Sassanid Empire

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The Sassanid Empire or Sassanian Empire (in Template:Lang-fa Sasanian) is the name used for the third Persian Empire (226 - 651). The Sassanid dynasty ended when the last Sassanid Shah, Yazdegerd III (632–651), lost a 14-year struggle to drive out the early Caliphate, the first of the Islamic empires. The empire's territory encompassed all of today's Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey (during Khosrau II's rule in 590–628, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon), eastern parts of Syria, northwest Indian subcontinent, Caucasia, Central Asia and Arabia. The Sassanids called their empire Erānshahr ايرانشهر (Iranshæhr) "Dominion of the Iranians".<ref>Garthwaite, Gene R., The Persians, p. 2</ref>

The Sassanid era is considered to be one of the most important and influential historical periods in Iran. In many ways the Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of Persian civilization, and constituted the last great Persian Empire before the Muslim conquest and adoption of Islam. Sassanid cultural influence extended far beyond the empire's territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe<ref>Durant.</ref>, Africa<ref>Transoxiana 04: Sasanians in Africa</ref>, China and India<ref>Sarfaraz, pp. 329–330</ref> and played a foremost role in the formation of both European and Asiatic medieval art.<ref>Iransaga: The art of Sassanians</ref> This influence carried forward to the early Islamic world. The dynasty's unique and aristocratic culture transformed the Islamic conquest of Iran into a Persian Renaissance.<ref>Durant.</ref> Much of what later became known as Islamic culture, architecture, writing and other skills, were taken mainly from the Sassanid Persians into the broader Muslim world<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 305.</ref>.





The Sassanid Dynasty was established by Ardashir I (226–241), a descendant of a line of Zoroastrian priests who were also local governors of Persis. His father Papag (also pronounced Papak and Babak), ruled a small town called Kheir. His mother, Rodhagh, was the daughter of the provincial governor of Pars. Ardashir I's paternal grandfather was Sassan, the great priest of the Temple of Anahita. Taking the name from Sassan, later historians referred to Ardashir I's dynasty, which ruled Persia between 226 to 651, as the Sassanid. At the time Persians called their kingdom Eranshahr. The Romans did not recognize the Sassanids as a distinct kingdom for some time, using the word Parthian to describe events related to the Persian Empire on its eastern borders. Papak (Babak), upon Sassan's death, deposed the previous king of Persis (Pars), Gochihr, and took his throne. Ardashir, during his father's reign, ruled the small town of Darabjird and received the title of argobadh. After Papag's death Ardashir I's elder brother Shapur succeeded to the throne. However, Ardashir I rebelled against his brother and took the kingship for himself in 208.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 194-198.</ref>

Ardashir I and his successors created a vast empire, based in Ardashir-Khwarrah, Pars. This included most of the lands of the old Achaemenid Persian empire east of the Euphrates River. The Sassanids wanted to recreate the glories of ancient Persia and aimed to Persianise the country. Sassanid records and carvings, however, did not recognize or refer to the Achaemenids. The Sassanid kings long sought to reunify all of the old Achaemenid territory. This ambition brought them into frequent wars against the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire. Sassanid emperors took Zoroastrianism as their state religion and although Sassanid religious policy varied from ruler to ruler but in general were largely tolerant of other religions specially Judaism.<ref name="Chamber">Iran Chamber Society (History of Iran)</ref>

Early history (226–310)

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After assuming his father's governorship, Ardashir I rapidly extended his territory, demanding fealty from the local princes of Fars, and gaining control over the neighboring provinces of Kerman, Isfahan, Susiana, and Mesene. This expansion brought the attention of the Parthian Great King Artabanus IV (216–224), Ardashir I's overlord. Artabanus IV marched against Ardashir I in 224. Their armies clashed at Hormizdeghan, where Artabanus IV was killed. Ardashir I went on to invade the western provinces of the now defunct Parthian Empire. Crowned in 226 as the sole ruler of Persia, he took the title Shahanshah, or "King of Kings" (his consort Adhur-Anahid took the title "Queen of Queens"), bringing the 400-year-old Parthian Empire to an end and beginning four centuries of Sassanid rule.

Over the next few years, Ardashir I further expanded his new empire to the east and northwest, conquering the provinces of Sistan, Gorgan, Khorasan, Margiana (in modern Turkmenistan), Balkh, and Chorasmia. He also added Bahrain and Mosul to Sassanid possesions. Furthermore, the Kings of Kushan, Turan, and Mekran recognized Ardashir I as their overlord. In the West assaults against Hatra, Armenia, and Adiabene met with less success.

Ardashir I's son Shapur I (241–272) continued this expansion, conquering Bactria and Kushan, while leading several campaigns against Rome. Penetrating deep into Roman territory, Shapur I conquered and plundered Antiochia in Syria (253 or 256) and finally defeated the Roman emperors Gordian III (238–244), Philip the Arab (244–249), and Valerian (253–260). The latter was taken (259) into Persian imprisonment after the Battle of Edessa, a tremendous and hitherto unknown disgrace for the Romans. Shapur I celebrated his victory by carving the impressive rock reliefs in Naqsh-e Rostam, for example, with Bishapur, as well as a monumental inscription in Persian and Greek with Naqsh-i Rustam in the proximity of Persepolis. Between 260 and 263, Shapur I lost some of these newly conquered territories to Odaenathus, a Roman ally.

Shapur I had intensive development plans. He founded many cities, some settled in part by emigrants from the Roman territories. These included Christians who could exercise their faith freely under Sassanid rule. Two cities, Bishapur and Nishapur, are named after him. Shapur I particularly favored Manichaeism. He protected Mani and sent many Manichaeist missionaries abroad. Shapur I also befriended a Babylonian rabbi called Shmuel. This friendship was advantageous for the Jewish community and gave them a respite from the oppressive laws enacted against them.

Later kings reversed Shapur I's policy of religious tolerance. Succeeding Shapur I, Bahram I (273–276) persecuted Mani and his followers under pressure from Magi. Bahram I imprisoned Mani and ordered him killed; Mani died, according to the legend, in jail awaiting his execution.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 197.</ref>

Bahram II (276–293) followed his father's religious policy. He was a weak ruler and lost several western provinces to the Roman Emperor Carus (282–283). During his rule most of Armenia, after half a century of Persian rule, was ceded to Diocletian (284–305).<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 199.</ref>

Succeeding Bahram III (who ruled briefly in 293), Narseh (293–302) embarked on another war with the Romans. After an early success against the Emperor Galerius (305–311) near Callinicum on the Euphrates in 296, Narseh was decisively defeated in an ambush while he was with his harem in Armenia in 297. In the treaty that concluded this war, the Sassanids ceded all lands west of the Tigris and agreed not to interfere in the affairs of Armenia and Georgia.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 200.</ref> Following this crushing defeat, Narseh resigned in 301 and died in grief a year later. Narseh's son Hormizd II (302–309) assumed the throne. Although he suppressed revolts in Sistan and Kushan, Hormizd II was another weak ruler, unable to control the nobles. He was killed by Bedouins while hunting in 309.

First Golden Era (309–379)


Follwing Hormizd II's death, Arabs from the south started to ravage and plunder the southern cities of the empire, even attacking the province of Fars, the birthplace of the Sassanid kings. Meanwhile, Persian nobles killed Hormizd II's eldest son, blinded the second, and imprisoned the third (who later escaped to Roman territory). The throne was reserved for the unborn child of one of Hormizd II's wives. It is said that Shapur II (309–379) may have been the only king in history to be crowned in utero: the crown was placed upon his mother's belly. This child, named Shapur, was therefore born king. During his youth the empire was controlled by his mother and the nobles. Upon Shapur II's coming of age, he assumed power and quickly proved to be an active and effective ruler.

Shapur II first led his small but disciplined army south against the Arabs, who he defeated, securing the southern areas of the empire.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 206.</ref> He then started his first campaign against Romans in the west, experiencing early success. After the Siege of Singara, however, his conquests were halted by nomadic raids along the eastern borders of the empire. These raids threatened Transoxiana, a strategically critical area for control of the Silk Road. In addition, Shapur II's military forces were not sufficient to hold the territory he had taken in the west. He therefore signed a peace treaty with Constantius II (353–361) in which both sides agreed not to attack each other's territory for a limited period of time.

Shapur II then marched east toward Transoxiana to meet the eastern nomads. After defeating the White Huns, Shapur II, along with the nomad King Grumbates, started his second campaign against the Romans in 359, this time with his full military force and support from the nomads. The campaign was overwhelmingly successful; a total of five Roman provinces were ceded to the Persians after its completion.

Shapur II pursued a harsh religious policy. Under his reign the collection of the Avesta, the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, was completed, heresy and apostasy were punished, and Christians were persecuted. The latter was a reaction against the Christianization of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great (324–337). Shapur II, like Shapur I, was amicable towards Jews, who lived in relative freedom and gained many advantages in his period (see also Raba (Talmud)).

At the time of Shapur's death, the Persian Empire was stronger than ever, with its enemies to the east pacified and Armenia under Persian control.

Intermediate Era (379–498)

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From Shapur II's death until Kavadh I's (488–531) first coronation, Persia was largely stable with few wars against the Byzantine Empire. Throughout this era Sassanid religious policy differed dramatically from king to king. Despite a series of weak leaders, the administrative system established during Shapur II's reign remained strong, and the empire continued to function effectively.

After Shapur II died in 379, he left a powerful empire to his half-brother Ardashir II (379–383; son of Vahram of Kushan) and his son Shapur III (383–388), neither of whom demonstrated their predecessor's talent. Ardashir II, who was raised as the "half-brother" of the emperor, failed to fill his brother's shoes, and Shapur III was too much of a melancholy character to achieve anything. Bahram IV (388–399), although not as inactive as his father, still failed to achieve anything important for the empire. During this time Armenia was divided by treaty between the Roman and Sassanid empires. The Sassanids reestablished their rule over Greater Armenia, while the Byzantine Empire held a small portion of western Armenia.

Bahram IV's son Yazdegerd I (399–421) is often compared to Constantine I. Like him, he was powerful both physically and diplomatically. Much like his Roman counterpart, Yazdegerd I was opportunistic. Like Constantine the Great, Yazdgerd I practiced religious tolerance and provided freedom for the rise of religious minorities. He stopped the persecution against the Christians and even punished nobles and priests who persecuted them. His reign marked a relatively peaceful era. He made lasting peace with the Romans and even took the young Theodosius II (408–450) under his guardianship. He also married a Jewish princess who bore him a son called Narsi.

Yazdegerd I's successor was his son Bahram V (421–438), one of the most well-known Sassanian Kings and the hero of many myths. These myths persisted even after the destruction of the Sassanian empire by the Arabs. Bahram V, better known as Bahram-e Gur, gained the crown after Yazdgerd I's sudden death (or assassination)against the opposition of the grandees with the help of al-Mundhir, the Arabic dynast of al-Hirah. Bahram V's mother was Soshandukht, the daughter of the Jewish Exilarch. In 427 he crushed an invasion in the east by the nomadic Hephthalites, extending his influence into Central Asia, where his portrait survived for centuries on the coinage of Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan). Bahram V deposed the vassal King of the Persian part of Armenia and made it a province.

Bahram V is a great favorite in Persian tradition, which relates many stories of his valor and beauty, of his victories over the Romans, Turks, Indians and Africans, and of his adventures in hunting and in love; he is called Bahram-e Gur, Gur meaning Onager, on account of his love for hunting and, in particular, hunting onagers. He symbolized a king in the height of a golden age. He had won his crown by competing with his brother and spent time fighting foreign enemies, but mostly kept himself amused by hunting and court parties with his famous band of ladies and courtiers. He embodied royal prosperity. During his time the best pieces of Sassanian literature were written, notable pieces of Sassanid music were composed, and sports such as polo became royal pastimes&mdash, a tradition that continues to this day in many kingdoms.<ref name="iranologie">Iranologie History of Iran Chapter V: Sasanians</ref>


Bahram V's son Yazdegerd II (438–457) was a just, moderate ruler but, in contrast to Yazdegerd I, practiced a harsh policy towards minority religions, particularly Christianity.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 218</ref>

At the beginning of his reign, Yazdegerd II gathered a mixed army of various nations, including his Indian allies, and attacked the Eastern Roman Empire, which was building fortifications (a trick used by Romans for subsequent expeditions) in Persian territory nearby Carrhae. The Romans were taken by surprise, and if it were not for a heavy flood, Yazdegerd could have advanced greatly in Roman territory. Byzantine emperor Theodosius II asked for peace, sending his commander to Yazdegerd II's camp. In the pursued negotiation in 441, both empires promised not to build any new fortifications on their borders. Yazdegerd II, however, had the upper hand and did not demand more because of Kidarite incursions in Parthia and Khwarezmia. He gathered his forces in Neishabur in 443 and launched a prolonged campaign against the Kidarites. Finally after a number of battles, he crushed the Kidarites and drove them out beyond Oxus river in 450.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 217</ref>

During his eastern campaign, Yazdegerd II grew suspicious of the Christians in the army and expelled them all from the governing body and army. He then persecuted the Christians and, to a much lesser extent, the Jews.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 219</ref> In order to reestablish Zoroastrianism in Armenia, he crushed an uprising of Armenian Christians at the Battle of Vartanantz in 451. The Armenians, however, remained primarily Christian. In his later years, he was engaged yet again with Kidarites until his death in 457. Image:Sassanian king.jpg Hormizd III (457–459), younger son of Yazdegerd II, ascended to the throne. During his short rule, he continually fought with his elder brother Peroz, who had the support of nobility,<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 219</ref> and with the Ephthalites in Bactria. He was killed by his brother Peroz in 459.

In the beginning of the 5th century, the Hephthalites (White Huns), along with other nomadic groups, attacked Persia. At first Bahram V and Yazdegerd II inflicted decisive defeats against them and drove them back eastward. The Huns returned at the end of 5th century and defeated Peroz I (457–484) in 483. Following this victory the Huns invaded and plundered parts of eastern Persia for two years. They exacted heavy tribute for some years thereafter.

