Pirooz in China: Defeated Persian army takes Refuge

The article below “Pirooz in China: Defeated Persian army takes Refuge” was originally written by Frank Wong in August 11, 2000 and posted in the CAIS venue hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in London. Kindly note that the images and accompanying descriptions below do not appear in the original posting in CAIS.


I read the story of Pirooz written in a formal and ancient aristocratic Chinese language. It was quite tough, but with the help of my Chinese friends and associates I got through it. It was written by Prince Nah-shieh (Narseh), who was the son of Prince Pirooz, who was the son of King Yazdgerd III– the last Sasanid king of Persia. Narseh was a Chinese general stationed in the Tang Chinese military garrisons.

Visitors to the tomb of Emperor Gaozong (r. 649-683 CE) of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) will see that one of the statues guarding the emperor as depicted above has the name of Sassanian prince Peroz (d. 679 CE) (Picture source: Tour Beijing). Peroz was crowned in China after the Arab invasion which toppled the Sassanian Empire in 637-651 CE. There is a tomb and statue in China which bears this inscription: Peroz, Shah of Iran, crowned in Tang dynasty court: Commander-in-chief of Iranian Army, Martial General of the Right [Flank] Guards, Awe-inspiring General of the Left [Flank] Guards. Peroz asked for Chinese military assistance in 661 CE against the Arabs occupying Iran. Peroz’s descendants in China adopted the Tang dynasty’s Imperial Family Name of Li.

In 751 A.D., the Chinese lost a decisive battle to the Arabs at Talas (now in Uzbekistan), and they retreated from their colonies in Central Asia. All the garrisons shut down, and the armies fled back into China. Many Persians and Sogdians followed the Chinese back into China and abandoned their homes in Central Asia in wake of the Muslim Arabic invasions. Some Sogdians came as widows who then married Chinese soldiers along with their orphaned children.

The above figure is from a Tang dynasty burial site, now housed now at the museum at Turin, Italy. Curators and scholars continue to debate the figure’s origins; one possibility is that he was of Iranian descent (Picture source: The Wall Street Journal).

Narseh recounts in his diary of how his father set foot in China around the 660s A.D. Pirooz was only a little boy when the Arabs beheaded his father. Pirooz, scared and was awaiting the help of Chinese armies. He had written to his sister who was the wife of the Chinese emperor. With the Arab armies in sight, he waited no longer. They decided to cross the Pamirs. Their families along with other noble Persian clans and the soldiers crossed the treacherous snowy mountains. Many of the imperial treasures were either abandoned or lost. Recently, Chinese research teams recovered some of the lost items. They are now housed in various museums in Beijing or Taiwan.

Pirooz finally made it to China. In the Chinese capital, he encountered long-established Persian, Sogdian, and Bactrian merchant communities in China. He was accompanied into the imperial palace. Going through the long and beautiful halls. At last, he saw the Chinese emperor seated on a high golden throne wearing golden boots and robes. The little boy Pirooz knelt and prostrated before the emperor. The emperor then picked up the boy Pirooz and embraced and kissed him on the cheeks. He said: “You’ve come a long way. Have no more fears. For you are my brother and this is your new home.” With tears in his eyes, Pirooz knelt again and thanked the emperor. The emperor then allowed Pirooz and his people to settle in 38 villages and rebuild their communities. They were allowed to set up a mini royal court in exile.

As noted in the above Google Maps description: “Shahyar is a place with a very small population in the province of Xinjiang, China which is located in the continent/region of Asia”. Cities, townships and locales close to Shahyar include ShorYar, Xayar, Schahjar and Chahyar. The closest major cities include Aksu, Yining, Shihezi and Urumqi (Urumchi).

Pirooz learned Kung Fu (martial arts) and grew up to be a general in the emperor’s court. Chinese armies still held military garrisons in areas of what are today’s Tajikistan, Afghanistan and parts of Uzbekistan. The Chinese emperor never allowed Pirooz to be stationed there because he knew that he would immediately cause trouble with the Arabs. However, Pirooz financed most of the garrisons there with his own money. When the Chinese emperor died, Pirooz and his son Narseh were allowed to be stationed on western border garrisons by the new Chinese emperor. Immediately, they started to clash with the Umayyad Arabs. They solicited the aid of Turkish tribes and fought border skirmishes against the Arabs.

Pirooz died sometime around 700 A.D. He was buried facing west. People in China today still don’t know where his resting place is located. Some say that he was buried atop the Pamir mountains so that he could be close to the spirit of his father and where he got killed by the Arabs. But, in the diary, Narseh says:

“Pirooz requested only a simple burial and the Chinese emperor approved. The entire exiled court was in attendance along with the Chinese emperor. The Chinese emperor held Peroz’s shaking hands. Pirooz looked west and said: “I have done what I could for my homeland (Persia) and I have no regrets.” Then, he looked east and said: “I am grateful to China, my new homeland.” Then he looked at his immediate family and all the Persians in attendance and said: “Contribute your talents and devote it to the emperor. We are no longer Persians. We are now Chinese.”

Then, he died peacefully. A beautiful horse was made to gallop around his coffin 33 times before burial, because this was the number of military victories he had during his lifetime. Pirooz was a great Chinese general and great Persian prince devoted and loyal to his people.

