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Persia, Arabia, Mediaeval and Modern; Siam.

Mediaeval and Modern History of Asia.
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Of Persia, in mediaeval times, something has been seen incidentally in connection with the Roman (Western) and Byzantine (Greek or Eastern) Empires. On the downfall of the Parthian realm in a.d. 226, a new Persian empire, embracing much of central Asia, was founded, as we have seen, by a Persian named Ardashir Babigan, or Artaxerxes I., of the dynasty called the Sassanidas from his grandfather Sassan, which held rule for over four centuries. A high point of power and prosperity was attained. Among the chief sovereigns were Sapor I. (240-271), who waged war successfully with the Roman empire, capturing Antioch and other towns, and making a prisoner for life of the emperor Valerian; Sapor II., styled "the Great," who reigned, it is said, from 310 to 381, extending his power over Tartar tribes to the east, warring with the Roman emperor Julian, recovering several provinces from Rome, and conquering Armenia; and Chosroes I. (531-579), the greatest of the Sassanid kings, who fought victoriously with the Byzantine emperors, the Turks, and the Arabs, and extended his dominions from the Indus to the Mediterranean, and from the Jaxartes (Sihun or Syr-Daria) to Arabia and the borders of Egypt. In a treaty concluded between Persia and the Eastern (Greek) Empire in 563 we note with interest that Christianity was to be tolerated in Persia, and that disputes between the contracting powers were to be referred to arbitration. Under this able ruler the administration of affairs was much improved. Frequent "progresses" enabled him to exercise supervision as to provincial rule; a fixed land-tax was established, and the collectors were placed under the control of the priests; irrigation was extended, learning was encouraged, and foreigners were protected. The Byzantine emperor Heraclius, as we have seen, after being reduced to great straits by Persian conquest under Chosroes II. (589-628), crushed his foe in a battle at Nineveh, in 627, and the Persian king was then murdered at Ctesiphon by mutinous troops. This event was quickly followed by the downfall of the Sassanid dynasty under Arab conquest. In 633 a Persian defeat placed the whole territory west of the Euphrates in possession of the Arabs; in 636, at the four days' battle of Kadesia, near the Tigris, the royal Persian standard was lost to the Caliph (Khalif) Omar; in the following year Mesopotamia was invaded, Ctesiphon taken, and the Persians suffered another defeat. The end drew near in 639 when the Arabs entered Susiana and Persia proper. It was then that the brave and virtuous Omar displayed his noble character in good faith to a conquered foe who outwitted him. A Persian general, Harmosan, brought a captive before the Caliph, begged for a cup of water before he died. Hesitating to taste it, in fear of poison or a sudden stab, he was assured by his conqueror that he should have no harm until he had quaffed the contents of the cup. He instantly dashed the goblet down on the sand, and claimed his life. In a modern poet's words -

"For a moment stood the caliph, as by doubtful passions stirred,
Then exclaimed, ' For ever sacred must remain a monarch's word!
Bring another cup and straightway to the noble Persian give:
Drink, I said before, and perish - now I bid thee drink, and live.'"

By a supreme effort, the last of the Sassanidse, Yezdigerd III., gathered an army of 150,000 men, but at the battle of Nahavend (the "victory of victories"), in 641, he was utterly beaten, and Persia became for more than 150 years a province of the caliphate.

