New Military History Book by Ian Hughes: Stilicho – The Vandal who saved Rome


Ian Hughes has produced an excellent military history text entitled:

Stilicho: The Vandal who Saved Rome (2010). Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Books Limited. ISBN: 978-1-84415-969-7.


To order, kindly contact:

Address: PEN & SWORD BOOKS LIMITED -47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, England [Website:]


Hughes’ text is meticuloulsy researched with a plethora of references and resources. The academic calibre of this text will undoubtedly make this a major resource in classrooms and libraries across major universities.

Stilicho lived in one of the most turbulent periods in European history. The Western Empire was collapsing under the pressure of internal revolt and external invasion.  The book explains how Stilicho, who had a Vandal father and a Roman mother, was given control of the Western Empire and describes his attempts to save the West from the rebellion of Constantine III in Britain and from the attacks of barbarian invaders, most notably Radagaisus and Alaric the Goth.

Stilicho monument in the forum in Rome  –  this picture shows the monument erected in honour of Stilicho.  However, after his fall the three lines commemorating his name and deeds were chiselled out as part of the damnatio memoriae. 

Despite his claims that he was attempting to save an united empire, in some ways his policies following his rise to power after the death of the emperor Theodosius the Great in 395 helped to permanently divide the Western and Eastern halves of the Roman Empire. On the other hand he is responsible for the continued existence of the West after the rebellion of Constantine III in Britain and the crossing of the Rhine by a major force of Vandals, Sueves and Alans in AD 406. 

The book places Stilicho firmly within the context of the slow disintegration of the West and also details his political contacts with the East, helping to explain how these helped to divide the Empire in such a way that it would never again become a single political entity.  In this way the importance of Stilicho’s domination is highlighted and the ramifications of his ‘rule’ for the remaining decades of the West’s existence become clear.

Stilicho diptych  –  the only remaining likeness of Stilicho.  On the left is his wife and son, on the right Stilicho himself.  Stilicho carries a shield on which are the images are two boys, most likely the emperors Honorius and Arcadius, demonstrating Stilicho’s claim to be guardian for both halves of the Empire.

It is surprising that despite the recent surge of interest in the history of the Late Roman Empire this is the first definitive biography that has been attempted in English. In a large part this is due to the fact that the story of his life is poorly recorded by ancient sources.  The result has been a long history of debate over Stilicho’s personality and policies, especially with regards to a possible alliance with the Goth Alaric against the Western Empire.  The book looks in detail at the sources and analyzes Stilicho’s actions in an attempt to reveal the reasons for his policies.  Although in some respects the conclusions reached go against some of the accepted theories concerning his life, they are explained in full and some of the opposing theories are explained, allowing the reader to make up their own mind as to which of the different ideas to follow.

Barbarian Invasions of Gaul  –  this map shows a possible route for the invasions of the Vandals, Sueves and Alans that took place in early 407.   Although hypothetical, it follows the descriptions in the sources and explains the reasons for the rapid changes of direction of the invaders.

Professor Lutz Richter-Bernburg: Gondi-Shapur History & Medical School

The article below is by professor Lutz Richter-Bernburg. This originally appeared in the CAIS (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies) venue. The CAIS site is hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav. Note that the article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

The version printed below is different in that it has embedded photographs and captions used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and were also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.


 GONDÊŠÂPUR (< Mid. Pers. Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr; Mid. Pers. Inscription: why-’ndywk-Šhypwhry “Better Is Šâbuhr’s Antioch,” ŠKZ l. 32″; for the successive transformation of the Mid. Pers. form into subsequent Ar. Jondaysâbur, cf. the Gk. Bendosabora and Nöldeke’s observations on similar changes from Mid. Pers. /v/ to NPers. /g/), name of a Sasanian and post-Sasanian district and its urban center in Khhuzestân; its site has been located “south of the village of Šâhâbâd, three km below the last of the low ridges marking the northern limit of the Khuzestân plain” (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), between Tostar and Dezful (q.v.).


Emperor Valerian surrenders to Shapur I(241-272 AD) and Sassanian nobility at Edessa in 260 AD. Gundeshapur was   founded by Shapur I  on in 271 AD, just eleven years after Emperor Valerian’s surrender at Edessa (portrait by Angus McBridge for Farrokh text of 2005).   Gundeshapur was a major learning, research and intellectual center of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 AD).

According to epigraphic, archeological, and literary evidence, the city owed its existence to the Sasanian Ardašir I’s son and successor, Šâpur I (r. 242-72). Following the long-established royal custom, Šâpur commemorated his role as founder (and possibly patron) in the new establishment’s name, including also a reference to his recent victory over the Roman emperor Valerian III (r. 253-60) by claiming superiority for his “Antioch” over the homonymous metropolis of Syria. Consequently, the date of Šâpur’s founding act is contingent on the much debated chronology of his Roman war(s) and conquests of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (see antioch). Even though the existence of the “parallel” Syriac name of Bêth Lâpât (q.v.) would seem to point to a previous settlement in the area, the archeological surface reconnaissance of 1963 (Adams and Hansen, p. 53), which in the absence of a systematic investigation of the site is our only archeological evidence, discovered no trace of a pre-Sasanian occupation. A literary echo of such occupation predating Šâpur is also found in the late Sasanian list of provincial capitals (Markwart, Provencial Capitals, pp. 20, 98, sec. 48) and in the (garbled) legendary account of Šâpur’s survey of the site in view of his intended foundation (Tabari, I, pp. 830-31, tr., V, pp. 38-39; Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 41-42, n. 2, tr. pp. 87-88, 99-100; Dinavari, ed. Guirgass, pp. 48-49, who mentions two corrupted forms, Nilât and Nilâb, of the original Aramaic name as the town’s name in Khuzi and in the language of its population, i.e., in Syriac; for the legend of Šâpur’s love for a Byzantine princess and the founding of Gondêšâpur on the model of Constantinople to please her, see Ebn al-QeftÂi, p. 133). The transparently etiological tendency of the report, as quoted by the Anonymous Berolinensis Sprenger 30 (see Tabari, tr., V, p. xxiii) on the one hand and Tabari on the other, would seem to discredit it as merely explaining the popular Persianized name Bêlâbâd, but the early attestation of the Aramaic form as byl’b’d and Bêlapat, in the Parth-ian and Coptic Manichean tradition respectively, would seem to indicate a historical nucleus of the later, embellished accounts, given the fact that in the Sasanian-Arabic tradition, Mani’s imprisonment and death was well-nigh unanimously located in Gondêšâpur (Nöldeke, pp. 42, n., 47 and n. 5).


