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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Persia and the East


IndexPersia / Parsua (Indo-Iranians)
Incorporating the Daoi, Derousiaioi, Dropikoi, Maraphioi, Mardoi, Maspioi, Panthialaioi, & Pasargadoi

The Persians (or Parsu, Parsua, Parsuash, or Parsumash, all of which gave the modern Fārs its name) were a late grouping of Indo-Europeans. They migrated into what is now Iran from the late second millennium BC Indo-Iranian melting pot to the south of the River Oxus. They settled to the east of ancient Elam during the period of instability and migration which occurred throughout the Near East between 1200-900 BC. During this same period other tribal groups such as the Aramaeans and the Sea Peoples were causing chaos further west.

Despite occasional theories which have them descending from the Caucasus, the Persians were clearly of Indo-Iranian stock, an Indo-European grouping which formed in Central Asia, somewhere between modern Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. This origin has some support in the similarity of names towards the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, and the resemblance noted between Old Persian and Sogdian languages. Between about 1000-700 BC they drifted into Iran from the east alongside other similar groups which included the Alani, Mannaeans, and Medians, probably via Sogdiana and Transoxiana. Their heritage would make them descendants of Indo-Europeans who had bordered and integrated themselves into the Bronze Age culture known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. This had emerged between roughly 2200-1700 BC, and was almost certainly subject to a slow 'invasion' of Indo-European tribes in much the same way as the Pelasgians of Greece were gradually infiltrated and superseded by the Mycenaeans.

The semi-mythical early Persian 'kings' seem to rule their cousins in Central Asian regions to the south-east of the Caspian Sea, and with pretensions to go even further east. In fact, one of the names given by the Thiruvalangadu copperplate grant of the Chola family in India, Aryaman (shortly after around 1000 BC), is the source of the name 'Iran' itself. This particular Aryaman was not the one responsible for that, but either another (Persian) Indo-Iranian who also bore the name did just that, or the word originates in the name which the Indo-Iranians had for themselves: Aryans. 'Arya' meant the 'civilised' or 'respectable' (although the tainted 'Aryan' term has been replaced by modern scholars with the more accurate 'Indo-Aryan'). This rather elitist naming was presumably a reaction to the apparently barbarous people they encountered, although as a probable extension of its original meaning - the word could be seen as the verb 'to be', used as a noun instead of a verb.

The early Persians were better known by the civilisations of the west as Parsua. Seemingly arriving in multiple groups, some of them initially spread into the Zagros Mountains alongside the Medians, before these groups were expelled or absorbed by their more numerous Median cousins. A large group also began to settle in southern Iran, in an area to the immediate east of the kingdom of Elam which became known as Persis. The capital of the Parsua until 559 BC was Pasargadae in Fārs, in the heartland of ancient Persis. Increasing dominance in the sixth century BC saw them move that capital to the former Elamite capital at Susa. In effect, they were Elam's successors, inheriting its language and culture but infusing it with a good deal of their own.

The Parsua which were settling in southern Iran consisted of ten 'clans' (gene). Noted later by Herodotus (and therefore given with the Greek forms of their names alone), these ten clans existed around the mid-sixth century, when the Parsua were fighting to end Median vassalage. The three clans which turned up to aid Cyrus were the Maraphioi, Maspioi, and Pasargadoi, the latter being the noblest of all and the clan which included the Achaemenids themselves. The other clans were dependant upon these three. Four of those were nomadic pastoralists, the Daoi, Mardoi (with a bad reputation as predatory folk), Dropikoi, and Sagartioi (who seem to have had a tribal homeland in Drangiana). Two of those are known from other sources.

The final three clans were sedentary cultivators, the Germanioi (clearly meaning Carmanians), Panthialaioi, and Derousiaioi. With the Sagartioi residing in Drangiana, the Germanioi in Carmania, and the remaining Parsua in Persis, a clear migratory path into Iran can be discerned. A basic study of Iran from the Roman itineraries by Tomaschek noted Pantyene/Pathienas as the first station (at sixty parasangs, 322 kilometres, two hundred miles) on the route from Persepolis to the Ichthyophagi (on the Persian Gulf coastline). He convincingly fixed it at Sirjan on the western border of the modern Kerman Province. If Pathienas can be equated with the Panthialaioi then it would place another of the clans pretty far to the east of Persis, settling down along the migration route from Central Asia.

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Jo Amdahl and Edward Dawson, from Empire of Gold: Foundations, Jo Amdahl, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from Central Asia: A Historical Overview, Edward A Allworth (Duke University Press, 1994), from The Paths of History, I M Diakonoff (Cambridge University Press, 1999), from Islamic Reference Desk, Emeri 'van' Donzel (Brill Academic Publishers, 1994), from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia, Trevor Bryce, from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Zur historischen Topographie von Persien. II. Die Wege durch die Persische Wüste, Wilhelm Tomaschek (1885), from Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Marjolijn van Zutphen, from A History of the Ancient Near East c.3000-323 BC, Marc van der Mieroop (Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 2007), from The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume III, The Assyrian Empire, J B Bury (Ed, Cambridge at the University Press, London, England, 1925), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Iranians & Turanians in the Avesta, and The Cities of the Medes (full text), Mordechai Cogan & Israel Eph'al (Eds, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem).)

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 where they begin to settle.

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 Parsua settlement, Assyria and Media also claim some control over the region. As Elam's influence weakens, the Parsua begin to assert their own authority in the region, although they remain subjugated by more powerful neighbours for quite some time.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - was used as a demarcation border throughout history - it was also a hub of activity in prehistoric times, providing a home to the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation

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).

It may be the case that there are two (or perhaps even three) distinctive groups of 'Parsua' at this time, primarily in the Zagros Mountains to the east and south-east of the Assyrians. This is apart from a larger body which is settling the land immediately to the east of Elam (and focussed around the city of Persis). Those groups in the Zagros seem to drop out of the historical record towards the end of the eighth century BC (after 714 BC), perhaps pushed south by the greater numbers of the Medes or absorbed by them.

8th cent BC

Later myth ascribes a dynasty of rulers to this period, as described in the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a poetic opus which is written about AD 1000 but which accesses older works and perhaps elements of an oral tradition. The Kayanian dynasty of kings are also the heroes of the Avesta, which forms the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. This faith itself is founded along the banks of the River Oxus, which probably also forms part of the migratory route used by the Indo-European Parsua as they enter Iran.

Proto-Indo-European spiral city
Professor Gennady Zdanovich has recently (2010) made fresh discoveries on the modern Kazakhstan steppe of Bronze Age 'spiral' cities which exhibit many signs of having been built and used by Indo-Europeans, around 2000 BC

The earliest of these rulers is Fereydun, king of a 'word empire' which is apparently centred on the land of Tūr. This can be equated to territory in the heartland of Indo-Iranian southern Central Asia and South Asia, focused mainly on the later provinces of Bactria and Margiana, along with the Kopet Dag region, the Atrek valley, and the eastern Alborz Mountains. This would appear to place it on the northern border of another ancient region, that of Ariana.

Fereydun becomes the father of Tūr, Salm, and Iraj. A descendant of the first of these (possibly a seven-times grandson) is Afrasaib, who still rules the kingdom of Turan during the lifetime of Kai Kavoos of the seventh century (see below).

Fereydun / Faridun / Fareidun

Ruled a 'world empire'. Abdicated in favour of Manuchehr.


Son. Gifted Iran. Killed by his brother, Tūr of Turan.


Grandson. First of the legendary kings or shahs of Iran.

Thanks to the murder of Iraj by Tūr and Salm, the Parsua retaliate under the command of Iraj's grandson, Manuchehr. One of the leading warriors under his command may be Garshāsp (possibly also known as Karšāsp), a figure of the Shahnameh or Shahnama, the Book of Kings and a possible descendant of the mythical Indo-Iranian King Jamshid. Tūr and Salm cross the Oxus to face Manuchehr's army on the border between Iran and Turan. The ensuing battle results in heavy casualties for the Turanians, and Tūr is later ambushed and beheaded. Salm is later captured and also beheaded.

Map of Central Asia & India c.700 BC
Following the climate-change-induced collapse of indigenous civilisations and cultures in Iran and Central Asia between about 2200-1700 BC, Indo-Iranian groups gradually migrated southwards to form two regions - Tūr (yellow) and Ariana (white), with westward migrants forming the early Parsua kingdom (lime green), and Indo-Aryans entering India (green) (click or tap on map to view full sized)

744 BC

The Medes to the west of the Gizilbunda Mountains (part of the Zagros range) have enjoyed a respite in the past few years. Now a new Assyrian advance begins when the king invades Parsuai and turns it into an Assyrian province (also known as Nikur, after its capital). This refers to Parsua, but not those of southern Iran. This is one of the northern groups which had settled in the Zagros Mountains. Nikur may not be too far to the west from the later city of Ecbatana.

Possibly in the same year the Assyrians make a raid farther to the east, reaching Arazias, and a Median fortress called Zakruti. Tiglath-Pileser demands that in the whole country of the mighty Medes as far as Mount Bikni (possibly Mount Demavend close to modern Tehran), the 'lords of townships' should pay him regular tribute of nine metric tons of lapis lazuli and fifteen tons of bronze artefacts, an impossible order to fulfil.


Son and early king. Killed by Afrasiab of Turan.

Kai Kobad / Kei Qobád / Kai Kawād

Kayanian dynasty founder who united the Aryan tribes.

According to tradition, probably largely oral until it was written down in the eleventh century AD, Kai ('king') Kobad lives in the Alborz Mountains, a range which stretches from the borders of modern Armenia, across northern Iran to the border between modern Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. This seems to support the evidence of a Persian migration from farther north and east, and may be used to show that they have not yet fully settled in Persis itself.

Gonur Tepe in Margiana
Ancient Merv, the capital of Persian and Greek Merv/Margiana (now in Turkmenistan), was eventually abandoned just like its even more ancient forebear shown here, Gonur Tepe (Gonordepe), which was a major city of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex until the River Murghab changed its course to leave it high and dry (click or tap on image to view full sized)

Kai Kavoos / Kay Kāvus

Mythical early Persian king.

The wife of Kai Kavoos, Sudabeh, attempts to persuade his son, Sijavus, to betray the king in return for sex, but Sijavus refuses and goes into voluntary exile in the 'land of Tur' in Sogdiana. His son, Kai Khosrow, is chosen by Kai Kavoos as his successor as leader of the Parsua.

Kai Khosrow

Son of Sijavus. Later king of Parsua. Reigned about 60 years.

Kai Lohrāsp / Lohrasb / Luarsab

Chosen successor of Kai Khosrow. Killed by Arǰāsp.

Kai Garshasp / Goshtasp / Vishtaspa

Same as the early patron and supporter of Zoroaster?

Kai Garshasp's name comes in multiple variations, including Goštāsp, Goshtasp, Vishtaspa, Vishtāspa (with the more authentic accented 'a'), and Wishtaspa. He has been equated with Vishtāspa of Aryana Vaejah, an early Indo-Iranian ruler who is a staunch supporter of Zoroaster.

That support fixes him relatively firmly to the first half of the sixth century BC. Alternative options are that two rulers with the same name in succeeding centuries are being confused, either by the early scripts or by later historians and scholars. Garshasp is the father of Esfandīār (Esfandiyar) who not only repels Arǰāsp of Turan, but also captures and mutilates him before releasing him.

Kai Bahman / Wahman

Son of Esfandiyar and grandson of Garshasp.

The Bahamani sultanate of the fourteenth century AD, which is located on the Deccan plateau in central India, claims descent from Kai Bahman. Thanks to this supposed connection, they maintain a keen interest in Persian affairs and culture.

Gulbarga Fort
Gulbarga Fort, stronghold of the Bahamani sultans who claimed descent from Kai Bahman of the Parsua, who went on to form the Achaemenid empire in ancient Persia

692/691 BC

Khumma-Menanu of Elam king leads a coalition of states against Assyrian king Sennacherib at the Battle of Halule on the Tigris. With him is Babylon, the minor kingdom of Ellipi (roughly located in Luristan, to the immediate west of Elam), and the kingdom of Anshan which seems able to be able to call on the Parsua or Parsuash (Persians). Anshan has often - but not always - been part of Elam itself, but it may be ruled by a subsidiary line at this time. The location of the battle suggests a march by the allies towards the heart of Assyrian-dominated territory. The outcome is not decisive, and does not prevent Sennacherib from devastating Babylon, although it does protect Elam itself.

Kai Darab / Dara


675 BC

At a time which may fit in with the last of the Kayanian kings, the Parsua begin to unite under the (legendary) founder of their new dynasty. Many scholars of Persian history now believe that Achaemenes is a fictional common ancestor who is used to legitimise the rule of Darius I from 521 BC. Darius goes so far as to install inscriptions on the unfinished palace of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae which reads 'I am Cyrus, the king, the Achaemenid.'

No record of Achaemenes (Haxāmaniš in Old Persian, usually rendered in English as Hakhamanish) can be dated earlier than the reign of Darius I, and there is no indication of how Achaemenes may be related to the earlier, semi-mythical Parsua leaders. Nonetheless, the name 'Achaemenid' has been commonly accepted for the line of Persian kings beginning with Darius I, and Achaemenes is commonly accepted as leading the Parsua to their new home in Persis, ending their slow migration across Iran. Some sources use the term Achaemenid to refer to the entire line of early Persian rulers, including both Cyrus and Cambyses (600 BC).

Ruins of Kabnak (Haft Tepe)
The lands of Elam had long been a battleground when fending off more powerful empires from the west: in the second millennium BC, several hundred people were massacred in the city of Kabnak, for archaeologists to find in 2014-2015, although the circumstances surrounding the massacre are unknown

c.675 - 640 BC

Achaemenes (Haxāmaniš)

'King of Anshan'. Vassal of the Medes.

644 BC

Neo-Elamite Period III begins as Elam is devastated by Assyria, although not as badly as had previously been believed from inscriptions left by the Assyrians themselves. The populace suffers greatly, but they are not massacred. Instead, the fragmented and weakened Elamites rule an increasingly shrinking domain which eventually passes into the hands of the Parsua. They gain Anshan (Anzan) even while the last seventh century Elamite kings are still claiming it within their title, possibly as a result of the Assyrian attack on the Elamites in this year as it ties in with Achaemenes of the Parsua being acclaimed as the king of Anshan.

With the accession of Achaemenes as leader of the Parsua, seemingly without a link to the previous ruling dynasty, the Kayanians, the accession becomes somewhat confused. Achaemenes is thought to complete the Parsua migration into Persis, so perhaps the Kayanians have been left behind in the east, looking after their gains in Turan.

The main line of descent from this point, via Teispes, Cambyses I, Cyrus II, and Cambyses II, is laid down by Babylonian scribes on the Cyrus cylinder of 539/538 BC. Darius I, from 521 BC, complicates matters with his Behistun inscription.

He claims a line of descent from Teispes via Ariaramnes, Arsames (both shown below), and Hystaspes (a satrap of Parthawa). Ariaramnes and Arsames have been assumed to be a junior (cadet) line of the royal house, although their spans would seem to be rather long for the age in which they live. Darius claims that both Hystaspes and Arsames are alive when he becomes king. Whilst this is possible for Hystaspes, could he be speaking figuratively in terms of Arsames? If he is indeed alive, he would be very old indeed, possibly approaching a hundred.

Whilst Babylon was not perhaps at this time the great city it once had been and would again be, it was still one of the biggest, most heavily-populated centres of population in the ancient world of the early first millennium (click or tap on image to view full sized)

? BC

Teispes (Chishpish)

Son. King of Parsua (Anshan). Vassal of the Medes.

c.640 - 600 BC

Cyrus I (Kurush of Parsua)

Son. King of Parsua (Anshan). Vassal of the Medes.

fl c.620s BC

Ariaramnes (Ariyaramna)

Brother. Also king, perhaps a sub-king?

Ariaramnes is generally assumed to be the brother of Cyrus I. He becomes the father of Arsames, who becomes the father of Pharnaces, whose son Artabazus becomes the first satrap of Phrygia. The other son of Arsames is Hystaspes, satrap of Parthawa, who is the father of Darius the Great according to Darius' own Behistun inscription.

c.620 BC

The Medes (possibly) take control of Parsua (Persis) 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.600 - 559 BC

Cambyses (Kambuzya of Anshan) I

Son of Cyrus. King of Parsua (Anshan). Last Median vassal.

fl c.570s BC

Arsames (Arshama)

Son of Ariaramnes. Also king, perhaps a sub-king?

559 - 549 BC

Before this date, Cambyses has married Mandane, (a) daughter of Astyages of Media. Their son is Cyrus, later known as 'the Great', while Mandane is also the niece of Amyhia, queen of Babylon. The truth of this apparent dynastic connection with the Medes has long been doubted, although there is no real reason to doubt general familial connections between the Indo-Iranian Medes and Parsua.

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

Cyrus, now king himself, ends the vassalage of the Parsua, or Persians, 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. With Cyrus now king of the Parsua and Medes, he swiftly creates a great empire.

Achaemenid Persia (Persian Empire)
559 - 330 BC
Incorporating the Great Satraps of Pārsa/Persis (with Ūja)

Cyrus the Great built the Achaemenid empire from its small beginnings in south-western Iran by taking over the so-called Median empire (which, if it actually existed, probably stretched far back towards the east of modern Iran). His son consolidated those gains and extended them into Egypt. A later, equally successful ruler by the name of Darius I is thought in some circles to have been a usurper of the Persian throne, or at least an opportunistic claimant. He provides a link, though, to the titular founder of the dynasty. Many scholars of Achaemenid history now believe that the eponymous Achaemenes was a fictional common ancestor who was used to legitimise Darius' rule. Darius went so far as to install inscriptions on the unfinished palace of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae which read 'I am Cyrus, the king, the Achaemenid'. No record of Achaemenes can be dated earlier than to the reign of Darius I. Nonetheless, the name 'Achaemenid' has been commonly accepted for the line of Persian kings that begins with Darius I. Some sources use the term to refer to the entire line of early Persian rulers, including both Cyrus and Cambyses. 'Achaemenid' is the Latin version of the original Old Persian Haxāmaniš, but this is rarely used in modern texts.

During his empire-building phase, Cyrus mounted a campaign to the east of Persis and the former Median territories, marching through much of South Asia outside of India and also the southern areas of Central Asia. These were his ancestral homelands, the Indo-Iranian melting pot from which the Parsua had migrated in the first place to reach Persis. There would have been minimal language barriers for his 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, beyond the mighty Syr Darya (known to the Greeks as the Jaxartes), with the result that Alexander the Great was less well-informed about the region than had been earlier Ionian settlers on the Black Sea coast.

Each Achaemenid ruler is usually known by the Greek or Latin form of his name simply because it was the Greeks who best recorded this history, and then the Romans inherited this work and enlarged upon it. For reasons of accuracy and completion, the original Persian versions are included in parenthesis. One of the very first acts of Cyrus the Great was to move the Persian capital to the former Elamite capital of Susa. In the later Behistun inscription of Darius the Great this land is known as Uwja or Ūja, and was part of the 'Great Satrapy Pārsa/Persis', or rather Persis and Ūja were two 'main satrapies' which were governed together and from the same place.

In fact Persis itself was not a satrapy, although it is sometimes referred to as one. As the oldest and most senior province of the empire it was also the heartland of the Persian kingdom and stood above mere subservient satrapies. Those occupants of the senior post in the administration, people who would be termed satraps elsewhere, could probably be best described as chancellors or controller-generals (the former term is used here). The precise boundaries of Persis are somewhat anomalous and, confusingly perhaps, it didn't include under its direct administrative control the satrapy of Susa. Classical authors also provide the names of some of the chancellors of Persis (shown below), with an apparent capital at Pasargadae, scene of the Parsua victory over the Medes. Persis also oversaw the minor satrapy of Karmana to its east.

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Jo Amdahl and Edward Dawson, from Empire of Gold: Foundations, Jo Amdahl, from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, from A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, M A Dandamaev, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Nomadism in Iran: From Antiquity to the Modern Era, Daniel T Potts, from Ctesias' Persica in its Near Eastern Context, Matt Waters, from Alexander The Great: In the Realm of Evergetǽs, Reza Mehrafarin, from Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000 to 500 BC, John Haywood (Barnes & Noble, 2000), from The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC (Volumes I & II), Amélie Kuhrt (Routledge, 2000), from A History of the Ancient Near East c.3000-323 BC, Marc van der Mieroop (Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 2007), and from External Links: Zoroastrian Heritage, K E Eduljee, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Government of Syria under Alexander the Great, A B Bosworth (The Classical Quarterly Vol 24, No 1, May, 1974, pp 46-64, Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association (available at JSTOR)), and Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Richard T Hallock (Oriental Institute Publications at the University of Chicago, available for download as a PDF), and The Role of the Phoenician Kings at the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), Josette Elayi (Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol 126, No 3 (Jul-Sep 2006), pp 411-418, available via JSTOR), and An Updated Chronology of the Reigns of Phoenician Kings during the Persian Period (539-333 BC), Josette Elayi (Trans 32, 2007, available in English at DigitOrient).)

559 - 530 BC

Cyrus (Kurush) II the Great

Son of Cambyses I (Parsua). Created Achaemenid empire.

559 - 549 BC

FeatureA vigorous ruler (see feature link), one of Cyrus' very first acts in 559 BC is to move the Persian capital to the former Elamite capital, Susa. In the later Behistun inscription of Darius the Great this land is known as Uwja or Ūja, and is part of the 'Great Satrapy Pārsa/Persis'. Then, from 553 BC, he sets about releasing the Persians from vassalage. Herodotus tells the story of how the Medes lose control of the Persians when Cyrus rebels. In 550 BC (or 549 BC) Cyrus wins a decisive victory and Astyages of the Medes is captured by his own nobles and handed over.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargardae
The final resting place for Cyrus the Great, creator of the Achaemenid empire, was in this stone tomb at his imperial capital of Pasargardae (modern Fārs Province)

The sources conflict when it comes to explaining the precise relationship between Cyrus and Astyages. According to some, Cyrus is his son-in-law, while others state that he is his grandson and the legal heir of Media. The two versions are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Cyrus is Astyages' grandson through the latter's marriage to a Persian princess. In addition, Cyrus has also married his aunt, Astyages' daughter, Amyhia (not to be confused with his sister of the same name!), in order to cement his claim to the Median throne.

559 - ? BC

Sybares / Soebaris

First chancellor of Pārsa/Persis. Also in Susa?

559 BC

The Persian Sybares had been released from Median slavery by Cyrus the Great and subsequently becomes the king's companion in his undertakings. Now, at the beginning of the reign of Cyrus, he appoints Sybares to the position of chancellor of Persis. Given that Bagapāna around 500 BC seems to hold this same position while also governing Susa, it seems likely that Sybares fulfils the same role.

549 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus with a wave of conquests, beginning with Cilicia in 549 BC. Harpagus, a Median of the royal house and the main cause of Astyages' defeat, commands Cyrus' army in Anatolia, conquering it between 547-546 BC. Taken during this campaign are Armenia, Caria, Lycia, Lydia, Paphlagonia, Phrygia, and Tabal (Cappadocia), and Harpagus and his descendants reign thereafter in Karkâ (Caria) and Lykia (Lycia) (and apparently Khilakku too) as satraps. Harpagus also takes on the satrapy of Sparda following the death of its satrap.

Oxus Treasure chariot
The Oxus Treasure contains this Persian model of a Median war chariot, although it is only pulled by two horses rather than the customary four

Cyrus next moves his army to the Tigris, below Arbela (probably today's Erbil which lies a short way to the east of the modern flow of the Tigris), where he marches against the land of Lu-[?], and kills [?], its king, before taking booty, and setting up a garrison there. Unfortunately the name of the land is not quite legible. Various guesses have been taken, most of them improbable. One guess involves distant Lydia being the target, perhaps after an initial campaign which did not cross the River Halys. However, the location of Erbil on the western edge of the Zagros Mountains makes it possible that the people are the Lullubians who had an independent kingship in the late third millennium 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), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse.

The heartland of Sogdiana (or Sogdia) is also drawn into the empire where it is also named Huvarazmish in some Persian inscriptions. The neighbouring region of Ferghana, which gains a defensive fort or city of its own, is administered from the Sogdian capital, Marakand, and is not a separate province in itself. The fortress and town of Cyropolis is established in Ferghana to provide a defensive chain which will keep out the Massagetae to the north of the River Jaxartes (the Syr Darya).

Achaemenid palace decoration at Babylon
This Achaemenid (Persian empire) palace decoration stood in the city of Babylon and was transported to Berlin upon being rediscovered by archaeologists in the twentieth century

542 - 530 BC

Macedonia is taken in 542 BC, and Cyrus is virtually invited into Babylon (539 BC). This also gains him the remainder of Elam's territory, plus what become satrapies in Athura (Ashur, heartland of the former Assyrian empire), Syria, and Phoenicia and the Mediterranean coast are also captured (although the hold on Arabāya (Arabia) and Khilakku are somewhat tenuous at best). Typically the end of Cyrus' reign is spent in military activity in Central Asia where, according to Herodotus, he dies in battle in 530 BC fighting the Massagetae. The date is probably July or early August, as fast-travelling Persian couriers reach Babylonia with the news between 12-31 August.

530 - 522 BC

Cambyses (Kambujiya) II

Son. Invaded Egypt but failed to secure it.

525 - 522 BC

The Persians conquer Mudrāya (Egypt) in 525 BC, creating the 27th Dynasty (the Behistun inscription of Darius the Great uses the name Mudrāya). With a navy that has been bolstered with Phoenician vessels, they add Cyprus to the empire in the same year, along with a host of Greek islands which are known collectively to the Persians (as recorded on the Behistun inscription) as Yauna (Ionia to the Greeks).

However, it seems that the uncrowned Pharaoh Psamtik is not immediately captured. Instead he, or the bulk of his forces, seek refuge around the Dachla Oasis. Cambyses follows him with an army of 50,000 men and, according to Herodotus, the entire army disappears in the desert, presumably overcome by a sand storm (around 524 BC). A highly favourable modern theory is that this story is created by Cambyses' successor to mask an embarrassing defeat. In this theory, Psamtik manages to reconquer a large part of Egypt and is crowned pharaoh in the capital, Memphis. It is Darius I who ends the Egyptian 'revolt' with a good deal of bloodshed two years after Cambyses' defeat, in 522 BC (or 521 BC).

Painted wooden coffin for a man named Itineb
This painted wooden coffin was crafted for a man named Itineb who lived during the twenty-sixth dynasty or later, after 664 BC, around the period of the Persian invasion of the land

522 - 521 BC

Smerdis / Bardia / Bardiya

The usurper 'Gaumata' using a royal name. Killed by Darius.

522 BC

The usurper Gaumata takes control in Persis. Allegedly backed or used by the magi to gain control (or a magi himself), he is known by a host of names, including 'False Smerdis', Sphendadates, or Vahyazdâta. According to ancient sources, he may be a Mede who gains the throne by impersonating a member of the Achaemenid royal family, presumably the deceased Prince Smerdis, brother of Cambyses II. On the Behistun inscription of Darius the Great, the prince being impersonated is Bardiya (Old Persian), Pirtiya (Elamite), or Barziya (Akkadian).

As can be imagined, the story is very popular amongst the Greeks, and various other impostor names are circulated for Gaumata, including Mardos, Mergis, and Tanoxares. For a time he is powerful enough to appoint his own satrap to Harahuwatish (who immediately faces opposition from the current incumbent). All three of the oldest sources (Darius the Great, Herodotus, and Ctesias), agree that Gaumata and the magi are overthrown by Darius and his core supporters (normally seven of them) in a coup. However, no one knows whether Gaumata really is an impostor, or whether Darius labels him as one in order to justify seizing the throne himself.

521 - 485 BC

Darius (Darayavahush) I the Great

Son of Hystaspes in Parthawa. Created 27th dynasty ( Egypt).

521 BC

Immediately after Darius secures the throne he faces several rebellions. The first, in Babirush, is defeated in battle. The Cyaxarid, Fravartiš, tries to restore Media to independence and is defeated and executed. Extensions of the insurrection in Armina, Parthawa, and Verkâna are also crushed. Darius mentions that the revolt arises in Asagarta, which is the land of the Sargatians within the satrapy of Zranka.

The Sargatians are one of the ten clans of the Parsua, raising the possibility that it is some of Darius' own people who oppose him (and with not one but two rebellions, the second being under Ciçantaxma of the Sargatians). The 'false' satrap of Harahuwatish is defeated in battle, and another major rebellion, perhaps the last of them, arises in Mergu and is also swiftly put down. Darius must still campaign in Thatagush, however, and seems also to secure the entire region of Hindush.

Darius the Great of Persia
The central relief of the North Stairs of the Apadana in Persepolis, now in the Archaeological Museum in Tehran, shows Darius I (the Great) on his royal throne (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 International)

Thereafter, Darius takes great pains to legitimise his rule by installing an inscription at Pasargadae to record his 'descent' from the legendary founder of the Persian dynasty. He also regulates the system of control within the empire. Instead of a number of polities with different systems of rule, he creates a uniform structure of about twenty provinces (Herodotus lists these). These means merging several peoples into a single province. These are often called satrapies, after the Greek interpretation of the original Persian word for 'protecting the kingdom'.

By this time, the satrapies are as follows:

Arbelitis, Armina, Athura, Babirush, Bakhtrish (soon governed by one of Darius' brothers), Gadara (omitted from the Behistun inscription, possibly for reasons of symmetry), Gedrosia, Harahuwatish, Haraiva, Hindush, Karkâ, Karmana, Katpatuka, Khilakku, Lykia, Mada, Mergu, Mudrāya, Paphlagonia, Parthawa, Phrygia ('Greater' and Hellespontine), Pārsa/Persis (with Ūja), Sittacene, Sparda (with a necessary change of satrap required around 520 BC, and another of Darius' brothers there from 513 BC), Suguda, Susa, Thatagush, Uwarazmiy, Verkâna, and Zranka.

It is also Darius who is largely responsible for extending the satrapy of Mudrāya to include Cyrene, 'Put' (probably Punt, which is usually equated with Nubia), and Kush (also Nubia, but sometimes equated with Ethiopia, suggesting Nubia's southern regions which are usually centred around Meroë). It may be he too who adds Skudra to the empire.

516 - 515 BC

Darius embarks on a military campaign into the lands east of the empire. He marches through Haraiva and Bakhtrish, and then to Gadara and Taxila. By 515 BC he is conquering lands around the Indus Valley to incorporate into the new satrapy of Hindush before returning via Harahuwatish and Zranka. A subsequent cuneiform inscriptions set up by Darius lists the nations which comprise the Persian empire. They include three nations using Saka as a prefix to their names: Saka Haumavarga, Saka Tigrakhauda, and Saka Paradraya.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Sakas) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time - very similar people could be found in the Persian satrapies, such as Haraiva

513 - 512 BC

The Persians enter northern Greece, with Darius conquering Thrace south of the Danube. They hold onto it for about fifty years, possibly until they are forced out of Macedonia by Alexander I. This territory is subjoined as a minor satrapy to the great satrapy of Sparda. Colchis on the eastern shore of the Black Sea is taken during the same campaign and is created a minor satrapy under the oversight of Armina.

Darius' campaign against the Scythians proves to be an embarrassing failure, however. Various minor tyrants from Anatolia also take part, including Miltiades of Athens, tyrant of the Chersonese, and Histiaios, tyrant of Miletus. One bonus from the point of view of historians is the mention of various other, more northerly groups, such as the 'Scythian farmers' (proto-Slavs), and the Androphagi, Budini, Melanchlaeni, and Neuri.

fl c.500 BC


Chancellor of Pārsa/Persis? Also of Susa?

500 BC

Few of the Persis 'chancellors' are known to have been recorded, which seems strange as it is at the centre of the empire. The Persepolis Fortification Archive (or tablets) notes one Bagapāna who may fulfil the role around this time. The same otherwise unknown figure may also be satrap of Susa (the positions could even be combined at this point in time). At the same time, Darius oversees the completion of a canal connecting the Nile to the Red Sea.

499 - 493 BC

The Ionian Greeks of western Anatolia and the islands of the eastern Aegean who are under Persian hegemony now rise in the Ionian Revolt. The Carians join in and, with the Ionians being led by Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, they inflict heavy losses on the Persians. Similar revolts arise in Aeolis, Salamis, and Doris as the Greeks see a chance for freedom. Athens sends troops to aid the Ionian islands but the Persians gradually gain the upper hand and the revolt crumbles.

School of Athens by Rafael
The School of Athens by Italian Renaissance artist Rafael (1483-1520) represents philosophy by including such figures as Aristotle (centre, in sky blue) and Plato (centre, in purple and red)

The name - and perhaps the notion - of the province of Yauna (the Persian interpretation of Ionian) is perhaps quietly allowed to fade from Persian administrative documents. Yauna is not mentioned on the Egyptian lists of satrapies of the early 490s. However, Darius' tomb at Naksh-i Rustam lists twenty-nine subject lands or peoples, including a Yauna takabara ('bearing shields' on their heads, meaning 'sun-hatted'), plus the land (islands) of Yauna, and the Karkâ (Carians). Perhaps he is not quite so willing to forget Yauna as are his bureaucrats.

? - 497 BC

Pharnakes (Parnaka)

Son of Arshama. Darius' uncle? Chancellor of Pārsa/Persis.

Pharnaces (Pharnakes, or Old Persian Parnaka) is the father of Artabazus, satrap of Phrygia, and brother of Hystaspes, satrap of Parthawa and father of Darius the Great according to Darius' own Behistun inscription. In 521 BC, Darius had killed the usurper Gaumata (Smerdis) and had seized control of the Persian empire. Hystaspes and Pharnaces are the sons of Arsames (Arshama), son of Ariaramnes, son of Teispes, son of Achaemenes, founder of the Parsua dynasty in Persis.

Ariaramnes and Arsames have been assumed to be a junior (cadet) line of the royal house, although their spans would seem to be rather long for the age in which they live. Darius claims that both Hystaspes and Arsames are alive when he becomes king (as is Pharnaces). Whilst this is possible for Hystaspes, could he be speaking figuratively in terms of Arsames? If he is indeed alive, he would be very old indeed, possibly approaching a hundred.

490 BC

In response to the Athenian support of the Ionian Revolt, Darius the Great invades mainland Greece. Athens is sacked, but only after its citizens withdraw safely, and subsequently the Persian invaders are defeated by Athens and Plataea at the Battle of Marathon in August or September of the year. During this period, Callimachus and Miltiades are strategoi for Athens who lead the Greek defence.

The Athenian politician and general Themistocles (archon in 493-492 BC) helped build up the city's navy so that it was a force to be reckoned with when the Persians invaded Greece - thanks to this the Athenian Admiral Cimon was able to defeat the Persians on the banks of the River Eurymedon in Pamphylia in 465 BC

486 - 485 BC

All is not well in Mudrāya. Rebels from Nubia are a constant threat to caravans and barges, necessitating guards to be posted on the more important transports. In the autumn, Mudrāya revolts. The satrapy, previously happy with the rule of Darius, is far less so now in the twilight of his reign, with the burden of tribute and Persian exploitation seemingly increasing.

485 - 465 BC

Xerxes (Xshayarsha) I

Son of Darius. Murdered by Artabanus.

485 - 482 BC

With Darius dead at the end of 486 BC it falls to his son, Xerxes to deal with the situation in Mudrāya. Afterwards, Xerxes installs his brother, Achaemenes, as satrap. Two more revolts in Babirush are dealt with similarly, removing the title of kingdom from Babylonia and reducing it to a mere province.

465 BC


Son and heir. Murdered (by Artabanus?).

fl 480-70s BC


Chancellor of Pārsa/Persis.

480 - 479 BC

FeatureInvading Greece in 480 BC, the Persians subdue the Macedonians and the Thracian tribes (except for the Satrai, precursors to the Bessoi). Then the vast army of Xerxes makes its way southwards and is swiftly engaged by Athens and Sparta in the Vale of Tempe. The Persians are subsequently stymied at Thermopylae by a mixed force of Greeks - which includes Athenians, Corinthians, Helots, Mycenaeans, Thebans, and Thespians - led by Sparta under King Leonidas. (These events are depicted somewhat colourfully - but no less impressively for that - in the 2007 film, 300.) The Persian army is held up long enough for the Athenians to prepare their navy for a seaborne engagement with the Persian fleet.

Battle of Thermopylae
The Spartan stand at Thermopylae in 480 BC, along with some Greek allies, stopped the Persian advance in its tracks and provided a rallying call for the rest of the free Greek cities to oppose the Persians

Athens, as the leader of the coalition of city states known as the Delian League, fights the Persian navy at the battles of Artemisium and Salamis, the latter being a resounding Greek victory. Tetramnestus, son of Anysos of Sidon is present - along with Anysos himself, and other leading Phoenicians such as Mattan IV of Tyre and Merbalos of Arvad. It leaves much of the Persian navy destroyed and Xerxes is forced to retreat to Asia, leaving his army in Greece under Mardonius (with the naval battles being shown to superb graphic effect in the 2014 sequel film, 300: Rise of an Empire, although it does contain a great many historical inaccuracies).

As a reward for his support of Xerxes during the war, the exiled Demaratus of Sparta is granted a satrapy of his own in Pergamum, whilst Queen Artemisia I of Halicarnassus in Karkâ is sent to Ephesus to care for the sons of Xerxes. The following year, Mardonius meets the Greeks in a final battle. The Spartans, now at full strength, lead a pan-Greek army at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC which decisively defeats the Persians and ends the Greco-Persian War.

The Persian forces retreat back into Asia Minor, but Colchis has probably also been lost to them by now, along with the Persian fleet and Lykia. Subsequently, one of Xerxes' generals in the Greek campaign, Artabazus, grandson of Persian sub-king Arsames (see above) is made satrap of Phrygia.

479 - 465 BC

Xerxes apparently adds two new regions to the 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. With the latter, the 'x' in Xanthii has a 'ks' sound which is interchangeable with 'sk' in place of the 'x', possibly providing 'skanth'. The Xanthii may be a branch of the Sakas and Scythians.

Map of Scythian Lands around 500 BC
This map shows the Scythian lands at their greatest extent, and Persian efforts to contain and dominate them were largely fruitless (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureSome interchange has been found to exist between the letters 'h' and 's' in the Sanskrit Avesta and the Vedas. For example, in the Avesta, 'hepta hindu' is the 'sapta sindhu' of the Vedas, 'homa' in the Avesta is the 'soma' of the Vedas, and 'daha' is the 'dasas'. Other examples exist. Dasa or das in Sanskrit can also be found in Indo-Aryan texts such as Rigveda and Arthasastra (see feature link for a brief history) It usually means either 'enemy' or 'servant', which would gel with the sense given by the use of Dahae as the name of a conquered region. Keep in mind the fact that the 's' is not really an 's' just before it becomes an 'h'. The actual mutation pattern is: 's' < > 'sh' < > 'h'. This can be a shift in how it is spoken by a people, or it can result from how another people pronounce it.

The other new region is Akaufachiya, meaning 'mountain men', but whether it is in fact Xerxes or his father who conquers these regions (this is uncertain), they are not retained in the lists of subsequent Persian kings. The inference is that they have been lost, possibly as a result of Xerxes' defeat at the hands of the Greeks.

fl 460-50s BC


Chancellor of Pārsa/Persis.

469 - 468 BC

Athens attacks Persian strongholds in Karkâ as far as Phaselis on the border with Pamphylia. The response from Xerxes is to send an army under Pherendates to Pamphylia and a joint fleet from Khilakku and Phoenicia (rebuilt after the loss of the Persian fleet in 479 BC) under the command of Tithraustes, a bastard son of Xerxes. The new fleet is destroyed and captured, and the Persian army is utterly defeated.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his failure rate in battles, Xerxes is soon murdered along with his son and heir, Darius. Whether he is responsible or not, Xerxes' chief officer, Artabanus, takes control of the empire until he too is killed, this time by Artaxerxes I.

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus / Artabanos / Artapanos

Hyrcanian regent or usurper. Former chief officer of Xerxes I.

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus the Hyrcanian reputedly kills Xerxes (there seems to be some doubt) in collusion with the eunuch of the bedside and subsequently takes control of the 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.

Ancient Bactra/Balkh city walls
The landscape around the walls of the ancient city of Bactra, capital of Bakhtrish (shown here - now known as Balkh in northern Afghanistan, close to the border along the Amu Darya), was and still is very diverse, offering both challenges and rewards to any occupiers there

464 - 424 BC

Artaxerxes (Artaxshassa) I Longimanus

Son of Xerxes I.

460 - 454 BC

Satrap Achaemenes of Mudrāya is killed at the Battle of Pampremis in 460 or 459 BC. His opponents are Inarus (or Inaros), son of a Psamtik and leader of the Second Rebellion, and his Athenian allies. It is generally assumed that Psamtik is a member of the dispossessed Saite dynasty. The Greek threat is finally ended in 454 BC when Megabyzus, former satrap of Ebir-nāri, arrives with a fresh army. Inarus is hauled off to Susa where he is reported to be crucified.

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.

424 BC

Xerxes II

Son. Murdered.

424 BC

After forty-five days on the throne, Xerxes II is murdered in his bed by Sogdianus after a drinking session. Diodorus gives 'Sogdianos' as an alternative variation of the name, from which an Old Persian version of Sugdyana can be extrapolated.

424 - 423 BC

Sogdianus / Sekyndianos

Illegitimate brother. Usurper. Put to death.

424 - 423 BC

Another claimant for the throne is Ochus in Verkâna, who is married to Xerxes' half-sister, Parysatis. She may be able to call upon considerable followers from her considerable estates in Babirush, 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 - 404 BC

Darius II

Illegitimate brother. Last 27th Egyptian Dynasty ruler.

c.417 BC

A few years after securing the throne (and probably after 417 BC) Darius II has to contend with a revolt by his full brother, Arsites. The driving force here is Artyphios, son of Megabyzus, possible successor to his father as satrap in Ebir-nāri. Darius suffers two reverses before he is finally able to put down the revolt by seducing the Greek mercenaries of Artyphios. Both rebel leaders are put to death.

Another (undated) problem is Teritoukhames (tentatively placed as satrap of Zranka). Ctesias reports the plot by Teritoukhames to rid himself of his unwanted royal wife so that he can marry his own sister, Rhoxane. Darius has Teritoukhames attacked and killed and Darius' queen, Parysatis, takes violent action against the rest of Teritoukhames' family. There appear to be no survivors other than Stateira, wife of Arsakes (eventually to be Artaxerxes II). Many years later, Parysatis also arranges her death.

Darius II
Two sides of a drachm showing Darius II which was actually issued much later - in the first century BC by the Parthian kings of Iran - and which shows Darius in a Parthian-style tiara adorned with a crescent

411 - 409 BC

The Cypriot city state of Salamis breaks away from Persian control under the leadership of Evagoras. He quickly unifies the entire island and rules it in its entirety. Two years later a Median rebellion against Darius II is less successful, being very short-lived.

404 BC

Amenirdisu, a descendant of the pharaohs of the Twenty-Sixth dynasty in Mudrāya, seems to have been fighting a guerrilla war against the Persians from as early as 411 BC. Now, with the death of Darius II, Egypt is fully liberated from Persian rule by Amenirdisu, who becomes the first (and only) Twenty-Eighth dynasty pharaoh.

404 - 359 BC

Artaxerxes II Mnemon

Son. Probably died of old age (at 86 or 94).

401 - 395 BC

Cyrus, satrap of Asia Minor, attempts to revolt, mobilising an army and ten thousand Greek mercenaries to attack his brother. Artaxerxes mobilises his forces, including a naval fleet that is assembled in part by the king of Sidon. Defeat leads to the death of Cyrus in October 401 BC at the Battle of Cunaxa. Along with his wife, Epyaxa, the client king of Khilakku, Syennesis, has supported the rebel army of Cyrus, primarily to protect his own lands from looting. Now his position may be untenable. Khilakku is reorganised as a formal satrapy within about a decade and its native kings are either removed or entirely sidelined, not to be mentioned again. The 'Ten Thousand' Greeks make their way home via Eastern Armina, Western Armina (where they skirmish against the untrustworthy satrap, Tiribazos), and the Black Sea coast.

In 395 BC, Artaxerxes of the good memory ('mnemon') initially backs the Greek city states of Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos against Sparta in the Corinthian War. The Spartan military system is in sharp decline in this period, so that the state's fighting force is nowhere near as effective as it had been at Thermopylae.

