Image credit: gm_coates at Flickr
Suggested prior reading:
|Valley in the Zagros Mountains. Image credit: Parseha at Flickr|
For addition photographs of the Zagros region see Photographs below on this page.
The Zagros mountains are a 1,500km long chain of mountains that run from Lake Urmia to the Straits of Hormuz at the entrance of the Persian Gulf (see maps below). The highest peaks are Zard Kuh (4,548m) and Mt. Dena (4,359m).
The Chaine Magistrale is the most prominent ridge of the Zagros mountains and it divides the central Zagros region into two zones: the western and eastern Zagros. The eastern zone has a series of high, short, relatively dry valleys whose rivers receive less water than the western zone valleys. The western zone consists of a series of long, narrow valleys of which two are capable of supporting large populations: the Shahrazor (also spelt Sharizor) valley of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Iranian Mahi Dasht / Kermanshah valley in Iran. When travelling west to east along the arm of the Great Khorasan Road that runs from Babylon, through Kermanshah to Hamadan (old Ecbatana), one reaches the great mountain chain of the Alvand alignment beyond which lies the extensive and dry Hamadan plains of the Iranian plateau.
It is in the north-central Zagros region that we first find mention of Parsua, a nation that many regard as a predecessor nation to Parsa or Persia. This mention was in an inscription from 844 BCE that records an Assyrian military expedition into the Zagros. Before we discuss the contents of the inscription and what we know of Parsua, we will examine the previous history of Assyrian raids into the Zagros, a history in which the Shahrazor plains and valley were a possible gateway for Assyrian incursions into Aryan lands.
Shahrazor (also spelt Sharazur, Shahrazur Sharizor and Sharazor) refers to a plain as well as an eponymous city. The plain extends from the foothills of the Zagros into today's Iraq from Sulaimaniyeh to Kirkuk. In Persian, shahr means city, land or region while zor means power, difficulty, generosity, and plenty. During the Sassanian era, Shahrazor was one of the five Median satrapies (governorates / provinces). The Sassanian satrapy of Shahrazor would have included the modern Kurdish Iraqi provinces of Suleimania and Kirkuk, as well as eastern parts of the Diyala province. Shahrazor's links to Aryan history go back to the legendary times.
According to old Aryan legends contained in Ferdowsi's epic poem, the Shahnameh, the eponymous city of Shahrazor and its surroundings were named after the blacksmith Kaveh who overthrew the evil emperor Zahak. Alternatively, the founding of Shahrazor is credited to the son of Zahak.
|Kurds celebrating Nowruz by leaping over a bonfire.|
Image credit: Wikipedia
Also see Wikipedia's article on the Kurdish celebration of Nowruz which contains a section on Zahak which states that according to Kurdish myth, Kaveh / Kawa lived for 2,500 years under the tyranny of Zahak / Zahhak / Zuhak / Dehak, an Assyrian. As a result of Zahak's evil reign, Kurdistan no longer experienced the season of spring. Then, on the spring equinox, the blacksmith Kaveh raised his banner and lit fires on the hilltops as a signal for the people to rise in revolt - a revolt which succeeded in overthrowing the tyrant Zahak's oppressive rule. In memory of this event Nowruz, New Year's day on the spring equinox, is celebrated in Kurdistan with people jumping over fires in a rite similar to Chahr Shanbeh Suri. This legend could very well be grounded in the history of a one time Assyrian domination of the Aryans living in the Zagros and beyond.
|Map of Tigris-Euphrates-Zagros Region. Base image courtesy Microsoft Encarta|
Assyria was a nation located in the upper Tigris-Euphrates basin, neighbouring Mitanni and the possible location of the sixteenth Vendidad nation Ranghaya / Rangha.
