Hyrcania and the Northern Iran


Caspians is the English version of a Greek ethnonym mentioned twice by Herodotus among the satrapies of Darius and applied by Strabo to the ancient people dwelling along the southern and southwestern shores of the Caspian Sea, in the region which was called Caspiane after them. The name is not attested in Old Iranian.

The Caspians have generally been regarded as a pre-Indo-European people; they have been identified by Ernst Herzfeld with the Kassites, who spoke a language without an identified relationship to any other known language and whose origins have long been the subject of debate.

However onomastic evidence bearing on this point has been discovered in Aramaic papyri from Egypt published by P. Grelot, in which several of the Caspian names that are mentioned— and identified under the gentilic kaspai – are in part, etymologically Iranic. The Caspians of the Egyptian papyri must therefore be considered either an Iranic people or strongly under Iranic cultural influence.

Talysh (also Talishi, Taleshi or Talyshi) are an Iranian ethnic group indigenous to a region shared between Azerbaijan and Iran which spans the South Caucasus and the southwestern shore of the Caspian Sea.

The Talysh speak the Talysh language, one of the Northwestern Iranian languages. It is spoken in the northern regions of the Iranian provinces of Gilan and Ardabil and the southern parts of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Northern Talysh (the part in the Republic of Azerbaijan) was historically known as Talish-i Gushtasbi.

Talysh has two major mutually intelligible dialects — Northern (in Azerbaijan and Iran), and Southern (in Iran). According to Ethnologue, Azerbaijani is used as literary language and speakers also use Azerbaijani.

The Talishis generally identify themselves with the ancient Cadusians, who inhabited the area to the southwest of Caspian Sea, bounded on the north by Kura River, including modern provinces of Ardabil and Zanjan. The name Talishi may be etymologically related to Cadusi, which has influenced the name of the Caspian and Caucasus.

Anthropologically they belong to the Balkan-Caucasian type of the European race. With regards to their NRY-Y-DNA haplogroups, the Talysh show salient Near-Eastern affinities, with haplogroup J2, associated with the advent and diffusion of agriculture in the neolithic Near East, found in over 1/4th of the sample.

Another patriline, haplogroup R1, is also seen to range from 1/4th to up to 1/2th, while R1a1, a marker associated with Indo-Iranian peoples of Central/South Eurasia, only reaches to under 5%, along with haplogroup G. Also of interest is that haplogroup K is found at a significant frequency among the southern Talysh, while being present at 0% of a sample of northern Talysh.

The Cadusii lived in a mountainous district of Media Atropatene on the south-west shores of the Caspian Sea, called for its inhabitants Cadusia. This district was probably bounded on the North by the river Cyrus (today Kura, in the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, historically known as Arran and Caucasian Albania), and on the South by the river Mardus (today Sefid River), and corresponds with the modern Iranian provinces of Gilan and Ardabil.

Atropatene (originally known as “Atropatkan” and “Atorpatkan” ) was an ancient kingdom established and ruled under local ethnic Iranian dynasties first with Darius III of Persia and later Alexander the Great of Macedonia starting in the 4th century BC and includes the territory of modern-day Iranian Azarbaijan and Iranian Kurdistan. Its capital was Ganzak. Atropatene also was the nominal ancestor of the name Azarbaijan.

They are described by Strabo as a warlike tribe of mountaineers, fighting chiefly on foot, and well skilled in the use of the short spear or javelin. It is possible that the name of Gelae, a tribe who are constantly associated with them at the point of considering the former the national name for the Cadusii, has been preserved in the modern Gilan. What is certain, is that no memory of this people has been found in the Middle Eastern records and that they are known only through Greek and Latin sources.

They are described by Strabo as a warlike tribe of mountaineers, fighting chiefly on foot, and well skilled in the use of the short spear or javelin. They appear to have been constantly at war with their neighbours. First subjected by the Assyrians, if we believe to Diodorus’ doubtful sources, they were then brought in at least nominal subjection to the Medes, until they rebelled at the time of the king of the Medes Artaeus.

In Ctesias’ tale (reported by Diodorus) the war originated from an offence the king gave to an able powerful Persian, called Parsodes. After the offence Parsodes retired himself in the Cadusii’s land with a small force and he attached himself with the most powerful of the local lords by offering his sister in marriage to him.

