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The history, religion, and civilization of Persia are offshoots from those of Media. Both Medes and Persians are Aryans; the Aryans who settled in the southern part of the Iranian plateau became known as Persians, while those of the mountain regions of the north-west were called Medes. The Medes were at first the leading nation, but towards the middle of the sixth century, B.C. the Persians became the dominant power, not only in Iran, but also in Western Asia.
Persia (in the Sept. persis , in the Achæmenian inscriptions Parsa , in Elamitic Parsin , in modern Persian Fars , and in Arabic Fars , or Fâris ) was originally the name of a province in Media, but afterwards — i.e., towards the beginning of the fifth century B.C. — it became the general name of the whole country formerly comprising Media, Susiana, Elam, and even Mesopotamia. What we now call Persia is not identical with the ancient empire designated by that name. That empire covered, from the sixth century B.C. to the seventh of our era, such vast regions as Persia proper, Media, Elam, Chaldea, Babylonia, Assyria, the highlands of Armenia and Bactriana, North-Eastern Arabia, and even Egypt. Persia proper is bounded on the north by Transcaucasia, the Caspian Sea, and Russian Turkestan ; on the south by the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf; it is over one-fifth as large as the United States (excluding Alaska ) and twice as large as Germany, having an area of about 642,000 square miles. The whole country occupies a plateau varying in height from 3000 to 5000 feet, and subject to wide extremes of climate, its northern edge bordering on the Caspian Sea and the plain of Turkestan, its southern and south-western on the Persian Gulf and the plains of Mesopotamia. The ancient Persians were vigorous and hardy, simple in manners, occupied in raising cattle and horses in the mountainous regions, and agriculture in the valleys and plains. The four great cities were Ecbatana, in the north, Persepolis in the east, Susa in the west, and Seleucia-Ctesiphon in the south-west. The provinces and towns of modern Persia will be given below.
Historians generally assign the beginnings of Persian history to the reign of Cyrus the Great (550-529 B.C.), although, strictly speaking, it should begin with Darius (521-485 B.C.). Cyrus was certainly of Persian extraction, but when he founded his empire he was Prince of Elam (Anzan), and he merely added Media and Persia to his dominion. He was neither by birth nor religion a true Persian, for both he and Cambyses worshiped the Babylonian gods. Darius, on the other hand, was both by birth and religion a Persian, descended, like Cyrus, from the royal Achæmenian house of Persia, and a follower of the Zoroastrian faith. The ancestors of Darius had remained in Persia, whilst the branch of the family of which Cyrus was a member had settled in Elam.
The history of Persia may be divided into five great periods, each represented by a dynasty:
A. The Achæmenian Dynasty, beginning with the kingdom of Cyrus the Great and ending with the Macedonian conquest (550-331 B.C.);
B. The Greek, or Seleucian, Dynasty (331-250 B.C.);
C. The Parthian Dynasty (250 B.C.-A.D. 227);
D. The Sassanian Dynasty (A.D. 227-651);
E. The Mohammedan period (A.D. 651 to the present). A. The Achæmenian Dynasty (550-331 B.C.)
Towards the middle of the sixth century B.C., and a few years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar ( Nabuchodonosor ) the Great, King of Babylon (605-562 B.C.), Western Asia was divided into three kingdoms: the Babylonian Empire, Media, and Lydia; and it was only a question of time which of the three would annihilate the other two. Astyages (585-557 B.C.), the successor of Cyaxares (625-585 B.C.), being engaged in an expedition against Babylonia and Mesopotamia, Cyrus, Prince of Anzan, in Elam, profiting by his absence, fomented a rebellion in Media. Astyages, hearing of the revolt, immediately returned, but was defeated and overthrown by Cyrus, who was proclaimed King of Media. Thus, with the overthrow of Astyages and the accession of Cyrus to the throne, the Median Empire passed into the hands of the Persians (550 B.C.). In 549, Cyrus invaded Assyria and Babylonia ; in 546 he attacked Croesus of Lydia, defeated him, and annexed Asia Minor to his realm; he then conquered Bactriana and, in 539, marched against Babylon. In 538 Babylon surrendered, Nabonidus fled, the Syro-Phoenician provinces submitted, and Cyrus allowed the Hebrews to return to Palestine. But in 529 he was killed in battle, and was succeeded by Cambyses, the heir apparent, who put his brother Smerdis to death. In 525 Cambyses, aided by a Phoenician fleet, conquered Egypt and advanced against the Sudan, but was compelled to return to Egypt. On his way home, and while in Syria, being informed that Gaumata, a Magian, pretending to be the murdered Smerdis, had seized the throne, Cambyses committed suicide (522) and was succeeded, in 531, by Darius Hystaspes, who, with six other princes, succeeded in overthrowing the usurper Gaumata.
With the accession of Darius, the throne passed to the second line of descendants of Teispes II, and thus the Elamite dynasty came to an end. This was soon followed by a general revolt in all the provinces, including Babylon, where a son of Nabonidus was proclaimed king. Susiana also rose up in arms, and Darius was confronted with the task of reconquering the empire founded by Cyrus. In 519 Babylon was conquered, all the other provinces, including Egypt, were pacified, and the whole empire reorganized and divided into satrapies with fixed administration and taxes. In 515 the Asiatic Greeks began to rebel, but were crushed by Darius. Thence he marched to the Indus and subjugated the country along its banks. In 499 the Ionians revolted, but were defeated and the city of Miletus destroyed (494 B.C.). In 492 Mardonius, one of Darius's generals, set out to reconquer Greece, concentrating all his forces in Cilicia; but the Persians were defeated at Marathon (490 B.C.). In 485 Darius was succeeded by his son, Xerxes I, who immediately set out to reconquer Egypt and Babylon, and renewed the war against Greece. After the indecisive battles of Thermopylæ and Artemisium, he was defeated by Themistocles at Salamis near Athens (480). During the years 479-465, Xerxes met with constant reverses; he gradually lost Attica, Ionia, the Archipelago, and Thrace, and at last was assassinated by Artabanus and Artaxerxes. The latter, becoming king as Artaxerxes I, in 464 quelled revolts in Bactria and Egypt in the year 454. In 449, the Persian fleet and army having been again defeated near Salamis, in Cyrus, a treaty of peace was made between Persia and Athens. Artaxerxes died in 424 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Xerxes II, who reigned but forty-five days and was murdered by his half-brother Sogdianus. Sogdianus reigned six months and was murdered by Nothus, who ascended the throne in 423 as Darius II Nothus (the Bastard).
In 412, Darius II compelled Sparta to recognize Persian suzerainty over the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and reconquered the cities of Ionia and Caria. On his death, in 404, Arsaces, his eldest son, ascended the throne as Artaxerxes II, and quelled revolts in Cyrus, Asia Minor , and Egypt. But in the last seven years of his reign, Egypt and Asia Minor became once more independent. He died in 359 and was succeeded by his son Ochus, known as Artaxerxes III. In this same year, the Persians were defeated in Egypt and lost Phoenicia and Cyprus (352); but in 345-340, Artaxerxes succeeded in conquering and crushing Sidon, Cyprus, and Egypt. In 338 he was murdered and was succeeded by his youngest son, Arses, who was in his turn put to death by the eunuch Bagoas (335), and was succeeded by Codomannus, great-grandson of Darius I, who assumed the name of Darius III. In 334 Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedon, began his career of conquest by subduing all Asia minor and Northern Syria. After conquering Tyre, Phoenicia, Judea, and Egypt in 332, he invaded Assyria, and at Arbela, in 331, defeated Darius and his vast army, thus putting an end to the Achæmenian dynasty. Darius III fled to Media, where he was seized and murdered by Bessus, Satrap of Bactria (330), while Alexander entered Babylon and Susa, and subdued the provinces of Elam, Persia, and Media. Bessus, the murderer of Darius, who had proclaimed himself King of Persia under the name of Artaxerxes IV, fell into Alexander's hands and was put to death (330 B.C.).
B. The Greek, or Seleucian, Dynasty (331-250 B.C.)
With Alexander's signal victory over Darius III at Arbela (Guagamela), in 331, the Achæmenian Kingdom of Persia came to an end. Alexander founded more than seventy cities in which he planted Greek and Macedonian colonies. But the great conqueror, greedy for sensual pleasures, plunged into a course of dissipation which ended in his death, 13 June, 323. Dissension and civil wars broke out at once in every quarter of the vast empire, from India to the Nile, and lasted for nearly forty-two years. Perdiccas, the regent of Babylon during the minority of Alexander's son, was soon assassinated, and his power claimed by Pitho, Satrap of Media; but Pitho was displaced by a conspiracy of the other satraps, who, in 316, chose Eumenes to occupy the throne of Alexander. Eumenes was betrayed into the hands of Antigonus, another great Macedonian general, who again was obliged, in 312, to yield to Seleucus, one of the Alexandrian generals, founder of the Seleucid dynasty. He build the city of Seleucia, on the Tigris, making it the capital of the Persian, or rather Græco-Persian, Empire. The great disturbing element during the Seleucian period was the rivalry between Greeks and Macedonians, as well as between cavalry and infantry. The Greek colonists in Bactria revolted against Macedonian arrogance and were with difficulty pacified by Seleucus Nicator. But the dissatisfaction continued, and, in the reign of Antiochus II, about 240 B.C., Diodotus, Satrap of Bactria, revolted and founded a separate Greek state in the heart of Central Asia. This Kingdom of Bactria presents one of the most singular episodes in history. A small colony of foreigners, many hundred miles from the sea, entirely isolated, and numbering probably not over thirty-five thousand, not only maintained their independence for about one hundred years in a strange land, but extended their conquests to the Ganges, and included several hundred populous cities in their dominions.
