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(pûr`zhə, –shə), old alternate name for the Asian country Iran. The article IranIran
, officially Islamic Republic of Iran, republic (2015 est. pop. 79,360,000), 636,290 sq mi (1,648,000 sq km), SW Asia. The country's name was changed from Persia to Iran in 1935.
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 contains a description of the geography and economy of the modern country and a short account of its history since the Arab invasion of the 7th cent. This article is concerned with the history of the ancient Persian Empire, in which present-day Iran has its roots.

Origins of the Persian Empire

The speakers of Iranian languages may have migrated into that part of Asia as early as 1500 B.C. Presumably they were originally a nomadic tribe who filtered down through the Caucasus to the Iranian plateau. They apparently subjugated peoples already there and mingled with them, but their dominance of particular areas is recorded in the place names Parsua and Parsumash. The Assyrian rulers were by the 9th cent. B.C. sending expeditions against them, and the recurrence of those campaigns is evidence of the strength of the early Persians.

The Achaemenids

By the 6th cent. B.C. the early Persians were established in the present-day region of FarsFars
or Farsistan
, province (1991 pop. 3,543,828), c.51,500 sq mi (133,400 sq km), SW Iran. Shiraz is the capital and chief city, located in an oasis occupying a valley c.6 mi (10 km) wide and 20 mi (32 km) long. The province is largely mountainous.
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 and were benefiting from the decline of ElamElam
, ancient country of Asia, N of the Persian Gulf and E of the Tigris, now in W Iran. A civilization seems to have been established there very early, probably in the late 4th millennium B.C. The capital was Susa, and the country is sometimes called Susiana.
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. Fars (or Persis to the Greeks) was a recognizable district of the Assyrian Empire (see AssyriaAssyria
, ancient empire of W Asia. It developed around the city of Ashur, or Assur, on the upper Tigris River and south of the later capital, Nineveh. Assyria's Rise

The nucleus of a Semitic state was forming by the beginning of the 3d millennium B.C.
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) like the neighboring but greater MediaMedia
, ancient country of W Asia whose actual boundaries cannot be defined, occupying generally what is now W Iran and S Azerbaijan. It extended from the Caspian Sea to the Zagros Mts.
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. The Persian rulers, claiming descent from one Achaemenes, or Hakhamanesh (see AchaemenidsAchaemenids
, dynasty of ancient Persia. They were descended presumably from one Achaemenes, a minor ruler in a mountainous district of SW Iran. His successors, when Elam declined, spread their power westward.
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, were associated with the Medes, who created a strong state in the 7th cent. CyaxaresCyaxares
, d. 585 B.C., king of Media (c.625–585 B.C.). His name also appears as Umakishtar and Huyakhshtara. In the course of his reign he raised the kingdom of the Medes to a major power in the Middle East.
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, son of Phraortes, founder of Median power, was one of the kings who brought about the fall of NinevehNineveh
, ancient city, capital of the Assyrian Empire, on the Tigris River opposite the site of modern Mosul, Iraq. A shaft dug at Nineveh has yielded a pottery sequence that can be equated with the earliest cultural development in N Mesopotamia.
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 (612 B.C.) and broke the hegemony of the Assyrians. The Persian ruler of about the same time, CambysesCambyses
, two kings of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. Cambyses I was king (c.600 B.C.) of Ansham, ruling as a vassal of Media. According to Herodotus he married the daughter of the Median king Astyages; some scholars dispute this. Cambyses' son was Cyrus the Great.
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 I, was vassal to Cyaxares. According to HerodotusHerodotus
, 484?–425? B.C., Greek historian, called the Father of History, b. Halicarnassus, Asia Minor. Only scant knowledge of his life can be gleaned from his writings and from references to him by later writings, notably the Suda.
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 he married the daughter of the Median ruler AstyagesAstyages
, fl. 6th cent. B.C., king of the Medes (584–c.550 B.C.), son and successor of Cyaxares. His rule was harsh, and he was unpopular. His daughter is alleged to have married the elder Cambyses and was said to be the mother of Cyrus the Great, who rebelled against
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 (Cyaxares' son), and his son Cyrus was thus also grandson of Cyaxares; this account has been branded by some scholars as a pious attempt to falsify genealogy.

