Ardashir I or Ardeshir I (Middle Persian:, New Persian: اردشیر
بابکان, Ardashir-e Bābakān), also known as Ardashir the
Unifier (180–242 AD), was the founder of the Sasanian Empire.
After defeating the last Parthian shahanshah Artabanus V on the
Hormozdgan plain in 224, he overthrew the Parthian dynasty and
established the Sasanian dynasty. Afterwards, Ardashir called himself
"shahanshah" and began conquering the land that he called Iran.
There are various historical reports about Ardashir's lineage and
ancestry. According to Al-Tabari's report, Ardashir was son of Papak,
son of Sasan. Another narrative that exists in Kar-Namag i Ardashir i
Pabagan and Ferdowsi's
Shahnameh also states it says that Ardashir was
born from the marriage of Sasan, a descendant of Darius III, with the
daughter of Papak, a local governor in Pars.
According to Al-Tabari's report, Ardashir was born in the outskirts of
Al-Tabari adds that Ardashir was sent to the lord of
Fort Darabgard when he was seven years old. After the lord's death,
Ardashir succeeded him and became the commander of Fort Darabgard.
Al-Tabari continues that afterward,
Papak overthrew the local Persian
Gochihr and appointed his son, Shapur, instead of him.
According to Al-Tabari's report, Shapur and his father, Papak,
suddenly died and Ardashir became the ruler of Pars. Tension rose
between Ardashir and the Parthian empire and eventually on April 28,
224, Ardashir faced the army of Artabanus V in the Hormozdgan plain
and Artabanus, the Parthian shahanshah, was killed during the battle.
According to the royal reports, it was
Papak who overthrew Gochihr,
the local Persian shah, and appointed his son, Shapur, instead of him;
Ardashir refused to accept Shapur's appointment and removed his
brother and whosoever stood against him and then minted coins with his
face drawn on and his father, Papak's behind. It is probable that the
determining role that is stated about Ardashir in leading the
rebellion against the central government is the product of the later
Papak had probably united most of Pars under his
rule by then.
Ardashir had an outstanding role in developing the royal ideology. He
tried to show himself as a worshiper of Mazda related to god and
possessing khvarenah. The claim of the legitimacy of his reign as a
rightful newcomer from the line of the mythical Iranian shahs and the
propagations attributed to Ardashir against the legitimacy and role of
the Parthians in the Iranian history sequence show the valuable place
that the Achaemenid legacy had in the minds of the first Sasanian
shahanshahs; though the current belief is that the Sasanians did not
know much about the Achaemenids and their status. On the other hand,
some historians believe that the first Sasanian shahanshahs were
familiar with the Achaemenids and their succeeding shahanshahs
deliberately turned to the Kayanians. They knowingly ignored the
Achaemenids in order to attribute their past to the Kayanians; and
that was where they applied holy historiography.
In order to remark his victories, Ardashir carved petroglyphs in
Firuzabad (the city of Gor or Ardashir-Khwarrah),
Naqsh-e Rajab and
Naqsh-e Rustam. In his petroglyph in Naqsh-e Rustam, Ardashir and
Ahura Mazda are opposite to each other on horsebacks and the corpses
of Artabanus and Ahriman are visualized under the nails of the horses
of Ardashir and Ahura Mazda. It can be deduced from the picture that
Ardashir assumed or wished for others to assume that his rule over the
land that was called "Iran" in the inscriptions was designated by the
lord. The word "Iran" was previously used in
Avesta and as "the name
of the mythical land of the Aryans". In Ardashir's period, the title
"Iran" was chosen for the region under the Sasanian rule. The idea of
"Iran" was accepted for both the Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian
societies in the whole kingdom and the Iranians' collective memory
continued and lived on in the various stages and different layers of
the Iranian society until the modern period today. What is clear is
that the concept of "Iran" previously had a religious application and
then ended up creating its political face and the concept of a
geographical collection of lands.
2.1 Text remnants
2.2.4 Middle Persian
2.2.5 New Persian
3 Lineage and ancestry
Iran before rise of the Sasanians
5 State of the
Parthian Empire before its demise
6.1 Early years until his uprising and gaining power
6.2 After coronation
6.3 War with Rome
6.4 Final years and succession
6.5 Timeline of life
7 Reign infrastructure
7.1 The procedure of centralization of power
7.2 Government ideology and Iranian thought
7.3 Religious policy
7.4 Court and government posts
8 Ardashir in the narrative-mythical Iranian history
9 Ardashir's petroglyphs
11.1 Ardashir's Testament
11.2 Ardashir's Testament to His Son Shapur
11.3 Ardashir's Book in Government Principles
12 See also
15 External links
"Ardashir" in the
New Persian form of the
Middle Persian name , which
is ultimately from
Old Iranian *Artaxšaθra-, equivalent to Greek
Artaxérxēs (Αρταξέρξης) in Greek, and Armenian Artašēs
(Արտաշէս). Literally, Ardashir means "the one whose reign is
based on honesty and justice". The first part of *Artaxšaθra- is
adapted from the religious concept of justice known as
Ṛta or Asha
and the second part is related to the concept "city".
Three of Achaemenid kings of kings and four of the local Shahs of Pars
- known as
Frataraka - were named Ardashir, and
Ardashir I has been
Ardashir V in the chain of local Shahs.
The primary references of the Sassanian era can be divided to the two
categories "text remnants" and "reports":
Text remnants include inscriptions, leather writings, papyri and
crockeries written in multiple languages and scripts. Examples of
text remnants related to
Ardashir I include his short inscription in
Nagsh-e Rajab and also Shapur I's inscription at the Ka'ba-ye
Reports are texts that are written in various languages and
periods. It should be noted that the basis of the writings of all
Muslim historians (
Arabic and Persian histories), has been the
Khwaday-Namag of the Sassanian court that have utilized the
recorded diaries in the official calendars of the court as references.
Khwaday-Namag was prepared at the ends of the Sassanian era in Middle
Persian language. The title of the
Arabic translation of the book was
Seir-ol Moluk-el Ajam and the Persian version was Shahnameh. Today,
none of the direct translations of
Khwaday-Namag or its original
Persian text are available.
Cassius Dio is one of the famous resources of Parthian history that
has given a report about the downfall of the Parthians and the rise of
Herodian's History has also extensively explained the procedure of the
change of monarchy from Parthian to Sassanian.
Agathias lived during the time of Khosrow I, due to his
access to the royal yearbooks in
Ctesiphon archives, his history book
is one of the main sources. However, he has used colloquial statements
in reporting the story of Ardashir's youth.
The Armenian history in the Sassanian era is completely connected with
Iranian royal history; thus, not only do the writings of then Armenian
historians provide important matters about the adventures of Iranian
kings of kings, but show the status of Iran-
Armenian History by
Agathangelos is one of Armenian resources about
the early Sassanian era.
Movses Khorenatsi, known as the Armenian Herodotus, a famous historian
of the fifth century A.D, has stated a story about
Ardashir I that is
relatively similar to the adapted story from the biography of Cyrus
Another class of Sasanian history references is the books written by
Christians in Syriac language.
Arbella's Chronicles is a text written in mid-sixth century A.D. and
includes the history of
Christian regions of
Mesopotamia from the
second century until 550. The book is very valuable for the period
of the downfall of the Parthians and the rise of the Sasanians.
History of Odessa is a book written in 540 and includes chronicles
from 132 BC until 540.
Chronicles of Karakh Beit Solug, is a short but important source that
presents valuable information about the early Sasanian period.
Kār-Nāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān is an epic story about Ardashir
I and the procedure of his ascension to the throne of Iran. The text
was written in about 600 AD and in the end of Sasanian era in Middle
Shahnameh is the largest and most important reference about
the reports related to the national Iranian history. It presents
helpful information about the Sasanian organizations and
Bal'ami's History, which is a Persian rewrite of Tabari's History, is
one of the most important Persian prose works about the Sasanians.
Apart from the
Arabic text, the work is valuable, since it provides
the Persian equals of
Arabic expressions in Tabari's History.
Farsnameh is one of the helpful Persian references about Sasanian
history that presents valuable information about the status and the
rankings of grand appointed governors and their positions, while they
were considered part of the public relative to the kings.
Ibn Isfandiyar's History of
Tabaristan is another one of Sasanian
history sources. The
Letter of Tansar is written in the book.
Mojmal al-tawarikh is a text with limited value, since most of its
reports are mentioned extensively in other sources.
Ardasgir's Oath is a letter or preach by
Ardashir I about government
rituals that is named in Mojmal al-tawarikh.
Tabari's History is a book series in
Arabic that is the main and
essential source about Sasanian history.
The Meadows of Gold is another source about the Sasanian
Lineage and ancestry
Coin of Ardashir I
There are different historical reports about Ardashir's ancestry and
lineage. According to Al-Tabari's report, Ardashir was son of Papak,
son of Sasan. Another statement that exists in Kar-Namag i Ardashir i
Pabagan and is told the same way in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, states that
Ardashir was born as a result of the marriage of Sasan, a descendent
of Darius III, with the daughter of Papak, a local governor in the
province of Pars. In Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan, which was
written after him, Ardashir is announced "a Papakan king with a
paternal line from
Sasan and a maternal line from Darius III".
Daryaee intends to say that according to that line in the text, it can
be deduced that Ardashir has claimed his lineage to whoever he could.
Relating Ardashir to the legendary Kayanians with the nickname Kay
beside connecting himself to Sasan, who has been a guardian and
mysterious deity and also to Dara, which is a combination of Darius I
and II the Achamenid with local Persian shahs Dara I and II, shows the
former's fake lineage. Since Ardashir had claimed his royal
lineage to Sasan, it is important to inspect who
Sasan was. First it
was composed that the epigraphic form "Ssn" on potterywares and other
documents imply that
Sasan was a Zoroastrian deity, though he is not
Avesta or other ancient Iranian texts. Martin Schwartz
has recently shown that the deity shown on the potterywares is not
related to Sasan, but shows Ssn, old Semitic goddess that was
Ugarit on second millennium B.C. The word "Sasa" is
written on coins found in Taxila; it is probable to be related to
"Sasan", since the symbols on the mentioned coins are similar to the
coins of Shapur I. It is remarked in Ferdowsi's
Sasan's Oriental lineage that might imply that his house had come from
the Orient. After all and considering all the difficulties, it can be
said that Ardashir claimed his lineage to be belonging to gods and the
Sasanians may have raised Sasan's rank to a god's. The primary
Islamic sources, which are adapted from Sasanian statements, have
Sasan being a mysticist and hermit and have actually
stated India, which is the center of asceticism, as Sasan's origin.
That was the only way for Ardashir to forge himself a double
noble-religious lineage. It is not strange that Ardashir's religious
lineage is emphasized in religious Sasanian statements and his noble
lineage is emphasized in royal reports and then they are linked to
religious statements about him. Anyway, whoever
Sasan was and wherever
he lived, he was not a native Persian and the eastern and western
Iranian Plateau are mentioned as his origins in the references.
Most of foreign sources are unanimous in considering an unknown
lineage for Ardashir; for example,
Agathias has stated that Papak
was a shoemaker who found out from astronomic proofs that
have a great son; thus
Sasan to sleep with the former's
wife and the result was Ardashir. Shakki considered Agathias's
narrative a useless and vulgar story by the familiar Sergeus,
Surianian translator of Khosrow I's court, ordered by the opponents
and foes of Sasanians. Shakki said it was obvious Sergeus the
Christian had induced that nonsense to Agathias. Like he had cleared
Ardashir's family tree, and it was adapted from the imaginations of
Christians and the materialist and atheist league. Shakki's reasoning
is based on the current norm in marital customs that the children
resulting from a woman's marriage with a second spouse (after
divorcing her first spouse) will belong to the first spouse. In
the three-language inscription of Shapur I's on
Ka'ba-ye Zartosht in
Sasan is introduced only as a nobleman and
Papak as a
There are opinions about the validity and authenticity of each of the
mentioned narratives. Some have considered Al-Tabari's report
suspicious since he presents an elaborate family tree of Ardashir that
relates his generation to mythical and mighty ancient Iranian kings.
Some consider the reports of Karnamag and
Shahnameh more justifiable,
since Ardashir being Sasan's son and his adoption by
Papak aligns with
Zoroastrian norms and customs. However, some have questioned the
reports of Karnamag and Shahnameh, considered them mythical and
intended to legitimize the founder of the Sasanian dynasty.
Anyway, due to the high number of reports about Ardashir's lineage, it
is not easy to accept any; though it should not be ignored that most
of the founders of dynasties claimed to be descendants of ancient
kings in order to become legit. About that, Daryaee says: "If Ardashir
had been evolved from a noble house, he would have insisted on a
report; while various stories show that he intended to gain legitimacy
from all Iranian traditions and perhaps foreign tribes."
In sources, Ardashir's religious relations and his father being a
cleric are mentioned; so it can be deduced that Ardashir had no
connections with royal houses and was only a cleric's son who knew
about religion, but was not a cleric himself; and that was how he, by
his religious knowledge, found the chance to be the first person in
his inscriptions receiving the royal ring from Ahura Mazda, something
a Persian nobleman did not need and only a newcomer had to claim to be
from the line of gods. It should be mentioned that it was not
precedent to Ardashir to take a royal ring from Ahura Mazda, and it is
not seen even in Achaemenid inscriptions.
Iran before rise of the Sasanians
Coin of Otofradat I; the picture behind the coin is a structure
similar to Ka'ba-ye Zartosht.
Iran, the state in which the movement of establishing the new Sasanian
government began, had lost its fame by third century A.D. Since old
times, a new city named
Istakhr had risen beside the ruins of Takht-e
Jamshid, an Achaemenid capital which was burnt by troops of Alexander
III of Macedon. Although the land's local shahs picked themselves
famous Achaemenid names like Dara (Darius) and Ardashir in order to
preserve old traditions, that was almost the only remaining instance
of the ancient magnificence and greatness. The local governors of
Pars that considered themselves the rightful heirs of the Achaemenids,
had accepted submitting to the Parthians during the four and a half
century of the latters' reign and always waited for a chance to retake
the Achaemenid glory. They considered the Parthians primordial
usurpers who had taken the formers' right by force.
The remnants of
Takht-e Jamshid could be permanent
memorials of the past magnificence of Pars; though the knowledge about
the existence of a large empire was almost forgotten.
As of now, not much knowledge is gained about the four hundred-year
history of that state, which was once part of the Seleucid Kingdom and
then of Parthian Empire, and almost all the knowledge about the
political status of Pars - before the rise of Ardashir, depends on the
coins which were minted by the local semi-dependent kings; based on
the existent information on the Persian coins, at least one local king
ruled in Persian lands slightly after the demise of Alexander III.
Even if the existence of the names of kings like Dara and Ardashir on
the coins of local shahs of the land does not prove that a subsidiary
house of the Achaemenids still ruled in Pars, it at least shows the
continuance of some of Achaemenid traditions in that land.
During the Seleucid era, the
Frataraka (local Persian shahs) ruled
Pars at the time of the rebellion of Alexander, Molon's brother,
against Antiochus III. That shows those local shahs shared power with
Seleucid satraps or each of them ruled part of Pars separately.
Also in the Parthian era, the local Persian shahs were entitled to
mint coins with their own names like some other semi-dependent shahs
of the Parthian Empire. During the time, the Persian governors called
themselves "Frataraka", which probably meant "governor" based on its
synonym achieved from the Aramaic documents of the Achaemenid era.
Afterwards, the titles of local governors altered and they named
themselves "Shahs". There have been royal crowns and symbols, temple
pictures, fireboxes with aflame fires, and symbols of the moon, stars
and the portrait of
Ahura Mazda minted on coins of the
shows the holy fire was adored and the Zoroastrian gods were worshiped
and the old creed was permanent in Pars in contrast to other
In a portrait of
Papak and his son Shapur carved on Takht-e Jamshid,
Papak, while dressed as a priest, squeezes the hilt of his sword by
one hand and manipulates the fire of the hearth and adds more firewood
to it by the other hand, with his son Shapur taking the royal ring
from him. In other pictures of granting the royal medal during the
time, meaning granting Khwasak, the mayor of Susa, which is discovered
there, and the picture of granting the medal to the governor of
Elymais, discovered in Bardneshandeh, the Parthian emperor is granting
the royal medal to local shahs; while in the mentioned picture of
Papak and his son Shapur in Takht-e Jamshid, it is
Papak who is
granting the royal ring to Shapur wearing like priests. Lokonin
believed that the carving of
Papak granting the royal medal to his
sone shows that the Sasanians took the power by force in Pars and
wished to show their independence from the Parthian emperors; that was
Papak personally grants the royal medal to his son in the
mentioned picture. Lokonin also believes that the religious
clothes and medals of
Papak on the pictures and cois of Shapur (his
son), show the separation of religious and royal rule -at the time;
Papak was the grand priest and his son Shapur was the land's shah.
Daryaee believes that the picture shows multiple things; first that
House of Sasan
House of Sasan had both the religious and irreligious powers
together in Pars; second that the fire creed, related to
Zoroastrianism, lived on before the rise of Ardashir; third that the
carved picture of Shapur and
Takht-e Jamshid shows the
importance of the Achaemenid structure for the Sasanians.
State of the
Parthian Empire before its demise
After the demise of Commodus, Roman emperor, in
192 A.D, the rivalry
between his generals,
Pescennius Niger and Septimius Severus, arose;
and Vologases V, Parthian emperor, decided to support Niger against
Severus. According to Herodian's History, the Parthian emperor only
managed to request his local following governors to send troops to aid
Vologases V did not possess a great army. Eventually in 194,
Severus won the quest for power in Rome; he invaded Western
Mesopotamia in order to retake the lost regions; the accurate details
of the invasion is not known, but
Nusaybin were retaken
anyway. Then Severus returned to
Rome due to Clodius Albinus's
rebellion; during Severus's return from Mesopotamia, the status of the
Parthian Empire was very disrupted. In 197, Severus initiated
hostilities with the Parthians. Meanwhile, Vologases suppressed a
rebellion in east of the Empire; Narses, governor of
region to the west of current Lake Urmia), disobeyed to accompany
Vologases to invade the East to suppress the rebellion; the
noncompliance and also Narses's friendly relations with
Vologases' attack to
Adiabene and destroying multiple cities of it and
also killing Narses.
Vologases later proceeded towards
Nusaybin and laid siege to it, but
aborted it due to Roman reinforcements and failed to capture the city.
Afterwards, Severus started marching toward
Euphrates and to South and
Babylon without resistance, although the Romans
contended heavily in late
198 during the fall of Ctesiphon. However,
the Romans did not manage to hold the captured regions; they had to
retreat due to lack of provisions. The Romans decided to take Hatra
while returning, but failed and tried once more in spring
conquer Hatra, and were forced to cede control of
Syria with heavy
casualties. It must have been that "highly disruptive period of
Vologases V's reign" and the raid and destruction of
Papak probably united most of Pars under his rule.
Apparently a peace treaty was then formed between the two powers,
though the ancient historians have had no mention of it. Until
Vologases' death in
207 and also Severus's in 211, the
Parthian-Roman relations were peaceful. After Vologases V's death,
Vologases VI rose to the throne; but shortly afterward, his
reign was challenged by his brother Artabanus V. In about 213,
Artabanus launched a rebellion against his brother Vologases and took
the rule of a large part of the Parthian Empire; it can be deduced
from the coins found in
Hamadan that he ruled the Median land.
According to an inscription of his in Susa, the control of the region
is considered to have been Artabanus's. Elsewhere, Vologases VI's
coins found in
Seleucia show his control over the land. In Rome,
Caracalla rose to power after the death of Septimius Severus, his
father. Although the information about the contest between Artabanus
and Vologases is trace, the
Latin sources say that
special attention to the internal contest of Parthians and reported
the disruption of the Parthians' status to the Roman Senate. Knowledge
about the civil war in the
Parthian Empire might have encouraged "the
idea of a military conquest" in
Caracalla and stimulated him towards
successes larger than those of his father's (Septimius Severus) in
fighting the Parthians. At the time while Emperor
already been formulating a plan to start a new war with the Parthians,
he sent a request for extradition of two fugitives, a philosopher
named Antiochus and an unknown man called Tiridates, to Vologases
searching for an excuse to start a war in
214 or early 215; Vologases
returned the two fugitives; but Caracall invaded Armenia
It can be deduced from Caracalla's request from Vologases for
returning the two fugitives that the Romans considered Vologases the
actual Parthian power and great shah at the time. About one year
later in 216,
Caracalla made another excuse to attack Parthia; that
time he demanded Artabanus (not Vologases) to give him his daughter
for marriage, which Artabanus did not accept and the war started in
summer 216. According to that request of
Caracalla from Artabanus, it
is assumed that Aratabanus gained "the upper hand" in his internal
contest with Vologases then, though Vologases' coins were minted until
222 in Seleucia. Although the exact path of the Romans'
invasion is not known, they certainly conquered Erbil, center of
Adiabene; apparently the Parthians avoided a large confrontation; but
they applied an offensive policy toward
Mesopotamia in early 217. That
was the time Caracalla, who was heading to Harran, was killed by head
of his security detail Macrinus, who showed his inclination towards
peace with the Parthians by "putting the blame of starting the war on
Caracalla" and "freeing Parthian prisoners"; but Artabanus demanded
the Romans' "relinquishing of the whole Mesopotamia", "rebuilding the
destroyed cities and fortresses" and "paying compensations for
destroying the royal cemetery of Erbil", knowing of having the upper
Macrinus refused the extensive demands of the Parthians and war was
restarted and its peak was in a three-day battle in Nusaybin. Although
there is controversy about the result of the battle in the views of
the ancient world's historians, the aftermath of the battle was
obviously Roman defeat. After the end of the war, peace negotiations
began and resulted in a peace treaty in 218 according to which the
Romans paid 50 million Dinars to the Parthians and kept
Northern Mesopotamia. It was probably in about 220 that the local
Persian governors (Ardashir I) started taking far and close lands. At
the time, Artabanus did not pay much attention to his actions and
decided to fight him when it had become too late. Eventually, Ardashir
ended the life of the House of Arsaces in the
Battle of Hormozdgan
Battle of Hormozdgan and
founded the Sasanian dynasty. However, the end of the Parthian
dynasty did not mean an endpoint for all Parthian houses. Movses
Khorenatsi, Armenian historian, has quoted some reports of the roles
and aids of some Parthian houses, like Suren and Ispahbudhan, in
Early years until his uprising and gaining power
According to Al-Tabari's report, Ardashir was born in a village named
"Tirudeh" in the country "Khir" around Istakhr, Pars in a famous
family. His grandfather, Sasan, was the trustee of the Temple of
Istakhr and his grandmother was Rambehesht from Bazrangi
Al-Tabari added that when Ardashir was seven years old, Papak,
Ardashir's father, asked Gochihr, local shah in Pars, to send Ardashir
to Tiri, commander of Fort Darabgard, for raising, which
After Tiri's death, Ardashir took over for him and became the
commander of Fort Darabgard.
According to the current sources,
Papak was the priest of the Fire
Temple of Anahita. He managed to assemble local Persian warriors who
believed in the deity. At the time, Vologases V's reign was
disrupted due to the invasion of Septimius Severus, Roman emperor, on
Mesopotamia. It is probable that Vologases defeated
Papak after he
rebelled and forced him to submit to Parthian rule for a while. It is
not probable that Papak's kingdom was beyond the Persian land.
According to Arabic-Persian sources, Ardashir started his uprising
when he was the commander of Fort Darabgard in eastern Pars. The
oldest archaeological proofs of the period of Ardashir's reign are
acquired from Ardashir-Khwarrah (Gor or current Firuzabad) in south
border of Pars. Therefore, Ardashir rose up in his war in
Ardashir-Khwarrah, far from the fortress of local Persian shahs in
Istakhr and farther from the Parthian Empire. The beginning of
Ardashir's uprising may be related to his first inscription in
Firuzabad; in the inscription, he is shown acquiring the royal ring
Ahura Mazda in front of his henchmen. Ardashir began the
procedure of extending his reign by killing some local kings and
taking their domains. According to Al-Tabari's report, Ardashir then
Papak to stand against
Gochihr and start a rebellion.
it and rebelled against
Gochihr and killed him. Daryaee believes
Papak was a local governor who dreamed of conquering
was eventually able to achieve it by the help of his older son Shapur;
that means in contrast to Al-Tabari's report, it was not Ardashir's
request and order that caused Papak's rebellion against Gochihr,
governor of Istakhr, and it can be implied from the common coins of
Papak and Shapur. Later,
Papak wrote a letter to Artabanus V and
requested permission to appoint Shapur instead of the "overthrown"
Gochihr in power; in response, Artabanus announced
Papak and Ardashir
outlaws. Although Artabanus had defeated the Romans, he faced the
problem of the defiance of Vologases VI, who had minted coins in his
own name between
221 and 222; and this shows that no powerful emperor
Parthian Empire then. During the time that Artabanus
was dealing with a more important challenge, he could not pay much
attention to the rise of a newcomer in Pars. After a while, Papak
died in an unknown date and Shapur ascended to the throne; afterward,
the contest and fight started between the two brothers (Shapur and
Ardashir), but Shapur died in an accidental way. According to sources,
Shapur stopped at a ruin while assaulting Darabgard and a stone
suddenly separated from the ceiling and hit his head and Shapur
succumbed immediately. After the incident, the brothers relinquished
the Persian throne and crown to Ardashir, who became the Persian Shah
thereafter. Ardashir and his followers could be considered the
main suspects of Shapur's mysterious death, since they "benefitted
from the accidental death"; but the accusation is not provable.