The reign of Seleucus Nicator lasted from 312 to 280 B.C. His first care was to reorganize his empire and satrapies (seventy-two in number), which yielded him an annual revenue equivalent to about twenty million dollars. In 289 he removed the seat of government from Seleucia to Antioch, in Syria. But, as it was impossible to govern properly so extensive an empire from so distant a capital, he found it advisable to make over the upper satrapies to Antiochus, his son, giving him Seleucia as his capital (293 B.C.). In 280, however, Seleucus was assassinated and was succeeded by his son, Antiochus I (called Soter), whose reign of twenty-one years was devoid of interest. His second son, Antiochus II (called Theos), succeeded him in 261, a drunken and dissolute prince, who neglected his realm for the society of unworthy favourites. During his reign, north-eastern Persia was lost to the empire, and some Bactrians, emboldened by the weakness and effeminacy of Antiochus, and led by the brothers, Arsaces and Tiridates, moved west into Seleucid territory, near Parthia. Pherecles, the Seleucid satrap, having insulted Tiridates, was slain, and Parthia freed from the Macedonians. Arsaces, the brother of Tiridates, was proclaimed first King of Parthia in 250 B.C., and the Seleucid dynasty fell into decay.
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The founding of the Parthian monarchy marks the opening of a glorious era in the history of Persia. The Parthians, though inferior in refinement, habits, and civilization to the Persians proper, form, nevertheless, a branch of the same stock. They were originally a nomadic tribe and, like the Persians, followers of Zoroaster. They had their own customs, and were famous for their horsemanship, their armies being entirely clad in chain armour and riding without saddles. They left few records; indeed, we really know very little of the internal history of the Parthians, and would have known still less but for the frequent wars between them and the Greeks and Romans. Numbers of Parthian coins are still found in northern Persia and have been of great value to the historian who, thousands of years later, has tried to put together the disjointed history of this dynasty. Amid the faint and confused outlines which alone remain to record the career of the mighty Parthian race which for over four hundred years ruled in Persia with a rod of iron, and which repeatedly hurled back the veteran legions of Rome, we are able to discern two or three grand figures and some events that will be remembered while the world lasts.
Of these heroes of Parthia the most important was Mithridates the Great, who not only repaired the losses the empire had sustained in its conflicts with the Seleucids, but carried the conquests of Parthia as far as India in one direction, and the banks of the Euphrates in the other. Parthians and Romans met for the first time, not for war, but to arrange a treaty of peace between the two great powers of that age. Soon after his event Demetrius III, head of the Seleucian dynasty, was forced to surrender, with is entire army, to Mithridates, and ended his days in captivity. Armenia also fell under the Parthian domination during the reign of Mithridates. The coins of Mithridates are very numerous and clearly cut; the design shows the portrait of that monarch, with a full beard and strongly marked, but pleasing, features. His immediate successors were men of an entirely different stamp, and Tigranes, King of Armenia, was able, not only to revolt, but to rob Parthia of some of her western provinces. In time Phraates succeeded to the throne of the Arsacids and, by calling for aid from the Romans, caused the overthrow of Tigranes; but the haughty republic of the West granted its assistance with such ill grace that years of warfare resulted. Phraates was murdered by his two sons. Orodes, as the Latins called him (Huraodha, in the Perso-Parthian tongue) ascended the throne; but to avoid dissension it was agreed that his brother, Mithridates, should rule over Media as an independent king. It was not long before civil war broke out between the two, and in the end Mithridates was taken and put to death in the presence of his brother. In 54 B.C., the civil wars of Rome having ceased for a while, Crassus, who with Cæsar and Pompey, shared the authority in the republic, took command of the Roman armies in Asia. He needed but the merest pretext to invade and attack Parthia; the easy victories of Pompey in Armenia led him to imagine that he had but to reach the borders of the Persian Empire and it would fall helpless into his grasp. He was a brave man, and led sixty thousand of the best troops in the world, but his contempt of the enemy, and the greed of gold for which he was notorious, brought him into a terrible catastrophe. The chief general of Orodes was Surenas, the first nobleman of the empire. On 16 June, 54 B.C., the Romans and the Parthians met at Carræ, near the sources of the Euphrates. Surenas concealed the mass of his army behind the hills, allowing the Romans to see at first only his heavy cavalry. Little suspecting the actual force of the enemy, Publius Crassus, son of the general, charged with the cavalry. The Parthians, following their usual tactics, broke and fled as if in dismay. when they had drawn the Romans far enough from the main body, the entire army of Surenas re-formed, surrounded them, and cut them to pieces. After this success, the Parthians hovered on the flanks of the Roman infantry, annoying them with missiles. Of the great army which Crassus had led into Asia not twenty thousand survived, and of these ten thousand were taken captive and settled by Orodes in Margiana. Orodes himself, after a long reign, during which Parthia attained the climax of her power, was strangled in his eightieth year by his son Phraates. He was the first Parthian king to assume the title of "King of Kings".
Phraates, his successor, removed the seat of government from the north of the empire to Taisefoon, or, as the Greeks called it, Ctesiphon, a suburb of Seleucia, which continued to be the capital until the Mohammedan conquest, more than six hundred years later. Hatra, in that vicinity, also acquired importance under the Parthian kings, who caused a splendid palace to be erected there. Phraates was eminently successful in his military operations, although steeped in crime. Besides murdering his father, he had caused all his near relations to be put to death, to ensure his own position on the throne. Phraates soon had another Roman war on his hands. Before the death of Orodes, that monarch had associated with him his son Pacorus, a soldier and statesman, who conquered Syria and ruled both there an in Palestine with a mildness which contrasted favourably with the severity of the Roman governors expelled by him. But Pacorus was finally defeated and killed by the Roman consul, Ventidius, and the territories he had captured on the coast of the Mediterranean were lost to Parthia. In the year 33 B.C. Mark Antony began a campaign against the Parthians, whom the Romans never forgave for the crushing defeat at Carræ. His army numbered one hundred thousand men, including no less than forty thousand cavalry intended to cope with the terrible horsemen on Parthia. To oppose this immense force, Phraates could collect only forty thousand cavalry; but he immediately began operations by surprising the baggage trains of the enemy, and cutting to pieces the escort of seven thousand five hundred men. Antony was at the time engaged in besieging Phraaspa. He was obliged to abandon the siege, but the pursuit of the Parthians was so vigorous that the Roman general was hardly able to reach the frontier of Armenia after losing thirty thousand of his best troops. For one hundred years after this, Rome dared not again attack Parthia; and when, in later ages, her legions repeated the attempts to penetrate into the heart of Persia, they invariably failed.
Phraates was dethroned by a conspiracy of his brother Tiridates. He fled to Tourân, or Scythia, of which we hear so often in the legendary history of Persia. There he succeeded in raising an immense army of Tatars, and, hurling the usurper from power, forced him to seek an asylum at Rome, where he endeavoured to obtain assistance from the Romans, promising important concessions in return. But his offers were declined. A century later, Trajan invaded Parthia, but, in spite of some early successes, was forced to retire to Syria. Vologeses II is memorable for his death, A.D. 148, at the age of ninety-six, after a reign of seventy-one years. During the reign of Vologeses III Western Persia was invaded by Cassius, the Roman consul. Vologeses was defeated in a great battle, and Cassius penetrated as far as Babylonia, the capital of which was Seleucia, a most flourishing city, with a population of over four hundred thousand. Cassius sacked and burned Seleucia, completely wiping it out of existence. Parthia never recovered from the effects of this last was with Rome. The dynasty which had founded the greatness of the Parthian empire had become enervated by its successes. In 216 the war with Rome was renewed. King Artabanus had put down several rivals and reduced the grater part of the Parthians under his power. Macrinus, the Roman Emperor, suffered two crushing defeats from Artabanus, and was obliged to purchase peace by paying an indemnity of 50,000,000 denarii (about $9,000,000) at the very time when the doom of Parthia was impending. With the death of Artabanus, A.D. 216, the Parthian dynasty came to an end.
The immediate causes which brought about the overthrow of the Parthian kingdom and the establishment of the dynasty of Sassan in its stead are not known. The new dynasty of the Sassanids was a more genuine representative of the civilized Iranian race than the Parthian Arsacidæ, especially as far as religion was concerned. The founder of the Sassanian dynasty, Ardashir Papakan (Artaxerxes, son of Papak), was born at Persis, in central Iran; his family claimed descent from a mythical ancestor, Sassan, and he was therefore of the priestly caste. Babek, the father of Ardashir, seems to have founded a small kingdom at Persis, and to have annexed the territories of other lesser princes, thus gradually encroaching on various Parthian provinces. Vologeses V, the last king of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia, declared war against the rising chief, but was defeated and put to death by Ardashir A.D. 227. Thus the Parthian Empire passed into the hands of the Sassanian dynasty. The surviving Arsacids fled to India, and all the provinces accepted Ardashir's rule without resistance. It was in fact the beginning of a new and religious movement, the new dynasty being looked upon as the true and genuine successor of the old and noble Achæmenian dynasty, and of the Zoroastrian religion.
One of the first acts of Ardashir was to send an embassy to Rome demanding that the whole of Western Asia should be ceded to him. Soon afterwards, in 230, he sought to regain the lost provinces of Mesopotamia by force of arms. The emperor, Alexander Severus, opposed the advance of Ardashir's army, but was only partly successful. Ardashir devoted the remaining years of his reign to founding new towns, schools, and temples and to reorganizing the judicial system of the courts and the army. Everywhere were evidences of a new development of the true Iranian spirit; and it was not long before the Persian nation deemed itself sufficiently strong once more to enforce its old claims to the sovereignty of Western Asia. Sapor I, the son of Ardashir, who reigned from 240 to 273, renewed the war with Rome, first against Gordian, then against Valerian. The latter emperor was treacherously seized at a conference in 260, and spent the rest of his life in a Persian prison subject to most barbarous ill-usage. Sapor then conquered Syria and destroyed Antioch, but was finally driven back by Odenathus, King of Palmyra. After the death of Odenathus the war was continued by his widow, Zenobia, who was so elated by her success that she attempted to found an independent Syrian empire under the leadership of Palmyra, but was defeated and taken prisoner by the Romans under Aurelian.
