The reason we brought up Iran for discussion is firstly, there are certain pertinent points about the Sassanid period such as the rise of the Mazdaki code of life that needs be studied and emphasised.
It is an interesting discussion which will be pursued for a comparative analysis subsequently. From the point of view of natural environments, if we were to compare Iran with Arabia, it could be said that Arabia as the birthplace of Islam was a poverty stricken, dry and deprived region whereas Iran or at least some parts of Iran were populated, flourishing and affluent.
Incidentally, the areas of the great Iranian plateau which were contiguous to Arabia were all green and included the western slopes of the Zagross mountain range and parts of Lorestan, Bakhtaran, Hamadan and present Kurdestan, as well as part of Mesopotamia along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates,
all of which are green and full of palm groves, so that in those times the Arabs called these lands the Black Land's. This was so because as of the dry, sandy deserts came to this part, they would notice a dark horizon which in fact was the palm groves and other trees, whereas in their own dwelling places there were only old trees in the rarely found oases.
During one journey which I happened to have undertaken I noticed how poverty stricken the region was. Concerning the region along the east coast of the Red Sea, one comes to realise how unprivileged it is since despite its proximity to the Red Sea, no habitation or even a tree could be seen from Jordan right down to Jedda. The seashore, too, totally barren, has nothing more to offer than sand and ground.
I don't know whether it is the soil that is bad or the wind which blows in the direction of Africa and carries the vapours of the Red Sea towards Africa because if there were no winds, some of this vapour might have remained to produce rain fall. However, all the vapour is carried towards the opposite side of the sea, namely to Somalia and Abyssinia which derive full benefit.
In any case if we were to make a relative study of the area, it will be seen that the region which is adjacent to Arabia in the east is the best part of Iran from the viewpoint of natural environment next of course to the Caspian Sea littoral shores which is a thriving and populous region. It is interesting to know that the average population density in the regions of Gilan and Mazandaran is 100 persons per square kilometer,
whereas for the whole of Iran the average is 16. The approximate area of these two provinces is 30,000 square kilometers, and they are so flourishing and populous that about three million people live.
Aside from this prosperous region which was not contiguous to Arabia, the western regions of Iran and eastern part of Iraq which neighboured Arabia, were comparatively prosperous and utilizable from the aspects of climate, vegetation and other environmental factors.
From the viewpoint of area, the border of Iran reached the Sind River valley including the greater part of Afghanistan as far as the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers and above the Araxes River which included the present Caucasia upto and including the Shatt-al-Arab. There were the boundaries of Iran then and hence Arabia stands no comparison with Iran.
At the time of the rise of Islam and even before that, the eastern regions of Iran were called Khorassan in general, a name which is derived from 'Khor-Assa' meaning the region of sun rise, owing to its being situated in the east of Iran. Thus the eastern part of Iran of those days included Khorassan, soutlhern Turkestan, Afghanistan, Baluchestan and Sistan, all ofthem together bearing the name Khorassan.
The Iranian civilisation is considered to be an Aryan civilisation, having a precedent of eleven and even twelve centuries prior to the rise of Islam, after having evolved from a nomadic and tribal society to a central authority, whereas Hejaz had not till then reached the stage of a central government. The first government established in Hejaz was under Islam, whereas the government of media (Ecbatan) had been set up twelve centuries before that of Islam, in Hejaz.
It will be an interesting example to quote from an inscription by Darius at a public works project. This inscription is naturally composed in a royal and a pompous style usual in that imperial age, however the content of it is rather interesting. Darius ruled in the years 550 to 529 B.C. The first Iranian inscription dates back to his reign, that is to say prior to him there were no such inscriptions.
After a short period of chaos and disorder, Darius was able to establish a vast empire in Iran extending as far as Egypt including the entire region of Shaam, Syria and Egypt, and had thus become a neighbour of Greece. At that time the Eastern Roman had not risen, but there was the Roman Empire in the west which had not till then gained any importance.
In the time of Darius the two countries of importance were Greece and Egypt. When Iran conquered Egypt, it also brought Greece under pressure. In the wars of that time, Darius frequently waged against the Greeks, he had to employ the sea route since the Greek territory consisted of a number of islands and land campaign would not have been feasible.
As the Iranian ships had no access to the Mediterranean, Darius decided to open a sea way for the Iranian warships to reach the Greek shores. Thus he ordered a canal dug which was the precursor of the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean Sea via the Nile River to the Red Sea. Darius describes the history of this canal in an inscription as follows:
"Ahura-Mazda, the great lord who created the lofty sky, created Man, created Man's good fortune, raised Darius to kingship, has assigned to King Darius this great empire with all these precious horses and multitudes of people. I am King Darius, great king, king over many varied races, king over extensive and remote domains, son of Vishtasb of the Achaemnids; so declares King Darius: I am a Parsi.
I govern Egypt from Pars. I decreed this canal be dug to link the between a river called Nile which flows in Egypt to the sea which reaches Iran. This canal has been dug by my command and the ships have sailed via this canal from Egypt to Iran as I had desired."
Thus we see that twelve centuries before the rise of Islam in Arabia, a great and powerful government existed as its eastern neighbour. There is little doubt that amongst the past rulers of Iran Darius was an outstanding figure from the standpoint of ideas, capabilities and policies. This is especially true in connection with his attitude towards the conquered lands since, unlike other great conquerors of the world, he gave more importance to the administration of his domains than merely to conquer them. After retrieving his ancestral territories i.e. the domain of his ancestor Kurosh, he had no inclination to add further territory to his realm, and only wished to create to an extent a welfare administration for his subjects in the extensive realm of Iran of those days.
This is a notable aspect of the life of Darius, and thus, according to the writings of orientalists, his accomplishments in that age are definitely outstanding, though this point is not relevant to the present discussion.
Class Structure and Social Divisions
Briefly then, such a government existed in the region, in the eastern neighbour of Arabia, about twelve centuries before the rise of Islam, however the basis and nature of those civilised governments were quite different from the Islamic government that followed. In fact these two were essentially unlike each other, since that civilised realm was charaterised by a deep class system.
In the extended period of human life, vestiges of which can still be observed in backward societies, people were since birth divided into various classes or castes so that the children of the lower class were naturally condemned to remain inferior and had no right to ascend do a higher class. Such was the class structure then existing.
This class structure existed in Iran, too. As far as I can recall from my studies in history, the seat and center of this caste system was in India, and since the civilisations of Iran, Greece and Rome have been Indo-European in origin, this Indian concept of class society travelled wherever Indian civilisation asserted an influence.
But the cruelty and severity which were observed and are still to some extent prevalent in India in enforcing this system, have not been observed else where or in Iran.
In Iran of that time, class system and social attitudes and perceptions took the form that the king was absolute and the concept of 'Shahinshah' or king of kings was introduced in the time of the Medes well before Kurosh and Darius.
The royal class was considered super-human, and other classes were related to common people who were divided into several classes: In the time of Darius the upper most class were those on whose shoulders rested the pillars of the ruling monarehy, namely soldiers who were held above all others in being given social privileges. The second class comprised the farmers and in the third class were included the artisans.
Thus there were three classes in the Achaemenid time. History does not mention any organised group named clergy as such in that period, but of course there have been priests in the same way that there had been a faith and religion.
The clergy as a class made its appearance in the Sassanid time, and as it will be explained later, this class of priests came to be regarded as the first class, warriors and soldiers as the second class, clerks and civil servants as the third class with the farmers artisans and craftsmen falling in the fourth class.
In his epic 'Shahnameh', Ferdowsi, has this to say about these classes:
There was a group called Katuzis (priests) who were engaged in worshipping, The next in rank were the Neissaris (military) who were warriors, lions of battle, honour of the army and country;
Then came the Nassoudi (farmers) to whom all are indebted; for, they plough, sow and reap that they may not be blamed; The fourth group were the Ahyu-Khashi (artisans) who used their hand to shape unruly substances, and employed their ideas and intelligence. The above were what Ferdowsi has described in his Shahnameh, but according to Tho'alebi there were the following classes: 1. warriors, 2. priests and physicians, 3. clerks and government employees, 4. farmers, craftsmen and artisans,. Tho'alebi's description appears to be historically more reliable, since Ferdowsi's Shahnameh is mostly based on hearsay.
In a letter written by one of the governors of northern Iran to the king of Tabarestan, priests have been accorded the first class, warriors the second, clerks the third, and labourers the fourth class; a classification which differs from Ferdowsi's.
In any case the Priests and soldiers constituted the first and the second classes or vice versa; clerks and government employees the third class, and farmers and artisans made up the fourth class.
In such a society the class implied that the child of a farmer, or artisan or tradesman could when grown up become a good farmer, or artisan or tradesman, but he could never entertain the thought of raising his social status to that of a clergyman, a warrior, a clerk or a government servant; he did not belong there and he did not have the right to hope, except in very exceptional cases when a person could be elevated by the king' s special decree to a higher class. This of course meant an upgrading limited only to that person's lifetime for the education of special talents and skills.
This social system with such limitation was quite contrary to what Islam introduced later on. The class system has purposely been discussed here because in the discussion of various faiths and creeds especially in the Sassanid period of time, this subject will gain importance and deserves particular attention.
Progress in Learning
We will deal later with the state of learning and progress in this field during the Sassanids period as concerning scientific and industrial progress in the Achaeminid period in Iran, no substantial evidence is available. However, what is certain is that Darius could not have succeeded in administering such an extensive realm, without a stock of knowledge and learning.
However, are particular aspect which occurs in historical evidence is that the sovereigns of Iran seemed to have cherished the idea that all the civilised lands of that time would eventually become part of Iran even though two other states existed. Thus we witness that the great physician of that time is a Greek, and the renowned geographer who was sent to the Sind valley by Darius to .survey that land, and prepare a report, was, too, a Greek.
Even the best and the finest of warriors of that time were Greek, the reason being that in Darius' mind these subjects were not non-Iranians, but were regarded as citizens of the greater Iran. Therefore, it did not occure to Darius and other kings that the people of central region who lived close to the seat of the government should remain among the artisans and tradesmen of the fourth class, while physician, clerks,
and warriors should be from Greece, Egypt and outlying regions! So the scholars were brought from the outer regions of the empire while locals comprised the artisans and craftsmen.
It is for this reason that the history of that time fails to indicate any outstanding Iranian scholar who was not of Greek, Egyptian or Indian stock. That does not mean of course that such individuals did not exist. Very little historical evidence is available and addedly, most of the available sources are of Greek origin, and the Greeks were not behind others in holding nationalistic prejudice - if anything, they were well ahead in this respect. Therefore, it becomes difficult to reach a verdict in this matter.
Anyhow from the point of view of academic learning, no distinguished scholars in particular fields appear in Iran or in India or in Ionia, in the south of Turkey near the Mediterranean, who could equal the personalities from Phoenicia, Chaldea, Assyria, Greece and Egypt. In Phoenicia, which included a part of Lebanon, Syria,
Palestine and a small portion of Jordan as well, we come across such individuals who were superior to Iran in learning. From the economic aspect, too, they enjoyed better conditions, and were richer and more prosperous than Arabia.