The Persians are an Iranian ethnic group that make up over half the population of Iran. They share a common cultural system and are native speakers of the Persian language, as well as languages closely related to Persian.
The ancient Persians were originally an ancient Iranian people who migrated to the region of Persis, corresponding to the modern province of Fars in southwestern Iran, by the ninth century BC. Together with their compatriot allies, they established and ruled some of the world’s most powerful empires, well-recognized for their massive cultural, political, and social influence covering much of the territory and population of the ancient world. Throughout history, Persians have contributed greatly to art and science. Persian literature is one of the world’s most prominent literary traditions.
In contemporary terminology, people of Persian heritage native specifically to present-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are referred to as Tajiks, whereas those in the Caucasus (primarily in the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian federal subject of Dagestan), albeit heavily assimilated, are referred to as Tats. However, historically, the terms Tajik and Tat were used as synonymous and interchangeable with Persian. Many influential Persian figures hailed from outside Iran’s present-day borders to the northeast in Central Asia and Afghanistan and to a lesser extent to the northwest in the Caucasus proper. In historical contexts, especially in English, “Persians” may be defined more loosely to cover all subjects of the ancient Persian polities, regardless of ethnic background.
Persian (/ˈpɜːrʒən, -ʃən/), also known by its endonym Farsi (فارسی, Fārsī, [fɒːɾˈsiː] (About this soundlisten)), is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subdivision of the Indo-European languages. Persian is a pluricentric language predominantly spoken and used officially within Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in three mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Iranian Persian, Dari Persian (officially named Dari since 1958) and Tajiki Persian (officially named Tajik since the Soviet era). It is also spoken natively in the Tajik variety by a significant population within Uzbekistan, as well as within other regions with a Persianate history in the cultural sphere of Greater Iran. It is written officially within Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian alphabet, a derivation of the Arabic script, and within Tajikistan in the Tajik alphabet, a derivation of Cyrillic.
The Persian language is a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of the Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE), itself a continuation of Old Persian, which was used in the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC). It originated in the region of Fars (Persia) in southwestern Iran. Its grammar is similar to that of many European languages.
Throughout history, Persian has been a prestigious cultural language used by various empires in Western Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. Old Persian written works are attested in Old Persian cuneiform on several inscriptions from between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, and Middle Persian literature is attested in Aramaic-derived scripts (Pahlavi and Manichaean) on inscriptions from the time of the Parthian Empire and in books centered in Zoroastrian and Manichaean scriptures from between the 3rd to the 10th century AD. New Persian literature began to flourish after the Arab invasion of Iran with its earliest records from the 9th century, since then adopting the Arabic script. Persian was the first language to break through the monopoly of Arabic on writing in the Muslim world, with the writing of Persian poetry developed as a court tradition in many eastern courts. Some of the famous works of medieval Persian literature are the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the works of Rumi, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Panj Ganj of Nizami Ganjavi, the Divān of Hafez, The Conference of the Birds by Attar of Nishapur, and the miscellanea of Gulistan and Bustan by Saadi Shirazi. Famous Persian-language poets in the modern age include: Ahmad Shamlou, Simin Behbahani, Sohrab Sepehri, Nima Yooshij, Ahmad NikTalab, Hushang Ebtehaj and Rahi Mo’ayyeri.
Persian has left a considerable influence on its neighboring languages, including other Iranian languages, the Turkic languages, Armenian, Georgian and the Indo-Aryan languages. It also exerted some influence on Arabic, while borrowing vocabulary from it under medieval Arab rule. The Persian language was the chosen official language for bureaucracy even among those who were not native speakers, for example, the Turks in the Ottoman Empire, or the Pashtuns in Afghanistan who preferred it over their native tongue Pashto before the 20th century.
There are approximately 110 million Persian speakers worldwide, including Persians, Tajiks, Hazaras, Caucasian Tats and Aimaqs. The term Persophone might also be used to refer to a speaker of Persian.