The Persians by Homa Katouzian – 50 Years in 50 Books

The Persians is an authoritative and comprehensive history of Iran, first published in 2009. Homa Katouzian integrates the significant cultural and literary history of Iran with its political and social history providing an excellent background to the role of Iran in the contemporary world.

In this blogpost, part of the 50 Years in 50 Books series for our 50th Anniversary, Homa Katouzian gives us an insight into how he came to write an entire history of Iran, from the ancient Persian Empire to today.


Article by Homa Katouzian

I wrote The Persians when I was sixty-five. It was thus the product of fifty-five years of learning and teaching literature and social science with special – though not exclusive – reference to the Iranian culture, society, politics and economics. It opens with a chapter on Persian myths, legends and ancient history, and ends with a chapter on developments from Aytollah Khomeini’s death in 1989 to the widespread political protests commonly known as ‘the green movement’ in 2009.

2009 Protest in Tehran, Creative Commons license 2.0

The Persians tells the story of Iran for more than two-and-a-half millennia, covering its history, politics, economics and culture. But it tells a great deal more, as it lays bare the theory and sociology of Iranian history much in the same vein as Marx’s general theory of European history which had been widely but erroneously believed to be valid for the whole of human history and society including Iran as universal reality.

Alexander the Great mosaic, via Wikimedia Commons

It shows the continuity of Iranian culture despite Alexander the Great’s conquest in the fourth century BCE, the Islamic conquest of the seventh century, the Central Asian invasions of the eleventh century and beyond, and the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth and fourteens centuries – how the Persian language, literature, culture, state-society relations and administrative system, though evolving, were alive and continuous despite all the socio-political, demographic, religious and other changes that, being at the junction between East and West, had made virtually inevitable: The Persian Achaemenids, the Alexandrian Greeks, the Parthians Arsacids, the Persian Sasanians, the Muslim Arabs, the Saljuq Turks, the Ilkhan Mongols, the Safavid Turkamans, the Turkish Afsharids and Lor Zands, the Qajars, the Pahlavis and the Islamists.


Iranian Revolution, via Wikimedia Commons

The work of the book was done within the context of a novel theory of Iranian history, developed for more than forty years by the time of writing; especially in The Political Economy of Modern Iran (1981), Musaddiq and the Struggle for Power in Iran (1990), State and Society in Iran: The Eclipse of the Qajars and Emergence of Pahlavis (2000), Iranian Politics and History: The Dialectic of State and Society (2003) – the theory or sociology of history of Iran which shows, in a comparative setting with European history, that throughout its history Iran had a system of arbitrary despotism, such that the state ultimately owned all property and was not bound by any law or entrenched tradition outside its arbitrary decisions; where legitimacy and succession was based on the myth of divine grace not royal descent, which together with arbitrary rule and the lack of a long-term class structure made it a short-term society lacking long-term predictability; and the permanent state-society conflict, notwithstanding many revolutions, which every time resulted in another arbitrary and despotic state. Not even the massive and historic revolution of 1979 altered many of these basic features of the Iranian society. 


  Read ‘Chapter 12: The Revolution of February 1979’ below:


About the Author:

Homa Katouzian, a native of Iran, teaches Iranian history and Persian literature at St. Antony’s College and the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford.  He is also editor of the journal Iranian Studies and the author of numerous academic monographs and articles about Iran and its literature.


About the book:

The Persians
Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran
Homa Katouzian

This authoritative and comprehensive history of Iran, written by Homa Katouzian, an acclaimed expert, covers the entire history of the area from the ancient Persian Empire to today’s Iranian state.

Find out more


Further reading:

Yale University Press is celebrating 50 years of publishing in London. To celebrate, we have selected 50 important Yale London books from our past, present and future to tell the story of our publishing through a series of articles and extracts.

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