Kings of Persis

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Kings of Persis

after 132 BC–224 CE
Map of the domain of the Kings of Persis (geographical).jpg
Approximate extent of the kingdom
StatusVassal of the Parthian Empire
Capital Istakhr
Common languages Middle Persian
 after 132 BC – ?
Darayan I (first)
Ardakhshir V (last)
Historical era Late antiquity
after 132 BC
 Incorporated into the Sasanian Empire
224 CE
Currency Drachm
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Frataraka
Sasanian Empire Derafsh Kaviani flag of the late Sassanid Empire.svg
Today part ofFlag of Iran.svg  Iran
Location of Persis. Persis map.jpg
Location of Persis.

The Kings of Persis, also known as the Darayanids, were a series of Persian kings, who ruled the region of Persis in southwestern Iran, from the 2nd century BCE to 224 CE. They ruled as sub-kings of the Parthian Empire, until they toppled them and established the Sasanian Empire. [1] They effectively formed some Persian dynastic continuity between the Achaemenid Empire (6th century BCE-4th century BCE) and the Sasanian Empire (3rd century CE-7th century CE). [1]



Persis (also known as Pars), a region in the southwestern Iranian plateau, was the homeland of a southwestern branch of the Iranian peoples, the Persians. [2] It also was also the birthplace of the first Iranian Empire, the Achaemenids. [2] The region served as the center of the empire until its conquest by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 BC). [2] Since the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, Persis was ruled by local dynasts subject to the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. [1] These dynasts held the ancient Persian title of frataraka ("leader, governor, forerunner"), which is also attested in the Achaemenid-era. [3] Later under the frataraka Wadfradad II (fl. 138 BC) was made a vassal of the Iranian Parthian (Arsacid) Empire. [1] The frataraka were shortly afterwards replaced by the Kings of Persis, most likely at the accession of the Arsacid monarch Phraates II (r. 132–127 BC). [4] Unlike the fratarakas, the Kings of Persis used the title of shah ("king"), and laid foundations to a new dynasty, which may be labelled the Darayanids. [4]

Sub-kings of the Parthian Empire

According to Strabo, the early kings of Persis were tributaries to the Seleucid rulers, until c.140 BC, when the Parthians conquered the region: [5]

The Persians have kings who are subject to other kings, formerly of the kings of Macedonia, but now to the kings of the Parthians.

Strabo XV 3.24 [5] [6]

The Parthian Empire then took control of Persis under Arsacid king Mithridates I (ca. 171-138 BC), but visibly allowed local rulers to remain, and permitted the emission of coinage bearing the title of Mlk ("King"). [1] From then on, the coinage of the Kings of Persis would become quite Parthian in character and style. [1]

Under the Parthians, these dynasts were called kings and their title appeared on their coins: for example “dʾryw MLKʾ BRH wtprdt MLKʾ” (Dārāyān the King, son of Wādfradād the King). [1] The Arsacid incluence is very clear in the coinage, and Strabo also reports (15. 3.3) that during the time of Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE), the kings of the Persians were as subservient to the Parthians as they had been earlier to the Macedonians: [1]

"But afterwards different princes occupied different palaces; some, as was natural, less sumptuous, after the power of Persis had been reduced first by the Macedonians, and secondly still more by the Parthians. For although the Persians have still a kingly government, and a king of their own, yet their power is very much diminished, and they are subject to the king of Parthia."

Strabo, XV.3.3 [7]

Establishment of the Sasanian Empire

Under Vologases V (r. 191–208), the Parthian Empire was in decline, due to wars with the Romans, civil wars and regional revolts. [8] The Roman emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193–211) had invaded the Parthian domains in 196, and two years later did the same, this time sacking the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon. [8] At the same time, revolts occurred in Media and Persis. [8]

Coin minted under Pabag's son Shapur. The observe shows a portrait of the latter, whilst the reverse shows a portrait of Pabag Hemidrachm of Shahpur and Papak, ca. 200-209.jpg
Coin minted under Pabag's son Shapur. The observe shows a portrait of the latter, whilst the reverse shows a portrait of Pabag