Presumably also during this period, Mitradates opposes the royal court and also his own father and attempts to establish independent rule of the city of Zaris (Zarin). This is assumed to be within the satrapy of Zranka. The prevailing chaos in the Persian court and the great distance between it and Zaris allows the rebellion to establish itself for a short time, forming an independent Achaemenid state.

Artaxerxes II of Persia
Artaxerxes II of Persia is immortalised in relief at the entry to his tomb in Persepolis, having survived a reign which began with a series of revolts and included war against the troublesome Greeks (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 2.0 Generic)

391 - 381 BC

Persia regains control of Salamis in 381 BC after ten years of effort, but Salamis continues to be governed by its would-be independent king, Evagoras, now as client king, apparently ruling the entire island. He also governs the Phoenician city of Tyre.

387 BC

Lykia's membership of the Athenian League of which it has been part since 468 BC is now, in effect, cancelled. The Athenians are usually good at ensuring that member states are unable to secede by establishing the stipulation in the treaty, but on this occasion they seem to have forgotten that particular point. The region once again accepts Persian control.

385 BC

The Kadousioi to the north-east of Media have been in revolt for about thirty years, and Artaxerxes II decides to take to the field in person to resolve the problem. The campaign is a fiasco, but the retreat shows the king in his best light, as a leader of his men, fighting for their survival and mindful of their care. Satrap Camissares of Khilakku is killed during the campaign.

367 - 358 BC

Ariobarzanus, satrap of Phrygia, joins Datames, satrap of Khilakku and Katpatuka, in revolt against Artaxerxes II. Autophradates, satrap of Sparda, is ordered to suppress the rebellion and he manages to expel Ariobarzanes from the greater part of his satrapy. In 365 BC, Athens sends thirty ships and 8,000 mercenaries to aid Ariobarzanus. He rewards Athens with the gift of Sestos and Crithote, cities on the Thracian Chersonesus.

In 364 BC, Mithridates (sometimes shown as Mehrdad), a son of Ariobarzanus, occupies Heracleia, the most important Greek city on the Black Sea coast. Soon all of Asia Minor (Anatolia) revolts against Artaxerxes II and, in 362 BC, even Autophradates is driven to join the rebels. At the same time, the patience of the redoubtable Tiribazos with the king has run out. He conspires with Darius, the crown prince, to remove Artaxerxes II but the plot is discovered. Darius is executed and Tiribazos goes down fighting. Sparta, and also Takhôs, pharaoh of Egypt, send substantial help to the rebels. Two years later, in 360 BC, Ariobarzanes is betrayed by his son, Mithridates, and is executed. In 359-358 BC the satrapal revolt is finally suppressed (although Abdashtart of Sidon chooses this period to launch a rebellion of his own in alliance with Egypt).

Archers of the Royal Guard of Darious
These archers of Darius' Royal Guard were on display in the Hall of Artaxerxes II, whose continued efforts to break a long-running rebellion against him involved attempts to re-invade Egypt

c.362 BC


Son and heir. Conspired to rebel. Executed.

359 - 338 BC

Artaxerxes III Ochus

Brother. Bloodthirsty killer of his rivals. Murdered.

358 BC

The Phoenician subject city of Sidon rebels against seemingly weak Persian rule. The rebellion is crushed in the same year and the city razed, partially thanks to its ruler taking fright at the Persian response and betraying his own city (a stray Babylonian tablet speaks of the arrival in Babirush (Babylon) and Susa in late 345 BC of Sidonian captives and women for the palace). A replacement king has to rebuild it, but the city loses its regional pre-eminence.

351 - 350 BC

Very shortly after his accession as dynastic satrap of Karkâ, Idrieus is required to assemble troops for an invasion of Cyprus. Once again the Cypriot king has rebelled against Persian authority. Despite not quite having the iron nerve of his late brother, Idrieus and an Athenian general work together to stifle the uprising.

On the tail of various rebellions in the past decade, there is also an attempt in Athura in 350 BC to re-establish Assyria, although it ends in failure and the castration of four hundred Assyrian leaders as punishment by its Persian rulers.

343 BC

Artaxerxes re-conquers Egypt, after one or more campaigns which at least in part have been all-but catastrophic in their ineptness. Even this second Persian occupation of the country is short-lived. The next campaign finally sees the Kadousioi brought to heel after decades of being in revolt.

By this time there exists near Persis a minor satrapy called Elymais. Containing the territory of the 'Uxians of the Mountains', it is autonomous, subordinate to an indigenous 'prefect'. Despite the acknowledgement of autonomy the (probably) Indo-Iranian inhabitants are obliged to perform military service for the satrap of the superior main satrapy of Persis. It does seem to suggest, however, that the Achaemenids are beginning to lose their grip on power if an autonomous tribal area can exist in their own back yard.

The Persian Gates
The Persian Gate presented a formidable obstacle for any large army attempting to force its way through (as it would do even today) so in 331 BC Alexander was forced to go around and attack the defenders from behind

338 - 336 BC

Artaxerxes IV Arses (Arsha)

Son, and puppet of Bagoas. Killed by Bagoas.

336 BC

Artaxerxes IV plots to kill his father's vicious regicide, the new power behind the throne, Bagoas. However, Bagoas detects his plot and murders him instead. Artashata, son of Arsames and otherwise known as Kodomannos, is a former satrap of Armina who had already been promoted to the position of royal courier. Now he is offered the chance by Bagoas to succeed his uncle as king. Forewarned of Bagoas' intention to kill him and remove another rival, he turns the tables and forces Bagoas to drink from a poisoned cup. Then he ascends the throne as Darius III.

His epithet, Kodomannos (often shown as Codomannus), would appear to be made up of two Indo-Aryan elements, 'kodo-' and 'man', plus the Greek nominative suffix '-os'. It seems that the Persians are still using the Indo-Aryan nominative suffix '-as/-az' at this point. Of those elements, 'man' literally means what it says. The 'kodo-' part is less certain, but may be related to Sanskrit 'kodya', meaning 'of the people', which would make him Artashata, man of the people.

336 - 330 BC

Darius III Codomannus

Nephew. Murdered by Bessus, satrap of Bakhtrish.

334 - 331 BC

In 334 BC Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. The first battle is fought on the River Graneikos (Granicus), eighty kilometres to the east. The Persians are defeated, forcing Satrap Arsites of Daskyleion to commit suicide. Sparda surrenders but Karkâ's satrap holds out in the fortress of Halicarnassus with the Persian General Memnon. The fortress is blockaded and Alexander moves on to fight the Lykian mountain folk during the winter when they cannot take refuge in those mountains.

The campaigning season of 333 BC sees Darius III and Alexander miss each other on the plain of Cilicia and instead fight the Battle of Issos on the coast. Darius flees when the battle's outcome hangs in the balance, gifting the Greeks Khilakku and Katpatuka, although pockets of Persian resistance remain in parts of Anatolia. Armina is bypassed during the next move by Alexander, suggesting that it has already capitulated.

Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia (principally Byblos and Sidon, with Tyre holding out until it can be taken by force). Athura, Gaza, and Egypt also capitulate (not without a struggle in Gaza's case). Now, in 331 BC, he is ready for the expected confrontation with Darius III in the heartland of Persian territory.

Alexander the Great crosses the River Graneikos
Alexander the Great crossed the River Graneikos (or Granicus) in 334 BC to spark a direct face-off with the Persians which had been brewing for generations, and his victory in battle near the river sent shockwaves through the Persian empire

? - 331 BC


Son of Artabazus II of Phrygia. Chancellor of Pārsa/Persis.

331 BC

The name 'Ariobarzanes' is the Greek form of the Old Iranian original, *Ārya-bṛzāna-, perhaps signifying 'exalting the Aryans'. (See the introduction for Aria for a detailed exploration of this root.)

At the Battle of Gaugamela (thought to be in northern Iraq), Ariobarzanes leads some Persian units, perhaps two thousand men in total, with the concentration of these being in the centre. They take heavy casualties, but Ariobarzanes is able to leave the battlefield with his king. Darius flees eastwards and the defence of each province is left to its satrap. Alexander seizes Babirush and Susa and, having gathered intelligence on Persis, he sets out with a picked force of 17,000 men for Persepolis.

Seeing that the Macedonian army is unbeatable on the plain, Ariobarzanes blocks its path on the way to Persepolis in a gorge known as the Persian Gate or Susian Gate in order to deprive it of battle formation, diverse arms, and superior numbers. The first Greek attack is a failure, so Alexander handsomely bribes some prisoners to lead him around the defensive line and attack the Persian camp from behind. The Persians are defeated in ferocious hand-to-hand fighting and Ariobarzanes falls. The Uxians are similarly dispatched at the Battle of the Uxian Defile.

330 - 329 BC

Artaxerxes V (Bessus)

Claimed the throne after killing Darius, but failed to hold it.

331 - 330 BC

Persia has been conquered by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great. The eastern province of Bakhtrish is used as the base for resistance by Bessus after he murders Darius III. As well as being the region's former satrap, he now styles himself Artaxerxes V, king of Asia, and it takes Alexander two more years to fully conquer the region.

Argead Dynasty in Persis

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, the heartland of Persia at Persis was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 305 BC.

Under the Persians, Persis had not been satrapy, although it is sometimes referred to as one. As the oldest and most senior province of the empire it was also the heartland of the Persian kingdom and stood above mere subservient satrapies. Those occupants of the senior post in the administration, people who would be termed satraps elsewhere, could probably be best described as chancellors or controller-generals (the former term is used here). The precise boundaries of Persis are somewhat anomalous and, confusingly perhaps, it didn't include under its direct administrative control the satrapy of Susa. The capital was apparently at Pasargadae, scene of the Parsua victory over the Medes. Persis also oversaw the minor satrapy of Karmana to its east so presumably this remained the case in the Argead period.

Alexander the Great

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Alexander the Great: A Reader, Ian Worthington (Routledge, 2012), from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Volume II, Marcus Junianus Justinus, from the Cyropaedia & Anabasis, Xenophon of Athens, from Brill's Companion to Alexander the Great, Joseph Roisman (BRILL, 2002), and from External Links: Some Thoughts in Neo-Elamite Chronology, Jan Tavernier (PDF), and A Brief History of Ancient Greece (Oxford University Press), and A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed, 1867), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org.)

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.

330 - c.325 BC


Satrap of Persis. Died before Alexander's return from India.

331 BC

Following the defeat of Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela, Abulites opens the gates of Susa to Alexander the Great, sending his son, Oxathres, ahead as the messenger of good news. Abulites is retained in his post as satrap of Susiana (the Greek form of the name), and Oxathres is attached to him as satrap of the junior post Paraetacene. In Persis, Phrasaortes is appointed satrap.

Map of Central Asia &amp; Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
The route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns are shown in this map, with them leading him from Europe to Egypt, into Persia, and across the vastness of eastern Iran as far as the Pamir mountain range (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.325 - 324 BC


Satrap of Persis. Executed by Alexander.

324 BC

Upon his return from the farthest eastern reaches of his empire, Alexander finds that his satrap of Persis, Phrasaortes, has died in the interval. He has been replaced by Oxines, but without referring to Alexander for approval, presumably in an attempt to restore some degree of Persian control in the region. Alexander has Oxines executed and appoints the trusty Peucestas to the position.

In the same year, Alexander holds an event in Susiana which has become known as the 'Susa Weddings'. His intention is to unite Persians and Macedonians symbolically by carrying out a mass joining of prospective couples in a single ceremony. He takes a Persian wife himself and arranges many Persian wives for his officers. Persian custom allows multiple wives, so the fact that Alexander is already married to Roxana of Sogdiana is not a hindrance. His second wife is Stateira II, eldest daughter of the late Darius. Alexander may also have taken a third wife at the same ceremony, Parysatis, youngest daughter of Artaxerxes III (the late great-uncle of Darius and a former Persian king in his own right).

Susa Weddings
This late nineteenth century engraving depicts a vision of the 'Susa Weddings', with Stateira seated next to Alexander and several other newlywed officers filling the rest of the scene (gravure reproduction of a painting by Andreas Muller, Munich)

323 BC

Following Alexander's premature death, Roxana murders Stateira, and possibly her sister, primarily to remove competition in the succession. All of the surviving Macedonian officers also divorce their own Persian wives, ending any pretence at Macedonian-Persian unity.

323 - 315 BC


Greek satrap of Persis. Removed by Antigonus.

320 BC

A new agreement with Antipater in 320 BC makes him regent of the Macedonian empire and commander of the European section. The Antigonids see their eponymous ruler remain in charge of Lycia and Pamphylia, to which is added Lycaonia, Syria and Phoenicia, making Antigonus commander of the Asian section. Ptolemy retains Egypt, Lysimachus retains (Greater) Phrygia and Thrace, while the three murderers of Perdiccas - Seleucus, Peithon, and Antigenes - are given the former Persian provinces of Babylonia, Media, and Susiana respectively. Arrhidaeus, the former regent, receives Hellespontine Phrygia.

319 - 315 BC

The death of Antipater leads to the Second War of the Diadochi. Philip III is killed by his stepmother, Olympias, in 317 BC with her being killed by Cassander the following year. Cassander also captures Alexander IV and Roxana and installs a governor in Athens, subsuming its democratic system. Eumenes is defeated in Asia and murdered by his own troops, and Seleucus is forced to flee Babylon (and therefore also Persis) by Antigonus.

Peucestas is considered to be unreliable and relatively worthless by Antigonus, at least partially for withdrawing his troops and leaving Eumenes to be defeated. He is removed in virtual captivity from his post, although Antigonus does make use of him in future campaigns. Persis, though, appears to be diminished in Greek eyes. It seemingly plays no major part in the subsequent wars, and no immediate satraps are known.

Coin depicting Antigonus Monophthalmus
Shown here are both sides of a silver coin bearing the ANT monogram as a handy way of determining the fact that it was minted by Antigonus during his period as an independent king who was contesting control of Alexander the Great's former empire

The result of the latest round of fighting is that Cassander controls the European territories (including Macedonia), while the Antigonids control those in Asia (Asia Minor, centred on Lycia and extending as far as Susiana). Polyperchon remains in control of part of the Peloponnese.

315 -312 BC


Unknown Greek satrap of Persis for Antigonus.

314 - 311 BC

The Third War of the Diadochi results because the Antigonids have grown too powerful in the eyes of the other generals, so Antigonus is attacked by Ptolemy (of Egypt), Lysimachus (of Phrygia and Thrace), Cassander (of Macedonia), and Seleucus (who is hoping to regain Babylonia). The latter indeed does secure Babylon and the others conclude peace terms with Antigonus in 311 BC. Antigonus' appointment as satrap of Media, Nicanor, is removed from his post by Seleucus, and it seems likely that the same happens in northern Mesopotamia.

312 -301 BC


Unknown Greek satrap(s) of Persis for Seleucus.

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 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, and the Seleucid empire is created.

Macedonian Persis

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 Antigonids 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 (Sindh). Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of these regions, which included Arabia, Arachosia, Aria, Armenia, Bactria, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia (as it was known) by 301 BC, Carmania, Cilicia (eventually), Drangiana, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Media, Mesopotamia, Paropamisadae, Parthia, Persis, 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 suit, 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.

Second century BC Greeks in internecine strife

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Alexander the Great: A Reader, Ian Worthington (Routledge, 2012), from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Volume II, Marcus Junianus Justinus, from the Cyropaedia & Anabasis, Xenophon of Athens, from Brill's Companion to Alexander the Great, Joseph Roisman (BRILL, 2002), and from External Links: Some Thoughts in Neo-Elamite Chronology, Jan Tavernier (PDF), and A Brief History of Ancient Greece (Oxford University Press), and A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed, 1867), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org.)

256 BC

Andragoras, the Greek satrap of Parthia, declares independence from Seleucid Greek rule at the same time as Bactria.

? - 220 BC


Seleucid satrap of Persis. Brother of Molon of Media.

223 - 221 BC

Antiochus III sets about rebuilding the Seleucid empire which is shown to be very weak at this time. Media and Persis immediately stage a joint rebellion in 223 BC under their satraps, the brothers Molon and Alexander. Ill-advised in the matter, Antiochus sends generals east to deal with them while he embarks on a farcical attack on Egypt to regain lost territory in the south. Both campaigns end in utter defeat. In the north, Achaeus, Antiochus' cousin, records the only immediate success by forcing Pergamon back to its original borders.

Antiochus deals personally with the eastern rebellion in 221 BC. It collapses in the face of his advance, with Molon's forces deserting him. Lesser Media under another rebel, Artabazanes, also buckles and Atropatene in north-western Media is captured.

206 - 205 BC

Seleucid ruler Antiochus III returns from his expedition into the eastern regions by passing through the provinces of Arachosia, Drangiana, and Carmania. He arrives in Persis in 205 BC and receives tribute of five hundred talents of silver from the citizens of Gerrha, a mercantile state on the east coast of the Persian Gulf. Having re-established a strong Seleucid presence in the east which includes an array of vassal states, Antiochus now adopts the ancient Achaemenid title of 'great king', which the Greeks copy by referring to him as 'Basileus Megas'.

164 BC

The Arsacids have been gradually extending their control over the eastern lands of former Persia, and Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV now campaigns against them. He recovers lost income from the region and forces the defector, Artaxias of Armenia, to recognise his suzerainty. Then he founds the city of Antioch on the Persian Gulf, sets out on an expedition to the Arabian coast and, at the end of 164 BC, dies of illness at Tabae (or Gabae, probably modern Isfahan) in Persis.

c.AD 213 - 216

After perhaps five-or-so years of relative peace Parthian king Vologeses has to fight his younger brother, Artabanus in yet another royal rebellion. In AD 216, Rome's Emperor Caracalla asks Artabanus for the hand of his daughter in marriage, in itself clear evidence of the fact that the latter is then regarded as being the ruling monarch, even though the coinage of Vologeses continues to appear in Seleucia until at least 221/2. It would seem that Vologeses is ousted from the heartland of Parthian territory by his brother, but is still strong enough to secure a rival kingdom at Seleucia.

The fractured Parthian empire is breaking down now. With the claim to rule it already dividing the empire in two on official lines, other minor kingdoms have already started emerging or will soon do so. For the moment they probably acknowledge Parthian overlordship in name, but essentially they are probably all but independent states in their own right. At least two are known - Margiana (ruled by one Ardashir) and Persis (ruled by one Papak of the Sassanids).

Sassanid Persia (Ērānšahr)
AD 224 - 642

A nobleman from the Iranian Highlands named Ardashir or Ardašīr began around AD 220 to subjugate territories within the Parthian empire, both near and further afield. He overthrew the regional control of his masters in AD 224 and became master of the lands of the former Persian empire, although these were much reduced from the days of their glory. Still, the Sassanid empire (or Sasanid or Sasanian) still managed to incorporate a large part of eastern Iran. Ardashir's relationship to the founder of the dynasty is unknown, especially as records covering this period in Iran are conflicting and somewhat sketchy. Some sources claim Sassa as the father of Papak, but he may easily have been a rival or more distant relative.

The terms 'Eranshahr' and 'Eran' were used in Sassanid Iran. Early kings, Ardashir I and Shapur I, used the older Indo-Iranian word 'ērān' which in Parthian was 'aryān', as part of their titles. Essentially they were styling themselves as 'king of the Aryan kings', referring to all of the Indo-Iranian lands under their control which contained a large number of groups and tribes (see the Indo-Iranian introduction for an explanation of the meaning of 'aryan'). Shapur I also introduced a contemporary Middle Persian version of ērān which was shown on his Ka'ba-ye Zartosht inscription at Fars as 'Ērānšahr'. In Middle Persian and Parthian this translates as 'I am the lord of the kingdom of the Aryans' (which could be used to refer to all of the lands that had previously been conquered by the Achaemenid empire). The Greek version replaces 'kingdom' with 'nation', which certainly seems to cover all Indo-Iranians. Ērānšahr was quickly adopted by later kings to refer to the Sassanid empire as a whole, the 'empire of the Iranians'.

In the east, the Sassanids quickly conquered a great swathe of territory, allowing a gradual eastwards diffusion by many groups within the empire such as the Mizrahi Jews. Over a large part of it they established a buffer state which was governed by the Kushanshahs, apparently a cadet branch of the Sassanid imperial family.  The Kushanshah rulers bore names that closely resemble the type used by the Sassanid main house itself, but dating for the Kushanshahs is very approximate. Their territory, however, certainly informed the senior Sassanids via cultural production from at least the reign of Shapur II (309-379). The title of kay was adopted by them from the east, although it already had firmly established origins as kai in what had once been the eastern Indo-Iranian domain of Turan and amongst the early Persians in Iran.

(Additional information by Sina Heravi and Edward Dawson, and from The Origin of the Turks and the Turkish Khanate, Gao Yang (Tenth Türk Tarih Kongresi, Ankara 1986), from Türkiye halkının kültür kökenleri: Giriş, beslenme teknikleri, Burhan Oğuz (1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughin Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities, Zhu Xueyuan (Beijing 2004), from Ethnogenesis in the tribal zone: The Shaping of the Turks, Peter Benjamin Golden (2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), from The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires: Adaptation and Expansion, Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Michael Alram, Touraj Daryaee, & Elizabeth Pendleton (Eds), from Nomadism in Iran: From Antiquity to the Modern Era, Daniel T Potts (Oxford University Press, 2014), from King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE - 651 CE), Khodadad Rezakhani (Touraj Daryaee, Ed, Ancient Iran Series Vol IV, 2017), from The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire, R C Blockley (Francis Cairns, Oxford, 1983), from Zāwulistān, Kāwulistān and the Land of Bosi, Domenico Agostini & Sören Stark (Studia Iranica, Tome 45, Fascicule 1, 2016), and from External Links: University of Leicester, Listverse, and the Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The History of Ancient Iran, Richard Nelson Frye (1983), and The Cambridge History of Iran Vol 4, Richard Nelson Frye (Ed, 1975), and The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7: The Sassanian or New Persian Empire, George Rawlinson (1875, now available via Project Gutenberg), and The Sasanian Empire (AD 224-651), Blair Fowlkes-Childs (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Bactrian Chronology (SOAS, University of London), and Jewish Encyclopaedia.)


Sassa / Sassan

? - 208

Papak / Babak / Pāpağ

King of Persis, under nominal Parthian suzerainty.

208 - 241

Ardašīr / Ardashir I

Son. Governor of Persis. Shah from 224. Kushanshah (c.230).


Having been all but independent for some time, Carmania is currently ruled by one Balash (although he is sometimes equated with the Parthian King Vologeses). After subduing two of the five regions of Persis, Ardašīr I now conquers Carmania (Kirman). He places one of his own sons in command of the province, another Ardašīr, while his own fight against the Parthians continues.

The coming of the Sassanids as replacements for the Parthians meant an entirely new and more vigourous empire being created in the north-western borders of Saka-controlled lands


The conquest by Ardašīr of the semi-independent state of the Elymais ends around seven hundred years of existence after the fall of Elam proper. The state had been noted by the Achaemenids as a satrapy of the same name, Elymais (of the Uxians). In the highly centralised Sassanid empire that Ardašīr is creating there is no room for local kingdoms. Such a policy has probably been determined with the failings in mind of the Parthians who had permitted all sorts of semi-independent fragmentation.


The results of the SOAS's Bactrian chronology project are announced in 2008. The project has determined that the starting point of what is known in ancient documents as the 'Bactrian era', which has its own dating, is the foundation of the Sassanid dynasty in AD 223. In many cases, it is now possible to calculate the exact year of a Bactrian era document, even down to the exact day on which a document was written (simply add 223 to the Bactrian era date).


Equally independent at this time is Margiana, is currently ruled by one Ardašīr who is to be differentiated from Ardašīr I of the Sassanids. Following the Sassanid victory over the Parthians at the Battle of Hormozdgān, the Sassanids have become the great power in Persian lands. Ardašīr of Margiana now submits to Ardašīr I, but is permitted to continue minting his own coinage for now, while the Sassanids are still consolidating their power.

c.230 - c.250

The end of Kushan King Vasudeva's reign in AD 207 apparently coincides with the beginning of the Sassanid invasion of north-western India, although the dating for the main invasion fits with Vashiska and his successor around 230-250. Perhaps there is a first, preliminary invasion followed by a much greater second.

The Kushans are toppled in former Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria (more recently better known as Tokharistan) and are forced to accept Sassanid suzerainty, being replaced by Sassanid vassals known as the Kushanshahs or Indo-Sassanids. There is a split in Kushan rule, so that a separate, eastern section rules largely independently of the Sassanids, while some of the nobility remain in the west as Sassanid vassals. Even so, Kushan power still gradually wanes in India.

232 - 242

The Sassanids briefly take control of Harran.

238 - 252

Ardašīr conquers Armenia and persecutes the Christians there.

241 - 272

Shapur I

Defeated and captured Roman Emperor Valerian in 260.


A high priest known as Kartir Hangirpe, or Karder, who serves to at least three of the early Sassanid rulers starting with Shapur, begins the process of persecuting non-Zoroastrians throughout the Persian domains. This persecution of religious minorities is ended under the accession of Narses.


Around this year, Shapur devolves direct rule around the area of Arachosia (within modern Afghanistan) by creating a buffer state which is governed by the Kushanshahs.


The Sassanids capture the Roman fortress city of Dura in eastern Syria. Part of their efforts to take the fortress involves digging a deep mine under the city wall and a tower. The Romans tunnel from the other side to intercept them and a shaft is created around the intercept point. The precise outcome is unknown.

In the early 1900s, archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson discovers a pile of nineteen Roman bodies in the mines. Only one Persian body is nearby. In 2009 Simon James of the University of Leicester theorises that the Persians hear the Romans digging and ignite a fire to meet them and the Romans open the shaft between the two mines, possibly to vent the smoke. Sulphur and bitumen is discovered in the mine, possibly making the Roman bodies the earliest victims of chemical warfare to be discovered.

The city of Dura-Europos had been founded in 300 BC by the Seleucid Greeks, seized by the Arsacids and then by the Romans, and was then destroyed almost six hundred years after its creation by a drawn-out border conflict between Rome and the Sassanids

James believes that the Persians deliberately throw these chemicals onto the fire to create deadly fumes, which become sulphuric acid in the lungs of their enemies. The one dead Persian soldier is probably the fire's starter and is unable to get out in time. Once the smoke clears, the Persians quickly pile the bodies like a shield into the countermine and destroy it. Their mining efforts do not collapse the walls, but the Persians eventually get in anyway. They kill some of the residents and deport the rest to Persia. The Seleucid-founded Dura is abandoned forever.


The vassal kingdom of Margiana is formally annexed to the Sassanid crown by Shapur I. The name of the vassal king here is unknown (unless Ardashir is still alive). Now Shapur places his own son, Narseh, as governor of the province of Hind, Sagistan, and Turgistan. Margiana is part of this broad territory, falling within the Sagistan section which itself is named for the Saka groups which formerly dominated here.

This could also be the point at which Shapur seizes Sogdiana and makes it part of the empire. Much of it is occupied for a time (Marakanda, for instance - modern Samarkand), while part is occupied for a longer period (Bukhara especially). It seems that the new masters of Iran have, at the same time as Kushan power is on the wane, broken through a Kushan barrier that has until now isolated Sogdiana.

Around the same time, two major crises hit the Roman empire. These, and the expenditure required to bring them to resolution, means a great deal of increased taxation across the empire. The Jewish population of Palestine seems to be especially impacted. Large numbers of Jews emigrate to Babylon and the more tolerant Sassanids. There, autonomous Jewish Diaspora communities are allowed to flourish, with individuals able to lead full and rewarding lives.

272 - 273

Hormizd I

Son. Not the same as Kushanshah Hormazd (c.270-c.295).


A great shift occurs in Kushanshah authority under the rule of Hormazd I. While his early gold issues from Balkh refer to him as 'Hormazd, the Great Kushan King', later issues of gold denars from the same mint switch the king's title to 'Hormazd, the Great Kushan King of Kings'. The change in title is a significant change in Kushanshah political ideology, and perhaps a direct affront to the 'imperial' Sassanid line. It is safe to assume that during the time of Hormazd I, the Kushanshahs assume a new level of independence from the main Sassanid line. Hormazd's successor is someone who may later be a Sassanid king himself, signifying - perhaps - a re-imposition of more direct Sassanid control over the east.

272 - 276

Bahram / Varahran / Wahrām I


276 - 293

Bahram / Wahrām II



The Sassanids build a wall from the southern coast of the Caspian Sea to the mountains near the city of Gorgon in Hyrcania (modern Gonbad-e-Kavus), The wall is named the Qizil-Alan (although later generations refer to it as Alexander's Wall), and it seems to be designed to prevent Alani penetration into Persia via the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea.


Bahram / Wahrām III


294 - 302

Narses / Nerseh / Narseh

Uncle. Defeated by Rome in 298.


The Sassanids regain Harran and make it a permanent possession. Around this time they seemingly 'overthrow' the Indo-Scythians too, although this seems to be more of a check on Saka power which is already beginning to fade.

302 - 309

Hormizd II

Son. Probably the former Kushanshah (c.295-c.300).

309 - 379

Shapur II



To prevent the territory which later forms Afghanistan from drifting entirely towards separatism, Shapur assumes direct control of the southern areas while the Kushanshahs continue to rule in the north.


Having only recently been enlarged and strengthened by Constantius II, the Roman frontier city of Amida is besieged by Shapur II now that he has recovered from some brutal fighting against the invading Xionites in eastern Iran. A treaty has been agreed with them which leaves the eastern section of the empire in temporary peace. Amida is captured by the Sassanids after seventy-three days with, it seems, Xionite help (presumably Kidarites, the first of the Xionites to come into contact with the Sassanids). This is not merely in the form of captured warriors forced to fight for a new master but as allied units under the command of a 'King of the Chionitae' known as Grumbates.


There is no evidence of any Kushans after Kipunada. Having been subjugated by the Gupta kings, the rump eastern Kushan state is soon conquered by the invading Kidarites. They, in turn, claim to be the rightful successors of the Kushans and Kushanshahs. Any possible survivors in the west are probably displaced by the Hephthalites. This is the next wave of barbarians to invade the territory of the Kushanshahs to conquer former Bactria and Gandhara and form their own kingdom. This could be the point at which the Sassanids lose Sogdiana.

379 - 383

Ardašīr / Ardashir II

383 - 388

Shapur III


Persia and Rome partition Armenia between them, with Persia gaining the eastern half.

388 - 399

Bahram / Wahrām IV


Bactrian legends on the Kidarite coins issued around this period declare them to represent the 'King of the Kushan'. The Kidarites consider themselves to be the continuation of rule by Kushans and Kushanshahs. A coin type which shows the king in frontal view and wearing a crown with ram's horn has a legend in Brahmi declaring the authority to be 'Sa Piroysa', meaning 'King Peroz'. This is most likely the Peroz III of Gandhara, the potential rival to Sassanid rule.

399 - 421

Yazdagird I



MapSassanid control of Tokharistan (former Bactria) and Arachosia is ended by the Hephthalites, who establish a kingdom of their own (see map link, right, for more on the origins of the Hephthalites and Kidarites).

421 - 439

Bahram / Wahrām V 'Bahram Gor'


c.421 - 427

While Bahram has been occupied by the fighting against Rome, the Kidarites and Hephthalites invade and occupy Sassanid territory in eastern Iran, with the Hephthalites at least occupying Merv (precise details are typically lacking). Having agree peace terms with Rome in 422, Bahram quickly assembles a fresh army to take east. Merv, the capital of Margiana, is captured and the Hephthalite ruler is killed. The Sassanid eastern frontier is fully secure by 427 and a pillar of thanks is erected on the banks of the Amy Darya - the northern limits of Sassanid control.

439 - 457

Yazdagird II

457 - 459

Hormizd III

Son. Seized throne. Opposed by his brother. Captured.

457 - 459

The death of Yazdagird allows his younger son to seize the throne ahead of the rightful heir, Peroz. The latter is occupying the position of governor in Sakastan at the time, and instantly seeks the protection of the Hephthalites. Their king, Khushnavaz, is happy to take advantage of Sassanid disunity. Other support comes from the House of Mihran which has already provided the Chosroid kings of Caucasian Iberia, and Peroz is soon able to capture Hormizd. Taloqan is ceded to Khushnavaz in thanks, expanding Hephthalite domains westwards by an extra province.

Hephthalite coins
Shown here are both sides of a silver drachm which was issued by the Hephthalites and which imitated issuances of the powerful but unlucky Sassasnid Shah Peroz

459 - 484


Brother. Killed by Hephthalites.


Oguric-speaking tribes have recently been pushed out of the Kazakh steppe by the Sabirs due to population pressures from farther east and a domino effect of tribal movement in a westwards direction.

Now they make their presence felt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. The Saragurs attack the Akatirs and other tribes which had been part of the Hunnic union. Then, perhaps prompted by the Eastern Roman empire, the Ogurics raid Sassanid-held Transcaucasia, ravaging the Georgian kingdoms of Egrisi and Iberia and also Armenia while on their way southwards.


It is Priscus who reports the name of the current Kidarite king as Kunkhas (see Brockley for details). With the Sassanids suffering a seven year famine between 464-471 and unable to launch a serious military offensive, the Kidarites cease making tribute payments.

Then both Kunkhas and Shah Peroz attempt diplomacy through trickery until the latter is finally able to go on the attack, possibly motivated by the help rendered to him by the Hephthalites when fighting for his crown against his brother, Hormuzd III. The Kidarites are permanently driven out, finding refuge in Gandhara. The Sassanids may temporarily control the region but it is soon a Hephthalite possession.


The Hephthalites apparently betray the trust of Shah Peroz by seizing the Bactrian capital of Bactra which has so recently been restored from Kidarite rule. This triggers the First Sassanid-Hephthalite War, but it does not go well for Peroz. The Sassanids are badly mauled at the third battle in this conflict and Peroz is captured by the Hephthalites. He is forced to pay a hefty ransom to ensure his release.


A Second Sassanid-Hephthalite War is launched by Peroz, with Vakhtang I Gorgasil of Chosroid Iberia in support. Initially successful by chasing the Hephthalites out of Bactra, the war ends in the capture (again) of Peroz, with him agreeing to the payment of thirty mule packs of silver drachms as a ransom, parts of which he pays through imposing a poll tax.

To meet the rest of the demanded sum he leaves his son Kavad as a hostage with the Hephthalites, along with a daughter and the chief priest. His tax-raising drive may involve some communication with the empire's Jewish Diaspora community of Persian Jews.

Peroz is known to conduct a pogrom against them during his reign which drives some of them eastwards, into Samarkand. There they coalesce in the later emirate of Bukhara to become known as Bukharan Jews. In turn it seems either to be Persian Jews or Bukharan Jews which provide the basis of the Kaifeng Jews.


Peroz again chases the Hephthalites out of Bactra and towards Arion in Aria (Alexandria Ariana, modern Herat). Along the way he destroys the tower built by Bahram V which marks the border between Sassanid and Hephthalite.

On the other side of the border, Khushnavaz sets a trap into which Peroz falls (literally - the trap being a deep ditch), along with around thirty of his sons and about 100,000 troops. Their bodies are never recovered by the Sassanids.

The eastern empire is overrun and is largely occupied by the Hephthalites until their final fall - this includes regions such as Margiana, with the Hephthalites setting up puppet governors there. In Kabulistan and Zabulistan the Nezak are able to create their own semi-independent dynasty.

Map of Central Asia and India AD 500
By the late 400s the eastern sections of the Sassanid empire had been overrun and to an extent occupied by the Hephthalites (Xionites) after they had killed Shah Peroz (click or tap on map to view full sized)

484 - 488

Valash / Balash

Brother of Peroz. Installed to restore control. Failed & removed.

488 - 496

Kavad I

Son of Peroz.

496 - 498


498 - 531

Kavad I



Around this time it has been claimed that 'some Turk tribes arrive from Asia' and aid the Sassanids in the eventual overthrow of the Hephthalites. If this is accurate then these are amongst the earliest Turks to be seen outside Xinjiang and the Altai Mountains to which they have only recently migrated. These Turks are almost certainly members of the Türük people, the pre-imperial Göktürks.

The significant setbacks experienced by the Sassanids in the latter part of the fifth century - directly caused by the Hephthalites - are a prime motivator for reforms that are undertaken by Kavad and Khosrow I. Most significantly, the creation of four major defensive, and presumably administrative, zones in the Sassanid administration is a direct response to the inefficiency of centralised defence. The north-east and east of the empire are entrusted to an Ispahbed of Khwarasan (Khwarasan being Chorasmia, while this is the first time that 'Ispahbed' appears in history, meaning an army chief).

531 - 579

Khusro I / Chrosroes / Khosrau / Khosrow

Son of Kavad(h).


Shortly after the end of the Guptas as a political power in India, the Sassanids make some conquests there. During the same decade, the Western Khagans expand their dominion towards Chorasmia and Sogdiana, right up against the borders of Persia's eastern territories.


A people, country, and town with the name in later Islamic sources of Belendzher or Balandzhar is mentioned for the first time by the Arab historian at-Tabari in connection with events from the 560s. Sassanid-controlled Armenia is invaded by four peoples - 'abkhaz', 'b-ndzh-r' (Bandzhar), 'b-l-ndzh-r' (Balandzhar), and the Alani.


The Hephthalites are defeated in former Kushanshah territory (in what later becomes Afghanistan) by an alliance of Göktürks and the Sassanids. Following a great battle near Bukhara, a level of Indo-Sassanid authority is re-established in the region, but the Western Göktürks set up rival states in Bamiyan, Kabul, and Kapisa under the authority of the viceroy in Tokharistan, strengthening their hold on the Silk Road.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states that had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The expansionist policy being followed by the Western Göktürks later sees them again cross the Amu Darya, where they come into conflict with their former allies, the Sassanids. Much of Tokharistan (former Bactria, including Balkh) remains a Göktürk dependency until the end of the century.

579 - 590

Hormizd IV


Nestorian (Christian) bishops from Harev travel to the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon to attend the synod of Ishoyahb I (during the reign Hormizd IV). In the same year, Harev (Aria) is invaded by Bagha İşbara of the eastern Göktürks (who is known as Šāwa, Sāva (Sava), or Sāba (Saba) in medieval Iranian sources). His forces are exaggerated to 300,000 men but he is defeated and killed by Hormizd IV's military commander, Bahram Chobin.

588 - 589

The Göktürk khagan, Çur Bagha, leads his Hephthalite vassals into the First Perso-Turkic War by invading Sassanid territory. The invasion has been threatening for several years as these former allies vied for regional power in the hinterland between their two empires. A senior Sassanid army commander by the name of Bahram Chobin (later to be enthroned as Bahram VI) leads an army of hand-picked Savaran elite troops to ambush a large army of Turks and Hephthalites in April 588, at the Battle of Hyrcanian Rock. Another attack in 589 captures Balkh. Then he crosses Oxus and repulses the Turkic invasion, capturing Hephthalite territory which had been occupied by the Turks. Çur Bagha is killed during this fight.

590 - 591

Bahram / Wahrām VI

Usurped throne. Formerly army commander Bahram Chobin.

591 - 628

Khusro II

Overthrown and executed by his son.

607 - 616

The Sassanids invade and conquer Byzantine Syria, Egypt and Asia Minor as part of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628.

613 - 630

As part of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628, the Battle of Antioch of 613 sees Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius defeated. The forces of Khusro II consolidate their recent gains and make further advances, entering Palestine. Caesarea Maritima is taken in 614, with Jerusalem falling soon after. But then a Christian revolt sees the city briefly changing hands before the Sassanids re-establish control.

Sassanid policy has changed by 617, switching from Jewish support to Christian support. Internal pressure from Christian communities may be responsible. Between 62-627 the military situation changes. Heraclius gains the upper hand, driving the Sassanids back into Mesopotamia. An internal revolt in 628 replaces Khusro II and ends the war, allowing Heraclius to enter Jerusalem in 630.

623 - 628

Now allied with the Western Göktürks, Heraclius attacks the Sassanids as part of the Third Perso-Turkic War (627-630) to regain territory for the Eastern Roman empire which includes Syria and Palestine - lost for a decade. The defeated Khusro is overthrown by his own nobles and the Sassanids Armenia in the process.

Map of Central Asia AD 600-700
By the beginning of the seventh century AD, Göktürk power in southern Central Asia was waning while the Sassanids had established a degree of control over the southernmost parts of this region, and various city states had emerged in Sogdiana (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Kavad II


628 - 629

Ardašīr / Ardashir III

629 - 630




A title, not a name. Killed by his own nobles after 40 days.

630 - 632

Hormizd V

630 - 632

Khusro III

Nephew of Khusro II. Assassinated.

632 - 651

Yazdagird III

637 - 651

Mesopotamia is lost to the Islamic empire in 637. The Sassanids are defeated at the Battle of Nahāvand by Caliph Umar in 642. Persia is overrun by Islam by 651. Retreating into Margiana, Yazdagird finds few allies and is forced to retreat again. Organising a hurried alliance with the Hephthalites, he advances back towards Margiana, only to be defeated at the Battle of the Oxus. Yazdagird takes refuge in a mill where the owner kills him while his family flee to Tokharistan. There they intermarry with the locals and eventually produce a Yamanid dynasty in the Afghan city of Ghazni. They may also form an ancestral base for the later Shansabani clan in Afghanistan.

651 - 662

Yazdagird's son and heir-apparent, Peroz (Pērōz), is one of those who flees eastwards. He reaches the yabgu, the Göktürk viceroy in Tokharistan. From there he soon turns for support to the Tang court. The date of his first embassy to the Tang is before 661, before the formal submission of the yabgu to the Tang after the downfall of the western Göktürks. A second embassy is received shortly after April 661.

As a result of the 661 embassy, during the largely nominal reorganisation of the former Göktürk dominions into 'area commands' by the Tang in the same year, Peroz is appointed head of the 'Persia area command' which exists on paper only, with a seat that is claimed to be in Zaranj in Sakastan. Finally, in 662, Peroz is formally invested as 'king of Bosi' by the Tang.

Sassanid troops fighting off Arabs during the Islamic invasion of Persia
This modern illustration (uncredited) shows Sassanid troops fighting off Arabs during the Islamic invasion of Persia, with the Islamic conquest gaining them entry to eastern Iran and the Indo-Iranian provinces there

665 - c.706

Increasingly frequent embassies sent by Peroz between 665-671 show his increasing desperation at being able to hold back the encroaching Islamic armies in Sakastan. By 673-675 his position has become untenable and he flees to the Tang court. In 679 his son, Narse, returns west to Tokharistan until about 705-706. He may be coordinating his efforts with the kingdoms of Kabulistan and Zabulistan, which staunchly resist the Islamic advance for a century.

651 - 945

Persia is conquered by the Islamic empire and remains under its direct control until the Buwayid amirs seize power from their base in what is now Iraq. By 821, the eastern Persian lands are governed by the Tahirids.

c.900 - 1000

A large area of eastern Persia falls under the control of the Samanid emirate.

The Buwayid (Buyid) Amirs of Iraq
AD 945 - 1055

Although they failed to gain control of much of eastern Persia from the Samanid emirate, based in the Transoxiana region, the Buwayids took over in the west and in Mesopotamia (and seemingly also in the nearer eastern provinces such as Carmania).

The Buwayids were Shiite princes of a Deylamite Persian tribal confederation from the shores of the Caspian Sea who dominated the Abbasid Caliphs for a century in Mesopotamia and south-western Persia, reducing the caliph to little more than a figurehead. The Buwayids were notable for being Iranian natives of what would layer be known as Iran, a marked difference from just about all ruling dynasties between the Islamic invasion of the seventh century and the Timurids of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

They also eventually contributed to a weakening of the Samanids. Although they fostered a flourishing of Shiite scholarship and theology, they never tried to suppress the Orthodox caliphs altogether, so the Abbasids continued to exercise their minimal religious authority under the regime. Nevertheless, the caliphs and the Orthodox were not too happy about this and so, at least initially, they welcomed the coming of the Orthodox Seljuqs who overthrew the Buwayids.

(Additional information from Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Vol 2, André Wink (Brill, 2002).)

945 - 967

Ahmad ibn Buya

967 - 978


978 - 983

Fana Khusraw

983 - 987


987 - 989

Shirzil I

989 - 1012



Khwarazm achieves independence from Persia.

999 - 1000

Thanks to pressure from the Buwayids and their allies, the Karakhanids, the Samanids decline in eastern Persia, and a revolt by the Afghan Ghaznavids sees them conquered and their territory captured.

1012 - 1021

Abu Shuja

1021 - 1025


1025 - 1044

Shirzil II

1044 - 1048


1048 - 1055

Khusraw Firuz


The Buwayid amirs are defeated by Tughril-Beg of the Seljuq Turks when he conquers Baghdad. With the Buwayids using the Abbasid caliph as the titular head of their empire, the Seljuqs continue the practice.

