The history, religion, and civilization of Persia are offshoots from those of Media.
Persia —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 northwest 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 Heb. PRS, in the Sept. Persis, in the Achaemenian inscriptions Parsa, in Elamitic Parsin, in modern Persian Fars, and in Arabic Fars, or Faris) 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; on the east by Russian Turkestan, Afghanistan, and Beluchistan, and on the west by Asiatic Turkey 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 southwestern 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 southwest. 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 worshipped the Babylonian gods. Darius, on the other hand, was both by birth and religion a Persian, descended, like Cyrus, from the royal Achaemenian 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 Achwmenian 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 Achcemenian 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 521, 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 Thermopylae 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 Cyprus, 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 Ochus, 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 Cyprus, 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 II, 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 Achmenian 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 Achaemenian 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, June 13, 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 built the city of Seleucia, on the Tigris, making it the capital of the Persian, or rather Graeco-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 favorites. During his reign, northeastern 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.
C. The Arsacid, or Parthian Dynasty (250 B.C.—A.D. 216)
—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 composed of cavalry, completely clad in chain armor 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 this event Demetrius III, head of the Seleucian dynasty, was forced to surrender, with his 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 Caesar 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 June 16, 54 B.C., the Romans and the Parthians met at Carrie, 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 reformed, 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 and in Palestine with a mildness which contrasted favorably 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 Carrie. His army numbered one hundred thousand men, including no less than forty thousand cavalry intended to cope with the terrible horsemen of 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 Touran 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 endeavored 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 war 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 greater 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.
D. The Sassanian Dynasty (A.D. 227-651)
—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 Arsacidi, 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 national and religious movement, the new dynasty being looked upon as the true and genuine successor of the old and noble Achaemenian 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.
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 Manichaeism, and his followers, under Bahram I. Mani himself, at first in favor 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 disfavor 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 built 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 361, determined to invade the dominions of Sapor. In March, 363, he set out from Antioch to march towards Carrie. 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 once more the center 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 link between all three: as bishop he was contemporary with Sapor II; he encouraged Nisibis in its first resistance to the army of Sapor; his school at Nisibis was modeled on that of Diodorus at Antioch, and he was the patron and benefactor of the monastery founded by Awgin on Mount 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 (q.v.), 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 favor 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 Azazena, 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 favored 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 Anushirwan, 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 splendor; 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 to pay a large contribution towards the fortification of the Caucasian passes. In addition to strengthening the Caucasus, Chosroes also sought to fortify the northeastern 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 soon turned his attention once more to the West. In 531 he proclaimed a general toleration, in which not only Christians, but also Manichaeans and Mazda-kites, 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 neighboring town of Sergiopolis, who undertook to pay a ransom of 200 pounds of gold. Then Chosroes took Mabbogh, which paid a ransom, then Bercea, 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 rumor was proved false, but Nushizad was persuaded by persons who appear to have been in the pay of Justinian to endeavor 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 center 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 center 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 favorite 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 first 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 Colchis, 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 honor to the Blessed Virgin and to the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, two saints popular among the Syrians, while his wife was 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 Persia in Asia—the Arabs. Chosroes II had a harem of 3000 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 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 Mestapotamian territories more and more boldly. In 650 Khalid, 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 Khalid 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 Irak 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 (634-720), Persia was ruled by deputy governors; but on the accession of the Abbasides (A.D. 750), Bagdad became their capital, and Khorasan their favorite province, and thus the very heart of the former territory of the Persian Empire became the center 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 the Soffarides. In the beginning of the tenth century Persia was divided between the families of Samani and Dilami, the first of which reigned over eastern Persia and Afghanistan, and the second over the rest of the country. Under these dynasties Persia fell beneath the yoke of the Seljuks, and was ruled by Togrul Beg, Alp Arslan, and Malek Shah, all of whom were conquerors greatly celebrated in oriental history. Their dynasty declined and perished in the twelfth century. After a long period of anarchy Persia was overrun and conquered by the Mongols led by Hulaku Khan, grandson of Yenghis (1258), who established the seat of his empire at Maragha in Azerbejan.
The next important event in the history of Persia was its conquest and devastation by Timur-Leng toward the end of the fourteenth century. Under his successors civil war prevailed almost continually, until in the beginning of the sixteenth century Ismail, a descendant of a famous saint, Sheik Suffi, founded the Suffavean dynasty. He died in 1523, and was succeeded by his son Tamasp, whose reign of fifty-three years was very prosperous. Abbas, who ascended the throne about 1587, was a still greater sovereign, though to his family he proved a sanguinary tyrant. After his death in 1628 the Suffavean dynasty gradually declined, and was at length overthrown by the Afghans, who conquered Persia in 1722, and ruled it for seven years with much tyranny, till they were expelled by the celebrated Nadir Shah, who ascended the throne in 1736. His reign was memorable for his success over foreign enemies and for his cruelty to his family and people. After his death in 1747 a series of revolutions occurred, and order was not fully restored till toward the close of the century, when Agha Mohammed, first of the reigning dynasty of Kadjars, became shah. His successors have been Feth-Ali (1797-1834), Mohammed (1835-48), and Nasr-ed-Din, who succeeded in 1848, being then 18 years old. Persia has been involved in three wars since the accession of this dynasty. Of these, two were with Russia, the first ending in 1813, and the second in 1828, both of them having been disastrous to Persia, which lost Georgia, Mingrelia, Erivan, Nakhitchevan, and the greater part of Talish, the Russian frontier being advanced to Mount Ararat and the left bank of the Aras; the third war was with Great Britain, and was begun in 1856 owing to a series of disputes between officials of the Persian Government and the British minister at Teheran. After repeated victories of the British troops in the south of Persia under Generals Outram and Havelock, it was terminated on March 4, 1857, by a treaty signed at Paris, favorable to the demands of the British. In 1860 pestilence and famine devastated parts of the country; and a still greater famine in 1870 and 1871 is believed to have caused the death of two million persons. In the summer of 1873 Nasr-ed-Din made a tour through Europe, visiting Vienna, Paris, and London, and in 1878 visited Russia. In 1889 he again made a tour of Europe. As a ruler he was energetic and severe. He was largely under the influence of the Russian Court, though for a time after the failure of his attempt to restore the Persian dominion over Herat he maintained a somewhat friendly attitude toward Great Britain. He sternly repressed revolts and conspiracies, but, through the sale of the tobacco monopoly to English speculators, he offended many of his subjects, and his unpopularity was increased by the scarcity of food in several of the provinces in subsequent years. In 1896 he was assassinated as he was entering a shrine near Teheran, and was succeeded by his son, Muzaffer-ed-Din.