The Iranologist Touraj Daryaee argues that the reign of Vologases V was "the turning point in Parthian history, in that the dynasty lost much of its prestige." [8] The kings of Persis were now unable to depend on their weakened Parthian overlords. [8] Indeed, in 205/6, a local Persian ruler named Pabag rebelled and overthrew the Bazrangid ruler of Persis, Gochihr, taking Istakhr for himself. [9] [8] According to the medieval Iranian historian al-Tabari (d. 923), it was at the urging of his son Ardashir that Pabag rebelled. However, Daryaee considers this statement unlikely, and states that it was in reality Shapur that helped Pabag to capture Istakhr, as demonstrated by the latter's coinage which has portraits of both them. [10]

There he appointed his eldest son Shapur as his heir. [8] This was much to the dislike of Ardashir, who had become the commander of Darabgerd after the death of Tiri. [8] [11] Ardashir in an act of defiance, left for Ardashir-Khwarrah, where he fortified himself, preparing to attack his brother Shapur after Pabag's death. [8] [lower-alpha 1] Pabag died a natural death sometime between 207–10 and was succeeded by Shapur, who became king of Persis. [13] After his death, both Ardashir and Shapur started minted coins with the title of "king" and the portrait of Pabag. [14] The observe of Shapur's coins had the inscription "(His) Majesty, king Shapur" and the reverse had "son of (His) Majesty, king Pabag". [15] Shapur's reign, however, proved short; he died under obscure conditions in 211/2. [15] [8] Ardashir thus succeeded Shapur as Ardashir V, and went on to conquer the rest of Iran, establishing the Sasanian Empire in 224 as Ardashir I. [16]


The coinage of the Kings of Persis consists in individualized portraits of the rulers on the obverse, and often the rulers shown in a devotional role on the reverse. [17] The style of the coins is often influenced by Parthian coinage, particularly in respect to the dress and the headgear of the rulers. [1] A reverse legend in Aramaic, using the Aramaic script, gives the name of the ruler and his title (𐡌‬𐡋𐡊 mlk' : King), and often his relationship to a preceding ruler. The coin legends are written from right to left, wrapping the central scene in a counterclock-wise manner: [17]

Coin legend of Darayan II

Darayan II coin legend.jpg

Legend, written from right to left, counterclock-wise:
𐡃‬𐡀𐡓𐡉‬‬𐡅‬ 𐡌𐡋‬𐡊‬ 𐡁𐡓𐡄 𐡅‬𐡕‬𐡐‬𐡓‬𐡃‬𐡕 𐡌‬𐡋𐡊‬‬
d’ryw mlk' brh wtprdt mlk’
"Darius the King, son of Vadfradad the King" [17]

List of the Kings of Persis, as Sub-Kings of the Parthian Empire

The Kings of Persis were preceded by the Fratarakas. The list of the King of Persis is mainly known though the coin sequence, and only a few kings are mentioned in ancient literary sources. [1]

