Ardashir I

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Ardashir I
Shahanshah, King of Kings of Iran
Coin of Ardashir I.
Reign 224–242 AD
Successor Shapur I
Born 180 AD
Tiruda, Estakhr, Pars[1]
Died February 242 AD[2]
(aged 62)
Spouse Lady Myrōd
House House of Sasan
Father Papak
Mother Rodhak

Ardashir I or Ardeshir I (Middle Persian:ArdashirPahlaviName.png, New Persian: اردشیر بابکان, Ardashir-e Bābakān), also known as Ardashir the Unifier[3] (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.


Ardashir, which was pronounced /ær'tæxʃæɵræ/, has been one of old and favored Persian names. It is read and pronounced as "Artaxérxēs, Αρταξέρξης" in Greek, ArdashirPahlaviName.png, /ær'tæxʃtær/, /ær'tæxʃir/ in Middle Persian, "Artašēs, Արտաշէս" in Armenian, and /ær'dæʃir/ in New Persian.[4] Literally, Ardashir means "the one whose reign is based on honesty and justice".[5] The first part of Artakhshir is adapted from the religious concept of justice known as Ṛta or Asha and the second part is related to the concept "city".[4]

Three of Achaemenid kings of kings and four of local Shahs of Persia - known as Faretorkehs - were named Ardashir, and Ardashir I has been Ardashir V in the chain of local Shahs.[6][7]


The primary references of the Sassanian era can be divided to the two categories "text remnants" and "reports":

Text remnants[edit]

Text remnants include inscriptions, leather writings, papyri and crockeries written in multiple languages and scripts.[8] 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 Zartosht.[8]


Reports are texts that are written in various languages and periods.[8] It should be noted that the basis of the writings of all Muslim historians (Arabic and Persian histories), has been the official 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.[9]


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 Ardashir I.[8]

Herodian's History has also extensively explained the procedure of the change of monarchy from Parthian to Sassanian.[9]

Although 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.[8]


The Armenian history in the Sassanian era is completely connected with Persian royal history; thus, not only do the writings of then Armenian historians provide important matters about the adventures of Persian kings of kings, but show the status of Iran-Armenia relations.[9] Armenian History by Agathangelos is one of Armenian resources about the early Sassanian era.[8]

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 II.[10]


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.[9] The book is very valuable for the period of the downfall of the Parthians and the rise of the Sasanians.[8]

History of Odessa is a book written in 540 and includes chronicles from 132 B.C. until 540.[9]

Chronicles of Karakh Beit Solug, is a short but important source that presents valuable information about the early Sasanian period.[8]

Middle Persian[edit]

Kār-Nāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān is an epic story about Ardashir I and the procedure of his ascension to the Persian throne. The text was written in about 600 A.D. and in the end of Sasanian era in Middle Persian language.[11][12]


Ferdowsi's Shahnameh is the largest and most important reference about the reports related to the national Persian history. It presents helpful information about the Sasanian organizations and civilization.[8]

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.[8]

Farsnameh is one of the helpful Persian references about Sasanian history that presents valuable information about the status and the rankings of of grand appointed governors and their positions, while they were considered part of the public relative to the kings.[8]

Ibn Isfandiyar's History of Tabaristan is another one of Sasanian history sources. The Letter of Tansar is written in the book.[8]

Mojmal al-tawarikh is a text with limited value, since most of its reports are mentioned extensively in other sources.[8]

Ardasgir's Oath is a letter or preach by Ardashir I about government rituals that is named in Mojmal al-tawarikh.[13]


Tabari's History is a book series in Arabic that is the main and essential source about Sasanian history.[8]

Al-Masudi's The Meadows of Gold is another source about the Sasanian history.[8]

Lineage and ancestry[edit]

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 Persia State.[14] 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".[15] Daryayi 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;rRelating 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.[16] 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 mentioned in Avesta or other ancient Persian 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 worshiped in Ugarit on second millenium 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 Shahnameh about 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.[17][18] The primary Islamic sources, which are adapted from Sasanian statements, have emphasized on 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.[18]

Most of foreign sources are unanimous in considering an unknown lineage for Ardashir;[18] for example, Agathias has stated that Papak was a shoemaker who found out from astronomic proofs that Sasan would have a great son; thus Papak allowed Sasan to sleep with the former's wife and the result was Ardashir.[19] 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.[20] In the three-language inscription of Shapur I's on Ka'ba-ye Zartosht in Naqsh-e Rustam, Sasan is introduced only as a nobleman and Papak as a king.[21]

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 Persian 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.[21] However, some have questioned the reports of Karnamag and Shahnameh, considered them mythical and intended to legitimize the founder of the Sasanian dynasty.[15]

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, Daryayi 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 Persian traditions and perhaps foreign tribes."[16]

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.[16]

Persia before rise of the Sasanians[edit]

Persia, 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.[22] The local governors of Persia State 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.[7] They considered the Parthians primordial usurpers who had taken the formers' right by force.[7]

The remnants of Pasargadae and Takht-e Jamshid could be permanent memorials of the past magnificence of Persia State; though the knowledge about the existence of a large empire was almost forgotten.[23]

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 Persia State - 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 Persia, it at least shows the continuance of some of Achaemenid traditions in that land.[21][22]

During the Seleucid era, "Faretorkehs" (local Perisan shahs) ruled Persia 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 Persia separately.[24] Also in the Parthian era, local Persian shahs were entitled to mint coins with their own names like some other semi-dependent shahs of the Parthian Emprie. During the time, the Persian governors called themselves "Faretorkehs", which must mean "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 local Persian shahs that shows the holy fire was adored and the Zoroastrian gods were worshiped and the old creed was permanent in Persia in contrast to other regions.[22]

In a picture of Papak and his son Shapur carved on Takht-e Jamshid, Papak, while wearing like priests, 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 Khwask, the mayor of Shush, 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 Persia and wished to show their independence from the Parthian emperors; that was why Papak personally grants the royal medal to his son in the mentioned picture.[9][25] 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.[22] Daryayi believes that the picture shows multiple things; first that the House of Sasan had both the religious and irreligious powers together in Persia; second that the fire creed, related to Zoroastrianism, lived on before the rise of Ardashir; third that the carved picture of Shapur and Papak in Takht-e Jamshid shows the importance of the Achaemenid structure for the Sasanians.[26]

Status of the Parthian Empire before its end[edit]

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 Niger; as 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 Osroene and 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 restarted war with the Parthians.[27] In the meantime, Vologases suppressed a rebellion in east of the Empire; Narses, governor of Adiabene (a region to the west of current Lake Urmia), disobeyed to accompany Vologases to invade the East to suppress the rebellion; the uncompliance and also Narses's friendly relations with Rome caused Vologases' attack to Adiabene and destroying multiple cities of it and also killing Narses.[28]

Vologases later proceeded towards Nusaybin and laid siege on it, but aborted it by Roman reinforcements' arrival and failed to take the city. Afterwards, Severus started marching toward Euphrates and to South and took Seleucia and Babylon without resistance, though the Romans fought hard in late 198 during the fall of Ctesiphon. After all, the Romans did not manage to hold the taken regions; they had to retreat due to lack of food and supplies. The Romans decided to take Hatra while returning, but failed and tried once more in spring 199 to conquer Hatra, and were forced to let go of Syria with heavy casualties that time.[27] It must have been that "highly disruptive period of Vologases V's reign" and the raid and destruction of Mesopotamia by Severus when Papak probably united most of Persia State under his rule.[29] Apparently a peace treaty was then formed between the two powers, though the ancient historians have had no mention of it. Anyway until Vologases' death in 206 or 207 and also Severus's in 211, the Parthian-Roman relations were peaceful.[27] After Vologases V's death, his son Vologases VI rose to the throne; but shortly afterward, his reign was challenged by his brother Artabanus V.[27] 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.[30]

Also according to an inscription of his in Shush, the control of the region is considered to have been Artabanus's. In another place, Vologases VI's coins found in Seleucia show his control over the land.[27] 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 Caracalla gave 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.[31] At the time while Emperor Caracalla had 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 anyway.[8][30]

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.[30] 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 221-222 in Seleucia.[27] 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 hand.[30]

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 payed 50 million Dinars to the Parthians and kept Armenia and Northern Mesopotamia. It was probably in about 220 that 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 Hormozdgān and founded the Sasanian dynasty.[30] However, the end of the Parthian dynasty did not mean an endpoint for all Parthian houses. Movses Khorenatsi, Greek historian, has quoted some reports of the roles and aids of some Parthian houses, like Suren and Ispahbudhan, in Ardashir's uprising.[32]


Early years until his uprising and gaining power[edit]

According to Al-Tabari's report, Ardashir was born in a village named "Tirudeh" in the country "Khir" around Istakhr, Persia in a famous family. His grandfather, Sasan, was the trustee of the Temple of Anahita in Istakhr and his grandmother was Rambehesht from Bazrangi House. Al-Tabari added that when Ardashir was seven years old, Papak, Ardashir's father, asked Gochehr, local shah in Persia State, to send Ardashir to Tiri, commander of Fort Darabgard, for raising, which Gochehr did. After Tiri's death, Ardashir took over for him and became the commander of Fort Darabgard.[33][34]

