Persia – now Iran – is home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth, with a recorded history of over 2,500 years.
At one time ancient Persia was the greatest empire the world had ever known, covering lands in central Asia, much of Europe, Egypt and east to India. But while Persia may have been a conquering force, it was also one of the most tolerant and benevolent civilizations of antiquity.
Cyrus the Great, faced with the unique challenge of developing an approach to governance over such a huge empire, decided to embrace diversity. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, established racial equality, and pledged to respect the local customs of those he conquered. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder. Known today as the Cyrus Cylinder, this ancient record has been recognized as the world’s first charter of human rights. It is translated into all six official languages of the United Nations and its provisions parallel the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia, was a magnificent city, befitting its great rulers. Carvings on the ruined walls – the city was burned down after being conquered by Alexander the Great – depict soldiers not in battle, but on parade. Persepolis was known as a peaceful and cosmopolitan city.
The Arab invasion proved the old saying that Persians do not become the invaders, the invaders become Persians. For centuries Persians have been finding ways to keep their identity distinct from the rest of the Muslim and Arab world.