The article below on the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia is authored by Professor C. Toumanoff and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica). Kindly note that apart from the map and table of kings which have been posted on Encyclopedia Iranica and CAIS, all other pictures are unique to this posting.
Third dynasty of Armenia (in Armenian, Aršakuni), from the first to the mid-fifth century. The preceding dynasty of the Artaxiads became extinct about A.D. 12, amid a secessionist chaos caused by the perennial struggle of Iran and Rome over Armenia—the second throne, after Media, in the Iranian scheme of vassal kingdoms. It was then that the ex great king of Iran, Vonones I became king of Armenia. After him, seven Arsacid princes from Parthia came at different times to occupy the Armenian throne, interchangeably with six others, candidates of Rome. A compromise was finally attempted in 63 (Treaty of Rhandeia).
[Click to Enlarge]Map of Armenia under the Arsacid House (Picture Source: CAIS).
An Arsacid, Tiridates I, was recognized by both empires as king of Armenia. Roman “friendship” was imposed upon him—and in 66 he journeyed to Rome to be crowned by Nero—and, at the same time, as a Parthian prince, he was bound to accept the family ascendancy of the head of the Arsacids, the great king. The balance thus established between political and dynastic allegiance proved, however, precarious. Dynastic allegiance often became political as well, and Armenia continued to oscillate between the two rivals. None of the first eight Arsacids who reigned in Armenia founded a line of kings; it was left to the ninth, Vologases (Vałarš) II (180-191), to achieve this: his posterity of thirteen kings formed the Armenian Arsacid dynasty (see table below).
[Click to Enlarge] Arsacid Royal Lineage of Armenia (Picture Source: CAIS).
The Armenian historical tradition (found chiefly in Ps.-Movsês Xorenac’i) represented the earlier, national Artaxiads as also a branch of the Iranian Arsacids, and the Armenian Arsacids as their direct continuation, creating thus an imbroglio from the effects of which Armenian historiography has only recently succeeded in freeing itself.
Arsacid rule brought about an intensification of the political and cultural influence of Iran in Armenia. Whatever the sporadic suzerainty of Rome, the country was now a part-together with Iberia (East Georgia) and (Caucasian) Albania, where other Arsacid branched reigned-of a pan-Arsacid family federation. Culturally, the predominance of Hellenism, as under the Artaxiads, was now followed by a predominance of “Iranianism,” and, symptomatically, instead of Greek, as before, Parthian became the language of the educated. However. since the Iranian Arsacids themselves took pride in being philhellene, Armenian Hellenism was not destroyed.
A portrait of Armenian King Varazdat (r. 374-378 CE) who was a descendant of the Parthian nobles of Armenia, known as the Arshakuni.
After a while, however, the Armeno-Iranian symbiosis came to an end. Early in the third century. the Arsacids of Iran were overthrown by the Sasanians; the family federation existed no longer; instead, a family feud separated the Armenian Arsacids from the “usurping” new rulers of Iran. Next, in 314, under King Tiridates (Trdat) the Great and through the apostolate of ‘St. Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia, nearly simultaneously with the Roman empire. officially accepted Christianity, a turning point in its history. An unbridgeable gulf between the militant Mazdaism of Sasanian Iran and Armenia’s no less uncompromising Christianity, now replaced the unity of the easy syncretistic paganism of the Armeno-Iranian symbiosis. Politically, religiously, and culturally, this was a victory of the Roman empire and Hellenism. But this, the “neo-Achaemenianism” of the Sasanians could not tolerate. So the struggle of empires went on, more intensely than before, until, finally, the Roman empire, occupied elsewhere, was obliged to come to terms with Iran and to agree to the partitioning between them of the apple of discord, especially as, quite conveniently, the latter had just itself effected its division.
