Author: KhodadadRezakhani

I am a late antique historian and the author of

Writing from the Air

I am blogging from an airplane, on my phone’s blogging app. Isn’t technology wonde… I mean awful!

This is also the day that the British Parliament, after two years of dragging the world around so to figure out how they can best preserve their privileges and pretend they still have an empire, tell is that they still are hoping they are thrown a lifeline. Theresa May’s “deal” failed again, and she voted against her own deal. This is what privileged countries can do: act like a complete failed state, and still present themselves as a “world power”! Imagine the current state of the affairs going on in Lebanon, for example! We would never heard the end of it…


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.

Swift Appraisal… again!

For many years I had a weblog, mostly in Persian, where I wrote my random thoughts, notes, and just observations. It has mostly disappeared from the face of the web, and this is my attempt at recreating it. I will try to post regularly, in Persian and English and get back to the habit of writing regularly.

جسته گریخته ها از تاریخ

به صفحه پادکست فارسی من، «جسته گریخته هایی از تاریخ» خوش آمدید.


من در این صفحه، اطلاعات اضافی لازم در مورد محتویات پادکست، از جمله نقشه ها و تصویرهای لازم، و همچنین ارجاعات مربوط، رو به ارایه خواهم داد.

قسمت اول (یا صفر) پادکست را می توانید از اینجا دریافت کنید. این هم «فید» پادکست

این هم سکه «اردشیر بابکان» یا «اردشیر پنجم پارس» که به نظر من در دارابگرد ضرب شده.

Episode 12: One more on Cyrus and the Origins of His Empire

Episode 12 is out… download it from here, or subscribe to the History of Iran Podcast via your favourite podcast catcher. Here is the feed for it.

… and here are some pictures and maps to help with visualisation. Also, look at this Achaemenid Daric (Achaemenid gold coin) which is very close to the Lydian prototype.

A (bit fanciful) map of the conquests of Cyrus.

A (bit fanciful) map of the conquests of Cyrus.

A famous vase showing Croesus on his "suicide" pyre...

A famous vase showing Croesus on his “suicide” pyre…

A Lydian coin... notice that the reverse is just a hollow blank.

A Lydian coin… notice that the reverse is just a hollow blank.

View of a part of Pasargadae

View of a part of Pasargadae

Tol-e Takht, the old citadel of Pasargadae

Tol-e Takht, the old citadel of Pasargadae

Ruins of one of the palaces in Pasargadae

Ruins of one of the palaces in Pasargadae

Episode 11: The Kingdom of Anshan and Cyrus the Great

You can download Episode 11 from here… you can also check out the feed or try your favourite podcast index.

This episode will explain the local (mainly Anshanite) context for the rise of Cyrus, as well as telling a bit about the version of the story of the birth of Cyrus told by Herodotus.

1- Cyrus’ genealogy:

  • Cyrus’ name is written as Kurush (II) son of Kambujia (Cambyses I) son of Kurush (I) son of Chish-pish (Tespes).
  • He is said to be the son of Mandane (daughter of Astyages of Media) by Herodotus.

2- Here is a useful article on the site of Malyan/Malian (ancient Anshan) and the archaeological excavations of it.

3- Another article on the description of Cyrus as presented in Herodotus’ History.

Map showing the extent of the Achaemenid Empire, with the region of Persis showing in dark green,

Map showing the extent of the Achaemenid Empire, with the region of Persis showing in dark green,

Drawing of the archaeological site of Malyan (Anshan)

Drawing of the archaeological site of Malyan (Anshan)

Arial view of Malyan

Arial view of Malyan

This, often presented as

This, often presented as “portrait of Cyrus” is nothing but a fanciful drawing, based loosely on…

... this relief at Pasargadae. This is known as the Winged Guardian and is actually a composite image.

… this relief at Pasargadae. This is known as the Winged Guardian and is actually a composite image.

Bibliographia Iranica

The new episodes of the podcast are on their way. In the meantime, I invite the readers to check out the blog of my friend and colleague Arash Zeini, now a collective effort of him and several other friends, which is dedicated to introducing the new publications in Iranian Studies. The blog is a great resource and I will use it from here on as a resource for the podcast and for the History Page. Check it out here!

Episode 10: the World that Cyrus Conquered

Finally we arrive at the tale of Cyrus, what you have all been waiting for. Get the episode from here

This is the introduction to the history of Cyrus, looking at the world in which he started his career. I go from the Mediterranean to China and back to Mesopotamia, surveying the Eurasian world in 550 BCE or so, as well as making some preliminary remarks about Cyrus himself.

Check out the Bibliography for items added for this subject.

The world in the sixth century BCE (a bit idealistic, but gives you some ideas)

The world in the sixth century BCE (a bit idealistic, but gives you some ideas)

Map of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire

Map of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire

Cylinder of Nabonidus

Cylinder of Nabonidus

A gold coin from Lydia

A gold coin from Lydia