Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia

The article “Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia” written by Mahbod Khanbolouki was originally published in the Ancient Origins venue on January 21, 2015. The version printed below has been slightly edited.

Readers interested in this topic can also read and download the below article as well:

Farrokh, K. (2014). An Overview of the Historical Circumstances that led to the Revolts of Babak Khorramdin. Persian Heritage, Volume XIX, No. 74, Summer, pp.21-23.

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The Umayyad- and Abbasid Caliphate of the Arabs had invaded and occupied the Sassanid Persian empire for 144 years when in 10 July 795 CE, a child was born in a village called Balal Abad situated near modern day Ardabil in northwestern Iran. This child would grow up to become the most prominent rebel leader of the Persians and he would create the largest rebel force the Arabs had ever faced anywhere in the Islamic Caliphate. He fought the invading Arabs for regaining control over Persian territories in order to liberate the Persian people and to restore Persian culture. He would be known as Babak Khorramdin.

Babak lost his father Merdas in his early childhood which resulted in him taking on the responsibility of his family, including his mother and his two younger brothers. His mother Mahrou worked as a nurse for infants while Babak himself worked as a cowherd until he was twelve years old. By the age of eighteen he was already involved in arms trade and business. He enjoyed music and singing and learned to play the Persian string instrument called tambour. A number of stories have been told about him. One story says that Babak was sleeping under a tree during an afternoon when his mother saw his hair and chest drenched in blood. But when his mother quickly woke him up and he stood on his feet, all blood had vanished and he was unharmed. Based on what she had witnessed, she told Babak that he had a great task ahead of him.

A conjectural image Babak Khorramdin (Source: Ancient Origins). Note the Bazz castle in the mountainous background.

The Khorramian sect

One winter day, a wealthy man named Javidan Shahrak was on the way home from the city of Zanjan where he had gained the leadership of a Persian rebel group called the Khorramian sect established in the nearby highlands. Due to a violent snow storm, Javidan couldn’t continue his journey and had to find shelter. By chance, he found the home of Babak and knocked on the door. His mother welcomed him into their home and lit a fire for him. During his stay, Babak took care of Javidan’s horses and showed good manners towards the guest. His level of intelligence impressed Javidan and when the time had come for Javidan to leave, he asked Mahrou whether he could take Babak with him to work in his farms. Javidan also promised her that he would send plenty of money. She accepted his request and by this event, Babak joined the Khorramian rebel group and Javidan became Babak’s role model and teacher. After some time, Babak gained the name Khorramdin, meaning of the delightful faith referring to the pre-islamic religion Zoroastrianism which is the ancient native religion of Persia.

As the leader of the Khorramian rebel group, Javidan fought the Arabs alongside Babak Khorramdin around their strong hold in northwestern Persian between the years 807-817 CE until Javidan became wounded in a battle and died in 817 CE. By the time Javidan died, Babak had learnt how to use geostrategic locations, to apply various military tactics and to lead troops. Javidan had chosen Babak as his successor and leader of the Khorramian sect before he died. Multiple rebel groups were scattered throughout the cities of Persia by the time Babak became a leader. Eventually Babak married Banu Khorramdin, the former wife of Javidan who was a female warrior and who fought side by side Babak and his men. Members of the Khorramian group wore red clothes and therefore they were known as sorkh jamegan among people, meaning the red clothed ones .

Beginning of the Rebellion

The same year as Javidan died, Babak started to motivate his followers to come together and to start a rebellion against the Arab Caliphate, and so the rebellion of the Persians begun. Babak started to recruit farmers and rebel leaders from all around Persia and ordered them to go to arms and to spread fear in the eyes of the Arabs. Babak’s popularity increased rapidly and thousands of people joined his movement. There are different accounts of the number of people who joined his rebel army but the number is estimated to be between 100 000 – 300 000 people strong. The army mainly consisted of farmers and when Babak recruited these men, he also trained them for battles. He ordered his men to raid caravans along the Silk Road, to destroy Arab strongholds and to seize villages, which in turn contributed to loss of control in many provinces ruled by the Arabs.

Statue of Babak Khorramdin the Nakhchevan region of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus (Wikimedia Commons). Kindly note that the Caucasian Republic with the name “Azerbaijan” was not known by this name until May 1918 – the historical Azerbaijan is located in southwest of Iran. The region of the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan was known as Arran and the Khanates and also as Albania in pre-Islamic times.

