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|ca. 70 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Afghanistan||8,592,168(Only consists of Tajiks)|
|United Arab Emirates||238,250|
|Persian (varieties of Dari, Hazaragi, and Tajiki), Luri|
|Zoroastrianism, Shia Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Bahá'í, irreligion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Pashtuns, Kurds and other Iranian peoples|
|ca. 70 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Afghanistan||8,592,168(Only consists of Tajiks)|
|United Arab Emirates||238,250|
|Persian (varieties of Dari, Hazaragi, and Tajiki), Luri|
|Zoroastrianism, Shia Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Bahá'í, irreligion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Pashtuns, Kurds and other Iranian peoples|
The Persian people are an Iranian people who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. Their origins are traced to the ancient Iranian peoples, themselves part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the greater Indo-European peoples.
The term Persian translates to "from Persis" which is a region north of the Persian Gulf located in Pars, Iran. It was from this region that Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid empire, united all other Iranian empires (such as the Medes), and expanded the Persian cultural and social influences by incorporating the Babylonian empire, and the Lydian empire. Although not the first Iranian empire, the Achaemenid empire is the first Persian empire well recognized by Greek and Persian historians for its massive cultural, military and social influences going as far as Athens, Egypt, and Libya.
Persians have generally been a pan-national group often comprising regional people who often refer to themselves as "Persians" and have also often used the term "Iranian" (in the ethnic-cultural sense). Some scholars, mechanically identifying the speakers of Persian as a distinct ethnic unit (the ‘Persians’), exclude those Iranians who speak dialects of Persian. However, this approach can be misleading, as historically all ethnic groups in Iran, were always referred to, collectively, as Iranians (Irani).
The term Persia was adopted by all western languages through the Greeks and was used as an official name for Iran by the West until 1935. Due to that label, all Iranians were considered Persian. People who embraced the Persian language and culture are also often referred as Persian (as a part of the Persian civilization culturally and/or linguistically).
The origin of the ethnic Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of the greater Indo-European language family. The Ancient Iranian peoples emerged in parts of the Iranian plateau circa 1000 BCE. Important Iranian tribes such as Old Persians, Medes, Parthians, Bactrians, Scythians, and the Avesta people used the name Arya (Iranian), which was a collective definition, denoting peoples who were aware of belonging to a generally common ethnic stock, speaking very closely related languages, and mainly sharing a religious tradition that centered on the worship of Ahura Mazda.
The Old Persians, who were one of these ethnic Iranian groups, were originally nomadic, pastoral people in the western Iranian plateau and by 850 BCE were calling themselves the Parsa and their constantly shifting territory Parsua for the most part localized around Persis (Pars), bounded on the west by Tigris river and on the south by the Persian Gulf. The first known written record of the term Persian is from Assyrian inscriptions of the 9th century BCE, which mention both Parsuash and Parsua . The Iranian Persians and Medes were initially dominated by the Assyrian Empire for much of the first three centuries after arriving in the region. However, the Medes and Persians played a major role in the downfall of Assyria, after it had been riven by internal civil war. These cognate words were taken from old Iranian Parsava and presumably meant border, borderland and were geographical designations for Iranian populations (who referred to themselves as Aryans as an ethnic designation or showing the nobility). Nonetheless, Parsua and Parsuash were two different geographical locations, the latter referring to southwestern Iran, known in Old Persian as Pârsa (Modern Fars). The Greeks (who tended earlier to use names related to "Median") began in the 5th century to use adjectives such as Perses, Persica or Persis for Cyrus the Great's empire, which is where the word Persian in English comes from. In the later parts of the Bible, where this kingdom is frequently mentioned (Books of Esther, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemya), it is called "Paras" (Hebrew פרס), or sometimes "Paras ve Madai" (פרס ומדי) i.e. "Persia and Media". As the Old Persians gained power, they developed the infrastructure to support their growing influence, including creation of a capital named Pasargadae, and an opulent city named Persepolis. Starting around 550 BCE, from the region of Persis in southern Iran, encompassing the present Fars province, the ancient Persians spread their language and culture to other parts of the Iranian plateau and assimilated and intermingled with local Iranian and 'indigenous non-Iranian' groups including the Elamites, Gutians and Manneans over time. Persians also interacted with other ancient civilizations in Europe and Africa. The first Persian empire extended as far as the limits of the Greek city states, where Persians and Athenians influenced each other in what is essentially a reciprocal cultural exchange.
At the same time, the Old Persians were part of the wider Ariya (Iranian nation); Darius and Xerxes boast of belonging to a stock which they call “Iranian”: they proclaim themselves "Iranian" and "of Iranian stock," ariya and ariya čiça respectively, in inscriptions in which the Iranian countries come first in a list that is arranged in a new hierarchical and ethno-geographical order. Until the Parthian era, Iranian identity had an ethnic, linguistic, and religious value, however it did not yet have a political import. The Parthian language, an important Iranian language, was spoken by the Parthians and is mutually intelligble with the Middle Persian language became an official language of the Parthian empire. The Parthian language had an important influence in the modern Persian language as well as other Iranian languages. In the 1st century BCE, Strabo (c. 64 BCE–24 CE) would note a relationship between the various Iranian peoples and their languages: "[From] beyond the Indus [...] Ariana is extended so as to include some part of Persia, Media, and the north of Bactria and Sogdiana; for these nations speak nearly the same language." (Geography, 15.2.1–15.2.8) He mentions the Cyrtians, the plausible ancestors of the modern Kurds as one of the Persian tribes. Cyrtians, the generally accepted progenitors of the Kurds and Lurs might already have been significantly scattered in the Zagros from Persis into Media.
During Sassanian Iran, a national culture, fully aware of being "Iranian" took shape and was partially motivated by the restoration and the revival of the wisdom of the “sages of old,” dānāgān pēšēnīgān. Other aspects of this national culture included the glorification of a great heroic past and an archaizing spirit. Throughout the period, the pre-Islamic Iranian identity reached its height in every aspect: political, religious, cultural and even linguistic. In terms of linguistic, Middle Persian, which is the immediate ancestor of Modern Persian and variety of other Iranian dialects, became the official language of the empire and was greatly diffused amongst Iranians. The intermingling of Persians, Medes, Parthians, Bactrians and indigenous people of Iran, including the Elamites gained more ground and a homogeneous Iranian identity was created to the extent that all were just called Iranians/Persians irrespective of clannish affiliations and regional linguistic or dialectical alterities. The Elamite language may have survived as late as the early Islamic period. Ibn al-Nadim among other medieval historians, for instance, wrote that "The Iranian languages are Fahlavi (Pahlavi), Dari, Khuzi, Persian and Suryani", and Ibn Moqaffa noted that Khuzi was the unofficial language of the royalty of Persia, "Khuz" being the corrupted name for Elam. However the Elamite identity might have vanished already. Furthermore, the process of incomers' assimilation which had been started with the Greeks, continued in the face of Arab, Mongol and Turkic invasions and proceeded right up to Islamic times.
The Iraqi historian Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn Al-Masudi (896–956) also refers to various Persian dialects and the speakers of these various Persian dialects as Persian. While considering modern Persian (Dari) to be one of these dialects, he also mentions Pahlavi and Old Azari, as well as other Persian languages. Al-Masudi states:
|Major Ethnic Groups of Iran|
The name "Persia" was the "official" name of Iran in the Western world before 1935, but Persian people inside their country since the Sassanid period (226–651 CE) have called it "Iran". Accordingly the term "Persian" was used in the Western world as the people inhabiting Iran; for instance, Ramsay MacDonald (1866–1937), the Prime-Minister of the United Kingdom, and the British ambassador in Iran, Percy Loraine, used Persian and Persian people to talk about the Iranian people and government. On 21 March 1935, the ruler of the country, Reza Shah Pahlavi, issued a decree asking foreign delegates to use the term Iran in formal correspondence. From then on "Iranian" and "Persian" was applied interchangeably to the population of Iran. It is still historically being used to designate predominant population of the Iranian people living in Iranian cultural continent.
While a categorization of a "Persian" ethnic group persists in the West, Persians have generally been a pan-national group often comprising regional people who often refer to themselves as 'Persians' and have also often used the term "Iranian" (in the ethnic-cultural sense). As a pan-national group, defining Persians as an ethnic group, at least in terms used in the West, is not inclusive since the ethnonym "Persian" includes several Iranian people including the speakers of Modern Persian. Some scholars, classify the speakers of Persian language as a single ethnic unit (the ‘Persians’) and exclude those Iranians who speak dialects of Persian, or other Iranian dialects closely related to Persian; however this approach to ethnicity in Iran is erroneous, since the designation Iranian (Irani) as an ethnic term has been used by all these ethnic group in Iran, including the "Persians" irrespective of their origin, language and religion.
Iran is the homeland of ethnic-Persians. Persians (including Persian sub-groups) and Persian-speakers (other ethnic groups that have adopted Persian language) can also be found in Tajikstan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Oman, the Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Like the Persians of Iran (Western Persians), the Tajiks (Eastern Persians) are descendants of various Iranian peoples, including Persians from Iran, as well as numerous invaders. Tajiks and Farsiwan have a particular affinity with Persians in neighboring Khorasan due to historical interaction some stemming from the Islamic period. Scholars also include Iranian language speakers such as Lurs, Talysh, Gilak, Mazandaranis and speakers of Central Iranian languages in Iran under the term Persian. Specifically, the Lurs speak an Archaic Persian language. In addition, the Hazara and Aimaq of Afghanistan are Persian-speaking communities of mixed Mongol, Turkic and Tajik origins.
