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Sassannian Armies: Iranian Empire Early 3rd to Mid-7th Centuries AD
By David Nicolle, Angus McBride
Publisher: Montvert Publications 1996 72 Pages
PDF 8 MB
The Sassanian Empire was the last in a series of Persian empires which had for centuries been seen as the rivals of Graeco-Roman civilization. It was also the last before the coming of Islam changed the entire character of Persian or Iranian civilization. In many ways the Sassanian Empire already had one foot in this new medieval world, yet its self-image was firmly cast in the mould of ancient Iran and the Empire regarded itself as the true heir of that great Achaemenid Persian Empire destroyed by Alexander the Great hundreds of years earlier.
In some ways Sassanian Iran also had more in common with Hindu India than subsequent Muslim Iran. People were divided into "castes" with an Iranian warrior elite of supposed "Aryan" origin dominating others of inferior birth. The domain of the Shahanshah or Sassanian King of Kings become identified with Iranshahr, the Land of the Iranians and of the Zoroastrian religion. There were many Iranians outside the Sassanian Empire and many non-Iranians within, yet this ethnically based attitude was deep rooted and would, to some extent, even survive the egalitarian spirit of Islam. Like their Roman rivals the Sassanian Iranians were trapped within an archaic view of the world. While the Romans believed that they were the natural masters of civilization, the Iranians believed that their King was the divinely ordained master of all kings.
Meanwhile the real world was changing fast and both empires faced potentially mortal threats from the Turco-Mongol nomadic peoples of Central Asia. The Sassanian Shahanshah recognized this more clearly than the Roman Emperor and often attempted a joint effort against the common foe. Yet even the Shahanshah was hampered by deep anti-Roman antagonism among his own warrior nobility and particularly among the Zoroastrian priestly caste.
Despite large-scale conversion to Christianity in the final century, Zoroastrianism and its Mobad priests were too deeply entrenched for the Sassanian state to have become Christian. Then a new threat erupted from an unexpected direction. This was the Muslim Arab invasion which in only fifteen years crushed what had been seen as the most powerful Empire in western Asia.