New Textbooks on Sassanian Military History (2017-2018)

As of May 20, 2018, Kaveh Farrokh has published six books on the military history of Iran/Persia [see this section in]. His first two books have also been translated into Russian (see Персы: Армия великих царей, Cерия: Военная история человечества, Москва…) and Persian, notably by major Persian-language academic press publication outlets such as Amir Kabir [انتشارات اميركبير], Qoqnoos [ققنوس], Taghe Bostan of University of Kermanshah [طاق‌ بستان], etc. [see this section in].

Kaveh Farrokh’s most recent two new books pertain to the armies of the Sassanians. One of these was co-authored with two scholars in 2018 [See in]:

A Synopsis of Sasanian Military Organization and Combat Units 

  • Kaveh Farrokh
  • Gholamreza Karamian (Department of Archaeology & History Central Tehran Branch, Tehran Azad University)
  • Katarzyna Maksymiuk (Institute of History and International Relations, Faculty of Humanities, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Poland)

The book was published by the Publishing House of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities with the support of the Central Branch of Tehran Azad University.

The results of the research for the above textbook were conducted under the research theme No. 452/16/S (Army of ancient Iran in comparative background) and financed from the science grant granted by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland.

Savārān officer engaged in achery. Recreations by Ardashir Radpour (courtesy A. Radpour & H. Martin).

Note that Kaveh Farrokh’s co-authors (Prof. Gholamreza Karamian and Prof. Katarzyna Maksymiuk) are top scholars. While too numerous to list here, Prof. Maksymiuk is one of the world’s leading scholars of Partho-Sassanian military studies – readers are referred to her page here …

Note that the maps produced by Prof. Maksymiuk in her 2015 textbook [Geography of Roman-Iranian Wars. Military Operations of Rome and Sasanian Iran] have been reproduced in Farrokh’s 2017 textbook on the Sassanian army (discussed further below).

Prof. Karamian has conducted several critical excavations of Partho-Sassanian sites, which have been reported on Kaveh Farrokh, such as the palace of Ramavand, and has also been published in academic format:

Karamian, Gh., & Farrokh, K. (2017). Sassanian stucco decorations from the Ramavand (Barz Qawaleh) excavations in the Lorestan Province of Iran. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, No.6, pp. 69-88.

Karamian’s discoveries of Parthian sites (with the assistance of his graduate students) of the sites of Andika in Khuzestan (in southwest Iran) and Panj-e Ali (in Luristan, western Iran) have also been academically published:

Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Delfan, M., Astaraki, F. (2016). Preliminary reports of the late Parthian or early Sassanian relief at Panj-e Ali, the Parthian relief at Andika and examinations of late Parthian swords and daggers. HISTORIA I ŚWIAT, No.5, pp. 31-55.

Plate Šāpūr II (r. 309-379) atop an Elephant (4th-7th centuries), Los Angeles County Museum of Art inv. no. M.76.174.18, (drawing by Prof. Katarzyna Maksymiuk).

Kaveh Farrokh’s second most recent textbook on the Sassanian military “Armies of Persia: the Sassanians” by Kaveh Farrokh was published in 2017 by Pen & Sword Publishing in England.

  • Publisher: Pen and Sword (Oct. 17 2017)
  • ISBN-10: 1848848455
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848848450
  • Hardcover: 256 pages

Available at:

Rock-cut statue of a late Sasanian ruler, possibly of Khosrow “Parveez” II (6th century CE), In situ Ṭāq-e Bostān, (photo by Prof. David Nicolle).

The textbook’s contents are organized as follows:

= = = = = =

  • List of Plates
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Introduction
  • Historical Timeline of the Sassanian Empire
  • Chapter 1: Martial Ardour, Origins and Missions of the Spah
  • Chapter 2: Organization: Military Titles and Recruitment
  • Chapter 3: Military Reforms of the 6th Century CE
  • Chapter 4: Military Training, Polo, the Hunt and Martial Music
  • Chapter 5: Archery
  • Chapter 6: The Savaran
  • Chapter 7: Infantry, Auxiliary Contingents and Naval Forces
  • Chapter 8: Preparations for War
  • Chapter 9: Tactics and Strategies along the Roman and Caucasian Frontiers
  • Chapter 10: Logistics and Support
  • Chapter 11: Post-Battle Scenarios and War Diplomacy
  • Chapter 12: The Spah in Central Asian: Warfare, Military Developments and Tactics
  • Chapter 13: Military Architecture
  • Chapter 14: Siege Operations
  • Chapter 15: Sassanian Military Culture
  • Chapter 16: Military Weaknesses of the Spah
  • Chapter 17: The Fall of the Spah and the Empire
  • Chapter 18: Post-Sassanian Resistance and Rebellion against the Caliphate
  • Chapter 19: Legacy
  • Maps
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