Other smaller ethnic groups of Persians includes the Lari people of Larestan (who are mostly Sunni Muslims) and the Qizilbash of Afghanistan who are related to the Farsiwan and Azerbaijanis. In the Caucasus, the Tats are concentrated in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russian Dagestan and their origins are traced to Sassanid merchants who settled in the region. In the Indian subcontinent the Parsis are a distinct ethno-religious community that are descended from Persian (largely Khorasani) Zoroastrians. They are a Zoroastrian sect settled mainly in western India, centered around Gujarat and Mumbai. The Iranis, another small community in India, are descended from more recent Persian Zoroastrian immigrants.
The Persians are believed to be descendents of the Aryan (Indo-Europeans) tribes that began migrating from Central Asia into what is now Iran in the second millennium BCE The Persian language and other Iranian tongues emerged as these Aryan tribes split up into two major groups, the Persians and the Medes, and intermarried with minority peoples indigenous to the Iranian plateau such as the Elamites. The first mention of the Persians dates to the 9th century BCE, when they appear as the Parsu in Assyrian sources, as a people living at the southeastern shores of Lake Urmia.
The ancient Persians from the province of Pars became the rulers of a large empire under the Achaemenid dynasty (Hakhamaneshiyan) in the 6th century BCE, reuniting with the tribes and other provinces of the ancient Iranian plateau and forming the Persian Empire. Over the centuries Persia was ruled by various dynasties; some of them were ethnic Iranians including the Achaemenids, Parthians (Ashkanian), Sassanids (Sassanian), Buwayhids and Samanids, and some of them were not, such as the Seleucids, Ummayyads, Abbasids, and Seljuk Turks.
The founding dynasty of the empire, the Achaemenids, and later the Sassanids, were from the southwestern region of Iran, Pars. The latter Parthian dynasty arose from the north. However, according to archaeological evidence found in modern day Iran in the form of cuneiforms that go back to the Achaemenid era, it is evident that the native name of Parsa (Persia) had been applied to Iran from its birth.
The Persian language is one of the world's oldest languages still in use today, and is known to have one of the most powerful literary traditions, with formidable Persian poets like Ferdowsi, Hafiz, Khayyam, Attar, Saadi, Nizami, Roudaki, Rumi and Sanai. By native speakers it eventually came to be known as Fārsī, which was the Arabic form of Parsi as there is no "P" sound in Arabic. Additionally, Persian was constitutionally renamed from Farsi to Dari in Afghanistan during the 1960s for political reasons. The dialect of Persian spoken in Tajikistan is called Tajiki.
"Persian" has historically referred to some Iranian languages, however what today is referred to as the Persian language is part of the Western group of the Iranian languages branch of the Indo-European language family. Today, speakers of the western dialect of Persian form the majority in Iran. The eastern dialect, also called Dari or Tajiki, forms majorities in Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, and a large minority in Uzbekistan. Smaller groups of Persian-speakers are found in Iraq, Russia, Pakistan (by Hazaras in Balochistan), western China (Xinjiang), as well as in the UAE, Bahrain, Sweden, Kuwait, Oman, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The Persian civilization spawned three major religions: Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, which heavily influenced Saint Augustine before he turned to Christianity, and the Bahá'í Faith. Another religion that arose from ancient Iran is Mazdakism, which has been dubbed the first communistic ideology. Both Mazdakism and Manichaeism were sub-branches of Zoroastrianism that is said to be the first monotheistic religion.
Sunni was the dominant form of Islam in most of Iran until rise of Safavid Empire. There were however some exceptions to this general domination of the Sunni creed which emerged in the form of the Zaydīs of Tabaristan, the Buwayhid, the rule of Sultan Muhammad Khudabandah (1304–1316 CE), the Hashashin and the Sarbedaran. Nevertheless, apart from this domination there existed, firstly, throughout these nine centuries, Shia inclinations among many Sunnis of this land and, secondly, all three surviving branches of Shi'a Islam, Twelver, Ismaili, as well as Zaidiyyah had prevalence in some parts of Iran. During this period, Shia in Iran were nourished from Kufa, Baghdad and later from Najaf and Hillah. Shiism were dominant sect in Tabaristan, Qom, Kashan, Avaj and Sabzevar. In many other areas the population of Shia and Sunni was mixed. In recent centuries Ismailis have also largely been an Indo-Iranian community.
