Myth and legend combine with Zoroastrian history. Accounts were oral and later gathered in the epic the Shah Nameh (Book of Kings) by Firdausi, the great 10th century poet of Iran. The Peshdadian and Kayanian Dynasties and their legends are recorded in this great epic. The historical period begins with the Median empire of north western Iran and the faith rose to greatness with the Achaemenian Empire, the largest empire of the ancient world. The Old Testament hails Cyrus the Great as a Messiah who freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon and had their temples rebuilt. The Edict of Cyrus found on the cuneiform Cyrus Cylinder is today acknowledged as the world’s first Bill of Human Rights and a copy of it is housed in the UN building in New York. The originality of the message is that Cyrus is proud not of his conquest but of his compassion and protection towards preserving the rights of those he had conquered.
I am Cyrus, King of the world. I entered Babylon amidst jubilation — I freed its citizens from the yoke of servitude, their cities I restored— I set them free to worship their gods whose abodes I raised from ruins.”
Darius’ inscription at Persepolis states, “I am of such a sort that I am a friend to the Right. It is not my desire that the weak man should have wrong done to him by the mighty, nor is it my desire the mighty man should have wrong done to him by the weak. What is right that is my desire.”
Darius the Great built a canal to join the Red Sea to the river Nile 2000 years before the Suez Canal and introduced the world’s first courier postal system. Herodotus stated, “Nothing Mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers — neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” These words have been immortalized by the U.S. postal system, which has adopted them as its motto and are seen inscribed on the façade of the General Post Office, in New York.
The Achaemenian’s were defeated in 330 BC by Alexander and Persepolis was burnt. The Parthian Empire replaced Greek rule but it was during the Sassanian Empire that the entire Avestan scriptures were written down and Zoroastrian became the official State religion. Paradoxically, to make a religion a State religion is a way to destroy it. It became stifled by the priesthood, dogmatic and soon weakened in every way. The final overthrow of the Zoroastrians in Iran by the Arabs brought an end to Zoroastrian rule.
After a century of fleeing into the mountains and deserts a small group of Zoroastrians set sail for India from Pars or Fars. They came to be known on their arrival as the people from Pars or the Parsis. So Zoroastrianism is a term to describe followers of a religion while Parsis are an ethnic community of India.