], literally “King of Kings of the Iranians [and non-Iranians]”) and in the titles of the civil and military administration: senior officers, dignitaries, and top-grade civil servants have titles such as Ērān-āmārgar
, a sort of paymaster general, Ērān-hambāragbed
, the super-intendent of the warehouses, Ērān-dibīrbed
, the head of the bureaucracy, Ērān-drustbed
, the court surgeon, Ērān-spāhbed
, the marshal of the empire. These titles have no precedent in the Arsacid period; and even the Parthian royal title šāhān šāh Aryān
, “King of Kings of the Iranians,” which occurs, for instance, in the Kaʿbe-ye Zardošt inscription, is no more than the Parthian version of the Sasanian title, just like the Greek version basileús basi-léōn Arianṓn.
It is clear that the name Ērān in the official titles of the new state and its administration was a typically Sasanian usage that came into being in the 3rd century C.E. with the advent of Ardašīr I. In an ideological context where some traditional values were given new life, Ērān also appeared in toponyms, in the naming of cities that were renamed or refounded or in the case of newly founded ones. From this point of view some significant place-names are Ērān-šahr Šābuhr, Ērān-āsān-kerd-Kawād (q.v.), Ērān-šād-Kawād (q.v.), Ērān-win (n)ard-Kawād (q.v.), Ērān-xwarrah-Šābuhr (q.v.) or Ērān-xwarrah-Yazdgerd (q.v.; Gyselen, 1989). These last two names are particularly important because they contain the concept of Ērān xwarrah, which recalls the Avestan concept of airyanəm or airyana4m xᵛarənō (see FARR(AH), the ‘Iranian’ Glory or Glory ‘of the Iranians,’ so as to form a link between Sasanian royal ideology and archaic myth and epos, in other words, between the Kayanid tradition and the new dynasty of the Iranian kingdom in the 3rd century C.E. (Gnoli, 1989, pp. 148-51). A situation fairly similar to the one involving Ērān xwarrah must also have existed in the case of Ērān-wēz (q.v.), a Middle Persian expression that reflected that Avestan airyanəm vaēǰō (see above). In both cases there is evidence of an uninterrupted link with the religious tradition, on account of the Middle Persian ēr, which is connected not so much with Old Pers. ariya– as with an older form with epenthesis, which is documented by the Av. airya- in Old Iranian (Eilers, 1974, p. 283; 1982, p. 8; Gnoli, 1986, p. 115). Furthermore it should be noted that, besides the royal titles, civil and military administrative titles, and place-names, also the personal proper names such as Ērān duxt, Ērān-Gušnasp, Ērān-xrad (Gignoux, 1986, pp. 79-80) show how widespread the use of the name Ērān was in the Sasanian period. All these factors can only be explained by the pronounced sense of national identity that had begun to emerge from the 3rd century onwards.
Third-century Iran was shaken by a conflict between universalism and nationalism that was most clearly manifest in the religious and cultural sphere. The outcome of this conflict is well known: the traditionalistic and nationalistic impulses gained the upper hand, and Manichean universalism succumbed to the nationalism of the Zoroastrian Magi. Iranian identity, which up to that point had been essentially of a cultural and religious nature, assumed a definite political value, placing Persia and the Persians at the center of the Ērān-šahr, in other words, at the center of a state based on the twin powers of throne and altar and sustained by an antiquarian and archaizing ideology. This ideology became more and more accentuated during the Sasanian period, reaching its height in the long reign of Xusraw/Ḵosrow I (531-79 C.E.). Of course, economic and social factors favored the victory of the stronger classes in a society that was based mainly on a rural economy, namely the aristocratic landed and warrior classes and the Magian clergy.
All this largely fitted in with the spirit of the times. Indeed, the formation of national cultures was a typical feature of the third century, marking the transition to Late Antiquity. The idea of a strong national identity, a hallmark of the Sasanian dynasty’s rise to power in Iran, must therefore be considered in the light of a phenomenon that was far more widespread, involving on the one hand the Roman empire from East to West and on the other the ecumene that Alexander of Macedon had united six centuries earlier with his conquest of the Persian empire (Gnoli, 1989, pp. 162-64; 1998, pp. 119-22).
In Iran the claim to Achaemenid origins, the identification of the Sasanian dynasty with the dynasty of the Kayanians, the setting up of a traditional heritage that met the requirements of the new dynasty and the social forces that were its mainstay are just so many aspects of a single political and cultural process that was vigorously upheld by the Sasanian propaganda. The tradition of Ērān-šahr, which was supposed to have its roots in remote antiquity, though in actual fact at that time there survived only a vague and scanty knowledge of it (Yarshater, 1971), only goes as far back as the 3rd century C.E. Moreover, there can be no doubt that the Iranian national history is a mirror of Sasanian conditions. Both the Pishdadian and Kayanian periods are treated in a Sasanian way (Yarshater, 1983, pp. 402-11).
The fact is that the advent of the Sasanians gave a national or even nationalistic sense to the various aspects of Iranian culture, which managed to survive the fall of the monarchy and the decline of Zoroastrianism (Spuler). In Sasanian Iran there began to take shape a national culture, fully aware of being “Iranian,” that was motivated by the restoration and the revival of the wisdom of the “sages of old,” dānāgān pēšēnīgān, as well as by the glorification of a great heroic past, and was imbued with an omnipresent antiquarian taste and an archaizing spirit. This process developed steadily in the course of time and took on a definite shape especially in the 6th century, but its roots were nonetheless in the 3rd century, in the transition of power from the Arsacids (q.v.) to the Sasanians and in the Zoroastrian church’s gaining of political recognition.
Pahlavi works, which have also come down to us in Arabic or in Persian, reflect the process of formation of an Iranian identity that was based on (1) the combination and revision of various features connected with the epico-legendary tradition—as seen, for instance, in the brief mention of the foundation of each and every “provincial capital” in the Šahrestānīhā ī Ērān (Markwart, 1931; Daryaee, 2002)—and (2) the royal ideology of the new dynasty and the view of history in the religious tradition of the hērbeds and mobeds. The latter is expressed in the Testament of Ardašīr (Grignaschi; ʿAbbas; de Fouchécour, pp. 87-89) and in the Letter of Tansar (Darmesteter; Minovi; ʿEqbāl; Boyce, 1968; de Fouchécour, pp. 89-93).
As regards the geographical concepts connected with the imperial propaganda in ancient Iran, we must point out that the Sasanian inscriptions, from Šābuhr to Kerdir, give a list of the Iranian and non-Iranian provinces that alters in part the Avestan concept of the seven climes, whereas a late Sasanian tradition identified the Ērān-šahr with the central kešwar (see AVESTAN GEOGRAPHY), so that, in a new image of the world, the Persian empire came to coincide with that central region, the Xᵛaniraθa (Daryaee, 2002).
It was in the Sasanian period, then, that the pre-Islamic Iranian identity reached the height of its fulfilment in every aspect: political, religious, cultural, and linguistic (with the growing diffusion of Middle Persian). Its main ingredients were the appeal to a heroic past that was identified or confused with little-known Achaemenid origins (Yarshater, 1971; Daryaee, 1995), and the religious tradition, for which the Avesta was the chief source. Both these ingredients were amalgamated in the Sasanian Xwadāy-nāmag, whose heroic and legendary character was combined with the “later accretions and elaborations of a non-heroic and religious nature” (Yarshater, 1983, p. 394). This work, which is the main source for Iranian national history, was translated into Arabic by Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ (q.v.) and, although the original Middle Persian version and the Arabic or Persian translations or adaptations have not survived, it widely influenced Islamic historians, men of letters and poets, as is clearly evidenced by the Annals of Ṭabarī and the Šāh-nāma of Ferdowsī (q.v.).
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