= = = = =

Various topics of the book (combat units and organization of the Sassanian army) were expostulated by Kaveh Farrokh in a major presentation at the Tenth Annual ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) entitled “The Middle East and Africa: Assessing the Regions Ten Years On” on October 19-21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, delivered the keynote address at the Tenth Annual ASMEA Conference.

(Right) Textbook by Kaveh Farrokh on the Sassanian Army published in late October 2017 on display by the LSS at the ASMEA Conference on October 19-21, 2017 – note that at the LSS display, to the left of the Sassanians text is displayed Dr.  Ilkka Syanne’s new textbook, Military History of Late Rome (284-361); (Left) Cover page of 2017 ASMEA Conference brochure.

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).

Article on Shapur II 359 CE Campaign published in Spanish Military Journal

The prestigious Spanish military journal “Historia de la Guerra” has published an article on Shapur II’s 359 CE campaign against Rome by Javier Sánchez-Gracia and Kaveh Farrokh (click the link below in for downloading the entire article):

Sánchez-Gracia, J., & Farrokh, K. (2017), Fuego en Oriente: La campaña Persa del 359 contra Roma [Fire in the East: the Persian campaign of 359 against Rome], Historia de la Guerra, 6, pp. 7 -13.

Cover page of the 6th edition of the Spanish military history journal “Historia de la Guerra” published in the late fall of 2017.

The article provides an examination of the Sassanian military machine especially with respect to infantry, cavalry, elephant corps, auxiliary units (i.e. slingers, javeliners) and allied contingents.

Cover page of the article “Fuego en Oriente: La campaña Persa del 359 contra Roma” [Fire in the East: the Persian campaign of 359 against Rome] in the Spanish military journal “Historia de la Guerra”.

Sánchez-Gracia and Farrokh also examine the motivations and strategies of Shapur II during his 359 CE campaign against Rome.

Book Chapter on Parthian and Sassanian Helmets

A book chapter has been published in the academic textbook “Crowns, Hats Turbans and Helmets” by Kaveh Farrokh, Reza Karamian, Adam Kubic and M. Oshterinani (click the link below in for downloading the entire chapter):

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.

A glance at the Table of Contents section of the book reveals book chapters by world-class international expert military historians which include:

  • David Nicolle (Nottingham University, United Kingdom)
  • Ilkka Syvanne (University of Haida, Israel)
  • Mariusz Mielczarek (Polish Academy of Sciences, Łódź, Poland)
  • Svyatoslav V. Smirnov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia)
  • Dan-Tudor Ionescu (Metropolitan Library of Bucharest, Romania)
  • Sergei Yu. Kainov (State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia)

The above list is only a sample of the academic experts contributing to the recent book, as the table of contents will reveal. The book chapter by Farrokh, Karamian, Kubic and Oshterinani provides an in-depth analysis into the study of Parthian and Sassanian helmets. As noted in the Abstract (page 121):

This paper examines Iranian helmets from the 2nd century BCE Parthian era into the Sasanian era in the 3rd to 7th century CE. Analyses involve excavated helmets, and depictions of helmets on plaques, coins, bullae, metalworks and stone reliefs housed in museums, private collections and auction houses. Clay sculptures and wall paintings in Central Asia, depictions on Roman victory columns and the line drawings of Dura Europos as well as the reliefs in Iran provide additional information on Iranian headgear and helmets. Sasanian helmets appear to have utilized a rank and/or heraldry system with the possibility that helmets varied between the different regions of the Sasanian Empire (especially between the western and northeast regions). Limitations to research due to limited (especially Parthian) helmet samples are discussed with suggestions for further research”.

Sassanian Spangenhelm Helmet recovered from Nineveh in modern-day Iraq which would have been a part of Sassanian Enpire (224-651 AD) at the time. The Spangenhelm helmet was constructed by fastening metal plates together by rivets (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing, pp.223).