NameDateCoinageFamily RelationsNote
1 Darayan I 2nd century BCE (end) KINGS of PERSIS. Darev (Darios) I. 2nd century BC.jpg ?Darayan I and his successors were sub-kings of the Parthian Empire. Crescent emblem on top of stylized kyrbasia. Aramaic coin legend d’ryw mlk (𐡃‬𐡀𐡓𐡉‬‬𐡅‬ 𐡌𐡋‬𐡊‬, "King Darius").
2 Wadfradad III 1st century BCE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Autophradates (Vadfradad) III. Early 1st century BC.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire. Coin legend wtprdt mlk (𐡅‬𐡕‬𐡐‬𐡓‬𐡃‬𐡕 𐡌‬𐡋𐡊‬, "King Wadfradad") in Aramaic script.
3 Darayan II 1st century BCE Drachma Darius II.jpg son of Wadfradad IIISub-king of the Parthian Empire. Aramaic coin legend d’ryw mlk brh wtprdt mlk’ (𐡃‬𐡀𐡓𐡉‬‬𐡅‬ 𐡌𐡋‬𐡊‬ 𐡁𐡓𐡄 𐡅‬𐡕‬𐡐‬𐡓‬𐡃‬𐡕 𐡌‬𐡋𐡊, "King Darius, son of King Wadfradad").
4 Ardakhshir II 1st century BCE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Ardaxsir (Artaxerxes) II. 1st century BC.jpg son of Darayan IISub-king of the Parthian Empire. Killed by his brother Vahshir I
5Wahsir1st century BCE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Vahsir (Oxathres). 1st century BC - 1st century AD.jpg son of Darayan IISub-king of the Parthian Empire
6 Pakor I 1st century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Pakor (Pakor) I. 1st century AD.jpg son of Vahshir ISub-king of the Parthian Empire
7Pakor II1st century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Pakor (Pakor) II. 1st century AD.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
8Nambed1st century CE (mid) KINGS of PERSIS. Nambed (Namopat). 1st century AD.jpg son of Ardakhshir IISub-king of the Parthian Empire
9Napad1st century CE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Napad (Kapat). 1st century AD.jpg son of NambedSub-king of the Parthian Empire
10‘Unknown king II’1st century CE (end) KINGS of PERSIS. Uncertain king II. 1st century BC - 1st century AD.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
11Wadfradad IV2nd century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Vadfradad (Autophradates) IV. 1st century BC.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
12Manchihr I2nd century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Manuchtir (Manchihr) I. Early-mid 2nd century AD.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
13Ardakhshir III2nd century CE (1st half) KINGS of PERSIS. Ardaxsir (Artaxerxes) III. 1st-2nd century AD.jpg son of Manchihr ISub-king of the Parthian Empire
14Manchihr II2nd century CE (mid) KINGS of PERSIS. Manuchtir (Manchihr) II. Mid 2nd century AD.jpg son of Ardakhshir IIISub-king of the Parthian Empire
15Uncertain King III/
tentatively Pakor III [18]
2nd century CE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Uncertain king III. 2nd century AD.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire
16Manchihr III2nd century CE (2nd half) KINGS of PERSIS. Manuchtir (Manchihr) III. Mid-late 2nd century AD.jpg son of Manchihr IISub-king of the Parthian Empire
17Ardakhshir IV2nd century CE (end) KINGS of PERSIS. Ardaxsir (Artaxerxes) IV. Late 2nd - early 3rd century AD.jpg son of Manchihr IIISub-king of the Parthian Empire
18Vahshir II (Oxathres)c. 206-210 CE KINGS of PERSIS. Oxathres (Vahsir) II. Late 1st century BC.jpg ?Sub-king of the Parthian Empire. The last of Bazarangids.
19 Shapur 3rd century CE (beg.) KINGS of PERSIS. Shapur. Circa 200-212 AD.jpg Brother of the first Sasanian, Ardashir I Independent
20 Ardashir V
(Sasanian Dynasty Ardashir I)
3rd century CE (beg.) SASANIAN KINGS. Ardashir I. As King of Persis, AD 205-6-223-4.jpg First Sasanian ruler, under the name of Ardashir I Independent

See also


  1. Physical evidence demonstrates that it was not from Darabgerd, as stated by al-Tabari, that Ardashir started expanding his domains, but from Ardashir-Khwarrah. [12]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Wiesehöfer 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 Wiesehöfer 2000a, p. 195.
  3. Wiesehöfer 2000b, p. 195.
  4. 1 2 Shayegan 2011, p. 178.
  5. 1 2 A History of Zoroastrianism vol II & III. p. 116.
  6. LacusCurtius • Strabo's Geography — Book XV Chapter 3. p. XV 3.24.
  7. Strabo, Geography, BOOK XV., CHAPTER III.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Daryaee 2010, p. 249.
  9. Daryaee 2012, p. 187.
  10. Daryaee 2010, p. 245.
  11. Wiesehöfer 1986, pp. 371–376.
  12. Daryaee 2010, p. 247.
  13. Wiesehöfer 2009; Frye 1988 , pp. 298–299; Daryaee 2010 , p. 252; Curtis & Stewart 2008 , p. 34
  14. Daryaee 2010, p. 250.
  15. 1 2 Daryaee 2014, p. 4.
  16. Potts 2017 , p. 777; Daryaee 2014 , p. 4; Wiesehöfer 1986 , pp. 371–376
  17. 1 2 3 Sellwood 1983, pp. 299–322.
  18. Rezakhani, Khodadad (2010). The "Unbekannter König III" and the Coinage of Hellenistic and Arsacid Persis.