Many scholars and scientists in Persia who lived before the Safavid era such as Ferdowsi, Jābir ibn Hayyān, Al-Farabi and Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī, were Shi'a Muslims, as was most of Iran's elite, while other renowned Sunni Muslim scientists, scholars and personaliries were Persian or had Persian descent, including Abu Dawood, Hakim al-Nishaburi, Al-Tabarani, Ghazali, Imam Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Al-Nasa'i and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, amongst many others. Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Sunni Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence is also widely accepted of Persian ancestry.
The first officially Shia empire, the Safavid dynasty in Iran, advocated the Twelver faith, made Twelver law the law of the land, and supported Twelver scholarship. For this, Twelver ulama "crafted a new theory of government" which held that while "not truly legitimate", the Safavid monarchy would be "blessed as the most desirable form of government during the period of waiting" for the twelfth imam.
Today, most Persians are Twelver Shia succeeded by Hanafi Sunni Muslims. There is also a sizeable number of Shafi`i Sunni Muslims in southern Iran and amongst Kurds. Small Ismaili Shia minorities also exist in scattered pockets. Some communities practice Shi'a Sufism. There are also smaller communities of Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, and Bahá'ís. Bahá'ís are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran. There exist Persians who are atheist and agnostic.
Culture by one definition is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Persian culture therefore reflects the collective mindset of the Persian people throughout time, whether Persian is meant in an ethnic sense or a culturally inclusive pan-ethnic sense. From the early inhabitants of Persis, to the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid Empires, to the neighbouring Greek city states, to the Caliphate and the Islamic world, all the way to the modern day Iran and such far places as those found in India, Asia, and Indonesia, Persian culture, has been either recognized, incorporated, adopted, or celebrated. The unique aspect of Persian culture is its geo-political context and its intricate relationship with the ever changing Persian political arena once as dominant as the Achaemenids stretching from India in east to Libya in west, and now limited to Iran stretching from Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the east to Iraq and Turkey in the west. It is this ever-changing reach within the Iranian plateau that brought Persians face to face with Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians, Scythians, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Hindus, North Africans, and even the Chinese, allowing them to influence these populations with their cultural norms all the while being influenced by them in what can best be described as a "reciprocal cultural receptivity".
Some reciprocal cultural exchange was achieved through commerce and foreign relations, some through victory or defeat through military conquests, and some as a function of geopolitical proximity with neighbouring states. Cyrus the Great, and his son Cambyses II would bring Persians face to face with the Elamites, Babylonians, Hittites, Lydians, Egyptians, and Libyans through conquest, and Greeks and Scythians through border contact whether in form of military conflicts, employment, or even political and military cooperation. From a chronological perspective, and also weighing political and social forces accordingly, Persian culture can be divided into pre-Islamic era with major contact with the Western powers of the time, the Macedonians/Greeks, and the later Romans and the post-Islamic era, with major contact with emerging Eastern powers such as Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and Mughals and in recent years imperalist powers such as the Russians, and the British empire. The Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids would represent the Persian cultural globe in the pre-Islamic era while an array of emerging Persian empires namely the Safavids, Samanids, Qajar, Pahlavi and countless others would represent the post-Islamic era.
Persian cultural contributions include artistic (Persian carpets, Persian artworks and crafts, miniature paintings, calligraphy), linguistic (Persian literature and poetry), Societal (Architectural influences, customs & clothing, Gardening, music, social norms and standards), culinary, political and ceremonial (Nowruz festivity, Chaharshanbe Suri festival) contributions.
The Persian culture and its influence during the Achaemenid Persian empire has been traditionally described by a "center-periphery" model. Center-Periphery model is a model of cultural influence composed of a dominant center with greater power and economic resources and often some form of overt control and a subordinate periphery; in this cultural model, the periphery strives to incorporate prestige via adoption of cultural and value systems of the center, a process termed "emulation" while the center is an engine for generation of new cultural standards. The cultural interaction between the Achaemenid center and the periphery was through a system of states, called the "satrapy." The influence of the Persian center was such that places such as Anatolia, Lydia, and the Lykian dynasty completely adopted the Persian culture acting as a full periphery to the central influence. The Greeks also were influenced by the Persians, since originally they were a logical next step in the cultural expansion of the Achaemenids, and in fact such places as Cyprus, and Ionia were for a considerable time within the sphere of Persian cultural influences. As Greeks gained power, Athens developed into a central power in its own right and developed its own cultural periphery and inevitably came to clash with the Persians. The contact was most prominent through the Ionian coast, where the periphery regions of both entities overlapped in what can be thought of as an "interaction zone" between Persian and Greek influences. The interaction between Greeks and Persians however is not entirely a center-periphery model with inevitable clashes, but is in fact a "reciprocal cultural interaction" in which Persians were influenced by the Greek culture and its architectural, philosophical elements, while the Greeks were influenced by the Persian culture and its sociopolitical, artistic, and ceremonial elements.
