Religion of the later Persians, Dualism of the extremest kind. Ideas entertained with respect to Ormazd and Ahriman. Representations of them. Ormazd the special Guardian of the Kings. Lesser Deities subject to Ormazd: Mithra, Serosh, Vayu, Airyanam, Vitraha, etc. The six Amshash-pands: Bahman, Ardibehesht, Shahravar, Isfand-armat, Khordad, and Amerdat. Religion, how far idolatrous. Worship of Anaitis. Chief Evil Spirits subject to Ahriman: Alcomano, Indra, Caurva, Naonhaitya, Taric, and Zaric. Position of Man between the two Worlds of Good and Evil. His Duties: Worship, Agriculture, Purity. Nature of the Worship. Hymns, Invocations, the Homa Ceremony, Sacrifice. Agriculture a part of Religion. Purity required: 1, Moral; 2, Legal. Nature of each. Man's future Prospects. Position of the Magi under the Sassanians; their Organization, Dress, etc. The Fire-temples and Altars. The Barsom. The Khrafcthraghna. Magnificence of the Sassanian Court; the Throne-room, the Seraglio, the Attendants, the Ministers. Midttude of Palaces. Dress of the Monarch: 1, in Peace; 2, in War, Favorite Pastimes of the Kings. Hunting. Maintenance of Paradises. Stag and Boar-hunts. Music. Hawking. Games. Character of the Persian Warfare under the Sassanians. Sassanian Chariots. The Elephant Corps. The Cavalry. The Archers. The ordinary Infantry. Officers. Standards. Tactics. Private Life of the later Persians. Agricultural Employment of the Men. Non-seclusion of the Women. General Freedom from Oppression of all Classes except the highest.
The general character of the Persian religion, as revived by the founder of the Sassanian dynasty, has been described in a former chapter; but it is felt that the present work would be incomplete if it failed to furnish the reader with a tolerably full account of so interesting a matter; more especially, since the religious question lay at the root of the original rebellion and revolution which raised the Sassanidae to power, and was to a considerable extent the basis and foundation of their authority. An access of religious fervor gave the Persians of the third century after Christ the strength which enabled them to throw off the yoke of their Parthian lords and recover the sceptre of Western Asia. A strong—almost fanatical—religious spirit animated the greater number of the Sassanian monarchs. When the end of the kingdom came, the old faith was still flourishing; and, though its star paled before that of Mohammedanism, the faith itself survived, and still survives at the present day.
It has been observed that Dualism constituted the most noticeable feature of the religion. It may now be added that the Dualism professed was of the most extreme and pronounced kind. Ormazd and Ahriman, the principles of Good and Evil, were expressly declared to be "twins." They had "in the beginning come together to create Life and Death, and to settle how the world was to be." There was no priority of existence of the one over the other, and no decided superiority. The two, being coeval, had contended from all eternity, and would, it was almost certain, continue to contend to all eternity, neither being able to vanquish the other. Thus an eternal struggle was postulated between good and evil; and the issue was doubtful, neither side possessing any clear and manifest advantage.
The two principles were Persons. Ormazd was "the creator of life, the earthly and the spiritual," he who "made the celestial bodies, earth, water, and trees." He was "good," "holy," "pure," "true," "the Holy God," "the Holiest," "the Essence of Truth," "the father of all truth," "the being best of all," "the master of purity." He was supremely "happy," being possessed of every blessing, "health, wealth, virtue, wisdom, immortality." From him came every good gift enjoyed by man; on the pious and the righteous he bestowed, not only earthly advantages, but precious spiritual gifts, truth, devotion, "the good mind," and everlasting happiness; and, as he rewarded the good, so he also punished the bad, though this was an aspect in which he was but seldom represented.
While Ormazd, thus far, would seem to be a presentation of the Supreme Being in a form not greatly different from that wherein it has pleased him to reveal Himself to mankind through the Jewish and Christian scriptures, there are certain points of deficiency in the representation, which are rightly viewed as placing the Persian very considerably below the Jewish and Christian idea. Besides the limitation on the power and freedom of Ormazd implied in the eternal co-existence with him of another and a hostile principle, he is also limited by the independent existence of space, time, and light, which appear in the Zenda vesta as "self-created," or "without beginning," and must therefore be regarded as "conditioning" the Supreme Being, who has to work, as best he may, under circumstances not caused by himself. Again, Ormazd is not a purely spiritual being. He is conceived of as possessing a sort of physical nature. The "light," which is one of his properties, seems to be a material radiance. He can be spoken of as possessing health. The whole conception of him, though not grossly material, is far from being wholly immaterial. His nature is complex, not simple. He may not have a body, in the ordinary sense of the word; but he is entangled with material accidents, and is far from answering to the pure spirit, "without body, parts, or passions," which forms the Christian conception of the Deity.
