Chosroes I (531-79), also known as Anushirvan the Just, is the most celebrated of the Sassanid rulers. He reformed the tax system and reorganized the army and the bureaucracy, tying the army more closely to the central government than to local lords. His reign witnessed the rise of the dihqans (literally, village lords), the petty landholding nobility who were the backbone of later Sassanid provincial administration and the tax collection system. Chosroes was a great builder, embellishing his capital, founding new towns, and constructing new buildings. Under his auspices, too, many books were brought from India and translated into Pahlavi. Some of these later found their way into the literature of the Islamic world. The reign of Chosroes II (591-628) was characterized by the wasteful splendor and lavishness of the court. [Source: Library of Congress]

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “Chosroes was the most illustrious of the Sassanid rulers and he gave his name to the common designation of Sassanid rulers by the Arabs, Kisra, much as Caesar gave his name to Roman rulers. His reforms set a stamp on the later Sassanid state and society and much of what we know about the organization of Sassanid Iran dates from his reign and afterwards. Under him the national epic was gathered together; probably at that time the Avesta was reduced to the form of the Avestan alphabet and writing we know at the present time, and his economic reforms also have come down to us in Islamic writings, while stories about the splendor, the justice and flourishing of Iran under him abound in later Islamic writings, where he occupies a place similar to the great Shah 'Abbas in Safavid times. The tax reform, begun under Kavad, was carried to completion under Chosroes, and the royal court was much strengthened by this and other measures, which changed the face of the empire, making it stronger when a strong ruler ruled but open to disintegration under a weak king. At the outset he had to put down an attempt by a group of nobles to raise his brother to the throne, but he overcame the plotters and dispatched them. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“One of his first tasks on ascending the throne was to make peace with the Byzantines, which he did in 532 evacuating several forts in Lazica, and to restore order in society, for as several sources state, children did not know who their fathers were, and questions of inheritance and ownership were unresolved. The aftermath of the Mazdakite troubles not only provided an opportunity to reduce the power of the great feudal lords, who after the time of Chosroes are little mentioned except as officials of the central government, but also to reorganize the clergy, the higher offices of which had been occupied by members of noble families. The basis of wealth and power of the upper classes had to be reorganized first, and this was the tax reform of Chosroes, the results of which lasted into Islamic times. +/

“F. Altheim has studied the tax reforms of Chosroes in detail and is convincing in his conclusions that the great landed nobility previously enjoyed great privileges in exemption from taxation, but as a result of the seizure of lands by common folk during the Mazdakite movement, there was great confusion in claims of land ownership. All land was to be surveyed and taxed in the same way everywhere, while revenues which formerly frequently went to the nobles were to come into the central government treasury. It is possible, as Altheim asserts, that the indictio or tax reform of Diocletian, the joining of the Roman iugatio and capitatio into one tax system collected three times a year, provided the prototype for Chosroes' reforms, but this is inference. It is related in a number of sources that taxes were levied on the produce of land, fruits and grains, but frequently the produce was spoiled before it could be assessed for tax purposes. Under the new system the land was measured, the water rights determined and yearly average rates were set for the land which produced grain, other rates for land which had date palm and olive trees according to the number of the producing trees, and other reforms of which we only have hints. +/

“The tax reform was followed by a reform of the army which was changed from the previous practice of the great feudal lords providing their own equipment and bringing their followers and retainers into the field, to another system with a new force of dehkans or 'knights,' paid and equipped by the central government. It is interesting to note that both the number, as well as the die quality, of coins of Chosroes I increases and improves greatly compared to earlier issues, and the iconography of the coins becomes more stereotyped. Also, it should be remarked that the army reorganization under Chosroes was concentrated on organization and on training, rather than any new weapons or technical advances, and as previously the heavily-armed cavalry remained the dominant force with archers less important. The masses, as usual, were still camp followers and little more than a rabble looking for booty, but a new nobility of service was created which became more influential than the landed nobility. Since payment in specie or even in kind did not suffice to recompense the 'knights,' villages were granted to them in fief, and a large class of small landowners came into existence. The ruler also divided the kingdom into four military districts with a spahbad or general in charge of forces in each part with the primary task of defending Iran from external foes. Walls and forts were also built on the frontiers, but in this policy Chosroes was only continuing the policy of his predecessors, while new roads, bridges and many buildings have been attributed to Chosroes, whether true or not. +/

Golden Age of Sassanids Under Chosroes I

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “If one asks an ordinary Persian who had built an unknown, ancient, ruined mosque or other structure in some locality, the chances are great that he would reply it was Shah 'Abbas, the Safavid ruler who embellished with edifices the city of Isfahan. If the ruins were clearly pre-Islamic the reply might be Khusro or Chosroes Anosharvan 'of the immortal soul', the Sassanid counterpart of Shah 'Abbas. His very name became, like that of Caesar, the designation of the Sassanid kings for the Arabs (Kisra in Arabic) and almost a synonym for splendour and glory. But Chosroes ruled Iran less than a century before the Arab conquest and, as is not uncommon in history, the seeds of decay already existed in the period of greatest splendour in the Sassanid Empire. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“There is considerable material in Islamic works, such as the Kitab al-Taj of Jahiz, and countless anecdotes and stories which refer to the activities of Chosroes I. The sources agree in their assessment of the empire of the Sassanids after Chosroes as a tightly organised structure with the king supreme at the top of the hierarchy. The 'mystique' of the king of kings was reinforced, and books of protocol, mirrors of princes and other writings, laid down the duties of monarchs to their subjects and subjects to their ruler. It would seem that there was a considerable activity in fixing rules of behaviour, prerogatives and obliga- tions for various classes of society in this period. The ofices of mobadan-mobad or chief of the clergy, dabiran-debir, or chief of the scribes, and similar titles, in imitation of the king of kings, indicate the ordering of society by imperial and religious sanction. The fascinating picture of society under the later Sassanids is one of a people who have seemingly reached a social and religious stability in religion, class structure and general culture but continuing with the seeds of decay in the resultant stagnation. +/