Exchange between ancient Persians and their neighbours must have been diverse including such areas as sciences, art, philosophy, architecture, cuisine, governance, marriage, military technology, clothing, and symbols of elitism. For instance, the use of parasol fan or flywhisk-bearing was a marker of status in Persia, and this was adopted by the Greeks, mainly women, who depicted their aristocratic status by the use of fans, whereas use of statues as a symbol of power and wealth by the Greek men influenced the Persian monarchs' use of statue in their reliefes for depiction of wealth and power.
One of the most well known cultural traditions dating back to the Achaemenid era is the tradition of Nowruz or the celebration of the new year by the Achaemenids. Nowruz has Zoroastrian roots, but has since the time of Islam been mostly stripped of its Zoroastrian references. Nowruz is recognized by UNESCO as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity."
Nowruz first appeared in Persian records in the 2nd century CE, but its origin traces back to the Achaemenid era where satraps (or governors) from different nations under the control of the Persian king would bring gifts to honor the king on the first day of the spring. The word Nowruz in New Persian is composed of "Now" which means new and "rouz" which means day to translate into "new day." Its Old Persian word "navarYznah" is composed of "nava" meaning new and "rYzanh" meaning day or daylight to also indicate a new day or a new light.
Parthians and the Sassanids would also interact with the Romans culturally as well as come into contact with them through their cultural periphery. Persian culture would be best represented by the achievements of the Parthians and Sassanids both through their royal customs and their social hierarchy. Territorial disputes and battles between Sassanid Empire and the Roman and later Byzantine empires would shape the landspace of Middleast, North Africa, and the Mediterrania. Byzantine invasion of the Sassanids and subsequent defeat of Khusrau II is a defining moment for the Sasanids, as it destabilized the royal structure, leading to inability to mount an effective defence against the Arab invasion of Persia.
Through the long centuries of Islamic history, one of the major foci of Islamic civilization and especially art has been Persia...Persian art, at once deeply Persian and Islamic, represents a culmination of Islamic art and one of its indisputable peaks.
— Seyyed Hossein Nasr
The influence of the Persian people, and Persian culture in the post-Islamic world can hardly be exaggerated. From influences in India and Asia, to those in Arabia and Greece, Persian presence has left a lasting impression. Examples of Persian influence are far too many to mention here but are mostly cultural, linguistic, scientific, and social. For instance the presence of vast amount of Persian literature produced in India after Islam, led to the eventual creation and modernization of the language of Urdu. Similarly, Persian influences, carried by the Islamic wave of conquest, went as far east as Indonesia, where Indonesians took on adopting Persian names and customs. Scientific advances led by Persia are various but include some of the Islamic figures such as Avicenna, whose work on Medicine was utilized in Europe for hundreds of years.
Persian influence in Islam can be viewed from a pre and post-Islamic perspective. In the era prior to the invasion of Persia by the Arab army, the Sassanids played a key political role in Arabia and in fate of Islam; In 575 CE Sassanid Persians actually protected the Arabian city of Mecca from invasion by a neighbouring Christian Kingdom at the request of the southern tribes of Arabia from then Persian emperor Khosrau I. In response Khosrau came south to Arabia with both foot-soldiers and a fleet of ships preventing Christianity from spreading easterward into Arabia, and Mecca and protecting the Islamic prophet Muhammad who was at the time a six year boy in the Quraysh tribe. There are a few scholars who consider that Zoroastrianism, "began the whole Western or Judaeo-Christian-Muslim concept of progressive time." If this assumption is true, then role of Persian influence is that much more significant. Additionally, Persia became an important center for dissemination of Islam, as newly converted Persians, adopted Islam as their own and spread it to the periphery of the Persian empire.
Persia also had a great influence on the Mughals, as they utilized Persians as advisors. Mughals were also influenced by Persians in architecture, military, gardening, politics, and social cutoms. It is important to note that along with their great influence that Persians had on the Arabs, Turks, Mugals, and Indians, they were also influenced by them in return, however, the Persian influence stemming from the earlier achievements of the Sassanids, and the Achaemenids and the grand scale of their geo-political influence, made Persian influence during the Islamic era, a recognizable one.
The artistic heritage of Persia is eclectic and includes major contributions from both east and west. Persian art borrowed heavily from the indigenous Elamite civilization and Mesopotamia and later from Hellenism (as can be seen with statues from the Greek period). In addition, due to Persia's somewhat central location, it has served as a fusion point between eastern and western arts and architecture as Greco-Roman influence was often fused with ideas and techniques from India and China. When talking of the creative Persian arts one has to include a geographic area that actually extends into Central Asia, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and Iraq as well as modern Iran. This vast geographic region has been pivotal in the development of the Persian arts as a whole. Persian art includes painting, calligraphy, miniature-painting, illustrated manuscripts, glasswork, lacquer work, a unique and native form of marquetry called "Khatam work," metal work, pottery, textile and fabric design, and modern arts.
