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Middle East Kingdoms

Persia and the East

 

 

 

Hyrcania / Verkâna

The ancient province of Hyrcania (sometimes shown as Hyrkania) was situated along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, in what is now north-eastern Iran. It stretched deep into territory to the east of that, abutting Aria and then Bactria. Margiana lay to the north-east, and Parthia to the south. Prior to its late sixth century BC domination by the Achaemenid Persians, Hyrcania may have provided the main route to the west for Indo-Iranian tribes which were migrating from Transoxiana, the region around the River Oxus (the Amu Darya).

The Persian satrapy of Verkâna was mangled into Hyrcania by the Greeks.

(Additional information from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, from Empire of Gold: Foundations, Jo Amdahl, from The Civilisation of the East, Fritz Hommel (Translated by J H Loewe, Elibron Classic Series, 2005), from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

c.1000 - 900 BC

The Parsua begin to enter Iran, probably by crossing the Iranian plateau to the north of the great central deserts (through Hyrcania, probably skirting to the north of neighbouring Parthia) but also by working round to the south of the deserts. Already separated during their journey, Parsua groups head in two main directions. In time the northern groups find themselves in the Zagros Mountains alongside their cousins, the Mannaeans and Medians. They are attested there during the ninth and eighth centuries but disappear afterwards. The southern groups, perhaps more numerous, trickle in through Drangiana and Carmania, towards southern Iran and begin to settle there.

Located in the Fārs region of Iran, these Parsua come under the overlordship of their once-powerful western neighbour, the kingdom of Elam. In the later stages of Persian settlement, Assyria and Media also claim some control over the region. As Elam's influence weakens, the Persians begin to assert their own authority in the region, although they remain subjugated by more powerful neighbours for quite some time.

c.843 BC

The Parsua receive their first mention in history. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, records their existence on the Black Obelisk, which covers his campaign of about this year. Their position is not precisely fixed but 'Pasua' seems to lay in what is now Iranian Kurdistan (immediately east of Kurdistan in northern Iraq), far to the north of Persis and the heart of Persian settlement. They also occupy territory which stretches back into the east, seemingly along the Great Khorasan Road which follows the southern edge of the Elburz Mountains on the south coast of the Caspian Sea (largely within the later province of Hyrcania).

c.620 BC

The Medians (possibly) take control of Persia from the weakening Assyrians who themselves had only recently taken control of the region from Elam. According to Herodotus, Media governs all of the tribes of the Iranian steppe. This sudden empire may well include territory to the east which covers Hyrcania, Parthia, Drangiana, and Carmania.

c.546 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus the Great with a wave of conquests, beginning in the west from 549 BC but focussing towards the east of the Persians from about 546 BC. Eastern Iran falls during a more drawn-out campaign between about 546-540 BC, which may be when Maka is taken (presumed to be the southern coastal strip of the Arabian Sea). Further eastern regions now fall, namely Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, Carmania, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Gandhara, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Margiana, Parthia, Saka (at least part of the broad tribal lands of the Sakas), Sogdiana (with Ferghana), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse.

Index of Persian SatrapiesPersian Satraps of Verkâna (Hyrcania)

Conquered by Cyrus the Great, the region of Hyrcania was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was the north-easternmost part of the Median empire. Under the Persians, it was formed into an official satrapy or province which was called Verkâna (or Warkana - Hyrcania is a Greek mangling of the name). The neighbouring main satrapy of Parthawa covered a territory that was described in two ways: 'Parthawa and Verkâna' or simply just 'Parthawa' on its own. It follows from this that Verkâna (Hyrcania) was subsumed within Parthawa, from a description which has the Chorasmians living to the east of the Parthians (recorded by Athenaios). Administratively Verkâna belonged to Parthawa, most probably as a minor satrapy. In Seleucid times, Strabo notes that the two provinces were still assessed together for taxation purposes.

These eastern regions of the new-found empire were ancestral homelands for the Persians. They formed the Indo-Iranian melting pot from which the Parsua had migrated west in the first place to reach Persis. There would have been no language barriers for Cyrus' forces and few cultural differences. Although details of his conquests are relatively poor, he seemingly experienced few problems in uniting the various tribes under his governance. He was the first to exert any form of imperial control here, although his campaign may have been driven partially by a desire to recreate the semi-mythical kingdom of Turan in the land of Tūr, but now under Persian control. Curiously the Persians had little knowledge of what lay to the north of their eastern empire, with the result that Alexander the Great was less well-informed about the region than earlier Ionian settlers on the Black Sea coast had been.

