Spāhbed (Middle Persian: 𐭮𐭯𐭠𐭧𐭯𐭲‎; also spelled spahbod and spahbad, early form spāhpat)[1] is a Middle Persian title meaning "army chief" used chiefly in the Sasanian Empire. Originally there was a single spāhbed, called the Ērān-spāhbed, who functioned as the generalissimo of the Sasanian army. From the time of Khosrow I (r. 531–579) on, the office was split in four, with a spāhbed for each of the cardinal directions.[2] After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the spāhbed of the East managed to retain his authority over the inaccessible mountainous region of Tabaristan on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, where the title, often in its Islamic form ispahbadh (Persian: اسپهبذ‎; in Arabic: اصبهبذʾiṣbahbaḏ), survived as a regnal title until the Mongol conquests of the 13th century.[3] An equivalent title of Persian origin, ispahsālār, gained great currency across the Muslim world in the 10th–15th centuries.

The title was also adopted by the Armenians (Armenian: սպարապետ, [a]sparapet) and the Georgians (Georgian: სპასპეტი, spaspeti), as well as Khotan (spāta) and the Sogdians (spʾdpt) in Central Asia. It is also attested in Greek sources as aspabedēs (ἀσπαβέδης).[2][3] The title was revived in the 20th century by the Pahlavi dynasty, in the Modern Persian form sepahbod (سپهبد), equivalent to a three-star Lieutenant General, ranking below arteshbod (full General).

Sasanian commander, 6th - 7th Century, Nadeem Ahmad
Modern reconstruction of a late Sasanian-era military commander

Use in pre-Islamic Persia

The title is attested in the Achaemenid Empire in its Old Persian form, spādhapati (from *spādha- "army" and *pati- "chief"[2]), signifying the army's commander-in-chief.[3] The title (in Parthian: 𐭎𐭐𐭀𐭃𐭐𐭕𐭉) continued in use under the Arsacid Parthian Empire, where it seems to have been a hereditary position in one of the seven great houses of the Parthian nobility.[3]

The Sasanian Empire, which succeeded the Arsacids, retained the title, which is attested in a series of inscriptions from the 3rd century. Until the early 6th century, there was a single holder of the title, the Ērān-spāhbed, who according to the list of precedence provided by the 9th-century Muslim historian Ya'qubi occupied the fifth position in the court hierarchy.[3]

The Byzantine and Syriac sources record a number of senior officers who might be holders of the rank in the early 6th century. Thus during the Anastasian War of 502–506, a certain Boes (Bōē), who negotiated with the Byzantine magister officiorum Celer and died in 505, is named in the Syriac sources as an astabid (also spelled astabed, astabad, astabadh). His unnamed successor in the negotiations also bore this title. Some modern scholars have interpreted astabed as a new office corresponding to the Byzantine magister officiorum, supposedly instituted by Kavadh I shortly before 503 for the purpose of weakening the authority of the wuzurg framadar. But it is likely that this Syriac word is simply a corrupted form of spāhbed (which is normally recorded as aspabid in Syriac), or possibly asp(a)bed ("chief of the cavalry"), since the Greek sources give the name of the second man as Aspebedes (Latin: Aspebedus), Aspevedes, or Aspetios (Latin: Aspetius).[4][5] Again, during the Iberian War (526–532), a man named Aspebedes (i.e. Bawi), according to the historian Procopius a maternal uncle of Khosrow I (r. 531–579), appears. In 527 he took part in negotiations with Byzantine envoys, and in 531 he led an invasion of Mesopotamia along with Chanaranges and Mermeroes. He was executed by Khosrow shortly after his accession for plotting with other nobles to overthrow him in favour of his brother Zames.[4][6]

Khosrow I's reform

To curb the power of the over-mighty generalissimo, Khosrow I—although this reform may already have been planned by his father, Kavadh I (r. 499–531)—split the office of the Ērān-spāhbed into four regional commands, corresponding to the four traditional cardinal directions (kust, cf. Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr): the "army chief of the East (Khurasan)" (kust ī khwarāsān spāhbed), the "army chief of the South" (kust ī nēmrōz spāhbed), the "army chief of the West" (kust ī khwarbārān spāhbed), and the "army chief of Azerbaijan" (kust ī Ādurbādagān spāhbed, where the northwestern province of Azerbaijan substitutes the term "north" because of the latter's negative connotations).[2][7] As this reform was mentioned only in later literary sources, the historicity of this division, or its survival after Khosrow I's reign, was questioned in the past,[8] but a series of thirteen recently discovered seals, which provide the names of eight spāhbeds, provide contemporary evidence from the reigns of Khosrow I and his successor, Hormizd IV (r. 579–590); P. Pourshariati suggests that two may date to the reign of Khosrow II (r. 590–628). The eight known spāhbeds are:[2][9]

