Iranians have had significant contributions to the entirety of human civilization. From the establishment of the Persian empire and the inscription of what later came to be known as the first charter of human rights, viz. the Cyrus cylinder, to significant contributions to astronomy, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and language in the ancient world. What follows is a shortlist of some of the great men and women from Iran’s cultural continent, the lands which constitute the historical understanding of Iran. The lives of these people reflect some of the efforts of Iranian people in various fields of human aspiration.
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great, (Kurosh-e Kabir in modern Persian) (590-529 BC) was the founder of the Persian empire under the Achaemenes dynasty. His father was Cambyses, the king of Persia and his mother was Princess Mandana of Media. He conquered Median kingdom (549-550 BC), Lydian kingdom (547 BC), and Babylonian kingdom (539 BC) to create the largest state the world had seen to that day. He is remembered as a tolerant and ideal monarch called the father of his people by ancient Persians. In the bible, he is a liberator of Jews who was captive in Babylonia. The Cyrus Cylinder is an artifact consisting of a declaration issued by the Cyrus the Great inscribed in Babylonian (Akkadian) cuneiform on a clay cylinder. It has been described as the world’s first charter of human rights. A replica of the cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in the second-floor hallway, between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council chambers. Cyrus’ tomb lies in the ruins of Pasargadae, his capital city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Darius the Great
Darius I of Persia (549-485 BC), (modern Persian: Dariush) was an Achaemenian emperor. His reign is marked by revolts which he successfully managed to suppress. Babylonia revolted twice, and Susiana revolted three times. He started the building of new capital in Persepolis. Darius was a great reformer and organizer, qualities which made him the true restorer of the heritage of Cyrus the Great. He thoroughly revised the Persian system of administration and the legal code. Plato believed that Darius the Great’s legal code was the reason for the continuation of the Achaemenes dynasty. He developed commerce within the empire and trade abroad. He continued the process of religious tolerance to subject nations. Like many other Persian kings, he was strictly against slavery, which was revolutionary at the time. In Egypt, he built temples at Memphis, Edfu, and the great Oasis and gave the high priest of Sais full power to reorganize the “house of life” the great medical school of Sais.
Ferdowsi (935-1020 CE)
Hakim Abul-Qasem Ferdowsi Tusi was a highly revered Persian poet. He was the author of the Shahnameh, the national epic of the Persian-speaking world as well as the entire Iranian realm. Ferdowsi was born in a village near Tus, now part of Khorasan Razavi province. His masterpiece, the Shahnameh, is the most popular and influential national epics belonging to the Iranian people. Thus the greatest achievement of Ferdowsi is to have all of the named fragments of the former Persian empire, once again recite together “if there is no Iran, may my body be vanquished, and in this land and nation no one remains alive, if every one of us dies one by one, it is better than giving our country to the enemy.
” The Shahnameh, or the “Book of Kings,” consists of the translation of an older Middle Persian work. it has remained exceptionally popular among Iranian for over a thousand years. it tells the history of old Persia before the Arab conquest of the region. This tale, all written in poetic form starts 7,000 years ago, narrating the story of Persian kings, Persian knights, Persian system of laws, Persian religion, Persian victories, and Persian tragedies. it took the poet some thirty years to finish the Shahnameh, as reflected in this verse: “For thirty years, I suffered much pain and strife with Persian I gave the Ajam verve and life.” Meaning that he preserved the Persian language for the Ajam (non-Arabs). Ferdowsi was buried at the yard of his own home, where his mausoleum now lies.
Abdullāh Jafar ibn Mohammad Rūdaki (859-941 Ce), also spelled as Rudagi or Rudhagi, was a Persian poet, and the first great literary genius of modern Persian language, who composed poems in the New Persian. Rudaki is considered a founder of Persian classical literature. He was born in 858 in Rudak (Panjrud), a village in Khorasan, Persia, which is now located in Panjakent, Tajikistan. Most of his biographers assert that he was totally blind, but the accurate knowledge of colors shown in his poems makes this very doubtful. He was the court poet to the Samanid ruler Nasr ii (914-943) in Bukhara.
Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi was a Persian alchemist, chemist, physician, philosopher, and scholar. According to Biruni, Razi was born in Rayy, Iran, in the year 865 CE (251 AH), and died there in 925 CE (313 AH). Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to the fields of medicine, alchemy, and philosophy, recorded in over 184 books and articles in various fields of science. He was well-versed in Persian, Greek, and Indian medical knowledge and made numerous advances in medicine through his own observations and discoveries. He was an early proponent of experimental medicine and is considered the father of pediatrics.
He was also a pioneer of neurosurgery and ophthalmology. in Persian, Razi means “from the city of Rayy (also spelled ray, Rey, or rai, old Persian Ragha, Latin Rhagae -formerly one of the great cities of the world)”, an ancient town on the southern slopes of the Alborz range that skirts the south of the Caspian sea, situated near Tehran, Iran. in this city (like Avicenna) he accomplished most of his work. Quotes about Razi: “His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject.” The bulletin of the World Health Organization (May 1970) “in today’s world we tend to see scientific advance as the product of great movements, massive grant-funded projects, and larger-Than life socio-economic forces. it is easy to forget, therefore, that many contributions stemmed from the individual efforts of scholars like Rhazes. indeed, the pharmacy can trace much of its historical foundations to the singular achievements of this ninth-century Persian scholar.” Michael E. Flannery
Abū Nasr Muhammad Ibn Farakh Fārābi or Abū Nasr Fārābi, also known in the west as Alpharabius, Alfarabi, Farabi, Farabi, and Abunaser (c. 872 – between 14 December 950 and 12 January 951) was an Iranian Muslim polymath and one of the greatest scientists and philosophers of Persia and the Islamic world in his time. He was also a cosmologist, logician, musician, psychologist, and sociologist. Farabi was the first Muslim logician to develop a non-Aristotelian logic. He discussed the topics of future contingents, the number and relation of the categories, the relation between logic and grammar, and non-Aristotelian forms of inference.
He is also credited for categorizing logic into two separate groups, the first being “idea” and the second being “proof.” Farabi also wrote books on early Muslim sociology and a notable book on music titled Kitab Al-Musiqa (The Book of Music). He played and invented a varied number of musical instruments and his pure Arabian tone system is still used in Arabic music. Farabi’s treatise Meanings of the Intellect dealt with music therapy, where he discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul. As a philosopher and Neoplatonist, he wrote a rich commentary on Aristotle’s work. One of his most notable works is Al-Madina Al-Fadila where he theorized about a utopia similar to the works of Plato.
Abū Alī Hasan Ibn Hasan Ibn Haytham (Latinized: Alhacen) (965–1039), was a Persian Muslim polymath who made significant contributions to the principles of optics, as well as to anatomy, astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, ophthalmology, philosophy, physics, psychology, visual perception, and to science in general with his introduction of the scientific method. he is sometimes called al-Basri, after his birthplace in the city of Basra, Iraq then ruled by the Buyid dynasty of Persia.
Ibn Haytham is regarded as the “father of modern optics” for his influential Book of Optics, which correctly explained and proved the modern intromission theory of vision, and for his experiments on optics, including experiments on lenses, mirrors, refraction, reflection, and the dispersion of light into its constituent colors. he studied binocular vision and the moon illusion, described the finite speed and rectilinear propagation of light, and argued that rays of light are streams of corpuscular energy particles traveling in straight lines. Due to his formulation of a modern quantitative, empirical and experimental approach to physics and science, he is considered the pioneer of the modern scientific method and the originator of experimental science and experimental physics, and some have described him as the “first scientist” for these reasons.
He is also considered by some to be the founder of experimental psychology for his experimental approach to the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions, and a pioneer of the philosophical field of phenomenology. his Book of Optics has been ranked alongside Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalist Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books in the history of physics, for initiating a revolution in optics and visual perception. Among his other achievements, Ibn Haytham gave the first clear description and correct analysis of the Camera Obscura, discovered Fermat’s principle of least time and the concept of inertia (Newton’s first law of motion), discovered the concept of momentum, described the attraction between masses and was aware of the magnitude of the acceleration due to gravity at a distance, discovered that the heavenly bodies were accountable to the laws of physics, presented a critique and reform of Ptolemaic astronomy, first stated Wilson’s theorem in number theory, formulated and solved Alhazen’s problem geometrically using early ideas related to calculus and mathematical induction, and in his optical research laid the foundations for the later development of telescopic astronomy, as well as for the microscope and the use of optical aids in Renaissance art.
