THE SOCIETY AND CLVILIZATION OF THE SASANIANS
The founder of the Sasanian dynasty was Ardeshir son of Bâbak. Son of Sâsân. Sâsân’s wife was a priestess of Temple of Anâhita at pasargadae and a princess of the royal Bâzrangi line which ruled from Nisâys (the Bayzâ of the Arab geographers). On reaching adulthood, Bâbak gained control of the small town of khir by the lake of Bakhtegân. Later, his son Ardeshir attained the rank of Argapedi (argabadh) of the town of Dârâbgerd through the help of the Bâzrangis and it was from then on that the fortunes of the Sasanians began to prosper. From the outset of his career, Ardeshir contemplated the restoration of the grandeur of Achaemenian times, On Bâbâk’s death.his son shâpur first held power, but the early death of the latter soon left Ardeshir sole command. Before long he had attacked and seized kermân, an acquisition which added greaty to his prestige. Subsequently, he waged a campaign against Ardavân (Artabanus V) whom he finally beat at Hormizdagân in khuzestân. With no rival in sight, Ardeshir embarked on the gradual conquest of all the lands of Iran and thus established the Sasanian dynasty, which ruled the whole country from A.D.224 to 652, and boasted such great kings as shâpur I, Qobâd, anushirvân and khosrow parviz.
The social classes Under the Sasanians, society was divided into four classes:
a. The religious class, or âthravân
b. The military class, or arteshtârân
c. The secretary class, or dabirân and
d. The commons, who included the farmers and
Herdsmen, or vâstryoshân, and the artisans and bourgeois class, or hutukhshân.
Each class had its own Magistrate: the religious class had their high priest , the mowbadnân-mowbadh, the head of the military was the erân-ispâhbadh, the chief of the secretaries was the erân – dabirbadh, while the chief magistrate of the commons was the vâstryoshânsâlâr or hutukhshbadh. The governors of the larger provinces — mostly subject princes and kings under Sasanian protection — were known as shatrtârân and the governors of border lands were called marzbân.
|Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam|
There were seven family, Suren, kârin, Aspâhbadh, lspandiyâr, Mehrân and Zik. The paterfamilias of each was called the vaspuhrân, The prime minister was the vuzurg-farmadhâr, this title later becoming vuzurgmihr and then boxorgmehr [Arabicized from: buzarjomehr]. Those holding high civil rank as well as the premier noblemen were called vuaurgân, mahân, or âzâdeh-nezhâdân (âzâdhân). Those who actually lived on their estates were known as dehgân or dehqân (dehkân).
The divisions of the realm On Ardeshir’s accession to the throne, the state institutions created by the parthians took a new form, which lasted with only minor changes till the fall of the Sasanians . Before Anushirvân, Iran was divided into small states and provinces, each with its own governor. If this ruler was a member of the royal Sasanian family, or of the previous dynasty, the parthians, he was called Shâh; borderland governors were called marxbân. Anushirvân divided Iran into four pâdhghows and over each he appointed an ispâhbadh with the title of pâdhghowspân. The Ispâhbadh of the East was the military commander of khorâsân, Sisân and kermân, the lspâhbadh of the South commanded Fârd and khuzestân, that of the west help Iraq right up to the borderers of Byzantium while the commander of the North was responsible for Media and Azarbâyjân. The larger provinces were divided into ostâns, governed by ostândârs. Each ostân was divided into smaller districts, the shahr, of which the shahrestân was the center. The governor of the shahr was the shahrik, while villages and hamlets were administered by the dehik or dehsâlâr.
The Sasanian army consisted of cavalry and infantry units, but the cavalry was considered its real core and acquired special importance from the time of Anushirvân. The cavalry itself was made up of a number of units; first, there was the asvârân-e jâvidân which was an imitation of an Achaemenian model; secondly, the cavalrymen who came in time of war from the various lands of the empire; and thirdly the unit known as the jânsepâr. Up to the time of Anushirvân, the noblemen of the second rank, of whom the military was chiefly composed, served without pay and supplied the horses and weapons themselves, but Anushirvân gave horses, arms and an allowance to those lacking the necessary funds. A soldier’s impedimenta consisted then of armour for his horse, a short coat of mail, leg armour, breastplate,sword, spear, shield, mace, a noose, and bow and arrow. The command of the army before Anushirvân was help by the rerân-ispâhbadh, or arteshtârânsâlâr, but Anushirvân abolished this post and appointed instead four ispâhbadhs over the four pâdhghows. As in former times, the infantry was not of much importance, merely following up behind the main (cavalry) force to demolish fortifications and generally serve the cavalry. The infantrymen were known as the pâyegân; their chief was the pâyegânsâlâr. Elephants were employed in the Sasanian army to create confusion in the enemy ranks and terrify their horses, though it would sometimes happen that for some reason the elephants would take fright and turn their backs upon the enemy, thus brinding about the defeat of the persian army. This actually happened at the famous Battle of Qâdesiyyeh fougt against the Arab Muslims.
Two types of tax were collected; first there was the land tax, which was levied on the produce. The amount therefore depended on whether cultivation had been good or not. Secondly, was a poll tax. This was levied proportionately to wealth on all persons between twenty and fifty years of age who held no lands, and was paid also by tradesmen and artisans. The aristocracy, the gentry, civil functionaries as well as servants of the king were all exempt. The poll tax was paid in three-monthly installments, and the relevant receipt was kep in the Royal Treasury. Anushirrvân equitably adjusted the tax burden and curbed the extortionate of the tax officers.Tax collectors were called âmârkâr, of whom one was the erân-âmârkâr,who evidently help the post of assistant to the vuzurg-tarmadhâr. The king’s private exchequer was called ganjvar. Some Sasanian rullers would remit overdue taxes whoen they became king. When Bhrâm Gur, for instance, failed to press for payment of the tax arrears on his accession, the taxpayers found themselves found themselves better off to the tune of seventy million dirhams . In addition to this Bahrâ also reduced the tax by a third in the year of his accession to the throne.
Industry and commerce
The most highly developed industry in Sasanian times was the weaving of carpets, silks, woolens and brocades. The rulers made use of Byzantine captives and foreign immigrants to popularize other crafts too. The chief exports were silk cloths try was the most important and made up the bulk of the export trade. Raw silk was bought by persia from China and then sold off to other countries. Imports consisted of silk. Paper from China; spices, precious stones from India; ano perfumes from Arabia. An important centre for the trade between persia and Byzantium was the town of Nisibis, while in other towns of Mesopotamia too, fairs were held at regular intervals. And merchandise from persia, China and India was sold to the Byzantines.
The various creeds and religions
Apart from Zoroastrianism, the offical religion of Iran from the time of Ardeshir, son of Bâbak, two other religions emerged during the Sasanian period, one founded by Mâni, the other by Mazdak. Mâni came of noble stock; his father, fâtak, left Hamadân and settled in Lower Mesopotamia, and Mâni was born at a small town near Babylon in A.D. 215/6. In childhood, Mâni studied ancient learning and philosophy and reaching maturity he examined Zoroastrianism, Christianity and the other religions of his time. At the age of twenty – four he laid claims to prophecy. Shortly before the accession of Shâpur I, he proclaimed his new religion, and for a while passed his time publicizing itin Mesopotamia. Then, through the intermediary of Shâpur’s brother piroz, ( an adherent to Manichaeism), Mâni managed to gain admittance to the court. He began by offering the king a copy of his book, the Shâhpurgân. The king treated Mâni kindly and allowed him and his followers freedom in the propagation of their religion. It is even said that he became an adherent himself Mâni later travelled to India and China and spent some time in central Asia before returning to Iran. The Zoroastrian priests, alarmed at the progress Manichaeism had made, managed to get the king, Bahrâm I, to arrange a public disputation between themselves and Mâni. The latter was apparently defeated and died in A.D. 276 as a result of the tortures inflicted upon him. It is believed by some, however, that he flied alive and his body was hung on a gibbet.
Manichaeism was a combintion of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Buddhism. According to Mâni’s doctrine, the word in its present stste had come about through the workings of two elements, Light and Darkness, and its foundations rested therefore on Good and Evil. But at the end of the word, the Light would separate from the Dr kness, whereupon peace and reconciliation would be permanently established. It was the duty of the Manichaean, he help, to strive present combination would be destroyed. This meant that one had to purge oneself of evil and vice, which were associated with Drakness. Mâni’s followers therefore abstained from such worldly pleasures as marriage, the consumption of meat and wine, and the acquisition of property and wealth.
Coin of the Indo-Sassanid kushansha
Varhran I early 4th century
To further popularize his religion, Mâni wrote a number of treatises, one of which was the Shâhpurgân, already mentioned above. For illiterates, ne illustrated his manuscripts with pictures, which earned him the appellation “the painter”. The Arzhang or Artang, another of Mâni’s works, attained fame frome from early times on account of its fine illustrations. Following the death of Mâni and his followers, Manichaeism did not gain much ground in Iran, but it long continued to flourish with many adherents in East turkistan, China, Syria, Palesting, Egypt, Italy and Southern Europe.
Mazdak, son of Bâmdâd, came from Estakhr, or according to one opinion from Neyshâbur. During the reign of Qobâd he founded a kind of religion which, like Manichaeism, was based on Light and Darkness. Mazdak differed from Mâni, however, in his belief that Light was completely omnipotent and omniscient in its own sphere and that the works of Darkness were wrought in ignorance and were merely accidental. The combination of the two forces, which had resulted in the present state of the world, had arisen spontaneously .Mazdak concluded that Light was patently superior to Darkness and therefore worthy of being revered. Until such time as Light should overcome Darkness, man must strengthen the former through abstinence and good deeds. The Mazdakites therefore shunned such worldly pleasures as the eating of meat, and refrained from shedding blood. Mazdak abhorred revenge, war and strife. Which he blamed on man’s desire for wealth and women. And enjoined that both of these should be equally shara by all men.
