Revealing the Real Prince of Persia and a King of Kings Who Inspired Modern Movies
Prince of Persia is a video game franchise originally created by Jordan Mechner. In 2010, the video game was adapted into an action fantasy film entitled Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time . The main character of the movie is Prince Dastan portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal. But what is the story of the real Prince of Persia?
Persian Characters of Film and History
Price Dastan from the movie is based on a character from Persian mythology known as Rostam Dastan. This hero of Persia is also based on a real historical person named Rostam Farrokhzad who was the brother of the Persian king Yazdegerd the Third and the commander of his army in the Sasanian Empire. Yazdegerd the Third was the 38th (and last) king of the Sasanian Empire of Iran, from the year 632 to 651. His name means “Made by God” and he ascended the throne after a series of internal conflicts.
Coin of a young Yazdegerd III. ( CC BY-SA 1.0 )
As for Rostam Farrokhzad, apart from being the chief of the army, he is also a character in the Persian epic poem “ Shahnameh”. Rostam was a member of the House of Ispahbudhan, one of the seven Parthian clans. In the “ Shahnameh” he is described as “sagacious, warlike and one who had been a conqueror. He was a calculator of the stars, of great perception; and he listened deeply to what his counselors advised”.
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In the “ Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran ”, Rostam is described as follows: “A man endowed with extraordinary energy, a good administrator and a fine general”. He is said to have fought in many successful battles.
Rostam Farrokhzad in the Shahnameh. ( Public Domain )
Legends say that during the final day of the battle against the Arabs, Rostam’s army faced a terrible sandstorm. While Rostam used a camel loaded with weapons as shelter to avoid the sandstorm, Hilaal ibn `Ullafah accidentally cut the girdle of the load on the camel. He had no idea that Rostam was behind it, so the weapons fell on Rostam and broke his back.
Half dead and paralyzed, Rostam was beheaded by Hilaal. Hilaal then brought the head of Rostam before the rest of the warriors and shouted: “I swear to the god of Kaaba that I have killed Rostam!”. The Sassanid soldiers were highly demoralized and the commanders lost control of their army. After Rostam’s death, Yazdegerd III was murdered in 651 by Mahuy Suri, and the Arabs quickly conquered Khorasan.
Persia’s King Xerxes the First
Another well-known historical figure of Persia is King Xerxes the First. His name means “Ruling over heroes”. He was the 4th “king of kings” of the Achaemenid Empire and he ruled from the year 486 BC until his assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard. The phrase “king of kings” means “high king” or “great king” and it was adopted into Persian while having Semitic origins.
Xerxes the First is the Persian king identified as Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther from the Bible. He is also known for the invasion of Greece in the year 480 BC. Such as his predecessor, Darius the First, Xerxes ruled over the Persian Empire at its territorial apex. However, Xerxes managed to conquer even more land of mainland Greece than Darius the First through his battles at Thermopylae and Artemisium.
Xerxes attending the lashing and "chaining" of the Hellespont (Illustration from 1909). ( Public Domain )
Xerxes was the son of Darius the First and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great. He was crowned and succeeded his father in the year 486 BC when he was about 36 years old. The transition of power to Xerxes was smooth due to the great authority of his mother, Atossa. His accession to power was not challenged by any person. Immediately, Xerxes crushed the revolts in Egypt and Babylon that had broken out the year before.
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Battles and Another Movie
At the Battle of Thermopylae, a small force of Greek warriors led by King Leonidas of Sparta resisted the much larger Persian army, but they were finally defeated. After the military campaigns in Greece, Xerxes returned to Persia and oversaw the completion of many construction projects left unfinished by his father at Susa and Persepolis.
Image of king Xerxes I of Persia from his tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
In the year 465 BC, Artabanus assassinated Xerxes with the help of a eunuch named Aspamitres. Artabanus was the commander of the royal bodyguard and the most powerful official in the Persian court.
The rock-cut tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam, copying that of Darius the First, is usually assumed to be that of Xerxes. Throughout time, there have been many cultural depictions of King Xerxes. Probably the most well-known appears in the movie “ One Night with the King ” where Xerxes is portrayed by Luke Goss. Xerxes is also featured in the 2014 film entitled “ 300: Rise of an Empire ”. This movie is based on two battles - the Battle of Artemisium and the Battle of Salamis.
Top image: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. ( CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 )
By Valda Roric
Valda Roric – “ From History to Mystery ”
Parvaneh Pourshariati - “ Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran ”
W. Harold Claflin – “ History of Persia. From the Sassanids to the 20th Century ”
A.T. Olmstead – “ History of the Persian Empire ”
Strange that the use of Persian iconography is not more widespread. We applaud the long Greek epics and yet the Persians hold many of great lengths and philosophical questions to boggle the mind.