Long before Ayatollah Khomeini introducing Islamic Republic in 1979 or Shah Ismail (ruled 1501-1524) founding the Shi’ite Safavid Dynasty in 1501, there was Ardeshir Babakan, the head of Sassanid Dynasty, who established Zoroastrianism as the state religion and gave much power to the religious caste in 224 in Iran. He is also called as Ardashir (another form of Artaxerxes), Ardeshir I or Ardeshir Papakan, for his father Papak. Papak or Babak was the son or descendant of Sassan and was a vassal or a subordinate of the chief petty king in Persis, the province of Fars in the southern Iran today. Among many cities, which were built in Iran in Sassanid era, the construction of Shahr-e-Babak of Kerman (a province in southeast of Iran) is attributed to Babak, and those of Zanjan (the center of Zanjan province in the northwest of Iran) and Firuz Abad of Fars are attributed to Ardeshir I. Ardeshir Babakan Palace or Sassanians Big Fire-temple is located in the north of Firuz Abad, and it is one of the magnificent monuments of Sassanid era. This monument is composed of several roofed platforms and a number of rooms and numerous halls.
The Sassanid era began in earnest in 228, when Ardashir I defeated the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV, and destroyed the Parthian Empire which had held sway over the region for centuries. He and his successors created a vast empire which included those lands of the old Achaemenid Empire east of the Euphrates River.
Crowned in 226 as the Iran's King of Kings (in Persian: Shahanshah-e Iran), Ardashir I brought the over 400 year-old Parthian Empire to an end and began four centuries of Sassanid rule. (His consort Adhur-Anahid also took the title of Queen of Queens). Years later, Ardashir I expanded his new empire to the east and northwest, conquering the provinces of Sistan, Gorgan, Khorasan, Margiana (in modern Turkmenistan), and Balkh. Bahrain and Mosul were also added to Sassanid possessions. Furthermore, the Kings of Kushan, Turan, and Mekran recognized Ardashir I as their overlord, a person in a position of power.
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. Though Zoroastrianism was practicing during previous dynasties, Ardeshir I made it as an official religion, and all other faiths were persecuted. He also developed a temple or a place for worship for the first time in Iran.
Under Ardashir I, Zoroastrianism was promoted and regulated by the state, one based on the ideological principle of divinely granted and indisputable authority. Also under royal direction, an apparently "orthodox" version of the Avesta (the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language) was compiled by a clergy named Tansar. (Some documents also reveal that chief religious leader or Mobad-e-Mobadan of Ardashir was called as a Heerbad or Teaching Clergy). Tansar, however, must be the real founder of Zoroastrian orthodoxy under Ardeshir I (reigned from 224 to 241), and the early Sassanian kings. Tansar created a Zoroastrian orthodoxy which controlled the administration of religious properties independently of the central government. He also was the kings’ top advisor.
Fundamentalism and religious dogmatism together with the increasing role of Zoroastrian clergies during Ardeshir and other Sassanian kings restricted freedom of thought and expression and social views to a large extent. In addition to that the government's commitment to support the official religion intensified the said restrictions. This fact caused the government to adopt a harsh stand with respect to new religious movements such as the Manicheans (in Persian: Payrovaan-e Maani), Mazdakis (in Persian: Payrovaan-e Mazdak), etc. Above all, the uprising of Mazdak and his supporters following the shameful defeat and captivity o Sassanian king Peroz I (457-484) by the white Huns, and commitment of other Sassanian kings Balash (484-488) and Ghobad or Kavadh (488-531) to pay taxes to them, as well the continued draught and famine, not only induced the Sassanian Ghobad to accept the new religion, but the philosophy of Mazdakism and collective system shook the class frontiers, without, however putting a new order instead. As a result of social confusions and disorganization, Mazdak lost control of the situation as well. Sassanian king Anushiravan (531-579), through suppression of Mazdakis, apparently ended the confusions, and revived the power and consolidated the position of the Zoroastrian clergies
The religious fanaticism not only caused downfall of Sassanids but also that of Safavids. Iran gradually weakened during both Zoroastrian Sassanid and Shi’ite Safavid dynasties and the conditions became favorable for foreign adversaries to overthrow the dynasties in power at the time. Arabs defeated the Yazdegerd III (632-651), last king of Sassanians, and an Afghan rebel army toppled Shah Sultan Hossein (1694-1722), the last effective ruler of Safavid dynasty.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Christensen, A. (1965): "Sassanid Persia"/The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Imperial Crisis and Recovery, ed., Cambridge University Press.
Persianempire Info Website (2005): Online Article on Sassanid Empire.
Rawlinson, G. (2005): The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, ed., USA.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1933): The Short History of Iran (in Persian: Taarikh-e Mokhtasar-e Iran), A Translation of a Book authored by Sir Percy Sykes, Erfan Publications, Isfahan, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2010): Various Articles on the History of Iran and First Iranians.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2010): Online Articles on Ardeshir I, Sassanids, and Safavids.
Zarinkoob, A. (1999): History of Iran (in Persian: Roozgaraan Tarikh-e Iran), ed., Sokhan Publications, Tehran, Iran.
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