“The age of Chosroes was one of conquest too. Antioch was briefly captured in 540 and in the east the Hephthalite power was crushed by a joint Persian and Turkish attack circa 558 when the Western Turkish khanate and the Sassanids ended a united Hephthalite rule replacing it with at least nominal Turkish hegemony north of the Oxus river and Sassanid overlordship over many of the Hephthalite principalities south of the Oxus. Chosroes, as Shapur I and II, was known also for his systematic transport and settlement of prisoners of war in various parts of Iran, an age old custom followed in Iran by Shah 'Abbas and Reza Shah in more recent times. It was under Chosroes that the unusual but not really important Sassanid conquest of Yemen took place which had echoes in the Quran. Under Chosroes we find the frontiers of the empire secured by a system of limes in the Syrian desert, in the Caucasus by Derbend and east of the Caspian Sea in the steppes of Gurgan. The institution of a system of four spahbads or generals of the realm in north, south, east and west is also attributed to Chosroes, and one hears more of the importance of marzbans or 'wardens of the marches' in this later period of Sassanid history. The city building activity of Chosroes already has been mentioned. One town he built with the aid of Byzantine prisoners was the better Antioch of Chosroes near Ctesiphon, with a name similar to the better Antioch of Shapur I of Gundeshapur. The seal of Chosroes was a wild boar which symbol was very widespread in Sassanid art. The reorganisation of the bureaucracy by means of a system of divans or ministries by Chosroes is generally regarded as the prototype of the 'Abbasid divans by many Islamic authors and while proof of direct continuity is sometimes difficult to establish beyond doubt, there were many influences. +/

“There is so much written about Chosroes that one may omit a discussion here and refer to various writings about him. The internal reforms of the king of kings were more important than external changes in the frontiers, and their overall result was a decline in the power of the great nobility and the subkings in favour of the bureaucracy. The army too was reorganised and tied to the central authority more than to the local officers and lords. While one could continue with a long list of reforms attributed to Chosroes, some of the lesser known developments in that period of Sassanid history might be of interest. +/

“It is well known that names which we find in the national epic appear at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century arnong the royal family and presumably also among the nobility although we hear little about the latter. The old title of kavi in its Middle Persian form kay, written kdy, appears on coins of Peroz and Kavad, another indication of an antiquarian revival. It is highly probable that the lays and legends of ancient Iran were gathered together in the days of Chosroes I and that the national epic as we know it in Firdosi was much the same then as now. Whether there was any great remaking of the epic, such as weaving events of Chosroes' life into those of Kai Khusro, cannot be proved but it is not impossible. Some scholars would even attribute the introduction of the highest offices of the empire, such as mobadan-mobad, first to the reign of Chosroes, but the wholesale assignment of innovations to him is probably an exaggeration. Likewise the contention that Chosroes founded a new hierarchy of fire temples with the introduction of a Gushnasp fire, tied with the crowning of the king in Shiz or Ganzak, is possible but unproved. +/

Chosroes Administration

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “From sealings, as well as from later Arabic sources, one may reconstruct the provincial subdivisions of Sassanid Iran after Chosroes, under the four military divisions. The province was subdivided into kura (from Greek xvpa?) also called osan, which in turn were divided into rostak (Ardbic rustaq) or tasug. This division, as well as the nomenclature, was not at all uniform throughout the empire and over time designations changed, just as the dehkan, once a noble, became a peasant today. Likewise, the administration, loyal to the court and central government, was imposed on the landowning caste system, and sometimes the two clashed in the exercise of power and authority. The difficulty of determining provincial subdivisions in Sassanid times, especially in the lowlands of Khuzistan and Mesopotamia, is compounded by changes in boundaries and in names made by various Sassanid rulers at the end of the dynasty. We may assume that the information provided by Arabic sources relates mainly to the situation after Chosroes II Parviz. The division of the empire into four parts, after the points of the compass, by Chosroes I was more for military or defense purposes than for civil administration, although it must be admitted that we are not informed about the civil organization which was formed beside the military governor (spahbad) and his assistant (?) (padgospan). To go into details on administrative geography would far exceed the limits of this book, and we must restrict ourselves in brief to Iran proper. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“Fars province, the Sassanid homeland, was probably a model for the rest of the empire, and we know there were five kuras, designated by the major cities in them, Istakhr, Arrajan, Bishapur, Ardashir Khwarreh and Darabgird. The first, where the governor resided, and the largest, extended east to Yazd. Arrajan was called Weh az Amid Kavad 'better than Amida has Kavad (built this)' or Wamqubad in Arabic or Bizamqubad on coins. Ardashir Khwarreh was also called Gur, present Firuzabad. The divisions of Khuzistan province are unclear, for different Arabic sources give various provincial subdivisions, but there were at least seven, since Khuzistan, although much smaller than Fars, was richer agriculturally and was more heavily populated. The largest kura was Hormizd-Ardashir (called Hormizshahr or Suq al- Ahwaz by the Arabs), present Ahwaz. Other kuras were Rustaqubad (in Arabic the area of 'Askar Mukram), Shustar, Susa, Jundeshapur, Ramuz and Dauraq, but over time changes were many in this province. For other provinces, especially on the plateau, we have much less information which is also confusing. Changing of provincial and local boundaries was made for many reasons, but such changes were mountains and rivers, kept divisions fairly constant, and the administrative subdivisions of Fars province, for example, have remained much the same throughout history although towns in them rose and declined. +/

Chosroes I’s Taxation Reforms

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “The far reaching reform of taxation under Chosroes has been discussed by several scholars, notably F. Altheim, whose merit was to show repeatedly that the model for the new system of taxation was the system in force in the eastern Roman Empire which in turn had been built on the reforms of Diocletian. The unrest and social changes of the Mazdakite period made a new assessment of property and of taxes necessary, but we cannot say with certainty what the situation was before Chosroes. What is reported by later authors of Sassanid times refers to the post-Chosroes period. We may assume that Chosroes wanted stability, and in terms of taxation, of course principally on the land, a fixed sum rather than a yearly variation according to the yield, which seems to have been the old system. A survey of the land was made including a census and a counting of date palms and olive trees. The land tax of the later Roman empire was based on the land unit the iugum, but the amount of taxation was already determined by the indictio and divided among the various plots of land. This became the system of Sassanid Iran, of course with many different details into which we cannot go. The Sassanid head tax, like the Roman capitatio, was under Chosroes assessed in a number of fixed categories according to the productive capacity of a man. In both empires state employees were exempt from paying the head tax, and in Iran the Magi, soldiers and the high nobility were exempt as well. Certain details of the taxation are disputed but the main lines are clear; Chosroes sought stability and a fixed income for government coffers. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 198 +/ ]

“From the Talmud we learn that ancient practices in regard to the payment of taxes still continued under Chosroes. If one could not pay his land tax and another paid it, the latter received the land. By paying the land tax of someone who could not pay, one could obtain the debtor as a bondsman or slave. According to one source, if a Jew declared he was a Zoroastrian he could escape the head tax. This was rather a special tax, or a heavier head tax, placed on Jews, Christians and other minorities. The bishop for the Christians and the head of the Jews for the Jewish communities collected taxes from their followers. This continuity of tax practices in Iran continued into Islamic times. The Sassanid system provided the background of the well-known but also in part different and complicated system of the Islamic kharaj and jizya. +/

“In addition to a tax and financial reform, there was a social and bureaucratic revolution, but again many details escape us or are subject to various interpretations. Certain innovations may be the work of Chosroes' predecessors, but one may say that after him they appear as a characteristic feature of Sassanid Iran. The most important was perhaps the growth of the lower nobility or the dihqans (literally village lord) as the Arab conquerors called that backbone of Persian provincial and local administration. This lower nobility really possessed and ruled the land at the end of the Sassanid empire and it would seem that they owed their positions to the ruler and were an effective counter-weight to the few great families who became progressively less important. In line with his policy of stability Chosroes may have sought religious support for a social stratification of four classes or castes, which, however, may have developed throughout earlier Iranian history so that by the time of Chosroes it was full-fledged. +/

Chosroes’s Conquests and Battles with the Byzantines

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “The army was tested in the resumption of hostilities with Byzantium, and fortunately we have a detailed account of the war from Procopius. The reasons for a new war were many, not the least of which were embassies from the Ostrogoths in Italy, who were conquered by Justinian, and pressure from some Armenians and Arabs, both eager for war. So Chosroes broke the peace and invaded Syria in 540 moving south of the usual path of armies. He took several towns and received tribute from others and soon was before the walls of Antioch, which had suffered greatly from several earthquakes in 525-526, and it was poorly defended making conquest easy for the Persians. Chosroes pillaged and burned the city taking many captives, after which peace was made with Justinian who paid the Persians a large indemnity. On his return, however, Chosroes obtained ransom from a number of Byzantine cities on his way. Because of these activities Justinian renounced the truce just concluded and prepared to send Belisarius, who had been successful in Italy and North Africa, against the Sassanids. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“After returning, Chosroes built a new city, strictly following the model of Antioch, near Ctesiphon, and he settled his captives from Antioch in it calling it the presumptious title Weh Antiok Khusrau (Better than Antioch [has] Chosroes [built this]), but it was called Rumagan, 'town of the Greeks' by the local inhabitants, and al- Rumiyya by the Arabs. He is said to have founded several other towns and erected walls at Derbend. The following year the Sassanids took advantage of the request of emissaries from the king of Lazica to send an army to support him against Byzantine encroachments, and at first they were successful capturing a Byzantine fortress on the Black Sea coast called Petra and establishing a protectorate where Sassanid rule had never before penetrated. Belisarius in Mesopotamia ravaged the country around Nisibis, but no decisive battle was fought, and the Byzantine general was recalled by Justinian and sent to the west. In 543 a Byzantine army suffered defeat in Armenia, and Chosroes was encouraged to again invade Syria, and he besieged Edessa, now more important than Antioch, but he was repulsed and retreated with the payment of a ransom. A five-year truce was then concluded between the two empires and Chosroes received two thousand pounds of gold. In Lazica the inhabitants revolted against Persian control, and a Byzantine force was sent in the fourth year of the truce to aid the local populace to oust the Persians, and as a result the Lazic war continued for a number of years. +/

“Both Procopius and Agathias stress the strategic importance of Lazica, and if we view the Lazic war as a prelude to the ambitious dreams of Chosroes to control the trade of the silk route to China and the sea way to India, as indicated by his interventions later with the Turks and in Yemen, then the Byzantine authors may have correctly discerned the far-reaching plans of the Persians. In the Lazic war Chosroes finally lost, and negotiations were begun with Byzantium in 556 which led to a fifty-year peace treaty signed in 561, by which the Persians evacuated Lazica for an annual payment of gold. The treaty and a description of the sealing of the documents can be found in Menander Protector, giving an insight into contemporary diplomatic protocol. +/

“In the east a new force had appeared in Central Asia, the Turks, who attacked the Hephthalites defeating them. Chosroes, taking advantage of the disunity of Hephthalite princes and apparently the absence of a central authority among them, about 557-558 annexed some Hephthalite principalities south of the Oxus River, while the Turks extended their hegemony north of the river. The main Hephthalite domains, however, were not annexed by the Sassanids, for under the son and successor of Chosroes they caused much trouble. The initial cordiality between the Turks and Chosroes soon changed, possibly because of the hope of Chosroes to dominate trade between Central Asia, China and India and the West. Later relations between the Turks and Persians deteriorated, and in 568 a Turkish embassy, recorded by Menander, arrived in Byzantium to make an alliance against the Persians, but nothing came of the proposed two front attack on Sassanid Iran. +/

“The hostilities in the north between the two empires were matched by competition in the Arabian peninsula especially Yemen, where the Ethiopians, who had been converted to Monophysite Christianity, sent an army in 522 against the Himyarites, the dominant power in south Arabia at that time.lS A local leader Dhu Nuwas defeated the Ethiopians and sought aid from Iran, while the Ethiopians turned to the Byzantines who responded with ships and supplies. The king of Ethiopia led his troops across the ed Sea in 525, defeated and killed Dhu Nuwas and installed an Ethiopian protege as king of the Himyarites. The success of the Ethiopians led to an embassy to them from Justinian in 531, reported by Procopius, who says the Byzantines suggested that the Ethiopians could force the Persians out of the India trade. Nothing came of this, since an Ethiopian general, Abraha, seized power in the Himyarite kingdom sometime between 532 and 535 and established an independent state which he ruled until his death in 569 or 570, the 'year of the elephant' or the year of the birth of the prophet Muhammad. Several years afterwards Ma 'd-Karib, one of the sons of Abraha, fled from his half-brother who had succeeded to the throne, and he secured the support of Chosroes. The latter sent a fleet and a small army under a commander called Vahriz to the area near present Aden and they marched against the capital San'a'l which was occupied. Saif, son of Mard-Karib, who had accompanied the expedition became king sometime between 575 and 577. Thus the Sassanids were able to establish a base in south Arabia to control the sea trade with the east. Later the south Arabian kingdom renounced Sassanid overlordship and another Persian expedition was sent in 598 which was successful in annexing southern Arabia as a Sassanid province which lasted until the time of troubles after Chosroes II. +/

Sassanid Achievements Under Chosroes

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “It is impossible to do more than summarize the achievements of Chosroes and to list the various developments in political, social and cultural matters during his reign. So much is ascribed to Chosroes in later Islamic writings that it is diflficult to determine how much is fact or fable. Certainly much that we find in state organization, taxes and the like, in Islamic times had their origins in the state reforms under Chosroes, or in changes which occurred during his reign, and the tendency of peasants in Iran today to assign any obviously pre-lslamic bridge, caravanserai or other structure to Chosroes 'of the immortal soul' is testimony of the impression he made on his contemporaries. Even foreign writers inimical to Chosroes were somewhat awed by the imposing figure of the Sassanid ruler, cruel and hard but worthy of respect. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“Although history, especially in Iran, has been limited to urban, elite groups, the basis of support of an Iranian government or culture was the rural peasantry, and during the Mazdakite upheaval, even the peasantry influenced events. It may be exaggerated to say that Iran was changed from a feudal land into an empire after Chosroes, for castes continued, with the scribes or bureaucracy added to the traditional Indo-lranian three-caste system of priests, warriors and common folk. In a sense the landowning elite gave way in influence to a bureaucratic elite tied to the crown. The direct taxes levied on the land and on the peasants greatly reduced the 'middle-man' role of the landed nobility between common folk and the court. Although we have no statistics and only fragments of data, one may speculate that in the long run the reforms of Chosroes caused problems for the peasants, because a substantial shift in peasant settlement patterns from old irrigated lands to new dry-farming lands seems to have occurred. The massive irrigation systems of Chosroes on the plains, aided by dams and canals, may have at first aided an expansion of agriculture, but the centralization perhaps robbed the local people of initiative with the result of a decline in population on the plains with a consequent growth of towns. On the plateau we have no information but urban development was certainly much smaller than in Mesopotamia. Also Mesopotamia and Khuzistan were easier to administer by the central government. +/

“The urban development in Khuzistan can be linked to the great expansion of trade under Chosroes I. The state now tended toward monopolistic control of the trade with luxury goods assuming a far greater role in the trade than heretofore, and the great activity in building of ports, caravanserais, bridges, and the like was linked to trade and to urbanization. The Persians dominated international trade, both in the Indian Ocean and in Central Asia and South Russia in the time of Chosroes, although competition with the Byzantines was at times intense. Sassanid settlements in Oman and Yemen testify to the importance of the trade with India, but the silk trade with China, as we shall see, was mainly in the hands of the Sogdians. +/

