Iran History The Sassanians

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Sasanid Empire (224-651 A.D.)

By: S.Mahdavi

Tang -e- Chogan.Bishapour.King ShapourII.
Tang -e- Chogan.Bishapour.King ShapourII.

The last Parthian king, Artabanus V, lost the final battle to the Sasanians around 224 A.D. A legend has it that Ardashir Babakan, a vassal of Artabanus V, provoked the encounter when he founded a city called Gur, or the "Glory of Ardashir" near Firuzabad. Ardashir traced his ancestry to Sasan, a Zoroastrian priest, who gave his name to the last native dynasty in Persia before the Arab conquest. A strong central-ized government, a strict principle of dynastic legitimacy, and an official religion, which were quite contrary to the Parthian confederation and freedom of religious practices, characterized the Sasanid domain, which rapidly rose to rank among the world's largest empires.
Under Ardashir's successor, Shapur I, the Sasanid Empire extended from the Indian Punjab to the eastern border of Capadocia in Anatolia. The level of prosperity had risen so much that Shapur I was able to wage a war against Rome and even to take the Roman Emperor Valerian prisoner. In contrast to Ardashir, who claimed to be "king of kings of Iran", Shapur I assumed the title "king of kings of Iran and non-Iran", a title that was retained by his successors.
The Sasanians chose the Zoroastrian religion as the main means of unifying the diverse peoples of their expanded country. Shapur I, however, did not oppose Manichaeism, a teaching combining the beliefs of Zoroaster, Jesus, and Buddha. However, his successors suppressed other faiths severely, and the high priest. Kartir, was the most infamous instigator of this intolerance. Kartir certainly had a hand in killing Mani, and this was the first manifestation of religious strife in Iranian history.
Christians were also persecuted, particularly after the Roman Em¬pire, the archenemy of the Sasanid Empire, had become Christian.
Shapur II, the next important ruler after Shapur I, is credited with the longest reign in Iranian history - 70 years. His period was darkened only by perennial wars with Byzantium over the newly Christianized Armenia. Shapur had several unsuccessful successors until Yazdgerd I initiated a relatively peaceful era. Yazdgerd I left the country to his son, Bahram V. Surnamed Gur (Wild Ass), Bahram became the favorite of Persian popular tradition, which exuberantly celebrated his prowess in hunting and love.

Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam

Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam of Persian

emperor Shapur I on horseback capturing

Roman emperor Valerian standing and Philip

the Arab kneeling suing for peace

Bahram's descendant, Qobad, was an unusual king in Iranian history in the sense that he actually cared more about the opinions of the common people than of the highly-placed courtiers. He moved away from official religion and greatly welcomed Mazdak and his teaching. His son Khosrow I (Chosroes), an orthodox Zoroastrian, however, destroyed the Mazdakites in a great massacre. Nonetheless, this act has not prevented him from being entitled "the lust" Khosrow's grandson, Khosrow II, was surnamed Parviz ("the Victorious"). He was immortalized in Persian literature for his devotion to his wife, an Armenian Christian called Shirin, who kept her husband entranced during her whole lifetime, a remarkable fact in Oriental history. During Khosrow's rule, the Persian Empire was marked by the highest level of civilization. At this time, a message was brought to the king from Medina, bidding him acknowledge Mohammad as the Prophet of God. The king treated the missive with contempt, little thinking that before many years had passed the followers of the Prophet would have swept away the Sasanidline. Instead, he ordered hisagent in Yemen called Bazan to capture the Prophet and bring him before the king. However, this mission was never accomplished because of Bazan's conversion to Islam.
At Khosrows death, eleven rulers succeeded one another to the vacant throne, two queens among their number - the first women who had ever held the scepter in Persia - but their united reigns amounted to only five years. After a succession of short-time rulers, Khosrows grandson, Yazdgerd III, took the throne. His story is reminiscent of the story of Darius III Achaemenid. Like Darius, Yazdgerdwas not destined to rule. A new for cewas coming from the Arabian deserts, a force that changed both the state and the religion. In 650, only a few years after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the Muslim armies led by Khalid ibn Walid attacked the southern provinces of the Sasanid Empire. Soon afterwards, Ctesiphon, the Sasanid glorious capital and the largest city in the world, was invaded and sacked by the Muslim armies. At the battle of Nehavand, the Arabs utterly defeated the Persians and gained possession of their national standard, the blacksmith Kavehs leather apron. Yazdgerd sought refuge in one province after another, until he was assassinated near Merv.

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