A rectangular piece of tapestry coming from the Xingjian Ughur Autonomous Region of China clearly showing Sasanian Persian influences in design and artwork. The physiognomy of the person drawn in the tapestry is Caucasoid as opposed to Asiatic, indicative of the strong Indo-European presence in the region since proto Indo-Europeans (i.e. the Tocharians) first entered the region thousands of years ago (Picture source: Houston Museum of Natural Science). Several Western researchers however suggest that the person depicted above is a Greek.

Narseh’s daughters and sons all married into Chinese royalty and aristocracy. This was the case with all the noble Persian exiles in China. The great spirit of Persia is now in China, and all the Chinese people appreciate it. This was the story of Pirooz, and how he ended up in China.

I have studied another topic regarding the similar features often seen in both Persian and Chinese art. I know that the style was brought into Persia by Chinese artisans during Mongol (Ilkhan Period) in the 13th cent. A.D. When Kublai Khan conquered China, he “kicked out” and sent away all the former army, government officials, tax collectors, engineers, scientists, artisans, musicians and court doctors of the defeated Chinese Sung Dynasty. All these Chinese were sent to Hulagu Khan’s (Kublai’s brother) court in Persia. Kublai didn’t trust the native Chinese, so he eliminated the elite and sent them away to distant parts of the Mongol empire. In return, he transported many soldiers from Turkestan (Central Asia), tax collectors, scientists and government officials (from both Turkestan and Persia), Armenian and Jewish merchants all into China to serve his court. The story of Marco Polo is a vivid example.

Chinese Admiral Zheng He who was of Persian descent. Zheng He is recognized for having sailed with his giant fleet to Europe and Africa. (Source: Chris Heller/CORBIS & The Mail).

While in Persia, the Chinese officials and soldiers served their Mongol masters well. The Ismaili castles were very well fortified and the Mongol horsemen did not know how to break through the thick walls. They were only accustomed to lightning sieges and quick attack. Thus, they had to use Chinese siege machines and engineers along with Chinese foot infantrymen. The Chinese general Kuo Kan helped the Mongols very much in Persia. He then went to put down rebellions in Georgia. Then, his armies were crucial for the Mongol destruction in Syria and Iraq. Only recently, they found the grave of General Kuo Kan in Azerbaijan where his armies reportedly retired and settled.

A Chinese Qi depiction of Soghdians (Picture and caption from 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).

The Chinese had intimate relations with Persia since the Arsacid Dynasty in Iran. Camel and donkey caravans travel back and forth both directions for almost a thousand year before the coming of Islam to this region. People mixed with each other without regards to race and color. The Chinese have a prevalence of the hereditary thalassemia disease also common throughout the Middle East and India. Other Asians such as Japanese and Koreans don’t have much occurrence of this blood disease.

Tse-Niao (Bird) motif mural painting in Kizil, Sinkiang, 6-7th Centuries AD. (left) and a Pheasant as depicted in late Sassanian arts 6-7th Centuries CE (Slide and caption from 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).

This demonstrates that color did not have meaning in the past. There is even a tradition in Armenia, that says one of their lordly families (the Mamikonians) were originally descended from Chinese princes who fled to Persia and sought refuge after an unsuccessful rebellion in China. I am still doing some research on this. In fact, it was common in the past for both Chinese and Persian aristocracy to intermarry. The sister of Pirooz was married to the Chinese emperor as an example. Unfortunately, Arsacid and Sasanid records are scarce because the rulers of Persia never have the habit of keeping track records. After the Arab invasions and Islam, the trade ceased. It was revived a little bit during the Mongol period, but it was never the same.

Chinese girls of ancient Iranian descent (Source: Iranian People Of China (中国的伊朗人) ).

Well, this much I can say. I just wanted to give a description of what happened in the past. Back then, China and Persia were the dominant civilizations on earth. Children should know about this and be proud.

The Buddha’s Links to Achaemenid Persia

The article below by  Harvey Kraft “Ancient Persian Inscriptions Link a Babylonian King to the Man Who Became Buddha” first appeared in Ancient Origins on May 4, 2015.


Dramatic evidence has revealed the presence of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha, as far west as Persia. Family seals and records found at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the fourth Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, have been identified and associated with the names of Siddhartha Gautama and his father, Suddhodana Gautama.

1-Buddha offers fruit to the devil

‘Buddha offers fruit to the devil’ from 14th century Persian manuscript ‘The Jāmiʿ al-Tawārīkh’ (Compendium of Chronicles) (Source: Ancient origins).

The Persepolis Seals identified royals and other important personages within the Persian ruling sphere. Guatama was the name of the royal family of the Saka kingdom.

Analysis of Seals PFS 79, PFS 796 and PF 250 found among the collection of important seals in Persepolis, the Persian capital of Emperor Darius I, are purported to be the Gautama family according to an interpretation by Dr. Ranajit Pal (The Dawn of Religions in Afghanistan-Seistan-Gandhara and the Personal Seals of Gotama Buddha and Zoroaster, published in Mithras Reader: An Academic and Religious Journal of Greek, Roman and Persian Studies. Vol. III, London, 2010, pg. 62).

The family crest bore the etching of a crown-headed king flanked by two totems, each a standing bird-headed winged lion. The Seal of Sedda depiction of a Sramana (Persepolis Seal PFS 79), a Lion-Sun shaman, is based on information gathered from a number of other seals the name refers to Sedda Arta (Siddhartha), i.e., Siddha (Liberator of) and Arta (Universal Truth).

2-Persepolis-Seal-PFS-79Persepolis Seal PFS 79 and outline. Seal of Seddha, standing ruler flanked by bird-headed Arya-Sramana priests of Indus-Vedic tradition, linked to Saka tribe (Scythians) royal family of King Suddhodana Gautama, and his son-prince Siddhartha. Seal art courtesy of Oriental Institute, Chicago (Source: Ancient Origins).

The twin guardians each had the body of lion and the head and wings of a mythic sunbird (i.e., Egyptian Sun-bearing falcon). The lion and falcon-gryphon motifs represented a pair of Sramana shamans. Therefore, the family seal associated with Gautama, described a royal person of the Arya-Vedic tradition.

A similar image of Buddhist iconography shows a Buddha seated on a “lion-throne” under a bejeweled tree with cosmic aides at his side. The Buddhist montage declares his enlightenment under the cosmic Sacred Tree of Illumination.

3-Buddhist Emblem

Possibly a modification of his family seal designed to reflect his new teachings, once Siddhartha Gautama achieves enlightenment this Buddhist emblem comes to represent him seated on the lion-throne under the sacred cosmic tree flanked by two celestial Bodhisattva (Source: Ancient Origins).

What would the family crest of the Gautama family be doing in Persia? Was Siddhartha Gautama connected to the Persian Empire?

The inscriptions of Darius the Great (Per. Darayavaush), the Persian emperor for thirty-five years, boast that the Zoroastrian God Assura Mazda (Per. Ahura Mazda) chose him to take the throne (in 522 BCE) from a usurper named “Gaumâta.” Darius shrouds the short-lived reign of his predecessor in a power struggle involving deceit, conspiracy, murder, and the prize of the Persian throne. He characterizes “Gaumâta” as an opportunist who illegally grabbed the throne in Babylon while the sitting Persian Emperor Kambujiya was away in Egypt.

4- Darius-ParsaRelief carving of Darius the Great at Persepolis (Source: Public Domain).

Written in Cuneiform Script on tablets at Mount Bisutun (aka Behistun) in three different languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian (a form of Akkadian), the Bisutun Inscriptions may have echoed the name of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became the Buddha, in the name of a little known King of Babylon.

The inscriptions refer to a religious figure named “Gaumâta,” from whom the Achaemenid Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, seized the throne in Babylon. Darius painted “Gaumâta” an imposter and illegal ruler, although the description does not seem to fit the highly educated and beloved leader. Darius identified him as a Magi (practitioner of esoteric knowledge), and sardonically labeled him as a “stargazer.” If the name “Gaumâta” referred to Siddhartha Gautama, this reference would mean that he held a key leadership position in the Magi Order. Moreover, as the headquarters of the Magi was in the temple complex of Esagila, home of the ziggurat tower dubbed “House of the Raised Head,” the designation of “stargazer” suggests that Gautama was involved with Babylon’s star observatory.

Could it be that Siddhartha Gautama was the mysterious King “Gaumâta”?

5- Darius victorous over rebels

During lifetime of Buddha (b. 563 – d. 483 BCE) when the Persian Empire stretched from Egypt to the Indus, Darius the Great comes to power by overthrowing the stargazer-Magus “Gaumata” in Babylon about whom his Bisutun Inscriptions claim: “he seized the kingdom on July 1, 522 BCE. Then I prayed to Ahuramazda and slew him.” Image of Darius reasserting Persian domination stomps on “rebels” with inscriptions etched below (Source: Ancient Origins).

The name “Gaumâta” appears to be a variant of Gautama, the Buddha’s family name. In the ancient multilingual land of Babylonia, multiple names and titles with spelling variations referring to the same person were common.Does evidence of the Babylonian Magi Order’s influences appear in Buddhist literature? Could we discover Mesopotamian references in the Buddhist scriptures?

The earliest mathematical systems, astronomical measurements, and mythological literature were initiated in the ziggurat tower-temples of the Fertile Crescent by the cultures of Sumer/Akkad and Amorite Babylonia. Both Magi and Vedic seers furthered knowledge of a cosmic infrastructure, well known in the Buddha’s time from the Tigris to the Ganges. Discovering this connection in the Buddhist sutras would challenge the prevailing view that Buddhism was born and developed in isolation exclusively in India. Although the oral legacy of the sutras were assembled and recorded later in India, a Babylonian finding would have major implications regarding the origin, influences, and intentions of the Buddha.

