Roj Bahman Mah Adar, 1381 Yz.
Readers of Frashogard may be familiar with the name of the Sassanian dynasty, which ruled over Iran and much of the civilized world during its days of glory.
The dynasty was founded by Ardeshir Papakan (r. 224 – 241 AD) and had 35 rulers, the last being Yezdezerd Shaharyar, who ruled from 632 to 651 AD and from whose name our calendar (Yazdezardi, or Yz.) is derived. Thus Yz. 1 marked the first year of the coronation of Yezdezerd and today we are in the 1381st year of his reign.
The Sassanian dynasty had two distinct periods of glory, when its influence was complete over most of the civilized world of those days. The first period was during the rule of Shapur II bin Hormazd (310 – 379 AD).
This was the time when the Zoroastrian religion was brought back to its earlier glory under the Dasturi of Rainidar Adurbad Mahrespand. The second period of preeminence was during the rule of Khosrau I, also called Anoshirwan (of the immortal soul) and made more famous as Noshirwan-e-Adil (the just) during the years 531-579 AD.
The first seeds of destruction of the Sassanian empire were of course sowed by the heretic and despised Mazdak (died 528). This accursed person was a Zoroastrian priest, but became a heretic and assumed the name Mazdak (meaning ‘small god’, derived from Mazda – the lord of Wisdom). He preached a revolutionary form of society, where there was no hierarchy and everything was owned communally (much like communism, 1500 years later). This was a direct affront to the truths of Nature, where there is always a hierarchy, and also to the teachings of Zoroastrianism (and other religions). His main teaching to his followers was to enjoy the pleasures of life and satisfy their appetite in the highest degree with regard to eating and drinking in the spirit of equality, and sharing all goods, and women as common objects. His message found acceptance amongst the lower levels of society and even amongst some of the nobility. Soon some members of the royal family also converted to Mazdak’s philosophy.
The Magi advisors to King Kobad (the father of King Khosrau I, Anoshirwan) warned the emperor to stop this growing trend before it reached menacing proportions. The Magi, and their leader, the Dasturan Dastur were always given the preeminent spot in the court of the Sassanian Kings, and their advice and directions were followed without question. But, in a sign of the times to come, the advice of the Abed Sahebs was not followed through with the strictness and thoroughness expected. The Abed Sahebs themselves realized that their time in the open world was now drawing to a close. Therefore, in a slow but steady move, the cream of the Magian society left the public Iran and retreated to the secret enclave of Demavand, in the reign of Kobad I (488 – 531 AD). Their movement to the secret enclave was completed in the reign of Khosrau Anoshirwan. It was only after they left that their absence was really felt, but by that time it was too late.
When the Mazdak movement gained such ground that it became a threat to the monarchy, Khosrau Anoshirwan awoke from his slumber and challenged Mazdak to an open debate, in which the heretic was defeated. He was publicly hanged, along with thousands of his followers. But the damage had been done. The Mazdak movement went underground and continued to grow silently, patiently waiting for the right time to strike at the Zoroastrian empire. The reign of Khosrau Anoshirwan is generally accepted as the golden period of Sassanian Iran. The King brought in great reforms in the way the country was governed and taxes were collected. He eased the burden on the common man and gave public infrastructure a great boost by building canals and other irrigation projects. The King had, as his Vazir the great Zoroastrian priest Buzurgmeher, whose brilliance and piety is the subject of another article all by itself.
Time is supreme, man is nothing. Following this dictum, the days of Khosrau Anoshirwan also came to an end. He was followed on the throne by his son, Hormazd IV (ruled 579 – 590).
Trouble began the moment Hormazd IV ascended the throne. Highly suspicious of the great nobles who attended the court of his father, and who were the cream of Iranian society and the pillars of strength of the monarchy, Hormazd began systematically sidelining them, trying to wrest all control of the country into his own hands. Those who refused to give up their power and position were imprisoned, exiled or murdered. His strictness with the army and with the common man caused cries of anguish throughout the empire. Whereas his father was just, but kind, Hormazd was just, but cruel, and uncompromising.
The enemies of Persia were waiting just for this moment. As the country was awash with rebellion and anger, the White Huns (also called Hepthalites) attacked the empire with a massive army of 400,000 warriors and 1200 war trained elephants, under the leadership of Khaqan Shah Saveh (also known today as Bagha Qaghan). Facing this massive army was the Iranian army, numbering only 12,000 soldiers, under the leadership of a talented and valiant general called Behram Chobin (the modern name Zubin is derived from him). Using brilliant strategy and cunning, the Iranian army routed the Huns, with Behram Chobin himself killing Khaqan Shah Saveh with a single arrow (this clash is also called the First Perso-Turkic war.) This battle raised the public profile of General Behram Chobin to new heights. Unfortunately, this aroused the demon of jealousy in the suspicious King Hormazd.
As different countries began to attack demoralized Iran, General Chobin was sent to the Roman boundary to counter a fresh attack. Here the General suffered a minor defeat in a small skirmish with the Roman (Byzantine) army. Quick to use this defeat to his advantage, King Hormazd IV humiliated Behram Chobin by sending him a set of girl’s clothing, complete with earrings, and a nasty letter. This enraged the General, who rebelled against the King. Behram Chobin, taking the law into his own hands, marched with his army from the Roman boundary to the Sassanian capital, Ctesiphon (located today about 35 kms south of Baghdad), intent on overthrowing King Hormazd IV and taking the Sassanian throne himself.
The arch of Ctesiphon, a complex built by Khusrau Anoshirvan
But in his great anger, Behram Chobin destroyed the very country and empire he was trying to save. As the army marched they caused great hardship to the common man, through looting and hooliganism. As a senior General, Behram Chobin knew the locations of the secret treasuries maintained by the King in different parts of the empire, to pay the local armies and for the day-to-day running of the empire. These treasuries were looted and years of tax collections were destroyed in a few days. In such a manner, the very General who had saved the empire, became responsible for routing it. Shortly, the army reached Ctesiphon and captured the King, who was first blinded and then kept in captivity for a few days.
The son of King Hormazd IV was Khosrau II, who was but a young boy at that time. His own life being in danger, Khosrau was whisked away from the palace by two of his uncles, Banduy and Gastahem. Both these uncles were hand-in-glove with the nobles who had turned against King Hormazd and were also secretly favouring the Mazdakites. They had a sinister plan of crowning young Khosrau II the emperor, making him a puppet and ruling through him. With this plan in mind, the uncles took away Khosrau with them, first to Syria and from there to the court of the Roman Caesar Maurice (582-602) in Constantinople (modern Istanbul). They appealed to the Caesar for help in raising an army to defeat the imposter King Behram Chobin and put Khosrau II on the throne. The Caesar was a shrewd person. He agreed, but with a cunningly calculated condition. The acceptance of this condition was to prove the beginning of the end of the Sassanian empire. Thus begins the tragic life-story of King Khosrau Parvez.
[to be continued...]
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram