“Mes doigts sont des sources qui rafraîchissent ta face”
Athanase Vantchev de Thracy
Tu vis dans mes prunelles, dans ma voix nocturne,
Dans les palais d’azur du roi Anushirvan,
Toi, mon Prince penché sur les ruines du temps,
Image évanouie d’une ombre taciturne.
Dehors, dans les bassins, pays des nenuphars,
Mon âme zoroastrique écrit ton histoire.
Athanase Vantchev de Thracy
Sofia, ce mardi 2 octobre 2007
Khosrow Anuchirvan: roi de la dynastie des Sassanides qui régnèrent sur l'Iran de 224 ap. J-C. jusqu'à l'invasion musulmane des arabes en 651 ap. J.-C. Cette
période constitue un âge d'or pour l'Iran tant sur le plan artistique que politique et
On divise en générale la période sassanide en trois :
- les IIIe et IVe siècles, qui correspondent à la constitution de l’empire, au
développement de l’agriculture et de l'urbanisme
- le Ve et le début de VIe siècles, où l'on remarque un certain déclin et des difficultés
face aux Hephtalides
- les VIe et VIIe période qui débute avec le règne de Khosrow I Anushirvan et qui
est marquée par un renouveau de la croissance puis un rapide déclin final.
IIIe - IVe siècles
Sassan, le fondateur de la dynastie sassanide, plus ou moins légendaire, était prêtre
du temple d’Anahita à Istakhr et se proclamait descendant de Darius III, le dernier
souverain perse achéménide battu par Alexandre le Grand. Toutefois, c'est en 224,
avec la victoire de son successeur, Ardashir, sur le dernier roi parthe Artaban IV, que
débute réellement la période sassanide. Ayant rapidement conquis le territoire
Parthe, Ardashir se fait couronner en 226, et meurt en 241.
Néanmoins, de nombreux problèmes se rencontrent sur les frontières occidentales
comme orientales. À l’est, l'expansion progressive des sassanides provoque des
soulèvements chez les nomades Kouchans, qui refusent de céder leur territoire, et
engagent de nombreuses batailles avec les Sassanides. Un peu plus tard, à la fin du
IVe siècle, ce seront les Huns, Chionites puis Kidarites, qui déferlent sur l'Iran, et se
fixent finalement en Transoxiane et au Gandhara.
Le monde romain lui aussi s'accommode mal de l'arrivée au pouvoir d'une dynastie
qui ne cherche qu'à s'étendre, et des conflits incessants ont lieu entre ces deux
puissances. On peut ainsi noter la victoire de Shapur Ier sur Valérien en 260, qui fut
suivie de revers et d'autres victoires, avant d'aboutir finalement à un traité de paix
en 384 entre Théodose et Shapur III : face à la menace des Huns, les romains
appliquent une politique d'Etat allié et décident de payer les sassanides pour que
ceux-ci protègent le Caucase et bloquent les peuples d'Asie centrale.
On peut aussi mentionner les nombreuses luttes contre les Arascides, l'une des
petites dynasties de la plaine arabique, qui cotoie de nombreux bédouins.
Ve et début du VIe siècle.
Au Ve siècle, les menaces sur la frontière orientale, notamment de la part des
Hephtalites, se font plus fortes. Si Vahram V Gur (421-438) parvient à obtenir une
victoire, Peroz, est fait prisonnier cinquante ans plus tard, en 476, et durant toute la
fin du Ve siècle, les Sassanides restent tributaires des Héphtalites. De plus, des
troubles dus à un état économique moins florissant qu'auparavant et à une religion
rigoureuse éclatent, en particulier au début du VIe siècle, sous le règne de Kavad Ier.
VIe et VIIe siècle
A partir du règne de Khosrow I Anushirvan (« à l’âme immortelle »), appelé
Chosroès par les Grecs, des réformes mettent en place un nouveau système
d’impôts, qui fut plus tard repris par les Arabes. Le pouvoir est désormais confié à
une petite noblesse, plutôt qu'à de grands propriétaires. L'empire s’étend sur l'Arabie
méridionale, permettant le contrôle du commerce entre Byzance et l’Extrême-Orient
(Inde, Chine). Les victoires qui mettent fin à la domination des Hephtalites,
entraînent également une expansion importante vers l'est, jusqu’à l’Oxus.
Khosrow I Anushirvan est resté très célèbre en Iran : de nombreuses paroles et de
nombreux faits lui sont attribués. Il réalise de grands travaux publics, comme des
canaux d’irrigation, ou la fondation à Jund-i Shapur d’une école médicale fondée sur
les théories grecques. C'est également sous son règne que sont accueillis à la cour
des philosophes et savants grecs expatriés après la fermeture de l’école d'Athènes en
Sous Khosrow II Parwiz (le triomphant), l'expansion territoriale se poursuit, avec
l'annexion de la Syrie, de l’Égypte et de la Palestine. Mais la contre offensive
d’Héraclius mène finalement au pillage de la résidence royale de Dastajird, puis à
l'assassinat de Khosrow à Ctésiphon. Ce règne reste associé toutefois à une période
de luxe, avec la construction des palais de Qasr-i Shirin et Dastajird, et le grand goût
qui a cours pour la poésie et la musique.
Le règne de Kavad II, marqué par un traité de paix avec Byzance, qui induit un repli
sur le territoire de Khosrow I, marque la fin de l'apogée des sassanide, et le début
d'une anarchie qui ne s'achève qu'avec la conquête arabe. En 637 la prise de
Ctésiphon puis en 642 la défaite de Nehavend marquent la fin de l'empire. Yazdagird
III s’enfuie à Merv puis Balkh, et finit par être assassiné. La dynastie survécut
cependant quelques temps, réfugiée à la cour de Chine.
'My fingers are springs, cooling your cheek'
Athanase Vantchev de Thracy
You live in my eyes, in my nighttime voice,
in the azure palaces of King Anushirvan,
You, my Prince, swooning image of a silent shadow
hunched over the ruins of time.
Outside, in the pools, the country of water lilies,
my Zoroastrian soul has begun to write your life story.
translated from the French of Athanase Vantchev de Thracy by Norton Hodges
ENGLISH (MY TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH) :
« My fingers are sources which refresh your face "
Athanase Vantchev de Thracy
You live in my dark pupils, in my antic night-voice,
In the palaces of azure of king Anushirvan,
You, my Prince tilted on the ruins of the time,
Fainted image of a tender taciturn shadow.
Outside, in ponds, transperent country of nenuphars,
My zoroastric soul writes your immortal history.
Athanase Vantchev de Thracy
Sassanid Empire or Sassanian Empire is the name used for the fourth Iranian dynasty, and the second Persian Empire (226 - 651). The Sassanid dynasty was founded by Ardashir I after defeating the last Parthian (Arsacid) king, Artabanus IV and ended when the last Sassanid Shahanshah (King of Kings), Yazdegerd III (632–651), lost a 14-year struggle to drive out the early Islamic Caliphate, the first of the Islamic empires. The empire's territory encompassed all of today's Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey, and parts of Syria, Pakistan, Caucasia, Central Asia and Arabia. During Khosrau II's rule in 590–628 Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon were also briefly annexed to the Empire. The Sassanids called their empire Erānshahr, "Dominion of the Iranians (Aryans)"
The Sassanid era, encompassing the length of the Late Antiquity period, is considered to be one of the most important and influential historical periods in Iran. In many ways the Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of Persian civilization, and constituted the last great Iranian Empire before the Muslim conquest and adoption of Islam. Persia influenced Roman civilization considerably during the Sassanids' times, and the Romans reserved for the Sassanid Persians alone the status of equals, exampled in the letters written by the Roman Emperor to the Persian Shahanshah, which were addressed to "my brother." Their cultural influence extended far beyond the empire's territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Africa, China and India and played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asiatic medieval art.
This influence carried forward to the early Islamic world. The dynasty's unique and aristocratic culture transformed the Islamic conquest of Iran into a Persian Renaissance. Much of what later became known as Islamic culture, architecture, writing and other skills, were taken mainly from the Sassanid Persians into the broader Muslim world. For instance, Afghanistan's official language, which is the Dari dialect of Persian, was the royal language of the Sassanids.
