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Persia -

Persia is ancient name of modern Iran. The country was known by this name before the conquests of Alexander the Great and after the fall of the Arab empire. The original Persian empire which was built by the Achaemenid dynasty and fell to Alexander the Great.  was based east of the Persian Gulf, but at its height it extended westward to the Mediterranean sea, under Cyrus and Darius, as shown in the map below. Susa was the capital city of ancient Persia, and Persepolis was a major city.

Ancient Persia was a mixture of cultures and ethnicities. As has been pointed out,1 Persia, like ancient Rome, built its culture on the cultures of its subjugated peoples, including the Assyrians and Babylonians.

The history of Persia is divided into several periods:

The Achaemenid dynasty united Persia, challenged ancient Greece and destroyed the ancient Babylonian and Assyrian empires. The Achaemenid dynasty came to an end with the conquests of Alexander the Great.

From about 330 BCE, the Arsacid dynasty ruled Parthia, which came to be almost as great as ancient Persia.

The Sassanid dynasty replaced the Arsacid dynasty about 330 and challenged Rome. The Sassanid dynasty made Zoroastrianism the state religion. It was ended in 651 by the Arab conquest and the rise of Islam.

After the breakup of the  Arab empire, Persia was ruled by a number of dynasties, which usually were begun by provincial governors under the Arab Caliphs. Two of the most important of these were the Samanid and Ghaznavid dynasties. The reigned over a large and changing territory comprising eastern Persia, modern Afghanistan  what is now referred to as central Asia and a part of modern Pakistan. The Samanids were apparently originally Afghani, and the Ghaznavid rulers were Turkic people, originally slaves employed as soldiers. Both dynasties furthered the Persian language and culture to differentiates themselves and isolate their empires from Turkish and Arab influences.

After the invasions of the Mongols, Persia was reunited by the Safavid dynasty which arose about 1501. The Safavids made Shia Islam the state religion of Persia. The long Safavid rule ended about 1746 in civil war. Most of Persia was then ruled by the Zand dynasty, but the northeastern region was ruled by the Afsharid khans,

The Qajar dynasty reunited Persia in 1796, but Qajar Persia was weak and debt ridden. A constitution was promulgated in 1911, but remained largely decorative. The Qajar dynasty was overthrown in 1929 by Reza Shah, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, who renamed the country Iran.




1. 1. Madadi, Ben, Not that Special, Iranian, Nov. 14, 2006, http://www.iranian.com/Madadi/2006/November/Persians110/index.html

Ami Isseroff

October 11, 2010


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Iran, Parthia

Further Information: A Brief History of modern Iran Map of Iran, Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud, Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruholla  Parthia

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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