A Survey and History of the Persian Population of the Caucasus

The article below “A Survey and History of the Persian population of the Caucasus” has been written by Farroukh Jorat. Kindly note that the images and accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original article by Jorat.


Tats (variants of name: Caucasian Persians, Transcaucasian Persians) are the Iranian ethnos, presently living on the territory of Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation (mainly Southern Dagestan). Variants of self-designation (depending on the region) are Tati, Parsi, Daghli, Lohijon. Tats use Tati language, which together with Persian, Dari and Tajiki relates to the south-western Iranian languages. Azeri Turkic and the Russian language are also spread among Tats. Tats mainly are Shia Moslems, with a little number of Sunni Moslems.

History. Earliest mentioning about the presence of Persians in Transcaucasia relates to the martial expansion of Achaemenids (558-330 BC), during which they annexed Transcaucasia as the X, XI, XVIII and XIX satrapies of their empire [1]. This information has been verified by the archaeological investigations on the territory of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, during which ruins of Achaemenid architecture, pieces of jewelry and crockery have been discovered.

Achaemenid Palace at Qarajamirli

Excavation of the Achaemenid building at Qarajamirli. The researchers Babaev, Gagoshidze, Knauß and Florian in 2007 (An Achaemenid “Palace” at Qarajamirli (Azerbaijan) Preliminary Report on the Excavations in 2006. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2,, pp. 31-45(15)) discovered the remains of a monumental building as well as fragments of limestone column bases. This follows closely the plan of an Achaemenid palace featuring a symmetrical ground plan for the building as well as architectural sculpture. The pottery found on the floor closely follow Persian models from theAchaemenid era. Similar structures have been excavated from Sary Tepe (Republic of Azerbaijan) and Gumbati (Georgia). The Sary Tepe, Gumbati and Qarajamirli buildings can be interpreted as residences of Persian officials who left the region when Achaemenid Empire collapsed … for more on this topic see here

Nevertheless, there haven’t been more information about numerous and permanent Persian population in Transcaucasia since the Achaemenid period. It’s most likely to suppose that ancestors of modern Tats resettled to Transcaucasia in the time of the dynasty of Sassanids (III-VII CE), who built cities and founded military garrisons to strengthen their positions in this region [3].

Shah Khosrau I Anoushirvan (531-579) had presented a title of the regent of Shirvan (the region in the Eastern Transcaucasia) to a close relative of his, who later became a progenitor of the first Shirvanshah dynasty (about 510- 1538) [4].

Panoramic view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

After the region had been conquered by Arabs (VII-VIII) Islamization of the local population began. Since the XI century tribes of Oghuz, led by Seljuq dynasty started to penetrate into that region. A gradual formation of Azeri Turkic started. Apparently in this period an external name «Tat» or «Tati» was assigned to Transcaucasian dialect of the Persian language. This name came of Turkic term «tat», which designated settled farmers (mainly Persians) [5].

Mongols conquered Transcaucasia in the 30s of the XII century and the state of Ilkhanate was founded. Mongolian domination lasted till 60 – 70s of the XIV century, but that didn’t stop culture from developing – prominent poets and scientists lived and worked there during the XIII – XIV centuries.

In the end of the XIV century Transcaucasia was invaded by the army of Tamerlane. By the end the XIV-XV centuries the state of Shirvanshahs had obtained a considerable power, its diplomatic and economic ties had become stronger. By the middle of the XVI century the state of Shirvanshahs had been eliminated, Transcaucasia had been joined to the Safavidian Iran almost completely.


Map of the Caucasus region during the Safavid era (Source: Encyclopedia Iranica).

In the middle of the XVIII century Russia started to widen its influence over Transcaucasia. In the course of the Russian-Persian wars 1803-1828 Transcaucasian region became a part of the Russian Empire.

Since that time we can use data about quantity and settling of Tats, collected by tsarist authorities. When the city of Baku was occupied in the beginning of the XIX century, the whole population of the city (about 8000 of people) were Tats. This is an official result of the first census of the population of Baku, gained by Tsarist authorities.

According to the «Calendar of Caucasus» of the year 1894 there were 124693 of Tats in Transcaucasia [7]. But because of the gradual spreading of Azeri Turkic, Tati was passing out of use. During the Soviet period, after the official term «Azerbaijani» had been introduced into practice in the end of 1930s, the ethnic self-consciousness of Tats changed greatly. Many of them started to call themselves «azerbaijani», if in 1926 about 28443 of tats had been counted [8], in 1989 only 10239 of people recognized themselves as Tats [9].

In the year 2005 American researches, which carried out investigations in several villages of Guba, Devechi, Khizi, Siyazan, Ismailli and Shemakha districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, indicated 15553 of Tats in these villages.

Summing up we can draw a conclusion, that there is no precise information about the real number of people speaking Tati, but we can presume, that today there are about several thousand of native speakers of Tati living in some villages of Guba, Devechi, Khizi, Siyazan, Ismailli and Shemakha districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan and also in several villages of Southern Dagestan.

Local self-designation of groups of Tati population. Ethnonym «Tati» has Turkic origin; it has been used in Transcaucasia since Middle Ages for naming local Persian-speaking population. Later Persians of Transcaucasia have started to use this ethnonym for naming themselves. The majority of Tati population of Azerbaijan and Southern Dagestan uses the term «tati» or «tat» as a self-designation. Nevertheless today there are some other self-designations of local groups of «Tati» population in Azerbaijan, like- parsi, daghli, lohuj [11].

Parsi. The term «parsi» has been used by tats of Apsheron (Balakhani, Surakhani villages) till the present day as self-designation and also as an indication of tati language «zuhun parsi». This term relates to Middle Persian self-designation of Persians – pārsīk. It is interesting, that the same term also stood for the Middle Persian language itself; compare with – «pārsīk ut pahlavīk» – Persian and Parthian. During the New Iranian language period the final consonant naturally fell off and New Persian form of ethnonym was supposed to become pārsī. But this form wasn’t used in Iran and was replaced by Arabized (and artificial in certain respects) form – fārs.

An Iranian man of the Russian Empire photographed sometime in 1870-1886 (Source: Alex Q. Arbuckle in Mashable Website).

Most likely that Ethnonym «parsi» had been the original self-designation of Transcaucasian Persians, till it was replaced by Turkic name «tat». It is significant to mention that some groups of Persian-speaking population of Afghanistan together with Zoroastrians of India (so-called Parsi) use the term «Parsi» as a self-designation.


(LEFT) Talysh girls from the Republic of Azerbaijan (ancient Arran or Albania) engaged in the Nowruz celebrations of March 21. The Talysh speak an Iranian language akin to those that were spoken throughout Iranian Azarbaijan before the full onset of linguistic Turkification by the 16-17th century CE (RIGHT) Young girls in Baku celebrating the Nowruz.