Architecture is one of the areas where Persians have made outstanding contributions. The most prominent ancient examples some of which are still extant today, are the work of the Achaemenids hailing from Persis. The quintessential feature of Persian Achaemenid architecture was its eclectic nature with elements of Median, Assyrian, and Asiatic Greek all incorporated. Achaemenid architectural heritage, beginning with the expansion of the empire around 550 BCE, was a period of artistic growth that left an extraordinary architectural legacy ranging from Cyrus the Great's solemn tomb in Pasargadae to the splendid structures of the opulent city of Persepolis, and such historical sites as Naqsh-e Rustam.
With the advent of the second Persian Empire, the Sassanid dynasty (224–624 CE), revived Achaemenid tradition by construction of temples dedicated to fire, and monumental palaces. During the Sassanid Persian Era, multiple architectural projects took place some of which are still existing including Palace of Ardashir, and Sarvestan Palace in Sarvestan to name a few. Certain ancient architectural sites have existed to date and some have even been in use till recent times; one such example is the Arg-é Bam a massive structure at 1,940,000 square feet (180,000 m2) constructed on the Silk road, in Bam around 500 BCE and was in use till 1850 CE Bam is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ancient examples can be seen throughout Persia and its territories, while in modern times monuments such as the Tomb of Omar Khayyam in Nishapur are displays of the varied traditions in Persia that have progressed through time. Various cities in Iran are historical displays of a distinctive Persian style that can be seen in the Kharaghan twin towers of Qazvin province, the Shah Mosque found in Isfahan, tomb of Baba Taher in Hamedan and countless other works. Persian architecture streams the vast area of the Persian empires and is also seen throughout Central Asia as with the Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarkand as well as Samanids mausoleum in Bukhara and the Minaret of Jam in western Afghanistan. Islamic architecture was founded on the bases established by the Persians. Persian techniques can also be clearly seen in the structures of the Taj Mahal at Agra and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Modern contemporary architectural projects by Persians include the mausoleum of Ferdowsi in Tus erected by Reza Shah, King Memorial Tower (Azadi Tower) erected in 1971 in Tehran by a Persian architect, projects such as the Dariush Grand Hotel, a hundred and twenty five million dollar hotel complex created in the Achaemenid architectural style, located on Kish Island, in the Persian Gulf, and Milad Tower, Iran's tallest telecommunication tower, and world's fourth tallest tower (as of 2008), standing 435 meters high, hosting a rotating restaurant, TV and radio stations as well as traffic control centers, to name a few.
Persian Sassanid floor mosaic detail from the palace of Shapur I
Decorative wall details of Palace of Darius (flowers), Louvre, France
Decorative wall details of Palace of Darius (waves), Louvre, France
Persian culture can be defined through its films, as Persian cinema has attained a substantial amount of international and critical acclaim through such films as Children of Heaven and Taste of Cherry, which give both insights into the current state of Persian culture and profound depictions of the general human condition.
On the plains of Marvdasht, east of the Zagros mountains still exist today, remains of the earliest historically recorded gardens. These remains are associated with remnants of the structures that once surrounded them, including white columns that still remain to date. These gardens were created by the Achaemenids at the time of Cyrus the Great. For the early Persian monarchs, gardens assumed an important place in their cultural lives.
Persian gardens utilized the Achaemenid knowledge of water technologies as they utilized aqueducts, earliest historically recorded gravity-fed water rills, and basins arranged in a geometric system. The enclosure of this symmetrically arranged planting and irrigation, by an infrastructure such as a building or a palace created the impression of "paradise." When the Spartan general Lysander reported back to Xenophon, he described how Persians have created Paradeisos (paradises) where they collected all manners of plants specially fruit trees, and exotic animals they encountered on their military campaigns. Xenophon would translate the Old Persian term Pairidaeza (a combination of pairi meaning "around" and daeza meaning "wall") into the Greek term Paradeisos.
Cyrus the Great's quadripartite garden plan, incorporated architectural elements, as well as planting, water rills, and shade-giving pavilions, producing the background to all later garden developments in Persia. These Persian gardens had a reach far greater than their immediate civilazation and were vital in the development of spiritual Muslim gardens, and the Indian gardens of the Mughal empire as they have been influential in the gardens of Renaissance Europe and the Western civilization.
The quadripartite (New Persian term: Chahar bagh) design would be reinterpreted by the Muslim Arabs after their 7th century conquest of Persia, in creation of their gardens. Arab rulers cultivated Persian techniques to create gardens of Persian design including such examples as Al-Andalus, and Kashgar. This quadripartite design was still the dominant design in the 14th century during the time of Timur, the Mughal emperor. In the 17th century, the Anglo-French jeweler Sir John Chardin, describes the Persian garden in his, "Voyages en Perse" where he stresses the quadripartite structure of the gardens. Chardin also stresses that unlike westerners, Persians do not walk much in the gardens as they often use it for a period of time, often seated, and then retire.