These attacks brought instability and chaos to the kingdom. Peroz I tried again to drive out Hephthalites, but on the way to Herat, he and his army were trapped by Huns in the desert; Peroz I was killed, and his army was wiped out. After this victory Hephthalites advanced forward to the city of Herat, throwing the empire into chaos. Eventually, a noble Persian from the old family of Karen, Zarmihr (or Sokhra), restored some degree of order. He raised Balash, one of Peroz I's brothers, to the throne, although the Hunnic threat persisted until the reign of Khosrau I. Balash (484–488) was a mild and generous monarch, who made concessions to the Christians; however, he took no action against the empire's enemies, particularly, the White Huns. Balash, after a reign of four years, was blinded and deposed (attributed to magnates), and his nephew Kavadh I was raised to the throne.

Kavadh I (488–531) was an energetic and reformist ruler. Kavadh I gave his support to the communistic sect founded by Mazdak, son of Bamdad, who demanded that the rich should divide their wives and their wealth with the poor. His intention evidently was, by adopting the doctrine of the Mazdakites, to break the influence of the magnates and the growing aristocracy. These reforms led to his deposition and imprisonment in the "Castle of Oblivion" (Lethe) in Susa, and his younger brother Jamasp (Zamaspes) was raised to the throne in 496. Kavadh I, however, escaped in 498 and was given refuge by the White Hun king.

Djamasp (496–498) was installed on the Sasanian throne upon the deposition of Kavadh I by members of the nobility. Djamasp was a good and kind king, and he reduced taxes in order to relieve the peasants and the poor. He was also a proper adherent of the Mazdakism sect, diversions from which had cost Kavadh I his throne and freedom. His reign soon ended when Kavadh I, at the head of a large army granted to him by the Hephthalite king, returned to the empire's capital. Djamasp loyally stepped down from his position and restored the throne to his brother. No further mention of Djamasp is made after the restoration of Kavadh I, but it is widely believed that he was treated favorably at the court of his brother.<ref name="iranologie" />

Second Golden Era (498–622)

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The second golden era began after the second reign of Kavadh I. With the support of the Hephtalites, Kavadh I launched a campaign against the Romans. In 502 he took Theodosiopolis (Erzurum) in Armenia. In 503 he took Amida (Diarbekr) on the Tigris. In 505 an invasion of Armenia by the western Huns from the Caucasus led to an armistice, during which the Romans paid subsidies to the Persians for the maintenance of the fortifications on the Caucasus. In year 525, he suppressed revolts in Lazica and recaptured Georgia. His army with aid of Lakhmid ruler (a Sassanid vassal kingdom), al-Mundhir IV ibn al-Mundhir defeated the Byzatine army under command of famed Belisarius twice, one in year 530 in Battle of Nisibis and other in year 531 in Battle of Callinicum.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 229.</ref> Although he could not free himself from the yoke of the Ephthalites, Kavadh succeeded in restoring order in the interior and fought with success against the Romans, founded several cities, some of which were named after him, and began to regulate the taxation.

After Kavadh I, his son Khosrau I, also known as Anushirvan ("with the immortal soul"; ruled 531–579), ascended to the throne. He is the most celebrated of the Sassanid rulers. Khosrau I is most famous for his reforms in the aging governing body of Sassanids. In his reforms he introduced a rational system of taxation, based upon a survey of landed possessions, which his father had begun and tried in every way to increase the welfare and the revenues of his empire. Previous great feudal lords fielded their own military equipment, followers and retainers. Khosrau I developed a new force of dehkans or "knights" paid and equipped by the central government<ref name="Frye">Richard Frye "The History of Ancient Iran"</ref> and the bureaucracy, tying the army and bureaucracy more closely to the central government than to local lords. (For more about Khosrau I's reforms, visit [1]).

Although the Emperor Justinian I (527–565) had paid him a bribe of 440,000 pieces of gold to keep the peace, in 540 Khosrau I broke the "eternal peace" of 532 and invaded Syria, where he temporarily captured and plundered the city of Antioch; en route return he collected money from the different Byzantine cities.

In 565, Justinian I died and was succeeded by Justin II (565–578), who resolved to stop subsidies to Arab chieftains to restrain them from raiding Byzantine territory in Syria. A year earlier the Sasanian governor of Armenia, of the Suren family, built a fire temple at Dvin near modern Erevan, and he put to death an influential member of the Mamikonian family, touching off a revolt which led to the massacre of the Persian governor and his guard in 571. Justin II took advantage of the Armenian revolt to stop his yearly payments to Khosrau I for the defense of the Caucasus passes. The Armenians were welcomed as allies, and an army was sent into Sasanian territory which besieged Nisibis in 572. But dissension among the Byzantine generals not only led to an abandonment of the siege, but they in turn were besieged in the city of Dara, which was taken by the Persians who then ravaged Syria, causing Justin II to sue for peace. Armenian revolt came to an end with a general amnesty from Khosrau I, which brought Armenia back into the Sasanian Empire.<ref name="Frye" />

Around 570, "Ma 'd-Karib", half-brother of the King of Yemen, requested Khosrau I's intervention. Khosrau I sent a fleet and a small army under a commander called Vahriz to the area near present Aden, and they marched against the capital San'a'l, which was occupied. Saif, son of Mard-Karib, who had accompanied the expedition, became King sometime between 575 and 577. Thus the Sasanians were able to establish a base in south Arabia to control the sea trade with the east. Later the south Arabian kingdom renounced Sasanian overlordship, and another Persian expedition was sent in 598 that successfully annexed southern Arabia as a Sasanian province, which lasted until the time of troubles after Khosrau II.<ref name="Frye" />

Khosrau I's reign witnessed the rise of the dihqans (literally, village lords), the petty landholding nobility who were the backbone of later Sassanid provincial administration and the tax collection system.<ref name="Chamber" /> Khosrau I was a great builder, embellishing his capital, founding new towns, and constructing new buildings. He rebuilt the canals and restocked the farms destroyed in the wars. He built strong fortifications at the passes and placed subject tribes in carefully chosen towns on the frontiers to act as guardians against invaders. He was tolerant of all religions, though he decreed that Zoroastrianism should be the official state religion, and was not unduly disturbed when one of his sons became a Christian.

After Khosrau I, Hormizd IV (579–590) took the throne. Hormizd IV was also a vigorous ruler who continued the success and prosperity established by his predecessors. During the reign of Khosrau II (590–628), the revolt of general Bahram Chobin (rival King Bahram VI) briefly threw the empire into crisis, but the crisis was short lived, and Khosrau II soon reestablished firm control over the empire. Taking advantage of a civil war in the Byzantine Empire, Khosrau II launched a full-scale invasion. The Sassanid dream of restoring the Achaemenid boundaries was close to completion when Jerusalem and Damascus fell; Egypt fell soon after. In 626 Constantinople also was under siege by Slavic and Avar forces supported by the Persians. This remarkable peak of expansion was paralleled by a blossoming of Persian art, music, and architecture.

