Animal Seals from Ancient Iran, c. 500 A.D.

The Sasanian Dynasty ruled in the area of what is now Iran from 224-651 C.E. The first king, Ardashir I, overthrew the Parthians, who had ruled Iran from 247 B.C.E. through 224 C.E. Ardashir and his successors built an empire that covered much of the area between what is now Iraq and India.

The official religion of the empire was Zoroastrianism, whose adherents believed in a creator god called Ohrmazd or Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism was founded by a Persian prophet named Zoroaster or Zarathustra. It is still practiced today in India by the Parsis. Other religions were practiced in the empire, including Christianity and Manichaeanism. The latter was founded by the prophet Mani in the 3rd century C.E. but was considered a dangerous heresy by the Zoroastrians.

The Sasanians were involved in a long-distance trade, controlling the seagoing routes through the Arabian and Red Seas. They exported such goods as silver and gold vessels, cut glass, and brocades made from Chinese silk. The Sasanian rulers carried out military campaigns against Roman Syria in the 3rd century C.E., and against Syria, Palestine, and Egypt in the early 7th century. The Sasanian Dynasty was finally overthrown by Islamic armies in 641 C.E., only 19 years after the Sasanians had nearly defeated the Byzantine empire at Constantinople.

Because there have been few archaeological surveys or scientific excavations in the region of the Sasanian empire, little material evidence has come to light from this period of Iran’s history. Some building ruins have been found, the most interesting of which are several domed pavilions, probably used as temples, in which worship centered on fire, a symbol of the god Ahura Mazda’s light and energy. Numerous Sasanian coins have been found as far away as China, and other material remains include small objects such as the animal seals shown here. These seals date from about the fifth century C.E. Shown here are a rabbit, a scorpion and a stag carved in various kinds of stone.

Sassanian Seal, Rabbit, Carnelian

Sassanian Seal, Scorpion

Sassanian Seal, Stag, Carnelian

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