Ahriman, the Evil Principle, is of course far more powerful and terrible than the Christian and Jewish Satan. He is uncaused, co-eternal with Ormazd, engaged in a perpetual warfare with him. Whatever good thing Ormazd creates, Ahriman corrupts and ruins it. Moral and physical evils are alike at his disposal. He blasts the earth with barrenness, or makes it produce thorns, thistles, and poisonous plants; his are the earthquake, the storm, the plague of hail, the thunderbolt; he causes disease and death, sweeps off a nation's flocks and herds by murrain, or depopulates a continent by pestilence; ferocious wild beasts, serpents, toads, mice, hornets, mosquitoes, are his creation; he invented and introduced into the world the sins of witchcraft, murder, unbelief, cannibalism, sodomy; he excites wars and tumults, stirs up the bad against the good, and labors by every possible expedient to make vice triumph over virtue. Ormazd can exercise no control over him; the utmost that he can do is to keep a perpetual watch on his rival, and seek to baffle and defeat him. This he is not always able to do. Despite his best endeavors, Ahriman is not unfrequently victorious.
In the purer times of the Zoroastrian religion it would seem that neither Ormazd nor Ahriman was represented by sculptured forms. A symbolism alone was permitted, which none could mistake for a real attempt to portray these august beings. But by the date of the Sassanian revival, the original spirit of the religion had suffered considerable modification; and it was no longer thought impious, or perilous, to exhibit the heads of the Pantheon, in the forms regarded as appropriate to them, upon public monuments. The great Artaxerxes, probably soon after his accession, set up a memorial of his exploits, in which he represented himself as receiving the insignia of royalty from Ormazd himself, while Ahriman, prostrate and seemingly, though of course not really, dead, lay at the feet of the steed on which Ormazd was mounted. In the form of Ormazd there is nothing very remarkable; he is attired like the king, has a long beard and flowing locks, and carries in his left hand a huge staff or baton, which he holds erect in a slanting position. The figure of Ahriman possesses more interest. The face wears an expression of pain and suffering; but the features are calm, and in no way disturbed. They are regular, and at least as handsome as those of Artaxerxes and his divine patron. He wears a band or diadem across the brow, above which we see a low cap or crown. From this escape the heads and necks of a number of vipers or snakes, fit emblems of the poisonous and "death-dealing" Evil One.
Some further representations of Ormazd occur in the Sassanian sculptures; but Ahriman seems not to be portrayed elsewhere. Ormazd appears on foot in a relief of the Great Arta-xerxes, which contains two figures only, those of himself and his divine patron. He is also to be seen in a sculpture which belongs probably to Sapor I., and represents that monarch in the act of receiving the diadem from Artaxerxes, his father. In the former of these two tablets the type exhibited in the bas-relief just described is followed without any variation; in the latter, the type is considerably modified. Ormazd still carries his huge baton, and is attired in royal fashion; but otherwise his appearance is altogether new and singular. His head bears no crown, but is surrounded by a halo of streaming rays; he has not much beard, but his hair, bushy and abundant, flows down on his two shoulders; he faces the spectator, and holds his baton in both his hands; finally, he stands upon a blossom, which is thought to be that of a sim-flower. Perhaps the conjecture is allowable that here we have Ormazd exhibited to us in a solar character, with the attributes of Mithra, from whom, in the olden time, he was carefully distinguished.
Ormazd seems to have been regarded by the kings as their special guardian and protector. No other deity (unless in one instance) is brought into close proximity with them; no other obtains mention in their inscriptions; from no other do they allow that they receive the blessing of offspring. Whatever the religion of the common people, that of the kings would seem to have been, in the main, the worship of this god, whom they perhaps sometimes confused with Mithra, or associated with Anaitis, but whom they never neglected, or failed openly to acknowledge.
Under the great Ormazd were a number of subordinate deities, the principal of whom were Mithra and Serosh, Mithra, the Sun-God, had been from a very early date an object of adoration in Persia, only second to Ormazd. The Achaemenian kings joined him occasionally with Ormazd in their invocations. In processions his chariot, drawn by milk-white horses, followed closely on that of Ormazd. He was often associated with Ormazd, as if an equal, though a real equality was probably not intended. He was "great," "pure," "imperishable," "the beneficent protector of all creatures," and "the beneficent preserver of all creatures." He had a thousand ears and ten thousand eyes. His worship was probably more widely extended than that of Ormazd himself, and was connected in general with a material representation.
In the early times this was a simple disk, or circle; but from the reign of Artaxerxes Mnemon, a human image seems to have been substituted. Prayer was offered to Mithra three times a day, at dawn, at noon, and at sunset; and it was usual to worship him with sacrifice. The horse appears to have been the victim which he was supposed to prefer.
Sraosha, or Serosh, was an angel of great power and dignity. He was the special messenger of Ormazd, and the head of his celestial army. He was "tall, well-formed, beautiful, swift, victorious, happy, sincere, true, the master of truth." It was his office to deliver revelations, to show men the paths of happiness, and to bring them the blessings which Ormazd had assigned to each. He invented the music for the five most ancient Gathas, discovered the barsom or divining-rod, and first taught its use to mankind. From his palace on the highest summit of the Elburz range, he watched the proceedings of the evil genii, and guarded the world from their attempts. The Iranians were his special care; but he lost no opportunity of injuring the Powers of Darkness, and lessening their dominion by teaching everywhere the true religion. In the other world it was his business to conduct the souls of the faithful through the dangers of the middle passage, and to bring them before the golden throne of Ormazd.
