IRAN: THE BORDER LANDS

Neighbours and (sometimes) Friends

LOOKING SOUTH AND EAST

Arabia and the Arabs

Bir Ali, Yemen

The citadel and port of Bir Ali (ancient Qana), Yemen, where trade from the Indian subcontinent arrived in Arabia. Photo AMW

The Persian dynasties had little direct contact with the various Arab peoples - even those just across the Persian Gulf - until the Sasanian period, although Arabs had been drifting northwards into the Levant since Parthian times (and Oman had been a Persian outpost since the Achaemenids). They relied on their Lakhmid allies as a buffer between them and the Romans and Byzantines - and the desert Arabs to the south. Despite some belated interest in Yemen (Arabia Felix) the Sasanians were completely off guard when the armies of Islam attacked in the 7th century AD.

Mesene (Characene)

For a time, an independent kingdom in the Tigris/Euphrates delta which controlled sea-routes to India and beyond.

Elymais

The ancient Elam - modern Khuzistan, became independent for a time.

Persis

The old Achaemenid homeland, which later became a virtually independent kingdom for 500 years until Sasanian times.

Seistan

Where western Iran meets eastern Pakistan. Culturally and politically close to India.

India

Darius boasted that his empire stretched "from India to Lydia". Alexander's army marched through Punjab, but no further than the river Beas. The Macedonians were soon superseded by the Indian Maurya dynasty under Chandragupta: by 265 BC, the Mauryas under his grandson Ashoka had conquered most of the Indian subcontinent. But later the Greco-Bactrians exploited their weakness, and an Indo-Greek dynasty ruled in Pakistan until the beginning of the 1st century AD.

Gandhara

The northern of the two Achaemenid Indian satrapies, both noted for their wealth. Where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet: the Swat valley and Kabul. A conduit for the cross-fertilisation of Indian and Iranian ideas.

Bactria

Roughly corresponds to the area between the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush, overlapping parts of modern Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Annexed by Cyrus and part of the Achaemenid empire of Darius. Partially conquered by Alexander, the Seleucids were unable to prevent its secession under a Greek dynasty. Later succumbed to the Saka, and the Kushans.

Sogdia

"Transoxiana" - a strategic territory in the far north-east of the Iranian lands. Sogdians were Iranian by language and culture (Zoroastrianism may have arisen there) but looked east as well as west, controlling the Silk Route to China.

The Silk Route

A modern name for the many routes between China and the west. Because of geographical factors, most travellers by land had to pass through Sogdia.

China

After initial contact during the Parthian period, the relations were sporadic until th Silk Road became busy in the late Sasanian period.

Chorasmia

An important Iranian stronghold east of the Caspian, although not ruled by Iran for much of the period.

Hyrcania

A strategic and fertile region between the Caspian and the Alborz mountains.

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