Parthians and Sassanids would later add their own modifications to the original Achaemenid design. They would create specially recessed, platforms, often connected to the main building with an open porticoes overlooking the garden, while providing a cool, shaded area in which to sit or loiter. This structure came to be known as "ayvans" or "ivan" in Old Persian. Persian gardens are also immortalized in the One Thousand and One Nights and the works of Omar Khayyam.
Today some of the best examples of the traditional Persian gardens can be seen in such places as the Borujerdis House, and the Tabataba'i House, as well as such gardens as "Bagh-e Mostoufi" near the village of Vanak, Tehran, "Bagh-e Shahzadeh" in Mahan, "Bagh-e Golshan" or "Karim Khan's beautiful garden" in Tabas, "Qavam House" or "Naranjestan-e Ghavam" in Shiraz, "Bagh-e Fin" outside of Kashan, Hafiz's tomb garden in Shiraz, and the Eram Garden or "Bagh-e Eram" in Fars.
The music of Persia goes back to the days of Barbad in the royal Sassanid courts, and even earlier. Sassanid music was influential and was later adopted by the Abbasids. In traditional Sassanid music, the octave is divided into seventeen tones, while by the end of the 13th century some music from Persia also maintained a twelve interval octave, which resembled the western counterpart. In terms of comparison between the basic style of the Persian music, employment of smaller intervals, and the transition from one key to another by progressions that are minute compared to their European counterparts, is what gives Persian music its unique quality. The different keys or modes that result from this small interval system are written in circles. Also in the music of Persia only spaces are taken into account, and they have a value and are called "Kah" or place; thus "Yek-Kah" signifies first space, "Dow-Kah" second space and so forth. Persian spaces are also assigned color assignments, with first space green, second rose-colored and following spaces having their own assigned coloring system.
Unlike European music, Persian music has no notes. Their music is composed of modes or harmonious phrases, which take their name from persons or places and which serve as stereotypical models for the production of the imagination of the composers. These models are either fundamental to the number four, or derived eight in number or compounded, which vary to infinity. Each musical mode has its special use. For instance, the "Zenkeleh" mode is the most melodious, the "Ecchac" appropriate for war and love, "Rast" unique for when Shahnameh is sung, and the "Buzurg" and "Rahavi" modes for funerals. Originally, there were no more than seven modes in the Persian music but Saadi, an intellectual poet and musician, extended it to twelve.
Persian music utilizes a variety of musical instruments that are unique to the region, and the time period in which they are utilized often constantly being modified or reinvented. During Sassanid era, Chang, a musical instrument utilizing five strings under tension was used as a royal musical tool.
Persian music has evolved since its ancient and medieval times and is now almost indistinguishable from the modern music of Europe and America, owing to a modernization of the musical process as well as an ever present globalization trend. This has led to such genre as Persian rap for instance. Persian music is also affected by restrictions locally on performance of certain genres which has led to its development at times overseas in Europe and America.
Persia was in many sense the first permanent home of carpet weaving, and while robbed of much of her political power, and only a shadow of her former self, still holds up to the ideals of textile art, well worth a comprehensive study. World's oldest existing carpet, Pazyryk carpet, a pile-carpet dating back to 400–300 BCE discovered in 1949, depicts clear elements of Assyrian and Achaemenid design, including stylistic references to stone slab designs found in the palaces of the Persian empire. This has made many scholar consider it to be woven, and made in the Persian Achaemenid empire.
Rug and carpet artistry is well recognized in Persia, as Xenophon describes carpet production in the city of Sardis, then a province of the Achaemenid empire, stating that the locals take pride in their carpet production. Special mention of Persian carpets are made by Athenaeus of Naucratis (around 200 CE) in his Deipnosophists when he describes a "delightfully embroidered Persian carpet, having some Persian figures, and preposterous shapes of Persian griffins, and such like beasts" incorporated in its design.
When the Byzantine emperor Heraclius pillaged the palace of Khusrau II of the Sassanid Persia, he found various luxurious textiles including carpets that were embroidered with needles, most likely a pile carpet. A 7th century Sassanid stone carving at Taq-i-Bustan depics a fabric draped over the side of the boat, most likely a pile carpet. One of the most famous Sassanid era, Persian rugs was a carpet known as "Spring of Kusrau" depicting a pleasure garden, worked with gold, and silver, and emobroidered with jewels and colored stones. Unfortunately, this carpet did not survive the Arab invasion as the Arabs cut it up distributing it among themselves as spoils after they sacked the capital of Ctesiphon in 642 CE
Islamic geographers record Mazandaran, one of the provinces of Persia as important carpet weaving center in third to the 9th century, while in fourth and 10th century Bukhara, as well as Khuzistan and Pars in southern Persia are also cited as notable production centers.
