Kings of Persis

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King of Persis Ardashir II with crown, 1st century BCE.
Location of Persis.

The Kings of Persis are a series of Persian kings, who ruled the region of Persis in southwestern Iran, from the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE (c. 230 BCE – c. 210 CE). They ruled as sub-kings of the Parthian Empire, until they toppled the Parthians and established the Sassanid Empire,[1] they effectively form some Persian dynastic continuity between the Achaemenid Empire (6th century BCE-4th century BCE) and the Sasanian Empire (3rd century CE-7th century CE).[1]

Predecessors: "Frataraka" governors[edit]

Portrait of the Frataraka Vahbarz, 3rd c.BCE.
Vahbarz standing.

From the end of the 3rd century to the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, Persian dynasts are known to have ruled Persis as local governor for the Seleucid Empire, with the title frataraka (Persian: "Governor"),[1] they issued their own coinage.[1]

They seem to have become independent a short time before the establishment of the Parthian Empire, as for a time ca. 140 BCE, the rulers named Wādfradād II and an "Unknown King I" did not use the word "Frataraka" on their coinage, neither did they use the word mlk for "King" that would become prevalent later.[1]

Pliny relates a battle between Noumenios, a Seleucid general and satrap of the Province of Mesene (Characene), and the Persians sometime in the 3rd or the 2nd century BCE. Pliny describes the current Seleucid ruler as being "Antiochos", but it is unknown which one he is referring to; this event is often used to describe some kind of adversary relationship between the ruler of Persis and the Seleucid Empire during the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE, and possibly a fight for independence.[2] The rulers of Persis may have gained independence between 205 BCE, when Antiochos III visited Antiochia in Persis in peace, and 190-189 BCE, the latest possible date for the battle led by Noumenios if the Antiochos in question is indeed Antiochos III, since the latter was defeated at the Battle of Magnesia at that time.[3][2]

Pliny writes:

Noumenios, who was made governor of Mesene by king Antiochos, while fighting against the Persians, defeated them at sea, and at low water, by land, with an army of cavalry, on the same day; in memory of which event he erected a twofold trophy on the same spot, in honour of Jupiter and Neptune

— Pliny, HN 6.152.[2][3]

Sub-kings of the Parthian Empire[edit]

Darayan I (Darios I) used for the first time the title of mlk (King). 2nd century BCE.

According to Strabo, the early kings of Persis were tributaries to the Seleucid rulers, until c.140 BC, when the Parthians conquered the region:[4]

The Persians have kings who are subject to other kings, formerly of the kings of Macedonia, but now to the kings of the Parthians.

— Strabo XV 3.24[4][5]

The Parthian Empire then took control of Persis under Arsacid king Mithridates I (ca. 171-138 BC), but visibly allowed local rulers to remain, and permitted the emission of coinage bearing the title of Mlk ("King").[1] From then on, the coinage of the Kings of Persis would become quite Parthian in character and style.[1]

Under the Parthians, these dynasts were called kings and their title appeared on their coins: for example “dʾryw MLKʾ BRH wtprdt MLKʾ” (Dārāyān the King, son of Wādfradād the King);[1] the Arsacid incluence is very clear in the coinage, and Strabo also reports (15. 3.3) that during the time of Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE), the kings of the Persians were as subservient to the Parthians as they had been earlier to the Macedonians:[1]

But afterwards different princes occupied different palaces; some, as was natural, less sumptuous, after the power of Persis had been reduced first by the Macedonians, and secondly still more by the Parthians. For although the Persians have still a kingly government, and a king of their own, yet their power is very much diminished, and they are subject to the king of Parthia.

— Strabo, XV.3.3[6]


Coinage[edit]

The coinage of the Kings of Persis consists in individualized portraits of the rulers on the obverse, and often the rulers shown in a devotional role on the reverse;[7] the style of the coins is often influenced by Parthian coinage, particularly in respect to the dress and the headgear of the rulers.[8] A reverse legend in Aramaic, using the Aramaic script, gives the name of the ruler and his title (𐡌‬𐡋𐡊 mlk': King), and often his relationship to a preceeding ruler; the coin legends are written from right to left, wrapping the central scene in a counterclock-wise manner:[7]

Coin legend of Darayan II

Darayan II coin legend.jpg

Legend, written from right to left, counterclock-wise:
𐡃‬𐡀𐡓𐡉‬‬𐡅‬ 𐡌𐡋‬𐡊‬ 𐡁𐡓𐡄 𐡅‬𐡕‬𐡐‬𐡓‬𐡃‬𐡕 𐡌‬𐡋𐡊‬‬
d’ryw mlk' brh wtprdt mlk’
"Darius the King, son of Vadfradad the King"[7]

Establishment of the Sasanian Empire[edit]

Ardashir I, as King Artaxerxes (Ardaxsir) V of Persis. Circa CE 205/6-223/4. Obv: Bearded facing head, wearing diadem and Parthian-style tiara. Rev: Bearded head of Papak, wearing diadem and Parthian-style tiara.
Map of the Sasanian Empire.

With the reign of Šābuhr, the son of Pāpag, the kingdom of Persis started the process of becoming the Sasanian Empire.

Šābuhr's brother and successor, Ardaxšir (Artaxerxes) V, defeated the last legitimate Parthian king, Artabanos V in 224 CE, and was crowned at Ctesiphon as Ardaxšir I (Ardashir I), šāhanšāh ī Ērān, becoming the first king of the new Sasanian Empire.

