Shahname - Overview

Rostam kills Dragon

Background to the story

"The houses that are the dwelling of today will sink beneath shower and sunshine to decay but storm and rain shall never mar the palace that I have built with my poetry." Ferdowsi

This epic tale is structured around the mythical and historical reign of 50 Persian Kings - Shahname literally means 'Book of Kings'. The tale can be roughly divided into three parts: the first part tells of the mythical creation of Persia and its earliest fabled past; the second part tells of the legendary Kings and the heroes Rostam and Sohrab; the third part blends historical fact with legend, telling of the semi-mythical adventures of actual historical Kings. The manuscripts were made for Kings, and the epic is about both Kings and kingship, though many of the Kings recorded in the epic were in reality unable to live up to these high principles.


Part one:

Opens with a cosmography and the creation of the world out of nothing.

  • The reign of Jamshid for 700 hundred years.
  • The rule of Zahhak the evil Serpent King who is finally killed by the blacksmith.
  • The rule of Faridun and his sons.

Part two:

  • The birth and reign of Zal.
  • The birth of his son Rostam.
  • The reign of Rostam for 300 years, during which he overcomes seven heroic trials and many demons, marries Tahmina.
  • The birth of Sohrab.
  • The death of Sohrab by his own father, Rostam.

Part three:

  • The reigns and adventures of, among others: Key Khosrow; Siyavush; Goshtasp; Esfandiyar; Darius; Alexander, and Bahram Gur.

The story of Zal, Rostam and Sohrab

Sam married an unnamed palace courtier.

Their son Zal married Princess Rudabeh , daughter of the King of Karbol.

Their son Rostam married Princess Tahmina .

Sohrab is their son.

This is the story of four generations, of fathers and sons, courage and skill, love and honour, war and grief, and of fathers making mistakes - sometimes putting their mistakes right, sometimes forgetting. This theme of fathers and sons reoccurs throughout the epic.

Important characters

King Kay Kavus
King of Samangan