History in Azerbaijan

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Several ancient tribes inhabited the land of Azerbaijan, and some areas became known after these tribes: Caspian, Mannai, Media and Caucasian Albania. Some of the states that emerged in the area from the 3rd millennium BC were powerful and quite advanced, specially the Mannai and the Medes. The Medes invaded the kingdom of the Mannai in the Xth century BC. The Medes, an ancient Indo-European people, ancestors of the modern Kurds, eventually built their empire, Media, stretching as far west as Cappadocia. By the 8th century BC Media was raided and settled - but not defeated - by the Scynthians, coming from the banks of the Black sea. In 550 BC the king of the Medes, Astyages, was defeated and imprisoned by his grandson Cyrus II the Great, and the region was first integrated into the Persian empire. This mighty state reached from the Caspian to the Indian ocean.

Only the Greeks resisted the power of Persia, and defeated first Darius I at Marathon and then his son Xerxes I at Salamina and Plateias. By the 4th century BC they reached Azerbaijan, under Alexander the Great, who defeated Darius III at Isso, Granic and Erbil, and later reached the heart of the Persian empire, destroying Persepolis itself. The king of minor Media, Atropat, seized this moment to proclaim his country's independence. The lands north of the Araz river were called Atropatene, after him. (while most popular story regarding the origin of the name Azerbaijan traces it to the Persian word for fire 'azer', another version derives the name from Atropatene). After Alexander's death his empire fragmented and Azerbaijan was integrated in the area controlled by one of his generals: Seleucus. He ruled over the Persian empire and founded the Seleucid dynasty.

Seleucid power was eclipsed by the Partas and these fought against Europeans again. This time the invaders were not the Greeks, but the Romans, who called the region Albania. They had a presence in the area for about 300 hundred years. Marc Antony was defeated by the Partas in Ganzaca. Nevertheless the Roman empire made important advances under the Spanish born emperor Trajan.

Christianity also arrived early, with the mission of St. Eliseus reaching Caucasian Albania in the Ist century AD. In spite of some successes, by 115 AD Rome withdrew after Trajan's armies were affected by the plague. (In Gobustan you can still find inscriptions left by the Romans and the Greeks). A revolt against the Partas succeeded in 226 taking to power a new dynasty, the Sassanids. By the 3rd century the Apostolic Autocephalous church was fully established and religious and cultural live was thriving. North of Araz river (Caucasian Albania or Aluania), Christianity was widely accepted in the Vth century after St. Grigor the Illuminator converted and baptized its king, Urnayr.

The first Sassanid king, Ardashir I, had to face a new war with Rome from 229 to 232. He revived Zoroastrianism as the official religion and during his reign the collection of texts known as the Zend Avesta was assembled. Ardashir I was succeeded by Shapur I who again had to face war with Rome. His death resulted in three decades (271-301) of dynastic struggles. In 387 Caucasian Albania, following the partition of Armenia between Byzantine empire and Sassanid Persia was merged with the new Persian acquisition to form the Ran province. By 409, during the reign of Yezdigird the Wicked, Christians were permitted to publicly worship and to build churches. Later he changed his mind and from 416 till 420 the Sassanid Christians were persecuted. During the reign of Varahran V the war with Rome re-awakens and in 424 the Council of Dad-Ishu declares the Eastern Church independent of Constantinople. By 483 an edict of toleration was granted to Christians. In 491 the Armenian Church repudiated the Council of Chalcedon and Nestorian Christianity became the dominant Christian branch in the Sassanid Empire. In the reign of Anshurwan the Just (531-579) a "Treaty of Endless Peace" with Rome is signed, but ironically war started again.

The next Sassanid king, Khusru Parviz, had to face not only war with Rome (603-610 and 627) but also a defeat by the arab army, at Dhu-Qar. Yezdigird III, the last Sassanid king, saw the arab Muslims invade Iraq culminating in 642 with the destruction of the Persian army at Nehawand. During the first four decades of the 7th century Azerbaijan resisted fiercely to the arab invaders, under the last Albanian king - Javanshir. Under the early Caliphate Barda became the main seat of power, and the area became the province of "ar-Ran", later Arran. By 642 the Muslim arabs finally completed their conquest of the Sassanids. In spite of this invasion, the arabs never exerted direct rule, but used local chieftains instead, however they managed to Islamize the area.

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