Persian Empire Tip: The Iranian Plateau

Zagreb Folded Zone; CC BY-SA 3.0 Joshua Doubek Courtesy of Wikipedia, which says "The Zagros fold and thrust belt (Zagros FTB) is an approximately 1,800-kilometre (1,100 mi) long zone of deformed crustal rocks, formed in the foreland of the collision between the Arabian Plate and the Eurasian Plate."

In my Iranian history classes, the professor peppered his PowerPoint presentations with maps of the Persian Empire and its environs. This was an exceedingly useful pedagogical tool, reinforcing our awareness of Persia’s physical place in the world, but I often found myself wondering why the term plateau was used at all when he was referring to the Zagros mountains. As I recall, he said the term Iranian Plateau referred to the whole area, so I tried to ignore all mountains on the maps. Nonetheless I have remained curious about this contradiction.

The Iranian plateau, or Persian plateau , is in southern Western Asia and Central Asia. The Iranian plateau is centered in Iran, and connects to Anatolia in the west and the Hindu Kush and Himalaya in the east. CC BY-SA 3.0 Dbachmann - self-made, generated from public domain map data

I found the answer today, again, while working on researching the Sassanid Empire.

Fisher says the Iranian Plateau may refer to a plateau or the plateau and the surrounding ring of mountains. It may include areas that are now politically part of Afghanistan and West Pakistan. He suggests writers specify what they mean. He further says that French and German geographers tend to limit the term to the basin of Iran proper, while Anglophone writers tend to use the term Iranian plateau for the “whole upland mass.”

He further describes the Iranian plateau as resembling a bowl surrounded by a ring of mountain chains. The main mountain set, covering most of the western part of Iran, is the Zagros, extending from Iran’s northwest going along Iran’s border (and inland area) in a southeasterly direction, ending at the Strait of Hormuz. Its length is 1,500 km (932 mi).

During the Sassanian period, the Zagros mountains divided the Persian Empire (or Eran) into a well-irrigated, fertile lowlands area in Mesopotamia and a less productive Iranian upland area, according to Ze’ev Rubin, in Chapter 22a THE SASANID MONARCHY, from The Cambridge Ancient History, edited by Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Michael Whitby (Volume XIV). The Sassanian capital was at Ctesiphon, which is near modern Baghdad, Iraq.

Image: The Iranian plateau, or Persian plateau , is in southern Western Asia and Central Asia. The Iranian plateau is centered in Iran, and connects to Anatolia in the west and the Hindu Kush and Himalaya in the east. CC BY-SA 3.0 Dbachmann – self-made, generated from public domain map data

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