Iran, the world's first superpower


Guide to the site


The webmaster About the author of the website; a very brief biography, and information for teachers.

Large maps

(not mobile friendly!)

Archaeological Atlas of Antiquity (Vici)

Ancient History Maps

The Achaemenid empire. The Persian empire at its greatest extent under Darius I in 490 BC.

Silk Road The main routes of the so-called Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean.

Medieval trade route networks. International trade on the eve of the Mongol invasions.


Links to other web sites with useful or interesting Iran-related material.


News items related to Iran: scholarly, quirky, amusing, important.


List of books used in developing this web site

Photo Galleries

Choga Zanbil The world's best-preserved ziggurat, in western Iran

Tepe Nush-i Jan A mound in western Iran, which may be one of the few sites with evidence of the Medes

Pasargadae The simple tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire

Impressions of Persepolis Photographs taken on visits to Persepolis in 2006 and 2009

Reconstruction of Persepolis Computer generated images of what Persepolis may have looked like.

The Marib Dam The Great Dam which allowed civilisation to flourish in the Arabian desert.

Yazd: ancient centre of Zoroastrian worship.

Firuzabad The circular city and palace built by Ardashir I

Shushtar "Caesar's Bridge" built by Roman prisoners after Shapur I's victory.

Bishapur. The city built by Shapur I after his crushing defeat of the Romans.

Naqsh-e Rajab Sasanian stone carvings near Persepolis

Taq-e Bustan Sasanian stone carvings near Kermanshah

Pol-e Dokhtar Sasanian bridge in Khuzestan

Zeugma museum. Superb mosaics of the Roman period rescued from the Ataturk Dam

Nush-e Jan A Tel with interesting remains, including a fire-temple. Possibly the only certain site positively connected with the ancient Medes.

Shiraz Impressions of Shiraz

Isfahan A visit to Isfahan - capital of Shah Abbas I

Ashurbanipal and the Lions Lion killing spree by the last Neo-Babylonian king, Ashurbanipal.



The pages are listed below in the order you would visit them if you clicked straight through from one page to the next. Related pages are listed under "see also..."


The Home page - The main hub for the website

iran & the iranians - an introduction

Sources Forgotten history - how do we get our information about the ancient Persians?

Early Iran

Peoples of the Iranian Plateau before the arrival of the Persians

The beginnings... - DNA evidence for Iranian origins

The first farmers - the eastern edge of the Fertile Crescent 10,000 BC

The first cities - the Elamites: Iran's first civilisation 6,000 BC

Tepe Sialk - an ancient settlement with the world's oldest ziggurat 3,500 BC

Jiroft - a mysterious civilisation from around 3,500 BC revealed by flooding in 2001

Shahr-e Sookteh - "The Burnt City": remnants of a thriving civilisation in the far east of Iran, dating from around 3,200 BC.

MARLIK - a myhsterious site near the Caspian Sea. Possibly the first Indo-europeans in Iran?

Hasanlu - a mysterious city in Azerbaijan

Empires and powers that came before the Persian empire of Cyrus.

the elamites - predecessors of the Medes and Persians. Ziggurat builders.

The Assyrians - The Assyrians see also ashurbanipal

The Babylonians - The Babylonians

Urartu - Urartu - the kingdom of Van

The Medes - The early history of the elusive neighbours of the Persians

The Territories of the Iranian peoples

The Iranian lands Persia or Iran? Questions of geography and language. The competition to control the fertile crescent (Iraq/Mesopotamia.

See also: Iranian neighbours - a tour of the borderlands incorporated at times into Iranian territory.

The Achaemenids

Cyrus the Great: he conquers the Medes and the Lydians, and lays the foundations for the Persian empire.

Cyrus conquers Babylon in 539 BC. His death on the eastern frontier in 530 BC.

Cambyses (530 - 522 BC). Cyrus' son conquers Egypt

Darius How did he become king? (522 BC) The Bisitun inscription.

Darius as king. Controlling the empire.

Darius' religion. Was he a Zoroastrian?

Darius' wealth and lifestyle. His palaces (Susa, Persepolis)

Persia and the Greeks - the back story. The Trojan War. The Ionian Revolt.

The Battle of Marathon (490 BC). The surprise Athenian victory over a Persian force.

