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History of Azerbaijan

Early History

The earliest evidence of human settlement in the territory of Azerbaijan dates to the late Stone Age and is related to the Guruchay culture of the Azykh Cave, where archeological evidences promoted the inclusion of Azerbaijan into the map of the ascent man sites of Europe. The Upper Paleolithic and late Bronze Age cultures are attested in the caves of Tağılar, Damcılı, Zar, Yataq-yeri and in the necropolises of Leylatepe and Saraytepe. The area was conquered by the Achaemenids around 550 BC, leading to the spread of Zoroastrianism. Later it became part of Alexander the Great's Empire and its successor Seleucid Empire. Caucasian Albanians, the original inhabitants of the area, established an independent kingdom around the 4th century BC.

Early Iranian settlements included the Scythians in the 9th century BC. Following the Scythians, Iranian Medes came to dominate the area to the south of the Aras. The Medes forged a vast empire between 900-700 BC, which was integrated into the Achaemenids Empire around 550 BC.

During this period, Zoroastrianism spread in the Caucasus and Atropatene. Ancient Azaris spoke Ancient Azari language, which belonged to Iranian branch of Indo-European languages.

Following the overthrow of the Median Empire, all of what is today Azerbaijan was invaded by the Persian king, Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC. This earliest Persian Empire had a profound impact upon local population as the religion of Zoroastrianism became ascendant as did various early Persian cultural influences. Many of the local peoples of Caucasian Albania came to be known as fire worshipers, which may be a sign of their Zoroastrian faith.

This empire was also quite short-lived and was conquered barely two centuries later by Alexander the Great and led to the rise of Hellenistic culture throughout the former Persian Empire. The Seleucid Greeks inherited the Caucasus following Alexander's death in 323 BC, but were ultimately beset by pressures from Rome, secessionist Greeks in Bactria, and most adversely the Parthians (Parni), another nomadic Iranian tribe from Central Asia, which made serious inroads into the northern eastern Seleucid domains from the late 4th century BC to the 3rd century BC and this ultimately allowed local Caucasian tribes to establish an independent kingdom for the first time since the Median invasion.

This Albanian kingdom coalesced around a native Caucasian identity and a Zoroastrian religious background to forge a unique state in a region of vast empire-states. However in the 2nd or 1st century BC, the Armenians considerably curtailed the Albanian territories to the south and conquered the territories of Artsakh and Utik, populated by various Albanian tribes, such as Utians, Gargarians and Caspians. During this time the border between Albania and Armenia was along the river of Kura.

As the region became an arena of wars when Romans and Parthians began to expand their domains, most of Albania came under the domination of Roman legions under Pompey and the south being controlled by the Parthians. A rock carving of what is believed to be the eastern-most Roman inscription survives just southwest of Baku at the site of Gobustan. It is inscribed by Legio XII Fulminata at the time of emperor Domitian.

After the division of Armenia between Byzantium and Persia in 387 AD, the Albanian kings regained control over the provinces of Uti and Artsakh (lying south of the Kur), when Sasanian kings rewarded Albanian Arsacid rulers for their royalty to Persia.

Medieval historians, such as Movses Khorenatsi and Movses Kaghankatvatsi, wrote that Albanians converted to Christianity in the 4th century AD by the efforts of Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia. However Christianity spread in Albania only gradually, and a large part of Albanians remained Zoroastrians and pagans until the Islamic conquest.

Middle Ages

Muslim Arabs defeated the Sassanids and Byzantines as they marched into the Caucasus region. The Arabs made Caucasian Albania a vassal state after the Christian resistance, led by Prince Javanshir, surrendered in 667. Between the 9th and 10th centuries, Arab authors began to refer to the region between the Kura and Aras rivers as Arran. During this time, Arabs from Basra and Kufa came to Azerbaijan and seized lands that the indigenous peoples had abandoned.

The Seljuq period of Azerbaijan's history was possibly even more pivotal than the Arab conquest as it helped shape the ethno-linguistic nationality of the modern Azerbaijani Turks.

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