Papak's picture has been drawn on both Shapur's coins and later
Ardashir's; in the picture of the
Papak drawn on Shapur's coins, he
wears a wig dissimilar to normal Parthian and local Persian shahs and
only Shapur has worn a royal wig. According to royal reports, it was
Papak who overthrew
Gochihr and appointed Shapur instead of him.
Ardashir refused to accept Shapur's appointment and removed his
brother and whoever stood against him and then minted coins with his
face drawn on them and Papak's behind them. Papak's picture on
Papak coins, wears a wig similar to those of local Persian
shahs in contrast to his picture in Shapur-
Papak coins. According
to the descriptions given on Papak's pictures on the coins, it is
probable that the determining role of Ardashir depicted in leading the
rebellion against the central government is the product of later
historical studies. It is probable that
Papak had united most of Pars
under his rule by the time; since his picture exists on
Ardashir's coins too.
Ghaleh Dokhtar, or "The Maiden's Castle," Iran, built by
Ardashir I in
AD 209, before he was finally able to defeat the Parthian empire.
In the procedure of extending his domain and power, Ardashir made many
Parthian-dependent local shahs and landlords follow him. In the first
phase of rebellion, Ardashir challenged the Parthians' central power
by actions like minting coins and constructing new cities. After all,
a sight of victory was not imaginable for Ardashir without a public
dissatisfaction and interest in rebellion against the Parthians.
For example, according to sources, the governor of a land northeast of
Ctesiphon called "Beth Garmai" in Syriac and its center was today
Kirkuk, along with the famous Sharat, who was the governor of
Adiabene, aided Ardashir in his rebellion against the
Parthians. In order to consolidate his power, Ardashir killed
some of the important figures in Darabgard; then he invaded
took it too and took control of whole Pars, including the Persian Gulf
shores. At that time, Ardashir constructed a palace and fire temple in
Gor (current Firuzabad) that its ruins still remain and is called the
Palace of Ardashir. He appointed one of his sons named Ardashir as the
governor of Kerman. Artabanus, the Parthian emperor, ordered the
Susa to attack Ardashir, suppress his rebellion and send
him to Ctesiphon. After Ardashir killed and terminated Shadh-Shapur,
the governor of Spahan, after fighting him, headed towards Khuzestan
and killed the governor of
Susa too and added his domain to the lands
under his rule. Then he invaded
Characene State in the mouth of Tigris
and took it and added it to his kingdom.
Eventually, in Ardashir's contest with Artabanus in the Battle of
Hormozdgan on April 28, 224, Artabanus was killed by Ardashir and the
Parthian dynasty was overthrown with his death. The year of the
occurrence of the battle is confirmed by Shapur I's inscription in
Bishapur. The extended report of the
Battle of Hormozdgan
Battle of Hormozdgan is probably
made for the Sasanian's formal history. If the mentioned assumption is
right, the writing may have been the main source of Al-Tabari's
History. After Artabanus's death, Ardashir's quest for extending
his kingdom did not end. In a procedure, the large landlord Parthian
houses, either submitted to Ardashir (willingly or unwillingly) or
were conquered by him.
Ardashir I is receiving the Kingship's ring from
Ahuramazda at Naqsh-e
The subsequent sources emphasized on the Sasanians' hatred of
everything adapted from the Parthians. The existence of such a
mentality in Ardashir is understandable; but even he was forced to
establish his newborn government on Parthian foundations by the help
of other remarkable Iranian houses, who were either affiliated with
the Parthians or nursed by them. However, no change is seen in that
hatred of the Parthians in the next generations of Sasanian emperors
either. Therefor, it can be deduced that the Parthians enforced a more
hard and tyrannical domination than presumed on their submitted shahs
and that might have been the reason that facilitated Ardashir's
There is controversy among specialists about the year of Ardashir's
coronation; according to W.B. Henning's studies and calculations,
Ardashir was crowned in April 28, 224; however, the calculations of H.
Taqizadeh show the date April 6, 227.
Josef Wiesehöfer believes
the year of Ardashir's coronation in
226 and at the time of
his invasion on Northern
Mesopotamia based on other sources.
Anyway, by choosing the title Shahanshah (king of kings), Ardashir
revealed his inclination toward government. During about 226-227,
Ardashir experienced a failed attempt to conquer Hatra, which was
previously unsuccessfully tried by
Trajan and Septimius Severus, while
on a crusade for taking the northwest regions of the land. It should
be noted that in the late Parthian era,
Hatra had become
semi-dependent due to the gradual deterioration of the central
government. After that unsuccessful attempt of Ardashir's in the west,
he started taking eastern lands and dominating large Parthian
landlords, local noblemen and large Iranian houses and was
successful. The exact extent and limits of Ardashir's ruled domain
can not be determined correctly. Ardashir's domain in the west was
probably extended to the traditional borders between the Romans and
Parthians in the northwest; in the east, the Kushan and
Merv Desert rulers surrendered to Ardashir's empire; and
in the southwest, the northern part of "
Arabic shores of the Persian
Gulf"were taken by war.
War with Rome
According to the information collected from
Latin and Greek sources,
the first clash between the "newborn Sasanian power" in its west
Rome occurred by the Persians' attack on the regions held
Rome in Northern
Mesopotamia on Ardashir's era, 230. Ardashir
besieged Nusaybin, which was one of the two fortresses of Roman
defense system in
Mesopotamia -the other being Harran, but was not
able to take it; the Sasanian riders' assault was pulled to other
Syrian regions and
Cappadocia and they invaded it. After the Romans'
unfruitful attempt to make peace with Ardashir, Severus Alexander
eventually decided to oppose the Persians unwillingly and reluctantly
in 232. The Roman forces led by Alexander attacked
Armenia by one
military column and the south by two columns. Although there is no
accurate information about the details of the events, it is known that
the Romans achieved some victories in the north (Armenia); but the
troops sent to Southern
Mesopotamia did not achieve anything due to
the natural difficulties. Anyway, Ardashir's invasion was repelled by
However, "the first war test between the Sasanians and Romans" ended
without any positive result for the Romans; though Alexander held a
Rome for his victory and the war has been viewed as a
victory due to preserving the past borders of the Roman empire in
Roman writings and Alexander appeared as a victor in Rome. In the war,
many casualties were inflicted upon Persian forces. In subsequent
Arabic-Persian sources, there has been no mention of the war and
Ardashir's failure; the cause of not mentioning might have been
Ardashir considering the incident shameful.
Although no peace treaty was signed, the eastern Roman borders were
not attacked by the Sasanians in the next years. It might have been
more important for the Romans to attach
Hatra to their fortresses of
the border defense system. The people of
Hatra knew that their
relative autonomy, which became possible at the late Parthian era due
to the weakness of the central government, was under the threat of the
policies announced by the Sasanians. The foreign policy of the new
Persian rulers was to proceed to the Occident and that was probably in
order to divert the public attention from the internal problems of the
land; that is while the procedure of the Parthians and the Romans in
the final years was to leave everything be as they are.
The murder of
Severus Alexander by his soldiers and its aftermath
which resulted in disturbances in Rome, motivated Ardashir to attack
Rome again. In about the years 237-238, Ardashir took
Harran and attacked the city Dura; then he marched toward
Hatra, which was a commercial city and the center of the traffic of
Hatra stood hard against the Persian siege and
did not fall until April or September 240; it seems that
chosen as a point for pushing and operation against Roman Mesopotamia.
The fall of
Hatra might have been the cause of Gordian III's wars with
In the mythical-national Persian history, the Battle of
Hatra and the
incident of its fall is accompanied with a romantic story. According
to the story, at the time of the Persian attack on Hatra, the daughter
of the city's king had fallen in love with Shapur I, Ardashir's son
and had him promise her marriage and then opened the gate of the city;
then the Persians captured the city and destroyed it. After Shapur
found out about the kindness and attention of the father towards his
daughter on the wedding night, the former had her killed due to the
daughter's inappreciation to that kind of father.
