule enjoyed a higher standard of living and more rights than most of them had known under their previous rulers.

521 B.C.

The Royal Spear Bearer Darius became the Emperor Darius I and married both the widow of Cambyses and the daughter of Cyrus. He put down internal revolts using diplomatic skills and decisive military actions. Darius wisely divided the kingdom into regions to be governed by local Kings who he selected and who served under his over-lordship.

518 B.C.

Darius founded Persepolis as a new capital of Persia. He better controlled court politics in a city of his own design and with a population that he selected. He had canals built to connect the Red Sea to the Nile. Darius also coined a universal currency of standard measure for the Empire, which further promoted trade and a growing economy. A renaissance in architecture spread across the Persia.

517 B.C.

Darius conquered the Punjab area of India. He used advanced chariot tactics to extend Persian rule further into Libya.

512 B.C.

The armies of Darius I reached the lower Danube River in modern Bulgaria. This marked the greatest limit of expansion for the great Persian Empire.

490 B.C.

Persia attacked Greece, but the invasion failed.

486 B.C.

Darius I died and Xerxes took the throne. Xerxes outsourced his engineering needs. He searched for foreign architects to add to the diversity and development of Persian architecture.

481 B.C.

Persia invaded Greece again. After a delaying action by a small Spartan force at the narrow pass at Thermopylae, the Persians reached Athens and sacked the Parthenon.

Small, maneuverable Greek naval vessels defeated reinforcing Persian amphibious forces at the Battle of Salamis. The Persian invaders retreated as the Greeks organized more resistance.

Two thousand, four hundred years later, a young American naval genius from Boulder, Colorado named Arleigh Burke devised tactics based on the lessons of that ancient battle and the land tactics of the Greeks that allowed him to gain naval victories against far superior Japanese forces in the waters north of Guadalcanal in 1943.

332 B.C.

Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and Persia. The city of Persepolis was destroyed on Alexander’s orders. When touring the ruins, he was filled with regret for the destruction of the magnificent city.

312 B.C.

A committee of some of Alexander’s generals set up the Seleucid Dynasty to rule Persia.

247 B.C. – 224 B.C.

The Parthians of northwest Iran rose up, and by using something of a “throw the foreigners out” propaganda campaign and concentrating their forces at strategic locations for quick offenses, they defeated the Seleucid dynasty. The Parthians introduced advanced horse breeding and developed horses that were capable of carrying fast, armored archers.

Painting reached new heights in Persia, and Persian artists produced highly representative and remarkably detailed paintings of historical events.

36 B.C.

A Persian army took advantage of its highly skilled, mounted archers and defeated Mark Anthony of Rome in Azerbaijan.

A young American tank commander by the name of George Patton, as well as German armored tactician Hans Guderian, studied this battle and used its lessons to great effect in WWII.

208 A.D. – 224 A.D.

The Sassanians, elite members of Parthian society who were trained for military service and high government office, took over Iran. They developed a highly organized military system with specialist reservists backing up elite, well trained units.

The system relied on rapid communication via messengers, mirror messages, and trumpet calls to mobilize in time to meet threats from foreign armies. The system at the same time allowed for the maintenance of a large, professional army without paying salaries to reservists during periods of peace. These trained reservists were able to use their engineering skills in their local communities to promote the building of roads, bridges, agricultural canals etc.

Under the Sassanians, art continued to progress. They developed the vaulted dome, which later became a symbol of Islamic culture.

450 A.D. to 484 A.D.

Huns from central Asia repeatedly attacked Persian towns and sometimes cities. The Huns used fast, light cavalry tactics and never remained in one place long enough for an army to form up and challenge them.

570 A.D.

Mohammad was born in Arabia. He founded the Islamic religion. At about the same time, the oldest known surviving Persian carpet was produced in Iran.

590 A.D.

Persian King Khosrow II revived the Persian Empire with westward campaigns into Byzantium.

612 A.D.

Khosrow II captured Jerusalem.

619 A.D.

Khosrow II reached Alexandria, Egypt. This signified the last high water mark of the great Persian Empires.