Name Command King Family
(Simah-i Burzin)
East Khosrow I Kārin
East Hormizd IV Kārin
Wahrām Ādurmāh
(Bahram-i Mah Adhar)
South Khosrow I & Hormizd IV Unknown
Wēh-Shāhbur South Khosrow I Unknown
Pīrag-i Shahrwarāz
South Khosrow II Mihrān
West Khosrow II & Hormizd IV Ispahbudhān
Gōrgōn or Gōrgēn
(Golon Mihran)
North Khosrow I Mihrān
Sēd-hōsh (?) North Khosrow I Mihrān

Other holders of the rank are difficult to identify from the literary sources, since the office of spāhbed was held in tandem with other offices and titles, such as Shahrwarāz ("Boar of the Empire"), which are often treated as personal names.[2] A further factor of confusion in later literary sources is the interchangeable use of the rank with the junior provincial ranks of marzbān ("frontier-warden, margrave") and pāygōsbān ("district guardian").[2]

Islamic period


Ispahbod Xurshid's coin-1
Silver dirham of the last Dabuyid ispahbadh, Khurshid of Tabaristan (r. 740–761)

During the Muslim conquest of Persia, the spahbed of Khurasan apparently retired to the mountains of Tabaristan.[3] There he invited the last Sasanian shah, Yazdgerd III, to find refuge, but Yazdgerd refused, and was killed in 651.[3][10] Like many other local rulers throughout the former Sasanian domains, including those of the neighbouring provinces of Gurgan and Gilan, the spahbed then made terms with the Arabs, which allowed him to remain as the practically independent ruler of Tabaristan in exchange for an annual tribute.[11] This marked the foundation of the Dabuyid dynasty, which ruled Tabaristan until 759–761, when it was conquered by the Abbasids and incorporated into the Caliphate as a province. The early rulers of the dynasty are ill attested; they minted coins of their own with Pahlavi legends and a dating system starting from the Sasanian dynasty's fall in 651, and claimed the titles Gīlgīlan, Padashwargarshah ("Shah of Patashwargar", the old name of Tabaristan's mountains), and ispahbadh (اسپهبذ, a New Persian form of spahbed) of Khurasan.[3][12]

The title ispahbadh was also claimed by other lines of local rulers in the region, who claimed distant descent from the Sasanian past: the Karen family, who saw themselves as heirs of the Dabuyids and ruled central and western Tabaristan until 839/840, and the Bavandid dynasty in the eastern mountains, whose various branches survived until well after the Mongol conquests of the 13th century.[3][13] The title was also used by the Daylamites neighbouring Tabaristan. In some later texts from this region, the title came to signify simply a local chieftain.[3]

Central Asia

In Khurasan, the title survived in usage among the local Soghdian princes. The ispahbadh of Balkh is mentioned in 709, al-Ishkand, the ispahbadh of Nasa in 737, and the same title is used in connection with the king of Kabul in the early 9th century.[3] In the 1090s, it appears as the personal name of a Seljuk commander, Isfabadh ibn Sawtigin, who seized control of Mecca for a while.[3]

In Armenia

The Kingdom of Armenia, which was ruled by a branch of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty, adopted the term first in its Old Persian form, giving Armenian [a]parapet and then again, under Sasanian influence, from the Middle Persian form, giving the form aspahapet. The title was used, as in Persia, for the commander-in-chief of the royal army, and was borne in hereditary right by the Mamikonian family.[3]

In Georgia

The institution of the Georgian rank spaspet, like its rough equivalent sparapet in neighboring Armenia, was designed under the influence of the Sasanian Persian spahbed, but differed in that it was a non-hereditary rank and included not only military, but also civil functions.[14]

According to the medieval Georgian chronicles, the rank of spaspet was introduced by the first king P’arnavaz in the 3rd century BC. The office, in a variously modified manner, survived into medieval and early modern Georgia down to the Russian annexation early in the 19th century.