6- Persian Magi at Ravenna
Byzantine depiction of the Three Magi in a 7th-century mosaic at Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Source: Public Domain).
Described as a compassionate philosopher-cosmologist “Gaumâta” decreed freedom for slaves, lowered oppressive taxes across the board, and inspired neighbors to respect one another in a city known for its diverse ethnic groups and many languages. His espousal of liberty, human rights, and generosity supports the thesis that “Gaumâta” and Gautama were one and the same person.
7-Siddharta Gautama
Prince Siddharta Gautama shaves the hair off his head as the sign to decline his status as ksatriya (warrior class) and becomes an ascetic hermit, his servants hold his sword, crown, and princely jewelry while his horse Kanthaka stands on right. Bas-relief panel at Borobudur, Java, Indonesia (Source: Public Domain).
Darius, a military strongman, and a member of the Achaemenid family, prepared for his coup with a propaganda campaign designed to legitimize his overthrow of “Gaumâta.” In his public inscription he referred to his cohorts as witnesses who would confirm the killing of the usurper.While his story appears to be full of cunning deceptions, the real behind the scenes story of this episode has remained elusive to history. Certainly as Darius had good reason to write history in his own self-interest, what happened has gone undetected for thousands of years because historians know little to nothing about “Gaumâta.”Of course, if “Gaumâta” was really Siddhartha Gautama, this assassination had to be a lie, because he did go on to become the Buddha. Either someone else was murdered in the name of “Gaumâta,” or Darius shrewdly produced a disinformation campaign designed to cover up what really happened. With the “death of the imposter” the new emperor wanted to send a message to supporters of “Gaumâta” that he would not tolerate rebellions and suppressed any hope for the return of this popular leader. But in the wake of the coup nineteen rebellions arose throughout the empire. It would take Darius more than a year of brutal military action to crush the liberation-minded communities inspired by “Gaumâta.”

Matteo Compareti: The last Sassanians in China

The posting below is from Matteo Compareti’s article “The last Sassanians in China” which was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on July 20, 2009.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the Compareti article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).

Readers are also referred to the following resources:


Information on those Sasanians who avoided the submission to the Arabs and lived in Central Asia or at the Tang court can be found in the works of Muslim authors and in Chinese sources. According to Masʿudi, Yazdegerd III (r. 632-51) had two sons, Wahrām and Peroz, and three daughters, Adrag, Šahrbānu, and Mardāwand (Maçoudi, II, p. 241; see also Christensen, p. 508; Amir-Moezzi, pp. 255-56). As Balāḏori recorded, Peroz settled among the Turks of Ṭoḵārestān and even married a noble Turkish woman (Hitti, p. 493).

Qianling Tomb3Visitors to the tomb of Emperor Gaozong (r. 649-683 CE) of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) will see that one of the statues guarding the emperor as depicted above has the name of Sassanian prince Peroz (d. 679 CE) (Picture source: Tour Beijing). Peroz was crowned in China after the Arab invasion which toppled the Sassanian Empire in 637-651 CE. There is a tomb and statue in China which bears this inscription: Peroz, Shah of Iran, crowned in Tang dynasty court: Commander-in-chief of Iranian Army, Martial General of the Right [Flank] Guards, Awe-inspiring General of the Left [Flank] Guards. Peroz asked for Chinese military assistance in 661 CE against the Arabs occupying Iran. Peroz’s descendants in China adopted the Tang dynasty’s Imperial Family Name of Li.


Some further data can be deduced from Chinese sources, especially the Jiu Tangshu (‘Old History of the Tang,’ completed in 945) and the Xin Tangshu (‘New History of the Tang,’ composed in 1060). The two chronicles are roughly the same, although some details can vary: the section regarding the history of Peroz (called Bilusi) is quite different in them. According to the Jiu Tangshu, Peroz was captured by the Turkish prince of Ṭoḵārestān while escaping from the Arabs. Later he could elude his Turkish warders and, in the years 661-62, he sent an embassy to the Tang emperor Gaozong (r. 650-83), asking for military support against the Arabs. After the defeat of the Western Turks between 657 and 659, the Chinese were organizing their protectorate in the territories just conquered. The city of Zaranj in Sistān became the capital of that province, and Peroz was recognized as its governor. Peroz sent several embassies to China, and during 670-74 he personally arrived at the Tang court. Gaozong received him warmly and accorded to him the title of ‘General of the Right Militant Guard.’ In 678-9 he ordered Pei Xingjian to take Peroz back to Persia with the support of a military contingent. However, upon arriving at Suyāb/Ak Beshim, Pei Xingjian remained there and abandoned Peroz. The latter could stay for approximately twenty years in Ṭoḵārestān fighting the Arabs but, later, “the people of his tribe got dispersed” (Daffinà, p. 133). In 708-9 Peroz went back to the Tang capital and was proclaimed ‘General of the Left Majestic Guard.’ Eventually, he died from a disease, and his reign finished, although Chinese chronicles reported the arrival of Persian embassies for a while.

Tang Vase-Sassanian influence[Click to Enlarge] A well-preserved Tang vase (8-9th century CE)housed at the Guimet Museum. This bears distinct Sassanian artistic influences.

The information of the Xin Tangshu appears more reliable. This source states that Peroz found shelter in Ṭoḵārestān, but he did not receive any support from Gaozong. He established himself in Sistān with the help of the rulers of Ṭoḵārestān during a temporary slowdown in the Arab advance. In 661-64 Peroz sent several embassies to the Chinese court requesting Tang intervention against the Arabs, but he could only manage to be recognized in 661 as the head of the ‘Persian Area Command’ (Bosi dudufu), whose capital was Zaranj. In 662 Gaozong accorded to him the title of ‘King of Persia’ (Bosi wang), so for this reason he should be regarded as Peroz III, since Peroz II ascended the Sasanian throne for a very short time after Khosrow II (r. 591-628) and even struck his own coins (Gurnet, pp. 291-94; Bosworth, pp. 408, 411). Later, around 663, the Arabs could defeat him, and Peroz III himself arrived at the Chinese capital Chang’an between 673 and 674, and then again in 675, being warmly received by Gaozong on both occasions. He also got the title of ‘General of the Right Militant Guard.’ It is further recorded that, in 677, Peroz asked permission from Gaozong to build a “Persian temple” (Bosi si) which should be considered a Christian church (Leslie, pp. 283, 286-88; Forte, 1996a, pp. 355, 364). Syro-Oriental Christians were particularly numerous within the domains of the late Sasanians, and it is worth noting that Yazdegerd III’s funeral service would have been accomplished by the bishop of Merv. Moreover, according to a later tradition, his wife would have been Christian (Scarcia, 2004, p. 121). One should also mention Aluoben (Abraham?), a man of Persia who introduced Christianity into China and built the first church at Chang’an (Forte, 1996a, pp. 349-74; Idem, 1996b, pp. 375-428; Tajadod, pp. 43-45). According to an inscription on a Christian stele from Xi-an, another Persian named Li Su (he died in 817) was a clergyman and a member of the Sasanian family (Ge and Nicolini-Zani, p. 181).


[Click to Enlarge] The above figure is from a Tang dynasty burial site, now housed now at the museum at Turin, Italy. Curators and scholars continue to debate the figure’s origins; one possibility is that he was of Iranian descent (Picture source: The Wall Street Journal).

Now it is a well-known fact that there were very strong connections between the late Sasanian rulers and the Christians, whose status was definitely better than during the early Sasanian period (Mango, pp. 111, 115-18; Scarcia, 2000, p. 190; Idem, 2004, pp. 117-35; Panaino, pp. 843-62; Tubach, Arafa, and Vashalomidze). Peroz died possibly around 679, and his statue—unfortunately beheaded but recognizable by a Chinese inscription on the back of its pedestal—still embellishes the monumental tomb of Gaozong and his wife at Qiangling near Xi’an. At the same site, according to a Chinese inscription on its back, there is also the mutilated statue of Nanmei, the ‘Grand Head of Persia’ (Bosi da shouling), but nothing precise is known about him. Possibly, he was one of those Persian aristocrats who followed Peroz in China and held important positions at his court and, so, he could have been a member of the Sasanian family too (Forte, 1996b, p. 404; Idem, 1996c, pp. 191-92).

Parthian-influnece-on-China2[Click Picture to Enlarge] Chinese noblemen engaged in horse-archery during the hunt against lions. Parthian horses and cavalry styles profoundly affected China (see Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-, 2007, pp. 170-171).

The same Chinese chronicle also informs about Peroz’s son, Narseh (called in Chinese sources Ninieshi, Ninieshishi, Nihuanshi, Nilishishi, Nihuangshishi, Nimishi, or Nilishishi), who was a hostage at the Tang court. He is said to have accompanied the Chinese general Pei Xingjian in order to rescue Persia from the Arabs around 679. However, during the crossing of the Turkish territory, in nowadays Kirghizstan, the Chinese general conquered the city of Suyāb/Ak Beshim, taking the Turks and their Tibetan allies by surprise. So, Pei Xingjian left Narseh to regain the throne of Ctesiphon alone, since his true mission had been accomplished. Recent archaeological investigations at Ak Beshim confirmed some of the information in the Chinese sources (Lubo-Lesnichenko, p. 117). The true intentions of the Chinese general could be considered as accurate planning by the Tang court, because the Chinese had had diplomatic exchanges with the Arabs too at least since 651 (Petech, pp. 621-22). In fact, Narseh could never reach proper Persia and fought for twenty years against the Arabs being supported by Turkish lords of Ṭoḵārestān, like his father. A Chinese document discovered in the beginning of 20th century at Astana, near Turfan, makes mention of a so-called ‘Persian army’ (Bosi jun), which crossed the territory of Chinese Turkistan between 677 and 681 (Maspero, pp. 95-97). Possibly, this event could be identified with the passage of Narseh on his way to reestablish the Sasanian dynasty (Jiang, pp. 38-45).

tajiks-of-chinaIranian-speaking Tajik women from China. These are mainly clustered in the Karakorum region.

After the failure of his attempt to re-conquer Persia, Narseh went back to China around 707-9, to live the rest of his days as a respected member of the Tang court, and died from a disease. The Tang emperor accorded to him the title of ‘General of the Left Majestic Guard.’ The Xin Tangshu reports (see Chavannes, p. 173; Daffinà, p. 135) that only the western part of his territory was not invaded by the Arabs (even though this looks rather enigmatic, since the Arabs were coming from the west). The same source also says that embassies coming from a country considered by the Chinese to be Persia continued to arrive at Chang’an until 755. It was proposed to recognize this country as Māzandarān or, most likely, Ṭoḵārestān, where the Arabs arrived later (Chavannes, pp. 173-4; Daffinà, p. 139; Compareti, p. 211), although at least on one occasion, an embassy reached Chang’an in 751 from a kingdom to be likely identified with Surestān in southern Mesopotamia (Daffinà, p. 138). This was actually a territory in the western part of Persia, and Mani too was said to be originally from Surestān, although on this point the Chinese sources are enigmatic (Palumbo, pp. 307-10). In the Jiu Tangshu there is a considerable confusion between the figures of Peroz and Narseh, while in the Xin Tangshu it is clearly stated that after 679 it was Narseh who fought in Ṭoḵārestān against the Arabs, as already argued by some scholars on the basis of the age of Peroz (Drake, pp. 6-7). According to Herzfeld (p. 94), Peroz was born in 636, a date which could be considered well-fitting for the general history of late Sasanians and for the events narrated in the Chinese chronicles. There then arises another question regarding the military position of Peroz as described in the Jiu Tangshu: why, in fact, should Gaozong have accorded to him two different titles?

Admiral Zheng and FleetChinese Admiral Zheng He who was of Persian descent. Zheng He is recognized for having sailed with his giant fleet to Europe and Africa.  (Source: Chris Heller/CORBIS & The Mail).

Some other Persians are recorded in Chinese sources as military or relevant people well received at the court, but their affiliation to the Sasanian family is not proved (Harmatta, pp. 375-76; Daffinà, pp. 136-39; Forte, 2000, pp. 183-85). It was argued that some of the men from Ṭoḵārestān, who arrived in Japan between 654 and 660, could have been members of the Sasanian family, but, once again, this is just a hypothesis (Itō, pp. 60-62). A funerary stele, which was recovered near Luoyang (not far from Xi’an), revealed important information regarding the career of Aluohan, a man of Persia highly esteemed by Gaozong and a contemporary of Peroz, who was even sent to Byzantium as a Chinese envoy and died in 710. Suggestions have been made to identify him with Peroz’s brother, Wahrām, with good argumentation from the point of view of both the Chinese sources (Forte, 1984, pp. 174-80; Idem, 1996c, pp. 193-94) and the Mazdean apocalyptic texts, where he was celebrated in a small poem entitled ‘On the Coming of the Miraculous Wahrām’ (Abar Madan ī Wahrām ī Warzāwand; see Cereti, pp. 635-38; cf. Sprengling, pp. 175-76). His son’s name, Ju Luo, could be probably reconstructed as Khosrow according to the pronunciation of the Tang period. For this reason, he was associated with a certain Khosrow, a descendant of Yazdegerd III, who tried to re-conquer the Sasanian empire in 728-29 with the support of Turkic contingents (Forte, 1996c, pp. 193-94; cf. Harmatta, p. 375), as recorded in the Chinese and Muslim sources (Chavannes, pp. 173, 258; Christensen, p. 509).

Many Persians lived undisturbed in China due to the attitude of the first Tang emperors, but the situation changed after the An Lushan rebellion in 755-6 and, especially, with the edicts issued by the Taoist minister Li Mi (722-89) aimed to stop the monetary support granted to foreign nobles living at Chang’an (Dalby, p. 593).

kashgar-2Shop with modified Persian script in Kashgar, northwest China. This is one of the legacies of the historical silk route straddling between ancient Iran and China, having its origins in the pre-Islamic era and enduring well into the post-Islamic era. The shop sign reads “Jaanan Zaaferan”  or Jaanan’s saffron.


M. A. Amir-Moezzi, “Shahrbānū, princesse sassanide et épouse de l’Imam Husayn. De l’Iran préislamique à l’Islam shiite,” Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres 1, 2002, pp. 255-85.

C. E. Bosworth, The History of al-Tabarī (Ta’rīkh al-rusul wa’l-mulūk), vol. V: The Sāsānids, the Byzantines, the Lakhmids, and Yemen, tr. and annot. C. E. Bosworth, New York, 1999.

C. G. Cereti, “Again on Wahrām ī Warzāwand,” in La Persia e l’Asia Centrale da Alessandro al X secolo, Rome, 1996, pp. 629-39.

E. Chavannes, Documents sur les Tou-Kieu (Turks) Occidentaux, Paris, 1903.

A. Christensen, L’Iran sous les Sassanides, Copenhagen, 1944.

M. Compareti, “The Last Sasanians in China,” Eurasian Studies 2/2, 2003, pp. 197-213.

P. Daffinà, “La Persia sassanide secondo le fonti cinesi,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 57, 1983, pp. 121-70.

M. T. Dalby, “Court Politics in late Tang Times,” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. III: Sui and T’ang China, 589-906, pt. 1, ed. D. Twitchett, Cambridge, 1979, pp. 561-681.

F. S. Drake, “Mohammedanism in the Tang Dynasty,” Monumenta Serica 8, 1943, pp. 1-40.

A. Forte, “Il persiano Aluohan (616-710) nella capitale cinese Luoyang, sede del Cakravartin,” in Incontro di religioni in Asia tra il III e il X secolo d. C., ed. L. Lanciotti, Florence, 1984, pp. 169-98.

Idem, “The Edict of 638 Allowing the Diffusion of Christianity in China,” in P. Pelliot, L’inscription nestorienne de Si-Ngan-Fou, ed. A. Forte, Kyoto and Paris, 1996a, pp. 349-74.

Idem, “On the So-Called Abraham from Persia. A Case of Mistaken Identity,” in P. Pelliot, L’inscription nestorienne de Si-Ngan-Fou, ed. A. Forte, Kyoto and Paris, 1996b, pp. 375-428.

Idem, “On the Identity of Aluohan (616-710). A Persian Aristocrat at the Chinese Court,” in La Persia e l’Asia Centrale da Alessandro al X secolo, Rome, 1996c, pp. 187-97.

Idem, “Iraniens en Chine. Buddhisme, mazdéisme, bureaux de commerce,” in La Sérinde terre d’échanges, ed. J.-P. Drège, Paris, 2000, pp. 181-90.

Ge Chenyong and M. Nicolini-Zani, “The Christian Faith of a Sogdian Family in Chang-an during the Tang Dynasty,” AIUON 64, 2004, pp. 181-96.

F. Gurnet, “Une drachme sassanide de Pērōz II,” Stud. Ir. 24/2, 1995, pp. 291-94.

J. Harmatta, “The Middle Persian-Chinese Bilingual Inscription from Hsian and the Chinese-Sāsānian Relations,” in La Persia nel Medioevo, Rome, 1971, pp. 363-76.

E. Herzfeld, “Khusrau Parwēz und der Tāq i Vastān,” AMI 9, 1938, pp. 91-158.

P. K. Hitti, The Origins of the Islamic State. Being a Translation from Arabic Accompanied with Annotations Geographic and Historic Notes of the Kitâb Futûh al-Buldân of al-Imâm abu-l ‘Abbâs Ahmad ibn-Jâbir al-Balâdhuri, vol. I, New York, 1916, repr. in 1968.

G. Itō, “Zoroastrians’ Arrival in Japan (Pahlavica I),” Orient 15, 1979, pp. 55-63.

Jiang Boqin, Dunhuang and Turfan Documents Concerning the Silk Road, Beijing, 1994 (in Chinese).

D. D. Leslie, “Persian Temples in T’ang China,” Monumenta Serica 35, 1981-83, pp. 275-303.

E. I. Lubo-Lesnichenko, “Svedeniya kitaĭskikh pis’mennykh istochnikov o Suyabe (gorodishche Ak-Beshim)” (Data in Chinese Written Sources on Suyab [Settlement of Ak-Beshim]), in Suyab Ak-Bešim, St. Petersburg, 2002, pp. 115-27.

Maçoudi. Les prairies d’or, ed. and tr. C. Barbier de Meynard and P. de Courteille, 9 vols., Paris, 1861-77.

C. Mango, “Deux études sur Byzance et la Perse sassanide. I. Héraclius, Šahrvaraz et la Vraie Croix,” Travaux et Mémoires 9, 1985, pp. 91-118.

H. Maspero, Des documents chinois de la troisième expédition de Sir Aurel Stein en Asie Centrale, London, 1953.

A. Palumbo, “Mani in Cina,” in Il Manicheismo, vol. I: Mani e il Manicheismo, ed. G. Gnoli, Roma, 2003, pp. 279-316.

A. Panaino, “La chiesa di Persia e l’impero sasanide. Conflitto e integrazione,” in Cristianità d’Occidente e Cristianità d’Oriente (secoli VI-XI), Spoleto, 2004, pp. 765-863.

L. Petech, “Le ambasciate arabe in Cina,” in Studi in onore di Francesco Gabrieli nel suo ottantesimo compleanno, ed. R. Traini, vol. II, Rome, 1984, pp. 619-30.

G. Scarcia, “Cosroe Secondo, San Sergio e il Sade,” Studi sull’Oriente Cristiano 4/2, 2000, pp. 171-227.

Idem, “La «sposa bizantina» di Khosrow Parviz,” in La Persia e Bisanzio, Rome, 2004, pp. 115-35.

M. Sprengling, “From Persian to Arabic,” AJSLL 56/2, 1939, pp. 175-213.

N. Tajadod, À l’est du Christ. Vie et mort des chrétiens dans la Chine des Tang (VIIᵉ-IXᵉ siècle), Paris, 2000.

J. Tubach, M. Arafa, and G. S. Vashalomidze, Die Inkulturation des Christentums im Sasanidenreich, Wiesbaden, 2006.

Second Farrokh Book translated by Taghe Bostan Publishers into Persian

Kaveh Farrokh’s second text, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایههای صحرا (April 2007; 320 pages; ISBN: 9781846031083; Osprey Publishing) is the first text to specifically outline the military history of ancient Iran from the bronze age to the end of the Sassanian era. This book was recently translated for the second time into Persian by Taghe Bostan publishing which is affiliated with The University of Kermanshah:

Shadows in the Desert-Taghe Bostan Publishers-3

Farrokh’s second text translated into Persian for the second time. This version was translated by Bahram Khozai and published in Iran by the -طاق بستان- Taghe-Bastan company on January 21, 2012 (01 بهمن، 1390).

