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Zoroastrianism and the Sasanians

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World Coins560 of 6794 coins from my collection1859 Canadian Cent
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Posted 6 years ago


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Back in the mid 1970’s when I worked for Jess Peters Inc. I was given a small group of Sasanian coins to catalog. I didn’t know anything about the coins and had never heard of the Sasanians. The only book on these coins that we could find at that time was in German by Gobl and since I was the only one who could read German the coins became my project. What really caught my attention was that the reverse depicted a fire altar for a fire worshipping religion. The Zoroastrian religion was usually referred to and dismissed as the fire worshippers. Both the Christians and Moslems hated Zoroastrianism and the Islamic forces in the 700’s nearly exterminated it in areas they conquered.

Founded by the Prophet Zoroaster about 1000 years before Christianity began, it was first recorded by Herodotus circa 440BC. The Zoroastrians believe that life is a struggle between good and evil. The God of creation and light (good) is called Ormazd or Ahura Mazda. The god of evil and darkness is Ahriman who tries to undo God’s creation. (Sounds like our Christian God and the devil.)
They acknowledge the concept of free will and believe that active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is required to ensure happiness and keep chaos at bay.
Fire and water are their ritual agents of purification which is why many people think of them as fire worshipers. The religion originated in India and still exists there. Reportedly there are “Fire Temples” in Los Angeles and Paris.

Zoroastrianism became the state religion of Persian Empire under the Sasanian Dynasty. Nearly every one of their coins, copper, silver and gold, has a portrait of the emperor in a fancy ceremonial headdress on the obverse and the fire altar with two attendants on the reverse.

Khusro II (590-628AD) was one of the most powerful of the Sasanians. He defeated the Romans and his eastern neighbors and at the peak of his power ruled most of the Middle East. Constant wars are hard on the population, so Khusro made marriage a legal requirement to increase the population. He also did his duty and maintained a harem of 3000 concubines and 10,000 slave women.

Illustrated here is a silver drachm of Khusro I (531-579AD).

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