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Invasion, Famime and a failed Communist Revolution

During the reign of Bahram V trouble came as it was for the Romans: migrating foreign armies. The invaders were called Hephthalites, or White Huns, descendants perhaps of those the Chinese called Xiongnu. From the desert in central Asia 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. Many successions later, in 484 the Hephthalites feigned a retreat, luring the new 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 Khuragen).

Communist Revolution

Mazdak's movement was a religious sect 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 of 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 of kings, Kavadh I, feared it, and for the sake of staying in power Kavadh sided with it. Kavadh approved Mazdak's call for intermarriage between aristocratic women and peasant men. The Nobles, outraged over Kavadh's siding with the revolution, captured and imprisoned him. They put his brother upon the throne, and, after three years in captivity, Kavadh 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, Kavadh 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 the communist revolution was not to hold power long. 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

Manichaeism in Mesopotamia and the Roman East (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World), by Samuel N. C. Lieu.

Mani, a Religio-historical description of His Personality by L.J.R. Ort, (A thesis defended at the University of Amsterdam), 1967

Ancient Persia: from 550 BC to AD 650, by Josef Wiesehofer, 2001

Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, by Mary Boyce, 1979

Encyclopedias Britannica and Wikipedia

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