[1901a] Ardashir I, The Great (AD 224-241)
SASANIAN EMPIRE. Ardashir I, 224-241 AD. AR Drachm; Göbl 10; 4.27 gm; Toned VF. Obverse: Crowned draped bust; Reverse: Fire-altar. Ex Pegasi.
Ardashir I, The Great (AD 226-241)
Ardashir I (early Middle Persian Arđaxšēr "Who has the Divine Order as his Kingdom"), also known as Ardashīr-i Pāpagān "Ardashir, son of Pāpağ" Ardeshiri Babakan, and as Artaxerxes, was ruler of Persia (226–241) and the founder of the Sassanid dynasty (226–651). Other variants of his name appear as Artaxares, Artashastra, Ardaxshir, Ardasher, Artashir and Artakhshathra.
Ardashir I was born in the late 2nd century in Istakhr, (located today in Iran) a vassal kingdom of the Parthian Empire. His father Pāpağ (sometimes written as Pāpak or Babak) deposed the previous king, Gochihr, and took his throne. His mother may have been named Rodhagh. During his father's reign, Ardashir I ruled the town of Darabjird and received the title of "argbadh". Upon Pāpağ's death, Ardashir I's elder brother Šāpūr ascended to the throne. However, Ardashir I rebelled against his brother and took the kingship for himself in 208.
Ardashir I rapidly extended his territory, demanding fealty from the local princes of Fars and gaining control over the neighboring provinces of Kerman, Isfahan, Susiana, and Mesene. This expansion brought the attention of the Arsacid Great King Artabanus IV (216–224), Ardashir I's overlord and ruler of the Parthian Empire, who marched against him in 224. Their armies clashed at Hormizdeghan, and Artabanus IV was killed. Ardashir I went on to invade the western provinces of the now-defunct Parthian Empire. This led to a confrontation between Kurds and Aradshir I which is recorded in a historical text named "Book of the Deeds of Ardashir son of Babak". It is written in Pahlavi script. In this book, the author explains the battle between King of the Kurds, "Madig" and Ardashir I.
Crowned in 226 as the sole ruler of Persia, and taking the title Šāhānšāh "King of Kings" (his consort Adhur-Anahid took the title "Queen of Queens"), Ardashir I finally brought the 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 Great King. Ardashir I, perhaps seeing from his own successes the weaknesses of such decentralized authority, established a strong central government by which to rule Persia. 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 family were scattered across the empire. While the old feudal princes (vāspuhrs) 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 its holy text, the Avesta, had likely been compiled during the years of the Arsacid dynasty. The Sassanids could trace their heritage to the Temple of Anahita at Staxr, where Ardashir I's grandfather had been a dignitary. Under Ardashir I, the Zoroastrian (sometimes called Mazdean) religion was promoted and regulated by the state. The Sassanids built fire temples and, under royal direction, a new and official version of the Avesta was compiled by a cleric named Tansār. The government officially backed the Zurvanist doctrine of the religion, which emphasized the concept of time as the "original principle", over the competing doctrine of Vayism, which stressed the importance of space over time. Despite this state backing of a particular sect, it appears that other religious practices were tolerated so long as they did not interfere with the political authority of the Sassanids.
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 Parthian 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 relative of the former Arsacid rulers of Parthia sat on 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 I 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 I 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 I did not renew his attacks for several years, probably focusing his energies in the east.
On 237 Ardashir I, along with his son and successor Shapur I (241–272), again invaded Mesopotamia. This effort resulted in 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 241, Ardashir I and Shapur finally overcame the stubborn fortress of Hatra. Ardashir I died later in the year.
Ardashir I was an energetic king, responsible for the resurgence of Persia, 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.
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Edited by J. P. Fitzgerald, Jr.