Persian studies at UIUC

History of Persian


The history of the Persian language is divided into three eras: Old Persian (ca. 525 BC- 300 BC), Middle Persian (c. 300 BC- 800 AD), and Modern Persian (800 AD to the present day). The Persian language has been written with a number of different scripts during its history including the Old Persian Cuneiform (e.g. Bistoon inscription of the Achaemenid Darius I) and Middle Persian (Pahlavi) alphabets (e.g. Arda Wiraz Namag written from the period of the Sassanian Empire). After the coming of Islam in 642 AD, Persians adapted the Arabic alphabet to develop the contemporary Persian alphabet. The Arabic alphabet has 28 characters, but Iranians added another four letters in it to arrive at the current existing 32 Persian letters. Modern Persian appeared during the 9th century after this adoption of the alphabet and the borrowing of many Arabic words, which underwent significant changes throughout the years.



bistun1 bistun2 bistun3 bistun4



With a long history of strong literature before the initiation of Islam, the Persian language was the first language in Muslim civilization to break through Arabic’s monopoly on writing. The writing of poetry in Persian was established as a court tradition in many Middle Eastern courts. Under Mongolian and Turkish rulers, Persian was adopted as the language of government in Turkey, central Asia and India. It was used for centuries by these countries until 1900 in Kashmir. Because of this, it has had a considerable, mainly lexical influence on neighboring languages and particularly on the Turkic, Armenian, and Urdu languages.