The Sassanid Empire226–651 A.D.


Kobad or Kavadh I r. 488 - 531



Hephthalite Help


When Kobad fled to the Hephthalites on the failure of his attempt to seize the crown, he was received, we are told, with open arms; but no material aid was given to him for the space of three years. However, in the fourth year of his exile, a change came over the Hephthalite policy, and he returned to his capital at the head of an army, with which Khush-newaz had furnished him. The change is reasonably connected with the withholding of his tribute by Balash; and it is difficult to suppose that Kobad, when he accepted Hephthalite aid, did not pledge himself to resume the subordinate position which his uncle had been content to hold for two years. It seems certain that he was accompanied to his capital by an Hephthalite contingent, which he richly rewarded before dismissing it. Owing his throne to the aid thus afforded him, he can scarcely have refused to make the expected acknowledgment. Distinct evidence on the point is wanting; but there can be little doubt that for some years Kobad held the Persian throne on the condition of paying tribute to Khush-newaz, and recognizing him as his lord paramount.

During the early portion of his first reign, which extended from A.D. 487 to 498, we are told that he entrusted the entire administration of affairs to Suklira, or Sufrai, who had been the chief minister of his uncle. Sufrai's son, Zer-Mihr, had faithfully adhered to him throughout the whole period of his exile, and Kobad did not regard it as a crime that the father had opposed his ambition, and thrown the weight of his authority into the scale against him. He recognized fidelity as a quality that deserved reward, and was sufficiently magnanimous to forgive an opposition that had sprung from a virtuous motive, and, moreover, had not succeeded. Sufrai accordingly governed Persia for some years; the army obeyed him, and the civil administration was completely in his hands. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that Kobad after a while grew jealous of his subordinate, and was anxious to strip him of the quasi-regal authority which he exercised and assert his own right to direct affairs. But, alone, he felt unequal to such a task. He therefore called in the assistance of an officer who bore the name of Sapor, and had a command in the district of Rhages.

Sapor undertook to rid his sovereign of the incubus whereof he complained, and, with the tacit sanction of the monarch, he contrived to fasten a quarrel on Sufrai which he pushed to such an extremity that, at the end of it, he dragged the minister from the royal apartment to a prison, had him heavily ironed, and in a few days caused him to be put to death. Sapor, upon this, took the place previously occupied by Sufrai; he was recognized at once as Prime Minister, and Sipehbed, or commander-in-chief of the troops. Kobad, content to have vindicated his royal power by the removal of Sufrai, conceded to the second favorite as much as he had allowed to the first, and once more suffered the management of affairs to pass wholly into the hands of a subject.

Khazar war




Khazar warrior


The only war in which Persia seems to have been engaged during the first reign of Kobad was one with the Khazars. This important people, now heard of for the first time in Persian history, appears to have occupied, in the reign of Kobad, the steppe country between the Wolga and the Don, whence they made raids through the passes of the Caucasus into the fertile provinces of Iberia, Albania, and Armenia. Whether they were Turks, as is generally believed, or Circassians, as has been ingeniously argued by a living writer, is doubtful; but we cannot be mistaken in regarding them as at this time a race of fierce and terrible barbarians, nomadic in their habits, ruthless in their wars, cruel and uncivilized in their customs, a fearful curse to the regions which they overrun and desolated. We shall meet with them again, more than once, in the later history, and shall have to trace to their hostility some of the worst disasters that befel the Persian arms. On this occasion it is remarkable that they were repulsed with apparent ease. Kobad marched against their Khan in person, at the head of a hundred thousand men, defeated him in a battle, destroyed the greater portion of his army, and returned to his capital with an enormous booty. To check their incursions, he is said to have built on the Armenian frontier a town called Amid, by which we are probably to understand, not the ancient Amida (or Diarbekr), but a second city of the name, further to the east and also further to the north, on the border line which separated Armenia from Iberia.


The communistic prophet, Mazdak



The triumphant return of Kobad from his Khazar war might have seemed likely to secure him a long and prosperous reign; but at the moment when fortune appeared most to smile upon him, an insidious evil, which had been gradually but secretly sapping the vitals of his empire, made itself apparent, and, drawing the monarch within the sphere of its influence, involved him speedily in difficulties which led to the loss of his crown. Mazdak, a native of Persepolis, or, according to others, of Nishapur, in Khorassan, and an Archimagus, or High Priest of the Zoroastrian religion, announced himself, early in the reign of Kobad, as a reformer of Zoroastrianism, and began to make proselytes to the new doctrines which he declared himself commissioned to unfold. All men, he said, were, by God's providence, born equal—none brought into the world any property, or any natural right to possess more than another.

Property and marriage were mere human inventions, contrary to the will of God, which required an equal division of the good things of this world among all, and forbade the appropriation of particular women by individual men. In communities based upon property and marriage, men might lawfully vindicate their natural rights by taking their fair share of the good things wrongfully appropriated by their fellows Adultery, incest, theft, were not really crimes, but necessary steps towards re-establishing the laws of nature in such societies. To these communistic views, which seem to have been the original speculations of his own mind, the Magian reformer added tenets borrowed from the Brahmins or from some other Oriental ascetics, such as the sacredness of animal life, the necessity of abstaining from animal food, other than milk, cheese, or eggs, the propriety of simplicity in apparel, and the need of abstemiousness and devotion. He thus presented the spectacle of an enthusiast who preached a doctrine of laxity and self-indulgence, not from any base or selfish motive, but simply from a conviction of its truth. We learn without surprise that the doctrines of the new teacher were embraced with ardor by large classes among the Persians, by the young of all ranks, by the lovers of pleasure, by the great bulk of the lower orders. But it naturally moves our wonder that among the proselytes to the new religion was the king. Kobad, who had nothing to gain from embracing a creed which levelled him with his subjects, and was scarcely compatible with the continuance of monarchical rule, must have been sincere in his profession; and we inquire with interest, what were the circumstances which enabled Mazdak to attach to his cause so important and so unlikely a convert.


