The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, December 02, 2016

Roots of Sasanian federation

Pourshariati’s main thesis was that the Sasanians after overthrowing the Parthian Arsacids inherited their dynastic / feudal model, wherein Parthian dynasts often stayed in local command, to the point that a cadet branch of those very Arsacids carried on (in Armenia). The Sasanians called their demesne “Iranshahr” after all, not “Persia”. Sasanian shahs sporadically tried to unify the Iranshahr more tightly – to MAKE it Persia – but where they tried they never succeeded. And scholars keep debating why late Sasanian propaganda is so ambivalent on that earlier, grander Persian Empire of the Achaemenids; one is forever reading of Kayan and Rostam, not of Persepolis and Darius.

Rolf Strootman has an article up, “The Great Kings of Asia”. It’s not in the best English - nor even in the best Latin: I know the rumours about Alexander’s home life, but I think he’s still to be a magnus, not a magnum. But its scholarship is excellent.

He argues that the term “Great King” implied universal dominion, especially over Asia: Iran and the Crescent, and also over Egypt and Anatolia if one could get them. Although used by Achaemenids, the title was not specific to them. The Seleucids used it too, starting with Antiochus III who actually did happen to be good at his job. If Bithynians or, one imagines, Maccabean Jews whipped a Seleucid army in the field, the winners still had to address the Seleucid monarch as King Of Asia, however paper-thin that title was in practice.

The post-Seleucid successor states, like Bithynia, were Hellenistic or at least Hellenist-inspired. Even the most successful post-Greek kingdom Parthia was not Persia; Strootman would treat the Arsacid realm more like a Hellenistic empire (if Zoroastrian-ish) than an Achaemenid resurgence.

As we can see, by Seleucid times, the Great King’s rule however wide had become shallow. To the extent the Achaemenids beforehand were running a centralized empire, and I agree that Darius had worked hard to do so, the one fact of it that we are certain is that it FAILED. Strootman, 3 notes that under the Seleucids who inherited its shards, those shards attained autonomy, of which the Persian-speaking land was just one province of many. The Greeks shunned the Persian heartland; preferring Babylon, Bactra, Ecbatana. The Arsacid base for its part was more northern. If Romans (and Robert Hoyland) continued to call the Arsacid empire “Persia” then that is just antique Western propaganda. Pourshariati would say the same of Khusro I’s empire.

You know what else is antique Western propaganda? Calling Alexander of Macedon “the Great”, that’s what. He never did call himself the Great King, I think because the Greek base of his army wouldn’t allow to him so Oriental a title, at the beginning, and because at the end he didn't live long enough to figure out any alternative model to run his empire. He was first named “magnus” in Latin, p. 21; retroactively, bien sûr. Thus the Romans denied this epithet to their enemy Antiochus.

So the Sasanians, although pleased to reuse the title “Great King”, weren’t doing so to cite the Achaemenids. Making too much of the old Persian system might worry the vassal-states, many still Parthian. That Persian empire was dead and since the Seleucids probably impossible.

posted by Zimri on 16:20 | link | 0 comments

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