Iranian History/Last Remnants of Sassanian Rule

After the defeat of Yazdegerd at Nehavend, Persia literally came under Arab rule. However, the Arabs were not in control of far flung corners of the Sassanid Empire which resisted Arab expansion for a long time after the end of the Sassanians.

Yazdegerd after the Battle of Nehavend


According to certain accounts, after the defeat of Yazdegerd at the Battle of Nehavend in 642, he fled to Persepolis and made it his capital. He then fled to Khorasan and settled over there. According to the Bundahis, he wanted to get the assistance of Indians to tackle the Arabs. However, he was killed by a greedy miller for the costly clothes and ornaments he wore. With this, ended the Sassanian Empire. According to another version, Yazdegerd was killed at Merv in 690 AD even while the Second Court at Istakhr survived the Arab onslaught. According to this account, Yazdegerd's advisor Farokhzad crowned himself king and issued coins and continued to negotiate with the Arabs. We are not sure of the Farokhzad and the Second Courts' end, but it is probable that it was eventually taken over by the Arabs. But then, if Yazdegerd had died in 690 he would have been 76 years of age by then. However, lack of evidences make it highly doubtful whether he ever lived beyond his thirty-seventh year.



When Yazdegerd III died, his son Piruz fled to the east. According to The Old Book of the Tang, in around 661, he appealed to the Chinese for help. Shortly afterwards, he settled in Tang China and was made 'Martial Leader and Guard of the Right Flank'. He was instrumental in the expansion of the western frontiers of Tang China to Kyrgyzstan and even Bactria. In 678, during Tang China's successful invasion of Zaranj in western Afghanistan by Pei Xingjan, Piruz was sent escorted by an army. He served as the Chinese Governor of Zaranj for thirty years till his death in 709. The Zoroastrian holy book Bundahis claims that a son of Yazdegerd III went to the land of the Hindus (India) to seek their help and that he returned with an "Army of Champions" to reclaim his throne. This is possibly a reference to Piruz's flight to China and his return to his homeland as the commander of a Chinese battalion in the invasion of Zaranj. However, the Bundahis wrongly states that the "Army of Champions" dispersed upon reaching Afghanistan. The Chinese army did not disperse. On the contrary they established a permanent garrison at Zaranj.



Piruz's son Narsieh also served with distinction in the Chinese army. However with his passing in the middle of the 8th century AD, the Persian as well as the Chinese chronicles become silent on the fate of the Sassanians. It could either be that Narsieh did not have children of his own. It is also quite possible that his children adopted Chinese customs and intermarried with the Chinese thereby losing their Persian identity. Either way, it spelt the end of the Sassanian dynasty.

In 728, a descendant of Yazdegerd named Khosro was mentioned fighting alongside Soghdians and Turks against the Islamic forces besieging Bokhara. This is, possibly, the last reference to any direct descendant of Yazdegerd III.

The last Sassanian Principalities


Even with the extinction of the Empire in the 7th century AD a few principalities pledging allegiance to the defunct Sassanian Empire did manage to survive the Empire itself.



When Yazdegerd III was fighting the Arabs, Gil Gaubareh, a distant cousin of Khusro Perviz and the Sassanid Governor of Gilan established the kingdom of Deyleman by annexing Tabaristan and uniting Gilan with Tabaristan. The Sassanian Empire fell but the Arabs were unable to conquer Tabaristan. Gil was succeeded by his son Dabuy whose influence was spread throughout the Tabarestan, Kohestan, Royan, and even parts of Ray and western Khorasan. Dabuy ruled from 660 to 676 and was succeeded by his brother Padhuspani, the governor of Royan who consolidated the Empire. In 759, Khurshed II, the great-grandson of Dabuy was defeated by the Arabs and unable to bear the humiliation, he consumed poison and thus ended his life. His successors converted to Islam and ruled Deyleman for the next 800 years. The last Padhuspani king, Espahbodh of Shemiran, was removed by Shah Abbas I in the 16th century AD.