Assyria is the western version of the Akkadian name Assur (also spelt Asshur), the city-state that became the capital of Assyria. (Akkadian is a language of the central Tigris-Euphrates region that was used by the Assyrians.) The Assyrian kingdom was a dominant regional power from around 2000 BCE to 600 BCE, when it succumbed to Babylonian and then Persian rule. It is Assyria's relationship with the Persians as well as the Medes that is of interest to us here - a relationship that started with particularly brutal raids by the Assyrians into the Zagros mountain valleys and beyond, raids during which they encountered people called Parsua(sh) and Madayu / Madai.
|Rock relief of Lullume's King Anubanini's at Sarpol-e Zohab (c. end of the 3nd millennium BCE).|
In the relief, King Anubanini stands in victory over an enemy at his feet. Significant are the symbols in the relief at the top of which is a solar disk and the ring of power extended to the king by the figure on the right (the king holds a hatchet in his right hand). The ring of power can also be seen being held by Sassanian kings in reliefs carved some two thousand years later.
Image credit: dynamosquito at Flickr
|Ashurnasirpal II receiving an official|
Note the farohar-like symbol above the king. Image credit: Wikipedia
The first records of Assyrian incursions into the north-central Zagros / Urmia region date from the 19th century BCE to the 12th century BCE. The next set of records begin with Assyrian King Adad-Nirari II's (912-891 BCE) incursions into Zamua (earlier, ca. the 22nd century BCE, known as Lullume - the land of the Lullubi centered in today's Rania, Iraq and the upper reaches of the Shahrazor / Sharazor plain).
Expeditions under Adad-Nirari's successors continued. However, it is under Adad-Nirari's grandson Ashurnasirpal (also spelt Assurnasirapli) II (r. 884 to 859 BCE), renowned for his brutality, that the raids became especially devastating for the people he conquered. The plundering raids of the Assyrians continued and we read that in 844 BCE, during a raid by Ashurnasirpal's son and successor Shalmaneser III (859-824 BCE), Shalmaneser encountered the people and chieftains of Parsua. At that time in history, the nation of Zamua occupied the lands in the approximate area where Lullume had been located.
Zamua was a land located south of Lake Urmia between Urmia and present-day Sanandaj near the upper reaches of the Diyala river (also called Ab-e Sirvan), as well as the land of Mehri. The core of the Zamua lands was centred around the the valley where the modern city of Sulaimaniyeh in Iraq is situated.
In 883 BCE, a year after Ashurnasirpal II assumed the throne, he entered the northern Zagros region via the Lower Zab River (Kirruri) and extracted tribute of precious metal and bronze artefacts, wine, cattle, horses and mules from the people in the region. The people of Zamua under the leadership of their chieftain (nasiku) Nuradad, started to build a defensive wall across the Babitu (present-day Bazian) pass, but to no avail. A couple of years later, in 881 BCE, Ashurnasirpal entered the heart of Zamua territory, the present-day Shahrazur valley, destroyed three city-states and made Zamua and its provincial city-states, a vassal kingdom.
In 880 BCE, when two southern city-state kings failed to pay their annual tribute, Ashurnasirpal launched a punitive raid that destroyed all of Zamua's city-states barring one that escaped by paying a heavy tribute. The adults of the cities and settlements that were razed to the ground were carried off into captivity and probable slavery, while the children were thrown into flames. Zamua's leaders were executed in particularly cruel ways. It was during one of the raids on Zamua, when the Assyrians came across the Parsua.
|Map of Ancient Lands in the Urmia-Zagros Region|
Image credit: The Cambridge Ancient History
We first hear about Parsua in the inscriptions of Assyrian King Shalmaneser III (859-824 BCE) who, in the fashion of other Assyrian kings, maintained a record of his campaigns. In 844 BCE, Shalmaneser overran northern Zamua, the Mannaean kingdom around Lake Urmia, Allabria (often associated with Mannea), Parsua, Madai (Media), Araziash (later associated with Media), and Harhar. [Harhar (around present-day Kermanshah) which stood at the western entrance to Media lands eventually became Assyria's administrative centre for Media.]
In the inscriptions recording these plundering raids, Shalmaneser states that he extracted tribute from twenty-seven kings or chieftains of Parsua. With the considerable number of groups or nations mentioned in Shalmaneser's inscriptions, we are also introduced to the concept that the Parsa and other peoples of the region were organized as a large number of distinct groups - each ruled by local kings or chieftains (rather than a few united kingdoms). We therefore gather from the Assyrian inscriptions that until this time in history, the Medes and the Persians were organized as loose federations of autonomous districts - each district with its own king or chief.
Shalmaneser's interest in the region was for the main part the north-central Zagros - from the Kermanshah area north to the southern Urmia region - and like previous Assyrian raids, he made no effort to make these lands part of his empire. The purpose of his military campaigns was plunder, tribute and perhaps a disruption of trade with Assyria's southern rival, Babylonia.
The Cambridge History of Iran by Ilya Gershevitch, William Bayne Fisher and J. A. Boyle (p.61) states that "it should be noted that the term Parsua is always used... with the determinative of 'country', never with that of tribe: 'the tribe of Parsua' is a historical myth."
In 834 BCE, in response to a refusal to pay tribute, Shalmaneser invaded the region once more and this time continued further east and plundered what would become the heartland of Media.
The last two campaigns during the reign of Shalmaneser III (which he did not lead in person), are noteworthy for clashes with Urartu and the archaeological record of the destruction of Hasanlu (see below) during the same period. However, during the reign of Shalmaneser's successors, Assyrian influence in the region declined and the central Zagros came under the rising influence of a resurgent Urartu.
The Assyrians renewed their interest in the region during the reign of Tiglath-Piliser III (745-727 BCE) and out of the different groups he encounters, he makes special mention of the Medes who he calls 'distant Medes' or 'mighty Medes'. We now also see an Assyrian attempt to assert continuous control through the appointment of two governors over the Medes. The Medes were still not united as a single polity, for Tiglath-Piliser mentions several Medians kings or chiefs bringing him tribute.
|Mannai c. 10-8 cent. BCE. Image credit: Ancient History of Azerbaijan|
Between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE, the land around the south of Lake Urmia formed the kingdom of Mannai, the land of the Mannaeans - a loose federation of autonomous districts whose names included Zikirtu, Andia, Missi, Surikash, Sonbi and Uishdish. Based on the sites uncovered from this period, the major population centres appear to have been south of Lake Urmia in the area around modern-day Mahabad and the site of Hasanlu.
At some point, Mannean control could have included the circumference of Lake Urmia. During its brief existence, the Mannaean kingdom was invaded several times by Assyria (its western neighbour) and Urartu (its north-western neighbour) as well as the Scythians (from the northern regions). After a period of occupation by the Scythians, Mannai became part the Median empire in 593 BCE.
The Mannaean kingdom reached the height of its power during the reign of Iranzu (c. 725-720 BCE). Iranzu's son Aza was deposed by one Ullusunu with the help of the Urartians. In 716 BCE, a vulnerable Mannea was invaded by Assyrian King Sargon II (reign c. 722-705 BCE) of Assyria allied with the Urartians. Sargon and his allies took the capital Izirtu (or Izirthu). During this expedition, Sargon also occupied d Parsua where he stationed troops. Further east, Sargon occupied Median lands as well where he built military bases, the main one being Harhar which he renamed Kar-Sharrukin.
|Zagros foothills. Image credit: Parseha at Flickr|
|Zagros foothills. Image credit: Parseha at Flickr|
|Zagros mountains. Image credit: hapal at Flickr|
|Poutak peak (4290 m) Central Zagros (Dena area) south of Isfahan. Image credit: H.R.Sabbaghi at Flickr|
|North Central Zagros west of Hamadan. Image credit: Cheo70 at Flickr|
|Winter in the Zagros. Image credit: Rahul Misra at Flickr|
|Black salt glaciers in the Zagros. Satellie photo by NASA|
Photo credit: lakerae at Flickr
|Almond trees in the Zagros Mountain foothills on the way to Shiraz from Kerman.|
The salt lake in the background is the Daryacheh-ye-Bakhtegan
Photo credit: travfotos at Flickr
|Wild imperial crowns (Fritillaria imperialis) known locally as gole ashk (tears flower), in the Southern Zagros near Sepidan, Fars province. Image credit: dynamosquito at Flickr|
|Bronze Luristan daggers c. 1000 BCE. Image credit: unforth at Flickr|