In 819 CE, full scale battles between Persians and Arabs were initiated. The Caliphate continuously ordered Arab generals to fight Babak. An Arab general named Yahya ibn Mu’adh was sent to fight the Khorramian rebel group, but failed to defeat Babak. During two years time, armies under the command of Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid continuously attacked Babak’s forces with no success. In 824 CE, Ahmad ibn al Junayd attacked the Khorramian rebel group but ended up captured by Babak. In 827 CE, the Arabs under the command of Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi attacked and became victorious but could not capture Babak and his closest men. In 829 CE, Babak returned to restore his strongholds and defeated Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi who ended up getting killed while his Arab army suffered heavy losses.

An image of Babak Khorramdin (Source: Ancient Origins).

The stronghold of the Khorramian rebel group was the Castle of Babak which is situated on an altitude of 2600 metres on the mountain Badd (also known as Bazz). The castle is surrounded by mountains and ravines which during ancient times provided protection from invading troops. A handful of Khorramian soldiers could easily wipe out thousands of enemies and the castle was impossible to invade during winter seasons. It was built during the Sassanid dynasty (224-651 CE) with foundations built during the Parthian dynasty (247 BC-224 CE). As the brilliant war lord that he was, Babak Khorramdin took full advantage of the strategic location of the castle which had an important role in the numerous victories he had against the Arab generals.

The remains of the Castle of Babak which are visited by Iranians and tourists all year round (Source: Iran Tour Center).

In 835 CE, the caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate named al Mu’tasim ordered his best general to confront Babak Khorramdin and to capture him. His name was Haydar ibn Kavus Afshin and was chosen as the governor of the area where Babak was active. He had been a former compatriot of Babak. In the early days of the Persian rebellion, Afshin made an oath together with Babak to cooperate and defeat the Arab armies and to bring back the power of Persia to the hands of the former Sassanid monarchs. By this time, after 18 years of Persian revolts, Afshin had treacherously started to cooperate with the Arabs in exchange for excessive riches, benefits and to be the head general of the Caliphate army. With the help and resources provided by the caliph, Afshin ordered Arab strongholds, which had been destroyed by Babak and his men, to be rebuilt and reinforced. Al Mu’tasim on the other hand managed to capture one of Babak’s men which by torture was forced to exploit information about Babak’s tactics, territorial strategies and about hidden pathways. Shortly before Afshin attacked the Castle of Babak, Babak had sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor Theophilus in request for military reinforcements but the letter did not reach the emperor in time. Babak and his men had to evacuate the castle and flee. Babak himself together with his wife and a few soldiers fled to Armenia while Afshin plundered and thereafter demolished the castle. While Babak was in the custody of the Armenian prince Sahl ibn Sonbāt, the prince was informed about the large reward for finding Babak. Afshin was informed about Babak’s presence in Armenia and he sent a large army to Sahl ibn Sonbāt’s residence and captured Babak.

A 2009 canvas oil painting produced in Tehran by Shahab Mousavizadeh depicting the arrest of Babak Khorramdin (in c. 800 CE) by the Caliphate (Source: Shahab Mousavizadeh).

Babak Khorramdin was held in the presence of the caliph in the city of Samarra and was sentenced to death in 838 CE. Before he was executed, his hands and feet were cut off and it is said that in his agony, Babak washed his face with blood pouring out of his cuts. When the caliph asked him what he was doing, Babak answered that he wouldn’t let the Arabs see his pale face when he was dead so that they wouldn’t think he died with fear of the Arabs. He was decapitated and his head was later sent around the cities of Persia in order to spread fear among Iranians. His body was hanged on the walls of Samarra.

For 21 years, Babak Khorramdin successfully lead a major rebellion which brought the Arabs to their knees one battle after another. Ultimately, he wasn’t defeated by the Caliphate but by treacherous allies. He will always be remembered as the Persian hero who sacrificed his life for freedom and his cultural heritage. He was a brilliant leader and is very much alive today in the minds of Iranians just as he was back in time. Today Iranians visit the ruins of his castle 10 July every year to honor the great legend and his men.

Translation of Professor Katarzyna Maskymiuk’s Sassanian Military History Book into Persian

A seminal textbook on Sassanian military history by Professor Katarzyna Maksymiuk (University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Siedlce, Poland) entitled “Geography of Roman-Iranian Wars: Military Operations of Rome and Sasanian Iran” (2015, Scientific Publishing House of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland) has been translated in 2019 by Parviz Hossein Talaee into Persian “جغرافیای جنگ‌های ایران و روم [Joqrafiya-ye Jang-ha-ye Iran va Rom: Amaliyat-ha-ye Nezami-ye Iran va Rom dar Dore-ye Sasani]” by a major Persian-language academic publishing house, Amir Kabir Publishing (موسسه انتشارات امیرکبیر):

Prof. Katarzyna’s textbook is a major contribution to Sassanian military studies as it has, for the first time in the academic mileau, provided full and comprehensive maps of the battles between the Sassanian Spah (army) and the Romans (later Romano-Byzantines). The maps of this textbook were displayed by permission of Professor Maksymiuk in the 2017 textbook by Kaveh Farrokh on the Sassanian army entitled “Armies of Ancient Persia: the Sassanians” (Pen & Sword Publishing).

Professor Maksymiuk has published an impressive array of publications on Sassanian military history as posted in Academia.edu. Professor Maskymiuk has also published articles and textbooks on Sassanian military history with Illka Syvänne, Gholamreza Karamian, Kaveh Farrokh and Javier Sánchez-Gracia:

For recent advances in Sassanian Studies as well as Sassanian military history see Review of Sassanian Studies by Dr. Matthew G. Marsh.

Documentary Film Production: the UNESCO Sassanian Fortress in Darband

Pejman Akbarzadeh is making a new documentary about the Sassanian fortress Darband in Daghestan, which is the largest known (pre-Islamic) Iranian defensive structure in Caucasus. Despite being registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the latter remains (excepting among specialized scholars) remarkably unknown internationally, even among contemporary Iranians.

A view of a section of Darband in winter season (Source: Public Domain).

The Persian Heritage Foundation, founded in the 1980s by the late Ehsan Yarshater (1920-2018; one of the primary editors of the Encyclopedia Iranica) has agreed to cover 50% of the production costs. Pejman will be traveling to Daghestan in October 2019 in order to film the fortress and to interview Murtazali Gadjiev (The Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Daghestan Scientific Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences).

More support however is needed in order to sustain the remaining costs of this important project. For more information on supporting this project on Crowdfunding, click here …

A view of a section of Darband in the summertime (Source: Public Domain).

Pejman’s previous project, was the successful documentary on the Sassanian archway of Taghe Kasra (Taq Kasra) and its critical situation in Iraq. The film has been screened at various museums, universities and international conventions around the world. This documentary film has been cited as an “impressive film” by the BBC.

Journal Article: Caucasian Albanian warriors in the armies of pre-Islamic Iran

The HISTORIA I ŚWIAT academic journal has published the following article by Kaveh Farrokh, Javier Sánchez-Gracia (HRM Ediciones, Zaragoza, Spain), and Katarzyna Maksymiuk (Siedlce University, Poland):

Farrokh, K., Sánchez-Gracia, J., & Maksymiuk, K. (2019). Caucasian Albanian warriors in the armies of pre-Islamic Iran. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, 8, pp.21-46.

The article discusses the important role of ancient Albania, an ancient country in the Caucasus (in the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, first labelled with this appellation in May 1918) in the history of Iran. Albanian cavalry was serving with the later Achaemenid armies of Darius III (r. 336–330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

An Albanian-Scythian cavalry commander from the late Achaemenid era (Source: Pinterest). Cavalry of this type from Albania fought for Darius III against Alexander at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).

Albania was transformed into a Sassanian province by Šāpūr I (c. 253) with the Albanians (notably their cavalry) becoming increasingly integrated into the battle order of the Sassanian Spah (army).

Book cover of “The Siege of Amida” authored by Kaveh Farrokh, Katarzyna Maksymiuk & Javier Sánchez-Gracia (2018) DC – click here to download in pdf from Academia.edu … The above image is a recreation by Ardashir Radpour of a Sassanian Savaran knight of the Hamharzan who were often supplied with the highest quality weaponry. Elite Albanian knights fighting alongside the Savaran would have resembled their comrade in arms with respect to attire, equipment and battle tactics. The above book was displayed at the 2018 ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) Conference’s LSS (Library of Social Sciences) display in Washington DC.

All along the Caspian coast the Sassanians built powerful defense works, designed to bar the way to invaders from the north. The most celebrated of these fortifications are those of Darband in Caucasian Albania.

A view of the Darband Wall (known commonly as Derbent; cited as Krevar in local dialects) in Daghestan, Northern Caucasus (Courtesy of Associates of Eduard Enfiajyan).  The origins of the wall of Darband are generally attributed to Kavad I (r. 488-496, 498-530 CE) who after a two-year war (489-490 CE) ejected Khazar invaders rampaging Armenia and Caucasian Albania (modern Republic of Azerbaijan). Construction of the wall was continued by Khosrow I (r. 530-579 CE) and by the late 6th century CE, this had become a system of walls connecting a series of fortresses. Total length of the Darband wall is nearly 70 km, spanning the territory from the Caucasus Mountains to the Caspian Sea. The Wall of Darband or Derbent became a major military fortress shielding Iranian territories in the Caucasus and the historical Azarbaijan below the Araxes River from nomadic attackers along the northern Caucasus, most notably the Khazars.

