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Ardashir I

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Title: Ardashir I  
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Subject: Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan, Shapur I, Sasanian Empire, List of kings of Persia, Papak
Collection: 180 Births, 242 Deaths, 3Rd-Century Sasanian Monarchs, People of the Roman–persian Wars
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Ardashir I

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:, New Persian: اردشیر), 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.


  • Early life 1
  • Rise to power 2
    • Overthrow of the Parthian empire and further campaigns 2.1
  • Religion and state 3
  • War with Rome 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Various different sources relate details of Ardashir's early life. According to [2] 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."[4]

Furthermore, recently, the Iranian historian Touraj Daryaee, has stated that the Bundahishn should be used a source for the family of Ardashir, which unlike the other Sasanian sources, was not created by the court, in the words of Daryaee, "to fit the world-view of the late Sasanian world."[5] According to the Bundahishn, Sasan had a daughter, who married Papak, and bore him Ardashir. Furthermore, the Bundahishn states that Sasan was the son of a certain Weh-afrid. Daryaee also states that Sasan was not a native of Pars as thought, but an Iranian foreigner from either the west or east.[5]

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:

Rise to power

Ardashir became the ruler of Darabgerd and received the title of "argbadh" after the death of Tiri, the previous 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. This expansion came to the attention of the Arsacid Great King, Artabanus V, who ordered his vassal, the ruler of Khuzestan, to confront Ardashir. But Ardashir emerged victorious in battle,[7] had Khuzestan conquered, and sometime later had Kerman under his grasp.[8] Ardashir then invaded the Parthian province of Maishan, killing its ruler, Bandu. Ardashir then built a city named Karkh Maishan, which would later be renamed as Astarabad-Ardashir.

Overthrow of the Parthian empire and further campaigns

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

In 224, Artabanus V himself invaded [2] marking the start of the Sasanian Empire. During the battle, the Parthian army was completely defeated, and Artabanus was killed. According to one account, Ardashir and Artabanus fought in close combat on horseback. Ardashir pretended to flee, turned around in the saddle and shot Artabanus through the heart.[9]

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:

Note that the usage of the term Kurd during this time-period most likely designated a social group (Iranian nomads), rather than a concrete ethnic group.[10][11]

After conquering Ctesiphon in 226 he staged an official coronation in the city where he was crowned as Shahanshah "king of kings [of] Iran"[12] (his consort took the title "Adhur-Anahid" meaning "Queen of Queens"), Ardashir finally brought the more-than-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 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

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.

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.

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.[13]


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.


  1. ^ ARDAŠĪR I, Joseph Wiesehöfer, Encyclopaedia Iranica, (August 11, 2011).[6]
  2. ^ a b c Encyclopaedia Iranica, Joseph Wiesehöfer, ARDAŠĪR I
  3. ^ SASANIAN DYNASTY, A. Shapur Shahbazi, Encyclopaedia Iranica, (July 20, 2005).[7]
  4. ^ Boyce, Mary "Middle Persian Literature" (in Handbuch Der Orientalistik – I. Abt., IV. volume 2.), p. 60 [8]
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b Kârnâmag î Ardashîr î Babagân. Trans. D. D. P. Sanjana. 1896
  7. ^ Azadmehr, Shahbaz (2003). History of Iran (تاریخ ایران). Tehran: Entesharate Barbod. pp. 91–92.  
  8. ^ Fischer, W.B.; Gershevitch, Ilya; Ehsan, Yarshster (1993). The Cambridge History of Iran 3 (1). Cambridge University Press.   pp 116–118
  9. ^   pp 394
  10. ^ J. Limbert. (1968). The Origins and Appearance of the Kurds in Pre-Islamic Iran. Iranian Studies, 1.2: pp. 41–51.
  11. ^ G. Asatrian. (2009). Prolegemona to the Study of Kurds. Iran and the Caucasus, 13.1: pp. 1–58.
  12. ^ MacKenzie, David Niel (1998). "Ērān, Ērānšahr". Encyclopedia Iranica 8. Costa Mesa: Mazda. 
  13. ^ Cf. Wiesehöfer, Ardasir, in: EncIr .


  • 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

  • Book of the Deeds of Ardashir son of Babak
  • R. N. Fye, "Babak" in Encyclopædia Iranica [9]
  • J. Wiesehöfer, "Ardasir" in Encyclopædia Iranica [10]
Ardashir I
Preceded by
(new founding)
"King of Kings of Iran"
Succeeded by
Shapur I
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