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

224–626 A.D.

From southwestern Iran, Ardashir I (r. 224–40 A.D.) founds the Sasanian dynasty and ends Parthian rule. Coins, rock reliefs, and stucco relief decoration exemplify Sasanian imperial art. This style emphasizes the power of the ruler by depicting him on monumental rock reliefs and on objects made of precious materials such as silver. Despite constant aggression between the Sasanians and Byzantium, there are parallels in the arts, especially motifs on textiles that reflect mutual influences. The use of frontality, introduced in the Parthian period, continues in Sasanian art, and becomes a hallmark of the Romano-Byzantine West.

241–272 A.D.

4th century
Sasanian period, Gilded silver

Shapur I expands the Sasanian empire to its greatest size (from the Euphrates River to the Oxus and Indus, and north into Armenia and Georgia). Continued conflicts with Rome and Byzantium for control of east-west trade routes and the taking of prisoners results in Roman influence in the arts and architecture. Domed square rooms are built with the aid of squinches (arched lintels) in the upper corners, a Sasanian innovation that influences Western medieval architecture. Shapur commemorates his victories against Rome in a series of reliefs, carved beneath the earlier Achaemenid Persian royal tombs, which show him triumphant over the emperors Gordian III, Philip the Arab, and Valerian.


5th century
Silver, mercury gilding

Khosrow I, called Anushirvan (r. 531–79), initially makes peace with the Byzantine empire and introduces a number of reforms. New forms of land survey and taxation stimulate the economy. Khosrow protects the frontiers of his empire by dividing it into four military zones, each commanded by one general.


Khosrow briefly captures Antioch from the Byzantine empire in the west while, in the east, he crushes the nomadic Hephthalite Huns. The Byzantine chronicler Procopius records the conflict with Byzantium, which lasts some twenty years. Near Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia, Khosrow builds a new city called Veh az Antiok Khosrow (Better than Antioch Khosrow). The royal seal of Khosrow bears the image of a wild boar. This popular and widespread symbol in Sasanian art appears in stucco friezes, stone reliefs, and royal silver plates.


During the reign of the Rightly Guided Caliph cUmar ibn al-Khattab, Arab armies under the banner of Islam defeat Sasanian forces at the battle of Nahavand (642), marking the de facto end of the Sasanian empire. The last Sasanian ruler, Yazdegerd III, flees to Merv, where he dies in 651. The influence of Sasanian art and architecture is strongly felt in the early Islamic period in Iran.


8th century
Umayyad, Iran or Iraq, Wool

With the shift of the seat of power to Baghdad under the cAbbasids, Iran is in close contact with the center of Islamic civilization. Persian bureaucrats gain key positions in the cAbbasid hierarchy. Artistic impulses emanating from Baghdad and Samarra’ are felt even in the remotest Iranian provinces.

ca. 750–900

9th–10th century
Iran (Nishapur), Stucco, painte

Congregational mosques in the cAbbasid style are built in various Iranian cities. Surviving examples include the mosques of Damghan, Fahraj, Isfahan, and Siraf.

ca. 800–1000

As the cAbbasid caliphate centered in Baghdad begins to disintegrate, several Iranian dynasties such as the Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids, and Buyids gain power in the eastern Islamic provinces, leaving cAbbasid political power effectively limited to Iraq. Until the end of the tenth century, these dynasties prevent a large-scale migration of Turkic nomads from the Central Asian steppe.

ca. 900–1000

Gurgan, Iran, Gold

The Samanids establish autonomous control in the Khorasan region and rule quite independently from Nishapur, their provincial capital in eastern Iran. The age of the Samanids marks a renaissance of Iranian culture in which their court is associated with the rise of Persian literature. Various pre-Islamic traditions are revived and integrated into the Islamic artistic language. In this way, a symbiosis emerges from the two trends of pan-Islamic Arabic and Iranian traditions. This cultural blend continues for several centuries until the social, ethnic, and political structure of the region is modified by the input of Turkic populations. New congregational mosques are built and older ones renewed and enlarged in order to serve the growing Muslim community. The mosques of Nayin (960), Niriz (973), and Isfahan (Buyid enlargement, 985–1040) are among the few surviving examples.

ca. 900–1100

Seljuq Khorasan (eastern Iran),
Cast bronze with openwork decoration

Particularly fine ceramics, metalwork, and relief-cut glass are produced in Iran. Artists in Nishapur develop very distinctive ceramics in which slip-painting beneath a transparent glaze produces a durable surface on earthenware pottery and allows for much creativity.


The forces of the Iranian Buyid dynasty, supporters of Shici Islam, enter Baghdad and take control of the weakened cAbbasid caliphate. From this point onward, until the formal end of the dynasty in 1258, the influence of the cAbbasid caliphs is limited to the moral and spiritual spheres, as the heads of Orthodox Sunni Islam.

ca. 900–1100

Particularly fine ceramics, metalwork, and relief-cut glass are produced in Iran during this period. The artists in Nishapur develop very distinctive ceramics in which slip painting beneath a transparent glaze produces a durable surface on earthenware pottery and allows for much creativity.


The weakened cAbbasid caliphate, its political power effectively limited to Iraq, is controlled by the Iranian Buyid dynasty, supporters of Shici Islam. The influence of the cAbbasid caliphs is limited to the moral and spiritual spheres, as the heads of Orthodox Sunni Islam.

ca. 950–1150

Despite political instability, the period is a critical point in the intellectual, philosophical, and scientific life of Iran, one in which the active figures are some of the most influential scholars in medieval Islam, including al-Biruni (973–1048), astronomer and polymath, Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037), physician and philosopher, and al-Ghazali (1058–1111), theologian and mystic. The Latin translations of Avicenna’s works have a tremendous effect on the development of philosophy and medicine in Europe.

ca. 1000–1100

Funerary monuments are prominent among architectural developments during this period. Of the surviving examples, the Gunbad-i Qabus near Gurgan (1006–7), as well as the mausolea of Sangbast (1028), Damghan (1056), Khargird (1087), and Kharraqan (1067 and 1093) are particularly noteworthy.


The Shahnama (Book of Kings), the Iranian national epic, is completed by the poet Firdausi (935–1020) and dedicated to the great Ghaznavid ruler Mahmud (r. 997–1030).

ca. 1040–1157

Naein, Buyid period

Following their defeat of the powerful Ghaznavids at the Battle of Dandanakan, the Seljuqs, a Turkic dynasty of Central Asian nomadic origin, become the new rulers of the eastern Islamic lands. Their sovereignty is strengthened with their takeover of Baghdad, which puts an end to Buyid rule (1055) and establishes the Seljuqs as the new protectors of the cAbbasid caliphate and Sunni Islam. Though their vast empire encompassing all of Iran, Iraq, and much of Anatolia is relatively short-lived, the Seljuq cultural efflorescence continues well beyond the sultanate’s political influence. The creativity in the arts and architecture during the Seljuq period has a notable impact on later artistic developments.

ca. 1073–1092

ca. 1180–1210
Seljuq, Khorasan (eastern Iran), Iran
Repoussé brass inlaid with silver and bitumen

The transformed congregational mosque in Isfahan, for which additions are commissioned by Nizam al-Mulk (r. 1063–92) and Taj al-Mulk, two Seljuq administrators, for Sultan Malikshah (r. 1073–92) and his wife Terkan Khatun, is the most celebrated and influential Seljuq monument.


late 12th–early 13th century
Seljuq, Central or northern Iran,
ware, composite body, opaque white glaze with gilding, overglaze painting

Following conflict with the Khwarazmshah dynasty (1157–1221), the Mongols sweep through and take control of Iran. Mongol conquests devastate the region and affect the balance of artistic production. However, in a short period of time the control of most of Asia by the Mongols—the so-called Pax Mongolica—creates an environment of tremendous cultural exchange; Chinese and other East and Central Asian influences are seen in Islamic art.

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