Persia/Chapter 1

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THE foundation of the kingdom of Persia, which the Orientals call Iran, dates back beyond the historic ages of Asia, and consequently of the whole world. Though we cannot fix with any degree of certainty the period of the establishment of the four fire-worshipping dynasties anterior to the invasion of the Musulmans, still it seems indubitable from documents recently discovered in various Persian historians, that those dynasties were preceded by several others. Notwithstanding the obscurity in which this subject is enveloped, there is every reason to suppose, that under these most ancient dynasties the Persians maintained a close intercourse with the inhabitants of upper Hindoostan, or even sent a colony to that country: for it would appear that the Persians and Hindoos then had the same political system, professed the same religion, and spoke the same language. Hence, doubtless, arise the numerous coincidences that are to be found between the Zend, or ancient Persian language, and the Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Brahmins.

According to the Persians the appellation of Iran is as ancient as the reign of Feridoun, one of their earliest monarchs. This great prince, whose empire had no other bounds than the globe, divided his dominions among his three sons, Salem, Touran, and Iradj. To the first he allotted Asia Minor, Africa and Europe; to the second the countries lying beyond the Djihoun; to the third, who was his favourite, the space comprised between the Djihoun and the Euphrates, the Indian Ocean and the Caspian Sea. These different kingdoms were named after their princes, and Persia was called Iran, either after Iradj, who was also named Iran, or after his mother Iran-dokt. The countries beyond the Oxus received the denomination of Touran. Such is the origin of the names of Iran and Touran, which so frequently occur in oriental authors. This partition bears a striking resemblance to that of Noah, who divided the earth between his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japbet.

Whatever hand the imagination or the national vanity of the Persians may have had in this etymology, so much at least is certain, that the term Iran is of very high antiquity: it occurs in the Sassanian inscriptions on the monuments of Nakshee Roustam, in the sacred books of the Parsees, where it is sometimes written Earaneh, and is probably the Eilam of the Bible, a name which seems to designate Persia.

We have no authentic information at what period the communication between Persia and Hindoostan alluded to above was broken off, no doubt in consequence of one of those revolutions so frequent in this country. The last, occasioned by the fall of the Sofys, (a dynasty thus named because it was established by Ismael, a monk of the order of the Sofys) was protracted from the commencement of the eighteenth century to 1799: in that year Baba-Khan was acknowledged king by the name of Feth-Ali Shah, at Teheran, the present capital of Persia, situated in the province of Mazanderan, about forty miles from the Caspian Sea. He seated himself on a throne raised by his uncle Aga Mohammed, who, however, was unable to extend Iran to its ancient limits: for the present dynasty of the Cadjars, a wandering tribe which roves with its numerous herds in the vast uncultivated plains of Persia, does not possess the whole of the countries subject to the unfortunate dynasty of the Sofys, which became extinct in 1739, in the person of Abbas III. whom Nadir Shah put to death after making a tool of him to promote his own ambitious views. Three extensive provinces, each of which would form a kingdom, Khorasan, Candahar, and Georgia, have been rent from the empire. It must, however, be admitted that the sovereigns of Iran never were in peaceable possession of the two out of these three provinces, which now seem to be irrecoverably lost to their sceptre. It is well known with what obstinacy the Grand Moguls contested the possession of Candahar with the Persians, who were not always successful enough to repulse the Indian armies. An officer of the too renowned Nadir Shah, restored harmony between the competitors. Ahmed Shah, having made himself master of that mountains province and the adjacent countries, there founded the kingdom of the Afghans, which is daily becoming more enlarged and consolidated. In the west, Georgia, situated between Turkey and Persia, had been ever since the loss of its independence, a bone of contention with those two powers. Weary of their incursions and their endless quarrels, the nominal prince of that ill-fated country threw himself into the arms of Russia. Heraclius in 1783 declared Paul I. his heir, and according to this disposition, Georgia became, at his death, in 1800, a Russian province, by the name of Grusia. We are well aware what advantage Russia is likely to derive from the acquisition of a province, which at present, indeed, is a burden to her: but it is equally obvious that so long as she retains this province she cannot reckon upon the cordial friendship of a power interposed between her and Hindoostan. It is certain, moreover, that the total produce of Georgia is not equivalent to the immense profits which the Russians would derive from a free and uninterrupted commerce with the Afghans, the people of Cashmere, and even the Hindoos. England, at any rate, may congratulate herself upon it, as a new pledge of the tranquillity and security of her vast Indian empire.

The sovereignty of Khorasan has been for ages disputed with Persia by the Usbecks, who never either wholly subdued or were wholly dispossessed of it. Their invasions of that beautiful province, and the exploits of the Persian warriors against the Tartars who frequently passed the Djihoun, as they still continue to do, have furnished a theme to many of their poets, and the celebrated Firdousee with the subject of an epic containing 120,000 verses. The Shah Nameh (book of Kings). has been famous for upwards of eight centuries throughout all the East, and is justly considered as the masterpiece of Persian poetry.

If, however, the Persians have been frequently disturbed in the possession of Khorasan, they have never wholly lost that rich and extensive province: and according to their own accounts, they have again reduced great part of it, which they will retain till a fresh invasion of the Usbecks.

Notwithstanding the loss of these important possessions, the kingdom of Persia still extends from 26° to 40° north latitude, and from 45° to 61° east longitude, being upwards of 1000 miles in length, and 600 in breadth.

Modern Persia therefore comprehends Fars, Irak Adjemy, Louristan, Kuzistan, part of Kurdistan, Adherbijan, Ghilan, Mazanderan, the western parts of Khorasan, including the cities of Meshed, Nishapour, and Turkish, and the west part of Kerman and its capital.