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The Third Sassanid king, Hormuz, reigned only one year; his successor, Bahram I (274-77), continued the war with Zenobia and afterwards with Aurelian. But this war terminated, without any result, at the death of Aurelian, in 275. During this period, the revival of the Zoroastrian religion became a movement of great importance. Having attained ascendancy in Persia under the early Sassanid kings, it grew very intolerant, persecuting alike heathen and Christian. It first turned against Mani, the founder of Manichæism, and his followers, under Bahram I. Mani himself, at first in favour at the Persian Court, was crucified about the year 275. Under the next king, Bahram II (277-94), Persia suffered severe reverses from the Roman Emperor Carus, the capital city, Ctesiphon, even falling into the hands of the Romans. Bahram III, son of Bahram II, reigned only eight months, and was succeeded by his younger brother, Narsi I, who renewed the war with Rome with Disastrous results. He was succeeded by his son, Hormuz II (303-10), and he, again, by Sapor II (310-81). It was in the latter reign that the Christians in Persia suffered serious persecution. During the early years of Sapor II the Christian religion received formal recognition from Constantine and there is no doubt that this identification of the Church with the Roman Empire was the chief cause of its disfavour in Persia. Moreover, there is evidence that Christianity had spread widely in the Persian dominions, and every Christian was suspected of disaffection towards the Persian king and secret attachment to the Roman Empire, the more so because even the Persian-speaking Christians employed the Syriac language in their worship. Probably this feeling of suspicion was increased by the letter which Constantine wrote to Sapor (Theod., "H.E.", I, xxv), asking protection for the Christians resident in Persia. (See III, below.) To this period belongs Aphraates, a converted Persian noble, a writer of homilies. When Constantine was dead, and the Magi had attained complete ascendancy over the Persian king, a persecution ensued which was far more severe than any of those of the Roman Emperors.
This attack upon the Christians was but part of Sapor's anti-Western policy. In 350 he openly declared war against Rome, and marched on Syria. The first important action was the siege of Nisibis, where the famous Jacob, founder of the school of Nisibis, was then bishop. The siege lasted seventy days, and then the Persians having build a dam across the River Mygdonius, the waters broke down the wall. The siege was unsuccessful, however, and the campaign ended in a truce. Julian, who became emperor in 362, determined to invade the dominions of Sapor. In March, 363, he set out from Antioch to march towards Carræ. From the latter point two roads led to Persia: one through Nisibis to the Tigris, the other turning south along the Euphrates and then crossing the lower Tigris. Julian chose the second of these and, passing through Callinicum, Carchemish, and Zaitham, reached the Persian capital, Ctesiphon, where he was met with proposals of peace from Sapor, but refused them. After crossing the Tigris, he burned his ships to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy; but the result was something like a panic amongst his followers. Supplies ran short, and the army entered the desert, where it seems to have lost its way. There had been no battle as yet, but almost daily skirmishes with the light-armed Persian cavalry. In one of these skirmishes Julian was slain by a javelin, whether thrown by one of the enemy or by one of his own followers has never been known. The soldiers at once elected Jovian, one of Julian's generals, and he began his reign by making a thirty years' truce with Persia. The Persians were to supply guides and food for the retreat, while the Romans promised to surrender Nisibis and give up their protectorate over Armenia and Iberia, which became Persian provinces. The surrender of Nisibis put an end to the school established there by Jacob, but his disciple Ephraim removed to Edessa, and there reestablished the school, so that Edessa became one more the centre of Syriac intellectual life. With this school must be connected the older Syriac martyrologies, and many of the Syriac translations and editions of Greek church manuals, canons, and theological writers. Thus were preserved Syriac versions of many important works, the original Greek of which is lost.
In spite of this thirty years' truce, the Persians for a time kept up a petty warfare, the Romans acting on the defensive. But as age rendered Sapor helpless, this warfare died out. Sapor died in 380, at the age of seventy; being a posthumous son, he had spent his whole life on the throne. During the reigns of Sapor III and Bahram IV Persia remained at peace. In 379 the Emperor Theodosius the Great received an embassy from Persia proposing friendly relations. This was mainly due to the fact that the Persians had difficulties on their northern and eastern frontiers, and wished to have their hands free in the west. Incidentally, it may be noted that the flourishing period of the "middle school ", under the leadership of Dorotheus, and the spread of monasticism through Persia and Mesopotamia were contemporary with the disastrous expedition and peace of Jovian. The great bishop, Jacob of Nisibis, forms a connecting ling with Sapor II; he encouraged Nisibis in its first resistance to the army of Sapor; his school at Nisibis was modelled on that of Diodorus at Antioch, and he was the patron and benefactor of the monastery founded by Awgin on Mont Izla.
