IN 2013, a grand total of 3,000 American college students studied Farsi, the Persian language. Social studies standards in many states are Eurocentric, presenting Ancient Persia only as an empire conquered by Greece.
Yet our students hear about Iran — modern Persia — on the news with some frequency. Why not include Ancient Persia when you study the ancient world?
Mapping the Middle East
The Persian Empire arose in 550 BC and ended in 330 BC. It was larger than modern-day Iran, including what are now the modern countries of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and brought it under Greek rule. During the Middle Ages, Persia had a series of ruling groups and its borders changed many times. In the 1500s, Persia was reunited under a ruler called a Shah. The nation of Persia persisted until 1935, when the country officially began to use the name Iran.
Americans often confuse Persian and Arab cultures. Ancient Persia was a neighbor of Arabia, and modern Iran borders on Arab nations. However, the Persian or Farsi language and culture is not the same as Arabic or Arab cultures. Help clarify the situation with maps.
- Start with a map of Ancient Persia.
- Additional maps show the changes in the Near East.
- TimeMaps has a simple map of the ancient Middle East showing Persia and its neighbors.
- A map of Persia from 1920.
- Google’s current map of Iran
- A map showing where Persian, now usually called Farsi, is spoken today
Post a number of big sheets of paper on your wall for small groups to work with. Provide several colored markers for each group.
Project each of the linked maps on your board. Give time for students to examine the maps and draw them on their papers. Have students draw Ancient Persia in one color and modern Iran in another.
Kings of Ancient Persia
ThoughtCo has a list of the rulers of Persia. For older students, this is an opportunity to assign one ruler to each student for a research report.
The same website has an overview of the three best-known kings of Persia:
A study of these great rulers is perfect for students who enjoy military and political history.
Cyrus the Great, the first King of Persia, established a charter for human rights. he was a great warrior, known for fairness and mercy toward the people living in his empire. Resources for Cyrus:
- The Cyrus Cylinder
- Cyrus the Great in the My Hero Project
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a collection of relevant artworks
Darius the Great was Cyrus the Great’s son in law. He set up an organized government with a postal system, tax collectors, and a system that respected his people’s different languages and religions. Resources for Darius:
- An essay on Darius that should be accessible to middle school and high school readers
- A lesson focusing on the Persian Wars
- PBS has a video on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of Cyrus’s legacies.
Xerxes the Great was the last of the three famous kings of Ancient Persia. He fought the Ancient Greeks. Resources:
- Quizlet has a set of digital flashcards reviewing Ancient Persia and looking at the relationship with the Greeks.
- HistoryNet has a good article on the invasion of Greece by Xerxes. We recommend using Reader View for this page.
- EdSitement’s page on this famous battle
- Learn more about Ancient Greece.
The History Cooperative has a great quick overview of the history of Iran. This can help put the rulers of Persia in perspective.
Persian Fairy Tales
There are quite a few books of Persian stories. The Persian Cinderella can be a particularly accessible choice, but there are plenty of fables. Enjoy these traditional stories while you learn about Ancient Persia.
- An online collection of traditional Persian stories
- Another collection from the University of Oklahoma
- Admire Persian dragons