The explanation wherewith we are furnished by our authorities is, that Mazdak claimed to authenticate his mission by the possession and exhibition of miraculous powers. In order to impose on the weak mind of Kobad he arranged and carried into act an elaborate and clever imposture. He excavated a cave below the fire-altar, on which he was in the habit of offering, and contrived to pass a tube from the cavern to the upper surface of the altar, where the sacred flame was maintained perpetually. Having then placed a confederate in the cavern, he invited the attendance of Kobad, and in his presence appeared to hold converse with the fire itself, which the Persians viewed as the symbol and embodiment of divinity. The king accepted the miracle as an absolute proof of the divine authority of the new teacher, and became thenceforth his zealous adherent and follower.


It may be readily imagined that the conversion of the monarch to such a creed was, under a despotic government, the prelude to disorders, which soon became intolerable. Not content with establishing community of property and of women among themselves, the sectaries claimed the right to plunder the rich at their pleasure, and to carry off for the gratification of their own passions the inmates of the most illustrious harems. In vain did the Mobeds declare that the new religion was false, was monstrous, ought not to be tolerated for an hour. The followers of Mazdak had the support of the monarch, and this protection secured them complete impunity. Each day they grew bolder and more numerous. Persia became too narrow a field for their ambition, and they insisted on spreading their doctrines into the neighboring countries. We find traces of the acceptance of their views in the distant West; and the historians of Armenia relate that in that unhappy country they so pressed their religion upon the people that an insurrection broke out, and Persia was in danger of losing, by intolerance, one of her most valued dependencies.


Vatian, the Mamigonian, who had been superseded in his office by a fresh Marzpan, bent on forcing the Armenians to adopt the new creed, once more put himself forward as his country's champion, took arms in defence of the Christian faith, and endeavored to induce the Greek emperor, Anastasius, to accept the sovereignty of Persarmenia, together with the duty of protecting it against its late masters. Fear of the consequences, if he provoked the hostility of Persia, caused Anastasius to hesitate; and things might have gone hardly with the unfortunate Armenians, had not affairs in Persia itself come about this time to a crisis.


Decision to depose Kobad in favor of Zamasp


The Mobeds and the principal nobles had in vain protested against the spread of the new religion and the patronage lent it by the Court. At length appeal was made to the chief Mobed, and he was requested to devise a remedy for the existing evils, which were generally felt to have passed the limits of endurance. The chief Mobed decided that, under the circumstances of the time, no remedy could be effectual but the deposition of the head of the State, through whose culpable connivance the disorders had attained their height. His decision was received with general acquiescence. The Persian nobles agreed with absolute unanimity to depose Kobad, and to place upon the throne another member of the royal house. Their choice fell upon Zamasp, a brother of Kobad, who was noted for his love of justice and for the mildness of his disposition. The necessary arrangements having been made, they broke out into universal insurrection, arrested Kobad, and committed him to safe custody in the "Castle of Oblivion," proclaimed Zamasp, and crowned him king with all the usual formalities. An attempt was then made to deal the new religion a fatal blow by the seizure and execution of the heresiarch, Mazdak. But here the counter-revolution failed. Mazdak was seized indeed and imprisoned; but his followers rose at once, broke open his prison doors, and set him at liberty. The government felt itself too weak to insist on its intended policy of coercion. Mazdak was allowed to live in retirement unmolested, and to increase the number of his disciples.

Reign of Zamasp  498 - 501


The reign of Zamasp appears to have lasted from A.D. 498 to A.D. 501, or between two and three years. He was urged by the army to put Kobad to death, but hesitated to adopt so extreme a course, and preferred retaining his rival as a prisoner. The "Castle of Oblivion" was regarded as a place of safe custody; but the ex-king contrived in a short time to put a cheat on his guards and effect his escape from confinement. Like other claimants of the Persian throne, he at once took refuge with the Hephthalites, and sought to persuade the Great Khan to embrace his cause and place an army at his disposal.

The Khan showed himself more than ordinarily complaisant. He can scarcely have sympathized with the religious leanings of his suppliant; but he remembered that he had placed him upon the throne, and had found him a faithful feudatory and a quiet neighbor. He therefore received him with every mark of honor, betrothed him to one of his own daughters, and lent him an army of 30,000 men. With this force Kobad returned to Persia, and offered battle to Zamasp. Zamasp declined the conflict. He had not succeeded in making himself popular with his subjects, and knew that a large party desired the return of his brother.

It is probable that he did not greatly desire a throne. At any rate, when his brother reached the neighborhood of the capital, at the head of the 30,000 Ephthalites and of a strong body of Persian adherents, Zamasp determined upon submission. He vacated the throne in favor of Kobad, without risking the chance of a battle, and descended voluntarily into a private station. Different stories are told of his treatment by the restored monarch. According to Procopius, he was blinded after a cruel method long established among the Persians; but Mirkhond declares that he was pardoned, and even received from his brother marked signs of affection and favor.

The coins of Zamasp have the usual inflated ball and mural crown, but with a crescent in place of the front limb of the crown. The ends of the diadem appear over the two shoulders. On either side of the head there is a star, and over either shoulder a crescent. Outside the encircling ring, or "pearl border," we see, almost for the first time, three stars with crescents. The reverse bears the usual fire-altar, with a star and crescent on either side of the flame. The legend is extremely brief, being either Zamasp or Bag Zamasp, i.e. "Zamaspes," or "the divine Zamaspes."