  1. ^ Frye, Richard N (1984), The History of Ancient Iran, C.H.Beck, p. 224, ISBN 9783406093975
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gyselen (2004)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bosworth (1978), pp. 207–208
  4. ^ a b Chaumont (1987), pp. 825–826
  5. ^ Martindale, Jones & Morris (1980), p. 169
  6. ^ Martindale, Jones & Morris (1992), p. 137
  7. ^ Pourshariati (2008), pp. 95ff.
  8. ^ Pourshariati (2008), pp. 94–95
  9. ^ Pourshariati (2008), pp. 98–101, 470 (Table 6.3)
  10. ^ Kennedy (2007), p. 187
  11. ^ Kennedy (2007), pp. 178–179, 192
  12. ^ Madelung (1975), pp. 198–200
  13. ^ Madelung (1975), pp. 200–202
  14. ^ Robert Bedrosian, "Sparapet", in: Joseph Reese Strayer (1983), Dictionary of the Middle Ages, p. 460. Scribner, ISBN 0-684-16760-3.


Bahram (Shahnameh)

Bahram is an Iranian hero in Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. He is son of Goudarz and brother of Rohham, Giv and Hojir. In the story of Siavash, he and Zange-ye Shavaran are Siavash's counselors. They unsuccessfully try to convince Siavash not to go to Turan. When Siavash goes to Turan and abandons Iranian army, Bahram is put in command of the Iranian army until the arrival of Tous. His most important adventure is in the story of Farud, where he fights with Turanian army along with other Iranian heroes . When Iranian army is marching toward Turan, they encounter Farud, who along with Tokhar (تُخوار) are standing on a mountain. Tous, the spahbed of Iranian army does not know Farud and think that he is a Turanian foe. He sends Bahram to go there and kill both of them. When Bahram arrives at Farud, Farud introduces himself and says that he is son of Siavash and want to avenge Afriasiab. Bahram comes back to Tous and tells him that they are not enemy and instead they want to join Iranian army to fight against Afrasiab. Tous, however, does not believe this and orders to kill Farud. Bahram unsuccessfully tries to restrain Tous and Iranians from killing Farud and his companion. However, Farud was eventually slain by Rohham and Bizhan.Bahram, seeing himself as somehow to blame for Ferud's death, he no longer cares for his own life. In a subsequent war between Iran and Turan shortly after Farud's death, he lost his whip in the battlefield. Although Goudarz, his father, and Giv, his brother advice him to not go for the whip, he sees this incident as a bad omen and puts his life to danger and returns to the battlefield solely in search of his whip. He finds an injured Iranian soldier and binds his wounds. He finally finds his whip, but at the last minute, he was surrounded by Turanian men. He bravely fights with them but at last, he was severely injured by Tazhāv (تَژاو) and shortly after he dies of the wound. The unknown author of Mojmal al-tavarikh mentions him as the master of ceremonies (amīr-e majles) in Kay Khosrow's reign.


Bawi was a Sasanian military officer from the Ispahbudhan family who was involved in the Anastasian War and the Iberian War between the Sasanian and Byzantine Empire. He is also known as Aspebedes, which is a corruption of the title spahbed.


Bozorgmehr-e Bokhtagan (Middle Persian: Wuzurgmihr ī Bōkhtagān), also known as Burzmihr, Dadmihr and Dadburzmihr, was an Iranian nobleman from the Karen family, who served as minister (wuzurg framadār) of the Sasanian king (shah) Kavad I (r. 498–531), and the latter son and successor Khosrow I (r. 531–579). He also served as the military commander (spahbed) of Khwarasan under Khosrow I and his successor Hormizd IV (r. 579–590). According to Persian and Arabic sources, Bozorgmehr was a man of "exceptional wisdom and sage counsels" and later became a characterisation of the expression. His name appears in several important works in Persian literature, most notably in the Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings"). The historian Arthur Christensen has suggested that Bozorgmehr was the same person as Borzuya, but historigraphical studies of post-Sasanian Persian literature, as well as linguistic analysis show otherwise. However, the word "Borzuya" can sometimes be considered a shortened form of Bozorgmehr.

Farrukh Hormizd

Farrukh Hormizd or Farrokh Hormizd (Persian: فرخ‌هرمز‎), also known as Hormizd V, was an Iranian prince, who was one of the leading figures in Sasanian Iran in the early 7th-century. He served as the military commander (spahbed) of northern Iran. He later came in conflict with the Iranian nobility, "dividing the resources of the country". He was later killed by Siyavakhsh in a palace plot on the orders of Azarmidokht after he proposed to her in an attempt to usurp the Sasanian throne. He had two children, Rostam Farrokhzad and Farrukhzad.