The new shah introduced several reforms in his kingdom, and, aided by twelve ministers, assumed personally the government of the empire. He visited Europe in 1900 and narrowly escaped assassination in Paris. He became very friendly with Russia, to whom his friendship proved beneficial. In 1905 a revolution took place in Persia in which royal princes and mullahs took part. They left the capital and took refuge at Khum, demanding reform and a parliamentary government. The shah hesitated at first, but finally decided to convoke a Majlis, August 5, 1906. This was opposed by the court party, but Muzaffered-Din succeeded in forcing upon the reactionaries the establishment of a parliament. On January 4, 1907, he died and was succeeded by his son, Mohammed-Ali-Mirza (January 8, 1907), who from the very first day of his reign was involved in difficulties with the Parliament. He was unduly influenced by Russia, and was at times reluctant to conform with the demands of the Reform and Parliamentary party. Unrest and antagonism were everywhere visible, and the tension was such that a political revolution seemed impending. Meanwhile Parliament was several times suppressed and reconvoked; various provinces rebelled and Teheran was at one time in a state of siege. Finally Mohammed-Ali-Mirza was forced to abdicate (1909) and was succeeded by his son, Ahmed Mirza, a boy of twelve years.
Till 1906 the Government of Persia was an absolute monarchy. The shah was assisted by a grand vizier and several ministers. His will was absolute, and that of the imams, or priests, was paramount. Today, however, it is divided into three departments, viz., the Court; the Ministerial Departments; and the National Assembly, or Parliament (Majlis). Theoretically, however, the shah is still the “king of kings” and the supreme ruler, executive, and counsellor in every department. The country is divided into five great mamlikats, or large provinces, viz., Azerbedjan, Farsistan, Ghilan, Khorasan, and Kirman (their corresponding capitals being; Tabriz, Shirza, Resht, Meshhed, and Kirman), and thirty vilayets, or smaller provinces. The present capital of the empire is Teheran. The Governorship of Azerbedjan is always given to the heir apparent, and the governors of the other provinces are appointed by the shah for a term of one year. In all large towns there are sub-governors and village masters. The latter are really the tax collectors. The rate of taxation varies in different parts of the country. The tax on personal property is light, while the income tax is still lighter, being paid chiefly in kind. Justice is administered partly by the shah and partly by the courts and the imams.
Statistics.—The area of modern Persia is about 635,000 square miles, a large part being desert; the population is about 9,000,000, one-fourth of whom are nomads. The estimated population of the principal cities is: Teheran, 280,000; Tabriz, 200,000; Ispahan, 70,000; Meshhed, 60,000; Kirman, 60,000; and Yezd, 45,000. The principal imports, which amount yearly to about 450,000,000 krans (a kran is equivalent to 7 cents of U.S.A. money), are cotton fabrics, sugar, tea, woollens, petroleum, iron and steel goods, and the precious metals. The principal exports, which amount to about 400,000,000 krans annually, are fruits, carpets, cotton, fish, rice, silk and cocoons, rubber, wool, opium, hides and skins, copper, cereals, and living animals. The modern Persians are Mohammedans. Of these, nearly seven-eighths are Shiites, and only one-eighth Sunnites. Besides, there are about 9000 Parsis, or followers of Zoroaster, 40,000 Jews, 50,000 Armenians, 25,000 Nestorians, and 10,000 Chaldeans (Catholic). Concerning the religion of the ancient Persians, from the time of the Achaemenian dynasty down to the end of the Sassanian period, covering about twelve centuries (sixth cent. B.C.—seventh cent. A.D.), see Zoroaster; the official religion of the medieval and modern Persians is Mohammedanism (q.v.).
II. PERSIAN LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
The term Persian, as applied both to the people and their language, has now a wider significance than it originally bore. A more appropriate term would be Iran or Iranian. The early inhabitants of Iran were Aryans, and their languages and dialects, for the last three or four thousand years, belong to the so-called Aryan family. Even the Persian language of today, not withstanding the immense influence exercised upon it by Arabic, is still the lineal offspring of the language spoken by Cyrus, Darius, and the Sassanian kings. This continuity, however, is broken by two great gaps, occasioned by the Greek and Parthian invasions on the one hand, and by the Mohammedan domination on the other, viz., from 331 B.C.—A.D. 227; and 635 and the following years respectively.
The history of the Persian language falls, therefore, into three well-defined periods, as follows: The Achoemenian Period (550-331 B.C.), represented by the edicts and proclamations contained in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions, which, though of considerable extent, are similar in character and style and yield a vocabulary of about 400 words. The language represented by these inscriptions, deciphered by Grotefend, Sir H. Rawlinson, Hincks, Oppert, and others towards the middle of the last century, is generally called Old Persian. The Sassanian Period (A.D. 227-651), represented by inscriptions on monuments, medals, gems, seals, and coins, and by a literature estimated as equal in bulk to the Old Testament. This literature is entirely Zoroastrian and almost entirely theological and liturgical. The language in which it is written is little more than a very archaic form of the present language of Persia devoid of the Arabic element. It is generally known as Pahlavi, or Middle Persian. Properly speaking, the term Pahlavi applies rather to the script than the language. The Mohammedan Period (from about A.D. 900 until the present day), represented by the Persian language as it was spoken by the Persians after the Arab conquest, and after the adoption of the Mohammedan religion by the vast majority of the inhabitants of Persia. The difference between Late Pahlavi and the earliest form of Modern Persian was, save for the Arabic element generally contained in the latter, merely a difference of script. This is generally called Modern Persian, or Neo-Persian. Of Modern Persian there are many dialects spoken in different parts of Persia at the present day. The principal ones are those spoken in Mazandaràn, Ghilan, and Talish in the north; Samnan in the northeast; Kashàn, Quhràd and Nain in the center, with the peculiar Gabri dialect spoken by the Zoroastrians inhabiting Yezd, Kirman, Rafsinjan, etc. Siwand in the south; Luristan, Behbehan and Kurdistan in the west; and the Sistàni and Bakhtiyari idioms.