Albania remained an integral part of the Sasanian army well into the empire’s final days as evidenced by the military exploits of Albanian regal prince Javanshir (Persian: Young Lion) and his cavalry who fought against the Arabo-Islamic invaders at the Battle of Qadissiya (637 CE) and after. Javanshir was a member of the Iranian Mehranid family related to the Parthian clans.

A copy of the 7th century CE statue of the Caucasian Albanian Prince Javanshir (Persian: Young Lion) discovered in Nakhchevan, southern Caucasus (the original statue is housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg – the above copy of the original is in the Republic of Azerbaijan History Museum) (Source: Urek Meniashvili in Public Domain).

Arthurian Legend and the Sarmatians (Part I)

The article “Arthurian Legend and the Sarmatians (Part I)” was originally written by Periklis Deligiannis. Regarding the Iranian origin of the Sarmatians see: Oric Basirov: Origin of pre-Imperial Iranian Peoples For more on North Iranian peoples see … Scythian and Sarmatian History … For more on the links between ancient Greater Iran or Persia (Eire-An) and Europa, consult the following: Eire-An and Europa … Part II of the below article will be posted in September 2020.

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In  AD  175 ,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  settled  thousands  of  Sarmatian  cavalry  mercenaries  in  Britain.  Two  centuries  later,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  her  troops  from  the  island.  It  seems  that  the  independent
”British  kingdom”  preserved  its  unity  and  coherence  but  soon  after  it  was  struck  by  the  ruthless  Anglo-Saxon  invasion.  The  Sarmatians  were  now  merged  with  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  population,  taking  the  lead  in  checking  the  barbarians.  This  Sarmatian  presence  in  Britain  consists  probably  the  historical  background  of  the  legend  of  king  Arthur  and  his  Knights  of  the  Round  Table.

The  Romans  conquered  modern  England  and  Wales  during  the  1st  century  A.D.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  (Caledonii,  Cornavii/Cornovii,  Venicones  etc.)  which  corresponds  to  the  modern  Scottish  Highlands,  remained  independent.  By  the  4th  century,  her  peoples  had  been  incorporated  into  the  tribal  union  of  the  Picts  (Picti,  Pictae).  Their  name  meant  the  “painted  ones”  in  Latin  because  of  the  ancient  Celtic  custom  of   tattooing  which  they  maintained.  In  fact,  they  called  themselves  Cruthni.  The  Romans  held  Britannia  for  more  than  three  centuries,  but  the  Christianization  and  Latinization  of  its  population  were  confined  only  to  the  cities  and  in  a  few  Southeastern  rural  regions.  The  great  majority  of  the  population  remained  Celtic  in  language  and  in  cults.  Especially  the  rural  populations  were  greatly  influenced  by  the  Christian  heresy  of  Pelagianism.  In  the  late  4th  century  AD,  the  original  Roman  province  of  Britannia  was  split  into  four  provinces:  Caesaresia  Magna,  Caesaresia  Flavia,  Britannia  I  and  Britannia  II.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  and  Ireland  were  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory  for  centuries.

The  Irish  were  crossing  the  Irish  Sea  with  their  light  vessels,  the  Celtic  curraghs.  The  Caledonians-Picts  were  attacking  the  Romano-British  population  by  land  and  sea,  using  the  same  type  of  ships.  Caledonia  and  Britannia  were  separated  by  a  “neutral  zone” (buffer  zone  in  fact)  between  Antoninus’  and  Hadrian’s  Walls,  which  is  almost  equivalent  to  the  modern  Scottish  Lowlands. The  limits  of  Caledonia  (latter  Pictland)  followed  roughly  the  modern  ‘unofficial’  boundaries  between  the  Highlands  and  the  Lowlands  of  Scotland.  The  tribes  of  this  buffer  zone  between  Britannia  and  Caledonia  (the  Damnonii,  the  Selgovae  et. al.)  had  lived  for  two  decades  of  the  2nd  century  AD  under  direct  Roman  control  that  had  reached  Antoninus’  Wall (Vallum  Antonini).  When  they  revolted,  the  Romans  evacuated  this  region  and  restored  the  line  of  their  defense  in  Hadrian’s  Wall (Vallum  Adriani).  Eventually  the  Romans  made  allied  vassals  (foederati)  the  tribes  of   Lowland  Scotland,  using  them  as  a  buffer  zone  against  the  Caledonians/Picts.  However,  their  fidelity  was  always  questionable  and  the  gradual  weakening  of  the  Empire  led  them  to  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory.