The capital of the province was Zadracarta. The province enclosed the south-eastern corner of the Caspian Sea on both sides of the Gorgān-rud. In the north it reached the Oxus, which is to be identified with the modern day distributary of the Uzboy. From there the border may have run south-east alongside the northern slopes of the Kopet Dagh mountains and further eastwards to meet the border with Mergu. Only the south-western part of the Verkânian border with Parthawa can be determined more exactly. Between the Elburz and the Caspian Sea the province stretched to the border of Media Minor.

(Additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: Concomitant Replacement of Language and mtDNA in South Caspian Populations of Iran (Science Direct), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Deipnosophists, Athenaeus (C D Yonge, Ed).)

549 BC

Artasyras

Former satrap for Astyages of Media. Replaced by Cyrus.

549 BC

Cyrus ends the vassalage of the Parsua by defeating the Medes during the course of a four year war between 553-549 BC. The braver Parsua sometimes have to yield to the superior numbers of the Medes and eventually have to concentrate their women and children on the mountain of Pasargadai, where they are besieged by the Medes. Cyrus is victorious, seemingly after the Medes mutiny against their king and hand him over to the Parsua. Apparently, according to ancient writers, the defeated Astyages is subsequently granted the position of satrap of Verkâna, replacing his own appointee, Artasyras.

549 - ? BC

Artasyras

Former king of Media. Appointed by Cyrus.

? BC

Megabernes

Grandson of Astyages.

521 BC

Upon the execution of the Persian usurper, Smerdis, the Cyaxarid, Fravartiš, tries to restore Median independence. He is defeated by Persian generals and is executed. Embedded into the report on the rebellion of the Fravartiš in Media is confirmation that Armina belongs to the 'Great Satrapy Media', as suggested by Xenophon and documented by the Behistun inscription. The same happens in Parthawa and Verkâna whose inhabitants, as Darius the Great reports, had also joined Fravartiš. The quashing of the insurrections from Armina to Parthawa is chronologically coordinated in Persian records and occurs between May and June 521 BC. Another major rebellion in Mergu happens towards the end of 522 or 521 BC.

479 - 465 BC

Xerxes apparently adds two new regions to the Persian empire during his reign, neither of which are very descriptive or clear in their location. The first is Daha, from 'daai' or 'daae', meaning 'men', perhaps in the sense of brigands. Daha or Dahae would appear to be the region on the eastern flank of the Caspian Sea, bordered by the Saka Tigraxauda to the north, and the satrapies of Mergu, Uwarazmiy, and Verkâna to the north-east, south-east, and south respectively. It contains a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii.

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus the Hyrcanian kills Xerxes in collusion with the eunuch of the bedside and subsequently takes control of the Persian empire, ostensibly as a regent for Xerxes' three sons. Artabanus has the murder pinned on the eldest of these, Darius, and has him killed by the youngest son, Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes accedes to the throne before Artabanus attempts to murder him too. In the end, it is Artabanus who dies, but Artaxerxes is forced to defeat the second of Xerxes' sons, Hystaspes, satrap of Bakhtrish and his own brother. This brief civil war is ended when Artaxerxes defeats the forces of Hystaspes in battle during a sandstorm.

446 BC

Artaxerxes appoints Nehemiah, his Jewish cup-bearer, as the governor of Judea. With the king fully supporting him, there can be no open opposition to Persian control of this fractious region. At some point after his accession, he also appoints his own (illegitimate) son, Ochus, as satrap of Verkâna.

c.450? - 423 BC

Ochus / Okhos (Darius II)

Son of Artaxerxes I of Persia.

424 - 423 BC

After forty-five days on the throne, Xerxes II is murdered in his bed after a drinking session by Sogdianus. Another claimant for the throne is Ochus, who is married to Xerxes' half-sister, Parysatis. She may be able to call upon considerable followers from her considerable estates in Babylonia, and the couple are joined by the satrap of Mudrāya and the commander of the household cavalry in their resistance against Sogdianus. Six and-a-half months after usurping the throne, Sogdianus has to surrender to the forces being led by Ochus. He is put to death, while Ochus ascends the throne as Darius II.