Origins and Early History (205-310)
The Sasanid Dynasty was established by Ardashir I (226–241), a descendant of a line of the priests of goddess Anahita in Istakhr, Persis (Pars) who at the beginning of the third century had acquired the governorship of Persis. His father Papag (also pronounced Papak and Babak), was originally the ruler of a small town called Kheir, but had managed, in 205, to depose Gocihr, the last king of the Bazrangids (the local rulers of Persis as a client of the Arsacids) and appointed himself as the new ruler. His mother, Rodhagh, was the daughter of the provincial governor of Peris. The eponymous founder of the line was Ardashir I's paternal grandfather, Sassan, the great priest of the Temple of Anahita.
Pabag's efforts in gaining local power at the time escaped the attention of Artabanus IV, the Arsacid Emperor of the time who was involved in a dynastic struggle with his brother Vologases (Walakhsh) VI in Mesopotamia. Using the relief offered by these problems among the Arsacids, Pabag and his eldest son Shapur I managed to expand their power over all of Persis. The subsequent events are unclear, due to the sketchy nature of the sources. It is however certain that following the death of Pabag around 220, Ardashir who at the time was the governor of Darabgird, got involved in a power struggle of his own with his elder brother Shahpur. The sources tell us that in 222, Shapur, leaving for a meeting with his brother, was killed when the roof of a building collapsed on him.
At this point, Ardashir moved his capital further to the south of Persis and founded a capital at Ardashir-Khwarrah (formerly Gur, modern day Firouzabad). The city, well supported by high mountains and easily defendable through narrow passes, became the center of Ardashir's efforts to gain more power. The city was surrounded by a high, circular wall, probably copied from that of Darabgird, and on the north-side included a large palace, remains of which still survive.
A rock relief at Naqsh-e Rostam. Behind Shapur, his hands clasped by the king's, stands the Emperor Valerian; kneeling before the king on one knee is Philip the Arab, and beneath the feet of the king's horse lies the body of Gordian III.
After establishing his rule over Persis, Ardashir I rapidly extended his territory, demanding fealty from the local princes of Fars, and gaining control over the neighboring provinces of Kerman, Isfahan, Susiana, and Mesene. This expansion quickly came to the attention of Artabanus IV (216–224), Ardashir I's overlord. Artabanus IV initially ordered the governor of Khuzestan to march against Ardashir in 224, but this ended up in a major victory for Ardashir. Artabanus himself marched a second time against Ardashir I in 224. Their armies clashed at Hormizdeghan, where Artabanus IV was killed. Ardashir I went on to invade the western provinces of the now defunct Parthian (Arsacid) Empire. Crowned in 226 at Ctesiphon as the sole ruler of Persia, he took the title Shahanshah, or "King of Kings" (the inscriptions mention Adhur-Anahid as his "Queen of Queens", but her relationship with Ardashir is not established), bringing the 400-year-old Parthian Empire to an end and beginning four centuries of Sassanid rule.
Over the next few years, following local rebellions around the empire, Ardashir I further expanded his new empire to the east and northwest, conquering the provinces of Sistan, Gorgan, Khorasan, Margiana (in modern Turkmenistan), Balkh, and Chorasmia. He also added Bahrain and Mosul to Sassanid possessions. Later Sasanid inscriptions also claim the submission of the Kings of Kushan, Turan, and Mekran to Ardashir, although based on numismatic evidence, it is more likely that these actually submitted to Ardashir's son, the future Shapur I. In the west, assaults against Hatra, Armenia, and Adiabene met with less success.
Ardashir I's son Shapur I (241–272), whose mother was the daughter of a Parthian monarch, possibly Artabanus IV or one of the members of Suren Clan, continued this expansion, conquering Bactria and Kushan, while leading several campaigns against Rome. Penetrating deep into Roman territory, Shapur I conquered and plundered Antiochia in Syria (253 or 256) and finally defeated the Roman emperors Gordian III (238–244), Philip the Arab (244–249), and Valerian (253–260). The latter was taken (259) into Persian imprisonment after the Battle of Edessa, a tremendous and hitherto unknown disgrace for the Romans. Shapur I celebrated his victory by carving the impressive rock reliefs in Naqsh-e Rostam, for example, with Bishapur, as well as a monumental inscription in Persian and Greek with Naqsh-i Rustam in the proximity of Persepolis. Between 260 and 263, Shapur I lost some of these newly conquered territories to Odaenathus, a Roman ally.
