The Collapse of the Empire

  May 26, 2022   Read time 4 min
The Collapse of the Empire
Meanwhile Khusrau was looking for scapegoats for his defeat, and among others he decided to execute Shahrbaraz. Before he could carry out this plan a revolt broke out, and Khusrau was imprisoned and murdered at the end of February 628.

Shiroe, son of Khusrau, ascended the throne as Kavad II. He had joined the rebels and agreed to the execution of his father. The new ruler at once sought peace with Heraclius and agreed to recall Sasanian troops from Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and western Mesopotamia, and to observe the pre-war boundaries. All prisoners were to be returned, and the true cross and other relics restored. Both sides rejoiced in the termination of hostilities which had bled both empires for so many years. Shahrbaraz, however, was dissatisfied, and since he was the commander of a large army he was dangerous. But after a reign of less than a year Kavad II died, probably of the plague, and was succeeded by his son Ardashir III, still an infant. Shahrbaraz decided to seize the throne himself, so in June 629, presumably with the support of Heraclius, he marched on Ctesiphon, defeated the forces of Ardashir and killed him and his chief followers.

Shahrbaraz ascended the throne, but his rule lasted less than two months before he too was murdered. Another pretender in the eastern part of the empire, a nephew of Khusrau, was also murdered before he could come to Ctesiphon as Khusrau III. Since no sons of Khusrau II were left alive, the nobles raised his daughter Boran to the throne, the first woman to occupy this position, but she died after a rule of little more than a year. A succession of rulers followed one another, each ruling only a few months, and we know little more than their names, Azarmedukht, sister of Boran, Peroz II, Hormizd V and Khusrau IV. Finally the nobles raised Yazdgard III, son of a certain Shahryar and grandson of Khusrau II, almost the last living member of the house of Sasan, to the throne in 632. Yazdgard had been living almost in hiding in Stakhr and it was there, in a fire temple called after the name of the first king of the dynasty, that the last king of kings was crowned.

Before outlining the life of Yazdgard, a few words are necessary about the long reign of Khusrau II, the last great monarch of the dynasty. Regardless of the conflicting accounts of his character, the splendour of his reign is recognized by the Arabic and Persian sources. He is supposed to have amassed a great fortune, including a magnificent throne, and his court became legendary for its luxury. The rock-carving of Khusrau II at Taq-i Bustan near Kirmanshah is an unusual example of a sumptuous hunting party depicted in great detail. Khusrau was a great builder and his palaces in Dastagird, east of Ctesiphon, and in Qasr-i Shirin, supposedly named after his queen, were famous in Islamic sources. Likewise the king's love of poetry and music is attested by the musicians at his court such as the famous Barbad. That the court of Khusrau had some of the same refined degeneracy of the courts of the old Roman emperors is attested by the Pahlavl text of " King Khusrau and his page", where knowledge of rare foods and perfumes, skill in games and musical instruments, and the like, are mentioned as part of the education of a page.
We have mentioned the tolerance of Khusrau in the early part of his reign towards the Christians, and during his reign the Christian religion spread widely throughout the Sasanian empire. The disputes between Nestorians and Monophysites broke into open conflict several times during his reign. Whereas Nestorianism had been dominant, the king favoured the Monophysites, partly because of his friendship with Gabriel, a doctor at court, and also because Khusrau's queen Shirin became a Monophysite. At the end of his reign, however, Khusrau sanctioned the persecution of Christians.
Although the Zoroastrian church seems to have been in a state of decadence and decay, Khusrau II built fire temples and probably encouraged the work of further codification of the Avesta. The fixed ritual of Zoroastrianism, however, seems to have discouraged philosophic thought, for there is no evidence of Zoroastrian intellectual activities at the end of the empire. The plundering of the great sanctuary of the Gushnasp fire temple at Shiz by Heraclius must have dismayed and shaken the Zoroastrian clergy. All in all, the reign of Khusrau was noted for its devotion to luxury more than its devotion to thought.
The pretensions of usurpers to the throne have been mentioned, and most of them were generals. We know that at the time of the Arab conquests the marzbans in Khurasan were practically independent of the court at Ctesiphon, and one may ascribe this weakness of the state to the results of the reform of Khusrau I, when he divided the empire into four parts, each guarded by a spahbad. The names of the various local rulers, especially in the east and in the Caspian provinces, at the time of the Arab conquests, indicate the degree to which the Sasanian empire had become a feudal state of landed nobility. This nobility was basically unwilling to rally to the support of the central authority and unwilling to unite in the face of an enemy.

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