In Persian literature we recognize four epochs, comprising (I) The Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions of the Achmenian kings. (2) The Avesta, the Sacred Books of the Zoroastrians, believed by many to date from Zoroaster’s own time (about sixth cent. B.C.). (3) The Pahlavi literature, including the contemporary Sassanian inscriptions. (4) The Post-Mohammedan, or Modern Persian, literature of the last thousand years, which alone is usually called and understood as Persian literature. To this last may be added the large Arabic literature produced by Persians. The literature of the first period is very scanty, consisting mainly of the Achaemenian inscriptions written in the simplest form of the cuneiform script; principal among which is the famous trilingual inscription of Darius the Great (521-486 B.C.), engraved in the rock on Mount Behistun, near Hamadan, and memorable in the annals of Assyriology for furnishing scholars with the real clue for describing and interpreting the Assyro-Babylonian language and inscriptions (see Assyria). Most of these Achaemenian inscriptions date from about the end of the sixth century B.C., although we have specimens as late as Artaxerxes Ochus (359-38 B.C.). Very similar to this Old Persian dialect is the language in which the Sacred Books of the Zoroastrians, generally but improperly called the Zend-Avesta, are written. This Zoroastrian, or Avestan, literature is theological and liturgical in character, and its production goes back perhaps to the sixth century B.C., although in its present form it includes many later accretions and redactions, mostly of post-Christian times and coinciding with the period of the Sassanian dynasty (see Avesta). During the Parthian, or Arsacid dynasty, no literature was produced, except the few inscriptions and coins written in Greek.
The Pahlavi literature consists of inscriptions, coins, and several religious, legendary, historical, and literary productions. The inscriptions and the coins belong to the Sassanian dynasty, while the rest extends from their time till about the tenth century. Prof. West divides Pahlavi literature into three classes: (I) Pahlavi translations of Avesta texts, represented by twenty-seven works, estimated to contain about 141,000 words; (2) Pahlavi texts on religious subjects, represented by fifty-five works, estimated to contain an aggregate of about 446,000 words, mostly commentaries, prayers, traditions, admonitions, injunctions, pious sayings, etc.; (3) Pahlavi texts on non-religious subjects, represented by only eleven works, comprising in all about 41,000 words, but forming by far the most interesting part of Pahlavi literature, as they contain the record of the early legendary history of Iran and Persia, which forms the background of the great epic of Firdàsi, the “Shahnameh”, or “Book of Kings”.
The Modern, or Mohammedan, Persian literature extends from about the tenth century A.D. till our own days, and is by far the richest of the four. The rise, development, and progress of Modern Persian literature is intimately connected with the rise, development, and progress of Arabian, or Mohammedan, religious life and literature. The beginning of the ninth century may be said to be the starting point of the modern national Persian independence and literature. The earliest writer of this period was a poet, Abbas by name, who composed in A.D. 809 a poem in honor of the Abbasid Caliph, Ma man. Abbas’s first poetical effort was improved upon by men like Hanzalah, Hakim Firuz, and Abu-Salik, who began to imitate the Arabic qasïdah form of poetical composition. These were soon followed by a dozen other poets who wrote some beautiful lyric and elegiac poetry. The earliest Persian prose writer was Balami who, by order of Shah Mansàr I, translated into Persian, in 936, the Arabic universal history of Tàbari (224-310 A. H.). Others translated Tàbari’s great “Commentary” on the Koran from Arabic into Persian. This was followed by Abu Mansàr Muwaffak’s book on medicine and by the great philosopher, Avicenna (d. 1037), himself a Persian by birth, who wrote some of his works in Persian and some in Arabic. But the greatest of all Modern Persian poets, the forerunner and father of Modern Persian poetry, and the Homer of Persian epic—equal indeed in power of imagination, wealth of poetical descriptions, and elevated style to any old or modern poet—is Firdàsi (A.D. 940-1020), the author of the “Shahnameh” or “Book of Kings”, on which the author labored for thirty-five years. It is about eight times as long as the Iliad and contains a lengthy detailed description of all the historical and legendary wars, conquests, heroes, traditions, and customs of ancient and Sassanian Iran. Firdàsi had many imitators, such as the author of the “Garshaspnàma”, ‘Ali ibn Ahmad Asadi. (about 1066), written in 9000 distichs; of the “Sàmnàma”, in which the heroic deeds of Rustem’s grandfather are celebrated, and which equals in length the “Shahnameh” itself; the “Sa’hanhírnàma”, the “Faràmurznàma”, the “Bànú-Gushàshpnàma”, the “Barsúnàma”, the “Shahriyarnàma”, the “Bahmannàma”, the various “Iskandarnàmas”, the “Bustani-Khayal” (a romance in fifteen volumes), the “Anbiyànàma” and many other epopees, all written within the period A.D. 1066-1150.
During the last four or five centuries, several other epic writers flourished in Persia such as Mu’in Almiskin (d. 1501), who wrote in prose the epic of Hatim Tay, the celebrated Arabian chief; Hatifi (d. 1521), the author of “Timurnàma”, or the epic of Tamerlane; Kasimi (d. about 1561), Kamali of Sabawar, Ishrafi, and the authors of the “Shahinshahnàma” and the “Georgenàma”. Romantic fiction was also cultivated with success by such writers as Nizami of Ganja (1141-1203), ‘Am’ak of Bokhara (d. 1149), author of the romance of Yusuf and Zuleikha, Jam’i (d. 1492), Mauji Kasim Khan (d. 1571), Nazim of Herat (d. 1670), and Shaukat, Governor of Shiraz, who flourished towards the beginning of the nineteenth century. The best known Persian writers of encomium and satire are: Abul-Faraj Runi, Mas’àd ibn Sa’d ibn Salman (about 1085), Adib Sabir (about 1145), Jauhari, Amir Mu’izzi (d. 1147), Rashid Watwat (d. 1172), Abd-Alwasi Jabali, Hasan Ghaznawi (d. 1169), Auhad-uddin Anwarí (d. about 1196), Suzani of Samarkand (d. 1174) and his contemporaries, Abu-Ali Shatranji, Lamï’ of Bokhara, Khakani (d. 1199), the greatest rival of Anwari, Ubaid Zakani (d. 1370), Mujir-Uddin Bailakani (d. 1198), Zahir Fairabi (d. 1202), Athir Akhsikati (d. 1211), Kamal-uddin Isfahani (d. 1237), and Saif-uddin Isfarangi (d. 1267).