Bav a son of Shapur and grand-newphew of Khusro I fled from Ctesiphon and established an empire in Tabaristan and Kohistan. His successors established the Bavandi dynasty. The descendants of Bav stretched their territory to include parts of Shemiran, Qazvin, and even Taleshan. In 679, Bav was killed by Valash. But the Bavandi synastry was reinstated eight years later by Suhrab a son of Bav who married into the house of Ziyar.



Padeshkargar was partially held by the Qarens who were one of the Seven Families. In 537, Khusro Anushirvan made Zarmihr of the House of Qaren the Governor of Tabaristan and Padeshkargar. In about 650, Tabaristan was conquered by the Sassanid Governor of Gilan Dabuy who established the independent kingdom of Deyleman. Soon afterwards, however, the Qarens managed to break off from the shackles of the Padhuspanis. In 783, Vindad-Ormuzd of the House of Qaren allied with Shervin I, the Bavandi and the Padhuspani prince Shahriyar I and defeated the Arabs. However, he had to surrender to Hadi and was deported to Baghdad where he remained till 785. His grandson Maziyar broke into a full-scale revolt against the Arabs. He was captured after prolonged warfare and executed by the Arabs in 839. He was often seen as a symbol of Iranian resistance to Arab rule by later Iranian nationalists. Maziyar was also the last Zoroastrian ruler of Tabaristan. The kingdom was integrated into the Caliphate after his death and was placed under the viceroyalty of the Tahirids.

Abu Muslim


Abu Muslim was a soldier of Persian origin who was responsible for the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate. He hailed from Balkh in Khorasan (Afghanistan) and was a second generation convert to Islam. He led the anti-Omayyad movement playing a major role in the conquest of Merv in December 747 and served as the Abbasid governor of Khorasan after defeating the Omayyad representative in the area. In Battle of the Zab in 750, he led the Abbasid forces against the Omayyads. The battle resulted in a resounding win for the Abbasids and the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate. It also heralded the fall of the Omayyad Caliphate in its stronghold Damascus. Following this victory, Abu Al Abbas became the Caliph replacing the last Umayyad Caliph Marwan II. Later, however, Abu Muslim was killed by the second Abbasid Caliph Al Mansur who feared his rising influence and popularity amongst the masses. He, along with Babak Khoramdin, is universally regarded as the symbol of Persian nationalism and identity. With the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate ended the century-long period of persecution and discrimination against non-Arab people introduced by the Omayyad regime.



Sunpadh or Sinbad was a Zoroastrian magi or priest and a close associate of Abu Muslim. On his execution in 755, Sunpadh swore to destroy the Holy Kaaba. He also preached that Abu Muslim was mahdi, the Messiah of the Muslims. Soon he had rallied a considerable body of troops against the Caliph. Consequently, revolts broke out in Ray, Herat and Sistan.

The rebellion subsided within a few days. Sunpadh's forces were crushed within a period of 70 days by Juhar ibn Murad, an Arab general and Sunpadh was captured and slain.

Al Muqanna


Al Muqanna or the veiled one was a Persian revolutionary from Merv named Hashim ibn Hakim who fought the Arab Caliphate. He was a contemporary of Abu Muslim and Sunpadh. Al Muqanna was reputed to wear a veil in order to cover up his beauty; however, the Abbasids claimed that he wore a veil to hide his ugliness, being one-eyed, and bald. His followers wore white clothes as the Abbasids who were their enemies wore black.

Al Muqanna's followers started raiding towns and mosques of other Muslims and looting their possessions. The Abbasids sent sev4eral armies against him and finally succeeded in besieging and burning his house. Al Muqanna took poison to avoid capture.

The Khorramdin Movement


The Khorramdin or Khurramite Movement was a socio-religious and political movement which originated in the 8th century AD. Its birth was the result of public discontent in Iran following Abu Muslim's execution in 755. The movement was actually founded by Sunpadh, a close associate of Abu Muslim.

