History of Azerbaijan
The cave of Azykh in the territory of the Fizuli district in the Republic of Azerbaijan is considered to be the site of one of the most ancient proto-human habitations in Eurasia. Remnants of the pre-Acheulean culture were found in the lowest layers of the Azykh cave that are at least 700,000 years old. In 1968, Mammadali Huseynov discovered a 300,000-year-old partial jawbone of an early human, this was the oldest human remains ever discovered in the Soviet Union.
The Paleolithic period in what is now Azerbaijan is represented by finds at Aveidag, Taglar, Damjily, Yatagery, Dash Salakhly and some other sites. Carved drawings etched on rocks in Qobustan, south of Baku, demonstrate scenes of hunting, fishing, labour and dancing, and are dated to the Mesolithic period.
The Eneolithic or Chalcolithic period (c. 6th – 4th millennium BCE) was the period of transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. Many Eneolithic settlements have been discovered in Azerbaijan, and carbon-dated artefacts show that during this period, people built homes, made copper tools and arrowheads, and were familiar with no-irrigated agriculture.
Bronze to Iron Ages
The influence of ancient peoples and civilizations including the Sumerians and Elamites came to a crossroads in the territory of Azerbaijan. A variety of Caucasian peoples appear to be the earliest inhabitants of the South Caucasus with the notable Caucasian Albanians being their most prominently known representative.
In the 8th century BCE, the semi-nomadic Cimmerians and Scythians settled in the territory of kingdom of Mannai. The Assyrians also had a civilization that flourished to the west of Lake Urmia in the centuries prior to creation of Media and Albania. Most of the ancient documents and inscriptions used for historical analysis of the area come from the Assyrians and from the kingdom of Urartu. In dealing with the history of Azerbaijan, most western scholars refer to Greek, Arab, Armenian, Roman, and Persian sources.
Caucasian Albanians are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Azerbaijan.[dubious – discuss] Early invaders included the Scythians in the 9th century BCE.The South Caucasus was eventually conquered by the Achaemenids around 550 BCE. During this period, Zoroastrianism spread in Azerbaijan. The Achaemenids in turn were defeated by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. Following the decline of the Seleucids in Persia in 247 BCE, an Armenian Kingdom exercised control over parts of modern Azerbaijan between 190 BCE to 428 CE. This Armenian Kingdom, the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, was a branch of the eponymous Arsacid dynasty of Parthia. All of Caucasian Albania fell, after the deposing of the Seleucids, under Parthian rule for the next centuries to come. Caucasian Albanians established a kingdom in the 1st century BCE and largely remained independent, though as a vassal state, until the Parthians were deposed Sassanids, and made Caucasian Albani a province in 252 CE. Caucasian Albania's ruler, King Urnayr, officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century CE, and Albania would remain a Christian state until the 8th century. While fully subordinate to Sassanid Persia, Caucasian Albania retained its monarchy. Sassanid control ended with their defeat by Muslim Arabs in 642 CE, as the whole empire, including all of Azerbaijan would be conquered through the Muslim conquest of Persia.
The successive migration and settlement of Eurasian and Central Asian nomads continued to be a familiar pattern in the history of the Caucasus since ancient times, from the era of Sassanid-Persian empire to emergence of Azerbaijani Turks by the 20th century. Among the Iranian nomads who made incursion into and from Azerbaijan are the Scythians, Alans and Cimmerians. Altaic Nomads such as Khazars and Huns made incursions during the Hunnic and Khazar era. The walls and fortification of Darband were built during the Sassanid era in order to block nomads coming from beyond the North Caucasus pass. However, they did not make permanent settlements.
Achaemenid and Seleucid rule
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 BCE. 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 worshippers, which may be a sign of their Zoroastrian faith.
This empire lasted over 250 years and was conquered 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 BCE, 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 BCE to the 3rd century BCE and this ultimately allowed local Caucasian tribes to establish an independent kingdom for the first time since the Median invasion.
Caucasian Albania, the Parthians, and the Sassanian conques
The Albanian kingdom coalesced around a native Caucasian identity to forge a unique state in a region of vast empire-states. However, in the 2nd or 1st century BCE the Armenians considerably curtailed the Albanian territories to the south and conquered the territories of Karabakh 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, very briefly, 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 south-west of Baku at the site of Gobustan. It is inscribed by Legio XII Fulminata at the time of emperor Domitian. Caucasian Albania subsequently came fully under Parthian rule.
After the division of Armenia between Byzantium and Persia in 387 CE 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 Armenian historians, such as Movses Khorenatsi and Movses Kaghankatvatsi, write that Albanians converted to Christianity in the 4th century CE by the efforts of Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia. Albanian king Urnayr accepted Christianity and was baptised by Gregory the Illuminator. Urnayr also declared Christianity as his kingdom's official religion. However Christianity spread in Albania only gradually, and a large part of Albanians and Persians remained Zoroastrian until the Islamic conquest.
Natioanl museum of history of Azerbaijan: www.azhistorymuseum.az.