Ibn Sina (Avicenna)
Abū Alī Husayn Ibn Abd Allāh Ibn Sīnā (circa 980-1037 CE), commonly known in English by his Latinized name Avicenna (Greek Aβιτζιανός), was a Persian polymath and the foremost physician and Islamic philosopher of his time. he was also an astronomer, chemist, logician, mathematician, poet, psychologist, physicist, scientist, Sheikh, soldier, statesman, and theologian. Ibn Sina wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects. his most famous works are The Book of Healing, a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopedia, and The Canon of Medicine, which was a standard medical text at many Islamic and European universities up until the early 19th century. The canon of Medicine was used as a text-book in the universities of Montpellier and Louvain as late as 1650. A crater on the moon is named after Avicenna. his mausoleum is in Hamadan.
Ghiyas Od-Din Abul-Fatah Omar ibn Ibrahim Khayyam Nishaburi, (1048-1131 CE), was a Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer. he was born in Nishabour, now part of Khorasan Razavi province in Iran. his substantial mathematical contributions include his Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra, which gives a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. he also contributed to reform in the Persian calendar. Khayyam derived the binominal theorem before it was formulated by Isaac Newton in the 17th century. he is best known for his poetry, and outside Iran, for the quatrains in Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, popularized through Edward Fitzgerald’s free translation:
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a word of it.”
Abū Hamīd Bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm (born 1145-46 in Nishapur – died c. 1221), much better known by his pen-names Farīd Ud-Dīn and ‘Attār, was a Persian and Muslim poet, Sufi, theoretician of mysticism, and hagiographer. Information about Attar’s life is rare. he is mentioned by only two of his contemporaries, `Awfi and Khadja Nasir Ald-Din Tusi. however, all sources confirm that he was from Nīshābūr, a major city of medieval Khorāsān (now located in the northeast of Iran), and according to `Awfi, he was a poet of the Seljuk period. It seems that he was not well-known as a poet in his own lifetime, except at his hometown, and his greatness as a mystic, poet, and master of narrative was not discovered until the 15th century. Jalāl Ad-Dīn Rūmī praises Attar’s as an accomplished mystic and describes himself as one of his followers.
The thought-world depicted in Attar’s works reflects the whole evolution of the Sufi movement. The starting point is the idea that the body-bound souls awaited release and return to its source in the other world can be experienced during the present life in mystic union attainable through inward purification. By explaining his thoughts, the material uses are not only from specifically Sufi but also from older ascetic legacies. Although his heroes are for the most part Sufis and ascetics, he also introduces stories from historical chronicles, collections of anecdotes, and all types of high esteemed literature. his talent for perception of deeper meanings behind outward appearances enables him to turn details of everyday life into illustrations of his thoughts. As sources on the hagiology and phenomenology of Sufism, Attar’s works have immense value.
Sheik Muslih Ud-Din Sa’adi Shīrāzī was one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is recognized not only for the quality of his writing but also for the depth of his social thought. A native of Shiraz, Sheikh Sa’adi left his native town at a young age for Baghdad to study Arabic literature and Islamic sciences at Nizamiyya school in Baghdad (1195-1226). The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Persia led him to wander abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. He also refers in his work to travels in India and Central Asia The works of Saadi influenced writers such as Voltaire and Alexander Pushkin– who quotes him in his masterpiece Eugene Onegin.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was also an avid fan of Saadi writings, contributing to some translated editions himself. Emerson, who read Saadi only in translation, compared his writing to the Bible in terms of its wisdom and the beauty of its narrative. The following verses by Saadi are used to grace the entrance to the Hall of Nations of the uN building in New York: “Human beings are members of a whole, In the creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, Other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.” He was buried in Shiraz in a garden called Saadiyyeh.
Khwaja shams Ald-din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi, or simply Hafez, was a Persian mystic and poet. He was born sometime between the years 1310 and 1337 in shiraz. John Payne, who has translated the Diwan of Hafez, regards Hafez as the greatest poet of the world. After centuries, the lyrics of Hafez (the traditional Persian Ghazal) can still stir the hearts of his readers, making him an unparalleled figure in the history of Persian literature. very little credible information is known about Hafez’s life, particularly its earlier parts. His collected poems or Diwan, however, reveals vast knowledge of disciplines of his time: The Holy Quran, Sufism, philosophy, literature, and even musicology. At any rate, his personal life remains shrouded in a veil of mystery. Hafez greatly influenced subsequent Persian poets and has become the most beloved poet of Persian culture. It is said that if there is one book in a house where Persian is spoken, it will be the Qur’an; if two, the Qur’an and the divan of Hafez. Much later, the work of Hafez would leave a mark on such important western writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Goethe. The encounter of Goethe with Hafez’s Ghazals became so inspiring to Goethe that he produced his own “west-Ostlicher divan” (Oriental divan) and led the way to the discovery of Persian poetry by the Romantics. Hafez represented Nietzsche as a prime example of Dionysian ecstatic wisdom, which he extols so extensively in his philosophy. Goethe’s admiration for Hafez and his “Oriental” wisdom, as expressed in the Westöstlischer divan, has been the main source of attracting Nietzsche’s interest in this Persian poet. There is even a short poem in Nietzsche’s collected works, entitled An Hafis. Frage Eines Wassertrinkers
Mawlana Jalal Ad-Din Rumi
Mawlānā Jalāl ad-dīn Muhammad was one of the greatest Sufi mystics and poets in the Persian language. He is best known for his didactic epic Masnavī-ye Ma’navī (spiritual couplets”) and the collection of his lyric poems, divān-e shams. He was born in Balkh which is in Afghanistan today. Rumi’s life is described in Shams Ad-din Ahmad Aflāki’s “Manāqib ul-ārifīn” (written between 1318 and 1353). His father was Bahā Ad-dīn Wālad, a theologian, jurist, and a mystic from Balkh, who was also known during his lifetime as “sultan of the scholars”. His mother was Mu’mina Khātūn. when the Mongols invaded Central Asia between 1215 and 1220, his father with his whole family and a group of disciples set out westwards. On the road to Anatolia, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur, located in the province of Khorāsān Razavi today. Attār immediately recognized Muhammad’s spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.” He gave the boy his Asrārnāma, a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world. This meeting had a deep impact on the eighteen-year-old Mawlānā’s thoughts and later on became the inspiration for his works.
Nāder Shāh Afshār
Nāder Shāh was (November 1688 or August 6, 1698 – June 19, 1747) the founder of the Afsharid dynasty. Because of his military genius, some historians have described him as the Napoleon of Persia or the Second Alexander. Nader Shah was a member of the Turkmen Afshar tribe of northern Persia, which had supplied military power to the Safavid state since the time of Shah Ismail I. Nader rose to power during a period of anarchy in Persia after a rebellion by Afghans had overthrown the weak Shah Soltan Hossein and both the Ottomans and the Russians had seized Persian territory for themselves. Nader reunited the Persian realm and removed the invaders. He became so powerful that he decided to depose the last members of the Safavid dynasty, which had ruled Persia for over 200 years, and become shah himself in 1736. Nāder Shāh was assassinated on 19 June 1747, at Fatehabad in Khorasan. He was surprised in his sleep by Salah Bey, captain of the guards, and stabbed with a sword. Nader was able to kill two of the assassins before he died. After his death, he was succeeded by his nephew Ali Goli, who renamed himself Adil Shah (“righteous king”).
Shāh ‘Abbās I or Shāh ‘Abbās the great born on (January 27, 1571 – January 19, 1629) was Shah of Iran and the most eminent ruler of the Safavid dynasty of the Persian empire. He was the third son of Shah Mohammad and an eminent ruler of the Safavid dynasty. ‘Abbās was born in Herat to a Georgian mother from Mazandarān Province, in northern Iran. The Safavid empire had substantially weakened during the reign of his Semiblind father, allowing usurpations and the inner feuds of the Kizilbash amīrs, leaders of the Turcoman tribes constituting the backbone of the Safavid army. Furthermore, Ottoman and Uzbek inroads were harassing the west and eastern provinces, respectively. In the midst of such upheaval, he was proclaimed ruler of Khorāsān in 1581. In October 1588 he attained the Persian throne by revolting against his father Mohammad, whom he imprisoned. He accomplished the coup with the help of Murshid Quli Ustādjlu, whom he later killed in July 1589. determined to raise the fallen fortunes of his country, he signed a separate peace with the Ottomans (1589-90, including the cession of large areas of west and northwest Persia) and then directed his efforts against the predatory Uzbeks, who occupied and harassed Khorāsān.