Cyrus the Great

After the Persians had aided the Medes in establishing the power of the Medes, Cyrus, who later became known as Cyrus the GreatCyrus the Great
, d. 529 B.C., king of Persia, founder of the greatness of the Achaemenids and of the Persian Empire. According to Herodotus, he was the son of an Iranian noble, the elder Cambyses, and a Median princess, daughter of Astyages.
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, took over the rule of Media from Astyages in the middle of the 6th cent. B.C. In an amazingly short time Cyrus had extended his conquests from Elam and Media west and north. He pushed into Asia Minor, where CroesusCroesus
, d. c.547 B.C., king of Lydia (560–c.547 B.C.), noted for his great wealth. He was the son of Alyattes. He continued his father's policy of conquering the Ionian cities of Asia Minor, but on the whole he was friendly to the Greeks, and he is supposed to have given
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, the king of Lydia, vainly sought by an alliance with NabonidusNabonidus
, d. 538? B.C., last king of the Chaldaean dynasty of Babylonia. He was not of Nebuchadnezzar's family, and it is possible that he usurped the throne. He was absorbed in antiquarian and religious speculations, and he built temples while the state was left undefended.
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 of BabyloniaBabylonia
, ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium B.C.
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 and Amasis IIAmasis II,
d. 525 B.C., king of ancient Egypt (569–525 B.C.), of the XXVI dynasty. In a military revolt he dethroned Apries. He erected temples and other buildings at Memphis and Saïs and encouraged Greek merchants and artisans to settle at Naucratis.
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 of Egypt to withstand the conqueror. Cyrus crushed the coalition, and by 546 B.C. the greatness of the Persian Empire was established. It was to endure long under his successors, the Achaemenids. From the beginning the Persians built on the foundations of the earlier states. The organization of the Assyrians was taken over and improved, and Cyrus himself imported artists and artisans from Babylonia and Egypt to create his palace and tomb at Pasargadae.

Darius I and His Immediate Successors

The dynamic new state was, however, troubled almost from the start by dynastic troubles. Cambyses II, son of Cyrus, did away with SmerdisSmerdis
, d. c.528 B.C., second son of Cyrus the Great, king of Persia. He is also called Bardiya. He was assassinated by his brother Cambyses II, who kept the murder a secret.
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, another son of Cyrus, in order to have unchallenged power, but when Cambyses was absent on a successful raid into Egypt, an imposter claiming to be Smerdis appeared, and usurped the throne. A civil war ensued, and after Cambyses died, a new claimant, Darius IDarius I
(Darius the Great) , d. 486 B.C., king of ancient Persia (521–486 B.C.), called also Dariavaush and Darius Hystaspis (after his father, Hystaspes or Vishtaspa).
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, appeared against the false Smerdis and made his claims good. After putting down disorders, Darius molded the administration of the empire into a centralized system that was remarkable for its efficiency. Satraps, or governors, were set up to rule firmly and arbitrarily over the various regions, but to keep check on the satraps, who were potential aspirants to central power, each was accompanied by a secretary and a military commander who were responsible to the great king alone. This centralized system was supported by an intricate and excellent system of communication, for the Persians were the first important ancient people to use the horse efficiently for communication and transport.

Darius also continued and broadened Cyrus' policy of encouraging the local cultures within the empire, allowing the people to worship their own gods and to follow their own customs so long as their practices did not conflict with the necessities of Persian administration. Despite this tolerance there were rebellions by the Egyptians, Lydians, and Babylonians, all of which Darius ruthlessly suppressed. The religion of Persia itself was Zoroastrianism, and the unity of Persia may be attributed in part to the unifying effect of that broadly established faith. Darius was also a patron of the arts, and magnificent palaces standing on high terraces beautified the capitals of Susa and Persepolis (see Persian art and architecturePersian art and architecture,
works of art and structures produced in the region of Asia traditionally known as Persia and now called Iran. Bounded by fierce mountains and deserts, the high plateau of Iran has seen the flow of many migrations and the development of many
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). His conquests to the east extended Persian rule beyond the Arius (Hari Rud) River into modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Egypt had already been attacked by Cambyses, and although it was to prove recalcitrant and rebellious, succeeding Persian kings were to maintain hegemony there. Darius pushed as far north as the Danube in his exploits, but the fighting against the Scythians was obscure and certainly unfruitful.