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.[35] At the time, Vologases V's reign was disrupted due to the invasion of Septimius Severus, Roman emperor, on Mesopotamia.[34] 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.[33]

According to Arabic-Persian sources, Ardashir started his uprising when he was the commander of Fort Darabgard in Eastern Persia. The oldest archaeological proofs of the period of Ardashir's reign are acquired from Ardashirkhureh (Gur or current Firuzabad) in south border of Persia. Therefor, Ardashir rose up in his war in Ardashirkhureh, 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 from Ahura Mazda in front of his henchmen.[36] 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 asked Papak to stand against Gochehr and start a rebellion. Papak did it and rebelled against Gochehr and killed him.[34] Daryayi believes that Papak was a local governor who dreamed of conquering Istakhr and 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 Gochehr, governor of Istakhr, and it can be implied from the common coins of Papak and Shapur.[37] Later, Papak wrote a letter to Artabanus V and requested permission to appoint Shapur instead of the "overthrown" Gochehr in power; in response, Artabanus announced Papak and Ardashir outlaws.[38] 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 controled the 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 Persia.[35] 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 therefor.[21][38] 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.[39]

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 Gochehr 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 Ardashir-Papak coins, wears a wig similar to those of local Persian shahs in contrast to his picture in Shapur-Papak coins.[37] 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 Persia State under his rule by by the time;[21][34] since his picture exists on Ardashir's coins too.[34]

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.[34] For example according to sources, the governor of a land northeast of Ctesiphon called "Bit Garmeh" 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.[24][40] In order to consolidate his power, Ardashir killed some of the important figures in Darabgard; then he invaded Kerman and took it too and took control of the whole Persia and Kerman and the Persian Gulf shores. At that time, Ardashir constructed a palace and fire temple in Gur (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, order the governor of Shush to attack Ardashir, suppress his rebellion and send him to Ctesiphon. After Ardashir killed and terminated Shadshapur, the governor of Sepahan, after fighting him, headed towards Khuzestan and killed the governor of Shush 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.[38]

Eventually, in Ardashir's contest with Artabanus in the Battle of Hormozdgān on April 28, 224, Artabanus was killed by Ardashir and the Parthian dynasty was overthrown with his death. The year of the occurance of the battle is confirmed by Shapur I's inscription in Bishapur. The extended report of the Battle of Hormozdgān 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.[34] 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.[21][41]

Ardashir I is receiving the Kingship's ring from Ahuramazda at Naqsh-e Rajab.

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 Persian 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 conquest.[42]

After coronation[edit]

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.[21] Josef Wiesehöfer believes the year of Ardashir's coronation in Ctesiphon 226 and at the time of his invasion on Northern Mesopotamia based on other sources.[34]

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 Persian houses and was successful.[34] The exact extent and limits of Ardashir's ruled domain can not be determined correctly.[21] 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 Turan and probably Merv Desert rulers surrendered to Ardashir's empire;[34] and in the southwest, the northern part of "Arabic shores of the Persian Gulf"were taken by war.[21][34]

War with Rome[edit]

According to the information collected from Latin and Greek sources, the first clash between the "newborn Sasanian power" in its west borders with Rome occurred by by the Persians' attack on the regions held by 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.[34] 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 Rome.[21]

However, "the first war test between the Sasanians and Romans" ended without any positive result for the Romans; though Alexander held a celebration in 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.[34]

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.[34]

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,[41] Ardashir took Nusaybin and Harran and attacked the city Dura;[34][38] then he marched toward Hatra, which was a commercial city and the center of the traffic of commercial caravans. Hatra stood hard against the Persian siege and did not fall until April or September 240; it seems that Hatra was 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 Persia.[21][34]

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.[43]

Final years and succession[edit]

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.[34] 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 himself.[26]

About the year of Shapur's participation in reign with Ardashir, it has been written in Cologne Mani-Codex in Greek about Mani's life:[21][44]

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 12, 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.[21]

Timeline of life[edit]

According to three dates that are achieved from Shapur's inscription on a column in Bishapur, the period between 205 and 206 appears as the beginning of an era in Sasanian history;[21] it is written in the first lines of the mentioned inscription:

1- Farvardin 58, 2- Azar Ardashir 40, 3- Azar Shapur from royal Azars 24

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.[22] It has been deduced from the allusion that one of the mentioned events (overthrowing the local shah of Istakhr by 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 the years 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.[21][34] R. Ghirshman believes that the year 58 shows the beginning of the domination of the Sasanian dynasty over the Persian land. 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.[22] It is very probable that Papak took the royal throne of Istakhr between the years 205/206 and 211/212 and appointed his son Shapur for it; then in an insurgent action, Ardashir moved to Gur (Ardashirkhureh 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 on 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 Persia. Ardashir's conquest of Persia and taking the adjacent lands was a threat for Artabanus; therefor, Artabanus defied Ardashir and eventually lost the Battle of Hormozdgān and was killed. It was after that when Ardashir was able to claim being "the Persian Shahanshah". Ardashir carved a memorial inscription for victory in the Battle of Hormozdgān near the city Gur. The signs of these events (the period between taking 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.[37]

Religion and state[edit]

Relief of the Coronation of Ardashir I at Naghsh-e-Rostam. Ardashir is receiving the Kingship's ring from Ahuramazda

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 Maishan such as Vahman-Ardashir were repaired or constructed.


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.

Al-Khasibi, the founder of Nusayri doctrine believed that Ardashir I was a manifestation of the Deity. He believed that Ardashir I and his son (Shapur I) were both manifestations of the Alawite trinity and that they had received divine wisdom. He states that this divine wisdom was transmitted through the line of Persian kings until it reached the last three: Sharwin, Kharwin, and Khosraw. Possibly Sharwin I, Qarin I, and Khosrow I.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ARDAŠĪR I, Joseph Wiesehöfer, Encyclopaedia Iranica, (August 11, 2011).[1]
  2. ^ ARDAŠĪR I, Joseph Wiesehöfer, Encyclopaedia Iranica
  3. ^ SASANIAN DYNASTY, A. Shapur Shahbazi, Encyclopaedia Iranica, (July 20, 2005).[2]
  4. ^ a b Shahbazi. Sasanian History. 
  5. ^ Schmitt. Artaxerxes. 
  6. ^ Sharpp. Orders of Achaemenid Shahanshahs. 
  7. ^ a b c Bayani. Parthian Dusk and Sasanian Dawn. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Windengren. The Cambridge History of Iran. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Christensen. Iran During the Sassanians. 
  10. ^ Safa. Epics in Persia. 
  11. ^ Sharifi. Culture of Persian Literature. 
  12. ^ Parikhanian. In the Cambridge History of Iran. 
  13. ^ Mashkur. Log of Ardashir I. 
  14. ^ Wiesehöfer. ARDAŠĪR I i. History. 
  15. ^ a b Daryayi. Sasanian History and Culture. 
  16. ^ a b c Daryayi. Sasanian Empire Untold. 
  17. ^ Daryayi. Sasanian Kingdom. 
  19. ^ Frye. Babak. 
  20. ^ Shakki. Who Was Sasan?. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Frye. Political Persian History During the Sasanians. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f Lokonin. Sasanian Persian Civilization. 
  23. ^ Frye. Political Persian History During the Sasanian Era. 
  24. ^ a b Frye. Ancient Persian Legacy. 
  25. ^ Guillemin. Zoroastrianism. 
  27. ^ a b c d e f Schippmann. "BALĀŠ", Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  28. ^ Hansman. "ARBELA", Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  29. ^ Frye. Political Persian History in the Sasanian Era. 
  30. ^ a b c d e Schippmann. "ARTABANUS", Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  31. ^ Kettenhofen. "CARACALLA", Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  32. ^ Pourshariati. Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian–Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran. 
  33. ^ a b Frye. "BĀBAK", Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Wiesehöfer. "ARDAŠĪR I i. History". In Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  35. ^ a b Daryayi. The Sasanian Empire. 
  36. ^ Daryayi. The Sasanian Empire Untold. 
  38. ^ a b c d Christensen. Persia During the Sasanians. 
  40. ^ Frye. Ancient Persian History. 
  41. ^ a b "Iranica Online". 
  42. ^ Sellwood. Numismatics. 
  43. ^ Yarshater. Descriptive Persian History. 
  44. ^ Sundermann. "COLOGNE MANI CODEX". In Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  45. ^ Moosa, Matti (1987). Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (1st ed.). Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. pp. 333–334. ISBN 0815624115. 


  • Christensen, A. 1965: "Sassanid Persia". The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Imperial Crisis and Recovery (A.D. 193–324). Cook, S.A. et al., eds. Cambridge: University Press, pp 109–111, 118, 120, 126–130.
  • Oranskij, I. M. 1977: Les Langues Iraniennes. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, pp 71–76. ISBN 2-252-01991-3.\

External links[edit]

Ardashir I
Preceded by
(new founding)
"King of Kings of Iran"
Succeeded by
Shapur I