Seljuq Dynasty / Great Sultans (Turks)
AD 1055 - 1194

Originating from Mongolia, the Seljuq Turks (or Seljuk) were part of a larger wave of Turkic tribes which erupted from the Central Asian steppe above the Volga, north of the Caspian Sea, invading Persia and Mesopotamia from 1021 onwards. The Seljuqs were the ruling military family of the Oğuz (Ghuzz) Turkic tribes which entered south-western Asia from the early years of the eleventh century and gradually created an empire for themselves which included Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and most of Iran. Their advance marked the beginning of Turkish power in the Near East and the formation of vast Turkic-dominated regions in Central Asia.

The first fully-formed Turkic ethnic group was that of the Gök Türks (or Göktürks). Semi-nomads who dwelt largely in Mongolia, they emerged into history in the early sixth century AD from obscure tribal origins which seem in part to have had strong Indo-Iranian links. The empire they formed spread Turkic groups across Central Asia from where they gradually became involved in the politics of states and empires of the Near East and South Asia. The Oğuz seem to have formed or emerged during this period of steppe empire, seemingly being mentioned on the Orhon inscriptions of AD 732 and 735, They remained on the steppe until the end of the tenth century before crossing the Syr Darya river.

During the migrations of Turkic peoples from Central Asia, one group that was led by a chief named Seljuq settled in the lower reaches of the Syr Darya (the River Jaxartes) and later converted to the Sunni form of Islam. They supplied frontier defence forces for the Samanids and later for Mahmud of Ghazna. Seljuq's two grandsons, Chaghri Beg and Toghrïl Beg, enlisted Persian support to win realms of their own. Chaghri soon controlled the greater part of Khorasan while Toghrïl, by the time of his death in 1063, headed an empire that included western Iran and Mesopotamia. As the Seljuqs had no Islamic tradition or strong literary heritage of their own, they adopted the cultural language of their Persian instructors in Islam. Thanks to them, literary Persian was disseminated throughout the whole of Iran, and the Arabic language of the caliphate disappeared in that region except in works of religious scholarship.

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Vol 2, André Wink (Brill, 2002), from Tamerlane and the symbolism of sovereignty, Beatrice Forbes Manz (Iranian Studies 21 (1-2), 1988), from The Mongol Empire: Genghis Khan: His Triumph and his Legacy, Peter Brent (Book Club Associates, 1976), from The Mongols: A Very Short Introduction, Morris Rossabi (Oxford University Press, 2012), from the BBC documentary, The Secret History of Genghis Khan, broadcast 28 December 2011, from The Origin of the Turks and the Turkish Khanate, Gao Yang (Tenth Türk Tarih Kongresi, Ankara 1986), from Türkiye halkının kültür kökenleri: Giriş, beslenme teknikleri, Burhan Oğuz (1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities, Zhu Xueyuan (Beijing 2004), from Ethnogenesis in the tribal zone: The Shaping of the Turks, Peter Benjamin Golden (2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from The Political and Dynastic History of the Iranian World (AD 1000-1217), C E Bosworth (The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 5, William Bayne Fisher, John Andrew Boyle, & Richard Nelson Frye (Eds), Cambridge University Press, 1968), from Encyclopaedia Britannica (Eleventh Edition, Cambridge, 1910), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Turkish Cultural Foundation.)


Seljuk / Seljuq

Dynasty founder. Settled along the Syr Darya.


The Samanid ruler faces internal uprisings, and Sebuktigin of Ghazni goes to his assistance. The rebels are defeated at Balkh and then Nishapur, and Sebuktigin is granted the title 'Nasir ud-Din' ('Hero of the Faith'), while his son, Mahmud, is made governor of Khwarazm.

Ghaznavid soldiers
This computer-generated image of Ghaznavid regular troops provides a pretty good replica of the real thing which can be somewhat hard to pin down in contemporary illustrations from a region that was in a near-constant state of warfare at this time

c.1020 - 1037

Alp Arslan ('Lion')

Son. Led Transoxianian invasion.

c.1016 - 1025

The military leaders of the Oğuz tribes, Alp Arslan, Chaghrï-Beg, and Toghrïl-Beg, leave the Jand region around the Syr Darya to enter Transoxiana shortly before 1016. In 1025 they enter the service of the Turkish Qarakhanid prince of Bukhara. Defeated by Maḥmūd of Ghazna in the same year, all of them take refuge in Khwarazm.


The death of Mahmud ends the dominance of the Ghaznavids. Conflicts between various Ghaznavid claimants and lesser rulers arise (such as the Seljuqs themselves) and as a result the empire starts to crumble. In Seistan, the Ghaznavid governor, Nasr, soon declares his independence and founds a Nasrid emirate there, based around the Nimruz province of modern Afghanistan.

1037 - c.1060

Chaghrï / Chagri-Beg

Nephew. Ruled Khorasan.

1037 - 1063

Toghrïl / Tughril-Beg

Brother. Took western Iran & Mesopotamia. Sultan.

1040 - 1046

Tughril-Beg defeats the Ghaznavids in 1040 and takes control of western Ghaznavid territories, including Khwarazm and Seistan (governed in his name by the Nasrids). Between 1041-1046 he establishes his rule over Isfahan. From 1044-1055 he invades Armenia and also takes Baghdad. He restores the Abbasid caliph and is created sultan of Persia.


Zahir-ud-Dawlah Ibrahim re-establishes a truncated Ghaznavid empire after the unstable two decades preceding his rule. He agrees peace terms with the Seljuqs and restores cultural and political links, although apparently is not able to restore Ghaznavid dominance of Seistan. However, the empire is increasingly sustained by riches gained in raids across northern India, although the Rajput rulers there offer stiff resistance.

1063 - 1072

Alp Arslan ('Heroic Lion')

Son of Chaghrï. Won power struggle against Qutalmïsh.


Qutalmïsh / Kutulmush

Rival for Seljuq leadership. Father of Süleyman of Rum.


Having already extended his new empire into western Iran and Mesopotamia, Alp Arslan now defeats an immense Eastern Roman army and captures Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. This victory opens the gates to a large-scale Turkic influx into western Anatolia.

Seljuq cavalry
A stone relief of Seljuq cavalry, which swept through Iran, northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia in the eleventh century

In eastern and central Anatolia, settlements and small domains are set up by the Mangūjakids around Divriği (Tephrike), Erzincan (Keltzine), and Kemah (Camcha) until 1252. The Saltuqids rule Erzurum (Theodosiopolis) until 1201. The Dānishmendids control Sivas, Kayseri (Caesarea Cappadociae), and Amasya (Amaseia) until 1177.

Western Anatolia is the focus of another important chieftain by the name of Sulaymān, son of Qutalmïsh, a distant cousin of soon-to-be 'Great Seljuq', Sultan Malik-Shāh (from 1072). His territory becomes the splinter sultanate of Rum. Initially this remains subservient to the Persian Seljuqs but is always straining against the leash under its leader. Palestine is also conquered.


Alp Arslan decides to recapture Turkestan (Tokharistan), the ancestral home of the Seljuk Turks. The region may be under the domination of the Ghaznavids at this time.

He reaches the banks of the Oxus where a number of fortresses prevent his further advance. Yussuf Kothual, the Khwarazmian governor of one of the fortresses, delays Alp Arslan for several days before surrendering. Yussuf is brought before Alp Arslan, who condemns him to a cruel death. Yussuf draws his dagger and attacks the Seljuq commander, who waves away his guards before drawing a bow on the attacker, But he stumbles in his haste and the arrow misses. Yussuf plunges his dagger into Alp Arslan's breast, and the sultan dies of the wound a few hours later, on 15 December 1072.

1072 - 1092

Malik-Shāh I

Son. Also sultan of Aleppo. Died of unknown causes.


Sulaymān of Rum captures Nicaea (İznik) and Nicomedia (İzmit), threatening Constantinople itself around 1075. This prompts the new Eastern Roman emperor, Michael VII Ducas, to appeal to Pope Gregory VII for aid against the invaders. Sulaymān's activities also attracted the concern of Malik-Shāh, who attempts unsuccessfully to dislodge his kinsman on several occasions.

1076 - 1078

Turkic invasions see Syria conquered fairly rapidly. Abaaq al-Khwarazmi is a general under the command of Malik-Shāh I, but Damascus quickly becomes the capital of a newly independent state (either an emirate or a more powerful sultanate) under the general, making him the first Seljuq to gain independence from his overlord. Following his short reign, Malik-Shāh's brother, Tutush, succeeds him in Damascus, and it is he who captures the rest of Syria from Malik-Shāh, becoming sultan of Aleppo.

Damascus wall
This colour photochrome print shows a wall in Damascus' defences which is rumoured to be the one over which St Paul escaped in the first century AD


Malik-Shāh's relations with the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad have deteriorated since the caliph had married his daughter. Now accused of neglecting her, the caliph is ordered to leave Baghdad. But while there himself, Malik-Shāh dies suddenly, leaving his empire to disintegrate through internal quarrels.

1092 - 1094

Mahmud I

Son. Aged 4. Not a universal choice. Assassinated.


Now aged six, the infant Mahmud's claim has been pushed forward by his mother, Terken Khatun. His claim on the title had been proclaimed in Baghdad, but the claim by his elder brother, Barkiyaruq, had been proclaimed at the same time. Now the forces of the two claimants meet in battle and those of Barkiyaruq are victorious. Mahmud and his mother are soon assassinated by the vizier at Estfahan, but the empire of Malik-Shāh has already begun to break up. Kilij Arslan I has taken control of Rum, while Tutush reclaims a now-independent Aleppo and maintains a son in command of Damascus.

1094 - 1105

Berk Yaruq / Barkiyaruq

Brother. Proclaimed at the same time as Mahmud.


Before the forces of the First Crusade are ready to depart, Peter the Hermit leads, against all good advice, a motley band of civilians and soldiers into Anatolia. They are almost wiped out in a running battle with Seljuq Turks at Civetot. By the middle of the year, the main force is ready to leave the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople, and the Crusades begin in earnest.

1098 - 1099

The First Crusade finds a divided Islamic empire governed by the Seljuq Turks, and quickly and forcefully carves a large swathe of territory out of it, with loses including Edessa (on the Euphrates), and Jerusalem. Rather than unite, the various local rulers all end their internecine squabbles and return home to defend their own domains.

The coming of the Crusaders occurred at a time in which the Islamic world was deeply involved in factional in-fighting, and at first they were dismissed as being a mere Byzantine raid


Malik Shah II

Son. Deposed and killed by his uncle.

1105 - 1118

Muhammad I Tapar

Uncle. Son of Malik-Shāh.


After taking Mosul in 1107, Qïlïch Arslan I of Rum engages the forces of Muḥammad Tapar but is drowned in the River Khābūr. This clash, the last encounter between the Iran-based Great Seljuqs and the descendants of Qutalmïsh in Anatolia, limits the ambitions and the sphere of influence of the latter to Anatolia itself.


The death of the Ghaznavid ruler, Masud, in 1115 had triggered a period of instability in his empire to the east. Now Bahram Shah wins the internecine fight with his brothers, but only as a vassal of the Seljuqs. However, the death in the same year of Muhammad Tapar results in the enforced division of Seljuq territory.

1118 - 1131

Mahmud II

Son. Ruled Iraq. Died aged 26.


Mahmud's vassal, Garshasp II, is the Kakuyid emir of the eastern Persian cities of Abarkuh and Yazd. Now disgraced, Mahmud removes him from office by force. Garshasp, however, escapes and returns to Yazd where he requests protection from his brother-in-law, Mahmud's Seljuq rival in the east, Ahmad Sanjar. Giving Ahmad all sorts of intelligence on Mahmud's defences and forces, Garshasp persuades him to launch an attack on central Persia. Ahmad's coalition army of five kings defeats Mahmud at Saveh. The kings are known to include Garshasp, the emirs of Khwarazm and Seistan, and two others who are unnamed.

The east (Khwarazm and much of Persia) is now under the overall control of Ahmad Sanjar, Mahmud's uncle, although he has already dominated the eastern lands of Persia for many years. Garshasp has been restored to his domains while Mahmud now rules only in Iraq and the westernmost fringes of Persia.

Ahmad Sanjar
The Seljuq ruler, Ahmad Sanjar, held territory in the wider region of Khorasan while his brother commanded as the 'Great Sultan' in Iran, but Ahmad's dominance of the east increased beyond that of a subsidiary ruler so that, in 1119, he was able to challenge for command of central Iran itself and control of the title of 'Great Sultan'


Mahmud appoints the Zangid atabegs to govern recaptured eastern Edessa as part of Syria from their base in Aleppo. One of the more notable men to enter Zangi's service is Najm ad-Din Ayyub, a prominent Kurdish noble who has just become a father to one Salah al-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub, more popularly known as Saladin.

1131 - 1132


Son. Ruled Iraq. Retreated to Azerbaijan.


Dawud succeeds his father following the latter's unexpected early death. However, he is almost immediately opposed by his uncles, Tughril and Masud, in a civil war to contest the true ruler of Seljuq Iraq. He takes refuge in Azerbaijan where he appears to govern independently for some time. Mahmud's other son, Alp Arslan ibn Mahmud, continues to govern the city of Mosul with the cooperation and support of the Zangid atabegs of Aleppo.

1132 - 1134

Toghrïl / Tughril II

Uncle, and brother of Mahmud II. Ruled Iraq. Died.

1134 - 1152

Ghiyath ad-Din Masud

Brother. Ruled Iraq. Emerged supreme in 1133.


Upon the assassination of the Zangid atabeg of Aleppo at the hands of a slave, his sons divide the state between them, with Nur ad-Din gaining Aleppo and the elder Ghazi gaining Mosul (although not until he has won support to ward off the threat of Ahmad Sanjar's son, Arslan Shah, being installed in Mosul). Breaking up the state into small rival principalities means that the Crusaders are able to recapture Edessa for two months in the immediate aftermath of the division.

1152 - 1153

Malik Shah III

Brother. Ruled Iraq. Deposed. Died 1160.

1153 - 1159

Muhammad II

Brother. Ruled Iraq.


The Abbasid caliph is supporting Suleiman-Shah, a rival for the Seljuq throne. Muhammad marches on Baghdad with an army of 30,000 to meet up with the forces of Zangid Qutb ad-Din Mawdud of Mosul & Jazira. A storming of the city sees Muhammad capture the western side, but the eastern side across the Tigris remains unassailable. With a stalemate the outcome, and Mahmud Nur ad-Din, Zangid atabeg of Aleppo, castigating his brother, Qutb ad-Din, for attacking the caliph and destroying the previously-staunch Zangid-Seljuq alliance, the attackers give up and return home.

Zangid coins
Shown here are two sides of a coin which was issued in Zangid-controlled Mosul, most probably during the rule of Sayf al-Din Ghazi II, son of the powerful atabeg of Aleppo and elder brother of Qutb ad-Din Mawdud


Suleiman / Sulayman Shah

Brother. Supported by the caliph. Ruled Iraq. Deposed.

1160 - 1176

Arslan Shah

Grandson of Mahmud II. Ruled Iraq. Died suddenly.

1162 - 1163

A year after recapturing Seistan from the Seljuqs, the death of Sa'if ud-Din Muhammad appears to cause fractures within the Ghurid sultanate to the east of Persia, with two rulers appearing, one each in Firuzkuh and Ghazni. Arslan Shah, though, is little more than a Seljuq figurehead for his step-father, Shamseddin Eldeniz, atabeg of Azerbaijan.

1176 - 1194

Toghrïl / Tughril III

Son. Ruled Iraq. Last Seljuq sultan. Died on the battlefield.

1194 - 1219

The Khwarazm emirate gains independence from the eastern Seljuqs by overthrowing them and occupying much of the rest of greater Khorasan, including Seistan and the heartland of Persia itself. The Seljuqs in Iraq are now thoroughly dominated by their Azerbaijani relatives. Those in Rum retain their independence.


Tiring of the Chinese campaign, Mongol Great Khan Chingiz sends his general, Chepe, westwards to overthrow the empire of the Qara-Khitaï and annexe its territory. This defeat also opens the way towards Mongol interaction with Khwarazm and Persia.

1219 - 1256

Following two attacks by the Mongols in 1219 and 1221 which secures eastern Persia for them, the Khwarazm shahs are finally conquered in 1231 and Persia is controlled directly by the Golden Horde until 1256. The conquests force a flood of refugees upon the west, notably in Anatolia where the sultanate of Rum has to take them in. After 1256 the descendents of Chingiz Khan divide up the Mongol empire. The Il-Khans control Persia.

Il-Khan Dynasty (Persia)
AD 1221 - 1336

In Transoxiana in 1219-1221 the Mongols attacked the Khwarazm emirate which controlled Persia, and finally overran it in 1221. When the descendents of Chingiz Khan divided up the Mongol empire, the Il-Khans (as they became known) inherited Persia, eastern Anatolia, and the bulk of now Il-Khan Khwarazm, ruling from Baghdad. While they did so, the Ottoman Turks focused on conquering and securing western Anatolia and Byzantine Greece. The rulers were known by their traditional Mongol title of khan.

The Il-Khanate was officially founded by Hulagu in 1260, following the death of Great Khan Mongke. It faired poorly at the start, struggling with relatively mundane issues such as the economy but also with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Mameluke Bahris of Egypt. However, under Ghaza Il-Khan, the Il-Khanate regained its military superiority and began an economic recovery that continued until the reign of Abu Said. At its height, the khanate encompassed territory which included modern eastern Turkey, Iran, Iraq, the Transcaucus, and western Turkistan (an ill-defined region which included areas of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), which formed the border with Mughulistan.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Tamerlane and the symbolism of sovereignty, Beatrice Forbes Manz (Iranian Studies 21 (1-2), 1988), from The Mongol Empire: Genghis Khan: His Triumph and his Legacy, Peter Brent (Book Club Associates, 1976), from The Mongols: A Very Short Introduction, Morris Rossabi (Oxford University Press, 2012), and from the BBC documentary, The Secret History of Genghis Khan, broadcast 28 December 2011.)

1221 - 1256


Son of Chingiz Khan. Held Khwarazm & Persia in his name.


The Mongol empire is effectively divided into four sections, or ulus (inheritances), each governed by one of the sons of Chingiz. They remain politically united under the great khan, but their existence establishes the basis of future independent Mongol kingdoms. Ogedei is the selected successor to Chingiz, and is officially proclaimed as such in 1229. While he and his successors still control the entire empire, they largely concentrate their attention on Mongolia and China. The rest is divided into three portions to be governed by the other sons of Chingiz. The north-western section is handed to Jochi and it is Jochi's son, Batu Khan, who inherits the westernmost section of this ulu as the Blue Horde, with Orda leading the eastern section as the White Horde (collectively known as the Golden Horde). Chagatai Khan (the second son) inherits Mughulistan, while Tolui governs Persia.

Hulegu Khan
Inheriting the Persian section of the Mongol empire through his father, Tolui, Hulegu Khan led the devastating attack which ended the Islamic caliphate at Baghdad, but he also brought the eastern Persian territories under his firm control (he is seen here with his wife)

1253 - 1256

Tolui's son, Hulegu, begins a campaign which sees him enter the Islamic lands of Mesopotamia on behalf of Great Khan Mongke. Ismailis (assassins) have been threatening the Mongol governors of the western provinces, so Mongke has determined that the Abbasid caliphs must be brought to heel. Hulegu takes Khwarazm, and quickly establishes dominion over Mosul, and Badr ad Din Lu'lu is allowed to retain governance of the city as he aids the Mongols in other campaigns in Syria.

1256 - 1265


Son. First Il-Khan ruler from 1259. Also in Khwarazm.


Despite being nominally dominated by the Mongols under the Great Khan Mongke, the actions in Syria and against Egypt of Sultan an Nasir II Yusuf of Damascus force a Mongol invasion of Mesopotamia. Mongke decides to conquer the region as far as the Nile and sends a vast force under Hulegu against Baghdad in 1258. The Abbasid caliph and his family are massacred when Yusuf fails to produce an army to defend them.


The Mongol army under Hulegu marches on Aleppo and it quickly falls (within a week). This time, most of the inhabitants are killed or sold into slavery and the Great Mosque and the defensive Citadel are razed. When the army arrives at Damascus the city surrenders immediately as Nasir II Yusuf has already fled to Gaza. Samaria is captured, with the garrison of Nablus being put to the sword, and Gaza is taken. Yusuf is captured and killed while a prisoner.

Hulegu withdraws from Syria once he learns of Great Khan Mongke's death, leaving behind a minor force. Baybars of Egypt sends a Mameluke army against this and defeats it at the Battle of Ain Jalut. Damascus is freed five days later and within a month most of Syria is in Baybars' hands. With the political climate in the Mongol empire becoming unstable, Hulegu settles in Persia as the first independent ruler of the Il-Khanate.

At Karakorum, there is disagreement about the choice of successor as great khan. The two claimants, Kublai Khan and Ariq-Boke, engage in civil war which lasts four years. During this period, Hulegu's slaughter of so many thousands of Muslims at Baghdad has enraged Berke Khan of the Blue Horde. War erupts between the two, with the side-effect that Berke is forced to cancel a planned invasion of Europe.


Rukn ad Din Ismail of Mosul sides with the Mamelukes against the Mongols, precipitating Mongol retribution. Mosul is destroyed by them and its surrounding territory is integrated into the Il-Khan dominions, ending Zangid rule of the region.

Mameluke troops
Mamelukes aided Shajar ad Durr in seizing the Ayyubid sultanate of Egypt and establishing a Mameluke sultanate with Aybak al Turkumani at its head

In the same year, following several battles between Alughu of the Chaghatayids, who has sided with Kublai Khan, and Orqina and one Masud Beg, who are fighting on the side of Ariq-Boke, the latter arranges peace negotiations between the two sides. Alughu then takes advantage of the unstable situation by revolting against Ariq-Boke's rule of the west and gaining the allegiance of the governors of Khwarazm. He also ends up marrying Orqina, and Masud Beg is appointed viceroy of Central Asia, probably with a seat in Transoxiana as the very governor that Alughu needs to support him. With a Chaghatayid governor in place in Khwarazm it seems likely that this is the point at which Il-Khan control there ends.