[CLICK TO ENLARGE]PHOTO INSERT & COMMENTARY BY Kaveh Farrokh: Sassanian metalwork at right depicting Khosrow I Anoushiravan and four Sassanian knights (possibly the Sassanian empire’s primary generals). Note the stance of one of the knights from the plate highlighted for reference. Note the figure highlighted on the Surp Neshan Basilica – the parallels of this form (despite the wear of weather over the centuries) with its Sassanian counterparts are virtually exact.
Parallel to the tension of imperial rivalries outside, there was also a tension at home, one between the crown and the great nobility. Armenia was a highly aristocratic society, its peculiar feature being the presence, above the lesser, azat nobility, of a group of dynastic princes, descendants and successors of prehistoric tribal chiefs, who regarded themselves as minor kings and the king of Armenia as a primus utter pares. The crown endeavored to enhance its ascendancy over the princes. In an attempt to replace the purely political subordination of sovereign princes to a more powerful sovereign, the king, feudalism was introduced, reaching its fullest development in the Arsacid period, with its fundamental conception of the derivation of all authority from the king. The princes, on their part, strove to preserve the older conception, their traditional dynastic position. Hence both conceptions coexisted, in a typically Armenian- and Caucasian- blend. Hence, also, the inner tension. So, while the crown was drawn towards the autocratic and bureaucratic empire. the princes, albeit Christians, gravitated towards the comparatively more aristocratic Iranian monarchy. During one of the internal crises, the kingdom was divided in 384 between the pro-Roman Arsaces (Arsak) III and the pro-Iranian Chosroes (Xosrov) IV. With this fait accompli before them, the Emperor Theodosius I and the Great King Shapur III hastened to ratify in 387 the existence of two Armenian kingdoms, one, western, a Roman, and the other, eastern and vastly larger, an Iranian vassal. Arsaces I11 died in 390 and the western kingdom became a part of the Roman empire; but the eastern kingdom (Persarmenia) continued to exist. The crown, however, was fatally weakened; and, finally, the princes, weary of all immediate authority over them, deposed with Iranian connivance the last king, Artaxias (Artâshês) IV in 428 and brought about the abolition of the monarchy. Thereafter Armenia was a part of the Iranian empire, with the princes as its sovereign oligarchs, vassals of the distant great king, whose suzerainty expressed itself in the presence of his viceroy (marzpan) and in the obligation of fealty and military aid imposed on them.
Armenian depiction of Goddess Anahit – Armenian equivalent of the Goddess Anahita (Picture Source: News.Am).
An event of importance in the Arsacid period was the invention on the threshold of the fifth century, of the Armenian alphabet by St. Mashtoc’ (Mesrop). With this Armenian became the language of the educated; it was introduced into the liturgy; and national literature was born (under Hellenistic and Syrian influences). Armenia’s identity and individuality were thus saved and an absorption by either Byzantine or Iranian civilization was precluded.
Kaveh Farrokh will be providing a two-part lecture at the University of Southern California (USC) (topic: Iran and the Caucasus: A Long-Lasting Legacy of Historical & Cultural Ties) on April 22, 2013.
The USC lecture has been made possible by the organizational and coordination efforts of the Persian Academic and Cultural Student Association (PACSA – see Facebook) and support of the Persian American Society (PAS).
[Click to Enlarge] The lecture will focus on the overview of the cultural and historical links between Iran and the Caucasus from antiquity to the signing of the Golestan and Turkmenchai treaties in the early 19th century. Examples of topics include influences in linguistics, arts, architecture and culture over the centuries in the regions of ancient Albania (modern Republic of Azerbaijan), Armenia and Georgia (ancient Iberia and Colchis). In addition to influences from Iran proper, the role of North-Iranian speakers in Eastern Europe and their impact on the Caucasus is also examined. The lecture will conclude with the Iranian legacy in the Caucasus after the Russian conquests of 1828.
