Hyrcania - Taparistan, Tabaristan, Mazandaran...

I have always known that Mazandaran (Home to House of Darvish) is different than the rest of Iran, however after researching it's roots, we see that there is a reason for it.  It is a mountainous region that has always been isolated from the rest of the country.  Here is some historical backround on "Hyrcania - Land of the Wolves" as the Greeks called it. The Persians later called it Taparistan, which was later Arabized to Tabaristan and more recently it was split into three provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Gorgan and even more recently to Gilan, Mazandaran, and Golestan.

"Hyrcania (Ὑρκανία) is the Greek name for the region in historiographic accounts. It is a calque of Old Persian Verkâna as recorded in Darius the Great's Behistun Inscription, as well as in other Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions. Verkā means "wolf" in Old Iranian (cf. Avestan vəhrkō, Modern Persian gorg). Consequently, Hyrcania means "Wolf-land". The name was extended to the Caspian Sea and underlie the name of the city Gorgan, capital of the Golestan Province."

"Hyrcania was situated between the Caspian Sea, which was in ancient times called the Hyrcanian Ocean, in the north and the Alborz mountains in the south and west. The country had a tropical climate and was very fertile. The Persians considered it one of "the good lands and countries" which their supreme god Ahura Mazda had created personally. To the northeast, Hyrcania was open to the Central Asian steppes, where nomadic tribes had been living for centuries."  For example, the original inhabitants of Azerbaijan were Caucasian/Iranian Tribes who had been Turkified due to the invasion of the Turkish Muslim Ghazis (frontier tribesmen).  Technically the Azeri Turks are racially Persians who speak Turkish.  Similar to Egyptians who are racially Egyptian but speak Arabic.

Achemenid Era

"Hyrcania became part of the Persian Empire during the reign of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) or Cambyses (530-522 BC). Under the Achaemenids, it seems to have been administered as a sub-province of Parthia and is not named separately in the provincial lists of Darius and Xerxes. The capital and also the largest city and site of the “royal palace” of Hyrcania wasZadracarta[1]. From the Behistun inscription we know that it was Persian by 522. The story is as follows: After the death of Cambyses, the Magian usurper Gaumâta, who did not belong to the Achaemenian dynasty, usurped the throne. The adherents of the Persian royal house, however, helped Darius to become king; he killed the usurper on September 29, 522 BC. Almost immediately, the subjects of the empire revolted. When Darius was suppressing these rebellions and stayed in Babylon, the Median leader Phraortes made his bid for power (December 522). His revolt soon spread to Armenia,AssyriaParthia and Hyrcania. However the Persian garrison in Parthia still held out. It was commanded by Darius' father Hystaspes. On March 8, 521 BC, the Parthians and their allies, the Hyrcanians, attacked the Persian garrison, but they were defeated. Not much later, Darius was able to relieve his father. This was the first appearance in history of the Hyrcanians.

In the 5th century BC, the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus mentions them several times in his Histories. He has a confused report on irrigation (3.117), which may be compared to the statement of the second-century historian Polybius that the Persians had built large irrigation works (World history 10.28.3). Herodotus also tells us that Hyrcanian soldiers were part of the large army which king Xerxes I (486-465) commanded against the Greeks in 480. The historian notes that they carried the same arms as the Persians.
It is possible -but not proven- that during the Persian period, a wall was built to defend Hyrcania against the nomads of the Central Asian steppe. The ruins of the wall north of the riverGorgân, which are still visible today, called the Gates of Alexander, were built later, but they probably replaced a Persian defense work.
In the confused years after the death of king Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (465-434), three of his sons succeeded to the throne: Xerxes IISogdianus and Darius II. The latter was a satrap in Hyrcania and may have used troops from Hyrcania and the 'upper satrapies' - that is AriaParthiaArachosiaBactria, and Sogdiana.[citation needed]
Hyrcania makes its reappearance in history when the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (336-323) invaded Asia. Hyrcanians are mentioned during the battle of Gaugamela (October 1, 331), and in August 329, when the last Persian king, Darius III Codomannus, was dead, many Persian noblemen fled to Hyrcania, where they surrendered to Alexander (a.o. Artabazus)."

Selucid Era (Greek-Persian)

"After Alexander's reign, his empire fell apart and Hyrcania became part of the new Seleucid Empire. At the end of the 3rd century BC, northeastern nomads belonging to the tribe of theParni, invaded Parthia and Hyrcania. Although Parthia was forever lost to the Seleucids, Hyrcania was in the last decade of the third century reconquered by Antiochus III the Great (223-187). After a generation, however, Hyrcania was lost again."

Arsacid Era
"To the Arsacid Parthians - the new name of the Parni tribe - Hyrcania was an important part of the empire, situated between their Parthian territories and their homeland on the steppe. It is certain that the Parthian kings used a Hyrcanian town as their summer residence. They were also responsible for the 'Wall of Alexander', which is 180 km long and has forty castles. Nonetheless, it was not an uncontested part of their empire; for example, an uprising is known to have started in AD 58 and lasted at least until AD 61, ending with a compromise treaty."

Sassanid Era

"Hyrcania was a province of the Sassanid Empire until its conquest by the Arabs. It was an important territory in that it kept out inner Asian tribes from invading. Due to this, the Sassanids built many fortresses in the region."

