SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

About Iran

A few facts about Iran


Iran is one of the few countries that has a continuing influence in shaping contemporary history and also played a prominent role in the early history of civilisation.

Iran's history as a nation of people dates back to the second millennium BC. In succession to the empires of Assyria and Babylon, Iran became the major power in the Middle East in the sixth century BC, when the Persian Empire of Cyrus, Xerxes and Darius stretched from the shores of Greece to the edge of India. In the fourth century BC Iran's hegemony was briefly interrupted by the short-lived dominion of Alexander the Great and his successors, but under the Parthian and Sasanian rulers Iran was again a dominant political power.

Iran's ancient religion, Zoroastrianism, is considered one of the earliest monolithic religions.

It has probably influenced mankind more than any other faith, for it had a profound impact on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Strong adherence to Zoroastrian beliefs and rituals continues among its modern followers in Iran, India and through out the world.


Iran is an immensely fascinating modern state. One of the larger countries of the Middle East with a predominantly young population of nearly seventy million and sixteenth in size among the countries of the world, Iran is located in one of the most strategically important parts of our planet, linking Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent to Europe. Throughout history Iran has been a major junction between the trading nations of east and west. To put it more romantically, Iran sits on the Silk Road, an ancient trade route that made ancient economic exchanges between the West and the East possible and allowed this delicate commodity reach the markets in Rome.


For veteran travellers in search of the new and the under explored, Iran is an exciting tourist destination, offering breathtaking contrasts of nature as well as a wealth of ancient and medieval sites. Of the world's twelve places recognised and registered in UNESCO's Index of World Human Heritage, three are located in Iran.


Iran is the home of miniature paintings, calligraphy, exquisite carpets and vibrant glazed tile-works. The arts of Iran remain a popular area of research and study for artists and students alike.