Shapur I had intensive development plans. He founded many cities, some settled in part by emigrants from the Roman territories. These included Christians who could exercise their faith freely under Sassanid rule. Two cities, Bishapur and Nishapur, are named after him. Shapur I particularly favored Manichaeism. He protected Mani (who dedicated one of his books, the Shabuhragan, to him) and sent many Manichaean missionaries abroad. Shapur I also befriended a Babylonian rabbi called Shmuel. This friendship was advantageous for the Jewish community and gave them a respite from the oppressive laws enacted against them.
Later kings reversed Shapur I's policy of religious tolerance. Succeeding Shapur I, Bahram I (273–276) persecuted Mani and his followers under pressure from Magi. Bahram I imprisoned Mani and ordered him killed; Mani died, according to the legend, in jail awaiting his execution.
Bahram II (276–293) followed his father's religious policy. He was a weak ruler and lost several western provinces to the Roman Emperor Carus (282–283). During his rule most of Armenia, after half a century of Persian rule, was ceded to Diocletian (284–305).
Succeeding Bahram III (who ruled briefly in 293), Narseh (293–302) embarked on another war with the Romans. After an early success against the Emperor Galerius (305–311) near Callinicum on the Euphrates in 296, Narseh was decisively defeated in an ambush while he was with his harem in Armenia in 297. In the treaty that concluded this war, the Sassanids ceded all lands west of the Tigris and agreed not to interfere in the affairs of Armenia and Georgia. Following this crushing defeat, Narseh resigned in 301 and died in grief a year later. Narseh's son Hormizd II (302–309) assumed the throne. Although he suppressed revolts in Sistan and Kushan, Hormizd II was another weak ruler, unable to control the nobles. He was killed by Bedouins while hunting in 309.
First Golden Era (309–379)
Following Hormizd II's death, Arabs from the south started to ravage and plunder the southern cities of the empire, even attacking the province of Fars, the birthplace of the Sassanid kings. Meanwhile, Persian nobles killed Hormizd II's eldest son, blinded the second, and imprisoned the third (who later escaped to Roman territory). The throne was reserved for the unborn child of one of Hormizd II's wives. It is said that Shapur II (309–379) may have been the only king in history to be crowned in utero: the crown was placed upon his mother's belly. This child, named Shapur, was therefore born king. During his youth the empire was controlled by his mother and the nobles. Upon Shapur II's coming of age, he assumed power and quickly proved to be an active and effective ruler.
Shapur II first led his small but disciplined army south against the Arabs, whom he defeated, securing the southern areas of the empire. He then started his first campaign against Romans in the west, experiencing early success. After the Siege of Singara, however, his conquests were halted by nomadic raids along the eastern borders of the empire. These raids threatened Transoxiana, a strategically critical area for control of the Silk Road. In addition, Shapur II's military forces were not sufficient to hold the territory he had taken in the west. He therefore signed a peace treaty with Constantius II (353–361) in which both sides agreed not to attack each other's territory for a limited period of time.
Shapur II then marched east toward Transoxiana to meet the eastern nomads. He crushed the Central Asian tribes, and annexed the area as a new province. He completed the conquest of the area now known as Afghanistan. Cultural expansion followed this victory, and Sassanid art penetrated Turkistan, reaching as far as China. Shapur II, along with the nomad King Grumbates, started his second campaign against the Romans in 359, this time with his full military force and support from the nomads. The campaign was overwhelmingly successful; a total of five Roman provinces were ceded to the Persians after its completion.
Shapur II pursued a harsh religious policy. Under his reign the collection of the Avesta, the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, was completed, heresy and apostasy were punished, and Christians were persecuted. The latter was a reaction against the Christianization of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great (324–337).
At the time of Shapur's death, the Persian Empire was stronger than ever, with its enemies to the east pacified and Armenia under Persian control.