The lecture at the University of Southern California on Iran and the Caucasus: A Long-Lasting Legacy of Historical & Cultural Ties will be held at:
Location: USC-Waite Phillips Hall (Room WPH B27) – 3470 Trousdale Parkway Los Angeles, CA 90089
Learn about the forgotten contributions of Persia to world civilization in the realm of technology and architecture. Topics include the world’s first movies, the artificial eye, the battery, aqueducts, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, windmills, pontoon bridges and the world’s first hospital and medical university, as well as examples of the influence of Persian architecture in China, India, Rome, Western Europe, and throughout the Middle East.
[Click to enlarge] An 18th century Persian Astrolabe housed in Cambridge Museum’s History of Sciences section Picture source: Fouman.com).
Location: Tapestry at Wesbrook Village (University of British Columbia Point Grey campus)
[Click to Enlarge] (RIGHT) Iranian researcher examining the artificial eye found at Shahr e Sookhteh – further tests are being conducted in Iran to determine the exact chemical composition of the prosthetic (LEFT) A curious feature of the “eye” are parallel lines that have been drawn around the pupil to form a diamond shape …READ MORE…
Professor Harjot S. Oberoi of the UBC Asian Studies program introduces “An Evening with Dr. Kaveh Farrokh – Sassanian Architecture” (Monday March 12, 2011). This talk was given as part of the overall drive to promote support for the University of British Columbia’s Iranian Studies and Persian language initiative.
The posting below highlights the late Professor Shapour Shahbazi’s discussion of the Sassanian army which was orginally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1986 .
Before proceeding to artilce by the late Professor Shahbazi, the following annoucement was made by the Hessamoddin Shafeian Blog:
عرب ها… سریال تاریخی حماسی ساختند پر از صحنه های رزمی به خصوص در برابر ایرانیان ساسانی. در این سریال … از لحاظ بصری و تکنیکی بسیار خوب از آب در آمده. … ببینید و یادبگیرید که چطور به میراث نظامی خود افتخار می کنند. همه همینطورند چینی ها، ژاپنی ها، اروپایی ها، هندی ها و ترک ها به غیر از ایرانیان که شمشیرزنی پدرانشان را فراموشکردند یا آن را لات بازی می دانند! …
Translation: The Arabs have created an excellent TV Series of their Military expolits which is laden with battle scenes against the Sassanians…this TV series has been very well produced in the technical sense …witness how they [the Arabians] take pride in their military history. All are the same in this such as the Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, Indians and Turks – EXCEPT FOR the Iranians who have forgotten the Sword-fighting techniques of their ancestors and deride these as Hooliganism!
Trailer for the Arabian military history series “Omar”. The movie carefully avoids mention of the fact that Sassanian Persia and the Romano-Byzantine Empire had fought a devastating 22-year old war which resulted in the deaths of close to 400,000+ warriors on both sides (see Nabil Rastani: the Ancient World War and pages 256-261 in Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایههای صحرا-). The Arabs attacked just 8-9 years after the Sassanian-Byzantine ceasefire in 628 CE, catching both empires when they were at the height of their military exhaustion. In short, the Arabs were not facing legions of first-rate and battle-experienced warriors when they invaded the Sassanian and Romano-Byzantine Empires. The movie also falsifies information by portraying the Elite Sassanian knights or Savaran (Arabic: Asawira) as cowardly when in fact Greco-Roman and even Arabo-Islamic historical sources contradict this. Perhaps the most important omission in the movie is the fact that numbers of Iranians actually joined the invading forces to fight against the Sassanian Empire. On the other hand, the movie correctly portrays the military equipment of the Arabs at the time; the Arabs for example carried straight swords rather than the later curved sabres of Turkish origin.
