It was part of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.” It haunts the nightmares of the Israeli military planners. And it is heir to a rich history going back thousands of years.
It is of course the Islamic Republic of Iran, a place most outsiders know little about. If you would like to remedy your own Iran-information-deficit, a good place to start is the Columbia University course History of Iran to the Safavid Period (iTunes) taught by historian Richard Bulliet.
Although Bulliet is sometimes halting in his delivery, I’ve listened to his first three lectures and I’m captivated by his wide ranging narrative. Bulliet is a scholar of the history of technology as well as the history of the Middle East, and his early lectures are full of fascinating glimpses of prehistoric technologies. Here are a few tidbits:
1. Wild animals with a robust fight-or-flight response are generally too nervous to breed in captivity. Thus, only the most mellow animals have offspring. Within about 10 generations of selective breeding for reduced flight-or-flight, a wild species can become a domestic species.
2. Since antiquity, Iranian farmers have relied on irrigation tunnels called qanats, which bring water from Mountain aquifers to the dry flatlands.
3. The earliest bronze was an alloy of copper and arsenic rather than copper and bronze. Arsenic appears naturally in many copper deposits, so the alloy may have originally emerged accidentally.
The views of Iran’s Supreme Leader