Intermediate Era (379–498)
Bahram Gur is a great favorite in Persian literature and poetry. "Bahram and the Indian princess in the black pavilion." Depiction of a Khamsa (Quintet) by the great Persian poet Nizami, mid-16th-century Safavid era.
From Shapur II's death until Kavadh I's (488–531) first coronation, Persia was largely stable with few wars against the Byzantine Empire. Throughout this era Sassanid religious policy differed dramatically from king to king. Despite a series of weak leaders, the administrative system established during Shapur II's reign remained strong, and the empire continued to function effectively.
After Shapur II died in 379, he left a powerful empire to his half-brother Ardashir II (379–383; son of Vahram of Kushan) and his son Shapur III (383–388), neither of whom demonstrated their predecessor's talent. Ardashir II, who was raised as the "half-brother" of the emperor, failed to fill his brother's shoes, and Shapur III was too much of a melancholy character to achieve anything. Bahram IV (388–399), although not as inactive as his father, still failed to achieve anything important for the empire. During this time Armenia was divided by treaty between the Roman and Sassanid empires. The Sassanids reestablished their rule over Greater Armenia, while the Byzantine Empire held a small portion of western Armenia.
Bahram IV's son Yazdegerd I (399–421) is often compared to Constantine I. Like him, he was powerful both physically and diplomatically. Much like his Roman counterpart, Yazdegerd I was opportunistic. Like Constantine the Great, Yazdgerd I practiced religious tolerance and provided freedom for the rise of religious minorities. He stopped the persecution against the Christians and even punished nobles and priests who persecuted them. His reign marked a relatively peaceful era. He made lasting peace with the Romans and even took the young Theodosius II (408–450) under his guardianship. He also married a Jewish princess who bore him a son called Narsi.
Yazdegerd I's successor was his son Bahram V (421–438), one of the most well-known Sassanid kings and the hero of many myths. These myths persisted even after the destruction of the Sassanid empire by the Arabs. Bahram V, better known as Bahram-e Gur, gained the crown after Yazdgerd I's sudden death (or assassination) against the opposition of the grandees with the help of al-Mundhir, the Arabic dynast of al-Hirah. Bahram V's mother was Soshandukht, the daughter of the Jewish Exilarch. In 427 he crushed an invasion in the east by the nomadic Hephthalites, extending his influence into Central Asia, where his portrait survived for centuries on the coinage of Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan). Bahram V deposed the vassal King of the Persian part of Armenia and made it a province.
Bahram V is a great favorite in Persian tradition, which relates many stories of his valor and beauty, of his victories over the Romans, Turks, Indians and Africans, and of his adventures in hunting and in love; he is called Bahram-e Gur, Gur meaning Onager, on account of his love for hunting and, in particular, hunting onagers. He symbolized a king in the height of a golden age. He had won his crown by competing with his brother and spent time fighting foreign enemies, but mostly kept himself amused by hunting and court parties with his famous band of ladies and courtiers. He embodied royal prosperity. During his time the best pieces of Sassanid literature were written, notable pieces of Sassanid music were composed, and sports such as polo became royal pastimes, a tradition that continues to this day in many kingdoms
Bahram V's son Yazdegerd II (438–457) was a just, moderate ruler but, in contrast to Yazdegerd I, practiced a harsh policy towards minority religions, particularly Christianity.
At the beginning of his reign, Yazdegerd II gathered a mixed army of various nations, including his Indian allies, and attacked the Eastern Roman Empire, which was building fortifications (a trick used by Romans for subsequent expeditions) in Persian territory nearby Carrhae. The Romans were taken by surprise, and if it were not for a heavy flood, Yazdegerd could have advanced greatly in Roman territory. Byzantine emperor Theodosius II asked for peace, sending his commander, Aspar, to Yazdegerd II's camp. In the pursued negotiation in 441, both empires promised not to build any new fortifications on their borders. Yazdegerd II, however, had the upper hand and did not demand more because of Kidarite incursions in Parthia and Khwarezmia. He gathered his forces in Neishabur in 443 and launched a prolonged campaign against the Kidarites. Finally after a number of battles, he crushed the Kidarites and drove them out beyond Oxus river in 450.