Gundeshapur was repaired and expanded by Shapur II (310-379 AD). The site may have served as Shapir II’s second capital.

The architectural remains on the ground permit us to trace an orthogonal street grid within an oblong rectangular walled enclosure, thus approximating Hamza Esfahâni’s idealized description of the site’s layout as a chessboard of eight by eight streets (p. 49, ll. 7-9). In addition, primary sources, such as inscriptions and bullae, attest Gondêšâpur only at the beginning and during the last few decades of the Sasanian period; to date, its history in the later centuries are documented archeologically primarily by ceramic finds from the above-mentioned surface reconnaissance. These, casting substantive doubt on the literary evidence, clearly point to the site’s rapid decline after the late 9th century. Consequently, the geographers of the 10th and subsequent centuries (e.g., Estakhri, p. 93; Maqdesi/Moqaddasi, p. 405) would appear to have derived their information on the site’s continued prosperity from uncritical compilations of older texts rather than from autopsy or contemporaneous records (Adams and Hansen, pp. 57-59).

Šâpur’s official record of the satrapy of Weh-Andiyôk-Šâbuhr in his famous trilingual inscription at Ka’ba-ye Zardošt (ŠKZ) near Persepolis is paralleled in Sasanian narrative historiography as transmitted to, and partially preserved by, later Arabic and Persian authors; thus he is credited with the establishment of both district and city of Gondêšâpur (Tabari, I, pp. 830-831; Ya’qubi, Ta’rikh I, p. 180). Tabari as well as Hamza (pp. 48-49), or perhaps their common source, even undertook to explain the city’s name as deriving from Persian Beh-az-Andiu-Šâpur; in spite of the obvious interpolation of the word “az,” their attempt deserves recognition for the correct identification of the main elements of the name: “weh” and “Andiôk.” Also, the possibility of contamination by a later Sasanian pattern of toponymy as exemplified by Weh-az-Âmid-Kawâd remains to be considered (see Gyselen 1989, p. 62, no. 47; cf. Weh-Ârdašir and Weh-Kawâd, ibid., pp. 61-62, nos. 46, 48). The terminus post quem of Šâpur’s foundation was his occupation of Antioch. However, he conquered the city twice within a few years, the earlier one was arguably in 256 (according to the patriarch Nicephorus, Demetrianus’s patriarchate in Antioch began in 253 and lasted altogether four years; see Schwaigert, pp. 20-23) and the later one in 260, during Valerian III’s fateful campaign. If the report of Demetrianus’s deportation from Antioch and his incumbency as bishop of Gondêšâpur in the Chronicle of Se’ert (Patrologia Orientalis IV/3, p. 221) is accepted, the date of Šâpur’s foundation would fall into the period between his two occupations of Anitoch, i.e., the years 256-60.


A statue of Burzoe -برزويه-  at isfahan. Also known as Bozorg-Mehr-بزرگمهر– Burzoe was was the vizier of Khosrau I Anushirvan ()and physician during the late Sassanian Empire of the sixth century. He is well known for having translated India’s Panchatantra from its original Sanskrit into Pahlavi (Middle Persian). Unfortunatley both the original Panchatantra and its Pahlavi translation were lost in time, but the Pahlavi version was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Mafuqqa. The Arabic version is known as the Kalila and Dimna. it is also noteworthy that Burzoe was an accomplished  sage in chess.