Among minor angelic powers were Vayu, "the wind," who is found also in the Vedic system; Airyanam, a god presiding over marriages; Vitraha, a good genius; Tistrya, the Dog Star, etc. The number of the minor deities was not, however, great; nor do they seem, as in so many other polytheistic religions, to have advanced in course of time from a subordinate to a leading position. From first to last they are of small account; and it seems, therefore, unnecessary to detain the reader by an elaborate description of them.
From the mass, however, of the lower deities or genii must be distinguished (besides Mithra and Serosh) the six Amesha Spentas, or Amshashpands, who formed the council of Ormazd, and in a certain sense reflected his glory. These were Vohu-mano or Bahman, Ashavahista or Ardibehesht, Khsha-thra-vairya or Shahravar, Spenta-Armaiti or Isfandarmat, Haurvatat or Khordad, and Ameretat or Amerdat. Vohu-mano, "the Good Mind," originally a mere attribute of Ormazd, came to be considered a distinct being, created by him to be his attendant and his councillor. He was, as it were, the Grand Vizier of the Almighty King, the chief of the heavenly conclave. Ormazd entrusted to him especially the care of animal life; and thus, as presiding over cattle, he is the patron deity of the agriculturist. Asha-vahista, "the best truth," or "the best purity," is the Light of the universe, subtle, pervading, omnipresent. He maintains the splendor of the various luminaries, and presides over the element of fire. Khsha-thra-vairya, "wealth," has the goods of this world at his disposal, and specially presides over metals, the conventional signs of wealth; he is sometimes identified with the metal which he dispenses. Spenta-Armaiti, "Holy Armaiti," is at once the genius of the Earth, and the goddess of piety. She has the charge of "the good creation," watches over it, and labors to convert the desolate and unproductive portions of it into fruitful fields and gardens. Together with Vohu-mano, she protects the agriculturist, blessing his land with increase, as Vohu-mano does his cattle. She is called "the daughter of Ormazd," and is regarded as the agent through whom Ormazd created the earth. Moreover, "she tells men the everlasting laws, which no one may abolish," or, in other words, imparts to them the eternal principles of morality. She is sometimes represented as standing next to Ormazd in the mythology, as in the profession of faith required of converts to Zoroastrianism. The two remaining Amshashpands, Haurvatat and Ameretat, "Health" and "Immortality," have the charge of the vegetable creation; Haurvatat causes the flow of water, so necessary to the support of vegetable life in countries where little rain falls; Ameretat protects orchards and gardens, and enables trees to bring their fruits to perfection.
Another deity, practically perhaps as much worshipped as Ormazd and Mithra, was Anaitis or Anahit. Anaiitis was originally an Assyrian and Babylonian, not a Zoroastrian goddess; but her worship spread to the Persians at a date anterior to Herodotus, and became in a short time exceedingly popular. It was in connection with this worship that idolatry seems first to have crept in, Artaxerxes Mnemon (ab. B.C. 400) having introduced images of Anaitis into Persia, and set them up at Susa, the capital, at Persepolis, Ecbatana, Bactra, Babylon, Damascus, and Sardis. Anaitis was the Babylonian Venus; and her rites at Babylon were undoubtedly of a revolting character. It is to be feared that they were introduced in all their grossness into Persia, and that this was the cause of Anahitis great popularity. Her cult "was provided with priests and hieroduli, and connected with mysteries, feasts, and unchaste ways."
The Persian system was further tainted with idolatry in respect of the worship of Mithra, and possibly of Vohu-mano (Batman), and of Amerdat; but on the whole, and especially as compared with other Oriental cults, the religion, even of the later Zoroastrians, must be regarded as retaining a non-materialistic and anti-idolatrous character, which elevated it above other neighboring religions, above Brahminism on the one hand and Syro-Chaldaean nature-worship on the other.
In the kingdom of Darkness, the principal powers, besides Ahriman, were Ako-mano, Indra, Qaurva, Naonhaitya, Taric, and Zaric. These six together formed the Council of the Evil One, as the six Amshashpands formed the council of Ormazd. Ako-mano, "the bad mind," or (literally) "the naught mind," was set over against Vohu-mano, "the good mind," and was Ahriman's Grand Vizier. His special sphere was the mind of man, where he suggested evil thoughts, and prompted to bad words and wicked deeds. Indra, identical with the Vedic deity, but made a demon by the Zoroastrians, presided over storm and tempest, and governed the issues of war and battle. Qaurva and Naonhaitya were also Vedic deities turned into devils. It is difficult to assign them any distinct sphere. Taric and Zaric, "Darkness" and "Poison," had no doubt occupations corresponding with their names. Besides these chief demons, a countless host of evil genii (divs) and fairies (pairicas) awaited the orders and executed the behests of Ahriman.
