Ruins at Ctesiphon 1962
CC Flickr User Verity Cridland
The kings of the Sassanid Dynasty, from A.D. 224-651, ruled an empire similar in extent to the Persian Empire of the much earlier Achaemenid Dynasty (c. 550-330 B.C.). The Sassanids (or Sasanids) followed, chronologically, directly upon the Arsacid or Parthian Dynasty (247 B.C.- A.D. 224), a group of Iranians in the area that had revolted against the Hellenistic Seleucids (312- 64 B.C.).
Alexander the Great's Connection With the Sassanids
The Seleucids followed Alexander the Great, who defeated Darius II, last of the Achaemenids.
Iranian history presents Alexander in conflicting lights, depending on the tradition: (1) as the man who destroyed Iranian political and religious institutions, or (2) as the half-brother of Darius II. In this latter version, Alexander kills this brother in battle. This tradition was originally imported from the Greek of pseudo-Callisthenes, but then translated and reworked into a Persian romance in which Alexander is a Persian hero, and a legitimate, wise ruler.
Parthians and Hellenism
The Parthians revolted against the Seleucids, but didn't entirely reject the Greek customs. The Sassanids revolted against them. Shaking off the influence of the Greeks, the Sassanids are credited with having unified Iran, reviving earlier Persian customs, including rigid social stratification (with four classes: (1)priests, (2)warriors/aristocracy, (3)officials, and (4)artisans/peasants), the title of king of kings, and Zoroastrian beliefs. The official script was Pahlavi.
The territory of the Sassanids extended from Mesopotamia to Iran, with the Zagros mountains between the areas. The heartland was Fars, in the southwestern end of the Iranian plateau.
The Sassanid capital was located on the Royal Road at Ctesiphon (Tyspwn) (now Tak-i-Kesra), about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. Ctesiphon was located on the east bank of the Tiber River. The Romans captured the city under Emperor Galerius in 295. He built a victory arch to commemorate the event, but the victory wasn't permanent. The Sassanids recovered Ctesiphon, which became an important center for Nestorian Christians; then, later, it fell to Saad ibn Abī Waqqās in 637.
Other cities important to the Sasanids were Veh Ardashir (formerly, Seleucia), lying across the Tiber from Ctesiphon, Perozshapur, on the Euphrates, and Veh Antiok Khusrau, where former inhabitants of the Roman Syrian city of Antioch were deported in A.D. 540, following the victory over the Romans of the Sassanid king Khusrau I. This city was located on the Orontes.
The Sassanids and the West
The Sassanids fought repeatedly with the Greco-Romans under the later Roman Empire (most memorably when Shahpur I (241-72) captured the Roman Emperor Valerian at Edessa and made him prisoner in A.D. 260) and Byzantine Empire. The main bones of contention were Armenia and northern Mesopotamia. Such fighting weakened both the Greco-Romans and the Persians. Eventually Arabs -- bringing a change of religion to Islam -- successfully invaded and conquered the Sassanid Persians ruled by their final monarch Yazdgird III (631-651).
Alternate Spellings: Sasanid, Sassanian/Sasanian
- Yarshater, Ehsan. "Iranian National History." The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods. Ed. Ehsan Yarshater. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Cambridge Histories Online.
- Rubin, Ze'ev. "The Sasanid monarchy." Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A.D. 425–600. Eds. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins and Michael Whitby. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Cambridge Histories Online.
- Sassanian Army and Ctesiphon, From Jona Lendering (Iran Chamber Society)