Scales  of  Sarmatian  armor  found  near  Hadrians wall (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis).  They  probably  belonged  to  Iazygae  or  Alan  mercenaries  of  the  Roman  army.

In  the  4th  century,  the  Roman  weakening  brought  about  the  increase  of  the  barbarian  attacks  and  the  emergence  of  a  new  invader:  the  Anglo-Saxons.  The  term  ‘Anglo-Saxons’  (or  usually  simply  ‘Saxons’)  is  a  modern  conventional  name  for  of  group  of  Germanic  and  a  few  Slavic  invaders  in  Britain,  originating  from  modern  northern  Germany,  Netherlands,  Belgium  and  Jutland  (Denmark).  This  tribal  group/union  included  the  Saxons  (the  more  numerous  of  the  group),  Engles  (in  Germanic:  Engeln,  modern  English),  Frisians,  Jutes (Geats, a  Gothic  tribal  offshoot),  Proto-Norwegians  (Northwestern  Scandinavians),  Danes,  Angrivarians,  Brukteri  (Boruktuari),  Westphalians,  Ostphalians,  Franks,  Thuringians,  Wangrians  and  a  few  Slavs.  The  Anglo-Saxons  were  crossing  the  North  Sea  with  long  boats  (predecessors  of  the  Viking  ships)  and  were  attacking  Britannia,  looting  and  capturing  its  inhabitants.

The  Roman  armies  and  garrisons  of  Britain  who  faced  the  Irish,  Picts  and  Saxons  included  in  the  4th  century  AD:    I. the  force  of  the  Duke  of  Britannia (Dux  Britanniarum)  which  was  based  in  Eboracum  (capital  of  the  Parisii  tribe)  protecting  Northern  Britain  and  Hadrian’s  Wall.     II. the  force  of   the  Comes  Litoris  Saxonici (Saxon  Shore)  which  protected  the  southeastern  British  coasts  against  the  Anglo-Saxons.    III.  The  fast-moving  force   of  the  Comes  Britanniarum (mainly  cavalry), a  reserve  in  order  to  repel  any  sudden  barbaric  raid  on  any  British  coast.

In  the  early  5th  century,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  was  undergoing  collapse.  The  Romans  had  begun  to  withdraw  their  troops  from  Britain  since  the  4th  century,  in  order  to  check  the  barbarian  pressure  on  the  continental  border  of  the  Rhine.  In  AD  383,  the  Hispano-Roman  general  Maximus,  governor  of  Britannia  who  coveted  the  throne  of  Ravenna,  landed  in  Gaul  with  many  troops.  The  legionaries  that  he withdrew  were  not  replaced  with  new  ones.  The  protection  of  Roman  Britain  was  now  uneconomic  for  the  crumbling  Empire.  The  departure  of  the  Roman  soldiers  continued,  and  together  with  them  departed  a  great  part  of  the  noble  and  wealthy  castes,  whose  members  had  already  understood  that  very  soon  Britannia  would  not  be  a  safe  place  to  live.  Urban  life  had  already  been  reduced  significantly  and  the  economy  had  been  shrunk.  In  407  AD,  the  Empire  withdrew  its  last  regular  troops  from  the  island,  probably  along  with  most  imperial  administrators  and  employees.  The  soldiers  who  remained  were  essentially  some  Romans  and  foreign  mercenaries  who  had  families  with  native  women  or  other  footholds  on  the  island,  and  the  few  British  auxiliaries  who  supported  the  legions.  The  same  applies  to  the  remaining  imperial  officers  and  employees.

A  number  of  Latin-speaking  Germanic  soldiers  called  gentiles,  descendants  of  old  mercenaries  of  Rome,  remained  especially  in  Eastern  Britain.  They  initially  fought  their  Anglo-Saxon  brethren,  however  it  is  possible  that  later  many  of  them  joined  the  invaders  on  the  basis  of  their  common  Germanic  ancestry.  The  well-known Gewisse  are  most  likely  such  a  case.  Finally,  many  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries  (to  whom  we  shall  refer  in  detail  below)  remained  in  the  island  as  well.  After  407,  Britain  South  of  Hadrian’s  Wall  although  was  accounted  for  as  part  of  the  Roman  world,  became  virtually  independent.  The  rise  of  the  barbarian  raids  and  invasions  after  the  Roman  withdrawal,  embarrassed  the  British  leadership.  Its  members  sent  a  message  to  the  Roman  emperor,  with  a  request  for  military  aid  against  the  raiders  (Gemitus Britannorum, “Groans of the Britons”, 410  AD).  The  emperor  could  do  nothing,  advising  them  to  organize  their own defense.

Despite  the  departure  of  the  imperial  army  and  administration  from  Britain,  the  Roman-style  organized  life  went  on.  The  shrunken  Roman  cities  continued  to  exist,  but  the  way  of  life,  language,  cults  and  other  Roman/Latin  elements  were  steadily  giving  ground  to  the  regenerated  Celtic  ones.  The  remaining  Romanized  aristocracy  of  South-Eastern  Britain  undertook  the  organizing  of  the  defense  of  this  region  against  the  Saxons.  The  stably  Celtic  in  civilization  nobility  of  the  mountainous  and  hilly  Western  Britain  undertook  the  repulse  mainly  of  the  Irish  raiders.  The  remaining  former  commanders  of  the  Roman  guards  of  Hadrian’s  Wall  and  the  local  nobles  became  the  hereditary  ruling  class  of  the  Northern  Briton  territories,  mainly  undertaking  the  repulse  of  the  Picts.

Reenactment  of a Saxon warlord by the Historical association Wulfheodenas (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis).  Until  the  9th  century  AD,  the  marching  Anglo-Saxons  gradually  conquered  the  greatest  part  of  the  former  Roman  territories  in  Britain. 

Considering  the  ethno-cultural  conditions,  the  Northern  British  rulers  were  in  an  intermediate  situation  between  the  ‘authentic  Celts’  of  the  Western  region  and  the  Romano-Britons  of  the  South-Eastern  part  of  the  island .  It  is  probable  that  the  three  mentioned  groups  were  in  rivalry  during  the  Roman  period.  However,  the  common  external  threat  of  the  barbarians  joined  them.

The  former  Roman  Britain  was  gradually  divided  into  small  autonomous  Celtic  or  Romano-Celtic  states,  led  by  military  leaders  who  tried  to  maintain  unified  the  “British  kingdom”  as  they  perceived  their  common  territory.  An  action  of  their  unifying  policy  was  the  election  of  a  warlord  (Duke)  as  their  supreme  political  and  military  leader,  who  led  the  war  efforts  against  the  invaders  and  prevented  internal  conflicts.  In  the  medieval  chronicles,  the  supreme  leader  is  referred  as  the  ‘Supreme  Ruler’  of  the  island,  but  his  original  title  or  his  military  one  was  the  Dux  Bellorum.  Probably  this  office  was  the  continuity  of  the  Roman  office  of  the  Dux  Britanniarum.

The  Britons  resisted  the  barbaric  invasions,  led  by  a  series  of  inspirational  supreme  leaders  like  Voteporix,  Vortigern  and  especially  the  legendary  Arthur.  Under  their  leadership,  they  crashed  the  Picts  and  the  Irish  overthrowing  the  Irish  colonies  in  Wales  and  Lowland  Scotland,  and  managed  to  check  the  Anglo-Saxons.  In  429,  the  Romano-Britons  crashed  a  horde  of  Saxon  and  Pict  invaders.

Map of Britain in c. 540 CE (Source: Periklis  Deligiannis), contemporary to the Sassanians

The  British  defense  was  successful  until  442,  when  it  was  shaken  by  two  fatal  “scourges”  (Gildas’  Chronicle).  Vortigern,  probably  one  of  the  leader  of  the  Ordovices  tribe  of  Wales, was  at  that  time  the  Duke  of  Britannia (Supreme  Ruler).  His  name  is  possibly  not  a  personal  name  because  it  can  be  analyzed  in  Brythonic  Celtic  as  the  “Great  King”,  being  probably  a  popularized  rendering  of  the  title  Supreme  Ruler.  Vortigern  had  hired  Jute  mercenaries  in  order  to  repel  the  Anglo-Saxon  invasions.  Their  rebellion  (around  442  AD)  against  him  was  Gildas’  first  “scourge”.  The  Jutes  began  to  raid  Eastern  Britain,  capturing  or  killing  the  inhabitants.  The  second  “scourge”  was  a  plague  that  occurred  on  the  island  (around  446)  and  mainly  affected  the  urban  centers,  decimating  the  remaining  Romanized  population  who  lived  primarily  on  them.  It  was  a  severe  blow  for  the  Romano-British  administration  and  military  organization,  because  they  were  staffed  mainly  by  the  Latinized  population.  In  446,  the  Romano-Britons  asked  for  the  military  aid  of  the  Roman  general  Aetius.  The  great  Aetius  (who  was  meant  to  repel  Attila  in  451  AD  at  the  battle  of  Campus  Mauriacus  or  Catalaunian  Plains)  was  in  Gaul.  The  Briton  request  was  rejected  again.