“For trade or defense reasons Chosroes practiced the ancient transfer of populations from one part of the empire to another as one can see by the addition of bishoprics to the realm of eastern Christianity, as well as by many notices of such shifts in the sources. He also welcomed refugees from the Byzantine Empire such as the philosophers from the school at Athens which had been closed by Justinian in 529. They became homesick, however, and Chosroes negotiated their return in a peace treaty according to Agathias, but he still had many medical doctors and sages at his court. On the intellectual side of his court, translations were made into Middle Persian from Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit, and many stories have been preserved in later Arabic and Persian works on the chief minister and sage Buzurjmihr, to give him the Arabic form of his name. The introduction of the game of chess to Iran from India is tied with his name, and although many scholars have considered him to be a fiction, Christensen not only argues his real existence but identifies him with a medical doctor called Burzoe, also at the court of Chosroes. Connected with the name of Chosroes I are many wise sayings in Islamic works and collections of such andarz are many, such that it is highly probable that this Sassanid monarch became the origin of many apocryphal stories in later works. In the realm of religion many Middle Persian books are said to have been written in the time of Chosroes, although it should be remembered thatjust as Shapur I and II are confused in later works, so are Chosroes I and II. The Pahlavi books, as well as Islamic sources, imply that Chosroes I was tolerant of religions other than Zoroastrianism, which he ordered cleared of heresy, and most scholars agree that the final and fixed form of later, dualistic Zoroastrianism traces its origins back to the reign of Chosroes I. +/

Scholarship and Culture Under Chosroes I

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “Chosroes' name is also connected with a revival of learning with both Greek and Indian influences coming into Persian intellectual activities. Agathias has a well-known passage about the Greek philosophers (presumably neo-Platonists) who came to the Persian court after the closing of their academy in Athens in 529 and who were well received. The question of the extent of Sassanid learning is unsettled in its details, some scholars attributing a Persian origin to much of later Islamic science and learning, others denying the existence of a large Pahlavi scientific literature. We know of Burzoe, the famous physician of Chosroes, who reputedly was sent to India by the king and brought back the game of chess plus many Sanskrit books such as the fables of Bidpay and works on medicine which he translated into Pahlavi. Other Persian authors are known only by later references. Many Arabic and New Persian works on astronomy such as star tables (especially the Zt-j-i Shahriya-r) betray Sassanid prototypes, and one may suspect that much Pahlavi profane literature was lost because the mobads were not concemed to preserve it, while men of learning were content to use Arabic rather than the difficult Pahlavi form of writing for their works of science and literature. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 198 +/ ]

“On the other hand it is virtually certain that various Greek scientific works were translated into Pahlavi and then later from Pahlavi to Arabic, an indication of the existence of scholarly activity in Pahlavi. This learning, however, would seem to be more compilation than original, and the literary renaissance in the time of Chosroes also was primarily concerned with writing down and fixing various stories and legends including the national epic. The letter of Tosar, which has been mentioned, the Kar Namak of Ardashir and other tracts of Pahlavi literature have been attributed to this period. Some scholars have maintained also that the Avestan alphabet was created under Chosroes rather than earlier. The changes and additions which must have occurred in both epic and religious literature make datings difficult, but the great activity under the rule of Chosroes cannot be denied. +/

“The Sassanid empire seemed stronger than ever after Chosroes but in spite of his changes and reforms the age was not one of innovation. Rather the period in a truer perspective might be characterised as a summation of the past, of gathering-in and recording, when history becomes important as a justification for the state and the religion. The past which was revived in epic, in traditions and in customs, however, was a heroic past of great and noble families and of feudal mores, not of a centralised, bureaucratic state which Chosroes wanted to establish. Were the successors of Chosroes somewhat like Don Quixote while the people were ready for the new message of the followers of Muhammad? The noble families kept alive the heroic traditions of Iran and they survived the Islamic onslaught while the empire went down in ashes. Local self-interest and fierce individualism have been both the bane and the glory of Iran throughout its history, but through triumph and defeat the culture and the way of life of the Persians have unified the population of the country more than political or even religious forms unless they too were integrated into the heritage of Persia. +/

Sassanid Art Under Chosroes

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “If we turn to the visual arts, again the pomp and glory of the reign of Chosroes strike the observer. Many Sassanid silver objects date from the time of Chosroes, although dating is frequently exceedingly difficult. One reason for problems in identifying or dating Sassanid art is the lack of a 'Zoroastrian' art and an artistic symbolism matching Christian and Buddhist art, although decoration perhaps predominated in late Sassanid art over representation, and much of the geometric or floral nature of Islamic art seems to have had its origins in Sassanid Iran. Even though one can hard!y speak of a 'Zoroastrian' art, all specialists agree that Sassanid art, like its predecessor the art of the Achaemenids, is a royal art with plenty of royal symbollsm. Much more than trade and commerce, art was bound to the court and the wlshes of the ruler, and it seems that, just like the coinage, the silver plates, textiles, even glassware and pottery, not to mention architecture, all came from royal workshops or related establishments. Whether Sassanid art is primarily derived from Hellenistic art or is more dependent on ancient Iranian and Near Eastern traditions is a matter for art historians and need not concern us here, but whatever the origins, Sassanid motifs, such as the mythical bird, the senmurv, are found on art objects from India, China and the western world, evidence of the importance of Sassanid culture in the realm of the arts. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“It is not possible here to even mention the many aspects and problems of Sassanid art, except to note several features which exemplify the nature of political power and pomp of the Sassanid rulers. The monumental architecture, such as the Qala-ye Dukhtar and palace of Ardashir at Firuzabad, the Taq-e Kisra in Ctesiphon, if not built by Chosroes at least enlarged or completed by him, and others, all express the pride and wealth of the Sassanids. The symbolic quality of the representational art of the Sassanids too strikes one, for representation of kingly glory may be seen in many forms, such as the mountain goat with a ribbon around its neck, the head of a wild boar, tulips, winged creatures, or even leaves, all from nature yet not represented in their natural forms but heraldic in nature. In other words, the art objects may not have been made for the royal court but they appear as though they were. This 'centralization' of only a few art motifs repeated many times expresses the ideals of the imperial state and society after Chosroes I. It is interesting that much more has been written about the arts of the Sassanids, and they have been far more studied, than has been the political, social or economic history of Sassanid Iran. +/

