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 Sāsān
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 Sassan has "Achamenian blood in him", their son is named Ardashir I. Sassan vanishes shortly after Ardashir appears in the story and Papak is "considered the father of Ardashir". There is no real evidence that Sāsān was related to the Achaemenid dynasty and many modern historians speculate he only used this story to raise the status of his family.
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 Sassan "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: Sassan 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".
Politics of the Sasanian family
The political ambition of Sassan was evoked by the troubles and weakness caused in last years of Parthian empire. According to Tabari, Sassan's son Papak managed to consolidate his power with the help of his own sons Šāpur and Ardašir. This is considered the beginning of the Sasanian dynasty.
Sassan'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.
As his attested name as Sāsān xʷadāy (Middle Iranian for "Lord Sāsān") indicates, Sassan was the custodian of the "Fire Temple of Anāhid" at Estakhr. Shahryar the king in 1001 Nights is described as being one of the kings of Sassan and Ladan. Sassan is known for his efforts in trying to bring Zoroastrianism back into the Empire. He even encouraged Papak, the Zoroastrian commander, to take over the Parthian satrapy of Pars.
- 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