Ardashir I or Ardeshir I (Middle Persian:ArdashirPahlaviName.png, New Persian: اردشیر), also known as Ardashir the Unifier(180–242 AD) was the founder of the Sasanian Empire. He was the ruler of Estakhr since 206, subsequently Pars Province since 222, and finally "King of Kings of Sasanian Empire" in 224 with the overthrow of the Parthian Empire, ruling the Sasanian Empire until his death in 242. The dynasty ruled for four centuries, until it was overthrown by the Rashidun Caliphate in 651.
Ardashir (Arđaxšēr from Middle Persian and Parthian Artaxšaθra, Pahlavi ʼrthštr, "Who has the Divine Order as his Kingdom") is also known as Ardeshīr-i Pāpagān "Ardashir, son of Pāpağ", and other variants of his name include Latinized Artaxares and Artaxerxes.
Various different sources relate details of Ardashir's early life. According to Al-Tabari, Ardashir was born to a Persian noble family in Tiruda, a village in Estakhr. His grandfather Sasan is described as a priest of a fire-temple called Fire of Anahita in Estakhr. The grandmother of Ardashir was a descendant of the Bazrangi noble family. His father was named Papak (Babak in Modern Persian), a son of Sasan. However, the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht does not name Sasan as Papak's father but instead names him as the lord. According to Book of Deeds of Ardashir Son of Papak, which is later confirmed by Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, Sasan married the daughter of Papak after the latter discovered that Sasan had royal Achaemenid descent. Hence Ardashir was born.
Commenting on this text, Mary Boyce, a British scholar of Iranian languages, stated:
"This is a short prose work, simple in style, probably written in Pars towards the end of the Sasanian period. It too was evidently the work of priests, and a comparison of it with Firdausi's rendering shows how effectively Zoroastrian elements were obliterated in the Muslim redaction. The Kârnâmag contains some historical details; but its generally romantic character has been explained as due to contamination with legends of Cyrus the Great, still current then in Pars."
The Book of Deeds of Ardashir Son of Papak tells a detailed story about Ardashir during his young years including the Parthian king Ardavan, it says the following thing:
|Coin of Ardashir I|
“ When Ardashir attained the age of fifteen years, information reached Ardavan that Papak had a son proficient and accomplished in learning and riding (i.e., in heroic horsemanship). He wrote a letter to Babag to this effect: "We have heard that you have a son, who is accomplished and very proficient in learning and riding; our desire (has been) that you should send him to our court, and he shall be near us, so that he will associate with our sons and princes, and we might order for him position and reward according to the learning which he possesses.
As Ardavan was powerful and very absolute, it was improper on the part of Papak to do anything contrary to or to evade his command. Immediately (therefore) he sent Ardashir well-equipped with ten servants and a superb present of many marvelous, magnificent, and suitable things for the acceptance of Ardavan.
When Ardavan saw Ardashir he was glad, expressed to him his affectionate regard, and ordered that he should every day accompany his sons and princes to the chase and the polo-round. Ardashir acted accordingly. By the help of Providence he became more victorious and warlike than them all, on the polo and the riding (ground), at Chatrang (chess) and Vine-Ardashir, and in (several) other arts.
One day Ardavan went a hunting with his chevaliers and Ardashir. An elk which happened to be running in the desert was (then) pursued by Ardashir and the eldest son of Ardavan. And Ardashir, on reaching close to the elk, struck him with an arrow in such a manner that the arrow pierced through the belly as far as its feathers, passed through the other side, and the animal died instantly.
When Ardavan and the chevaliers approached them;, they expressed wonder at such a dart and asked: -- "Who struck that arrow?" -- Ardashir replied: "I did it." The son of Ardavan said: -- "No, because I did it."
Ardashir became angry and spoke thus to the son of Ardavan: "It is not possible to appropriate the art and heroism (of another) through tyranny, unpleasantness, falsehood, and injustice. " This is an excellent forest, and the wild asses here are many. Let us try here a second time, and bring into display (our) goodness or evil nature and dexterity.
|Ardeshir I Coin|
Ardavan thereby felt offended and thereafter did not allow Ardashir to ride on horseback. He sent the latter [Ardashir] to his stables of horses and cattle, and ordered him as follows: "Take care (of those animals so) that you do not go in the day or night from before those horses and cattle a hunting, to the playground or the college of learning."
Ardashir understood that Ardavan spoke (in this manner) from envy and grudge, and directly wrote a letter to Babag, stating the facts as they stood.
When Papak saw the letter he became melancholy. He wrote in reply to Ardashir as follows:
"You did not act wisely in disputing with great men on a matter from which no harm could have reached you, and in addressing them with coarse words in public. Now speak out excuses for your relief and feel humble repentance, for the sages have said: It is not possible for an enemy to do that for an enemy, which, is brought on himself by an ignorant man from his own actions.
This too, is said: Do not be grieved narrow-mindedly from a person at the time when you cannot pass your life (happily) without him. And you yourself know that Ardavan is a king more powerful than I, you, or many people in this world with reference to (our) bodies, lives, riches, and estates. And now, too, such is my strictest advice to you that you should act in unison with and obediently (towards them), and not deliver up your own glory to annihilation.
Rise to power
|Coronation of Ardeshīr-i Pāpagān|
Ardashir became the ruler of Darabgerd and received the title of "argbadh" after the death of Tiri, the previously argbadh of Darabgerd. After becoming ruler of Darabgerd Ardashir began to extend his rule to other cities, killing several local princes of Pars with the help of Papak. It is possible that after Papak's death, his son Shapur, had a short reign which was probably ended by an accidental death. Around 222, Ardashir became ruler of Papak's kingdom, which was confined to central Fars. Sometime later, Ardashir I began conquering other vassals of the Parthian Empire and by 224 he had extended his realm into Kerman to the east and Khuzestan to the west.
This expansion came to the attention of the Arsacid Great King, Artabanus V, who ordered his vassal, the ruler of Khuzestan, to confront Ardashir. It was Ardashir, however, who emerged victorious in that battle.
Overthrow of the Parthian empire and further campaigns
In 224, Artabanus V himself invaded Fars to defeat the rebelling Ardashir. The latter won the first battle, but with heavy losses on both sides. In the second battle, the Parthians suffered a greater loss, and Ardashir was again deemed the victor. Their armies clashed once again in a final battle at Hormizdeghan, near the modern city of Bandar Abbas. During the battle, Ardashir assumed the title Shahanshah, marking the start of the Sasanian Empire. During the battle, the Parthian army was completely defeated, and Artabanus V was killed. According to one account, Ardashir and Artabanus V fought in close combat on horseback. Ardashir pretended to flee, turned around in the saddle and shot Artabanus V through the heart.
According to the hagiographic Book of the Deeds of Ardashir son of Babak, Ardashir I then went on to capture the western vassal states of the now-defunct Arsacid Empire. One of these states included a kingdom of the Kurds, Ardashir I is depicted as having battled the Kurds and their leader, Madig:
|Coronation of Ardeshir Babakan|
“ Afterwards he , having collected many soldiers and heroes of Zavul, proceeded to battle against Mâdîg, the King of the Kurds. There was much fighting and bloodshed (in which) the army of Ardashir (finally) sustained a defeat. Ardashir became anxious on account of his own army. (On his way back) he came at night through a desert which contained neither water nor food, so he himself with all his troops and horses came to hunger and thirst. (Marching onward) he saw, from a distance, a fire belonging to (some) shepherds, and there Ardashir went and beheld an old man living with (his) cattle on a mountain-steppe. Ardashir passed the night there, and the next day he asked them about the road. They said: "Three frasangs hence there is a very fertile village which has many inhabitants and plenty of food." Ardashir went to that village, and dispatched a person to send to his capital his entire cavalry.
The army of Madig boasted thus: "Now there should be no fear of Ardashir, as on account of his defeat he has returned to Pars."
(Meanwhile) Ardashir, having prepared an army of four thousand men, rushed upon them, and surprised them with a night attack. He killed one thousand of the Kurds, (while) others were wounded and taken prisoners; and out of the Kurds (that were imprisoned) he sent to Pars their king with his sons, brothers, children, his abundant wealth and property. ”
It must be noted though that the usage of the term Kurd during this time period most likely was a social term, designating Iranian nomads, rather than a concrete ethnic group.
After conquering Ctesiphon in 226 he made an official coronation in the city where he was crowned as Shahanshah "king of kings [of] Iran" (his consort took the title "Adhur-Anahid" meaning "Queen of Queens"), Ardashir finally brought the over 400 year-old Parthian Empire to an end and began four centuries of Sassanid rule.
Over the next few years, Ardashir I further expanded his new empire to the east and northwest, forcing Satarop, the ruler of Khorasan, to acknowledge his authority. Ardashir also conquered the provinces of Sistan, Gorgan, Margiana (in modern Turkmenistan), Balkh, and Chorasmia. Bahrain and Mosul. Furthermore, the Kings of Kushan, Turan, and Mekran recognized Ardashir as their overlord. In the West, assaults against Hatra, Armenia and Adiabene met with less success.
Religion and state
According to historian Arthur Christensen, the Sassanid state as established by Ardashir I was characterized by two general trends which differentiated it from its Parthian predecessor: a strong political centralization and organized state sponsorship of Zoroastrianism.