Decline and fall (622–651)

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Although successful, Khosrau II's campaign had overextended the Persian army and overtaxed the people. The Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610–641) retaliated with a tactical move, abandoning his besieged capital and sailing up the Black Sea to attack Persia from the rear. Meanwhile, mutual suspicion had arisen between Khosrau II and his general Shahrbaraz. Byzantine agents showed Shahrbaraz letters indicating that Khosrau II was planning the general's execution. Shahrbaraz, fearing for his life, remained neutral during this critical period. Persia was thus denied the services of one of its largest armies and one of its best generals, further tipping the balance in favor of the Byzantines. Heraclius, with the assistance of the Khazars and other Turkic troops, took advantage of Shahrbaraz's absence to win several devastating victories against a Sassanid state substantially weakened by 15 years of war. Heraclius' campaign culminated in the Battle of Nineveh, where the Byzantines (without the Khazars, who had left Heraclius) defeated the Persian army, commanded by Rhahzadh. Heraclius then marched through Mesopotamia and Western Persia sacking Takht-e Soleyman and the Palace of Dastugerd, where he received the news of the assassination of Khosrau II.

Chaos and civil war followed this defeat. Over a period of fourteen years and twelve successive kings, including two daughters of Khosro II, the Sassanid Empire weakened considerably. The power of the central authority passed into the hands of the generals. It would took years for a strong king to emerge from a series of coups, and the Sassanids never fully recovered.<ref name="Chamber" />

In the spring of 632, a grandson of Khosrau I, Yazdegerd III, ascended the throne. In that same year, the first Arab squadrons made their raids into Persian territory. Years of warfare had exhausted both the Byzantines and the Persians. The Sassanids were further weakened by economic decline, heavy taxation, religious unrest, rigid social stratification, the increasing power of the provincial landholders, and a rapid turnover of rulers. These factors facilitated the Arab invasion.

The Sassanids never mounted a truly effective resistance to the pressure applied by the Arab armies. Yazdegerd was a boy at the mercy of his advisers and incapable of uniting a vast country crumbling into small feudal kingdoms, despite the fact that Byzantine, under similar pressure from the newly expansive Arabs, no longer threatened. The Arab threat initially came from the small, disciplined armies of Khalid ibn Walid, once one of Muhammad's chosen companion-in-arms and leader of the Arab army. Under the Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattāb, a Muslim army defeated a larger Persian force lead by general Rostam Farrokhzad at the plains of al-Qādisiyyah and besieged Ctesiphon. Yazdgerd fled eastward from Ctesiphon, leaving behind him most of the Empire's vast treasury. The Arabs captured Ctesiphon shortly afterward, leaving the Sassanid government strapped for funds and acquiring a powerful financial resource for their own use. A number of Sassanid governors attempted to combine their forces to throw back the invaders, but the effort was crippled by the lack of a strong central authority, and the governors were defeated at the Battle of Nihawānd; with its military effectively destroyed, the Sassanid empire was now utterly helpless in the face of the invaders.

Upon hearing the defeat in Nihawānd, Yazdgerd along with most of Persian nobilities fled further inland to the northern province of Khorasan. He was assassinated by a miller in Merv in late 651 while rest of the nobles settled in central Asia where they contributed greatly in spearding Persian culture and language in those regions and the establishment of the first native Iranian dynasty, the Samanid dynasty, which sought to revive and resuscitate Sassanid traditions and culture after the invasion of Islam. The Sassanid Empire was overrun completely in a period of five years, and its territory was absorbed into the Islamic caliphate; however many Iranian cities resisted and fought against the invaders several times. Cities such as Rayy, Isfahan and Hamadan were exterminated thrice by Islamic caliphates in order to suppress revolts and to terrify people.<ref>Zarinkoob, pp. 305-317</ref> The local population either willingly accepted Islam, thus escaping from various restrictions imposed on non-Muslims, including the requirement to pay a special poll tax (jizya),<ref>Bashear, Suliman, Arabs and others in Early Islam, p. 117</ref> or were forced to convert by the invading armies. Invaders destroyed the Academy of Gundishapur and its library, burning piles of books. Most Sassanid records and literary works were destroyed. A few that escaped this fate were later translated into Arabic and later to Modern Persian.<ref name="iranologie" /> During the Islamic invasion many Iranian cities were destroyed or deserted, palaces and bridges were ruined and many magnificent imperial Persian gardens were burned to the ground.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 307</ref> Says Ferdowsi of their downfall, in commending the Sassanids:

کجا آن بزرگان ساسانیان
زبهرامیان تا بسامانیان

kujā ān buzurgān-i Sāsāniyān
zi Bahrāmiyān tā bi-Sāmāniyān?

"To where have the great Sassanids gone?
"To the Bahrāmids and Samanids what has come upon?"



The Sassanids established an empire roughly within the frontiers achieved by the Achaemenids, with the capital at Ctesiphon in the Khvarvaran province. In administering this empire, Sassanid rulers, took the title of Shāhanshāh (King of Kings), became the central overlords and also assumed guardianship of the sacred fire, the symbol of the national religion. This symbol is explicit on Sasanian coins where the reigning monarch, with his crown and regalia of office, appears on the obverse, backed by the sacred fire, the symbol of the national religion, on the coin's reverse.<ref>[ Guitty Azarpay "The Near East in Late Antiquity The Sasanian Empire"]</ref> Sassanid queens had the title of Banebshenan banebshen (the Queen of Queens).

On smaller scale the territory might also be ruled by a number of petty rulers from Sassanid royal family, known as Shahrdar (شهردار) overseen directly by Shahanshah. Sassanid rule was characterized by considerable centralization, ambitious urban planning, agricultural development, and technological improvements.<ref name="Chamber" /> Below the king a powerful bureaucracy carried out much of the affairs of government; within this bureaucracy the Zoroastrian priesthood was immensely powerful. The head of the priestly class, the Mobadan (Magi) (موبدان), along with the military commander, the Iran (Eran) Spahbod (ايران سپهد), the head of the bureaucracy, the "Vuzorg (Bozorg) Farmadar" (بزرگ فرمادار) and the head of traders and merchants syndicate "Ho Tokhshan Bod" (هوتوخشان بد) were, below the emperor, the most powerful men of the Sassanid state.<ref>Sarfaraz, p. 344</ref>

The Sassanian monarch usually acted with the advice of his ministers, who composed a council of state. Masudi, the Muslim historian, praised the "excellent administration of the [Sassanian] kings, their well-ordered policy, their care for their subjects, and the prosperity of their domains."

