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Today's blog: History of Iran

Iran has one of the world's oldest civilizations; there were people building ziggurats in Iran in the 2000s BC, and the oldest known dice come from those Early Bronze Age Iranian cities. Those early people were joined about 2000 BC by Indo-European invaders from the Caspian Sea area - relatives of the Greeks and the Romans, the Germans, and the Hindus in India. A thousand years later, Iran was the starting point for the world's first big monotheistic religion: Zoroastrianism (well, it's only partly monotheistic, but it's definitely a change from what went before). Iran's also the place where the world's first empire got started: Cyrus the Great started the Persian Empire there in the 500s BC. People there invented the game of backgammon

Why did everything get started in Iran? Because people were richer in Iran than in most other parts of the world. Iran was at the center of the Silk Road, trading north to Central Asia, south to India, east to China and west to the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Romans. Iranians started out selling mainly horses, but soon diversified into manufacturing and selling Persian carpets, paper, steel, silver dishes and bowls, sugar, and cotton cloth.

After Alexander the Great conquered it in the 300s BC, Iran was briefly under Greek control, but by 100 BC it was the center of its own big empire again under the Parthians and then the Sassanians. Many Iranians converted to Buddhism and Christianity. Arab conquests forced Iran into the Islamic Empire and converted most people to Islam in the 600s AD, and then by the 900s with the great Turkic invasions Iran fell under the control of the Ghaznavids and the Seljuks, and then the Mongols. By 1500 AD, Iran was the center of the Turkic Safavid Empire, which soon also controlled Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. All this time Iran was still very rich. Many great libraries were there, and many great scholars like Ibn Sina, al Tabari, al Razi, and al Ghazali. The Iranian al Khwarizmi invented the algebraic algorithm.

But as Europeans forced Iranian traders out of the shipping lanes and began manufacturing more of the world's trade goods, Iran got poorer, and couldn't afford to educate enough people to keep up with new European inventions. The Safavids lost a lot of their empire in the 1700s AD, and Nader Khan replaced them with the country of Iran. Russian and British colonialists, and then the United States, used their money to get more and more power over Iran, replacing any ruler who tried to resist them. But in 1979, the Iranian Revolution threw out the United States and its puppet ruler. Since then Iran has been independent, and trying to figure out its new place in the world.

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Also check out our cooking site at Gevirts.com.

Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated August 2015.

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