The Athenians Who were they? Two key aspects of their distinctive way of life: their belief in fate; seeing life in terms of tragedy (tragic drama); hybris.

Xerxes' invasion of Greece (486 - 480 BC) - plans and preparations.

Xerxes' campaign in Greece. Initial successes.

Xerxes in Greece. The Salamis set-back (480 BC).

End of the war in Greece (479 BC) Battles at Plataea.

End of the war How did it affect the Greeks? Orientalism.

Xerxes' reign continues Life in Persia goes on as before: Xerxes is Great King for another 14 years. A new policy towards Greece. Xerxes assassinated.

Artaxerxes I (465 - 424 BC) A long reign, poorly documented.

Darius II (425 - 404 BC) After a violent seizure of power from his brothers, this son of Artaxerxes pursues a clever policy towards the Greeks - allowing Athens and Sparta to weaken each other.

Artaxerxes II (404 - 359 BC). Thwarts attempt of his younger brother Cyrus to unseat him with help from Greek mercenaries.

The King's Peace. Athens and Sparta are outmanoeuvred by Artaxerxes, and Ionia returns to Persian control after a century of conflict.

The last Achaemenids A brutal struggle to succeed to kingship after Artaxerxes II dies. Artaxerxes III restores order and control in the Persian empire - only for Darius III to have to face a new threat from Philip, king of Macedon.

The Macedonian interlude: Alexander and the Seleucids

Alexander Sources, coming to power, conquests

Alexander's achievements and legacy What was he trying to do?

Alexander's successors. Ptolemy, Seleucus. The areas of Macedonian control and influence.

The Seleucids. Antiochus the Great. Ai Khanum

Bactria and Sogdia The Greeks in Afghanistan and Central Asia

The Silk Road The beginnings of east-west trade. Links with China.

The Parthians (Arsacids)

The Parthians A new Iranian people emerge and take over most of the Seleucid empire within 150 years. Mehrdad II. First contact with Rome and China.

Armenia sparks war between Parthia and Rome. Mithridates, Lucullus, Pompey. See also more on Armenia

Romans crushed at Battle of Carrhae 53 BC. Crassus; Suren - new Parthian tactics.

Equals of Rome. Second Roman disaster. Mark Antony's failure

Peace with Rome. Augustus' diplomacy.

Parthia wins Armenia. Roman incompetence and the "Iranian" revival.

Parthia in control. Racial, religious and political tolerance. Old enemies (Rome) and new (Alans). China and the Silk Route.

More unsuccessful Roman invasions. Trajan, Lucius Verus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla and Macrinus all have a go! But the real enemy is closer to home - the Sasanians end Parthia's dominance.

The Sasanians

Ardashir I. Sasanian takeover over of the Parthian empire. Confrontation with Rome. Savaran "knights".

Shapur I. His conquests. Defeat of three Roman emperors.

Palmyra An ally lost to Rome?

Kerdir. A Sasanian priest. The rise of the Magi. Zoroastrianism.

Shapur I's sons and grandsons. Bahram II. Weak kings.

Shapur II. A 70-year rule: a lifetime as king. Arabs appear. Final Roman attempts at conquest.

Christianity The enemy within?

The Chaotic 5th century  The Huns arrive.

Deadly threats  Attila and other invaders

Kavad's two reigns.

Khusrau I  Order restored. The Second Cyrus. "The Philosopher King".

Khusrau II  Triumph and disaster.

The last Sasanians. Arab conquest.


The Iranians under the rule of the Arabs and their successors

The Arab conquest and the Umayyad Caliphs

The Abbasids

The Seljuqs Conquest by the Turks

The Mongols Genghis Khan and his successors

The Il-Khans The Mongols of Iran

Timur The conquests of Timur (Tamerlane)

The Timurids and the Turkmen Timur's successors

The Safavids The Safavid dynasty

The Afghans The Afghan interlude

Nader Shah The last great conqueror

The Afsharids and the Zand

The Qajar dynasty

The Pahlavi dynasty Reza Shah and his son Muhammad Reza

The IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) 1979 - 2021


History according to Iranian tradition

Sources for the National History of the Iranian people Khwaday-Namag; al-Tabari; Shahnameh; Bundahishn

The First Era  The World Kings. The Pishdadian Dynasty. Kayumars. Jamshid. Zahhak.

