Professor Muhammad A. Dandamayev: Achaemenid Education System

The article below by  Muhammad A. Dandamayev on the Achaemenid Education System was first published on-line on December 15, 1997 in the Encyclopedia Iranica and Last Updated: December 9, 2011.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).


Little is known of the training of children during the Achaemenid period. In two Elamite documents from Persepolis drafted in the 23rd regal year of Darius the Great (499 B.C.E.) “Persian boys (who) are copying texts” are mentioned (Hallock, nos. 871, 1137); the texts in question are records of the issue of grain to twenty-nine individuals and wine to sixteen. It is possible that the boys were learning Persian cuneiform script, which was probably known only to a few scribes, as it was used mainly for royal triumphal inscriptions. Most of nobles and highly placed Persian civil servants were literate, and writing played part in standard Persian education. The Persians also used foreign scribes (writing chiefly in Aramaic) in the state chancery.

Stylus The oldest known “Pen” or Stylus (discovered in Bondul Tepe, Fars province, Iran), dated to the Middle Elamite era (c.1550-1000 BCE). This was used for inscribing mud tablets (Source: CAIS).

Greek sources provide some idea of typical Persian education. According to Herodotus, Persian boys were not allowed into the presence of their fathers until the age of five years; until then they lived among the women. From ages five to twenty years they were trained in horsemanship, swordsmanship, archery, and telling the truth (Herodotus, 1.136). Persians regarded lying as the worst of offenses, whereas prowess in arms was the mark of manliness. Xenophon wrote in Cyropaedia that until the age of sixteen or seventeen years the sons of Persian nobles were brought up at the royal court, practicing riding, archery, throwing the spear, and hunting.

cyrus-cylinder-New[Click to Enlarge] The Cyrus Cylinder (The British Museum)

The ancient Persians were also instructed in justice, obedience, endurance, and self-restraint (1.2.2-12, 7.5.86, 8.6.10; cf. idem, Anabasis 1.9.2-6; Strabo, 15.3.18). Clearly, apart from ethical guidance, the aim of Persian education was to produce efficient soldiers. This conclusion is confirmed by the tomb inscription of Darius the Great:

Trained am I both with hands and with feet. As a horseman I am a good horseman. As a bowman I am a good bowman both afoot and on horseback. As a spearman I am a good spearman both afoot and on horseback” (DNb 40-45; Kent, Old Persian, pp. 139-40).

In Alcibiades (attributed to Plato, 1.120-23) it is noted that Persian princes were assigned at the age of fourteen years to four eminent Persians, called respectively the “wisest,” “most just,” “most temperate,” and “bravest,” who tutored them in the worship of the gods, government, temperance, and courage respectively. Plutarch (Artaxerxes 3.3) mentioned a priest who taught “the wisdom of the Magi” to Cyrus the Younger (q.v. vi).

cyropaedia-thomas-jefferson-copyThomas Jefferson’s copy of the Cyropaedia (Picture Source:  Angelina Perri Birney). Like many of the founding fathers and those who wrote the US Constitution, President Jefferson regularly consulted the Cyropedia – an encyclopedia written by the ancient Greeks about Cyrus the Great. The two personal copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Cyropaedia are in the US Library of Congress in Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson’s initials “TJ” are seen clearly engraved at the bottom of each page.

There is practically no information on education in the eastern satrapies of the Achaemenid empire, but the evidence for Babylonia and Egypt, where traditional educational systems continued under Persian rule, is extensive. In both provinces formal education was restricted to boys. Reading and writing, as well as some grammar, mathematics, and astronomy, were taught in scribal schools. In Achaemenid Babylonia literacy also was widespread among the non-Iranian population; scribes were numerous and included the sons of shepherds, fishermen, weavers, and the like. Many school texts have survived from Mesopotamia. They include Sumerian-Babylonian dictionaries, tablets with cuneiform signs, and collections of examples of grammatical usage and exercises (Oppenheim, pp. 244-49). The literacy rate was even higher among the Achaemenid military colonists in Elephantine in Egypt (qq.v.), where witnesses to contracts in Aramaic usually signed their own names (Naveh, p. 22). Darius I ordered the restoration of the medical school at Sais in Egypt. It seems, however, that among the Egyptians education remained the privilege of the nobility: The Egyptian dignitary Ujahorresne declared that there were no children of “nobodies” among the students in this medical school (Posener, pp. 1-2, 22).


Boyce, Zoroastrianism II, pp. 181, 212-13, 261.

R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Chicago, 1969.

S. W. Hirsch, The Friendship of the Barbarians. Xenophon and the Persian Empire, Hanover, N.H., 1985, pp. 85-87.

J. Naveh, The Development of the Aramaic Script, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Proceedings 5/1, Jerusalem, 1970.

A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia. Portrait of a Dead Civilization, Chicago, 1977.

G. Posener, La premieàre domination perse en Égypte, Cairo, 1936.


University of Cambridge: The 11th Islamic Manuscript Conference (2016)

The following academic event news has been forwarded by Armin Yavari to



Hosted by the University of Cambridge, UK, 13–15 September 2016

***CFP Deadline: 23 November 2015***

Sufis have written litanies, panegyrics, didactic works in verse and prose, hagiographies, discourses, exegetical works, and metaphysical treatises made into manuscripts both humble and lavish. Sufi lodges have housed libraries and manuscript ateliers, and Sufi networks have disseminated manuscripts across the Muslim World. This conference seeks to present current international research trends on the relationship between Sufism and Islamic manuscript culture and generate discussion and study in this field. Possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

Apotropaic uses of Sufi and non-Sufi manuscripts by Sufis
The arts of the book and Sufi artists and patrons
Bibliophilia and bibliophobia in Sufism
Cataloguing manuscripts on Sufism
Collection care programmes for collections of Sufi manuscripts
Conservation treatments on Sufi manuscripts
Diagrams and illustrations in manuscripts on Sufism
Digital humanities and the study of manuscripts on Sufism
The effects of recent conflicts in the Muslim World on collections of Sufi manuscripts
The history of Sufi libraries
Paratexts in manuscripts on Sufism
Preparing printed and digital editions of manuscripts on Sufism
The production of manuscripts by Sufi lodge ateliers
Publication programmes or series of editions or facsimiles of manuscripts on Sufism
Dissemination of texts and manuscripts through Sufi networks
The use of manuscripts in Sufi rituals

This call for papers is open to members and non-members of the Association. The languages of the Conference will be Arabic and English, and submissions will be accepted in both languages. The duration of each conference paper will be 20 minutes, followed by ten minutes of questions and answers. The Association will pay for round-trip economy-class travel to Cambridge, accommodation, and meals for individuals whose papers are accepted. All abstracts will be peer-reviewed.

The deadline for submission of abstracts is 10.00 GMT on Monday, 23 November 2015. For further guidance, see our website.

The Islamic Manuscript Association is an international non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting Islamic manuscript collections and supporting those who work with them. Our conferences have been held at the University of Cambridge every summer since 2005 and themes have included topics as diverse as ‘Manuscripts and Conflict’ (2014), ‘The Science of Manuscripts’ (2012), ‘Central Asian Islamic Manuscripts’ (2010), ‘West African Islamic Manuscripts’ (2008), and ‘Conservation, Cataloguing, Accessibility, Copyright and Digitisation’ (2005).

For the call for papers in full, see our website:

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation and the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Armin Yavari
Assistant Director
The Islamic Manuscript Association
℅ 33 Trumpington Street
Cambridge CB2 1QY
United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)1223 303 177
F: +44 (0)1223 302 218

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-1

Farrokh article in New Book by Brill Publications: “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian)”

Brill Publications in Leiden, which is a major international academic venue for scholarly works, has just published a seminal book entitled:

Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Leiden: Brill, 2015

The book has been edited by Uwe Bläsing, University of Leiden, Victoria Arakelova, Yerevan State University and Matthias Weinreich, along  with the Assistance of Khachik Gevorgian. The Bibliographia Iranica provides an overview of the table of contents…

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-1

Front cover of the 2015 text “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Brill, 2015“. As noted in the Brill webpage: “This unique collection of essays by leading international scholars gives a profound introduction into the great diversity and richness of facets forming the study of one of earth’s most exciting areas, the Iranian and Caucasian lands. Each of the 37 contributions sheds light on a very special topic, the range of which comprises historical, cultural, ethnographical, religious, political and last but not least literary and linguistic issues, beginning from the late antiquity up to current times. Especially during the last decennia these two regions gained greater interest worldwide due to several developments in politics and culture. This fact grants the book, intended as a festschrift for Professor Garnik Asatrian, a special relevance.” Professor Garnik S. Asatrian is the Chair of the Iranian Studies Department at Yerevan State University and the Editor of  the “Iran and the Caucasus” journal, BRILL, Leiden-Boston). Professor Victoria Arakelova (Associate Professor, Department of Iranian Studies, Yerevan State University) is the Associate Editor, of “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden.

The textbook has also published an article by Kaveh Farrokh [The Military Campaigns of Shah Abbas I in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus (1603-1618). Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (Studies in Honour of Prof. Garnik S. Asatrian; Edited by U. Bläsing, V. Arakelova & M. Weinreich), pp. 75-95.] – below is the abstract for that article:

This paper provides an overview of the Safavid military forces and reforms at the time of Shah Abbas I (r.1587-1629), especially with the promotion of the new Ghulam units to counterbalance the traditional Qizlibash forces which had bought the Safavids to power at the time of Shah Ismail (r. 1502-1524). Other significant military reforms were the introduction of firearm units such as the Tofanchi (musketeers), Jazayerchis (bearers of larger and heavier muskets) and Toopchis (artillerymen). The introduction of these reforms proved instrumental in Shah Abbas I’s successes in expelling the Ottomans from Tabriz (1603) and Yerevan (1604), defeating the Ottoman counteroffensive in Azerbaijan (1605) and the capture of Shamakhi (1606) and Ganja (1606). Large numbers of Armenians, Kurds and Azeris had been displaced from their homelands by Shah Abbas I as a result of his scorched earth tactics against invading Ottoman forces in 1606-1607. Shah Abbas’ military successes led to the Ottoman-Safavid peace treaty of 1612 which affirmed all of the Iranian conquests since the recapture of Tabriz. The Safavid army had to fight a series of battles in Georgia (1613-1623) which led to a new Ottoman war (1616). The Safavid army defeated the Ottoman offensives in Yerevan and Ardabil (1616-1618) obliging the Ottomans to negotiate a new peace treaty which affirmed all of Shah Abbas’ conquests since 1603.


Rare drawing by a European traveller who witnessed the aftermath of the liberation of Tabriz by Shah Abbas I on October 21, 1603. Local Azari citizens welcomed the Iranian Safavid army as liberators and took harsh reprisals against the defeated Ottoman Turks who had been occupying their city. Many unfortunate Turks fell into the hands of Tabriz’s citizens and were decapitated (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran: Entesharat-e Iman, p.63).

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-2

Back cover of the 2015 text “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Brill, 2015“. The Brill webpage cites the following scholars as contributors to the volume: Victoria Arakelova; Marco Bais; Uwe Bläsing; Vahe S. Boyajian; Claudia A. Ciancaglini; Johnny Cheung; Viacheslav A. Chirikba; Matteo Compareti; Caspar ten Dam; Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst; Kaveh Farrokh; Aldo Ferrari; Ela Filippone; Khachik Gevorgian; Jost Gippert; Nagihan Haliloğlu; Elif Kanca; Pascal Kluge; Anna Krasnowolska; Vladimir Livshits; Hirotake Maeda; Irina Morozova; Irène Natchkebia; Peter Nicolaus; Antonio Panaino; Mikhail Pelevin; Adriano V. Rossi; James R. Russell; Dan Shapira; Wolfgang Schulze; Martin Schwarz; Roman Smbatian; Donald Stilo; Çakır Ceyhan Suvari; Giusto Traina; Garry Trompf; Matthias Weinreich; Eberhardt Werner and Boghos Zekiyan.


[Click to enlarge] Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) as depicted in a European copper engraving made by Dominicus Custos citing him as “Schach Abas Persarum Rex” or “Shah Abbas the Great monarch of Persia”. Note how Custos makes a particular emphasis on linking Shah Abbas to the “Mnemona Cyrus” (the Memory of Cyrus the Great of Persia). Shah Abbas’ victories over the Ottomans weakened them against the Europeans to the West, and especially in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Long Time Between Drinks

On a humorous note: A long time between drinks! A 1902 cartoon entitled “491 BC-1902 CE” in Puck magazine (v. 52, no. 1348, 1902, December 31) depicting “Persia” (at left) toasting “Greece” (at right) from a punch bowl labeled “Renewal of Diplomatic Relations” (Source: US Library of Congress).

SUFISM AND ISLAMIC MANUSCRIPT CULTURE – THE ELEVENTH ISLAMIC MANUSCRIPT CONFERENCE – Hosted by the University of Cambridge, UK, 13–15 September 2016 -***CFP Deadline: 23 November 2015***

Saka Tigrakhauda at Persepolis

New York Times: Artifacts Show Sophistication of Ancient Nomads

The article below on “Artifacts Show Sophistication of Ancient Nomads” was first published in the New York Times in March 12, 2014. Kindly note that while the article is highly informative, it does make one misleading statement:

As the nomads left no writing, no one knows what they called themselves

This leads the reader to the erroneous impression that the identity and language of the ancient Eurasian nomads are unknown. Linguists have long known of the identity and language of the Scythians and their Sarmatian-Alan successors. Below are a select number of quotes from prominent scholars in the field:

  • Channon & Hudson: “… Scythians and Sarmatians were of Iranian origin” (1995, p.18); Channon, J. & Hudson, R. (1995). The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia. London: Penguin Books.
  • Sulimirski identifies Scythians & Sarmatians “…akin to the ancient Medes, Parthians and Persians(1970, p.22); Sulimirski, T (1970), The Sarmatians. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Cotterell: “…the close relations of the Scythians with the Persians is perhaps most illustrative…in the…fact that…Scythians and Persians spoke closely related languages and understood each other without translators” (2004, p.61); Cotterell, A. (2004). The Chariot: The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World’s First War Machine. London, England: Pimlico.
  • Newark notes that the Scythians were: “…Indo-European in appearance and spoke an Iranian tongue which bought them more closely to the Medes and Persians” (Newark, 1998, p.6); Newark, T. (1998). Barbarians.
  • Mariusz & Mielczarek: “The Sarmatians…spoke an Iranian language similar to that of the Scythians and closely related to Persian” (2002, p.3); Mariusz, R. & Mielczarek,R. (2002).  The Sarmatians: 600 BC-450 AD. Osprey Publishing.


Ancient Greeks had a word for the people who lived on the wild, arid Eurasian steppes stretching from the Black Sea to the border of China. They were nomads, which meant “roaming about for pasture.” They were wanderers and, not infrequently, fierce mounted warriors. Essentially, they were “the other” to the agricultural and increasingly urban civilizations that emerged in the first millennium B.C.

Saka ParadrayaA reconstruction of the European Scythians (the Saka Paradraya) by the late Angus McBride. As noted by Cotterell “:..the close relations of the Scythians (Saka) with the Persians is perhaps most illustrative…in the … fact that the Scythians and Persians spoke closely related languages and understood each other without translators” (Cotterell, A. The Chariot: The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World’s First War Machine. London, England: Pimlico, 2004, p.61).

As the nomads left no writing, no one knows what they called themselves. To their literate neighbors, they were the ubiquitous and mysterious Scythians or the Saka, perhaps one and the same people. In any case, these nomads were looked down on — the other often is — as an intermediate or an arrested stage in cultural evolution. They had taken a step beyond hunter-gatherers but were well short of settling down to planting and reaping, or the more socially and economically complex life in town.

But archaeologists in recent years have moved beyond this mind-set by breaking through some of the vast silences of the Central Asian past.

Scythian Arts-1-teardrop-shaped gold plaqueA teardrop-shaped gold plaque is one of the objects that shows the strong social differentiation of nomad society (Source: New York Times).

These excavations dispel notions that nomadic societies were less developed than many sedentary ones. Grave goods from as early as the eighth century B.C. show that these people were prospering through a mobile pastoral strategy, maintaining networks of cultural exchange (not always peacefully) with powerful foreign neighbors like the Persians and later the Chinese.

Some of the most illuminating discoveries supporting this revised image are now coming from burial mounds, called kurgans, in the Altai Mountains of eastern Kazakhstan, near the borders with Russia and China. From the quality and workmanship of the artifacts and the number of sacrificed horses, archaeologists have concluded that these were burials of the society’s elite in the late fourth and early third centuries B.C. By gift, barter or theft, they had acquired prestige goods, and in time their artisans adapted them in their own impressive artistic repertory.

 Scythian Arts-2-Copper Alloy TrayA copper alloy tray on a conical stand with an archer at center (Source: New York Times).

