Divine Majesty and Sassanid Monarchs

  September 23, 2021   Read time 2 min
Divine Majesty and Sassanid Monarchs
The priesthood had to be assured that a prospective ruler would follow the Mazdayasnian faith, as the Zoroastrian religion was called. This meant not only adherence to the ritual and the ethics of the state religion, but also to the norms of society in the class structure.

In the many books of advice and on rules of conduct, from Islamic times in Arabic and Persian, one finds the remark that in the Sasanian era religion and state were twin sisters, and the duty of the ruler was to support the religion. The future rulers of the Sasanian empire were, of course, instructed in the worship of Ahura Mazda, and taught the requirements of religion, as well as the arts of riding, archery and the like.

In the years of the earlier Sasanian state the ruler appointed priests and bestowed titles on them, but later, perhaps already by the time of Shapiir II, the chief priest, the mobaddn-mobad, created on the analogy of the title king of kings, took over such ecclesiastical tasks as religious appointments. The mobadan mobad also performed the act of coronation, placing a crown on the head of the new ruler. Firdausl describes this frequently in the Shah-nama.

The time and day of coronation were determined by astrologers, astronomers and soothsayers, all of whom were important personages at any court of antiquity. The day of coronation might be postponed a long time in waiting for an auspicious day. In any case, it did not coincide with the day of accession to the throne; this has caused great uncertainty in the dating of the reigns of some Sasanian rulers. The celebrations at the time of coronation included much feasting and entertainment, and the ruler presented money or precious objects to the nobles and to the army.

Each Sasanian monarch had a distinctive crown, or even more than one. The crown and the mace were two of the symbols of royalty. There is not space here to go into the details of the coronation ceremony. Suffice it to say that traditions of kingship in the Sasanian state were both varied and ancient.

The ruler was regarded as chosen by God with a divine right to rule, but this did not make him an unapproachable divine figure. Many stories are told by Firdausi about the sense of justice of the Sasanian kings. Access to the throne by the poorest subject was an old tradition in Iran, and on festival days such as Noruz and Mihragan, the king listened to complaints in open audience.

The ruler was regarded as the protector and impartial judge of all of his subjects, and the ancient traditions of law in Iran can be compared with the role of law in the Roman empire. The ruler with all his power had to submit to the laws as everyone else. Since the privileges of the nobility and clergy were established and accepted by all, the ruler had both to respect them and to defend them. Thus the very structure of society in Sasanian times imposed limits on the monarch's power and duties to his subjects.

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