Final years and succession
Due to the difficulties in the sources, the last years and the day of
Ardashir's death are not very clear. His son, Shapur probably ascended
as a royal partner in April 12, 240. The time is found from the
Pirchavush inscriptions in Salmas, Northwestern
Iran that show
Shapur's royal participation. The answer to the question if Shapur was
crowned as a shah without a partner during Ardashir's life depends on
the interpretation a special kind of coin. On those coins, the
faces of Ardashir and Shapur are carved together. Adding Shapur to his
royal position was probably Ardashir's plan to solve the succession
problem without any troubles; the reason was that Ardashir had other
sons and feared that they might have craved the throne like
About the year of Shapur's participation in reign with Ardashir, it
has been written in Cologne Mani-Codex in Greek about Mani's
When I became twenty-four years old; in the year that Persian king,
Dari-Ardashir opened the city Hatra, and in the year Shapur Shah, his
son, put the largest crown in the month Famuthi, on the month day (8th
day of Farmuthi), my god, who is the most blessed, made me proud by
his generosity, summoned me by his favor...
It can be deduced by calculating the Egyptian month and year that
Shapur's coronation as his father's royal partner occurred on April
240 (the first day of the Babylonian month Nisan in the year 551).
Ardashir and Shapur's simultaneous reign lasted apparently until early
242. Therefor, it can be said that Shapur was probably crowned twice;
once as a royal partner in
240 and later in
243 as lonely reign;
however it is more probable that he was crowned only once in 240.
Timeline of life
According to three dates that are achieved from Shapur's inscription
on a column in Bishapur, the period between
206 appears as the
beginning of an era in Sasanian history; it is written in the
first lines of the mentioned inscription:
Farvardin 58, 2-
Azar Ardashir 40, 3-
Azar Shapur from royal Azars
Therefor, history is designated with "three eras" in the inscription;
Azar Ardashir 40" means the 40th year in Ardashir's era and "Azar
Shapur 24" means the 24th year in Shapur's era. 58 shows an era that
has remained unknown. It has been deduced from the allusion that
one of the mentioned events (overthrowing the local shah of
Papak or announcing independence from the Parthians) has happened
between the years
205 and 206; since the year is implied as "the year
of the beginning of an era". The assumption that "the period between
205 and 206" is related to Papak's rebellion is very
probable since "the period between the years
205 and 206" was never a
basis in any of the future achieved histories from the Sasanians and
usually every Sasanian emperor either based the calendar on the year
of "his ascension" or based it on the Seleucid calendar that began
with 312 B.C. R. Ghirshman believes that the year 58 shows the
beginning of the domination of the Sasanian dynasty over the Iranian
lands. Besides, the date of altering the Persian coins along with
which the names of previous governors were replaced with the Sasanian
dynasty can be accepted to be 205-206. It is very probable that
Papak took the royal throne of
Istakhr between the years 205/
212 and appointed his son Shapur for it; then in an insurgent
action, Ardashir moved to Gur (Ardashir-Khwarrah or current Firuzabad)
from Darabgard and raised his defense fortifications there in order to
be able to attack his older brother just after the death of his
father, Papak. "The first inscription of Ardashir's quest of the
crown" in Firuzabad is probably the symbol of his rebellion against
his father and brother.
Papak probably died in about 211/
212 and it is
after that when his two sons (Shapur and Ardashir) minted coins titled
"The Shah" and decorated them with the face of their recently deceased
father (Papak) behind. The report of Zin-el-Akhbar also confirms that
Ardashir was crowned as a local shah in 211/212. The events of
211/212, which contain the defeat of Shapur (Ardashir's brother) and
his probable murder, might be related to Ardashir's second inscription
Naqsh-e Rajab and also minting coins without the Papak's face. The
writing of the phrase "his majesty worshiping Mazda, Ardashir the
Persian Shah" on some second group of coins of Ardashir's might have
been after his conquest of
Istakhr and taking control of Pars.
Ardashir's conquest of Pars and taking the adjacent lands was a threat
for Artabanus; therefor, Artabanus defied Ardashir and eventually lost
Battle of Hormozdgan
Battle of Hormozdgan and was killed. It was after that when
Ardashir was able to claim being "the Shahanshah of Iranians".
Ardashir carved a memorial inscription for victory in the Battle of
Hormozdgan near the city Gur. The signs of these events (the period
Istakhr until conquering
Ctesiphon and formal
coronation there) are shown in the inscription of Ardashir's
coronation in Naqsh-e Rostam and also the alteration of his coins.
The procedure of centralization of power
The history of the Sasanian society can be studied based on two
completely opposite principles; one was the central power, whose
incarnation was the "shahanshah" himself and constantly attempted to
increase his power; and on the other hand was the liegemen and grand
landlords who prevented the centralization of power by the shahanshah
and sometimes increased their own powers against the shah.
At first, the Sasanian policies were formed based on the relations
between the shah, the royal family and the noble landlords (including
members of the old Parthian high class). In Ardashir's period, though
the centralization had begun and the number of local shahs had
decreased sharply, his reign stood on the same bases which the
Parthian empire was on after all.
According to the description of Shapur I's inscription at the Ka'ba-ye
Zartosht of Ardashir's court, the latter's name is mentioned as the
king of kings (shahanshah) along with four "shahs", who were the
rulers of Nishapur, Marw,
Kerman and Sakastan. There were also the
three kingdoms Makran,
Kushanshahr that had submitted to
Ardashir's command and paid him taxes. Those local shahs were partly
semi-dependent from the central government and the successions were
inherited for them. However at the periods of the succeeding
Sasanian shahanshahs, the independences of some of them were taken;
for example at the time of Shapur I, the independences of
Nishapur were taken and
Sakastan became a province (city) and was
granted to liegeman Narseh, son of Shapur. This shows an increasing
inclination towards the centralization of power since the early
The structure of the central Parthian government depended on "local
noblemen" and "clan grandees" and included local autonomous
governments based on "aristocracy" and "tribal interests". Ardashir
had realized that it would be impossible to pursue and finish the
policy of attacking and attaching without permanentizing and
consolidating power in his domain; and thus, he could alter the
military balance in then status and the homeland structure only by
removing the local governors and establishing a central power with an
organized bureaucratic system. Although the Sasanian government
did not have any difference from the final Parthian era on its first
days, but as mentioned, one of the prominent features of the Sasanian
era was an increasing inclination toward the concentration of power in
Iran since the first days of the Sasanians' uprising. In the Sasanian
Iran included a union of kingdoms and noble landlords
(liegemen), each of which possessed a various degree of independence
from the central government and were economically connected to it by
different channels. In other words, a type of feudal society under
the rule of large owners stood in the
Iranian Plateau while in the
Mesopotamian deserts, the urban culture and pathway cities were the
face of society more often.
The first Sasanian shahanshahs founded or renovated some cities in
different Iranian regions. It is clear from the first Sasanian
inscriptions that "altering the names", renovating or rebuilding of
new cities were done in regions that had been conquered by Sasanian
troops and were considered part of the royal property (Dastkert).
Those "royal cities" of the Sasanian era were the centers of military
garrisons in newly taken lands and later became the centers of
newfound official divisions and abodes of government agents.
Therefor, the increase in the number of "royal cities" equaled with
the growth of royal dastkerts; thus, instead of the autonomous cities
of the Parthian era that were usually in western regions of the land
and governed more of less extensive regions independently from the
central government, came the "royal cities" in the early Sasanian era
that were considered the garrison centers of the central
government. Each of those regions were constructed to center a
rural district under the rule of a "Shahrab" and the taxes of those
regions were sent directly to the empire. On the other hand, beside
the royal fields (dastkerts), wide lands ruled by noble landlords and
local grandees also existed and the shahanshah did not have direct
control over them and the taxes of those lands were paid to the royal
treasury by indirect channels.That was why it became the internal goal
and financial policy of Ardashir and his descendants to increase the
number of royal districts and the regions attached (dastkerts); though
the dichotomy of taxation between the royal lands (dastkerts) with
direct taxes to the royal treasury and the lands ruled by grandees and
noble landlords with indirect taxes to the royal treasury continued
until the fiscal reforms at the time of
Kavadh I and Khosrow I.
The cities which are believed to had been constructed by Ardashir
Name of the city in the Sasanian era
Name of the city in the Islamic era
The region where the city was constructed
According to Al-Tabari,
Ardashir I founded eight cities, three of
which were in Pars, titled "Ardashir-Khwarrah", "Ram-Ardashir" and
"Riv-Ardashir"; one was in Khuzestan titled "Hormozd-Ardashir", two
Asoristan titled "Veh-Ardashir" and "Ostabad", one in
Bahrain titled "Pasa-Ardashir" and one close to today
"Nud-Ardashir". However, attribution of the dates of constructions
of all these cities to Ardashir's royal era is doubted. For example,
it is known that
Shapur I founded several cities "with a name combined
with Ardashir's" to honor his father; while some other are founded by
other people named Ardashir.
Government ideology and Iranian thought
The first carving of "coronation" and the second carving of Ahura
Mazda by Ardashir, Ardashir standing against his henchmen, city of Gur
The remnants of the ruins of
Takht-e Jamshid could be
permanent memorials of the previous magnificence of Pars; though the
knowledge about the existence of a great empire was almost forgotten.
According to the information from the coins of local Persian governors
before the Sasanian uprising, at least one local king ruled in Persian
land almost slightly after the demise of Alexander III of
Macedon. The first local Persian shahs were known as
"Frataraka", meaning mayors or governors. They carved the title
"Lord of the Gods" (Ferehtorkeh of Baghs) on their coins; this carving
was the subject of important studies. Panaino believes that by the
phrase "gods" (baghs), deities like "Ahura Mazda", "Mitra" and
"Anahita" are meant that were supported by Achaemenid shahs. Daryaee
believes that "gods" indicates Achaemenid shahs and not "the deities
they supportted". He adds that the "gods" (baghs) mentioned on the
coins were the Achaemenid shahs that were worshiped by the Seleucids
after death. This is probably why the fact that "bagh" is translated
as "god" on the coins of Ardashir and other succeeding shahs today is
originated from Greek concepts.
It is deduced from onomastic and physiognomic findings that the remark
of the Achaemenids and adoring fire, one of the principles of
Zoroastrianism, still existed in Pars. The similarity of Ardashir I's
coins with the remaining coins of local Persian shahs shows a Persian
tradition and the adoring of local shahs toward it. On the coin of
Hubarz, one of local Persian shahs, it is written: "Hubarz, a governor
from the gods, son of a Persian". The importance of this writing is
that it shows the title on Ardashir's coins "Worshiper of Mazda, Lord
Ardashir, the shahanshah of
Iran that has a face from the gods" is the
continuation of the tradition of Fratarakas. On the other hand,
with the existence of the names of kings like Darius and Artaxerxes on
the coins of local shahs of the land, if it is not assumed that a
subsidiary house of the Achaemenids still ruled in Pars, it at least
testifies for the continuation of a part of the Achaemenid
traditions. After all, the rise of the Parthians to power meant
the domination of nomadic and degenerate Iranians on urban Iranians;
the second faction, which was more original and nationally authentic
than the first faction, looked at the Parthians with a grudge,
considered them usurpers who had violated their right and Pars was the
head of those regions.
Ardashir had a remarkable role in developing the royal ideology. He
tried to announce himself as a Mazda worshiper connected to god and
owner of divine khvarenah. The claim of his royal eligibility as a
rightful newcomer from the line of mythical Iranian shahs and the
propagations attributed to Ardashir against the eligibility and the
role of the Parthians in the Iranian history sequence confirms the
excellent place that the Achaemenid legacy had in the minds of the
first Sasanian shahanshahs; though the consensus is that the Sasanians
probably did not know much about the Achaemenids and the status.
On the other hand, Shahbazi believes that the first Sasanian
shahanshahs were familiar with the Achaemenids and their succeeding
shahanshahs turned to the Kayanians deliberately. About that, Daryee
adds that the Sasanians knowingly ignored the Achaemenids in order to
be able to attribute their origins to the Kayanians; and that is why
they applied the holy historiography. In that method, the social
familiarity and bureaucracy did not matter and the court propagated
its custom history by the help of the religious system. In order
to remark his victories, Ardashir carved pictures in Firuzabad,
Naqsh-e Rustam and Naqsh-e Rajab; on his picture in Naqsh-e Rustam,
Ahura Mazda are opposite to each other on horsebacks and
the bodies of Artabanus V and Ahriman are visualized under the nails
of Ardashir and Mazda's horses. It can be deduced from the picture
that Ardashir believed or wanted others to believe that his reign over
the land that is called "Iran" in inscriptions is designated by the
Lord. The word "Iran" was previously used in
Avesta and as "the name
of the mythical Aryan land". In Ardashir's period, the title "Iran"
was applied to the geography under Sasanian rule. The thought of
"Iran" was accepted by both Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian societies
in the whole empire and the collective memory of the Iranians has
continued and survived until the modern period today in different
stages and various layers of the Iranian society. What is clear is
that the concept "Iran" has had a religious application too and has
later ended in the formation of its political face meaning a
collection of lands.
The second carving of "coronation" and the third carving of Ahura
Mazda by Ardashir, carved in Naqsh-e Rajab
Choosing a place like Naqsh-e Rustam, which is mausoleum of Achaemenid
shahs, for carving and inscribing, the site of the temple of Anahita
Istakhr and the existence of the names of some Achaemenid shahs as
ancestors in the legendary Sasanian family tree show the existence of
an inclination toward the Achaemenids in the early Sasanian period.
There are many proofs in
Middle Persian and Arabic-Persian writings
that show the Sasanians' aggressive confrontation with
Rome in order
to return to the magnificent past status in the west and it had been
assumed that the glory was taken by the Romans. About that, Al-Tabari
has mentioned that Ardashir claimed and announced that he had risen to
take the revenge of Darius III, who had been defeated and killed by
Alexander III of Macedon. Roman historians like
Herodian and Cassius
Dio have also mentioned reports about "the Sasanians' desire to return
to the magnificence and kingdom of the Achaemenids"; these reports of
Roman historians show that the Romans had understood the goals of the
Sasanian foreign policy well; though they did not have a decent
understanding of the change and transformation in the royal Iranian
continuum. It should be noted that the place of Alexander, who was
known as a nemesis of Iran, in the thought of the Sasanians' desire
for return at the time was simultaneous and aligned with the idea of
"following and honoring Alexander" in the Roman emperors; Caracalla
called himself "the second Alexander" and "Severus Alexander" honored
him. Kettenhofen, Robin and Heuse believe that the class of
Greek-Roman sources that have reported the Sasanians' familiarity with
the Achaemenids and their desire for return to and extension of the
Achaemenid lands had propagative applications and should be
interpreted in the frame of the Roman empire thoughts. But what is
clear is Ardashir's and later his son Shapur's claim of Roman lands.
Daryee believes that the cause of Ardashir and Shapur's wars with Rome
was to accommodate their territorial ideals with traditions; he
believes that the Sasanians' claim of Asian lands as their fathers'
legacy had a mythical basis and originated from the mythical story of
Fereydun dividing the world between his sons (Salm, Tur and Iraj); in
Fereydun grants the reign of
Turan to Tur and
Rome to Salm
and Iran, which is the best land in the world, to Iraj; the brothers
become envious of the latter and the world goes under war. Thus, the
Sasanians considered themselves Iraj's children and the Romans Salm's
heirs by a mythical view. Daryee adds that only by that way the
Sasanians' territorial claims, which are mentioned in
Cassius Dio and
Herodian's works, can be understood. He believes that the Sasanians'
territorial claims were basically different from those of the
The third carving of "coronation" and the fourth carving of Ahura
Mazda by Ardashir, carved in Naqsh-e Rustam. Ardashir and Ahura Mazda
on horsebacks in front of each other, with the corpses of Artabanus
and Ahriman under the nails of their horses, and Ardashir taking the
ring of reign from Ahura Mazda
In the Sasanians' legendary genealogy that has appeared in Kar-Namag i
Ardashir i Pabagan, the relation between the Sasanians and the
Achaemenids is mentioned. In the book, the thought that has been
reflected is the relation of Sasan, the ancestor of the Sasanian
house, with Darius's descendants on one hand and the local Persian
kings on the other hand; though in the fifth century, the Sasanians
attributed their lineage to the mythical kings of
Avesta or Kayanians;
and its proof is the addition of the prefix "Kay" to the aliases of
the Sasanian shahanshahs.
The question whether those claims and schemes and avengings, in the
same way as mentioned in the historical sources, were actually
proposed by Ardashir himself or were later attributed to him as the
founder of the empire has still remained without answer due to the
lack of sufficient sources; though the attribution of these claims to
Ardashir after his lifetime seems more logical. According to these, it
is undoubtedly true that Ardashir's grandiose views about policy and
relations with the outside world had formed based on rebooting and
repeating the Achaemenids' successes. However, the Sasanians'
knowledge of the Achaemenids were superficial and vague information
and did not have a regular and historical basis. About that,
Richard Frye and Daryee believe that the section of the Arabic-Persian
sources (like Al-Tabari) that contain the Sasanian history since the
beginning until the age of
Khosrow I should be looked at suspiciously;
they consider this suspicious look at texts like Kar-Namag i Ardashir
i Pabagan too. The suspicious look has been due to that most of the
Iranian history sources were edited in the age of
Khosrow I and by the
royal writers and clerics in order to accommodate their predecessors'
history with then world view of the Sasanian empire and draw a picture
of Ardashir idealistic and aligning with Khosrow's ideals in the best
In the Meadows of Gold,
Al-Masudi has mentioned Ardashir's preach to
his son Shapur about the combination of religion and reign this way:
"... Remember that religion and reign are bonding brothers and
religion does not last without the throne; and reign does not remain
without religion. Religion is the basis of reign and reign is the
column of religion."
Papak was the grand priest of the temple of
Istakhr and the
father of Ardashir, the founder of the Sasanian house, with the
beginning of whose reign religion sat on the Persian throne. Papak's
religious credit might have helped him in taking the power from
Gochihr, then Persian governor who had no interest in following the
religion of fire. In a scratched picture,
Papak and his son Shapur are
shown on a wall in Takht-e Jamshid; in the picture,
Papak and Shapur
both wear the same helmet similar to that of Shapur I's in his coins;
in the picture, Shapur is visualized in the dual place of shah-priest
in a way that he squeezes the hilt of his sword by one hand and
manipulates the fire in the fireplace and adds woods by the other
hand; and Shapur, son of Papak, squeezes his sword by one hand and
takes a ring having a ribbon which is the royal symbol by the other
hand on horseback. In his coins, Ardashir, who replaces his brother
Shapur as the ruler of Pars in 220, wears the same crown as Shapur's,
from the front however, and the picture of his father
Papak is drawn
Zoroastrianism was the believed and supported religion of
the Sasanians until Ardashir's takeover. The current belief is that
the priests of the fire temples became noticed and respected by
Ardashir's uprising and the opponents were disturbed; but this
narrative is the subject of controversy today. Although no remarkable
Zoroastrianism had a high rank in Ardashir's court, it
seems that the first attempts to establish
Zoroastrianism as a
government religion was done during Ardashir's period; also the
remaining Achaemenid, Hellenic and Parthian traditions were combined
and used in that era.
The fourth carving of "coronation" and the fifth carving of Ardashir
in Khan-Takhti, Salmas
In his coins and inscription in Naqsh-e Rustam, Ardashir has called
himself the worshiper of
Ahura Mazda and from the line of gods. In
Ardashir's subsequent coins, the dentate crown has replaced the
traditional hat on his head; that change along with the addition of
the phrase "...looks similar to the gods" (he is from the line of
gods) claim Ardashir's divine place. That dentate crown looks like the
same crown that is drawn on the head of
Ahura Mazda in the carvings of
the coronation in
Naqsh-e Rustam and it is not known whether Ahura
Mazda's crown is adapted from Ardashir's or vice versa. His
beliefs are revealed behind his coins by visualizing the fire temple.
His projecting pictures in Firuzabad,
Naqsh-e Rustam and Naqsh-e Rajab
have shown him close to Ahura Mazda. The latter's attention towards
Ardashir has been known as khvarenah due to the mythical Iranian
thoughts and it can be compared to the Greek "tuxeh" and the Roman
"fortuna". Ardashir's khvarenah status shows the legitimacy of his
reign. Founding the fire temples and giving budget to them along with
considering Zoroastrian religious texts was another way for Ardashir
to gain legitimacy. A special fire temple called "Ardashir's Fire" was
founded in the beginning of his reign that is named in his
inscriptions in Bishapur. In the Meadows of Gold,
attributed some words to him:
Remember that religion and reign are two brothers that one can not
exist without the other; because religion is the basis of reign and
reign is the supporter of religion. Whatsoever does not stand on a
basis will be doomed and whatever does not have a supporter will
Ardashir's policy against non-Mazda worshiping societies inside his
kingdom had made it a difficult period for them. The
believers in some other religions were more or less tolerated in the
Parthian era and also had limited independence. Ardashir and his son
Shapur, especially in the beginning of his reign, tried to limit the
Jews' autonomy and deprive them of their independent judiciary and
legal rights. The purpose of those actions might have been to extend
the Zoroastrian society. The Syriac-language Christians were treated
with more tolerance and leniency and their population increased until
mid-third century. Mani did not reveal his propaganda until Ardashir's
death; he might have realized that Shapur was more convincing than his
Court and government posts
See also: Shapur I's inscription at the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht
The rankings of the figures in Ardashir's court is found from Shapur
I's inscription at the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht. Thus, the first four shahs
are mentioned as
Shah Abarinag (Abarineh: higher (lands),
Nishapur, Khorasan), Ardashir the
Shah of Merv, Ardashir the
Kerman, Ardashir the
Shah of Sekan (Sakastan), having the right of
inherited succession in their family. After that, the name of three
queens Denag Bazranghi, Ardashir's grandmother, "Rodag", Ardashir's
mother, and "Dinak-i Babakan", Ardashir's sister and wife are
mentioned. Then, the names of "Ardashir Bidakhsh" and "
and the five members of the great houses, called "Dihin" from the
House of Veraz,
Sasan from the House of Suren, Sasan-e Andigan-e
Khoday va Piruz and Goug from the
House of Karen along with "Abarsam-e
Farardashir", who was probably the senior advisor are mentioned.
Afterward, the names of fifteen remarkable characters like "Spahbed",
"Dabiroft", Ayundbad (Director of Ceremonies), Framadar and his clerks
and religious authorities like
Herbad and Mubed and Mogh are
mentioned. According to the inscription, the high posts of wuzurg
framadar, priest of priests and Herbadan
Herbad were not yet
established in Ardashir's period.
It can be deduced from the list that some deviations have occurred in
the important names and events of the era in the late Sasanian
sources. For example, in the narrative Iranian history, the land that
was ruled by "
Mihrak Andigan" was named "the largest enemies of
Ardashir"; while the mentioned region was under the rule of
Andigan and is mentioned as one of the pro-Ardashir regions in the
mentioned inscription. It can be deduced from the list that a
same-story group had appeared supporting Ardashir that included the
representatives of large Iranian houses like the Varazes, Surens and
Karens in addition to the shahs of Andigan and Opernak and
Sakastan. According to Roman sources, some of the minor Mesopotamian
governors had also joined them.
Ardashir in the narrative-mythical Iranian history
In the narrative Iranian history, Ardashir is described as a heroic,
bold, forethoughtful man with a high amount of fortitude and mood.
According to those texts, he was a persistent man and had a chivalric
behavior though he applied much violence and cruelty, and fought
alongside his warriors in battles. In the narrative Iranian history
texts, Ardashir succeeded because he was from the line of the ancient
Iranian shahanshahs and was chosen by the gods to rule Iran. But there
is no doubt in that justifying the Sasanian rule occurred by adding
some matters to the real trend of the events of the era later and at
the end of their reign and it probably had a political reason to
mention those matters in official writings.
In the Letter of Tansar, it is mentioned that Ardashir's intention was
to seek the revenge of
Darius III from the Alexandrians (Romans). That
text was obviously written in order to arouse the Iranians national
emotions; though these narratives have more actually the criteria of
epic stories. But it reveals the psychological truth that the Iranians
deeply had the feeling of possessing a national identity for several
centuries and considered themselves separate from other peoples; and
that is why the other lands that the Iranians conquered were never
named "Iran", but were called "Aniran".
The Sasanians' petroglyphic art was established by Ardashir and lived
on until Shapur II's reign. The art was revived in Khosrow II's
period. Ardashir's petroglyphs are clearly different from the few
remaining Parthian samples and a new historic frame is seen in them.
His first three petroglyphs have various styles, but do not show a
clear evolutionary procedure. Only the fourth petroglyph, the picture
of Ardashir's coronation in Naqsh-e Rustam, possesses clear features
that reappears in the petroglyphs of
Shapur I and his successors.
The coins minted in Ardashir's period are divided into three general
groups based on the applied designs:
The first group is the coins that show a full-face portrait of
Ardashir on the coin and a profile of Papak, Ardashir's father who
looks left due to the Parthians, behind the coin. The phrase "Ardashir
Shah" is written on these coins with the phrase "His Majesty Papak
The picture of one of Ardashir's second group coins; Ardashir I's
portrait on the coin and the symbol of firebox behind it
The second group have the profile of Ardashir wearing a hat or crown
looking right similar to other coins of the Sasanian era.
Behind the second group coins, a symbol of the firebox of the fire
temple is seen like in all the coins of the Sasanian era. On
the second group of the coins, the phrase "The worshiper of Mazda, his
majesty Ardashir the Iranian shahanshah who has his face from the
gods" is written that shows Ardashir's religious beliefes.
On the third group of the coins, the picture of Ardashir is carved in
front of the picture of his son, Shapur, with the phrases "Shapur the
Iranian shah who has his face from the gods" and "Ardashir's fire".
The firebox of the fire temple is carved behind the coins.
The symbol behind the second group coins is a fireplace carving based
on a design found in Persia and the phrase "Ardashir's fire" implies a
royal fire that was ignited in the beginning of every shah's reign.
The section of the supporting basis of the fireplace has some
similarity to the Achaemenid throne. Some hanging bands are carved in
the end of an open headband, which is the royal symbol in Persian
traditions. Therefor, the petroglyphs behind these coins show
Ardashir's concern for showing himself not only as the Achaemenids'
rightful heir, but also as a religious Zoroastrian. In the makeup of
head and hair, Ardashir was loyal to the Parthian traditions in the
first coins and chose a crown similar to the crowns of Mithridates
II's period. However, in the final years, Ardashir's main crown was
from a type in which a part of the hair was decorated in a globe above
the head; the globe and the lid were covered with a thin silky net and
some bands were hanging behind it.
Based on a research by Callieri, most of the symbols of the
Frataraka's coins like the flag, the memorial building and the
appearing posture of the person standing opposite to it are derived
from the Achaemenids. Daryaee believes that though the Fratarakas
probably did not know the proper application of a building like
Ka'ba-ye Zartosht, it still had an ideological importance to them.
Therefor, it can be deduced from the similarity of Ardashir's coins
with the late coins of local Persian governors there was a movement
based on Persian traditions and the local Persian governors' adornment
of it. However that does not necessarily mean that Ardashir was
related to the local Persian shahs in all affairs.
Among the Sasanian shahs, two,
Ardashir I and Khosrow I, are
attributed preaches and scholarly words more than other shahs and
these works are quoted of them in most of
Arabic literature and
history books and by them in Persian ethics and history books. One of
the most important works attributed to Ardashir is his
Ardashir's Testament is a book including Ardashir's political advice
to the Iranian shahs who rose after him and he had mentioned lectures
in it that he believed were necessary to be applied in running the
Ibn al-Nadim once mentioned a book called Ardashir's Testament that
Al-Baladhuri (died 279 Hijri), one of Persian (Middle) translators,
had turned into an
Arabic poem. Once again in the chapter about the
books of the Persians, Romans, Indians and
Arabs in the preaches and
ethics and doctrines, he mentioned a book called Ardashir I's
Testament to His Son Shapur and it seems that he meant another
Middle Persian text of Ardashir's Testament is lost; but
some versions of its
Arabic translations are available:
The text that is written in the book Al-Ghorreh that was probably
written in the second half of the fourth century and its author is not
known. That version was rewritten in 584 Hijri.
The text that is written in Miskawayh's Tajarob-ol Omam.
The text that is written in a series belonging to the Kuperolo Library
(No. 1608) and was probably rewrittten from a sixth century version in
the early eleventh century.
The text written by Abi.
In addition to the complete text, there is an abridged version of it
titled Montakhab men Ahd-e Ardashir bin Babak available.
In the Islamic era, Ardashir's Testament was famous and is mentioned
in many history and literature books.
Al-Masudi has remarked it and
has quoted a phrase of its about the last millennium. It is also named
Mojmal al-tawarikh and Farsnameh and in the latter it is mentioned
Khosrow I that "he suggested the testaments of Ardashir, son of
Papak, and applied his preaches that were in that testament." The same
matter is mentioned by
Al-Tabari and Al-Tha'alibi.
mentioned Ardashir's Terstament along with Bozorgmehr's Quotes and
mentions that the writers (Kottab) used it.
Al-Mubarrad (died 286
Hijri) writes that
Al-Ma'mun had ordered his son's mentor to teach him
Al-Watheg bellah the book of God and read him Ardashir's Testament and
force him to memorize Kelileh va Demneh.
Ardashir's Testament to His Son Shapur
Ibn al-Nadim names a book titled Ardashir I's Testament to His Son
Shapur among the books of preaches and ethics and doctrines. That is
probably the same short text that is written with the version title
Ardashir's Testament to His Son Shapur in the book Nahayat-ol Aarab
attributed to Al-Asma'i. Apparently,
Ibn al-Muqaffa' or more probably
the author of the Seir-ol Moluk that was the reference of Nahayat-ol
Aarab chose the text from the
Arabic translation of Ardashir's
Testament and added some matters from other places to it. Ibn Qutaybah
has written a matter from Ardashir intended to his son quoted from One
of the Ajam Books that can be found in this testament.
Ardashir's Book in Government Principles
A book attributed to Ardashir about the bases of government is written
Arabic translation in the book Nahayat-ol Aarab and the warriors
(Asawereh), writers (Kottab), Judges (Gozat), invasion (Bo'uth va
Thoghur), accepting ambassadors (Fi Godum-el Vofud alayhe men gabl-e
Moluk) constructing cities (Bana-ol Modon), his strategy for noble
houses (Tadbirohu fi Ahl-e Boyutat-el Sharaf), complaint (Mazalem) and
development of lands (Tadbirohu Emarat-al Arzain) are discussed in it.
The Persian translation of that book is written in the translation of
Nahayat-ol Aarab called Tajarob-ol Omam and also in Ferdowsi's
Shahnameh. It is not known whether the book is translated directly
Middle Persian or not. Grinaski believes that an Arabic-writing
author had assembled it from different places. In order to prove his
opinion, he mentions evidence that shows the influence of Islamic
principles in it, for instance the writing in the book that one fifth
of the war plunder is for the shah. However, since the text is written
in Shahnameh, it probably existed in
Khwaday-Namag too and some
matters aligning with Islamic principles were added to it in the
A view of the Palace of Ardashir, the city of Gur (current Firuzabad),
the entrance hall and supporting halls of the palace were covered with
wheel domes. The outside walls did not have windows, but did contain
prominent and dome-like columns.
Ardashir-Khwarrah is one of the five Iranian villages in the Sasanian
era until the first Islamic centuries centered by the city of Gur
(Arabic: Jur) that were constructed by Ardashir. The name means
"Ardashir's magnificence". The town was probably constructed after
Ardashir's victory over Artabanus in 224. The town was constructed
beside Ardashir's palace (where he lived before the rebellion) and it
is said that the emperor built five fire temples beside the town that
the famous historian,
Al-Masudi had seen. The city of Gur was run
by a representative from the shah. Gur was later renamed Firuzabad
by the 10th-century Buyid king 'Adud al-Dawla.
Ardashir-Khwarrah can be mentioned as a military base and one of the
active mints of the Sasanian era. Of the works of Ardashir-Khwarrah,
the building of Tarbal (Menar) Kiakhoreh beside the building of
Chaharotag (The Gur fire temple), Ardashir's palace, the inscription
Narseh (the vizier of three Sasanian kings; Yazdegerd I,
Bahram V and Yazdegerd II) and his four fire temples can be
The structure of the town is inspired by the architectural method of
Darabgard and contains circular walls that surround an area with a
diameter of about two kilometers and a double muddy wall and a trench
with a Parthian style and two axes divide the perpendicular
intersection of the city to four sectors with four main gates of Mehr,
Bahram, Hormoz and Ardashir that each is divided to five smaller
sections that are connected to each other by ring-like streets.
Inscription of Ardashir-e Babakan and Hormozd
Kārnāmag-ī Ardaxšīr-ī Pābagān
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ardashir I.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Book of the Deeds of Ardashir son of Babak
R. N. Fye, "Babak" in Encyclopædia Iranica 
J. Wiesehöfer, "Ardasir" in Encyclopædia Iranica 
King of Kings
King of Kings of Iran"
Rulers of the
Sasanian Empire (224–651)
Ardashir I (224–242)
Shapur I (240–270)
Hormizd I (270–271)
Bahram I (271–274)
Bahram II (274–293)
Bahram III (293)
Hormizd II (302–309)
Shapur II (309–379)
Ardashir II (379–383)
Shapur III (383–388)
Bahram IV (388–399)
Yazdegerd I (399–420)
Shapur IV (420)
Khosrow the Usurper§ (420)
Bahram V (420–438)
Yazdegerd II (438–457)
Hormizd III (457–459)
Peroz I (459–484)
Kavadh I (488–496)
Kavadh I (498–531)
Khosrow I (531–579)
Hormizd IV (579–590)
Khosrow II (590)
Bahram VI Chobin§ (590–591)
Khosrow II (591–628)
Kavadh II (628)
Ardashir III (628–629)
Khosrow III§ (629)
Shapur-i Shahrvaraz§ (630)
Peroz II§ (630)
Farrukh Hormizd§ (630–631)
Hormizd VI§ (630–631)
Khosrow IV§ (631)
Farrukhzad Khosrow V§ (631)
Yazdegerd III (632–651)
Peroz III (pretender)
§ usurpers or rival claimants