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Ardashir I

Ardeshir I
Shahanshah, King of Kings of Iran

Silver coin of Ardeshir I with a fire altar on its verso (British Museum London).
Reign 224–241 AD
Born 180 AD
Died 241 AD
Successor Shapur I
Dynasty Sassanid dynasty
Father Babak
Mother Princess Rodak

Ardashir I of Persia (died 242 AD) was the founder of the Sassanid Empire, was ruler of Istakhr (since 206?), subsequently Fars Province (since 208?), and finally "King of Kings of Sassanid Empire" (after 226) with the overthrow of the Parthian Empire. The dynasty founded by Ardashir would rule 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 years

  Relief of Ardashir I, Naghsh-e-Rostam, near Persepolis, Iran

Ardeshir was born in the late 2nd century in Istakhr, what is present-day Fars in Iran,[1][2] He was the son of Babak (Papak or Pabag) and Princess Rodak, descendant of the Shabankara tribe. According to a letter from Ardavan V, Ardashir was of Kurdish descent[3]. Ardashir is said to have ruled the town of Darabgerd and received the title of "argbadh". Upon Pāpağ's death, Ardashir's elder brother Šāpūr ascended to the throne. However, Ardashir rebelled against his brother and took the kingship for himself in 208. Ardashir's younger brother, was Raidashir, a powerful warrior.

Most scholars have assumed that Ardashir's father was Papak, a vassal king, and his grandfather was Sasan. However, there is another theory of his lineage, which is found in the Middle Persian book Book of Deeds of Ardeshir Son of Papak. This story is later confirmed by Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. This theory suggests that Sasan married the daughter of Papak after the latter discovers that Sasan is of royal Achaemenid descent. Hence Ardashir was born. From here onwards Sasan disappears from the story and Papak is considered the father. Ardashir helped Papak conquer some parts of Fars. It is possible that after Papak's death, his son Shapur, had a short reign which was probably ended by an accidental death. Around 211/12 Ardashir became ruler of Papak's kingdom, which was confined to central Fars. Soon he extended his realm into Kerman to the east and Elymais to the west, and demanding fealty from the local princes of Fars and gaining control over the neighboring provinces of Kerman, Isfahan, Susiana, and Mesene.[4]

This expansion came to the attention of the Arsacid Great King, Artabanus IV, who ordered his vassal, the ruler of Khuzestan, to confront Ardashir. It was Ardashir, however, who emerged victorious in that battle.[5] In 226, Artabanus IV himself invaded Fars to defeat the rebelling Ardashir. The latter won the first battle, but with heavy losses on both sides. In the second battle, the Parthians suffered a greater loss, and Ardashir was again deemed the victor. Their armies clashed once again in a final battle at Hormizdeghan, near the modern city of Bandar Abbas. At this encounter, the Parthian army was completely defeated, and Artabanus IV 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.[6]

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.

Crowned in 226 as the Šāhān šāh Ērān "king of kings [of] Iran"[7] (his consort Adhur-Anahid took the title "Queen of Queens"), Ardashir finally brought the over 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, conquering the provinces of Sistan, Gorgan, Khorasan, Margiana (in modern Turkmenistan), Balkh, and Chorasmia. Bahrain and Mosul were also added to Sassanid possessions. 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

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 Mesene and Charax 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.

  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 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 his co-ruler since 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. .


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. ^ Ardashir I of Persia: Encyclopedia II - Ardashir I of Persia - Early years]
  2. ^ The Sassanid Empire PersianEmpire.info History of the Persian Empire
  3. ^ Farrokh, Kaveh (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Oshprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84603-108-7. http://books.google.be/books?ei=CZl9T_jXE4Wo8QOKoripAw&hl=nl&id=p7kltwf9yrwC&dq=ardavan+letter+ardashir&ots=1CDtnEgwfv&q=ardavan+letter+ardashir#v=snippet&q=ardavan%20letter%20ardashir&f=false.  pp 178
  4. ^ Fischer, W.B.; Gershevitch, Ilya; Ehsan, Yarshster (1993). The Cambridge History of Iran. 3. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20092-X. http://books.google.com/?id=Ko_RafMSGLkC.  pp116-118
  5. ^ Azadmehr, Shahbaz (2003). History of Iran (تاریخ ایران). Tehran: Entesharate Barbod. pp. 91–92. ISBN 964-6381-79-0. 
  6. ^ Sykes, Percy (2004). History of Iran. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32679-6. http://books.google.com/?id=KFji0kSxqNMC.  pp 394
  7. ^ MacKenzie, David Niel (1998). "Ērān, Ērānšahr". Encyclopedia Iranica. 8. Costa Mesa: Mazda. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/eran-eransah. 


  • 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

  • R.N. Fye, "Babak" in Encyclopædia Iranica [1]
  • J. Wiesehöfer, "Ardasir" in Encyclopædia Iranica [2]

  External links

Ardashir I
Preceded by
(new founding)
"King of Kings of Iran"
226 – 240 (242)
Succeeded by
Shapur I


All translations of Ardashir_I

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