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Sasanian Empire (224 CE – 651 CE)

The Sasanian Empire also known as the SassanianSasanidSassanid or Neo-Persian Empire (known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr, or Iran, in Middle Persian), was the last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the rise of Islam, and was named after the House of Sasan; it ruled from 224 to 651 AD.   The Sasanian Empire succeeded the Parthian Empire and was recognised as one of the leading world powers alongside its neighbouring arch-rival the Roman-Byzantine Empire for a period of more than 400 years.

Sasanian Empire Map

The Sasanian Empire was founded by Ardashir I, after the fall of the Parthian Empire and the defeat of the last Arsacid king, Artabanus V. At its greatest extent, the Sasanian Empire encompassed all of today’s Iran, Iraq, Eastern Arabia  (Bahrain,  Kuwait,  Oman,  Qatif, Qatar, UAE), the Levant (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan), the Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan), Egypt, large parts of Turkey, much of Central  Asia  (Afghanistan,  TurkmenistanUzbekistanTajikistan), Yemen and Pakistan. According to a legend, the vexilloid of the Sasanian Empire was the Derafsh Kaviani.

The Sasanian Empire during Late Antiquity is considered to have been one of Iran’s most important and influential historical periods and constituted the last great Iranian empire before the Muslim Conquest of Central Asia (See my blog post) and the adoption of Islam. In many ways, the Sasanian period witnessed the peak of ancient Iranian civilisation. The Sasanians’ cultural influence extended far beyond the empire’s territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Africa, China and India. It played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asian medieval art.

 Much of what later became known as Islamic culture in art, architecture, music and other subject matter was transferred from the Sasanians throughout the Muslim world.

The Battle of Bukara 557

The Battle of Bukhara pitted the Sassanid Empire allied with the Western Turkic Khaganate against the Hephthalite Empire.

In 484, Peroz I, the grandfather of Khosrow I, was killed in the Battle of Herat (484) by the Hephthalites that allowed them to annex much of Khorasan from the Sassanids.

After a stable peace agreement with the Byzantines in the west, Khosrow I was able to focus his attention on the Eastern Hephthalites and avenge the death of his grandfather.

Even with the growth of Persian military power under Khosrow’s reforms, the Sasanians were still uneasy at the prospect of attacking the Hephthalites on their own and sought allies. Their answer came in the form of the Western Turkic Khaganate incursion into Central Asia. The movement of Turkic people into Central Asia quickly made them natural enemies and competitors to the Hephthalites.

The Hephthalites possessed military power, but they lacked the organization to fight on multiple fronts. The Persians and the Turkic tribes made an alliance and launched a two pronged attack on the Hephthalites, taking advantage of their disorganization and disunity. As a result, the Turkic tribes took the territory in Transoxiana north of the Oxus River, while the Persians annexed the land south of the river.

Even though the Hephthalites lost control of Transoxiana, Hephthalite kingdoms remained in Afghanistan.

Friendly relations between the Turks and the Persians quickly deteriorated after the conquest of the Hephthalite peoples. Both the Turks and the Persians wanted to dominate the Silk Road and the trade between the west and the far east.

In 568, a Turkish ambassador was sent to the Byzantine Empire to propose an alliance and a two-pronged attack on the Sassanian Empire, but nothing came of this.

Learn More

The Lost Empire that Ruled the Silk Road by Annalee Newitz  April 16, 2014 Annalee Newitz is the editor-in-chief of io9. She’s also the author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

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