Didactic and mystic poetry was very successfully cultivated by several Persian poets, principal among whom are Sheikh Abu Sa’ïd ibn Abu-l-Khair of Khorasan (968-1049), the contemporary of Firdàsi and the inventor of the ruba’i, or quatrain, form of poetical composition; Omar Khayyàm, the famous astronomer and the celebrated author of the Rubàiyat, made famous by Fitzgerald’s translation, Àfdaluddin Kash (d. 1307), Nàsir ibn Khosrau (d. about 1325), ‘Ali ibn `Uthman al-jullabi (d. about 1342), Hakim Sana’i of Ghanza (about 1130), Jelal-uddin Rumi (1207-73), “the most uncompromising Sufic follower, and the greatest pantheistic writer of all ages”, Farïd-uddin Attàr (d. 1230), and many others. But the greatest and most moderate of all Persian Sufic poets was Sa’di (d. about 1292), “whose two best-known works, the `Bustan’, or `Fruit-garden’, and the `Gulistan’, or `Rose-garden’, owe their great popularity both in the East and the West to the purity of their spiritual thoughts, their sparkling wit, charming style, and the very moderate use of mystic theories”. Later didactic and mystic poets are Nizari (d. 1320), Kàtibi (d. 1434), Hairati (d. 1554), Iami’ (d. 1487), Sana’i, Iraki (d. about 1309), Husaini (d. 1318), Mahmud Shabistari (d. 1320), Auhadi (d. 1338), Kasim Anvar (d. 1434), Ahli of Shiraz (d. 1489), Hilali (d. 1532), Baha’-uddin ‘Àmili (d. 1621), and many others. Like the Arabs, the Persians cultivated with immense success lyric poetry and the description and idealization of the pleasures of love, of women, of wine, and of the beauties of nature. The prince of these lyric poets is Hafiz (d. 1389). He had many imitators, such as Salman of Sawa (d. about 1377), Kamal Khujandi, Muhammed Shirin Maghribi (d. 1406), Ni’mat-ullah Wali (d. 1431), Kasimi-Anwar, Amir Shahi (1453), Banna’i (d. 1512), Baba Fighani of Shiraz (d. 1519), Nargisi (d. 1531), Lisani (d. 1534), Ahlï of Shiraz (d. 1535), Nau’i (d. 1610), and innumerable others who strove, more or less successfully, to imitate Hafiz as well as Iamí and Nizami. To more recent date belong the poets Zulali (d. 1592), Sa’ib (d. 1677), and Hatif of Isfahan (d. about 1785).
Persian literature is not very rich in historical and theological works, and even the comparatively small number of these is generally based on Arabic Mohammedan historical and theological productions. Finally, it must not be forgotten that from about the eighth or ninth century A.D. till about the fifteenth some of the greatest Mohammedan theologians, historians, philosophers, grammarians, lexicographers, and philologists, who wrote in Arabic, were of Persian origin. It must also be noted that owing to the constant and intimate social, political, literary, and religious intercourse between Arabs and Persians, especially during the Abbasid dynasty, Modern Persian, especially in its vocabulary, has been very extensively affected by Arabic, so much so that a perfect knowledge of Modern Persian is impossible without the knowledge of Arabic. Persian, also, in its turn, especially during the last four or five centuries, has very perceptibly affected the Turkish language.
III. CHRISTIANITY IN PERSIA
A. From the Apostolic Age to the Thirteenth Century
—The beginning of Christianity in Persia may well be connected with what we read in Acts (ch. ii, v. 9) viz., that on the Day of Pentecost there were at Jerusalem “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia”. These, doubtless, on their return home, announced to their countrymen the appearance of the new religion. Early ecclesiastical traditions, furthermore, both foreign and local, tenaciously maintain that Peter and Thomas preached the Gospel to the Parthians; that Thaddaeus, Bartholomew, and Addeus, of the Seventy, evangelized the races of Mesopotamia and Persia, and that Mari, a noble Persian convert, succeeded Addai (Addeus) in the government of the Persian Christian communities. He is said to have been succeeded by the bishops Abrès, Abraham, Jacob, Ahadabuhi, Tomarsa, Shahlufa, and Papa, which brings us down to the end of the third century. When we read in later Syriac documents that towards the beginning of the third century the Christians in the Persian Empire had some three hundred and sixty churches, and many martyrs, it is not difficult to imagine even if we discount the many legendary elements in these traditions, how vigorous and how successful the early Christian propaganda must have been in those distant regions.
Owing to the toleration of the Parthian Kings, Christianity kept slowly but steadily advancing in various parts of the empire. With the advent of the Sassanian dynasty, however (A.D. 226-641), Christianity was often subjected to very severe trials. Its chief opponents were the Zoroastrian Magi and priestly schools, as well as the numerous Jews scattered through the empire. The Sassanian kings in general espoused the cause of Zoroastrianism, which under them became once more the official religion; and, though some of this dynasty favored Christianity, the national feeling always clung to the ancient creed. Many thousands of Persians embraced Christianity, but Persia remained the stronghold of Zoroastrianism, and there never arose an indigenous Persian Church, worshipping in the Persian language and leavening the whole nation. The Persian Church was of Syrian origin, traditions, and tendencies, and, for about three centuries, regarded Antioch as the center of its faith and the seat of authority. When the Christian religion was accepted by Constantine (A.D. 312), it was naturally regarded by the Persian emperors as the religion of their rivals, the Romans. Religious and national feeling thus united against it, and bitter persecutions continued in Persia for a century after they had ceased in the Roman Empire. Some of these persecutions—notably that under Sapor II—were as terrible as any which the Christians of the West had experienced under the Emperor Diocletian.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, the Christian religion kept steadily growing. Towards the beginning of the fourth century the head of the Persian Church selected the city of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the capital of the empire, for his metropolitan see. Under his jurisdiction were several bishops, one of whom, John by name, was present at the Council of Nica (325). In 410, a synod of Christians was held at the Persian capital. In 420 there were metropolitans at Mery and Herat. King Yezdegerd himself sent the Patriarch of the Persian Church on a mission to the Roman emperor. Between 450 and 500 the Nestorians, persecuted in the Roman Empire, fled to Persia for protection, and in 498 the whole Persian Church declared in favor of Nestorianism. Henceforth the history of Christianity in Persia is their history. In the next two centuries the Persian Church kept steadily increasing till it rivaled, and perhaps surpassed, in extent, power, and wealth any other national Christian Church; having a hierarchy of two hundred and thirty bishops, scattered over Assyria, Babylonia, Chaldea, Arabia, Media, Khorasan, Persia proper, the very deserts of Turkestan, the Oasis of Merv, both shores of the Persian Gulf, and even beyond it, in the Islands of Socotra, and Ceylon, through the coasts of Malabar, and at last China and Tatary. Msgr. Duchesne rightly observes that “the dominion of the ‚ÄòCatholicos of Seleucia was of no mean dimensions, and by the extension of his jurisdiction this high ecclesiastical dignitary figures in the same light as the greatest of the Byzantine patriarchs. We might almost go further and say that, inasmuch as we can compare the Persian Empire to the Roman, the Persian Church may be compared to the Church of the great western Power” (“The Churches Separated from Rome“, tr. Mathew, New York, 1907, p. 16).
