Roj Khordad Mah Shehrevar, 1382 Yz.
After the banishment of Dastur Dinyar from the court of Khosrau I Anoshirwan, nothing seemed to go right for the Sassanid Empire. Despite the benevolent, enlightened and just rule of Anoshirwan, various troubles began to manifest in different part of the vast empire. The first unrest started in Armenia, which was part of the Sassanid Empire in those days. Armenia was a great stronghold of Zoroastrianism right from the times of the Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD). Armenia was also in a state of perpetual battle, since the Romans considered Armenia to be part of their empire. Numerous battles were fought between the Parthian and Roman Emperors in those days. During the time of the Parthian Dynasty, Lord Jesus Christ was born and Christianity was established in Levant or the Middle East. During this period, the whole of Palestine and the middle east areas was under Roman domination. When Christianity first began to be spread in these areas by the Apostles of Jesus, there was great persecution by the Romans who saw it as a threat to their own pagan faith. It must be remembered that it was the Romans who ultimately crucified Jesus and martyred several thousand of his followers.
When this persecution breached normal limits, many Christian converts escaped from the Roman Empire and took refuge in Armenia, under the benevolent gaze of the Zoroastrian Parthian Emperors who gave them sanctuary as well as the freedom to practice their new faith. Due to this move, the Romans grew even more vicious in their attacks in Armenia and tried every rule in the book (and outside it too) to harass the Iranian empire and the Christian converts settled there. At this time, Iranian soldiers gave thousands of lives to defend the empire as well as protect the Christians. In ‘gratitude’, the Christian refugees, settled in Armenia, began to convert the Zoroastrians resident in Armenia.
What started as a trickle slowly became a flood and soon, large swathes of the population was converted, both surreptitiously and through gratuitous means into Christianity. In the meantime, the Roman Empire’s stance towards Christianity became more progressive. By 300 AD, the rise of Constantine resulted in the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Now the Christians resident in Armenia began to show more loyalty towards the Christian Roman Empire rather than the Iranian Empire which had first given their ancestors refuge. The benevolent gaze of the Parthian Emperors was mistaken as a sign of weakness and the Christian Armenians began to get more and more brazen.
By the time of the Sassanid Emperors, Armenia had become a major headache as well as a deep fissure in the Iranian Empire. When the army and the Emperor would march towards Armenia and defeat the rebels, peace would reign for some time. But as soon as they left, the rebels would re-group and start their mischief once more. Even in the payment of the annual tribute, the Armenians would play dirty tricks. After collecting the annual tribute from all the farmers and residents, the Armenian Chiefs would send the tribute to Rome, rather than Iran! When questioned, they would ask the Iranians to collect the tribute from Rome! This kind of harassment and permanent aggression caused many troubles for the Iranian state. Men, materials, money and time was wasted in controlling Armenia.
By the time of King Khosrau Anoshirwan (531-579), matters had become very bad. When the Armenians crossed all boundaries of decency, Anoshirwan marched against them and in successive battles dealt crippling blows to them and the Roman Emperor Justinian. As this revolt was crushed came the news of the revolt of the Hepthalites (White Huns) in Central Asia. As Khosrau marched against them, once again the Armenians became active. In this march from one end of the Empire to another, Anoshirwan also managed to find time to carry out land reforms, tax reforms as well as provide a just and equal rule for all people in his Kingdom, for which he is remembered till today.
But soon a new evil arose which made the excesses of the Armenians seem like child’s play. During the reign of Khosrau’s predecessor, Kobad (488-531) there arose one of the most malevolent scourges of the Iranian Empire – a man called Mazdak, the son of Bamdad. Although he was ordained as a Zoroastrian priest, Mazdak proclaimed himself the Prophet of God, in the fashion of Zarathushtra. Preaching a form of communism, Mazdak decreed that the Iranian Empire, which had as its four main pillars – the monarchy, the army, the farmers and the Zoroastrian Magi, was based on wrong principles. Mazdak pronounced that all the riches of the empire belonged to everyone and they should be shared equally, without any reference to the position or title of the man. Mazdak also pronounced that women were the common property of all Iranians and any one of them could ‘use’ any woman to satisfy his urges. Putting aside the strict Tarikat based rules of the Zoroastrian Empire, Mazdak encouraged his followers to eat, drink, be merry and satisfy each and every urge of their physical senses to the fullest extent possible.
But worse was to come. Mazdak instigated the people against the monarchy and demanded that the Royal Granaries, where wheat and other staples were stored for use in times of drought should be thrown open, even in times of abundant harvests. If wheat was available for free, why would farmers labour hard and till the soil? These dangerous moves, which would appeal to the common man on the street, but which were fraught with great dangers for the stability and integrity of the Empire, soon began to catch hold. The Zoroastrian Magi, who were the Chief Advisors to the Sassanian King, strongly urged Kobad to control Mazdak before he became too powerful. Unfortunately, King Kobad ignored their advice. Never in the history of Iran had a King disregarded the advice of the Zoroastrian Magi. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Zoroastrian Magi, which formed the cream of Zoroastrian civilization, withdrew from normal life and retreated to the hidden sanctuary of Chaechast, below the Caspian Sea. A few years later, all other Zoroastrian Magi also retreated into the hidden recesses of Mount Demavand, to start the community there which would finally be home to our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff during the years 1875-1878.
Without the support of his Chief Advisors, King Kobad came more and more under the influence of Mazdak. Soon, chaos prevailed. In these troubled times, Khosrau Anoshirwan challenged Mazdak to a public debate and successfully and comprehensively beat him. As his just reward, Mazdak, along with three thousand of his closest followers was buried alive, upside down, as punishment for trying to subvert the Iranian Empire and as a gesture of his own upside down philosophy. Kobad was deposed and Anoshirwan ascended the throne of Iran. But the damage had been done. Despite the public hangings and the purges, large parts of the population had become secret followers of Mazdak. These misguided individuals worked every lever, used every influence and tried every trick to destabilize the Iranian Empire and to bring an end to Anoshirwan’s enlightened reign. Some of the closest and most senior members of the court were hidden followers of Mazdak. The King was surrounded by foes on all sides.
[to be continued…]
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram