SSS 23. King Hormazd IV (579-591) (Part 2)

Behram Chobin

When Mehrān came, he addressed the king, “My lord, I am the courtier who was sent by your father to go to China to select your mother. At that time, the king of China had an astrologer predict the future of his daughter. He had predicted that you will being the king and in your reign a huge army of King Saveh would attack you and a young warrior known as Chobin would defeat the enemy.”

As he finished speaking, old Mehrān’s life left his body. It was as if he was staying alive just to give the king this message. The king announced a search for Chobin whose physical features were aptly described by Mehrān. Farrokhzād, the supervisor of the royal stables, immediately recognized the warrior as Behram Chobin, son of Gushasp, the chieftain of the provinces of Barda and Ardabil.

The king immediately summoned Behram Chobin. The king saw in him all the traits described by Mehrān. Behram was informed about all that had transpired, and was given a position in the king’s court. He was asked whether he would lead an army against Saveh, to which Behram readily agreed. He said, “I am not afraid of the huge army. I believe one should never give up without trying. Its only if one makes an effort that God can help us. I will never give up, fight till my last breath, and try to always return victorious.”

The king and the entire court got a new lease of life at Behram’s motivating words. The king appointed him the commander and asked him to select the army.Behram selected three fearless warriors as commanders under him. Then he selected an army of only twelve thousand soldiers in which there was a battalion of forty year old sword wielding soldiers.

The king was perplexed by his choices and asked him, to which he replied, “O wise king! I have studied warfare and have come to the conclusion that the ideal number of soldiers in an army is twelve thousand. Beyond that, the army is difficult to control. In my study of history, I have seen that great Iranians like Rustom and Asfandyar always took an army of twelve thousand soldiers and have been successful.

“Next, about my choice of forty years old soldiers, I have learnt through my experience that this age is the best age for soldiers when they are not only strong but also more experienced, faithful, contented and worldly wise. They never run away from the battle, but fight till the last breath.” The king was impressed at the replies of Behram.

Behram Chobin takes on Saveh

The following day Behram set off for the war against Saveh with an army of twelve thousand soldiers. At his request a scribe by the name of Mehrān was sent to record notable happenings.

After Behram left, one of the senior ministers cautioned the king about Behram’s brash and blunt attitude, but the king was too impressed by him to notice anything negative. He was relieved that he had someone to take on the might of the army of the powerful king Saveh of China.

However the minister’s warning kept on rankling the king, so he dispatched a spy to find out how Behram was faring. The spy found him to be very arrogant, ambitious, strict and ruthless. He reported this to the king, which made him very anxious and insecure. He called Behram back, but he did not come saying it was inauspicious to return, and moreover it would boost the morale of the enemy king.

When king Saveh came to know about Behram, he sent a messenger trying to bribe him and buy him off, but Behram was faithful to his king. King Saveh’s army proceeded to attack and Behram’s army was preparing to face the attack. Behram chose a strategic narrow valley so that Saveh’s huge army could not get into it.

King Saveh found Behram to be very brave and talented. He again sent a messenger offering Behram, the lordship of a province and his daughter in marriage if he deserted the Iranian army. He also offered him the crown of Iran and Rome, in future, after he would defeat them.

Behram replied to him that his offers were too late, and that it just showed that now he was scared of him. He gave him an ultimatum of three day to surrender, otherwise he would attack him. In the evening, both the armies retreated back to their camps.

That night Behram had a dream in which he saw himself defeated at the hands of king Saveh, and when he seeks help from the Turanians, he is turned down.

In the morning, a spy came and reported to Behram about the huge army of king Saveh. He compared the enemy army to a buffalo and Beharm’s army to an ant. Such was the difference in their respective sizes.

However, Behram was confident of his strategy. He had walls built on both the sides of the battlefield and warned his commanders and soldiers that if anyone tried to flee, he himself will end their lives.

 The war begins

When the war started, king Saveh first used his sorcerers to frighten Behram’s army. Evil magicians with snakes and pythons in their hands, made illusory black clouds appear in the sky, from which arrows rained. Behram told his soldiers that as this was an illusion, not be afraid of it and go straight ahead. The soldiers did as they were told and they were not harmed. Behram’s army came over their fears, stormed into Saveh’s camp and destroyed a large part of his army.

Saveh now employed his fleet of elephants which came storming towards Behram’s army. The soldiers were terrified, but Behram counselled and pacified them by asking them to aim their arrows at the trunks of the elephants. This would make the huge beasts bleed profusely and lose their bearings. The soldiers did accordingly, and the mighty elephants, terrified on seeing their bleeding trunks, lost their minds and started running helter-skelter, destroying their own soldiers. The Iranian army followed the decimated Turkish army and lent a deadly blow to it.

When Saveh saw this sight he was terrified and started running away. Behram followed him, and as soon as he got an opportunity, he shot a poisoned arrow at Saveh, and the lifeless body of the Chinese king fell on the ground. Ninety percent of his army was killed. Behram’s victorious army cheered their commander with shouts celebrating his prowess and bravery, as he had decimated an army which was more than a hundred times the size of his army, without losing a single warrior.

Behram sent an emissary to king Hormazd with the news of his victory, and also sent the severed heads of Saveh and his younger son Fagfur to the king as a proof of his victory. The thrilled king immediately thanked God and handsomely rewarded Behram with gifts of land and gold.

The king distributed one lakh Dirham among poor people, servants and soldiers. He even sent money for fire temples and its priests for celebrating festivals. He set up a separate amount to re-habilitate war torn areas. He exempted the poor from paying taxes for four years.

On the other end, Parmudeh, the elder son of Saveh, was distraught and fuming at the news of the defeat and death of his father. He gathered an army of one lakh soldiers and marched towards Iran.

The king immediately informed Behram not to return to Iran, but to take an army to counter the forces of Parmudeh. The two armies camped near Balkh. Parmudeh decided to perpetrate Shab-e-khun “attack at night”. Behram came to know of this and he emptied his army from the camp. When Parmudeh’s soldiers attacked, the camp was empty. The bewildered Chinese soldiers were surrounded. A terrible battle took place in which a huge mountain of dead-bodies was assembled. This place came to be known as Behram-tal “the hillock of Behram”.

Parmudeh sent a message of surrender to Behram, and hid inside the strong fort of Āvāzeh. Behram agreed to take his request to his king. King Hormazd was very happy that the new king of China had agreed to surrender to him.

Behram Chobin loses favour

King Hormazd forgave Parmudeh, who getting a sense of freedom behaved arrogantly with Behram. This offended Behram, and he had Parmudeh whipped and hand-cuffed. Yazad-goshasp, one of his junior commanders advised him against doing such a thing. He told Behram that since Parmudeh had already been forgiven by the king, his action was like contempt to the king. Behram realized his mistake and freed Parmudeh.

Then Behram asked the scribe to make a list of all the treasures in the Fort of Avazeh and send it to the king. When the list was being made, Behram liked a few things, which he kept for himself. This too was noticed by Yazad-goshasp.

Parmudeh reached Iran and was well received by king Hormazd. The king also received the treasures from Parmudeh loaded on more than a hundred camels. All this made the king very happy, but when he came to know about Behram’s behavior with the king of China whom he had forgiven, he became very upset with him.

King Hormazd signed a Treaty of Friendship with Parmudeh, and sent him back with great dignity and a lot of gifts. When Behram came to know of this he was terrified. He went to meet Parmudeh on the way, but he completely ignored him and did not even accept his gifts.  Behram did not know what to do. He hid in a place in the city of Balkh.

Women’s clothes for Behram Chobin

The king was very angry at Behram. In order to spite him and show his dissatisfaction, he sent him women’s clothing and women’s paraphernalia like spindle as a gift to indicate that he was not worth manly pursuits. Behram donned these ladies garments and went out in public. When people saw him like that, he narrated to them how he was wronged by the king, just because of his minor mistakes. The Iranians were very upset with their king for giving such horrible treatment to a brave and honourable commander who had saved his throne.

One day, Behram went for a hunt along with Yazad-goshasp, Kharrade-barzin and Yalan-sineh. While following an onager he stumbled upon a beautiful palace in the forest, and went in. Kharrade-barzin followed him without his knowledge. In the palace, a beautiful queen was seated on the throne. She welcomed Behram, had a feast in his honour and while he was returning she told him that he was destined to be the king of Iran and Turan and that he should get what is rightfully his. Determined and motivated by these words, an ambitious Behram returned to Iran.

Behram prepared a gold and ivory throne for himself in his palace and sat on it. His commanders realized that he was about to rebel. They realized that they would not be safe with him and hence at night Yazad-goshasp and Kharrade-barzin tried to flee. Yazad-goshasp was caught, and was afraid that he might lose his life, but Behram forgave him.

