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.

Establishment of a Permanent Exhibition of Sassanian Inscriptions at the Suleimaniyah Museum

The information provided in this article with respect to the establishment of the permanent exhibition of Sassanian inscriptions in Iraq’s Suleimaniyah Museum was first and originally reported in Persian by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in Facebook on June 11, 2019 in the following post: برپایی نمایشگاه دائمی سنگنبشته های پایکولی در موزه سلیمانیه. 

Kavehfarrokh.com also thanks Mojtaba Doroodi (in consultation with Soheil Delshad) for his time and efforts and the support of Dr. Mohammad Ala for providing their expertise in the provision of translations and context of the Pahlavi text of the Sassanian inscriptions at Pāikūlī.

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Archaeology Dr. Carlo Giovanni Cereti of Sapienza University in Rome, as part of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Iraqi Kurdistan (MAIKI), has set up a permanent exhibition of Sassanian inscriptions from the site of Pāikūlī in Iraq’s Suleimaniyah’s Museum. Dr. Cereti has been the curator and primary organizer of this initiative.

Pāikūlī is actually a stone monument structure much like the monument known today as the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht (Kaaba of Zarathustra) in the site of Nagshe Rustam in southwest Iran’s Fars province. Pāikūlī however lacks the stepped foundations and stairway seen at the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht. The site of Pāikūlī is located in modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan’s Suleimaniyah region, which has been a part of the Iranian realms since antiquity, notably during the Sassanian era. This region was formally separated from Iran in favor of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the Second Treaty of Erzerum signed on May 31, 1847. The region was to be inherited by the newly created nation-state of Iraq after the First World War (1914-1918) in the aftermath of the partition of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1299-1922).

Relief bust of Sassanian King Narseh (r. 293-302 CE)  from the original structure at Pāikūlī (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav) – see sketches of the original Pāikūlī structure below. 

Sketches of the original Pāikūlī structure (Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav). Note the image of king Narseh in the walls of the structure.

Inscription in Pahlavi from Pāikūlī (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav). The above Pāikūlī block appears as D3 in the academic publication by Dr. Helmut Humbach and Dr. Prods O. Skjaervo (The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli: Restored text and Translation. Reichert Verlag, 1983 – discussed further below). Note that five of the above lines are intact with the sixth line damaged.

The inscription above has been coded and translated in context by Mojtaba Doroodi in consultation with Soheil Delshad – five of the lines have been thus examined (the sixth line is too damaged for proper analysis):

The full translation in context of the five lines is provided in New Persian below followed by the English version:

As noted by Dr. Gholamreza Karamian, the inscription examined here was first translated by the late German Iranologist Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948) (see in Encyclopedia Iranica). Readers are referred to the most recent and most comprehensive translations in English of the Pāikūlī inscriptions made by Dr. Helmut Humbach and Dr. Prods O. Skjaervo:

Humbach, H. & Skjaervo, P.O. (1983). The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli: Restored text and Translation. Reichert Verlag.

The environs of the Pāikūlī site in 2019 (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav).

“Heirloom of Steel” wins Gloria Musaealis Museum Prize, Prague 16 May 2019

Dr. Antonin Reiter one of the directors of The South Moravian Museum in Znojmo (Czech Republic) contacted Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani on May 16, 2019 to inform him that his last book “Heirloom of Steel” had won the prestigious museum prize Gloria Musaealis 2018.

DR. Khorasani wrote the book as the main author and editor and my other colleagues who contributed to some chapters were Mr. Marco Briccola, Mr. Rainer Daehnhardt, Mr. Petr Eckl, Ms. Vanna Scolari Ghiringhelli and Dr. Bohumil Planka. On May 16, 2019 Dr Khorasani flew to Prague early in the morning to take part in the important event of Gloria Musaealis.

  • Title of the book: Heirloom of Steel: The Collection of Oriental and Asian Arms and Armor in Znojmo Museum (The Czech Republic)
  • Author & Editor: Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani
  • Co-authors: Marco Briccola, Rainer Daehnhardt, Petr Eckl, Vanna Scolari Ghiringhelli, Dr. Bohumil Planka
  • Forward: Dr. Jiří Mačuda
  • Publisher: South Moravian Museum in Znojmo

From left to right: Dr. Bohumil Planca (Nihonto expert and member of the Czech-Japanese Cultural Center), Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani, Ms. Vladimíra Durajková (General Director of the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo) and Dr Antonin Reiter (Director of South Moravian Museum in Znojmo).