Farrukhzad (Middle Persian: Farrūkhzādag; New Persian: فرخزاد), was an Iranian aristocrat from the House of Ispahbudhan and the founder of the Bavand dynasty, ruling from 651 to 665. Originally a powerful servant of the Sasanian king Khosrow II (r. 590-628), he, along with several other powerful aristocrats made a conspiracy against the latter and ended his tyrannical rule. They thereafter put Khosrow's son Kavadh II (r. 628) on the throne, whose rule lasted only a few months, before he was killed by a plague, being succeeded by his son Ardashir III (r. 628-629), who was only after one year murdered by the rebellious former Sasanian army chief (spahbed) Shahrbaraz, who usurped the throne.

These events greatly weakened the Sasanian Empire, but by 632, when Khosrow's grandson Yazdegerd III (r. 632-651) ascended the throne, order was somewhat restored. However, just as peace was about to come, the Sasanian Empire was invaded by Muslim Arabs, which resulted in the death of many Sasanian veterans, including Farrukhzad's brother Rostam Farrokhzad himself. Farrukhzad thereafter succeeded the latter as the spahbed and the leader of the Pahlav (Parthian) faction, which had been formed by their father Farrukh Hormizd, who was murdered in 631.

However, Farrukhzad was unable to defeat the Arabs, and was in 643, after having seen the loss of Ctesiphon and Spahan, Farrukhzad, along with Yazdegerd III, fled from one place to another until in 650, when Farrukhzad mutinied against his king, who was shortly killed by one of his servants. Farrukhzad later became the ruler of Tabaristan in 651, and would rule the region until his murder in 665 by Valash, a Karenid aristocrat, who thereafter conquered his domains.

Giv (Shahnameh)

Giv (Persian: گیو‎) is one of the main Iranian heroes in the Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. He is one of the most famous heroes of Shahnameh. Beside Shahnameh, Giv is also mentioned in Middle Persian texts such as Bundahishn. In Bundahishn, Giv is an immortal and one of the companions of Saoshyant. Giv is son of Goudarz, brother of Roham and father of Bizhan. He married with Banu Goshasp, the daughter of Rostam. Giv appears almost in every story of the heroic age and he is sometimes the spahbed of Iranian Army.

Golon Mihran

Golon Mihran, also known as Mihran Mihrevandak, was a Sasanian spahbed, and also the marzban of Persian Armenia from 572 to 574. Golon was mentioned by Sebeos as an Sasanian commander in Armenia. He was also a member of the House of Mihran.


Goudarz (Persian: گودرز‎) is one of the main Iranian heroes in Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. He is son of Kashvad, father of Giv and Roham and the grandfather of Bizhan. His first appearance is in the time of Kay Kavus and thereafter he appears almost in every story of the heroic age, sometimes he is the spahbed of Iranian Army. His personality is described very positively with traits such as loyalty, patience and altruism.


Hazārbed (or hazarbadh, meaning "the commander of thousand"), also known as hazaruft or hazaraft, was a Sasanian office which functioned as the commander of the royal guard.

House of Sasan

The House of Sasan was the house that founded the Sasanian Empire, ruling this empire from 224 to 651. It began with Ardashir I, who named the dynasty as Sasanian (also known as Sassanid) in honour of his grandfather, Sasan, and after the name of his tribe.

The Shahanshah was the sole regent, head of state and head of government of the empire. At times, power shifted de facto to other officials, namely the spahbed.


Khwarāsān () was one of the four kusts (frontier regions) of the Sasanian Empire, formed during the reign of king Khosrow I (r. 531–579). Khwarasan was commanded by a spahbed from one of the seven Parthian clans. The appointed spahbed of the kust was given the title of aspbed.

The name Khwarasan is a combination of khwar (meaning "sun") and āsān (from āyān, literally meaning "to come" or "coming" or "about to come").


Marzbān, or Marzpān (Middle Persian transliteration: mrzwpn, derived from marz "border, boundary" and the suffix -pān "guardian"; Modern Persian: مرزبان Marzbān) were a class of margraves, warden of the marches, and by extension military commanders, in charge of border provinces of the Parthian Empire (247 BC–224 AD) and mostly Sasanian Empire (224–651 AD) of Iran.