423 - ? BC

?

Replacement for Ochus.

360s/350s BC

Artaxerxes II is occupied fighting the 'revolt of the satraps' in the western part of the empire. Nothing is known of events in the eastern half of the Persian empire at this time, but no word of unrest is mentioned by Greek writers, however briefly. Given the newsworthiness for Greeks of any rebellion against the Persian king, this should be enough to show that the east remains solidly behind the king. It seems that all of the empire's troubles hinge on the Greeks during this period.

330/329 BC

The victorious Greeks have taken Babylonia and now enter Verkâna. General Craterus is sent by Alexander to subdue the Tapurians. Otherwise known as the Tabari or Mazanderani people, they are an Indo-Iranian group occupying territory in modern Tabiristan in northern Iran, hugging the southern Caspian Sea coast. Following DNA sampling of the modern Tabari population, their origins would seem to be as a South Caucasian people who have incorporated Iranian women over several centuries, which has seen them converted to Iranian speakers.

Index of Greek SatrapsIndex of Greek SatrapiesArgead Dynasty in Hyrcania

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-328 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC. Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and during the course of several wars, Hyrcania was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 312 BC.

Conquered by Cyrus the Great, the region of Parthawa covered a territory that was described in two ways: 'Parthia and Hyrcania' or simply just 'Parthia' on its own. It follows from this that Hyrcania was subsumed within Parthia, from a description which has the Chorasmians living to the east of the Parthians (recorded by Athenaios). Administratively Hyrcania belonged to Parthia, most probably as a minor satrapy. In Seleucid times, Strabo notes that the two provinces were still assessed together for taxation purposes.

(Additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Deipnosophists, Athenaeus (C D Yonge, Ed).)

330 - 323 BC

Alexander III the Great

King of Macedonia. Conquered Persia.

323 - 317 BC

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander the Great.

317 - 310 BC

Alexander IV of Macedonia

Infant son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

323 - 320? BC

Phrataphernes

Greek satrap of Parthia & Hyrcania.

320s BC

At this time the Indo-Scythians appear to reside midway between modern Iran and India, or at least the Amyrgian subset or tribe does. Achaemenid records identify two main divisions of 'Sakas' (an altered form of 'Scythians', these being the Saka Haumavarga and Saka Tigraxauda, with the latter inhabiting territory between Hyrcania and Chorasmia in modern Turkmenistan.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Sakas (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Indo-Scythians) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time

308 - 301 BC

The Fourth War of the Diadochi soon breaks out. In 306 BC Antigonus proclaims himself king, so the following year the other generals do the same in their domains. Polyperchon, otherwise quiet in his stronghold in the Peloponnese, dies in 303 BC and Cassander of Macedonia claims his territory. The war ends in the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. Seleucus is now king of all Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards, turning Alexander the Great's eastern empire into the Seleucid empire, which includes Hyrcania.

Index of Greek SatrapsIndex of Greek SatrapiesMacedonian Hyrcania

The Greek general, Seleucus, fought a number of wars as the empire fragmented in order to secure his own hold on power. In 312 BC he regained Babylon from the Empire of Antigonus and safely held it while Antigonus tried to retrieve it (until 309 BC). After that Seleucus was able to expand his holdings with some ruthlessness, building up his stock of Alexander's far eastern regions as far as the borders of India and the River Indus. Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of these regions, which included Arabia, Arachosia, Armenia, Bactria, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia (as it was known) by 301 BC, Cilicia (eventually), Hyrcania, Mesopotamia, Paropamisadae, Parthia, Persia, Sogdiana, and Tapouria (a small satrapy beyond Hyrcania), plus eastern areas of Phrygia.

The final of these wars was the Fourth War of the Diadochi ('successors', these being Alexander's generals), which followed the murder of Alexander IV and helped to set Seleucus' own borders. When Antigonus proclaimed himself king in 306 BC, all the other surviving generals followed suite, confirming the dismantling of the empire into various regional domains. The stage was set for the final showdown at the Battle of Ipsus, which left Antigonus and Lysimachus defeated and the Seleucid empire virtually unchallenged between Anatolia and Central Asia.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Revised Chronology for the Late Seleucids at Antioch, O Hoover, and from External Links: University of Leicester, and Listverse, and Virtual Religion: Into His Own, and Encyclopædia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History.)