Under the Abbaside dynasty, which came into power in 750, Bagdad became the capital, and Khorassan was the favourite province, Persia being regarded as the centre of the caliphate. After the Arab conquest, the old Persian religion was abandoned for the faith of Islam, the Guebres or Parsis alone adhering to the creed of Zoroaster. Early in the 9th century numerous small states began to arise in the Persian territories, and the history has little of interest or importance. We have seen, in the history of India, a Sultan Mahmud as conquering in the Punjab, and Afghan sultans of Ghor. These sovereigns belonged to some of the many dynasties which arose. The Seljuk Turks held sway from the Hellespont to Afghanistan in part of the 11th and 12th centuries, and succumbed, in their turn, to the Mongols under Genghis Khan, The Perso-Mongol dynasty ruled from 1253 to 1335, and at the end of the 14th century all the old and medieval Persian empire became subject to Timour or Tamerlane, When the Mongol power in Persia ended, in the 15th century, the Turkomans had the mastery, and they were succeeded, in 1501, by the Sufi dynasty in western Persia, founded by a prince Ismail, the descendant of a long line of saints and devotees, and head of a number of Turkish tribes. These rulers were in power until 1736. Ismail is revered by the modern Persians as the restorer of the empire and as the founder of the Shiah form of Mohammedanism which is their national religion, Shah Abbas I., or Abbas the Great (1587-1628), was the chief Eastern ruler of his day. His bravery and vigour restored internal peace; repelled Turkoman invaders; defeated the Turks in 1605 so completely as to recover the lost territory of Kurdistan, Diarbekir and Mosul; and took Kandahar from the Mughal emperor of India. His army was disciplined in the European style by two British officers, and supplied with good artillery. Ruling as an absolute monarch, and master of the cities of Bagdad and Bassora, part of his conquests from the Turks, Shah Abbas made Ispahan his capital, and distinguished himself by the justice and strictness of his government, by great and beneficial public works, and by religious tolerance. Under his successors the monarchy declined, having another brief period of power under the usurper Nadir Shah, whom we have' seen as the captor and ravager of Delhi. His death in 1747 was followed by terrible anarchy and civil war, and, in a division of the territories, Afghanistan and Beluchistan were finally lost. An excellent ruler named Kerim Khan, just, wise, and warlike, was master of the whole of western Iran or modern Persia from 1755 until his death in 1779, and then, after another period of strife, Aga Mohammed, a Turkoman chief of great qualities, became the first sovereign of the present dynasty. The losses to Russia early in the 19th century have been already noted. In 1848 Nasr-ed-din succeeded his father Mohammed Shah, and reigned for nearly half a century. Many reforms were promised, but not effected, and misrule caused frequent insurrections. Persia had been recently brought into close connection with Great Britain by some warfare which, in 1838, prevented Mohammed Shah from annexing Herat, and by a commercial treaty concluded in 1841. The hankering of Persian governments for Herat broke out again in 1852, when the town and territory were annexed by Persia, but British interference compelled their cession, and the Shah, in 1853, bound himself not to interfere further in that direction. Under Russian influence and intrigue, this promise was soon violated, and an Anglo-Persian war was the result. In October, 1856, Persian forces occupied Herat, and a British expedition was promptly dispatched from India. The fortified town of Bushire, in the Persian Gulf, was seized, and the traffic in slaves was abolished. Some battles on land, with the destruction of Persian infantry, in squares, by our cavalry, were gained by our men, and in March, 1857, the Shah was compelled to acknowledge the independence of Herat, and to abstain from all interference in Afghan affairs. No other events of note have occurred. The Shah visited Europe in 1873 and 1889, staying in the British Isles for short periods during his lengthy tours, and aroused much interest in his personality as a combination of civilisation and semi-barbarism - a love of sport and adventure, of art and literature, the tastes and accomplishments of a hunter, a marksman, and a mountaineer, a delight in splendour and sumptuous living. In his own capital, Teheran, where he dwelt in a palace of marvellous beauty, the Shah led an active life, rising early for state-business, dispensing with some of the stricter court-etiquette, and giving many audiences to foreign ministers. On his return to Persia from the first visit to Europe, the Teheran Gazette was allowed to publish the monarch's remarkable diary describing the marvels which he had seen. On May 1st, 1896, Nasr-ed-din met his death at Teheran by assassination, with a pistol-shot in the heart, at the hands of a member of a secret society, and was succeeded by Muzaffer-ed-din, his second son.

The Arabs have been largely seen in their foreign conquests and civilisation. In the great - Arabian peninsula itself, for a thousand years after Mohammed, there were few events of interest. The country included several independent principalities. Early in the 16th century the Turks subdued Hejaz and Yemen, retaining the former to the present day, but losing the latter for the period between 1630 and 1871. In the east, Oman became independent of the caliphs in the 8th century, and was a well-organised kingdom. Between 1507 and 1659 its capital, Muscat, was in the hands of the Portuguese. Then the Dutch held many important places on the coast, and the Persians, under Nadir Shah, were in possession of Oman for a short time, being driven out in 1759 by a native prince, who became Sultan, and extended his power over some of the opposite Persian coast and the adjacent islands. About the middle of the 18th century we have the appearance of the Wahabis, a sect of Mohammedans founded by Abd-el-Wahab, an excellent scholar, eager to restore the primitive faith and practice of Islam. These Puritans of Mohammedanism became powerful under their leader's first important convert and son-in-law, Prince Saood, whose sword gave them rule from the frontiers of Mecca to the Persian Gulf. Under his successors, Mecca and Medina were added to the Wahabi dominion, and numerous tribes of Bedouins were conquered and converted. The political power of the Wahabis disappeared, early in the igth century, under the conquests made in Arabia by Mehemet AH of Egypt. In 1863 the distinguished traveller William Gifford Palgrave found that the Wahabi power had revived and reached a higher point than ever. Oman has become independent under the Sultan of Muscat, and Great Britain has exercised considerable influence in southern Arabia since her occupation of Aden in 1839.

Siam is an Asiatic country which has, in recent years, acquired interest and importance. We have no authentic history until 1357, when Ayuthia, on the Menam, was founded as capital. Cambodia was made tributary in 1532. In the latter half of the 17th century there was a flourishing period under the influence of the monarch's chief minister, a Cephalonian Greek. In 1768 the capital was plundered and burnt in a Burmese invasion, the enemy being at last driven out by a commander of Chino-Siamese race, who made Bangkok the capital and became king. The present dynasty was founded in 1782. The former system of having "first" and "second" kings having been abolished, the present sole sovereign is Chulalongkorn I., born in 1853, who succeeded in 1868. This excellent, amiable, and intelligent monarch, a master of the English tongue, has done much for the progress of his country, in the abolition of slavery and the introduction of British education and British government-officials, and of various points of Western civilisation, In the summer of 1897 he visited Europe, arriving in England in August, and paying visits to Edinburgh and other great towns. He displayed a rare acquaintance with and interest in British history, and won all hearts by his tender regard for the sick children in the Edinburgh hospitals. Many Siamese boys and girls have been under instruction in England, making good progress in various branches of education. The king of Siam has further shown his appreciation of this country's position in the world by making the crown prince a pupil at Harrow School.

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