1265 - 1282

Abaqa / Abaga / Abagha Khan



After regaining Seistan from the Kartids of Herat, enforcing his authority over several rebellious towns, and putting down a rebellion by his own chamberlain, the Mihrabanid malik of Seistan, Nasruddin, still finds that relations with the Il-Khans are rather rocky. Abaqa Khan now invades Seistan, but his army is met by Nasruddin's own veteran forces. The Mihrabanids successfully defend their territory.


The sultan of Egypt is faced with an invasion of Syria through Homs under the leadership of Abaqa Khan. The threat is overcome after the bloody Second Battle of Homs produces no clear outcome and Abaqa withdraws.

1282 - 1284

Ahmad Teguder / Tekuder


1284 - 1291


Son of Abaqa.

1291 - 1295




With the death of Kublai Khan, the Yuan dynasty survives under his successor, but the Mongol empire effectively ceases to exist. There are no further khakhans (great khans), and command of the empire's territory is now permanently divided into four distinct and fully independent kingdoms: the Golden Horde (made up of the Blue Horde and White Horde), the Il-Khanate, Mughulistan, and Yuan China.


Baydu / Baidu


1295 - 1304

Mahmud Ghazan / Casanus

Son of Arghun. Led a golden age as Ghaza Il-Khan.


Following his accession, Mahmud Ghazan accepts Islam, marking a departure in the politics of Mongol Persia. From this point onwards, despite Ghazan maintaining strong links with the Yuan, the Il-Khanate becomes increasingly Islamicised, turning away from its Mongol origins.

Mongol horse warrior
The Mongols in China, such as this horse archer (a typical Mongol warrior) gradually became more and more Sinicised, and more distanced from their cousins in Central Asia

1299 - 1303

Mahmud Ghazan marches on Syria, taking Aleppo. He is joined there by his vassal, King Hethoum II of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia. Together they defeat the Mameluke Bahrids of Egypt and Damascus at the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar on 23 or 24 December. The Bahrids are pushed back into Egypt and Damascus quickly falls to the invaders. The Il-Khans then withdraw, perhaps due to a lack of supplies. The attack is renewed in 1301, but it degenerates into a scattering of inconclusive battles and politicking. In the end, Ghazan's forces are defeated by the Mamelukes of Egypt at the Battle of Marj al-Saffar in April 1303 and withdraw, never to return.


Thanks to the support of Kaidu of Mughulistan for the opposing faction in the White Horde dynastic conflict, Buyan has won support both from Great Khan Temur and Mahmud Ghazan. Temur now organises a response against Kaidu, ending with the latter's defeat at the bloody Battle of the River Zawkhan. Kaidu dies shortly afterwards.

1304 - 1306

The Chaghatayids under Du'a and Chapar, son of Kaidu, the Golden Horde under Toqta, and the Il-Khanate under Mahmud Ghazan negotiate peace with Temur Khan so that trade and diplomatic relations are not harmed by constant bickering and fighting. The Yuan emperor is also accepted as the nominal overlord of the three junior Mongol states. As is customary (but not always observed in recent times), Temur designates Öljeytu as the new Il-Khan. Soon afterwards, the former allies Du'a and Chapar fall out over the territory they control within Mughulistan, so Temur backs the rightful ruler, Du'a, and sends a large army into the region in 1306, forcing Chapar to surrender.

1304 - 1316

Muhammad Khudabanda Öljeytu


1316 - 1335

Abu Said Ala ad Dunya wa dDin

Son. No heir.


Abu Said is the last of the Il-Khans to be descended from Hulegu, the first Il-Khan ruler in 1256. His death in 1335 (or 1336) weakens the khanate, but the same date is sometimes used to mark the birth of a Turkic-Mongol by the name of Tîmûr-i Lang (Tamerlane). This Chaghatayid prince will one day attempt to reform the Mongol empire as a Timurid possession, although his birth most likely takes place in the late 1320s.

Mongols of the Golden Horde
The Chaghatayids controlled a large swathe of Central Asia between the Great Khans to the east and the Il-Khans in thwe west, and they became increasingly involved in Central Asia's affairs

1335 - 1336

Arpa Keun

Married Sati Beg, sister of Abu Said. Captured and killed.

1335 - 1353

Almost immediately in 1335, Arpa Keun faces an invasion by the Golden Horde under Ozbeg Khan. This is defeated, but the following year he is attacked by Oirat 'Ali Padsah, the governor of Baghdad. Padsah defeats him on 10 April 1336 near Maraga and soon afterwards he is captured and killed. Oirat 'Ali Padsah immediately places an Il-Khan Puppet on the throne which he rules from Baghdad. This triggers a period in which several rival Mongol successor states, such as the Chobanids and the Jalayirids, jostle for control. The latter seize Baghdad and rule south-western Persia from there. The entire region undergoes a period of anarchy and civil war.

Il-Khan Post-Dynasty Puppets (Persia)
AD 1336 - 1357

The Il-Khan (or Ilkhan) dynasty was of Mongol origin. They had been based in the ancient city of Uruk in Mesopotamia since 1231, apparently giving the region a new name based on their capital - Iraq - although this is hotly disputed. One alternative put forward is that the name originates for the Persian word for lowlands, 'eraq'.

In 1336 Oirat 'Ali Padsah, the governor of Baghdad, attacked and killed Arpa Keun, the last Il-Khan. Padsah immediately placed a puppet on the throne which he ruled from Iraq, but the khanate broke up almost immediately with a period of anarchy and misrule hitting Persia as several Mongol successor states jostled for control. The main ones were the Jalayirids in south-western Persia and the Chobanids in north-western Persia. Many of the eastern subjects threw off Il-Khan domination and pursued their own ambitions, such as the Mihrabanids of Seistan and the Kartids of Herat. The Il-Khans found themselves contained in Iraq, under the domination of their successors. Few of them remained long on the throne and their claim appears to have died out after the little-known Ghazan II in 1357.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines, Farhad Daftary, from The History of the Saffarids of Sistan and the Maliks of Nimruz, C E Bosworth (1994), from The Secret History of Iran, Hamad Subani, from E J Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, Martijn Theodoor Houtsma (Brill, 1987), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Timur, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)



First Il-Khan puppet, of 'Ali Padsah of Baghdad. Fled.


Musa is the grandson of Baydu, and the great-great grandson of Hulegu, the second Il-Khan, but his right to the throne is challenged by the Jalayirid, Hasan Buzurg. Oirat 'Ali Padsah is killed and Musa flees after being defeated at the Battle of Qara Darra on 24 July 1336. Hasan Buzurg maintains his own puppet on the Il-Kahn throne, the child Muhammad Khan, a descendant of Hulegu.

Il-Khan Musa coin
Shown here are two sides of a rare coin which was issued during the brief 'reign' of Musa, a direct descendant of the powerful Il-Khan ruler, Hulegu, but himself a puppet

1337 - 1338

Muhammad Khan

Jalayirid puppet (south-western Persia). A child. Executed.

1338 - 1339

The Chobanid, Hasan Kucek, fights Hasan Buzurg and Muhammad at the Battle of Alataq on 16 July 1338, defeating them. Buzurg flees but Muhammad is captured and executed.

Sati Beg, the widow of the final ruling Il-Khan, Arpa Keun, had initially been a supporter of Hasan Buzurg, but when he is defeated by Kucek, Sati Beg's own step-grandson, she defects. She is raised to the throne as a figurehead, although her authority does not extend beyond the Chobanid borders. Kucek grows suspicious of her by 1339 so he deposes her and marries her to his next candidate for the throne, Suleiman Khan.

1338 - 1339

Sati Beg

Chobanid figurehead (north-western Persia). Died after 1345.


Togha Temur

Jalayirid puppet who briefly interrupted Chobanid superiority.

1339 - 1343

Suleiman Khan / Sulayman

Chobanid puppet. m Sati Beg. Claimed title until 1345.

1339 - 1340

Following the withdrawal of Jalayirid support from Togha Temur, the next candidate put forward by Hasan Buzurg of the Jalayirids is Jahan Temur. He and Buzurg meet the Chobanids in battle on the Jaghatu in 1340 and are defeated. Buzurg gives up on the idea of puppet claimants to the throne and now establishes his own Jalayirid Sultanate in Baghdad.

1339 - 1340

Jahan Temur

Grandson of Gaykhatu. Jalayirid puppet. Defeated in battle.

1341 - 1343

Suleiman Khan is also recognised by the Sarbadars in western Khorasan as they attempt to begin an alliance with the Chobanids. However, when Hasan Kucek of the Chobanids is murdered in 1343, Suleiman appeals to Hasan Buzurg of the Jalayirids to intervene in the ensuing Chobanid succession struggle, Both claimants, together with Suleiman, are forced to flee to Diyarbakr, where Suleiman maintains his claim until 1345. The Chobanids renew their control of the Il-Khans.

Anushirwan coin
A relatively obscure Il-Khan puppet, Anushirwan may have been a minor member of the family when he was raised to the throne as the Chobanid puppet in 1343, but he survived there for a remarkable thirteen years with coins being minted in his name

1343 - 1356


Origins obscure. Chobanid puppet.

1356 - 1357

Ghazan II

Known only through numismatic evidence.

1357 - 1401

The Il-Khans collapse even as a puppet 'dynasty'. As a result the Mihrabanids of Seistan gain independence by default and manage to hold onto it for almost half a century. Southern and eastern Persia and Iraq are controlled directly by the Jalayirids until 1401, when Iraq becomes a province of the Timurids after their founder, Timur, conquers Baghdad - the last of a series of conquests which gives him all of Persia.

Timurid Dynasty (Persia)
AD 1384 - 1500

The great eastern imperial lands of ancient Persia were the location for a long period of unrest between about 1336-1387. In the west, the surviving Il-Khans were being used as puppets by the Chobanids and the Jalayirids for the right to claim control of all of Persia. In the east Chaghatayid khans were attempting to quell the various tribes and cities of Transoxiana but were eventually unsuccessful, despite two invasions of the region in the 1360s. The death of their khan ended Chaghatayid hopes of restoring control of western Mughulistan which included Transoxiana. Instead, two tribal leaders, Amir Husayn and Tîmûr-i Lang (Timur) contested for control of Transoxiana.

The latter was ultimately successful, taking Transoxiana and Greater Khorasan (with its focus on Samarkand at this time) in the name of the Chaghatyids. In effect, though, he was forming his own Timurid khanate. Samarkand fell to him in 1366, Balikh in 1369, and Timur was recognised as the region's ruler in 1370. He placed a figurehead Mongol on the throne to legitimise his rule there while he governed from behind the throne as amir and his increasingly Persian and Turkic-influenced Timurid descendants succeeded him. His rise to power may also have been the trigger which sparked Shaibanid expansion around Bukhara.

Timur extended his new-found empire by taking southern and western Persia from 1380. He entered Persia proper in 1382 and an ambitious attack on the Chobanids and the disputed Caucasus region by the Golden Horde allowed Timur to fill the power vacuum and found his own Timurid dynasty. At its height, Timurid Persia governed all the territory between the eastern edge of the Black Sea, down through Mesopotamia and Iran, eastwards to the Aral Sea, through Samarkand, and halfway into modern Pakistan. However, so many people were killed by his wars (estimated by some to have reached seventeen million), that the seat of Persian culture and influence moved further east, to Samarkand.

Iskandar with the seven sages, dated AD 1495

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Timurids, The Columbia Encyclopaedia (Sixth Ed, Columbia University), from The Encyclopaedia of War: Timur ('the Lame') (1336-1405), Timothy May, from The Art of War: Great Commanders of the Ancient from Medieval World: Tamerlane, Justin Marozzi (Andrew Roberts, Ed, Quercus Military History, 2008), from Tamerlane and the symbolism of sovereignty, Beatrice Forbes Manz (Iranian Studies 21 (1-2), 1988), from The Secret History of Iran, Hamad Subani, from E J Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, Martijn Theodoor Houtsma (Brill, 1987), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Timur, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

1370 - 1405

Tîmûr-i Lang / Tamerlane

Mongol conqueror from Mughulistan. In Herat & Samarkand.

1382 - 1383

Having secured his conquests around Khorasan and Transoxiana, Timur has begun the expansion of his territory into Southern Khorasan and Persia. He forces the Kartid dynasty of Herat into submission and demands a hostage from Seistan to symbolise the subservience of the Mihrabanids. Malik Qutbuddin sends a relative named Tajuddin.

However, in 1383, despite agreeing a hostage, Timur still turns up at Seistan with his army. The two sides fail to come to agreement so Timur defeats the Mihrabanids in open battle. Qutbuddin is soon captured, imprisoned, and deported to Samarkand. He is executed three years later. Timur appoints Shah-i Shahan as governor of Seistan and proceeds to ravage the province.

Map of the Timurid empire AD 1400
Timur effectively recreated the ancient Persian empire through his various conquests over the course of almost forty years, subduing many competing clans and khanates that would begin competing again after his death (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1386 - 1394

Timur invades the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia, winning the support of the nascent White Sheep emirate along the way. Greater Armenia is conquered and Timur massacres a large part of its population.


The Muzaffarids have been bickering amongst their regional peers for superiority while also trying to organise a coalition to oppose Timur. Timur now removes the Muzaffarids from their control of Shiraz (and southern Iran) by killing the last of them, Shah Mansur.


The Golden Horde is beaten, allowing Timur to claim complete control of the Caucasus, which probably includes the Alani to its north. The horde's capital at Sarai is sacked by Timur - along with the city of Astrakhan - while the horde itself is forced to accept vassalage and a puppet ruler.


Timur subjugates Multan (in modern Pakistan) through the efforts of Pir Muhammad, his grandson through his son, Jahangir. Subsequently, Dipalpur (in India) falls, causing destruction in Delhi.

1400 - 1402

Jalayirid Iraq becomes a province of Timur's Persia when he conquers Baghdad. Timur also defeats the Black Sheep emirate in eastern Anatolia, and captures Damascus. The following year he also defeats, captures, and imprisons Ottoman ruler Bayezid I at the Battle of Ankara, making Anatolia another province. Now fully secure in Persia, the figurehead Chaghatayid khans become completely unimportant. The subject Ak Qoyunlu Turkmen in eastern Anatolia are granted (or conquer) Diyar Bakir on the banks of the Tigris (now one of the largest cities in south-eastern Turkey).

1405 - 1407

Pîr Muhammad ibn Jahangir

Grandson. In Kandahar (modern Afghanistan). Murdered.


On his deathbed, Timur names Pir Muhammad as his successor. None of his own sons are suitable for the position. Miran Shah suffers from mental problems, and Shah Rukh seems to be more interested in his religion, while the other two, Jahangir and Umar Shaikh have already died.

After Timur's death, none of the Timurid royalty accept his decision and Pir Muhammad is unable to enforce his rule in Transoxiana, splitting the empire in two (or even three). The western portion is ruled by Shah Rukh from Herat (also in modern Afghanistan), and his wife, Goharshad moves the capital there from Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan). The eastern portion of Transoxiana is ruled from Samarkand. The confusion also acts as a prompt for the Ottomans to re-invade Greater Armenia and annexe it to their own empire while the subservient Golden Horde fractures into separate states.

Timurid troops
Timurid troops included people from all over his conquered territories, including Turks, Persians, and Indo-Iranian Central Asians, all of whom were organised into a decimal system of units


Pir Muhammad is murdered by his vizier and from Herat, around 1409, Shah Rukh is able to secure the role of overall ruler of the empire when he recaptures Transoxiana. From this point, Herat remains the heart of the Timurid empire which still covers Persia and Greater Khorasan.

1409 - 1447

Shah Rukh / Shahrukh

In Herat (1405-1409). In Transoxiana (1409-1447).


The Black Sheep emirate captures Baghdad, reducing the Timurids to Iran in the west, and Herat and Transoxiana in the east. The turbulent Timurids are on the back foot and decline is setting in.


Upon Shah Rukh's death, his wife, Goharshad, becomes the de facto ruler of the Timurid empire. She elevates her favourite grandson to the throne and is the power behind that throne.

1447 - 1449

Ulugh Beg / Mīrza Mohammad Taregh

Son. Viceroy in Transoxiana (1409-1447).

1447 - 1457


Mother. In Persia and Herat. Executed in Transoxiana.

1448 - 1449

Ulugh Beg of Samarkand, unpopular and unsuccessful in battle, is beheaded by his own son after he massacres the people of Herat, which is then conquered by another Timurid rival, Babur Ibn-Baysunkur. Sultan Muhammad, a grandson of Shah Rukh, claims control of central Persia (which includes Iran in the west), while Ulugh Beg's son, Abd al Latîf, is left with Transoxiana.

1449 - 1451

Sultan Muhammad

Grandson of Shah Rukh. In Central Persia. Executed.

1450 - 1451

Sultan Muhammad invades the Herat region of Khorasan, defeating Babur at the Battle of Mashad in March 1450. After initially ceding territory, Babur recovers in 1451 and turns the tables, taking his rival prisoner and executing him. Central Persia becomes his, reuniting two portions of the empire.

1451 - 1453

Babur Ibn-Baysunkur / Abu'l-Qasim

Grandson of Shah Rukh. In Khorasan. Persia taken from him.

1451 - 1453

Jahan Shah ends the loyalty of the Black Sheep emirate with the fracturing Timurids. He besieges Qum and Sava with overwhelming forces which the dominant Timurid ruler, Babur Ibn-Baysunkur at Herat, is unable to face. Most of Persia is taken by 1452, including Ray, with the last section, Abarquh, falling in 1453. Khorasan and the Timurids are never able to recapture Persia.

1461 - 1469

Abu Sa'id of Transoxiana completes his conquest of much of Khorasan, including the Herat region, and eastern Iran, agreeing with the Black Sheep emir, Jahan Shah, to divide Iran (Central Persia) between the two of them. The Timurids lose Iran permanently to the White Sheep emirate following Abu Sa'id's death in 1469.

Map of Anatolia and Persia c.AD 1475
The rival White Sheep emirate, or Ak Qoyunlu confederation, at its height controlled a great area of territory, stretching from Azerbaijan in the north to the Persian Gulf and eastern Iran (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1469 - 1501

Subsequently, Uzun Hassan of the White Sheep emirate is able to capture Baghdad, along with territories around the Persian Gulf. He expands his emirate into Iran as far east as Herat in Southern Khorasan, replacing the Black Sheep emirs as the main regional power. The emirate is not a single entity, though, having been formed through uniting several clans and tribes in the form of a confederation. Unfortunately, around this time, the Ottomans are also seeking an eastwards expansion. This poses a serious threat to the White Sheep, and Uzun is forced to seek an alliance with the Karamanids of central Anatolia.

Persia's eastern territories regain their independence as the former Timurid empire finally fragments irreversibly. This independence also includes the Mihrabanids, but their sudden freedom from overlords generates a fresh wave of regional conflicts as local rulers jostle for supremacy.


The Turkic-speaking Iranian Safavid shah begins a purposeful conquest of Persia. Bearing kinship with the White Sheep emirate as well as the native Iranians, he establishes a nationalist Persian monarchy on the basis of Shiite (Twelver) ideology.

Safavid Shahs of Iran
AD 1501 - 1736

FeatureThe Safavids were a Turkic-speaking Iranian dynasty which was descended from Sheykh Safi ad Din (1253-1334) of Ardabil, head of the Sufi order of Safaviyeh (Safawiyah). They also bore a direct relationship to Uzun Hassan of the White Sheep emirate of the Ak Qoyunlu, but around 1399 they exchanged their Sunnite affiliation for Shi'ism (see feature link, right for an explanation of the Islamic divide). The Safavids established Shi'ite Islam as the state religion of Persia, and it was this which became a major factor in the emergence of a unified national consciousness amongst the various ethnic and linguistic elements of the country. For the first time since the Islamic invasion of the seventh century, Iran would be ruled as a country in its own right, by local imported dynasties which were at least undergoing the process of becoming natives, instead as part of someone else's empire to the east or west of Iran proper.

As head of the sufis of Ardabil the founder of the dynasty, Esmail or Ismail, won enough support from the local Turkmen and other disaffected heterodox tribes to enable him to mount a challenge to the White Sheep emirate. The White Sheep still ruled a substantial chunk of western and central Iran after defeating the Black Sheep emirate in their fight for regional dominance and their subsequent seizure much of Iran in 1467-1469. Now, though, Ismail defeated them at the Battle of Nakhchivan (in modern Azerbaijan), forcing them to withdraw from the heartland of Iran and relinquish Tabriz (on the Iranian side of the modern Azerbaijani border). Esmail was enthroned as shah of Azerbaijan in July 1501. Despite his family connections to the former White Sheep emir, Uzun Hassan, he was still intent on building his own empire centred on Iran, and by May the following year he was shah of Iran. After that he was faced with the task of properly subjugating and pulling together all of the disparate elements which had settled or taken over Iran's regions in the century and-a- half since the Il-Khans had fallen.

His Iranian empire would go on to control all of Iran, plus the various territories that would eventually coalesce into modern Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, a good deal of what is now Georgia, Iraq, Kuwait, the North Caucasus region (now part of Russia), and also areas of what are now Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This was a far greater swathe of territory than that controlled by modern Iran of course, but the country's borders had always been somewhat fluid, and would remain so until the twentieth century.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Anar R Guliyev, from History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century, Henry H Howarth (1880), and from External Links: Iran Chamber Society, and History of Khiva, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

1501 - 1524

Esmail / Ismail I

Grandson of Uzun Hasan of the White Sheep emirate.

1501 - 1511

Esmail spends a decade subjugating much of greater Iran, also annexing Baghdad and Mosul on the way. However to the east in 1501, the Shaibanid Turks conquer Transoxiana and Southern Khorasan (including the Herat region). The former region includes a small Timurid principality at Ferghana which is ruled by Babur, the Timurid son of Umar Sheikh Mirza. The Uzbek conquest forces him into exile where he captures Kabul in 1504. Esmail aids him in recapturing Samarkand in 1511 following the death of Shaibanid ruler Mohammed Shaibani. However, Babur is unable to retain it. The Shaibanids re-conquer the city just eight months later.

