Iran before Islam: The Sasanians

The Sasanian dynasty ruled Iran and most of the ancient Near East from AD 224 until AD 642. The last Sasanian king, Yazdgird III, died in 651. The Sasanians were originally local rulers in Parsa (Fars) in southern Iran before seizing power from the previous dynasty, the Parthians. The dynasty was founded by Ardashir I (ruled AD 224-41) and named after Sasan, a legendary ancestor.

The Sasanians were followers of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion named after the prophet Zarathustra (Greek Zoroaster). This religion to this day has followers in Iran, India (Parsees) and other parts of the world. In Zoroastrianism Ahura Mazda is the Wise Lord and creator of all things spiritual and physical. The Sasanians expressed the divine aspect of their rule in many ways, including on coins, rock reliefs and silver plates. During their rule, architecture and the arts flourished.

Sasanian military success brought them into conflict with Rome and later Byzantium. The empire eventually collapsed under the force of the Arab army in AD 642 and Zoroastrianism was replaced with Islam.

This tour was written to accompany the exhibition Iran before Islam: Religion and Propaganda, AD 224-651, at the British Museum from 30 June 2005 to 8 January 2006.