Even more unprofitable for Persia was its embroilment with the Greeks. The Persians in taking over Lydia had come into contact with the Greek colonies in Asia Minor (Ionia). There were Greeks (notably the exiled Athenian tyrant HippiasHippias
, tyrant (527 B.C.–510 B.C.) of Athens, eldest son of Pisistratus. Hippias governed Athens after the death of his father. His younger brother Hipparchus was closely associated in office with him until Hipparchus was assassinated in 514 B.C.
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) at the court of Darius, and the Persians immediately began to borrow from Greek art and thought, as they did from all advanced cultures to the enrichment of Persia. At the beginning of the 5th cent. B.C., however, the Ionian cities were involved in trouble with the great king. Darius put down their rebellion, then organized an expedition to punish the city-states in Greece proper that had lent aid to the rebellious cities. This expedition began the Persian WarsPersian Wars,
500 B.C.–449 B.C., series of conflicts fought between Greek states and the Persian Empire. The writings of Herodotus, who was born c.484 B.C., are the great source of knowledge of the history of the wars.
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. Ultimately Darius' army was defeated at Marathon, and his son Xerxes IXerxes I
(Xerxes the Great) , d. 465 B.C., king of ancient Persia (486–465 B.C.). His name in Old Persian is Khshayarsha, in the Bible Ahasuerus. He was the son of Darius I and Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great. After bringing (484 BC.
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, who succeeded to the throne in 486 B.C., fared no better at Salamis. The Greeks had successfully defied the power of the great king.

The effects of the Greek victory were, however, confined to Greece itself and had no consequences in Persia. Nor did the Greek triumph exclude Persia from taking part in the affairs of the Greek world. Persian influence was strong, and Persian gold was poured out to aid one Greek city-state or another in the interminable struggle for power. It is noteworthy that when ThemistoclesThemistocles
, c.525–462 B.C., Athenian statesman and naval commander. He was elected one of the three archons in 493 B.C. In succeeding years many of his rivals were eliminated by ostracism and he became the chief figure of Athenian politics.
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, the victor of Salamis, was exiled from Athens, he took refuge at the court of Artaxerxes IArtaxerxes I
, d. 425 B.C., king of ancient Persia (464–425 B.C.), of the dynasty of the Achaemenis. Artaxerxes is the Greek form of "Ardashir the Persian." He succeeded his father, Xerxes I, in whose assassination he had no part.
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, who had succeeded Xerxes I in 464 B.C.

Decay of the Empire

In the time of Artaxerxes the difficulties of maintaining so wide an empire had begun to appear. Some of the satraps showed ambitions to rule, and the Egyptians, helped by the Athenians, undertook a long rebellion. Violence against the great king himself was a disturbing factor. Xerxes I had been murdered, and Xerxes IIXerxes II,
d. 424 B.C., king of ancient Persia (424 B.C.), son of Artaxerxes I. After a reign of 45 days he was murdered by his half-brother Sogdianus.
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, son of Artaxerxes, was killed after a reign of 45 days by a half-brother, who was in turn overthrown by another half-brother, Darius IIDarius II,
d. 404 B.C., king of ancient Persia (423?–404 B.C.); son of Artaxerxes I and a concubine, hence sometimes called Darius Nothus [Darius the bastard]. His rule was not popular or successful, and he spent most of his reign in quelling revolts in Syria, Lydia (413),
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. In the reign of the second Darius the power of the satraps was shown in the careers of PharnabazusPharnabazus
, d. after 374 B.C., Persian governor. He had an important satrapy in Asia Minor under Darius II and Artaxerxes II. He was responsible for the assassination (404 B.C.) of Alcibiades, and in the same year he supported Artaxerxes in the rebellion of Cyrus the Younger.
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 and TissaphernesTissaphernes
, d. 395 B.C., Persian satrap of coastal Asia Minor (c.413–395 B.C.). He was encouraged by Alcibiades (412) to intervene in the Peloponnesian War in support of Sparta.
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, who interfered with some effect in the affairs of Greece.

