SSS4. Ardeshir Bābekān {Part 3, concluded}

Ardeshir coronated emperor

A bas-relief of Ardeshir (l) cornated by being given the ring of authority by Dastur Tansar/Tosar (r) at Nakhsh-i-Rustam, Shiraz, Iran.

Ardeshir was coronated an emperor in Baghdad in 226 CE. He assumed the title of Shāhān Shah ī Iran “King of kings of Iran.” Later Ardeshir explained, that this high sounding title was not for vanity but to remind him of his duties and responsibilities. The emperor promised to rule justly and protect his subjects. He sent his army all around to ensure allegiance from nearby rulers.

Tabak gave a respectful farewell to Ardavan and consigned his body to the Dakhma. He advised Ardeshir to occupy Ardavan’s palace and take the hand of his young and beautiful daughter in marriage. Ardeshir did accordingly.  For two months he stayed in this palace and then proceeded towards Pars. The majority of the Medes and Assyrians joined Ardeshir.

Ardeshir and the Kurds

Kurdistan, a neighbouring province, was ruled by Mādig. Ardeshir came to know that he and some other small rulers in the surrounding areas were harassing Iranian people. When warned about this, Mādig rose against Ardeshir.  In the battle that ensued, Ardeshir found it harder than expected to overpower him. The battle went on for a day and night in which the Kurds had an upper hand. There were many casualties, especially in the Ardeshir’s army.

At night, the tired king retreated. He saw a fire burning at a distance. He went there to find a few shepherds, where he had some food and rest. In the morning, Ardeshir asked the head of the shepherds whether he could get some place to rest. The shepherd sent an elderly guide who took him to a nearby village.  The headman of the village was very kind and went all out to help his king. A few men were sent to the capital to mobilize more troops. Some spies were sent inside the Kurdish territory.

The spies reported that the Kurds were over-confident and had already started celebrating their victory. Ardeshir was happy, as he now had an opportunity to take them off-guard. He took a troop of three thousand eminent warriors and took the Kurds by surprise. He perpetrated Shab-e-khun “attack at night”, killing a few soldiers and taking many as prisoners. After gaining this victory, he gifted wealth to his soldiers, and returned back to Istakhra.

Thereafter in 227 CE, Ardeshir achieved successes at Makran, Seistan and Gorgan, and formally incorporated them into his new empire. The regions of Balk, Margiana and Chorasmia were also annexed by Ardeshir

Ardeshir established the cities of Khorreh–Ardeshir and Shahr-e-Zur. He built beautiful gardens, parks and meadows in all villages and cities. He also had canals dug to facilitate agriculture. He re-started the celebration of festivals like Jashan-e-Sadeh and Jashan-e-Mehrangān.

Rome and Armenia

After becoming the emperor, Ardeshir sent a delegation to the Roman emperor Alexander Severus (222 – 235 CE) asking him to return the provinces near the Aegean sea which once belonged to Iran during the Achaemenian times. Instead of responding positively, the Roman emperor insulted the envoys and imprisoned them, which resulted in a war.

The Roman emperor himself came with an army to Iran.  After a long drawn battle, the hostilities ended and the Romans retreated and were pushed out of Mosul city. However, Ardeshir did not emerge conclusively victorious.

After some time, that Ardeshir attacked again and successfully annexed the provinces of Mesopotamia, Carrhae, Nisibis and Hatra.

The Armenian king Khushru, who was supported by the Roman emperor, harassed the Iranians in his kingdom. However, after the defeat of the Romans at the hands of Ardeshir, he too calmed down and accepted the sovereignty of the Iranian emperor, but maintained his independence.

In the east, the Kushans too accepted Ardeshir’s superiority. Thus the king’s authority reached as far as the Indus river. Ardeshir claimed the rightful inheritance of many ancient territories which once belonged to his forefathers, the illustrious Achaemenid empire.

Birth of Shahpur

Ardeshir’s queen was the daughter of king Ardavan. Two of her brothers, including the eldest brother Bahman had fled to India and two were taken prisoners. Once Bahman sent a messenger to his sister. Along with the message he also sent some poison, asking his sister to kill her husband for their sake. In the message he instigated his sister saying her husband was responsible for the death of their father, the end of their kingdom, and the pitiable conditions of his brothers.

The sister was moved by the letter and decided to act accordingly. Once when Ardeshir returned from a hunt, she mixed the poison in his drink and gave it to him. Ardeshir, who was protected by the divine powers, was miraculously saved as the glass slipped from his hand and the drink spilt down. Hens which pecked at the drink died immediately. The king immediately realized that the queen had attempted to poison him. The queen started trembling.

Attempt to poison king Ardeshir

The king summoned Gerānmāyeh, who was his chief priest and senior minister, told him about the plot to poison him without revealing the identity of the perpetrator, and asked for his advice. After hearing the king out, Gerānmāyeh declared him that such a traitor should be immediately beheaded. The king immediately ordered the queen to be killed.  

The queen was terrified by this pronouncement. She met Gerānmāyeh and revealed to him that she was to be the mother of the king’s child. She requested her life to be spared till an heir to the throne was born. The priest approached the king requesting him to re-consider the punishment. However the angry king was firm and asked the priest to get her killed immediately.

Gerānmāyeh, realising that the king was not in a position to take a proper decision, took the matter in his own hands. He realized how important an heir to the throne was, especially since the king had no other children. He decided to keep the queen alive, at least till she delivered the child.

He took the queen in his palace and gave her a place to stay. He told his wife to be careful that nobody may set an eye on her. Just in case if anybody may doubt his intention or integrity, he cut off his genitals, put it in a box, sealed and put a date on it and gave it to the king for safe keeping, saying that it was an important treasure which he should keep in his treasury.

After nine months a child was born to the queen, who was named Shahpur, which means “son of a king.” He had the royal bearings and looks of the king. For seven years the identity of the child was kept hidden.

Once Gerānmāyeh saw the king in a pensive mood and asked, “Oh great one, what ails you?  You have everything a man can desire. Now is your time to rejoice and enjoy life.”

“Yes, my faithful one”, the king responded. “Now, when I am fifty one, and have everything, I long for a son who can succeed me.” The priest realized that this was the right time to reveal the truth about his queen and his son, and replied, “Sire, I am in a position to relieve your grief, if only you grant me my life.”

The king was surprised at this strange request. “What makes you fear for your life, O wise one! Reveal to me what you know and I assure you that no harm will come to you.”

“Sire, then please ask the treasurer to bring back the box I had given you some years back.” Gerānmāyeh requested. The king summoned for the box, and then asked the priest what was inside it. The priest said, “In it is my most cherished possession, my manhood.  You had asked me to kill your queen, but since she was carrying your child, I did not follow your orders. I kept her alive in my palace and lest anybody doubt my integrity or intention, or cast aspersions at the legitimacy of the prince’s lineage, I had to take this drastic step.

Your son is now fourteen. I have named him Shahpur. His mother too is with him and looking after him.”

The king rejoiced on hearing this news. He said, “My trusted minister, you have given a big sacrifice for the sake of your king. I do not want to prolong your responsibility. Tomorrow you assemble a hundred children of the same age, height, body and features as my son, make them wear the same dress and let them play polo in a field. I am sure that I would be attracted to my own son and my heart will lead me to him.”

The following day, the minster did exactly as instructed.   A hundred children started playing polo in the field. The king immediately recognised his son and asked the minister, who nodded in assent. But the king wanted one further test. He waited till a ball came towards him. He wanted to see whether his son was bold enough to come near him and collect the ball.

King Ardeshir watching the game of Polo

Soon enough, during the course of the game, the ball was struck in the direction of the king. Several boys came running to collect the ball, but stopped short of going near the king. However Shahpur, excused himself, bravely went near the king, collected the ball and brought it back.

After the game, the king’s attendants were asked to summon Shahpur. Ardeshir was extremely happy at being reunited with a son whom he never knew existed. He richly rewarded Gerānmāyeh. He also had coins minted on which he had his own image imprinted on the obverse side and the minister’s bust on the reverse. He also included the minister’s name and seal on all his royal pronouncements.

