Apocalyptic Eschatology and Empire in Sasanian Iran

Canepa, Matthew P. 2024. Envisioning dualism and emplacing the Eschaton: Apocalyptic eschatology and empire in Sasanian Iran. In Jörg Rüpke, Michal Biran & Yuri Pines (eds.), Empires and Gods: The Role of Religions in Imperial History (Imperial Histories: Eurasian Empires Compared), vol. 1, 135–174. Berlin: De Gruyter.

The Sasanian Empire (224–642 CE) was the last great Iranian empire to rule overWestern Asia before the coming of Islam. The empire was founded when Ardaxšīr I (r. 224 – ca. 242), a local ruler of Pārs and vassal to the Parthian king of kings, revolted from his overlord, Ardawān IV, defeating and killing him in the Battleof Hormozgān. Ending five centuries of Arsacid rule, Ardaxšīr I quickly took control of the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia, expanding the empire and soon bringing him into conflict with the Romans. His son and successor Šābuhr I (r. 242–272) expanded the empire eastward into Northern India at the expense of the Kushan Empire and westward into Roman territory, raiding several importantRoman cities and deporting their inhabitants, including those of Antioch. By the late-sixth century CE the Sasanians had forged a centralized empire from theParthian Empire’s heterogenous network of crown lands, client kingdoms, semi-autonomous city-states, and aristocratic estates. Despite setbacks, the new powerful empire succeeded in contending with and often defeating the economic and military might of the Roman Empire, while resisting the military pressures of the steppe, and harnessing the economic forces of Eurasian trade. With mercantile networks that extended from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the Empire of the Iranians exercised power over Mesopotamia, Iran, portions of the Caucasus,South and Central Asia, and briefly Egypt, Anatolia and even to the walls of Constantinople during the empire’s final apogee under Husraw II (r. 590–628). Over the course of late antiquity, Sasanian art, architecture, and court culture created a new dominant global aristocratic common culture in western Eurasia, beguiling theirRoman, South Asian, and Chinese contemporaries, and deeply imprinted the later Islamic world.

This chapter is available as an open access publication.