When Darius II died, the most celebrated of the dynastic troubles occurred in the rebellion of Cyrus the YoungerCyrus the Younger,
d. 401 B.C., Persian prince, younger son of Darius II and Parysatis. He was his mother's favorite, and she managed to get several satrapies in Asia Minor for him when he was very young.
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 against Artaxerxes IIArtaxerxes II,
d. 358 B.C., king of ancient Persia (404–358 B.C.), son and successor of Darius II. He is sometimes called in Greek Artaxerxes Mnemon [the thoughtful]. Early in his reign Cyrus the Younger attempted to assassinate him and seize the throne.
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, which came to an end with the death of Cyrus in the battle of CunaxaCunaxa
, ancient town of Babylonia, near the Euphrates River, NE of Ctesiphon. It was the scene of a battle (401 B.C.) between Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxes II, described by Xenophon in the Anabasis.
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 (401 B.C.). Cyrus' defeat was recorded in XenophonXenophon
, c.430 B.C.–c.355 B.C., Greek historian, b. Athens. He was one of the well-to-do young disciples of Socrates before leaving Athens to join the Greek force (the Ten Thousand) that was in the service of Cyrus the Younger of Persia.
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's Anabasis, and although the importance of Cyrus' revolt may be exaggerated it cannot be denied that there were signs of decay in the empire. Although EvagorasEvagoras
, d. c.374 B.C., despot of Cyprus. Exiled in his youth, he returned (411 B.C.) and made good his claim as ruler of Salamis. By 410 B.C. he had spread his control over the whole island.
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 of Cyprus was brought to heel after the Peace of Antalcidas (386 B.C.; see Corinthian WarCorinthian War
(395 B.C.–86 B.C.), armed conflict between Corinth, Argos, Thebes, and Athens on one side and Sparta on the other. Angered by Sparta's tyrannical overlordship in Greece after the Peloponnesian War, several Greek states took advantage of Sparta's involvement
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) was dictated to Greece by the great king, Egypt, which had become independent again in 405 B.C., continued to revolt and the efforts of the armies of Artaxerxes IIArtaxerxes II,
d. 358 B.C., king of ancient Persia (404–358 B.C.), son and successor of Darius II. He is sometimes called in Greek Artaxerxes Mnemon [the thoughtful]. Early in his reign Cyrus the Younger attempted to assassinate him and seize the throne.
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 to reassert control were fruitless. Artaxerxes IIIArtaxerxes III,
d. 338 B.C., king of ancient Persia (358–338 B.C.), son and successor of Artaxerxes II. He was originally named Ochus and is sometimes called Artaxerxes Ochus.
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, who gained the throne by massacring his brother's family, was more successful in Egypt, but his triumph was brief. He was himself killed by his counselor, the eunuch Bagoas.

Darius IIIDarius III
(Darius Codomannus) , d. 330 B.C., king of ancient Persia (336–330 B.C.). A cousin of Artaxerxes III, he was raised to the throne by the eunuch Bagoas, who had murdered both Artaxerxes and his son, Arses; Darius in turn murdered Bagoas.
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 in turn murdered Bagoas and ruled with considerable splendor after 336, but only for a short period. In 334, Alexander the GreatAlexander the Great
or Alexander III,
356–323 B.C., king of Macedon, conqueror of much of Asia. Youth and Kingship

The son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, he had Aristotle as his tutor and was given a classical education.
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 and his Macedonian army crossed the Hellespont and routed the Persians on the Granicus. The battle of Issus followed in 333, and in 331 the battle of Gaugamela brought an end to the Achaemenid empire. Darius, last of the great kings, fled east before the conqueror to the remote province of BactriaBactria
, ancient Greek kingdom in central Asia. Its capital was Bactra, present-day Balkh in N Afghanistan. Before the Greek conquest, the region was an eastern province of the Persian Empire.
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, where he was assassinated by his own cousin, Bessus. Alexander also came east and, defeating Bessus, had the whole empire in his grasp. Alexander went on to India and created the greatest empire the world had yet seen. It lasted, however, only for the brief period of his life and then was torn apart by the quarrels of his successors (the DiadochiDiadochi
[Gr.,=successors], the Macedonian generals and administrators who succeeded Alexander the Great. Alexander's empire, the largest that the world had known to that time, was quickly built. At his death in 323 B.C. it disintegrated even more quickly.
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The Seleucids and the Parthian Empire