The second reign of Kobad


The second reign of Kobad covered a period of thirty years, extending from A.D. 501 to A.D. 531. He was contemporary, during this space, with the Roman emperors Anastasius, Justin, and Justinian, with Theodoric, king of Italy, with Cassiodorus, Symmachus, Boethius, Procopius, and Belisarius. The Oriental writers tell us but little of this portion of his history. Their silence, however, is fortunately compensated by the unusual copiousness of the Byzantines, who deliver, at considerable length, the entire series of transactions in which Kobad was engaged with the Constantinopolitan emperors, and furnish some interesting notices of other matters which occupied him. Procopius especially, the eminent rhetorician and secretary of Belisarius, who was born about the time of Kobad's restoration to the Persian thrones and became secretary to the great general four years before Kobad's death, is ample in his details of the chief occurrences, and deserves a confidence which the Byzantines can rarely claim, from being at once a contemporary and a man of remarkable intelligence. "His facts," as Gibbon well observes, "are collected from the personal experience and free conversation of a soldier, a statesman, and a traveller; his style continually aspires, and often attains, to the merit of strength and elegance; his, reflections, more especially in the speeches, which he too frequently inserts, contain a rich fund of political knowledge; and the historian, excited by the generous ambition of pleasing and instructing posterity, appears to disdain the prejudices of the people and the flattery of courts."

Mazdak no longer supported


The first question which Kobad had to decide, when, by the voluntary cession of his brother, Zamasp, he remounted his throne, was the attitude which he should assume towards Mazdak and his followers. By openly favoring the new religion and encouraging the disorders of its votaries, he had so disgusted the more powerful classes of his subjects that he had lost his crown and been forced to become a fugitive in a foreign country. He was not prepared to affront this danger a second time. Still, his attachment to the new doctrine was not shaken; he held the views propounded to be true, and was not ashamed to confess himself an unwavering adherent of the communistic prophet. He contrived, however, to reconcile his belief with his interests by separating the individual from the king. As a man, he held the views of Mazdak; but, as a king, he let it be known that he did not intend to maintain or support the sectaries in any extreme or violent measures.

The result was that the new doctrine languished; Mazdak escaped persecution and continued to propagate his views; but, practically, the progress of the new opinions was checked; they had ceased to command royal advocacy, and had consequently ceased to endanger the State; they still fermented among the masses, and might cause trouble in the future; but for the present they were the harmless speculations of a certain number of enthusiasts who did not venture any more to carry their theories into practice.


Kobad had not enjoyed the throne for more than a year before his relations with the great empire on his western frontier became troubled, and, after some futile negotiations, hostilities once more broke out. It appears that among the terms of the peace concluded in A.D. 442 between Isdigerd II. and the younger Theodosius, the Romans had undertaken to pay annually a certain sum of money as a contribution towards the expenses of a fortified post which the two powers undertook to maintain in the pass of Derbend, between the last spurs of the Caucasus and the Caspian. This fortress, known as Juroi-pach or Biraparach, commanded the usual passage by which the hordes of the north were accustomed to issue from their vast arid steppes upon the rich and populous regions of the south for the purpose of plundering raids, if not of actual conquests. Their incursions threatened almost equally Roman and Persian territory, and it was felt that the two nations were alike interested in preventing them.

The original agreement was that both parties should contribute equally, alike to the building and to the maintaining of the fortress; but the Romans were so occupied in other wars that the entire burden actually fell upon the Persians. These latter, as was natural, made from time to time demands upon the Romans for the payment of their share of the expenses; but it seems that these efforts were ineffectual, and the debt accumulated. It was under these circumstances that Kobad. finding himself in want of money to reward adequately his Ephthalite allies, sent an embassy to Anastasius, the Roman emperor, with a peremptory demand for a remittance. The reply of Anastasius was a refusal. According to one authority he declined absolutely to make any payment; according to another, he expressed his willingness to lend his Persian brother a sum of money on receiving the customary acknowledgment, but refused an advance on any other terms. Such a response was a simple repudiation of obligations voluntarily contracted, and could scarcely fail to rouse the indignation of the Persian monarch. If he learned further that the real cause of the refusal was a desire to embroil Persia with the Ephthalites, and to advance the interests of Rome by leading her enemies to waste each other's strength in an internecine conflict, he may have admired the cunning of his rival, but can scarcely have felt the more amicably disposed towards him.


War with Byzantium


The natural result followed. Kobad at once declared war. The two empires had now been uninterruptedly at peace for sixty, and, with the exception of a single campaign (that of A.D. 441), for eighty years. They had ceased to feel that respect for each other's arms and valor which experience gives, and which is the best preservative against wanton hostilities. Kobad was confident in his strength, since he was able to bring into the field, besides the entire force of Persia, a large Hephthalite contingent, and also a number of Arabs. Anastasius, perhaps, scarcely thought that Persia would go to war on account of a pecuniary claim which she had allowed to be disregarded for above half a century. The resolve of Kobad evidently took him by surprise; but he had gone too far to recede. The Roman pride would not allow him to yield to a display of force what he had refused when demanded peacefully; and he was thus compelled to maintain by arms the position which he had assumed without anticipating its consequences.

