Greater Iran

Greater Iran

Greater Iran (in PerB|ایران بزرگ "Irān-e Bozorg", or _fa. ایران‌زمین "Irān-zamīn"; the "Encyclopedia Iranica" uses the term Iranian Cultural Continent [ [] ] ) refers to the regions that have significant Iranian cultural influence. It roughly corresponds to the territory surrounding the Iranian plateau, stretching from the Caucasus to the Indus River, and conform to the historical understanding of the full territory of "Iran."

Because the concept is a cultural one, representing regions settled by Iranian tribes, it does not correspond to any particular political entity, and—because it represents a late Bronze Age dispersion—predates such political entities by many centuries. For the Sassanids, in whose 3rd century inscriptions the term 'Iran' first appears as a political concept, the multinational Iranian "state" included Asia Minor but excluded territories east of the two Iranian salt desert basins. This situation is however reversed in the cultural context, i.e. that of the Iranian "nation".


Iranian plateau, stretching to Central Asia (Bactria) and the Hindukush to the northeast and Afghanistan and Western Pakistan in the southeast and into eastern Syria and the Caucasus to the northwest.] Traditionally, and until recent times, ethnicity has never been a defining separating criteria in these regions. In the words of Richard Nelson Frye:

Only in modern times did western colonial intervention and ethnicity tend to become a dividing force between the provinces of Greater Iran. As Patrick Clawson states, "ethnic nationalism is largely a nineteenth century phenomenon, even if it is fashionable to retroactively extend it." [Patrick Clawson. "Eternal Iran". Palgrave Macmillan. 2005 ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.23] "Greater Iran" however has been more of a cultural super-state, rather than a political one to begin with.

Richard Nelson Frye defines Greater Iran as including "much of the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, with cultural influences extending to China, western India, and the Semitic speaking world." According to Frye, "Iran means all lands and peoples where Iranian languages were and are spoken, and where in the past, multi-faceted Iranian cultures existed." [Frye, Richard Nelson, "Greater Iran", ISBN 1-56859-177-2 p."xi"]

In the work "Nuzhat al-Qolub" (نزهه القلوب), the medieval geographer Hamdollah Mostowfi writes:

چند شهر است اندر ایران مرتفع تر از همه
"Some cities of Iran are better than the rest,"
بهتر و سازنده تر از خوشی آب و هوا
"these have pleasant and compromising weather,"
گنجه پر گنج در اران صفاهان در عراق
"The wealthy Ganjeh of Arran, and Isfahan as well,"
در خراسان مرو و طوس در روم باشد اقسرا
"Merv and Tus in Khorasan, and Konya (Aqsara) too."

The "Cambridge History of Iran" takes a geographical approach in referring to the "historical and cultural" entity of "Greater Iran" as "areas of Iran, parts of Afghanistan, and Chinese and Soviet Central Asia". ["The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. III: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods", Ehsan Yarshater, Review author [s] : Richard N. Frye, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Aug., 1989), pp.415. Link: [] ] A detailed list of these territories follows in this article.


In Persian, Greater Iran is called "Iranzamin" (ایران‌زمین) which means "The Land of Iran". "Iranzamin" was in the mythical times opposed to the "Turanzamin" the Land of Turan, which was located in the upper part of Central Asia. [Dehkhoda Dictionary, Dehkhoda, see under entry "Turan"]

In the pre-Islamic period, Iranians distinguished two main regions in the territory they ruled, one Iran and the other "Aniran". By Iran they meant all the regions inhabited by ancient Iranian peoples. That region was much vaster than it is today. This notion of "Iran" as a territory (opposed to "Aniran") can be seen as the core of early Greater Iran. Later many changes occurred in the boundaries and areas where Iranians lived but the languages and culture remained the dominant medium in many parts of the Greater Iran.

As an example, the Persian language was the main literary language and the language of correspondence in Central Asia and Caucasus prior to the Russian occupation, Central Asia being the birthplace of modern Persian language. Furthermore, according to the British government, Persian language was also used in Iraqi Kurdistan, prior to the British Occupation and Mandate in 1918-1932 [] .

With Imperial Russia continuously advancing south in the course of two wars against Persia, and the treaties of Turkmenchay and Gulistan in the western frontiers, plus the unexpected death of Abbas Mirza in 1823, and the murdering of Persia's Grand Vizier (Mirza AbolQasem Qa'im Maqām), many Central Asian khanates began losing hope for any support from Persia against the Tsarist armies. [Homayoun, N. T., "Kharazm: What do I know about Iran?". 2004. ISBN 964-379-023-1, p.78] The Russian armies occupied the Aral coast in 1849, Tashkent in 1864, Bukhara in 1867, Samarkand in 1868, and Khiva and Amudarya in 1873.