“One branch of Sassanid art which was widespread among the populace but which also displayed the royal motifs mentioned above, and has repercussions in other areas, is that of sphragistics, for in antiquity people used seals instead of signatures. On many thousands of Sassanid seals or seal impressions on clay, we find a large repertolre of motifs including figures or busts, as well as official seals only with writings. For Sassanid onomastica the seals are invaluable, and we find personal names such as Mihr Bokht or Zurvandad, which, however, do not mean that those who held these names were followers of a separate religion of Mithraism or Zervanism but they were simply Zoroastrians. Others were named after a fire temple, a day of the month, or for rnany other reasons. Perhaps more important than private seals, which usually give us only a symbol or design but sometirnes the name and title of the owner and rarely other information, were the 'official' seals with writing alone which tell us about administrative divisions of provinces as well as titles, and no personal names, since they were seals of offices not of persons. The vast majority of these seals date from the time of Chosroes I or later, and we have an interesting passage from the Matigan which substantiates the evidence of the seals and sealings themselves It goes as follows: "Furthermore, thus, the seal of usage (official seal) of the mobads and of the hamarkar (official of finances) was first (introduced) by order of Kavad son of Peroz and that of the judge (datavar) first by order of Chosroes son of Kavad. When the seals of the mobads of Fars were carved, it was written not the mobad in the name of his mobad quality, but in the name of the 'advocate of the poor,' and for this reason it was carved on the seal of the mobad of Fars in this manner. +/

“Seals, of course, were ancient in the Near East and seem to have been the predecessors of writing. In Babylonia the vast majority of clay sealings were economic in nature, and persons responsible for commercial transactions put their seal mark on goods and records of dellveries of goods. Priests participated in transactions and in control over trade and both sealings and cuneiform tablets relating to trade and legal matters have been found in temples in ancient Mesopotamia. Since the Sassanids were part of a tradition of conservatism it should cause no surprise to find priests acting as witnesses and as udges and custodians of records in various transactions of a village, city or a province in Sassanid Iran. The two storehouses where Sassanid clay sealings have been found in a room of the fire temple at Takht-e Sulaiman in Azerbaijan and at Qasr-e Abu Nasr or old Shiraz, held records of various transactions in the form of clay sealings, covering a time span of several generations at the end of the Sassanid period One controversy still unresolved is to what were the clay sealings originally attached before they were placed m their archives? One view is that they were attached to rolled documents, while another is that they were attached to oods before being removed to the archives. In the archives these sealings may have had tags or even documents attached to them for identification, but it is difficult to believe that only documents were originally attached to these sometimes large and heavy pieces of clay of so many different forms.” +/

Last Sassanid Rulers

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “Enough has been said to indicate the great significance of the reign of Chosroes I, and even though much has accumulated around his name and reign which should not be attributed to him, nonetheless the achievements of Chosroes were outstanding. Yet in the long run they did not insure lasting loyalty to the dynasty, and they did not rectify the grave defects of the caste system of society. On the contrary, the centralization of power and authority left local officials with little initiative and much resentment, at least in regard to the central power, such that the Islamic invaders, after the defeat of the imperial armies in three great battles in the west, had only local opposition, with little thought of unity to defend the empire. But the weakness of Sassanid Iran at that time was in no small measure the result of both internal and external fighting in the empire and the lack of rulers with the personal influence and power of a Shapur or Chosroes. +/

“Hormizd IV, son of Chosroes and a Turkish princess given in marriage to the Sassanid monarch to promote good relations between the two states, inherited the war with Byzantium. Attempts by Tiberius to end the war between the two empires failed, mainly because the Persians refused to surrender the city of Dara and also demanded a large annual subsidy. The Byzantine general Maurice was successful against the Persians in Mesopotamia, but in 582 the death of Tiberius caused Maurice to go to the capital to mount the throne, and he was replaced by incompetent generals who were defeated, and the war continued with attacks and counter-attacks. More threatening, however, was an invasion of the Turks into the northeastern part of the Sassanid Empire. Fortunately Iran had a brilliant general of the Mihran family called Bahram Chobin who decisively defeated the Turks at a great battle near Herat in 589, reported in a number of sources. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“The chronology and events in this period have been studied in detail with few large problems remaining, except the usual details of chronology and verifiability, so unlike most of ancient Iranian history. After his defeat of the Turks Bahram Chobin is reported to have crossed the Oxus and secured much booty, but so much fable is intertwined with the deeds of Bahram that it is difficult to tell fact from fiction, and furthermore stories about Bahram Chobin and Bahram Gor are exchanged in the tales about both Bahrams. It is unlikely that the ruler killed by Bahram in the east was the king of the Western Turks, but more likely a subordinate ruler. Whether the Turkish attack on Iran was a well-coordinated plan together with Byzantine and Arab diversions in the west with the aim of ending a Sassanid monopoly on east-west trade is possible but mere surmise. The popular general was then sent to the Caucasus area, and although Theopylactus says that the Persians were the aggressors, the hostilities between the two empires had not been resolved, and Bahram's initial success was a continuation of the struggle. But in a minor engagement Bahram was defeated by the Byzantines, and this led to his revolt in Iran. +/

