Persian Gulf in History

Sunday, May 4, 2008

April 29 has been designated as the National Persian Gulf Day. Throughout history, Persian Gulf has not only been always considered part of the Iranian territory, but as admitted by most historical sources, it has always been known as Persian Gulf or Persian Sea.

However, during past decades, some neighboring countries have taken steps which are not compatible with peaceful coexistence among regional nations and cultures by using "Arabian Gulf" instead of the Persian Gulf. Recently, in addition to Arab states some international organizations, news agencies, magazines and other media have used the fake name. In this paper, while explaining the strategic position of the Persian Gulf, we will analyze etymology of the Persian Gulf and how unfounded claims by Arabs were raised to call Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf. To compile this paper, we have availed of documents and papers available at the Institute for Political Studies and Research.

According to undeniable documents, Persian Gulf has been called as such since thousands of years ago not only by Iranians, but also by other nations which have been in contact with Iranians including the Greeks and the Romans. Even the Arabs called it Persian Gulf for many centuries. Persian Gulf has been used for the past thousands of years and the name has been used by many countries and various peoples including the Arabs.

All old geographical texts including maps drawn by Hecataeus and Ptolemy to works of Christian and Muslim geographers and tourists, called a branch of the Indian Ocean which extended in parallel to the Red Sea toward the old world as the Persian Gulf or Persian Sea.

Since the 7th and 8th centuries B.C., all scholars including Anaximander, Hecataeus, Herodotus, Eratosten, Hiparc, Pomponi Mele, Kerates Malus, Esterabon, Ptolemy, Micropius, Isidore of Seville, Mohammad ibn Mousa al Kharazmi, Abuzeid Balkhi, ibn Sarabiun, ibn Rasteh, ibn Faqih, Quddama, ibn Fazlan, ibn Khardaba, Massoudi, Estakhri, ibn Hawqal, Moqaddasi, Nasser Khosrow, Idrissi, Jeihani, Farazi, Biruni, ibn Jubair, Yaqut, Qazvini, Mustofi, ibn Batuta, Hafez, Sharaf ud-Din Ali Yazdi, and Abulqazi have used such names as Persian Gulf, Pars Gulf, Pars Sea, Sinus Persicus, Mare Persicus, Gulf Persique, Persian Gulf ….

Now, we will review authenticity of Persian Gulf by reviewing Iranian, Greek, Islamic, and Western historical and geographical sources as well as legal documents.

Iranian Sources

According to documents which date back to 8th millennium B.C., Persian Gulf has been used for commerce and military purposes by ancient nations of the world. In an Achaemenid stone inscription which dates back to 518-505 B.C. and which was retrieved when during construction of Suez Canal, the term “Pars Sea” has been used.

The inscription has been attributed to the Achaemenid king, Darius the Great. Persian Gulf was called “Parsa Daraya” or “Pars Sea” under Achaemenid rule. Also, in inscriptions which have been attributed to Darius and which have been found in the Strait of Hormuz, there are comments about the sea which originates from Pars River.

In the book called “Limits of the World” which is the oldest book of geography in Persian and has been compiled about 1,000 years ago, they have written that “Pars Gulf starts from the land of Persia and extends up to Sind River.”

Therefore, since human beings started to write history, the sea which separated the Iranian plateau from Arabian Peninsula has been called Pars Sea or Persian Gulf and no other name has ever been used in other historical junctures.

Greek Sources

According to Greek historians and geographers who lived before the birth of Christ like Herodotus, Ketzias, Xenophon, and Straben, the Greeks were the first nation to have called Persian Gulf as Pars Sea while calling Iran Parseh, Persia, and Persepolis; that is, the land of Persians.

Nesarkhous, the Macedonian military commander, has also made the seas of Makran and Pars famous. Receiving orders from Alexander, he crossed Sind River in 326 B.C. and sailed over Makran and Persian Gulf up to the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Hecataeus, one of the ancient Greek scholars who is known as father of geography, used Pars Sea in 475 B.C. Ancient maps drawn by Herodotus and Xenophon have called it Pars Sea. Ptolemy, the famous geographer, cartographer, and mathematician of the 2nd century AD, has called Persian Gulf as Sinus Persicus in the book “World Geography” which has been written in Latin.

Islamic Sources

After Arabs conquered Iran in the 7th century AD, they made no effort to change the name of the Persian Sea. The Muslim Arabs generally called it Persian Sea and the name was observed by Iranian, Turk, and Arab empires that dominated the region in the next 1,200 years.

Muslim researchers like Estakhri, Massoudi, Biruni, ibn Hawqal, Moqaddasi, Mustofi, Nasser Khosrow, al-Taherain Mutahhar al-Muqaddasi (Bashari), Abulqasem ibn Muhammad ibn Huqal and so on, who have studied this Persian sea up to the 15th century, have called this part of the southern Iranian waters as Pars Sea, Makran Sea, and Persian Gulf. Some of them have even drawn maps in which the Indian Ocean has been called “Pars (Persian) Sea”.

Arab and Islamic geographers have adopted two names from two ancient civilizations and used them concurrently. In this way, they used the Iranian name “Parsa Daraya” as “Pars Sea” and used the Greek name “Sinus Persicus” as “Persian Gulf”. Abu Ali Ahmad ibn Umar, nicknamed ibn Rasteh, has written in his book, Al-A’laq al-Nafsiya in 290 AH, that “from the Indian Sea comes out a gulf toward the land of Pars, which is called Persian Gulf”. Georgi Zeidan, the Arab historian, has noted that Pars Sea is limited to waters which encircle the Arab world. Muhammad Abdulkarim Subhi has brought maps in Arabic in his book, Ilm al-Khara’et, in which the sea in the southern part of Iran is called Persian Gulf.

Therefore, using the fake name Arabian Gulf instead of Persian Gulf is a measure which can potentially lead to ethnic conflicts in the region despite the fact that most regional people are Muslims.


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