As averred to in the article (page 122):

The most recent discovery of a depiction of late Parthian or early Sasanian headgear was made by the 2015 archaeological expedition of Gholamreza Karamian and Meysam Delfan at Koohdasht in Lorestan, Western Iran. The team discovered a 27 x 27 cm relief panel (known to locals as Panj-e Ali or Claw of Ali) displaying a mounted cavalryman charging with a lance …”

Fig. 8. Left panel of Fīrūzābād battle of 224 CE, (photo: Iran Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1971); Drawings and slide design: K. Farrokh, 2016, [A] Early Sassanian helmet or felt cover (?), [B] Late Parthian helmet; [C] Helmet identified as Dacian from the Trajan relief, (photo courtesy Ch. Miks; NOTE: above photo was originally shown in the conference: “Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., & Kubic, A. (2016). An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets 2nd century BCE – 7th century CE (2016). THE THIRD COLLOQUIA BALTICA-IRANICA, Nov 25-26, Siedlce University)“.

As acknowledged by the editors of the textbook Katarzya Maksymiuk & Gholamreza Karamian:

First of all, we would like to thank all contributors to this book whose insightful work we had the honour to edit. We would like to express our gratitude to everyone whose worked helped to bring this volume to press, above all our sincere thank you goes to the reviewers of the manuscript, Leonardo Gregoratti (University of Durham, United Kingdom) and parviz Talaee (Shaid Bahonar University of Kerman, Iran).

Last but not least, this undertaking would not have been possible without the abiding support of Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis (the British Museum, London, United Kingdom), Michael Richard Jackson Bonner (Toronto, Canada), Touraj Daryaee (University
of California, Irvine, USA), Erich Kettenhofen (University Trier, Germany), Eduard Khurshidian (National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Yerevan, Armenia), Aliy Kolesnikov (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia), Jerzy Linderski (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA), Ciro Lo Muzio (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy), Christian MIKS (the Romano-Germanic Central Museum, Mainz, Germany), Valery Nikonorov (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia), Nicholas Sekunda (University of Gdańsk, Poland)”.

Sassanian knight at the time of Shapur II (309–379) engaging Roman troops invading Iran in 333 AD. Note the Spangenhelm helmet and suit of mail covering arms and torso. This knight resembles early Sassanian warriors in which he sports a decorative vest and a medallion strap on his chest; he also dons a Spangenhelm helmet. He has lost his lance in an earlier assault and is now thrusting his heavy broadsword using the Sassanian grip (known in the west as the ‘Italian’ grip) in the forward position for maximum penetration effect. The sword handle is based on that depicted for one of Shapur I’s swords (British Museum B.M.124091); the sheath is based on the Bishapur depictions. His sword tactic is meant for shock and short engagements; he will then retire and discharge missiles. The bow and missiles in the left hand will be deployed as the knight redeploys at least 20 meters away. The quiver is modelled on that of King Pirooz (New York Metropolitan Museum Inv.34.33) (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, Osprey Publishing, 2005, Plate D, pp.61).

The concluding section of this Book Chapter begins as follows (page 138):

This study leads us to the conclusion that the Sasanian military constructed several types of helmets from the known early 3rd century CE ridge helmet (2-piece) to the later multi-segment systems of the 5th to 7th centuries CE housed in European and US museums and auction houses. Examination of the iconography of Sasanian sites leads to questions as to whether other types of helmets, such as the earlier Parthian-Seleucid types, had been built as well. Another complicating factor is the restraint required when interpreting the function of helmets as displayed in iconography, as it cannot be ascertained if these were ceremonial or functional (for battle).”

The “Panjagan” of the Sassanian Army: A Chinese Connection?

The article further below “The Panjagan” is by Masis Reuben Panos. Kindly note that a number of images and captions printed below do not appear in Panos’ original article. The article has also been significantly edited from its original version.

Before reading the article, readers are advised that there is an entire chapter dedicated to the discussion of Sassanian archery, including a detailed discussion of various forms of propelled hand-held ballistae and archery-related equipment in Kaveh Farrokh’s upcoming textbook on the Sassanian army (to be released in mid-Nov. 2017). Kaveh Farrokh provided a presentation at the 10th annual ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) conference (October 19-21, 2017)  in Washington, D.C., in panel 21 [“Strategies and Armies of Sasanian Persia and Rome“] entitled:

A Synopsis of Sassanian Military Organization and Combat Units

The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians (2017; Pen & Sword Publications)

The presentation at ASMEA discussed the following topics with respect to the Sassanian army (Spah) of 224-651 CE:

  • Organization, Titles, Numerical Factors, and Military Reforms
  • The Savaran or Aswaran (elite Sassanian cavalry forces) as well as select prestige units (e.g. Jyanavspar, Pustighban, Javidan, etc.)
  • Sassanian infantry or Paighan
  • Sassanian military equipment (helmets, swords, archery equipment, etc.)
  • Elephant corps
  • Auxiliary units (e.g slingers, javeliners, light cavalry, etc.)