:"Many Iranians consider their natural sphere of influence to extend beyond Iran's present borders. After all, Iran was once much larger. Portuguese forces seized islands and ports in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century, the Russian Empire wrested from Tehran's control what is today Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan, and part of Georgia. Iranian elementary school texts teach about the Iranian roots not only of cities like Baku, but also cities further north like Derbent in southern Russia. The Shah lost much of his claim to western Afghanistan following the Anglo-Iranian war of 1856-1857. Only in 1970 did a UN sponsored consultation end Iranian claims to suzerainty over the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain. In centuries past, Iranian rule once stretched westward into modern Iraq and beyond. When the western world complains of Iranian interference beyond its borders, the Iranian government often convinced itself that it is merely exerting its influence in lands that were once its own. Simultaneously, Iran's losses at the hands of outside powers have contributed to a sense of grievance that continues to the present day." -Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy [Patrick Clawson. "Eternal Iran". Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.9,10]

:"Iran today is just a rump of what it once was. At its height, Iranian rulers controlled Iraq, Afghanistan, Western Pakistan, much of Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Many Iranians today consider these areas part of a greater Iranian sphere of influence." -Patrick Clawson [Patrick Clawson. "Eternal Iran". Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.30]

:"Since the days of the Achaemenids, the Iranians had the protection of geography. But high mountains and vast emptiness of the Iranian plateau were no longer enough to shield Iran from the Russian army or British navy. Both literally, and figuratively, Iran shrank. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Azerbaijan, Armenia, much of Georgia, and Afghanistan were Iranian, but by the end of the century, all this territory had been lost as a result of European military action." [Patrick Clawson. "Eternal Iran". Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.31-32]


In the Middle Ages, the territory of Greater Iran was known to be composed of two portions: "Persian Iraq" (western portion) and "Khorasan" (eastern portion). The dividing region was mostly along with Gurgan and Damaghan cities. Especially the Ghaznavids, Seljuqs and Timurids divided their Empire to Iraqi and Khorasani regions. This point can be observed in many books such as "Tārīkhi Baïhaqī" of Abul Fazl Bayhqi, "Faza'ilul al-anam min rasa'ili hujjat al-Islam" (a collection of letters of Al-Ghazali) and other books. Transoxiana and Chorasmia were mostly included in the Khorasanian region.

Central Asia

n tribe" (مهد قوم آریا). Today Khwarazm is split between several central Asian republics.

Superimposed on and overlapping with Chorasmia was Khorasan which roughly covered nearly the same geographical areas in Central Asia (starting from Semnan eastward through northern Afghanistan roughly until the foothills of Pamir, ancient Mount Imeon). Current day provinces such as Sanjan in Turkmenia, Razavi Khorasan Province, North Khorasan Province, and Southern Khorasan Province in Iran are all remnants of the old Khorasan. Until the 13th century and the devastating Mongol invasion of the region, Khorasan was considered the cultural capital of Greater Iran. [Lorentz, J. "Historical Dictionary of Iran". 1995. ISBN 0-8108-2994-0]


The national anthem in Tajikistan, "Surudi Milli", attests to the Perso-Tajik identity, which has seen a large revival, after the breakup of the USSR. Their language is almost identical to that spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, and their cities have Persian names, e.g. Dushanbe, Isfara (Esfarayen), Rasht Valley, Garm, Murghab, Vahdat, Zar-afshan river, Shurab, and Kolyab ( [] ).


Home of the Parthian Empire (Nysa). Merv is also where the half-Persian caliph al-Mamun moved his capital to, inorder to move the center of the caliphate away from Arab speaking lands. The city of Eshgh Abad is yet another Persian word meaning "city of love", and like Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, it was once part of Airyanem Vaejah.


The famous cities of Afrasiab, Bukhara, Samarkand, Shahrisabz, Andijan, Khiveh, Navā'i, Shirin, Termez, and Zar-afshan are located here. Many experts point to these cities as the birthplace of modern Persian language. The Samanids, who claimed inheritance to the Sassanids, had their capital built here.

ای بخارا شاد باش و دیر زی
Oh Bukhara! Joy to you and live long!
شاه زی تو میهمان آید همی
Your King comes to you in ceremony.

