Sassanid Empire

Sassanid Empire

The Sasanian Empire officially known as the Empire of Iranians and called the Neo-Persian Empire by historians. This empire was the last Persian imperial dynasty before the arrival of Islam in the mid seventh century AD. Named after the House of Sasan, ruling this empire for over four centuries, from 224 to 651 AD, making it as one of the long-lived Persian dynasty. The Sasanian Empire succeeded the Parthian Empire, and reestablished the Iranians as a superpower in late antiquity, alongside its neighboring arch-rival, the Roman-Byzantine Empire.

The first king and founder of this kingdom was Ardeshir Papakan or Ardeshir I, a local Iranian ruler who rose to power as Parthia weakened from internal dispute and wars with Rome.

Sassanid kings and rulers

The time of Sassanid rule is considered a high point in Iranian history, and in several opinions was the peak of ancient Iranian culture from 224 to 651 AD, before the conquest of Muslims and subsequent Islamisation. In total this dynasty had 44 kings and rulers. The first king was Ardashir I who was the son of Sasan and the last king was Yazdegerd III that the Muslim conquest of Persia began in his first year of reign.

Sassanid Capitals
  • Istakhr (224–226)

The ancient city of Istakhr is close to Persepolis, it was Sassanid’s hometown and briefly served as the first capital of this dynasty for two years from 224 AD. Then as principal city, region, and religious center of the Sassanid province of Pars.

  • Ctesiphon (226–637)

By ending of Parthian empire, Ctesiphon was in the hands of the Sasanian and they made it greatly enlarged and flourished as their capital. Latter, Taq Kasra was built in Ctesiphon by order of Sassanid king.

Under Sassanid rule, the population of Ctesiphon was mixed different nations: it included Persians, Arameans, Assyrians and Greeks. Several religions were also lived in the same metropolis, which included Zoroastrian, Christians and Jewish. The arched (Iwan) hall, open on the frontispiece, was about 37 meters high 26 meters across and 50 meters long, its largest man-made, free-standing vault constructed till modern times.

Architecture and Art

When we are talking about the Sassanid architecture, the grandest buildings will come to the minds with very large palaces in brick, plus high vaulted halls, that were really important in the development of the Iwan (Arches) in Islamic architecture. The Sassanid further developed the arches and vaults used by the Parthians, usually they built it with a large opening to one side of the hall in Iwan style. For example, Taq Kasra with much of the enormous vault still standing in Ctesiphon is the largest man-made, free-standing vault constructed till modern times.  

One of the most important thing about Sassanid Architecture is using dome for castles and palaces. Most of the Sassanid palaces have an audience hall which consists, as at Firuzabad, of a chamber surmounted by a stone made dome. The Persian architect has solved the problem of constructing a dome on a building with a square-shaped, by the squinch. Squinch is an arch built across each corner of the square, turn it into an octagon on which it is a better base to place the dome. There is a dome chamber in the palace of Ardeshir in Firouzabad city and this is the earliest surviving example of the using squinch and so there is a good reason for regarding Persian architecture as its place of invention.

The distinctive use of space was the unique characteristic of Sassanid architecture. In addition to the rock reliefs, stucco reliefs had a main role in art during the Sassanid era. Stucco wall decorations appear at Bishapur, Ctesiphon, Firouzabad was very common and they used to decorate most of the arches with plasterwork. The panels of palaces were geometric and floral motifs, human busts, and animal figures set in roundels.

Some of the Sassanid silver plates have survived, especially rather bowls or large dishes used to serve meals. These have high-quality embossed or engraved designs from a dignified of mounted kings or heroes, feasting and combat, hunting scenes, often partially gilded. Ewers, for drinks, and these were exported to China, and also westwards. A special feature of Sassanid art is shown by shells of silver and gold, on the inner face of which a scene is etched into a relief.



In time of Sassanid Empire, the art of textiles and glass was a popular luxury export.

Sassanid music refers to the golden time of Persian music that occurred under the reign of the Sassanid Empire. Persian classical music is back to the 6th century BC; during the Achaemenes Empire era, music has an important role in pray and in national and royal events. The musical instruments which you can see distinctly on the Sassanid reliefs and sculptures are the horn, the harp, the drum, the Daf, and the pipe or flute. In one sample the number of performers includes twenty−six musicians, seven-play the harp, an equal number the pipe or flute, one the drum, three the horn, while eight are too slightly presented for their musical instruments to be recognized.

Barbad was a Persian musician who lived during the rule of Khosro II, from 590 to 628. The king gave him credit to make an organization of musical system include of seven “Royal modes” named Khosrovani, thirty derivative modes named lahn, and 360 melodies named Dastan.

These numbers of pieces of music are according to the Sassanid’s calendar of the number of days in a week, month, and year. The Islamic art of Persia has been influenced strongly by Sassanid art.

One of the most characteristic elements of Persian architecture is arches. Especially in the Center of Asia, such as Sogdiana the customs and methods of art are directly attributable to the Sassanid.

Sassanid Army

Ardashir Papakan as the first king of the Sassanid Empire established an active army.  He has restored the organizations of Achaemenes military, employed new types of siege warfare techniques and armor, and retained the Parthian cavalry model. Ardashir decided to revive the Persian Empire and to achieve his goal, he reformed the army by forming an army that stood under his personal command and separated his reforms from satraps, local princes and nobles.

It was the beginning of a military system that for over 400 years served Ardeshir Papakan and his successors, during which the Sasanian Empire was, along with the Roman Empire and later the East Roman Empire, one of the two world powers of Late Antiquity in Western Eurasia.

The backbone of the Sassanid army was their heavy armored cavalry which in the west known as “Cataphracts”. The members of cavalry were noblemen who underwent extensive exercises in military and warfare maneuvers through warlike training, gaining discipline and becoming real soldiers.

At the beginning of the Sasanian era, they had war elephants in the battles as a psychological weapon for its frightening effects. Later this role has changed into a logistical one, and in the late Sassanid period, the army commanders used them to survey the battle scene.

At the time of the Parthian Empire, they had enmity with the Roman Empire and it was the same for the Sassanid Empire.

During their fights, the Sassanid army has defeated the Roman Empire many times but three of them were really important for them. If you visit the Tang-e Chogan you will see the reliefs about their victories. there is a scene in celebrating Shapur I’s victory over the Roman Empire. Shapur I can be seen in the center of the relief riding on a horse and Gordianus’s corpse is under the feet of Shapur’s horse, and Valerian’s hands are held captive in Shapur’s hand and Philip kneels in front of Shapoor’s horse and demands peace. The Persian military and officers are also behind Shapur in five rows of horses and the Roman officers and noblemen are seen in 5 rows carrying gifts and offerings in front of King Shapur I.


The city of Gondishapur was located in southwestern Iran in Khuzestan and near Shushtar. There was a school in the capital with the name of Grand School. At the beginning, it had only 50 students but in less than 100 years, enlistment at the Grand School has increased to more than 30,000 students. They established the Academy of Gondishapur which also known as The Gondishapur University. It was one of the 3 Sassanid centers of education (Resaina, Ctesiphon, Gundishapur) and academy of learning in the city of Gundishapur, Iran during late antiquity, the intellectual center of the Sassanid Empire. The academy also had a teaching hospital and a library. Gondishapur Hospital was the first teaching hospital in the world. It offered education and training in philosophy, medicine, science, and theology. According to The Cambridge History of Iran, this complex was the most important medical center of the ancient world during the 6th and 7th centuries.

In the time of Anushirvan, some Greek philosophers, who took refuge in Iran after the closure of the Academy of Athens due to the prejudice of the Roman Empire, were supported by Anushirvan. Greek medicine became popular and taught at Gondishapur University. The philosophy of Aristotle and Plato was translated into Persian during the time of Anushirvan.

According to most sources in the history of medicine of the Islamic period, this scientific center has played a great role in transferring Greek, Iranian, and Indian medical knowledge to the Islamic world. The first hospitals of the Islamic period were built according to the model of Gondishapur Hospital.


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