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As opposed to the Arsacids, the Sasanians, like their Achaemenid 'ancestors', tell a great deal about their notions of government, their public appearances and their political aspirations in both the domestic and foreign spheres. All lands of the former Parthian empire, except for Armenia, came under Sasanian control during the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Ardashir. Yazdgerd III was made king by Rustam's aristocratic party, thus becoming the Sasanians' last ruler. It was a decidedly Iranian attitude that characterised the Sasanian image of the ruler and his qualities. The late Sasanian period was altogether a time of literary flowering, much of it commissioned or sponsored by the royal court. The Sasanian empire was also characterised by the magnitude and diversity of its religious groups and communities. Whereas the fourth century was characterised by numerous military conflicts between the superpowers Iran and Byzantium.
With the exception of the (late) Roman imperial court, theoretical and historical approaches to the princely court as ‘the most general arrangement of power in pre-modern society’ are mostly a phenomenon of medieval and early modern, rather than ancient, history. As for the civilisations of the ancient Near East, here we are more or less treading on virgin ground. Yet the monarchies of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Parthians and Sasanians stand absolute comparison with their early modern European counterparts in terms of their impact on their subject-populations and neighbours. This does not mean that no scholar until now has ever studied the life, institutions and modes of communication in ancient Near Eastern courts. But such work has seldom been based on a theoretical model or comparison with the court phenomenon in other societies or cultures. As for the Sasanian empire, we do not even possess detailed descriptions or antiquarian studies of the court as a centre of decision-making and governance, as the focus of social networks, as a stage for royal or aristocratic representation, as a centre of consumption, or as a control centre for trans-regional communication. Nor has any expert in the Iranian languages ever addressed the question as to whether there was a Middle Persian or Parthian equivalent of Latin curia, English court or German Hof.
Unfortunately, the specific nature of the Sasanian source material (see below) makes it extremely difficult to rise above the merely descriptive and antiquarian approach.
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