Placed between the two contending worlds of good and evil, man's position was one of extreme danger and difficulty. Originally set upon the earth by Ormazd in order to maintain the good creation, he was liable to the continual temptations and seductions of the divs or devas, who were "wicked, bad, false, untrue, the originators of mischief, most baneful, destructive, the basest of all things." A single act of sin gave them a hold upon him, and each subsequent act increased their power, until ultimately he became their mere tool and slave. It was however possible to resist temptation, to cling to the side of right, to defy and overcome the deltas. Man might maintain his uprightness, walk in the path of duty, and by the help of the asuras, or "good spirits," attain to a blissful paradise.
To arrive at this result, man had carefully to observe three principal duties. These were worship, agriculture, and purity. Worship consisted in the acknowledgment of the One True God, Ormazd, and of his Holy Angels, the Amesha Spentas or Amshashpands, in the frequent offering of prayers, praises, and thanksgivings, in the recitation of set hymns, the performance of a certain ceremony called the Homa, and in the occasional sacrifice of animals. The set hymns form a large portion of the Zendavesta, where they occur in the shape of Gathas, or Yashts, sometimes possessing considerable beauty. They are sometimes general, addressed to Ormazd and the Amesha Spentas in common, sometimes special, containing the praises of a particular deity. The Homa ceremony consisted in the extraction of the juice of the Homa plant by the priests during the recitation of prayers, the formal presentation of the liquor extracted to the sacrificial fire, the consumption of a small portion of it by one of the officiating priests, and the division of the remainder among the worshippers. As the juice was drunk immediately after extraction and before fermentation had set in, it was not intoxicating. The ceremony seems to have been regarded, in part, as having a mystic force, securing the favor of heaven; in part, as exerting a beneficial effect upon the body of the worshipper through the curative power inherent in the Homa plant. The animals which might be sacrificed were the horse, the ox, the sheep, and the goat, the horse being the favorite victim. A priest always performed the sacrifice, slaying the animal, and showing the flesh to the sacred fire by way of consecration, after which it was eaten at a solemn feast by the priest and people.
It is one of the chief peculiarities of Zoroastrianism that it regarded agriculture as a religious duty. Man had been placed upon the earth especially "to maintain the good creation," and resist the endeavors of Ahriman to injure, and if possible, ruin it. This could only be done by careful tilling of the soil, eradication of thorns and weeds, and reclamation of the tracts over which Ahriman had spread the curse of barrenness. To cultivate the soil was thus incumbent upon all men; the whole community was required to be agricultural; and either as proprietor, as farmer, or as laboring man, each Zoroastrian was bound to "further the works of life" by advancing tillage.
The purity which was required of the Zoroastrian was of two kinds, moral and legal, Moral purity comprised all that Christianity includes under it—truth, justice, chastity, and general sinlessness. It was coextensive with the whole sphere of human activity, embracing not only words and acts, but even the secret thoughts of the heart. Legal purity was to be obtained only by the observance of a multitude of trifling ceremonies and the abstinence from ten thousand acts in their nature wholly indifferent. Especially, everything was to be avoided which could be thought to pollute the four elements—all of them sacred to the Zoroastrian of Sassanian times—fire, water, earth, and air.
Man's struggle after holiness and purity was sustained in the Zoroastrian system by the confident hope of a futurity of happiness. It was taught that the soul of man was immortal, and would continue to possess for ever a separate conscious existence. Immediately after death the spirits of both good and bad had to proceed along an appointed path to "the bridge of the gatherer" (chinvat peretu). This was a narrow road conducting to heaven or paradise, over which the souls of the pious alone could pass, while the wicked fell from it into the gulf below, where they found themselves in the place of punishment. The steps of the good were guided and supported by the angel Serosh—the "happy, well-formed, swift, tall Serosh"—who conducted them across the difficult passage into the heavenly region. There Bahman, rising from his throne, greeted them on their entrance with the salutation, "Happy thou who art come here to us from the mortality to the immortality!" Then they proceeded joyfully onward to the presence of Ormazd, to the immortal saints, to the golden throne, to paradise. As for the wicked, when they fell into the gulf, they found themselves in outer darkness, in the kingdom of Ahriman, where they were forced to remain and to feed on poisoned banquets.
The priests of the Zoroastrians, from a time not long subsequent to Darius Hystaspis, were the Magi. This tribe, or caste, originally perhaps external to Zoroastrianism, had come to be recognized as a true priestly order; and was intrusted by the Sassanian princes with the whole control and direction of the religion of the state. Its chief was a personage holding a rank but very little inferior to the king. He bore the title of Tenpet, "Head of the Religion," or Movpetan Movpet, "Head of the Chief Magi." In times of difficulty and danger he was sometimes called upon to conduct a revolution; and in the ordinary course of things he was always reckoned among the monarch's chief counsellors. Next in rank to him were a number of Movpets, or "Chief Magi," called also destoors or "rulers," who scarcely perhaps constituted an order, but still held an exalted position. Under these were, finally, a large body of ordinary Magi, dispersed throughout the empire, but especially congregated in the chief towns.
The Magi officiated in a peculiar dress. This consisted of a tall peaked cap of felt or some similar material, having deep lappets at the side, which concealed the jaw and even the lips, and a long white robe, or cloak, descending to the ankles. They assembled often in large numbers, and marched in stately processions, impressing the multitude by a grand and striking ceremonial. Besides the offerings which were lavished upon them by the faithful, they possessed considerable endowments in land, which furnished them with an assured subsistence. They were allowed by Chosroes the First a certain administrative power in civil matters; the collection of the revenue was to take place under their supervision; they were empowered to interfere in cases of oppression, and protect the subject against the tax-gatherer.
The Zoroastrian worship was intimately connected with fire-temples and fire-altars. A fire-temple was maintained in every important city throughout the empire; and in these a sacred flame, believed to have been lighted from heaven, was kept up perpetually, by the care of the priests, and was spoken of as "unextinguishable." Fire-altars probably also existed, independently of temples; and an erection of this kind maintained from first to last an honorable position on the Sassanian coins, being the main impress upon the reverse. It was represented with the flame rising from it, and sometimes with a head in the flame; its stem was ornamented with garlands or fillets; and on either side, as protectors or as worshippers, were represented two figures, sometimes watching the flame, sometimes turned from it, guarding it apparently from external enemies.
Besides the sacerdotal, the Magi claimed to exercise the prophetical office. From a very early date they had made themselves conspicuous as omen-readers and dream-expounders; but, not content with such occasional exhibitions of prophetic power, they ultimately reduced divination to a system, and, by the help of the barsom or bundle of divining rods, undertook to return a true answer on all points connected with the future, upon which they might be consulted. Credulity is never wanting among Orientals; and the power of the priesthood was no doubt greatly increased by a pretension which was easily made, readily believed, and not generally discredited by failures, however numerous.
The Magian priest was commonly seen with the barsom in his hand; but occasionally he exchanged that instrument for another, known as the khrafgihraghna. It was among the duties of the pious Zoroastrian, and more especially of those who were entrusted with the priestly office, to wage perpetual war with Ahriman, and to destroy his works whenever opportunity offered. Now among these, constituting a portion of "the bad creation," were all such animals as frogs, toads, snakes, newts, mice, lizards, flies, and the like. The Magi took every opportunity of killing such creatures; and the Jchrafgthraghna was an implement which they invented for the sake of carrying out this pious purpose.
The court of the Sassanian kings, especially in the later period of the empire, was arranged upon a scale of almost unexampled grandeur and magnificence. The robes worn by the Great King were beautifully embroidered, and covered with gems and pearls, which in some representations may be counted by hundreds. [PLATE XLV.] The royal crown, which could not be worn, but was hung from the ceiling by a gold chain exactly over the head of the king when he took his seat in his throne-room, is said to have been adorned with a thousand pearls, each as large as an egg. The throne itself was of gold, and was supported on four feet, each formed of a single enormous ruby. The great throne-room was ornamented with enormous columns of silver, between which were hangings of rich silk or brocade. The vaulted roof presented to the eye representations of the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars;no while globes, probably of crystal, or of burnished metal, hung suspended from it at various heights, lighting up the dark space as with a thousand lustres.
The state observed at the court resembled that of the most formal and stately of the Oriental monarchies. The courtiers were organized in seven ranks. Foremost came the Ministers of the crown; next the Mobeds, or chief Magi; after them, the hirbeds, or judges; then the sipehbeds, or commanders-in chief, of whom there were commonly four; last of all the singers, musicians, and men of science, arranged in three orders. The king sat apart even from the highest nobles, who, unless summoned, might not approach nearer than thirty feet from him.
A low curtain separated him from them, which was under the charge of an officer, who drew it for those only with whom the king had expressed a desire to converse.
An important part of the palace was the seraglio. The polygamy practised by the Sassanian princes was on the largest scale that has ever been heard of, Chosroes II. having maintained, we are told, three thousand concubines. The modest requirements of so many secondary wives necessitated the lodging and sustenance of twelve thousand additional females, chiefly slaves, whose office was to attend on these royal favorites, attire them, and obey their behests. Eunuchs are not mentioned as employed to any large extent; but in the sculptures of the early princes they seem to be represented as holding offices of importance, and the analogy of Oriental courts does not allow us to doubt that the seraglio was, to some extent at any rate, under their superintendence. Each Sassanian monarch had one sultana or principal wife, who was generally a princess by birth, but might legally be of any origin. In one or two instances the monarch sets the effigy of his principal wife upon his coins; but this is unusual, and when, towards the close of the empire, females were allowed to ascend the throne, it is thought that they refrained from parading themselves in this way, and stamped their coins with the head of a male.
In attendance upon the monarch were usually his parasol-bearer, his fan-bearer, who appears to have been a eunuch, the Senelcapan, or "Lord Chamberlain," the Maypet, or "Chief Butler," the Andertzapet, or "Master of the Wardrobe," the Alchorapet, or "Master of the Horse," the Taharhapet or "Chief Cupbearer," the Shahpan, or "Chief Falconer," and the __Krhogpet, or "Master of the Workmen." Except the parasol-bearer and fan-bearer, these officials all presided over departments, and had under them a numerous body of subordinates. If the royal stables contained even 8000 horses, which one monarch is said to have kept for his own riding, the grooms and stable-boys must have been counted by hundreds; and an equal or greater number of attendants must have been required for the camels and elephants, which are estimated m respectively at 1200 and 12,000. The "workmen" were also probably a corps of considerable size, continually engaged in repairs or in temporary or permanent erections.
