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Sasanian Splendor: The Appurtenances of Royalty

  • Jenny Rose
Chapter
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Kingship was a central institution for the Sasanian dynasty (CA. 224–651 CE). The King of Kings (Shāhānshāh) was regarded as “a cosmic figure, the first among men,”1 and a representative of Ahura Mazda (the “Lord of Wisdom,” which becomes Ohrmazd in Middle Persian). In his person, he embodied the order of society and the interdependence of the Zoroastrian religion and state. One ninth-century Zoroastrian text, the Dēnkard, states that “The king’s way is religion,”2 and asserts that it was the king’s duty to defend the Zoroastrian faith and to mediate its wisdom in order to ensure a stable, lasting government.3 The Sasanians believed that the royalty of Iran was divinely chosen and that the khwarrah, divine fortune or glory, was conferred upon the king by Ohrmazd, consecrating his rule.4

Keywords

Silk Road Fourth Century Silver Plate Rock Crystal Cambridge History 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    J. R. Russell “Sages and Scribes at the Courts of Ancient Iran,” The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. J. G. Gammie and L. G. Perdue (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 141–46:142.Google Scholar
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    Dēnkard 6.173; S. Shaked, trans., The Wisdom of the Sasanian Sages (Dēnkard VI) (Boulder, CO:Westview Press, 1979), 69.Google Scholar
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    This concept dates back to the Avesta in which khwarenah (Pahlavi: Khwarr, khwarrah, Persian: farr), is the hypostasis of the divine grace or fortune that cleaves to those kings and worthy Iranians who are deserving and makes them strong, brave, healthy, wise, fulfilled, and powerful rulers; see Yasht 19.64, 72. If the king errs in some way, such as by telling lies, then khwarenah may depart from him, and he is disgraced; see Yasht 19.34f. The Sasanian inscription at Paikuli tells of the punishment of one person, driven by Ahriman (the “destructive spirit” of Zoroastrian mythology) and the devils to place the diadem representing the khwarrah on the head of a false ruler; see P. O. Skjaervo, trans., The Sasanian Inscription of Paikuli 3.1 (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichelt Verlag, 1983) 21f, 29.Google Scholar
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    The Sasanians adopted and Iranized the Greek symbol of Victory, the diadem (stemma) with its long ribbon ties, as their symbol of kingship. The diadem is first found on coinage of the Parthian Mithradates I. Sasanian coins, mostly silver drachms, express the Sasanian view of world order, with the king and his crown surrounded by the diadem, often in the form of a ring of pearls, representing the khwarrah. According to the ninth-century history of Armenia attributed to Mouses Xorenac’i, “he right to wear a headband of pearls” was a royal privilege; see V. Langlois, Collection des histoires anciens et modernes de l’Arménie II (Paris: Firmin-Didot frères, 1869), 66.Google Scholar
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    Sarre, Iranische Felsreliefs, 68. Hinz maintains that the beard ring was made of gold wire; W. Hinz, Altiranische Funde und Forschungen (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1969), 127, 130, fig. 63.Google Scholar
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    Harper, Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period: I Royal Imagery (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981), pl. 13. See also 36, and pis. 3, 4 6, 10, 11a, 23, 24.Google Scholar
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    See G. Herrmann “Naqsh-i Rustam 5 & 8: Sasanian Reliefs attributed to Hormuzd II and Narseh,” Iranische Denkmäler 8 (1977), 10.Google Scholar
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    For references to Persians wearing silk, see Trümpelmann, “Das Sasanidische Felsrelief,” 8. Sasanian Iran controlled the western extremity of the Silk Road and thus trade between Byzantium and other parts of the near east and the Far East. Shāpūr II is recorded by the tenth-century Muslim historian Mas’udi as settling Syrian silk weavers from Mesopotamia in Susa and other cities in Khuzistan, where they created new types of silks and brocades that were able to be exported outside Iran; see A. Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sas-sanides (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1936), 127. According to Jeroussalim-skaja, this account is somewhat exaggerated, in that silk production had already begun in the third century, and the Iranian towns cited by Mas’udi did not, in fact, become famous for their silks until his own time; A. Jer-oussalimskaja, “Soieries sassanides,” Splendeur des Sassanides (Brussels: Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, 1993), 113. We do know, however, that sixth- and seventh-century Greek writers were impressed by the quantity and quality of Iranian silk; ibid.Google Scholar
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  33. 96.
    In the legendary history of Ardashīr I, the khwarrah is said to have departed from the last Parthian king, Ardabān, in the form of a winged ram, and to have chased after Ardashīr and leapt onto his horse, signifying that the kingly glory was now his; Boyce, History of Zoroastrianism I (Leiden/Cologne: E.J. Brill, 1975), 68. See also Levy, Epic of the Kings, 260f. Ammianus records that Shāpūr I “rode before the whole army, wearing in place of a diadem a golden image of a ram’s head set within precious stones”; Ammianus Marcellinus I, 471.Google Scholar
  34. 100.
    Verethragna (Pahlavi: Vahrām; Persian: Bahrām) is the yazata (“being worthy of worship”) of victory. In his Yasht (“hymn”) he is embodied in ten incarnations, one of which is a fierce boar; see Boyce, History of Zoroastrianism I, 63. There is another fragment from Antinoe showing the winged horse, another incarnation of Verethragna; ibid. The winged horse motif is found also on textiles from Astana; B. Rowland, The Art of Central Asia (New York: Crown Publishers, 1970), 191.Google Scholar
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    R. Ghirshman, Persian Art: The Parthian and Sassanian Dynasties 249 BC–AD 651, trans., S. Gilbert and J. Emmons (New York: Golden Press, 1962) 227, 232–235. For example, the sēnmurv motif appears on a Sasanian silk that was once used to cover the bones of St. Lupus; ibid, 228. Jeroussalimskaja discusses those textiles that she considers to be genuinely Sasanian and the various motifs which decorate them; Jeroussalimskaja, “Soieries Sassanides,” 115ff.Google Scholar
  36. 109.
    A. Grabar, L’empéreur dans l’art byzantin (1936; repr. London: Variorum Reprints, 1971), 134. The Byzantine imagery appears to be modeled largely on Sasanian illustrations of Bahrām V (Gur: 420–438 CE) killing a lion; ibid., 60.Google Scholar
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© Stewart Gordon 2001

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  • Jenny Rose

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