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224-651 - Sassanid Empire

Ardashir I224 241
Shapur I241 272
Hormoz I272 273
Bahram I273 276
Bahram II276 293
Bahram III293 293
Narseh293 302
Hormoz II302 309
Shapur II309 379
Ardashir II379 383
Shapur III383 388
Bahram IV388 399
Yazdgerd I399 420
Bahram V420 438
Yazdgerd II438 457
Hormoz III457 459
Peroz459 484
Balash484 488
Kaveh I (first reign)488 496
Zamasp496 498
Kaveh I (second reign)498 531
Khosro I, Anoushirvan531 579
Hormoz IV579 590
Bahram VI, Chobin590 590
Khosro II, Parviz590 628
Kaveh II628 628
Ardashir III628 629
Shahrvaraz629 629
Porandokht629 630
Hormoz V630 632
Yazdgerd III632 651
In the year AD 225, when a revolution in Mesopotamia substituted the Sassanids of Persia for the Arsacids of Parthia as the rulers of what Roman writers called "the East" (meaning thereby all the countries of which they had practical knowledge to the east of their own border), dwellers in the country concerned regarded it as simply the rise of one more in the series of empires that rose and passed away in those lands. All the difference that it made to them, at the moment, was that the local governor was called " Marzban " or Marquis, instead of " King." From long usage, they were accustomed to be regarded by their rulers much in the same light as they themselves regarded their bees; and they took so little interest in the matter that the wise men of the countryside could see in the same event a warning of the downfall of a kingdom, and of the production of a good crop of honey.

As a matter of fact, the revolution of 225 was not merely the exchange of one loose federation of kings, for another a little better organized; it was the revival of a nation that had a great history behind it, and the aspiration to make that history live again. The Persian Empire had indeed fallen before Alexander in 300 B.C., and had remained in more or less uneasy subjection to his Seleucid successors, or to the semi-Hellenized Arsacids, who took their place. Still, the national life of Persia had not passed away; and after 500 years the opportunity came, and it rose again. Its ambition, however, was not to form a new empire, but to revive an old one; and it claimed to be the lawful heir, not of the Arsacid kingdom of modern Mesopotamia and Persia, but of the Achaemenid Empire of Xerxes and Darius, stretching from the HinduKush to the Mediterranean. It was the dream of the Sassanids to revive this empire; and the dream was so far a national aspiration also, that a warlike king could always rouse the enthusiasm of the nation by a challenge to the Roman Emperor to "withdraw from the inheritance of the ancestors of the King of kings."

The greatest of the Sassanid house, Chosroes II, actually realized that dream for a moment, when in his great war against Phocas and Heraclius he pushed back the limits of the Roman Empire till it hardly extended beyond the walls of Constantinople; and the ruins of the palace at Mashita,1 in the land of Moab, are a testimony that this king did not intend his occupation of Roman territory to be, as was the case on some other occasions, a mere raid. During the years that the watchers at Constantinople saw the lights of the Persian camp at Chalcedon, practically the whole of the elder Persian Empire was actually subject to the ruler of the newer one.

It is obvious that, when such aspirations were entertained, the relations between the Empire of Rome and that of the East must have been normally hostile; and that only truces of more or less uncertainty could break a perennial state of war. Lest, however, the imperial aspirations of one of the two powers should be insufficient to provide a proper amount of fighting, fate had also seen to it that there should be two perpetually open questions, either of which could afford at any time a decent casus belli. These were, the control of Armenia, and the question of the frontier provinces. Armenia-that unhappy territory whose office in history it has been to be "a strife unto her neighbours " during such periods as she could claim some shadow of independence, and a problem to her rulers during the periods when she was avowedly subject to somebody-formed a "buffer state " between the Romans and Persians for most of their joint frontiers. The question, who was to control this kingdom, was one that constantly gave rise to friction; and the Armenians, as a general rule, seem to have employed themselves in intriguing against the suzerain of the moment with the emissaries of the rival power.

Ardashir made himself king (probably A.D. 212), put his other brothers to death and began war against the neighbouring dynasts of Persia. When he had conquered a great part of Penis and Carmania, the Parthian king Artabanus IV. interfered. But he was defeated in three battles and at last killed (a.d. 226). Ardashir now considered himself sovereign of the whole empire of the Parthians and called himself " King of Kings of the Iranians." But his aspirations went farther. In Pers´s the traditions of the Achacmcnian empire had always been alive, as the name of Ardashir himself shows, and with them the national religion of Zoroaster. Ardashir, who was a zealous worshipper of Ahuramazda and in intimate connexion with the magian priests, established the orthodox Zoroastrian creed as the official religion of his new kingdom, persecuted the infidels, and tried to restore the old Persian empire.

It was not only as an empire that Persia thus rose from the dead in the third century; it rose also as a religion, of a definite and militant type. The Persia of Achaemenid days had accepted Zoroaster's reforms of the ancient fire-worship as a national faith; and that religion had been preserved by the nation as its heritage, and treasured as only a subject nation can treasure its national faith (if, indeed, it had not been, as is possible, the force that had kept the nation alive) during the 500 years of dependence. Now, when Persia rose to power once more, their religion rose with them; and the Sassanian Empire had a definitely established Magian Church, loyal membership of which was the test and condition of loyalty to the empire.

This religion, had its system of theology and its sacred books. It had its priestly caste, the Magians; who were at once one Of the seven great clans of the nation, and an organized hierarchy under their "Mobeds" or prelates, with the "Mobed Mobedan" at the head of all. The fire-temple stood in every village; the shrine in every orthodox house. Education was in the hands of the priests, and considerable temporal power and large endowments. The Shah-in-Shah himself dared not offend them, lest mischief should befall him. The Sassanian kingdom, then, was no mushroom growth, with much magnificence but no strength. It was an empire, organized in an efficient way; whose provincial governors (though, when of royal blood, they might bear the honorary title of King) were kept well under the control of the Shah-in-Shah.

The empire was inhabited by a tolerably homogeneous nation, as far as its central provinces went; though a fringe of sub-kings (Armenian, Arab, Turk) ruled districts round its borders. It had a national religion, with an organized hierarchy, and it could fight at least on even terms with the whole power of Rome. One Roman Emperor, Valerian, died a captive at the Persian Court. Another, Julian, fell in battle against it; and his successor could only purchase his release by an ignominious peace. It endured for 400 years, and when it fell, its organization and machinery were simply taken over by its successor, the Khalifate of Baghdad.

The power that toppled the Sassanids came from an unexpected source. The Iranians knew that the Arabs, a tribally oriented people, had never been organized under the rule of a single power and were at a primitive level of military development. The Iranians also knew of the Arabs through their mutual trading activities and because, for a brief period, Yemen, in southern Arabia, was an Iranian satrapy.

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