Kharrade-barzin managed to flee and reached king Hormazd’s court where he reported Behram’s change of attitude and narrated all that had transpired in the past few days. After hearing him out, the king was almost certain that Behram was being misled by Ahriman, the Evil spirit. He presumed that the onager was a demon in disguise, the palace was created as an illusion from a magician’s house and the queen was a sorceress, sent by Ahriman to instigate Behram.

The king was told, and he too realized, that great damage had been done on account of the spinning wheel and women’s clothes he had sent to Behram, which had strongly hurt the brave warrior’s self-esteem.

The strange gift for the king

After some time Behram sent a wooden trunk as gift to the king. In the trunk swords were kept, but their hilts were twisted. When the king asked the meaning of this, he was told that the head of Behram and his other soldiers had gone against the king.

The king, in reply to this, broke all the swords into half, packed them in the same wooden trunk and sent them back to Behram. When Behram inquired the meaning of this, he was told that the king wanted to convey that whoever’s head would turn against the king, that head would be severed from the body. Behram and his entire army became very upset with the king. They also came to know that it was Kharrade-barzin who had revealed all the details about Behram to the king.

Behram’s sister Gordiyeh

Behram now turned to his council of commanders and asked what they should do. Behram had a sister by the name Gordiyeh. She overheard the talk and counselled his brother not to rebel against the king. Behram’s other advisors were also against the suggestion of rebellion, because in Iran, since Peshdadian times, only a person who a descendant of the royal lineage could become the king.

However the commander Yalan-sineh continued instigating Behram to rebel, and it had the desired effect. Behram sought the help of Parmudeh, and asked him to forget the previous rivalry. The king of China agreed to this. He gave him an army and the mastery of certain provinces.

Poisoning the king about Khushru Parviz

Behram then thought out a wicked plan to poison the mind of the king against his son Khushru Parviz. He issued coins in the name of Khushru Parviz and asked his people to circulate it in such a way that they come to the attention of king Hormazd. Once Behram knew that king Hormazd was aware of the coins, he informed him that his son was planning to overthrow him. He also mentioned that he personally would prefer Khushru Parviz as a king, and that he would be faithful to the son but not to the father. 

Behram was hoping that king Hormazd would start having doubts about Khushru Parviz, and have him killed, which would pave the way for Behram to easily defeat the ageing king Hormazd and takeover the throne of Iran.

Behram’s plan had the desired effect. On seeing the coins, the king was furious at his son. Without consulting him, the king jumped to the conclusion that his son was planning a rebellion. He asked his advisor Ain-Goshasp to bring an end to Khushru Parviz’s life.

Khushru Parviz flees

One of the guards of the king, who had overheard the conversation, was a well-wisher of Khushru-Parviz. He went to the prince and cautioned him about the plan hatched to take his life. Khushru Parviz immediately fled the palace and went to Azarbaizan. When the courtiers and commanders came to know of this, they were disgusted with the king.

Some of the courtiers like Bādān, Piroz, Pilzor, Estāy, Khanjast, Sam and Asfandyar went to Khushru Parviz and pledged their support to him. They assured him that they will fight in his favour if the king tried to do anything to him. They went and took an oath at the Atash-kadeh of Azar Goshasp to always be loyal to the prince.

When the king came to know about the prince’s escape and the courtiers defecting him, he became very angry. He imprisoned Khushru’s maternal uncles Gastaham, Bandui and some other relatives, suspecting them of complicity in his escape.

King Hormaz then asked Ain-Goshasp to go to Behram and ask him whether he was willing to serve the king. If he agreed than he would be given a province. However if he was keen on a rebellion, then he would challenge him, and fight the person bearing the message, that is, Ain-Goshasp.

Ain-Goshasp and the prisoner

Ain-Goshasp went with an army to Behram. He took with him as an aide, a prisoner who was known to him, and who had requested him to secure his release. Reluctantly the king agreed. On the way, an astrologer told Ain-Goshasp that he would be murdered by the released prisoner.

Terrified, Ain-Goshasp wrote a letter to the king to re-imprison the prisoner, and sent the letter with the prisoner himself, telling him that it was an urgent message for the king. On the way the prisoner got curious, opened the letter and read it. He was shocked when he read that the letter was indeed a trap for him. Enraged, he went back to the camp and killed Ain-Goshasp. Then he went to Behram and informed him about all that had transpired.

Behram was angry at him as he had killed an innocent man who had come to offer him a hand of friendship from the king. He ordered the prisoner to be hanged. The small army under Ain-Goshasp got scattered like a herd without a shepherd.

End of king Hormazd IV

When king Hormazd came to know about this, he was extremely heart-broken. On the one hand he feared Behram and on the other hand he was anxious about Khushru Parviz. He stopped going to court and lost interest in life. News about this spread all around.

Taking advantage of the anarchy, many prisoners broke out from the state prison. These included Khushru’s maternal uncles Gastaham and Bandui, who led a revolt against the king and decided to bring Khushru Parviz on the throne. They stormed into the palace, snatched the crown of king Hormazd. They did not kill him, but blinded him and left him writhing in pain. When Khushru Parviz received the news of his father’s deposition, he was saddened as he had liked him, and was always willing to serve him. People had created misunderstanding between them and so he had to flee in order to save his life. Gastaham asked him to come back to Iran and rightfully claim his throne.

SSS 22. King Hormazd IV (579-591) (Part 1)

Hormazd IV on a silver coin

A ruthless king

Hormazd IV was the son from one of the queens of King Nosherwan, who was the daughter of the Turkish king Khan Disabul. Hence Hormazd IV was also known as Turk-zād “born of a Turk.” He resembled his mother in stature and features.

For a few years he ruled wisely and nobly, but after that he became arrogant and ruthless. He mindlessly punished the elders and seniors in the court, since he suspected that they were more devoted to his late father than to him, and hence may betray him some day.

He first imprisoned and then executed the two senior-most ministers Buzorg-meher and Yazad-goshasp and their younger protégé Māh-āzar, all of whom had faithfully served king Nosherwan. When a minister by the name Zardusht tried to help Hormazd IV, even he was killed by asking him to eat food laced with poison.

Hormazd openly asked his junior ministers to give false evidence against the senior ministers, so that in the eyes of his subject he could paint them as traitors. In this evil scheme, a timid minister Behram, son of Āzar-mehān was roped in. He was asked to give false evidence for senior minister Simāh-barzin. However, Behram’s conscience did not allow him to betray his colleague and he openly confessed that the king had asked him to give evidence wrongly.

The king was first ashamed, but then became furious. He imprisoned both and had them killed after a few days. However, before dying, Behram told the king about a secret letter written by his father Āzar-mehān and kept in the treasury of the late king Nosherwan, in which it was written that king Hormazd will rule for twelve years and then there will be a revolt after which a relative of his wife will blind and kill him. King Hormazd was terrified by this letter.

Change of heart

The thought of the letter kept tormenting Hormazd IV. Moreover, on account of his killing spree, a time came when no wise and senior minister was left in his court. He king spent his time in his capitals at Istakhra, Ctesiphon and Esfahan. He now stopped the killing of the senior ministers, partly because of the letter and partly because he had already killed most senior ministers. Gradually he became god fearing and just.

Hormazd IV had a son called Parviz who was very dear to him. He also called him Khushru, the fortunate. In his kingdom, he had a rule that if a horse strays into a filed, the tail and the ears of the horse would be chopped off and the farmer be given ten times the compensation for the destruction. Once, Khushru’s favourite horse strayed into a field and inspite of Khushru’s repeated pleas, the king had its tail and ears chopped off and gave the farmer tenfold compensation.

After a few days, a local chieftain took a bunch of grapes from the vineyard without paying the price. When the vineyard owner came to know of this, he followed the chieftain and threatened to complain to the king. The chieftain was so scared that he removed his bejeweled waistband and gave it to him. The above incidents reveal that now the king had become very strict and just.

Attack from all fronts

Right since occupying the throne, king Hormazd IV had to face formidable military situations as four enemy kings attacked him on from all the four sides. He was at wit’s end as to how to deal with them.

The Roman emperor Tiberius’s general Maurice attacked and invaded Iran from the west upto Media and Ctesiphon. Hormazd was able to defeat them in Armenia. In 581, Maurice returned to Rome to occupy the throne, but the war continued inspite of Hormazd’s plea for peace.

In 589, the mighty king of China Khakan Saveh attacked the king from the east through Herat with huge Turkish and Turanian armies. The Turko-Hephthalites attacked North eastern Iran, and taking advantage of the situation, the Arabs attacked from the South.

At Ctesiphon, King Hormazd IV convened an urgent meeting and summoned all his ministers for guidance. The ministers first chastised the king for slaying all his senior ministers, and then drew up a plan of action, to contend with the four enemies.

They told him to return the Roman provinces so that the Roman king would stop his attack. Then they advised their king to attack the Hephthalite king, as his army was small. Seeing this, the Arabs would retreat, and then the king would just have to concentrate on the mighty Chinese army of Saveh. The king followed the plan, and it worked effectively.

Now, only king Saveh’s army had to be dealt with. King Hormazd was contemplating how to get about that, when Nastuh, a courtier, approached him and said, “O great king! My father Mehrān Setād who is a very old man wants to reveal a secret to you.” King Hormazd was very anxious to know the secret, so he sent a palanquin to get Mehrān to his palace.

(To be continued…..)

SSS 21. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part 7 – last)

War with the new Caesar

One day, king Noshirwan received the news of the death of the Roman Caesar. Immediately he sent an ambassador to the Caesar’s son offering him condolences and wishing him success as the new Caesar. He also  mentioned that he had asked for prayer that prophet Christ’s blessings be with him, and assured him of military help, if he may need it.

The new Caesar, however, did not treat the ambassador with due respect. In his reply he stated that he did not need the Iranian king’s sympathy. He further stated that he suspected that the sympathy was false and was expressed so that the payment of taxes may continue as before.

When king Nosherwan received the reply, he was very unhappy. He vowed to avenge this insult and never to support the Romans again. He immediately set up an army and attacked Rome. When the Caesar came to know of this he also sent an army. The two armies met near Sakila (Syria) at the fort of Aleppo. The Iranian army captured the fort in no time. Thirty thousand Roman soldiers were captured. As king Nosherwan went to the battle ground to inspect it, he got the message that the ambassador of the Roman Caesar along with forty Roman philosophers had come to see him. The wise men apologized to the king about the immature behaviour of their Caesar. They agreed to pay him as much tax as he wanted. King Nosherwan ended the war and returned to Ctesiphon.

Nosherwan’s lasting legacy : Tāq-i-Kasrā / Aywān-i-Kasra

The Tāq-i-Kasrā also known as Aywān-i-Kasra, is a majestic palace built by Noshirwan around 540 CE. It is the only surviving remains of the Sasanian majesty in Ctesiphon, now near Baghdad. The arched aywān hall, open on the front side, and the throne room behind the arch are almost 100 feet high.

Today, the main portico of the audience hall, is all that is left of the structure. It is known as the Arch of Ctesiphon, and is the largest single-span free-standing arch/vault of unreinforced bricks in the world. It is considered one of the Wonders of the World, in Iraq.

The ruins of Tak-iKasra, as it stood about 100 years back
An artist’s visualization of the original Tak-i-Kasra  

The king looks for an heir

When the king was seventy four years old, he realized that it was the due to select an heir. He had six sons, of which Hormazd was the eldest.

He called his wise men and asked, “O Wise ones! I depend on you to secretly find out if Hormazd is fit enough to be the next king, and would he be kind and compassionate towards his subjects?” The wise men started investigating in earnest and reported every activity of Hormazd to the king.

Then the king called upon his council of ministers, headed by Buzorg-meher, to test the prince. Several philosophical and practical questions were asked to which the prince gave satisfactory replies, and he was chosen as the successor to his father. In his last will and testament, king Nosherwan declared his decision to give the crown and the throne to prince Hormazd. He gave admonitions to the prince which would help him run the empire. Then, the king gave an elaborate description as to how he should be consigned to the Dakhma, how his body should be prepared for the final journey.

Dreams about Prophet Mohammad

King Noshirwan spent his days in seclusion and prayers. About a year after his declaration of his heir, he had a dream as he slept after his night prayers. In the dream, he saw a brilliantly shining child come out at night and happily climb a very tall staircase having forty steps, which was nearby. When he reached the top, his brightness lighted up the whole world, except the palace of the king.

A brilliantly shining child at night happily climb a staircase with forty steps, and reaching the top, his brightness lighting up the whole world

In the morning, a startled Nosherwan woke up and narrated the dream to Buzorg-meher. After pondering for some time, the wise sage said, “O great king!There is deep meaning underlying the dream. After about forty years, a man will emerge from among the Arabs, who will cause great disruption among the Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. The entire Iranian empire will be shaken. This man will be remembered for centuries.

The next night he dreamt that his entire palace came crashing down on him, amidst shouts “The emperor’s palace has crumbled down.” Startled, the king got up and immediately called Buzorg-meher. On narrating the dream, he was told that it conveyed that the child he saw in his dream had already been born.

After a few days, king Noshirwan king passed away after a long and illustrious reign of forty eight years. Buzorg-meher grieved for a long time after his king’s death. His body was prepared for the final journey, and he was consigned to the Dakhma, as per the instructions given by him when he had handed over the throne to his eldest son Hormazd IV.

SSS 20. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part 6)

Hakim Barzuy goes to India

King Nosherwan deeply appreciated talents of all kind, whether it be learning, wit, oratory or valour. He made it a point to keep people with various kinds of talents in his court. One such person was an aged hakim (a herbal medicine man) by the name Barzuy. One day, he told the king that in his studies he had come across an Indian book wherein was stated that a special type of dazzling grass grew on a mountain in India. If a medicine was prepared by a knowledgeable person from that grass, it had the power to make a dead man alive. He sought permission to go to India with a few of his men to get that grass. Noshirwan told him, that though this did not seem probable, he may go. He further asked him to visit the court of king Rai as an emissary of the king of Iran so that he can get all the possible help, especially the services of a good local guide. Then the king sent Barzui with three hundered camel loads of gifts to India.

When Barzuy reached India, the Indian king was overwhelmed by the Iranian king’s generosity, and promised to give him all the possible help. He offered him a decent place to say and an honorable place in the court. The following day he asked some people knowledgeable in herbs, medicines and healing to go to the mountains and help Barzuy.

The group collected many herbs. They grinded and made a paste of each herb at a time and tried the same on corpses with a hope of bringing them alive, but none of them worked. Finally Barzuy was frustrated. He accepted defeat and realized his folly. He asked to be taken to the wisest person in India, and the group led him to a wise old man. The wise man, smiled on hearing Barzuy’s story and said that he himself had been misled by the book which he had referred to.

The book of Kalileh

The wise man told Barzuy that the medicine book he had read should not be taken literally, as, like many spiritual books it too was allegorical. The herb mentioned in the book was a symbol for knowledge, and the mountains symbolisedfar away places. The herbs being away on a mountain meant that knowledgeable men preferred to stay far away from people. The corpse was an analogy for an ignorant man. Rubbing a corpse with herbs making it come alive meant that if knowledge was imparted to an ignorant person, he will become learned, which is allegorically referred to as coming back to life.

The wise man further said that when the Persian medicine book referred to the herb which made dead men alive, it was actually referring to the book of wisdom called Kalileh, which was in the Indian king’s Treasury. Barzuy, was highly impressed by the wise men’s explanation, and thanked him.

Barzuy then went to the king and requested for the book of Kalileh from his treasury. The king was reluctant to give the book, but he allowed him to read the book in the presence of his minister. Every day Barzuy would read parts of the book, memorise the same and then write it down in his letter to his king. Thus bit by bit, he passed the whole book to Iran. After his work was done, Barzuy decided to return. The king bestowed on him many precious gifts. Barzuy then set off from Kanauj to Iran.

In Iran, the king was very happy with Barzuy, as he had learnt a lot from the book, and this knowledge was beneficial to the body as well as the soul. Then he asked him to take whatever he wanted from the treasury. Barzuy just took a royal robe. The king was surprised at his choice.

Then Barzuy requested the king, that whenever anybody would decide to make a book from the excerpts sent by him in the letters, that person should mention his name too. Later on, a book in Pahlavi language was compiled from the information in the letters, and its first chapter the name of Barzuy was mentioned. Later the book was translated into the Arabic language in the reign of king Nasr. In the reign of Sultan Mahmud the book was re-written in rhyme.

Buzorg-meher is imprisoned One day the king, along with Buzorg-meher and some other courtiers went for a hunting expedition outside Madayan. After the hunt, the two of them were alone and relaxing. At that time the string of a jewelled arm-band of the king snapped and fell on the ground. Immediately a big bird swooped and picked up the arm-band. Buzorg-meher who was awake witnessed all this and realized that his bad days were approaching. Fear writ large on his face. Just then, the king woke up, and saw his fearful face. Assuming that he was guilty of some misdemeanor, he impulsively ordered that Buzorg-meher be taken under house arrest.

Bird coming down and swooping the king’s fallen arm band. Buzorg-meher watching in fright. (Illustration by Mrs.Katie Bagli)

Several weeks passed, and the king started missing his favourite minister. However since he himself had punished him, he felt helpless. It so happened that a new servant waiting on the king put hot boiling water on the king while washing his hands, which angered the king. When the servant came to serve Buzorg-meher in his house, he was looking very distressed, and so Buzorg-meher asked him the cause of his anxiety. He narrated all that had transpired. Buzorg-meher then taught him the correct way to serve the king.

When the servant again served, the king was highly impressed and inquired as to who had taught him. The waiter confessed that Buzorg-meherhad guided him. The king felt sorry for what he had done to Buzorg-meher, and asked the servant to go to Buzorg-meher and ask him how he was. Buzorg-meher cryptically replied that presently his position was much better than that of the ruler of the country. This angered the king and he ordered Buzorg-meher to be imprisoned in a dark cell.

After some days, the king again asked the servant to inquire with Buzorg-meher about his well-being. This time, Buzorg-meher replied that he was happier than the king. The king was furious and asked Buzorg-meher to be locked up in a small cage surrounded by nails and spears, so that he could not move or sleep.

This caused great suffering to Buzorg-meher. However, when the king again sent the servant to ask Buzorg-meher about his condition, he replied that his days were better than those of the king. When the king heard this he became pale. He selected a wise courtier and sent an executioner with him to convey to Buzorg-meher that if he again replied in a displeasing manner, the executioner will behead him.

Then theinstructed the wise courtier to ask Buzorg-meher why he said that his condition was better than that of the king. Buzorg-meher replied, that he had said so because it would be easier for him to embrace death as he had nothing to lose, whereas the king, if faced with death, had everything to lose, and hence he considered himself more fortunate, as death can come to anyone at anytime. When the reply was conveyed to the king, he realized the wisdom in Buzorg-meher’s words and released him from the house arrest. Buzorg-meher had become very pale and lean, on account of the sufferings.

Challenge in a locked box

Once the Kaisar sent his ambassador with a letter, gifts and a locked box to the Iranian king, challenging his wise men to guess the content of the locked box. If they were successful, he would continue sending taxes and gifts. But if they were unsuccessful, than he would stop giving taxes and an assurance from the Iranian king that he will not attack Rome. The king asked for one week and then consulted his priests and courtiers about the challenge. None was able to guess the contents of the box, and so in the end the king had to seek Buzorg-meher’s help.

He sent for Buzorg-meher,informed him about the locked box and asked him to help guess its contents. He even sent a horse and new clothes. Buzorg-meher decided to help his king, but on account of being under house arrest for a long time he had almost lost his eye-sight.

While going to the palace, he requested a wise man to sit next to him and describe anybody who passed their way. They first came across a beautiful woman. Buzorg-meher told the young men to ask her whether she was married. She answered in the affirmative and added that she was also pregnant. Then they went further and encountered another woman, to whom the same question was asked. She answered that she was married but childless. As they proceeded, they came across a third lady, to whom the same question was asked. She answered that she was unmarried and did not intend to marry.

Buzorg-meher then went to the king. On being asked about the locked box, he said, “O great king! Gather all your courtiers and the Roman ambassador, and I will reveal the secret of the locked box.” After the people gathered, he continued, “With the spiritual power that God has bestowed on me, I have been able to know the contents of the locked box without touching it. The box contains three pearls. One with a hole in it, the second half pierced and the third without a hole.”

The Roman ambassador opened the box, and removed another box from it. In this box, wrapped in a silk cloth were three pearls, exactly as described by Buzorg-meher. The king was very happy with the outcome. However he was also very sad at the way he had treated this great man. Getting courage from the king’s behavior, one of the servants who had seen the black bird snatch away the king’s arm-band at the hunting scene narrated the incident to the king, establishing Buzorg-meher’s innocence. The king became all the more repentant for wrongly judging and punishing such a holy and faithful person.

(To be continued ………. Part 7 – last)

SSS 19. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part 5)

Several weeks passed, and the king started missing his favourite minister. However since he himself had punished him, he felt helpless. It so happened that a new servant waiting on the king put hot boiling water on the king while washing his hands, which angered the king. When the servant came to serve Buzorg-meher in his house, he was looking very distressed, and so Buzorg-meher asked him the cause of his anxiety. He narrated all that had transpired. Buzorg-meher then taught him the correct way to serve the king.

When the servant again served, the king was highly impressed and inquired as to who had taught him. The waiter confessed that Buzorg-meher had guided him. The king felt sorry for what he had done to Buzorg-meher, and asked the servant to go to Buzorg-meher and ask him how he was. Buzorg-meher cryptically replied that presently his position was much better than that of the ruler of the country. This angered the king and he ordered Buzorg-meher to be imprisoned in a dark cell.

After some days, the king again asked the servant to inquire with Buzorg-meher about his well-being. This time, Buzorg-meher replied that he was happier than the king. The king was furious and asked Buzorg-meher to be locked up in a small cage surrounded by nails and spears, so that he could not move or sleep.

This caused great suffering to Buzorg-meher. However, when the king again sent the servant to ask Buzorg-meher about his condition, he replied that his days were better than those of the king. When the king heard this he became pale. He selected a wise courtier and sent an executioner with him to convey to Buzorg-meher that if he again replied in a displeasing manner, the executioner will behead him.

Then theinstructed the wise courtier to ask Buzorg-meher why he said that his condition was better than that of the king. Buzorg-meher replied, that he had said so because it would be easier for him to embrace death as he had nothing to lose, whereas the king, if faced with death, had everything to lose, and hence he considered himself more fortunate, as death can come to anyone at anytime. When the reply was conveyed to the king, he realized the wisdom in Buzorg-meher’s words and released him from the house arrest. Buzorg-meher had become very pale and lean, on account of the sufferings.

Challenge in a locked box
Once the Kaisar sent his ambassador with a letter, gifts and a locked box to the Iranian king, challenging his wise men to guess the content of the locked box. If they were successful, he would continue sending taxes and gifts. But if they were unsuccessful, than he would stop giving taxes and an assurance from the Iranian king that he will not attack Rome. The king asked for one week and then consulted his priests and courtiers about the challenge. None was able to guess the contents of the box, and so in the end the king had to seek Buzorg-meher’s help.

He sent for Buzorg-meher,informed him about the locked box and asked him to help guess its contents. He even sent a horse and new clothes. Buzorg-meher decided to help his king, but on account of being under house arrest for a long time he had almost lost his eye-sight.

While going to the palace, he requested a wise man to sit next to him and describe anybody who passed their way. They first came across a beautiful woman. Buzorg-meher told the young men to ask her whether she was married. She answered in the affirmative and added that she was also pregnant. Then they went further and encountered another woman, to whom the same question was asked. She answered that she was married but childless. As they proceeded, they came across a third lady, to whom the same question was asked. She answered that she was unmarried and did not intend to marry.

Buzorg-meher then went to the king. On being asked about the locked box, he said, “O great king! Gather all your courtiers and the Roman ambassador, and I will reveal the secret of the locked box.” After the people gathered, he continued, “With the spiritual power that God has bestowed on me, I have been able to know the contents of the locked box without touching it. The box contains three pearls. One with a hole in it, the second half pierced and the third without a hole.”

The Roman ambassador opened the box, and removed another box from it. In this box, wrapped in a silk cloth were three pearls, exactly as described by Buzorg-meher.

The king was very happy with the outcome. However he was also very sad at the way he had treated this great man. Getting courage from the king’s behavior, one of the servants who had seen the black bird snatch away the king’s arm-band at the hunting scene narrated the incident to the king, establishing Buzorg-meher’s innocence. The king became all the more repentant for wrongly judging and punishing such a holy and faithful person.

The game of Chess

Once when Nosherwan was in his court, he was told that an ambassador from king Rai of Kanouj in India had come with a thousand camel loads of gifts, and was waiting to see him. The envoy was immediately ushered in. He offered salutations to the king and showed him the gifts, which included gold, silver, jewels, musk, amber and swords.

Among the gifts was a chess board with a message from king Rai asking the Iranian king to unravel the game, the purpose of each piece – pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, queen and king, their places and their movements.

If he was able to unravel the game, then he would have to play it with the Indian emissary. If the Iranians won, they would be considered cleverer than the Indians and he would continue paying the taxes. But if the Iranians were not able to understand the game, then not only would he stop paying the taxes, but the Iranians would have to pay them taxes as they would have proved superior in intelligence.

Then the emissary set up the chess board and kept the pieces on it. On one side were white pieces made of ivory and on the other side were brown pieces made of wood.  He further said that this board resembled a battlefield and the pieces signify different types of soldiers in the battle. The king told the emissary that he needed a week’s time and on the eighth day they would meet to play the game. The king then called all his ministers and courtiers, and kept the chess board and pieces before them. They tried several methods but were unable to unravel the game, which greatly disappointed the king. Then Buzorg-meher went to the king and asked him not to worry. He took the responsibility to unravel the game. He spent a day and night with the game, succeeded in unraveling its mystery, and then went to the king with the good news.

Buzorg-meher playing chess with the Indian ambassador. Illustration by Mrs. Katie Bagli

Buzorg-meher set up the chess board with the pieces and then summoned the Indian emissary. They started playing the game by moving the pieces. The emissary was amazed at the skills of Buzorg-meher, which almost seemed magical. He accepted the greatness of the Iranian king. Nosherwan was immensely happy and he handsomely rewarded Buzorg-meher.