In normal times the monarchical office was hereditary, but might be transmitted by the king to a younger son; in two instances the supreme power was held by queens. When no direct heir was available, the nobles and prelates chose a ruler, but their choice was restricted to members of the royal family.<ref>Durant.</ref>

The Sassanid nobility was a mixture of old Parthian clans, Persian aristocratic families, and noble families from subjected territories. Many new noble families had risen after the dissolution of Parthian dynasty, while several of the once-dominant Seven Parthian clans remained of high importance. At the court of Ardashir I, the old Arsacid families of Suren-Pahlav and Karen-Pahlav, along with several Persian families, the Varazes and Andigans, held positions of great honor. Ardashir's successor, Shapur I , used as his symbol the Gondophar's crest (a circle surrounded by crescent), which may have indicated his relationship through his mother to the House of Suren-Pahlav. Alongside these Iranian and non-Iranian noble families, the kings of Merv, Abarshahr, Carmania, Sakastan, Iberia, and Adiabene, who are mentioned as holding positions of honor amongst the nobles, appeared at the court of the Shahanshah. Indeed, the extensive domains of the Surens, Karens, and Varazes had become part of the original Sassanian state as semi-independent states. The Suren-Pahlavs maintained their rule over the Sakastan, and one of their branches ruled the area around Nishapur. Thus, the noble families that attended at the court of the Sassanid empire continued to be ruling lines in their own right, although subordinate to the Shahanshah.

In general, Bozorgan from Persian families held the most powerful positions in the imperial administration, including governorships of border provinces (Marzban مرزبان). Most of these positions were patrimonial, and many were passed down through a single family for generations. Those Marzbans of greatest seniority were permitted a silver throne, while Marzbans of the most strategic border provinces, such as the Caucasus province, were allowed a golden throne.<ref>Nicolle, p. 10</ref> In military campaigns the regional Marzbans could be regarded as field marshals, while lesser spahbods could command a field army.<ref>Nicolle, p. 14</ref>

Culturally, the Sassanids implemented a system of social stratification. This system was supported by Zoroastrianism, which was established as the state religion. Other religions appear to have been largely tolerated (although this claim is the subject of heated discussion; see, for example, Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia, or the Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3). Sassanid emperors consciously sought to resuscitate Persian traditions and to obliterate Greek cultural influence.<ref name="Chamber" />


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The Sassanids, like the Parthians, were in constant hostilities with the Roman Empire. Following the division of the Roman Empire in 395, the Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital at Constantinople, replaced the Roman Empire as Persia's principle western enemy. Hostilities between the two empires became more frequent.<ref name="Chamber" /> The Sassanids, similar to the Roman Empire, were in a constant state of conflict with neighboring kingdoms and nomadic hordes. Although the threat of nomadic incursions could never be fully resolved, the Sassanids generally dealt much more successfully with these matters than did the Romans, due to their policy of making coordinated campaigns against threatening nomads.<ref>Nicolle, pp. 15-18</ref>

In the west, Sassanid territory abutted that of the large and stable Roman state, but to the east its nearest neighbors were the Kushan Empire and nomadic tribes such as the White Huns. The construction of fortifications such as Tus citadel or the city of Nishapur, which later became a center of learning and trade, also assisted in defending the eastern provinces from attack.

In the south in central Arabia, Bedouin Arab tribes occasionally raided the Sassanid empire. The Kingdom of Al-Hirah, a Sassanid vassal kingdom, was established to form a buffer zone between the empire's mainland and the Bedouin tribes. The dissolution of the Kingdom of Al-Hirah by Khosrau II in 602 contributed greatly to decisive Sassanid defeats suffered against Bedouin Arabs later in the century. These defeats resulted in a sudden takeover of the Sassanid empire by Bedouin tribes under the Islamic banner.

In the north, Khazars and other Turkic nomads frequently assaulted northern provinces of the empire. They plundered the territory of the Medes in 634. Shortly thereafter, the Persian army defeated them and drove them out. The Sassanids built numerous fortifications in the Caucasus region to halt these attacks.


Interactions with Eastern states

Relations with China

See Iran-China relations for main discussion

Like their predecessors the Parthians, the Sassanid Empire carried out active foreign relations with China, and ambassadors from Persia frequently traveled to China. On different occasions Sassanid kings sent their most talented Persian musicians and dancers to the Chinese imperial court. Both empires benefited from trade along the Silk Road, and shared a common interest in preserving and protecting that trade. They cooperated in guarding the trade routes through central Asia, and both built outposts in border areas to keep caravans safe from nomadic tribes and bandits. Following the invasion of Iran by Muslim Arabs, Pirooz, son of Yazdegerd III, escaped along with a few Persian nobles and took refuge in the Chinese imperial court.

Expansion to India



After the Sassanids had secured Iran and its neighboring regions under Ardashir I, the second emperor, Shapur I (240–270), extended his authority eastwards into what is today Pakistan and northwestern India. The previously autonomous Kushans were obliged to accept his suzerainty. Although the Kushan empire declined at the end of the 3rd century, to be replaced by the northern Indian Gupta Empire in the 4th century, it is clear that Sassanid influence remained relevant in India's northwest throughout this period.

Persia and northwestern India engaged in cultural as well as political intercourse during this period, as certain Sassanid practices spread into the Kushan territories. In particular, the Kushan's were influenced by the Sassanid conception of kingship, which spread through the trade of Sassanid silverware and textiles depicting emperors hunting or dispensing justice. By adopting these Persian conceptions of kingship, the Kushans were able to maintain a degree of distance between themselves and their Indian subjects.

This cultural interchange did not, however, spread Sassanid religious practices or attitudes to the Kushans. While the Sassanids always adhered to a stated policy of religious proselytization, and sporadically engaged in persecution or forced conversion of minority religions, the Kushans preferred to adopt a policy of religious tolerance.

Lower-level cultural interchanges also took place between India and Persia during this period. For example, Persians imported chess from India and changed the game's name from chaturanga to chatrang. In exchange, Persians introduced Backgammon to India.

During Khosrau I's reign many books were brought from India and translated into Pahlavi, the language of the Sassanid Empire. Some of these later found their way into the literature of the Islamic world. A notable example of this was the translation of the Indian Panchatantra by one of Khosrau's ministers, Burzoe; this translation, known as the Kelileh va Demneh, later made its way into Arabia and Europe.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 239</ref>

Iranian society under the Sassanids


Sassanian society and civilization were among the most flourishing of their time, rivaled in their region only by the Byzantine civilisation. The amount of scientific and intellectual exchange between the two empires is witness to the competition and cooperation of these cradles of civilization.<ref name="iranologie" />

The most striking difference between Parthian and Sassanid society was renowed emphasis on charismatic and centeralized government. In Sassanid theory, the ideal society was one which could maitain stability and justice and the necessary instrument for this was a strong monarch.<ref>Daniel, p. 57</ref> Sassanid society was immensely complex, with separate systems of social organization governing numerous different groups within the empire.<ref>Nicolle, p. 11</ref> Historians believe that society was divided into four classes: Priests (Atorbanan in Persian: آتروبانان), Warriors (Arteshtaran in Persian: ارتشتاران), Secretaries (Dabiran in Persian: دبيران), and Commoners (Vasteryoshan-Hootkheshan in Persian: هوتخشان-واستريوشان). At the center of the Sassanid caste system was the Shahanshah, ruling over all the nobles.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 201</ref> The royal princes, petty rulers, great landlords, and priests together constituted a privileged stratum, and were identified as Bozorgan بزرگان, or nobles. This social system appears to have been fairly rigid.<ref name="Chamber"> The Sassanid caste system outlived the empire, continuing in the early Islamic period.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 201</ref>

Membership in a class was based on birth, although it was possible for an exceptional individual to move to another class on the basis of merit. The function of the king was to ensure that each class remained within its proper boundaries, so that the strong did not oppress the weak, nor the weak the strong. To maintain this social equilibrium was the essence of royal justice, and its effective functioning depended on the glorification of the monarchy above all other classes.<ref>Daniel, p. 57</ref>

On a lower level, Sassanid society was divided into Azatan (Azadan) آزادان (freemen), who jealously guarded their status as descendants of ancient Aryan conquerors, and the mass of originally non-Aryan peasantry. The Azatan formed a large low-aristocracy of low-level administrators, mostly living on small estates. The Azatan provided the cavalry backbone of Sassanid army.<ref>Nicolle, p. 11</ref>

Art, science and literature

See also: Sassanid art, Sassanid music, Science and medical academy of Gundishapur, Pahlavi literature, Sassanid architecture , Sassanid castles

Image:Coupe de Chosroès.JPG Image:Sassanian silver vessels.jpg Image:Sassanian silver plate.jpg Image:E3 5 4a sassanian.jpg

Image:Head horse Kerman Louvre MAO132.jpg The Sassanid kings were enlightened patrons of letters and philosophy. Khosrau I had the works of Plato and Aristotle translated into Pahlavi taught at Gundishapur, and even read them himself. During his reign many historical annals were compiled, of which the sole survivor is the Karnamak-i Artaxshir-i Papakan (Deeds of Ardashir), a mixture of history and romance that served as the basis of the Iranian national epic, the Shahnama. When Justinian I closed the schools of Athens, seven of their professors fled to Persia and found refuge at Khosrau's court. In time they grew homesick, and in his treaty of 533 with Justinian, the Sassanid king stipulated that the Greek sages should be allowed to return and be free from persecution.<ref name="Durant">Durant.</ref>

Under Khosrau I the college of Gundishapur, which had been founded in the 4th century, became "the greatest intellectual center of the time," drawing students and teachers from every quarter of the world. Nestorian Christians were received there, and brought Syriac translations of Greek works in medicine and philosophy. Neoplatonists, too, came to Gundishapur, where they planted the seeds of Sufi mysticism; the medical lore of India, Persia, Syria, and Greece mingled there to produce a flourishing school of therapy.<ref name="Durant" />

Artistically, the Sassanid period witnessed some of the highest achievements of Persian civilization. Much of what later became known as Muslim culture, including architecture and writing, was originally drawn from Persian culture. At its peak the Sassanid Empire stretched from Syria to northwest India, but its influence was felt far beyond these political boundaries. Sassanid motifs found their way into the art of Central Asia and China, the Byzantine Empire, and even Merovingian France. Islamic art however, was the true heir to Sassanian art, whose concepts it was to assimilate while, at the same time instilling fresh life and renewed vigor into it<ref>Iransaga: The art of Sassanians</ref>. According to Will Durant:

Sasanian art exported its forms and motifs eastward into India, Turkestan, and China, westward into Syria, Asia Minor, Constantinople, the Balkans, Egypt, and Spain. Probably its influence helped to change the emphasis in Greek art from classic representation to Byzantine ornament, and in Latin Christian art from wooden ceilings to brick or stone vaults and domes and buttressed walls.<ref name="Durant" />

Sassanid carvings at Taq-e Bostan and Naksh-i Rustam were colored; so were many features of the palaces; but only traces of such painting remain. The literature, however, makes it clear that the art of painting flourished in Sasanian times; the prophet Mani is reported to have founded a school of painting; Firdowsi speaks of Persian magnates adorning their mansions with pictures of Iranian heroes; and the poet al-Buhturi describes the murals in the palace at Ctesiphon. When a Sasanian king died, the best painter of the time was called upon to make a portrait of him for a collection kept in the royal treasury.

Painting, sculpture, pottery, and other forms of decoration shared their designs with Sasanian textile art. Silks, embroideries, brocades, damasks, tapestries, chair covers, canopies, tents, and rugs were woven with servile patience and masterly skill, and were dyed in warm tints of yellow, blue, and green. Every Persian but the peasant and the priest aspired to dress above his class; presents often took the form of sumptuous garments; and great colorful carpets had been an appanage of wealth in the East since Assyrian days. The two dozen Sasanian textiles that escaped the teeth of time are the most highly valued fabrics in existence. Even in their own day, Sasanian textiles were admired and imitated from Egypt to the Far East; and during the Crusades these pagan products were favored for clothing the relics of Christian saints. When Heraclius captured the palace of Khosru Parvez at Dastagird, delicate embroideries and an immense rug were among his most precious spoils. Famous was the "winter carpet" of Khosru Anushirvan, designed to make him forget winter in its spring and summer scenes: flowers and fruits made of inwoven rubies and diamonds grew, in this carpet, beside walks of silver and brooks of pearls traced on a ground of gold. Harun al-Rashid prided himself on a spacious Sasanian rug thickly studded with jewelry. Persians wrote love poems about their rugs.<ref name="Durant" />

Studies on Sassanid remains show that over 100 types of crowns being worn by Sassanid kings. The various Sassanid crowns demonstrate the cultural, economic, social, and historical situation in each period. The crowns also show the character traits of each king in this era. Different symbols and signs on the crowns, the moon, stars, eagle, and palm, each illustrate the wearer's religious faith and beliefs.<ref>Iranian cultrual heritage news agency (CHN)</ref> (For more on Sassanid crowns please visit [2])

The Sassand Dynasty, like the Achaemenid, originated in the province of Persis (Fars). The Sassanids saw themselves as successors of the Achaemenids, after the Hellenistic and Parthian interlude, and believed that it was their destiny to restore the greatness of Persia.

In reviving the glories of the Achaemenid past, the Sassanids were no mere imitators. The art of this period reveals an astonishing virility, in certain respects anticipating key features of Islamic art. Sassanid art combined elements of traditional Persian art with Hellenistic elements and influences. The conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great had inaugurated the spread of Hellenistic art into Western Asia. Though the East accepted the outward form of this art, it never really assimilated its spirit. Already in the Parthian period, Hellenistic art was being interpreted freely by the peoples of the Near East. Throughout the Sassanid period there was reaction against it. Sassanian art revived forms and traditions native to Persia, and in the Islamic period, these reached the shores of the Mediterranean. According to Fergusson:

With the accession of the [Sassanids], Persia regained much of that power and stability to which she had been so long a stranger… The improvement in the fine arts at home indicates returning prosperity, and a degree of security unknown since the fall of the Achaemenidae.<ref>Fergusson, History of Architecture, vol. i, 3rd edition, pp. 381−3.</ref>

Surviving palaces illustrate the splendor in which the Sassanid monarchs lived. Examples include palaces at Firouzabad and Bishapur in Fars and the capital city of Ctesiphon in Khvarvaran province, Iraq. In addition to local traditions, Parthian architecture influenced Sassanian architectural characteristics. All are characterized by the barrel-vaulted iwans introduced in the Parthian period. During the Sassanian period, these reached massive proportions, particularly at Ctesiphon. There, the arch of the great vaulted hall, attributed to the reign of Shapur I (241–272), has a span of more than 80 feet and reaches a height of 118 feet. This magnificent structure fascinated architects in the centuries that followed and has been considered one of the most important examples of Persian architecture. Many of the palaces contain an inner audience hall consisting, as at Firuzabad, of a chamber surmounted by a dome. The Persians solved the problem of constructing a circular dome on a square building by employing squinches, or arches built across each corner of the square, thereby converting it into an octagon on which it is simple to place the dome. The dome chamber in the palace of Firouzabad is the earliest surviving example of the use of the squinch, suggesting that this architectural technique was probably invented in Persia.

The unique characteristic of Sassanid architecture was its distinctive use of space. The Sassanid architect conceived his building in terms of masses and surfaces; hence the use of massive walls of brick decorated with molded or carved stucco. Stucco wall decorations appear at Bishapur, but better examples are preserved from Chal Tarkhan near Rayy (late Sassanid or early Islamic in date), and from Ctesiphon and Kish in Mesopotamia. The panels show animal figures set in roundels, human busts, and geometric and floral motifs.

At Bishapur some of the floors were decorated with mosaics showing scenes of merrymaking as at a banquet. The Roman influence here is clear, and the mosaics may have been laid by Roman prisoners. Buildings were decorated with wall paintings. Particularly fine examples have been found at Kuh-i Khwaja in Sistan.

Industry and trade

Image:Khosrau I Textile.jpg Image:Indo-Sassanid.jpgImage:Textile0001.jpg

Persian industry under the Sassanids developed from domestic to urban forms. Guilds were numerous, and some towns had a revolutionary proletariat. Silk weaving was introduced from China; Sassanid silks were sought for everywhere, and served as models for the textile art in Byzantium, China, and Japan. Chinese merchants came to Iran to sell raw silk and buy rugs, jewels, rouge; Armenians, Syrians, and Jews connected Persia, Byzantium, and Rome in slow exchange. Good roads and bridges, well patrolled, enabled state post and merchant caravans to link Ctesiphon with all provinces; and harbors were built in the Persian Gulf to quicken trade with India.<ref name=Durant /> Sassanid merchants ranged far and wide and gradually ousted Romans from lucrative Indian ocean trade routes.<ref>Nicolle, p. 6</ref>

Khosrau I further extended the already vast trade network. The Sassanid state now tended toward monopolistic control of trade, with luxury goods assuming a far greater role in the trade than heretofore, and the great activity in building of ports, caravanserais, bridges, and the like was linked to trade and urbanization. The Persians dominated international trade, both in the Indian Ocean and in Central Asia and South Russia in the time of Khosrau, although competition with the Byzantines was at times intense. Sasanian settlements in Oman and Yemen testify to the importance of trade with India, but the silk trade with China was mainly in the hands of Sassanid vassals and the Iranian people, the Sogdians.<ref>Frye, p. 325</ref>

The main exports of Sassanids were silk, woolen and golden textile, carpet and rug, skin, leather and Pearl from Persian gulf. Also there were goods in transit from China (paper, silk) and India (spices) whom Sassanid customs imposed taxes on them and were re-exported from Empire to Europe.<ref>Sarfaraz, p. 353</ref>

It was also a time of increased metallurgical production, so Iran earned a reputation as the "armory of Asia". Most of the Sassanids mining centers were at the fringes of the Empire, in Armenia, the Caucasus and above all Transoxania. The extraordinary mineral wealth of Pamir Mountains on the eastern horizon of the Sassanid empire led to a legend among the Tajiks, an Iranian people living there, which is still told today. It said when God was creating the world, he tripped over Pamirs, dropping his jar of minerals which spread across the region.<ref>Nicolle, p. 6</ref>


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Image:Yazd fire temple.jpg

The religion of the Sassanid state was Zoroastrianism, but Sassanid Zoroastrianism had clear distinctions from the practices laid out in the Avesta, the holy books of Zoroastrianism. Sassanid Zoroastrian clergy modified the religion in a way to serve themselves, causing substantial religious uneasiness. Sassanid religious policies contributed to the flourishing of numerous religious reform movements, the most important of these being the Mani and Mazdak religions.

Extreme and pronounced dualism constituted the most noticeable feature of Zoroastrianism. Ormazd and Ahriman, the principles of Good and Evil, were expressly declared to be "twins" who had "in the beginning come together to create Life and Death, and to settle how the world was to be." There was no priority of existence of the one over the other, and no decided superiority. The two, being coeval, had contended since the beginning of time and would, it was almost certain, continue to contend for all eternity, neither being able to vanquish the other.

These two principles were represented as persons. Ormazd was "the creator of life, the earthly and the spiritual," he who "made the celestial bodies, earth, water, and trees." He was "good," "holy," "pure," "true," "the Holy God," "the Holiest," "the Essence of Truth," "the father of all truth," "the being best of all," "the master of purity." He was supremely "happy," being possessed of every blessing, "health, wealth, virtue, wisdom, immortality." From him came every good gift enjoyed by man; on the pious and the righteous he bestowed, not only earthly advantages, but precious spiritual gifts, truth, devotion, "the good mind," and everlasting happiness; and, as he rewarded the good, so he also punished the bad, though this was an aspect in which he was but seldom represented.<ref>Rawlinson, p. 176</ref>

Zoroastrian worship was intimately connected with fire-temples and fire-altars. A fire-temple was maintained in every important city throughout the empire; and in these a sacred flame, believed to have been lighted from heaven, was kept perpetually alight by the priests, and was spoken of as "unextinguishable". Fire-altars probably also existed independently of temples; throughout Sassanid history a freestanding fire-altar was given a prominent place on coinage as the main impress on the reverse. It was represented with the flame rising from it, and sometimes with a head in the flame; its stem was ornamented with garlands or fillets; and on either side, as protectors or as worshippers, were represented two figures, sometimes watching the flame, sometimes turned from it, guarding it apparently from external enemies.<ref>Rawlinson, p. 177</ref>

Alongside Zoroastrianism other religions, primarily Judaism and Christianity, existed in Sassanid society, and were largely free to practice and preach their beliefs. A very large Jewish community flourished under Sassanid rule, with thriving centers at Isfahan , Babylon and Khorasan, and with its own semiautonomous Exilarchate leadership based in Iraq. This community would, in fact, continue to flourish until the advent of Zionism.<ref>Nicolle, p. 14</ref>Jewish communities suffered only occasional persecution. They enjoyed a relative freedom of religion, and were granted privileges denied to other religious minorities.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 272</ref> Shapur I (Shvor Malka in Aramaic) was a particular friend to the Jews. His friendship with Shmuel produced many advantages for the Jewish community.<ref>Zarinkoob, p. 207</ref> Shapur II, whose mother was Jewish, had a similar friendship with a Babylonian rabbi named Raba. Raba's friendship with Shapur II enabled him to secure a relaxation of the oppressive laws enacted against the Jews in the Persian Empire.

Christians in Iran at this time belonged mainly to the Nestorian and Jacobite branches of the church, and kept close relations with the Byzantine church. They occasionally assisted the Byzantine army during wars between the two empires. Most of the Christians in the Sassanid empire lived on the western edge of the empire. A particularly large concentration existed in Armenia, where the Armenians, previously Zoroastrians, had been the first people in the empire to convert to Christianity.<ref name="iranologie" />

The Parsees


Following the collapse of the Sassanids, Zoroastrians increasingly became a persecuted minority in Persia. A number of them migrated to Gujarat, India, where they were allowed greater freedom to observe their old customs and preserve the Zoroastrian faith. There, they became known as Parsees. Parsees still use the old Persian calendar, counting the years from the accession of Yazdegerd on June 16, 632. Old dynastic calendars measured time by the reigns of various rulers, and according to the Parsees, the reign of Yazdegerd has not ended.

Sassanid army

Image:Knight-Iran.JPG Template:Main

The backbone of the Persian army (Spah) in the Sassanid era was composed of two types of heavy cavalry units: Clibanarii and Cataphracts. This cavalry force, composed of elite noblemen trained since youth for military service, was supported by light cavalry, infantry, and archers. Sassanid tactics centered around disrupting the enemy with archers, war elephants, and other troops, thus opening up gaps the cavalry forces could exploited.

Unlike their predecessors, the Parthians, the Sassanids developed advanced siege engines. This development served the empire well in conflicts with Rome, in which success hinged upon the ability to seize cities and other fortified points; conversely, the Sassanids also developed a number of techniques for defending their own cities from attack. The Sassanid army was famous for its heavy cavalry, which was very much like its predecessor Parthian army, albeit more advanced and fatal. The Greek historian Ammianus Marcellinus's description of a Shapur II's clibanarii cavalry manifestly shows how heavily equipped it was:

All the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff-joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skillfully fitted to their heads, that since their entire body was covered with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye, or where through the tip of their nose they were able to get a little breath. Of these some who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would have thought them held fast by clamps of bronze.<ref>Sassanian Army, By A.Sh. Shahbazi</ref>

In modern media

Image:Clibi4.jpg The Sassanid Empire is one of a number of factions in the 2005 PC game Rome Total War: Barbarian invasion. In the game they start at easternmost section of the map, replacing the Parthian faction in the original game. They are rivals with the Eastern Roman empire and the only faction to have Zoroastrianism as the state religion (Sassanids unlike other factions can adopt only Zoroastrianism), hence persecuting Christians.

The Sassanid army as the only faction in the game features war elephants and fully armored camel riders. The main focus of the Sassanid army is its ultra-heavily armored cavalry with a good infantry and archer support, making it an excellent combination of troops. Sassanid signature unit is its commander unit, Clibanarii Immortals.

Overall, many consider the Sassanids along with Eastern Roman Empire the strongest factions in the game, both military and financially. The Sassanid empire's campaign difficulty is considered to be easy to average mainly due to its geographical position which prevents it from encountering barbarian hordes, a fact that makes its campaign easy to complete.

Sassanid Empire chronology

Template:Sassanid Rulers 226–241: Reign of Ardashir I:

  • 224–226: Overthrow of Parthian Empire.
  • 229–232: War with Rome
  • Zoroastrianism is revived as official religion.
  • The collection of texts known as the Zend Avesta is assembled.

241–271: Reign of Shapur I:

271–301: A period of dynastic struggles.

309–379: Reign of Shapur II "the Great":

  • 337–350: First war with Rome with a relatively little success.
  • 358–363: Second war with Rome. Great victories, extending eastern and western borders of empire.

399–420: Reign of Yazdegerd I "the Sinner":

  • 409: Christian are permitted to publicly worship and to build churches.
  • 416–420: Persecution of Christians as Yazdegerd revokes his earlier order.

420–438: Reign of Bahram V:

  • 420–422: War with Rome.
  • 424: Council of Dad-Ishu declares the Eastern Church independent of Constantinople.

438–457: Reign of Yazdegerd II:

483: Edict of Toleration granted to Christians.

491: Armenian Church repudiates the Council of Chalcedon:

531–579: Reign of Khosrau I, "with the immortal soul" (Anushirvan)

533: "Treaty of Endless Peace" with Rome.

540–562: War with Rome.

590–628: Reign of Khosrau II

603–628: War with Rome. Conquests in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Anatolia, Persia nearly restored to boundaries of Achaemenid dynasty before being beaten back by Romans.

610: Arabs defeat a Sassanid army at Dhu-Qar.

626: Unsuccessful siege of Constantinople by Avars and Persians.

627: Roman Emperor Heraclius invades Assyria and Mesopotamia. Definitive defeat of Persian forces at the battle of Nineveh by the joint Byzantine force.

628–632: Chaotic period of multiple rulers.

632–642: Reign of Yazdegerd III.

636: Decisive Sassanid defeat at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah during the Islamic conquest of Iran.

642: Final victory of Arabs when Persian army destroyed at Nahavand (Nehavand).

651: Last Sassanid ruler Yazdegerd III murdered at Merv, present-day Turkmenistan, ending the dynasty. His son Pirooz and many others went into exile in China.






  • Christensen, A., "Sassanid Persia", The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Imperial Crisis and Recovery (A.D. 193-324), Cook, S.A. et al, eds, Cambridge: University Press.
  • Nicolle, David, Sassanian Armies: the Iranian empire early 3rd to mid-7th centuries AD, Montvert, 1996. ISBN 1-874101-08-6
  • Daniel, Elton L., The History of Iran, Greenwood Press, 2001. ISBN 0313307318
  • Durant, Will, "The Age Of Faith", The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4
  • Oranskij, I. M., Les Langues Iraniennes, Librairie C. Klincksieck, Paris, 1977, pp 71-76. ISBN 2-252-01991-3.
  • Rawlinson, George, The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World: The Seventh Monarchy: History of the Sassanian or New Persian Empire,, 2005. ISBN 1421957345
  • Sarfaraz, Ali Akbar, and Bahman Firuzmandi, Mad, Hakhamanishi, Ashkani, Sasani, Marlik, 1996. ISBN 964-90495-1-7
  • Zarinkoob, Abdolhossein, Ruzgaran: tarikh-i Iran az aghz ta saqut saltnat Pahlvi, Sukhan, 1999. ISBN 964-6961-11-8
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition{{#if:{{{article|}}}| article {{#if:{{{url|}}}|[{{{url|}}}}} "{{{article}}}"{{#if:{{{url|}}}|]}}{{#if:{{{author|}}}| by {{{author}}}}}}}, a publication now in the public domain.


See also


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ar:ساسانيون bg:Сасанидско царство cs:Sásánovci de:Sassanidenreich es:Imperio Sasánida eo:Sasanidoj fa:ساسانیان fr:Sassanides hr:Sasanidi it:Sasanidi la:Sassanidae nl:Sassaniden ja:サーサーン朝 no:Sasanide-dynastiet pl:Sasanidzi pt:Dinastia Sassânida ru:Сасаниды sl:Sasanidi fi:Sassanidit sv:Sasanider zh:萨珊王朝