Documentation of Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr’s subsequent history under Sasanian rule is very uneven. The relative prominence of Christians in the region is attested by the Chronicle of Se’ert, which mentions the election of a certain Ardaq as the episcopal successor to Demetrianus, thus adumbrating the later importance of Bê(th) Lâpât as the metropolitan see of Bêth H¨uzâyê (Schwaigert, passim). According to the literary tradition, Weh-Andiôk-Šâbuhr repeatedly fulfilled the function of royal residence during the 3rd and 4rth centuries, at least un-til the great persecution of Christians under Šâpur II. The earliest relevant witness is that of the Manichean tradition of Mani’s doomed confrontation with King Warahrân I and his counselors at ‘Bêlapat’ and his ensuing fatal imprisonment there in 276-77 (Dinavari, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, p. 47). The next firm date is furnished by the Syriac witnesses to Šâpur II’s persecution of Christians; in the decade of 340, the Catholicos Šâhdôst and others were tried there in the king’s presence and executed (Schwaigert, p. 110). Thus the city must have retained some of its former standing even after Šâpur moved residence from Gondêšâpur after the first thirty years of his reign, if Hamza (p. 52) is lent credence, and the coincidence of this date with the (re-)foundation of Karkhâ dhe Lêdhân as Xwarrah Šâbuhr in 338 would seem to support it (cf. Schwaigert, pp. 109-10; thus Gyselen’s attractive hypothesis, p. 75, against Hamza, p. 52, who cites Xwarrah Šâbuhr as Susa’s name and, among Šâpur II’s foundations, refers to an unnamed town near Sus that the author of Mojmal al-tawârikh [ed. Bahâr, p. 67] identifies with Karkhâ dhe Lêdhân). If this is accepted, then ‘Omar Kesrâ’s statement (apud Mas’udi, Muruj I, p. 295) that Gondêšâpur served as residence from its foundation through the reign of Hormazd II (303-9) would have to be revised. Sources of Sasanian history mention Gondêšâpur as the hub of Anôšazâd’s rebellion against his own father, Khosrow I Anôširavân, in about 550 (Dinavari, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, pp. 69-70; Nöldeke, pp. 467-74, tr. pp. 708-14; here, a similar dissociation between the city’s two names, Beth Lâpât and Weh-Andiôk-Šâpuhr/Jondaysâbur, obtains as does generally between the Syriac Christian and the Arabic sources). Thus, Procopius, on the strength of this observation relying on Syriac authorities (see above), cites Anôšazâd’s place of banishment as Bêlapata, whereas the Islamic texts, beginning chronologically with Abu Hanifa Dinavari (ed. Guirgass, p. 71, ed. ‘Âmer and Šayyâl, p. 70), only use the popular Arabic adaptation of the royal Sasanian name: Jondaysâbur. They are paralleled, if not preceded, in this usage by Theophylactus Simocates’ Bendosabôra.


 New Persian text of Kalileh va Damneh, produced in Herat in 1429.

Sasanian rule at Gondêšâpur ended with the city’s surrender to the Muslim forces in 17/638 (Tabari, I, pp. 2566-68, tr., XIII, pp. 146-49; Ebn al-Athir, Beirut, II, p. 553). This event, as well as the city’s subsequent history, are well-documented by narrative sources, with the notable exception of the archeological evidence mentioned above. Gondêšâpur figures in the geographic literature of the 9th and following centuries, but in political history it recaptures attention only once, and then briefly, in the latter part of the 9th century. In 262/875-76, in the course of the successive challenges to caliphal authority, one of the contending leaders, Ya’qub b. Layth Saffâr, made Gondêšâpur his residence; whatever further ambitions he may have had were, however, cut short by his sudden death in 265/879. His grave there became one of the city’s sites for its remaining span of existence (Estakhri, p. 93; Ebn Hawqal, p. 256; Mas’udi, Tanbih, p. 368; idem, Muruj, ed. Pellat, sec. 601; Târikh-e Sistân, p. 233; Ebn Khallekân, tr. de Slane, IV, pp. 320-22; Hodud al-’âlam, ed. Sotuda, p. 139, tr. Minorsky, pp. 131, 381-82). During the following century and a half, Gondêšâ-pur gradually faded out of history, although the literary tradition would have it otherwise.



Iranian physician, philosopher and religious critic Zacharia Razi (Rhazes) (860- 923 or 932) born in Rayy (near Tehran), Iran. Razi Produced two standard Medical texts: Kitab al-Mansuri and the Kitab al-Hawi. He also is known to have produced the first Treatise on Small Pox and Measles and for his use of Animal Gut for Sutures and the Plaster of Paris for Casts.

Gondêšâpur’s real fame in the history of Islamic Persia rests on its alleged role in the transmission of Hellenistic learning, or more precisely, of Galenic medicine and the institution of the teaching hospital (bimârestân) to the metropolitan ‘Abbasid society and beyond that to Islamic civilization at large (see BÈMÂRESTÂN and BOKhTÈŠUu‚’ iv, pace Dols, esp. pp. 381-85). The earliest testimony to Gondêšâpur in the context of medical learning refers to a medical-philosophical disputation convened on Khosrow II’s orders in about 610, in which the drustbed (q.v.) Gabriel of Šiggâr participated; the hospital itself first finds specific mention in the events of the year 148/765, when the caliph al-Mansur is said to have summoned the then head of Gondêšâpur’s hospital, Jewarjis b. Jebrâ’il b. Bokhtišu’, to Baghdad (Ebn al-QeftÂi, pp. 158-60). In spite of the dearth of detailed and reliable information about local and regional conditions in the pre-’Abbasid periods, Khhuzestân and in particular the city of Gondêšâpur must be considered the locale where Syro-Persian Nestorians were weaned on what the later biobibliographical authors celebrated as superior medical learning. The information found in narrative sources concerning the derivation of such knowledge during the Sasanian period from outstanding individual Greek and Indian sources, as well as from the local Aramaic and Iranian roots, (see BOKhTIŠU’ and Aydén Saylé, p. 1120) has substantially been corroborated by the extant texts themselves, however limited their scholarly horizon indubitably is. The differential which in the first ‘Abbasid decades obtained between Nestorian medical competence and that of society at large was sufficient to launch the Bokhtišu’ family and others onto a brilliant career in the orbit of the ‘Abbasid court (cf. Jâhez, pp. 109-10; idem, apud Dols, p. 382). Moreover, they rose to the challenge and successively improved their theoretical and practical command of the discipline, not least by rediscovering and eventually passing on to the Muslims, Galen and the other classics of Hellenistic medicine.


A medieval portrait of the sages of medicine: Galen (left), the Iranian Avicenna (center) and Hippocrates (right). (980 -1037). Avicenna (or Abu Ali Sina) was born in Afshana, near (Bukhara), the ancient capital of the Iranian Samanid dynasty. The Arab Scholar Al-Qitfi  has noted that “They (the Persians) made rapid progress in science, developing new methods in the treatment of disease along pharmacological lines so that their therapy was judged superior to that of the Greeks and Hindus” (as cited in Elgood, 1953, p.311, Legacy of Persia (edited by AJ. Arberry), Clarendon Press).

