2. The Empire of the Sasanians in Persia

The founder of the Sasanian dynasty was Ardashir I (224–240 CE) from the lineage of Sasan, who had defeated his overlord, the Parthian king, in an open field battle in 224 CE and had himself crowned "King of Kings of Iran" in Seleucia-Ctesiphon (present-day Iraq) (No. 1). The Sasanians ruled in Iran for more than four hundred years and left their imprint on the land. Many elements and characteristics of Sasanian culture were subsequently taken over by the Muslim conquerors and made their way via Byzantium into the European Middle Ages.

In foreign policy, the Sasanians were faced with the problem of having to secure their borders on the one side against their archenemy Rome (later Byzantium) and on the other side against charging nomads from Central Asia. In late Antiquity, this strategic dilemma was also shared by Rome-Byzantium. Both superpowers strove to avoid war on multiple fronts and at the same time to engage their adversary in this very way. The Sasanians had to deal predominantly with the powers of the Romans later Byzantines, the Huns and the Western Turks, both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic theater. Behind the political game of constantly changing alliances there were tangible economic interests in controlling the flow of trade to and from China and India, whether by sea or by land.

Bactria in present-day North Afghanistan was of particular strategic importance for Sasanian interests in Central Asia. However, it is unclear when the Sasanians actually managed to take the region from the Kushan kings who had ruled there and establish themselves in Bactria. The coinage of the Sasanian governors of royal rank ruling in Bactria began at the earliest under Wahram I (273–276 CE) (No. 3).

During the reign of Shapur II (309–379 CE), who was supposedly crowned "King of Kings" while still in the womb, the northeast border of the empire came under serious threat for the first time (No. 6). Shapur personally was in the border region from 354 CE to "deter wild peoples" but with heavy losses. The Chionites, probably a Hunnic group, are named among the enemies of the Sasanians. Shapur was able gain them as allies temporarily, and they fought side-by-side in 359 CE at the siege of the Roman border post Amida (present-day Diyarbakir in Southeast Turkey).


A. The Sasanian empire. The largest extent of the empire is marked in the inscription of Shapur I (240–272 CE) which was set after 260 CE in three languages on the "Tower of Zoroaster" at Naqsh-i Rustam (not far from Persepolis, Fars, SW Iran). Shapur's description is, however, greatly exaggerated and do not always reflect reality.

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