After Alexander the Great's death, Persia fell for the most part to Seleucus ISeleucus I
(Seleucus Nicator) , d. 280 B.C., king of ancient Syria. An able general of Alexander the Great, he played a leading part in the wars of the Diadochi. In the new partition of the empire in 312 B.C. he received Babylonia.
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 and his successors (the Seleucids), but their grasp on the vast territories was weak administratively, although they did introduce a vital Hellenistic culture, mingling Greek with Persian elements. Media Atropatene (see AzerbaijanAzerbaijan
, Iran. Azarbayejan, region, c.34,280 sq mi (88,785 sq km), NW Iran, divided into the provinces of East Azerbaijan (1996 pop. 3,325,540), West Azerbaijan (1996 pop. 2,496,320), and Ardabil (1996 pop. 1,168,011).
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) was never really under Seleucid rule. The rulers of Bactria from the beginning were at least quasi-independent and in the middle of the 3d cent. revolted and established absolute independence.

At the same time ParthiaParthia
, ancient country of Asia, SE of the Caspian Sea. In its narrowest limits it consisted of a mountainous region intersected with fertile valleys, lying S of Hyrcania and corresponding roughly to the modern Iranian province of Khorasan.
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 under the leadership of the Arsacids (see under ArsacesArsaces
, fl. 250 B.C., founder of the Parthian dynasty of the Arsacids, which ruled Persia from c.250 B.C. to A.D. 226. Arsaces led a successful revolt against Antiochus II of Syria, when Antiochus was engaged in war with Egypt and trying to put down a revolt in Bactria.
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) cast off Seleucid rule and established a Parthian empire as a sort of successor to the old Persian Empire. Although even under the greatest of the Parthians (TiridatesTiridates
, d. 211 B.C., king of Parthia (c.248–211 B.C.), 2d ruler of the Arsacid dynasty (see under Arsaces). He absorbed Hyrcania and, with the ruler of Bactria, successfully resisted the attacks of Seleucus II of Syria.
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, Mithradates I, and Mithradates II) the realm did not have the old extent, it was formidable and was a rival to RomeRome,
Ital. Roma, city (1991 pop. 2,775,250), capital of Italy and see of the pope, whose residence, Vatican City, is a sovereign state within the city of Rome. Rome is also the capital of Latium, a region of central Italy, and of Rome prov.
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. The Romans in almost continuous warfare failed to halt the Parthian drives to the west, which were often supported by local ambitious or frightened rulers under Rome. Only in the 2d cent. A.D. did the Parthian rule begin to wane.

The Sassanid Dynasty

The Parthians were replaced (c.A.D. 226) by the more vigorous SassanidSassanid,
, or Sassanian
, last dynasty of native rulers to reign in Persia before the Arab conquest. The period of their dominion extended from c.A.D. 224, when the Parthians were overthrown and the capital, Ctesiphon, was taken, until c.
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 dynasty, when Ardashir IArdashir I
[another form of Artaxerxes], d. 240, king of Persia (226?–240). He overthrew the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV, entered Ctesiphon, and reunited Persia out of the confusion of Seleucid decline.
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 (whose name is another form of Artaxerxes) ousted and killed the last Parthian ruler and built a new empire out of the ruins of Parthian and Seleucid power. The Sassanids were the true heirs of the Achaemenids. Ardashir IArdashir I
[another form of Artaxerxes], d. 240, king of Persia (226?–240). He overthrew the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV, entered Ctesiphon, and reunited Persia out of the confusion of Seleucid decline.
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, Shapur IShapur I
or Sapor I
, d.272, king of Persia (241–72), son and successor of Ardashir I, of the Sassanid, or Sassanian, dynasty. He was an able warrior king.
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, and Shapur IIShapur II
or Sapor II,
310–79, king of Persia (310–79), of the Sassanid, or Sassanian, dynasty. He was the posthumous son of Hormuz II and therefore was born king. His long reign was marked by great military success.
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 all were strong kings, able and successful opponents of the Romans. CtesiphonCtesiphon
, ruined ancient city, 20 mi (32 km) SE of Baghdad, Iraq, on the left bank of the Tigris opposite Seleucia and at the mouth of the Diyala River. After 129 B.C. it was the winter residence of the Parthian kings. Ctesiphon grew rapidly and was of renowned splendor.
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 became the center of a magnificent state that persisted while the Roman Empire was whittled away. The Byzantines were unable to match them. Khosrow IKhosrow I
(Khosrow Anüshirvan) , d. 579, king of Persia (531–79), greatest of the Sassanid, or Sassanian, monarchs. He is also known as Chosroes I or Khosru I. He succeeded his father, Kavadh I, but before becoming king, Khosrow was responsible for a great massacre (c.
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 in the 6th cent. invaded Syria, and under Khosrow IIKhosrow II
(Khosrow Parviz) , d. 628, king of Persia of the Sassanid, or Sassanian, dynasty; grandson of Khosrow I. He is also called Chosroes II or Khosru II. He succeeded his father Hormizd, or Hormoz, in 590, but he was opposed by the usurper Bahram Chubin, and forced to flee
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 (whose affairs were linked with those of the Byzantines) the Sassanid court was legendary in its splendor. Ctesiphon and FiruzabadFiruzabad
, town (1991 pop. 43,424), Fars prov., S Iran, near Shiraz. The town has a noteworthy palace built (3d cent.) by Ardashir I; it is a large rectangular building, 180 ft (55 m) wide and 300 ft (91 m) long.
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 were magnificent cities, the administration of the empire was efficient, the productivity of the cities was remarkable, and the art in metalwork, in architecture, in sculpture, and in textiles was superb.

