The tragic life-story of King Khusrau Parvez – part 2

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Roj Spendarmad Mah Adar, 1381 Yz.

Putting aside the long standing rivalry between the Byzantines and the Iranians, Caesar Maurice agreed to help Khosrau raise an army to defeat the usurper Behram Chobin. His main condition was that Khosrau would marry the Caesar’s daughter, Miriam. Being aware of the nature of Kings, the Caesar further laid down the condition that the King would not take another wife till Miriam had passed away. The Caesar’s strategy was not only to halt the constant warfare between the two empires, which was draining the treasury as well as the youth of both Rome and Iran, but also to increase his own prestige and standing by mixing his Roman daughter’s blood with that of a Persian King. As his son-in-law, Khosrau would also be indebted to help out the Roman empire in its fights with other enemies.

But there was also another sinister angle behind this condition. Caesar Maurice and his entire family were devout Christians, with an evangelical bent of bind. It was the Caesar’s hope that his Christian daughter would somehow manage to win over not only some other members of the Royal family to the new religion, but also the condition of not taking another wife would ensure that Miriam’s son would be the sole contender for the throne when the time arose. In a situation where he had no choice, Khosrau accepted the conditions and the Caesar raised an army of several thousand to prepare for battle with Behram Chobin.

Over the next few months, three battles were fought between the armies of Khosrau and Behram Chobin.

khusrau parvez war

In the first battle, Khosrau was defeated. In the second battle, Khosrau was routed and would have been killed had he not been saved by the Yazata Sarosh’s intervention and Divine Guidance. Finally in the third battle, Behram Chobin and his army was defeated. Behram Chobin retreated to the area of China and became friends with the Khaqan of China, ultimately even becoming his son-in-law. When this news reached Khosrau, he was enraged and sent a letter to the Khaqan, asking that Behram Chobin be sent to Iran in fetters. The Khaqan refused point blank. Rather than mount a fresh and expensive expedition, Khosrau dispatched a batch of warriors to infiltrate the Khaqan camp and assassinate Behram Chobin under the leadership of Kharrad, son of Burzin.

With great cunning and cheating, the imposters managed to make a copy of the Royal Seal of the Khaqan’s daughter. Then one of them, Kulum by name, chose Behram Roj (which was supposed to be unlucky for Behram Chobin) to do the vile deed. He entered the well-guarded camp of Behram Chobin, purportedly bearing a secret message from his new wife. Although Behram was on guard, since he knew that he was a marked man, the Royal Seal displayed by Kulum allayed his fears. He asked for the messenger to handover the message to him, but Kulum cunningly told him that it was not a written message but something that had to be whispered in his ears. Behram allowed Kulum to come up to him. As he started whispering in his ear, Kulum brought out a long knife hidden beneath his cloak and with one quick blow finished the affair. Thus ended the life and times of Behram Chobin.

Now safely set on the throne, Khosrau started his long reign. Despite being young, Khosrau had realized the aims of his uncles Banduy and Gastahem. As they surrounded him in court, Khosrau played along for some time. Then as his position became more secure, he confronted Banduy openly and had him killed. Soon thereafter, it was the turn of Gastahem. The stars were in their favourable phase for Khosrau. Everything seemed to be going right. The new King began a series of expeditions to recover the lands which had been taken by the enemies of Iran in the bleak years of the troubles of Behram Chobin. Not content with regaining what he had lost, Khosrau also added more lands to the Sassanian Empire, thereby earning the title Parvez – victorious. As the neighbours began trembling in fright, Khosrau gave them the option of paying a heavy tribute, in return of which he would let them notionally rule their states as vassal kings.

Soon immense wealth began to accumulate in the treasuries of Iran. As the treasuries overflowed, Khosrau chose strategic spots throughout his kingdom where he began to build secret treasuries to take care of the riches coming from around the world. He also began to repair and rebuild the country’s infrastructure that had been damaged by the wars with Behram Chobin. Thus over a period of many years, the Sassanian Empire reached the zenith of its glory under the reign of Khosrau Parvez.
Poet Firdausi gives a fascinating picture of the wealth and power of Khosrau Parvez. In addition to the official treasuries, secret underground bunkers were made for different precious metals, one for gold, another for silver, a third for pearls, one more for rubies… The empire’s strength lay in its army, which in addition to a one million strong force, comprised of 1200 war elephants, 46,000 thoroughbred horses, 10,000 red-haired war-trained camels. Another 12,000 load-bearing camels were on hand to carry the vast tributes coming from different lands. 66 specially bred high-speed white camels were reserved for carrying messages and couriers to and from the court of the King to the ends of the realm.

The court of Khosrau teemed with the wise and abled men of all countries. Astrologers, holy men, alchemists, engineers and learned scribes all vied for the King’s attention. Minstrels and musicians were on hand to entertain the court, while the King’s harem had 12,000 maidens waiting for him. The King’s favourite horse Shabdiz, was the best steed in the country, beloved of the King, having never ever lost a battle.

khusrau court music

But on the personal front, things were no so good. Khosrau had fallen in love with an exceedingly beautiful Iranian lady of royal descent called Shirin after secretly watching her bathe in a river.

shirin bathing

But his marriage conditions with the Caesar meant that till Miriam was alive, he could not take another wife. Soon Miriam gave birth to a child, who was named Shirooy, in public and called Kobad in the family circles. As the overjoyed father called the Mobeds and astrologers to cast the horoscope of the child, the mood changed very fast. In one voice, the astrologers and Mobeds opined: the child has been born under the worst possible combination. He will bring ruin and anarchy, not only within the family, but also in the entire country.

After some time, Miriam died under mysterious circumstances and Shirin was given the pride of place in the harem. A number of children were born from her, and other Iranian princesses.

Given the astrologers’ dire tidings, Khosrau had put Shirooy under the careful watch of expert Mobeds and learned teachers, so that his training may somehow negate the bad stars of his horoscope. As the child grew to 16 years however, his true traits started showing themselves. One evening, the senior Mobed and chief instructor of Shirooy saw that he had started playing with a buffalo’s horn in one hand and a dried, shriveled cut-off wolf’s paw in the other. He seemed to be enjoying himself, playing with these noxious items which a person of royal lineage would never touch. The alarmed Mobed informed the Vazir of the King and the news was relayed to Khosrau Parvez. The sad King remembered the words of the astrologers many years ago and kept quiet.

By the age of 23, Shirooy had started displaying streaks of rebelliousness against his father. Knowing that the future was not good, the King gathered Shirooy, a sister who was also of the same nature and their entire group of friends and confidants, numbering some 3000 persons and made a separate palace complex for them. They were given every conceivable luxury and all means of entertainment. A company of soldiers maintained a discrete watch over this complex, to ensure that no one ever stepped out, and no undesirable elements entered inside. In effect, Shirooy was put under house arrest. Meanwhile the 16 other sons of Khosrau from the Iranian side also grew up, bearing a much better nature than Shirooy.

[to be continued…]

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram