According to Iranian mythology, national history begins with the reign of Kiumars, the ﬁrst world-king, who reigns for thirty years. Zoroastrianism calls him the prototype of man, brought forth by Ahuramazda at the sixth stage of creation. Kiumars dies from fatal wounds inﬂicted by Ahriman, and Siamak, Kiumars’s son (according to Ferdowsi) or grandson (according to most other sources) is also slain by demons. They are both duly avenged by Hushang, reckoned as Siamak’s son by Ferdowsi, and as his grandson by most other sources.
Hushang founds the Pishdadian dynasty and reigns for forty years. He succeeds in extracting metal from rock and devising a means of drawing water from rivers to cultivate the land. Moreover, he is the ﬁrst to tame animals and build houses. He also inadvertently discovers ﬁre by hitting a stone against a rock while attempting to kill a serpent, and institutes the festival of Sadeh in commemoration of this discovery. Hushang is followed by Tahmuras, who is often given the title of the Demon-Binder because he subjugates the demons and rides on the back of Ahriman, whom he has transformed into a horse.
Tahmuras reigns for ﬁfty years and is the ﬁrst to spin wool for clothing, to use dogs to protect ﬂocks, to employ falcons and hounds for hunting, to tame fowls and to exploit beats for burden. The demons reveal to him the secrets of writing. Tahmuras is succeeded by his brother Jamshid, one of the most colorful ﬁgures of Iranian myth.
He has ruled for over 600 years, and during this period, death, pain, old age, and evil are driven out of his realm. Three times, by magic, Jamshid enlarges the extent of his domain to accommodate the increasing number of people, animals, and other creatures. In popular belief, Jamshid is often identiﬁed with the Prophet Solomon and is credited with many magical attributes, such as the ability to foretell the future with the help of his magic cup called Jam-e Jam. At the height of his power, Jamshid orders the demons to build a carriage in which he rises into the skies.
He commemorates this event by instituting the Iranian New Year festival, Nowruz. His power and success, however, ﬁll him with pride seduced by Ahriman, the proclaims himself divine, whereupon his fortune fart” departs from him, leaving him vulnerable to the attack of a monstrous tyrant, Zahak, who seizes the fugitive Jamshid and has him sawn in half.
The oppressive rule of Zahak lasts for a thousand years. He has many people slain to feed their brains to two serpents that have grown on his shoulder. The country is enshrouded in misery until set free by Fereydun, a descendant of Jamshid raised in secret without Zahak’s knowledge. Fereydun is supported by a group of people led by the blacksmith Kaveh, who has lost all but one of his sons to Zahak’s serpents.
Under Fereydun prosperity reigns once more over the world. Nearing the end of his life, Fereydun divides his vast domain among his three sons. The Western lands pass to Salm, his eldest son. The northern and eastern lands are given to ”Tur, his middle son. While the central region, which includes Airyanam Vaejah (Iran), is bestowed to Iraj, the youngest and favorite son.
This bequest rouses the jealousy and rancor of the elder brothers, who conspire to murder Iraj. The slaying of the noble Iraj at the hand of Tur sets off a bloody and protracted feud between the royal houses of” Iran and Turan. With Fereydun’s division of his kingdom, the era of the world kings comes to an end. Manuchehr, a descendant of Iraj’s daughter, whom Fereydun had reared, eventually ascends the throne. Helped by his general Karen, a son of Kaveh, Manuchehr tracks down and kills both Tur and Salm in battle. The war of Iran and Turan (over which Afrasiab holds sway) goes on for many years with now one country, now the other, victorious.
Under Manuchehr, the exploits of the heroic vassal kings of Sistan, led by Sam, who is followed by his son Zal and grandson Rostam, begin to unfold. After years of trouble, Iranian fortunes revive under Kei- Qobad, who establishes a new dynasty called the Kianian. Whereas the Pishdadian kings are often mythical, the Kianian kings form a coherent group that exhibits dynastic features. Therefore, it appears that with the Kayanians, we pass from what is mostly mythology to legendary history.
Kei-Qobad’s two immediate successors, Kei- Kavus, and Kei-Khosrow, are of particular renown. The reign of Kei-Kavus, an ambitious, petulant, unpredictable ruler, is marked by many wars and adventures. During his rule, a feud between Iran and Turan becomes even more vicious than before. One of the tragic events which occur at this time is connected with Siavash, Kei- Kavus’s son, who is falsely accused by his father’s wife as having made amorous advances toward her. Siavash proves his innocence by passing unharmed through fire. His father, however, remains suspicious of him, and the prince has to seek shelter at the Turanian court. There, having married a Turanian princess, he is treated as beﬁts royalty for some time, until his brothers-in-Law envy his brilliance and plot against him.
Eventually, Afrasiab orders him was slain. Judging from the scattered accounts that speak of Siavash, it appears that he must have been the focus of a mourning cult that dated from pre-Zoroastrian times. Curiously, this cult provided the model for the development of the Shiite mourning rites in Iran. The passion of Siavash bears too close a resemblance to that of Imam Hossein in ritual, imagery, and emotive underpinnings to be ignored in an explanation of the Islamic genre.
Siavash’s son, Kei-Khosrow, is born after his father’s death. The news of his birth revives hope for vengeance among the Iranians, and Kei-Kavus, in remorse, dispatches one of his outstanding generals to ﬁnd the prince and bring him to Iran. After a hazardous journey, Kei-Khosrow is successfully conducted to the Iranian court. Helped by a host of distinguished warriors, he invades Turan and kills Afrasiab, thus closing a fateful chapter of the Irano-Turanian wars.
After this, Kei-Khosrow turns away from the affairs of the world and designates Lohrasp, a distant relative, as his successor. Lohrasp rules wisely until, advanced in age, he retires from the throne, which he leaves to his ambitious son Gosh-tasp. It is during the reign of Goshtasp that Zoroaster proclaims his religion. Goshtasp embraces the new faith and joins the Prophet in proselytizing.
Outraged at what he considers a betrayal of the old faith, Arjasp, the new king of Turan, invades Iran, but is defeated by Goshtasp’s able son Esfandiar. The ungrateful Goshtasp, however, alarmed at Esfandiar’s ambitions, sends him to Sistan with the order to bring Rostam, now the ruler of that vassal kingdom, as a prisoner to the court. Goshtasp claims that Rostam has failed to pay his respects to the crown for some time. Esfandiar has little liking for the command that pits him against the invincible warrior, but his pride persuades him to take up the challenge. There follows single combat, in which Rostarn succeeds in inflicting upon Esfandiar a mortal arrow wound.
Shortly afterward, Rostam himself is killed as a result of the stratagems of his envious brother. Rostam’s provinces fall prey to Bahman, the son of Esfandiar and successor to Goshtasp. Bahman is succeeded by his daughter and wife Homay. She bears him a son called Dara. Eventually, Dara ascends the throne and is succeeded in turn by his son Dara the younger, who is killed by Alexander the Great. Bahman’s other son, Sasan allegedly becomes an ancestor of the Sasanid clan. The phase of the Kayanian’s rule from Bahman to Dara is marked by new and distinctive features which set it apart from the earlier phases and bring it into historical times.