Around 300 BC
Arashk I, a chieftain of Parths(Par-tha-v) in North Eastern Iran, rebelled against the Selucid King, Antiachus II. He and his brother freed the eastern parts of the country from the Greek rule. After Arashk's death, his brother, Tirdad I, continued his fight for freedom, but Iran's complete freedom from Macedonians didn't come until the rule of Mehrdad I the Great, Tirdad's great-grandson. This dynasty is called Ashkanids" (Ashkaanee), the rulers of this dynasty would give themselves the title of "Ashk", like "Orod I, Ashk XIII".
Ashkanids are among the bravest and most couragious of Iranian dynasties. Although not very wise in ruling the country, nevertheless, they stopped the Romans from invading their territory and even invaded parts of Roman holdings. Crasus, one of the three Roman consuls, two others being Pompey and Caesar, was defeated and killed by Ashkanid commander, Surena.
Many of the documents about this period of Iran's history is lost or have been destroyed by the King Ardashir I Sasani, the first king of Sasani dynasty. All we know about Ashkanids is that they fought with Romans, they finally freed all of the Iran from Selucid rule, and that they liked the Greek culture. We also know that the system of government during this time was a lot like French government in 12th-15th century AD. Meaning that the king would give the parts of the land to a "Noble" owner, and the owner should pay a yearly rent to the king and he was expected to help the king during the war, what is generally called “Feudalism”. Ashkanid also had a royal reperesntative body called the Mehestan that appointed officials and organized the judical system.
Ardeshir, son of Papak(Babak), who was the ruler of Persia province in southern Iran, revolted against Ardavan V, Ashkanid king. During the long period of Ashkanid rule, because of the mismanagement in the government's work, long wars with Rome , and several civil wars, the country was in a very bad situation. Very soon, Ardeshir gained enormous amounts of popularity and power from the unhappy people. On 225 AD, Ardeshir went to a great war against Ardavan V, and killed Ardavan in the war. Ardeshir restored the central power in Iran and completely changed the feudalistic system of Ashkanid. He set Zoroasterianism as the official religion of Iran. His move paved the way for future rulers to use a religion as the base of their actions.
Most of the Ardeshir's reign was spent in war with opponent powers, so he really did not rule the country very carefully, but he established a very strong monarchy based on the Achaemanid system of "powerful families". These families where seven famous tribes that actually helped Ardeshir to capture or organize the thrown.
After Ardeshir, his son Shahpour (Shah-poohr) became Shahanshaah, he was the first of Sasanids to actually call himself with this title which means "King of the kings" and is a derivative of Achaemenid title with the same meaning.Shahpour I was a very powerful ruler. He organized his country and divided it to twelve different "Shatra", or provinces with a "Espaah-badh" as the ruler of each province. Each province was also divided to smaller divisions. All of these provinces and their rulers where directly responsible to the king. He also restored the old Ashkanid council, Mehestan, and set it as the royal council responsible with the political and judical matters. During his reign, Maani, a man from the South-West claimed to be a prophet. His religion was a mixture of Zoroastrianism mixed with Christianity and some fresh ideas. Maani was executed, but his followers kept his religion alive in China and in Rome, where it came to be known as Monistic Herecy. St-Augustine was a Monistist at first!
During Shahpour's reign the war with the Rome continued to be the major focus of the king. In the greatest war that happened during the Shahpour's reign, he captured and imprisoned Emperor Valerianus of Rome! Shahpour imprisoned the defeated emperor, but treated him as a respectible person. Sasanids influenced the Roman politics for alomost 50 years.
After Shahpour's death, his son, Hormozd I became King, and after him, his brother, Vahram(Bahram)I, and Vahram's son, Vahram II. Reign of these kings was spent in re-building the country and occasional fights with Romans. Vahram III, son of Vahram II, was a child when he succeeded his father who was killed in a war with Romans. Vahram I's brother, Narsi, became the child's guardian and regent. During this time, the country was in a very crucial situation, so Narsi declared himself king and lead a war against Roman Empire. He won the war, and then became the hero, so he did not return the throne to Vahram III. Narsi was one of Iran's best kings, being wise and just. Although he is not ranked high with Darius or Shahpour, his impact on the stability of the country is undeniable.
After Narsi's death, Hormozd II became king. Like his father, Hormozd was very wise, and he also was a very religious person . He established many Zoroastrian "fire-houses"(Aatashkadeh) and supported Zoroastrian supremacy. After Hormozd, his brother Aazar-e-Narsi occupied the throne. Aazar was a very cruel ruler, he killed most of his opponents and even tried to kill his brother. He dissolved the Mehestan and rued as a tyrant, spending unbelievable amounts of money for no reason but his own personla pleasure.
In a sense, Aazar-e-Narsi was Calligula of Iran, and exactly like Calligula, his own guard killed him after just three months of reign, is that because they were wiser than their Roman counterparts?!!. The soldiers chose Hormozd II son as the king, but there was a problem, this son was not born yet! Thus, the soldiers put the crown on his mother's belly, and called him "King Shahpour II". Shahpour's mother and her husband, Vahram, became Shahpour's guardians. Vahram was also Shahpour's uncle, and the governor of famous and wealthy province of Khorasan in eastern Iran. When Shahpour reached 18, his mother gave him the crown, and Shahpour became the king of Iran. He is best known for his wars with Romans, Arabs, and his re-occupation of Arabic Peninsula. He is known as "Shahpour the Great". And also Shahpour with big shoulders! He was a great patron of arts and architecture. He built a lot of cities, some of them like Shush (Iran-Ardashir-Khvrah) and Espahan(Isfahan) are still among the most populated and largest cities in Iran.
Shahpour died in 388 AD after 72 years of reign, the longest in the history of the country. His successors where his half-brother Ardashir II, and his son Shahpour III. These kings, along with Shahpour’s other son Vahram IV, where very weak and in-efficient. Vahram IV’s son Yazdgerd was a very good and wise king. His son Vahram V(Goor) whose title was "wild-ass"(because of his love for hunting wild-asses) is one of the best known Sasanid kings. He was the subject of many post-Islamic Iranian romances. After this, came a period of not very important kings(look at the table). Some of the most important things happened during this era are: The war of Vahram V with southern Arabs, finishing of Gondi-Shahpour University, and war of Peerooz I with the white Huns(Khions).
Kavadh(Ghobaad)I son of Peerooz became king after some nobles killed his brother Valash I. Kavadh continued his father's wars with Huns. He defeated them once, but then in another war, Huns captured him. One of Kavadh's guards called Siavash rescued the king, and then Kavadh lead a mighty army against the Huns. They signed a peace treaty after the king of Huns got killed in the war, and Iran did not see the war with Huns until 70 years later.
During Kavadh's reign, Mazdak started preaching his new ideas. Mazdak was leading a new reform that was based upon the basic ideas of communism. Kavadh himself supported Mazdak, and tried to help him establish his reforms, but Zoroastrian priests told the king that Mazdak's ideas are against the religion and if he continues to support him, the priests would force him to abdicate. So Kavadh gave up and gave the permission to the priests to execute Mazdak. Mazdak's ideas stayed alive and actually became the basis of western communist revolutions much later.
Kavadh's son, Khosro I, is probably one of the best known Iranian kings of all times. Entitled Anooshe-ravan(Eternal Soul) and Dadgar(Just), he was the most beloved king of Sasanid dynasty. Khosro I established the educational system, limited the power of priests, established the first Justice Department, and set the standards of living. His era was the last "Golden Age" of Iran before Islam. Most of the stories used during the post Islamic ages was coming from this king. His minister, Bozorgmehr, is the symbol of wisdom in Iran. He was the person who set the standards of government rule, made the cities safe, and designed many cities and buildings. He is also known as the person who made Backgammon, a very popular Iranian game. Even today when adults want to make a point to their children, they tell them about what Bozorgmehr said about that matter.
Khosro I died in 579 AD. His death was the end of Iran's golden age and power. His son Hormozd III was a very wise but weak king, he could not control his father's large and vast territories, so the local rulers tried to gain their independence. Hormozd's son, Khosro II Aparvizh (Victorious, Fast-arrow), was the last powerful king of Iran before Islam. He re-gained his grandfather's territories, and made the country united again, but one of his own commanders called Vahram Choovineh(wooden Vahram), began a rebellion against Khosro. Khosro escaped and asked for help from his old enemy, Emperor Marius of Byzantine. Marius gave him a large army, and his daughter Meriam! Khosro defeated and killed Vahram and re-captured his throne. After that, he began fighting with Huns and new comers: Allans. Khosro was a powerful but irresponsible and selfish king. He was also the subject of many romantic stories about his love with Shirin, the daughter of Queen of Armenia.
Khosro was killed by his son Sheerooyeh(628 AD). His death marked the beginning of an era of anarchy. Sheerooye became king as Kavadh II, then got killed. After him about five of Khosro’s relatives became kings and queens: Aradashir III(Sheerooye's son), Pooran(Khosro's Daughter), Aazar-mey-dokht(Khosro's other daughter) and Hormozd V(one of Khosro's nephews). At last, in 633, Khosro's grandson Yazdgerd III gained the power. All of his reign was spent in civil wars with his relatives.
In 636, in Ghadasia, located on the southern parts of Mesopotamia, Rostam-e-Farrokhzaad, chief commander of Iranian armies faced the new power coming from the south: Muslim Arabs. Headed by their greatest army genius, Sa'ad ebn Vaghas, and powered by their new faith, Arabs defeated the Iranian Army. Rostam was killed, and Arabs were walking toward Tispoon, the capital of Iran on the banks of Tigris. Yazdgerd flew Tispoon and went to eastern Iran. Arab invaders captured the glorious capital of Sasanids, and plundered the city’s treasures. Yazdgerd was killed by the hands of a miller in Marv. Arabs conquered the rest of the frightened country, and established their rule over the vast empire of Khosro and Shahpour.
End of Sasanid Era and beginning of the Islamic rule
There is about 1200 hundred years that people talk about this amazing incident. The defeat of Sasanid Empire from bare-foot Arabs was unbelievable. The same country that hold back in front of the well organized Roman legionaries for over 700 years, could not stop the Arabs. Many historians tried to explain this, and many Iranians tried to ignore it, but the fact is, this was the result of several elements in Iran’s society and government. Iran during that era was a big country, and it was like an empty giant. Years of government corruption after Khosro I's death, anarchy, and strangulation of Zoroasterianism were the main reasons. With the exemption of Khosro I's reign, the will of the common people had no role in the government, common people did not have the permission to go to schools, and they had to pay heavy taxes for endless wars with Romans. So when Rostam's army, that was corrupt and tired, faced the new and faithful Arab soldiers, they could not fight. And when Arabs entered the mainland to continue their conquest, common people saw no reason to fight for the good of their kings. Especially because the message of new conquerors was "social justice". Unlike other conquerors, they did not kill all of the inhabitants of the cities, they did not plunder, and they did not enslave them. The new religion was preaching the message of peace, and this could really attract the exhausted people. Arabs encouraged the people to accept Islam, but they did not force them.
The last of Sasanid princes escaped to the northern mountains where they established the local principalities that lasted until 16th century AD. The rest of Iran went under the caliphate rule, and Iran did not see a "Persian" ruler until 200 years later.Back to Iran's History