Lohijon. Citizens of tati settlement Lahij of Ismailli district name themselves after their village «Lohuj» (plural «Lohijon»). Lahij is the most densely populated tati urban village (about 10 thousand citizens). It is situated in the region, which is rather difficult of access; this fact has prevented local population from contacts with outside world and has led to creation of their own isolated self-designation «Lohuj».

Daghli Tats of Khizi district and partly of Devechi and Siyazan districts use another term of Turkic origin – «daghli» («mountaineers») for naming themselves. Obviously, this term has later origin and initially was used by Turki plainsmen of that district for naming tati population living in mountains. In time as a result of spreading of Azeri Turkic, the term «daghli» has strongly come into use and tats of Khizi district started to use it as a self-designation themselves.

At present Tats are making attempts to return to the original self-designation «parsi» together with use of Persian language as a literary standard.

At the 14th of December 1990 during the board of the Ministry of justice of the Azerbaijan SSR the cultural and educational society «Azeri» for studying and development of Tati language, history and ethnography was founded. The primer and the textbook of Tati language together with literary and folklore pieces were published.

Farming Traditional occupations of the Tati population are ploughing agriculture, vegetable-growing, gardening and cattle-breeding. Main cultures are barley, rye, wheat, millet, sunflower, maize, potatoes and peas. Large vineyards and fruit gardens are widespread. Sheep, cows, horses, donkeys, buffalos and rarely camels are kept as domestic cattle.

Blank wall of traditional one- or two-story houses was facing the street. Houses are made of rectangular limestone blocks or river shingles. The roof is flat with an opening for the stone flue pipe of the fireplace. The upper store of the house was used for habitation; household quarters (like kitchen etc.) were situated on the ground floor. One of walls of the living room was provided with several niches for storing of clothes, bed linen and sometimes crockery. Rooms were illuminated by lamps or through the opening in the roof. House furniture consisted of low couches, carpets and mattresses. Fireplaces, braziers and ovens were used for heating.

The closed yard had a garden. There was a verandah (ayvan), a paved drain or a small basin (tendir), covered cattle-pan, stable and hen-house.

Religion Originally Persians, like the majority of other Iranian peoples, were Zoroastrians. After they had been enslaved by Arabian caliphate, Islam became widely spread. Today tats mainly are Shia Moslems, with a little number of Sunni Moslems.

Culture During a long period of time naturalize Persian settlers of Transcaucasia have interacted with surrounding ethnic groups sharing their culture and adopting some elements of other cultures simultaneously. Useful arts like carpet-making, hand-weaving, manufacture of metal fabrics, embossing and incrustation are highly developed. The arts of ornamental design and miniature are also very popular [12].

Spoken folk art of tats is very rich. Genres of national poetry like ruba’is, ghazals, beyts are highly developed. While studying works of Persian medieval poets of Transcaucasia – Khaqani Nezami – some distinctive features peculiar to the Tati language have been revealed.

Baku Fire Temple-UNESCO

The main fire altar at the Atashgah or Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. 

As a result of long historical co-existence of tats and Azerbaijani Turkis a lot of common features in the field of farming, housekeeping and culture have developed. Modern Azerbaijani folklore apparently has grown up from Iranian substratum [13].

Traditional women clothes: long shirt, wide trousers worn outside, slim line dress, outer unbuttoned dress, headscarf and morocco stockings, men clothes: Circassian coat, high fur-cap. Great number of Tats live in mountains, work for the industry, social group of intelligentsia has formed.

An elderly Iranian man from the Caucasus as photographed by George Kennan in 1871 (Source: Pinterest).

Tats, Mountain Jews and Armenians

The Tati language was widely spread in Eastern Transcaucasia. It is proved by the fact that down to the XX-th century it had been used by the non-Moslem groups of population: mountain Jews, part of Armenians and Udins [14]. This fact has led to a false idea, that Tats (Moslem), tati-speaking Mountain Jews and tati-speaking Armenians (Christians) are one nation, practicing three different religions.

Tats and Mountain Jews

Mountain Jews belong to the community of Persian-speaking Jews on the basis of the language and some other characteristics. Some groups of this community live in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia (Bukharian Jews). Jews of the Central Asia got the name «Mountain» only in the XIX century, when all Caucasian peoples were named «mountain» in official Russian documentation. Mountain Jews call themselves «Yeudi» («Jews») or «Juhuri» [15].

In the year 1888 A. Sh. Anisimov showing the closeness of languages of mountain Jews and Caucasian Persians (Tats) in his work «Caucasian Jews-Mountaineers» came to a conclusion, that mountain Jews were representatives of «Iranian family of Tats», which had adopted Judaism in Iran and later moved to Transcaucasia.

Ideas of Anisimov were supported during the Soviet period: the popularization of the idea of the mountain Jews «tati» origin started in 30-s. By efforts of several mountain Jews, closely connected with regime, the false idea of mountain Jews being non-jews at all, but «Judaismized» tats became widely spread. Some Mountain Jews started to register themselves as tats because of secret pressure from the direction of authorities.


A Daghestani couple photographed in 1910 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (Source: Reorientmag).

As a result of this situation words «tat» and «mountain Jew» became synonyms. The term «tat» was mistakenly used in the research literature as the second or even first naming for Mountain Jews.

This brought to the situation when the whole cultural heritage (literature, theatre, music), created by Mountain Jews during the Soviet period, was arrogated to Tats despite the fact that they had nothing in common with it.

Furthermore, comparing physic-anthropological characteristics of Tats and Mountain Jews together with the information about their languages, we can see that there are no signs of ethnic unity between these two nations.

Grammatical structure of Mountain Jews dialect is much older than the tati language itself. That creates a certain communication gap. [Generally speaking, archaic basis is typical for all «Jewish» languages: for Sephardis language (ladino), which is old-Spanish, for Ashkenazi language (Yiddish) – old-German and etc. At the same time all of these languages are satiated with words of old-Jewish origin.] Having turned to the Persian language, Jews nevertheless kept a layer of adoptions from Aramaic and Old-Jewish languages in their dialect, including those words, which were not connected with Judaic rituals (zoft«resin», nokumi «envy», ghuf «body», keton «linen» etc.) Some word combinations in the language of Mountain Jews have a structure typical for old-Jewish language.

Physic-anthropological types of Caucasian Persians (Tats) and Mountain Jews not only bear no similarities, they are almost opposite to each other.


Two residents of Derbent in the early 20th century (Source: Reorientmag).

In the year 1913 anthropologist K.M. Kurdov carried out measurements of a large group of Tati population of Lahij village and revealed fundamental difference (cephalic index average value is 79,21) of their physic-anthropological type from the type of mountain Jews. Measurements of Tats and Mountain Jews were also made by some other researches.  Cephalic index average value for the Tats of The Republic of Azerbaijan differs from 77,13 to 79,21, for Mountain Jews of Daghestan and The Republic of Azerbaijan  – form 86,1 до 87,433. Some measurements have also showed that, for Tats mesocephalia and dolichocephalia are typical, while extreme brachycephalia is typical for Mountain Jews, hence there are no facts proving that these two nations are related.

Moreover, dermatoglyphics characteristics (relief of the inside of the palm) of the Tats and Mountain Jews also exclude ethnic similarity.

It is evident, that speakers of Mountain-Jew dialect and Tati language are representatives of two different nations, each owing its own religion, ethnic consciousness, self-designation, way of life, material and mental values.

Tats and Armenians Some sources and publications of XVIII-XX indicate citizens of several Tati-speaking village of Transcaucasia as Armenian Tats, Armeno-Tats, Christian Tats and Gregorian Tats. Authors of these works offered a hypothesis that a part of Persians of Eastern Transcaucasia had adopted Armenian Apostolic Christianity, but they do not take into consideration the fact that those citizens identify themselves as Armenians.

However, the hypothesis that Tati-speaking Armenians are descended from Persians can’t be called reliable and well-founded for several reasons.


An illustration of Baku’s Zoroastrian fire temple (Persian: Atashgah) from John Usher’s 1865 travelogue, A Journey from London to Persepolis (Source: Reorientmag).

Within political situation existing in Transcaucasia in the time of Sassanids and later under Moslem dynasties, Christianity wasn’t a privileged religion. Zoroastrianism dominated in the time of Sassanids, later – Islam. Under such circumstances there were no stimuli for Persian population to reduce their high social status by adopting Christianity.

If Tati-speaking Armenians had been descendant to Persians, they should have used at least some Iranian terms connected with Christian way of life and rituals. But there no such words in their language, which they call themselves «Parseren», i.e. «Persian». All words related to Christianity are exceptionally Armenian: terter «priest» (instead of due Persian kešiš), zam «church» (instead of due Persian kilse), knunk‘ «christening» (instead of due Persian ghosl ta’mid), zatik «Easter» (instead of due Persian fesh),pas «Lent» (instead of due Persian ruze) and etc.

There are evident traces of phonological, lexical, grammatical and calque Armenian substratum in the dialect of Tati-speaking Armenians. Also there are Armenian affricates «ծ», «ց», «ձ» in words of Iranian origin, which do not exist in Tati language. This can only be explained by the influence Armenian substratum.

Regardless the fact that they have lost the language, the group of Armenians managed to preserve their national identity. Important aspect of it is distinct dichotomy «Us-They» with opposition of «Us» («hay») to Moslems («tajik»), Tats and Azeri together with conception of themselves as a suffering part and nation with tragic historical destiny.

Summing up all above-mentioned facts, we can say that «armenian-tats» have always been and now are Armenians, who managed to preserve their Christian religion, but had to accept the Tati language owing to its dominant position and the fact that they were isolated from the centers of Armenian culture.

The Anglo-Iranian War of 1856-1857

The article below by J. Calmard “The Anglo-Persian War of 1856-1857” was first published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1985 and last updated on August 5, 2011. This article is also available in print in the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. II, Fasc. 1, pp. 65-68).

Kindly note that the photos/illustrations and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article.


Following their defeat in the Russo-Persian wars of 1219-28/1804-13 and 1242-44/1826-28, the Qajars, tried to compensate for their losses by reasserting Persia’s control over western Afghanistan. Attempts to bring the principality of Herat under their rule in 1249/1833, 1253-55/1837-39, and 1268/1852 were strongly resisted by the British: If Herat were in Persian hands, the Russians—whose influence was paramount at the Persian court—would directly threaten India. In Afghanistan, Persian ambitions complicated internal struggles for the control of the “Khanates” of Kabul, Qandahār, and Herat. Since the 1820s, Kabul, and then Qandahār, had been ruled by the Bārakzī or Moḥammadzī, while Herat was held by the Sadōzī. In 1258/1842 Kāmrān Sadōzay was murdered by his vizier, Yār Moḥammad Khan. When the latter died in 1851, his son and successor, Ṣayd Moḥammad Khan, asked Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah Qāǰār for assistance against the Bārakzay amirs, in Kabul, and Kohandel Khan in Qandahār. In spite of warnings from the British minister in Tehran, Colonel Sheil, the Persians moved into Herat the next spring, but faced with British threats to break diplomatic relations and reoccupy Ḵārg island, the shah withdrew his troops (G. H. Hunt, Outram and Havelock’s Persian Campaign, London, 1858, pp. 149f.; P. P. Bushev, Gerat i anglo-iranskaya voĭna, Moscow, 1959, pp. 43f.), agreeing not to send them to Herat again unless it was threatened from the east and not to interfere in Herat’s internal affairs (engagement of 15 Rabīʿ II 1269/25 January 1853: see parts regarding ḵoṭba and coinage in C. U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Other Sanads Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries, Delhi, 1933, XIII, no. XVII, pp. 77f.; see also Hunt, Outram, pp. 155f.; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 44f.).

1-Sir Charles Augustus MurrayThe bumbling diplomat? An 1851 photo of a seated Charles Augustus Murray (1806-1895) prior to his diplomatic mission to Iran (Source: Public Domain). As soon as he arrived as British ambassador to Tehran in 1854, it became clear that he and Nasseredin Shah (r. 1848-1896), monarch of Qajar Iran, disliked each other. Murray’s inept diplomacy helped contribute to the rupture of Anglo-Iranian relations.

In 1853, Sheil was succeeded in Tehran by Charles Augustus Murray, who had no Indian experience and has been strongly criticized by both contemporaries and historians (e.g., Sir D. Wright, The English amongst the Persians, repr. London, 1977, p. 23); his troubles in Tehran were among the causes of the Anglo-Persian war. Before his arrival the shah knew him to be on friendly terms with his old enemies, the rulers of Egypt and Masqat, while an article published in the London Times predicted that he would soon force the shah to accept British policy regarding Herat. Moreover, he came “with neither an expected loan nor a draft defensive treaty nor presents,” to the disappointment of the court (ibid.). His lack of experience in Eastern diplomacy had disastrous results. Soon after his arrival, he became embroiled in a dispute with the ṣadr-e aʿẓam over the appointment of a former government official to the British Mission in Shiraz; the confrontation escalated to the point where the official’s wife, the sister of one of the shah’s wives, was imprisoned, and both Murray and his senior assistant were accused of improprieties with her. In a rescript to his ṣadr-e aʿẓam, Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī, (later annexed to the Treaty of Paris of 1857), the shah called Murray stupid, ignorant, and insane (ibid., p. 24); copies of the document were then sent to the foreign missions in Tehran, who were also informed by the ṣadr-e aʿẓam of the alleged offense. Murray was authorized by his government to break off relations with Persia; mediations by the Ottoman chargé d’affaires and the French minister were of no avail (Hunt, Outram, pp. 160f.; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 55f.). On 20 November 1855, Murray struck down his flag; he left Tehran for Tabrīz on 5 December and moved to Baghdad in May. The British consul, R. W. Stevens, remained in Tehran, where he was the only link with the Foreign Office and the India Board till September, 1856.

In Afghanistan, Persia’s threatening attitude caused Dōst Moḥammad to conclude a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship with Britain (30 March 1855; see Aitchison, A Collection, pp. 237f.). The ruler of Herat, Ṣayd Moḥammad, was deposed and killed, and in September-October, 1855, Moḥammad Yūsof Sadōzay, who was regarded as a Persian nominee, seized power there (Ḥ. Sarābī, Maḵzan al-waqāyeʿ, ed. K. Eṣfahānīān and Q. Rowšanī, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, introd., p. 23). Despite the engagement signed by the shah in 1853, a Persian army soon marched toward Herat. Afraid of being crushed between the shah and Dōst Moḥammad, who had taken Qandahār in August, Moḥammad Yūsof tried to temporize, but Ḥosam-al-salṭana Solṭān Morād Mīrzā, commander of the Persian force, was ordered to push forward with all speed. In desperation, Moḥammad Yūsof hoisted the British flag at Herat, only to be treacherously seized and sent as a prisoner to the Persian camp by his vizier, ʿĪsā Khan (M. J. Ḵormūǰī, Ḥāqāʾeq al-aḵbār-e Nāṣerī, ed. H. Ḵadīvǰam, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, pp. 176f.). The Persians began to capture forts and other sites around Herat as far as Farāh, but Persian troops who managed to invade Herat with the complicity of local Shiʿites were driven out by a bloody uprising (ibid., pp. 181f.). In renewed fighting ʿĪsā Khan hoisted the British flag and even offered Herat to the British crown in return for aid (J. F. Standish, “The Persian War of 1856-1857,” Middle Eastern Studies 3, 1966, pp. 28-29). Under threats from the shah, Solṭān Morād increased his pressure against Herat, which fell to the Persians at the end of October, 1856.

2-Citadel of Herat 1880sThe citadel of Herat in 1885 (Source: qdl.qa).

In the meantime, the diplomatic scene had changed since the end of the Crimean War in April, 1856: Russia could consider further progress toward India, and France was no longer Britain’s ally (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 30). In Istanbul, the Persian chargé d’affaires tried to settle diplomatic difficulties by negotiations with the British minister Lord Stratford de Redcliffe (interviews of January and April, 1856; see Hunt, Outram, pp. 167, 178-79). In July, the shah sent Farroḵ Khan Amīn-al-molk (later Amīn-al-dawla) Ḡaffārī on an extraordinary embassy to Paris. Meeting in Istanbul with Lord Stratford de Redcliffe at a time when the British were preparing a military action against Persia (Sarābī, Maḵzan, introd., pp. 34f., text, pp. 117f.), Farroḵ Khan was presented with an ultimatum insisting on the dismissal of the ṣadr-e aʿẓam; finally, he accepted the terms of another, more conciliatory, ultimatum sent by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to the Persian chargé d’affaires during the summer (Hunt, Outram, pp. 181-84, 189). With British authority divided between Britain and India and contradictory advice being given by men in the field (Stevens in Tehran, Edwardes in Peshawar), the Indian government was confused (Standish, “The Persian War,” pp. 26-27, 31-33). From Baghdad, Murray continued to send Foreign Secretary Clarendon proposals for a punitive expedition against Persia, yet overtures made to secure Dōst Moḥammad’s cooperation (Treaty of 26 January 1857 in Aitchison, A Collection, pp. 238f.) were of no avail (Sir P. Sykes, A History of Persia, 3rd ed., 1915, repr. London, 1969, II, p. 349). In both Persia and India, first-rank officials were opposed to war (Sarābī, Maḵzan, introd., p. 30; H. C. Wylly, “Our War with Persia in 1856-57,” United Service Magazine, London, March 1912, pp. 642f.).

After the capture of Herat, British agents were expelled from or left Persia; the last to go was Felix Jones, the political resident at Bushire, who left in November, 1856, only four days before the arrival there of three English warships (Fasāʾī, I, p. 313). To avoid public outcry against Palmerston’s government, the British declared war from Calcutta, on 1 Novernber 1856 (Wright, The English, p. 56). After considering direct action on Herat through Afghanistan or from Bandar ʿAbbās, they decided to operate in the Persian Gulf (Sykes, History II, pp. 349f.). A naval expedition under the command of Major-General Stalker occupied Ḵārg island on 4 December; on 10 December Bushire surrendered and was placed under British administration (Fasāʾī, pp. 313f.). On 27 January 1857, Sir James Outram landed at Bushire and took command.

Anglo-Persian War-KhorramshahrCaptured territory in the Khorramshahr area on the mouth of the Persian Gulf in 1857; note British flag (Source: Antiqua Print Gallery).

On the Persian side, ǰehād was proclaimed and changes made in the army leadership, but the Bushire campaign was ill prepared. Taking the initiative, Outram marched on the main body of Persian troops encamped at Borāzǰān, about 100 km northeast of Bushire. The British column occupied Borāzǰān on 5 February, bur the Persian army had already retreated to the north, leaving behind equipment and weapons. After destroying the Persian arsenal, the British marched back to Bushire but were met with a combined attack from the Persian regulars and the Qašqāʾī cavalry on the night of 7 February. At dawn, the British cavalry and artillery look the offensive and inflicted a massive defeat on the Persians (who lost 700 men to 16 on the British side; see Outram’s report in The Annual Register, 1857, p. 444; Sir J. Outram, Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram’s Persian Campaign in 1857, London, 1860, pp. 33-35; Wylly, “Our War,” p. 648; different figures given by Fasāʾī, I, p. 317; A. D. Hytier, ed., Les dépêches diplomatiques du Comte de Gobineau en Perse, Paris and Geneva, 1959, p.71, n. 95, et al.).

Despite Ottoman objections, the next operation was directed against Moḥammera (later Ḵorramšahr), which had been made over to Persia by the Treaty of Erzurum in 1847 and strongly fortified later on. In a purely naval battle fought on 26 March, Outram and Henry Havelock (who had arrived in reinforcement with his division) pounded the shore batteries with mortars. After some two hours’ fire, the shore batteries were silenced; troops were landed “only to find that the Persian force had fled, after exploding their chief magazine, but leaving everything behind them” (Wylly, “Our War,” p. 650; see also C. D. Barker, Letters from Persia and India 1857-1859, London, 1915, pp. 26f.). An armed flotilla sent up the Kārūn river reached Ahvāz on 1 April and returned to Moḥammera two days later. Military action at Moḥammera ended on 5 April when news was received that peace had been signed on 4 March.

Qajar Zanbourak unitA case of obsolescence: a Qajar Zanbourak (small cannon fitted on camel) military unit (Source: Persiawar.com). Iran’s military state by the 1850s was one of poor leadership, disorganization, low morale, poor training and substandard military equipment.

In fact, the Persian government had sued for peace directly after the capture of Bushire. Through the mediation of Napoleon III and his foreign minister, Count Walewski, Farroḵ Khan managed to start negotiations with Lord Cowley, British minister in Paris. This led to the signature of the Treaty of Paris on 4 March 1857, with ratifications exchanged at Baghdad on 2 May 1857. Persia was obliged to relinquish all claims over Herat and Afghanistan, while Britain was to serve as arbiter in any disputes between Persia and the Afghan states (article 6). British consular authorities, subjects, commerce, and trade were to be treated on a “most favored nation” basis (article 9). In a separate note to the treaty, the terms of Murray’s return to Tehran were set out in “humiliating detail” (Wright, The English, p. 24). Otherwise, no guarantees, no indemnities, and no concessions were exacted; there was no demand for the ṣadr-e aʿẓam’s dismissal (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 39), and the shah’s note of December 1855 insulting Murray was even annexed (see Aitchison, A Collection XIII, no. XVIII, pp. 81-86).

Although he was received in Tehran in July, 1857, with the agreed ceremonial, Murray was not to see the end of his troubles till the fall of the ṣadr-e aʿẓam Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī (20 Moḥarram 1275/30 August 1859). Count de Gobineau, the French chargé d’affaires in Tehran, who had taken charge of British interests, complained bitterly about the problems caused by the British protégés (Gobineau, Les dépêches, pp. 32f.). Murray complained in turn abort the lack of support these got from the French Legation (ibid., p. 93, n. 136 and Murray’s dispatches in FO/60/230 and 231). Both in 1855 and 1857, Murray complained about the eviction of the British Legation from the seats of honor it had formerly occupied on official ceremonies, including taʿzīa (passion play) performances (see J. Calmard, “Le mécénat des représentations de taʿziye, II,” Le Monde iranien et l’Islam 4, Paris, 1976-77, pp. 157f., and Moḥarram Ceremonies and Diplomacy, in Qajar Iran, Edinburgh, 1983, pp. 213-28. But the main troubles arose from the necessity of enforcing the terms of the treaty. Although the last British troops were not withdrawn from Ḵārg island till the spring of 1274/1858, the main body had left the Persian Gulf for India at the outbreak of the mutiny (May-June, 1857; see Outram, Persian Campaign, pp. 321f.). In Herat, the Persians were slow in evacuating the area of Lāš-Jovayn (see Murray’s dispatches in FO/60/230); there were problems connected with minorities (e.g., Herat Jews imprisoned at Mašhad) and the settling of the reciprocal atrocities and exactions between Sunnites and Shiʿites which had taken place during the war (on Colonel R. L. Taylor’s mission to Herat see FO/60/218, 219, 220; Bushev, Gerat, pp. 155f.).

Battle of KhosabThe Battle of Khushab (February 8, 1857) as depicted on a British postcard which reads “Lieutenants Malcolmson and Moore at Khushab” (Source: Persiawar.com). The postcard is making specific reference to Captain J.G. Malcolmson, and Lieutenant A.T. Moore who ere awarded Victoria Crosses by the British Empire for their battlefield exploits during the Anglo-Iranian War. The British and Iranian sides were evenly matched in numbers (4600 British versus 5000 Iranians) at Khoshab, but the British held the technical edge in terms of military equipment, a factor which significantly contributed to their victory at Khushab in Iran’s Bushehr province.

In Herat, ʿĪsā Khan had been put to death on 6 Rabīʿ II 1273/4 December 1856; Moḥammad Yūsof met a similar fate at the hands of Ṣayd Moḥammad’s relatives (Ḵormūǰī, Ḥaqāʾeq, pp. 191, 229f.; R. C. Watson, A History of Persia . . . to the Year 1858, London, 1866, pp. 463f.). Before they withdrew, the Persians installed Solṭān Aḥmad Khan, the nephew and son-in-law of Dōst Moḥammad, as Herat’s ruler. Effectively a vassal to the Persian crown (though this was never officially proclaimed), he enjoyed de facto British recognition as well. He was overthrown by Dōst Moḥammad in May, 1863; until then the Persian government managed to keep control over Herat while adhering to the Treaty of Paris (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 35).

The success of the British soldiers, more than a half of whom were Indian, was mainly due to technological superiority and new English rifles. Even so, British commanders faced the strain of barely sufficient means and lack of training. Three of them, Outram, Havelock, and John Jacob, were to become legendary Anglo-Indian figures, but the two service commanders committed suicide during the early stages of hostilities (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 35; see also Barker, Letters, pp. 23f.). Disorganization on the Persian side is illustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for the ǰehād against the British preached by the ʿolamāʾ and Mīrzā Āqā Khan (see H. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906, Berkeley, 1969, pp. 154f.). Connections between the Persian war and the Indian mutiny remain inconclusive (Standish, “The Persian War,” p. 39). It should be also noted that repeated Persian claims of the necessity to pacify Khorasan from constant Turkman raids were considered by the British as a mere pretext for the seizure of Herat.

Early 19th century Map of IranMap of Iran in 1805 before her territorial losses in the Caucasus to Czarist Russia and the losses of Herat and Western Afghanistan due to British military actions. Just as the treaties of Golestan (1813) and Turkmenchai (1828) forced Iran to relinquish her territories in the Caucasus to Russia, so too did the Treaty of Paris (1857) force Iran to relinquish her territories in Afghanistan as per British objectives (Picture source: CAIS).

It has often been said that Britain’s relations with Persia improved after the war. Although from the British standpoint this may be partially true, there was a widespread tendency among the Persians to consider the British as the main source of their troubles, and Anglophobia was also felt elsewhere. Although allied with the British in the Crimean War (1854-56) and the second opium war in China (l856-61)), the French were alarmed by British expansionism in the Persian Gulf (E. Flandin, “La prise d’Hérat et 1’expédition anglaise dans le Golfe Persique,” Revue des deux mondes 7, 1857, pp. 690f.), and British diplomats also felt a lack of support from their colleagues in Iran. The Russians considered British action in Persia in this period as deliberate aggression, and concern over British expansionist plans was felt by Russian diplomats at all levels, as well as by local civil and military authorities in the Caucasus (Bushev, Gerat, pp. 23f.).

Cartoon of Persia 1911In a tight spot: British 1911 cartoon showing Iran (as the Persian cat) caught between the British lion and the Russian bear who sits on the (unfortunate) “Persian Cat” (Source: The Federalist). The social and geopolitical impact of Iran’s military defeats in the 19th century resonate to this day.


See also: 1. Unpublished official documents: Public Record Office (mainly FO/60 series); India Office Library and Records (mainly Factory Records for Persia and Board’s Drafts); National Record Office of Scotland (private papers of Hon. C. A. Murray, GD/261).

2. Published documents, other sources and studies: P. P. Bushev, “Angliĭskaya agressiya v Irane v 1855-1857,” Kratkie soobshcheniya Instituta vostokovedeniya, Akademiya nauk SSSR, Moscow, 8, 1953, pp. 21-26.

Idem, “Angliĭskaya voennaya ekspeditsiya v Akhvaz,” ibid., 29, 1956, pp. 65-71.

Correspondence Respecting Relations with Persia, London, 1857.

B. English, John Company’s Last War, London, 1971.

ʿA. Farrāšbandī, Ḥamāsa-ye marzdārān-e ǰonūbī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978.

Idem, Jang-e Engelīs o Īrān dar sāl-e 1273 h.q., Tehran, 1358 Š./1979.

Farroḵ Khan Amīn-al-dawla, Maǰmūʿa-ye asnād o madārek-e Farroḵ Ḵān Amīn-al-dawla, ed. K. Eṣfahānīān and Q. Rowšānī, I, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

A. Kasravī, “Jang-e Īrān o Engelīs dar Moḥammera,” Čand tārīḵa, Tehran, 1324 Š./1945, pp. 6-80.

Reżā-qolī Khan Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā-ye Nāṣerī X, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.

Moḥammad-Taqī Sepehr, Nāseḵ al-tawārīḵ, ed. J. Qāʾem-maqāmī, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958, pp. 231f.

A. Ṭāherī, Tārīḵ-e rawābeṭ-e bāzargānī o sīāsī-e Īrān o Engelīs II, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Bahrām VI Chobin (Čōbīn)

The article below by the late Shapour Shahbazi’s regarding Bahrām VI Chobin (Čōbīn) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1988 and last updated: on August 24, 2011. This article is also available in print (Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 514-522). Kindly note that none of the images and accompanying descriptions inserted below appear in the original Encyclopedia Iranica posting.


Bahrām VI Čōbīn, chief commander under the Sasanian Hormozd IV and king of Iran in 590-91, was a son of Bahrāmgošnasp, of the family of Mehrān, one of the seven great houses of the Sasanian period (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 363 no. 23). First mentioned in Šāpūr’s Kaʿba-ye Zardošt inscription (“Arštāt, the Mehrān, from Ray,” see W. B. Henning, BSOAS 14, 1952, p. 510), the family remained the hereditary margraves of Ray and produced notable generals (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 139 n. 3). Bahrām was called Mehrbandak (Arm. Mehrevandak; Justi, loc. cit.), but his tall and slender physique earned him the nickname Čōbīn(a), var. Šōpēn “Javelin-like” (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, p. 377; cf. V. Minorsky, JRAS, 1933, p. 108). Bahrām started as margrave of Ray (Masʿūdī, Morūj II, p. 213), commanded a cavalry force which captured Dārā in 572 (Theophylactos Simocatta, 3.18.10f.), became Spahbaḏ of the North (i.e., satrap of Azerbaijan and Greater Media) under Hormozd IV, and fought a long but indecisive campaign against the Byzantines in northern Mesopotamia (Dīnavarī, p. 94; cf. Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, p. 388. For the campaign see M. J. Higgins, The Persian War of Emperor Maurice, Washington, 1939, pp. 35ff.). Late in 588, a horde of the Hephthalites, subjects of the Western Turks since 558, invaded eastern provinces of the Persian empire; and with the sanction and support of their overlords, reached Bādgīs and Herat. In a council of war, Bahrām was elected commander-in-chief of the Iranian army and satrap of Khorasan, furnished with a trained force, reportedly of 12,000 picked horsemen, and sent against the invaders whom Sasanian-based sources (as well as Theophylactos, 3.6) call Turks. Marching with remarkable speed, Bahrām first engaged and defeated the Western Turks and took the city of Balḵ. He then occupied the land of the Hephthalites, and crossing the Oxus won a resounding victory over the Eastern Turks, personally slaying their Great Ḵāqān (Ču-lo-hóu in Chinese records; J. Marquart, “Historische Glossen zu den alttürkischen Inschriften,” WZKM 12, 1898, pp. 189-90, and E. Chavannes, Documents sur les Toukiue [Turcs] occidentaux, St. Petersburg, 1903, pp. 242ff.; falsely called Šāwa/Sāva/Sāba in Sasanian-based sources, see under Bendōy and Bestām) with an arrowshot which became as proverbial as that of Āraš (q.v.). Finally, he advanced to the famous Dež-e Rōyēn “Brazen Hold,” at Baykand near Bukhara (Dīnavarī, pp. 81ff.; Baḷʿamī, Tārīḵ, pp. 1074ff.; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 331ff.; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 642ff.; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 268ff.; Nehāyat al-erab fī aḵbār al-Fors wa’l-ʿArab, apud E. G. Browne, JRAS, 1900, pp. 233ff. These Sasanian-based sources must be corrected by the account by [Pseudo-]Sebeos, tr. in Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 83, and elucidated by him in Wehrōt und Ārang, Leiden, 1938, pp. 137ff., and K. Czeglédy, “Bahrām Čōbīn and the Persian Apocalyptic Literature,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica 8, 1958, pp. 21ff.).


Sassanian forces counterattack the invading Turco-Hephthalites in the Sassanian Empire’s northeast; the figures in the above plate (1-late Sassanian Savar-Framandar, 2-Kanarang, 3-Paygospan and 4-Turkic Gok warriors) are based on reconstructions from Sassanian archaeological data such as the grotto of the armored knight inside the vault or Iwan at Taghe Bostan, the (post-Sassanian) metalwork work plate of Pur-e Vahman as well as East Iranian sources (For more information consult: Plate C, pp.53-54, 60-61, Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-).

Meanwhile Hormozd had alienated the magnates by imprisoning and executing many renowned men, reducing the size of the cavalry force, and decreasing the army’s pay by 10 percent (Theophylactos, 3.13.16; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 264-68). Distrustful of Bahrām even before the eastern expedition (Yaʿqūbī, I, p. 188), Hormozd could not tolerate the popularity of his own general, and giving out that Bahrām’s reserving of a few choice items of the booty for himself was an indication of rebellion, he removed the victor from his posts, and sent him a chain and a spindle to show that he regarded him as a low slave “as ungrateful as a woman” (Dīnavarī, pp. 84ff.; see also Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 397-98; Theophylactos, 3.6-8, says that Bahrām was again sent to the Roman front and was defeated in Albania, whereupon Hormozd disgraced him; Nöldeke, op. cit., p. 272 n. 3, favored this version in 1879, but one of the best non-Iranian sources, discovered ten years later, Die von Guidi herausgegebene syrische Chronik, tr. Th. Nöldeke, Vienna, 1893, p. 5, confirms that Bahrām rose in arms while still in the east). Bahrām’s noble descent, his cultured manners and generosity, his military accomplishments and leadership skills, and his daring and shrewdness had earned him so elevated a position among his devoted troops and the public (A. Christensen, Romanen om Bahram Tschobin, et Rekonstruktionsforsøg, Copenhagen, 1907) that their rebellion against the ungrateful king followed naturally. Having settled his quarrel with the Turks, Bahrām appointed a satrap for Khorasan (Ṯaʿālebī, op. cit., p. 658; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 418f.), then marched on Ctesiphon via Ray, and was joined by many veterans from the western front (Theophylactos, 4.1). To forestall his supremacy, the nobles in the capital seized power, and led by Bendōy and Bestām (q.v.) and supported by Prince Ḵosrow, they slew Hormozd and put his son on the throne. On Bahrām’s approach, however, they fled toward Azerbaijan but were intercepted and defeated, many of their troops deserting to Bahrām. Ḵosrow succeeded, through the heroic self-sacrifice of Bendōy, in escaping into Byzantine territory (Syrische Chronik, pp. 5ff.; Theophylactos, 4.9; Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 272ff., 418-19, 434; Dīnavarī, pp. 89ff.; Baḷʿamī, op. cit., pp. 1079ff.; Nehāya, apud Browne, JRAS, 1900, pp. 237f.; Ṯaʿālebī, op. cit., pp. 657ff.; Yaʿqūbī, I, pp. 190f.; Ebn Balḵī, p. 100; [Ps.-]Sebeos, tr. M. K. Patkanian, Essai d’une histoire de la dynastie des Sasanides, Paris, 1866, pp. 87ff. [= JA, 1866, pp. 187ff.]).

Bahrām entered Ctesiphon and proclaimed himself king of kings (summer, 590), claiming that Ardašīr, the upstart son of Sāsān the shepherd, had usurped the throne of the Arsacids, and now he was reestablishing their right (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 29-32; Yaʿqūbī, I, p. 192; the humble origin of Ardašīr was already noted by Agathias, 2.27). He tried to support his cause with the following apocalyptic belief then current: The Sasanians had identified the Seleucid era (312 b.c.) with the era of Zoroaster (H. Lewy, JAOS 64, 1944, pp. 197ff.; S. H. Taqizadeh, JRAS, 1947, pp. 33ff.), thereby placing Ardašīr some 500 years after the prophet and leaving 500 years for the duration of their own dynasty (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VII, pp. 90-91). The close of Zoroaster’s millennium was to witness chaos and destructive wars with the Xyōns (Hephthalites/Huns) and Romans, followed by the appearance of a savior (details and references in Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 35ff.). And Bahrām had risen some 500 years after Ardašīr (so Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, p. 30), and had saved Iran from chaos, the Xyōns and the Romans; he therefore claimed to be and was hailed by many as the promised savior, Kay Bahrām Varjāvand (Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 36-39). He was to restore the Arsacid empire and commence a millennium of dynastic rule (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 60-62). He issued coins in his own name. They represent him as a majestic figure, bearded and wearing a crenellated crown adorned with two crescents of the moon; and they are dated to year 1 and 2 (R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics, Brunswick, 1971, p. 52).


Coin attributed to Bahram VI Chobin (Source: Public Domain originally by Classical Numismatic Group).

Bahrām’s hopes were unfulfilled. Many nobles and priests preferred to side with the inexperienced and less imposing Ḵosrow, who, in return for territorial concessions, had obtained a Byzantine force of 40,000 (Chronicle of Seʿert, in Patrologia Orientalis XIII/4, p. 466), and was now marching toward Azerbaijan, where an army of over 12,000 Armenians under Mūšel (cf. Dīnavarī, p. 94) and 8,000 Iranians gathered and led by Bendōy and Bestām ([Ps.-]Sebeos, tr. Patkanian, op. cit., p. 93) awaited him. Hoping to prevent a union of those forces, Bahrām left Ctesiphon with a much smaller army, but arrived too late. The two sides fought for three days in a plain near Lake Urmia, and on the eve of the fourth, Bendōy won over Bahrām’s men by pledging, in the name of Ḵosrow, their pardon and safety. In spite of his bravery and superb generalship, Bahrām was defeated, and his camp, children, and wives were captured. He himself left the battlefield, accompanied by 4,000 men, and since Ḵosrow had in the meantime sent a force to Ctesiphon and had secured it, the only road open was eastward. Bahrām marched to Nīšāpūr, defeating a pursuing royalist force and an army of a local noble of the Kārēn family at Qūmeš. Ceaselessly troubled, Bahrām finally crossed the Oxus, and was received honorably by the Ḵāqān of the Turks, entered his service and achieved heroic feats against his adversaries. Ḵosrow could not feel secure as long as Bahrām lived, and he succeeded in having him assassinated. The remainder of his troops returned to northern Iran and joined the rebellion of Bestām (Syrische Chronik, pp. 5-7; Theophylactos, 4ff.; [Ps.-] Sebeos apud Patkanian, op. cit., pp. 92ff.; Yaʿqūbī, I, pp. 192ff.; Dīnavarī, pp. 90-105; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 275-89; Nehāya, pp. 238-42; Baḷʿamī, op. cit., pp. 1083ff.; Higgins, op. cit., chaps. II and III; L. N. Gumilev, “Bakhram Chubin,” in Problemy vostokovedeniya III, 1960, pp. 228-41).

Given time and opportunity to deal with internal problems, Bahrām would have probably achieved no less than Ardašīr I had done, but he was faced with too many odds. It was not Ḵosrow but his superior Byzantine mercenaries who defeated Bahrām (Theophylactos, loc. cit.). The betrayal by his own brother, Gordōy, and the capture of his family severely limited his maneuvering ability. He was handicapped by the lack of cooperation from the bureaucrats, and the animosity of nobles unwilling to serve one of their own equals (Dīnavarī, p. 99; Theophylactos, 4.12; Ṯaʿālebī, op. cit., pp. 660f.). His own chivalry in letting Ḵosrow’s supporters leave the realm unmolested (Dīnavarī, p. 94), and in ignoring the escape of the resolute Bendōy, turned against him by giving his enemies the possibility to unite. His religious tolerance (see G. Widengren, Iranica Antiqua 1, 1961, pp. 146-47) alienated the powerful clergy (Theophylactos, 4.12f.; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, p. 282). Even the apocalyptic belief he put to use was masterfully turned against him when Ḵosrow employed the following propaganda devices. He initially remitted one half of the annual poll-tax (Dīnavarī, p. 102), and bestowed riches on great fire temples (cf. Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IX, pp. 104f., 136). He then ordered his secretaries to publish an account of the events from the rise of Bahrām to the restoration of Ḵosrow (Bayhaqī, al-Maḥāsen wa’l-masāwī, ed. F. Schwally, Giessen, 1902, p. 481) wherein Bahrām was pictured as a soldier of fortune and an evil usurper. Finally, Ḵosrow circulated a modified version of the apocalyptic prophecy according to which the end of Zoroaster’s millennium was to witness the arrival with a vast army of a lowly false pretender from Khorasan, his usurpation of the throne, and his swift disappearance, followed by a short period of foreign rule over Iran and the restoration of peace and prosperity by a “victorious king” (aparvḕ xvatāy) who would even take many cities from the Romans; and since Ḵosrow had restored the kingdom and destroyed the lowly usurper Bahrām, he now claimed to be the true savior of Iran, and assumed the title Aparvēž, Parvēz (Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 32ff.).


Court of Khosrow II and his queen Shirin – Smbat Bagratuini (Figure 4) was to replicate the spectacular successes of the Sassanian military against a renewed Turco-Hephthalite invasion of the Sassanian empire from the northeast in 618-619 CE (For more information on color plates and sources consult: Plate F, pp.53-54, 62, Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-).

However, Bahrām’s memory was immortalized in a masterfully composed Pahlavi romance, the Bahrām Čōbīn-nāma (Masʿūdī, Morūj II, p. 223; Fehrest, p. 305; Baḷʿamī, op. cit., p. 1081), which was translated by Jabala b. Sālem (Fehrest, loc. cit.), and found its way—intermingled with another account, favorable to Ḵosrow Parvēz—into the works of Dīnavarī (pp. 81-104), Ferdowsī (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VIII, pp. 331-430 and IX, pp. 10-178), Baḷʿamī (op. cit., pp. 1073ff.), and the Nehāya (pp. 233ff.). The picture of Bahrām in the romance is that of an illustrious knight of kingly origins and noble disposition, a superb, highly educated and disciplinarian general, and a witty, just, and wise king. He is the best archer, and comes from the family of Mēlād (Mithridates/Mehrdād) the Arsacid, himself of the line of Kay Āraš (q.v.), son of Kay Qobād (who is here confused with the famous archer: J. Marquart, ZDMG 69, 1895, pp. 633-35). When Iran is simultaneously attacked by the Romans, the Ḵazars, the Arabs, and the Turks, he saves the empire by crushing the most dangerous enemy, the Turks; and he takes action against Hormazd who had unjustly disgraced him, only after his troops and an assembly of nobles urge him to do so. His accession to the throne is sanctioned by the nobles, and he fights for his right with gallantry and pluck. Above all, he is a man of his word, devoted to his men and his fatherland. The novel describes details of his life, thoughts and deeds with such vividness and moving affection that its reflection in the Šāh-nāma counts as one of the masterpieces of Persian literature (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 474-78). It clearly was published while Bahrām’s memory was still very much alive, and its form and main features have been restored by Arthur Christensen (op. cit.).

Bahrām is credited with the writing of a manual on archery (Fehrest, p. 304). He was survived by three sons: Šāpūr, who supported Bestām’s rebellion and was executed (Syrische Chronik, p. 9); Mehrān, whose own son, Sīāvoš, King of Ray, fell fighting the Arabs in 643 (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 300 no. 9); and Nōšrad, the ancestor of the Samanids (Bīrūnī, Chronology, p. 48). The popularity of Bahrām persisted in Iranian nationalist circles long after his death. Thus, Senbād could claim that Abū Moslem (q.v.) had not died but was staying with the Savior (Mahdī) in a “Brazen Hold” (i.e., Bahrām’s residence in Turkistan), and will soon return (Czeglédy, op. cit., pp. 40-41 citing Neẓām al-molk, Sīar al-molūk [Sīāsat-nāma], ed. H. Darke, 1347 Š./ 1968, p. 280).

Photos of Resket Tower in Sari, Iran

The Resket Tower (Persian:برج رسکت), officially dated to the 11th century and described as having been originally built at the site of a meteor impact, is located in the city environs of Sari located in Mazandaran province in northern Iran.

A view of the Resket Tower whihc has been recently (partially) restored (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

The Resket Tower is a cylindrical tower built of bricks and is topped with an (somewhat elongated) conical dome.The tower is approximately 15 meters at its base and stands at 18 meters in height. The tower’s interior features a cylindrical chamber.

Close-up view of superimposed rows of V-shape brackets at Resket Tower (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

Interestingly this tower has both Sassanian (Middle Persian or Pahlavi) as well as early Kufic inscriptions. This would seem curious as the Sassanian empire had fallen by 651 CE, however northern Iran resisted the caliphates well into the 800s CE. The region (and the historical Azerbaijan in northwest Iran) retained strong cultural links with Iran’s pre-Islamic Sassanian past, even past the 800s CE which may explain the Pahlavi inscriptions on the tower.

A bottom-up view of the Resket Tower (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

The inscriptions on Resket Tower state that this is a tomb belonging to princes – and – of the local north Iranian Bavandid dynasty (651-1349). The Bavandids held sway in much northern Iran, known as Tabaristan at the time. As noted previously, much of Iran’s indigenous pre-Islamic identity was maintained, even as the Bavandids were reduced to vassal status.

A close-up view of the brickwork of Resket Tower (Photo: Alireza Zabini, Mehr News & Payvand News).

The observation below by Terry Graham sent to Kavehfarrokh.com on March 9, 2018 has been reprinted below for interested readers:

“So magnificent these inscriptions! Of course, the late conversion of the Caspian region is evidenced in this grand relic. It was in the following century that the Buyids poured out of neighboring Daylam, Gilan, to take over the caliphate and further Persianize it (given that the Abbasid caliphs themselves were Persian in every way but the language). Then farther west one had the Khurramiyya, who were a continuation of Mazdak’s movement, their very name reflecting both Mazdak’s and later Babak’s emphasis on ‘joy’ as an essential principle, expressed in the name of Mazdak’s wife, Khurram, as well. With her vigorously bold and eloquent defense of her martyred husband’s views, she was a model for Zaynab defending her brother in the time to come.

And of course, this was the era of the 9th-century Pahlavi books, representing an outpouring of work in that tongue far vaster than anything the Sassanians had written. The galvanizing of the non-literate Persians into the most massive writing activity in the world in both Pahlavi and Arabic (New Persian coming only a couple of centuries later) is one of the great wonders of world history in expressing the results of a revolution in Iran compared to which the Bolshevik one in Russia was no more than a tea party.”

Readers interested in reading more about this topic may consult:

  • Babaie, Sussan; Grigor, Talinn (2015). Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis. I.B.Tauris.
  • Pope, Arthur Upham, ed., Phyllis Ackerman, assist. ed. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present. Vol. 3, Architecture, Its Ornament, City Plans, Gardens, 3rd edited. Tehran: Soroush Press, 1977.
  • Uqabi, Muhammad Mahdi, ed. Dayirat al-ma arif-i binaha-yi tarikhi-i Iran dar dawrah-i Islami, 381. Tehran: Awzahi-i Hunari-i Sazmani-i Tablighat-i Islami, 1997.