Sassanid Empire (224 – 651 A.D.) [Part 3]
After Yazdgerd’s death, his two sons wrangled over the throne. First, it was taken by Hormoz III, but then his brother Piruz marched against, the king and deposed him. The twenty-ﬁve years of Piruz’s turbulent reign are remembered for a terrible famine and the renewal of hostilities between his people and the Hephthalites. In one of the battles with these warlike nomads, Piruz was captured, and like Bahram II of old, had to agree to an ignominious peace. His son Qobad was left as a hostage until the Persians paid a large ransom. The Sasanians also had to pay tribute to the Hephthalites for many years.
A subsequent battle proved even more disastrous: The Sassanid army was annihilated, and Piruz himself was killed. It was at the end of Piruz’s reign that the Nestorian doctrine became the dominant form of Christianity in the empire. Piruz’s brother Balash was elected king by the nobles. Unwilling to be a pawn at their hands, Balash fell a victim to their conspiracy. He was soon deposed in favor of Qobad I, Piruz’s son. Qobad proved himself a vigorous ruler. The time spent in his youth as a hostage of the Hephthalites had provided him with valuable military experience and connections, which he later turned to good use. A campaign against the Byzantine Empire destroyed Amida (today in southeastern Turkey), but unrest in the east compelled him to ratify a peace treaty with the Byzantines.
Early in his reign, Qobad stage-managed the assassination of the feudal chief Zarmihr (elsewhere called the Sokhra), who probably was instrumental in deposing Balash. The murder caused resentment among some of the great nobles, and Qobad’s position was consequently weakened. About the same time, Qobad moved away from Zoroastrianism and turned to Mazdak and his teaching, Mazdakism. This was the last straw for the nobility, who deposed Qobad in favor of his brother Jamasp. Qobad was imprisoned but managed to escape and ﬂee to the Hephthalites. With their support, he reclaimed the throne, which Jamasp yielded without opposition. Trying to placate the nobility, and urged by his favorite youngest son Khosrow, an orthodox Zoroastrian, Qobad acquiesced in the assassination of Mazdak and the massacre of his followers. Toward the close of his reign, Qobad resumed the war with Byzantium and succeeded in defeating the Byzantine army at the Battle of Callinicum.
The Sassanid forces, however, sustained heavy losses. Because Qobad was too old to continue the war, a peace treaty was concluded, with the Byzantine Empire agreeing on paying a large indemnity. At this time, another pressing concern for Qobad was how to ensure the succession of Khosrow. Uneasy over what might come to pass after his death, Qobad asked the Byzantine Emperor Justin I to adopt his son and make sure his accession, but Justin refused. As it turned out, Qobad’s written testament sufﬁced to place Khosrow on the throne. Khosrow I (Greek: Chosroes) Anushravan (“Of Immortal Soul”) was among the most illustrious of the Sassanid monarch, and has come down through posterity bearing the title of “The Just”.
His rule began with the suppression of the revolts of his brothers and some discontented nobles. He made peace with Byzantium and devoted most of his time to the reforms of taxation and internal administration. The new tax system replaced the levying of land revenue in kind by a ﬁxed, cash assessment. This allowed the ruler to have a ﬁxed amount entering his coffers every year. Khosrow‘s head tax did not apply to priests, warriors, and scribes, but only to commoners between 20 and 50 years old. The lowlands of Iraq paid the lion’s share of the land tax in the Sassanid Empire. just as had they had under the Achaemenians evidence of the continuing importance of the Tigris-Euphrates area. The new tax system served as a model for that of the Abbasid caliphate. Similarly, important were Khosrow’s army reforms.
Previously, the nobility – from the great to the small had been obliged to equip themselves and their followers and to serve without pay in the army. Khosrow gave the poor nobles, more correctly termed knights, equipment and a salary for service in the army. Thus the army was tied more closely to the central government, and the great nobles who had maintained private armies saw their power drastically reduced. This was the period which saw the ﬂowering of the Dehqans” (literally, “village Lord,” the knights who owned a village). The Dehqans became the backbone of Iranian society, as the Arabs discovered following their conquests. In addition, the king divided the empire into four parts and put a general over each part. The generals of the east (Khorasan) and of the west (Iraq) were especially important since they had to defend their respective frontiers against the nomads in the east. and the Romans in the west.
After things inside the country had been settled, Khosrow embarked on his expansionist military campaigns. From 540 onward, Khosrow’s military campaigns had been conducting a long war against Justinian. This, though interrupted by several armistices, lasted until a ﬁfty-year peace treaty was signed in 561. Khosrow also extended his power to the Black Sea, and inﬂicted heavy defeats on the Hephthalites. Toward the end of his reign, another venture of Khosrow brought Persian armies for the ﬁrst time to southern Arabia. An even more notable event also took place during this era: the birth of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad. The new war with Byzantium started in 572, with its chief aim the settling of the perennial disputes over Armenia. At ﬁrst, success crowned the Persian army, and it seemed as though the Byzantine Empire would be incorporated into the Sassanid domains.
The fortunes of war changed, however, and Byzantine troops defeated Khosrow and occupied some of the Sassanid territories, plundering many localities. Armenia, however, was brought under Sassanid control. Before peace could be negotiated between the two empires, Khosrow died, after a reign of forty-eight years. Although Khosrow was an orthodox Zoroastrian and some persecution of Christian communities occurred during periods of tension with Byzantium, his reign is largely characterized by a considerable amount of religious tolerance. He was a just and enlightened ruler, and when in Athens, Justinian closed the Academy, which had been a center of ancient Greek philosophy and culture, the last Neoplatonists turned to Khosrow, hoping to ﬁnd in him the true philosopher-king. Khosrow welcomed them and treated them well, and when they became homesick, he secured permission from Justinian for them to return to Athens as part of one of the peace treaties between the two empires.