(The PARTHIAN and SASSANID EMPIRES – continued)
In 399, Yazdegerd the First became king. He respected religious diversity and wanted peace between the religions of his realm. He helped Christians rebuild their churches, destroyed during the persecutions. Yazdegerd sponsored a council meeting of Christian bishops and other Christian ecclesiastics to mend their internal quarrels, and the council created rules and an organizational structure to unite Christians within the empire. The Zoroastrian priests were displeased. They spoke of "Yazdegerd the Wicked."
The Zoroastrians had more luck with Yazdegerd's son, Bahram V, who became known for his prowess in hunting game and women. Bahram V attempted to win and maintain good will for himself among the Zoroastrians, and, in 421, the persecution of Christians was resumed. Many Christians fled westward to the Roman empire, and Bahram sought their extradition. But the Roman emperor at Constantinople, Theodosius II, refused Bahram's request.
Bahram V responded with another war against the Roman empire. Constantinople overpowered Persia's forces in a series of skirmishes. Bahram made a hundred-year peace with Constantinople in which he agreed to grant freedom of worship for Christians in the Sassanid Empire in exchange for Constantinople granting freedom of worship for Zoroastrians under its rule.
Attempts at forcing religious conformity had been of little help to the Sassanids Real trouble came to them as it had for the Romans: migrating foreigner armies. The invaders were called Hephthalites, or White Huns, descendants perhaps of those the Chinese called Xiongnu. From the desert in central Asia, during the rule of Bahram V, they penetrated Sassanid territory to the Oxus River. Bahram V repelled the invasions, but in the second half of the 400s the Hephthalite invasions continued. In 484 the Hephthalites feigned a retreat, luring the Sassanian king, Firuz, his cavalry and much of the Sassanid nobility, into a concealed pit. The Hephthalites slaughtered them all. Then they captured the king's family and treasury and forced the new Sassanid king, Balash – the brother of Firuz – to pay them tribute.
After military defeat came drought and famine, and with this came political unrest. In 488, Balash, who had been elected by nobles, was deposed by nobles and blinded. He was replaced by Kavad, a son of Firuz. Unrest among the Persians grew into rebellion, which was joined by the country's major workers' guilds – a movement led by a priest named Mazdak (or Zaradust-e Khuragan).
Mazdak's movement was a religious sect – said to be Manichaean and said to be Zoroastrian – that had been founded by his father. His father had directed his followers to enjoy life and to satisfy their appetites in food and drink but to do so in a spirit of friendship and equality. He had directed them to aim also at good deeds, to extend hospitality to others, to avoid dominating others or inflicting any kind of harm on others, and especially to avoid shedding the blood of others. Following his father as leader, Mazdak proclaimed that he had been sent by God to preach that all men are born equal. He proclaimed that no one had a right to possess more than did another. He claimed that he was reforming and purifying Zoroastrianism and quoted from the Avesta, claiming that God had placed the means of subsistence on earth so that people could divide them equally. He claimed that people had strayed from this as some had sought domination over others, as the strong had defeated the weak and had taken exclusive possession over property. He described the world as having been turned from righteousness by five demons: Envy, Wrath, Vengeance, Need and Greed.
Mazdak called for distributing to the community the contents of the granaries belonging to the nobles. He proclaimed that whoever had an excess of property or women had no right to them. Mazdak's followers began plundering the homes and harems of the rich. His uprising was strong enough that the new Sassanid king, Kavad I, feared it, and for the sake of staying in power Kavad sided with it. Kavad approved Mazdak's call for intermarriage between aristocratic women and peasant men. The Nobles, outraged over Kavad's siding with the revolution, captured and imprisoned him. They put his brother upon the throne, and, after three years in captivity, Kavad escaped and fled east to the Hephthalites.
The Hephthalites were eager to have a ruler in Persia dependent upon them, and they provided Kavad with an army. In 499, Kavad marched to the Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon, and re-established his rule. The nobles fled to their estates, and the century ended with rebellion still triumphant. But communism at the end of antiquity in Persia was not to remain in power as long as it would in the 20th century. Nobles, Zoroastrian priests and eventually Khavad and his son managed a counter-revolution. In 528, leading followers of Mazdak were massacred, and in following years other followers were persecuted and driven underground
Ancient Persia: from 550 BC to AD 650, by Josef Wiesehofer, 2001
Crossroads of Civilization: 3000 years of Persian History, by Irving Clive, 1979
Encyclopedias Britannica, Wikipedia
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.