The history of Christianity in the Sassanian empire shows that there has been a very active and successful propaganda among the Iranians. We read of Christians among the landlord class about Mosul and in the mountain region east of that city. Some of the Christians were of high rank. The last Chosroes was killed in an insurrection headed by a Christian whose father had been the chief financial officer of the realm. Some of the patriarchs of the Nestorian Church were converts, or sons of converts, from Magianism. While numerous, however, the Persian Christians were not organized into a national Church. There were certain differences between them and the Nestorians farther west, and these differences were the beginnings of ecclesiastical independence, but the patriarchs asserted their authority in the end. Syriac was the ecclesiastical and theological language and even in Persia proper there was at most a very scanty Christian literature; even the Scriptures had not been translated into the vernacular.
It is clear that Christianity was widely diffused in Persia, that in some localities the Christians were very numerous, and that the Christian religion continued to spread after the rise of Mohammedanism. The two forces which had most to do with this spread of Christianity were commerce and monasticism. Christian merchants had a share in the wholesale trade of Asia: trade with India opened the way for the early introduction of Christianity there, and the hold which Christianity acquired on the shores of the Persian Gulf was probably due to the Indian and Arabian trade routes. The strong rule of the early Abbasid caliphs gave opportunity for the development of commerce. The position of the Christians at the capital as bankers and merchants would give them a share in this trade. Christian artisans, including goldsmiths and jewelers, would find employment in the large cities. In his account of the mission of the Nestorian monks, Thomas of Marga relates that the Patriarch Timothy sent his missionary with a company of merchants who were journeying together to Mugan (the plain of Mugan?) on the River Aras (Araxes).
Monasticism was imported into Mesopotamia in the fourth century by monks from Egypt. The legendary account of Mar Awgin, or St. Eugenius, relates that his monastery near Nisibis contained three hundred and fifty monks, while seventy-two of his disciples established each a monastery. The number of monasteries increased rapidly in the fourth and fifth centuries. In the sixth century there was a movement in the Nestorian Church against the enforced celibacy of the higher clergy and against celibate monks, but celibacy won the day, and monasticism was firmly established. The monks must have been numbered by hundreds, if not thousands, for, in addition to the numerous monasteries in Mesopotamia and the regions north of the Tigris, there were scattered monasteries in Persia and Armenia. Besides the cenobites, living in large communities, there were numerous solitaries living in caves or rude huts. These were influential enough among the Qatrayi, on the Persian Gulf, to call for a separate letter from the Patriarch Ishuyabh I. Some of these monks must have been full of real missionary zeal, although of course the prevailing and distinctive spirit of their institute was contemplative rather than missionary.
Yet, in spite of all, Christianity failed, and Islam succeeded in gaining the Iranian race. This failure of Christianity was not wholly due to the success of Islam: internal dissensions, ambition, dishonesty, and corruption among the clergy greatly contributed to the gradual dissolution of this wonderful Church. Under the Arabs, the Christians of Persia were not in wholly unfavorable circumstances. Indeed, the first two centuries of Mohammedan domination, especially under the Abbassids, were the most glorious period in the history of the Persian Church. It is true that at times the Christians were liable to excessive exactions and to persecutions, but they were recognized as the People of the Book; and the Nestorians were especially privileged, and held many offices of trust. The missionary work was carried on and extended. It could not take much root in Persian soil after the Persians became Moslems, but it gained more and more influence in Tatary and China, beyond the limits of Mohammedan conquest. This was a period of comparative peace in those regions, and of the greatest missionary zeal and enterprise on the part of the Nestorians, who planted churches in Transoxiana as far as Kashgar, in the regions of Mongolia, and throughout Northern China. To attest this fact there are extensive Christian graveyards containing memorials of the Turkish race on the borders of China, and the monument of Si-ngan-fu, in Shensi, giving the history of the Nestorian Mission in China for 145 years (A.D. 636-781). Timotheus, a patriarch of the Church for forty years, was zealously devoted to missionary work, and many monks traversed Asia. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there were large Christianized communities. A Mogul prince, Unkh Khan, gave the name to the celebrated Prester John, and his successors were nominal Christians till over-thrown by Jenghis Khan. The names of twenty-five metropolitan sees, from Cyprus in the west to Pekin in the east, are recorded, and their schools were spread far and wide through Western and parts of Central Asia.
B. From Jenghis Khan to the Present Time
—The last of the race of Christian kings—probably Christian only in name—was slain by Jenghis Khan about A.D. 1202. Jenghis had a Christian wife, the daughter of this king, and he was tolerant towards the Christian faith. In fact the Mogul conquerors were without much religion, and friendly towards all creeds. The wave of carnage and conquest swept westward, covered Persia, and overwhelmed the Caliph of Bagdad in 1258. This change was for a time favorable to Christianity, as the rulers openly declared themselves Christians or were partial to Christianity. The patriarch of the Nestorians was chosen from people of the same language and race as the conquerors; he was a native of Western China; he ruled the Church through a stormy period of seven reigns of Mogul kings, had the joy of baptizing some of them, and for a time hoped that they would form such an alliance with the Christians of Europe against the Mohammedans as should open all Asia, as far as China, to Christianity. This hope did not last long; it ended in a threat of ruin: the Nestorians were too degraded, ignorant, and superstitious to avail themselves of their opportunity. After a time of vacillation the Moguls found Mohammedanism better suited to their rough and bloody work. The emperor, having decided, flung his sword into the scale, and at his back were 100,000 warriors. The whole structure of the Nestorian Church, unequal to the trial, crumbled under the persecutions and wars of the Tatars. With Timur-Leng (A.D. 1379-1405) came their utter ruin. He was a bigoted Moslem, and put to the sword all who did not escape to the recesses of the mountains. Thus did Central Asia, once open to Christian missions, see the utter extermination of the Christians, not a trace of them being left east of the Kurdish Mountains. The Christian faith was thrown back upon its last defenses in the West, where hunted and despised, its feeble remnant of adherents continued to retain, as it were, a death-grip on their churches and worship.
During the last five centuries Christianity has been simply a tolerated but oppressed and despised faith in Persia. From the invasions of Timur-Leng until the accession of Abbas the Great (1582), a period of two hundred years, its history is almost a blank. In 1603 some Armenian chiefs appealed to Shah Abbas for protection against the Turks: he invaded Armenia) and in the midst of the war decided to devastate it, that the Turks might be without provisions. From Kars to Bayazid the Armenians were driven before the Persian soldiery to the banks of the Aras, near Julfa. Their cities and villages were depopulated. From every place of concealment they were driven forth. Convents were plundered, and their inmates driven out. The captives were forced to cross the Aras without proper transports. Many women and children, sick and aged, were carried away by the swift current. Two chiefs were beheaded to hasten the progress. Women were carried off to Persian harems. Through unfrequented paths, and with untold hardships, they reached their destinations. The principal colony, five thousand souls, was settled at New Julfa, near Ispahan, where they were granted many privileges. Both Armenians and Georgians were scattered through Central Persia, and some of their descendants are villagers in the Bakhtiyari country. A colony of seven thousand was planted at Ashraf, in Mezanderan, where malaria destroyed the greater portion of them; the remnant were restored to Armenia in the reign of Safi Shah. The colony at Julfa (now known as Tulfa, on the River Zendeh) prospered greatly and became very wealthy by trade and the arts.