Persia developed as a strong centralized state, based on a revived Zoroastrian religion and a class society. Shortly after the death of Khosrow II, however, the old Sassanid power toppled. Invading Arabs succeeded in taking Ctesiphon in 637. Islam replaced Zoroastrianism, and the caliphate made Persia a part of a larger pattern, from which later was to emerge modern Iran.


See E. E. Herzfeld, Archaeological History of Persia (1935); G. G. Cameron, History of Early Iran (1936, repr. 1969); P. S. R. Payne, The Splendor of Persia (1957); A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (2d ed. 1969); R. Girshman et al., Persia, the Immortal Kingdom (1971); and M. W. Shuster, The Strangling of Persia (1912, repr. 1987).

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References in classic literature ?
Her father had given her the best masters in philosophy, medicine, history and the fine arts, and besides all this, her beauty excelled that of any girl in the kingdom of Persia.
I was now alone in a most remote part of the world, for I was near three thousand leagues by sea farther off from England than I was at my island; only, it is true, I might travel here by land over the Great Mogul's country to Surat, might go from thence to Bassora by sea, up the Gulf of Persia, and take the way of the caravans, over the desert of Arabia, to Aleppo and Scanderoon; from thence by sea again to Italy, and so overland into France.
Of course, he had to leave the Sultan's service for the same reasons that made him fly from Persia: he knew too much.
It was well said by Themistocles, to the king of Persia, That speech was like cloth of Arras, opened and put abroad; whereby the imagery doth appear in figure; whereas in thoughts they lie but as in packs.
To see a camel train laden with the spices of Arabia and the rare fabrics of Persia come marching through the narrow alleys of the bazaar, among porters with their burdens, money-changers, lamp-merchants, Al-naschars in the glassware business, portly cross-legged Turks smoking the famous narghili; and the crowds drifting to and fro in the fanciful costumes of the East, is a genuine revelation of the Orient.
I shall never forget the night he came down as the Char of Persia, I think he called it--a sort of Eastern King it was.
Lawrence wore that fine black beard in the chest upstairs, when he was Shah of Persia?"
From the early days of its existence, the East India Company sought a secure base, known as a factory, from which to conduct trade with Persia. In 1763, it established Bushire, a base which would provide some continuity to its operations on the northeast coast of the Gulf, which during the eighteenth century developed into the most important port in Persia.
Faced with imminent war against Persia, King Croesus wanted to know which of the known seers and oracles of his time was the best.
MBC Group will launch MBC Persia -- a family entertainment channel catering for the Farsi-speaking community in the MENA region on 6 October 2018 on Yahsat.
The Parsis were originally from Persia; the term 'Parsee' sprouts from 'Persian' in Gujarati.