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Middle East Team Dispatch

Party on, Iran!
March 29, 2000

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The tomb of Iranian King Darius, the first to "go postal!"
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Happy New Year's, Iran! Amidst all the celebration and religious observation of this occasion lurks a great way to discover Iran's ancient past. No, this is no boring dictation of dates and facts. The ancient history of this country consists of everything that we are taking part in right now: partying, momentous events, good times and bad times. Present-day Iran is only a third of its earlier, ancient size. It used to contain the territory that is modern Greece, Northern India, half of Egypt and the entire Middle East. It is even more amazing that this empire originated from a mass immigration from the steppe of central and southern Asia. Let's see how this party got started!

The first party-animals were our ancestors. They are the first Indo-Europeans and, very likely, the ancestors of Germans, Slavs, Greeks, Latins, and Celts. Like every good happy-go-lucky group of people, they were searching for warmer weather. Once they found it, they set up the foundations for what would become the world's first empire. According to myth, the last Indo-Iranian King, Yima, decided that there wasn't enough space to boogie in. So, just as we do when we need more space, he shoved his sword into the ground three times. Each time he stuck his sword into the earth the land expanded by a third. (So the legend goes.) Of course, this took 600 years. And in the end, he forged an area for his people that is half the size of modern Iran. Like all good party people, they started wandering around looking for more fun.

Map
This party train eventually became the Median Empire and began with the election of Diaoco in 730 BCE . He was elected to be the first party king because he was wisest of all those in the council of chieftains. The first thing he did was create a judicial system, divide territory into several realms, or provinces, and create a strong army to protect his people against their enemies, the Assyrians. Because of the laws binding the people together and the army, the Median Empire flourished and, eventually, conquered its enemies. At this point, they thought they were hot stuff and started strutting around like Stone Cold Steve Austin from WWF Smackdown. Instead of working hard, they decided to show off their wealth and be style-followers instead of style-setters. So, they got smacked down by Kuroush II, better known as Cyrus the Great.

When Cyrus the Great took power in 536 BCE, the Achaemanid Empire began. Cyrus created an even greater empire than the Median one. He did this through his strength and benevolence. By showing he was the toughest guy on the block (and building a strong army), he united the Persian satellites and conquered the Median Empire. Yet, every superhero knows, you cannot rule with force alone; you also need to be fair. From the very beginning, Cyrus gave the people he conquered their freedom. He first granted the Medians their freedom (instead of taking the usual path of enslaving those you conquer). Then, after he realized he needed more dance floor to dance on, he conquered another party-country called Babylonia. When he finally entered the capitol of Babylonia (after three months of waiting outside the door as the people continued partying), he allowed the Jews to go free and funded their return to their own disco. At this point, he issued the first declaration of human rights demanding that soldiers treat those conquered as equals, not inferiors. In this creed, he guaranteed the freedom of religion. Basically, Cyrus became the ideal party king because he cared about his subjects. By doing so, he was able to unite the people he governed to create Iran and ensure a good time for all.

The Achaemanid Empire became even greater behind the leadership of Darius the Great. He wanted one of the world's largest discos anyone has ever seen. With his army, he conquered Egypt, Northern India, and parts of Greece. His army was feared so much that one opposing army surrendered at the sight of them. Like Cyrus, Darius was a smart leader and a great politician. For example, he connected the territories he controlled by creating a major road system. By keeping everyone connected, he could move quickly to respond to current issues and prevent future problems from becoming giant party poopers. Along with the road system, he created the first postal system. He also coined money (so people could buy stamps to invite their friends to the giant barbecue they were going to have). He was the first to marry off his children to other heads-of-state, which just made the party bigger and happier. Just like the fall of the Median Empire, the Achaemanid Empire ended as people started quarrelling over power and control.

Vocabulary

steppe - treeless and dry arid land in Southeastern Europe or Asia
benevolence - act of kindness
creed - a guiding principle

Just as we are trying to find space in the party-packed streets of Tehran celebrating the new year, the history of Ancient Iran can be likened to people trying to find space to party. Through different leaders, they created one of the world's largest empires. They did this through being fair and ruling wisely. Each ruler learned from the lessons of the past: Darius developed and emphasized the best part of Cyrus' rule and similarly, he took the best traits of Diaoco; moreover, they all empowered the lesson learned from King Yima and his sword by getting more land to party on. Anyhow, we look forward to telling you more about Iran and our travels. Till our next dispatch, Happy New Year's and party on!

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