The fundamental doctrines of Mazdakism had existed two centuries before Mazdak, but he is consid ered its chief architect and propagator. For up to three centuries after Islam. Mazdakites continues to flourish in different guises, and it is even thought by some that the followers of bâbak Khorramdin were really Mazdakites.
Literature and the sciences
The language of both Parthian and Sasanian times was pahlavi, which came after the Old persian of the Achaemenians and before the Modern persian of Islamic times. The pahlavi script employed in Sasanian times was derived from Aramaic. A certain number of Aramaic words were written, but were read as persian; for example, shâh was written malekâ. In addition to this , Semitic words were given persian grammatical treatment and persian plurals: shâhân. For example was written malekâân. Up to a thousand Aramaic words were thus used. As a resuit of all this, the pahlavi script is one that is extremely difficult to read.
The information we have at our disposal regarding literature and the sciences in Sasanian times is incomplete; we do know, however that the nobility and letters, though the acquisition of knowledge was traditionally the province of the religious class and the mowbadhân.
As in Achaemenian days, young noblemen were tutored by an asvârân instructor and taught reading, writing, arithmetic, polo, chess, riding and hunting. Treatises were available on such subjects as the training of horses, hunting birds, shooting and polo.
While we know that both poetry and music flourished under the Sasanians, little remains of the former, but what is extant shows us that Sasanian poetry differed from Modern persian poetry in metre and in style. As far as music is concerned, we know the names of many tunes and of such musicians as the famous Bârbadh, Nekisâ, Râmtin, Bâmshâdh, sarkesh and Sarkab.
Few works in the pahlavi script have come down to us. What we have was chiefly written during the period after the establishment of Islamic rule. However, writers of the first century of the Islamic era name many Sasanian works which were translated from pahlavi to Arabic, of which no trace remains today. It would appear from the the titles given to these works that they were mainly on politics and government, medicine, the art of war and history, or religious writings, legends, anecdotes and wise counsels. One of the most important of these works was the kalileh va Demneh, which was brought to persia from India during the reign of Anushirvân, translated firt into pahlavi, then from pahlavi to Arabic by the persian, Abdollâh ebn Moqaffa; n the second century of the islamic era, only to be translated into modern persian at a later date. Another important work translated into Arabic by ebn Mogaffaʹ was the Khodây-Nâmeh. This was a compilation dating from the time of the Sasanian Yazdigerd III on the history of the persian kings, of which the original pahlavi is lost. It was put into persian prose in the fourth century A.H. and served as the basis for the Shâhnâmehs of Daqiqi and Ferdowsi.
During the Sasanian period, all learning was based principally on the Avestâ, but the rulers, especially Anushirvân, encouraged the translation of the works of such other nations as the Greeks and Romans. Medicine made great strides under the Sasanians, who sought hard to develop it through the recruitment of physicians from Greece and Byzantium. Surgery was commonly practised, too, and if a surgeon lost three patients, he was deprived of his right to continue his profession.
Ruins of Adur Gushnasp, one of three main
Zoroastrian temples during Sassanian Empire.
Several monuments of the Sasanian period still stand: the Arch of Khosrow ( Tâq-e Kesrâ). Also called the place of Madâʹen, built by Anushirvan to the east of Ctesiphon. The ruins of this palace are still visible today. Some scholars date the foundations from the time of Shâpur I. The edifice is 400 metres long, nearly 300 metres wide, and over 26 metres high. The pubulic audience chamber in the centre of the building is 44 metres long and 26 metres wide. The Arch of Khosrow was the residence of the Sasanian rulers and also the centre of both military and civil government. The great hall housed the famous Bahârestân Catpet, also known as “bahâr-e Khosrow” (Springtime of Khosrow). In the middle of the 8th century A.D. the Abbasid Caliph, mansur, made up his mind at one time to demolish the Arch and use the materials in the construction of his new city of Baghdad. Although his persian vizier, Khâled the Barmakid tried to dissuade him, he would not be put off, and gave orders for the building to be pulled down. It was only when he realized that the cost of this operation would outweigh any advantages accruing that he finally gave up the idea.
At the Tâq-e Bostân near Kermânshâh may be seen in relief the figures of Khosrow Parviz and Shâpur III as well as various hunting scenes. The remains may also be seen of Qasr-e Shirin, palace, built by Khosrow Parviz for Shirin, his Christian sweetheart. Tâq-e Eyvân is another Sasanian monument, situated near Karkheh. At Naqsh-e Rostam near persepolis there are carvings of Ardeshir, son of Bâbak, Sh’pur I Nersi, and Bahrâm II, while at the locality of Shapur, about eighteen kilometers north of Kâzerun there is a rock carving showing the captive Roman Emperor Vlerianus kneeling before the mounted Shâpur I. there is another scene with Bahrâm I and BahrâII, and near the town of Shâpur, a large statue of Shâpur I has heen found. Other Sasanian remains are to be found at Firuzâbâd, in the Fârs province, and at Sarvestân, between Shirâz and Dârâb. Some scholars, however, date both Firuzâbâd and Sarvestân remains to partian times, basing their opinion on the particular methods used in costruction.
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