In 399 Bahram IV was succeeded by his younger brother Yezdegerd (399-420). Early in this reign Maruthas, Bishop of Maiperkat, in Mesopotamia, was employed by the Roman emperor as envoy to the Persian Court. Maruthas quickly gained great influence over the Persian king, to the annoyance of the Zoroastrian magi, and Yezdegerd allowed the free spread of Christianity in Persia and the building of churches. Nisibis once more became a Christian city. The Persian Church at this period seems to have received, under Maruthas, the more developed organization under which it lived until the time of the Mohammedan conquest. (See III, below.) Later in the reign of Yezdegerd, the Persian bishop, Abdas of Susa, was associated with Maruthas, and, by his impetuosity, put an end to the good relations between the Persian king and the Christians. Abdas destroyed one of the fire temples of the Zoroastrians ; complaint was made to the king, and the bishop was ordered to restore the building and make good all damage that he had committed. Abdas refused to rebuild a heathen temple at his own expense. The result was that orders were issued for the destruction of all churches, and these were carried out by the Zoroastrians, who had regarded with great envy the royal favour extended to Maruthas and his co-religionists. Before long the destruction of churches developed into a general persecution, in which Abdas was one of the first martyrs. When Yezdegerd died in 420, and was succeeded by his son Bahram V, the persecution continued, and large numbers of Christians fled across the frontier into Roman territory. A bitter feeling between Persia and Rome grew out of Bahram's demand for the surrender of the Christian fugitives, and war was declared in 422. The conflict commenced with Roman success in Armenia and the capture of a large number of Persian prisoners ; the Romans then advanced into Persia and ravaged the border province of Azarena, but the seat of war was soon transferred to Mesopotamia, where the Romans besieged Nisibis. The Persians, hard pressed in this siege, called in the Turks to their assistance, and the united armies marched to the relief of the city. The Romans were alarmed at the news of the large numbers of the Persian forces and raised the siege, but soon afterwards, when the turks had retired, there was a general engagement in which the Romans inflicted a crushing defeat upon their adversaries, and compelled them to sue for peace. Although the latter half of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century was a period of so much distress in the Eastern provinces, which were exposed to the growing ambition of Persia, it was a time of extension of the Christian Church and of literary activity. This literary and ecclesiastical development led to the formation of a Syriac literature in Persia (Syriac being the liturgical language of the Persian Church ), and ultimately of a Christian Persian literature.
Towards the middle of the fifth century, the Persian Emperor Yezdegerd (442-59) was compelled to turn his attention to the passes of the Caucasus; troops of Huns and Scythians had already broken through into Iran. Peroses (Firuz), his successor, made war on the nomads of the Caspian regions, and in 484 lost his life in battle with them. Four years later the throne of Persia was occupied by Qubad I, who reigned from 488 to 531. During this reign there developed in Persia a new sect of the Fire-worshippers (the Mazdakeans), who were at first favoured by the king, but who subsequently involved the empire in serious complications. The last decade of Qubad's reign was chiefly occupied by wars with the Romans, in which he found a good means for diverting the attention of his people from domestic affairs. During the very last days of his life Qubad was compelled once more to lead an army to the West to maintain Persia's influence over Lasistan in southern Caucasia, the prince of which country had become a convert to Christianity, and consequently an ally of the Byzantine empire. It was during the same reign that the Nestorians began to enter more fully into Persian life, and under him that they began their missionary expansion eastwards. About the year 496 the patriarchal See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon fell into the hands of the Nestorians, and henceforth the Catholicos of Seleucia became the patriarch of the Nestorian Church of Persia, Syria, China, and India. After the death of Qubad the usual quarrels as to the succession arose, and finally ended, in 531, with the accession of Chosroes I Anushirwân whom Qubad had looked upon as the most capable of his sons. Chosroes was a champion of the ancient Iranian spirit, a friend of the priest class, and an irreconcilable enemy of the Mazdakites, who had chosen one of his numerous brothers as their candidate for the throne. During his reign the Persian Empire attained the height of its splendour; indeed, the government of Chosroes I, "the Just", was both equitable and vigorous. One of his first acts was to make peace with Byzantium, the latter agreeing pay a large contribution towards the fortification of the Caucasian passes. In addition to strengthening the Caucasus, Chosroes also sought to fortify the north-eastern frontier of his empire by constructing a great wall, and he asserted his claims to a portion of northwestern India by force of arms, but son turned his attention once more to the West. In 531 he proclaimed a general toleration, in which not only Christians, but also Manichæans and Mazdakites, were included.
