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Timeline of Iranian Art & History
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 8000 BC 21st Century
Last Updated: October, 2009

ca. 8000 B.C.

The earliest domestication of sheep and goats occurs at Ali Kosh in southwestern Iran. The earliest known clay vessels and modeled human and animal terracotta figurines are produced at Ganj Dareh in western Iran.

ca. 6000–5000 B.C.

early 4th millennium b.c.
Chalcolithic period, Sialk III 7 type Central Iran

Painted pottery and figurines from Hajji Firuz are similar to those found at sites in Mesopotamia, indicating contact between distant settlements.

ca. 4200 B.C.

The site of Susa is founded on a broad fertile plain. Surrounded by numerous agricultural villages, Susa is centered on a large mud-brick platform and becomes the regional locus of what is now central Khuzestan. Finely handmade, painted vessels are buried in graves beside the platform. The variety and individuality of these specialized wares indicate the presence of many artisans.

ca. 3400–3100 B.C.

Ceramics, cylinder seals, and sculpture at both Chogha Mish and Susa are virtually identical to those from southern Mesopotamia.

ca. 3100–2700 B.C.

3100–2900 b.c.
Proto-Elamite, Silver, Southwestern Iran

During the Proto-Elamite period, Susa, like neighboring Mesopotamia, uses hollow clay balls (bullae) to enclose counting tokens, and cylinder seals that are applied to a variety of jar sealings as well as bullae and clay tablets. The seals and small-scale sculpture are of the highest quality, often depicting wild animals or demonic figures in humanlike postures. Clay tablets inscribed with the Proto-Elamite writing system are found at numerous sites across Iran. Although derived from Mesopotamian cuneiform, the script remains largely undeciphered.

ca. 2600–2250 B.C.

Chlorite vessels of the "Intercultural Style" are characterized by decoration of the entire surface with abstract patterns, vegetal and architectural motifs, or naturalistic representations of animals or humans. Made in southern Iran and the greater Gulf region, these vessels are traded widely across the Near East from Syria to the Indus Valley.

ca. 2350–2000 B.C.

ca. 2300–2000 b.c.

Susa falls under the rule of the Mesopotamian kings of Akkad and, later, the 3rd Dynasty of Ur. Influenced by the art of Mesopotamia, Puzur-Inshushinak (r. ca. 2112–2095 B.C.) is the first king of Susa to leave large-scale statuary. A number of his monuments are inscribed with bilingual inscriptions: Akkadian written in cuneiform, and Elamite written in a poorly understood linear script. At the end of the period, the Elamites invade Mesopotamia, destroying the city of Ur.

ca. 2000–1900 B.C.

An Elamite dynasty from Shimashki, perhaps located in Luristan in the central Zagros Mountains, overthrows the Third Dynasty of Ur, replacing Mesopotamian domination of the lowlands with their own. At Susa, objects are made from a mixture of ground calcite, quartz, and bitumen. This compound is used for sculpture such as figurines and bas-relief plaques, and for many objects of everyday life, including jewelry and cylinder seals.

ca. 1900–1500 B.C.

The powerful Sukkalmah (or grand regent) dynasty is well-documented by cuneiform inscriptions on cylinder seals, buildings, and royal texts. They rule the highlands of the Zagros Mountains and the lowlands of the Susiana plain, conducting successful agricultural exploitation in the latter region by means of irrigation technology.

ca. 1340–1300 B.C.

14th century b.c.
Middle Elamite period, Southwestern Iran,
Bronze; gold foil over bitumen

A new capital and religious complex, including a ziggurat, is built by King Untash-Napirisha at Chogha Zanbil. The ziggurat's facade is covered with glazed blue and green terracotta, and its interior is decorated with glass and ivory mosaics. A finely carved stone stele of Untash-Napirisha adapts Mesopotamian religious imagery to depict Elamite mythology, while an extraordinary lifesize statue made of copper cast over a bronze core represents the king's wife Napir-Asu.

ca. late 2nd–early 1st millennium B.C.