The Library of Social Science (LSS) Book Exhibits was also  present during the ASMEA Conference in order to present the latest academic textbooks for the purpose of promoting these to academic researchers and experts as well as for university coursework, diplomatic delegations, etc.

Upcoming textbook on the Sassanian Army on display (upright at right) by the LSS at the ASMEA Conference on October 19-21, 2017. To the right of the Sassanians text is Dr. Ilkka Syanne’s new textbook, Military History of Late Rome (284-361). Dr. Syvanne (Affiliated Professor of the University of Haifa; Finnish Society for Byzantine Studies) was the discussant in ASMEA’s panel 21 [“Strategies and Armies of Sasanian Persia and Rome”] who also presented the topic “Nation and Empire Building the Iranian Way: The Case of the Sasanian Empire in the Third Century“. Another critical presentation was made by Dr. Conor Whately (Department of Classics, University of Winnipeg, Canada) entitled “Procopius, Soldiers, and Strategy on the Southeastern Frontier in the Age of Justinian“.


The Panjagan (Panj [Middle Persian] = Five) is generally described as a weapon capable of firing five arrows simultaneously.

This was used to devastating effect by the Spah (Sasanian army) against the Gok (Celestial/Blue) Turks and their Hephthalite vassals in 619 CE. Thinking how a regular bow could fire 5 arrows simultaneously to any effect is baffling. The technology of this weapon is fully discussed in Kaveh Farrokh’s text on the Sassanian Army, but to summarize, current scholars on the topic believe that this was some type of “multiple crossbow” or arbalist type weapon.

Centuries earlier a repeating crossbow had already been invented in China around the year 200 CE. The inventor of this weapon was  Zhuge Liang (181-234), a chancellor of the Shu Han dynasty. The Chinese had already built earlier versions of this weapon, however it was Zhuge who improved the weapon’s design and (rapid) rate of fire.

[Left] Portrait of Zhuge Liang in the Sancai Tuhui (a Ming imprint of 1609) (Source: Public Domain); [Right] Chinese movie portrayal of Zhuge Liang (Source: Cfensi), a Chinese chancellor who was also a master military strategist. Liang’s design of the repeating cross-bow may have been bought by Chinese immigrants into Sassanian Persia.

So what about the Panjagan of the Sassanians? This may have been derived from the weapon Zhuge had originally designed. But how did Chinese end up in Persia? In 263 CE The Shu Han lost to the Wei dynasty and many citizens of all classes fled the capital city Chengdu and other regions towards the west, along the old Silk Route, to reach Sassanian Persia.

The Chinese repeating cross-bow (Source: Understanding Our Past). Chinese migrants may have bought prototypes and/or designs of this type of weapon with them to Sassanian Persia.

The Chinese arrivals were welcomed by the Sassanians, who themselves were a new dynasty, having overthrown the previous Parthian dynasty just 39 years before. The Sassanians, locked in war with the powerful Roman Empire, found the new immigrants from the sophisticated civilization of China of great value: they were highly educated, and especially knowledgeable in the latest military technologies.

The Sassanians however were not just facing the Romans (later Romano-Byzantines) on their western frontiers. To the northeast they faced the dangerous warriors of Central Asia. The Hephthalites had already become a menace by the early 480s CE, to be eventually superseded and dominated by the Gok (Celestial/Blue) Turks in the 6th century CE.

The Savaran counterattack against the Turco-Hephthalite invasion of 618-619 CE (Source: Farrokh, Plate C -اسواران ساسانی- Elite Sassanian cavalry, 2005); note that the fully armored knight in the middle is deploying a Panjagan (conjectural reconstruction) seen firing five arrows.

The Panjagan, and no doubt the well drilled Savaran cavalry of the Sassanian army (Spah), kept the Turkic invaders at bay until the fall of the Sasanian Empire in 651 CE.