Under the Safavean kings, the Christians of Azarbedjan and Transcaucasia suffered much from the wars of the Turks and Persians. Both banks of the Arras were generally in the hands of the Persians. Some of the shahs were tolerant, and the Christians prospered; some overtaxed them. The last, Shah Sultan Husain, oppressed them: he repealed the law of retaliation, whereby a Christian could exact equivalent punishment from a Mussulman criminal; he enacted that the price of a Christian‘s blood should be the payment of a load of grain. Julfa was subjected to great suffering at the time of the invasion of the Afghan Mahmud. It was captured, and a ransom of seventy thousand tomans and fifty of the fairest and best-born maidens exacted. The grief of the Armenians was so heartrending that many of the Afghans were moved to pity and returned the captives. When Mahmud subsequently became a maniac the Armenian priests were called in to pray over him and exorcise the evil spirit. Nadir Shah continued to oppress the Armenians, ostracized them, and interdicted their worship. On this account many emigrated to India, Bagdad, and Georgia. About eighty villages remained between Hamadan and Ispahan. Under the Kajar dynasty the state of the Christians is better known. Notices of them abound in the narrations of travellers of the period. Agha Mohammed, founder of the Kajar dynasty, sacked Tiflis and transported many Georgians into Persia. Others went to Russia. Their descendants, mostly Mohammedans, are frequently met occupying high positions in the Government.
At the time of the Russian war, early in the nineteenth century, nine thousand families of Armenians and many Nestorians emigrated from Azarbedjan. Some were induced to come back by Abbas Mirza, under the protection of the English. Those in Tabriz were exempted from taxes and had the right to appeal to the British consul. This right of protection was afterwards withdrawn, and finally, after many vain protests on the part of the Armenians, the exemption from taxes was annulled in A.D. 1894. The condition of Christians in Persia under Nasred-Din and his successors, down to the present time, will be described in the following section.
C. Catholic Missions
—The history of Catholic missions in Persia is intimately connected with the various attempts made by the Nestorians, in the last nine centuries, to join the Catholic Church. In some cases, these movements were the results of efforts made by the early Franciscan and Dominican, and, after them, the Jesuit missionaries. In 1233 the Nestorian catholicos, Sabarjesus, sent to Pope Gregory IX an orthodox profession of faith and was admitted to union with the Church of Rome. The same was done, in 1304, by Jabalaha (1281-1317) during the pontificate of Benedict XI. In 1439 Timotheus, Nestorian Metropolitan of Tarsus and Cyprus, renounced Nestorianism, and in 1553 the patriarch John Sulaka visited Rome and submitted to Pope Julius III his profession of faith, as a result of which several thousand Nestorians of Persia became Catholics. His successor, Ebedjesus, followed his example, visited Rome, and assisted at the last (twenty-fifth) session of the Council of Trent. In 1582 Simeon Denha was elected patriarch of the converted Nestorians, henceforth called simply Chaldeans, and, owing to Turkish persecution, he transferred the patriarchal see to Urumiah in Persia. Shortly afterwards, he received the pallium from Gregory XIII through Laurent Abel, Bishop of Sidon, who was commissioned by the pope to investigate the condition of the various churches of the East. Mar Denha’s successors, Simeon VIII, IX, X, XI, and XII, all remained faithful to Rome, and fixed their patriarchal see at Urumiah and Khosrowa; Simeon IX, in fact, in a letter to Pope Innocent X, informs him that the Nestorian Uniats, or Chaldeans, under his patriarchal jurisdiction numbered some 200,000 souls. Simeon XI sent his profession of faith to Alexander VII (elected 1653); and Simeon XII, to Clement X (1670). From 1670 to 1770 the relations between the Nestorian patriarchs and Rome were suspended.
But in 1770 one of the successors of Simeon XII addressed a letter to Pope Clement XIV in which he expresses his intention of resuming once more orthodox and friendly relations with Rome. The successors of this patriarch, however, completely severed their relations with Rome, and transferred their patriarchal residence from Urumiah to Kotchanes, in Kurdistan, which became thenceforward the see of the Nestorian patriarchs. Meanwhile, the many thousand Nestorian Uniats, or Chaldeans who remained faithful to the Catholic Faith selected for themselves an independent Catholic patriarch, who was confirmed with all the patriarchal privileges by Innocent XI on May 20, 1681. To his successor, Joseph I, was given the title of “Patriarch of Babylon“, i.e. of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the ancient patriarchal see of the Nestorian Church. In 1695 he resigned and went to Rome, where he shortly afterwards died. His successors were Joseph II, III, IV, V, and VI, all belonging to the same family of Mar Denha. They governed the Chaldean Church during the eighteenth century, and their patriarchal residence was transferred from Persia to Mesopotamia—to Diarbekir, Mosul, and Amida successively.
Beginning with the early years of this century, several Capuchin (1725) and Dominican (1750) missionaries were sent to Mosul, and through their efforts and zeal all traces of Nestorianism disappeared from the Chaldean Church in Mesopotamia. After the death of Joseph VI the Congregation of Propaganda decreed that henceforth but one Chaldean patriarch should be acknowledged. Leo XII confirmed the decree, and Pius VIII put it into execution, July 5, 1830, by creating Mar Hanna (Yuhanna Hormuz) the sole and only legitimate patriarch of the Chaldeans. He transferred his patriarchal see from Diarbekir to Bagdad, where he died in 1838. His successor, Isaiade Yakob, who resided at Khosrowa, near Salamas, in Persia, resigned in 1845, and was succeeded, in 1848, by Joseph Audo, who died in 1878, and was succeeded by Ella Abbolionan, who died in 1894 and was succeeded by Ebedjesus Khayyat, after whose death at Bagdad, in 1899, the patriarchal dignity was conferred in 1900 upon the present incumbent, Joseph Emanuel. The official title and residence of the Chaldean patriarchs is that of Babylon, but for administrative reasons they reside at Mosul, from which center they govern 5 archdioceses and 10 dioceses, containing 100,000 souls.