Other great officials, corresponding more nearly to the "Ministers" of a modern sovereign, were the Vzourkhramanatar, or "Grand Keeper of the Royal Orders," who held the post now known as that of Grand Vizier; the Dprapet Ariats, or "Chief of the Scribes of Iran," a sort of Chancellor; the Hazarapet dran Ariats, or "Chiliarch of the Gate of Iran," a principal Minister; the Hamarakar, a "Chief Cashier" or "Paymaster;" and the Khohrdean dpir, or "Secretary of Council," a sort of Privy Council clerk or registrar. The native names of these officers are known to us chiefly through the Armenian writers of the fifth and seventh centuries.
The Sassanian court, though generally held at Ctesiphon, migrated to other cities, if the king so pleased, and is found established, at one time in the old Persian capital, Persepolis, at another in the comparatively modern city of Dastaghord. The monarchs maintained from first to last numerous palaces, which they visited at their pleasure and made their residence for a longer or a shorter period. Four such palaces have been already described; and there is reason to believe that many others existed in various parts of the empire. There was certainly one of great magnificence at Canzaca; and several are mentioned as occupied by Heraclius in the country between the Lower Zab and Ctesiphon. Chosroes II. undoubtedly built one near Takht-i-Bostan; and Sapor the First must have had one at Shapur, where he set up the greater portion of his monuments. The discovery of the Mashita palace, in a position so little inviting as the land of Moab, seems to imply a very general establishment of royal residences in the remote provinces of the empire.
The costume of the later Persians is known to us chiefly from the representations of the kings, on whose figures alone have the native artists bestowed much attention. In peace, the monarch seems to have worn a sort of pelisse or long coat, partially open in front, and with close-fitting sleeves reaching to the wrist, under which he had a pair of loose trousers descending to the feet and sometimes even covering them. A belt or girdle encircled his waist. His feet were encased in patterned shoes, tied with long flowing ribbons. Over his pelisse he wore occasionally a long cape or short cloak, which was fastened with a brooch or strings across the breast and flowed over the back and shoulders. The material composing the cloak was in general exceedingly light and flimsy. The head-dress commonly worn seems to have been a round cap, which was perhaps ornamented with jewels. The vest and trousers were also in some cases richly jewelled. Every king wore ear-rings, with one, two, or three pendants. A collar or necklace was also commonly worn round the neck; and this had sometimes two or more pendants in front. Occasionally the beard was brought to a point and had a jewel hanging from it. The hair seems always to have been worn long; it was elaborately curled, and hung down on either shoulder in numerous ringlets. When the monarch rode out in state, an attendant held the royal parasol over him.
In war the monarch encased the upper part of his person in a coat of mail, composed of scales or links. Over this he wore three belts; the first, which crossed the breast diagonally, was probably attached to his shield, which might be hung from it; the second supported his sword; and the third his quiver, and perhaps his bow-case. A stiff, embroidered trouser of great fulness protected the leg, while the head was guarded by a helmet, and a vizor of chain mail hid all the face but the eyes. The head and fore-quarters of the royal charger were also covered with armor, which descended below the animal's knees in front, but was not carried back behind the rider. The monarch's shield was round, and carried on the left arm; his main offensive weapon was a heavy spear, which he brandished in his right hand.
One of the favorite pastimes of the kings was hunting. The Sassanian remains show us the royal sportsmen engaged in the pursuit of the stag, the wild boar, the ibex, the antelope, and the buffalo. To this catalogue of their beasts of chase the classical writers add the lion, the tiger, the wild ass, and the bear. Lions, tigers, bears, and wild asses were, it appears, collected for the purpose of sport, and kept in royal parks or paradises until a hunt was determined on. The monarchs then engaged in the sport in person, either singly or in conjunction with a royal ambassador, or perhaps of a favorite minister, or a few friends. The lion was engaged hand to hand with sword or spear; the more dangerous tiger was attacked from a distance with arrows. Stags and wild boars were sufficiently abundant to make the keeping of them in paradises unnecessary. When the king desired to hunt them, it was only requisite to beat a certain extent of country in order to make sure of finding the game. This appears to have been done generally by elephants, which entered the marshes or the woodlands, and, spreading themselves wide, drove the animals before them towards an enclosed space, surrounded by a net or a fence, where the king was stationed with his friends and attendants. If the tract was a marsh, the monarch occupied a boat, from which he quietly took aim at the beasts that came within shot. Otherwise he pursued the game on horseback, and transfixed it while riding at full speed. In either case he seems to have joined to the pleasures of the chase the delights of music. Bands of harpers and other musicians were placed near him within the enclosure, and he could listen to their strains while he took his pastime.
The musical instruments which appear distinctly on the Sassanian sculptures are the harp, the horn, the drum, and the flute or pipe. The harp is triangular, and has seven strings; it is held in the lap, and played apparently by both hands. The drum is of small size. The horns and pipes are too rudely represented for their exact character to be apparent. Concerted pieces seem to have been sometimes played by harpers only, of whom as many as ten or twelve joined in the execution. Mixed bands were more numerous. In one instance the number of performers amounts to twenty-six, of whom seven play the harp, an equal number the flute or pipe, three the horn, one the drum, while eight are too slightly rendered for their instruments to be recognized. A portion of the musicians occupy an elevated orchestra, to which there is access by a flight of steps.
There is reason to believe that the Sassanian monarchs took a pleasure also in the pastime of hawking. It has been already noticed that among the officers of the court was a "Head Falconer," who must have presided over this species of sport. Hawking was of great antiquity in the East, and appears to have been handed down uninterruptedly from remote times to the present day. We may reasonably conjecture that the ostriches and pheasants, if not the peacocks also, kept in the royal preserves, were intended to be used in this pastime, the hawks being flown at them if other game proved to be scarce.
The monarchs also occasionally amused themselves in their leisure hours by games. The introduction of chess from India by the great Chosroes (Anushirwan) has already been noticed; and some authorities state that the same monarch brought into use also a species of tric-trac or draughts. Unfortunately we have no materials for determining the exact form of the game in either case, the Sassanian remains containing no representation of such trivial matters.
In the character of their warfare, the Persians of the Sassanian period did not greatly differ from the same people under the Achaemenian kings. The principal changes which time had brought about were an almost entire disuse of the war chariot, [PLATE XLVI. Fig. 3.] and the advance of the elephant corps into a very prominent and important position. Four main arms of the service were recognized, each standing on a different level: viz. the elephants, the horse, the archers, and the ordinary footmen. The elephant corps held the first position. It was recruited from India, but was at no time very numerous. Great store was set by it; and in some of the earlier battles against the Arabs the victory was regarded as gained mainly by this arm of the service. It acted with best effect in an open and level district; but the value put upon it was such that, however rough, mountainous, and woody the country into which the Persian arms penetrated, the elephant always accompanied the march of the Persian troops, and care was taken to make roads by which it could travel. The elephant corps was under a special chief, known as the Zend-hapet, or "Commander of the Indians," either because the beasts came from that country, or because they were managed by natives of Hindustan.
The Persian cavalry in the Sassanian period seems to have been almost entirely of the heavy kind. [PLATE XLVI., Fig. 4.] We hear nothing during these centuries of those clouds of light horse which, under the earlier Persian and under the Parthian monarchy, hung about invading or retreating armies, countless in their numbers, agile in their movements, a terrible annoyance at the best of times, and a fearful peril under certain circumstances. The Persian troops which pursued Julian were composed of heavily armed cavalry, foot archers, and elephants; and the only light horse of which we have any mention during the disastrous retreat of his army are the Saracenic allies of Sapor. In these auxiliaries, and in the Cadusians from the Caspian region, the Persians had always, when they wished it, a cavalry excellently suited for light service; but their own horse during the Sassanian period seems to have been entirely of the heavy kind, armed and equipped, that is, very much as Chosroes II. is seen to bo at Takht-i-Bostan. The horses themselves wore heavily armored about their head, neck, and chest; the rider wore a coat of mail which completely covered his body as far as the hips, and a strong helmet, with a vizor, which left no part of the face exposed but the eyes. He carried a small round shield on his left arm, and had for weapons a heavy spear, a sword, and a bow and arrows. He did not fear a collision with the best Roman troops. The Sassanian horse often charged the infantry of the legions with success, and drove it headlong from the field of battle. In time of peace, the royal guards were more simply accoutred. [See PLATE XLVI.]
The archers formed the elite of the Persian infantry. They were trained to deliver their arrows with extreme rapidity, and with an aim that was almost unerring. The huge wattled shields, adopted by the Achaemenian Persians from the Assyrians, still remained in use; and from behind a row of these, rested upon the ground and forming a sort of loop-holed wall, the Sassanian bowmen shot their weapons with great effect; nor was it until their store of arrows was exhausted that the Romans, ordinarily, felt themselves upon even terms with their enemy. Sometimes the archers, instead of thus fighting in line, were intermixed with the heavy horse, with which it was not difficult for them to keep pace. They galled the foe with their constant discharges from between the ranks of the horsemen, remaining themselves in comparative security, as the legions rarely ventured to charge the Persian mailed cavalry. If they were forced to retreat, they still shot backwards as they fled; and it was a proverbial saying with the Romans that they were then especially formidable.
The ordinary footmen seem to have been armed with swords and spears, perhaps also with darts. They were generally stationed behind the archers, who, however, retired through their ranks when close fighting began. They had little defensive armor; but still seem to have fought with spirit and tenacity, being a fair match for the legionaries under ordinary circumstances, and superior to most other adversaries.
It is uncertain how the various arms of the service were organized internally. We do not hear of any divisions corresponding to the Roman legions or to modern regiments; yet it is difficult to suppose that there were not some such bodies. Perhaps each satrap of a province commanded the troops raised within his government, taking the actual lead of the cavalry or the infantry at his discretion. The Crown doubtless appointed the commanders-in-chief—the Sparapets, Spaha-pets, or Sipehbeds, as well as the other generals (arzbeds), the head of the commissariat (hambarapet or hambarahapet), and the commander of the elephants (zendkapet). The satraps may have acted as colonels of regiments under the arzbeds, and may probably have had the nomination of the subordinate (regimental) officers.
The great national standard was the famous "leathern apron of the blacksmith," originally unadorned, but ultimately covered with jewels, which has been described in a former chapter. This precious palladium was, however, but rarely used, its place being supplied for the most part by standards of a more ordinary character. These appear by the monuments to have been of two kinds. Both consisted primarily of a pole and a cross-bar; but in the one kind the crossbar sustained a single ring with a bar athwart it, while below depended two woolly tassels; in the other, three striated balls rose from the cross-bar, while below the place of the tassels was taken by two similar balls. It is difficult to say what these emblems symbolized, or why they were varied. In both the representations where they appear the standards accompany cavalry, so that they cannot reasonably be assigned to different arms of the service. That the number of standards carried into battle was considerable may be gathered from the fact that on one occasion, when the defeat sustained was not very complete, a Persian army left in the enemy's hands as many as twenty-eight of them.
During the Sassanian period there was nothing very remarkable in the Persian tactics. The size of armies generally varied from 30,000 to 60,000 men, though sometimes 100,000, and on one occasion as many as 140,000, are said to have been assembled. The bulk of the troops were footmen, the proportion of the horse probably never equalling one third of a mixed army. Plundering expeditions were sometimes undertaken by bodies of horse alone; but serious invasions were seldom or never attempted unless by a force complete in all arms; comprising, that is, horse, foot, elephants, and artillery. To attack the Romans to any purpose, it was always necessary to engage in the siege of towns; and although, in the earlier period of the Sassanian monarchy, a certain weakness and inefficiency in respect of sieges manifested itself, yet ultimately the difficulty was overcome, and the Persian expeditionary armies, well provided with siege trains, compelled the Roman fortresses to surrender within a reasonable time. It is remarkable that in the later period so many fortresses were taken with apparently so little difficulty—Daras, Mardin, Amida, Carrhse, Edessa, Hierapolis, Berhasa, Theodosiopolis, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Caesaraea Mazaca, Chalcedon; the siege of none lasting more than a few months, or costing the assailants very dear. The method used in sieges was to open trenches at a certain distance from the walls, and to advance along them under cover of hurdles to the ditch, and fill it up with earth and fascines. Escalade might then be attempted; or movable towers, armed with rams or balistae, might be brought up close to the walls, and the defences battered till a breach was effected. Sometimes mounds were raised against the walls to a certain height, so that their upper portion, which was their weakest part, might be attacked, and either demolished or escaladed. If towns resisted prolonged attacks of this kind, the siege was turned into a blockade, lines of circumvallation being drawn round the place, water cut off, and provisions prevented from entering. Unless a strong relieving army appeared in the field, and drove off the assailants, this plan was tolerably sure to be successful.
Not much is known of the private life of the later Persians. Besides the great nobles and court officials, the strength of the nation consisted in its dilchans or landed proprietors, who for the most part lived on their estates, seeing after the cultivation of the soil, and employing thereon the free labor of the peasants. It was from these classes chiefly that the standing army was recruited, and that great levies might always be made in time of need. Simple habits appear to have prevailed among them; polygamy, though lawful, was not greatly in use; the maxims of Zoroaster, which commanded industry, purity, and piety, were fairly observed. Women seem not to have been kept in seclusion, or at any rate not in such seclusion as had been the custom under the Parthians, and as again became usual under the Arabs. The general condition of the population was satisfactory. Most of the Sassanian monarchs seem to have been desirous of governing well; and the system inaugurated by Anushirwan, and maintained by his successors, secured the subjects of the Great King from oppression, so far as was possible without representative government. Provincial rulers were well watched and well checked; tax-gatherers were prevented from exacting more than their due by a wholesale dread that their conduct would be reported and punished; great pains were taken that justice should be honestly administered; and in all cases where an individual felt aggrieved at a sentence an appeal lay to the king. On such occasions the cause was re-tried in open court, at the gate, or in the great square; the king, the Magi, and the great lords hearing it, while the people were also present. The entire result seems to have been that, so far as was possible under a despotism, oppression was prevented, and the ordinary citizen had rarely any ground for serious complaint.
But it was otherwise with the highest class of all. The near relations of the monarch, the great officers of the court, the generals who commanded armies, were exposed without defence to the monarch's caprice, and held their lives and liberties at his pleasure. At a mere word or sign from him they were arrested, committed to prison, tortured, blinded, or put to death, no trial being thought necessary where the king chose to pronounce sentence. The intrinsic evils of despotism thus showed themselves even under the comparatively mild government of the Sassanians; but the class exposed to them was a small one, and enjoyed permanent advantages, which may have been felt as some compensation to it for its occasional sufferings.