216 - 213 BC

Now strong enough to face his rebellious cousin, Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire is able to march his forces into western Anatolia. By 214 BC Achaeus has been driven back to Sardis where he is captured and executed. The citadel itself is able to hold out until 213 BC under Achaeus' widow Laodice. Central Anatolia has been recovered but several regional dynasties persist in Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Pergamum. Rather than try his hand against these, Antiochus concentrates on the northern and eastern provinces of the empire. Xerxes of Armenia is persuaded to acknowledge his supremacy in 212 BC, while in 209 BC Antiochus invades Parthia. Its capital, Hecatompylos, is occupied and Antiochus forces his way into Hyrcania, with the result that the Parthian king, Arsaces II, is forced to sue for peace.

209 - 206 BC

Seleucid ruler Antiochus III invades Parthia. Its capital, Hecatompylos, is occupied and Antiochus forces his way into Hyrcania, with the result that the Parthian king, Arsaces II, is forced to sue for peace. Buoyed by his successes in the east, Antiochus continues on to Bactria. This independent former satrapy is now ruled by Euthydemus Theos after he has deposed the son of the original ruler. Euthydemus is defeated at the Battle of the Arius but resists a two-year siege of the fortified capital, Bactra. In 206 BC Antiochus marches across the Hindu Kush.

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse, while around the northern and eastern borders dwelt various tribes that would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Tocharians (click on map to show full sized)

Persian Province of Khorasan
AD 1495 - 1795

From the sixteenth century, the former Saffarid emirate at Seistan generally formed part of an eastern province of Persia. The province continued to be referred to as Khorasan even though it had formed only a small part of the greater emirate of Khorasan. It frequently also provided a bolt-hole for the defeated participants in various Persian civil wars. It allowed them to control the eastern border and still claim to form part of a valid dynasty which could vie for control of the whole of Persia. Seistan was located in the south-east of the province (now a little way inside the Afghan border), while the rival city of Mashhad dominated the north.

In the first half of the eighteenth century the Turkic Afshar tribe of the province of Khorasan produced a warlord by the name of Nadir Kuli. He quickly rose to power and formed his own short-lived Afsharid dynasty in Iran. His successors were nowhere near a match for his abilities, and they soon ended their days carving out a small Khorasanian state in the east. They were allowed to get on with it by their replacements in Persia, the Zands, but were soon annexed to the new Afghan empire. In 1795, while Afghanistan was in turmoil, Khorasan was annexed back to Persia by Qajar Shah Agha Mohammad.

As mentioned, ownership of the province of Khorasan was batted back and forth between various rulers and empires in this period. To try and reflect this in the list below, dominating rulers of neighbouring empires are shown in grey, while local rulers who claim independence or who rule Khorasan in opposition to those empires are shown normally.

(Additional information by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, from Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, Carsten Niebuhr, 1792, from First Light, Al Khalifa, from the History of Torbat-e-Heydariye, Mohammad Qaneii, The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, Michael Axworthy (I B Tauris Language, 2006), The Cambridge History of Iran, William Bayne Fisher, P Avery, G R G Hambly, & C Melville (Cambridge University Press), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

1736 - 1747

Nadir Shah / Nader Kuli

Afsharid shah of Iran. Assassinated.

1738 - 1740

Nadir Shah marches his army through Afghanistan in 1738, destroying the ruling Hotaki dynasty at Kandahar and capturing that city along with Ghazni, Kandahar, Kabul, and Lahore. Alongside him is his vassal, the future King Erekle II of Kakhetia, and a contingent of Georgian troops. The following year Nadir loots Delhi, heart of the Moghul empire, humiliating the emperor, looting his treasures and causing the empire to fragment into a loose association of states. In 1740 he occupies the khanate of Khiva, reducing it to the status of a dependency during this period. Bukhara is also forced to submit.