636 A.D.

At the Battle of the Qadisiya on the banks of the Euphrates River, Islamic Arab invaders defeated Persian General Rustam and his soldiers. This signified the beginning of the end of the Persian Empire.

My next article will look at the Arab dominance of Persia.

22 thoughts on “ Special Edition Iran – Timeline Part II

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:

      Hi David. I posted this in the wrong place previously.Hi David. Thank you for the compliment. We owe you some sort of loyal reader award. I’ll have to think on it a while.

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:

      Hi David. I remember the order of events in Iran and other places but I have to check dates and many times names as well. Then I have to double check and triple check because issues of dates prior to Gutenberg’s printing press being invented in the 1400s dates and events were not always well recorded.

      I should take a moment to thank German Black Smith Johannes Gutenberg for stubbornly pursuing the invention of the printing press. I probably should have done an article about him in late January as he died on 3 February 1468. Next year …

  1. Great history lesson. I knew Patton was a student of history, but Sherman was a surprise. I’ve always thought of him as the Union general who brought warfare out of the Napoleonic ages. I’ve had religion classes that covered Zoroastrian beliefs and wonder if it has any traction in the region or has it completely faded.

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:

      Hi Tomwisk. Thanks for a very useful question. Zoroastrianism was the state religion of Persia until the Islamic war lords took over. As the state religion part of the state leaders dilemma was that he was then required to allow religious freedom.It is my opinion that Great Persian leaders like Cyrus and Darius were heavily influenced by Zoroastrian religion and philosophy and it helped them to learn the benefits of open mindedness in leadership. They were able to rule vast kingdoms because under them their subjects enjoyed religious and cultural freedom and personal freedom that exceeded what they had under their previous rulers. It also allowed them to incorporate useful ideas regardless of their source. Cyrus hated executing rebellious dissenters because he felt he was throwing away useful knowledge by killing people. He often found ways to exile people while keeping in touch with them via messengers. Unlike many modern politicians, men like Darius understood the concept of the kingdom being bigger than them.

      Zoroastrian faithful have large centers in Los Angeles and Paris. They remain in Iran and to a lesser extent in Pakistan, but must live quietly. They remain free in India and to the dismay of the rest of the Zoroastrian community some of the the Indian branch has adopted something similar to a caste system. In that group in India only men with Zoroastrian mothers will be accepted by the mainstream Zoroastrian community. This practice is of course contrary to basic Zoroastrian philosophy of each individual having their own relationship with God without the intervention of others here on earth.

      Thank you for a very helpful question, Tomwisk.

      If any Zoroastrians read this please do inform us from a more direct perspective.

      • Is it just me or do all religions all have basically the same template and over time they digress. I’ve always believed God created man in His image and man created religion in his image.

        • on ,
          J Holmes said:

          Good line I like that. I suspect you are right, And all philosophies seem to evolve over time. Some reject progress and seek regression to more complete power over others.

  2. on ,
    J Holmes said:

    Hi David. Thank you for the compliment. We owe you some sort of loyal reader award. I’ll have ti think on it a while.

  3. on ,
    J Holmes said:

    HI Lance. TY. Piper my Editor/literary boss/ spell checker/IT Director does all the work on the blog.

  4. It is interesting to see how each culture grew out of the ruins of the previous one. I wonder, and this is a question I’ve never thought to answer until now: Has there ever been a culture or “nation” that came to power, grew and prospered by means other than conquest, war and/or force? It seems that human history is full of legacies built through destructive means.

    Interesting post, Holmes, looking forward to the history after the arrival of the Arabs.

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:

      Thank you Gene. I am glad that you enjoyed it. I do find the reign of Cyrus I particularly interesting because of his productivity and he chose development over self worship. It’s a shame that so many “leaders” do not.

  5. Hi Holmes. Great summary.

    I always wonder what these cities like Persepolis would be like if they hadn’t been destroyed. There are so many wonders that have been lost. I think my favourite would have been the Alexander lighthouse. There again, maybe the mystery (and sometime myth) is better.


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