Map of the Tartar Khanates AD 1500
The territories to the north of Iran at this time were a complex and shifting set of small states, many of which had been created out of the break-up of the Mongol empire (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1511 - 1514

The Şahkulu Rebellion is a widespread pro-Safavid rebellion in southern Anatolia by the Takkalu Qizilbash tribe. The Ottomans send an army to quell it but this is defeated. This and a large-scale incursion into eastern Anatolia by Safavid ghazis under the leadership of Nūr-'Alī Ḵalīfa results in Sultan Selim I invading Iran two years after his accession (1514). Selim eventually defeats Ismail at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, despite the Safavid ruler having a more mobile, better prepared army. In the end he cannot match the modern equipment carried by the Ottomans - musketry and canon especially. Fortunately for Iran, the Ottomans suffer a mutiny amongst the troops in their army and have to withdraw after briefly occupying the Safavid capital at Tabriz.


King David X, the Georgian king of Kartli, is defeated by Kakheti at the Battle of Kiziki, and is hereafter recognised solely as the king of Kartli. He goes on to defeat a large Iranian occupying force at Tiflis, conquers Aghjakala, and massacres all the Turkomans who have settled there.

1520 - 1521

Following the death of Ottoman Sultan Selim I and the accession of his successor, Suleyman I the Magnificent, Governor Djanbirdi al-Ghazali of Damascus rebels. He seeks to restore Mameluke suzerainty over Syria and goes so far as to declare himself sultan. Hama, Hims, and Tripoli join his rebellion, but both Khair Bey of Egypt and Shah Esmail himself refuse to support him. Eventually, the Ottomans destroy both him and his army.

1524 - 1576

Tahmasp I / Tahmash

Son. Weak ruler.


Ubayd Allah Sultan Khan of Shaibanid Bukhara is at war against Shah Tahmasp, and the Uzbeks of Khwarazm support Bukharan attacks by advancing to Pil Kupruki. The border cities of Khodjend (in Khorasan) and Asferain (near Astarabad) are also stormed. As Tahmasp also has to face the Ottomans, he negotiates with the Khwarizmi Uzbeks and effectively hands them Khwarazm.


Having previously regained Seistan, Sultan Mahmud now recognises the authority of the Safavids and hands over control of Seistan to Shah Tahmasp. From the sixteenth century, the former emirate at Seistan generally forms part of an eastern province of Persia. The province continues to be referred to as Khorasan even though it has formed only a small part of the greater emirate of Khorasan and the subsequent region of Greater Khorasan.

1543 - 1545

The exiled Moghul emperor of northern India, Humayun, seeks refuge with the sympathetic Tahmasp, until he is able to strike out and recapture his empire. In 1545 he receives a Persian army with which to conquer Kabul. In 1554-1556 he is able to re-conquer Delhi from the Suris, reuniting the Moghul empire's territories in India. His time in Persia creates a subsequent shift in Moghul influence in India, from Central Asian to Persian.

Humayun's tomb
Humayun's tomb in New Delhi marks the end point of a remarkable reign which saw him accede and then submit to exile after a decade of opposition, primarily from the Afghan adventurer, Sher Shah Suri, only to reclaim his throne fifteen years later then to die the following year in an accident


Haydar Mirza

Son. Announced himself as the new shah.


When Tahmasp dies in 1576, Haydar Mirza is the only viable successor to be present in the palace. He takes the opportunity to declare himself shah. His half-brother, Esmail, who is favoured by perhaps the majority of the royal court, is still in jail twenty years after being arrested on falsified charges of conspiracy to seize the throne. Haydar Mirza is almost immediately seized by guards loyal to Esmail (dressed as a woman and hiding in the harem, no less), and is beheaded. Esmail's sister, Pari Khan Khanum, becomes the effective head of state during the forty-five days or so that it takes to sort out the dynastic squabble and for Esmail to reach the capital.


Pari Khan Khanum

Half-sister. Interim head of state. Supported Esmail.

1576 - 1578

Esmail / Ismail II

Half-brother. Previously governor of Khorasan.

1576 - 1578

From 1576 the Safavid shahs begin to encroach upon Afghan territory, putting pressure on Kabul to defend itself. Unfortunately, Esmail has offended many with his cold and haughty attitude, inherited from his time in prison. He has even alienated Pari Khan Khanum, and one day in 1578 he drops dead unexpectedly. The court doctors suspect poison, although no action is taken against Pari.

1578 - 1587

Sultan Mohammad Khodabanda

Half-brother. Nearly blind. Overthrown by a Qizilbash leader.


Pari Khan Khanum

Half-sister. De facto ruler. Strangled.

1578 - 1587

The reign of Mohammad Khodabanda (otherwise known as Sultan Mohammad) is weak and relatively ineffective. Factionalism takes place amid the various tribes and infighting is the result, with the country suffering from periods of civil war. At the start of his reign Pari Khan Khanum is clearly in control as the accepted de facto ruler, even holding court and attending to state business. Mohammad's influential wife has her murdered just two months and a few days later and herself becomes the de facto head of state. She too is murdered, this time by the powerful Qizilbash tribes and the country remains chaotic, with even the early Safavid capital of Tabriz being captured by the Ottomans in 1585 as part of the Ottoman-Safavid War (1578-1590).

1587 - 1629

Abbas I the Great

Son of Mohammad. Established Safavids as a major power.

1588 - 1598

Abbas addresses the country's decline and manages to reverse it. However, in 1588, in the name of Abdullah II of Bukhara, his son, Abdul-Mu'min, leads his Uzbek forces in an attack on the important Persian city of Mashhad (Maixhad). After four months of being besieged, the city surrenders and the systematic looting that follows does not spare the sacred tombs. The Uzbek Shaibanids retain the city for almost a full decade, but Shah Abbas regains it for the Safavids upon Abdullah's death in Samarkand.

Shah Abbas I in Mashhad
The reign of Shah Abbas was one that involved a restoration of Iranian regional greatness, although he did have to wait eleven years to be able to retake the city of Mashhad where he is pictured in this illustration (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1603 - 1618

The Ottoman-Safavid War (1603-1618) is the result of Abbas rebuilding Iran and ending the chaos of his father's reign. Abbas reverses the losses suffered during the previous war and increases Iran's territories even beyond their traditional borders at Dagestan in the north (which includes a scorched earth policy being pursued in Armenia). The Ottomans are roundly defeated and out-manoeuvred by the shah. After recapturing the Caucasus, in 1615 Abbas deposes the king of Kartli for attempting to make the most of the chaos of war to attempt to unify Georgia, and also has his eldest son killed, Mohammed Baqir Mirza, after suspecting him of conspiracy.


Taking advantage of a revolt by Shah Jahan, son of the Moghul emperor, the Persians capture Kandahar. The attempt has taken quite some time, with Isfandiyar, son of Khan Arab Muhammad I of Khwarazm, also aiding them in 1621. In return, he is granted five hundred troops to aid him against his rebel brothers in the khanate.

1629 - 1642

Safi I / Sam Mirza

Grandson (son of Mohammed Baqir Mirza).


Having lived a profligate life of alcoholic excess, losing his grip on Baghdad to the Ottomans in 1638, Safi I dies young, leaving his nine year-old son to succeed him. The boy continues his education while his mother and the grand vizier govern the state with a firm, fair hand. However, the drive by Abbas to stamp out corruption makes him plenty of enemies, with some of them being involved in the murder of Saru Taqi.

1642 - 1666

Abbas II / Soltan Mohammad Mirza

Son. Succeeded aged 9.

1642 - c.1648

Anna Khanum

Mother and regent. Stepped down once Abbas was of age.

1642 - 1645

Saru Taqi

Grand vizier and regent. Assassinated by army officers.


Ten years after it is temporarily retaken by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan, Ghazni is again captured by the Iranians. This time they hold onto it, despite a concerted Mughal effort to recapture it and Kandahar. Both cities remain in Iranian hands until the formation of the Afghan state under the Duranni dynasty.

1651 - 1653

The Russo-Persian War sees Safavid troops and their allies in Dagestan attacking Russian fortifications along the Sunzha. The Dagestani units are led by Khan of Derbent, the governor of the region, who is possibly also the instigator of the violence. The intention is to strengthen the Persian position in the North Caucasus. Alexis sends an embassy to Persia to conclude a peaceful settlement of the conflict, which succeeds in August 1653.

1666 - 1694

Safi II / Solayman I / Suleiman

Son of Abbass II.

1694 - 1722

Hosayn I

Son. Overthrown by Hotaki Afghans.


In his role as governor of the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, which he has held since 1704, Georgian King Giorgi XI of Kartli is committed to leading a Persian force against rebel Ghilzai Afghan tribes under Mirwais Khan Hotak. The latter is creating a kingdom of his own, and he manages to defeat and kill Giorgi.

1722 - 1729

Shah Hosayn surrenders the Persian capital of Isfahan to Afghan rebels after a seven month siege. The Ghilzai Afghans of Kandahar's new Hotaki dynasty occupy much of Iran, including the capital at Estfahan. However, they are seen as usurpers by much of the population, and hold effective power only in the east. In 1725, they order the massacre of all captured Safavid princes except for Hosayn himself, although Hosayn manages to have the lives of his two sons spared as well.

Mahmud Shah Hotaki coin
Two sides of a coin issued under Mahmud Shah of the Hotaki dynasty of early Afghanistan, the ruler of a new, centrist Afghan ruling elite who managed to defeat the Safavids and occupy large areas of Iran for seven years

Sensing the weakness of the Safavid empire, Czar Peter the Great of Russia launches the Russo-Persian War of 1722-1723. Otherwise known as the 'Persian Expedition of Peter the Great', the war is designed to increase Russian influence in the Caucasus and prevent the Ottoman empire from increasing its own regional authority. Astrabad, Baku, Derbent, Gilan, Mazandaran, and Shirvan are all successfully won (only to be subsequently leased back to Persia between 1732-1735 now that the two states are allies).

1722 - 1732

Tahmasp II / Tahmash

Hotaki puppet until 1729. Deposed by Nadir Kuli. Killed 1740.


The khanate of Khiva emerges from another period of obscurity and uncertain rulers with the accession of Ilbars III. He is a Kazakh, with no known connections to the traditional ruling clan. He refuses to submit to Iran, setting the two states on a collision course.

1729 - 1731

In alliance with Tahmasp II, the Afshar warlord, Nadir Kuli, liberates the country from the Afghans at the Battle of Damghan in 1729, and restores the Safavids to full control by 1730. However, having been recognised both by the Ottomans and the Russians, Tahmasp launches an ill-advised campaign against the former in 1731. He attempts to seize back territories in the Caucasus which are now in Ottoman hands. Not only is he defeated - he also loses all of the gains made by Nadir Kuli in the previous year. Nadir quickly returns from campaigning in the east, deposes Tahmasp in 1732, assumes the position of regent and de facto ruler of Iran, and places Tahmasp's infant son on the throne as a figurehead.

Peter the Great spotted the military weakness of Iran and its provinces and began a long-running Russian push to extend his empire's borders southwards with his modernised army, starting in 1722

1732 - 1736

Nadir Kuli

Took title of regent and full control. Afsharid shah (1736).

1732 - 1736

Abbas III

Infant son of Tahmasp II. Deposed by Nadir Kuli. Killed 1740.

1732 - 1735

Astrabad, Baku, Derbent, Gilan, Mazandaran, and Shirvan, all of which had been won by Russia in the war of 1722-1723, are leased back to Persia now that the two states are allies. The Treaty of Resht in 1732 secures Astrabad, Gilan, and Mazandaran, whilst the rest are returned under the terms of the Treaty of Ganja in 1735. The agreement is the result of a shared desire to prevent Ottoman expansion in the region.


Not content with leading as regent, Nadir Kuli claims the title of shah and founds the short-lived Afsharid dynasty. The Safavids are not entirely done, though. One claimant appears in Mashad (see below for details) and a second is used as a puppet in 1750-1765 by Karim Khan's Zand dynasty.

Afsharid Shahs of Iran
AD 1736 - 1750

Between 1729 and 1730, the Afshar warlord, Nadir Kuli liberated the country from the Hotaki dynasty of Persia's eastern border regions. His efforts culminated in victory at the Battle of Damghan in 1729, after which he was able to restore the Safavid shah to the throne. However, while he was away fighting to regain lost territory in the west, Shah Tahmasp II proved incapable of defending the east. Incensed, Nadir deposed him and occupied the position of regent for the infant Abbas III. He held all the power so, once secure in his position, Shah Abbas III was removed from the throne in 1736. Nadir now declared himself to be shah, forming his own, brief, Afsharid dynasty. Despite this briefness, Nadir Kuli was a skilled commander. He managed to extend the Persian empire to its greatest extent in centuries. By the 1740s it held Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Chechnya (in part), Dagestan, Georgia, India (northern areas of formerly Moghul empire territory), Iraq (in part), Kabardino-Balkaria, Khiva, Oman, Pakistan, and even parts of Ottoman Turkey.

The Afsharids originated in the form of the Afshar tribe, thirteenth century Turkic migrants from Azerbaijan who were now located in the north-east, in the province of Khorasan (southern areas of the former emirate of Khorasan - now northern and western Afghanistan). Now that region formed a borderland with the newly-founded Afghan empire, and warfare there (and across the empire) was a way of life. This gave the Afshar tribe a good grounding in battle tactics and a fighting mentality which Nadir Kuli found sadly lacking in the Safavids.

Unfortunately, Nadir Shah made enemies during his rise to power and his subsequent descent into paranoia. His assassination led to the weakening of the Afsharids amid speculation about his death. The Afghans (now under new leadership themselves) claimed that he was killed by Iranian Shias because he was Sunni, and also because he was from Khorasan, and had close ties with the Afghan tribes. In return, Iranians were of the mind that he was killed because the Afghans had a plan to gain independence, and they pointed the finger at Ahmad Shah Abdali, who was very close to Nadir Shah.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with 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, from The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, Michael Axworthy (I B Tauris Language, 2006), from 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

Former general, and regent (1732-1736). 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

1738 - 1741

Reza Qoli Mirza

Son and viceroy. m sister of Safavid Tahmasp II. Blinded.


Nader had previously lost his brother, Ebrahim Qoli, during a campaign in Dagestan. Now while progressing north to fight the Dagestanis, an assassin takes a shot at him, lightly wounding him. His relationship with his somewhat high-handed son has been rocky of late, and Nadir suspects he is behind the attempt. Reza is confined to Tehran. Much of Dagestan is subsequently captured but the Persians face a Dagestani guerrilla war led by the Lezgins. Across the northern Caucasus, Nadir is also opposed by Avars and Laks. After trying to hold his position there for a few years, Nadir is forced to withdraw.


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.


Increasing paranoia has blighted Nadir's later years. His blinding of courtiers who had witnessed his hasty and regretted decision to blind 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 Caucasus break away as independent khanates, whilst the Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti also reclaim their independence under the energetic Erekle II.


Adel Shah

Nephew of Nadir Shah. 'The just king'. Blinded and executed.


Amid the chaos of the fragmenting empire, Adel Shah seizes the throne and immediately begins murdering all of Nadir's sons and grandsons other than the son of Reza Qoli Mirza, one Shah Rukh, aged thirteen. He makes the fatal mistake of sending his own brother, Ebrahim, to seize Isfahan. Ebrahim does so, sets himself up as a rival ruler, and then defeats Adel in battle and has him blinded.

Isfahan 1700s
Isfahan was the capital of Iran in the 1700s, and this German print from the early years of the century shows the central and residential areas of the city (click or tap on image to view full sized)



Brother, rival, and usurper. Captured and died.


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

Lost Persia 'proper' to Zands. In Khorasan 1750 & 1755-96.

1748 - 1750

The increasing instability in the Persian lands allows several groups of tribal Arabs to attempt the occupation of Bushire (Bushehr) in the south, although they fail. To strengthen their hand they later side with Dutch-German trading companies and attack the city again. It takes a year for a two thousand-man mounted army to get rid of all of the invaders.

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 of 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.

Zand Shahs of Iran
AD 1750 - 1794

Having forced the preceding Afsharids out of power, the Zand shahs ruled much of Persia from their southern capital at Shiraz. The Afsharids held on at the eastern edge, in the eastern province of Khorasan. Now that region formed a borderland with the newly-founded Afghan empire, and warfare there (and across the empire) was a way of life. In their brief half a century in power, the Zands never did manage to conquer Khorasan. Instead they allowed the Afghans to annexe it themselves and the task of reconquest was left to the succeeding Qajars.

Moḥammad Karim Khan had been born as Ināq Khan of the Bagala branch of the Zand. This was a pastoral tribe of the Lak branch of Lors (perhaps originally Kurds according to Minorsky). Nadir Shah (1736-1747) had deported much of the tribe (including Karim Shah) from the slopes of the Zagros Mountains in the west of Persia to Khorasan in the east. When Nadir Shah was assassinated it was Karim Khan who led his people back to their home in the west. In alliance with 'Ali-Mardān Khan Baḵtiāri, he then proceeded to capture Isfahan and install a Safavid puppet ruler, Shah Esmail III (the son of a court official and his wife, the daughter of Safavid Shah Hosayn I). In 1751 he defeated a bid by his ally for sole power, and then adopted his rival's title of wakil-al-dowla or vakil ('deputy of the state', or regent). Usually best known as Karim Khan, he never took the title of shah, preferring his title of regent instead. He persisted with this even when the puppet shah had been removed from the throne in 1765 and after Esmail's death in 1773 (the removal in 1765 is uncertain, as some sources fail to show this date at all).

None of Karim Khan's successors used the title of regent, but neither did they call themselves shah. As a side note, this adherence by Karim Khan to the title of regent instead of adopting 'shah' is the reason for his name - and that of Lutf Ali Khan Zand (1789-1794) - remaining in place on street signs following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The names of the shahs were removed, but a regent was seen as being much less of a threat to the new revolution.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, Carsten Niebuhr, 1792, from The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, Farhad Daftary (1990), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 7: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, Gavin R G Hambly (1991), from The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Thomas Bois & Vladimir Minorsky (1986), and from External Links: Historical Iran Blogspot, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

1751 - 1779

Karim Khan

Regent for Esmail III (1750-1773). Died following illness.

1751 - 1765

Esmail III

Puppet Safavid shah for Karim Khan's regency. Died 1773.


Karim Khan defeats a bid by his former ally, 'Ali-Mardān Khan, for sole power. It is at this point that he adopts the title of wakil-al-dowla or vakil ('deputy of the state', or regent). After defeating other contestants for power, including the leading Afsharid, Shah Rukh, he 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 of the Safavids, 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 and the region is soon annexed to their empire.

Karin Khan Zand
Karim Khan was a tribal leader from the Zagros Mountains region who grasped the opportunity during a power vacuum to seize power across much of Persia, although his newfound-dynasty would be short-lived after his death


When the news of the attack on Bushire (Bushehr) of 1748-1750 reaches the governing Al-Madhkur clan, they and their allies leave the city for good and migrate to the island of Bahrain where they set up an all-but-independent governorship. Successive invasions of the island have left it vulnerable and chaotic. The German geographer, Carsten Niebuhr, states that the Sunni Persians of Bushire under the Al-Madhkurs are one of southern Persia's three major governing forces in the 1760s, so clearly not all of them migrate.

Niebuhr's statements are sometimes used to assert that the governorship of Bushire and Bahrain is really an independent sovereign state, but this seems unlikely as the claim is not repeated elsewhere. Instead, as is usual at times of instability, the governors probably exercise a good deal of independent authority without actually being independent in name.


Following a period of about six months of illness, Karim Khan dies. His long term 'guest' (or hostage) is Agha Mohammad of the Qajar tribe of Azerbaijan. Upon hearing the news, and having up until now acted as a perfect 'guest' with not a word of rebellion, Mohammad collects together his immediate loyal followers and proceeds to his home province. Once there he quickly defeats his two brothers and assumes command of his tribe. Now he is in a position to begin his armed opposition to a Zand nobility that is still fighting itself for the throne. Mohammad effectively rules as the first Qajar shah in the north (including Tehran), while the Zands govern the centre (around Esfahan) and the south (Shiraz).


Mohammad Ali Khan

Son. In Shiraz ('City of Roses', in the south).


Zaki Khan

Brother of Karim Khan, and the true power in the south. Killed.


Both candidates for the Zand throne are still young, and are also brothers. Mohammad Ali Khan is under the power of the ruthless Zaki Khan, brother of the late Shah Karim Khan. Keen to secure his hold on power, he also appoints Abdul Fath as co-ruler. Then he dispatches an army under the command of his nephew, Ali Morad Khan, against Agha Mohammad. It soon becomes apparent that Ali Morad is using the army to take Esfahan for himself, setting up a rival Zand lordship there. Zaki Khan marches on Esfahan where he is killed by his own men before he can mount an attack.


Abul Fath

Young brother of Mohammad Ali and 'co-ruler'. In Shiraz.


With Zaki Khan's death, his surviving brother, Mohammad Sadiq, returns to Shiraz from Kerman with his own army. He has Abul Fath proclaimed sole shah - otherwise his puppet ruler - and governs the south himself. Two months later Sadiq deposes the young 'ruler' and takes the throne, clearly not content with being the power behind it. Abul Fath is blinded. Ali Morad Khan remains in Shiraz and continues the fight in the north against the Qajars.

1779 - 1781

Mohammad Sadiq Khan

Brother of Karim Khan. In Shiraz. Killed by Ali Morad.

1781 - 1785

Ali Morad Khan

Nephew of Zaki Khan. In Esfahan (central Iran). Overthrown.

1782 - 1783

War breaks out between the Bani Utbah federation on Zubarah and the Al-Madhkurs. The Battle of Zubarah in 1782 between the Bani Utbah and the army of Nasr Al-Madhkur must result in the defeat of the latter, as Governor Nasr Al-Madhkur loses the islands of Bahrain to the Bani Utbah in the following year (they already control Kuwait).

Bahrain Fort
Freed of Persian dominance, by the early part of the twentieth century, Bahrain was one of the region's fastest-developing states, although it still managed to maintain a good deal of its historical heritage


Upon successfully invading Shiraz in 1781, Ali Morad Khan had murdered Mohammad Sadiq Khan and all of his sons bar one - Jafar Khan Zand. Now, while Ali Morad is in northern Iran (presumably fighting the Qajars), Jafar Khan snatches the chance to besiege Esfahan. Ali Morad marches his forces towards the city in order to relieve it, but he dies along the way, on 11 February 1785.

Jafar takes the throne for himself, at Esfahan, but almost immediately the Qajar shah of northern Iran, Agha Mohammad, arrives with an army. Jafar sends out a small force to hold him off but this backs away without even offering battle. A larger force is sent but this is defeated in battle near Kashan. Jafar has little choice but to flee southwards to Shiraz, allowing Agha Mohammad to take Esfahan and a large chunk of central Iran. Suddenly the Qajar shah is the dominant force in the Persian empire.

