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Sasanid Emperors Deliberately Ignored Achaemenids’ Glory


05 August 2004



Trying to unravel an age-old mystery, an Iranian scholar suggested Sasanid emperors refrained from mentioning the glory days of earlier Achaemenid emperors, possibly because of political or religious reasons.

The Sasanid used to reign over Iran some 500 years after the demise of the Achaemenids, but they have not clearly mentioned about the latter in their inscriptions, while others such as Parthians, Greeks and Romans have detailed the victories and defeats of this colossal empire.

Now Dr. Iraj Darayee, a professor of history at UCLA, contends the Sasanids deliberately left Iran’s first rulers in oblivion to avoid being overshadowed by them. He rules out the theory postulated by other scholars who maintain the Sasanids lack a historical memory, noting, “They did have historical memory, but instead adopted a policy of silence and ignorance.

Under the dynasty of the Achaemenid rulers the Iranian Empire comprised Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor with its Greek towns and some islands, Central Asia, Caucasus, Thrace and parts of India. The founder of this, the largest empire of the ancient world, was Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC), whose Persian father, Cambyses, king of Anshan, had married the daughter of Astyages, the last king of the Median dynasty. Cyrus defeated his grandfather about 550 BC and succeeded in welding Persians and Medes into an effective army with which he could undertake conquests beyond the frontiers of Iran.

His son Cambyses conquered Egypt in 525 BC, only Darius the Great (522-486 BC), however, who also deserved the epithet Great, consolidated the empire by an efficient administrative organization.


Within little more than a year after the death of Cambyses he had succeeded in establishing his rule over the rebellious leaders of the provinces of Iranian Empire. The pictorial and written memorial of his victory was carved upon the steep cliff at Bisutun which looks down upon the road that leads even today from the Iranian plateau to the Mesopotamian plain. The actual height of the relief is eighteen feet, about as large as any ancient Western Asiatic stone-carver--used to relatively small reliefs--could possibly conceive. But as seen from the road, the relief seems quite small.

The quality of the Achaemenids as rulers began to disintegrate, however, after the death of Darius in 486. His son and successor, Xerxes, was chiefly occupied with suppressing revolts in Egypt and Babylonia. He also attempted to conquer the Greek Peloponnesus, but encouraged by a victory at Thermopylae, he overextended his forces and suffered overwhelming defeats at Salamis and Plateau. 


By the time his successor, Artaxerxes I, died in 424, the imperial court was beset by factionalism among the lateral family branches, a condition that persisted until the death in 330 of the last of the Achaemenids, Darius III, at the hands of his own subjects.

The fourth Iranian dynasty, the Sasanids established an empire roughly within the frontiers achieved by the Achaemenids, with the capital at Ctesiphon in Khvarvaran province (today Iraq). The Sasanids consciously sought to resuscitate Iranian traditions and to obliterate non-Iranian cultural influence. 


Their rule was characterized by considerable centralization, ambitious urban planning, agricultural development, and technological improvements. Sasanid rulers same as their predecessors, Parthian dynasty adopted the Achaemenid title of Shahanshah (king of kings), as sovereigns over numerous petty rulers, known as Shahrdars.


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