Prehistorian time to Achaemenid Emire
Because Iran literally means “the land of Aryans”, most historians begin their description of Iranian history with the Aryans’ migration to the Iranian plateau. Archeological, geological and natural evidence allow the suggestion that long before the influx of the Aryans into Iran and the establishment of their power there, Iranian plateau was inhabited by various people. The first traces of human in the Iranian plateau belongs to 100000 BC, but the first bones of a modern, non-Neanderthal type of man considered to be about 9000 years old, were found in Hotu and Belt Caves in the Alborz Mountains. This period is characterized by the development of settled village Agricultural life based firmly on the domestication of plants and animals. Remarkable rock paintings in Dusheh Cave in Lorestan about 10000 years ago show men riding horses and holding the animals’ reins. The period from the late 3rd to the end of the 2nd millennia BC represents a dark age in Iranian prehistory. Among the most promising archaeological site dating from this period is Shahr e Sukhte or Burnt City, an important urban center in southeast Iran. Among the most brilliant recent discoveries is also the site of Jiroft, believed by many to have housed the earliest known oriental civilization.
Since ancient time, lowland Khuzestan has proved a favorable site for human settlement. In the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BC, the lowland Khuzestan became home to the most powerful and longest-lived civilization in Iran prior to the arrival of the Aryans… that of Elam. There are so similarities between Elam and Mesopotamia, but their temples took the form of Ziggurats, man-made mountains reminiscent of the surrounding highlands. Elamite history is usually divided into three main phases: the old, middle and Neo-Elamite periods, and in all three periods, Elam was closely involved with Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria, sometimes through peaceful trade, but more often through war. Chogha-Zanbil in Khuzestan is the most conspicuous relic from the Elamite period.
In the second half of the Middle Elamite Period opened with the reign of Shutruk-Nahhunte, who turned Elam into one of the greatest military powers in the Middle East. He captured Babylon, and carried off to Susa the stele on which was inscribed the famous Law Code of Hammurabi. The original is now in the Louvre, but the National Museum in Tehran has a copy.
Before long, Elamite Empire began to shrink rapidly. Babylon attacked Elam and it was the beginning of Neo-Elamite period. This time is marked by constant external pressure from Assyria and Babylon. By 850 BC, small tribal groups of Aryan stock, including the Medes and Persians, infiltrated the mountains of Kurdistan and Fars, encircling Elam and threatening its borders. After that, Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian King destroyed Susa and brought the Elamite Kingdom to its catastrophic end, “sowed it by salt”. It’s a sad story of murder and revenge.
Assyria vs Elam: The battle of Til Tuba
There is a legendary story about Aryans and King Jamshid. King Jamshid shoved his sword into the earth three times and made expand during three periods, each mythological winter long.
Iranians appear to have come to the Iranian plateau by route through Caucasian Mountains and along the Caspian Sea. They gradually mixed with the natives and finally occupied the position of the superiors. Among the Iranian tribes, two major groups are identifiable: The Medes and the Persians. Iranians were soon forced to recognize themselves into kingdoms, especially under the pressure of constant Assyrian attacks. The first-known Iranian kingdom was Median Empire. It seems to have started with the rule of Diaku. He united the scattered Median clans, and organized them under a central governorship with the capital in Hegmataneh or Ecbatana, in Modern Hamedan.
Among the most historically famous of this clans were the Magi, who in their position as the hereditary priests later played an important role in development of Zoroastrianism.
The mightiest of the Median rulers was Hovakhshatra. He made an alliance with Babylonia king and marched against the Assyrians. With this, Assyria disappeared from the history. The brilliant Hovakhshatra was succeeded by his week and brutal son, Ishtavigo. The Median kingdom started to decline, and was soon overthrown by the sweeping new power of a group called the Achaemenians.
Aryana Podcast – History of Iran