1785 - 1789

Jafar Khan Zand

Son of Mohammad Sadiq. Seized Esfahan, then Shiraz. Killed.


After four years of inconclusive war against the Qajar shah, Jafar Khan is murdered by the son of Ali Morad Khan, one Sayed Murad Khan. Instead of being able to seize the throne himself (although he is sometimes shown as a ruling Zand shah), he and the rest of the Zand nobility are engulfed in four months of bitter in-fighting. When a victor emerges it is Lutf Ali Khan, the son of Jafar Khan.


Sayed Murad Khan

Attempted to seize the throne. Executed after the civil war.

1789 - 1794

Lutf Ali Khan

Son of Jafar Khan. In Shiraz.


Luft Ali has proven himself to be one of the more redoubtable members of the Zand dynasty. However, the reigns of his squabbling predecessors have alienated many of the regional governors and increased the momentous task of reclaiming all of Iran. Defeat in battle near Persepolis in 1792 makes him a virtual fugitive while Agha Mohammad now holds Shiraz. In the end, despite valiant resistance, his last stronghold of Kerman is besieged and captured. He flees, but is betrayed, handed over to Ahga Mohammad, and tortured for almost three years before being killed. The Qajar shah now rules Iran unopposed.

Qajar Shahs of Iran
AD 1794 - 1925

The founder of the line of Qajar shahs was Agha Mohammad, the son of Mohammad Hasan Khan Qajar, a chieftain of the Qoyunlu division of the Qajar tribe. The Qajars (with a multiplicity of variations on this spelling) were (and still are) Turkic Oghuz in origin. Intermixed with many other tribes, they occupied a swathe of territory that covered parts of southern Armenia, Azerbaijan, and north-western Iran. Safavid interference in the South Caucasus and their attempts to fully subjugate the region in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had resulted in the Qajars or Kajars resisting them and creating the Karabakh khanate by 1750 out of the Persian province of the same name. The Safavids fractured soon afterwards, allowing the Kajars to enjoy half a century of relative security.

In general the Qajars are classed as being Azerbaijani (they still form a significant population within modern Iran), at a time in which this area was a maze of Persian possessions rather than a single coherent state in its own right. Agha Mohammad was able to overthrow the Zand dynasty of shahs in Iran, initially reducing their area of control to Esfahan and Shiraz, and then Shiraz alone, before extinguishing them in 1794.

Under Agha Mohammad, Iran was fully reunited as a strong and centrally-dominated kingdom. In 1789 he was confirmed as shah of Iran. He went on to reconquer many of Persia's lost territories, especially those in the South Caucasus, and he re-subjugated Georgia, displaying astonishing cruelty in the act. He was also the first Persian ruler to switch the capital to Tehran. This city had been built up and expanded by the Safavids and the Zands, but Agha's own war with the Zands had shown the importance of having a more northerly focus for the empire. Although his official coronation did not take place until March 1796, this was merely a rubber stamp for almost two decades of strong rule, and it took place a little over a year before he was assassinated.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empire, James Stuart Olson, Lee Brigance Pappas, and Nicholas Charles Pappas (1994), from The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, Farhad Daftary (1990), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 7: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, Gavin R G Hambly (1991), and from the History of Torbat-e-Heydariye, Mohammad Qaneii.)

1779 - 1797

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar

In the north 1779. United Iran in 1794. Assassinated.


Following a period of about six months of illness, Zand Shah Karim Khan dies. His long term 'guest' (or hostage) is Agha Mohammad of the Qajar tribe of Azerbaijan. Upon hearing the news, and having up until now acted as a perfect 'guest' with not a word of rebellion, Mohammad collects together his immediate loyal followers and proceeds to his home province. Once there he quickly defeats his two brothers and assumes command of his tribe. Now he is in a position to begin his armed opposition to a Zand nobility that is still fighting itself for the throne. Mohammad effectively rules as the first Qajar shah in the north (including Tehran), while the feuding Zands govern the centre (around Esfahan) and the south (Shiraz).

Askeran Fortress
Askeran Fortress (also known as Mayraberd) - located on the banks of the River Qajar in what today is the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh - was built by the rulers of the Karabakh khanate, Agha Mohammad's Qajar homeland


Upon successfully invading Shiraz in 1781, the Zand shah of southern and central Iran, Ali Morad Khan, had murdered his rival, Mohammad Sadiq Khan and all of his sons bar one - Jafar Khan Zand. Now, while Ali Morad is in northern Iran (presumably fighting Agha Mohammad), Jafar Khan snatches the chance to besiege Esfahan. Ali Morad marches his forces towards the city in order to relieve it, but he dies along the way, on 11 February 1785.

Jafar takes the Zand throne for himself, at Esfahan, but almost immediately Agha Mohammad arrives with an army. Jafar sends out a small force to hold him off but this backs away without even offering battle. A larger force is sent but this is defeated in battle near Kashan. Jafar has little choice but to flee southwards to Shiraz, allowing Agha Mohammad to take Esfahan and a large chunk of central Iran. Suddenly the Qajar shah is the dominant force in the Persian empire.


After four years of inconclusive war against Agha Mohammad, Jafar Khan, the Zand shah of southern Iran, is murdered by the son of Ali Morad Khan, one Sayed Murad Khan. Instead of being able to seize the throne himself (although he is sometimes shown as a ruling Zand shah), he and the rest of the Zand nobility are engulfed in four months of bitter in-fighting. When a victor emerges it is Lutf Ali Khan, the son of Jafar Khan.


Shah Luft Ali of the Zand dynasty has proven himself to be one of the more redoubtable members of his family. However, the reigns of his squabbling predecessors have alienated many of the regional governors and increased the momentous task of reclaiming all of Iran. Defeat in battle near Persepolis in 1792 makes him a virtual fugitive while Agha Mohammad now holds Shiraz. In the end, despite valiant resistance, his last stronghold of Kerman is besieged and captured. He flees, but is betrayed, handed over to Ahga Mohammad, and tortured for almost three years before being killed. The Qajar shah now rules Iran unopposed.

1795 - 1796

Agha Mohammad invades the Durrani Afghan province of 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.

However, Georgia's agreement with Russia means that Catherine the Great launches the Persian Expedition of 1796. Georgia is cleared of Persians with little trouble, but with Azerbaijan also seemingly captured, the empress' sudden death means that her son, Paul, is free to cancel the expedition (resulting in a sense of injustice amongst many officers involved). This lucky escape for Persia allows Agha Mohammad - in 1796 - torture and kill Afsharid ruler Shah Rukh in his attempt to find the treasure of Nadir Shah (former shah of Iran).

1797 - 1834

Fath Ali Shah Qajar


1799 - 1801

Grand Sharif Ghalib of Mecca arranges a temporary truce with the Wahhabis in 1799, and a pilgrimage caravan is permitted across Nejd, being escorted part of the way by the Saudi emir himself, Abd al-Aziz I. This takes place in 1800, but in the following year the Wahabbis violate the truce by capturing Hali on the Red Sea coast, sacking Kerbela in Iraq, and attacking the Iranian pilgrimage.

1804 - 1813

King Solomoni II is attempting to enlist Ottoman and Persian support for Imeretia in preparation for the anticipated Russian encroachment on his borders. The Russian commander in the region is Prince Pavel Tsitsianov. He marches his army into Imeretia and forces Solomoni to accept vassalage under the terms of the convention of Elaznauri, on 25 April 1804.

This effectively triggers a Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) which sees some early Persian victories followed by defeats, stalemate, and the effective loss of Dagestan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Territory which Persia officially surrenders at the end of the war includes a large swathe of the eastern Caucasus. The Jewish Diaspora population here subsequently crystallises under the later definition of Mountain Jews.


The Persians have been attempting to intrude small units of troops into Afghanistan in a bid to conquer the city of Herat while the Afghans are fighting one another for domination of their kingdom. Unfortunately for the Persian forces, that very instability undermines their own efforts and forces the plan's abandonment.

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


In a tumultuous Afghanistan, war with Persia is inconclusive following another attack on Herat. Mohamman Vali Mirza, son of the Persian shah, is defeated at the Battle of Kafir Qala in 1818. However, internal fighting continues until the Afghan Durrani dynasty is utterly defeated.

1826 - 1828

The Russo-Persian War is the last major military conflict between the Russian and Persian empires, and the first time the two have fought each other since the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813. Shah Fath Ali is still desperate for increased foreign subsidies, and is advised by British agents to reconquer the territories that have been lost to Russia. On 28 July 1826, a 35,000-strong Persian army is led across the border by Abbas Mirza, invading the khanates of Talysh and Karabakh. The khans surrender their main cities to the Persians. However, Russian military power proves too much for them and eastern Armenia is taken before Persia agrees peace terms, bolstered in part by the start of the Russo-Turkish War.

1832 - 1833

The Qajar shahs move into the province of Khorasan, and then threaten Herat yet again. The Afghans are forced to defend the city but manage to repel the invaders, only to lose Peshawar to the Sikhs almost immediately.


Abbas Mirza

Son and crown prince. Predeceased his father.

1834 - 1848

Mohammad Mirza

Son, and grandson of Fath Ali Shah Qajar. Died of gout.


Having been named as the crown prince following the death of his brother, and only a year or so before the death of his father, Mohammad Mirza ascends the throne. Almost immediately, one of his many brothers, Ali Mirza, seizes control in opposition to him. Ali Mirza lasts for around forty days before being removed by Mirza Abolghasem Ghaem Magham Farahani, politician, scientist, and poet. Mohammad Mirza is returned as shah.


Ali Mirza

Brother and usurper. Quickly removed and pardoned.

1848 - 1896

Naser al-Din

Son of Mohammad Mirza. Assassinated.

1856 - 1857

The Anglo-Persian War is triggered on 1 November 1856 during a further - and this time largely successful - attempt by Persia to capture the Afghan city of Herat, a long-standing ambition to compensate them for the loss of the South Caucasus. However, they have taken too long, and now Afghanistan is generally within the British sphere of operations from their base in India. Herat has already declared independence as a city state with its own emir, in alliance with the emirate of Kabul, and has accepted British protection. A two-pronged British attack on Iran's southern coast and also in southern Mesopotamia drives Naser al-Din to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1857, in which he relinquishes control over and any claim to Herat.

1867 - 1868

Relations between Qatar and Bahrain have gradually deteriorated during the course of the decade. A series of minor disputes escalates when Bahrain arrests a Qatari Bedouin on the Qatari mainland. The Qataris waste no time in expelling the Bahraini forces from the mainland, and in response Abu Dhabi and Bahrain join in attacking Qatar. The Qatari-Bahraini War is a brief affair but it leaves about a thousand dead and many of Bahrain's deployed vessels destroyed. Britain responds by appointing Hakim Muhammad's brother, Ali, to replace him as ruler of Bahrain, and any remaining Iranian influence or control over Bahrain is severed.

Bahrain Fort
The Bahrain Fort is based on a mound which has been inhabited since 2300 BC, possibly by Sumerians or their trading partners, although this cannot be proven with real certainty

1896 - 1907

Muzaffar al-Din

Son. A poor ruler. Died of heart attack.


Muzaffar al-Din leads an extravagant life of pleasure-seeking and spending money that his country can ill afford, especially in the face of debts incurred by the Qajar court with both Britain and Russia. In various bids to access more money he has regularly granted national concessions to foreign business, taking chunks of Persia out of state control. The country's nobility has been growing more and more anxious about this trend, and in 1906 the shah is forced to accept the imposition (to him) of a national consultative assembly named the Majles. Forty days later the shah dies of a heart attack.

1907 - 1909

Mohammad Ali

Son. Deposed and fled. Died 5 Apr 1925 in exile.

1907 - 1909

Mohammad Ali dissolves parliament and abolishes the constitution which had been ratified during his father's reign. With support from Britain and Russia he bombards the Majles to underline its termination.

Two years later, in July 1909, pro-Constitution forces march on Tehran, led by Sardar As'ad, Sepehdar A'zam, Sattar Khan, Bagher Khan, and Yeprem Khan. Mohamman Ali is forcibly deposed and the constitution is restored. On 16 July 1909, parliament votes to place Mohammad Ali's eleven year-old son on the throne.

1909 - 1925


Son. A minor at accession. Deposed and exiled.

1909 - 1910

Ali Reza Khan 'Azod al-Molk'

Uncle and regent. Lived lavishly and died in 1910.


The Shiraz pogrom or Shiraz blood libel of 1910 is the result of increasingly aggressive anti-Jewish pogroms in Iran. The Jewish quarter in Shiraz is the victim of the 1910 pogrom, on 30 October 1910, although it also spreads to other towns. It is sparked by accusations that Jews there have ritually killed a Muslim girl.

Twelve Iranian Jews (or thirteen, accounts differ) are killed and around fifty more are injured, while thousands are robbed of everything they possess. An increased level of Jewish Diaspora migration takes place after this, mainly focussed on a return to Palestine.


Britain and the Ottoman government sign a treaty recognising the independence of Bahrain. The country remains under British protection and is rapidly developing itself into a thoroughly modern state. It is quickly becoming a business centre for the gulf and India. Iran claims sovereignty over Bahrain through its previous links to the Islamic empire.

Shah Ahmad Qajar
Ahmad Shah Qajar came to the Iranian throne in 1909 at the tender age of eleven, attempted to govern a land which was suffering increased levels of turmoil thanks partially to the First World War, and was deposed just shy of his twenty-eighth birthday

1916 - 1918

The British-backed Arab Revolt is proclaimed with an attack on Medina (where the Prophet Mohammed had died in AD 632). The revolt liberates much of the Near East from Ottoman control, but the two sides also battle each other inside Persia's borders, leading to a movement against the weak shah. The effect is worsened when Britain in 1917 attempts to launch an attack from Persia on Soviet Russia in order to reverse the revolution. The Soviet government responds by annexing some northern portions of Persian territory to use as a buffer zone and extracting further concessions from Shah Ahmad.

1920 - 1925

By 1920 Ahmad's authority in his own country extends barely beyond the confines of Tehran itself. A bloodless coup d'etat led by Colonel Reza Pahlevi a year later removes Ahmad from power. The country is in such a state of disarray that peace must quickly be restored by a strong leader, and Reza Pahlevi has the appearance of being that man, although he is not officially enthroned until 1925 as the first shah of the Pahlevi dynasty.

Pahlevi Shahs of Iran
AD 1925 - 1979

The previous ruling dynasty of Persia, the Qajars, were seemingly unable to prevent encroachment by the British and the Soviet Russians. Much of Iran apart from the capital was outside their control. The country's military elite were not impressed and overthrew them in a coup. They were exiled, eventually ending up in France. The nation's parliament, the majilis, met on 12 December 1925 where it voted to formally remove the Qajars and replace them with the Pahlevis, in the form of Reza Khan. Born in 1878, he was the son of a major in the 7th Savadkuh Regiment. and had himself risen to the position of minister of war and commander of the Iranian army following his part in the coup of 1921.

Persia had been one of the world's great non-maritime empires, especially in the ancient world. The country had long maintained a distinct cultural identity within the Islamic world by retaining its own language and adhering to the Shia interpretation of Islam. Reza Khan ruled the country with a strong hand, introducing various reforms including a leaning towards a Westernised way of life, complete with everything from emancipated women to modern department stores. Additionally, in 1935 ancient Persia became officially known as Iran whereas previously this had been a regional title. Reza's successor qualified this in 1959 by announcing that both Iran and Persia were acceptable names.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2008), Iran in World History, Richard Foltz (Oxford University Press, 2016), from External Link: BBC Country Profiles.)

1925 - 1941

Reza (Rida) Pahlevi

Military colonel. Persia officially renamed Iran. Deposed.


The shah's pro-Axis allegiance during the Second World War makes Iran a target. The shah encourages Nazi German economic involvement in the country while attempting to play off Britain and Russia against each other. The policy falls apart when Britain and Russia become allies in the war and occupy Iran to use it as a conduit for supplies. The shah is deposed in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

1941 - 1979

Mohammed Reza

Son. Honoured 2500th anniv. of Persian empire. Died 1980.

1950 - 1951

Ali Razmara becomes prime minister and is assassinated less than nine months later. He is succeeded by the nationalist, Mohammad Mossadeq. In April of the following year parliament votes to nationalise the oil industry, which is dominated by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Britain imposes an embargo and a blockade, halting oil exports and hitting the economy. A power struggle ensues between the shah and Mossadeq and the shah flees the country in August 1953. This sets a precedent.


Mossadeq is overthrown in an August coup that has been engineered by the British and American intelligence services. General Fazlollah Zahedi is proclaimed prime minister and the shah is able to return.


In January the shah announces the 'White Revolution', a programme of social and political reform and privatisation. He is vociferously opposed by the leading cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, but following several brushes with authority, Khomeini is exiled to Iraq the following year.

Ayatollah Khomeini addresses the crowd in Tehran
Ayatollah Khomeini addresses the crowd in Tehran in 1979, soon after his rise to power in Rian, having seen off the modernising shah of Iran


In May, Iran renounces its claim to sovereignty over Bahrain after a United Nations report shows that Bahrainis want to remain independent.

1978 - 1979

The shah's modernisation policies have alienated the conservative clergy. Coupled with this problem is his authoritarian rule, which leads to riots, strikes, and mass demonstrations. Martial law is imposed on the country but in January 1979 the shah is forced to lead his family into exile. Ayatollah Khomeini steers the course of the Iranian Revolution from his base, which is now in France for a short period before he returns to Iran in February 1979. Shah Mohammed Reza is the last emperor in Europe, the Mediterranean, or the Near East. An Islamic republic is declared in place of the shahdom and Khomeini rules over an oppressive hard-line regime.

Modern Iran
AD 1979 - Present Day

The modern Islamic republic of Iran is a good deal smaller than historic Persia, although those historic borders have fluctuated wildly over the centuries. The republic was created in 1979, after ending the Iranian shahdom which had existed for almost five hundred years. With its capital at Tehran in the northern central region, close to the Caspian Sea, the country is neighboured by Turkmenistan to the north-east, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait across the Persian Gulf to the south, Iraq and Turkey to the west, and Armenia and Azerbaijan to the north-west.

IndexWhile the modern state itself is known as Iran, the geographical region in which it sits can still be labelled Persia, as can Iranian cultural and historic matters. Localised human habitation began here with early Near East archaeological cultures such as the Baradostian, Zarzian, and M'lefaatian. The ancient Greeks used 'Persia' to describe the land of the Persians (or Parsu), a grouping of Indo-Europeans of the Indo-Iranian branch who had arrived in the region after the twelfth century BC. The official modern use of 'Iran' began in 1935, at the request of Reza Shah of the Pahlevis, although in 1959 it was accepted that both this and 'Persia' were valid. The name originates in the proto-Iranian 'Aryānā', meaning 'land of the Aryans'. The country also incorporates the region of Elam, one of the world's earliest emergent civilisations.

Following the revolution, the 'Grand Ayatollah' became the supreme leader in the new 'Islamic Republic of Iran', with the position being embodied by the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini. Essentially he ruled in a style which was similar to that of the ancient priest-kings, with a prime minister to govern the day-to-day running of the state. Beneath him was a twelve-man 'Guardian Council' which was created with the power to veto any laws passed by the Majlis (the parliament), and the power to reject any candidate who presented himself for election (only Islamists qualified). In the first years of the twenty-first century, the council persistently sided with extremists and hard-liners, using its veto powers very aggressively to block any moderates. By the early 2010s the moderates gained a stronger foothold, and a marginally more inclusive administration was inaugurated.

Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, Michael Axworthy (Basic Books, 2008), Iran in World History, Richard Foltz (Oxford University Press, 2016), from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Israel-Hamas War (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Two generals killed in Israeli strike on Syria consulate (The Guardian), and Iran launches hundreds of drones (The Guardian).).)

1979 - 1989

Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini / Khumayni

Leader of the Iranian Revolution.

1980 - 1988

Saddam Hussein of Iraq claims that the new revolutionary government of Iran is attempting to topple him from power. He declares war and the border between the two countries is a permanent battlefield for nearly a decade. Iraq is supported strategically and financially by Kuwait. Hussein occasionally employs chemical weapons on his enemy, but the two sides are evenly matched and the war ends in stalemate.

Iran-Iraq War
In places the Iran-Iraq War was a regional recreation of the First World War, with hopeless charges against enemy lines of trenches, and the death toll was suitably immense

1989 - Present

Ali Khamenei

Previously president of Iran.


Disputed election results on 12 June, which see the return to office of the hard line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, brings tens of thousands of ordinary Iranians onto the streets in protest.

Khamenei allows the Guardian Council to deal with the election dispute, but instead of fully backing the result, the council announces that it may recount ten per cent of the votes amid admissions that there may be some basis for the claims of voting irregularities.

Mass protests continue, despite bans being issued, and a public speech by Khamenei on 19 June in which he fully backs the results simply inflames his growing opposition.

When a young female student named Neda Agha-Soltani is shot dead by a sniper while taking part in a peaceful demonstration, the opposition have a martyr behind which to rally, and the future of the regime begins to look shaky. It survives the protests however, although in a temporarily-weakened state.


Hopes for more fruitful engagement with the rest of the world rise with the election of self-proclaimed moderate Hassan Rouhani to the presidency. A deal to restrict the country's highly controversial uranium enrichment programme in November sees the lifting of some international sanctions, but the domestic political divide remains deep.

Young people are continually arrested for allegedly flouting strict Islamic rules and regulations, including dancing in public and even women attending basketball matches.


Already embroiled in the Israel-Hamas War which it can never really win, Israel makes the mistake of destroying the Iranian consulate in Damascus on Monday 1 April 2024. This kills at least eleven people, including Brigadier-General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in the al-Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Iran's considered response comes on 13 April 2024 when it launches its first-ever direct strike against Israel. More than three hundred drones and missiles are fired at the country, bringing a years-long shadow war into the open and threatening to draw the region into a broader conflagration.

By far the majority of missiles are shot down by Israel's own 'Iron Shield' defence, along with US naval help from the Mediterranean, and some UK and Jordanian back-up work, but the message is clear. Iran considers the matter of its assassinated general to be closed - unless Netanyahu refuses to let it lie.

Iran strikes at Israel with missiles and drones
Israel's 'Iron Dome' protective shield took down the majority of inbound Iranian missiles and drones, with some international help, but a few got through to damage an airbase

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