Almost half of the 250 objects in a new exhibition, “Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan,” are from these burials of a people known as the Pazyryk culture. The material, much of which is on public display for the first time, can be seen at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, on loan from Kazakhstan’s four national museums. Two quietly spectacular examples are 13 gold pieces of personal adornment, known as the Zhalauli treasure of fanciful animal figures; and the Wusun diadem, a gold openwork piece with inlaid semiprecious stones from a burial in the Kargaly Valley in southern Kazakhstan. The diadem blends nomad and Chinese characteristics, including composite animals in the Scytho-Siberian style and a horned dragon in an undulating cloudscape.

Artifacts from recent kurgan digs include gold pieces; carved wood and horn; a leather saddle; a leather pillow for the deceased’s head; and textiles, ceramics and bronzes. Archaeologists said the abundance of prestige goods in the burials showed the strong social differentiation of nomad society.

 Scythian Arts-3-An embroidery-winged bullAn embroidery of a winged bull (Source: New York Times).

Jennifer Y. Chi, the institute’s chief curator, writes in the exhibit’s catalog, published by Princeton University Press, that the collection portrays “a world of nomadic groups that, far from being underdeveloped, fused distinct patterns of mobility with apparently sophisticated ritual practices expressive of a close connection to the natural world, to complex burial practices and to established networks and contacts with the outside world.”

Walking through the exhibit, Dr. Chi pointed to nomad treasures, remarking:

The popular perception of these people as mere wanderers has not caught up with the new scholarship.”

Excavation at the Altai kurgans, near the village of Berel, was begun in 1998 by a team led by Zainolla S. Samashev, director of the Margulan Institute of Archaeology, on a natural terrace above the Bukhtarma River. Some work had been done there by Russians in the 19th century. But the four long lines of kurgans, at least 70 clearly visible, invited more systematic exploration.

Of the 24 Berel kurgans investigated so far, Dr. Samashev said in an interview, the two he started with were among the largest. The mounds, about 100 feet in diameter, rise about 10 to 15 feet above the surrounding surface. The pit itself is about 13 feet deep and lined with logs. At the base of Kurgan 11, he said, the arrangement of huge stones let the cold air in but not out.

This and other physical aspects of the pits created permafrost, which preserved much of the organic matter in the graves — though looting long ago disturbed permafrost conditions. Still, enough survived of bones, hair, nails and some flesh to tell that some of the bodies had tattoos and had been embalmed. Hair of the buried men had been cut short and covered with wigs.

 Scythians Arts-4-Kurgan ReconstructionA drawing showing the construction of a Kurgan (Source: New York Times).

The Kazakh conservator of the artifacts, Altynbekov Krym, said that remains in several kurgans were a challenge. As noted by Krym:

Everything was jumbled together, getting moldy almost immediately…took six years experimenting to create a new methodology to clean and preserve the material.”

Dr. Samashev said that his international crew, which is limited by climate to summer work, had excavated at least one kurgan a year. Several were burials of lesser figures. These were usually only a man and one horse. Kurgan 11 had a man who apparently met a violent death in his 30s; a woman who died later; and 13 horses, dressed in formal regalia before they were sacrificed.

So many horses, found in a separate section of the pit, affirmed the man’s lofty social status. Their leather saddles with embroidered cloth survived, as well as bridle and other tack decorated with plaques of real and mythical animals — like griffins, which had the body of a tiger or lion with wings and the head of a bird.

Scythians Arts-6-Feline

A feline face and stylized ornaments from horse tack, made of wood, tin and gold foil (Source: New York Times).

Soren Stark, an assistant professor of Central Asian art and archaeology at the N.Y.U. institute, said networks of contacts with the outside world were crucial to the political structure of the people throughout the Altai and Tianshan Mountains.

On the most basic level, they moved with the seasons by horse and camel, tending the flocks of sheep and goats that gave them the meat, milk, wool and hides of their pastoral economy. To make the most out of grasslands that were only seasonally productive, they went in small family groups into the highland meadows for summer grazing and returned to the lowlands in winter. They crossed broad plains to avoid overgrazing any one marginal pasture.

At their late autumn and winter campsites, herders assembled in large groups and engaged in tribal hunts and rituals. The exhibition includes bronze caldrons, presumably for preparing communal feasts, and several bronze stands, including one with a seated man holding a cup and facing a horse, that have the experts puzzled. Equally enigmatic are the symbols on rock faces that perhaps mark sacred places.

Saka Tigrakhauda at PersepolisSaka Tigra-khauda (Old Persian: pointed-hat Saka/Scythians) as depicted in the ancient Achaemenid city-palace of Persepolis. It was northern Iranian peoples such as the Sakas (Scythians) and their successors, the Sarmatians and Alans, who were to be the cultural link between Iran and ancient Europe  (Picture used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006).

From the camps, parties of mounted warriors set out to raid settlements, both to supplement their meager resources and to obtain luxury goods coveted by their leaders. Dr. Stark said the nomad elite considered such goods necessities to be displayed and distributed to key followers “to build up and sustain their political power.”

As their networks widened, foreign influences, notably Persian, began to appear in nomadic artifacts from the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C. The griffin, for example, originated in the West by way of the Persian Empire, centered in what is now Iran; the nomads modified it to have two heads of birds of prey topped by elk horns.

Scythians Arts-5-Snow LeopardA gold and turquoise plaque of a snow leopard mask consisting of two facing ibex heads and flying bird (8th to 7th centuries B.C.; Height 1.56 centimeters; width 2.48 centimeters; depth 0.2 centimeters) (Source: New York Times).

Beginning in the third century B.C., Chinese luxury items, like the Wusun diadem, appeared in nomad burials, mainly associated with Han dynasty. According to Chinese accounts, the Wusun nomads may have furthered contacts between Central Asian nomads and Han China, at the time expanding westward and in need of horses in its campaign against borderland rivals.

For all their networking, the nomads of the first millennium B.C. never failed to apply imaginative touches to the foreign artifacts they acquired. Dr. Chi, the curator, said the nomads transformed others’ fantastic animals into even more fantastic versions: boars curled in teardrop shapes and griffins that seemed to change their parts in a single image.

By these enigmatic symbols, a prewriting culture communicated its worldview from a vast and ungenerous land that it could never fully tame — any more than these people of the horse were ever ready to settle down.


A Short History of the Iranian Railway System

Perhaps one of Iran’s greatest achievements after the First World War was the construction of the 850-mile Trans-National railroad. This finally linked southern and northern Iran, a project that had been bitterly opposed by Imperial Russia in the early 20th century. For the first time the northern agricultural lands and the Caspian Sea ports were linked to ports and oilfields in the south. Construction of the Iranian railway had been an overwhelming task as it required the building of 4,100 bridges and 224 bored tunnels (64 miles in total). Iran’s economy after the First World had been in tatters, especially with increasing chaos due to British, Russian and Ottoman military incursions. Even more impressive was the way in the which the project had been funded: taxes on sugar and tea helped subsidize the project.

Opening ceremony Tehran masjid Suleiman LineUndated photo of the opening ceremony of the Tehran-Masjid Suleiman railway line (Source: Iranvij)

The buildup of the Iranian railway and road systems resulted in a dramatic improvement in the economic sector. Cost and time required for the transportation of goods across the country were now dramatically reduced. As noted by the British Central Office of Information:

“…the Persian people had every reason to be proud of it [the Iranian railway], for they themselves had supplied most of the labor for its construction and they, with a small population living in every circumstance in hardship, had found every Rial of the thirty million Pounds which it had cost” (British Central Office of Information, 1948, p.92 – Source: British Central Office of Information (1948). PAIFORCE: The Official Story of the Persia and Iraq Command 1941-1946. London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office).

Dorood_Train_StationThe Dorood train station in Luristan as painted by Richard H. Jansen (Source: US Army Center of Military History)

By 1933, the Iranian railway and road network system had reduced the cost of transportation to a third of what it had been in 1920. The time needed for transport in 1933 was now reduced to just one-tenth of what it had been in comparison to 1920. The efficiency of the Iranian railway and road networks was one of the primary factors that encouraged the Anglo-invasion of Iran in August 1941. The primary objective of that invasion was to use the Iranian network to supply the Red Army of the Soviet Union. This is because Nazi Germany had been engaged in a massive invasion of the Soviet Union since June 22, 1941 (known as Operation Barbarossa).

Iran station in LuristanAn Iranian railway engineer pauses for a cigarette break at Zagheh station along the Western Iranian mountains; photo dated to 1955 (Source: Avax News).