SSS9. King Behram V, Behram-gur (Part 1)

SSS9. King Behram V, Behram-gur (419-439) – The brave, daring, dashing, adventurous, ace hunter, warrior king

Behram Gur is one of the most interesting figures of the Shahnameh. Though very historic, his life reads very much out of a fairy tale and parts of it resemble the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor.

King Behram V on a 5th century Plate


Prominent paladins like Gastaham, Kāran, Milād, Ārash and Parviz met to select a new king after the accidental death of king Yazdezerd I (Athil). Since Yazdezerd was not liked by most people, the noblemen decided against giving the throne to any of his sons, especially Behram who was perceived to be hot headed like his father. The other son Shahpur, who was the Governor of Armenia, hurriedly came to Iran, but was murdered.

Many royal relatives started claiming the throne and the nation went into a state of anarchy. Finally priests and wise men decided to appoint Khushrav, an experienced nobleman from the royal family, as the next king.

Behram came to know about his father’s death, and went into grief. When he came to know the court’s decision of ignoring his right to the throne, and choosing Khushrav as the king, he was very angry. With Munzar and Naoman he decided to attack Iran to claim his right. The neighbouring countries of Rome, China, Turkestan, Arabia, India and Makran got a whiff of the problems in Iran and started preparations to attack it.

When the court in Iran came to know of Behram’s plans, they were afraid. They sent a messenger to Munzar saying that he was an ally and should not attack Iran. Munzar, after consultations with Behram, replied that it was their behaviour that had incensed them into planning an attack. If they were agreeable, Behram would come to Iran with an army to claim his throne. Even he did not want a war, and the matter could be sorted out amicably. The messenger returned with this encouraging response, and the Iranians agreed to meet them.

Behram, Munzar and Naoman arrived in Iran and met the Iranian wise men, elders and noblemen for a discussion. Half of them were in favour of Behram as the king and the other half were in favour of Khushrav. Those who were not in Behram’s favour brought maimed people without limbs, eyes and ears, to show victims of his father’s cruelty.

The maimed being assembled before Behram

Munzar, Naoman and Behram were shocked to see the people maimed by Yazdezerd’s cruel sense of justice. Behram assured them that he was not like his father. In fact, he himself was a victim of his father’s wrath and hence had taken refuge with Munzar.

Behram’s sporting offer

Behram thought about a sporting offer to avoid war and bloodshed. The person staking a claim to kingship would have to take a crown placed on an ivory throne, which would be guarded by two ferocious lions on each side. The claimant would have to fight the lions, sit on the throne and wear the crown.

The following day Behram invited the noblemen to hear him out. He told them about his sporting offer. He explained to them that he was different from his father, that he will be just, kind, caring and considerate to his subjects. The noblemen were impressed and agreed to his offer as they saw a win-win situation in this offer. If Behram were to be killed in this sport they would be happy to get rid of him. If he won, he would have proved his valour and nobility.

Preparations were made for the challenge. A place was selected in the forest where an ivory throne was kept and two lions were tied on either sides of the throne on which the royal crown was kept.

Behram and Khushrav went to the forest, along with several priests and ministers. When Khushrav saw the lions he told the ministers that the person who claims the throne should go in first. Behram accepted the proposal. The minister tried to caution Behram and asked him to think twice before risking his life.  Behram was firm about his decision. He washed himself, prayed to God and sought His help for success.

Behram proceeded towards the throne with a huge Gorz in his hand. One of the lions freed himself from the chains and rushed at him.

Behram facing the ferocious lions
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A painting of Behram fighting a lion

Behram swung his Gorz at the monstrous creature and soon enough the ferocious lion fell lifeless. Thereafter he went to the other chained lion and with one blow of the Gorz ended its life.  Then, he went to the throne, picked up the crown, sat on the throne and placed the crown on his own head. Immediately Khushrav went to him, offered salutations and accepted him as the king of Iran.

Behram was coronated on roj Sarosh of mah Adar. He was fondly called Behram-gur as he was excessively fond of hunting gur “onager/wild ass”. As soon as he assumed the throne, he wrote off the debts of all Iranians. The whole nation was very happy at this generous gesture.  He also forgave all those whom his father had exiled and asked them to return. He gave generous gifts to priests, noblemen and commanders.

(All drawings are by Mrs. Katy Bagli)