Ardeshir got his queen and his prince back into the palace and earnestly began the royal education of the prince. He was taught Iranian languages, royal mannerisms, horse riding, weapon wielding and other royal skills. He established a city by the name of Junde-Shahpur to celebrate the reunion with his prince. This city was near Shustar, in the present province of Khszestan in south-west Iran

Young Shahpur

Soon prince Shahpur became a handsome young man, and a trusted advisor and commander to his father. Meanwhile, emperor Ardeshir who was spending a lot of time in wars, was now weary of them, and wanted to find a way to end them. He asked a fortune teller from India, and was told that his hectic life on the battle field could end only if he gets his son married to his old enemy Mehrak Nushzad’s daughter.

Ardeshir was very angry when he heard this. He was neither willing to forgive his old enemy nor get his daughter married to his son. Instead, he ordered the daughter be killed. When Mehrak’s daughter, who was a very beautiful young lady, came to know about these orders, she fled to a village and sought refuge in the house of the village headman.

Once Ardeshir went on a hunting expedition with Shahpur. After the hunt, Shahpur wandered into a village and went into the house of its chieftain. In the garden there, he saw a beautiful girl drawing water from a well.

Prince Shahpur watching the girl drawing water

Shahpur too wanted water from the well and had gone there with his water-pot. When the girl offered to draw water for him, he declined saying that he will ask his soldier to do so. He ordered a soldier to draw water, but he was not successful. Thereafter several other soldiers tried, but in vain. Shahpur chided them and himself went to draw the water. However, he too was able to draw water with great difficulty. He admired the strength of the beautiful girl and assumed that she must be from a royal family.

The girl then addressed Shahpur by his name, at which the prince was surprised. He asked her how she knew him and she said that she had heard praises of his height, physique and good looks and today saw his strength.

Shahpur’s wedding

Shahpur asked her identity, to which she replied that she was the village chief’s daughter. Shahpur could not accept this explanation. He told her not to lie to a prince, to which she said that he should assure her that no harm should come to her, only than she could reveal the truth. After the prince’s assurance she revealed her identity.

After some time, with the chieftain’s permission, the two were duly wedded. The wedding was kept a secret from Ardeshir. A child was born to them, who was named Hormazd. His birth was kept hidden and he was rarely allowed to go out. After seven years, when Ardeshir had once gone for a hunt, young Hormazd was out playing polo with his friends. While playing, the ball went near the king. None dared to go near the king except Hormazd. After fetching the ball, he triumphantly proclaimed that he was born to be great. King Ardeshir was surprised and asked the minister to find out the lineage of this child. The minister could not ascertain the lineage and so the king summoned the child.

The child was brought to the king. When he was asked his lineage, he proudly said that his father was prince Shahpur and mother was the daughter of Mehrak Nushzad.

Ardeshir immediately called for Shahpur, who apologized for the secret marriage. The king forgave him and accepted Hormazd. He presented a small golden crown to his grandson and gave away a lot of wealth in charity. He told his subjects that none should ignore the astrologers, since only after the union of Mehrak’s daughter and his son, much against his wish, that good fortune had come to him.

Ardeshir proved to be a very wise ruler. He initiated schemes to recruit youngsters as soldiers, trained them well in every manner and ably rewarded them. He also encouraged the scribes in his court. He also advised his officers to be kind, sympathetic, just and impartial towards the subjects.

Ardeshir abolished the ten percent tax that he had levied in his initial days as king. He had needed that amount to fight wars and establish his power. Now that his power was established, he no more needed that money and he also got regular taxes from his subject nations Rome, China, Tartar, Turkestan and North India.


Ardeshir tried to undo much of the damage done by Alexander the Macedonian. In terms of state, he did it by uniting the fragmented kingdoms, and in terms of religion, he did it by building his empire on the solid foundations of the Zoroastrian religion. He proudly proclaimed on his coins that he was a Mazdayasni, and had descended from the Yazads “divine beings”.

Ardeshir firmly believed that secular power and religion should go hand in hand. This is clearly depicted not only on his coins, but also on the coins minted by most subsequent Sassanian kings,  where on the reverse we see a fire-altar flanked by fully armed figures. The armed figures represent the secular power, and the fire represent the religion.

As a thanksgiving for establishment of the Sasanian empire, Ardeshir ordered Atash Behrams to be built at various places like Pars, Parthia, Babylonia, Azarbazan, Isfahan, Rae, Kerman, Sistan, Gurgan and Peshawar. Under Dastur Tansar, he started the work of collecting the 21 Volumes of Avestan texts, known as the 21 Nasks, mainly from the memory of priests.