Kobad invades Roman Armenia


The war began by a sudden inroad of the host of Persia into Roman Armenia, where Theodosiopolis was still the chief stronghold and the main support of the Roman power. Unprepared for resistance, this city was surrendered after a short siege by its commandant, Constantine, after which the greater part of Armenia was overrun and ravaged. From Armenia Kobad conducted his army into Northern Mesopotamia, and formed the siege of Amida about the commencement of the winter. The great strength of Amida has been already noticed in this volume. Kobad found it ungarrisoned, and only protected by a small force, cantoned in its neighborhood, under the philosopher, Alypius. But the resolution of the townsmen, and particularly of the monks, was great; and a most strenuous resistance met all his efforts to take the place. At first his hope was to effect a breach in the defences by means of the ram; but the besieged employed the customary means of destroying his engines, and, where these failed, the strength and thickness of the walls was found to be such that no serious impression could be made on them by the Persian battering train.

It was necessary to have recourse to some other device; and Kobad proceeded to erect a mound in the immediate neighborhood of the wall, with a view of dominating the town, driving the defenders from the battlements, and then taking the place by escalade. He raised an immense work; but it was undermined by the enemy, and at last fell in with a terrible crash, involving hundreds in its ruin. It is said that after this failure Kobad despaired of success, and determined to draw off his army; but the taunts and insults of the besieged, or confidence in the prophecies of the Magi, who saw an omen of victory in the grossest of all the insults, caused him to change his intention and still continue the siege. His perseverance was soon afterwards rewarded. A soldier discovered in the wall the outlet of a drain or sewer imperfectly blocked up with rubble, and, removing this during the night, found himself able to pass through the wall into the town. He communicated his discovery to Kobad, who took his measures accordingly. Sending, the next night, a few picked men through the drain, to seize the nearest tower, which happened to be slackly guarded by some sleepy monks, who the day before had been keeping festival, he brought the bulk of his troops with scaling ladders to the adjoining portion of the wall, and by his presence, exhortations, and threats, compelled them to force their way into the place.

The inhabitants resisted strenuously, but were overpowered by numbers, and the carnage in the streets was great. At last an aged priest, shocked at the indiscriminate massacre, made bold to address the monarch himself and tell him that it was no kingly act to slaughter captives. "Why, then, did you elect to fight?" said the angry prince. "It was God's doing," replied the priest, astutely; "He willed that thou shouldest owe thy conquest of Amida, not to our weakness, but to thy own valor." The flattery pleased Kobad, and induced him to stop the effusion of blood; but the sack was allowed to continue; the whole town was pillaged; and the bulk of the inhabitants were carried off as slaves.


The siege of Amida lasted eighty days, and the year A.D. 503 had commenced before it was over. Anastasius, on learning the danger of his frontier town, immediately despatched to its aid a considerable force, which he placed under four commanders—Areobindus, the grandson of the Gothic officer of the same name who distinguished himself in the Persian war of Theodosius; Celer, captain of the imperial guard; Patricius, the Phrygian; and Hypatius, one of his own nephews. The army, collectively, is said to have been more numerous than any that Rome had ever brought into the field against the Persians but it was weakened by the divided command, and it was moreover broken up into detachments which acted independently of each other. Its advent also was tardy. Not only did it arrive too late to save Amida, but it in no way interfered with the after-movements of Kobad, who, leaving a small garrison to maintain his new conquest, carried off the whole of his rich booty to his city of Nisibis, and placed the bulk of his troops in a good position upon his own frontier. When Areobindus, at the head of the first division, reached Amida and heard that the Persians had fallen back, he declined the comparatively inglorious work of a siege, and pressed forward, anxious to carry the war into Persian territory. He seems actually to have crossed the border and invaded the district of Arzanene, when news reached him that Kobad was marching upon him with all his troops, whereupon he instantly fled, and threw himself into Constantia, leaving his camp and stores to be taken by the enemy. Meanwhile another division of the Roman army, under Patrilcius and Hypatius, had followed in the steps of Areobindus, and meeting with the advance-guard of Kobad, which consisted of eight hundred Ephthalites, had destroyed it almost to a man.


Ignorant, however, of the near presence of the main Persian army, this body of troops allowed itself soon afterwards to be surprised on the banks of a stream, while some of the men were bathing and others were taking their breakfast, and was completely cut to pieces by Kobad, scarcely any but the generals escaping.


Hephthalite invasion, Roman advance


Thus far success had been wholly on the side of the Persians; and if circumstances had permitted Kobad to remain at the seat of war and continue to direct the operations of his troops in person, there is every to reason to believe that he would have gained still greater advantages. The Roman generals were incompetent; they were at variance among themselves; and they were unable to control the troops under their command. The soldiers were insubordinate, without confidence in their officers, and inclined to grumble at such an unwonted hardship as a campaign prolonged into the winter. Thus all the conditions of the war were in favor of Persia. But unfortunately for Kobad, it happened that, at the moment when his prospects were the fairest, a danger in another quarter demanded his presence, and required him to leave the conduct of the Roman war to others.

An Hephthalite invasion called him to the defence of his north-eastern frontier before the year A.D. 503 was over, and from this time the operations in Mesopotamia were directed, not by the king in person, but by his generals. A change is at once apparent. In A.D. 504 Celer invaded Arzanene, destroyed a number of forts, and ravaged the whole province with fire and sword. Thence marching southward, he threated Nisibis, which is said, to have been within a little of yielding itself. Towards winter Patricius and Hypatius took heart, and, collecting an army, commenced the siege of Amida, which they attempted to storm on several occasions, but without success. After a while they turned the siege into a blockade, entrapped the commander of the, Persian garrison, Glones, by a stratagem, and reduced the defenders of the place to such distress that it would have been impossible to hold put much longer. It seems to have been when matters were at this point that an ambassador of high rank arrived from Kobad, empowered to conclude a peace, and instructed to declare his master's willingness to surrender all his conquests, including Amida, on the payment of a considerable sum of money. The Roman generals, regarding Amida as impregnable, and not aware of the exhaustion of its stores, gladly consented. They handed over to the Persians a thousand pounds' weight of gold, and received in exchange the captured city and territory. A treaty was signed by which the contracting powers undertook to remain at peace and respect each other's dominions for the space of seven years. No definite arrangement seems to have been made with respect to the yearly payment on account of the fortress, Birapa-rach, the demand for which had occasioned the war. This claim remained in abeyance, to be pressed or neglected, as Persia might consider her interests to require.