The latest research by Dr. Parvaneh Pourshariati indicates that the fundamental reason for the fall of the Sassanians was due to the process of political disintegration between the Arsacids (Parthian) clans and the Sasanian royal family. For more on this topic see:
The Iranian society under the Sasanians was divided—allegedly by Ardašīr I—into four groups: priests, warriors (artēštār), state officials, and artisans and peasants. The second category embraced princes, lords, and landed aristocracy (Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 98), and one of the three great fires of the empire, Ādur Gušnasp at Šīz (Taḵt-e Solaymān in Azerbaijan) belonged to them (ibid., pp. 166f.). With a clear military plan aimed at the revival of the Persian empire (Dio Cassius 80.4.2; Herodian 6.2.2), Ardašīr I formed a standing army which was under his personal command and its officers were separate from satraps and local princes and nobility (Agathangelos [Greek version] 1.8). Ardašīr had started as the military commander of Dārābgerd (Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 5), and was knowledgeable in older and contemporary military history, from which he benefited, as history shows, substantially. For he restored Achaemenid military organizations, retained Parthian cavalry, and employed Roman-style armor and siege-engines, thereby creating a standing army (Mid. Pers. spāh) which served his successors for over four centuries, and defended Iran against Central Asiatic nomads and Roman armies (Christensen, op. cit., p. 207).
The backbone of the spāh was its heavy cavalry “in which all the nobles and men of rank” underwent “hard service” (Ammianus Marcellinus 23.6.83) and became professional soldiers “through military training and discipline, through constant exercise in warfare and military manoeuvers” (ibid.). From the third century the Romans also formed units of heavy cavalry of the Oriental type (Rundgren, Orientalia Suecana 6, 1957, pp. 35ff.); they called such horsemen clibanarii “mail-clad [riders]” (e.g. Ammianus Marcellinus 16.10.8), a term thought to have derived from an Iranian *grīwbānar < *grīwbānwar < *grīva-pāna-bara “neck-guard wearer” (Rundgren, op. cit., pp. 48f., evidently unaware that the Pahlavi grīwbān “neck-guard” is attested inVendidad 14.9: A.V. W. Jackson, “Herodotus VII. 61, or the Arms of the Ancient Persians Illustrated from Iranian Sources,” in Classical Studies in Honour of Henry Drisler, New York, 1894, pp. 95ff., esp. p. 118). The heavy cavalry of Šāpūr II is described by an eye-witness historian as follows: “all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skillfully fitted to their heads, that since their entire body was covered with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye, or where through the tip of their nose they were able to get a little breath. Of these some who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would have thought them held fast by clamps of bronze” (Ammianus Marcellinus 25.1. 12-13, cf. 24.6.8).
[CLICK TO ENLARGE]- Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 AD. Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” but Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants were especially prized as their cabs afforded very high elevation over the battlefield, which was ideal for Sassanian archery ( Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005).
AThe described horsemen are represented by the seventh-century knight depicting Ḵosrow Parvēz on his steed Šabdīz on a rock relief at Ṭāq-e Bostān in Kermānšāh (E. Herzfeld, AMI 9/1938, pp. 91ff.). Since the Sasanian horseman lacked the stirrup (A. D. H. Bivar, “The Stirrup and its origins,” Oriental Art, N.S. 1, 1965, pp. 61-65), he used a war saddle which, like the medieval type, had a cantle at the back and two guard clamps curving across the top of the rider’s thighs enabling him thereby to stay in the saddle especially during violent contact in battle (E. F. Schmidt, Persepolis III, Chicago, 1970, p. 135). The inventory of weapons ascribed to Sasanian horsemen at the time of Ḵosrow Anōšīravān (Ṭabarī, I, p. 964 [tr. Nöldeke, pp. 248f.]; Baḷʿami, Tārīḵ, p. 1048; Ferdowsī, Šāh-nāma VIII, p. 63), resembles the twelve items of war mentioned in Vendidad 14.9 (Jackson, loc. cit.), thus showing that this part of the text had been revised in the later Sasanian period.
More interestingly, the most important Byzantine treatise on the art of war, the Strategicon, also written at this period, requires the same equipments from a heavily-armed horseman (Bivar in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 26, 1972, pp. 287-88). This was due to the gradual orientalization of the Roman army to the extent that in the sixth century “the military usages of the Romans and the Persians become more and more assimilated, so that the armies of Justinian and Khosrow are already very much like each other;” and, indeed, the military literatures of the two sides show strong affinities and interrelations (C. A. Inostrantsev, “Sasanian Military Theory,” tr. L. Bogdanov in Journal of the Cama Oriental Institute 7, 1926, pp. 7ff. esp. p. 23). According to the Iranian sources mentioned above, the martial equipments of a heavily-armed Sasanian horseman were as follows: helmet, hauberk (Pahlavi grīwbān), breastplate, mail, gauntlet (Pahlavi abdast), girdle, thigh-guards (Pahlavi rān-ban), lance, sword, battle-axe, mace, bowcase with two bows and two bowstrings, quiver with 30 arrows, two extra bowstrings, spear, and horse armor (zēn-abzār); to these some have added a lasso (kamand), or a sling with slingstones (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 248f.; Jackson, op. cit., pp. 108ff.). The elite corps of the cavalry was called “the Immortals,” evidently numbering—like their Achaemenid namesakes—10,000 men (Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 208 with references). On one occasion (under Bahrām V) the force attacked a Roman army but outnumbered, it stood firm and was cut down to a man (Socrates Scholasticus 7.20). Another elite cavalry group was the Armenian one, whom the Persians accorded particular honor (Christensen, op. cit., p. 210). In due course the importance of the heavy cavalry increased and the distinguished horseman assumed the meaning of “knight” as in European chivalry; if not of royal blood, he ranked next to the members of the ruling families and was among the king’s boon companions (ibid., pp. 112, 368-69; J. M. Unvala, The Pahlavi Text “King Ḫusrav and his Boy,” Paris, 1921).
The Sasanians did not form light-armed cavalry but extensively employed—as allies or mercenaries—troops from warlike tribes who fought under their own chiefs. “The Sagestani were the bravest of all” (Ammianus Marcellinus 19.2.3); the Gelani, Albani and the Hephthalites, the Kushans and the Khazars were the main suppliers of light-armed cavalry. The skill of the Dailamites in the use of sword and dagger made them valuable troopers in close combat (Agathias 3.17), while Arabs were efficient in desert warfare (Christensen, op. cit., pp. 209, 275).
The infantry (paygān) consisted of the archers and ordinary footmen. The former were protected “by an oblong curved shield, covered with wickerwork and rawhide” (Ammianus Marcellinus 24.6.8). Advancing in close order, they showered the enemy with storms of arrows. The ordinary footmen were recruited from peasants and received no pay (ibid., 23.6.83), serving mainly as pages to the mounted warriors; they also attacked walls, excavated mines and looked after the baggage train, their weapons being a spear and a shield (ibid., 23.6.83; Procopius 1.14.24, 52; Christensen, op. cit., p. 209). The cavalry was better supported by war elephants “looking like walking towers” (Ammianus Marcellinus 25.1.14; sec also E. Herzfeld AMI 3, 1931, pp. 26ff.), which could cause disorder and damage in enemy ranks in open and level fields. War chariots were not used by the Sasanians (contra Alexander Severus in Lampridius, Vita Alex. Sev. 56). Unlike the Parthians, however, the Persians organized an efficient siege machine for reducing enemy forts and walled towns. They learned this system of defense from the Romans but soon came to match them not only in the use of offensive siege engines—such as scorpions, balistae, battering rams, and moving towers—but also in the methods of defending their own fortifications against such devices by catapults, by throwing stones or pouring boiling liquid on the attackers or hurling fire brands and blazing missiles (Ammianus Marcellinus 19.5f., 20.6-7, 11).
The organization of the Sasanian army is not quite clear, and it is not even certain that a decimal scale prevailed, although such titles as hazārmard (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 284 n. 2) might indicate such a system. Yet the proverbial strength of an army was 12,000 men (Ferdowsī, Šāh-nāma VIII, p. 343). The total strength of the registered warriors in 578 was 70,000 (Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, p. 271). The army was divided, as in the Parthian times, into several gunds, each consisting of a number of drafšs (units with particular banners), each made up of some wašts (Christensen, op. cit., p. 210). The imperial banner was the Drafš-e Kāvīān, a talismanic emblem accompanying the Great King or the commander-in-chief of the army who was stationed in the center of his forces and managed the affairs of the combat from the elevation of a throne (A. Christensen, Smeden Kāväh, tr. Unvala, pp. 28f.). At least from the time of Ḵosrow Anōšīravān a seven-grade hierarchical system seems to have been favored in the organization of the army (M. Grignaschi, “Quelques spécimens de la litterature sassanide conservés dans les bibliothèques d’Istanbul,” JA, 1966, pp. 1ff. esp. pp. 24, 42 n. 76).
The highest military title was argbed (q.v.) which was a prerogative of the Sasanian family (Nöldeke, op. cit., p. 5 n. 3). Until Ḵosrow Anōšīravān’s military reforms, the whole of the Persian army was under a supreme commander, Ērān-spāhbed, who acted as the minister of defense, empowered to conduct peace negotiations; he usually came from one of the great noble families and was counted as a counselor of the Great King (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 130f.). Along with the revival of “heroic” names in the middle of the Sasanian period, an anachronistic title, artēštārān sālār (q.v., Greek rendering adrastadaran salanes: Procopius 1.6. 18) was coined to designate a generalissimo with extraordinary authority, but this was soon abandoned when Anōšīravān abolished the office of Ērān-spāhbed and replaced it with those of the four marshals (spāhbed) of the empire, each of whom was the military authority in one quarter of the realm (Christensen, op. cit., pp. 131, 370). Other senior officials connected with the army were: Ērān-ambāragbed “minister of the magazines of empire,” responsible for the arms and armaments of warriors (ibid., pp. 107-108); the marzbāns “margraves”—rulers of important border provinces (ibid., pp. 102, 108, 371ff.; 518ff.); kanārang—evidently a hereditary title of the ruler of Ṭūs (ibid., pp. 108, 351, 507); gund-sālār “general” (ibid., p. 210); paygān-sālār “commander of the infantry” (ibid.); and puštigbān-sālār “commander of the royal guard” (ibid.).
A good deal of what is known of the Sasanian army dates from the sixth and seventh centuries when, as the results of Anōšīravān’s reforms, four main corps were established; soldiers were enrolled as state officials receiving pay and subsidies as well as arms and horses; and many vulnerable border areas were garrisoned by resettled warlike tribes (ibid., pp. 367ff.). The sources are particularly rich in accounts of the Sasanian art of warfare because there existed a substantial military literature, traces of which are found in the Šāh-nāma, Dēnkard 8.26—an abstract of a chapter of the Sasanian Avesta entitled Artēštārestān “warrior code”—and in the extracts from the Āʾīn-nāma which Ebn Qotayba has preserved in his ʿOyūn al-aḵbār and Inostrantsev has explained in detail (in Journal of the Cama Oriental Institute 7, 1926, pp. 7-52; see also Christensen, op. cit., pp. 215f.).
Late Sassanian sword (Farrokh 2004; reprinted Hughes 2010, p.51). Entire sword from front  and back ; sword handle at front  and back ; sword mount at front  and back .
The Artēštārestān was a complete manual for the military: it described in detail the regulations on recruitments, arms and armor, horses and their equipments, trainings, ranks, and pay of the soldiers and provisions for them, gathering military intelligence and taking precaution against surprise attack, qualifications of commanders and their duties in arraying the lines, preserving the lives of their men, safeguarding Iran, rewarding the brave and treating the vanquished (Sanjana’s tr. in Dēnkard, vol. XVI, Bombay, 1917, pp. 6ff.). The Āʾīn-nāma furnished valuable instructions on tactics, strategy and logistics. It enjoined, for instance, that the cavalry should be placed in front, left-handed archers capable of shooting to both sides be positioned on the left wing, which was to remain defensive and be used as support in case of enemy advance, the center be stationed in an elevated place so that its two main parts (i.e., the chief line of cavalry, and the lesser line of infantry behind them) could resist enemy charges more efficiently, and that the men should be so lined up as to have the sun and wind to their back (Inostrantsev, op. cit., pp. 13ff.).
