Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

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  • The Fertile Crescent

    The Fertile Crescent is a term for an old fertile area north, east and west of the Arabian Desert in Southwest Asia. The Mesopotamian valley and the Nile valley fall under this term even though the mountain zone around Mesopotamia is the natural zone for the transition in a historical sense.

    As a result of a number of unique geographical factors the Fertile Crescent have an impressive history of early human agricultural activity and culture. Besides the numerous archaeological sites with remains of skeletons and cultural relics the area is known primarily for its excavation sites linked to agricultural origins and development of the Neolithic era.

    It was here, in the forested mountain slopes of the periphery of this area, that agriculture originated in an ecologically restricted environment. The western zone and areas around the upper Euphrates gave growth to the first known Neolithic farming communities with small, round houses , also referred to as Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) cultures, which dates to just after 10,000 BC and include areas such as Jericho, the world’s oldest city.

    During the subsequent PPNB from 9000 BC these communities developed into larger villages with farming and animal husbandry as the main source of livelihood, with settlement in the two-story, rectangular house. Man now entered in symbiosis with grain and livestock species, with no opportunity to return to hunter – gatherer societies.

    The area west and north of the plains of the Euphrates and Tigris also saw the emergence of early complex societies in the much later Bronze Age (about 4000 BC). There is evidence of written culture and early state formation in this northern steppe area, although the written formation of the states relatively quickly shifted its center of gravity into the Mesopotamian valley and developed there. The area is therefore in very many writers been named “The Cradle of Civilization.”

    The area has experienced a series of upheavals and new formation of states. When Turkey was formed in the aftermath of the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians perpetrated by the Young Turks during the First World War it is estimated that two-thirds to three-quarters of all Armenians and Assyrians in the region died, and the Pontic Greeks was pushed to Greece.

    Israel was created out of the Ottoman Empire and the conquering of the Palestinian terretories. The existence of large Arab nation states from the Maghreb to the Levant has since represented a potential threat to Israel which should be neutralised when opportunities arise.

    This line of thinking was at the heart of David Ben Gurion’s policies in the 1950s which sought to exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims in the Lebanon for the fruits of acquiring regional influence by the dismembering the country and the possible acquisition of additional territory.

    The Christians are now being systematically targeted for genocide in Syria according to Vatican and other sources with contacts on the ground among the besieged Christian community.

    According to reports by the Vatican’s Fides News Agency collected by the Centre for the Study of Interventionism, the US-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and ever more radical spin-off factions are sacking Christian churches, shooting Christians dead in the street, broadcasting ultimatums that all Christians must be cleansed from the rebel-held villages, and even shooting priests.

    It is now time that the genocide against the Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians is being recognized, that the Israeli occupation, settlements and violence against the Palestinians stop, and that the various minorities in the area start to live their lifes in peace – without violence and threats from majority populations, or from the West, and then specificially from the US.

    War in the Fertile Crescent

    Everyone is free to use the text on this blog as they want. There is no copyright etc. This because knowledge is more important than rules and regulations.

  • Archives

Indo-Iranian Languages

The Indo-Iranian Languages

The Indo-Iranian Languages


Sanskrit and Prakrit

Iranian Language

Migration Period


Iranian Scripts

Western and Eastern Branches

East and West


New Persian

Iranian Intermezzo

Turco-Persian tradition




Buyid dynasty

Ghaznavid dynasty

Seljuk Empire

Ottoman Empire

The Indo-Iranian Languages

Proto-Indo-Iranian is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. The Indo-Iranian languages constitute the largest and southeasternmost extant branch of the Indo-European language family. It is more than 1.5 billion speakers.

The Proto-Indo-Iranian language is the ancestor of both the Indo-Aryan languages, Iranian languages, and Nuristani languages. A fourth independent branch, Dardic, was previously posited, but recent scholarship in general places Dardic languages as archaic members of the Indo-Aryan branch.

The oldest inscription in Old Indic is found in northern Syria in Hittite records regarding the Hurrian-speaking Mitanni. The religious practices depicted in the Rigveda and those depicted in the Avesta, the central religious text of Zoroastrianism, show similarities.

Some of the references to the Sarasvati in the Rigveda refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra River, while the Afghan river Haraxvaiti/Harauvati Helmand is sometimes quoted as the locus of the early Rigvedic River. The Rigveda does not explicitly refer to an external homeland or to a migration, but later Vedic and Puranic texts do show the movement into the Gangetic plains.

The origin and earliest relationship between the Nuristani languages, formerly known as Kafiri languages, and that of the Iranian and Indo-Aryan groups is not completely clear. The region inhabited by the Nuristanis is located in the southern Hindu Kush Mountains.

The Nuristani languages are one of the three groups within the Indo-Iranian language family, alongside the much larger Indo-Aryan and Iranian groups. They were previously often grouped with Indo-Aryan or Iranian, but are now classified as forming a third branch in Indo-Iranian.

Proto-Indo-Iranian was probably spoken in the late 3rd millennium BC. It was likely removed less than a millennium from its ancestor, the late Proto-Indo-European language, and in turn removed less than half a millennium from the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda, its descendant.

Various proposals have been made that link the Indo-Iranian languages with other subgroups of Indo-European, like Graeco-Aryan, which posits a close relationship with Greek and Armenian, but this remain today without wider acceptance.

The Indo-European language spoken by the Indo-Iranians in the late 3rd millennium BC was a Satem language still not removed very far from the Proto-Indo-European language, and in turn only removed by a few centuries from Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda. The main phonological change separating Proto-Indo-Iranian from Proto–Indo-European is the collapse of the ablauting vowels *e, *o, *a into a single vowel, Proto–Indo-Iranian *a.

Grassmann’s law and Bartholomae’s law were also complete in Proto-Indo-Iranian, as well as the loss of the labiovelars (kw, etc.) to k, and the Eastern Indo-European (Satem) shift from palatized k’ to ć, as in Proto–Indo-European *k’ṃto- > Indo-Iran. *ćata- > Sanskrit śata-, Old Iran. sata “100”. Among the sound changes from Proto-Indo-Iranian to Indo-Aryan is the loss of the voiced sibilant *z, among those to Iranian is the de-aspiration of the PIE voiced aspirates.

The earliest recorded forms of the Indo-Iranian languages are Vedic Sanskrit, belonging to the Indo-Aryan subgroup, and Gathic Avestan, an early Eastern Iranian language. Both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian they are quite close in grammar and lexicon.

Proto-Iranian innovations compared to Proto-Indo-Iranian include: the turning of sibilant fricative *s into non-sibilant fricative glottal *h; the voiced aspirated plosives *bʰ, *dʰ, *gʰ yielding to the voiced unaspirated plosives *b, *d, *g resp.; the voiceless unaspirated stops *p, *t, *k before another consonant changing into fricatives *f, *θ, *x resp.; voiceless aspirated stops *pʰ, *tʰ, *kʰ turning into fricatives *f, *θ, *x, resp.

The exact century of separation is unknown, but certainly before 1800 BC. Historical linguists broadly estimate that a continuum of Indo-Iranian languages probably began to diverge by 2000 BC, if not earlier, preceding both the Vedic and Iranian cultures.

A few words from another Indo-Aryan language are attested in documents from the ancient Mitanni and Hittite kingdoms in the Near East. The Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni is of similar age to the language of the Rigveda.

The only evidence of the Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni is a few proper names and specialized loanwords. Kammenhuber suggested that this vocabulary was derived from the still undivided Indo-Iranian language, but Mayrhofer has shown that specifically Indo-Aryan features are present.

It is suggested that an Indo-Aryan elite imposed itself over the Hurrian population in the course of the Indo-Aryan expansion. However, a Hurrian passage in the Amarna letters, indicate that the royal family of Mitanni was by then speaking Hurrian as well.

The Amarna letters, sometimes referred to as the Amarna correspondence or Amarna tablets, and cited with the abbreviation EA, for “El Amarna”, are an archive, written on clay tablets, primarily consisting of diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom, between 1360-1332 BC.

Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language, developed independently in ancient India, evolved into classical Sanskrit after the grammar and linguistic treatise of Pāṇini and later into many related Indian subcontinent languages in which are found the voluminous ancient and medieval literature of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.

It is attested in the Vedas, texts compiled over the period of the mid-2nd to mid-1st millennium BC. It was orally preserved, predating the advent of Brahmi script for several centuries. Extensive ancient literature has survived into the modern era, and this has been a major source of information for reconstructing Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-Iranian history.

The Avestan language, also known historically as Zend, developed in ancient Persia. It comprises two languages: Old Avestan (spoken in the 2nd millennium BC) and Younger Avestan (spoken in the 1st millennium BC).

They are known only from their use as the language of the Zoroastrian scripture, the Avesta, from which they derive their name. The Avestan text corpus was composed in ancient Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, and Margiana, corresponding to the entirety of present-day Afghanistan, and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Yaz culture (1500-500 BC), an early Iron Age culture of Margiana, Bactria and Sogdia that emerged at the top of late Bronze Age sites (BMAC), has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of the early Eastern Iranian culture described in the Avesta.

The Yaz culture is associated with farming citadels, steppe-derived metallurgy and ceramics, and absence of burials the Yaz culture. So far, no burials related to the culture have been found, and this is taken as possible evidence of the Zoroastrian practice of exposure or sky burial.

The origin and earliest relationship between the Nuristani languages, formerly known as Kafiri languages, and that of the Iranian and Indo-Aryan groups is not completely clear. Nuristani has generally been regarded as one of three primary sub-groups of Indo-Iranian.

However, there have been suggestions that Nuristani may instead be a branch of the Indo-Aryan subgroup, due to the evident similarity with Dardic languages, or that Nuristani originated within the Iranian sub-group, and was later influenced by an Indo-Aryan language, such as Dardic.

The Nuristanis are an ethnic group native to the Chitral District of northwestern Pakistan and Nuristan Province of northeastern Afghanistan. Many now speak other languages, such as Dari and Pashto (two official languages of Afghanistan) and Chitrali in Pakistan.

The Kalasha, or Kalash, also called Waigali or Wai, a Dardic Indo-Aryan indigenous people residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakist, are very close to the Nuristani people in terms of culture and historic religion, and are divided between speakers of the Nuristani language, Kalasha-ala, and an Indo-Aryan language, Kalaṣa-mun.


Within the Indo-European family the Indo-Iranian languages belongs to the Satem group, or the Eastern sub-families, which also includes Balto-Slavic, but not Tocharian, an extinct branch of the Indo-European language family known from manuscripts dating from the 5th to the 8th century AD, which were found in oasis cities on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin (now part of Xinjiang in northwest China) and the Lop Desert.

The discovery of Tocharian in the early 20th century contradicted the formerly prevalent idea of an east–west division of the Indo-European language family on the centum–satem isogloss, and prompted reinvigorated study of the family.

Languages of the Indo-European family are classified as either centum languages or satem languages according to how the dorsal consonants (sounds of “K” and “G” type) of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) developed.

An example of the different developments is provided by the words for “hundred” found in the early attested Indo-European languages. In centum languages, they typically began with a /k/ sound (Latin centum was pronounced with initial /k/), but in satem languages, they often began with /s/ (the example satem comes from the Avestan language of Zoroastrian scripture).

When von Bradke first published his definition of the centum and satem sound changes, he viewed his classification as “the oldest perceivable division” in Indo-European, which he elucidated as “a division between eastern and western cultural provinces (Kulturkreise)”.

The proposed split was undermined by the decipherment of Hittite and Tocharian in the early 20th century. Both languages show no satem-like assibilation in spite of being located in the satem area. The hypothesis was further weakened by the identification of other Indo-European isoglosses running across the centum–satem boundary, some of which seemed of equal or greater importance in the development of daughter languages.

Consequently, the centum–satem isogloss has been considered an early areal phenomenon rather than a true phylogenetic division of daughter languages. It is no longer thought that the Proto-Indo-European language split first into centum and satem branches from which all the centum and all the satem languages, respectively, would have derived.

Sanskrit and Prakrit

The Indo-Aryan languages are a major language family of South Asia. Modern Indo-Aryan languages are descended from Old Indo-Aryan languages, such as early Sanskrit, through Middle Indo-Aryan languages (or Prakrits). There are well over 200 known Indo-Aryan languages.

Indo-Aryan languages are spoken by more than 800 million people, primarily in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Moreover, there are large immigrant and expatriate communities in Northwestern Europe, Western Asia, North America and Australia.

Proto-Indo-Aryan is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Aryan languages. It is intended to reconstruct the language of the pre-Vedic Indo-Aryans, the Proto-Indo-Aryans. It is descended from Proto-Indo-Iranian and thus from Proto-Indo-European.

Proto-Indo-Aryan is the predecessor of Old Indo-Aryan (1500-300 BC), which is directly attested as Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, and Mitanni-Aryan. The earliest evidence of the group is from Vedic Sanskrit, which is used in the ancient preserved texts of the Indian subcontinent, the foundational canon of Hinduism known as the Vedas.

Sanskrit is an Indo-Aryan language of the ancient Indian subcontinent with a 3,500-year history. It is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and the predominant language of most works of Hindu philosophy as well as some of the principal texts of Buddhism and Jainism.

Sanskrit is an Old Indo-Aryan language. As one of the oldest documented members of the Indo-European family of languages, Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies. It is related to many living and extinct Indo-European languages with historical significance to Europe, West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. It traces its linguistic ancestry to the Proto-Indo-Aryan, Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Indo-European languages.

From Vedic Sanskrit (literally “put together”, “perfected” or “elaborated”) developed as the prestige language of culture, science and religion as well as the court, theatre, etc. Modern Sanskrit is a continuation of Classical Sanskrit and is largely mutually unintelligible with Vedic Sanskrit. Indeed, Vedic Sanskrit is very close to Proto-Indo-Aryan.

Sanskrit, in its variants and numerous dialects, was the lingua franca of ancient and medieval India. In the early 1st millennium CE, along with Buddhism and Vedism, Sanskrit migrated to Southeast Asia, parts of East Asia and Central Asia, emerging as a language of high culture and of local ruling elites in these regions.

Modern Sanskrit is traceable in a form known as Vedic Sanskrit, with the Rigveda as the earliest-known composition, to the 2nd millennium BC. The phonology, grammatical forms of Sanskrit has remained similar to the Vedic language. A more refined and standardized grammatical form called Classical Sanskrit emerged in the mid-1st millennium BC with the Aṣṭādhyāyī treatise of Pāṇini.

An ancient Proto-Dravidian language has been found to influence the Vedic Sanskrit language. Proto-Dravidian is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Dravidian languages. It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, and Proto-South Dravidian, although the date of diversification is still debated.

As a proto-language, the Proto-Dravidian language is not itself attested in the historical record. Its modern conception is based solely on reconstruction. It is suggested that the language was spoken in the 4th millennium BC, and started disintegrating into various branches around 3rd millennium BC.

The broader definition of Sanskrit refers to the whole range of mutually intelligible Old Indo-Aryan dialects spoken in North-western India at the time of the composition of the Vedas and thus can be treated as the ancestor of the Prakrits and Pali, and consequently, of all Modern Indo-Aryan languages.

On the other hand, the standardized Classical and Epic Sanskrit was a literary language and not the ancestor of any Indo-Aryan language. Sanskrit has significantly influenced the phonology, lexicology, morphology and grammatical systems of South Indian languages of Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam.

The body of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of philosophical and religious texts, as well as poetry, music, drama, scientific, technical and other texts. In the ancient era, Sanskrit compositions were orally transmitted by methods of memorisation of exceptional complexity, rigour and fidelity. The earliest known inscriptions in Sanskrit are from the 1st century BC, such as the few discovered in Ayodhya and Ghosundi-Hathibada (Chittorgarh).

Sanskrit texts dated to the 1st millennium CE were written in the Brahmi script, the Nāgarī script, the historic South Indian scripts and their derivative scripts. Sanskrit is one of the 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. More than 3,000 Sanskrit works have been composed since India’s independence in 1947.

Sanskrit is a living language and spoken as a primary language in some villages in India. It is taught in a large number of schools in India. It also continues to be widely used as a ceremonial and ritual language in Hindu/Buddhist practices such as recitation of hymns and chants.

The Prakrits are a group of vernacular Middle Indo-Aryan languages used in India from around the 3rd century BC to the 8th century CE. The term is usually applied to the middle period of Middle Indo-Aryan languages, excluding earlier inscriptions and the later Pali.

The Prakrits were used contemporaneously with the prestigious Classical Sanskrit of higher social classes. Prakrit languages held a lower social status than Sanskrit in ancient India. In the Sanskrit stage plays, such as Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, high-class male characters typically speak Sanskrit, while the low-class male characters and most female characters typically speak Prakrit.

Prākṛta literally means “natural”, as opposed to saṃskṛta, which literally means “constructed” or “refined”. According to the Prākrṭa Prakāśa, an ancient Prakrit grammar, “Saṃskṛtam is the prakṛti (source) – and the language that originates in, or comes from, that prakṛti, is therefore called prākṛtam.” The same definition is also given by the Prakrit grammarian Acharya Hemachandra in his grammar of Prakrit.

The dictionary of Monier Monier-Williams (1819–1899) interprets the word in the opposite sense: “the most frequent meanings of the term prakṛta, from which the word “prakrit” is derived, are “original, natural, normal” and the term is derived from prakṛti, “making or placing before or at first, the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance”. In linguistic terms, this is used in contrast with saṃskṛta, “refined”.

Some of the Prakrits display a few minor features derived from Proto-Indo-Aryan that had already disappeared in Vedic Sanskrit. Today, several Modern Indo-Aryan languages are extant. Despite the great archaicity of Vedic, however, the other Indo-Aryan languages preserve a small number of archaic features lost in Vedic. One of these is the representation of Proto-Indo-European *l and *r. Vedic (as also most Iranic languages) merge both as /r/.

Mitanni inscriptions show some Middle Indo-Aryan characteristics along with Old Indo-Aryan, for example sapta in Old Indo-Aryan becomes satta (pt develops into Middle Indo-Aryan tt). According to S.S. Misra this language can be similar to Buddhist-hybrid Sanskrit which might not be a mixed language but an early middle Indo-Aryan occurring much before Prakrit.

Later, however, some instances of Indo-European /l/ again surface in Classical Sanskrit, indicating that the contrast survived in an early Indo-Aryan dialect parallel to Vedic. (A dialect with only /l/ is additionally posited to underlie Magadhi Prakrit). The common consonant cluster kṣ /kʂ/ of Vedic and later Sanskrit has a particularly wide range of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Proto-Indo-Iranian (PII) sources, which partly remain distinct in later Indo-Aryan languages.

Outside the learned sphere of Sanskrit, vernacular dialects (Prakrits) continued to evolve. The oldest attested Prakrits are the Buddhist and Jain canonical languages Pali and Ardhamagadhi Prakrit, respectively. By medieval times, the Prakrits had diversified into various Middle Indo-Aryan languages.

Apabhraṃśa is the conventional cover term for transitional dialects connecting late Middle Indo-Aryan with early Modern Indo-Aryan, spanning roughly the 6th to 13th centuries. Some of these dialects showed considerable literary production; the Śravakacāra of Devasena (dated to the 930s) is now considered to be the first Hindi book.

The next major milestone occurred with the Muslim conquests in the Indian subcontinent in the 13th–16th centuries. Under the flourishing Turco-Mongol Mughal Empire, Persian became very influential as the language of prestige of the Islamic courts due to adoptation of the foreign language by the Mughal emperors.

However, Persian was soon displaced by Hindustani. This Indo-Aryan language is a combination with Persian, Arabic, and Turkic elements in its vocabulary, with the grammar of the local dialects. The two largest languages that formed from Apabhraṃśa were Bengali and Hindustani; others include Assamese, Sindhi, Gujarati, Odia, Marathi, and Punjabi.

In the Central Zone Hindi-speaking areas, for a long time the prestige dialect was Braj Bhasha, but this was replaced in the 19th century by Dehlavi-based Hindustani. Hindustani was strongly influenced by Persian, with these and later Sanskrit influence leading to the emergence of Modern Standard Hindi and Modern Standard Urdu as registers of the Hindustani language.

This state of affairs continued until the division of the British Indian Empire in 1947, when Hindi became the official language in India and Urdu became official in Pakistan. Despite the different script the fundamental grammar remains identical. The difference is more sociolinguistic than purely linguistic. Today it is widely spoken as a second or third language throughout South Asia and one of the most widely known languages in the world in terms of number of speakers.

Dates indicate only a rough time frame: Proto-Indo-Aryan (before 1500 BC, reconstructed) consisting of Old Indo-Aryan (1500-300 BC), e.g. early Old Indo-Aryan or Vedic Sanskrit (1500-500 BC), late Old Indo-Aryan, e.g. Epic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit (200-1300 CE), and Mitanni Indo-Aryan (1400 BC), which also have middle Indo-Aryan features.

Middle Indo-Aryan or Prakrits (300 BC to 1500 CE) consists of Early Buddhist texts (600-500 BC), early Middle Indo-Aryan e.g. Ashokan Prakrits, Pali, Gandhari (300 to 200 BC), middle Middle Indo-Aryan e.g. Dramatic Prakrits, Elu (200 BC to 700 CE), and late Old Indo-Aryan e.g. Abahattha (700 to 1500 CE). Finally, we have Early Modern Indo-Aryan (Late Medieval India) e.g. early Dakhini and emergence of the Dehlavi dialect.

Iranian Language

The Iranian languages are applied to any language which descends from the ancestral Proto-Iranian language. Proto-Iranian is thus the ancestor of the Iranian languages such as Pashto, Persian, Sogdian, Zazaki, Ossetian, Mazandarani, Kurdish, Talysh etc.

Proto-Iranian is the reconstructed sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian language, which, in turn, belongs to the Indo-European language family, which descends from the Proto-Indo-European language.

Ethnologue estimates that there are 86 Iranian languages, the largest among them being Persian, Pashto, Kurdish, and the Balochi languages. It is estimated to be 150–200 million native speakers of the Iranian languages.

The Proto-Iranian language was in relative proximity to the other satem ethno-linguistic groups of the Indo-European family, like Thracian, Balto-Slavic and others, and to common Indo-European’s original homeland (more precisely, the Eurasian Steppe to the north of the Caucasus), according to the reconstructed linguistic relationships of common Indo-European.

Proto-Iranian thus dates to sometime after the Proto-Indo-Iranian break-up, or the early second millennium BC. It was likely removed less than a millennium from the Avestan language, and less than two millennia from Proto-Indo-European.

It is speculated to have origins in the western part of Central Asia that borders present-day Russia (and present-day Kazakhstan), and the Andronovo culture, which is suggested as a candidate for the common Indo-Iranian culture around 2000 BC.

Some scholars such as John Perry prefer the term Iranic as the anthropological name for the linguistic family and ethnic groups of this category (many of which exist outside Iran), while Iranian for anything about the country Iran. He uses the same analogue as in differentiating German from Germanic or differentiating Turkish and Turkic.

This use of the term for the Iranian language family was introduced in 1836 by Christian Lassen. Robert Needham Cust used the term Irano-Aryan in 1878, and Orientalists such as George Abraham Grierson and Max Müller contrasted Irano-Aryan (Iranian) and Indo-Aryan (Indic). Some recent scholarship, primarily in German, has revived this convention.

In general, Iranian languages are known from three periods, usually referred to as Old Iranian (until 400 BC), Middle Iranian (400 BC – 900 AD), and New (Modern) Iranian (since 900 AD).

This correspond to three eras in Iranian history, the old era being the period from some time before, during and after the Achaemenid period (that is, to 300 BC), the Middle Era being the next period, namely, the Sassanid period and part of the post-Sassanid period, and the New era being the period afterwards down to the present day.

The term Old Iranian refers to the stage in Iranian history represented by the earliest written languages, as the Old Iranian languages began to break off and evolve separately as the various Iranian tribes migrated and settled in vast areas of southeastern Europe, the Iranian plateau, and Central Asia.

Of that variety of languages/dialects, direct evidence of only two has survived. These are Avestan, also known historically as Zend, and Old Persian. These two languages are usually considered to belong to different main branches of Iranian, and many of their similarities are found also in the other Iranian languages. 

Old Persian, which was spoken in Achaemenid Empire, the first Persian Empire, is the Old Iranian dialect as it was spoken in south-western Iran by an Iranian people known as Persians, who also gave their name to their region and language.

Genuine Old Persian is best attested in one of the three languages of the Behistun (“the place of god”) inscription, composed circa 520 BC, and which is the last inscription (and only inscription of significant length) in which Old Persian is still grammatically correct.

Later inscriptions are comparatively brief, and typically simply copies of words and phrases from earlier ones, often with grammatical errors, which suggests that by the 4th century BC the transition from Old Persian to Middle Persian was already far advanced, but efforts were still being made to retain an “old” quality for official proclamations.

Avestan is known only from its use as the language of the liturgical texts of the indigenous Iranian religion that now goes by the name of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, from which they derive their name, but in the Avesta itself is simply known as vohu daena (later: behdin).

The Avestan text corpus was composed in ancient Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, and Margiana, corresponding to the entirety of present-day Afghanistan, and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Yaz culture (1500-1100 BC), an early Iron Age culture of Margiana, Bactria and Sogdia that emerged at the top of late Bronze Age sites (BMAC), has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of the culture described in the Avesta.

It comprises two languages: Old (or ‘Gathic’) Avestan spoken in the 2nd millennium BC and Younger Avestan spoken in the 1st millennium BC. These terms, which date to the 19th century, are slightly misleading since Younger Avestan is not only much younger than Old Avestan, but also from a different geographic region.

Many phonetic features cannot be ascribed with certainty to a particular stage since there may be more than one possibility. The Old Avestan dialect is very archaic, and at roughly the same stage of development as Rigvedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language. As such, Old Avestan is quite close in grammar and lexicon to Vedic Sanskrit.

On the other hand, Younger Avestan is at about the same linguistic stage as Old Persian, but by virtue of its use as a sacred language retained its “old” characteristics long after the Old Iranian languages had yielded to their Middle Iranian stage.

Every phonetic form that can be ascribed to the Sasanian archetype on the basis of critical assessment of the manuscript evidence must have gone through the stages mentioned above so that Old Avestan and Young Avestan really mean no more than Old Avestan and Young Avestan of the Sasanian period.

The multitude of Middle Iranian languages and peoples indicate that great linguistic diversity must have existed among the ancient speakers of Iranian languages. In addition to Old Persian and Avestan all Middle Iranian languages must have had a predecessor “Old Iranian” form of that language, and thus can all be said to have had an (at least hypothetical) “Old” form.

Regardless, there are many arguments to think that many of these Old Iranian features may not have occurred yet in Proto-Iranian, and they may have instead spread across an Old Iranian dialect continuum already separated in dialects. Additionally, most Iranian languages cannot be derived from either attested Old Iranian language: numerous unwritten Old Iranian dialects must have existed, whose descendents surface in the written record only later.

Skjærvø postulates that there were at least four dialects that initially developed out of Proto-Iranian, two of which are attested by texts: Old Northwest Iranian (unattested, ancestor of Ossetian), Old Northeast Iranian (unattested, ancestor of Middle Iranian Khotanese and modern Wakhi), Old Central Iranian (attested, includes Avestan and Median) and Old Southwest Iranian (attested, includes Old Persian, ancestor of modern Persian).

Additionally, the existence of unattested languages can sometimes be inferred from the impact they had on neighbouring languages. Such transfer is known to have occurred for Old Persian, which has (what is called) a “Median” substrate in some of its vocabulary.

Also, foreign references to languages can also provide a hint to the existence of otherwise unattested languages, for example through toponyms/ethnonyms or in the recording of vocabulary, as Herodotus did for what he called “Scythian”.

Migration Period

The Migration Period was a period in the history of Europe, during and after the decline of the Western Roman Empire, during which there was widespread migration of and invasions by peoples, notably the Germanic tribes and the Huns, within or into the Roman Empire.

The first migrations of peoples were made by Germanic tribes such as the Goths (including the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths), the Vandals, the Anglo-Saxons, the Lombards, the Suebi, the Frisii, the Jutes, the Burgundians, the Alemanni, the Scirii and the Franks; they were later pushed westward by the Huns, the Avars, the Slavs and the Bulgars.

The period is traditionally taken to have begun in ad 375 (possibly as early as 300) and ended in 568. It is also sometimes called, from the Roman and Greek perspective, the period of Barbarian Invasions. Various factors contributed to this phenomenon of migration and invasion, and their role and significance are still in discussion among experts on the subject.

There are differences of opinion among historians as to the dates for the beginning and ending of the Migration Period. The beginning of the period is widely regarded as the invasion of Europe by the Huns from Asia in 375 and the ending with the conquest of Italy by the Lombards in 568, but a more loosely set period is from as early as 300 to as late as 800.

Later invasions, such as the Viking, the Norman, the Varangian, the Hungarian, the Moorish, the Turkic and the Mongol, also had significant effects (especially in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Anatolia and Central and Eastern Europe); however, they are usually considered outside the scope of the Migration Period.


The Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian Plateau in the region of Persis, which came to be their heartland, by 700 BC. The Persians were an Iranian people who arrived in what is today Iran c. 1000 BC and settled a region including north-western Iran, the Zagros Mountains and Persis alongside the native Elamites.

The Persians were originally nomadic pastoralists in the western Iranian Plateau and by 850 BC were calling themselves the Parsa and their constantly shifting territory Parsua, for the most part localized around Persis. For a number of centuries they fell under the domination of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC), based in northern Mesopotamia.

The Achaemenids were initially rulers of the Elamite city of Anshan near the modern city of Marvdasht; the title “King of Anshan” was an adaptation of the earlier Elamite title “King of Susa and Anshan”. From this region, Cyrus the Great advanced to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), also called the First Persian Empire.

Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles).

The Achaemenid Empire was not however the first Iranian empire, as the Medes, another group of Iranian peoples, who spoke the Median language and who inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran, established a short-lived empire and played a major role in the overthrow of the Assyrians.

They occupied the mountainous region of northwestern Iran and the northeastern and eastern region of Mesopotamia located in the region of Hamadan (Ecbatana) in the 11th century BC. Their emergence in Iran is believed to have occurred during the 8th century BC. In the 7th century BC, all of western Iran and some other territories were under Median rule, but their precise geographic extent remains unknown.

The Median language (also Medean or Medic) is an Old Iranian language and classified as belonging to the Northwestern Iranian subfamily, which includes many other languages such as Old Azeri, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Zaza–Gorani, Kurdish, and Baluchi.

There are conflicting accounts of the identities of the earliest Kings of Anshan. According to the Cyrus Cylinder (the oldest extant genealogy of the Achaemenids) the kings of Anshan were Teispes, Cyrus I, Cambyses I and Cyrus II, also known as Cyrus the Great, who created the empire.

The later Behistun Inscription, written by Darius the Great, claims that Teispes was the son of Achaemenes and that Darius is also descended from Teispes through a different line, but no earlier texts mention Achaemenes. In Herodotus’ Histories, he writes that Cyrus the Great was the son of Cambyses I and Mandane of Media, the daughter of Astyages, the king of the Median Empire.

The name “Persia” is a Greek and Latin pronunciation of the native word referring to the country of the people originating from Persis (Old Persian: Pārsa). The name Parsua is from an old Iranian word *Parsava and it is presumed to mean border or borderland.

Parsua (earlier Parsuash, Parsumash) was an ancient tribal kingdom/chiefdom (860-600 BC) located between Zamua (formerly: Lullubi) and Ellipi, in central Zagros to the southwest of Sanandaj, western Iran. It was distinct from Persis, another region to the southeast, now known as Fars province in Iran. Some accounts suggest that Teispes, the ancestor of the Achaemenid dynasty, led a migration from Parsua to Persis, formerly the Elamite state of Anshan.

Teïspes (Old Persian: Cišpiš; Akkadian: Šîšpîš) ruled Anshan in 675–640 BC. It is suggested that the name is Iranian, but its connection with either the name of the Mitannian and Urartu storm god Tešup-Theispas, or with the (Elamite) byname Zaišpîšiya is likely.

He was the son of Achaemenes of Persis and an ancestor of Cyrus the Great. There is evidence that Cyrus I and Ariaramnes were both his sons. Cyrus I is the grandfather of Cyrus the Great, whereas Ariaramnes is the great-grandfather of Darius the Great.

According to 7th-century BC documents, Teispes captured the Elamite city of Anshan, speculated to have occurred after the Persians were freed from Median supremacy, and expanded his small kingdom. His kingdom was, however, a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC). He was succeeded by his second son, Cyrus I.

The Achaemenid Empire is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for its multicultural policy, for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire’s successes inspired similar systems in later empires.

Alexander the Great, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, conquered most of the empire by 330 BC. Upon Alexander’s death, most of the empire’s former territory fell under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence at that time. The Iranian elites of the central plateau reclaimed power by the second century BC under the Parthian Empire.

During the reign of Cyrus and Darius, and as long as the seat of government was still at Susa in Elam, the language of the chancellery was Elamite, an extinct language that was spoken by the ancient Elamites. This is primarily attested in the Persepolis fortification and treasury tablets that reveal details of the day-to-day functioning of the empire.

In the grand rock-face inscriptions of the kings, the Elamite texts are always accompanied by Akkadian (Babylonian dialect) and Old Persian inscriptions, and it appears that in these cases, the Elamite texts are translations of the Old Persian ones. It is then likely that although Elamite was used by the capital government in Susa, it was not a standardized language of government everywhere in the empire.

The modern name Elam stems from the Sumerian transliteration elam(a), along with the later Akkadian elamtu, and the Elamite haltamti. In classical literature, Elam was also known as Susiana, a name derived from its capital Susa. The emergence of written records from around 3000 BC parallels Sumerian history, where slightly earlier records have been found.

Elam was an ancient civilization centered in the far west and southwest of modern-day Iran, stretching from the lowlands of what is now Khuzestan and Ilam Province as well as a small part of southern Iraq. In the Old Elamite period (Middle Bronze Age), Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestan lowlands.

Elamite states were among the leading political forces of the Ancient Near East. Elam was part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic period. Its culture played a crucial role during the Persian Achaemenid dynasty that succeeded Elam, when the Elamite language remained among those in official use.

Elamite is generally considered a language isolate unrelated to any other languages. In accordance with geographical and archaeological matches, some historians argue that the Elamites comprise a large portion of the ancestors of the modern day Lurs whose language, Luri, split from Middle Persian.

Elamite was used in present-day southwestern Iran from 2600 BC to 330 BC. The last written records in Elamite appear around the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great. Elamite is generally thought to have no demonstrable relatives and is usually considered a language isolate. The lack of established relatives makes its interpretation difficult.

Middle Elamite is considered the “classical” period of Elamite, but the best attested variety is Achaemenid Elamite, which was widely used by the Achaemenid Persian state for official inscriptions as well as administrative records and displays significant Old Persian influence. Documents from the Old Elamite and early Neo-Elamite stages are rather scarce.

Neo-Elamite can be regarded as a transition between Middle and Achaemenid Elamite, with respect to language structure. The Elamite language may have remained in widespread use after the Achaemenid period. Several rulers of Elymais bore the Elamite name Kamnaskires in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The Acts of the Apostles (c. 80–90 AD) mentions the language was if it was still current.

There are no later direct references, but Elamite may be the local language in which, according to the Talmud, the Book of Esther was recited annually to the Jews of Susa in the Sasanian period (224–642 AD). Between the 9th and 13th centuries AD, various Arabic authors refer to a language called Khuzi spoken in Khuzistan, which was not any other language known to those writers. It is possible that it was “a late variant of Elamite”.

Following the conquest of Mesopotamia, and the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire and following the Achaemenid conquest of Mesopotamia under Darius I, around 500 BC, the Aramaic language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic, Imperial Aramaic or Achaemenid Aramaic, was adopted as a vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast empire with its different peoples and languages.

Old Aramaic was adopted by the Persians as the vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast Persian Empire with its different peoples and languages. The use of a single official language can be assumed to have greatly contributed to the astonishing success of the Achaemenid Persians in holding their far-flung empire together for as long as they did.

The Aramaic alphabet, primarily because of the widespread usage of the Aramaic language as both a lingua franca and the official language of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, and their successor, the Achaemenid Empire, is historically significant since virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems can be traced back to it as well as numerous non-Chinese writing systems of Central and East Asia.

It was adapted by the Arameans from the Phoenician alphabet and became a distinct script by the 8th century BC. It was used to write the Aramaic language and had displaced the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, itself a derivative of the Phoenician alphabet, for the writing of Hebrew.

For centuries after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 331 BC, Imperial Aramaic, or something near enough to it to be recognisable, would remain an influence on the various native Iranian languages. The Aramaic script would survive as the essential characteristics of the Iranian Pahlavi writing system.

In 1955, Richard Frye questioned the classification of Imperial Aramaic as an “official language”, noting that no surviving edict expressly and unambiguously accorded that status to any particular language. He reclassifies Imperial Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Achaemenid territories, suggesting then that the Achaemenid-era use of Aramaic was more pervasive than generally thought.

Although Old Persian also appears on some seals and art objects the language is attested primarily in the Achaemenid inscriptions of Western Iran, suggesting then that Old Persian was the common language of that region. However, by the reign of Artaxerxes II, the grammar and orthography of the inscriptions was so far from perfect that it has been suggested that the scribes who composed those texts had already largely forgotten the language, and had to rely on older inscriptions, which they to a great extent reproduced verbatim.

When the occasion demanded, Achaemenid administrative correspondence was conducted in Greek, making it a widely used bureaucratic language. Even though the Achaemenids had extensive contacts with the Greeks and vice versa, and had conquered many of the Greek-speaking areas both in Europe and Asia Minor during different periods of the empire, the native Old Iranian sources provide no indication of Greek linguistic evidence.

However, there is plenty of evidence (in addition to the accounts of Herodotus) that Greeks, apart from being deployed and employed in the core regions of the empire, also evidently lived and worked in the heartland of the Achaemenid Empire, namely Iran. For example, Greeks were part of the various ethnicities that constructed Darius’ palace in Susa, apart from the Greek inscriptions found nearby there, and one short Persepolis tablet written in Greek.

Iranian Scripts

What is known in Iranian linguistic history as the Middle Iranian era is thought to begin around the 4th century BC lasting through the 9th century. Of the Middle Iranian languages the better understood and recorded ones are Middle Persian from the Sasanian Empire (224-651), Parthian from the Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD), also known as the Arsacid Empire, and Bactrian from the Kushan (30-375) and Hephthalite empires (440s-710).

Unlike Old Persian, which has Middle Persian as it’s known successor, Avestan has no clearly identifiable Middle Iranian stage (the effect of Middle Iranian is indistinguishable from effects due to other causes).

Middle Persian (Pahlavi), also known by its endonym Pārsīk or Pārsīg in its later form, which descended from Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), was the official language under the Sasanian dynasty in Iran.

Middle Persian was a Western Middle Iranian language. It was in use from the 3rd century AD until the beginning of the 10th century, and was the official religious and literary language of the Sasanian Empire (224-651 AD). It is the linguistic ancestor of Modern Persian, the official language of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. As the script used for Middle Persian in this era underwent significant maturity, going from using Pahlavi to the use of Arabic script.

Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian were also used as literary languages by the Manichaeans, whose texts also survive in various non-Iranian languages, from Latin to Chinese. Manichaean texts were written in a script closely akin to the Syriac script.

What has been become to be known as the Eastern group of the Iranian languages, an areal entity whose languages retained some similarity to Avestan, were inscribed in various Aramaic-derived alphabets which had ultimately evolved from the Achaemenid Imperial Aramaic script, though Bactrian, an Iranian language spoken in what is now Afghanistan, was written using an adapted Greek script during the Kushan Empire (65–250 AD).

Around 500 BC, the Aramaic language, which modern scholarship has dubbed Official Aramaic, Imperial Aramaic or Achaemenid Aramaic, was adopted as a vehicle for written communication between the different regions of the vast Achaemenid Empire with its different peoples and languages. Many centuries after the fall of the empire, Aramaic script and, as ideograms, Aramaic vocabulary survived as the essential characteristics of the Pahlavi writing system.

Pahlavi or Pahlevi is a particular, exclusively written form of various Middle Iranian languages. It is an exclusively written system, but much Pahlavi literature remains essentially an oral literature committed to writing and so retains many of the characteristics of oral composition. It has been found for the dialects/ethnolects of Parthia, Persis, Sogdiana, Scythia, and Khotan.

Independent of the variant for which the Pahlavi system was used, the written form of that language only qualifies as Pahlavi when it use a specific Aramaic-derived script showing high incidence of Aramaic words used as heterograms (called hozwārishn, “archaisms”).

Pahlavi is then an admixture of written Imperial Aramaic, from which Pahlavi derives its script, logograms, and some of its vocabulary and spoken Middle Iranian, from which Pahlavi derives its terminations, symbol rules, and most of its vocabulary.

Pahlavi may thus be defined as a system of writing applied to (but not unique for) a specific language group, but with critical features alien to that language group. It has the characteristics of a distinct language, but is not one.

The earliest attested use of Pahlavi dates to the reign of Arsaces I of Parthia (250 BC) in early Parthian coins with Pahlavi scripts. After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the Pahlavi script was replaced by the Arabic script, except in Zoroastrian sacred literature.

The Islamic conquest also brought with it the replacement of the Pahlavi script with a modified version of the Arabic alphabet for writing Persian and much later, Kurdish, Pashto and Balochi. All three were adapted to the writing by the addition of a few letters.

The replacement of the Pahlavi script with the Arabic script was done by the Tahirids, a dynasty, of Persian dehqan origin, that effectively ruled the Khorasan from 821 to 873 while other members of the dynasty served as military and security commanders for the city of Baghdad from 820 until 891.

The dynasty was founded by Tahir ibn Husayn, a leading general in the service of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun. The Tahirids have been described as the first independent Iranian dynasty after the fall of the Sassanian Empire.

The Tahirids are sometimes considered as the first independent Iranian dynasty, but such a view is misleading. The arrangement was effectively a partnership between the Abbasids and the Tahirids. Instead, the Tahirids were loyal to the Abbasid caliphs and enjoyed considerable autonomy rather than being independent from the central authority.

The Arabic script is a writing system used for writing Arabic and several other languages of Asia and Africa, such as Persian (Farsi/Dari), Uyghur, Kurdish, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto, Lurish, Urdu, Kashmiri, Rohingya, Somali, and Mandinka, among others.

Until the 16th century, it was also used to write some texts in Spanish. Additionally, prior to the language reform in 1928, it was the writing system of Turkish. It is the second-most widely used writing system in the world by the number of countries using it and the third by the number of users, after the Latin and Chinese scripts.

Today Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China are the main non-Arabic speaking states using the Arabic alphabet to write one or more official national languages, including Azerbaijani, Baluchi, Brahui, Persian, Pashto, Central Kurdish, Urdu, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Punjabi and Uyghur.

The Arabic script remains in use in contemporary modern Persian. Tajik script, used to write the Tajik language, was first Latinised in the 1920s under the then Soviet nationality policy. The script was however subsequently Cyrillicized in the 1930s by the Soviet government.

The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language since the 1st century AD. It is one of the Semitic abjads descending from the Aramaic alphabet through the Palmyrene alphabet, and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic and Sogdian, the precursor and a direct ancestor of the traditional Mongolian scripts.

Besides Aramaic, when Arabic began to be the dominant spoken language in the Fertile Crescent after the Islamic conquest, texts were often written in Arabic using the Syriac script as knowledge of the Arabic alphabet was not yet widespread. In addition to Semitic languages, Sogdian and Malayalam were also written with Syriac script.

Western and Eastern Branches

Linguistically the Middle Iranian languages are conventionally classified into two main groups, the western and eastern branches. As opposed to the Middle Western Iranian dialects, the Middle Eastern Iranian preserves word-final syllables.

The Western Iranian languages are a branch of the Iranian languages attested from the time of Old Persian in the 6th century BC and Median. The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times from the 4th century BC.

Western Iranian languages are subdivided into Southwestern, of which Persian is the dominant member, and Northwestern, of which the Kurdish languages are the dominant members. Eastern Iranian languages are subdivided into Southeastern, of which Pashto is the dominant member, and Northeastern, of which Ossetian is the dominant member.

The Western family includes Parthian (Arsacid Pahlavi) and Middle Persian, while Bactrian, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Saka, and Old Ossetic (Scytho-Sarmatian) fall under the Eastern category. The two languages of the Western group were linguistically very close to each other, but quite distinct from their eastern counterparts.

The classification of the Iranian languages however is in general not however fully resolved, and the Eastern Iranian languages, a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times from c. the 4th century BC, are not shown to form an actual genetic subgroup.

This Iranian hypothesis relies principally on the fact that the Greek inscriptions of the Northern Black Sea Coast contain several hundreds of Sarmatian names showing a close affinity to the Ossetian language. The vast majority of Scythological scholars agree in considering the Scythian languages (and Ossetian) as a part of the Eastern Iranian group of languages.

However, these terms have little meaning with respect to Old Avestan as that stage of the language may predate the settling of the Iranian peoples into western and eastern groups. The geographic terms also have little meaning when applied to Younger Avestan since it isn’t known where that dialect (or dialects) was spoken either.

Certain is only that Avestan (all forms) and Old Persian are distinct, and since Old Persian is “western”, and Avestan was not Old Persian, Avestan acquired a default assignment to “eastern”, and is often classified as early Eastern Iranian.

Confusing the issue is the introduction of a western Iranian substrate in later Avestan compositions and redactions undertaken at the centers of imperial power in western Iran (either in the south-west in Persia, or in the north-west in Nisa/Parthia and Ecbatana/Media).

Two of the earliest dialectal divisions among Iranian indeed happen to not follow the later division into Western and Eastern blocks. These concern the fate of the Proto-Indo-Iranian first-series palatal consonants, *ć and *dź. Avestan and most other Iranian languages have deaffricated and depalatalized these consonants, and have *ć > s, *dź > z. Old Persian, however, has fronted these consonants further: *ć > θ, *dź > *ð > d.

As a common intermediate stage, it is possible to reconstruct depalatalized affricates: *c, *dz. (This coincides with the state of affairs in the neighboring Nuristani languages.) A further complication however concerns the consonant clusters *ćw and *dźw.

Avestan and most other Iranian languages have shifted these clusters to sp, zb. In Old Persian, these clusters yield s, z, with loss of the glide *w, but without further fronting. The Saka language, attested in the Middle Iranian period, and its modern relative Wakhi fail to fit into either group: in these, palatalization remains, and similar glide loss as in Old Persian occurs: *ćw > š, *dźw > ž.

A division of Iranian languages in at least three groups during the Old Iranian period is thus implied: Persid (Old Persian and its descendants), Sakan (Saka, Wakhi, and their Old Iranian ancestor) and Central Iranian (all other Iranian languages).

It is possible that other distinct dialect groups were already in existence during this period. Good candidates are the hypothetical ancestor languages of Alanian/Scytho-Sarmatian subgroup of Scythian in the far northwest; and the hypothetical “Old Parthian” (the Old Iranian ancestor of Parthian) in the near northwest, where original *dw > *b (paralleling the development of *ćw).

East and West

The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times (from c. the 4th century BC). It is thought to have separated from Western Iranian in the course of the later 2nd millennium BC, and was possibly located at the Yaz culture (1500-500 or 330 BC), a culture of Margiana, Bactria and Sogdia.

With the farming citadels, steppe-derived metallurgy and ceramics, and absence of burials it has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of early East Iranian culture as described in the Avesta. So far, no burials related to the culture have been found, and this is taken as possible evidence of the Zoroastrian practice of exposure or sky burial.

The Avestan language is often classified as early Eastern Iranian. Today, most living Eastern Iranian languages are spoken in a contiguous area, in southern and eastern Afghanistan as well as the adjacent parts of western Pakistan, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province of eastern Tajikistan, and the far west of Xinjiang region of China.

The largest living Eastern Iranian language is Pashto, with some 50 million speakers between the Oxus River in Afghanistan and the Indus River in Pakistan. There are also two living members in widely separated areas: The Yaghnobi language of northwestern Tajikistan (descended from Sogdian), and the Ossetic language of the Caucasus (descended from Scytho-Sarmatian).

In addition, modern Eastern Iranian languages such as Wakhi, which is related to the eastern Scytho-Khotanese dialects attested from the kingdoms of Khotan and Tumshuq in the ancient Tarim Basin, exists in present-day southern Xinjiang, China.

Various small Eastern Iranian languages also survive in the Pamir Mountains. The Pamir languages are an areal group of the Eastern Iranian languages, spoken by numerous people in the Pamir Mountains, primarily along the Panj River and its tributaries.

These are remnants of a vast ethno-linguistic continuum that stretched over most of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and parts of the Caucasus, and West Asia in the 1st millennium BC, otherwise known as Scythia, a loose nomadic empire of Central Eurasia that originated as early as 8th century BC.

The location and extent of Scythia varied by time, but generally it encompassed the part of Eastern Europe east of the Vistula River and much of Central Asia up to the Tarim Basin. The Ancient Greeks gave the name Scythia (or Great Scythia) to all the lands north-east of Europe and the northern coast of the Black Sea.

Scythia was occupied by people belonging to the wider Scythian horizon during the Iron Age from approximately the 9th century BC to the 2nd century AD. During the Iron Age and in classical antiquity the region saw the flourishing of Scythian cultures.

The Scythian horizon, also referred to as Scytho-Siberian cultures, Early Nomadic cultures, Scythian civilization, Scythian world or Scythian continuum, a group of similar archaeological cultures which flourished across the entire Eurasian Steppe.

The core of Scythians preferred a free-riding way of life. Despite belonging to similar material cultures, the peoples of the Scythian cultures belonged to many separate ethnic groups, including the speakers of the Scythian languages, such as Massagetae, Sarmatians, Saka and Scythians, and the Cimmerians.

The peoples of the Forest steppe were also part of the Scythian cultures. The origins of those peoples are obscure. There might have been early Slavs, Balts and Finno-Ugric peoples among them. The settled population in Scythian cultural areas also included Thracians.

No writing system that dates to the period has ever been attested, so majority of written information available today about the region and its inhabitants at the time stems from proto-historical writings of ancient civilizations which had connections to the region, primarily those of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and Ancient Persia.

The most detailed western description is by Herodotus. He may not have travelled in Scythia and there is scholarly debate as to the accuracy of his knowledge, but modern archaeological finds have confirmed some of his ancient claims and he remains one of the most useful writers on ancient Scythia. According to him the Scythians’ own name for themselves was “Scoloti”.

The dominant ethnic groups among the Scythian-speakers were nomadic pastoralists of Central Asia and the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Some sources document that the Scythians were energetic but peaceful people. Not much is known about them.

The Scythians, the Greeks’ name for this initially nomadic people, inhabited Scythia from at least the 11th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Fragments of their speech known from inscriptions and words quoted in ancient authors as well as analysis of their names indicate that it was an Indo-European language, more specifically from the Iranian group of Indo-Iranian languages.

The Scythian languages are seen a group of Eastern Iranian languages of the classical and late antique period (the Middle Iranian period). With Greek presence in Central Asia, some of the easternmost of these languages were recorded in their Middle Iranian stage (hence the “Eastern” classification), while almost no records of the Scytho-Sarmatian continuum stretching from Kazakhstan west across the Pontic steppe to Ukraine have survived.

Some scholars detect a division of Scythian into two dialects: a western, more conservative dialect, consisting of Alanian languages or Scytho-Sarmatian, and an eastern, more innovative one, consisting of Saka languages or Scytho-Khotanese.  Other East Iranian languages related to the Scythian are Chorasmian and Sogdian.

Alanian languages or Scytho-Sarmatian were spoken by people originally of Iranian stock in the area of Ukraine, Southern Russia and Kazakhstan from the 8th and 7th century BC onwards, while Saka languages or Scytho-Khotanese were spoken in the first century in the Kingdom of Khotan (located in present-day Xinjiang, China), and including the Khotanese of Khotan and Tumshuqese of Tumshuq.

The Scythians migrated from Central Asia toward Eastern Europe in the 8th and 7th century BC, occupying today’s Southern Russia and Ukraine and the Carpathian Basin and parts of Moldova and Dobruja. In the 7th century BC, the Scythians controlled large swaths of territory throughout Eurasia, from the Black Sea across Siberia to the borders of China. Its location and extent varied over time.

The large Eastern Iranian continuum in Eastern Europe would continue up to including the 4th century AD, with the successors of the Scythians, namely the Sarmatians, a large Iranian confederation that existed in classical antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD.

Originating in the central parts of the Eurasian Steppe, the Sarmatians were part of the wider Scythian cultures. They started migrating westward around the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, coming to dominate the closely related Scythians by 200 BC.

At their greatest reported extent, around 1st century AD, these tribes ranged from the Vistula River to the mouth of the Danube and eastward to the Volga, bordering the shores of the Black and Caspian seas as well as the Caucasus to the south.

Their territory, which was known as Sarmatia to Greco-Roman ethnographers, corresponded to the western part of greater Scythia (it included today’s Central Ukraine, South-Eastern Ukraine, Southern Russia, Russian Volga and South-Ural regions, also to a smaller extent north-eastern Balkans and around Moldova).

In the 1st century AD, the Sarmatians began encroaching upon the Roman Empire in alliance with Germanic tribes. In the 3rd century AD, their dominance of the Pontic Steppe was broken by the Germanic Goths. With the Hunnic invasions of the 4th century, many Sarmatians joined the Goths and other Germanic tribes (Vandals) in the settlement of the Western Roman Empire.

Since large parts of today’s Russia, specifically the land between the Ural Mountains and the Don River, were controlled in the 5th century BC by the Sarmatians, the Volga–Don and Ural steppes sometimes are also called “Sarmatian Motherland”. They were eventually decisively assimilated (e.g. Slavicisation) and absorbed by the Proto-Slavic population of Eastern Europe.

The large Eastern Iranian continuum in Eastern Europe would continue up to including the 4th century AD, with the successors of the Scythians, namely the Sarmatians. The Scythians disappeared from history after the Hunnish invasion of Europe in the 5th century AD, and Turkic (Avar, Batsange, etc.) and Slavic peoples probably assimilated most people speaking Scythian. Some authors find that the Eastern Iranian people had an influence on Russian folk culture.

In Eastern Europe, mostly comprising the territory of modern-day Ukraine, southern European Russia, and parts of the Balkans, the core region of the native Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans had been decisively taken over as a result of absorption and assimilation (e.g. Slavicisation) by the various Proto-Slavic population of the region, by the 6th century AD.

The neighboring Indo-Aryan languages have exerted a pervasive external influence on the closest neighbouring Eastern Iranian, as it is evident in the development in the retroflex consonants (in Pashto, Wakhi, Sanglechi, Khotanese, etc.) and aspirates (in Khotanese, Parachi and Ormuri).

A more localized sound change is the backing of the former retroflex fricative ṣ̌ [ʂ], to x̌ [x] or to x [χ], found in the Shughni–Yazgulyam branch and certain dialects of Pashto. E.g. “meat”: ɡuṣ̌t in Wakhi and γwaṣ̌a in Southern Pashto, but changes to guxt in Shughni, γwax̌a in Central Pashto and γwaxa in Northern Pashto.


Over time the geographical regions in which Iranian languages were spoken were pushed back by newly neighbouring languages. Turkic languages spread through much of Central Asia, displacing various Iranian languages such as Sogdian and Bactrian in parts of what is today Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The origins of the Turkic peoples has been a topic of much discussion. Recent linguistic, genetic and archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest Turkic peoples descended from agricultural communities in Northeast China who moved westwards into Mongolia in the late 3rd millennium BC, where they adopted a pastoral lifestyle.

By the early 1st millennium BC, these peoples had become equestrian nomads. In subsequent centuries, the steppe populations of Central Asia appear to have been progressively Turkified by a heterogenous East Asian dominant minority moving out of Mongolia. Many vastly differing ethnic groups have throughout history become part of the Turkic peoples through language shift, acculturation, intermixing, adoption and religious conversion.

Nevertheless, certain Turkic peoples share, to varying degrees, non-linguistic characteristics like cultural traits, ancestry from a common gene pool, and historical experiences. The most notable modern Turkic-speaking ethnic groups include Turkish people, Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Turkmens, Kyrgyz and Uyghur people. At present, there are six independent Turkic countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The Turkic Khaganate (Old Turkic: Ïdï Oqsuz Kök Türük, lit. ‘United Celestial Turks’) or Göktürk Khaganate was a khaganate established by the Ashina clan of the Göktürks in medieval Inner Asia. The First Turkic Khaganate succeeded Rouran Khaganate as the hegemonic power of the Mongolian Plateau and rapidly expanded their territories in Central Asia. Initially the Khaganate would use Sogdian in official and numismatic functions.

The Ashina, also known as Asen, Asena, or Açina, were a tribe and the ruling dynasty of the ancient Turkic peoples. It rose to prominence in the mid-6th century when the leader, Bumin Qaghan, revolted against the Rouran Khaganate. The two main branches of the family, one descended from Bumin and the other from his brother Istämi, ruled over the eastern and western parts of the Göktürk confederation, respectively.

It has been posited that the term Ashina is from the Iranian Saka, a group of nomadic Iranian peoples who historically inhabited the northern and eastern Eurasian Steppe and the Tarim Basin, or possibly from the Indo-Aryan Wusun, an Indo-European semi-nomadic steppe people mentioned in Chinese records from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD.

Though closely related, the Sakas are to be distinguished from the Scythians of the Pontic Steppe and the Massagetae of the Aral Sea region, although they form part of the wider Scythian cultures. Like the Scythians, the Sakas were ultimately derived from the earlier Andronovo culture. Their language formed part of the Scythian languages. Prominent archaeological remains of the Sakas include Arzhan, Tunnug, the Pazyryk burials, the Issyk kurgan, Saka Kurgan tombs, the Barrows of Tasmola and possibly Tillya Tepe.

In the 2nd century BC, many Sakas were driven by the Yuezhi from the steppe into Sogdia and Bactria and then to the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, where they were known as the Indo-Scythians, also called Indo-Sakas, a group of nomadic Iranian peoples of Saka and Scythian origin who migrated southward into western and northern South Asia from the middle of the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD.

The first Saka king in South Asia was Maues/Moga (1st century BC) who established Saka power in Gandhara, and Indus Valley. The Indo-Scythians extended their supremacy over north-western India, conquering the Indo-Greeks and other local kingdoms. The Indo-Scythians were apparently subjugated by the Kushan Empire, by either Kujula Kadphises or Kanishka.

Yet the Saka continued to govern as satrapies, forming the Northern Satraps and Western Satraps. The power of the Saka rulers started to decline in the 2nd century CE after the Indo-Scythians were defeated by the Satavahana emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni. Indo-Scythian rule in the northwestern Indian subcontinent ceased when the last Western Satrap Rudrasimha III was defeated by the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II in 395 CE.

The invasion of northern regions of the Indian subcontinent by Scythian tribes from Central Asia, often referred to as the Indo-Scythian invasion, played a significant part in the history of the Indian subcontinent as well as nearby countries.

In fact, the Indo-Scythian war is just one chapter in the events triggered by the nomadic flight of Central Asians from conflict with tribes such as the Xiongnu in the 2nd century AD, which had lasting effects on Bactria, Kabul, and the Indian subcontinent as well as far-off Rome in the west, and more nearby to the west in Parthia.

Other Sakas invaded the Parthian Empire, eventually settling in Sistan, while others may have migrated to the Dian Kingdom in Yunnan, China. In the Tarim Basin and Taklamakan Desert region of Northwest China, they settled in Khotan, Yarkand, Kashgar and other places, which were at various times vassals to greater powers, such as Han China and Tang China.

The Wusun originally lived between the Qilian Mountains and Dunhuang (Gansu) near the Yuezhi, an ancient people first described in Chinese histories as nomadic pastoralists living in an arid grassland area in the western part of the modern Chinese province of Gansu, during the 1st millennium BC.

Around 176 BC the Yuezhi were raided by the Xiongnu, who subsequently attacked the Wusun, killing their king and seizing their land. The Xiongnu adopted the surviving Wusun prince and made him one of their generals and leader of the Wusun.

Around 162 BC the Yuezhi were driven into the Ili River valley in Zhetysu, Dzungaria and Tian Shan, which had formerly been inhabited by the Saka (Scythians). The Wusun then resettled in Gansu as vassals of the Xiongnu. In 133–132 BC, the Wusun drove the Yuezhi out of the Ili Valley and settled the area.

The Wusun then became close allies of the Han dynasty and remained a powerful force in the region for several centuries. The Wusun are last mentioned by the Chinese as having settled in the Pamir Mountains in the 5th century AD due to pressure from the Rouran. They possibly became subsumed into the later Hephthalites.

After a major defeat by the Xiongnu in 176 BC, the Yuezhi split into two groups migrating in different directions: the Greater Yuezhi and Lesser Yuezhi. The Greater Yuezhi initially migrated northwest into the Ili Valley (on the modern borders of China and Kazakhstan), where they reportedly displaced elements of the Sakas.

They were driven from the Ili Valley by the Wusun and migrated southward to Sogdia and later settled in Bactria. The Greater Yuezhi have consequently often been identified with peoples mentioned in classical European sources as having overrun the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, like the Tókharioi and Asii.

During the 1st century BC, one of the five major Greater Yuezhi tribes in Bactria, the Kushanas, began to subsume the other tribes and neighbouring peoples. The subsequent Kushan Empire, at its peak in the 3rd century AD, stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin in the north to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain of India in the south. The Kushanas played an important role in the development of trade on the Silk Road and the introduction of Buddhism to China.

The Lesser Yuezhi migrated southward to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Some are reported to have settled among the Qiang people in Qinghai, and to have been involved in the Liangzhou Rebellion (184–221 AD). Others are said to have founded the city state of Cumuḍa (now known as Kumul and Hami) in the eastern Tarim.

A fourth group of Lesser Yuezhi may have become part of the Jie people of Shanxi, who established the Later Zhao state of the 4th century AD (although this remains controversial). Many scholars believe that the Yuezhi were an Indo-European people. Although some scholars have associated them with artifacts of extinct cultures in the Tarim Basin, such as the Tarim mummies and texts recording the Tocharian languages, the evidence for any such link is purely circumstantial.

Although the Göktürks spoke Old Turkic, the Khaganate’s early official texts and coins were written in Sogdian. It was the first Turkic state to use the name Türk politically. Old Turkic script was invented at the first half of the 6th century. It was the first Central Asian transcontinental empire from Manchuria to the Black Sea.

It collapsed in 603, after a series of conflicts and civil wars which separated the polity into the Eastern Turkic Khaganate and Western Turkic Khaganate. The Tang Empire conquered the Eastern Turkic Khaganate in 630 and the Western Turkic Khaganate in 657 in a series of military campaigns. The Second Turkic Khaganate emerged in 682 and lasted until 744 when it was overthrown by the Uyghur Khaganate.

The Tang dynasty or Tang Empire was an imperial dynasty ruling China from 618 to 907, with an interregnum between 690 and 705. It was preceded by the Sui dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Historians generally regard the Tang as a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Tang territory, acquired through the military campaigns of its early rulers, rivaled that of the Han dynasty.

New Persian

The Muslim conquest of Persia, also known as the Arab invasion of Iran, led to the fall of the Sasanian Empire of Iran (Persia) in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion. The internal political situation quickly deteriorated after the execution of King Khosrow II in 628 AD. Following the Sasanian civil war of 628-632, the empire was no longer centralized.

By 651, most of the urban centers in Iranian lands, with the notable exception of the Caspian provinces (Tabaristan) and Transoxiana, had come under the domination of the Arab armies. Many localities fought against the invaders; ultimately, none were successful. Eventually, military reinforcements quashed the insurgency and imposed Islamic control.

During the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661), ruled by the first four successive caliphs (successors) of Muhammad after his death in 632 CE (AH 11), the official language of Persia (including Mesopotamia) remained Middle Persian (Pahlavi), just as the official languages of Syria and Egypt remained Greek and Coptic.

However, during the Ummayad Caliphate (661-750), Arabic was imposed as the primary language of their subjected people throughout their empire, displacing their indigenous languages. Particularly, Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf (661-714) officially changed the administrative language of Iraq from Middle Persian (Pahlavi) to Arabic.

In spite of Arabic-based dialects being spoken in an area from Iraq to Morocco to this day, Middle Persian proved to be much more enduring, although, Persian incorporated a certain amount of Arabic vocabulary, especially words pertaining to religion.

There was however important changes in the role of the different dialects within the Persian Empire as a new standard dialect called New Persian replaced the old prestige form of Middle Iranian, also known as Pahlavi, as the official language of the court. Persian however kept most of its structure and vocabulary.  

Dari is a name given to the New Persian language since the 10th century, widely used in Arabic (compare Al-Estakhri, Al-Muqaddasi, and Ibn Hawqal) and Persian texts. By way of Early New Persian, Dari, like Persian and Tajik, is a continuation of Middle Persian.

Dari may have been heavily influenced by regional dialects of eastern Iran, whereas the earlier Pahlavi standard was based more on western dialects. Persian and Dari are mutually intelligible, with differences found primarily in the vocabulary and phonology.

For some time after the Sasanian collapse, Middle Persian continued to function as a prestige language. New Persian however is taken to replace Middle Persian in the course of the 8th to 9th centuries, under Abbasid rule.

Today there are three standard varieties of modern Persian: Iranian Persian (Persian, Western Persian, or Farsi) is spoken in Iran and by minorities in Iraq and the Persian Gulf states, while Eastern Persian (Dari Persian, Afghan Persian, or Dari) is spoken in Afghanistan and Tajiki (Tajik Persian) is spoken in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is written in the Cyrillic script.

All these three varieties are based on the classic Persian literature and its literary tradition. There are also several local dialects from Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan which slightly differ from the standard Persian. Persian-speaking peoples of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan can understand one another with a relatively high degree of mutual intelligibility.

The mastery of the newer speech having been transformed from Middle into New Persian was already complete by the era of the three princely dynasties of Iranian origin: The Tahirid dynasty (821-873), the Saffarid dynasty (861-1003) and the Samanid Empire (819-999).

Abbas of Merv is mentioned as being the earliest minstrel to chant verse in the New Persian tongue and after him the poems of Hanzala Badghisi were among the most famous between the New Persian-speakers of the time. The first significant New Persian poet was Rudaki. He flourished in the 10th century, when the Samanids were at the height of their power.

The Samanid Empire was a Sunni Iranian empire centred in Khorasan and Transoxiana; at its greatest extent encompassing modern-day Afghanistan, large parts of Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, parts of Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

Four brothers Nuh, Ahmad, Yahya, and Ilyas founded the Samanid state. Each of them ruled territory under Abbasid suzerainty. In 892, Ismail Samani (892–907) united the Samanid state under one ruler, thus effectively putting an end to the feudal system used by the Samanids. It was also under him that the Samanids became independent of Abbasid authority.

The Samanid Empire is part of the Iranian Intermezzo, which saw the creation of a Persianate culture and identity that brought Iranian speech and traditions into the fold of the Islamic world, which later lead to the formation of the Turko-Persian culture.

The Samanids promoted the arts, giving rise to the advancement of science and literature, and thus attracted scholars such as Rudaki, Ferdowsi, and Avicenna. While under Samanid control, Bukhara was a rival to Baghdad in its glory.

Scholars note that the Samanids revived Persian language and culture more than the Buyids and the Saffarids while continuing to patronize Arabic for sciences as well as the religious studies. They considered themselves to be descendants of the Sasanian Empire.

The Saffarid dynasty, a Sunni Persian dynasty from Sistan that ruled over parts of Greater Iran, with its capital at Zaranj (a city now in southwestern Afghanistan), was in particular the first in a line of many dynasties to officially adopt the new language in 875 CE.

One of the first indigenous Persian dynasties to emerge after the Islamic conquest, the Saffarid dynasty was part of the Iranian Intermezzo or Persian renaissance, which represents a period in history which saw the rise of various native Persian Muslim dynasties in the Iranian plateau after the Arab invasion of Iran in the 7th century and the fall of Sasanian Empire.

Dari has been the official name in Afghanistan for the Persian spoken there since 1964. Because of a preponderance of Dari native speakers, who normally refer to the language as Farsi (“Persian”), it is also known as Afghan Persian in some Western sources.

In Afghanistan, Dari refers to a modern dialect form of Persian that is the standard language used in administration, government, radio, television, and print media. It refers to all the varieties of the Persian language spoken in Afghanistan.

Dari is the term officially recognized and promoted since 1964 by the Afghan government for the Persian language, hence, it is also known as Afghan Persian in many Western sources. This has resulted in a naming dispute.

As defined in the Constitution of Afghanistan, it is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan; the other is Pashto. Dari is the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan and the native language of approximately 25–50% of the population. However Dari Persian serves as the lingua franca of the country and is understood by up to 80% of the population.

There are different opinions about the origin of the word Dari. The majority of scholars believe that Dari refers to the Persian word dar or darbār, meaning “court”, which refers to the royal court, where many of the poets, protagonists, and patrons of the literature flourished, as it was the formal language of the Sassanids.

This new prestige dialect became the basis of Standard New Persian, which as an independent literary language first emerged in Bactria through the adaptation of the spoken form of Sassanian Middle Persian court language called Pārsi-ye Dari.

The original meaning of the word dari is given in a notice attributed to Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (cited by Ibn al-Nadim in Al-Fehrest). According to him, Pārsī was the language spoken by priests, scholars, and the like; it is the language of Pars. This language refers to the Middle Persian.

As for Dari, he says, it is the language of the cities of Madā’en; it is spoken by those who are at the king’s court. Its name is connected with presence at court. Among the languages of the people of Khorasan and the east, the language of the people of Balkh is predominant.

Medieval Iranian scholars such as Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa (8th century) and Ibn al-Nadim (10th century) associated the term Dari with the eastern province of Khorasan, while they used the term Pahlavi to describe the dialects of the northwestern areas between Isfahan and Azerbaijan, and Pârsi (Persian proper) to describe the Dialects of Fars.

The cradle of the Persian literary renaissance lay in the east of Greater Iran in Greater Khorasan and Transoxiana close to the Amu Darya (modern day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). The vocabulary of the Dari was thus heavily influenced by other Eastern Iranian languages, particularly Sogdian.

Middle Persian / Dari spread around the Oxus River region, Afghanistan, and Khorasan after the Arab conquests and during Islamic-Arab rule. Due to the fact that the Arab-Islamic army which invaded Central Asia also included some Persians, who later governed the region like the Samanids, Persian was rooted into Central Asia. This resulted in the displacement and extinction of the once predominant Scythian languages of the region.

The role of lingua franca that Sogdian originally played was succeeded by Dari after the arrival of Islam. Dari language replaced the Central Asian languages of the Eastern Iranians, which led to the extinction of Eastern Iranic languages like Bactrian and Khorezmian, with only a tiny amount of Sogdian descended Yaghnobi speakers remaining among the now Persian speaking Tajik population of Central Asia.

Sogdian’s close relative Yaghnobi barely survives in a small area of the Zarafshan valley east of Samarkand, and Saka as Ossetic in the Caucasus, which is the sole remnant of the once predominant Scythian languages in Eastern Europe proper and large parts of the North Caucasus.

Ferghana, Samarkand, and Bukhara were starting to be linguistically Darified in originally Khorezmian and Soghdian areas during the Samanid Empire. The language spread geographically from the 11th century on and was the medium through which among others, Central Asian Turks became familiar with Islam and urban culture. In the late Middle Ages, new Islamic literary languages were created on the Persian model: Ottoman Turkish, Chagatai, Dobhashi and Urdu are regarded as daughter languages of Persian.

Dari has at the same time contributed to the majority of Persian borrowings in other Asian languages, such as Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, etc., as it was the administrative, official, cultural language of the Persianate Mughal Empire and served as the lingua franca throughout the South Asian subcontinent for centuries.

Often based in Afghanistan, Turkic Central Asian conquerors brought the language into South Asia. The basis in general for the introduction of Persian language into the subcontinent was set, from its earliest days, by various Persianized Central Asian Turkic and Afghan dynasties. The sizable Persian component of the Anglo-Indian loan words in English and in Urdu therefore reflects the Dari pronunciation.

New Persian was a major language of government and diplomacy until the middle of the 1700s. Subsequently the strength of Persia declined relative to the industrializing states of Europe (many of whom pursued imperialist policies in the regions where Persian was spoken).

New Persian was widely used as a trans-regional lingua franca, a task for which it was particularly suitable due to its relatively simple morphological structure and this situation persisted until at least the 19th century.

Iranian Intermezzo

The term Iranian Intermezzo or Persian renaissance represents a period in history which saw the rise of various native Persian Muslim dynasties in the Iranian plateau after the Arab invasion of Iran in the 7th century and the fall of Sasanian Empire. The Iranian revival consisted of a revived Iranian national spirit and culture in an Islamic form on Iranian territory.

The Iranian Intermezzo was an interlude between the decline of Abbasid Caliphate, the third caliphate to succeed the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and power and the “Sunni Revival” with the emergence of the Seljuq Turks in the 11th century. Despite Arabization of public affairs, the peoples retained much of their pre-Islamic outlook and way of life, adjusted to fit the demands of the Islamic religion.

After the Muslim conquest of Persia, Middle Persian, the language of Sassanids, continued in wide use well into the second Islamic century (eighth century) as a medium of administration in the eastern lands of the Caliphate. Middle Persian was a lingua franca of the region before the Arab invasion, but afterwards Arabic became a preferred medium of literary expression.

Instrumental in the spread of the Persian language as a common language along the Silk Road between China and Parthia from c. 200 BC, that lasted well into 1600, were many Bukharian Jews who flocked to Bukhara in the Central Asia and as a merchant class played a great role in the operation of the Silk Road.

Turco-Persian tradition

The composite Turco-Persian tradition refers to a distinctive culture that arose in the 9th and 10th centuries in Khorasan and Transoxiana (present-day Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, minor parts of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan).

The Perso-Islamic tradition was a tradition where the Turkic groups played an important role in its military and political success while the culture raised both by and under the influence of Muslims used Persian as its cultural vehicle. In short, the Turco-Persian tradition features Persian culture patronized by Turcophone rulers.

In subsequent centuries, the Turco-Persian culture would be carried on further by the conquering peoples to neighbouring regions, eventually becoming the predominant culture of the ruling and elite classes of South Asia (Indian Subcontinent), Central Asia and Tarim basin (Northwest China) and large parts of West Asia (Middle East).

The tradition was Persianate in that it was centered on a lettered tradition of Iranian origin and it was Turkic insofar as it was founded by and for many generations patronized by rulers of Turkic heredity. Turkic peoples and related groups migrated west from Northeastern China, present-day Mongolia, Siberia and the Turkestan-region towards the Iranian plateau, South Asia, and Anatolia (modern Turkey) in many waves.


The Umayyad dynasty (Arabic: al-ʾUmawīyūn, Banū ʾUmayyah, “Sons of Umayyah”; 661-750) was the second of the four major caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. The third caliph of Rashidun Caliphate, Uthman ibn Affan (r. 644–656), was also a member of the Umayyad clan.

The family established dynastic, hereditary rule with Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, long-time governor of al-Sham (Greater Syria), who became the sixth caliph after the end of the First Muslim Civil War in 661.

After Mu’awiyah’s death in 680, conflicts over the succession resulted in a Second Civil War and power eventually fell into the hands of Marwan I from another branch of the clan. The region of Syria remained the Umayyads’ main power base thereafter, and Damascus was their capital.

The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) into the Muslim world. At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate covered 11,100,000 km2 (4,300,000 sq mi), making it one of the largest empires in history in terms of area.

The Umayyad Caliphate ruled over a vast multiethnic and multicultural population. Christians, who still constituted a majority of the caliphate’s population, and Jews were allowed to practice their own religion but had to pay a head tax (the jizya) from which Muslims were exempt. There was, however, the Muslim-only zakat tax, which was earmarked explicitly for various welfare programmes.

Prominent positions were held by Christians, some of whom belonged to families that had served in Byzantine governments. The employment of Christians was part of a broader policy of religious accommodation that was necessitated by the presence of large Christian populations in the conquered provinces, as in Syria.

This policy also boosted Muawiya’s popularity and solidified Syria as his power base. The Umayyad era is often considered the formative period in Islamic art. At first, even though Arabic got the official language and Islam the principal religion of the diverse lands unified under Umayyad rule, artists went on to work in their established manner.

Towards the end of the first Islamic century, the population began resenting the cost of sustaining the Arab Caliphs, the Umayyad Caliphate, who had become oppressive and corrupt. The dynasty was eventually overthrown by a generally Persian-led uprising, led by the Iranian national hero Abu Muslim Khorasani, in the second Islamic century (eighth century AD), and another Arab clan, the Abbasids, was brought to the Caliphal throne in 750.

Survivors of the dynasty established themselves in Cordoba which, in the form of an emirate and then a caliphate, became a world centre of science, medicine, philosophy and invention, ushering in the period of the Golden Age of Islam.


The Abbasid Caliphate was founded by a dynasty descended from Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib (566–653), from whom the dynasty takes its name.They ruled as caliphs for most of the caliphate from their capital in Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, after having overthrown the Umayyad Caliphate in the Abbasid Revolution of 750.

The Abbasid Caliphate first centered its government in Kufa, modern-day Iraq, but in 762 the caliph Al-Mansur founded the city of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, near the ancient Sasanian capital city of Ctesiphon. They ruled as caliphs for most of the caliphate from their capital in Baghdad.

The Abbasid period was marked by reliance on Persian bureaucrats (notably the Barmakid family) for governing the territories as well as an increasing inclusion of non-Arab Muslims in the ummah (national community).

Persian customs were broadly adopted by the ruling elite, and they began patronage of artists and scholars. Baghdad became a center of science, culture, philosophy and invention in what became known as the Golden Age of Islam.

Despite this initial cooperation, the Abbasids of the late 8th century had alienated both non-Arab mawali (clients) and Iranian bureaucrats. Although Abbasid leadership over the vast Islamic empire was gradually reduced to a ceremonial religious function in much of the Caliphate, the dynasty retained control over its Mesopotamian domain.

They were forced to cede authority over al-Andalus (Spain) to the Umayyads in 756, Morocco to the Idrisids in 788, Ifriqiya and Southern Italy to the Aghlabids in 800, Khorasan and Transoxiana to the Samanids and Persia to the Saffarids in the 870s, and Egypt to the Isma’ili-Shia caliphate of the Fatimids in 969.

As the Abbasids soon started losing their control, Abbasid Caliph al-Mutasim (833-842) greatly increased the presence of Turkic mercenaries and Mamluk slaves in the Caliphate, and they eventually displaced Arabs and Persians from the military, and therefore from the political hegemony, starting an era of Turco-Persian symbiosis.

The governors in Khurasan, Tahirids, were factually independent; then the Saffarids from Sistan freed the eastern lands, but were replaced by independent Samanids, although they showed perfunctory deference to the Caliph.

Separation of the eastern lands from Caliphate was expressed in a distinctive Persianate culture that became a dominant culture in West, Central and South Asia, and the source of innovations elsewhere in the Islamic world. This culture would persist, at least in the modified form of the Ottoman Empire, into the twentieth century.

In the ninth century a new Persian language emerged as the idiom of administration and literature. Tahirids and Saffarids continued using Persian as an informal language, although for them Arabic was the “only proper language for recording anything worthwhile, from poetry to science”, but the Samanids made Persian a language of learning and formal discourse.

The language that appeared in the ninth and tenth centuries was a new form of Persian, based on the Middle Persian of pre-Islamic times, but enriched by ample Arabic vocabulary and written in Arabic script. The Samanids began recording their court affairs in Arabic and in this language, and they used it as the main public idiom.

The earliest great poetry in New Persian was written for the Samanid court. Samanids encouraged translation of religious works from Arabic into Persian. Even the learned authorities of Islam, the ulama, began using the Persian lingua franca in public, although they still used Arabic as a medium of scholarship.

The crowning literary achievement in the early New Persian language, the Book of Kings of Ferdowsi, presented to the court of Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030), was more than a literary achievement; it was a kind of Iranian nationalistic memoir, Ferdowsi galvanized Persian nationalistic sentiments by invoking pre-Islamic Persian heroic imagery. Ferdowsi enshrined in literary form the most treasured stories of popular folk-memory.

The Abbasids’ period of cultural fruition and its (reduced) territorial control ended in 1258 with the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan (lit. ‘Surplus’; c. 1215- 1265), a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Western Asia, and the execution of Al-Musta’sim.  

The Abbasid line of rulers, and Muslim culture in general, re-centred themselves in the Mamluk capital of Cairo in 1261. Although Abbasid leadership over the vast Islamic empire was gradually reduced to a ceremonial religious function in much of the Caliphate, the dynasty retained control over its Mesopotamian domain. Though lacking in political power, the Abbasid dynasty continued to claim religious authority until after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517.

Son of Tolui and the Keraite princess Sorghaghtani Beki, Hulagu was a grandson of Genghis Khan and brother of Ariq Böke, Möngke Khan, and Kublai Khan. Hulagu’s army greatly expanded the southwestern portion of the Mongol Empire, founding the Ilkhanate of Persia, a precursor to the eventual Safavid dynasty, and then the modern state of Iran.

Under Hulagu’s leadership, the siege of Baghdad (1258) destroyed Baghdad’s standing in the Islamic Golden Age and weakened Damascus, causing a shift of Islamic influence to the Mamluk Sultanate in Cairo and ended the Abbasid Dynasty.

The Abbasid line of rulers, and Muslim culture in general, re-centred themselves in the Mamluk capital of Cairo in 1261. Though lacking in political power (with the brief exception of Caliph Al-Musta’in of Cairo), the dynasty continued to claim religious authority until after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517.


Under the Abbasids, the Persianate customs of their Barmakid viziers became the style of the ruling elite. The Barmakids, also spelled Barmecides, were an influential Iranian family from Balkh where they were originally hereditary Buddhist leaders (in the Nawbahar monastery), and subsequently came to great political power under the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad.

Khalid, the son of Barmak became the chief minister (wazir) of Al Saffah, the first Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. His son Yahya aided Harun Al-Rashid in capturing the throne and rose to power as the most powerful man in the Caliphate.

The Barmakids were remarkable for their majesty, splendor and hospitality. They are mentioned in some stories of the One Thousand and One Nights. The family is traceable back to the hereditary Buddhist administrators of the Buddhist monastery of Nava Vihāra (Nawbahar) west of Balkh (Northern Afghanistan).

Historians of Islam have sometimes considered the Barmakids to have been Zoroastrian priests before converting to Islam, an erroneous view based on the fact that Balkh was known as an important centre of Zoroastrianism, or from a simple failure of early Islamic sources to distinguish Zoroastrians from Buddhists.

In fact, the Barmakids descended from the chiefs, or administrators of the Buddhist monastery called Navavihāra or “New Monastery”, that was described by the Chinese Buddhist diarist Xuanzang in the seventh century which may have led to the Persian and Arabic error of thinking that the term “Nowbahār” was the name of a Zoroastrian fire temple headed by the Barmakids as reported in Islamic sources.

The Pramukhas converted during the Arab invasion of the Sasanian Empire. Harold Bailey proposed that the name of the Barmakids May derive from the Sanskrit word Pramukha, meaning “leader,” although the theory is subject of debate.

The Barmakids were highly educated, respected and influential throughout Arabia, Persia, Central Asia and the Levant. In Baghdad, the Barmakid court became a centre of patronage for the Ulema, poets, scholars alike.

The first member of the family whose identity is known in historical records was a physician of Balkh. He is reputed for a pill named after him and also recommended by Avicenna in addition to a scent which was widely used by prostitutes.

According to al-Masudi, the name Barmak was not a name but a title of the high priest of the fire temple of the city, though recent research makes it certain that it was a Buddhist title changed to look more Iranian. His wife was enslaved during the battle for Balkh in 705 and given to the Arab general’s brother ‘Abd-Ullah.

Their sexual relation produced a son known as Khalid, whom ‘Abd-Ullah later acknowledged as his natural son. She was later restored to her husband after peace was reached. Barmak had also been summoned to cure Caliph Abd al-Malik’s son Maslama in 705.

Abu Hafs ‘Umar al-Kirmani’s account narrates that the Barmak was brought among a party of shakirriya (thought to be slaves or retainers) and honored by the Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik who increased his status and was impressed by him. He then became a Muslim and enjoyed a high status.

Clifford Edmund Bosworth states that it isn’t known when or where the Barmak died, nor is his conversion certain, despite al-Kirmani’s account. al-Kirmani states that he may have retained his faith as his son Khalid’s beliefs were suspect, according to Ibn ‘Asakir.

Ibn al-Faqih records that his father had to abandon Islam after converting due to pressure from local magnates as well as people of Tukharistan and was even attacked by Tarkhan Nizak, being killed along with his ten sons.

Khalid was born a Buddhist and later converted to Islam, taking various ministerial jobs within the Abbasid Caliphate. The Buddhist ancestry of Baramkids seems to have stimulated interest in Indian sciences in the eighth century.

The Barmakid family was an early supporter of the Abbasid revolt against the Umayyads and of As-Saffah. This gave Khalid bin Barmak considerable influence, and his son Yaḥyá ibn Khālid (d. 806) was the vizier of the caliph al-Mahdi (ruled 775–785) and tutor of Hārūn al-Rashid (ruled 786–809).

Yahya’s sons al-Fadl and Ja’far (767–803), both occupied high offices under Harun.[citation needed] Many Barmakids were patrons of the sciences, which greatly helped the propagation of Iranian science and scholarship into the Islamic world of Baghdad and beyond.

They patronized scholars such as Gebir and Jabril ibn Bukhtishu. They are also credited with the establishment of the first paper mill in Baghdad. The power of the Barmakids in those times is reflected in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights; the vizier Ja’far appears in several stories, as well as a tale that gave rise to the expression “Barmecide feast”.

In 803, the family lost favor in the eyes of Harun al-Rashīd, and many of its members were imprisoned. The fall of the Iranian Barmakids did not, however, affect the prominent position of the Persians in the Abbasid court, which continued until Abu al-Faḍl Jaʽfar ibn Muḥammad al-Muʽtaṣim billāh (822- 861), better known by his regnal name al-Mutawakkil ʽalà Allāh (“He who relies on God”), an Abbasid caliph who reigned in Samarra from 847 until 861.

Buyid dynasty

The political power of the caliphs was limited with the rise of the Buyid dynasty, or the Buyids, also known as Buwaihids, Bowayhids, Buyahids, or Buyyids, a Shia Iranian dynasty of Iranian Daylamite origin, and the Seljuq Turks, who captured Baghdad in 945 and 1055, respectively.

Coupled with the rise of other Iranian dynasties in the region, the approximate century of Buyid rule represents the period in Iranian history sometimes called the ‘Iranian Intermezzo’ since, after the Muslim conquest of Persia, it was an interlude between the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate and the Seljuk Empire.

The Buyid dynasty was founded by ‘Ali ibn Buya, who in 934 conquered Fars and made Shiraz his capital. His younger brother Hasan ibn Buya conquered parts of Jibal in the late 930s, and by 943 managed to capture Ray, which he made his capital. 

In 945, the youngest brother, Ahmad ibn Buya, conquered Iraq and made Baghdad his capital. He received the laqab or honorific title of Mu’izz al-Dawla (“Fortifier of the State”). The eldest, ‘Ali, was given the title of ‘Imad al-Dawla (“Support of the State”), and Hasan was given the title of Rukn al-Dawla (“Pillar of the State”).

As Daylamite Iranians, the Buyids consciously revived symbols and practices of Iran’s Sasanian Empire. Beginning with ‘Adud al-Dawla, they used the ancient Sasanian title Shahanshah, literally “king of kings”.

At its greatest extent, the Buyid dynasty encompassed territory of most of today’s Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria, along with parts of Oman, the UAE, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. During the 10th and 11th centuries, just prior to the invasion of the Seljuq Turks, the Buyids were the most powerful and influential dynasty in the Middle East.

Ghaznavid dynasty

The Ghaznavid dynasty was a Persianate Muslim dynasty of Turkic mamluk origin, at their greatest extent ruling large parts of Iran, Afghanistan, much of Transoxiana and the northwest Indian subcontinent (part of Pakistan) from 977 to 1186.

The dynasty was founded by Sabuktigin upon his succession to rule of the region of Ghazna after the death of his father-in-law, Alp Tigin, who was a breakaway ex-general of the Samanid Empire from Balkh, north of the Hindu Kush in Greater Khorasan.

Although the dynasty was of Central Asian Turkic origin, it was thoroughly Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits and hence is regarded by some as a “Persian dynasty”.

Sabuktigin’s son, Mahmud of Ghazni, declared independence from the Samanid Empire and expanded the Ghaznavid Empire to the Amu Darya, the Indus River and the Indian Ocean in the East and to Rey and Hamadan in the west.

Under the reign of Mas’ud I, the Ghaznavid dynasty began losing control over its western territories to the Seljuq dynasty after the Battle of Dandanaqan, resulting in a restriction of its holdings to modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan (Punjab and Balochistan). In 1151, Sultan Bahram Shah lost Ghazni to the Ghurid king Ala al-Din Husayn.

Before the Ghaznavids broke away, the Samanid rulership was internally falling to its Turkic servants. The Samanids had their own guard of Turkic Mamluk mercenaries (the ghilman), who were headed by a chamberlain, and a Persian and Arabic speaking bureaucracy, headed by a Persian vizier. The army was largely composed of mostly Turkic Mamluks.

By the latter part of the tenth century, Samanid rulers gave the command of their army to Turkic generals. These generals eventually had effective control over all Samanid affairs. The rise of Turks in Samanid times brought a loss of Samanid southern territories to one of their Mamluks, who were governing on their behalf. Mahmud of Ghazni ruled over southeastern extremities of Samanid territories from the city of Ghazni.

Turkic political ascendancy in the Samanid period in the tenth and eleventh centuries resulted in the fall of Samanid ruling institution to its Turkic generals; and in a rise of Turkic pastoralists in the countryside. The Ghaznavids (989-1149) founded empire which became a most powerful in the east since Abbasid Caliphs at their peak, and their capital at Ghazni became second only to Baghdad in cultural elegance.

It attracted many scholars and artists of the Islamic world. Turkic ascendance to power in the Samanid court brought Turks as the main patrons of Persianate culture, and as they subjugated Western and Southern Asia, they brought along this culture.

The Kara-Khanid Khanate (999-1140) at that time were gaining pre-eminence over the countryside. The Kara-Khanids were pastoralists of noble Turkic backgrounds, and they cherished their Turkic ways. As they gained strength they fostered development of a new Turkish literature alongside the Persian and Arabic literatures that had arisen earlier.

The Persianate culture was marked by the use of the new Persian language as a medium of administration and literature, by the rise of Persianized Turks to military control, by new political importance of non-Arab ulama, and by development of ethnically composite Islamic society.

The political power of the caliphs was limited with the rise of the Iranian Buyids and the Seljuq Turks, who captured Baghdad in 945 and 1055, respectively. The Seljuk Empire (lit. ‘House of Saljuq’) was founded by Tughril Beg (990-1063) and his brother Chaghri Beg (989-1060) in 1037. Seljuk gave his name to both the empire and the Seljuk dynasty.

Seljuk Empire

The Seljuk Empire (lit. ‘House of Saljuq’) or the Great Seljuq Empire was a high medieval Turko-Persian Sunni Muslim empire, originating from the Qiniq branch of Oghuz Turks. At its greatest extent, the Seljuk Empire controlled a vast area stretching from western Anatolia and the Levant to the Hindu Kush in the east, and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf in the south.

From their homelands near the Aral Sea, the Seljuks advanced first into Khorasan and then into mainland Persia, before eventually capturing Baghdad and conquering eastern Anatolia. Here the Seljuks won the battle of Manzikert in 1071 and conquered most of Anatolia from the Byzantine Empire, which became one of the reasons for the first crusade (1095-1099).

The Seljuk Empire was founded by Tughril Beg (1016–1063) and his brother Chaghri Beg (989–1060) in 1037. From their homelands near the Aral Sea, the Seljuks advanced first into Khorasan and then into mainland Persia, before eventually conquering eastern Anatolia.

Here the Seljuks won the battle of Manzikert, fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Empire on 26 August 1071 near Manzikert, theme of Iberia (modern Malazgirt in Muş Province, Turkey), and conquered most of Anatolia from the Byzantine Empire, which became one of the reasons for the first crusade (1095–1099).

The decisive defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes played an important role in undermining Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia, and allowed for the gradual Turkification of Anatolia.

Many of the Turks, who had been travelling westward during the 11th century, saw the victory at Manzikert as an entrance to Asia Minor. The settlement of Turkic tribes in the northwestern peripheral parts of the empire, for the strategic military purpose of fending off invasions from neighboring states, led to the progressive Turkicization of those areas.

The fallout from Manzikert was disastrous for the Byzantines, resulting in civil conflicts and an economic crisis that severely weakened the Byzantine Empire’s ability to adequately defend its borders. This led to the mass movement of Turks into central Anatolia—by 1080, an area of 78,000 square kilometres (30,000 sq mi) had been gained by the Seljuk Turks.

It took three decades of internal strife before Alexius I (1081 to 1118) restored stability to Byzantium. Historian Thomas Asbridge says: “In 1071, the Seljuqs crushed an imperial army at the Battle of Manzikert (in eastern Asia Minor), and though historians no longer consider this to have been an utterly cataclysmic reversal for the Greeks, it still was a stinging setback.”

The Seljuk empire declined from 1150-1250, and was invaded by the Mongols around 1260. The Mongols divided Anatolia into emirates. Eventually one of these, the Ottoman Empire, founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt (modern-day Bilecik Province) by the Turkoman tribal leader Osman I, would conquer the rest.

The Seljuks united the fractured political landscape of the eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades. Highly Persianized in culture and language, the Seljuks also played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition, even exporting Persian culture to Anatolia.

Starting from 1140s, the Seljuk Empire declined, and was eventually replaced by the Khwarazmian Empire, also known as the Anushtegin dynasty was a Persianate Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turkic mamluk origin, in 1194.

The Khwarazmian dynasty ruled large parts of present-day Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran in the approximate period of 1077 to 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuqs and the Qara-Khitan, and later as independent rulers, up until the Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia in the 13th century.

It’s estimated that the dynasty spanned over an area from 2.3 to 3.6 million square kilometers. The dynasty was founded by commander Anush Tigin Gharchai, a former Turkic slave of the Seljuq sultans, who was appointed as governor of Khwarezm. His son, Qutb ad-Din Muhammad I, became the first hereditary Shah of Khwarezm.

The Timurid Empire were a Turko-Mongol empire founded in the late 14th century by Timurlane, a descendant of Genghis Khan. Timur, although a self-proclaimed devout Muslim, brought great slaughter in his conquest of fellow Muslims in neighboring Islamic territory and contributed to the ultimate demise of many Muslim states, including the Golden Horde.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Turkish: Devlet-i ʿAlīye-i ʿOsmānīye, lit: The Sublime Ottoman State) was a state that controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. According to Ottoman tradition, the Ottoman dynasty, named after Osman I, ruled the Ottoman Empire from c. 1299 to 1922.

Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, the Ottoman Empire (lit. “The Sublime Ottoman State”) was Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

The dynasty originated from the Kayı tribe branch of the Oghuz Turks in northwestern Anatolia in the district of Bilecik Söğüt (modern-day Bilecik Province). During much of the Empire’s history, the sultan was the absolute regent, head of state, and head of government, though much of the power often shifted to other officials such as the Grand Vizier.

Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453.

In the early 20th century, the empire allied with Germany, and thus joined World War I on the side of the Central Powers. While the Empire was able to largely hold its own during the conflict, it was struggling with internal dissent, especially with the Arab Revolt in its Arabian holdings. During this time, genocide was committed by the Ottoman government against the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks.

The Empire’s defeat and the occupation of part of its territory by the Allied Powers in the aftermath of World War I resulted in its partitioning and the loss of its Middle Eastern territories, which were divided between the United Kingdom and France. The successful Turkish War of Independence led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk against the occupying Allies led to the emergence of the Republic of Turkey in the Anatolian heartland and the abolition of the Ottoman monarchy.

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