The history of European Catholic missions in Persia dates from the time of the Mongolian rule, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when several embassies of Dominicans and Franciscans were sent by the popes to the Mongol rulers both in Central Asia and in Persia; and although their noble efforts brought no permanent results, they paved the way for future and more successful Catholic propaganda. In the early part of the seventeenth century, political aims led the kings of Persia to contract friendly relations with Europe. This gave a new impetus to Catholic missionary enterprise, and Carmelite, Minorite, and Jesuit missionaries were well received by Shah Abbas the Great, who allowed them to establish missionary stations all through his dominion. Ispahan was made the center, and several thousand Nestorians returned to the Catholic Church. These missionaries were soon followed by Augustinians and Capuchins, who enlarged their missionary field, extending it to Armenians and Mohammedans as well. The most distinguished of these missionaries was Father de Rhodes of Avignon, the Francis Xavier of Persia, who became the best beloved man in Ispahan. On his death in 1646 the shah himself, with his court and nobles, as well as the largest part of the population of Ispahan, attended his funeral. He was called by them “The Saint”. After his death, the city of Ispahan was created an episcopal see, the first incumbent of which was the Carmelite Thaddeus. Under Nadir Shah and Shah Sultan Husain, however, the tide turned again, and persecution followed. The missionaries were forced to flee, and thousands of Christians were compelled either to migrate or to apostatize. This was in the early part of the eighteenth century. A hundred years later missionary work recommenced, and thousands of Nestorians were converted to the Catholic Faith.
The second epoch of Catholic missionary work in Persia was begun in 1840 by the Lazarists, in consequence of the representations of Eugene Bore, a French savant and a fervent Catholic, who in 1838 was sent to Persia on a scientific mission by the French Academy and the Minister of Public Instruction. He himself founded four schools, two in Tabriz and Ispahan for the Armenians, and two in Urumiah and Salamas for the Chaldeans. Condescending to his advice and instructions, the Congregation of Propaganda confided the establishment of the new mission to the Lazarists, who were joined later on by the French Sisters of Charity. The first Lazarist missionary was Father Fornier, who arrived at Tabriz in 1840 as prefect Apostolic. He was joined in the following year by two other fathers of the same society, Darnis and Cluzel, who took immediate charge of the school founded by M. Bore and already attended by sixty pupils. Two years later, yielding to strong opposition on the part of the schismatical Armenian clergy, Darnis left Tabriz and established himself at Urumiah, while Cluzel remained at Ispahan, and Fornier in Tabriz. Cluzel was soon afterwards joined by Darnis in Urumiah, the latter having left the school at Ispahan in charge of Giovanni Derderian, a most zealous Armenian Catholic priest who was subsequently elected bishop of that see, but did not live to receive consecration.
On arriving at Urumiah, the first Lazarists found the American Protestant missionaries already well established in that city, but soon outstripped them in influence and zeal, as is shown by the fact that within two years the number of pupils in the Catholic school increased from 200 to over 400, with two churches, one in Urumiah and the other in Ardishai, the most populous village in the vicinity of Urumiah. Here again the Catholic missionaries were persecuted;owing to the intrigues of the Russian consul and the opposition of the Nestorians, they were compelled to leave their stations, while a fourth Lazarite, Father Rouge, had meanwhile arrived and established a new mission at Khosrowa. With the establishment, however, of a new French representative at the Persian Court, M. de Sartiges, the Lazarists were permitted by the Persian Government to continue their work unmolested, Father Cluzel having become a great favorite with Mirza Aghasi, the prime minister. In 1863, Father Rouge died at Urumiah and was succeeded by a native Chaldean priest, Father Dbigoulirn, who had joined the Lazarist Order. In 1852, Father Varese was sent to Urumiah, and in 1856 was followed by eight French Sisters of Charity. Meanwhile, Msgr. Trioche, Apostolic Delegate of Mesopotamia, sent Dom Valerga (afterwards Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem) to Khosrowa, where he built a magnificent stone church. Darnis and Cluzel soon afterwards established there a seminary to train indigenous candidates for the priesthood, teaching them Latin, French, Syriac, and Armenian, as well as theology.
Some of the seminarians became secular priests, others joined the Lazarists, among the latter being Dbigoulim, Paul Bedjan now residing in Belgium, and famous in the scientific world for his admirable edition of some twenty-five volumes of Syriac texts and literature, and Dilou Solomon. In 1852, Father Terral, a new arrival, took charge of the seminary and a few years later became superior of the mission. Besides the seminary, two other colleges were opened, one for boys, the other for girls, the latter under the care and direction of the newly-arrived Sisters of Charity. To these were soon added one hospital and one orphan asylum, where all—Mohammedans, Nestorians, Armenians, and Catholics—were gratuitously admitted and cared for. This splendid work evoked the admiration of Shah Nasr-ed-Din himself, and he contributed a yearly allowance of 200 tomans ($400) towards the maintenance of the two institutions. Soon after, two more hospitals were opened, one at Urumiah and one at Khosrowa. In 1858 Father Darnis died at the age of forty-four, and in his place several new missionaries were sent. In 1862 the Lazarists established themselves permanently at Teheran under the able direction of Fathers Varese and Plagnard, who soon built there a church and a mission house around which the European colony of Teheran gathered, and which soon afterwards became the most beautiful residential section of the Persian capital. In 1874 the Sisters of Charity established themselves at Teheran with a house, a hospital, and two schools.
The crowning event in the history of Catholic missions in Persia, however, took place in 1872, when the Prefecture Apostolic of Persia was raised to the dignity of an Apostolic Delegation, with Msgr. Cluzel as its first incumbent. In 1874 he was consecrated, in Paris, Archbishop of Heraclea, and assumed the functions of Apostolic Delegate of Persia and Administrator of the Diocese of Ispahan, thus withdrawing the Persian Mission from the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Delegation of Mesopotamia. On his arrival in Persia, Msgr. Cluzel was immediately acknowledged by the shah, decorated with the insignia of the Lion and Sun, and officially confirmed, by a special imperial firman, as the representative of the Father of the Faithful. During the seven years of his episcopal activity in Persia, the Lazarist mission made wonderful progress with the Chaldeans and Nestorians. A great cathedral was built at Urumiah, and many new schools were opened in the neighboring villages. Msgr. Cluzel died in 1882 and was succeeded by Msgr. Thomas, who built a preparatory school for the seminary of Khosrowa and successfully introduced celi-bacy among the native Catholic Chaldean clergy. Ill-health, however, compelled him to retire, and he was succeeded by Msgr. Montety, who also had to resign for the same reason, and was succeeded, in 1896, by the present delegate Apostolic, Msgr. Leslie, titular Archbishop of Philippopoli. Under his able administration, the Catholic mission has made further progress, extending its beneficial work far beyond the limits of Persia proper, into Sina, the Taurus mountains, and the regions of Persian Kurdistan and Armenia.
The latest statistics are as follows: Catholics of the Latin Rite, 350; Catholic Chaldeans, about 8000, with 52 native priests and 3 dioceses; Nestorians, about 35,000; Catholic Armenians, about 700, with 5 priests; Protestants, about 5000.—Catholic missions: Lazarist Fathers, 19, with 5 mission stations; churches and chapels, 48; seminaries, 2, with 17 students; schools, 55, with 800 pupils; hospitals, 3; religious houses, 3-2 for men, with 18 religious, and 1 for women, with 37 sisters.
D. Non-Catholic Missions
—The earliest Protestant missionaries in Persia were Moravians who in 1747 came to evangelize the Guebers, but owing to political disturbances were compelled to withdraw. The next missioner was Henry Martin, a chaplain in the British army in India, who, in 1811, went to Persia and remained at Shiraz but eleven months, having completed there, in 1812, his Persian translation of the New Testament. After many trials and much opposition, especially from the Mohammedan mullahs, or priests, he was forced to leave the country, and died at Tokat, in Asia Minor, on his way back to England. The next laborer was a German, the Rev. C. G. Pfander, of the Basle Missionary Society, who visited Persia in 1829; after some years of fruitless labor in Kirmanshah and Georgia he too had to leave the country, and died in 1869 at Constantinople. He is well known for his book “Mizan-ul-Hakk” (The Balance of Truth), in which he points out the superiority of Christianity over Mohammedanism. In 1833 another German missionary, the Rev. Frederic Haas, with some colleagues, being forced to leave Russia, entered Persia and for a time made their headquarters at Tabriz; but they also had to leave the country. In 1838, the Rev. W. Glen, a Scottish missionary, entered Persia and spent four years at Tabriz and Teheran, occupied mainly in completing and revising his own Persian translation of the Old Testament. The work of all these missions was principally directed to the conversion of Mohammedans and was therefore, as such attempts have generally proved, a complete failure.
The first organized Protestant missionary attempt among the Nestorian Christians of Persia took place in 1834, when the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (Congregational) commissioned Justin Perkins and his wife, and Asahel Grant (1835) and his wife to establish a mission among the Persian Nestorians. Between 1834 and 1871 some fifty-two missionaries, we are told, were sent by the A. B.C. F. M. into Persia. Among these American missionaries were several physicians who, by ministering gratuitously to the poor Nestorians, made some progress. In 1870 the work of the A. B.C. F. M. was transferred to the Board of Missions of the American Presbyterian Church, and the mission was divided into those of Eastern and Western Persia, the former including Tabriz, Teheran, Hamadan, Resth, Kazwin, and Kirmanshah; the latter, the Province of Azarbedjan (Urumiah, Khosrowa) and parts of Kurdistan, Caucasus, and Armenia. The work has been, and still is, more of a humanitarian and semi-educational character than moral or religious. About $600,000 was expended on this mission between 1834 and 1870, a larger amount between 1870 and 1890, and about one million dollars from 1890 to the present time, i.e., over two million dollars altogether. Yet it is extremely doubtful whether any results commensurate with this vast expenditure have been accomplished. The latest statistics (1909) are as follows: Missionaries, 37 (including 6 male and 3 female physicians); 35 native ministers; 7000 adherents; 3000 communicants; 2692 pupils distributed among 62 schools; 4 hospitals. The Church Missionary Society, established in 1869, has stations in Kirman, Yezd, Shiraz, and at Ispahan. The work is mainly medical and educational. The statistics are: 33 missionaries, including 4 male and 5 female physicians; native clergy, 1; native teachers, 28; Christians, 412; communicants, 189; schools, 8, with 409 scholars; hospitals, 6. The British and Foreign Bible Society also does an extensive work in Southern Persia.
The greatest competitor of the two above-mentioned missionary societies is the Anglican mission known as “The Assyrian Mission”, which was established in 1884 by Archbishop Benson of Canterbury with headquarters at Urumiah and Kotchanes, the seat of the Nestorian patriarch, and having for its principal aim the union of the Nestorian with the Anglican Church. It is interesting to read an estimate of the work of this mission from the pen of an American Presbyterian missioner: it repudiates the name Protestant, and has for its avowed object the strengthening of the Nestorian Church to resist Catholic influences on the one hand and Protestant on the other. It has a strong force of missionaries, who wear the garb of their order, and are under temporary vows of celibacy and obedience. Its present statistics are: missionaries, 2; schools, 30, with 470 scholars, besides 12 distinctly Nestorian schools in various sections of Kurdistan. This mission originated in 1842, when “Archbishop Howley, with the assistance of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, sent the Rev. G. P. Badger to Mosul, to begin work among the mountain Nestorians. Just at that time the Kurdish sheikh, Berd Khan, was raging in the mountains of Kurdistan. The general confusion and disorder were such that Badger had to retarn in despair to England within a year” (Richter, “History of Protestant Missions in the Near East”, 1910). Thirty-four years later the Rev. E. L. Cutts was sent to Kurdistan, but left within a year. The Scandinavian Wahl, however, remained for five years (1880-85) in the heart of Kurdistan amidst great privations. After the organization of “The Assyrian Mission”, in 1886, one of its missionaries settled at Kotchhannes, some 7000 feet above sea-level, while its headquarters were established at Urumiah.
Many other small Protestant enterprises have lately sprung up in Persia, especially at Urumiah. The United Lutheran Church of America maintains a few kashas (Nestorian priests), and in 1905, sent an American missionary, the Rev. Mr. Fossum, to superintend the work. A Syrian congregation at Urumiah, having left the Russian Church, has joined this mission. The Swedish-American “Augustana Synode” employs a kasha, who conducts two day-schools. The Evangelical Association for the Advancement of the Nestorian Church, founded at Berlin in 1906, employs a kasha who has had a Lutheran training in Germany. He cooperates to some degree with the Anglicans, and has added a fourth to the already existing mission printing establishments at Urumiah. For ten years Dr. Lepsius’s German “Orientmission” maintained outside Urumiah an orphanage for Syrian fugitives from the mountains, but it is to be closed soon. The English Plymouth Brethren employ three or four kashas in the “Awishalum” Mission, named after the chief representative of the mission in Persia, Awishalum [Absolom] Seyad. There are also small missions connected with the American Dunkards, the Holiness Methodists, the American Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists, and the English Congregationalists.
The latest non-Catholic missionary enterprise in Persia was that of the Russians, in 1898. The aim of this mission is more political than educational or religious, and the extraordinary readiness with which several thousand Nestorians flocked to the Russian Orthodox Church is explained by the fact that the Nestorians were very anxious for foreign protection against the tyranny of Persia and Turkey.