Under the leadership of Babak, the Khurammites proclaimed the breakup and redistribution of all the great estates and the abolition of Islam. In 816 they began making attacks on Muslim forces in Iran and Iraq. The Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun sent four armies to deal with the problem, but they were defeated each time with Byzantine support.The sect continued to attract followers until the sixteenth century when the Safavids took control of Iran.

Babak Khorramdin


Babak Khorramdin was one of the main leaders of the Khorramdin Movement. He was born in around 795 near the modern-day Ardabil in the Azerbaijan province of Northern Iran. He was a neo-Mazdakite. According to Waqed, Babak's father was a Persian from Madā'īn (formerly known as Ctesiphon, former capital of Sassanian Persian Empire. At the age of 18, Babak's father passed away and the young Khorramdin had to take charge of his family. He established himself in the city of Tabriz and traded in arms for a short while before plunging into the liberation movement.

Babak was adopted and mentored by one Shahrak who was a leader of the Khorramdin Movement. Soon Babak took over from Shahrak and lead the movement from 816 to 837. Babak earned huge support from Persians all over Isfahan, Azarbaijan, Ray, Hamadan, Armenia, Gorgan and the rest of Persia. In 836, Babak routed the forces of Bugha Al Kabir, a military officer of the Caliphate.

In 837-838 Al Mu'tasim, the Abbasid Caliph sent Afshin with clear military instructions to capture Babak. Afshin successfully captured Babak's stronghold of Badhdh. Babak sought refuge with the Armenian leader Sunbat. However, he was betrayed by Sunbat and handed over to the forces of the Caliphate. Babak was eventually executed. During Babak’s execution, the Caliph's henchmen first cut off his legs and hands in order to convey the most devastating message to his followers. The legend says that Babak bravely rinsed his face with the drained blood pouring out of his cuts, thus depriving the Caliph and the rest of the Abbasid army from seeing his pale face, a result of the heavy loss of blood



Maziar was the grandson of the Padhuspani prince Shahriar I and a scion of the House of Karen. He was a contemporary of Afshin Kheydar and Babak Khorramdin. Maziar led the revolutionary troops at the height of the Persian nationalist struggle even defeating the forces of Caliph once.

According to the medieval historian Ibn Esfandyar in his Tarikh-e-Tabaristan, Maziar is said to have proclaimed: "Afshin Kheydar, son of Kavus and Babak, and I had made an oath and allegiance that we take the country back from the Arabs and transfer the government and the country back to the family of Kasraviyan(Sassanid)."

Maziar was eventually betrayed by his brother Kuhyar and handed over to the soldiers of the Caliphate. He was deported to Baghdad in 839. While some accounts say that he was executed, other say that he took poison to escape humiliation at the hands of the Arabs.

The Legacy of the Sassanians


The Sassanians have been remembered both for good and bad reasons. There was a revival of art and architecture during the Sassanian period. The reign of Khusro Anushirvan experienced a literary renaissance. Religion and religious literature which had grown moribund during the rule of the Parthians was actively revived by the Sassanians who were zealous Zoroastrians themselves. The Sassanians ruled over a vast Empire and had a well-organized army. The Sassanian Empire, at its zenith, was the only military power capable of challenging the Romans.

But the Sassanian rule has also been remembered for a fair share of negative reasons. Zoroastrian monarchs as Ardeshir Babagan, Yazdegerd II and Bahram V have gained an infamous reputation by indulging in zealous persecution of communities professing non-Zoroastrian creeds. The Manichean, Mazdakite and Christian minorities in the Empire were unhappy with the amount of religious freedom they had. Naturally, when the Arabs invaded Iran during the reign of Yazdegerd III they welcomed them with open arms.

With the end of Yazdegerd III's reign, the Sassanian Empire died a virtual death. However, small principalities which paid allegiance to the Sassanians or run by parallel branches of the Sassanid royal family survived for many centuries.