The second translation of the book into Persian cited above is independent of the first Persian translation by Shahrbanu Saremi (entitled -سایههایی در بیابان: ایران باستان در زمان جنگ-) which appeared through  Qoqnoos Publishers in 2011.


Shadows in the Desert Ancient Persia at War – The first Persian translation by Qoqnoos Publishers with the English to Persian translation having been done by Shahrbanu Saremi (LEFT),  The original publication by Osprey Publishing (CENTER) the Farrokh text  translated  into Russian (consult the Russian EXMO Publishers website) (RIGHT).

The Tehran Times on July 4, 2011 as well as The Times of Iran (July 4, 2011) announced the first translation of Farrokh’s book into Persian by Qoqnoos Publishers with the final report on this made by the official Mehr News Agency of Iran on September, 24, 2011 (see also earlier report by Mehr News in Persian –ناگفته‌هایی از قدرت سپاهیان ایران باستان در «سایه‌های صحرا» بازگو شد-). This has also been reported in Press TVKhabar Farsi,  Balatarin and the official Iran Book News Association (IBNA-سايه‌هاي صحرا؛ ايران باستان در جنگ منتشر شد -) on September 28, 2011.

Frye and Farrokh
Meeting his mentors: Farrokh greets the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye of Harvard University in march 2008 (shaking hands with Farrokh) and world-renowned Iranologist, Dr. Farhang Mehr (at center), winner of the 2010 Merit and Scholarship award (photo from Persian American Society,March 1, 2008).  As noted by Mafie, Professor Frye of Harvard University wrote the foreword of Farrokh’s text stating that “…Dr. Kaveh Farrokh has given us the Persian side of the picture as opposed to the Greek and Roman viewpoint …it is refreshing to see the other perspective, and Dr. Farrokh sheds light on many Persian institutions in this history…” (consult Mafie, 2010, p.2).

Below are a number of reviews of the text:

The Persian translation has been very well-received in Iran as indicated by the November 2011 newspaper clip below:

Page 52 of hashahri javan vol 335-2011
 [CLICK TO ENLARGE] Page 52 of Hamshahri newspaper, volume 335, November 17, 2011. The article in Persian by Ehsan Rezai reads “History as narrated by the Sword”.
Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War has been awarded with the Persian Golden Lioness Award by the WAALM Society in London as the “Best History Book of 2008” on October 31st 2008. This was reported by major media outlets such as the BBC, Iran’s equivalent of the New York Times, The Kayhan Newspaper (the Iranian equivalent of the New York Times) and the widely Iranian.com. The Farrokh text was also nominated as one of three finalists for the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Awards by the Independent Book Publisher’s Association.

Christopher I. Beckwith: Empires of the Silk Road

Readers are introduced to Professor Christopher I. Beckwith’s text: “Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present” (available on Amazon.com):


  • Author: Christopher I. Beckwith
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Date: Reprinted in 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0691150346; ISBN-13: 978-0691150345

This book is recommended reading for Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course “The Silk Route Origins and History“. Readers interested in the history of the Silk Route are also referred to the “Soghdian-Turkish Relations Symposium” (21-23 November, 2014) being held in Istanbul, Turkey (for brochure of conference, list of participants, etc., kindly click on images below to enlarge): Sogut_Program


Christopher I. Beckwith’s text provides a comprehensive history of Central Eurasia from antiquity to the current era. This is an excellent text that provides a critical analysis of the Empires of the Silk Road by analyzing the true origins and history of this critical region of Eurasia.


Statue of a foreigner holding a wineskin, Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith examines the history of the great and forgotten Central Eurasian empires, notably those of the Iranic peoples such as the Scythians, the Hsiang-Nou peoples (e.g. Attila the Hun, Turks, Mongols, etc.) and their interaction with China, Tibet and Persia.


One of the critical land bridges of the Silk Route: the Pamir Mountains which as a 2-way gigantic connector between the civilizations of the east and West (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith outlines the scientific, artistic and economic impacts of Central Asia upon world civilization. Beckwith also tabulates the history of the Indo-European migrations out of Central Eurasia, and their admixture with several settled peoples, resulting in the great (Indo-European) civilizations of India, Persia, Greece and Rome. The impact of these peoples upon China is also examined.


Italian pottery of the 1450s influenced by Chinese ceramic arts; housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris (Photo source: Public Domain).

This is a book that has been long overdue: Empires of the Silk Road places Central Eurasia within the major framework of world history and civilization. It is perhaps this quote by Beckwith which demonstrates his acumen on the subject:

The dynamic, restless Proto-Indo-Europeans whose culture was born there [Eurasia] migrated across and discovered the Old World, mixing with the local peoples and founding the Classical civilizations of the Greeks and Romans, Iranians, Indians, and ChineseCentral Eurasians – not the Egyptians, Sumerians, and so on– are our ancestors. Central Eurasia is our homeland, the place where our civilization started” (2009, p.319).


Second century CE Kushan ceramic vase from Begram with a “Western” motif: a Greco-Roman gladiator (Photo source: Public Domain). The Silk Route challenges the fallacy of a so-called “Clash of Civilizations” – to the contrary, East and West have had extensive adaptive contacts since the dawn of history.