As regards the Gondêšâpur hospital, which for several generations was under Bokhtišu’’s direction and presumably the city’s only such institution, the sources provide only scattered information on how it fared after the Bokhtišu’ finally moved to Baghdad (Dols, pp. 377, 381-82); specifically, the question is whether the death of the last known director, Sâbur b. Sahl, in 255/869 (Ebn al-QeftÂi, p. 207), also spelled the end of the hospital itself.


Primary Sources

Robert McC. Adams and Donald P. Hansen, “Archaeological Reconnaissance and Soundings in Jundi Shâhpur,” Ars Orientalis 7, 1968, 53-70, with appendix by Nabia Abbott, “Jundi Shâhpur: A Preliminary Historical Sketch,” pp. 71-73.

Friedrich Carl Andreas and Walter Bruno Henning, Mitteliranische Manichaica aus Chinesisch-Turkestan III, SPAW, Phil-hist. Kl., Berlin 1934, pp. 848-912, esp. p. 861, ll. 26 f.; repr. in Walter B. Henning, W. B. Henning Selected Papers, Acta Iranica 14, Leiden, 1977, pp. 275-340.

Chronicle of Se’ert, ed. and tr. Addai Ibrahim Scher and Jean Perier, in Patrologia Orientalis, Paris, 1908-50: IV/3, pp. 219-313; V/2, pp. 241-334; VII/2, pp. 99-203; XIII/2, pp. 437-639.

Sarah Clackson et al., Dictionary of Manichaean Texts I: Texts from the Roman Empire (Texts in Syriac, Greek, Coptic and Latin), Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum Subsidia, Ancient History Documentary Research Center, Macquarie University, Brepols and Sydney, 1998, p. 182, s.v. Bhlapat.

Abu Hanifa Dinavari, Ketâb al-akhbâr al-tewâl, ed. V. Guirgass, Leiden, 1888, esp. pp. 48-49, 71, 75; ed. ‘Abd-al-Mon’em ‘Âmer and Jamâl-al-Din Šayyâl, Cairo, 1960, pp. 46, 47.

Ebn al-QeftÂi, Ta’rikh al-hokamâ’, ed. Julius Lippert, Leipzig, 1903.

Philippe Gignoux, Catalogue des sceaux, came‚es et bulles sasanides de la Bibliotheàques nationale et du Muse‚e du Louvre II, Les sceaux et bulles inscrits, Paris, 1978, p. 117, nos. 13.1-2., Pl. LXVI, no. 13.

Rika Gyselen, “Ateliers mone‚taires et cachets officiels sasanides,” Stud. Ir. 8/2, 1979, pp. 189-212.

Idem, La geographie administrative de l’Empire Sassanide: les te‚moignages sigillographiques, Paris, 1989, esp. p. 61.

Philip Huyse, Die dreisprachige Inschrift Šâbuhrs I. an der Ka’ba-i Zardušt (ŠKZ), 2 vols., Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, pt. III Pahlavi Inscriptions I: Royal Inscriptions, London, 1999, esp. I, p. 58, sec. 46; II, pp 156-57.

Abu ‘Othmân ‘Amr b. Bahr Jâhez, Ketâb al-bokhalâ’/Livre des avares, ed. Gerlof van Vloten, Leiden, 1900.

Procopius, De bello Gothico 8:10.9. Theophylactus Simocatta, Historiae 3.5; tr. Peter Schreiner as Geschichte, Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 20, Stuttgart, 1985, p. 93.

Aydén Sayélé, “Gondêshâpur,” in EI2 II, p. 1120.


Michael W. Dols, “The Origins of the Islamic Hospital: Myth and Reality,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61, 1987, pp. 367-90.

Jean Maurice Fiey, “L’Élam, la premieàre des me‚tropoles eccle‚siastiques syriennes orientales,” Melto 5, 1969, pp. 221-67; repr. in idem, Communaute‚s syriaques en Iran et Irak des origines aà 1552, Variorum Reprints, London, 1979, no. IIIa.

Theodore Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, esp. pp. XXI, 40-42; tr. ‘Abbâs Zaryâb Kho’i as Târikh-e Irâniân wa ‘Arabhâ dar zamân-e Sâsâniân, Tehran, 1358 Š./1980.

Paul Peeters, “S. De‚mëtrianus e‚vêque d’Antioche?” Analecta Bollandiana 42, 1924, pp. 288-314.

Wolfgang Schwaigert, “Das Christentum in Khuzistân im Rahmen der frühen Kirchengeschichte Persiens bis zur Synode von Seleukeia-Ktesiphon im Jahre 410,” Ph.D. Diss., Philipps Üniversität, Marburg, 1989, esp. pp. 27-33.

A new Generation of Iranian Actress: Saye Yabandeh


A dynamic, passionate actress and filmmaker, SAYE YABANDEH is constantly seeking out strong female roles to perform, pairing her exotic appearance with unique, driven characters.  And as a film and TV producer, she strives to bring only the highest-quality projects to the screen; real stories that will connect with everyone in a special way.


Saye Yabandeh is among a dynamic new generation of new Iranian acresses. For more information please see:;  see also

Growing up in her native Iran was difficult, where choices for an ambitious young woman like Saye were very limited.  After deciding to use film to build a platform to share a message with the world, Saye chose to move to Los Angeles and studied acting at The Meisner Center and directing at UCLA.  She is fluent in English and Persian, and has traveled much of the world for plays and film roles.