At this point the country, who was subject to at least a nominal subjugation to the Medes, rebelled and chose as its war-leader Parsodes, giving him command of their army. Against these the Medes armed no less than eight hundred thousand men (these are the numbers given by Ctesias, which shouldn’t be given much trust). Artaeus failed miserably in his attempt to reconquer the Cadusii and Parsodes was triumphantly elected king by the winners.

Parsodes waged continuous raids in Media for all his long kingdom, and so did those who succeeded him, generating a state of perpetual enmity and warfare between Cadusii and Medes that continued until the fall of the Medes in 559 BC. But it must be remembered that all Greek records on the East before Cyrus must be treated with the utmost skepticism.

This said, it may be that behind this legend there is a part of truth if we believe some scholars who identify Artaeus with Herodotus’ Deioces, or better Duyakku, an important Mede chief in the age of Assyrian hegemony. Another point of interest in this story is that Ctesias here mentions for the first time the Cadusii.

What seems more certain (in the report of Nicolaus of Damascus) is that near to the end of the Mede kingdom the Cadusii played an important role in bringing its downfall by allying themselves with the Medes’ enemies, the Persians.

It is possible that the name of Gelae, a tribe who are constantly associated with them at the point of considering the former the national name for the Cadusii, has been preserved in the modern Gilan. What is certain, is that no memory of this people has been found in the Middle Eastern records and that they are known only through Greek and Latin sources.

In Iran there is a Talesh County in Gilan. Gilan Province is one of the 31 provinces of Iran. It lies along the Caspian Sea, just west of the province of Mazandaran, east of the province of Ardabil, north of the provinces of Zanjan and Qazvin. The northern part of the province is part of territory of South (Iranian) Talysh. At the center of the province is the main city of Rasht. Other towns in the province include Astara, Astaneh-e Ashrafiyyeh, Fuman, Lahijan, Langrud, Masouleh, Manjil, Rudbar, Roudsar, Shaft, Talesh, and Soumahe Sara.

The Talysh Khanate (or Lankaran Khanate) was one of many self-ruling khanates that existed on the territory of modern Azerbaijan Republic between 1747 and 1813, which was Safavi territory at that time. It was conquered over Iran by Russia and confirmed by the Treaty of Turkmenchay, a treaty negotiated in Turkmenchay by which the Qajar Empire recognized Russian suzerainty over the Erivan khanate, the Nakhchivan khanate, and the remainder of the Talysh khanate, establishing the Aras River as the common boundary between the empires, after its defeat in 1828 at the end of the Russo-Persian War, 1826-1828.

The treaty was signed on February 21, 1828 by Abbas Mirza, the crown prince, and Allah-Yar Khan Asaf al-Daula, chancellor of Fath Ali Shah, on behalf of Persia, and General Ivan Paskievich representing Imperial Russia. As was the case for the Treaty of Gulistan, Persia was forced to sign the treaty by Russia, as it had no alternative after the crown prince’s defeat. The Russian general had threatened Fath Ali Shah that he would conquer Tehran in five days unless the treaty was signed.

The Gilaki people are an Iranian people whose homeland is the Gilan Province in northwest Iran. Along with the Mazandarani people, the Gilaki comprise one of the Caspian people, inhabiting the southern coastal region of the Caspian Sea. Genetically, the Gilaks display a high frequency of Y-DNA haplogroups R1a1a, J2a, J1, and G2a3b.

The Gilaki people speak the Gilaki language, a Caspian language and a member of the northwestern Iranian language branch spoken in Iran’s Gīlān Province. The language is divided into three dialects: Western Gilaki, Eastern Gilaki, and Galeshi (in the mountains of Gilan). The western and eastern dialects are separated by the Sefid River. According to Ethnologue, there were more than 3 million native speakers of Gilaki in 1993.

The Gilaki language is closely related to Mazandarani, and the two languages have similar vocabularies. The Mazandarani people call their language Geleki or Gilaki but more recently call it Mazani or Mazandarani from the name of their province.

The Mazandarani people are Iranian people living primarily in south of the Caspian Sea coast. The Elburz mountains mark the southern limit of the Mazandarani peoples.