The period 532-39 was spent in the extension and strengthening of the eastern frontiers of Persia. In 539 Chosroes returned to Ctesiphon, and was persuaded by the Bedouin Al Mondar to renew Qubad's attempted conquest of Syria. The pretext was that Justinian was aiming at universal dominion, but there is no doubt that the real reason was that Al Mondar remembered the ease with which he had once plundered Syrian territory. In 540 the Persians invaded Syria and captured the city of Shurab. the prisoners taken from this city were released at the request of Candidus, bishop of the neighbouring town of Sergiopolis, who undertook to pay a ransom of 200 pounds of gold. Then Chosroes took Mabbogh, which paid a ransom, then Beroea, and finally proceeded against Antioch itself, which was captured after a short resistance. From Antioch Chosroes carried off many works of art and a vast number of captives. On his way homewards he made an attack upon Edessa, a city generally regarded as impregnable, but was taken ill during the siege.
During Chosroes's illness trouble occurred in Persia. He had married a Christian wife, and his son Nushizad was also a Christian. When the king was taken ill at Edessa a report reached Persia that he was dead, and at once Nushizad seized the crown. Very soon the rumour was prove false, but Nushizad was persuaded by persons who appear to have been in the pay of Justinian to endeavour to maintain his position. The action of his son was deeply distressing to Chosroes; but it was necessary to take prompt measures, and the commander, Ram Berzin, was sent against the rebels. In the battle which followed Nushizad was mortally wounded and carried off the field. In his tent he was attended by a Christian bishop, probably Mar Aba, and to this bishop he confessed his sincere repentance for having taken up arms against his father, an act which, he was convinced, could never win the approval of Heaven. Having professed himself a Christian he died, and the rebellion was quickly put down.
Mar Aba was probably the Nestorian Catholicos from 536 to 552. He was a convert from Zoroastrianism, and had studied Greek at Nisibis and Edessa, making use of his knowledge to prepare and publish a new version of the Old Testament. This appears to have been a total failure, for the Nestorians, unlike the Jacobites, steadily adhered to the Peshito. On being appointed catholicos he established a school at Seleucia, which soon became a great centre of Nestorian scholarship. He wrote commentaries, homilies, and letters, the two former classes of work representing, no doubt, the substance of his teaching in the school which he founded. Hymns are extant which are ascribed to him. Chosroes, after his return from Syria, taunted Mar Aba with professing a type of Christianity unknown to the rest of the world. But Mar Aba did much to remove the more marked peculiarities of the Nestorian schism, especially again enforcing celibacy amongst the bishops. From time to time he held discussions with Chosroes, until on one occasion, being tactless enough not to be convinced by the arguments of the sovereign, he was sentenced to banishment. As he disobeyed the decree, he was cast into prison, where he died in 552. In 542 Chosroes claimed from Bishop Candidus the payment of the sum to which he had pledged himself as ransom for the captives taken at Shurab; but the bishop was unable to raise the money; in fact he confessed that he had only made the promise in the expectation that the Government would find part of the sum required, and this had not been done. Therefore Candidus was put to death. In the course of the same year Chosroes advanced south and attacked Jerusalem, but was repulsed by Belisarius.
Mar Aba's foundation of a school at Seleucia seems to have suggested to Chosroes the idea of founding a Zoroastrian school similar to it and to the Christian instructions at Edessa and Nisibis. In pursuance of this plan the king opened a college at Djundi Shapur, and here many Greek, Syrian, and Indian works were translated into Persian, and the ancient laws of Persia were rendered into the vernacular dialect (Pahlavi). Meanwhile the school at Seleucia became a centre of Nestorian life. It was a period during which the Nestorians were returning to a greater conformity to the usages of the rest of Christendom. We have already mentioned Mar Aba's restoration of celibacy, at least as far as the bishops were concerned. About the same time two distinguished monks, both bearing the name of Abraham of Kashkar, introduced reforms into monastic life which also tended towards conformity with the practices of the Church within the Roman Empire. Probably this tendency to conformity was due to increase of Greek influence observable during the reign of Chosroes, and the contact with the empire due to the invasion of Syria ; nevertheless the Nestorians remained a distinct body.
Meanwhile the Catholicos Mar Aba had died, and Chosroes appointed his favourite physician, Joseph, as Bishop of Seleucia (552). Many strange stories are related of his cruelty as bishop ; after three years he was deposed on a petition of the Christians of Seleucia. He lived twelve years after his deposition, and during that period no catholicos was appointed. About the same time the indefatigable Jacob Burdeana consecrated Achudemma as Jacobite bishop in Persia, and made a proselyte of a member of the royal family. Amongst the Persians it was never permitted to make converts from the state religion. The Jacobites however were of little importance so far east, where Nestorianism was the prevailing type of Christianity. After the death of Joseph in 567. Ezechiel, a disciple of Mar Aba, was appointed Catholicos of Seleucia, under whom lived the periodeutes Bodh, the translator into Syriac of the Indian tales known as "Kalilah and Dimnah". It is noteworthy that the Nestorians were beginning to take an interest in Indian literature, an interest probably to be referred to the influence of the Djundi Shapur school.
