While popular culture has been always more favorable to the Greeks (especially the Spartans), history still has a few accounts of the mighty deeds and feats of their oft media-abused ‘barbaric’ adversaries – the Persians. As a matter of fact, this advanced eastern realm has long been the cultural as well as military opponents of the Mediterranean-based classical civilizations; and as such, there was a considerable influx of influence and ideas that permeated between these grand factions of antiquity. So, without further ado, let us check eight fascinating facts that you may not have not known about the regal Persians and their achievements.
*Note – With the term Persian, we want to encompass the culture that existed from 6th century BC Achaemenids to 7th century AD pre-Islamic, Sassanids.
1) The Persians were the ones to shape the world’s first human rights charter –
While Hollywood sings high praises of the Spartan culture, it was the Persians who are thought to draft the world’s first human rights charter (or at least something very similar to the scope of human rights, as believed by both the British Museum and United Nations). This charter is better known as the Cyrus Cylinder, as it is basically a baked-clay cylindrical object from 539 BC with engraved Akkadian language. The artifact was created under King Cyrus’s orders, when his army marched inside Babylon, and bloodlessly conquered the fabled city. As for the contents of ancient inscriptions on the tablet, they mainly pertain to – equality for all races, religions and languages; along with the opportunity of slaves and deported people to return to their original homelands.
2) Persians built the earliest known vertical axis windmills –
The core technology of windmills obviously came from wind sails that were used for the maneuvering of ships. However, the first known use of wind power for automatically aiding daily manual tasks – like grinding grain or pumping water, most probably originated from Persia. To the end, the first historically documented panemone windmill design (a variant of vertical axis windmill) is actually Persian, with accounts of the tech being as old as 1,500 years. This particular specimen’s vertical sail was built from bundled reeds or timber, and they were in turn were fixed to the central vertical shaft with the help of horizontal struts. The bidirectional system was perhaps further fine-tuned with the use of strategically placed external walls that aided in the guiding of the available wind in the desired direction.
3) Persians were also known as pioneers in ventilation, cooling systems and refrigeration technology –
The Persian prowess in cooling and refrigeration tech is even older with the first crafting techniques of ancient refrigerators coming from circa 400 BC. Known as Yakhchals (or ice pits), these designs generally comprised of large yet insulated underground storage spaces that sometimes crossed volumes of 1,800,000 cubic ft. The subterranean areas additionally consisted of Qanat, or wind catchers for creating natural ventilation that aided in temperature drops to even frigid conditions. These underground chambers were literally topped off by stepped dome like structures made of heat-resistant mud bricks (pictured above) that often rose to over 60 ft, and were built with the help of a mortar consisting of sand, lime, egg white, goat hair and ash. These ingeniously engineered installations was mainly used to store ice and even food items during the rigorous summer months. Interestingly, the then-available technology might have given rise to the famous cold desert ‘Faloodeh‘ from Iranian cuisine.
4) Persians brought forth the concept of Paradise Gardens; and as such the English word ‘paradise’ comes from Old Iranian –
It was during the time of the Achaemenid Dynasty that the literary notion of an earthly paradise came into existence – with one legend of Zarathushtra even proclaiming the incredible creation of a paradise-like community garden within a barren landscape. In that regard, the term for spectacularly well-tended gardens in Old Iranian, is ‘pairi-daeza‘. This is turn was transmuted to ‘paradeisos‘ in Greek, and made way to ‘paradis‘ in Old French – from which the common English term is ultimately borrowed.
As for the physical manifestations of such man-made Paradise Gardens, they were directly related to the topographical and climatic extremes of the Iranian and Khorasan landscapes – with rocky-barren mountains, frigid winters and sweltering summers. In between such severity of scopes, there were patches of verdant lands and lush forests – and they provided the inspiration for impressive gardening projects. To that end, the ancient ethics suggested that the less-trodden countryside should be kept clean and pristine (as God’s sacred creations), while the inhabited areas should be made more beautiful and verdurous with the organized application of plants, trees and herbs. In essence, they could be used as bountiful refuges by humans and animals alike.