Each year all museums in the Czech Republic take part in this important competition. The prizes are given to museums in three categories:

  • Best exhibitions
  • Best publications
  • Best innovations for museums and museum studies

The book “Heirloom of Steel” won in the category of best publications. 43 books were shortlisted in the final competition. In the second step only four books won the museum prize for the best publication. I am really proud to say that “Heirloom of Steel” was among these four books.

The 4 books which won the museum prize among 43 short-listed books are as follows:

Left side: Museum Romani Culture; “Amendar: An Insight in the World of the Romani Personalities“; Right side: Museum of the City Brno; “A New Building Brno 1928“.

Left Side: South Moravian Museum Znojmo; “Heirloom of Steel”; Right side: Museum Cheb; “Flora Soosu and the Surroundings“.

To see a video about the event see below …

The event took place in the picturesque building of Wenceslas Square, where the National Museum is located.

The entire event was accompanied by professional songs and two professional moderators who moderated the whole event. I would like to thank all my colleagues there and also all Czech people. This is a special price as the book “Heirloom of Steel” was the only book which was not directly connected to the Czech cultural heritage and goods but dealt with oriental and Asian arms and armor kept in a Czech museum. The textbook “Heirloom of Steel” has already demonstrated that it is a seminal addition to the domain of military studies.

Critical Examination of Filiz Çakır Phillip’s Assertions of Iranian Weapons (15th-19th Centuries)

The below article by Dr. Manoucher M. Khorasani was published in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology, Volume 4 (No.2), pp.261-266, 2017. The article provides a critical examination of Filiz Çakır Phillip’s assertions with respect to Iranian striking and thrusting weapons of the 15th to 19th centuries.

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Iranische Hieb-, Stich- und Schutzwaffen des 15.–19. Jahrhunderts (Iranian striking and thrusting weapons and armor from the 15th–19th centuries) by Filiz Çakır Phillip. De Gruyter, 2016. 382pp. Hb. $140.00, ISBN-13: 978-3110318135.

Reviewed by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, M.Khorasani Consulting, info@mmkhorasani.com

This book attempts to describe Iranian arms and armor from the 15–19th centuries by concentrating on a few collections of historical weapons from museums and private collections outside Iran. This is an odd approach since it neglects the royal collection of Iranian arms and armor, formerly the collection of Nassereldin Shah Qajar, now on display on three Iranian museums in Tehran, Shiraz and Bandar Anzali. Instead Çakır Phillip looks at a limited selection of arms and armor in the inventories of the following collections: a) Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin mostly based on private collec-tion of Friedrich Sarre (ca. 40 items); b) Deutsches Historisches Museum (Zeughaus), Berlin, and c) the Ottoman arsenal and the collections of Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi and Askeri Müze in Istanbul. Çakır Phillip opines that the collections of the two Turkish museums are among the world’s oldest and richest collections of Islamic weapons. She states that the Ottoman main arsenal stems from the 15th century and can be documented by historical documents. Another part of the collection comprises historical weapons which were obtained as war booty, among them there are Arabic, Mamluk, Iranian and Turkmen pieces. The book attempts to describe how Iranian weapons were constructed and worked. However, due to a lack of knowledge about the means of their production, some explanations are not accurate. Referring to Sasanid helmets, Çakır Phillip states that spangenhelm left the face of the wearer bare. Although some Sassanid helmets did leave the face exposed, there are also Sassanid helmets of spangenhelm construction with a face mask made of mail as also there are examples with an iron face mask.

Viking Helmet (Right; Picture Source: English Monarchs) and reconstruction of earlier Sassanian helmet at Taghe Bostan, Kermanshah, Iran (Left; Picture Source: Close up of Angus Mcbride painting of Sassanian knight at Taghe Bostan, Wilcox, P. (1999). Rome’s Enemies: Parthians and Sasanid Persians. Osprey Publishing, p.47, Plate H1).