Post-Sassanid Era (Islamic)

"After the fall of the Sassanian Empire to Muslim Arab invaders, many noblemen fled to Hyrcania, where they settled permanently. In the 8th century, the caliphate did not manage to conquer Hyrcania. This was mostly because of the geographical location but also due to significant resistance from notables such as Vandad HormozMâziar, and Babak Khorramdin. Under the leadership of a few remaining aristocratic families such as the Karens and the Bavands, Hyrcania remained independent or semi-independent for many years after the collapse of the Sassanids."

This last part is very interesting, because the people of Hyrcania or modern day Mazandaran did not convert by force of arms into Islam (even though the Caliphate had come in by force).  They became Muslims literally because of the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) family!  The "Alid Seyyeds" who were the progeny of the Prophet fled to Hyrcania or Tabaristan at the time and hid among the undefeated warriors of the north to escape persecution from the Caliphate of the time who was hostile towards the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) family.  What happened next was like a miracle...the warrior like people of northern Iran who had never submitted to the Arab Muslim invasion directly became Muslims (Zaydi Shias) by the direct peaceful and spiritual teachings of Islam by the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) family.

This movie is called "Ray Traveller" which is the story of the Prophet's (pbuh) progeny migrating to Northern Iran during the Abbasid Era: (This movie was originally in Persian, however it's been dubbed in to Urdu, I could not find the Persian version yet on youtube)

The Prophet's family eventually mixed in with the local population, however later due to other historic reasons, a huge portion of these Persian, Arab Seyyed, and Persian-Arab Seyyed hybrid Zaydi Shias had to escape to Yemen, which their descendants still live up until this day!  These should not be confused with the Jafari Shias that live in the rest of Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Ismaili Shias in Egypt (Fatimids), who have been there from the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his family.  Up until modern history, the Zaydi Shias were the rulers of Yemen.  In Northern Iran...Later the Seljuq and Ottoman Turks were mostly responsible in bringing Hanafi Sunnism.  Then  later the Safavid Turks were responsible for bringing a modified Shiasm which later turned into Jafari Shiasm by the more orthodox Shia Ulema.  Today in Northern Iran you see a mix of both Shia and Sunni Muslims along with Christians and other minorities.  Most Northern Iranians were of Zoroastrian or Christian stock before they became Muslim.  

Regardless, the history of this area that has been civilized for the past 7,000 years is very interesting leading up to it's 1300-1400 years of Islamic history.  This area was also the same place that King Darius escaped to after his defeat by Alexander in Gaugamela.  He came to the north to recruit the strongest of the Northern Persian warriors in order to face Alexander again.  However, two of his generals betrayed him to Alexander before he was able to raise a new army.  Ironically Alexander put both of them to death after learning that they had betrayed their own King so easily (they could also do it to him as well).  This same tactic was used again by the King and Generals of Sassanid Persia during the Arab Muslim Invasion that initially defeated the southern Iranian provinces.  
Later during Ottoman and Safavid times this area had an influx of Christian Georgians and Armenians along with Azeri Turks who mixed in with the local population as well.  To understand Iran's history, you have to study this area in order to see the roots of the Persian peoples,  who eventually migrated from the north (Caucausus into the Iranian Plateau and later the Indian Subcontinent, Arabia, Africa, and Europe).  This area has always been a strategic location, infact during Alexander's time it was said that Alexander while in route to India...witnessed "pools of black liquid", which today we know as the Caspian Oil Fields.

Today you have Muslims from various races and languages who at one time started as something else.  The spread of Islam both by peaceful means and conquest is interesting to note.  People converted to Islam by choice, not by force.  The land may have been taken by Muslims, however the Muslims did not force people to convert.  Infact, during the Umayyad Caliphate (which was more of a hereditary Arab Dynasty) it was not encouraged to convert Non-Arabs (ie. Persians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Indians, etc.) into Islam because they would get a "poll tax" to protect them from other hostile nations...this benefited the treasury of the Umayyad Dynasty.  There were movements by Non-Arabs and Arabs who did not like this policy of having to get a "sponsor" in order to become Muslim (kinda similar to how it used to be in Dubai, UAE in order to open a business), so eventually this ended and the Pre-Umayyad structure went back into use where anybody could become a Muslim and it was encouraged to do so if possible.  Islam was never meant to be an "Arab Religion", infact it was meant to be the universal religion that started with the Prophet Adam (pbuh) and through 124,000 prophets ending with Prophet Moses (pbuh), Prophet Jesus (pbuh), and the last Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  We as Muslims see Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians as part of the tradition of the teachings of "The One God" or "Al-Lah" in Arabic, "El-Loh" in Hebrew, "El-i" in Aramaic, and "Khoda" in Persian.  There was a prophecy in the Zoroastrian holy texts talking about a man that would come...a Prophet that would give the message of "The One God" to the Persians after the Persians have gone away from God's original teachings through the Prophet Zoroaster.  The same kind of prophecy is found in Jewish, Christian, and even Hindu scriptures.  This is why as Muslims, we have to respect the previous people of the books and of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism and Christianity).


Popular Posts