“Hormizd suppressed the great nobility and protected the weak, which indicates a continued opposition to the policies of Chosroes, and it seems clear that internal affairs in Iran were most unsettled. Bahram's demotion and revolt, attributed to the jealousy of Hormizd in the sources, surely had deeper roots in the unhappiness of the nobility with their ruler, for Bahram was supported by the nobility on all sides. Troops sent to attack Bahram deserted to him, and Bahram marched on Ctesiphon late in the year 589. The aristocracy did not support Hormizd, and the religious leaders also were not happy with the tolerance and even friendship of Hormizd towards Christians and other non-Zoroastrians, so the ruler was abandoned. A palace revolt freed the nobles Hormizd had imprisoned, and the rebels were led by two brothers-in-law of the monarch, called Bindoe and Bistam; Hormizd was seized and blinded. In February 590 Chosroes Abarvez or Parviz 'the victorious' was raised to the throne, and shortly thereafter Hormizd was put to death. Bahram, however, was not reconciled to the son of Hormizd, and hostilities broke out at Hulwan, but Chosroes, seeing that he could not defeat the experienced general, fled to Ctesiphon and then to the Byzantine frontier, and at Circesium in March 590 he was received by the governor who communicated the request of Chosroes for asylum and aid to regain his throne to Emperor Maurice in Constantinople. Chosroes was granted asylum in Hierapolis until a decision about aid to him could be reached. Both Bahram and Chosroes promised the ceding of a number of frontier towns to the Byzantines, if they would support one or the other. +/

“The course of events leading to the restoration of Chosroes II are known from Theophylactus and Theophanes as well as from Arabic sources, and the rule of Bahram lasted only a year. Legitimacy of the house of Sasan played a role in the erosion of support for the usurper Bahram, and Nisibis was the first important city to defect to Chosroes and his Byzantine allies. Bindoe the uncle of Chosroes, who had accompanied him into exile, was sent with an army to Armenia to outflank Bahram, who was defeated in the lowlands and lost Ctesiphon. He retreated to Azerbaijan but was finally defeated and fled to the Turks in Central Asia where he received asylum, until he was assassinated after a year. Thus ended the reign of Bahram who, more than his soverign, captured the emotions of Persian bards and story tellers, but peace did not return to the land. +/

Sassanid Losses to the Byzantines

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “In 565 the emperor Justinian died and was succeeded by Justin II, who resolved to stop subsidies to Arab chieftains to restrain them from raiding Byzantine territory in Syria. A year earlier the Sassanid governor of Armenia, of the Suren family, built a fire temple at Dvin near modern Erevan, and he put to death an influential member of the Mamikonian family, which touched off a revolt which led to the massacre of the Persian governor and his guard in 571. Justin II took advantage of the Armenian revolt to stop his yearly payments to Chosroes for the defense of the Caucasus passes. The Armenians were welcomed as allies, and an army was sent into Sassanid territory which besieged Nisibis in 572, but dissension among the Byzantine generals not only led to an abandonment of the siege, but they in turn were besieged in the city of Dara, which was taken by the Persians, who then ravaged Syria and caused Justin to sue for peace. Justin was succeeded by Tiberius, a high Byzantine officer, in 574 who made a truce with Chosroes, but it was not concluded, and in the following year the Persians invaded Armenia where they were at first successful. Then, as so frequently in the wars between the two empires, fortune changed, and the Byzantines gained many local successes. Attempts to negotiate a peace in 576 failed after a great Sassanid victory over the Byzantines in Armenia. In 578 a new Byzantine commander Maurice captured several Sassanid strongholds, but the Armenian revolt came to an end with a general amnesty from Chosroes, which brought Armenia back into the Sassanid Empire, and peace negotiations between the two great powers were under way when Chosroes died in 579. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“Chosroes had to cede territory to Byzantium, reward his supporters and punish his uncles, who had been instigators of the d:ath of his father. He put to death Bindoe, but Bistam escaped and became a rebel in the Elburz mountains. Gathering former partisans of Bahram Chobin around him, Bistam was able to maintain independence and even expand his authority, striking coins and ruling the northeastern part of Iran. It was not until 601 that the rule of Chosroes was restored over all of the empire which had been greatly weakened by the civil wars. +/

“Peace and good relations were maintained with the Byzantines throughout the rule of Maurice in spite of raids of the Ghassanid Arab clients of the Byzantines into Sassanid territory in 600, but the murder of the Byzantine emperor and the seizure of the throne in Constantinople by Phokas, an officer, in 602 changed the situation. Chosroes used this as a pretext for opening hostilities and, when an emissary from the new Byzantine emperor arrived, he was imprisoned. Phokas was faced with revolts all over the empire, and Edessa, which had replaced Antioch as the most important city in the general area of northern Syria, was besieged by an army sent by Phokas. Chosroes in 604 sent an army against the forces besieging Edessa who were defeated, and the Persians briefly occupied the city. Dara also fell after a siege in 605, and Chosroes resolved to carry the war into the heart of enemy territory. One army sent into Armenia was completely successful and continued westward invading Cappadocia, while in 607 a renewed Sassanid invasion of the west captured more towns. In 610 Phokas was overthrown and killed, and Heraclius became emperor with the resolve to make peace at once with Chosroes. The latter refused, however, and war continued with more Persian successes. In 613 Damascus was captured and in the following year Jerusalem, where among other booty the true cross was taken to Ctesiphon. In 615 a Persian general marched to Chalcedon opposite Constantinople, while in 617 the king of the Avars appeared before the land walls of the Byzantine capital. Emperor Heraclius almost left the city in despair for north Africa, especially after Egypt, the main source of grain for the empire, was occupied by the Persians in 619. +/