During his eastern campaign, Yazdegerd II grew suspicious of the Christians in the army and expelled them all from the governing body and army. He then persecuted the Christians and, to a much lesser extent, the Jews. In order to reestablish Zoroastrianism in Armenia, he crushed an uprising of Armenian Christians at the Battle of Vartanantz in 451. The Armenians, however, remained primarily Christian. In his later years, he was engaged yet again with Kidarites until his death in 457. Hormizd III (457–459), younger son of Yazdegerd II, ascended to the throne. During his short rule, he continually fought with his elder brother Peroz, who had the support of nobility, and with the Hephthalites in Bactria. He was killed by his brother Peroz in 459.
In the beginning of the 5th century, the Hephthalites (White Huns), along with other nomadic groups, attacked Persia. At first Bahram V and Yazdegerd II inflicted decisive defeats against them and drove them back eastward. The Huns returned at the end of 5th century and defeated Peroz I (457–484) in 483. Following this victory the Huns invaded and plundered parts of eastern Persia for two years. They exacted heavy tribute for some years thereafter.
These attacks brought instability and chaos to the kingdom. Peroz I tried again to drive out Hephthalites, but on the way to Herat, he and his army were trapped by Huns in the desert; Peroz I was killed, and his army was wiped out. After this victory Hephthalites advanced forward to the city of Herat, throwing the empire into chaos. Eventually, a noble Persian from the old family of Karen, Zarmihr (or Sokhra), restored some degree of order. He raised Balash, one of Peroz I's brothers, to the throne, although the Hunnic threat persisted until the reign of Khosrau I. Balash (484–488) was a mild and generous monarch, who made concessions to the Christians; however, he took no action against the empire's enemies, particularly, the White Huns. Balash, after a reign of four years, was blinded and deposed (attributed to magnates), and his nephew Kavadh I was raised to the throne.
Kavadh I (488–531) was an energetic and reformist ruler. Kavadh I gave his support to the communistic sect founded by Mazdak, son of Bamdad, who demanded that the rich should divide their wives and their wealth with the poor. His intention evidently was, by adopting the doctrine of the Mazdakites, to break the influence of the magnates and the growing aristocracy. These reforms led to his deposition and imprisonment in the "Castle of Oblivion" (Lethe) in Susa, and his younger brother Jamasp (Zamaspes) was raised to the throne in 496. Kavadh I, however, escaped in 498 and was given refuge by the White Hun king.
Djamasp (496–498) was installed on the Sassanid throne upon the deposition of Kavadh I by members of the nobility. Djamasp was a good and kind king, and he reduced taxes in order to relieve the peasants and the poor. He was also a proper adherent of the Mazdean religion, diversions from which had cost Kavadh I his throne and freedom. His reign soon ended when Kavadh I, at the head of a large army granted to him by the Hephthalite king, returned to the empire's capital. Djamasp loyally stepped down from his position and restored the throne to his brother. No further mention of Djamasp is made after the restoration of Kavadh I, but it is widely believed that he was treated favorably at the court of his brother.
Second Golden Era (498–622)
The second golden era began after the second reign of Kavadh I. With the support of the Hephtalites, Kavadh I launched a campaign against the Romans. In 502, he took Theodosiopolis (Erzurum) in Armenia. In 503 he took Amida (Diarbekr) on the Tigris. In 505, an invasion of Armenia by the western Huns from the Caucasus led to an armistice, during which the Romans paid subsidies to the Persians for the maintenance of the fortifications on the Caucasus. In year 525, he suppressed revolts in Lazica and recaptured Georgia. In 530, he sent an army under Firouz the Mirranes to attack the important Roman frontier city of Daras. The army was met by the Roman general Belisarius, and though superior in numbers, was defeated decisively at the Battle of Daras. However, Kavadh's army with aid of Lakhmid ruler (a Sassanid vassal kingdom) , al-Mundhir IV ibn al-Mundhir and tactical adjustment of his elite Savarans (knights) to counter Belaisarius's legions, later defeated Roman armies under the command of Belisarius twice, one in year 530 in Battle of Nisbis and other in year 531 in Battle of Callinicum. Although he could not free himself from the yoke of the Ephthalites, Kavadh succeeded in restoring order in the interior and fought with general success against the Eastern Romans, founded several cities, some of which were named after him, and began to regulate the taxation and internal administration.
After Kavadh I, his son Khosrau I, also known as Anushirvan ("with the immortal soul"; ruled 531–579), ascended to the throne. He is the most celebrated of the Sassanid rulers. Khosrau I is most famous for his reforms in the aging governing body of Sassanids. In his reforms he introduced a rational system of taxation, based upon a survey of landed possessions, which his father had begun and tried in every way to increase the welfare and the revenues of his empire. Previous great feudal lords fielded their own military equipment, followers and retainers. Khosrau I developed a new force of dehkans or "knights" paid and equipped by the central government and the bureaucracy, tying the army and bureaucracy more closely to the central government than to local lords.
Although the Emperor Justinian I (527–565) had paid him a bribe of 440,000 pieces of gold to keep the peace, in 540 Khosrau I broke the "eternal peace" of 532 and invaded Syria, where he temporarily captured and plundered the city of Antioch. During Khosrau's en route return, he collected money from the different Byzantine cities.
In 565, Justinian I died and was succeeded by Justin II (565–578), 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 Yerevan, and he put to death an influential member of the Mamikonian family, touching 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 Khosrau I 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. However, dissension among the Byzantine generals not only led to an abandonment of the siege, but they in turn were besieged in the city of Daraa, which was taken by the Persians who then ravaged Syria, causing Justin II to sue for peace. Armenian revolt came to an end with a general amnesty from Khosrau I, which brought Armenia back into the Sassanid Empire.
Around 570, "Ma 'd-Karib", half-brother of the King of Yemen, requested Khosrau I's intervention. Khosrau I 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 that successfully annexed southern Arabia as a Sassanid province, which lasted until the time of troubles after Khosrau II.
Khosrau I's 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. Khosrau I was a great builder, embellishing his capital, founding new towns, and constructing new buildings. He rebuilt the canals and restocked the farms destroyed in the wars. He built strong fortifications at the passes and placed subject tribes in carefully chosen towns on the frontiers to act as guardians against invaders. He was tolerant of all religions, though he decreed that Zoroastrianism should be the official state religion, and was not unduly disturbed when one of his sons became a Christian.
The Sassanid Empire at its greatest extent, under king Khosrau II.
After Khosrau I, Hormizd IV (579–590) took the throne. Hormizd IV was also a vigorous ruler who continued the success and prosperity established by his predecessors. During the reign of Khosrau II (590–628), the revolt of general Bahram Chobin (rival King Bahram VI) briefly threw the empire into crisis, but the crisis was short lived, and Khosrau II soon reestablished firm control over the empire. Taking advantage of a civil war in the Byzantine Empire, Khosrau II launched a full-scale invasion. The Sassanid dream of restoring the Achaemenid boundaries was close to completion when Jerusalem and Damascus fell; Egypt fell soon after. In 626 Constantinople also was under siege by Slavic and Avar forces supported by the Persians. This remarkable peak of expansion was paralleled by a blossoming of Persian art, music, and architecture. By 622, the Byzantine Empire was on the verge of collapse and the borders of the Achaemenid Empire came close to being restored on all fronts.
Decline and fall (622–651)
Queen Purandokht, daughter of Khosrau II, the last woman and one of the last rulers on the throne of the Sassanid dynasty, 630.
Although hugely successful at first glance, Khosrau II's campaign had in fact overextended the Persian army and overtaxed the people. The Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610–641) retaliated with a tactical move, sortying from his besieged capital and sailing up the Black Sea to attack Persia from the rear. Heraclius, with the occasional assistance of the Khazars and other Turkic troops, won several devastating victories against a Sassanid state substantially weakened by 15 years of war. Heraclius' campaign culminated in the Battle of Nineveh, where the Byzantines (without the Khazars, who had left Heraclius) defeated a Persian army, commanded by Rhahzadh. Heraclius then marched through Mesopotamia and Western Persia sacking Takht-e Soleyman and the Palace of Dastugerd, where he received the news of the assassination of Khosrau II.