The Parthian Empire had consisted of a loose federation of vassal kingdoms under the suzerainty of the Arsacid monarchs. In contrast, Ardashir I established a relatively strong central government by which to rule his dominions. The empire was divided into cantons, the dimensions of which were based on military considerations. These cantons were designed to resist the influence of hereditary interests and feudal rivalries. Local governors who descended from the ruling family bore the title of shāh. In an attempt to protect royal authority from regional challenges, the personal domains of the Sassanids and branch families were scattered across the empire. While the old feudal princes (vāspuhragan) remained, they were required to render military service with their local troops (for the most part peasant levies). The lesser nobility was cultivated as a source of military strength, forming the elite cavalry of the army, and the royal household found a useful (and presumably reliable) military force through the hiring of mercenaries.
Zoroastrianism had existed in the Parthian Empire, and—according to tradition—its sacred literature had been collated during that era. Similarly, the Sassanids traced their heritage to the Temple of Anahita at Staxr, where Ardashir I's grandfather had been a dignitary. Under Ardashir however, Zoroastrianism was promoted and regulated by the state, one based on the ideological principle of divinely granted and indisputable authority. The Sassanids built fire temples and, under royal direction, an (apparently) "orthodox" version of the Avesta was compiled by a cleric named Tansār, and it was during the early period that the texts as they exist today were written down (until then these were orally transmitted). In the western provinces, a Zurvanite doctrine of the religion with Time as the First Principle appears to have competed with the Mazdaen form (as it is known from the Sassanid prototype of the Avesta).
In other domestic affairs, Ardashir I maintained his familial base in Fars, erecting such structures as the Ghal'eh Dokhtar and the Palace of Ardashir. Despite these impressive structures, he established his government at the old Arsacid capital of Ctesiphon on the Tigris River. He also rebuilt the city of Seleucia, located just across the river, which had been destroyed by the Romans in 165, renaming it Veh-Ardashir. Trade was promoted and important ports at Mesene and Charax were repaired or constructed.
War with Rome
In the latter years of his reign, Ardashir I engaged in a series of armed conflicts with Persia's great rival to the west—the Roman Empire.
The triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor
Valerian and Philip the Arab
Ardashir I's expansionist tendencies had been frustrated by his failed invasions of Armenia, where a branch of the Arsacids still occupied the throne. Given Armenia's traditional position as an ally of the Romans, Ardashir I may have seen his primary opponent not in the Armenian and Caucasian troops he had faced, but in Rome and her legions.
In 230 Ardashir I led his army into the Roman province of Mesopotamia, unsuccessfully besieging the fortress town of Nisibis. At the same time, his cavalry ranged far enough past the Roman border to threaten Syria and Cappadocia. It seems that the Romans saw fit to attempt a diplomatic solution to the crisis, reminding the Persians of the superiority of Roman arms, but to no avail. Ardashir I campaigned unsuccessfully against Roman border outposts again the following year (231). As a result, the Roman emperor Alexander Severus (222–235) moved to the east, establishing his headquarters at Antioch, but experienced difficulties in bringing his troops together and thus made another attempt at diplomacy, which Ardashir I rebuffed.
Finally, in 232, Severus led his legions in a three-pronged assault on the Persians. However, the separate army groups did not advance in a coordinated fashion, and Ardashir was able to take advantage of the disorder and concentrate his forces against the enemy advancing through Armenia, where he was able to halt the Roman advance. Hearing of the Roman plans to march on his capital at Ctesiphon, Ardashir left only a token screening force in the north and met the enemy force that was advancing to the south, apparently defeating it in a decisive manner. However, one can discern that the Persians must have suffered considerable losses as well, as no attempt was made to pursue the fleeing Romans. Both leaders must have had reason to avoid further campaigning, as Severus returned to Europe in the following year (233) and Ardashir did not renew his attacks for several years, probably focusing his energies in the east.
In 237, Ardashir—along with his son and successor Shapur I (240/42–270/72), who was to become his co-ruler in 239/40—again invaded Mesopotamia. The successful assaults on Nisibis and Carrhae and the shock this caused in Rome led the emperor to revive the Roman client-state of Osroene. In 240/41, Ardashir I and Shapur finally overcame the stubborn fortress of Hatra. Ardashir I died in the year 242, but Shapur was already crowned as "king of kings" in 240.
Ardashir I was an energetic king, responsible for the resurgence not just of Persia but of Iranian-speaking peoples as a unified nation (ethnous as it appears in the Greek version of his successor's inscription on the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht), the strengthening of Zoroastrianism, and the establishment of a dynasty that would endure for four centuries. While his campaigns against Rome met with only limited success, he achieved more against them than the Parthians had done in many decades and prepared the way for the substantial successes his son and successor Shapur I would enjoy against the same enemy.