The population of Mazandarani people is between three to four million (2006 estimation). They are mainly living in south east of Caspian Sea coasts. Many of them live as farmers and fishermen. They are closely related to other Iranian people in the Iranian plateau.

In fact, the rise of the new wave of Iranian nationalism in modern history of Iran is associated with inspiration of the Pahlavi dynasty, a Mazandarani origin dynasty. During this period this ideology was fostered by Pahlavis as well as reviving pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, Persian language reforms, etc.

The local Mazandarani, which belongs to Northwestern Iranian languages, is spoken among these people and most Mazandarani people are fluent in both Mazanadarni dialect and standard Persian. However, with the growth of education and press, the differentiation between Mazandarani and other Iranian dialects are likely to disappear.

Mazandarani is closely related to Gilaki and the two dialects have similar vocabularies. These two dialects retain more than Persian does of the noun declension system that was characteristic of older-Iranian languages.

Borjan states that Mazandarani has different sub-dialects and there exists a high mutual intelligibility among various Mazandarani sub-dialects. Raymond Gordon in Ethnologue lists them as Gorgani, Palani, etc. However, he calls them dialects.

Analysis of their NRY patrilines has revealed haplogroup J2, associated with the neolithic diffusion of agriculturalists from the Near East, to be the predominant Y-DNA lineage among the Mazandarani (subclades J2a3h-M530, J2a3b-M67 and J2a-M410, more specifically.).

The next most frequently occurring lineage, R1a1a, believed to have been associated with early Iranian expansion into Central/Southern Eurasia and currently ubiquitous in that area, is found in almost 1/4th, and this haplogroup, together with the aforementioned J2, accounts for over 1/2 of the entire sample.

Haplogroup G2a3b, attaining significant frequency together with G2a and G1, is the most commonly carried marker in the G group among Mazandarani men. The lineages E1b1b1a1a-M34 and C5-M356 comprise the remainder, of less than 10% sampled.

In the Safavid era Mazandaran was settled by Georgian migrants, whose descendants still live across Mazandaran. Still many towns, villages and neighbourhoods in Mazandaran bear the name “Gorji” (i.e. Georgian) in them, although most of the Georgians are already assimilated into the mainstream Mazandaranis.

The history of Georgian settlement is described by Eskandar Beyg Monshi, the author of the 17th century Tarikh-e Alam-Ara-ye Abbasi, in addition many foreigners e.g. Chardin, and Della Valle, have written about their encounters with the Georgian Mazandaranis.

Mazanderani or Tabari is an Iranian language of the Northwestern branch, spoken mainly in Iran’s Mazandaran, Tehran and Golestan provinces. As a member of the Northwestern branch (the northern branch of Western Iranian), genetically speaking it is rather closely related to Gilaki, and more distantly related to Persian, which belongs to the Southwestern branch.

The name Mazanderani (and variants of it) derives from the name of the historical region of Mazandaran (Mazerun in Mazanderani), which was part of former Tabaristan, also known as Kingdom of Tapuria, the name of the former historic region in the southern coasts of Caspian sea roughly in the location of the northern and southern slopes of Elburz range in Iran.

The region roughly corresponded to the modern Iranian provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan, Golestan, northern Semnan, and a little part of Turkmenistan.

The Amardians are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of the region where modern day Mazanderan and Gilan are located. The establishment of the early great kingdom dates back to about the first millennium BCE when the Hyrcanian Kingdom was founded with Sadracarta (somewhere near modern Sari) as its capital. Its extent was so large that for centuries the Caspian Sea was called the Hyrcanian Ocean. To the Greeks, the Caspian Sea was the “Hyrcanian Sea”.

Sari is the provincial capital of Mazandaran and former capital of Iran (for a short period), located in the north of Iran, between the northern slopes of the Alborz Mountains and southern coast of the Caspian Sea. At the 2006 census, its population was 259,084, in 71,522 families.

The Muslim historian Hamdollah Mostowfi attributes the foundation of Sari to king Tahmoures Divband of the Pishdadian Dynasty. Ferdowsi mentioned the name of the city in Shahnameh at the time of Fereydun and Manuchehr when Manuchehr is returning to Fereydun’s capital, Tamisheh in Mazandaran, after victory over Salm and Tur.

Coming from this and other similar evidences in Shahnameh, native people of Sari have a folklore that the city was populated when Smith Kaveh (native of city) revolted against the tyranny of Zahak. After that success, Fereydun of Pishdadi (From Tamishan) feeling indebted to Kaveh, chose this city so as to live near him until his death. For this reason, when Touraj and Salam murdered Iraj (son of Fereydun), they buried him here. Espahbod Tous-e Nouzar (great-grandson of Fereidun) systematically founded it to remain as family monument.

Also recognition by Greek historians goes back to the 6th century BC (Achaemenid dynasty) when they recorded it as Zadrakarta (Persian name Sadrakarta). According to Arrian, this was the largest city of Hyrcania. The term signifies, ” the yellow city “; and it was given to it from the great number of oranges, lemons, and other fruit trees which grew in the outskirts of that city.

Saru is celebrated for its abundance of gardens, which emit a pleasing fragrance in the vernal and summer months. Oriental hyperbole declares, that the gates of paradise derive sweetness from the air of Saru, and the flowers of Eden receive their fragrance from its soil.

Hyrcania (Ὑρκανία) is the Greek name for the region in historiographic accounts. It is a calque of the 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, Gilaki and Mazandarani Verk, Modern Persian gorg, and Sanskrit Vŗka. It is relted to the Proto-Germanic *wargaz and the Old Norse vargr (ulfr).

Consequently, Hyrcania means “Wolf-land”. The name was extended to the Caspian Sea and underlie the name of the city Sari (Zadracarta), the first and then-largest city in northern Iran ( Mazandaran, Golestan and Gilan ) and the capital of ancient Hyrcania.

Hyrcania, comprehends the largest and widest portion of the low plain along the shores of the Caspian Sea. It is one of the most fertile provinces of the Persian empire, considering both the mountains and the plains.

Travelers passing through the forests of Mazandaran pass through thickets of sweetbriar and honeysuckle and are surrounded with acacias, oaks, lindens, and chestnut trees. The summits of the mountains are crowned with cedars, cypresses, and various species of pines. This district is so beautiful that it is called, Belad-al-Irem, or the Land of the Terrestrial Paradise.

Sir W. Ouseley relates that Kaikus, the Persian king, was fired with ambition to conquer so fine a country, through the influence of a minstrel, who exhausted all his powers of music and poetry in the praise of its beauties.

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.

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 was Zadracarta. From the Behistun inscription we know that it was Persian by 522.

Hyrcania or Verkâna was the name of a satrapy located in the territories of the present day Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan provinces of Iran and part of Turkmenistan, lands south of the Caspian Sea.

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, Assyria, Parthia 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.

Hyrcania became part of the Persian empire during the reign of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) – the first emperor of the first Persian imperial dynasty, the Achaemenids – or his successor Cambyses (530-522 BC). It maintained its independence as a Zoroastrian state even after Persia was conquered by Arabs in 8th century and by Mongols in the 13th century.

Zoroastrians from Sari who migrated to India in the 10th century founded there a city which they named “Navu Sari” (English: “New Sari”), a name which was by now shortened to Navsari; the town is still a center of the Zoroastrian Parsi community of India.

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.

In the confused years after the death of king Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (465-434), three of his sons succeeded to the throne: Xerxes II, Sogdianus and Darius II. The latter was a satrap in Hyrcania and may have used troops from Hyrcania and the ‘upper satrapies’ – that is Aria, Parthia, Arachosia, Bactria, and Sogdiana.

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).

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 the Parni, 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.

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.

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.

At the time of the Sassanids, Gorgan appeared as the name of a city, province capital, and province. In modern times and until 1937 the city used to be known as Astarabad. Gorgan (as well as the whole Golestan province) has a world-famous carpet and rug industry, made by Turkmen. The patterns of these carpets are derived from the ancient Persian city of Bukhara, which is now in Uzbekistan. Jajim carpets are also crafted in this province.

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 Hormoz, Mâziar, 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.

The first known dynasty were the Faratatians, who ruled some centuries before Christ. During the rise of the Parthians, many of the Amerdians were forced into exile to the southern slopes of the Elburz mountains known today as Varamin and Garmsar, and the Tabaris (who were then living somewhere between today’s Yaneh Sar to the north and Shahrud to the south) replaced them in the region.

During the indigenous Gushnaspian dynasty many of the people adopted Christianity. In 418 CE the Tapurian calendar (similar to the Armenian and Galeshi) was designed and its use implemented. The Gashnaspians ruled the region until 528 CE, when, after a long period of fighting, the Sassanid King Kopad defeated the last Gashnaspian king.

The Mazandaranis never compromised with Kopad and he soon left the region, but he placed Zarmehr on the throne in 537 CE. As a native of the region, he became popular. Zarmehr traced his genealogy to Kaveh, the legendary smith. During the reign of the Zarmehrians many people gradually converted to Zoroastrianism, and the language of the Mazanderanis was somewhat altered.

When the Sassanid empire fell, Yazdegerd III escaped to Tapuria to make use of the Mazanderani’s bravery and resistance to repel the Arabs. By his order, AdarVelash (the last Zarmehrian king) ceded the dominion to Spahbed Gil Jamaspi in 645 CE, while western and Southern Gilan and other parts of Gil’s domain merged under the name of Tapuria. He then chose Amol as capital of United Tapuria in 647 CE. The dynasty of Gil was known as Gavbareh in Gilan, and as the Dabuyans in eastern Tapuria.

Tabaristan was one of the last parts of Persia to fall to the Muslim Conquest, maintaining resistance until 761 (cf. Khurshid of Tabaristan). Even afterwards, Tabaristan remained virtually independent of the Caliphate.

Farrukhan the Great (the fourth king of the Dabuyans) expanded Tapuria to eastern parts of today’s Turkmenistan and repulsed the Turks around 725 CE.

The area of Tabaristan quickly gained a large Shi’ite element, and by 900, a Zaydi Shi’ite kingdom was established under the Alavids.

While the Dabuyans were in the Plainy regions, the Sokhrayans governed the mountainous regions. Venday Hormuzd ruled the region for about 50 years until 1034 CE. After 1125 CE, (the year Maziar was assassinated by subterfuge) an increase in conversion to Islam was achieved, not by the Arab Caliphs, but by the Imam’s ambassadors. Mazandaranis and Gilaks were one of the first groups of Iranians to convert directly to Shia Islam.

Tapuria remained independent until 1596, when Shah Abbas I, Mazandarani on his mother’s side, incorporated Mazandaran into his Safavid empire, forcing many Armenians, Georgians, Kurds and Qajar Turks to settle in Mazandaran. Pietro Della Valle, who visited a town near Pirouzcow in Mazandaran, noted that Mazandarani women never wore the veil and didn’t hesitate to talk to foreigners. He also noted that he had never encountered people with as much civility as the Mazandaranis.

After the Safavid period, the Qajars began to campaign south from Mazandaran with Agha Mohammad Khan who already incorporated Mazandaran into his empire in 1782. On 21 March 1782, Agha Mohammad Shah proclaimed Sari as his imperial capital. Sari was the site of local wars in those years, which led to the transfer of the capital from Sari to Tehran by Fath Ali Shah.

People traditionally call their language Gileki, the same as Gilekis do. Gileki consist of two morphemes : Gil + postfix ki. The name Tapuri (or Tabari) which was the name of an ancient language of somewhere in former Tapuria, Nowadays becomes prevalent into youth groups instead of Gileki. However, Gilan and Mazanderan were part of the same state known as Tapuria which its national language was known as Gileki.

Among the living Iranian languages, Mazanderani has one of the longest written traditions, from the tenth to the fifteenth century. This status was achieved during the long reign of the independent and semi-independent rulers of Mazandaran in the centuries after the Arab invasion.

The rich literature of this language includes books such as Marzban Nameh (later translated into Persian) and the poetry of Amir Pazevari. The use of Mazanderani, however, has been in decline. Its literary and administrative rank was lost to Persian perhaps long before the ultimate integration of Mazandaran into the national administration in the early seventeenth century.

The Mazanderani language is closely related to Gilaki and the two languages have similar vocabularies. In 1993, according to Ethnologue, there were more than three million native speakers of Mazanderani, speaking different dialects such as Gorgani, Ghadikolahi and Palani.

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