Nugae Sasanicae 1: Ardashir and the Conquest of Persis

In the story of Ardashir’s conquest of Pārs/Persis, the founder of the Sasanian dynasty starts his career from Darabgird. Al-Tabari mentions that Ardashir reached the position of the Argbed of Darabgird following the death of his mentor, Tiri, a eunuch who was appointed by Gozihr[1] the Bazrangid as the Argbed of Darabgird. Although the rest of Ardashir’s history is usually summarized as a rebellion against Gozihr and a ceasing of the throne of Persis before aiming for the Arsacid throne of Artabanus IV (Ardavan), there is a little episode in between that might prove critical for us.

Gozihr’s seat is given by Tabari as Bayda (Per. Bayza)[2] and Ardashir’s mother Rām Behešt is made to be a member of the Bazrangid family. At least in the narrative, the control of Darabgird by Gozihr would have indicated that he had a respectable amount of power in the region. This probably is the reason why in studies of the history of Parthian Persis, Gozihr has been associated with Mancihr III (or possibly IV), the king whose coins are known as part of the Persis coin series.[3]

However, one should notice that the coins of Ardashir and his brother Shapur do not sequentially follow those of Mancihr III/IV, rather those of Ardashir IV who appears to be the ultimate coin issuer of the series.[4] I have argued elsewhere[5] that based on paleographic reasons, the coinage of Shapur and Ardashir should not be seen as a direct continuation of the so-called Persis coin series. In fact, the script used for the coins of Shapur and Ardashir appear to be close to those used for the coins of Farn-Sasan, the last ruler of the Indo-Parthian dynasty that ruled the area of Sistan.[6]

It seems to me safe to assume that Gozihr mentioned by Tabari is actually not the same as Mancihr III/IV known from the Persis coin series. Not only is Mancihr not the immediate issuer of coins before Pabag/Shapur or Pabag/Ardashir, but also additionally Gozihr is not mentioned as ruler of Staxr, the most likely mint for the Persis coin series. Here we should take into consideration that Gozihr is also not the only potentate of Persis who falls to Ardashir’s rising power.

Al-Tabari in the same source (Tabari I.815-816), continues his narrative of the exploits of the Sasanian upstart by telling the story of a dream in which an angel has sat on the head of Ardashir, telling him that god has given him the dominance of other lands and that he should be ready for this task. Excited by the prospect, Ardashir then immediately sets on a series of campaigns which sees him defeating the region of Gupanan (22 farsangs from Estakhr on the way to Kerman, as Estakhri tells us) and removes its ruler, Pasin. He then heads for Kunos, whose location is not understood, and deposes its king, Manušcihr, and finally, by invading Larvir, removes its king Dara.[7]

We now see two names which are indeed known from the Persis coin series. Manuchehr of Kunos bears a name that is quite similar to that of Mancihr of the Persis coins. Dara too has a name reminiscent of not only the Achaemenid Darius, but also the two known Darāyān of the Persis coins.[8] Here, it appears as if much like the rest of the Arsacid Empire, Persis too was a land of Moluk-ut-Tawa’if, as al-Tabari and others tell us. It might thus be naïve to imagine a single state of Persis, at least in this terminal period. Instead, we might consider Persis as a collection of local potentates, among whom one family issued coins. The fact that al-Tabari’s narrative of the rise of the Sasanians focuses on the family of the Bazrangids, possibly the family of Ardashir’s mother and local lords of Bayda and Darabgird, should not automatically prompt us to assume that they also were the same authority who issued coins of the Persis series. Considering Persis to contain as series of local potentates thus might render a more realistic, and regionally nuanced, picture of the rise of the Sasanians. This would make it possible to see late Arsacid Persis as a kingdom with extensive connections, possibly also to the east and the area of Indo-Parthian rule, which would also explain the presence of certain coin types in both the Indo-Parthian and early Sasanian series, as discussed in Rezakhani 2016, 41-45).


[1] Al-Tabari I.814-815; Noeldeke thought that Gozihr should be a form of Gocihr, from Old Iranian gau-ciϑra “cow-like, descended from the cow” supposedly a reflection of the Iranian cultic fascination with cows; c.f. Gathic Avestan gau-uruuana.

[2] This is Persian Nesa, north of modern Shiraz and to the west of Estakhr, the Sasanian and early Islamic capital of Persis.

[3] Dietrich O. A. Klose and Wilhelm Müseler. Statthalter, Rebellen, Könige: Die Münzen aus Persepolis von Alexander dem Großen zu den Sasaniden. Munich: Staatliche Münzsammlung, 2008, 68-71.

[4] Klose & Müseler, 71 & 78.

[5] K. Rezakhani, “From Aramaic to Pahlavi: Observations from the Persis Coin Series,” in Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Elizabeth Pendelton (eds.) Arsacid and Sasanian Coins (BAR International Series), Oxford: Archaeopress. 2016, 73.

[6] Ibid. For Farn-Sasan’s coin inscription, see Alexander K. Nikitin “Coins of the Last Indo-Parthian King of Sakastan (A Farewell to Ardamitra).” South Asian Studies 10, no. 1 (1994): 67–69.

[7] Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari. The History of Al-Tabari: The Sasanids, the Lakhmids and Yemen. Translated by Clifford Edmund Bosworth. Vol. 5. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1999: 5-6.

[8] See Klose & Müseler 43-45 for Darayan I and 48-50 for Darayan II. The reading of the name as Darayan, in fact written as d’ryw on the coins, is based on the reading of an inscription by Skjærvø: P. Oktor Skjaervo. “The Joy of the Cup: A Pre-Sasanian Middle Persian Inscription on a Silver Bowl.” Bulletin of the Asia Institute 11 (1997): 93–104.

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