Piran Viseh

Piran son of Viseh (Persian: پیران ویسه‎) is a Turanian figure in Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. Beside Shahnameh, Piran is also mentioned in other sources such as Tabari and Tha'ālibī. He is the king of Khotan and the spahbed of Afrasiab, the king of Turan. He is described as a wise and intelligent man, seeking to bring peace to Iran and Turan. In old Iranian writings, Piran and Aghrirat are the only Turanians that have been described positively. Piran plays a vital role in the story of Siavash, the story of Kay Khosro and the story of Bizhan and Manizhe. Piran was killed by Goudarz in the battle of Davazdah Rokh. Kay Khosro mourned the death of Piran and ordered to wash his body with Musk and Ambergris and ordered to be buried in the cave of Zibad .In Persian culture, Piran is a symbol of wisdom. It has been said that Karim Khan called Mohammad Khan Qajar "Piran Viseh". Piran is often compared to Bozorgmehr.According to djalal khaleghi motlagh, Piran may be the Median Harpagus that saved Cyrus the Great..According to the book of Dr Abas Zamani Piran wasburied in the cave of Zibad now called DarSufa Pir. [1]

According to Patricia Lajoye, Piran may not have been a real historical figure at all, but rather a euhemerized thunder deity descended from the Proto-Indo-European Perkwunos, whose name is cognate with the Slavic Perun and Sanskrit Parjanya..

Rostam Farrokhzad

For the character in the 10th century Persian epic Shahnameh or Epic of Kings, see Rostam.Rostam Farrokhzād (Persian: رستم فرخزاد‎) was an Iranian nobleman from the Ispahbudhan family, who served as the spahbed ("army chief") of Adurbadagan and Khorasan during the reign of Boran (r. 631–632) and Yazdegerd III (r. 632–651). Rostam is remembered as a historical figure, a character in the Persian epic poem Shahnameh, and as a touchstone of most Iranian nationalists.

Shahin Vahmanzadegan

Shahen or Shahin (Middle Persian: Shāhēn Vahūmanzādagān, in Greek sources: Σαὴν; died ca. 626) was a senior Sasanian general (spahbed) during the reign of Khosrau II (590–628). He was a member of the House of Spandiyadh.


Shahrbaraz (also spelled Shahrvaraz or Shahrwaraz; Middle Persian: 𐭧𐭱𐭨𐭥𐭥𐭥𐭰‎; New Persian: شهربراز), was king (shah) of the Sasanian Empire from 27 April 630 to 9 June 630. He usurped the throne from Ardashir III, and was killed by Iranian nobles after forty days. Before usurping the Sasanian throne he was a general (spahbed) under Khosrow II (590–628). He is furthermore noted for his important role during the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, and the events that followed afterwards.


Siyavakhsh (also spelled Siyavash) was an Iranian aristocrat from the House of Mihran who was descended from Bahram Chobin, the famous spahbed of the Sasanian Empire and briefly its emperor.


Sparapet (Armenian: սպարապետ) was a hereditary title of supreme commander of the armed forces in ancient and medieval Armenia. It originated in the 2nd century BC, under the reign of King Artaxias I, and was used in the Kingdom of Armenia and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (in Cilicia, the bearer of the title was known as a Gundstabl (գունդստաբլ, from the Byzantine and Western title of constable). Sparapet was the equivalent of the Parthian Spahbed from which it is borrowed (cf. Georgian spaspet "high constable, commander in chief").

The title of Sparapet was traditionally held by the representatives of the House of Mamikonian since the beginning of the rule of the Arsacid kings of Armenia. Later in history, the title was held by the Bagratuni and Artsruni dynasties.


Surena or Suren, also known as Rustaham Suren (died 53 BC) was a Parthian spahbed ("general" or "commander") during the 1st century BC. He was the leader of the House of Suren and was best known for defeating the Romans in the Battle of Carrhae. Under his command Parthians decisively defeated a numerically superior Roman invasion force under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus. It is commonly seen as one of the earliest and most important battles between the Roman and Parthian empires and one of the most crushing defeats in Roman history.

"Surena" remains popular as a name in Iran. "Surena" is the Greek and Latin form of Sûrên or Sūrēn. As "Suren", the name remains common in Armenia. Suren means "the heroic one, Avestan sūra (strong, exalted)."



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