The cemetery of Marlik, in northern Iran near the Caspian Sea, yields rich tombs with precious metal vessels, glass objects, and distinctive ceramics in the shape of humped bulls. At Susa, molded bricks—some depicting bull-men and palm trees—are used as a form of architectural decoration.

ca. 1190–1100 B.C.

The Shutrukid dynasty renews major building activity at Susa and military forays capture important Mesopotamian monuments, including the stele of Akkadian king Naram-Sin and the law code of Hammurabi, as war booty. The Kassite rulers of Babylonia, who may have originated on the Iranian plateau, are defeated by the Elamites around 1157 B.C.

ca. 1000 B.C.

Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon invades Elam, plundering the countryside and destroying Susa.

9th century B.C.

9th century b.c.
Iron Age II, Hasanlu cemetery
northwestern Iran, Ceramic

Medes and Persians, both speaking Indo-European languages, are first reported in the Iranian highlands as threats to the Assyrian empire of northern Mesopotamia.

ca. 8th–7th century B.C.

The inhabitants of the mountainous region of western Iran (modern Luristan), manufacture an astonishing variety of bronze objects, including weapons, standards, jewelry, horse ornaments, and vessels.

ca. 800 B.C.

Hasanlu, a Mannaean fortified city in northwestern Iran notable for its columned halls, is destroyed, possibly by an army from Urartu coming from northeastern Anatolia.

ca. 646 B.C.

The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal sacks Susa, ending Elamite supremacy.

612 B.C.

The Median king Cyaxares, allied with King Nabopolassar of Babylon, destroys the capital cities of Assyria. The following short-lived Median kingdom, with its capital at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in the Zagros Mountains, extends from northwestern Iran into Anatolia.

559–486 B.C.

The Persian king Cyrus II (the Great, r. ca. 559–530 B.C.) lays the foundation for the Achaemenid empire by successively overthrowing Media, Lydia, and the Babylonian empire. Under Darius I (the Great, r. 522–486 B.C.), the Achaemenid realm stretches from Greece and Egypt to Central Asia and India. The Persian Royal Road is built, running from Sardis (in Anatolia) to Susa, facilitating trade and taxation.

ca. 500–425 B.C.

358–338 b.c.
Achaemenid period, reign of Artaxerxes III
Persepolis, Iran

Foreign craftsmen help construct Persepolis using architectural and artistic styles from Iranian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Lydian, and Greek traditions to produce a distinctly Achaemenid form of art. Stone relief carvings portray the diverse subjects of the empire bringing tribute to the king.

331–247 B.C.

The armies of Alexander of Macedon defeat the Persians. Upon Alexander's death in Babylon, his successors divide the empire. Iran, Mesopotamia, and Syria fall under the rule of Seleucus I, who founds the Seleucid dynasty. Hellenistic art and culture emerge from a fusion of the various Near Eastern and classical Greek traditions.

247 B.C.

Arsaces I founds the Parthian (Arsacid) dynasty in northern Iran. By 113 B.C., his successors control much of the former Seleucid empire and move their capital from Iran to Ctesiphon on the Tigris.

ca. 53 B.C.

1st century b.c.–1st century a.d.
Parthian period, Iran,
Gold inlaid with turquoise

The Roman legions under Crassus suffer a decisive defeat at the hands of the Parthians, at Haran (ancient Carrhae) in northern Mesopotamia.

ca. 1–224 A.D.

1st–2nd century a.d.
Parthian period

The Parthians develop the iwan, an open-fronted vaulted hall. Iwans are often covered with carved stucco reliefs, some of the finest examples of which are built at Uruk and Ashur. The palace at Ashur has the earliest example of four iwans opening onto a central square. This form of architecture supplants Hellenistic styles in Iraq and Iran, and will play an important role in the religious architecture of the later Islamic period. A new fashion, frontality, arises in relief sculpture where the head and body are shown frontally.

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