The Early Rulers of Persia, Part I: The Pishdadian Dynasty
It is arguable that the most famous empire based in Persia was that of the Achaemenids. This was one of the greatest empires in the ancient world, and is best known in the Western world for its wars with the Greeks during the 5th century BC and the Macedonians later. According to Persian epic tradition, there were other dynasties that preceded the Achaemenids. The archaeological record shows that prior to the rise of the Achaemenids, Persia was under the rule of the Elamites, and, later, in certain areas, under Assyrian and Median control. The Avesta (a collection of Zoroastrian sacred texts) and the Shahnameh (the national epic of Iran) however, state that this period saw native Persian rule in the form of the Pishdadian and Kayanian Dynasties.
Early Rule of Persia
The Pishdadian Dynasty is said to have produced the first kings who ruled over the land of Persia. Some of the Pishdadian kings are claimed to have even ruled for thousands of years. On the one hand, it has been suggested that given these impossibly long reigns, the historical veracity of these kings are somewhat dubious. On the other hand, it has been argued that such tales should just not be taken too literally. Instead, the reign of each king ought to be regarded as being “a sequential record of human development”, as “developments that correspond to archaeological / historical ages such as the Stone and Metal Ages” are said to have happened during their rule.
The first mortal, who was also the first Pishdadian king, for instance, is recorded to have been Kaiumers (spelled also as Kayomars and Keyumars). This name evolved from Gayomard, and Gaya Maretan (literally translated as ‘life mortal’) before it. Ferdowsi, in the Shahnameh, describes Kaiumers as such:
“He took up his abode in the mountains, and clad himself and his people in tiger-skins, and from him sprang all kindly nurture and the arts of clothing, till then unknown. Men and beasts from all parts of the earth came to do him homage and receive laws at his hands, and his glory was like to the sun.”
Scenes from the Shahnameh carved into reliefs at Ferdowsi's mausoleum in Tus, Iran (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Following Kaiumers death, he was succeeded by his grandson, Husheng. Incidentally, Kaiumers’ grandson Saiamuk was killed when he went to battle with the army of Ahriman (the Middle Persian equivalent of Angra Mainyu), who was an evil supernatural entity known as a deev. Legend says that Husheng was a wise king, and it was during his reign that governance according to the law was developed, fire-making was taught to mankind, and agriculture was introduced:
“justice did he spread over the land, and the world was better for his reign. For he first gave to men fire, and showed them how to draw it from out the stone; and he taught them how they might lead the rivers, that they should water the land and make it fertile; and he bade them till and reap. And he divided the beasts and paired them and gave them names”
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Painting of Husheng in the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. (Public Domain)
A Triumph Over Evil
Husheng was succeeded by his son, Tahumers, who in turn was succeeded by Jemshid. In the Shahnameh, Jemshid’s prosperous reign is said to have filled the king with pride, who then declared that he was God, and demanded that his image be worshipped. As a result of this blasphemous act, the favor of Ormuzd, known also as Ahura Mazda (the God of Zoroastrianism) was withdrawn from the king, and his nobles rose against him. Ahriman, who had been defeated by Husheng, returned, and as a result of his doings, placed an Arabian king by the name of Zohak on the throne of Persia.
Evil’s triumph was only temporary, as Ormuzd saw the wickedness of Zohak, and
Zohak had a dream which prophesized his defeat by Feridoun, and attempted to destroy the child. Zohak failed, in his attempt, however, and was eventually dethroned by Feridoun. As Feridoun was about to kill the king, he was commanded not to, as his hour had not come. As a result, he
“led forth Zohak to the Mount Demawend. And he bound him to the rock with mighty chains and nails driven into his hands, and left him to perish in agony. And the hot sun shone down upon the barren cliffs, and there was neither tree nor shrub to shelter him, and the chains entered into his flesh, and his tongue was consumed with thirst. Thus after a while the earth was delivered of Zohak the evil one, and Feridoun reigned in his stead.”
Freydun (Feridoun), painted by Haji Aqa Jan – early 19th century. (Public Domain)
During his reign, Feridoun decided to divide his empire amongst his three sons, Tur, Iraj and Salm. As Iraj received the best parts of the empire, i.e. Airan and Hind, Tur, the eldest son was consumed by jealousy. Having persuaded Salm, the two brothers plotted the murder of Iraj. The prince’s wife, however, was pregnant, and that child, who was to be named Manuchehr, would avenge his father’s murder by slaying his uncles.
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Three more kings followed Manuchehr before the Pishdadian Dynasty ended. The last of these was Garshasp, who died just before the invasion of Airan by the Turanian king, Afrasiab. Garshasp’s death marked the end of the Pishdadian Dynasty. This was not the end of Persia, however, as a new dynasty, the Kayanians, would rise to replace the Pishdadians.
Featured image: Iran, Gate of all nations. Photo source: (CC BY-SA 3.0)
By Wu Mingren
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