Film clips of Saye Yabandeh. Note her versatility in different roles as well as her surprising agility and proficiency in handling swords.

Aside from acting in a number of excellent movies, Saye has worked many different positions on various sets, building her producing experience from the ground up.  After working with Persian and Global TV for several years and providing hours and hours of content, Saye still enjoys the challenges of producing, bringing a team together and surrounding herself with good people with positive attitudes, who believe in a project and will see it through.

One of her best memories in film was while “working on a short film in the desert where we were doing stunts and fights in 120 degrees wearing black leather.  Even though strong winds blew craft services away, there were still smiles among the cast and crew.  Everyone on that shoot was looking out for each other.  That kind of experience, the memories…amazing!”


An on-line tribute to the works of Saye Yabandeh.

Saye believes strongly in maintaining a good quality of life, and understands the importance of balance between work and personal harmony. As a professional swimmer, health, fitness, and a positive mental attitude are key to her existence.

Part of that positive mental attitude is exhibited in her efforts to affect the world by being an answer to individuals with problems.  She donates her time to a number of causes and has hosted several charity events, including the Persian Relief Center, which provides aid for Persians in the United States who need help.

Saye is currently wrapping her performance in a well-reviewed play in Los Angeles, and is in the early phase of production on several exciting film projects. Below is promotional video for her latest film “5th & Alameda”:

Nabil Rastani: The Guards of the Shahanshah-How to fight, Carry Weapons, Ride Horses and Learn Archery


The article below is by Nabil Rastani which was originally posted on on October 27, 2010. The only difference in the version printed below is that there are pictures and videos not displayed in the original posting.

The author of the article, Nabil Rastani, makes the following acknowledgment below:

Many thanks to Dr Kaveh Farrokh for research into Achaemenid Empires and their military forces namely via the booksShadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War ” and Pierre. Briant: Histoire de l’empire Perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre.

Darius Kadivar, a highly respected writer and critic, also praises the Rastani article by noting:

Enjoyed this greatly  Nabil Rastani Jaan. Kaveh Farrokh’s “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War  is a Must Read along with Pierre Briant’s Histoire de l’empire Perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre. Both have done a great job in making Persian History palpable to equally Non Iranians as well as Iranians. Also Kaveh Farrokh’s contributions to the HBO Documentary: “Engineering an Empire” is noteworthy.  Thank you again for this wonderful article.

Readers are also referred to the following page (in Persian) which introduces Yusef Amiri’s Persian translation of Nicholas Sekunda’s “The Persian Army: 560-330 BC” (Osprey Publishing, 1992) معرفی کتاب ارتش هخامنشیان– soon to be published in Iran. For more books and and information on ancient Iranian armies, refer to Yusef Amiri’s Asvaran Blog (click here).

Before reading the article below by Nabil Rastani, readers are drawn to the following quote by Professor Pierre Briant:

Achaemenid research still suffers from persistent marginalization in the academic world… Achaemenid studies have been persistently undervalued…”  Link:

Professor Pierre Briant


The Immortal (Anûšiya or Anauša) were an elite regiment of hand picked men trained from childhood into elite warriors; they were the imperial guard of the Achaemenid Shahs. According to Herodotus of Halicarnassus the reason why they were called the immortals was because “it was invariably kept up to strength; if a man was killed or fell sick, the vacancy he left was at once filled, so that the total strength of the corps was never less -and never more- than ten thousand.” Surviving Achaemenid colored glazed bricks and carved reliefs represent the Immortals as wearing elaborate robes and gold jewelry, though these garments and accessories were most likely worn only for ceremonial occasions.

Founding and Formation of the Immortals

Cyrus the Great was truly the “King of the four corners of the World” he became the ruler of the most powerful empire on earth -the Assyrians, Bablyonians, Medes, Kurds, Lydians, Parthians, Turks, Armenians and Ionians were all under the heel of the Persians. This was then an empire that stretched from the river Indus to Hellespont in the boarder between Europe. During Cyrus’s conquests, 10,000 of his finest troops were gathered together to create a new regiment – the immortals these were all Iranian men who loyally served the King to their death.

A depiction of a Mede Cavalryman of the later Achaemenid era.

Cyrus’s death is of a mystery, Greek historian Herodotus says that he went up against Massagetaen army and was killed were his head was cut of a dipped in blood. Ctesias claimed that he was slain while attempting to put down a revolt which was aided by Scythian archers and cavalry, plus Indians and their battle elephants, the Persians were heavily outnumbered. Xenophon however tells us in his Cyropaedia that Cyrus died peaceably at his capital of Pasargadae.