Nadir Shah
Nadir Shah rose spectacularly from his early life as the son of a maker of sheepskin coats to the leading general and then ruler of the Persian empire, although he showed little compassion towards the poor people who formed part of his origins

1745

Khiva remains a troubled state. Now Persia's General Ali Kuli goes on the offensive, defeating the Turkmen yomuts in battle close to Old Urgench, these being the main supporters of the rebel khan. Abu al-Ghazi remains the figurehead for the rebels but Ali Kuli appoints Ghaib as the 'official' khan. He is the son Batir or Batyr Khan of the Kazakh Lesser Horde and, with the support of the Uzbek Karakalpak, he is also a rival to Nurali, son of Abu l-Khayr, for control of the horde.

1747

Increasing paranoia has blighted Nadir's later years. His blinding of courtiers who had witnessed his hasty and regretted decision to blind his son, Reza Qoli Mirza, for his supposed part in the attempted assassination of 1741 seems to have set him on a downward spiral. Now Nadir Shah is assassinated.

In the east, his former general, Ahmad Shah Abdali, is appointed king by loya Jirga and establishes the Durrani empire in Afghanistan. In addition, Iran appears to lose direct control of Bahrain from this point, with Nasr Al-Madhkur, governor of Bushire (Bushehr) and Bahrain exercising semi-independent control of the island. The territories in the Caucuses break away as independent khanates, whilst the Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti also reclaim their independence under the energetic Erekle II.

1747

Adel Shah

Afsharid shah of Iran. Blinded and executed.

1748

Ebrahim

Afsharid shah of Iran. Captured and died.

1748

In October 1748, Shah Rukh is freed from prison by members of the army. Ebrahim is quickly defeated and later dies in captivity. The unfortunate Adel Shah is also put to death. Shah Rukh governs a reduced empire and is briefly threatened in 1750 by a Safavid rival called Solayman II. Much of the Afsharid action is now focussed on eastern Iran, around the province of Khorasan.

1748 - 1750

Shah Rukh / Shahrokh

Afsharid shah of Iran. In Khorasan 1750 & 1755-1796.

1750 - 1751

In alliance with 'Ali-Mardān Khan Baḵtiāri, Karim Khan of the Zand tribe captures Esfahan (Isfahan) in opposition to the ruling Afsharids. There he installs a Safavid puppet ruler, Shah Esmail III (the son of a court official and his wife, the daughter of Safavid Shah Hosayn I), and the two allies initially rule central Persia together in the name of their puppet.

Blinded by Solayman II, Shah Rukh is largely pushed towards the east and the province Khorasan which now forms Persia's eastern boundary territory. In 1751 Karim Khan defeats a bid for sole control by his former ally and then pacifies most of western and central Persia from the Caspian littoral and Azerbaijan to Kerman and Lār. He rules from Shiraz as the Zand regent for Esmail III, while the Afsharids are left to command what they can in the east. Unfortunately for them, eastern Khorasan is now disputed territory with the Afghan Durranis. It is soon annexed to the new Afghan empire.

1750

Solayman II

Safavid claimant. In Mashhad (northern Khorasan).

1750

Mir Sayyed Mohammed

Afsharid ruler. In Khorasan.

1755 - 1796

Shah Rukh / Shahrokh

Afsharid ruler. In Khorasan. Tortured and killed.

1795 - 1796

Qajar ruler of Iran, Agha Mohammad, invades Durrani-controlled Khorasan and annexes it back to Iran (the Zands having let it go after 1750). in the same year, he mounts a campaign to re-strengthen Persian positions in Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. He also launches a devastating attack on Georgia which sees Tiblisi destroyed and from which the kingdom never recovers. In 1796 he tortures and kills Shah Rukh in his attempt to find the treasure of Nadir Shah.

Mullahs meet the shah
In a painting that exhibits a markedly Qajari style, visiting mullahs are entertained by the shah himself (on the far right)

1796 - 1803

Nader Mirza

Son and 'crown prince of Khorasan'. In Mashhad.

1797 - 1803

Following the death of the Qajar ruler of Iran, Agha Mohammad, Nader Mirza is actually appointed governor of Khorasan. Unfortunately, he is keen on restoring the Afsharid dynasty to its control of all of Iran. A revolt in 1802 is a complete disaster. Nader is captured, imprisoned in Tehran, blinded, has his tongue cut out, and finally is killed in 1803. Two of his sons are also killed while the other three are blinded. One other son is able to flee to Hyderabad. After this Khorasan loses whatever pretences of semi-independence it may still have. It remains a subject region of Iran.