Sāsān (Middle Iranian > Persian ساسان, also known as Sassan), considered the eponymous ancestor of the Sasanians, was "a great warrior and hunter" and a Zoroastrian high priest in Fars and living sometime near the fall of the Arsacid Empire.
Identity of Sasan
There are many slightly different stories concerning Sasan and his relation to Ardashir I the founder of Sassanid Empire. The northern Iranian historian Tabari mentions further that Sasan married a princess of the Bāzarangid family, the vassal dynasty of Fārs and that Sasan was a grandfather of Ardashir I while Papak is named as Ardashir I's father.
According to the Pahlavi book of Karnamak-i Artaxshir-i Papakan, Sassan's wife was a daughter of a noble man called Papak and the marriage was arranged by Papak after hearing that Sasan has "Achamenian blood in him", their son is named Ardashir I. Sasan vanishes shortly after Ardashir appears in the story and Papak is "considered the father of Ardashir".
These stories on different relations between "Ardashir, Pāpak, and Sāsān" have according to Frye a Zoroastrian explanation. Accordingly Sassan was indeed the father of Ardashir and "disappears" from the story after the birth of Ardashir. Similar to the current Zoroastrian practices, Papak had then taken the responsibility of his daughter and her son Ardashir after Sasan "disappears" and is named afterwards as the father of Ardashir.
In the Kabe Zartosht inscription of Shapur I the Great, the four named persons "Sasan, Papak, Ardashir, Shapur" have different by importance titles: Sasan is named as "the lord", Papak as "shah", Ardashir as "the King of kings of the Sassanid Empire" and Shapur is "king of kings of Iran and Aniran".
However, according to Touraj Daryaee, Sasanian sources cannot be trusted because they were from the royal Sasanian archives, which were made by the court, in the words of Daryaee, "to fit the world-view of the late Sasanian world." Daryaee and several other scholars state Sasan had his name from a deity who was known in many parts of Asia, but not in Fars, the homeland of the Sasanians, which thus means that Sasan was a Iranian foreigner from the west or the east, who had settled in Fars, whose inhabitants did not know about this deity he believed in. Sasan later managed to become the priest of the important Anahid temple in Estakhr, the capital of Fars. According to the Bundahishn, which according to Daryaee was made independently and not by the Sasanian court, that Sasan's daughter later married Papak, and bore him Ardashir. Furthermore, the Bundahishn states that Sasan was the son of a certain Weh-afrid.
Politics of the Sasanian family
The political ambition of Sasan was evoked by the troubles and weakness caused in last years of Parthian empire. According to Tabari, Papak managed to consolidate his power with the help of his own sons Shapur and Ardashir. This is considered the beginning of the Sasanian dynasty.
Sasan's family managed to become the rulers of the second Persian Empire in antiquity and rule over a greater portion of Western Asia, the first of such empire was the dynasty founded by Cyrus the Great. The three "founders" of this new empire, that is Papak and his two sons, are depicted and mentioned on the wall of the Harem of Xerxes at Persepolis, a remnant site of Achaemenids – a representation suggested to be the evidence of a claim to Achaemenid heritage likely later added.
Sasan is known for his efforts in trying to bring Zoroastrianism back into the Empire. He even encouraged Papak to take over the Parthian satrapy of Pars.
- (Frye 1983) pp. 116-7
- (Shapur Shahbazi 2005)
- Calmeyer, P. (1976), "Zur Genese altiranischer Motive IV", Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran: 65–67, ISSN 0066-6033
- Shapur Shahbazi, A. (2005), Rise of the Sassanid dynasty., "Sassanian Dynasty", Encyclopedia Iranica (Columbia University Press), To appear
- Frye, R. N. (1983), Chapter 4, "The political history of Iran under the Sasanians", The Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge University Press) 3 (1), ISBN 978-0-521-20092-9