Iran before Islam:
Propaganda and Religion AD 224 – 652

30 June 2005 – 8 January 2006

This exhibition is now closed

Like the ancient Persian kings Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes, the Sasanians came from Parsa (Persis) in southern Iran. They were named after Sasan, a legendary ancestor. When Ardashir I killed the Parthian king Ardavan (Artabanus IV) at the battle of Hormizdgan in AD 224, he became the new king of kings of Iran and the dynasty remained in power until the arrival of the Arabs in 642. Yazdgird III, the last Sasanian ruler was murdered in AD 651.

From the beginning of their rule in AD 224, the Sasanian kings were keen to stress their religious affiliation and their position as the rightful kings of Iran. They were followers of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion named after the prophet Zarathustra. Rock-reliefs, coins, silver plates and other small objects always depict the Sasanian king as a ruler who is protected by divine beings and defeats the enemy both at home and abroad. He is the rightful possessor of the khvarenah (modern Persian farr-izadi), the god-Given Glory.

With the arrival of Islam in the middle of the seventh century AD, Sasanian iconography does not disappear and the idea of divine kingship is adopted by various Islamic dynasties. In the nineteenth century, the Qajar rulers of Iran imitate the image of the victorious Sasanian king both on rock- reliefs and coins.

Find out more about the bronze figure of a Sassanian king on the Google Cultural Institute 

Bronze figure of a Sasanian king

A bronze figure of a Sasanian king, about fourth century AD