Semnan is the capital city of Semnan Province, situated on the alluvial fan of the Golrudbar creek in north-central Iran, 216 km east of Tehran.
There are several theories that seek to explain the origin of the name Semnan.
Semnan was an ancient pre-Zoroastrian city in which the locals practised idol-worshipping. Their religion was called samīna, hence the name Semnan.
Semnan was an ancient civil establishment by the Scythians, an Iranian people who named their settlement Sakanān.
A theory produced by the local people themselves claims the first settlers of Semnan were two of the Prophet Noah’s children, Sim An-Nabi and Lam An-Nabi, and that their settlement became known as Simlam; the local people believe that over time the name Simlam turned into “Semnan.”
Semnan was established by the mythical character Tahmuras, and that he named his city Saminā.
The ancient regional language was known as Sa ma nān, and that the city of these people took on the name of their language.
The name Semnan comes from the phrase “sa ma nān”, which is supposed to be a corrupted Persian way of saying “Three Months of Bread.” This phrase traces back to the Semnani women’s tradition of cooking three months worth of bread in one day.
The city of Semnan has historically been one of the fourteen civil establishments of the ancient, Avesta-era province of “Vern.” Semnan remained an important city throughout the era of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. After the invasion of Alexander the Great, which resulted in the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, and the establishment of the Seleucid Empire, the region which hosts the city of Semnan became known as Komesh.
The beginning of the prosperous era of the city arrived with the rise of the Arsacid Dynasty of Parthia. The Arsacid Dynasty of Parthia was very interested in the importing of Hellenism, or Greek culture. This resulted in the pioneering of sculpting and other forms of Western art in the city of Semnan. One of the capital cities of the Parthian Empire was Hecatompylos, and its ruins and numerous historical sites remain between the modern-day city of Semnan and Damghan. With the fall of the Parthian Empire, and the rise of the Persian Sassanid Empire, Zoroastrianism was chosen as the state religion, and the city of Semnan was once again brought under the reign of Persian customs and traditions.
After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the religion of Islam was established within the city of Semnan. Though, unlike modern-day Semnan, the people of the city originally practised Sunni Islam, similar to the rest of early Islamic Persia. However, the institution of Sunni Islam did not last very long. The Alavids of Tabaristan had established a Shi’a Islamic emirate and upon conquering Semnan, brought the Zaidi Shi’a sect of Islam. Then, in the year 1048, the Seljuq Turks invaded and devastated the city. Nevertheless, it was the very Seljuq Turks that built many of the historical monuments and infrastructure of medieval Semnan. As the Seljuq Empire grew weak, the Abbasids managed to reconquer and assert their sovereignty over Persia. The people of Semnan suffered severely under the Abbasid Caliphate. It is possible that the years of Abbasid rule traumatized the people of Semnan, and even to this day, the Semnani people despise the colour black because of its utilization of the black flags of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasid rule was ended by the brutal, devastating invasion of the Mongols in the year 1240. The Mongol hordes massacred the people and burnt much of the city to the ground.
Semnan would not recover until the rise of the Safavid Dynasty. The Safavids brought the Twelver Shi’ism sect of Islam to Semnan, and contributed to the reconstruction of the city.
With the rise of the Qajar dynasty, historical Semnan witnessed economical, cultural, infrastructural, and political progress. The very tribe that rose into becoming the Qajar dynasty was based out of the mountainous terrain between modern-day Semnan, Mazandaran, and Golestan. The Qajars turned Semnan into a civil fortress, from which they oversaw the major trade route between their capital in Tehran and the holy city of Mashad. In addition to infrastructural growth, some Qajar royals built their estates in the city. Semnan was also an important medical centre for members of the Qajar Imperial Family and was home to many notable physicians and doctors of the era. Economically, the city consisted of several feudal estates with agricultural plantations which relied on serf labour.
The Pahlavi era marked the transition of Semnan into the industrial era. Semnan’s original loyalty to the Qajar dynasty and the city’s importance under the Qajars prompted a lot of anti-Pahlavi sentiment with the rise of Reza Shah. Reza Shah Pahlavi’s government began the immediate construction of modern infrastructure and paved roads throughout the city, however, this called for the destruction of the citadel of Semnan and the artistic monuments of the Qajars. Upon attempting to destroy the Gate of Semnan, the locals chained themselves to the building and stopped its destruction. Many prominent families in Semnan were also restricted from attaining high political posts as a result of their previous connection with and service to the Qajar Imperial Family. This resulted in the exodus of many prominent Semnani families to Tehran during the early Pahlavi era. Despite the tension and confrontation, the Pahlavi dynasty was successful in transforming Semnan into a more modern city. Throughout the early Pahlavi era, Semnan experienced several rounds of extreme drought, famine, crop devastation, and poverty. Prominent Semnani language poets such as Nosratollah Nouhian encouraged the Farmers and General Labor class to rise up and demand their rights from the unjust, well-fed landlords who were carelessly watching the very farmers who grew the food starve and deteriorate into ruin and agony.