Chosroes was succeeded by his son Hormuz (579-90). For the firs three years of his reign Hormuz was guided by the statesman-philosopher Buzurg, but after his retirement Hormuz gave himself up to every form of self-indulgence and tyranny. Under these conditions the power of Persia declined, and the land suffered invasion on the north, east, and west. To check the Byzantines, Bahram, a general who had distinguished himself under chosroes, was sent to invade Colehis, but he was defeated and recalled in disgrace. Knowing that this was equivalent to sentence of death, Bahram revolted, and succeeded in capturing Hormuz, whom he put to death. Chosroes, the king's son, fled and was well received by Probus, Governor of Circesium, and afterwards by the Emperor Mauritius. With the help of the Romans this younger Chosroes defeated Bahram, and became king as Chosroes II. As he owed his kingdom and his wife to the Emperor Mauritius, Chosroes was devoted to the dynasty then reigning at Constantinople. Although not himself a Christian, he paid honour to the Blessed Virgin and to the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus , two saints popular among the Syrians, while his wife as an ardent Jacobite.
In 604 the Roman Emperor Mauritius was assassinated, and the Persian king resolved to attack the empire in order to avenge his benefactor. In 604 the Persians again invaded the eastern provinces and took the city of Daras. The invasion of Chosroes II was the severest blow that the Byzantine power in Asia had to endure, previous to the rise of Islam. After five years of war Chosroes II reached Constantinople. It was not a mere plundering expedition, but a serious invasion whose success clearly proved the growing weakness of the Byzantine Empire. Next year (606) the invaders reached Amida ; in 607 they were at Edessa ; in 608 at Aleppo ; and by 611 they had conquered all northern Syria, and established themselves at Antioch. They then turned south and conquered Palestine. In 615 Jerusalem revolted, but was cruelly punished, some 17,000 persons being put to death, and about 35,000 led away captive. The fragment of the True Cross , the most precious relic of the city, was carried off. Next year (616) the Persians took Alexandria, and in 617 besieged Constantinople. Although the imperial city was not taken, Asia Minor remained in the hands of the Persians until 624.
Chosroes II was repelled, not by the Romans, but by a people who were yearly growing more powerful, and were destined ultimately to displace both Rome and Persian in Asia — the Arabs. Chosroes II had a harem of 3,000 wives, as well as 12,000 female slaves, but he now demanded as wife Hadiqah, the daughter of the Christian Arab Na'aman, himself the son of Al Mondir. Na'aman refused to permit his Christian daughter to enter the harem of a Zoroastrian, and for this refusal he was trampled to death by a an elephant, whilst Hadiqah took refuge in a convent. The news of this outrage upon an Arab provoked all the Bedouin tribes, and the Arabs revolted. Chosroes II was totally defeated, and fled to the Emperor Heraclius. This victory made a great impression upon the Arab mind, and probably led to the Mohammedan conquests.E. The Mohammedan and Modern Periods (A.D. 651-1911)
During the reign of Yezdegerd III, the successor of Chosroes II, and the last of the Sassanian kings, the Arab invaders attacked Persia and its Mesopotamian territories more and more boldly. In 650 Khâlid, one of the Arab generals, assuming the offensive, defeated the Persian troops on the border of the Euphrates valley. The Christians of this region soon submitted to him. Then the Arabs invaded the country about the Tigris. In 634 Abu Ubaid of Taif, to whom Khâlid assigned the task of annexing Persia, was utterly defeated and slain by the Persians, who, however, were routed in 635-66 by Caliph Omar at Bowaib. Towards the close of the year 636, or in 637, they were again defeated by the Arabs, under Sa'd, at Kadisiyya. The victorious Arabs entered Babylonia and took Seleucia after a lengthy siege. Thence they crossed the Tigris and fell on Ctesiphon, Yezdegerd fleeing towards the Medo-Babylonian frontier. Meantime another army of Arabs had occupied Lower Irâk and entered Susiana. The decisive and final victory took place in 640-42 at Nehavend, near Ecbatana, when the great Persian Empire and the Sassanian dynasty were completely destroyed.
During the reigns of Omar, Othman, and Ali, the first caliphs and successors of Mohammed, as well as under the Omayyads (634-729), Persia was ruled by deputy governors; but on the accession of the Abbasides (A.D. 750), Bagdad became their capital, and Khorasan their favourite province, and thus the very heart of the former territory of the Persian Empire became the centre of the caliphate. But their rule soon became merely a nominal one, and ambitious governors established independent principalities in various parts of Persia. Many of these dynasties were short-lived; others lasted for a considerable period and were powerful kingdoms. For the next two centuries, Persia was subject to the caliphs. But in 868 an adventurer named Soffar, who had been a pewterer and afterwards a bandit, gathered a native force and expelled the viceroys of the caliph, founding a dynasty known as th
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