Aswaran

The Aswārān (singular aswār), also spelled Asbārān, was a military force that formed the backbone of the army of the Sasanian Empire. They were provided by the aristocracy, wore armor, and ranged from archers to cataphracts.

Aswaran
Ancient Sasanid Cataphract Uther Oxford 2003 06 2(1)
Historical re-enactment of an asbaran cataphract
CountrySassanian Empire
AllegianceShahanshah, Eran-spahbed
TypeHeavy cavalry
Tabriz Sasanian Plate 2
Sasanian silverware, showing a combat between two noble horsemen wearing scale armor, cuirass, chaps, and equipped with kontos, swords, quivers and arrows.

Etymology

The word comes from the Old Persian word asabāra (from asa- and bar, a frequently used Achaemenid military technical term). The various other renderings of the word are following; Parthian asbār, Middle Persian aspabārak, Classical Persian suwār (سوار), uswār/iswār (اسوار), Modern Persian savār (سوار). The Arabic word asāwira (أساورة), used to refer to a certain faction of the Sasanian cavalry after the Muslim conquest, is a broken plural form of the Middle Persian aswār.[1] However, the word aswār only means "horseman" in Middle Persian literature, and it is only the late Arabic term which has a more specialized meaning. In the Sassanian inscriptions, the formula asp ud mard (Middle Persian: SWSYA W GBRA; Parthian: SWSYN W GBRYN; literally "horse and man") was commonly used to collectively refer to the cavalry and the infantry of the military.[2]

Organization

The aswaran were primarily composed of Iranian aristocrats from the wuzurgan and the azadan.[4] After the reforms of Khosraw I, warriors from the dehqan class would also be enlisted.

The asbaran have often been demonstrated as an example of existence of feudalism in Iran by modern scholars, who simply refer them as either chevalier, knight, or ritter. According to historians such as Christensen and Widengren, the asbar had the same status as the knight. However, although the asbaran and knight resemble each other in many parts, the economic role and historical role of the knight is very different compared to the role of the asbaran in the Sasanian Empire, which thus makes it incorrect to refer the asbaran as knights.[5]

Weaponry, armor, and tactics

The aswaran wore mail armor, and ranged from archers to cataphracts. They assumed a description with the bravery, tactics, and ethics of the Sasanians. They mastered in single combat in battles (mard o-mard), rode on elephants and horses, and their valor was recognized with ornamental emblems. Titles such as hazārmard ("whose strength is equal to one thousand men"), zih asbār ("superior rider"), and pahlawān-i gēhān ("hero/champion of the world"), were their epithets. They wrote the name of the Sasanian emperor and their valuable family members on their arrows as a good omen. They outperformed others in archery to the extent that later writers thought that they had introduced the profession. They were superior and unmatched in the profession, which was even acknowledged by their enemies.[6]

Armor

The asbaran during this early period had much in common with their Parthian (Arsacid) predecessors, most of whom would have worn a scale armor cuirass with long sleeves and chaps covered in scale armor or, less often, plated mail. Their helmets, of the Spangenhelm type, would have been adapted throughout the Sasanian period. Also horses would probably have had armored chests and heads, consisting of an apron and headpiece, or total body protection consisting of five separate pieces, made from either boiled leather or scale armor. Some asbaran units such as mercenaries may have worn little to no armor at all, allowing them to be rather more swift, silent, and mobile.

Spangenhelm

Asbaran cavalryman bearing a banner of homa
Illustration of an asbaran cavalryman holding a banner showing a Homa, a mythical bird of Iranian legends and fables.

The Spangenhelm helmets worn by members of the asbaran units in battle would have evolved through the centuries. During the 3rd-to-6th-century era of the Sassanian empire, the Spangenhelm would have probably been made of felt and hardened leather. However, by the late 6th/early 7th century they would have been decorated with flowers and purple ball with mail and small areas through which to breathe and see.

Weaponry

The asbaran cavalry were armed with a variety of weapons. The traditional heavy cavalry weapons, such as maces, lances, and swords would have been used, as well as a variety of other weapons, such as axes. Asbaran cavalry were not, however restricted to short-range weapons, as they often carried weapons such as darts and bows.

Each asbaran unit would have a Drafsh, or heraldric standard. These would have often included mythological creatures and animals. These animals would have included elephants, horses, bears, lions, deer (ahu); these would also include Zoroastrian mythological creatures such as Bashkuch and the army of asbaran would have the Derafsh Kaviani as their banner.

Elite Aswaran

Taq-e Bostan - equestrian statue
Equestrian statue of Khosrow II (r. 590–628) wearing the same armor used by the asbaran.

The aswaran sardar were high-ranking officers who were in charge of the aswaran, their position was so high up in Sasanian society that they were only answerable to the Eran-Spahbad (Commander in Chief) and the Shahanshah himself. They would be guarded heavily by cataphract style cavalry. The post of aswaran sardar was held by a member of the Mihran-Pahlav family. Parts of the aswaran division were high-ranking including the Pushtigban Body Guards, a super heavy shock cavalry, who were the royal guards of the Shah himself. The influential aswaran cavalry were mostly made up of heavily armoured cavalry, generally composed of aristocracy or even from the imperial family themselves. There were also commanders who were elite as well. These parts of the aswaran regiments were kept as reserves.

After the fall of the Sasanians

Most of the asbaran was disbanded after suffering defeat and conquest during the Muslim conquest of Persia. However, several factions of the asbaran, each faction led by a different leader, defected to the Arabs in order to preserve their status and wealth. These asbaran factions settled in various places in the newly established Muslim territories, where they each become known by several names, the most known and prominent faction being the asawira, who under their leader Siyah settled in the newly established settlement of Basra.

See also

References

  1. ^ Zakeri 1995, p. 57.
  2. ^ http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/aswar-middle-persian-horseman
  3. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=G4eFBwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA163&pg=PA163
  4. ^ Daryaee 2009, p. 45.
  5. ^ Zakeri 1995, p. 59.
  6. ^ Zakeri 1995, p. 66.
  7. ^ Shapur Shahbazi 1995, p. 57.

Sources

  • Shapur Shahbazi, A. (1986). "Army i. Pre-Islamic Iran". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 5. London et al. pp. 489–499.
  • Daryaee, Touraj (2009). Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. I.B.Tauris. pp. 1–240. ISBN 0857716662.
  • Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-645-3.
  • Jalalipour, Saeid (2014). The Arab Conquest of Persia: The Khūzistān Province before and after the Muslims Triumph (PDF). Sasanika.
  • Bosworth, C. E. (1987). "ASĀWERA". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 7. pp. 706–707.
  • Morony, Michael G. (2005) [1984]. Iraq After The Muslim Conquest. Gorgias Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-59333-315-7.
  • Zakeri, Mohsen (1995). Sasanid Soldiers in Early Muslim Society: The Origins of 'Ayyārān and Futuwwa. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 1–391. ISBN 3447036524.
  • David Nicolle, Sassanian Armies: The Iranian Empire Early 3rd to mid-7th Centuries AD (Montvert Publishing 1996). ISBN 1-874101-08-6
  • Jane Penrose Rome and Her Enemies

External links

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Argbed

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The Sasanian king usually selected Argbeds from wuzurgan, Iranian noble families who held the most powerful positions in the imperial administration. This rank, like most imperial administration, was mostly patrimonial, and was passed down through a single family for generations. In many ways, the Argbeds had the same function and status as medieval castellans.

Asawira

The Asawira (Arabic: أساورة‎) or Asawirat (أساويرات) were a military unit of the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphate. The military unit consisted of Iranian noblemen, who were originally part of the aswaran unit of the Sasanian army. It was disbanded in 703 by al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf.

Aspbed

Aspbed or Aspbad (“commander of the cavalry”, from Old Iranian *aspa-pati-), was a title of Iranian origin used by the Parthian and Sasanian empires.

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Clibanarii

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Darigbed

Darigbed was a Sasanian title equivalent to the Byzantine title kouropalates ("palace

superintendent"). The title is first mentioned in the inscription of Shapur II (r. 240-270) at Naqsh-e Rostam.

Gond-i Shahanshah

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Hazarbed

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Immortals (Achaemenid Empire)

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Kanarang

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Military of the Sasanian Empire

The Sasanian army was the primary military body of the Sasanian armed forces, serving alongside the Sasanian navy. The birth of the army dates back to the rise of Ardashir I (r. 224–241), the founder of the Sasanian Empire, to the throne. Ardashir aimed at the revival of the Persian Empire, and to further this aim, he reformed the military by forming a standing army which was under his personal command and whose officers were separate from satraps, local princes and nobility. He restored the Achaemenid military organizations, retained the Parthian cavalry model, and employed new types of armour and siege warfare techniques. This was the beginning for a military system which served him and his successors for over 400 years, during which the Sasanian Empire was, along with the Roman Empire and later the East Roman Empire, one of the two superpowers of Late Antiquity in Western Eurasia. The Sasanian army protected Eranshahr ("the realm of Iran") from the East against the incursions of central Asiatic nomads like the Hephthalites and Turks, while in the west it was engaged in a recurrent struggle against the Roman Empire.

Pasanik

Pasānīk or Pasānīg (meaning guard, servant) was the title of the companion of the Sasanian emperor. The pasanik was chosen by the emperor himself—Khosrow II, during his reign (590-628), chose the pasanik from the aswaran rank.

Paygan

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Paygan-salar

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Sasanian Yemen

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Second Perso-Turkic War

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Stor Bezashk

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Zhayedan

Zhāyēdān (literally "The Immortals") were warriors of an elite unit within the Sassanian army, numbering 10,000 men. They are possibly modeled on the former Immortals, who served the rulers of the Achaemenid Empire, and possibly wore the same clothing as their predecessors. These warriors bore the very finest quality weaponry and armor of the entire Sassanian military. The Zhayedan were led by a commander bearing the title of "Varhranighan-khvadhay".

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