The game of Backgammon

Buzorg-meher then asked for some time and created another board game called Nard (backgammon). He made a board resembling battle-field with mountains and plains, and created unique pieces for the game, which had to be played with two dices. He then explained the game to his king who was immensely happy.

The Iranian king asked Buzorg-meher to go to the king of Kanouj with the game of Nard and ask him to find a learned Brahman (Hindu priest) to unravel the game, just as he had unraveled this game through a wise Mobed (Zoroastrian priest). He further sent two thousand camel loads of gifts to the Indian king under the condition that if somebody from his kingdom was able to unravel the game, he could keep the gifts. But if nobody was able to solve it, then it had to be returned with equal gifts from India.

Buzorg-meher reached India, and explained to the Indian king the events that had transpired. The king became anxious. After entertaining the Iranian envoys, he sent the game to the wise people asking them to unravel it. For eight days they tried without success. On the ninth day Buzorg-meher approached the Indian king who admitted his inability to have the game solved. Buzorg-meher showed them the way to play the game. The king and his courtiers were very impressed. Buzorg-meher returned with 2000 camel loads of gifts and advance taxes.

The origin of the game of Chess

The Shahnameh now goes on to explain how the game of chess came into being. It states that once there was a successful and much loved Indian king named Jamahur, whose capital was at Sandal city. Jamahur passed away when his son Gav was still very young. Jamahur had an idol worshipping brother named Māy in Dambar.

The seniors of the court went to Dambar requesting Māy to come to Sandal and be the king, to which he relented. He married the queen who was the mother of Gav. When Gav was five years old, his mother gave birth to a second son who was named Talhand. However, after some time Māy too passed away.

The wise men of the kingdom made the queen the interim ruler till her sons grew up. When the sons grew up, they fought with each other to become the king. Their mother and wise men of the court counseled them to amicably settle the issue, but the brothers, especially Talhand, was bent on a war. Gradually Gav saw the futility of war and tried to explain to Talhand that they could equally divide the kingdom and both could rule over their respective parts peacefully. However, Talhand did not agree and declared a war. Even after the declaration of the war, Gav sent a messenger to Talhand requesting him to see reason and not seek a war. However Talhand declined, which greatly disappointed Gav.

Both the brothers came into the battlefield and instructed their soldiers not to harm their brother if he was captured.  In the battle that ensued, Talhand’s army was decimated, but Gav, instead of capturing his brother asked him to flee. Talhand fled to safety but even then, instead of thanking his brother, told him that he waited for an opportunity to destroy him. Hearing this, Gav lost sympathy for Talhand. His advisors too told him to finish him off once and for all.  Gav once again challenged Talhand to a war, this time near a sea, barricaded by a gorge towards the land side. It would be a fight till finish. Both the armies met near the sea. Both the brothers were on elephants.

Two brothers on elephants with armies behind, the sea on one side and gorge on the other. Illustration by Mrs. Katie Baglis

The war was fought with heavy casualties on both the sides. Talhand was killed on his elephant. Gav was heart-broken at his brother’s death and grieved a lot. When the news reached their mother she too was steeped in grief. She wanted to immolate herself, but Gav stopped her from doing that. She was very angry at Gav for killing his brother, but Gav explained and assured her that neither he nor any of his soldiers were responsible for his death, as he had died on his elephant without a wound on his body.

Gav asked his advisors to think about the best way to convince his mother. The advisors hit upon the idea of creating a board with one hundred checks on which was depicted the sea, the water, the gorge and the two armies. Pieces were made, half from ivory and the other half from wood to depict soldiers, the king, his minister, horses, camels and elephants. Their various moves were also fixed.

Through this game, it was demonstrated to the mother that Talhand had died not because anybody attacked him, but because he was surrounded on all sides and had nowhere to go. She was much relieved and her grief was quite subdued. She kept on looking at the game of chess as a means of consolation till her death. Thus the game of chess was created by a son to convince his grieving mother that he was not at fault in killing her other son.

(To be continued …… Part 6)

SSS18. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part 4)

Minister Maybud and his sons

Maybud was king Nosherwan’s trusted minister. He advised him in matters of religion and rituals. The king trusted him so much that he only ate food checked by Maybud or his two sons. Zurān, another senior minister was very envious of them. He tried to find ways and means to instigate the king against them, but was never successful.

Zurān had employed a Jewish servant in court who was in his debt. The servant knew black magic and he assured Zurān that he could kill Maybud and his sons with his black magic. Once when the king’s food was taken by the two sons, Zurān requested them to open the food, so that he could see it. The two youths opened the food, and at that moment the Jew cast a magic spell on it by his sight.

The king acts in haste

When the food reached the king, Zurān told him that the food was poisoned. He asked the bearers to taste them. The two bearers unsuspectingly tasted it and died on the spot. The king was furious and ordered Mehbud, his wife and sons to be killed. Zurān and the Jew came in the king’s favour, which was their desire since a long time. The king least suspected that they were the real culprits.

Zurān is caught

Once, when the king was to go hunting he saw the horse of Maybud. The sight of the horse reminded the king of his trusted minister, and he greatly grieved his loss. He could not believe that such a wise and righteous person could fall a prey to evil.

The evil Zurān was also a part of the king’s hunting entourage. As they were talking about other issues, the topic of black magic cropped up. The king said he did not believe in it, but Zurān said it was a fact. He further said that it is possible to turn any dish prepared from milk into poison by looking at it from afar. The king immediately started suspecting Zurān as he knew he was Maybud’s enemy.

The king summoned Zurān and asked him to recount the happenings before Maybud’s execution. The king detected a tremor in his voice and immediately realised that he was the culprit. On being interrogated, he confessed, but put the entire blame on the Jew.

The king atones for his mistake

The king immediately imprisoned Zurān and sent for the Jew. The Jew confessed the truth and also told him about Zurān’s role in the whole plot. Immediately, both of them were hanged.

As a mark of repentance, the king searched for the relatives of Mehbud and gave all of Zurān’s wealth to them. He agonized a lot and spent a long time in a pensive mood for hastily putting to death his trusted minister and his family. He sought forgiveness from God for his mistake.

War between Hephthalite and China

There was longstanding enmity between the kings of Hephthalite (Haetal) and China. The king (Khakan) of China was an ally of king Nosherwan, whereas the Hephthalite king was a descendant of Sasanian king Behram Gur, and so Nosherwan did not want them to fight.

The king of China did not heed Nosherwan’s counsel and attacked, but he was defeated. He started gathering a bigger army with the help of his allies to take revenge.

In the meantime king Nosherwan prepared a huge army and proceeded towards China. When the king of China came to know of this, he sent a letter seeking peace and requesting the king not to attack. King Nosherwan acceded to his request.

To ensure lasting peace between China and Iran, the king of China offered the hand of one of his daughters as a queen to king Nosherwan. The Iranian king accepted the offer and sent a wise man by the name Mehran Setād as his emissary to select a daughter who was not only beautiful, but also modest, wise and of a royal lineage, who could be his queen.

However, the king of China was not wanting to give his best princess in marriage, as he loved her very much. So he decided to give one of the four daughters of a lesser queen who was formerly a maid of the king Nosherwan.

After Mehran Setād reached China, he was taken into the queens’ harem where none was allowed to enter. There he was taken in a room where five princesses were sitting. Four were decked up in all finery and ornaments, but the fifth, the king’s favourite princess, was made to sit in simple clothes without ornaments, crown or make up. Mehran realised that the king was trying to fool him. He selected the girl with simple clothes. After some hesitation the king agreed to give his favourite daughter in wedding to the Iranian king.

The Khakan bid farewell to his daughter with forty maids and several precious gifts. He also sent a letter to king Nosherwan in which he highly praised him and expressed gratitude for his friendship. The Iranian emissary Mehran was also given handsome gifts. The Khakan accompanied the retinue till it crossed Jaihun river. Then winding its way through Marv, Bestām and Gorgān, they reached Ctesiphon in Iran where they were lovingly welcomed.

The Khakan gifted the cities of Turkestan, Sogdia, Samarkand and Chāch to the Iranian king and shifted his capital to Kāchār-bāshi. The chieftains of these regions approached the Iranian king with the request to make their lands prosperous, as they had all become barren. The king assured them of his help.

Golden reign of king Nosherwan

Nosherwan was overwhelmed by his good fortune. He went to the fire temple of Azar Goshasp, where with the Barsom in his hand, he recited from the Avesta before the fire. He handsomely donated wealth to the fire temple and also gave rich gifts to the priests serving there.

Iran was now experiencing the golden reign of Nosherwan where there was justice for everybody and all were happy. Even a thief would not pick up a fallen coin. All criminals were reformed and there was no oppression or violence. There was good produce in the farms, trade and commerce was prospering and there was happiness all around.