Emperor Ardeshir, in order to quell the doubts of his subjects about whether religious rituals reach the other world or not,  made arrangements to send the soul of a very pious priest Ardā-Virāf (also referred as Ardāe Virāz) to the other world and find out whether heaven and hell really existed and whether rituals reached the souls. Ardā-Virāf was selected from among forty thousand priests to leave his bodily form on the earth. Under ritual conditions his soul visited the other world, met the divine beings and conversed with Ahura Mazda. After returning he had his account written down by scribes, which is available today in the Pahlavi language as the Ardā Virāf Nāmeh “The Book of Ardā-Virāf”.

Ardeshir and Shahpur

Shahpur also joined Ardeshir in his military expeditions. They fought many battles against the Romans, and were able to eject them from Mesopotamia and Syria. In fact many coins depict the father and son as co-rulers for about the last ten year’s of Ardeshir’s reign.

Passing away of Ardeshir

Ardeshir ruled as a king for forty years and as an emperor for fourteen years. When he was exhausted he called for his son Shahpur, gave him many admonitions, passed the mantle of kingship to him in 240 CE, and ruled with him for two years. He passed away in February 242 of natural causes. He had requested his son to have his mortal remains placed in the Dakhma after his passing away.

King Ardeshir’s last admonition to his son Shahpur.

Much of Ardeshir’s life and exploits have been recorded in the Pahlavi book Kārnāmak ī Artakshir Pāpakān “The exploits of Ardeshir Pāpakān”. He commissioned several rock reliefs of himself at Nakhsh-e-Rustom, Nakhsh-e-Rajab and Feruzabad.

SSS3. Ardeshir Bābekān{Part 2}

A Classic children’s story.

Keram – The Worm

In Kujārān, a small city near Pars, lived Haftavād (or Haftān-bokht), a poor but contented farmer. He was called so, as he had seven (haft) sons and one daughter. Most girls of that village, including Haftavad’s daughter used to go daily to a nearby mountain with some cotton wool and a spinning wheel, chat, have lunch, spin yarn and enjoy.  

One day, as the girls were about to have their lunch, Haftavād’s daughter saw an apple roll down a tree. Excited, she picked it up, wiped it and took a bite. As she was just taking the bite, she saw a worm. She gently removed it and kept it on her spinning wheel. After lunch when she started spinning again, she decided to spin all the cotton she had brought. Playful as she was, she asked the worm on her spinning wheel to help her. To her surprise, she realised that she was able to spin much faster and could get double the yarn than she usually did. When she reached home, she was excited about her achievement and told it to her mother, who too was very happy. The next day, the mother gave her more cotton yarn, which too the little girl finished. The mother kept increasing the quantity of cotton yarn and the girl continued to spin as much as she was given, with time to spare. The young girl was convinced that all this was due to the presence of the worm, however she did not reveal it to anybody. She kept the worm with her and lovingly fed it pieces of apple every morning.

Young girl feeding a worm

The young girl’s parents were surprised by the tremendous output of yarn and one day, in jest, asked her whether she had befriended a fairy who was helping her with her work. It was then that she confided in them about the worm and showed it to them.   

Soon Haftavād too prospered in his trade. He attributed it to the good luck brought by the worm. He too started feeding the worm, which became larger and fatter. It assumed a dark brown colour with saffron spots. It had become too big for the spinning wheel, and so a special beautiful wooden case was made for it.

Haftavād’s name and fame started spreading. People from far and wide came to him for guidance and counsel.  His entire family became wealthy.

The chieftain of Kujārān started envying Haftavād’s fame. He tried to harass him, but the entire city rallied around Haftavād. Soon there ensued a battle in which the chieftain was defeated and killed. Haftavād became the chief, took charge of the city and built a new fort on the nearby mountain.

The worm’s increasing influence

The worm kept growing. Soon the wooden case too was small for it and so a huge pond was made on the mountain and the worm was transferred to it. Every morning, an attendant would feed it a pot of rice. Gradually the worm grew bigger. It became so big that its neck and limbs resembled the feet of an elephant. Haftavād was so fond of the worm that he named the fort Kerman, which in Persian means “belonging to the worm.” The girl stayed with the worm all the time and looked after it. Soon it had a retinue of people to attend to its needs. Its food now also included milk and honey.

Feeding the gigantic worm

Haftavād extended his kingdom and also increased the strength of his army. Any enemies that came to take charge of the fort, were defeated on account of the worm’s power. Very soon the fort came to be known as the invincible fort.

Worm defeats Ardeshir

Ardeshir came to know of the growing strength and popularity of Haftavād. He did not like the fact that a subordinate king was becoming so powerful. He dispatched an army to defeat him. When the army started its ascent to the fort, suddenly everything turned dark and it was badly defeated. Scores were killed and the rest retreated.

Ardeshir was dejected at his army’s defeat. He assembled more soldiers and this time he himself went along with them. Haftavād was not worried. He summoned his eldest son Shahui, who was enjoying in a faraway place, to take charge of his army.

A fierce battle ensued, at the end of which Ardeshir’s army was tired and depleted. It’s food and supplies were intercepted by the enemy. The tired and hungry soldiers collected near a lake thinking about their next move.

Just then news came that a man by the name Mehrak Nushzād from the city of Jahrom took advantage of the absence of Ardeshir, and led an army to loot the king’s palace. Ardeshir was heartbroken that one of his own Iranians did this. He realized he should not have undertaken this expedition without adequately covering his own palace. He asked the advisors about his next move. They told him to first deal with the enemy in his own palace and then worry about others. Ardeshir decided to return back the following morning. He asked his soldiers to eat whatever they had and enjoy the rest of the day.

Ardeshir renews his efforts

As they were about to begin their meal, an arrow pierced one of the food items. On closer scrutiny they found a message on it. Ardeshir’s priests read out the Pahlavi writings on the arrow, which said, “O noble king, this arrow has come to you from the top of the fort of Kerman. If I had wished I could have pierced your body, but we need a leader like you in these bad times when this fort is protected by a worm.” All the soldiers thanked God for saving the life of their dear king.

That night, Ardeshir thought of nothing but the worm in the fort. The next morning he proceeded to Pars with his remaining soldiers. Just then, the enemy soldiers attacked and slayed many soldiers from the king’s army. The enemies shouted the slogan “Long live the throne of the worm”. Ardeshir, with some of his commanders retreated in haste.

On the way, they came across a small town. A tired Ardeshir was relieved to see a house where two youthful brothers were standing. Introduced themselves as Borz and Borz-ādar, they asked Ardeshir about his identity. He replied that he was a soldier from the king’s army and was retreating from the soldiers of Haftavād. The youths took pity on him and his associates, invited them to their house and fed them.  They consoled Ardeshir that sooner or later the evil of Haftavād will be exposed and his rule will come to an end. Ardeshir realized that these youths could be his allies, so he revealed his true identity.

Ardeshir asked the youths if they could help him defeat Haftavād. The youths pledged their allegiance to him and assured him their help. They revealed that the worm was in fact a terrible demon sent by Ahriman, the Evil Spirit, to destroy good people.

A relieved Ardeshir took the youths with him, replenished his army and attacked Mehrak Nushzad who had occupied his palace. In the fight, Nushzad and his entire family was killed, except for a princess who had hidden herself.  

Defeating the worm

Ardeshir now devised a plan to kill the worm. He selected seven capable soldiers and along with the two brothers decided to go to the fort in disguise. He instructed Shahargir, his commander, to wait at a distance, and come to the fort after he gave a signal, a smoke signal during the day and a fire if it was night.

Then, Ardeshir and his trusted men dressed as traders. They prepared ten donkeys and loaded them with trunks containing ornaments, clothes and metal pieces, and set off for the fort. When they reached the fort housing the worm, sixty priests tending the worm intercepted them and demanded to check their trunks. Ardeshir introduced himself as a trader from Khorasan, and said, “I was a poor worker in a village. It is on account of the blessings of the worm that I have become rich. Now I have come to express my gratitude to the worm by serving it.”

The priests were convinced and let him in. He gave precious gifts, rich food and fine wine to the priests who fed the worm. He invited the priests to have wine, but they declined since the priests on duty to feed the worm, were not supposed to have wine.

Ardeshir offered to feed the worm himself, saying, “I have enough milk and rice to feed the worm for three days. This way I will be able to show my gratitude and perhaps become wealthier with the worms blessings.  Moreover, you priests have been working very hard. So let me do your duty for now, so that you may enjoy.” The priests agreed to Ardeshir’s request, had lots of wine and became intoxicated.

The worm had become so tall and huge, that in order to feed it, the priests had to climb a special staircase prepared for the purpose, and then pour liquid food into the worm’s mouth from a platform.

Death of the worm

After the priests got inebriated, Ardeshir grabbed the opportunity. He melted pieces of metal, climbed the stairs and fed the hot molten metal to the worm. The worm got burnt from inside, started screaming and fell dead in the pool. Ardeshir’s soldiers killed all the intoxicated priests and guards. The king then sent the smoke signal to Shahrgir, who came to the fort with the army.

Haftavād came to know about the attack and came rushing with his army. Ardeshir ordered Shahrgir to fight fearlessly as the worm which protected Haftavād was dead. Haftavād was soon defeated, taken prisoner along with his eldest son Shahui, and later hanged.

Kerman was taken over by Ardeshir. He re-instated the old king and gave him an army. A fire temple was established in place of the worm’s temple.

In Gujarati, this story is referred to as Kermān no kiro.

End of Ardavan

After taking over Kerman, Ardehsir subdued the kings of Ahvaz and Isfahan. These developments were viewed with considerable alarm by Ardavan at Ctesiphon.

In 224 CE, Ardeshir openly challenged Ardavan, who summoned his army from Gilan and Dilam. He proceeded towards Istakhra, and intercepted Ardeshir’s army which was on its way to take on Ardavan.

There were three fierce battles which lasted for forty days in which many soldiers from both sides lost lives. In the last battle at Hormuzgān, suddenly a huge storm appeared from nowhere over Ardavan’s army. This was considered a divine sign indicating Ardavan’s end. Soon Ardavan was killed. Two of his sons fled towards India and the other two were imprisoned by Ardeshir. Ardeshir overpowered Ctesiphon, and brought an end to the lineage of Arash, from whom the Arshkanian dynasty descended.

SSS2. Ardeshir Bābekān {Part 1}

A gold coin of king Ardeshir Pāpakān

The Sasanian Empire, was founded by Ardeshir / Artakhshīr Bābegān/Pāpakān, referred to as Artaxerxes by the Romans, who had an illustrious ancestry. His maternal grand-father was Bābak and his father was Sāsān.

Ardavan (Gk. Artabanus IV), the last Parthian emperor ruled over a vast kingdom which included Shiraz, Istakhra and Esfahan. Istakhra, situated in the province of Fars, was entrusted to Papak/Bābak a local administrator of royal lineage.

Sāsān was a member of a family which traced its descent from Kayanian and Achaemenian kings. He stayed in Istakhra and eked out his livelihood by tending cattle and looking after camels. When Sāsān was not able to make ends meet, he went to Bābak to seek livelihood. Bābak, struck by his royal looks, immediately appointed him as a care-taker of his horses. Impressed by his sincerity and work, he later promoted him as the supervisor of the royal stables.

Once, on three successive nights, Bābak saw three different dreams. In the first dream, he saw the sun shining over the head of Sāsān, giving light to the whole world. On the second night, Bābak saw Sāsān riding an elephant with a sword in his hand, and people passing by bowing down to him with respect. On the third night, Bābak had another dream in which he saw the three spiritual fires of Ādar Gushasp, Ādar Khordad and Ādar Burzin Meher blazing high in the house of Sāsān, and exuding a sweet fragrance.

Babak’s dream

When Bābak asked his council of wise men to interpret the dreams, he was told that the person in the dream or his immediate descendant was destined to be an emperor.

Bābak summoned Sāsān and inquired about his ancestry. Reluctant on account of fear, Sāsān hesitated, but when Bābak assured him of his safety, he disclosed his royal ancestry. Highly touched by his nobility, Bābak gave Sāsān royal clothes and wealth, gifted him a palace and in due course married him to his daughter Gohar-āfrid.

In 180 CE, Sāsān was blessed with a son, who resembled his royal ancestors. He was named Ardeshir. As Bābak had no child, he raised up Ardeshir as his own son. Later the title Bābekān/Pāpakān was added to his name. He grew up to be a brilliant and brave young man. Soon he attained fame in Pars as an accomplished, virtuous and brave prince, well versed in arts, statecraft and military skills.

Ardavan summons Ardeshir

When Emperor Ardavan heard about Ardeshir, he summoned him to his palace in the capital city of Rae so that he can keep an eye over him, since he feared that a subordinate prince may gain greater power and glory.. As king Bābak was a subordinate of emperor Ardavan, he could not refuse. With a heavy heart, he sent Ardeshir to Ardavan, who kept him along with his own four sons and trained him in arts of warfare. Ardavan, always felt that Ardeshir was far superior then any of his princes, hence he always harboured feelings of insecurity.

Once, when Ardavan went hunting with his princes and Ardeshir, while chasing an onager (asian wild ass, known in Iran as gur-khar), they got separated. Ardeshir, who was the fastest among the lot, shot an arrow piercing the heart of the onager. When Ardavan caught up with them, he saw the skill with which the arrow was shot, and inquired about the identity of the archer. Ardeshir as well as and one of the princes claimed to have shot it. There was a quarrel between the two in which Ardeshir scorned the prince and called him a liar.

Ardeshir and princes hunting an onager.

Ardavan unhappy with Ardeshir

Ardavan was angered by Ardeshir’s harsh words and as a punishment sent him to the royal stables and asked him to work and stay there. Ardeshir was greatly pained, as he knew that Ardavan had acted unjustly. His pride was wounded and he started to nurse a grudge against Ardavan. He wrote a letter to his grand-father Bābak about this. After reading the letter, Bābak replied, reprimanding Ardeshir for behaving rudely with the prince. He dispatched the letter along with ten thousand Dinars (gold coins).

Ardeshir felt comforted on receiving the letter, and merrily spent his time in enjoyment. He befriended Gulnar, a royal lady who was the chamber-maid at the king’s palace. Some sources claim that the lady was Arta-dukht, the daughter of Ardavan. Both of them saw each other daily and in due course started sharing sentiments of love and loyalty with each other.

After some time, Bābak passed away in Pars. Ardavan, instead of giving Ardehsir his rightful crown,  instituted prince Bahman on the throne. When Ardeshir came to know of this, he was angry since he was the rightful heir. He harboured feelings of resentment and contemplated ways and means to get back the throne which was rightfully his.

On day, in the palace, when Ardavan was consulting soothsayers, he asked them about his future. He was told that a young man from a noble family who was in his service, would flee within three days and take over his throne. Ardavan was shocked on hearing this grim prognostication.

Ardeshir flees

Gulnar had overheard the prophecy of the soothsayers and conveyed it to Ardeshir. When Ardeshir heard about the prediction for the emperor, he realized that it was in consonance with his own plans. It gave him an impetus to flee Rae. He asked Gulnar whether she would help him to flee and accompany him if he fled, to which she readily agreed. At night, Gulnar brought some precious gems, made arrangements for two horses, and the two fled. Ardeshir kept a sword ready for their defense.

Emperor Ardavan was very fond of Gulnar. She used to wake him up every morning. Hence, he noticed the absence of Gulnar in the morning. On inquiring he was told that Gulnar and Ardeshir were not to be found and two horses, one white and the other black, were missing from the stable. Ardavan immediately realized that Gulnar had fled with Ardeshir.

Gulnar and Ardeshir fleeing

Ardavan immediately set off with a few soldiers to look for them. On the way, he inquired whether anybody had seen a man and a woman on a black and a white horse pass by at dawn. He was told that such a couple had indeed passed by and were followed at a distance by a stately white sheep.

Ardavan inquired with his advisors about the white sheep. He was told that it symbolized potential royalty for the young man. If the sheep caught up with the person, it would mean that the person would become a great king and spell doom for Ardavan. A tired Ardavan, took some rest and then resumed his search for Ardeshir.

Ardeshir and Gulnar rode without halting. By afternoon their heads were reeling under the heat of the sun and their throats were parched with thirst. They stopped at a pond in order to take some rest. But before they could alight from their horses, two stately young men approached them, and told them not to get down, as they could not afford to lose a single minute. The duo heeded the advice and started riding ahead, and did not stop till the end of the day.