Battles were usually decided by the shock cavalry of the front line charging the opposite ranks with heavy lances while archers gave support by discharging storms of arrows. The center, where the commander-in-chief took his position on a throne under the Drafš-e Kāvīān, was defended by the strongest units. Since the carrying of the shield on the left made a soldier inefficient in using his weapons leftwards, the right was considered the line of attack, each side trying to outflank the enemy from that direction, i.e., at the respective opponent’s left; hence, the left wing was made stronger but assigned a defensive role (ibid., pp. 16ff.; Bivar, op. cit., pp. 289f.). The chief weakness of the Persian army was its lack of endurance in close combat (Ammianus Marcellinus 25.1.18). Another fault was the Persian’s too great a reliance on the presence of their leader: the moment the commander fell or fled his men gave way regardless of the course of action.
During the Sasanian period the ancient tradition of single combat (mard o-mard) developed to a firm code (Christensen, op. cit., p. 216). In 421 Bahrām V opposed a Roman army but accepted the war as lost when his champion in a single contest was slain by a Goth from the Roman side (Johannes Malalas [in B. G. Niebuhr, ed., Hist. Byzant. Scriptores, Bonn, 1831], p. 14a). Such duels are represented on several Sasanian rock-reliefs at Naqš-e Rostam (Schmidt, Persepolis III, pp. 130ff.), and on a famous cameo in Paris depicting Šāpūr I capturing Valerian (R. Ghirshman, Iran 249 B.C.-A.D. 657: The Parthian and Sassanian Dynasties, London, 1962, fig. 195).
Sasanian kings were conscious of their role as military leaders: many took part in battle, and some were killed; the Picture Book of Sasanian Kings showed them as warriors with lance or sword (Ḥamza, pp. 50-54; Moǰmal, pp. 33ff.). Some are credited with writing manuals on archery (Bivar, op. cit., p. 284), and they are known to have kept accounts of their campaigns (e.g., Šāpūr’s inscription on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt, and cf. Ebrāhīm b. Moḥammad Bayhaqī, al-Moḥāsen wa’l-mosāwī, ed. F. Schwally, Giessen, 1902, p. 481: “When Ḵosrow Parvēz concluded his wars with Bahrām-e Čūbīna and consolidated his rule over the empire, he ordered his secretary to write down an account of those wars and related events in full, from the beginning to the end”).
While heavy cavalry proved efficient against Roman armies, it was too slow and regimentalized to act with full force against agile and unpredictable light-armed cavalry and rapid foot archers; the Persians who in the early seventh century conquered Egypt and Asia Minor lost decisive battles a generation later when nimble, lightly armed Arabs accustomed to skirmishes and desert warfare attacked them. Hired light-armed Arab or East Iranian mercenaries could have served them much better.
[Click to Enlarge] Map of the Sassanian and Roman campaigns of the 6th century CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 233, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایههای صحرا-). The end result of the ensuing long and devastating Romano-Sassanian wars of the early 7th century CE was the creation of a military vacuum which was to be adeptly expolited by the Arabo-Islamic invasion forces of the newly established Caliphate in Arabia.
The lecture will be held at the auditorium of the Asian Centre at UBC at 6:00 pm on Monday March 12, 2011.
[CLICK TO ENLARGE]PHOTO INSERT & COMMENTARY BY Kaveh Farrokh: Sassanian metalwork at right depicting Khosrow I Anoushiravan and four Sassanian knights (possibly the Sassanian empire’s primary generals). Note the stance of one of the knights from the plate highlighted for reference. Note the figure highlighted on the Surp Neshan Basilica – the parallels of this form (despite the wear of weather over the centuries) with the Sassanian are virtually exact. READ MORE…
The lecture will be followed up with a Question/Answer session as well.