Vortigern’s   preference  to  Germanic  mercenaries  was  his  great  blunder.  He  probably  did  not  trust  the  native  officials  and  warriors,  aiming  on  the  consolidation  of  his  power  through  the  formation  of  his  own  “Praetorian  guard”  composed  of  Germans.  He “fixed”  his  mistake  of  the  recruitment  of  the  Jutes  with  a  bigger  mistake:  he  settled  a  group  of  Saxon  mercenaries  under  their  warlords  Horsa (‘the  horse’)  and  Hengist (‘the  stallion’),  in  the  land  of  the  Kantii (modern Kent) (about  450  AD).  Their  duty  was  to  suppress  the  rebellion  of  the  Jutes.  The  Saxons  managed  to  defeat  them  but  thereafter  they  also  turned  against  Vortigern  conducting  atrocities  and  looting  on  the  Britons,  from  their  base  at  Kent.  At  the  same  time  they  called  their  brethren  to  come  from  their  cradle  in  Northern  Germany.

These  newcomers  landed  on  the  shores  of  Britain  and  in  a  few  decades  they  conquered  the  Southeastern  part.  But  the  Anglo-Saxon  march  was  limited  because  of  the  efforts  of  the  new  Briton  Duke  (Supreme Ruler)  Ambrosius  Aurelianus  and  then  it  was  stopped  by  the  legendary  great  Duke  Arthur.  It  has  not  been  established  yet  whether  Arthur  was  a  mythological  hero  or  a  real  historical  personality,  but  the  archaeological  discoveries  of  the  last  decades  and  a  review  of  the  chronicles  support  his  historicity.  The  literary,  historical,  archaeological  and  other  relevant  evidence  suggests  strongly  that  a  powerful  warlord  did  live  during  the  verge  of  the  5th-6th  centuries,  uniting  most  of  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  tribes  and  states,  and  fending  the  invaders.  He  could  not  be  other  than  Arthur  of  the  Celto-British  oral  tradition  and  of  the  “History  of  the  Kings  of  Britain”  of  Geoffrey  of  Monmouth  (AD  1133).

Arthur  as  a  military  leader,  was  not  depending  on  foreign  mercenaries  as  Vortigern  did,  but  in  a  “national”  army  comprised  of  Briton  Celts,  Romano-Britons,  Romano-Germans  and  Romano-Sarmatians.  He  inflicted  heavy  losses  to  the  Anglo-Saxons,  forcing  some  of  them  to  return  disappointed  in  Germany  as  it  is  proved  by  archaeology.
The  Roman  army  in  Britain  comprised  many  Sarmatian  mercenaries,  most  of  whom  probably  remained  on  the  island  after  407.  The  Sarmatians  were  a  large  group  of  nomadic  tribes  of  Northern  Iranian (Saka/Scythian)  stock.  Their  cradle  was  in  Central  Asia, possibly  in  modern  Northern  Kazakhstan.  Since  the  3rd  century  B.C.,  some  of  their  tribes  started  a  migration  to  China,  while  the  bulk  of  the  people  invaded  gradually  the  modern  Ukrainian  steppes  destroying  the  Scythian  state  in  Europe.  The  various Sarmatian tribes  were  independent  and very  often  were  fighting  each  other.  The  most  important  were  the  Sauromatae,  the  Roxolani,  the  Iazygae,  the  Siraces,  the  ‘Royal  Sarmatians’,  the  Aorsi/Alans, the  Aspourgians  etc.

The  Sarmatians  fought  primarily  as  armored  cavalry  using  a  long  and  strong  spear  (the  kontos)  as  their  main  weapon.  The  Romans  of  the  Later  Empire  evaluated  their  martial  spirit  and  recruited  them  massively  as  mercenaries.  They  ultimately  adopted  themselves  the  Sarmatian  mounted  warfare.  The  Goths,  the  Huns  and  other  peoples  did  the  same, and  they  also  included  in  their  ranks  many  Sarmatian  allies.  The  formidable  Sarmatians  were  dispersed  and  settled  in  many  European  regions,  where  they  finally  were  assimilated  by  the  local  populations.

Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, Plate D, Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005). Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. As noted by Periklis  Deligiannis,  the  Sarmatian  cataphracts belonged  to a very similar type of cavalry as the Savaran. Sarmatian cataphracts were using  armour  made  of  large  scales  or  mail  armor  like  the  Savaran in the above battle against Roman forces invading Sassanian Persia. Like the Sassanians, the Sarmatians also used  helmets  that were  mainly  of  the  spangenhelm  type – see following article: Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Kubic, A., & Oshterinani, M.T. (2017). An Examination of Parthian and Sasanian Military Helmets. In “Crowns, hats, turbans and helmets: Headgear in Iranian history volume I” (K. Maksymiuk & Gh. Karamian, Eds.), Siedlce University & Tehran Azad University, pp.121-163.

The  Iazygae,  a  tribe  of  the  Sarmatian  vanguard,  settled  for  some  time  in  Pannonia  (modern  Hungarian  and  Croatian  plain)  and  from  there  they  were  raiding  the  neighboring  Roman  territories.  In  AD  175,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  defeated  them  and  exiled  8,000  Iazygian  horsemen  (most  of  the  surviving  warriors  of  the  tribe)  in  Gaul  and  Britain,  where  they  were  obliged  to  serve  as  mercenaries  of  the  Roman  army.  5,500  of  them  were  settled  in  Britannia.  The  most  important  part  of  their  story  is  that  according  to  a  honorific  Roman  tombstone,  the commander  of  the  Legio  VI  Victrix  in  which  they  enrolled,  was  an  officer  called  Lucius  Artorius  Castus,  who  had  served  in  Dalmatia (a  region  adjacent  to  Pannonia)  and  perhaps  was  of  Dalmatian  (Illyrian)  origin.  The  enrollment  of  the  Iazygian  mercenaries  in  the  Sixth  Legion  was  not  accidental.  The  Sarmatians  undoubtedly  welcomed  a  commander  familiar to  their  homeland,  possibly  familiar  with  their  customs  and  language  as  well.  When  their  twenty-year  term  of  office  ended,  the  Romans  forbade  them  to  return  to  Pannonia  resettling  them  in  Bremetennacum (modern  Ribchester,  near  Lancaster)  and  in  two  other  sites  in  Britain.  Later,  these  three  Sarmatian  settlements-sites  were  identified  with  three  of  the  twelve  sites  of  victories  achieved  by  Arthur  (Nennius: History  of  the  Britons,  late  8th  century).

In  the  end  of  the  3rd  century, a  military  unit  of  500  Sarmatian  cavalrymen  is  reported  to  be  based  in  Bremetennacum, and  they  are  considered  to  be  the  descendants  of  the  Iazygian  captives-mercenaries.  The  personal  name  Arthur  comes  possibly  from  a  Celtic  corruption  of   the  Latin  Artorius  and  it  has  been  suggested  that  the  legendary  Arthur,  Duke  of  Britain  of  the  5th-6th  century,  was  a  descendant  of  the  Roman  Artorius  of  the  2nd  century.  Another  modern  theory  suggests  that  the  Latin  personal  name   Artorius   became  the  Celtic  title  Arthur  (like  the  Roman  name  Caesar  was  converted  to  the  German  title  Kaiser  and  the  Russian  title  Tsar).  However,  Arthur  was  undoubtedly  a  Celt,  even  if  he  was  a  distant  descendant  of  the  Roman  Artorius.

The  number  of  the  Sarmatians  in  Britain  was  not  inconsiderable.  The  Romans  settled  on  the  island  5,500  Iazygian  warriors.  The  Sarmatians  used  to  move  with  their  families  who  lived  in  the  typical  heavy  carriages  of  the  nomads,  thereby  it  is  certain  that  many  of  the  Iazygae  settlers  had  their  women  and  children  with  them.  On  the  other  hand,  many  would  be  young  unmarried  men  who  got  married  with  Briton  women.  The  usual  ratio  of  combatants  to  non-combatants,  used  to  calculate  ancient  populations,  is  1:3 .  Therefore,  a  ratio  of  1:2  is  acceptable  for  the  Iazygae  mercenaries  in  Britain  and  so  we  can  assume  a  total  figure  of  16-17,000  with  the  women  and  children.  If  we  add  to  them  the  rest  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries  who  settled  in  Britain,  mainly  Alans,  the  total  Sarmatian  population  would  number  a  few  tens  of  thousands (possibly  20-30,000).  The  number  of  the  Germanic  gentiles  in  the  island  was  higher.  The  total  population  of  Britannia  was  around  1,000,000-1,500,000.  It seems that the  total  figure of  the  Germanics  and  Sarmatians (men,  women  and  children)  did  not  exceed  5 %  of  the total population.

According  to  some  modern  scholars,  the  history  of  these  Sarmatian  mercenaries  in  Britain  is  the  background  of  the  Arthurian  Legend, as  we  shall  see  in  PART  II (to be posted by Kavehfarrokh.com in September 2020).