ARDASHIR, the modern form of the Persian royal name Artaxerxes (q.v.), "he whose empire is excellent." After the three Achaemenian kings of this name, it occurs in Armenia, in the shortened form Artaxias (Armenian, Artashes or Artaxes), and among the dynasts of Persia who maintained their independence during the Parthian period (see Persis). One of these, (1) Artaxerxes or Ardashir I. (in his Greek inscriptions he calls himself Artaxares, and the same form occurs in Agathias II. 25, iv. 24), became the founder of the New-Persian or Sassanian empire. Of his reign we have only very scanty information, as the Greek and Roman authors mention only his victory over the Parthians and his wars with Rome. A trustworthy tradition about the origin of his power, from Persian sources, has been preserved by the Arabic historian Tabari (Th. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden, aus der arabischen Chronik des Tabari, 1879). He was the second son of Papak (Babek), the offspring of Sassan (Sasan), after whom the dynasty is named. Papak had made himself king of the district of Istakhr (in the neighbourhood of Persepolis, which had fallen to ruins). After the death of Papak and his oldest son Shapur (Shahpuhr, Sapores), Ardashir made himself king (probably A.D. 212), put his other brothers to death and began war against the neighbouring dynasts of Persis. When he had conquered a great part of Persis and Carmania, the Parthian king Artabanus IV. interfered. But he was defeated in three battles and at last killed (A.D. 236). Ardashir now considered himself sovereign of the whole empire of the Parthians and called himself "King of Kings of the Iranians." But his aspirations went farther. In Persis the traditions of the Achaemenian empire had always been alive, as the name of Ardashir himself shows, and with them the national religion of Zoroaster. Ardashir, who was a zealous worshipper of Ahuramazda and in intimate connexion with the magian priests, established the orthodox Zoroastrian creed as the official religion of his new kingdom, persecuted the infidels, and tried to restore the old Persian empire, which under the Achaemenids had extended over the whole of Asia from the Aegean Sea to the Indus. At the same time he put down the local dynasts and tried to create a strong concentrated power. His empire is thus quite different in character from the Parthian kingdom of the Arsacids, which had no national and religious basis but leant towards Hellenism, and whose organization had always been very loose. Ardashir extirpated the whole race of the Arsacids, with the exception of those princes who had found refuge in Armenia, and in many wars, in which, however, as the Persian tradition shows, he occasionally suffered heavy defeats, he succeeded in subjugating the greater part of Iran, Susiana and Babylonia. The Parthian capital Ctesiphon (q.v.) remained the principal residence of the Sassanian kingdom, by the side of the national metropolis Istakhr, which was too far out of the way to become the centre of administration. Opposite to Ctesiphon, on the right bank of the Tigris, Ardashir restored Seleucia under the name of Weh-Ardashir. The attempt to conquer Mesopotamia, Armenia and Cappadocia led to a war with Rome, in which he was repelled by Alexander Severus (A.D. 233). Before his death (A.D. 241) Ardashir associated with himself on the throne his son Shapur, who successfully continued his work.
Under the tombs of Darius I. at Persepolis, on the surface of the rock, Ardashir has sculptured his image and that of the god Ahuramazda (Ormuzd or Ormazd). Both are on horseback; the god is giving the diadem to the king. Under the horse of the king lies a defeated enemy, the Parthian king Artaban; under the horse of Ormuzd, the devil Ahriman, with two snakes rising from his head. In the bilingual inscription (Greek and Pahlavi), Ardashir I. calls himself "the Mazdayasnian [i.e. "worshipper of Ahuramazda"] god Artaxares, king of the kings of the Arianes (Iranians), of godly origin, son of the god Papak the king." (See Sir R. Ker Porter, Travels (1821-1822), i. 548 foll.; Flandin et Coste, Voyage en Perse, iv. 182; F. Stolze and J.C. Andreas, Persepolis, pl. 116; Marcel Diculafoy, L'Art antique de la Perse, 1884-1889, v. pl. 14). A similar inscription and sculpture is on a rock near Gur (Firuzabad) in Persia. On his coins he has the same titles (in Pahlavi). We see that he, like his father and his successors, were worshipped as gods, probably as incarnations of a secondary deity of the Persian creed.
Like the history of the founder of the Achaemenian empire, that of Ardashir has from the beginning been overgrown with legends; like Cyrus he is the son of a shepherd, his future greatness is predicted by dreams and visions, and by the calculations of astronomers he becomes a servant at the court of King Artabanus and then flies to Persia and begins the rebellion; he fights with the great dragon, the enemy of god, &c. A Pahlavi text, which contains this legend, has been translated by Nöldeke (Geschichte des Artachshir i Papakan, 1879). On the same tradition the account of Firdousi in the Shahnama is based; it occurs also, with some variations, in Agathias ii. 26 f. Another work, which contained religious and moral admonitions which were put into the mouth of the king, has not come down to us. On the other hand the genealogy of Ardashir has of course been connected with the Achaemenids, on whose behalf he exacts vengeance from the Parthians, and with the legendary kings of old Iran.
(2) Ardashir II. (379-383). Under the reign of his brother Shapur II. he had been governor (king) of Adiabene, where he persecuted the Christians. After Shapur's death, he was raised to the throne by the magnates, although more than seventy years old. Having tried to make himself independent from the court, and having executed some of the grandees, he was deposed after a reign of four years.
(3) Ardashir III. (628-630), son of Kavadh II., was raised to the throne as a boy of seven years, but was killed two years afterwards by his general, Shahrbaraz.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)