Counsels of Buzorg-meher

Nosherwan was fortunate to have the good guidance and counsel of ministers like Buzorg-meher. This wise ministers used to give valuable guidance and counsel to the king. Some of his well-known admonitions to the king are:

  • The only things remembered for a long time are good words and good deeds.
  • Always maintain innocence and be contented.
  • The worst man is he, who does not fear God.
  • There are ten vices, but men can protect himself from them using the armour of intelligence.
  • Effort and destiny both are important as they work hand in hand, like the body and soul. One is unseen, the other is seen.

(To be continued….)

SSS17. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part 3)

The 3 dreams of King Nosherwan

Dreams of kings often carry a portend or a message. A recurring dream was always considered either a caution, a warning or a sign of things to come.

One night, king Nosherwan had three intriguing dreams. In the first dream he saw that a huge tree had grown next to his throne. To celebrate this, he called a party and was surprised when a wild boar walked in, sat next to him and started drinking wine from his cup.

After the first dream, he had two other dreams in succession. In the second dream he saw cows in the field drinking milk from their calves. In the third dream, the king saw five wells, one big in the centre and four smaller ones around it. The central well was full with water and it kept giving water to the smaller wells when they asked for it. But when the central well was drained of all water, and asked for some water from the surrounding wells, they refused to give back, resulting in the drying up of the central well. The king kept having these dreams for a few nights.

One morning, the agitated king summoned dream interpreters to explain these strange dreams, but none was able to decipher them. The king was keen to understand the message behind the dreams. He sent ministers and envoys to different parts of his kingdom to find a person who could interpret the dreams, offering gold coins as rewards.

Buzorg-meher is discovered

One of the messengers, Azad Sarv, reached the city of Mar, went to a Madressa where the Zoroastrian religion and religious scriptures were taught, and inquired with the teacher about the interpretation of dreams. The teacher politely expressed his inability to understand them. Just then, a bright young student named Buzorg-meher, who had overheard the conversation, volunteered to decipher their meaning. The teacher chastised him for eavesdropping, but Azad-Sarv encouraged him to respond and asked him for the interpretation.

The young student boldly maintained that he will explain the dreams only to the king. Azad-Sarv agreed, and made arrangements to take the young boy with him to the king. On the way, when they were resting, Azad-Sarv was surprised to see a black snake approach the sleeping Buzorg-meher, sniff him from head to toe and pass on after some time. This incident made Azad-Sarv realize that this was a special boy. He mentioned nothing about the snake to Buzorg-meher. After some time, the duo resumed the journey and reached the palace.

Azad-Sarv notices a black snake passing the sleeping Buzorg-meher. (Illustration by Mrs. Katie Bagli)

Interpretation of the dreams

The following day, Azad-Sarv presented Buzorg-meher to the king, and recounted all that had happened. The king summoned the young boy and narrated the dreams to him.

As the interpretation of the first dream, Buzorg-meher stated that a man dressed as a woman was staying in the king’s harem, among the ladies. He asked the king to make all the ladies in the harem walk past him.

At first the king was reluctant, but then agreed to allow them to pass with their faces covered. The ladies were made to walk past the king and Buzorg-meher with their faces covered, but no male was spotted. However, Buzorg-meher insisted that there was a man among the women. He once again made the ladies pass before him and then declared that he had found the guilty person. The king was surprised and asked him, how he had found out. Buzorg-meher replied that he was able to identify the man by the gait of his walk.

The king summoned the man who came dressed as a woman. He was the half-brother of one of the queens, who was the daughter of the governor of Chāj province. The brother was very fond of his sister and wanted to accompany her wherever she went, and hence the queen had brought him with her. The king was furious. He immediately ordered them to be executed. However, their lives were saved by the timely intervention of Buzorg-meher, who asked for a mercy-plea for them.

Buzorg-meher then explained the meaning of the second dream in which the king had seen cows in the field drinking milk from their calves. He told the king that this dream conveyed that in his kingdom some parents forced their children to work as labourers, and subsisted on their income. Upon investigation, the king found this to be true and he passed stringent laws against child labour.

Then Buzorg-meher went on to explain the third and the last dream, in which the king saw five wells, one big in the centre and four smaller ones around it. Buzorg-meher explained that the central well symbolised parents and the smaller wells represented their children. The parents gave huge sacrifices and spent their entire fortune raising their children. However, after growing up, the children abandon their parents. The central well drained of all water symbolized the parents living in dire poverty during their old age, and dying of hunger. The king got this matter investigated and passed legislations regarding the responsibility of children to look after their parents in old age.

Buzorg-meher is made an advisor

The king was highly impressed by the wisdom of Buzorg-meher. He decided to groom him and later give him a place amongst his cabinet of ministers. He made preparations for his further studies in the palace itself. After a few years, Buzorg-meher turned out to be not only wiser than other ministers, he also showed a greater grasp in administrating the kingdom. He had even gathered extensive knowledge of medicine and astrology. 

One day the king invited all his ministers and asked them to enrich him with their wise words.  When it was Buzorg-meher’s turn, he exhorted the king about many wise things, like:

1. Not to mindlessly amass wealth, as this world is a transitory place.

2. The nature of man depended on what types of desires he had.

3. Wise men should keep their body in this world and mind in the spiritual world.

Buzorg-meher compared the king to a shepherd and the subjects to his flock. He asked the courtiers and the subjects to always be faithful to the king. Everyone was impressed by his wise words and praised him. Awe-struck at the wisdom of this young man, the king presented him with gold coins. (End of Part 3….to be continued)

SSS16. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part 2)

The Great Wall

Once when the king went to tour his kingdom, he noticed that in the northern part, land was uncultivated and people were unhappy. On enquiring he was told that Turks and Huns from the North used to attack and loot people and hence they were scared to go out. The king immediately ordered a senior minister to have a series of huge defensive walls built around the place to protect the subjects against enemy tribes. The wall should start from the sea, be very high and must be made of lime and stone. Within a short time a wall was erected in the north-east along the Gurgan plains. Now, people lived fearlessly and the land started prospering.

These Persian Walls were similar to the Hadrian Wall of the Romans and the Great Wall of China. Four such walls were built, one in the north-east along the Gurgan plain, one in the north-west at the Caucasus passes, one in the south-east and one in south-west against the Arabs.

Remains of the Gurgan Wall

Military campaigns

The administrative and economic reforms of king Nosherwan reflected in his military success. In the west, he concluded a favourable treaty “The Eternal Peace” with Roman emperor Justinian in 535. The war with Armenia lasted a long time from 541 to 557 resulting in a truce. Between 557 and 558, he defeated the Hephthalites in the east. From 572 to 577 he checked the Turkic incursions into the north-east.

In 565, when Justin II became the Roman emperor, he started a war, which proved disastrous for him. By 573, he had lost parts of Caucasus, Mesopotamia and Syria. He appealed for peace and agreed to pay forty thousand gold coins. He also lost the fort of Dara to the Iranians. Soon after this humiliating defeat, Justin II lost his sanity.

The new emperor Tiberius in 578 continued the wars with Sasanians at Armenia with mixed fortunes. The Roman general Maurice kept on the fighting and later attempted to engage in peace negotiations, but in the same year the Iranian king passed away.

King Munzer of Arbastan

The Shahnameh tells us about the time when king Nosherwan went to Madayan. On the way, he saw a huge army from a distance. The commander of the army came to the king, introduced himself as king Munzer from Arbastan, and told him that though he had accepted his sovereignty, the Roman Caesar had attacked him. The king was very angry. He sent a messenger to the Caesar to inform him that Munzer was under his protection and he will not tolerate if he was attacked or harmed him in any way.  The Caesar   rebuked the messenger and replied that he would continue attacking Arbastan.

When the messenger informed Nosherwan of the Caesar’s reply, he decided to teach him a lesson. He selected a hundred thousand of his best soldiers, gave them to Munzer and asked him to take them along with his army and attack Rome.

Nosherwan sent a letter to the Caesar in which he told him that if he did not respect their treaty and attacked the countries under him, he will have no recourse but to retaliate. The Caesar replied that he was not under him and was free to do what he wanted. He reminded him how Alexander the Macedonian had destroyed Iran in the past. The Caesar further said that he was just settling scores with the Arabs who had looted Rome in the past.

When the messenger returned to the king, he pondered over the rebellious reply of the Caesar, consulted his ministers for three days and then decided to attack the Romans. With a huge army, he proceeded towards Rome. On the way he offered prayers and paid respect to the sacred fire of Adar Goshasp at the Azar Abadagan fire temple. He appointed Shiroy son of Behram as the Commander of the army and allotted different sections of the army to commanders Farhad, Ustad (son of Barzin), Gushasp, Mehran, and Hormazd (son of Kharrad). He strictly instructed his soldiers not to harass or loot civilians, nor destroy their properties or harm their fields.

Nosherwan proceeded towards Rome conquering on the way, the forts of Shurāb and Arāyesh. Just then, he got the news that the Caesar had sent an army under commander Beliserius to meet his army, and it was on its way. In the battle that ensued, the Roman army was defeated and its commander had to flee. On the way, Nosherwan captured the fort of Kalinius. From there he proceeded to Antioch. He was very much impressed with its beauty and did not attack it. Nearby he established a beautiful city and called it Zibe-Nosherwan.  In this city he rehabilitated the Roman prisoners of war. He gave the reigns of this city to a local Christian and asked him to take care of it. The triumphant king then returned to Iran.

When the Caesar came to know of the might of Nosherwan’s army, he had second thoughts about going to war with him. He conferred with the elders of his empire who advised him not to fight against the Iranian king. He sent a delegation of sixty wise men, under the leadership of Mihraz to Nosherwan, apologised for challenging him and sent him a lot of treasure and taxes. The Iranian king accepted the gifts and the apology and demanded such taxes every year, along with the assurance that he will not go near Yaman and Arbastan.

Rebel Prince Nushzad

King Nosherwan had a Christian queen, who had a son named Nushzad. The king was disappointed as the son had Christian leanings. Before leaving for Rome, he had kept him under house arrest at Shahpur-gard far away from the capital, as he was concerned that the young prince may easily be instigated and misled.

After an elated yet exhausted Nosherwan returned to Iran, he needed time to rest and recuperate. Hence he did not meet anybody, which gave rise to the rumour that the king had died on the way. When this rumour reached Nushzad, he fled from the house arrest after taking money from his mother. He then collected a thirty thousand strong army and started attacking and capturing Iranian provinces.

He wrote a letter to the Kaisar, to whom he was related, saying that he was fortunate that his father Nosherwan had died. Claiming to belong to the same race and religion as the Kaisar, he not only offered him his loyalty, but also the whole country of Iran, and called himself a vassal of the Kaisar.

Ram-barzin, the elderly ruler of Madayan got a whiff of this letter and informed the king, who was very much pained at his son’s behaviour, since he dearly loved him. He wrote a letter to Ram-barzin asking him to put an end to Nushzad’s activities and preferably take him prisoner. If he resisted, they should take him captive by force, but care should be taken that he should be kept with care and dignity in his own palace.

On receiving the letter, Rambarzin prepared to attack. When Nushzad came to know of this, he prepared his army under the command of Shamsās. A large part of his army comprised of Romans including Christian priests. The Roman commander tried to persuade Nushzad against fighting his own father and asked him to seek forgiveness. The arrogant Nushzad flatly refused to apologise and initiated the battle, in which he lost his life. Before dying he expressed the desire to be buried in a coffin like a Christian at the hands of his mother. His heavily injured body, ridden with arrows was taken to her mother, where the distraught queen received it with an extremely heavy heart. The entire city of Junde-Shahpur joined the king and the queen in their grief.(End of Part 2….to be continued)

SSS15. King Khushru / Cosroe I, Nosherwan Ādel (531-579) (Part I)

In the previous post, we had already seen the glimmer of greatness of this Sasanian king who had defeated the heretic Mazdak in discussions and hence proved his claim to the throne, though being the youngest amongst princes.

King Khushru I, better known as Nosherwan Ādel, is one of the most illustrious of the Sasanian kings, who is known for his legendary justice. During his reign Mohammad, the prophet of Islam was born, and many other significant events took place, with which we are connected even today.

His reign of almost half a century can be regarded as the Golden Period of Sasanian history. So read on……..

King Nosherwan on a plate
King Nosherwan on a coin

Though the courtiers and clergy favoured the younger son Khushru as the new king, the Mazdakites supported Kobad’s eldest son Kaus as his successor, as he was favourably inclined towards them. , and even the late king was in his favour. Kaus, who was the Governor of Tabaristan tried to get the throne but was not successful. Khushru had to deal very sternly with his brothers and uncles who were trying to usurp the throne by indulging in court conspiracies and intrigues. Khushru succeeded in overcoming all oppositions and became the king. He was the fourth and youngest son of king Kobad, and yet the wisest and the bravest. It was for these qualities that he was preferred as the heir to the throne by his father as well as the courtiers.

Statue at the Courthouse of Tehran depicting King Nosherwan giving justice

Due to his fairness and justice he was known by his titles Nosherwan “immortal” and Ādel “just.”  He was also referred to as Kisra, which was a modified form of his name Khushru. The Romans referred to him as Cosroes. His reign was one of the best in the annals of Iranian history. In this narrative, we will refer to him as Nosherwan, so as not to confuse him with Khushru II, that is, Khushru Purviz.

Patron of art and learning

Khushru was a lover of art, literature and learning. Incidentally he ruled around the same time as emperor Justinian, another lover of art and philosophy, ruled over Rome. Even then, the Roman referred to Nosherwan as the “true philosopher king”. He was open to accepting ideas from people of any religion or nationality. Nosherwan’s reign of almost fifty years was the most glorious era of Sasanian rule and can be considered an Iranian renaissance in learning, music, arts, architecture and trade.

The king was an avid patron of learning and philosophy. Wise men from India and Rome were welcomed to his court. Works brought by them in Sanskrit, Greek and Syrian on various subjects like medicine, astronomy, music and philosophy were translated into Iranian languages.

The early forms of the games of Chess and Back-gammon were introduced in Iran during his reign. Bastān-nāmeh and Khudā-nāmeh, books of ancient history on which the Shahnameh was based, were also written during his reign.

Whereas in Rome, emperor Justinian closed down the School of Athens in 529, Nosherwan built a renowned library and center of higher learning and medicine in the town of Junde-Shahpur. Other universities too were built at Tabriz, Shiz, Marv, Ctesiphon and Babylon.

On account of advances in medical science the first bimāristān “hospital” was established which had segregated wards according to pathology. Greek pharmacology and Indian medicines too were practiced here.

Administrative changes

Nosherwan is credited to have introduced many administrative changes. One of his first reforms was to take into confidence grass-root level workers, the dehkāns “the small land-owners”, and take their help in organizing the society. They later became the backbone of the Sasanian military and economy.

Another administrative change he introduced soon after assuming the throne, was to discontinue the Satrapy system and instead divide his kingdom into four divisions. The first division covered the area around Khorasan (Central Asia), the second around Qom, Esfahan and Azarbaizan (Caucasus), the third around Pars, Ahvaz and Khazar (Persian Gulf) and the fourth around Iraq and Rome (Mesopotamia).

The king announced to his subjects that he was accessible and available to all at any time. He sternly warned his officers of dire consequences if they harassed any of his subjects. People started feeling safe in his reign and the country started prospering.

When kings of India, China and Rome came to know about the peace and prosperity in Iran, and the might of king Nosherwan, they dreaded him and sent taxes and gifts on time.

Taxation

The early Sasanian kings used to tax the produce of the farmers either at 33% or 25 %. Nosherwan’s father Kobad had reduced the tax to 10%. Nosherwan abolished the 10% tax and started a new system of taxation which became quite popular.

He levied a very nominal tax based on the area of land tilled by the farmer. Orchards were taxed on the basis of number of trees. The taxes had to be paid in three installments every four months. If the crops failed due to natural reasons, the farmers did not have to pay taxes. Nosherwan also established a separate ministry for taxation.

Farmers who had land but did not have the money to invest in sowing and cultivation, were given loans by the Agriculture Ministry to buy grains for sowing as well as equipment and cattle for tilling.

The king submits to his own justice

Once, king Nosherwan instructed his minister Babak to inspect the army. The following day, Babak ordered the army to gather for inspection, but sent it back after some time. He repeated this on the second and third day too, saying that the assembly was incomplete. Babak repeatedly sent back the army as he expected the king to come for the inspection too, since the king being the commander, was also a part of the army. The king who watched the proceedings, realized the motive behind Babak’s behavior. The following day, he presented himself before the minister in full battle regalia along with the army. Like other soldiers, he submitted himself to tests of agility and reflexes. Then, on Babak’s command he also collected his wages along with the other soldiers.

King Nosherwan submitting for inspection with other soldiers ( Illustration by Mrs. Katy Bagli)

After the inspection was over, Babak came to the king and apologized for treating him like a soldier. The king commended the minister and rewarded him for sticking to his duty.

Conscription of soldiers

Once the minister of wars told the king that he required more money to recruit new soldiers. The king realised that he had no budget for expenses on soldiers, and to get the money he would have to tax his subjects, which he did not want.

He devised an ingenious plan. He asked his ministers, noblemen and subjects to send their sons for free military training so that in times of war they could be of help and they would not feel helpless when attacked by enemies. They would learn to ride a horse and handle weapons. Everybody liked the idea and so Noshirwan had the biggest army, without having to pay the soldiers or tax the subjects.

(End of Part I….to be continued)

SSS14. Kings Balāsh/Palāsh (484-487), Kobād I (487-496 & 498-591) and Jamasp (496-498)

Balāsh/Palāsh (484-487)

King Balash/Palash

One month after king Piruz’s death, Balāsh occupied the throne. Sufrāy decided to avenge his king’s death. He prepared a strong army and sent a message to the Hephthalite king, announcing his arrival to take revenge of the senseless death of his king. Khushnawaz, who by now had occupied Marv and Herat, pleaded innocence, saying that it was Piruz who had broken the truce and hence displeased God. However, he showed readiness to fight Sufrāy.

Sufrāy and his son Zaremeher attacked and quickly decimated the Hephthalite army. The battlefield was lined with dead bodies. A defeated Khushnawaz requested Sufrāy to stop the attack and offered to give him back everything taken from the Iranians and free the prisoners. Sufrāy accepted the proposal and asked him to release crown prince Kobad, princess Piruz-dokht and high priest Ardeshir. Sufrāy and Kobad then returned to Iran amidst triumphant celebrations arranged by Balāsh. A few years later Sufrāy asked Balāsh to vacate the throne and hand it over to Kobad who according to him was a better administrator. Balāsh grudgingly acceded to this request.

Kobad I (first reign) (487-496)

King Kobad I (Notice the crescenct moon and star on the obverse rim, much before the advent of Islam)

Kobad shifted his capital from Istakhra to Ctesiphon. In the initial years of his reign, he had to contend with the Turkik Khazars who had established their kingdom between the Don and Volga rivers. They came through the Caucasus passes and raided Armenia, Albania and Azarbaizan. Kobad was successful in crushing the Khazar forces. To check their invasions, a fortress was built at the place of their entry.

In 510 CE, Sufrāy, content with life, shifted back to his hometown Shiraz, confident that Kobad would always be grateful to him for making him the king. However, some evil courtiers instigated Kobad by telling him that Sufrāy was more powerful, popular and loved than the king. He was told that Sufrāy had plans to rebel against him. The instigation worked on Kobad, and he asked Shahpur Rāzi, Sufrāy’s only enemy to go and bring Sufrāy. Shahpur took a small army and proceeded to Shiraz. When Sufrāy came to know of this he too prepared an army.

When Shahpur met Sufrāy, he told him of his king’s orders. Sufrāy was very disappointed but accepted his orders and went to him. Kobad immediately threw him into a prison and attached all his wealth and property.

Kobad’s ministers informed him that all subjects were heavily in favour of Sufrāy and were sympathetic towards him. If he was alive he would be a grave danger to the king. Hearing this, Kobad ordered Sufrāy to be executed. This act of Kobad, greatly alienated him in the eyes of his subjects and ministers.

Mazdak, the heretic

Several years into the reign of king Kobad, a Syrian by the name Mazdak, son of Bāmdād, having extreme socialistic ideas, came into the court claiming to be a prophet. In his younger days, he was a member of the Manichaean movement. He had been preaching his doctrines in western Iran since 484 CE. The basis of his teachings was the outrageous socialist idea, that there should be no individual right or affiliation to wealth, property and women, and they should be shared by all, since wealth, property and women give rise to the five vices of jealousy, anger, revenge, greed and lust.

Mazdak was a clear threat to the established Zoroastrian religion and its clergy. His teachings downplayed the role of hard work, rituals and ceremonies in the religion and instead preferred asceticism as the way of life. Mazdak had thousands of followers in a short time, most of them from the lowest rung of society. Kobad was highly influenced by Mazdak and appointed him his minister and treasurer. The execution of Sufrāy, compounded by his close proximity to Mazdak, made the clergy and nobility rise in rebellion against their king.  In 496 CE they chained Kobad in the old fort of Anoshbard in Khuzestan, and made his younger brother Jamasp, the king.

Jamasp (496-498)

King Jamasp I

Jamasp is king for two years

In 496 CE, Jamasp, the younger brother of Kobad, was made the king. Jamasp went on to fight in Armenia, where he defeated the Khazars, and conquered some of their territory. There he married an Armenian woman from a royal family, who bore him a son named Narseh. In his brief reign, Jamasp minted coins which had the fire altar on the reverse side.

The angry subjects had entrusted Kobad to Zaremeher, son of Sufrāy. However, this noble person forgave Kobad and instead pledged his support and helped him flee the prison, which made the king very repentant. He decided to repay this act of nobility in future. Since Kobad had stayed with the Hephthalite king as his hostage, he had developed strong ties with him, which helped now. He sought the help of the Hephthalite king and got an army from him. He also married his daughter. In return the Hephthalite king asked for the town of Chagan and its treasures, to which Kobad agreed.

Kobad I (second reign) (498-531)

Kobad regains throne

After peacefully regaining the throne, Kobad prepared an army of forty thousand soldiers, and with the help of Zaremeher marched into Ahwaz, and then into the capital city of Ctesiphon. Jamasp peacefully yielded the throne back, and thus Kobad regained his crown in 498 CE. The Iranian people requested him not to harm the young Jamasp. In due course, Kobad’s queen gave birth to a beautiful boy who was named Khushru. As he grew up, he was entrusted to teachers for his royal training.

In the second part of his rule which lasted for about thirty years, Kobad had to always be alert for incursions from three fronts, Hephthalites from the east, Romans from the west and Arabs from the south.

First Byzanto-Persian war

In 502, Kobad himself launched a full-scale invasion of Byzantine during the rule of emperor Anastasius (491-518), as the Roman emperor had stopped paying taxes. This resulted in the first Byzanto-Persian war.

Initially, the city of Theodosiopolis fell and then Amida fell in 503 after an eighty day siege. However Kobad was not able to hold on to Amida for long. The Roman emperor sent re-inforcements and Kobad had to surrender Amida in 504. In 505, a seven year peace treaty was concluded with the Romans.

Second Byzanto-Persian war

In 526 CE, when Kobad was busy fighting the Hephthalites, some of the Roman commanders made encroachments in Iranian territory. The king complained to the Roman emperor Anastasius, but he did not help, and after his death, Julian, the emperor that followed, too did not pay heed. So Kobad marched into Lezica, and then into Mesopotamia in 527, and defeated the Romans. In 527 Kobad had to battle in Mesopotamia with the Arabs, the Huns and the Romans, all at the same time.

Emperor Justin died in 528 and his nephew Justinian became the emperor. There was a war between Persian commander Firuz and Roman commander Belisarius at the fort of Dara, in which the Romans won with the help of Massagetae soldiers. Till 531, battles continued with the Romans in Armenia, Georgia and Lazica with changing fortunes.

Kobad fought the Hephthalites almost continuously for ten years. But after that, they were defeated so emphatically, that their power in Iran diminished drastically and they were not heard of much.

Death of Mazdak

The influence of Mazdak and his socialist teachings had to be tolerated by Kobad and his court. Once Mazdak’s chief followers plotted against the king, planning to have him replaced by one of the princes, who was their disciple and hence would be their puppet. They were planning to make Mazdakism the state religion. When Kobad became aware of this plot, he feigned readiness for abdication, called all the leading supporters of Mazdak for a meeting and had all of them murdered.

Mazdak and Khushru debating in the court.

Prince Khushru, now a young man, was not at all impressed by Mazdak’s ideas. Moreover, Mazdak also made a claim on Kobad’s queen, who was Khushru’s mother, which greatly infuriated Khushru. Mazdak complained to the king that his son was not accepting his teachings. On being summoned, Khushru told his father that he would reveal the hollowness of Mazdak’s teachings and prove his treachery in six months. In the meanwhile Khushru minutely studied the teachings of Mazdak and challenged him to an open debate.

Mazdak was defeated in the debate, his lies were exposed and he was sentenced to death along with his three thousand disciples.

From 524 to 528, Kobad allowed Khushru to unleash a campaign of persecution against the Mazdakites. Some followers fled to Syria, Arabia and Rome. Khushru systematically tried to destroy the traces of Mazdakism.

But the long exposure of the Iranian society to Mazdak’s teachings had already done considerable damage. The philosophy of Mazdak had been so widespread that it continued for a long time even after his death. A few of Mazdak’s followers are believed to have existed in Afghanistan and nearby places till recent times.

Kobad’s religious policy

Kobad had a tolerant religious policy. He represented himself as an advocate of orthodox Zoroastrianism.  However he did not harm the Christians under him either, and they practiced their religion without any persecution.

Like his predecessors, Kobad too built had Atash Behrams and had them maintained well. On many of his coins the fire altars figure prominently on the reverse.

End of Kobad I

Kobad’s long reign was marked by internal fighting and contending with Mazdak on one side, and fight with the Romans, Huns and Arabs on the other. He fought bravely till the very end in all his battles, and himself directed the forces in most of them. He ruled for forty years and passed away at the age of eighty two, after which he was ceremoniously laid to rest in the Dakhma.