Pre Islamic civilization




  Individual actors

Intercultural aspects / Concepts and Symbols of Philanthropy  

  Identity and constraints


The Sassanid Empire was founded in 224 A.D. by Ardašīr I (224-240 A.D.), after he defeated the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV. The official name of the new Iranian Empire was Ērānšahr, “The Empire of Iran”, and continued to be called so until the fall of the dynasty in 651 A.D. due to the Arab invasion and the consequent Islamization of the territory.
The king of Iran is represented in Persian art and literature as an “initiator”, a ruler who introduced a new era in history, both as a founder of the dynasty and as a regenerator of the people and the country after a long period of political and social disorder. His action is twofold: on the one hand,
he is a victor who ended a wicked reign, as the king on earth defeats the enemy and as the god of good Ohrmazd destroys the god of evil Ahreman, according to the Zoroastrian religion and philosophy; on the other hand, the king is an organizer of new times, the creator of social and administrative institutions, the founder of the city, the constructor of canals for water and of bridges and barns. He creates, in essence, a civilization and universal prosperity. This model also has a third function, no less important than the others: he is the spiritual leader of his people and the guaranteer of the mazdaica faith, the dēn ī māzdēsn. The ideology of sacred Sasanian kingship proclaimed the necessity of the alliance between throne and alter, and in fact the king could proclaim to be ēr, “Iran”, and also māzdēsn, “worshiper of Mazdā mazdeo.” This ethnic, cultural, and religious alliance is expressed in an exemplary way in Sasanian coinage. The obverse of the coin bears the image of the “King of Kings”, each with his own personal crown, while the other side commonly represents the Zoroastrian fire altar, icon of the official religion of the empire, flanked by Šābuhr I (240-272 d.C.) and two attendants, one of which is sometimes the king himself.( Ardašīr I's dracma with the Altar of Sacred Fire , Golden medal of Šābuhr II with the King near the Zorohastrian altar ). The principle message transmitted through the iconography is the close alliance between the royal power and the Church of the Magi, who come to create a solid political, religious, and ethnic unity. Particularly significant is the case of the high priest Kirdēr, who made his career under various rulers during the III century, and beheld his religious zeal in various rock inscriptions located in Fārs ( Picture of the relief of Kirdēr a Naqš-i Rajab, Fārs ). The Sassanid Empire, proclaiming itself the guardian of the true religion of Zarathustra, rivaled the Christian Roman Empire at the ideological level. The king who held the “gift of good”, according to the Zoroastrian eschatological vision, is rewarded in the afterlife in the realm of pure and shining sun, among the colorful souls of those who have had good thoughts, kind words, and just actions in the dimension of gētīg. While on the other hand, the bad ruler who was merciless and unjust towards men, shall be tormented in hell by fifty demons. Xusraw’s immortal soul (531-579 d.C.) embodied all these gifts and talents in the culture handed down by Islam of the ideal representation of the philosopher-king who was fair and considerate to his people ( Miniature of the Book of Kings showing Xursaw administering with justice the Emperor ). Justice of the prince is the prosperity of the country, and infact Xusraw even set up a court in defense of the poor and destitute. Each prominent figure in the Sassanid court would end with the assumption of the role of the wise. It was custom, moreover, that the king on the day of his coronation, on the occasion of nowrūz (the feast of the new year during the spring equinix), held a moralizing keynote speech on the throne. Thus, the great Persian poet Ferdowsī, who lived in the XI century and who is the author of Sahname, “The Book of Kings”, that recounts Iran’s epic National trandition, gives speaches from the throne of the Iranian kings, beginning with Gayōmard, who is the first man according to Iranian mythology. The speeches of the kings in Ferdowsī revolved around some basic fundamental ideas: first of all, the praise to Ahura Mazdā ( The Solar disk of Ahura Mazdā ), who descends from royalty, then the promise to be fair in the exercise of government, the encouragement to the good and poor people, and the threat to the enemy. Justice, philanthropy, and freedom of the monarch were publicly demonstrated on the occasion of nowrūz, when a “court of justice” was set up: it therefore gave free access of the court to even the most humble of subjects who wanted to complain of wrongs. The auctioneer asked for anyone with complaints to come forth from the crowd, and the king and the plaintiff, on their knees, gave the verdit of the great mowbed. If the king was found guilty or missing in something, he was required to repair the wrong, but in the contrary case, the plaintiff was to be severely punished and imprisoned. In such cases, gifts of money and food were offered to the people.