Many foreigners and foreign scholars have described their accounts of Persian carpets. Ruy González de Clavijo a Castilian traveller, (around 1400 CE) described the wonderful textile work he observed in Samarqand, court of Timur remarking that everywhere was covered with carpetry and reed matting.
Persian carpets also acted as vessels for art, design, and literature to be disseminated. One such example is the 16th century, "Ardabil Carpet" containing an inscription from the 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz:
German architect and art enthusiast, Gottfried Semper called rugs "the original means of separating space". Rug weaving was thus developed by ancient civilizations as a basis of architecture. Persian rugs are said to be the most detailed hand-made works of art. Also known as the "status rugs", Persian rugs are very important in Persian culture. Interworking of fibers to produce cloth was known in Iran as early as the 5th millennium BCE
When the famous Greek commander Themistocles was asking for asylum from Persia, the “Persian carpet” was mentioned in his speech:
He [Artaxerxes I of Persia] commanded him to speak freely what he would concerning the affairs of Greece. Themistocles replied, that a man’s discourse was like to a rich Persian carpet, the beautiful figures and patterns of which can only be shown by spreading and extending it out; when it is contracted and folded up, they are obscured and lost; and, therefore, he desired time.
In general Persian carpets are classified based on their region of production including Feraghan (Kashan), Hamedan, Herat (Afghani), Herez (Azeri), Isfahan, Kerman & Kermanshah, Khorasan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Senna, Saraband (southwest of Arak), Saruk (Markazi), Sultanabad, and Tabriz.
Persians' artistic expression can be seen as far back as the Achaemenid period as numerous statues depicting various important figures, usually of political significance as well as religious, such as the Immortals (elite troops of the emperor) are indicative of the influence of Mesopotamia and ancient Babylon. What is perhaps most representative of a more indigenous artistic expression are Persian miniatures. Although the influence of Chinese art is apparent, local Persian artists used the art form in various ways including portraits that could be seen from the Ottoman Empire to the courts of the Safavids and Mughals.
From the Achaemenid days, Persian women have had great influence and presence. One such Persian figure was Cassandane, queen consort of Cyrus the Great and mother of Cambyses II, Atossa, and Bardiya. Cyrus the Great had a special dearly love for Cassandane. Cassandane also loved Cyrus to the point that upon her death bed she is noted as having found it more bitter to leave Cyrus, than to depart her life. According to the chronicle of Nabonidus, when Cassandane died, all the nations of Cyrus's empire observed "a great mourning", and, particularly in Babylonia, there was probably even a public mourning lasting for six days (identified as 21–26 March 538 BC).
Atossa was the daughter of Cyrus the Great and Cassandane, and the queen consort of Darius the Great; she would play a critical role in solidifying Darius's legitimacy to the throne after the overthrow of the magus impersonator of Bardiya. Achaemenids also allowed women high positions including military and royal positions, best exemplified by Artemisia I of Caria, a Halicarnassian who was an Achaemenid Navy admiral, serving Xerxes I of Persia.
During the Sassanid era, women also practiced power although in a limited scale. One such example was the Sassanid queen Borandukht, who rose to power after death of her 7-year-old nephew Ardashir III at the hands of a Sassanid general Shahrbaraz who was himself killed by the Persian army. Borandukht would inherit Persia at its most unstable and disorganised hour; she started to amend the situation by first making peace with the Byzantine empire and then attempting to amend the civil disturbances of the empire. She would however be murdered soon in the chaos only after a year of rule. It is this chaos that led to election of Yazdegerd III and contributed to the subsequent Arab victories after their invasion of Persia.
Scheherazade, though fictional, is an important figure of female wit and intelligence, while the beauty of Mumtaz Mahal inspired the building of the Taj Mahal itself and the poet Táhirih had a great influence on modern women's movements throughout the Middle East. Persian women have also achieved national and international recognition in such diverse areas as sciences, politics, and entertainment. Such individuals include Shirin Ebadi, the Persian lawyer and activist who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts in human rights, as well as Iranian singer Googoosh, who was a well known national singer in the 1960s in Iran and abroad.
Although in ancient times, aristocratic females possessed numerous rights sometimes on par with men, Persian women did not attain greater parity until the 20th century. Universal suffrage was constitutionally approved for all women in January 26, 1963, under the Pahlavi regime. Persian women can be seen working in a variety of areas such as politics, law enforcement, transportation industries, health industry, military, universities, and in the Iranian parliament.