In my sword-and-science fantasy novel The Origin Key, a third-century Persian prince discovers an incredibly ancient society with surprisingly modern science and technology. The prince is not amused when he is told that the revered Persian ruler Cyrus the Great created the Persian Empire with help and advice from Dodrazeb. In the story, Dodrazeb is a fictional kingdom that originated virtually every scientific advancement known to 21st century mankind—plus some still unknown to us.
Just as my fictional Prince Rasteem was shocked to learn that his beloved empire might owe its existence to an even more ancient culture, a lot of us today are unaware of the true origins of many ideas and technological achievements. This is due, in part, to the heavy influence of Greek and Roman history on our western culture. The truth is, Greece, Rome, and the rest of the modern world owe a huge debt to the Persians.
- The Cyrus Cylinder dates to 539 BC. Engraved with Akkadian language, it contains the oldest known, and possibly the very first, human rights charter. Inscriptions on the cylindrical tablet include statements of equality for all races, religions, and languages. It also defines opportunities for slaves and displaced people to return to their homelands.
- The earliest known vertical axis windmills were built by Persians. Inspired by the sails of sea-going vessels, windmills were constructed to capture the energy of strong winds on land and used to grind grain or pump water. The ancient Persian windmills consisted of bundled reeds or timber forming a vertical sail. These sails were attached to a central vertical shaft by horizontal struts.
- Ancient Persians developed ingenious refrigeration systems, dating from circa 400 BC. The large underground storage areas were ice pits called Yakhchals and could be as large as 1.8 million cubic ft. The subterranean spaces were covered by stepped dome-like structures made of heat-resistant mud bricks and rising as high as 60 ft. high. The Yakhchals stored ice and food items year-round, providing chilled delicacies for Persian royalty.
- Persians invented “Paradise Gardens.” In Old Iranian, the word for a breathtaking, well-tended, man-made garden is ‘pairi-daeza.’ The word became ‘paradeisos’ in Greek, and then ‘paradis’ in Old French. So the English term ‘paradise’ originated from a Persian idea of a heavenly retreat of exceptional beauty on earth. As today, the countryside of ancient Persia consisted of extremes in both topography and climate, from blizzards in severe winters to blinding dust storms in blazing summers. The terrain includes barren mountains and hostile deserts as well as fertile valleys and thick forests. Admirers of God’s sacred creation, the Persians recognized its wild beauty and determined to help make it blossom amid human habitation.
- Trousers were a Persian innovation. Until the Persians invented trousers and seamed, fitted coats, inhabitants of the Mediterranean region wore woven rectangles of cloth. The tailored garments provided superior protection in cold climates and spread to Asia and Europe. Trousers, valued especially by people who rode horses, spread quickly to China, India, and the Celtic tribes of northern Europe.
The next time you read about how advanced the Greeks and/or Romans were at the height of their civilizations, don’t forget that they benefitted from many cultures that came before. That’s how history really works.
Do you have a favorite period of history that fascinates you? What’s your favorite ancient culture? Leave a comment!