Mud brick at the ancient Elamite complex of Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat - Khuzestan Province, Iran

Mud brick at the ancient Elamite complex of Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat – Khuzestan Province, Iran
Photo by alexreynolds / ShutterStock

By the historic Iran, we mean the time about a century and a half before the Old Persian language was decoded. The decipherment of cuneiform and its alphabet has made a major revolution in reading the ancient inscriptions and scriptures. This helped archeologists understand that the official Iranian history dates back to 2500 years ago which is around the beginning of the Achaemenid era (550-330 B.C.). Before this era, the history of Iran is limited to the civilization of Elam (Elamite: 2700-539 B.C.) and Medes (678-549 B.C.). and their roles in the formation of the first great empire of the world i.e. Achaemenid Empire.

The history and culture of Iran has been always important in the course of world history, mainly because of the country’s geographical location. Each dynasty in Iran has had a great impact on religion, writing, architecture, culture, and the civilization of the ancient world.

The important issue in Iranian history is the relation of nomadic tribes and residents and their effects on the designation and dethronement of rulers. In general, it can be noted that the establishment of new Iranian dynasties happened either by conflicts between indigenous people or by the invasion of foreign tribes/nations. The entry of these tribes into Iran was always accompanied by conflict, war, and bloodshed with the locals. However, they brought their own culture and art to Iran and combined them with the local culture and art as well. The result of this combination was the emergence of a more powerful and advanced government. It should be mentioned that the study of culture and politics in Iran is not possible unless we get to know



In order to understand historic Iran, we have to start with Elamites, the indigenous people of the Iran plateau. Elamites included large powers in the Middle East such as Babylon, Sumer, and Assyria. The Assyrian inscriptions show the power of Elam and present Iran as a country that has had civilization since 3500 B.C.

Elamites chose Susa as their capital and ruled over the regions of Khuzestan, Lorestan, and Bakhtiari mountains but were overthrown by the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal in 645 B.C. The folk of Aryan was divided into several tribes once they immigrated to Iran Plateau and each of them scattered in different parts of the Plateau. The most important Aryan tribes were Medes, Persis, and Parthia.


Medes Dynasty

At the beginning of the 7th century B.C., Diocese initiated the Medes Dynasty with Ecbatana as the capital, inhabited in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. Several years later, they managed to eliminate the great Mesopotamian power i.e. Assyrians, but they were eventually dethroned by the tribe of Persis.

Persepolis, Achaemenid - Fars Province, Iran

Achaemenid Dynasty

The Persis people established the great Achaemenid Empire ruled first by Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. During this period, Iran reached its political power peak and its greatest geographical territory. The ruling kings managed to eliminate Babylon and had numerous wars with the Greeks.

At the time of Darius and Xerxes, the Achaemenid Empire was stabilized and reached its climax. However, like any other dynasties, they suffered from internal disputes and decay of power. Eventually, they were dethroned by the Greek army ruled by the Great Alexander in 330 B.C.

Clay impression of Seleucid - National Museum of Iran

Clay impression of Seleucid – National Museum of Iran
Photo by Ibrahim Khadem Bayyat / Publisher: ICHTO

Seleucid Dynasty

After the death of Alexander, his territory was divided among his commanders and Iran fell into the hands of Seleucus and his successors for 73 years. Some historians prefer to call this period the Interval Era because of the introduction of the philhellenic culture (Greek culture) to Iran and its impacts on Iranian art and civilization.


Parthian Dynasty

The Parthian managed gradually to remove some areas from the domination of the Seleucids and eventually, in 247 B.C., Arsaces I founded the Parthian dynasty lasting its power until 224 A.D. i.e. for 471 years. The Parthian government was the only Iranian power that had a Feudal system of governing.

The most salient features of this era were freedom of speech and religious tolerance. The Parthians are also known for their numerous attrition battles against Romans; the wars that were mostly fruitless and did nothing but to weaken the country. The Parthian governance which is known as the longest dynasty in Iran was finally destroyed by Ardashir Babakan– the founder of the Sassanid Empire- after about five centuries of the ruling.

Silver coins of Parthain and Sasanian

Silver coins of Parthain and Sasanian
Photo by Ibrahim Khadem Bayyat / Publisher: ICHTO

Sassanid Dynasty

Sassanid, as the last pre-Islamic dynasty in Iran, came to the throne in the city of Persis whose inhabitants called it Iranshahr and considered themselves the descendants of the Achaemenid. The Sassanid dynasty began its governance around 224 A.D. by Ardashir Babakan but unlike Parthians, it was ruled through a central government.

The official religion in this period was Zoroastrianism that was not separate from the ruling system, leading to high power for the Magus and the Zoroastrian priests. The Sasanians reigned over Iran for 427 years with its Kings interested in luxurious and aristocratic life and as a result, the social gap between commoners and courtiers increased.

Besides, dissatisfaction was appeared among people due to religious rigors of Zoroastrian priests. Finally, the Sassanid government started its period of decline and was finally heavily defeated by the Arabs. With the destruction of Sassanid rule, the Islamic time in Iran began.