“Although Chosroes had succeeded in extending the frontiers of the Sassanid Empire almost to the limits of the Achaemenid Empire, Heraclius had not been crushed, and indeed he made a number of radical changes in his empire, dividing it into large military zones, the theme system, each under a military officer, and local people rather than mercenaries were enrolled in the armies. A crusade began, supported by the populace as well as by contributions of the church. Since the Byzantines controlled the seas, Heraclius resolved on a bold stroke, and in 622 he sailed into the Black Sea with an expeditionary force which penetrated into Armenia where Sassanid forces were defeated. The Avars were constrained to a peace by payment of a large tribute, but Chosroes still refused to make peace. In the following year Heraclius repeated his previous feat and defeated Sassanid detachments led by Shahin who formerly had reached Chalcedon, and Shahrbaraz, anther top general of Chosroes. +/

“Heraclius penetrated into Azerbaijan and captured and plundered the Sassanid fire temple and sanctuary Adur Gushnasp at Ganzak or Shiz. Heraclius did not leave Azerbaijan in the winter as expected but retired northwards into winter quarters. Chosroes decided to copy the bold stroke of Heraclius, and outdo the audacity of the Byzantines, by capturing Constantinople with the aid of the Avars. But Byzantine sea power prevented any success of the allies; Heraclius did not return, and the gamble failed. Heraclius, still on Iran's territory, was not idle but had made an alliance with the Turkish Khazars, who had established a state north of the Caucasus, and in late 627 the Khazars and Byzantines moved south through Azerbaijan reaping booty with little opposition. Heraclius moved farther south to the plains of Mesopotamia, and in desperation Chosroes recalled all of his forces from Anatolia. Before any opposition to Heraclius could be organized, the latter captured Dastagird in 628, east of Ctesiphon, where Chosroes had a large palace complex and much riches. Then Heraclius again withdrew north in Mesopotamia to winter quarters. +/

Sassanid Decline

Richard Frye wrote in “The Heritage of Persia”: “Chosroes had failed but whether he sought a scapegoat in Shahrbaraz,who revolted, or whether a large conspiracy dethroned the ruler, the king was imprisoned and killed with the connivance of his son Shiroe at the end of February 628. Shiroe took the name Kavad and ascended the throne as Kavad II. He at once began peace negotiations with Heraclius and the stalus quo before the war was restored with prisoners exchanged, relics and booty restored, and Sassanid troops evacuated from all Byzantine possessions. Kavad's reign had lasted less than a year when he died, probably in an epidemic, to be succeeded by his infant son Ardashir III. Shahrbaraz, head of a large army, decided to seize the throne himself, and he marched on Ctesiphon, defeated forces sent against him and killed the young king. Shahrbaraz himself was murdered after less than two months' rule. Since no son of Chosroes was alive, the nobles raised his daughter Boran to the throne, but she died after ruling little more than a year. A succession of rulers followed, each ruling only a few months, including Azarmedukht, sister of Boran, Peroz II, Hormizd V and Chosroes IV (since a Chosroes III had ruled for a short time in the eastern part of the empire). At the end, the nobles found a grandson of Chosroes alive, a certain Yazdagird son of Shahriyar, in Istakhr in a fire temple. He was to be the last of the Sassanid kings and, ascending the throne in 632, he had little time to rule. [Source: Richard Frye, “The Heritage of Persia,” starting with pg. 325 +/ ]

“The long reign of Chosroes II was not only known for the internal as well as external strife but also for the luxury, or even decadence, of the court. For example, the throne of Chosroes II was famous in legend for its luxury and the rock carving of a hunting scene of the king at Taq-e Bustan indicates the sumptuousness of even such a mundane affair. His palaces at Dastagird and at Qasr-e Shirin, supposedly named after his queen, are noted in legends for their opulence. The famous musician Barbad lived at his court, and a certain degeneracy appears from accounts of life at the court, and that more than patronage of the arts or philosophers seem to have been the hallmark of Chosroes II. +/

“The revolts of Bahram Chobin and Bistam reveal weaknesses in the system of Chosroes I, since the nobility was basically unwilling to support the throne, although they were still conservative enough to demand a Sassanid prince as ruler rather than a usurper to the throne. One mistake of Chosroes II, which was to have future consequences, was the imprisonment and execution of Nu'man III, king of the Lakhmids of al-Hira about 600, presumably because of the failure of the Arab king to support Chosroes on his flight to the Byzantines. Afterwards the central government took over the defense of the western frontiers to the desert and the buffer state of the Lakhmids vanished. Soon the Arabs of the peninsula invaded lower Iraq and it was only four years after the accession of Yazdagird that his chief general Rustam was declsively defeated and killed at the battle of Qadisiyya near al-Hira. The following year Ctesiphon was taken by the Arabs. Attempts to rally forces on the plateau failed and in 642 the rest of the imperial Sassanid army was destroyed at the battle of Nihavend. Just as with the last of the Achaemenidsl so Yazdagird fled to the east and took refuge with the marban of Merv; the latter, however, resolved to be rid of an unwelcome guest, but Yazdagird fled and hid in a mill where he was murdered in 651. Thus the Sassanid Empire went on the same road as the Achaemenid, and to the outside observer, removed from both by many centuries, the similarities in their final years strike one more than the differences. Details of the fall of the Sassanid Empire however, belong to the history of Islam and the Arab conquests, of which we have a veritable plethora of sources in comparison with Sassanid history.” +/

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History “ by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples “ by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures “ edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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