A reborn Persian Empire captured Rome's lands—and its emperor

Inspired by their powerful ancestors, the Sassanian dynasty restored Persia to imperial glory, ruling lands that stretched from Turkey to Pakistan.

The fifth-century Sassanian ruler Bahram V hunts gazelles on a silver platter. The Metropolitan Museum, New York.
MMA/RMN-GRAND PALAIS

Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 331 B.C. and ended the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great. For the next five centuries, the Iranian plateau became ruled by other empires, until a new Persian dynasty took power. Fiercely proud of their roots, these new kings—the Sassanians—restored the might of their ancestors, drawing on their past to become feared conquerors, grand builders, and artistic patrons.

For more than four centuries the Sassanians dominated western Asia, expanding their empire and gaining lands from the Roman and Byzantine empires in the west and the Kushan empire in the east. To strengthen their connection to the past, they honored their leaders by carving reliefs of their deeds at Naqsh-e Rostam, the traditional resting place of the Achaemenid kings. Zoroastrianism became the state faith, and the government became centralized.

Sassanians grew wealthy, enriched by the trading routes (including the Silk Road) that passed through their realm. Centered in what is now Iran, the Sassanian empire was home to diverse ethnicities and cultures. It was known for its libraries, vast centers of learning, and soaring achievements in monumental art and architecture. By looking backward, the Sassanians moved their culture forward.

Read This Next

Humans are creating hot spots where bats could transmit zoonotic diseases

‘Lake bagging’ is trending. What is it, and how can you do it safely?

Too hot to live: Millions worldwide will face unbearable temperatures

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet