The Origins of the Sasanian Dynasty

Official Sasanian documents attest an ancestral relationship with Pāpak, but are only reverential toward Sāsān. Later sources disparage that ancestry or present a confusing scenario. Such a confusion most likely arises when, for one reason or another, later descendants of the founder have problems in identifying themselves with their origins, or the movement that brought their dynasty to power. They thus engage in muddying up their origins in order to conceal what is subsequently deemed inappropriate. In the instant case, as David Frendo explains, adverse propaganda emanating from the Armenian Arsacids must have also been in play. A series of accusations, claims and counterclaims in between the two neighboring countries would have then further distorted the picture.
Frendo traces back the use of the term “Sasanian” in modern scholarship to the 17th-century ecclesiastical French historian de Tillemont, who adopted the dynastic name les Sasassanides from a Latin translation of Bar Hebraeus’ Arabic work, Tārikh ad-dowal, in which he refers to the last pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty as “Banu Sāsān.” The dynastic name (les Sassanides) coined by de Tillemont subsequently generated the intuitive notion that Sāsān was the eponymous founder of the dynasty, and thus added another wrinkle to the problem.
While the Paikuli inscriptions incorporate a problematic reference to a certain Sāsānagān group of people, Frendo demonstrates that in his diplomatic correspondence, Khosrow II proudly claimed to rely on a group of people referred to as Asones or Sasones, whom he proposes to be a “Sasanian” congregation distinct from the royal family. It is the aim of this paper to demonstrate that the Sāsānagān, the Sasones, and the Banu Sāsān, were one and the same, and it applied to a brotherhood organization that Sāsān had constituted and that Pāpak had inherited. Two later dynasties that stemmed from similar congregations, namely the Khorramdiniyyeh and the Safavids offer two possible succession models from one leader to another: through wife or daughter. Chances are that Pāpak succeeded Sāsān by marrying his wife. As for Pāpak's leadership of the Sāsānagān there is ample visual and textual evidence that he was indeed the master of a Mithraic congregation, a position that his own successors acknowledge in varying degrees, according to the prevailing winds of Zoroastrian orthodoxy.