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Arsacid Chronology in Traditional History


By: Prof. A. Shapur Shahbazi


The Parthian rule lasted 474 years, longer than any dynastic period in Iranian history. Throughout this period, the Arsacid era (q.v.) and the Seleucid era which preceded it by 64 years, were both in use, and so it would have been easy to recall that the Ctesiphon accession of Ardeshir I occurred in the 538th year of the Seleucid era and in the 474th year of the Arsacid era. Yet post-Sasanian sources give various figures for the duration of the Arsacid rule, which may be divided into the following categories. l: 200 and (200 odd) years (Great Iranian Bundahisn, Codex DH, p. 109 lines, 1011 [Tehran, 1971], TD, p. 207, lines I-2 [Tehran, 1971], TD, p. 240, lines 4-5; Ferdowsi: "sal-i dovist (some two hundred years)" (96h-nama VII, p. 116); both may be for 203 years, see A. Sh. Shahabazi, "The 'Traditional Date of Zoroaster' Explained," BSOAS 40, 1977, p. 27 n. 19. 2: 266 years, with variants (Sdh-nama-ye Abu Mansuri apud Biruni, The Chronology, p. 117; Tabari. I, pp. 706 and 813; Mas'udi, Tanbih, p.97; Bal'ami, Tarik, p.874; Moqaddasi, III, p. 155); this frequently recorded tradition was the official Sasanian reckoning, as Mas'udi says (see below), and is found also in Agathias (270 years: History 4.24) who used Sasanian royal chroniclers (ibid., 4.30.2-5). 3: 284 years, with slight variants (Mas'udi, Tanbih, p. 96; Indian Bundahishn 34.9). 4: 400 years, with variants (Bal'ami, Tdrik, p.874; Ndma-ye Tansar, ed. M. Minovi, Tehran, 1311 g./ 1932, p. 43; Mojmal al-tawdrik, p. 59 [411 years]; Moqaddasi, loc. cit.). 5: 523 years, with variants (Tabari, 1, 813, hence Bal'ami, Tdrik, p.874; Abul Faraj Zanjani and Biruni, The Chronology, p. I 19).

The last category is of non-Iranian origin, as Tabari specifies, being clearly based on Syrian sources using the Seleucid era: Alexander was usually claimed as the initiator of the Seleucid era (hence the era of Alexander), and was assigned a reign of 14 years (Shahbazi, op. cit., pp. 27ff.); since Ardeshir’s Ctesiphon coronation occurred "538 years after Alexander" (Agathias 4.24), one subtracted his reign from this number and obtained (537-14 = ) 523 years for his successors, the Petty Kings (Pahl. kadag-xwaddy, Ar.-NPers. moluk al-tawd'ef). The fourth category is a rough estimate by historians unconvinced of the authenticity of the official reckoning. The third group is a re-adjustment of the figure 266 in a scholastic version (Shahbazi, op. cit., p. 30). The first two categories are, however, based on sound historical-albeit unauthentic- traditions. Mas'udi (Tanbih, pp. 97f.) and Biruni (cited by S. H. Taqizadeh, BSOS 9, 1937, p. 125) have noted the great difference of opinion between the Iranians and other nations concerning the post-Alexander chronology, and they have accused Ardeshir of having distorted the facts. "One of the state and religious secrets of the Iranians” says Mas'udi, is that Zoroaster foretold that his religion would be disturbed 300 years after him but the religion and empire would be stricken by a calamity at the end of his millennium. Now Ardeshir appeared when only two centuries of the millennium were left, and fearing the approach of the calamity, he "reduced almost by half the 500-year period separating him from Alexander, counting from the petty kings only some rulers with a total reign of 260 years and ignoring the rest... And so the chronology was thus officially fixed, and published" (Tanbih, p.98). H. Lewy ("The Genesis of the Faulty Persian Chronology," JAOS 64, 1944, pp. 1977ff.), S. H. Taqizadeh ("The Era of Zoroaster”,JRAS, 1947, pp. 33ff.) and W. B. Henning (Zoroaster: Politician or Witch-doctor?, Oxford, 1951, pp. 37ff.) have explained this "secret" more convincingly: under the Sasanians the Seleucid era had come to be identified as the era of Zoroaster, and Alexander had been placed 258 years after Zoroaster; the appearance of Ardeshir in the 538th year of the Seleucid era was then re-interpreted as his rise in the 538th year of the millennium of Zoroaster; of these 538 years, 258 separated Zoroaster from Alexander and 14 belonged to the latter; so (538-258 + 14 = ) 266 years were left for the Parthian period. The Sasanian measure was taken, then. not because the Parthian period was to be reduced, but because the widely used Seleucid era had to be Zoroastrianized.

The first category-the importance of which is evidenced by its attestation in two major Iranian sources-has so far remained unexplained. But it is clearly based on the re-interpretation of the Arsacid era (q.v.) as the epochal year of the millennium of Zoroaster: Ardeshir’s Ctesiphon coronation was in the (247 + 227 = ) 474th year of the Arsacid era; allowing 258 years for the interval between Zoroaster and Alexander, and assigning 14 years to the latter, one obtained (474258 + 14 = ) 202 years for the Parthian period. This Zoroastrianization of the Arsacid era must have been the work of the Parthian families who resented the Sasanian re-interpretation of the Seleucid era as the "era of Zoroaster," so they countered claiming that their era had been initiated by Zoroaster. In this way they sanctified their dynastic symbol at the expense of sharply reducing the period of their rulership.




Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


Please note: CAIS has the privilege to publish the above article originating from the above-mentioned source, for educational purposes only (Read Only). This article has been published in accordance with the author(s) / source' copyright-policy -- therefore, the ownership and copyright of this page-file remains with the author(s) / sourceFor any other purposes, you must obtain a  written permission from the copyright owner concerned. (Please refer to CAIS Copyright Policy).


Page Keywords: Parthians, Arsacids, Ashkanians, Ashakanids, Pahlavas




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