Ardavan was close behind them. In the evening when he reached a city, he once again inquired about the two. He was told that two such riders were seen moving towards Pars at dusk. They further added that a stately white sheep was swiftly running next to the man’s horse.

On inquiring with his advisor, Ardavan was told that luck was favouring the young man. He was told to ask his son Bahman in Pars, to try and find Ardeshir and not let him have the milk of the sheep, or else he would acquire the Khoreh (divine energy) and then nothing could stop him from being the Emperor of Iran.

Ardavan halted in a nearby city for the night and asked his soldiers to return. He wrote a letter to his son Bahman ruing about the escape of Ardeshir, the grim prognosis, and asked him to act fast.

By night Ardeshir had reached close to Istakhra. A fisherman recognized him on account of his royal looks and stately behavior. He informed the people, who recognized him and rallied round him. Ardeshir addressed them, “My dear people, you know what Alexander had done to our ancestors. When I, a descendant of the Kayanian prince Asfandyar, am alive, there is no reason why Ardavan should rule over us. If you agree with me, I will not allow anybody to occupy the throne.”

The people immediately agreed. A wise man from among them told Ardeshir, “Go ahead and fight Ardavan. You have our support. You may find it difficult. But once you have overpowered him, nobody will dare to stand against you.”

Encouraged by these words, Ardeshir proceeded towards Pars. When Bahman came to know about this, he assembled his army to counter Ardeshir.

Ardeshir gets an ally

Ardeshir got his first supporter and ally in Tabak/ Banāk, the elderly governor of Jarrom city. Initially Ardeshir was doubtful of Tabak’s sincerity as he used to be Ardavan’s supporter. However, later he was convinced of his genuineness.

Very soon more support poured in, and Ardeshir had an army of about fifty thousand young men. He thanked Ahura Mazda for this unexpected help. Assured of support, he proceeded to attack Bahman. However, he did not have to fight, as the king’s army surrendered and opened up the treasury. Ardeshir reached Pars and declared himself king of Pars in 208 CE, and gradually consolidated his position.

SSS1. Sasanian Dynasty (224-651 CE)

From today, we start our series of Serialised Stories of the Sasanian dynasty from the Iranian epic Shahnameh, with historical traditional inputs.

The establishment of the Sasanian Empire opened a brilliant epoch in the history of Iran. The kings of this dynasty restored to a great extent the glory of ancient Iran and revitalized the Zarathushti religion. The province of Pars gained complete independence and its kings, like those during the pre-Achaemenid period, ruled over an empire.

After the downfall of the Achaemenian empire, the Seleucid dynasty of the Greeks ruled over Iran for about eighty years from 330 BC to 247 BC. For five centuries after the downfall of the Seleucid dynasty in Iran, the Parthians/Arshkanians ruled.

However, in the province of Pars, people lived in independent states under the provincial kings. They preserved and practiced their national, ancestral Zoroastrianism religion, without outside influence. Zoroastrian traditions and religion  were supreme in Pars and hence the even Greeks could not influence it much. Zoroastrianism was preserved in its pristine form and the sacred books of the Avesta were preserved orally. Thus it was in Pars that the Zoroastrian renaissance commenced.

This renaissance spread throughout the Iranian empire after Ardeshir, the king of Pars, defeated the Median emperor in 226 CE and consolidated his power as the emperor of Iran.  Re-gathering of the scattered Avestan Nasks commenced and was accomplished during this period. Reigns of many kings were marked by religious activities like setting up of religious schools and establishing consecrated fires, in spite of the fact that the empire included large populations of other religions too.

Though the Sasanian kingdom was predominantly Zoroastrian, a large part of it, especially in the West, was occupied by the Christians. These regions were often the bone of contention during the wars in the last century of the Sasanian Empire.

The Sasanian era also witnessed vast strides in architecture, learning, the arts and the military. The birth of Prophet Mohammed and the spread of Islam marked the later part of this dynasty.

From tomorrow we start with the story of Ardeshir Bābekān / Pāpakān, the founder of the Sasanian dynasty.

(The abbreviation SSS in the title implies Shahnameh Stories Sasan)