Western China

The Xinjiang regions of China harbored a Persian population and culture. [See:
*Encyclopedia Iranica, p.443 for "Persian settlements in southwestern China"
*"Iran-China relations" for more links on the historical ties.
] Chinese Turkistan & the territory of the Uyghur people was always counted as a part of the Iranian cultural & linguistic continent with Kashgar, Yarkand, Hotan, and Turfan bound to the Iranian history. ["Persian language in Xinjiang" (زبان فارسی در سین کیانگ). Zamir Sa'dollah Zadeh (دکتر ضمیر سعدالله زاده). "Nameh-i Iran" (نامه ایران) V.1. Editor: Hamid Yazdan Parast (حمید یزدان پرست). ISBN 964-423-572-X Perry-Castañeda Library collection under DS 266 N336 2005.]

Kurdish regions

Culturally and historically Kurdistan has been part of what is known as Greater Iran [citation needed] (or historic Persia) [citation needed] .Kurds who speak a Northwestern Iranian language known as Kurdish comprise the majority of the population of the region there are also communities of Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Azeri, Jewish, Ossetian, Persian, and Turkic people traditionally scattered throughout the region. Most of its inhabitants are Muslim, but there are also significant numbers of other religious sects such as Yazidi, Yarsan, Alevi, Christian, [citation needed] Jewish,

Western Pakistan

The western provinces of modern-day Pakistan, which comprise the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan are predominantly Iranian-speaking regions where Pashtuns and Baluchis comprise the majority of the local populations. The Baluch and Pashtun tribes are the easternmost of the Iranic peoples and Baluchistan is the easternmost region of the Iranian plateau.

The Caucasus region

Sassanid remains can be seen up far north as "Darband", now in southern Russia (the words Daghestan, Baku, Ganja, Abseron, and Darband, among others, are both Persian). These parts were mostly annexed by Imperial Russia over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries (See . yet even today, most of these regions continue to retain their "Greater Persian" identity, as can be seen in their traditions and customs (e.g. Norouz). "For a discussion see [Encyclopedia Iranica: "Caucasus Iran" article, p.84-96.] ".

outhern Caucasus

Also by the Treaty of Gulistan, Iran had to cede all the Khanates of the South Caucasus, which included Baku khanate, Shirvan Khanate, Karabakh khanate, Ganja khanate, Shaki Khanate, Quba Khanate, and parts of the Talysh Khanate. Derbent (Darband) was also lost to Russia. These Khanates comprise what is today the Republic of Azerbaijan.By the treaty of Turkmanchay, Iran was forced to cede Nakhichevan khanate and the Mughan regions to Russia, as well as Erivan Khanate. These territories roughly constitute the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan and Republic of Armenia.


Armenia was a province of various Persian Empires since the Achaemenid period and was heavily influenced by Persian culture. Armenia however, has historically been largely populated by a distinct Indo-European-speaking people who merged with local Caucasian peoples, rather than being directly associated with the Iranian peoples. Ancient Armenian society was a combination of local cultures, Iranian social and political structures, and Hellenic/Christian traditions. [See:
*Link: []
*Encyclopedia Iranica p.417-483 for a lengthy discussion on this topic. Link: [ here]
] Due to centuries of independent indigenous development, conquests by western powers including the Romans and Russians, and its diverse diasporic population that has absorbed many cultural traits, especially those of Europe and Lebanon. []

Iran continues to have a sizeable Armenian minority that links Armenians to Iranian culture. Many Armenians such as Yeprem Khan were directly involved and remembered in the History of Iran.


Early in antiquity, Narseh of Persia is known to have had fortifications built here. In later times, some of Persia's literary and intellectual figures from the Qajar period have hailed from this region. Also separated from Greater-Iran/Persia in the mid-1800s, by virtue of the Gulistan Treaty and Turkmenchay Treaty.

که تا جایگه یافتی نخچوان
Oh Nakhchivan, respect you've attained,
بدین شاه شد بخت پیرت جوان
With this King in luck you'll remain.


Georgia, or "Gorjestan" was a Persian Province during Sassanid times (particularly starting with Hormozd IV). During the Safavid era, Georgia became so culturally intertwined with Iran that they almost replaced the Qezelbash in the Safavid courts. Persian language was even the official administrative language of Georgia in the time of Shah Tahmasb, and Allah-verdi Khan, whom the famous landmark of 33 pol in Isfahan is named after, was among the Georgian elite that were involved in the Safavid government. And Amin al-Sultan, Prime Minister of Iran, was the son of a Georgian father. [Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave. 2005. Coauthored with Michael Rubin. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.168] Georgia was again a direct province of Persia from 1629 until 1762 when the Russian influence arrived.

The aforementioned is especially true of "Eastern Georgia". Eastern Georgia historically was attached to the south for support, as opposed to Western Georgia, which looked for help to the North. The city of "Teflis" ( Tbilisi in Georgian) was Persianized for quite some time. The Qajarid heir to the throne prince Abbas Mirza spent much time there.

In the end, Persia was unable to challenge Russia in Georgia, and officially gave up claim to Georgia according to the text of the Gulistan Treaty and Turkmenchay Treaty.

Due to the Treaty of Gulistan, Iran was forced to cede to Russia all the cities, towns, and villages of Georgia, including regions on the Black Sea coast, such as Megrelia, Abkhazia, Imeretia, and Guria.

For a lengthy discussion, see [ Gorjestan] .


At times, Greater Iran also included Iraq, as it is where the Sassanid capital was located (Ctesiphon). There are still cities and provinces in contemporary Iraq where the Persian names of the city are still retained. e.g. al-Anbar or Baghdad. Other cities of Iraq with originally Persian names include "Nokard" (نوكرد) --> al-Haditha, "Suristan" (سورستان) --> Kufa, "Shahrban" (شهربان) --> Miqdadiya, "Arvandrud" (اروندرود)--> Shatt al-Arab, and "Asheb" (آشب) --> Imadiyya. [See: محمدی ملایری، محمد: فرهنگ ایران در دوران انتقال از عصر ساسانی به عصر اسلامی، جلد دوم: دل ایرانشهر، تهران، انتشارات توس 1375.: Mohammadi Malayeri, M.: Del-e Iranshahr, vol. II, Tehran 1375 Hs.]

Patrick Clawson verifies this:

:"Arab nationalists may seek retroactively to extend the present into the past, but this skews reality. Iranian domains once extended well into what is now Iraq. The first Sassanian capital was at Ctesiphon, 21 miles southeast of Baghdad." [Patrick Clawson. "Eternal Iran". Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6,]

Even after Iraq was Arabized during the Islamic conquests of the 7th century, the Persian presence was still quite recognizeable and dominant at times, as many famous Persian Shia clerics are buried in Najaf and Karbala. At the latest, the Safavids lost control of these areas to the Ottoman Empire.

Map gallery


*1639 Treaty of Zuhab: Iran formally transfers Baghdad and modern Iraq to the Ottoman Empire.
*1813 Gulestan Treaty: Iran gives up claims over large areas in the Caucasus.
*1828 Turkmenchay Treaty: Signed by Fath Ali Shah. Russia gains sovereignty over the Caucasus.
*1857 Paris Treaty: Signed by Nasereddin Shah. Iran loses Herat and parts of Afghanistan in exchange for the evacuation of Iran's southern ports by Great Britain.
*1881 Akhal Treaty: Signed by Nasereddin Shah. Iran loses Merv and parts of Khwarazmia in exchange for security guarantees from Russia.
*1893: Iran transfers to Russia additional regions near the Atrek River that were Iranian under the Akhal Treaty. This treaty was signed by General Boutsoff and "Mirza Ali Asghar Amin al-Sultan" on May 27, 1893.
*1907: Persia was to be carved up into three regions, according to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.
*1970: Iran abandons sovereignty rights over Bahrain to Great Britain in exchange for Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa islands in the Persian Gulf.


Further reading

*"Ethnic Identity in Iran" by Richard Nelson Frye, JSAI 26, 2002, see p.82 []
* [ "Columbia College Today" on "Iranian Cultural Continent"]

See also

*Persian Empire
*Culture of Iran
*History of Iran
*Persian language
*Iranian Plateau
*Greater Khorasan
*History of Afghanistan
*History of Pakistan
*Persianate cultures
*Iranian peoples
*Iranian languages
*List of Persia-related topics
*List of Irredentist states
*List of Persian Kings
*Capitals of Greater Iran
*Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex
*Yaz culture

* Greater India
* Greater Syria
* Greater Israel

External links

In English

* [ A map of the treaties affecting Greater Iran]
* [ Article on]
* [ Persians in China]
* [ Pirooz in China]

In Persian

* [ Interview: where "Iran e Bozrorg" is discussed] [ (2)] [ (3)]

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