The author states that she did not take shields into consideration since they were only used defensively. However, Persian shields were used both defensively and offensively as in most systems of sword and shield combinations, where the shield is used both as an offensive and defensive weapon. In explaining the so-called Turban helmet or Turkmen helmet, Çakır Phillip claims that after the Mongol invasion and rule, weapons and armor were developed to have a higher functionality. This is a bold statement as weapons in the region before the Mongol invasion were already highly developed and there is no evidence that such an invasion led to a higher functionality, nor does Çakır Phillip provide any for her statement.

Although the term kolāhxud (Phillip’s spelling kulah khud) is a general term in Persian, Çakır Phillip uses the term to refer to a specific type of Persian helmet made with a round dome, a nasal and aventail of mail. She contrasts this to the shape of a turban helmet. An analysis of Persian manuscripts would have shown the author that the term kolāhkhud was not only used in the Qajar-period manuscripts such as Rostam al Tavārix justifying the use of the term for late Safavid period as a successor of the turban helmet, but it had been already in use in much earlier periods. Regarding the mail aventail of the kolāhxud, Çakır Phillip assumes that the mail rings are riveted and small “aus kleinen genieteten Stahlringen” and adds that the more complex one, the rings have “einen zusätzlichen Mittelsteg in jedem einzelnen Ring”, possibly she means that the rings are “theta-shaped (θ)” which is the technical term for this type of rings. Surprisingly, she claims that the poor aventails are of machine made wire and are products of the 20th century, possibly referring to butted mail. However, it should be noted that butted mail rings do not necessarily imply that a) they are from the 20th century as there are many dated and documented mail armors with butted rings dating from much earlier periods and b) butted mail rings do not mean necessarily that the armor was a show item. Japanese armor has arm protectors which were made of butted rings, which had been hardened to increase their strength.

Regarding feather holders, jā pari, Çakır Phillip states that the number feather holders on Iranian kolāhxud vary between two and three, of which she claims the variation with three feather holders is a fashion of the 18th century without providing any references. She also claims that the use of peacock feathers on the helmet is an Indian influence, since the Rajputs adored peacocks, ignoring that peacocks had always played an important role in Persian culture as well.

In the case of body armor, Çakır Phillip claims that the Central Asian warriors used two types of armor: “soft” armor and “hard” armor and adds that the soft armor was made of leather, raw silk and hemp whereas the hard armor was made of iron plates and mail armor. She also opines that using the combination of both, one could create scale and lamellar armor as well as brigandine. However, this explanation is very misleading. Calling leather armor soft is absolutely wrong. Lamellar or even laminar armor made of leather were multi-layered and hardened, fully capable of absorbing the shock of enemy’s weapons and even arrow shots. She also wrongly assumes that the term jošan (ğūšan) defines “plate and mail armor”. However, mail armor in Persian is called zereh. She simply quotes Zeller and Rohrer on this and says that mail armor is called ğūšan in Persian and zirh and sābiġa in Arabic. Cursory research in Persian manuscripts would have been enough to see this is a wrong assumption. The term zereh is already mentioned as early as the Šāhnāme and a number of other Persian manuscripts to refer to mail armor such as Tārix-e Beihaqi, ĀlamĀrāyeŠāh Tahmāsp, etc. Actually the origins of the term zereh go back to the Middle Persian term zrēh or zarēh see Kārnāme-ye Ardešir Bābakān.

Persian mail armor dated to 1816-1817, housed at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number: 36.25.57; Source: “greyloch” in Public Domain).

Çakır Phillip states that there were also mail armors made of solid rings and riveted rings put together alternately. She suggests that the solid rings were there to strengthen the mail armor against the thrusts of the enemy’s weapon. However, the major reason for alternating rows of solid with riveted rings was to make the production of mail easier and faster. Further, she repeats a misconception that mail armor was only designed to protect against cuts and a thrusting weapon could have separated the riveted rings. However, recent trials on mail armor with riveted rings worn over multi-layered gambeson show that piercing even a stationery target wearing such a combination is not easy, even less so against a moving target. Breaking a riveted ring using a weapon is difficult. This misconception about mail armor was prevalent among some early researchers. She also states that there were different types of mail armor, but the majority of them were worn over the head. However, the majority of Iranian mail armor had an opening in front which was held closed with hooks or buckles.

Further in her classification of Persian armor, Çakır Phillip identifies lamellar armor “Lamellenpanzer” and claims that it was also known as ğūšan (jošan). This is an incorrect statement as I have shown above (see zereh). Regarding jošan, she states that the lamellar armor was made of different lamellar plates made of leather, horn or metal, directly connected to each other and she claims that making lamellar armor was cheaper than the mail armor. This statement is not backed up and we know today through experimentation that making good lamellar armor is just as time-consuming and expensive as making mail armor. Çakır Phillip states that during the Il-Khanid period, lamellar armor was the standard armor. However, during that period lami-nated banded armor was more widespread than lamellar armor. We should note that the term jošan can be found in many Persian manuscripts. However, different Persian manuscripts provide different explanations for this type of armor and it is not clear what kind of armor the term jošan actually describes. According to the Digital Lexicon of Dehkhoda, jŏšan is a type of mail-and-plate armor and is similar to tanure since both are made from mail and iron plates; however, the iron plates (qeibe) of a jŏšan are smaller than those used in the tanure.

Illustration by Trent Fehr of how lamellar armor is laced together (Source: Public Domain).

In her next classification of armor, Çakır Phillip puts three types of armor in one category “Schuppenpanzer, Lamellenpanzer und Brigantine” (scale armor, lamellar armor and brigandine).. She defines scale armor as made of different plates sewn to a leather or fabric shirt vertically. She describes this type of armor as bagtar. Pos-sibly she made a mistake in mentioning lamellar armor in this category again as she does not specify it here. Instead, she describes brigandine as kažāġand and says that it was mentioned by al-Tarsūsi. Surprisingly, although Çakır Phillip provides the explanation by Usamah Ibn-Munquidh on the nature of kažāġand (who describes it as a mail shirt with integral padding and an exterior cover). Nicolle rightly explains that jazerant or jazrain stems from the Persian word kazaqand and means a mail shirt (haubergeon) with integral padding plus a fabric-covered exterior. Although, the Dig-ital Lexicon of Dehkhoda explains qazāgand as a padding worn under the armor, this explanation cannot be right and as qazāgand is armor in its own right. It consists of mail armor sandwiched between two layers of light padding. Usamah Ibn-Munquidh describes a particularly heavy version made with two layers of mail. In Europe, this armor was called a jazerant and Blair suggested that the word is a derivative of qazāgand. In the Farhang-e Nafisi, Nafisi provides two meanings for qazāgand: a) a cloth that is filled with wool and silk and worn in the battle and b) a type of mail armor. In contrast to the explanation of Çakır Phillip, qazāgand cannot be compared to a European brigandine, which is a body armor made of a fabric garment, which is generally canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted to inside.

Çakır Phillip distinguishes another type of armor which she describes as “mail armor combined with plate armor” (Kettenpanzer mit Plattenpanzer kombiniert). She differentiates between two types: a) The first type comprises rectangular plates protecting the belly, sides and back leaving the shoulders to be protected by mail armor. She says that this type can be described as either jŏšan (ğūšan) or zirh-i čūgāl but rejects the use of both terms as she says that they are general terms. She stresses that in Turkish čūgāl is a general term signifying any type of armor be it mail armor or plate armor for humans or animals, but fails to realize that jŏšan actually is used to describe this type of armor in Persian manuscripts. Çakır Phillip describes the second type as a type of armor which has two round plates one in front and one in the back combined with mail and other plates. Possibly she is referring to the Ottoman krug armor.

The next armor type identified by Çakır Phillip is čāhrāyne (čahārāyina). She rightly identifies different parts of a čāhrāyne as the front plate “sineband “ (sīnaband), the back plate “poštband “ (puštband) and the side plates “baqalband “ (baġalband).

In the chapter on cut and thrust weapons (Hieb- und Stichwaffen), Çakır Phillip claims that swords and sabers remained the most important weapons until the introduction of firearms due to their cutting and thrusting capabilities. However, in Persian armies similar to other armies, bows, lances and spears played the primary role and swords played a secondary role. This was due to different factors: a) spears and lances and of course bows had a wider range, b) it was easier to teach inexperienced troops how to wield a spear rather than a sword and c) it was cheaper to produce a spears compared to forging a sword. Further, Çakır Phillip claims that akenakes was the sword of Persian, however, its shape is not clear. This is not correct as much research has been done on the Persian and Median akenakes. Surprisingly, Çakır Phillip claims that Latin translations from Medieval era associate the term with simiterra (scimitar) and adds that in the 3th century the straight sword of the Greeks found its way among the Sassanids! This is incorrect as the predecessors of Sassanids, the Parthians, already used double-edged long straight swords and Achaemenid short sword akenakes was also a short straight sword.

Late Sassanian sword (Farrokh 2004; reprinted Hughes 2010, p.51). Entire sword from front [1] and back [2]; sword handle at front [3] and back [4]; sword mount at front [5] and back [6].

Regarding different types of Oriental sabers, Çakır Phillip distinguishes between three types: the Ottoman kılıç , Persian šamšr and Indian talwar. Two questions arise here: a) First, why does Çakır Phillip mention kiliç and talwar in a book dedicated to the study of Iranian arms and armor? and b) she still wrongly believes that Persian šamšr denotes a classical type of Persian saber with a high curve and wedged-cross-sectioned blade known in the West under this term. This, however, was a Western misconception widespread among collectors of arms and armor for several years. Unfortunately, Çakır Phillip repeats the same misconception in 2016. Prior to the Arab Conquest of Iran and the introduction of Islam in 631 A.D., all swords used in Iran were straight-bladed. This indicates that the preceding Persian dynasties, the Achaemenians, Parthians, and Sassanians all used swords with straight blades. Although the term šamšir was used in English and other European languages to refer to the classical Persian šamšir with its high degree of curvature, it refers to any type of sword, regardless of its shape, in the Persian language. The origin of this term can be seen in the Middle Persian Pahlavi, in which it was called šamšēr, šafšēr and šufšēr.

Further, Çakır Phillip assumes that the highly curved šamšir was used as a symbol of ruler’s legitimacy. She claims that this type of saber replaced all other types of early sabers and swords and that there was a revival of using earlier forms only in the 19th century. However, straight swords had always been produced next to the highly curved swords so it was not a revival. She assumes the Indian talwar had a ricasso contrary to Iranian šamšir and that only Indian talwars were also decorated with chiseling and enameling next to gold-inlaying and -overlaying. However, there are Indian talwar blades without a ricasso and there are Iranian šamšir decorated with chiseling and even enamelling. Suprisingly, Çakır Phillip claims that the late renditions of zulfiqar were completely useless in fighting. This is an unsupportable generalization, when applied to all blades of this type. There are examples made of very sharp crucible steel blades, which cut very well.

A 19th century curved sword from Iran (Source: M. Khorasani Consulting). It was acquired in 1931 and was formerly held in the collection of Count Sergey Sheremekev’s collection.

The present work was published in 2016 but it does not take into consideration that by 2010, many Persian manuscripts on crucible steel production and sword classification were introduced and analyzed in the books Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology and the very fact that the book was a doctorate thesis submitted to the Department of Humantities and Culture (Fachbereich Geschichts und Kulturwissenschaften) of the Freien Universität Berlin in 2011, it is not clear why the author decided to rely this part of her thesis solely on older publications which are prevalent in many collectors’ books on historical arms and armor.

In the abovementioned book, the following Persian manuscripts on steel production and sword classification are mentioned: Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz] attributed to Omar ibn Ebrāhim Khayyām-e Neyšāburi, Javāhernāme-ye Nezāmi [Nezāmi’s Book of Precious Stones] by Mohammad ibn Abi al-Barakāt Jŏhari Nezāmi, Bayān al-Sanā’āt[Description of Crafts] by Hobeyš ibn Ebrāhim ibn Mohammad Taflisi, Ādāb al-Harb va al-Šojā-e [Customs of War and Bravery] by Mohammad ibn Mansur ibn Said Mobārak Šāh Fakhr-e Modabbar, Tansukhnāme [The Book of Minerals] by Khāje Nasireldin Tusi, Arāyes al-Javāher by Abolqāsem Kāši, Gŏharnāme [The Book of Jewels] written by Mohammad ibn Mansur, and Ta’id Besārat [Aid to Sight] by Mirzā Lotfallāh. Instead of mentioning the Persian manuscripts on steel production and sword classification, Çakır Phillip relies entirely on two early manuscripts on steel production and swords written in Arabic, one by the Arab scholar al-Kindi, On Swords and their Kinds, and the other written by the Iranian scholar Abu Reihān Beiruni titled Al-Jamāhir fi Marefat al-Jawāher [The Sum of Knowledge about Precious Stones].

Çakır Phillip spells pulād-e gohardār as pūlād-i ğūhārdār or fūlād-i ğūhārdār and pro-vides the translation “glänzender, wohltemperierter Stahl” (shining, well tempered steel). However, the real spelling in Persian is gohar and not ğūhār. The true transla-tion of is “bejeweled steel” as gohar means “jewel” in Persian and in figurative sense it can be translated as “watered steel”. She claims that for the production of crucible steel in Iran, wootz steel from Sri Lanka was imported. However, there are accounts that Iranian smiths bought crucible steel cakes and bars imported from India (see Biswas and Floor), local steel, Khorasan damask and Qazwin damask, was also made and brought to Isfahan. Recently, archaeological evidence on the existence of cru-cible steel production in Iran has also been found (see Emami and Karamad).

Relying solely on western publications, Çakır Phillip distinguishes between the following patterns of Persian crucible steel: striped damask (sham), water damask, wavy damask, network damask (divided in two types of karakhorasan and karatābān) and ladder damask. A cursory study of Persian texts of the Qajar period would have revealed to the author the real spelling of some of these terms: Çakır Phillip spells “black Khorasan” pattern as karakhorasani actually qaraxorāsāni; “black taban” as karatābān actually either taban or qarataban. Later she has the “ladder pattern” as kirkmerdiven instead of qerq nardebān. Further research in Iranian manuscripts on crucible steel production would have revealed that they describe a variety of cru-cible steel patterns (e.g. the Nŏruznāme [Book of Nowruz] which differentiates the following patterns: kalāqi, crow-like; gŏhar-e hamvār, even pattern; etc.).

The merit of the book is that it emphasizes the importance of Persian culture and its influence on other neighboring cultures. In this respect, Çakır Phillip explains that the Abbasid scholars derived new impulses from the Sassanid culture as the Iranian legacy was especially strong in Baghdad.

First Balloon Flight over Tehran

After the invention of the balloon and its first recorded flight on November 21, 1783, this early flight technology was to appear in Iran 108 years later in 1891 (Babaie, Gh. [1385/2006], “History of the Iranian Air Force”, page 18), towards the end of the reign of Qajar monarch, Nasser-e-din Shah (1848-1896). Other popular sources place the date of this balloon flight a number of years earlier at 1877.

A photo of Nasser-e-din Shah (r. 1848-1896) taken in c.1895 (Photo: Tarikhirani). He was to be the longest reigning Qajar king.

As noted by Babaie, a French aviation enthusiast arrived in Iran to demonstrate the balloon in flight. Local citizens in Tehran and Tabriz and a number of other cities in Iran were indeed to witness the balloon in flight for the first time. Interestingly, a short poem was soon composed by local citizens in Tehran and Tabriz in reference to the balloon’s appearance over the skies of Iran:

شاپو بر سر فرنگی به هوا رفت    توی بالن نشست نزد خدا رفت

(A westerner/European [translation of “Faranagi”] with a chapeau [French/European hat] went to the air – [He] sat in the balloon and went to God)

Local citizens gather around a French balloon about to lift off in Tehran. This is the earliest known photograph of the first balloon flight in Iran which according to Iranian historiography occurred in 1891 with other sources claiming the year of 1877 (Photo: Pinterest).

While aloft, the balloon was to often appear to ground observers as an elephant in flight! Apparently the shape and color of the balloon in combination with the reflection of sun rays upon its surface made this appear as if there was an elephant being suspended in mid-air! The memory of this balloon flight has thus become embedded in the collective memory of the Iranian populace to this day with the following expression:

فیل هوا کرده
([he/she] has put an elephant in the air)

Many modern-day Iranians however remain unaware of the origins of this expression. Instead, citizens often use this expression in reference to one who intends to (or is attempting to) achieve incredible (or impossible) feats.

The first aerial photo of Tehran was taken by another balloon approximately in (c.)1909 during the reign of the last Qajar monarch, Ahmad Shah (r. 1909-1925):

The first aerial photo taken of Tehran by a balloon approximately 90 years ago (Photo: Bartarinha). Note the contrast with modern-day Tehran – the skies are clear, and there are also no pollutants or skyscrapers.