Weapons and Training

Only Iranians could join the immortal regiments, they were trained from childhood and young Iranian boys went through rigorous training, according to Strabo, and had to be able to withstand hardship, and so they had to learn to live on wild fruits such as pistachio, acorns, pomegranates and wild pears. The young boys also had to have the ability to tame a wild horse. They learned how to fight, carry weapons, ride horses and then learn the art of archery. Herodotus tells us that the coming of the age of the Immortals was 15 until the age of 50 were they retired and were provided with a form of “ancient pension”. The immortals wore heavy scale amour “looking like the scales of a fish” and thick leather amour, which would have been boiled .They had felt caps which could be pulled over the face to keep out wind and dust in the arid Persian plains it is also possible that during battles they had some from of metal helmet such as bronze. The Immortals wielded shields made from wicker and wood they had their own famous “viola style shields”. This was used to offer protection as well as allowing the user to have the ability to attack an opponent. Three main attacking weapons were used by the immortal infantry, this was the spear a mid range weapon that was 2.5 meters long combat, razor sharp and made from ash wood that’s purpose of this weapon was thrusting. The second weapon for long range was the powerful long bow, this weapon was very powerful and deadly in the correct hands, the immortals being highly skilled could even take out an opponent while on the move. It is possible that the arrows were dipped in Indian cobra poison for more effectiveness against enemies, however no solid evidence is provided on the matter. The close quarter combat weapon was the double edged sword, this was a razor sharp sword that was about 1.25 meters or so long, it would have been ceremonially decorated with a handle engraved with lion heads and gold. It was used for hacking and thrusting. However this was a weapon that was rarely used, it was more or less used for duals with other high ranking warriors and elites. Other weapons and equipment includes the Sagaris, a legendary axe like weapons for dismounting enemies from their horses, it was also an amour piecing weapon and one of its main function was to be used against the heavily armored Greek Hoplites and Scythian cavalry. Greek Hoplon shields made from 2 inches of oak could have been hacked to pieces by the Sagaris axe. Immortals also seemed to have had a but spike on the end of their spear in the shape of a pomegranate these depending on their rank were either pure sliver or gold, they would have been firmly balanced on the immortals toes. According to some historians and scholars they had golden chains and bracelets, possibly a sign of their wealth or high rank in the Achaemenid Persian army.

Achaemenid Achenakes. Note the lion and ram motifs, both symbols of ancient Iran (Copyright, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani,  Arms & Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period ,  2006).

Organization of the Immortals

Immortals were split into regiments; these included were made up of the quality of the soldiers as well as their social status. The highest rank of the immortals was the “purple regiments” these were the crème of the Immortals and provided the solid guard of the King, the purple dye known as “Tyrian purple” was collected from a type of sea snail this dye was extremely expensive. These Immortals made up 1,000 of the 10,000 soldiers and had gold pomegranates instead of the standard sliver ones. Other regiments included yellow, red and blue immortals. Immortals regiments was followed by a caravan of covered carriages, camels, and mules that transported their supplies, along with concubines and attendants to serve them; this supply train carried special food that was reserved only for their consumption. Some of the high ranking officers of the Immortals would have killed lions, cheetahs or leopards as a sign of their skill and bravely, similar to that, that was accustom to the Shahs of the Achaemenid Empire. These officers would have then worn the fur of the animal that they would have slain.


Ethiopian marine (left), Iranian warrior (centre) and Iranian spearbearer (Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey Publications, 1992, Plate C; Paintings by Simon Chew). 

Appearances in battles

By far, the Immortals were famed for being used mainly against the Greeks, their where perhaps several contacts between Greeks and Immortals but none of more famous than that of the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC). This battle is well known by historians and is heavily exaggerating in the media. Xerxes and his vast army had set out to Greece to take of Athens and the other states surrounding her. The Greeks decided to form an alliance with each other to fight of the Persian invaders. The fierce state of Sparta was in command of the armies. The Spartan king “Leonidas I” decided to meet the Persians in a set piece battle, at the “hot gates” a narrow pass in northern Greece were there is little room to maneuver forces and solders are all down to quality rather than quantity. The Greeks marched with 7,000 troops (300 Spartans) to the pass in the summer of 480 BC. The Persian army, alleged by the ancient sources to have numbered in the millions (obviously a hyperbole), arrived at the pass in late August or early September. Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held off the Persians for seven days in total (including three of battle), before the rear-guard was annihilated in one of histories most famous last stands. One the first day Xerxes was actually shocked and surprised of the fact the Greeks would dare stand up to his force with such little numbers. The Greek formation was known as the “Phalanx formation”. The hoplites would lock their shields together, and the first few ranks of soldiers would project their spears out over the first rank of shields. The phalanx therefore presented a shield wall and a forest of spear points to the enemy, making frontal assaults much more difficult. It also allowed a higher proportion of the soldiers to be actively engaged in combat at a given time (rather than just those in the front rank). Xerxes offered surrender to the Leonidas and his men in return for freedom. Leondias refused and after being asked to give their weapons’ up with the famed reply “come and get them”. The battle was to commence, Xerxes first sent in his lightly armed Medes these men wore leather amour with spears and shields. These men were slaughtered in their thousands. Thereafter Xerxes prepared to send in the immortals and Xerxes anticipated that the Greeks would, “being so few, be now disabled by wounds and could no longer resist.”


Achemenid Persian officers as they would have appeared during Xerxes’ invasion of Greece.

The immortals were moved in on the second day of the battle at the crack of dawn. The two most powerful armies stood facing each other in the narrow pass only a few meters away from one another. The commander of the Immortals, Hydarnes (Old Persian Vidarna: “the ripper”) led the charge, before the charge however these warriors send a shock wave throughout the Greek lines causing them to waver but, quickly Leonidias rallied them and the Immortals charged impaling themselves on the forest of Greeks spears, and failed to penetrate their formation. The reason for their defeat was because of the higher quality of the Spartans and Greeks, as well as this they wore heavy Bronze breastplates and Corinthian helmets. The superior training of the Greeks especially the Spartans made a large difference to the outcome of the second day’s battle. Persian Immortal weapons although very competent against other Asian armies, failed to pose a serious threat to that of the Greeks, the Greek armor offered high quality protection and Immortals found it relatively hard to piece through them. However the Greek Dory spear proved fatal against that the of Immortals. A strike from the spear in the correct position could penetrate Immortal scale armor. Even the shields could be pierced if striked at a correct angle and speed.Late on the second day of battle, however, as the Persian king was pondering what to do next and anticipating defeat, he received a windfall; a Trachinian traitor named Ephialtes informed him of the mountain path around Thermopylae and offered to guide the Persian army. Ephialtes was motivated by the desire of a reward. For this act, the name of Ephialtes received a lasting stigma, his name coming to mean “nightmare” in the Greek language and becoming the archetypal traitor in Greek culture.

Court Eunuch (left), King Xerxes (centre) and Royal Spearbearer (right). (Nick Sekunda, The Persian Army, Osprey Publications, 1992, Plate B; Paintings by Simon Chew).

Herodotus reports that Xerxes sent his commander Hydarnes that evening, with the men under his command, the Immortals, to encircle the Greeks via the path. However, he does not say who those men are. The Immortals had been bloodied on the first day, so it is possible that Hydarnes may have been given overall command of an enhanced force including what was left of the Immortals, and indeed, according to Diodorus, Hydarnes had a force of 20,000 for the mission. The path led from east of the Persian camp along the ridge of Mt. Anopaea behind the cliffs that flanked the pass. It branched with one path leading to Phocis and the other down to the Malian Gulf at Alpenus, first town of Locris.

The final day led to the destruction of the Greek army these included the famous 300 Spartans who fought the death. After the victory Xerxes ordered the bodies of his men to be buried so as not to affect the moral of his own men. A furious Xerxes cut the head of Leondias and stuck it on a pole. Other examples of battles that included the Immortals are the Battle of Marathon (490BC) the Battle of Salamis in Cyprus (480BC) the Battle of Issus (333BC) the Battle of Gaugamela (331BC) and possibly the Battle of the Persian Gate (330BC) it was at these two battles that under Alexander the Greats attack the Achaemenid Persian Empire fell.

Immortals in Media and Popular Culture

Immortals have appeared in media often, Frank Millers 2007 film 300 heavily fictionalized the appearance of the Immortals; these Immortals wear menpō-style metal masks, and carry a pair of swords closely resembling Japanese wakizashis. The earlier 1962 film The 300 Spartans includes a far less fanciful depiction of the Immortals, who carry a spear and wicker shields like the actual Immortals. However, they are mostly dressed in black and other dark colors, as opposed to historical depictions. In historical documentaries the Immortals are portrayed differently in the “last stand of the 300”, in this version, the helmet the Immortals habitually wear is depicted here as full-face black cloth mask transparent enough to see through. The television program “Deadliest Warrior” featured the Immortals in a comparative (though fictional) battle against the 6th century Celts of Gaul (France) with the out come being the Immortals becoming victorious. The battle was made through of series of different tests, testing out the weapons tactics and training of the two warriors and entering the results into a computer to reveal the true “deadliest warrior”.


Greek depiction of Darius the Great (seated on throne in top row at centre) debating with his advisors as to whether he should invade Greece in 490 BC. Prince Xerxes is seen on the top row, second from the right.

The Immortals also feature in several strategy computer games, including Rome total war Alexander, a game that features the Immortals as the elite guards of the Achaemenid Kings; they are generally shown as being historically accurate except for their lack of armor and discipline. They also appear in the game Civilization III (where the Immortals are an infantry unit uniquely available to the Persians, though in its sequel, Civilization IV, they are inaccurately depicted as a mounted unit).


The title of “Immortals” was first revived under the Sassanid army. The most famous of the Savaran units were the Zhayedan (Immortals) and numbered 10,000 men, like the Achaemenid predecessors, with the difference that they were cavalry. Their task was mainly to secure any breakthroughs and to enter battles at crucial stages.

The Jyanavspar with the Sassanian style of sword-forward thrust – known in the West as the “Italian Grip”. The Warrior is engaged against Roman troops during the failed invasion of Emperor Julian in 363 AD (Farrokh, Sassanian Elite Cavalry, 2005, Plate D; Paintings by Angus McBride).

The title of “Immortals” was again revived under the Byzantine Empire, under the Emperor Michael VII (1071–1081). His general Nikephoros reorganized the central field army (“Tagmata”) of the Eastern Empire following the disastrous defeat of Manzikert by the Turks in 1071. The remnants of the provincial troops of the Eastern Themes (military provinces) were brought together in a new Imperial Guard regiment named after the Persian Immortals and reportedly also numbering about 10,000 men.


The Pushtighban Heavy Knights of the Royal Guard charging into Roman lines during Emperor Julian’s failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in 363 AD (Farrokh, Sassanian Elite Cavalry, 2005, Plate D; Paintings by Angus McBride).

Many centuries later during the Napoleonic Wars/Wars of the Coalitions, French soldiers referred to Napoleon’s Imperial Guard as “the Immortals. The modern Iranian Army under the last Shah included an all volunteer Javidan Guard, also known as the “Immortals” after the ancient Persian royal guard. The “Immortals” were based in the Lavizan Barracks in Tehran. By 1978 this elite force comprised a brigade of 4,000–5,000 men, including a battalion of Chieftain Tanks. Following the overthrow of the Imperial regime in 1979 the “Immortals” were disbanded.

Above is an excellent reconstruction of a Sassanian cavalryman; his armor, nail and helmet have been especially well reconstructed.

Sources and Bibliography

Many thanks to Dr Kaveh Farrokh for research into Achaemenid Empires and their military forces namely via the books “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War  and Pierre Briant’s Histoire de l’empire Perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre.

Histoire de l’empire perse: De Cyrus à Alexandre, Paris, 1996. Gh. Gnoli, “Antico-persiano anušya- [sic] e gli immortali di Erodoto,” in J. Duchesne-Guillemin and P. Lecoq, eds., Monumentum Georg Morgenstierne I, Acta Iranica 21, Leiden, 1981, pp. 266-80. C. Hignett, Xerxes’ Invasion of Greece, Oxford, 1963. A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948. A. Pagliaro, “Fortuna di parole iraniche in occidente,” Asiatica 9, 1943, pp. 36-42. Idem, “Riflessi di etimologie iraniche nella tradizione storiografica greca,” Rendiconti dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, 8th series, vol. 9, 1954, pp. 133-53. N. Sekunda, The Persian Army 560-330 BC, London, 1992. Wikipedia Alexander the Great and Cyrus the Great.

Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani: Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour-The Streshinskiy Collection


A new book by Dr. manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, ,Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection  provides an outstanding and rare private collection of oriental arms and armour captured in high quailty paper, best quality leather jacket encrusted with silver-inlaid inscriptions, a magnificent silver filigree sculpture in shape of a dagger on the cover made by renowned sculpter and silversmith, breath-taking miniatures from Iranian museums, top-quality pictures of artifacts taken by a world-class photographer, period Persian manuscripts, up-to-date research based on original manuscripts and an outstanding book design made by a famed publisher make up a unique book tiltled Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection

the text is an exemplary academic text-book as well as being an artistic masterpiece.  The quality of paper and pictures are of an  excellent calibre such that artifiacts have an almost life-like quality to  the reader. The pictures even appear to be three-dimensional thrusting the reader to a world of mystery and wonderful images of oriental arms and armor emanating from the cultures of the Middle East, India, North Africa and Indonesia.

See pictures 1-5 below which pertain to the cover of the book Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection– readers are directed to the silver filigree scupture in shape of a dagger.

Picture 1 (Copyright M.M. Khorasani, 2010)

Picture 2 (Copyright M.M. Khorasani, 2010)


Picture 3 (Copyright M.M. Khorasani, 2010)


Picture 4 (Copyright M.M. Khorasani, 2010)


Picture 5 (Copyright M.M. Khorasani, 2010)

One of the striking features of the Streshinskiy collection is that it not only offers a unique array of historical weapons from North Africa, Arabian Penninsula, Ottoman Empire, Persia/Iran, Afghanistan, India and Indonesia but it also offers quality items from all of those cultures. From breath-taking sculpted jade handles of daggers from India reminding readers of fascinating court ceremonies and events to the sharp blades of Sudanese swords reminiscent of elephant-hunters and takouba swords wielded by Tuareg warriors, the collection encompasses all.   

Picture 6: A Persian khanjar next to a picture of a khanjar from the Streshinskiy collection.

Next to a detailed description of crucible steel patterns described in Persian and Arab manuscripts, the book Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection shows four beautiful miniatures from Iranian museums.  One of the miniatures from the Persian manuscript Šāhnāme-ye Bāysonqori from the 15 century is titled “Jamšid teaching his people the trades and crafts” shows the Persian King Jamšid and his enthronement. The miniature shows the forging process of armor, horse armor and helmet, hammering out crucible steel bars and a man bellowing a crucible steel forge.  The miniature is titled “Rostam and Siyāvaš conquer Balx” and is taken from a manuscript of the Šāhnāme-ye Šāh Tahmāsbi.  The third miniature titled “Rostam lassoes the Emperor of Turkestān,” taken from the manuscript of the Šāhnāme-ye Bāysonqori, Rostam, the Persian hero, is shown unsaddling and pulling down the emperor of Turkestān from his elephant by using a lasso.  The fourth miniature from a Šāhnāme-ye Šāh Tahmāsbi manuscript showing Sohrāb who has tackled down Rostam (the Persian hero) and is about to attack him with a khanjar (xanjar). 

Picture 7: A Persian kard next to a picture of a kard from the Streshinskiy collection.

Picture 8: Another Persian khanjar next to a picture of a khanjar from the Streshinskiy collection.

Picture 9: A Persian qame next to a picture of a Persian qame from the Streshinskiy collection.

This wonderful book is offered by the publisher Antiga Arabia headquartered in AbuDhabi and comes as a limited edition book.  The pictures are taken by the master photographer Andrey Bronnikov who has an international fame in professional photography.  The paper is of top quality which is Pure Cotton Conqueror 160 gr and Larius Matt 170 gr.  The book is printed in Italy by Grafiche Antiga spa, Crocetta del Montello (TV) in September 2010 and also hand-bound in Italy by L’Arte del Libro, Pantalla di Todi (PG).

Picture 10: A Caucasian kindjal next to a picture of a Caucasian kindjal from the Streshinskiy collection.

Picture 11: An Arab dagger next to a picture of an Arab dagger from the Streshinskiy collection.


Picture 12: The bag for maintaining the book made of silk with silver-thread inscriptions.

The 800 Ct Sterling Silver encrusting in shape of a dagger which appears on the cover of the book is a faithful reproduction of the 1900 C.E. Jambiya from Mecca which is depicted on page 107 of the book.  The original master-cast was sculpted and engraved by Ivan Daviskiba.  The silver encrusted dagger on the front cover of the book is an art in itself.  For more information and ordering the book consult:

Dt. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani recently published a book entitled “Lexicon of Atms and Armor from Iran” on October 1st, 2010– Dr. Khorasani’s book on the lexicon is the first academic book ever to be written on the lexicon and terminology of Iranian arms and warfare. Dr. Khorasani’s first book, Arms & Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period is also unique in that it is the first textbook of its kind to provide an exhaustive and detailed compendium on the history, development, description and analysis of Iranian arms and armor from the bronze age to the Qajar era:

To rrder these books, please click on the Legat Publishers link or order directly from LEGAT Publishers: Alexander Frank ( +49 (0) 70 73 / 30 24 49; Mobile +49 (0)179 / 453 61 21



Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, the world’s leading expert on the history of Iranian and Oriental arms. armour and firearms.