The Sassanians are a family from southern Iran who overthrew the Parthians in about 228 C.E. and ruled over Persia until the Arab Conquest (c. 640 C.E.). Ardashir I founded the dynasty, which is associated with great royal splendor and wealth and which claimed descent from the first-millennium B.C.E. Achaemenid rulers of Persia. Ardashir’s son Sha-pu-r I defeated the Roman emperor Valerian in battle; Sha-pu-r II gained fame for aggressively trying to reclaim the lands Persia had controlled during the Achaemenid period.

Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Persian Sassanian empire. According to the founder, the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra), two opposing forces—one good, one destructive—created life as well as various corruptive entities. An individual’s eternal fate is determined by the choices made between these two principles.