The Sasanid dynasty would rule down to 7th century CE until the Muslim conquest of Persia.

List of the Kings of Persis, as Sub-Kings of the Parthian Empire[edit]

The Kings of Persis were preceded by the Fratarakas; the list of the King of Persis is mainly known though the coin sequence, and only a few kings are mentioned in ancient literary sources.[1]

Name Date Coinage Family Relations Note
1 Darayan I 2nd century BCE (end) KINGS of PERSIS. Dārēv (Darios) I. 2nd century BC.jpg ? Darayan I and his successors were sub-kings of the Parthian Empire. Crescent emblem on top of stylized kyrbasia. Aramaic coin legend d’ryw mlk (𐡃‬𐡀𐡓𐡉‬‬𐡅‬ 𐡌𐡋‬𐡊‬, "King Darius").
2 Vadfradad III 1st century BCE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Autophradates (Vadfradad) III. Early 1st century BC.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire. Coin legend wtprdt mlk (𐡅‬𐡕‬𐡐‬𐡓‬𐡃‬𐡕 𐡌‬𐡋𐡊‬, "King Vadfradad") in Aramaic script.
3 Darayan II 1st century BCE Drachma Darius II.jpg son of Vadfradad III Sub-king of the Parthian Empire. Aramaic coin legend d’ryw mlk brh wtprdt mlk’ (𐡃‬𐡀𐡓𐡉‬‬𐡅‬ 𐡌𐡋‬𐡊‬ 𐡁𐡓𐡄 𐡅‬𐡕‬𐡐‬𐡓‬𐡃‬𐡕 𐡌‬𐡋𐡊, "King Darius, son of King Vadfradad").
4 Ardashir II 1st century BCE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Ardaxšir (Artaxerxes) II. 1st century BC.jpg son of Darayan II Sub-king of the Parthian Empire. Killed by his brother Vahshir I
5 Vahšīr/ Vahshir I (Oxathres) 1st century BCE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Vahšīr (Oxathres). 1st century BC – 1st century AD.jpg son of Darayan II Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
6 Pakor I 1st century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Pakōr (Pakor) I. 1st century AD.jpg son of Vahshir I Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
7 Pakor II 1st century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Pakōr (Pakor) II. 1st century AD.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
8 Nambed 1st century CE (mid) KINGS of PERSIS. Nambed (Namopat). 1st century AD.jpg son of Ardashir II Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
9 Napad 1st century CE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Napād (Kapat). 1st century AD.jpg son of Nambed Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
10 ‘Unknown king II’ 1st century CE (end) KINGS of PERSIS. Uncertain king II. 1st century BC – 1st century AD.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
11 Vadfradad IV 2nd century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Vādfradād (Autophradates) IV. 1st century BC.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
12 Manchihr I 2nd century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Manuchtir (Manchihr) I. Early-mid 2nd century AD.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
13 Ardashir III 2nd century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Ardaxšir (Artaxerxes) III. 1st-2nd century AD.jpg son of Manchihr I Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
14 Manchihr II 2nd century CE (mid) KINGS of PERSIS. Manuchtir (Manchihr) II. Mid 2nd century AD.jpg son of Ardashir III Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
15 Uncertain King III/
tentatively Pakor III[9]
2nd century CE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Uncertain king III. 2nd century AD.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
16 Manchihr III 2nd century CE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Manuchtir (Manchihr) III. Mid-late 2nd century AD.jpg son of Manchihr II Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
17 Ardashir IV 2nd century CE (end) KINGS of PERSIS. Ardaxšir (Artaxerxes) IV. Late 2nd – early 3rd century AD.jpg son of Manchihr III Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
18 Vahshir II (Oxathres) c. 206-210 CE KINGS of PERSIS. Oxathres (Vahsir) II. Late 1st century BC.jpg ? Sub-king of the Parthian Empire. The last of Bazarangids.
19 Shapur 3rd century CE (beg.) KINGS of PERSIS. Shapur. Circa 200-212 AD.jpg Brother of the first Sasanian, Ardashir I Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
20 Ardashir V
(Sasanian Dynasty Ardashir I)
3rd century CE (beg.) SASANIAN KINGS. Ardashir I; as King of Persis, AD 205-6-223-4.jpg First Sasanian ruler, under the name of Ardashir I Sub-king of the Parthian Empire

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wiesehöfer, Joseph (2009). PERSIS, KINGS OF – Encyclopaedia Iranica. Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  2. ^ a b c Engels, David. Iranian Identity and Seleucid Allegiance; Vahbarz, the Frataraka and Early Arsacid Coinage, in: K. Erickson (ed.), The Seleukid Empire, 281-222 BC. War within the Family, Swansea, 2018, 173-196.
  3. ^ a b Shayegan, M. Rahim (2011). Arsacids and Sasanians: Political Ideology in Post-Hellenistic and Late Antique Persia. Cambridge University Press. p. 155. ISBN 9780521766418.
  4. ^ a b A History of Zoroastrianism vol II & III. p. 116.
  5. ^ LacusCurtius • Strabo's Geography — Book XV Chapter 3. p. XV 3.24.
  6. ^ Strabo, Geography, BOOK XV., CHAPTER III.
  7. ^ a b c Sellwood, David (1983), "Minor States in Southern Iran", in Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.), Cambridge History of Iran, 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 299–322
  8. ^ Wiesehöfer, Josef (2009). "Persis, Kings of". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  9. ^ Rezakhani, Khodadad (2010). The “Unbekannter König III” and the Coinage of Hellenistic and Arsacid Persis.