Crushing of the White Huns


The Hephthalite war, which compelled Kobad to make peace with Anastasius, appears to have occupied him uninterruptedly for ten years. The war with the White Huns lasted for over 10 years, and as far as can be surmised, was entirely successful, but no details are known. From this period onwards, these formidable nomads cease to be of primary importance, when they are mentioned again in the reign of Noshirwan, they are no longer the invaders, but the invaded .


Rome takes advantage


During its continuance Rome took advantage of her rival's difficulties to continue the system (introduced under the younger Theodosius) of augmenting her own power, and crippling that of Persia, by establishing strongly fortified posts upon her border in the immediate vicinity of Persian territory. Not content with restoring Theodosiopolis and greatly strengthening it defences, Anastasius erected an entirely new fortress at Daras, on the southern skirts of the Mons Masius, within twelve miles of Nisibis, at the edge of the great Mesopotamian plain. This place was not a mere fort, but a city; it contained churches, baths, porticoes, large granaries, and extensive cisterns. It constituted a standing menace to Persia; and its erection was in direct violation of the treaty made by Theodosius with Isdigerd II., which was regarded as still in force by both nations.

We cannot be surprised that Kobad, when his Hephthalite war was over, made formal complaint at Constantinople (ab. A.D. 517); of the infraction of the treaty. Anastasius was unable to deny the charge. He endeavored at first to meet it by a mixture of bluster with professions of friendship; but when this method did not appear effectual he had recourse to an argument whereof the Persians on most occasions acknowledged the force. By the expenditure of a large sum of money he either corrupted the ambassadors of Kobad, or made them honestly doubt whether the sum paid would not satisfy their master.


Justin and Kobad


In A.D. 518 Anastasius died, and the imperial authority was assumed by the Captain of the Guard, the "Dacian peasant," Justin. With him Kobad very shortly entered jinto negotiations. He had not, it is clear, accepted the pecuniary sacrifice of Anastasius as a complete satisfaction. He felt that he had many grounds of quarrel with the Romans, There was the old matter of the annual payment due on account of the fortress of Biraparach; there was the recent strengthening of Theodosiopolis, and building of Daras; there was moreover an interference of Rome at this time in the region about the Caucasus which was very galling to Persia and was naturally resented by her monarch. One of the first proceedings of Justin after he ascended the throne was to send an embassy with rich gifts to the court of a certain Hunnic chief of these parts, called Ziligdes or Zilgibis, and to conclude a treaty with him by which the Hun bound himself to assist the Romans against the Persians. Soon afterwards a Lazic prince, named Tzath, whose country was a Persian dependency, instead of seeking inauguration from Kobad, proceeded on the death of his father to the court of Constantinople, and expressed his wish to become a Christian, and to hold his crown as one of Rome's vassal monarchs.

Justin gave this person a warm welcome, had him baptized, married him to a Roman lady of rank, and sent him back to Lazica adorned with a diadem and robes that sufficiently indicated his dependent position. The friendly relations established between Rome and Persia by the treaty of A.D. 505 were, under these circumstances, greatly disturbed, and on both sides it would seem that war was expected to break out. But neither Justin nor Kobad was desirous of a rupture. Both were advanced in years, and both had domestic troubles to occupy them. Kobad was at this time especially anxious about the succession. He had four sons, Kaoses, Zames, Phthasuarsas, and Chosroes, of whom Kaoses was the eldest. This prince, however, did not please him. His affections were fixed on his fourth son, Chosroes, and he had no object more at heart than to secure the crown for this favorite child. The Roman writers tell us that instead of resenting the proceedings of Justin in the years A.D. 520-522, Kobad made the strange proposal to him about this time that he should adopt Chosroes, in order that that prince might have the aid of the Romans against his countrymen, if his right of succession should be disputed. It is, no doubt, difficult to believe that such a proposition should have been made; but the circumstantial manner in which Procopius, writing not forty years after, relates the matter, renders it almost impossible for us to reject the story as a pure fabrication. There must have been some foundation for it. In the negotiations between Justin and Kobad during the early years of the former, the idea of Rome pledging herself to acknowledge Chosroes as his father's successor must have been brought forward. The proposal, whatever its exact terms, led however to no result. Rome declined to do as Kobad desired; and thus another ground of estrangement was added to those which had previously made the renewal of the Roman war a mere question of time.


Mazdakite plot, Mazdakites massacred


It is probable that the rupture would have occurred earlier than it did had not Persia about the year A.D. 523 become once more the scene of religious discord and conspiracy. The followers of Mazdak had been hitherto protected by Kobad, and had lived in peace and multiplied throughout all the provinces of the empire. Content with the toleration which they enjoyed, they had for above twenty years created no disturbance, and their name had almost disappeared from the records of history. But as time went on they began to feel that their position was insecure. Their happiness, their very safety, depended upon a single life; and as Kobad advanced in years they grew to dread more and more the prospect which his death would open. Among his sons there was but one who had embraced their doctrine; and this prince, Phthasuarsas, had but little chance of being chosen to be his father's successor. Kaoses enjoyed the claim of natural right; Chosroes was his father's favorite; Zames had the respect and good wishes of the great mass of the people; Phthasuarsas was disliked by the Magi, and, if the choice lay with them, was certain to be passed over. The sectaries therefore determined not to wait the natural course of events, but to shape them to their own purposes.

They promised Phthasuarsas to obtain by their prayers his father's abdication and his own appointment to succeed him, and asked him to pledge himself to establish their religion as that of the State when he became king. The prince consented; and the Mazdakites proceeded to arrange their plans, when, unfortunately for them, Kobad discovered, or suspected, that a scheme was on foot to deprive him of his crown. Whether the designs of the sectaries were really treasonable or not is uncertain; but whatever they were, an Oriental monarch was not likely to view them with favor. In the East it is an offence even to speculate on the death of the king; and Kobad saw in the intrigue which had been set on foot a criminal and dangerous conspiracy. He determined at once to crush the movement. Inviting the Mazdakites to a solemn assembly, at which he was to confer the royal dignity on Phthasuarsas, he caused his army to surround the unarmed multitude and massacre the entire number.



Relieved from this peril, Kobad would at once have declared war against Justin, and have marched an army into Roman territory, had not troubles broken out in Iberia, which made it necessary for him to stand on the defensive. Adopting the intolerant policy so frequently pursued, and generally with such ill results, by the Persian kings, Kobad had commanded Gurgenes, the Iberian monarch, to renounce Christianity and profess the Zoroastrian religion. Especially he had required that the Iberian custom of burying the dead should be relinquished, and that the Persian practice of exposing corpses to be devoured by dogs and birds of prey should supersede the Christian rite of sepulture. Gurgenes was too deeply attached to his faith to entertain these propositions for a moment.

He at once shook off the Persian yoke, and, declaring himself a vassal of Rome, obtained a promise from Justin that he would never desert the Iberian cause. Rome, however, was not prepared to send her own armies into this distant and inhospitable region; her hope was to obtain aid from the Tatars of the Crimea, and to play off these barbarians against the forces wherewith Kobad might be expected shortly to vindicate his authority. An attempt to engage the Crimeans generally in this service was made, but it was not successful. A small force was enrolled and sent to the assistance of Gurgenes. But now the Persians took the field in strength. A large army was sent into Iberia by Kobad, under a general named Boes. Gurgenes saw resistance to be impossible. He therefore fled the country, and threw himself into Lazica, where the difficult nature of the ground, the favor of the natives, and the assistance of the Romans enabled him to maintain himself. Iberia, however, was lost, and passed once more under the Persians, who even penetrated into Lazic territory and occupied some forts which commanded the passes between Lazica and Iberia.

Belisarius in Mesopotamia





Rome, on her part, endeavored to retaliate (A.D. 526) by invading Persarmenia and Mesopotamia. The campaign is remarkable as that in which the greatest general of the age, the renowned and unfortunate Belisarius, first held a command and thus commenced the work of learning by experience the duties of a military leader. Hitherto a mere guardsman, and still quite a youth, trammelled moreover by association with a colleague, he did not on this occasion reap any laurels. A Persian force under two generals, Narses and Aratius, defended Persarmenia, and, engaging the Romans under Sittas and Belisarius, succeeded in defeating them. At the same time, Licelarius, a Thracian in the Roman service, made an incursion into the tract about Nisibis, grew alarmed without cause and beat a speedy retreat. Hereupon Justin recalled him as incompetent, and the further conduct of the war in Mesopotamia was entrusted to Belisarius, who took up his headquarters at Daras.



 The Battle of Dara was fought between the Sassanids and the Byzantine Empire in 530. It was one of the battles of the Iberian War.Despite being outnumbered, Belisarius decided to attack the poorly-armed Persians. He dug a number of ditches, with gaps between them to allow a counterattack, on the road towards Dara to block the Persian cavalry, and organized most of his infantry in a single block. On the left and right flanks were the Heruli cavalry under Pharas and Bouzes. Also on the left was 300 Hun cavalry under Sunicas and Aigan, along with 600 more Huns on the right under Simmas and Ascan. A reserve of Byzantine cavalry led by the general John was located in the rear of the right flank. Before the battle began these forces remained behind the ditches.

The year A.D. 527 seems to have been one in which nothing of importance was attempted on either side. At Constantinople the Emperor Justin had fallen into ill health, and, after associating his nephew Justinian on the 1st of April, had departed this life on the 1st of August. About the same time Kobad found his strength insufficient for active warfare, and put the command of his armies into the hands of his sons. The struggle continued in Lazica, but with no decisive result. At Daras, Belisarius, apparently, stood on the defensive. It was not till A.D. 528 had set in that he resumed operations in the open field, and prepared once more to measure his strength against that of Persia.


Belisarius was stirred from his repose by an order from court. Desirous of carrying further the policy of gaining ground by means of fortified posts, Justinian, who had recently restored and strengthened the frontier city of Martyropolis, on the Nymphius, sent instructions to Belisarius, early in A.D. 528, to the effect that he was to build a new fort at a place called Mindon, on the Persian border a little to the left of Nisibis. The work was commenced, but the Persians would not allow it to proceed. An army which numbered 30,000 men, commanded by Xerxes, son of Kobad, and Perozes, the Mihran, attacked the Roman workmen; and when Belisarius, reinforced by fresh troops from Syria and Phoenicia, ventured an engagement, he was completely defeated and forced to seek safety in flight. The attempted fortification was, upon this, razed to the ground; and the Mihran returned, with numerous prisoners of importance, into Persia.


It is creditable to Justinian that he did not allow the ill-success of his lieutenant to lead to his recall or disgrace. On the contrary, he chose exactly the time of his greatest depression to give him the title of "General of the East." Belisarius upon this assembled at Daras an imposing force, composed of Romans and allies, the latter being chiefly Massagetse. The entire number amounted to 25,000 men; and with this army he would probably have assumed the offensive, had not the Persian general of the last campaign, Perozes the Mihran, again appeared in the field, at the head of 40,000 Persians and declared his intention of besieging and taking Daras. With the insolence of an Oriental he sent a message to Belisarius, requiring him to have his bath prepared for the morrow, as after taking the town he would need that kind of refreshment. Belisarius contented himself, in reply, with drawing out his troops in front of Daras in a position carefully prepared beforehand, where both his centre and his flanks would be protected by a deep ditch, outside of which there would be room to act for his cavalry. Perozes, having reconnoitred the position, hesitated to attack it without a greater advantage of numbers, and sent hastily to Nisibis for 10,000 more soldiers, while he allowed the day to pass without anything more serious than a demonstration of his calvary against the Roman left, and some insignificant single combats.


The next morning his reinforcement arrived; and after some exchange of messages with Belisarius, which led to no result, he commenced active operations. Placing his infantry in the centre, and his horse upon either wing, as the Romans had likewise done, and arranging his infantry so that one half should from time to time relieve the other, he assaulted the Roman line with a storm of darts and arrows. The Romans replied with their missile weapons; but the Persians had the advantage of numbers; they were protected by huge wattled shields; and they were more accustomed to this style of warfare than their adversaries. Still the Romans held out; but it was a relief to them when the missile weapons were exhausted on both sides, and a closer fight began along the whole line with swords and spears. After a while the Roman left was in difficulties. Here the Cadiseni (Cadusians?) under Pituazes routed their opponents, and were pursuing them hastily when the Massagetic horse, commanded by Sunicas and Aigan, and three hundred Heruli under a chief called Pharas, charged them on their right flank, and at once threw them into disorder. Three thousand fell, and the rest were driven back upon their main body, which, still continued to fight bravely. The Romans did not push their advantage, but were satisfied to reoccupy the ground from which they had been driven.


Scarcely was the battle re-established in this quarter when the Romans found themselves in still greater difficulties upon their right. Here Perozes had determined to deliver his main attack. The corps of Immortals, which he had kept in reserve, and such troops as he could spare from his centre, were secretly massed upon his own left, and charged the Roman right with such fury that it was broken and began a hasty retreat. The Persians pursued in a long column, and were carrying all before them, when once more an impetuous flank charge of the barbarian cavalry, which now formed an important element in the Roman armies, changed the face of affairs, and indeed decided the fortune of the day. The Persian column was actually cut in two by the Massagetic horse; those who had advanced the furthest were completely separated from their friends, and were at once surrounded and slain. Among them was the standard-bearer of Baresmanes, who commanded the Persian left. The fall of this man increased the general confusion. In vain did the Persian column, checked in its advance, attempt an orderly retreat. The Romans assaulted it in front and on both flanks, and a terrible carnage ensued. The crowning disaster was the death of Baresmanes, who was slain by Sunicas, the Massa-Goth; whereupon the whole Persian army broke and fled without offering any further resistance. Here fell 5000, including numbers of the "Immortals." The slaughter would have been still greater, had not Belisarius and his lieutenant, Termogenes, with wise caution restrained the Roman troops and recalled them quickly from the pursuit of the enemy, content with the success which they had achieved. It was so long since a Roman army had defeated a Persian one in the open field that the victory had an extraordinary value, and it would have been foolish to risk a reverse in the attempt to give it greater completeness.


While these events took place in Mesopotamia, the Persian arms were also unsuccessful in the Armenian highlands, whither Kobad had sent a second army to act offensively against Rome, under the conduct of a certain Mermeroes. The Roman commanders in this region were Sittas, the former colleague of Belisarius, and Dorotheas, a general of experience. Their troops did not amount to more than half the number of the enemy, yet they contrived to inflict on the Persians two defeats, one in their own territory, the other in Roman Armenia. The superiority thus exhibited by the Romans encouraged desertions to their side; and in some instances the deserters were able to carry over with them to their new friends small portions of Persian territory.


In the year A.D. 531, after a vain attempt at negotiating terms of peace with Rome, the Persians made an effort to recover their laurels by carrying the war into a new quarter and effecting a new combination. Alamandarus, sheikh of the Saracenic Arabs, had long been a bitter enemy of the Romans, and from his safe retreat in the desert had been accustomed for fifty years to ravage, almost at his will, the eastern provinces of the empire. Two years previously he had carried fire and sword through the regions of upper Syria, had burned the suburbs of Chalcis, and threatened the Roman capital of the East, the rich and luxurious Antioch. He owed, it would seem, some sort of allegiance to Persia, although practically he was independent, and made his expeditions when and where he pleased. However, in A.D. 531, he put himself at the disposal of Persia, proposed a joint expedition, and suggested a new plan of campaign. "Mesopotamia and Osrhoene," he said, "on which the Persians were accustomed to make their attacks, could better resist them than almost any other part of the Roman territory, In these provinces were the strongest of the Roman cities, fortified according to the latest rules of art, and plentifully supplied with every appliance of defensive warfare. There, too, were the best and bravest of the Roman troops, and an army more numerous than Rome had ever employed against Persia before. It would be most perilous to risk an encounter on this ground. Let Persia, however, invade the country beyond the Euphrates, and she would find but few obstacles. In that region there were no strong fortresses, nor was there any army worth mention. Antioch itself, the richest and most populous city of the Roman East, was without a garrison, and, if it were suddenly assaulted, could probably be taken. The incursion might be made, Antioch sacked, and the booty carried off into Persian territory before the Romans in Mesopotamia received intelligence of what was happening." Kobad listened with approval, and determined to adopt the bold course suggested to him. He levied a force of 15,000 cavalry, and, placing it under the command of a general named Azarethes, desired him to take Alamandarus for his guide and make a joint expedition with him across the Euphrates. It was understood that the great object of the expedition was the capture of Antioch.


The battle of Callinicus


The allied army crossed the Euphrates below Circesium, and ascended the right bank of the river till they neared the latitude of Antioch, when they struck westward and reached Gabbula (the modern Jabul), on the north shore of the salt lake now known as the Sabakhah. Here they learned to their surprise that the movement, which they had intended to be wholly unknown to the Romans, had come to the ears of Belisarius, who had at once quitted Daras, and proceeded by forced marches to the defence of Syria, into which he had thrown himself with an army of 20,000 men, Romans, Isaurians, Lycaonians, and Arabs. His troops were already interposed between the Persians and their longed-for prey, Belisarius having fixed his headquarters at Chalcis, half a degree to the west of Gabbula, and twenty-five miles nearer to Antioch. Thus balked of their purpose, and despairing of any greater success than they had already achieved, the allies became anxious to return to Persia with the plunder of the Syrian towns and villages which they had sacked on their advance. Belisarius was quite content that they should carry off their spoil, and would have considered it a sufficient victory to have frustrated the expedition without striking a blow. But his army was otherwise minded; they were eager for battle, and hoped doubtless to strip the flying foe of his rich booty. Belisarius was at last forced, against his better judgment, to indulge their desires and allow an engagement, which was fought on the banks of the Euphrates, nearly opposite Callinicus. Here the conduct of the Roman troops in action corresponded but ill to the anxiety for a conflict. The infantry indeed stood firm, notwithstanding that they fought fasting; but the Saracenic Arabs, of whom a portion were on the Roman side, and the Isaurian and Lycaonian horse, who had been among the most eager for the fray, offered scarcely any resistance; and, the right wing of the Romans being left exposed by their flight, Belisarius was compelled to make his troops turn their faces to the enemy and their backs to the Euphrates, and in this position, where defeat would have been ruin, to meet and resist all the assaults of the foe until the shades of evening fell, and he was able to transport his troops in boats across the river. The honors of victory rested with the Persians, but they had gained no substantial advantage; and when Azarethes returned to his master he was not unjustly reproached with having sacrificed many lives for no appreciable result. The raid into Syria had failed of its chief object; and Belisarius, though defeated, had returned, with the main strength of his army intact, into Mesopotamia. The battle of Callinicus was fought on Easter Eve, April 19.


Azarethes probably reached Ctesiphon and made his report to Kobad towards the end of the month. Dissatisfied with what Azarethes had achieved, and feeling that the season was not too far advanced for a second campaign, Kobad despatched an army under three chiefs, into Mesopotamia, where Sittas was now the principal commander on the Roman side, as Belisarius had been hastily summoned to Byzantium in order to be employed against the "Vandals" in Africa. This force found no one to resist in the open field, and was therefore able to invade Sophene and lay siege to the Roman fortress of Martyropolis. Martyropolis was ill provisioned, and its walls were out of repair. The Persians must soon have taken it, had not Sittas contrived to spread reports of a diversion which the Huns were about to make as Roman allies. Fear of being caught between two fires paralyzed the Persian commanders; and before events undeceived them, news arrived in the camp that Kobad was dead, and that a new prince sat upon the throne. Under these circumstances, Chanaranges, the chief of the Persian commanders, yielded to representations made by Sittas, that peace would now probably be made between the contending powers, and withdrew his army into Persian territory.

Contact with China resumes


Contact with China had ceased for more than 200 years, until the wei dynastydespatched an enoy to Po-si ( Persia ). Kobad sent a return mission with tame elephants and gifts, in all 10 missions passed between Persia and the Wei between 455 and 513 .


Death of Kobad


Kobad had, in fact, been seized with paralysis on the 8th of September, and after an illness which lasted only five days, had expired. Before dying, he had communicated to his chief minister, Mebodes, his earnest desire that Chosroes should succeed him upon the throne, and, acting under the advice of Mebodes, had formally left the crown to him by a will duly executed. He is said by a contemporary to have been eighty-two years old at his death, an age very seldom attained by an Oriental monarch. His long life was more than usually eventful, and he cannot be denied the praise of activity, perseverance, fertility of resource, and general military capacity. But he was cruel and fickle; he disgraced his ministers and his generals on insufficient grounds; he allowed himself, from considerations of policy, to smother his religious convictions; and he risked subjecting Persia to the horrors of a civil war, in order to gratify a favoritism which, however justified by the event, seems to have rested on no worthy motive. Chosroes was preferred on account of his beauty, and because he was the son of Kobad's best-loved wife, rather than for any good qualities; and inherited the kingdom, not so much because he had shown any capacity to govern as because he was his father's darling.


The coins of Kobad are, as might be expected from the length of his reign, very numerous. In their general appearance they resemble those of Zamasp, but do not exhibit quite so many stars and crescents. The legend on the obverse is either "Kavdt" or "Kavdt" afzui, i.e. "Kobad," or "May Kobad be increased." The reverse shows the regnal year, which ranges from eleven to forty-three, together with a mint-mark. The mint-marks, which are nearly forty in number, comprise almost all those of Perozes, together with about thirteen others.




 Khosrau I