Mirza Taghi Khan Amir-Nezam served as Prime Minister of Persia (Iran) under Nasereddin shah (The emperor). Born in Hazaveh, a county of Arak, and murdered in 1852, he is “widely respected by liberal nationalist Iranians” as `Iran’s first reformer`, a modernizer who was “unjustly struck down” attempted to bring “gradual reform” to Iran. Amir Kabir started some reformist movements. He founded Darolfonoon, the first European style upper-level secondary school in Persia in 1848 which taught modern sciences and languages.
He also supported the foundation of the first Persian newspaper Vaghaye Al-Etefaghiyeh. later, however, the shah dismissed Amir Kabir and sent him into internal exile in Kashan. It is said that the Russian embassy offered him a refuge in Russia, which Amir Kabir declined. later, when the shah was drunk, the shah’s mother and her aides asked him for an order to execute Amir Kabir, and executed the order very quickly in Kashan’s Fin Bath, before the shah could rescind the order.
Ali Esfandīārī (November 12, 1896 – January 6, 1960), often known by his penname Nīmā, was a contemporary Iranian poet. he often is considered the father of modern Persian poetry, introducing many techniques and forms to differentiate the modern from the old. Nevertheless, the credit for popularizing this new literary form within a country and culture solidly based on a thousand years of classical poetry goes to his few disciples such as Ahmad Shāmlū, who adopted Nīmā’s methods and tried new techniques of modern poetry.
Prof. Mahmud Hesabi
Mahmūd Hesābī ( Mahmood Hessaby) (February 23, 1903, Tehran — September 3, 1992, geneva) was a prominent Iranian scientist, researcher, and distinguished professor of the University of Tehran. Hessaby was born in Tehran to Abbas and Goharshād Hessaby. when he was seven, the family moved to Beirut where he attended school. Around this time, he learned the Qur’an by heart and started to read the canonical texts of the Persian literature. At seventeen he obtained his Bachelor’s in Arts and Sciences from the American University of Beirut. Later he obtained his B.A. in civil engineering while working as a draftsman. After a short period of time, he obtained a B.A. in Mathematics and Astronomy. he continued his studies and as a graduate of the engineering school of Beirut was admitted to the École Superieure d’electricité and in 1925 graduated from this school at the same time he was employed by the French Electric Railway co. he had a scientific mind and continued his research in Physics at the Sorbonne University and obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from that university at the age of twenty-five. In 1947, he published his classic paper on “continuous particles”. Following this, in 1957 he proposed his model of “Infinitely extended particles”. Mahmoud Hessaby was the only Iranian student of Albert Einstein and during his years of scientific research, he had meetings with well-known scientists such as Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born, Enrico Fermi, Paul Dirac, Aage Niels Bohr, and scholars such as Bertrand Russell and André Gide. During the congress on “60 years of physics in Iran” the services rendered by him were deeply appreciated and he was entitled “the father of physics in Iran”.
Rūhullāh Mūsawī Khomeinī (September 24, 1902 – June 3, 1989) was a senior Shi’a Muslim scholar and Marja (religious authority), and the political leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country’s Supreme Leader—the paramount political figure of the new Islamic Republic until his departure. Imam Khomeini was a Marja or Marja Altaqlid, (“source of imitation”), providing religious leadership to many Shia Muslims, but is most famous for his political role. In his writings and preaching, he expanded the Shi’a theory of velayat-e Faqih, the “guardianship of the jurisconsult (clerical authority)” which is the basis of Iran’s Islamic Republic. Imam Khomeini spent more than 14 years in exile, mostly in the holy Shia city of Najaf, Iraq. On January 16, 1979, the Shah left the country (ostensibly “on vacation”), never to return. Two weeks later on Thursday, February 1, 1979, Imam Khomeini returned in triumph to Iran, welcomed by a joyous crowd estimated at least six million. Ten days later the victory of the Islamic Revolution marked the beginning of a new era in Iran’s history.