The Second Era. The Heroes of Iran. Sam, Zal, Rustam

The Second Era. The Kayanian Dynasty. The Kais. Sekander.

The Third Era. The Ashkanian Dynasty (Arsacids). The Sasanians.


The Western and Northern Borders

From The Steppes and the Caucasus to Judaea - a brief clockwise tour of the lands to the north and west of the Iranian plateau.

The Scythians. The nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe. Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and eastwards

The Sarmatians. The nomadic people that supplanted the Scythians

The Alans. The last Iranian-speaking nomadic people to move out from the Steppes of Central Asia. Successors to the Sarmatians. Table of Iranian languages included.

The Caucasus. Georgia, Azerbaijan. Ancient Colchis, Iberia and Albania.

Armenia. Next-door neighbour and frequent rival. Relations with Iran and Rome.

Media Atropatene Northern Media which became independent after the death of Alexander.

Adiabene Now mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan. Temporarily a Jewish kingdom.

Sophene Now mostly in eastern Turkey. Controlled the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris.

Osrhoene (Edessa) An Arab kingdom between modern Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Commagene A small kingdom which tried to be friends with Rome and Persia. In eastern Turkey. Includes archaeological wonders of Zeugma.

Pontus On the south coast of the Black Sea. Expanded massively under its dangerous king Mithridates VI.

Cappadocia In the mountains of central Anatolia. Loyal to Persia longer than most neighbouring territories.

The western fringe Satrapies won by Cyrus and Darius, but lost for ever to Alexander and his successors. Lydia, Phrygia, Caria; Macedonia and Thrace.

Cilicia South-eastern coast of modern Turkey. Lost to the Romans after it became a pirate stronghold.

Cyprus Strategically situated island coveted by regional powers

Syria The heartland of the Seleucids, and later always a constant battlefield in wars between Rome, the Parthians and the Sasanians.

Phoenicia Home to innovative ancient seafarers who provided a navy for the Achaemenids.

Judaea (also Palestine) Many of its people were transported to Mesopotamia in early times: they were reestablished in Palestine by Cyrus, where there evolved a distinctive and exclusive religion. See also Judaea under the Romans.

Egypt Conquered by the Persians and by Alexander. Achieved prosperity and independence under the Ptolemies, before falling to Rome in 31 BC.

Libya Greek colonies along the coast were too prosperous not to attract Persian interest.

The southern and eastern borderlands

From Arabia to India and China: an overview.

Arabia and the Arabs. Three Arabias: Deserta, Petraea, Felix. Arab oases and trading cities: Hatra, Characene, Hira.



Elymais Ancient Elam. Between the Zagros mountains and the Tigris - now Khuzistan. Became virtually independent during Parthian and Sasanian times.

IRAQ Every power wanted to control Iraq - even before the discovery of oil.

Persis The ancient heartland of the Achaemenids - later became something of a backwater, and allowed to be independent: the Sasanian dynasty emerged from the kings of Persis.

Seistan. The far south-east. Also Sakastan - its name came from the nomadic people who were settled there. Earlier it was known as Arachosia. It also came under Indian rule from time to time.

India The Punjab (mostly now in Pakistan). Achaemenid satrapy. Alexander and Seleucids. Conquered by Macedonians from Bactria.

Gandhara The north west frontier, between the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas. A strategic region.

Bactria Settled by Alexander's veterans, later becoming an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom, which expanded into India. Now mainly in Afghanistan.

Sogdia A strategic area between China and Iran which grew rich from the Silk Road.

The Silk Road Modern name for the various trade routes between China and the west.

The Xiongnu and the Huns Perhaps one and the same people, whose empire dominated the eastern part of the Silk Route, and later threatened the Sasanians and Europe.

China Contact opened up from the second century BC, but was probably very patchy until 6th century AD.

Chorasmia East of the Caspian - an Iranian homeland, but usually independent of Iranian rule.

Hyrcania South of the Caspian. A sub-tropical region of strategic importance.


Academic papers and essays on Achaemenid and Iranian studies

Introduction and summaries Content/abstracts of papers and studies

Achaemenid Architecture

Achaemenid Archaeology

Small-scale arts of Achaemenid Persia

Development of Achaemenid studies in the west after 1979