Chaos and civil war followed after assassination of Khosrau II. Over a period of fourteen years and twelve successive kings, including two daughters of Khosro II and spahbod Shahrbaraz, the Sassanid Empire weakened considerably. The power of the central authority passed into the hands of the generals. It would take several years for a strong king to emerge from a series of coups, and the Sassanids never had time to be fully recovered.
In the spring of 632, a grandson of Khosrau I, Yazdegerd III who had lived in hiding, ascended the throne. In that same year, the first Arab squadrons made their raids into Persian territory. Years of warfare had exhausted both the Byzantines and the Persians. The Sassanids were further weakened by economic decline, heavy taxation, religious unrest, rigid social stratification, the increasing power of the provincial landholders, and a rapid turnover of rulers. These factors facilitated the Arab invasion.
The Sassanids never mounted a truly effective resistance to the pressure applied by the initial Arab armies. Yazdegerd was a boy at the mercy of his advisers and incapable of uniting a vast country crumbling into small feudal kingdoms, despite the fact that Byzantium, under similar pressure from the newly expansive Arabs, no longer threatened. The first encounter between Sassanids and Muslim Arabs was in the Battle of the Bridge in 634 which resulted in a Sassanid victory, however the Arab threat did not stop there and reappeared shortly from the disciplined armies of Khalid ibn Walid, once one of Muhammad's chosen companion-in-arms and leader of the Arab army. Under the Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattāb, a Muslim army defeated a larger Persian force lead by general Rostam Farrokhzad at the plains of al-Qādisiyyah in 637 and besieged Ctesiphon. Ctesiphon fell after a prolonged siege. Yazdgerd fled eastward from Ctesiphon, leaving behind him most of the Empire's vast treasury. The Arabs captured Ctesiphon shortly afterward, leaving the Sassanid government strapped for funds and acquiring a powerful financial resource for their own use. Had the empire not been exhausted, and divided, without an effective government, at the time of the Arab invasions, the Asawaran (Azatan) knightly caste could in all probability have defeated them, if summoned at once, and massed as a single army. But they were never summoned in time, events unfolded too quickly, in a relative vacuum of power in the Empire. The result was the Islamic conquest. A number of Sassanid governors attempted to combine their forces to throw back the invaders, but the effort was crippled by the lack of a strong central authority, and the governors were defeated at the Battle of Nihawānd; the empire, with its military command structure non-existent, its non-noble troop levies decimated, its financial resources effectively destroyed, and the Asawaran (Azatan) knightly caste destroyed piecemeal, the Sassanid empire was now utterly helpless in the face of the invaders
Upon hearing the defeat in Nihawānd, Yazdgerd along with most of Persian nobilities fled further inland to the northern province of Khorasan. He was assassinated by a miller in Merv in late 651 while the rest of the nobles settled in central Asia where they contributed greatly in spreading Persian culture and language in those regions and the establishment of the first native Iranian dynasty, the Samanid dynasty, which sought to revive and ressuscitate Sassanid traditions and culture after the invasion of Islam.
The abrupt fall of Sassanid Empire was completed in a period of five years, and most of its territory was absorbed into the Islamic caliphate; however many Iranian cities resisted and fought against the invaders several times. Cities such as Rayy, Isfahan and Hamadan were exterminated thrice by Islamic caliphates in order to suppress revolts and to terrify Iranian people. The local population either willingly accepted Islam, thus escaping from various restrictions imposed on non-Muslims, including the requirement to pay a special poll tax (jizya), or were forced to convert by the invading armies. Invaders destroyed the Academy of Gundishapur and its library, burning piles of books. Most Sassanid records and literary works were destroyed. A few that escaped this fate were later translated into Arabic and later to Modern Persian. During the Islamic invasion many Iranian cities were destroyed or deserted, palaces and bridges were ruined and many magnificent imperial Persian gardens were burned to the ground.
Peter HILL’s translation:
"My fingers are springs of water to cool your face."
Athanase Vantchev de Thracy
You live in the pupils of my eyes, in my nocturnal voice,
In the azure palaces of King Anushirvan,
You, my Prince, bowed over the ruins of time,
The vanished image of a speechless shadow.
Outside, in the pools, the land of water-lilies,
My Zoroastrian soul writes your story.
Traslation: Peter Hill