By  Periklis    Deligiannis1

an  Avar  horseman,  armed  with  a  composite  bow  and  a  nomad  cavalry  spear  (copyright:  V. Vuksic).

The  first  European  mention  of  the  Hephthalites  or  White  Huns  comes  from  the  Byzantine  chronicler  Procopius,  a  contemporary  of  Emperor  Justinian.  Procopius  recorded  related  comments  of  a  Byzantine  envoy  to  the  Sassanids,  who  traveled  to  eastern  Iran.  The  Chinese  chronicles  mention  the  Hephthalites  as  “Ye-ti-i-li-do”  or  simpler  as  “Ye-ta”.   It  seems  that  the  Hephthalites  were  originally  a  Hunnic  tribe,  which  was  mixed  deeply  with  the  Iranians  and  Tocharians  of  central  Asia, concluding  as  a  mixed  hunnic-iranian-tocharian  people.  This  explains  the  possibility  of  adopting  around  500  AD  the  Iranian  language  and  several  Iranian  personal  names.

The  powerful  Hephthalites  managed  to  establish  two  nomadic  “empires”  in  central  Asia,  eastern  Iran  and  India.  In  390,  their  relatives,  the  Khionite  Huns  (known  to  the  Romans  as  “Kidarites”)  paved  the  way  for  their  expansion,  when  they  defeated  the  Sassanid  Persians  and  settled  in  Bactria  and  Sogdiana  (roughly  modern  Uzbekistan  and  northern  Afghanistan).  In  420-427  AD,  the  Hephthalites  unleashed  from  their  Central  Asian  cradle,  murderous  raids  in  Persia  reaching  the  city  of  Ragai  (modern  Tehran),  until  they  were  defeated  overwhelmingly  by  the  Sassanids  (427).  But  they  came  back  and  in  454  managed  to  defeat  the  Sassanids,  intensifying  again  their  raids  in  Iran.  In  464,  new  Hephthalite  raids  forced  the  Sassanian  King  Phiruz  to  deal  with  them  in  a  series  of  wars.  The  wars  ended  in  475  with  a  peace  treaty,  which  provided  for  an  annual  payment  of  ransom  by  the  Sassanids  to  the  Hephthalites.  Meanwhile,  in  468  the  Sassanids  attacked   the  Khionite/Kidarite  Huns  slaying  them  en  masse.  The  Hephthalites  took  advantage  of  the  destruction  of  the  threatening  Khionites  and  expelled  their  remnants  from  Bactria-Sogdiana,  which  they  annexed  (473-475).  Continue reading




By  Periklis    Deligiannis

sassanian  cavalry

sassanian cavalry 2
A reconstruction of a Sassanian medium cavalryman by Ardeshir Radpour. He bears a mail cuirass, a helmet of composite structure with mail visor adopted by the Romans as well, forearm-guard plates, light lance, a composite bow of the Sacian type (heritage from the Parthian predecessors of the Sassanids) and a cavalry sword (Image by  Ardeshir  Radpour).


The infantry (and partly cavalry) of the Qadisini and the ‘Immortals’ are also mentioned in the medieval sources (mainly Byzantine) as parts of the Sassanid army. The Qadisini were the Arabo-Aramaic people of Qadisiya (in Arabic), a Semitic region subject to the Persians in modern Western Iraq. The ‘Immortals’ (Varhranigan khvaday in Iranian) were the elite corps of the Persian army, the palace guard of the Great King, corresponding to the homonymous personal guard of the ancient Achaemenid kings of Persia. Xerxes’ ‘Immortals’ had fought against the Greeks in 480-479 BC without success. The Sassanian Empire, claiming steadily the whole Achaemenid heritage had reestablished this unit. Another unit under the direct orders of the Sassanid monarch was called ‘self-sacrificing heroes’. One of the commanders of this unit was of Byzantine origin. This possibly indicates that they were mercenaries or foreign fugitives sheltered by the Persians.




By  Periklis    Deligiannis

A reenactment of a Sassanian horseman by Ardeshir Radpour. Note the common elements of his helmet with the Roman helmets of the Persian group in my article ON THE HELMET TYPES OF THE LATE ROMAN CAVALRY, mainly the strong backing in the eyebrow area and the composite construction. The Romans added cheek-protectors to the original Persian type. Note also the  mail visor of this  helmet (Image by Ardeshir  Radpour).

The Sassanids or Sassanians were a Persian priestly dynasty of Fars (Pars, Persis, the cradle of the Persians) who in 224-226 AD overthrew the Arsacid  royal dynasty of the Parthians and occupied the whole Parthian Kingdom thus turning it into Sassanid Kingdom. The Sassanid Empire was stronger than the Parthian, relying on a strong and large army. In this way, the Sassanians successfully dealt with a number of powerful enemies at their borders, mainly the Kushans (Tokharians), the Romans/Byzantines and the Hunnish tribes, especially the dangerous Ephthalites. The empire was maintained until the early 7th century, when a suicidal war of King Khosroes II against the Byzantines brought its exhaustion. Thereby when the armies of Islam appeared on the western border of the Sassanid Kingdom, its exhausted and dwindling army was almost unable to repel the invaders. By 649 AD, the whole Sassanid territory except the small Daylami country, was conquered by the Arabs and the last Sassanid prince took refuge in China of the Tang Dynasty. There the renowned Persian dynasty faded away from home. Later the Daylami people became Muslim as well.
Like their predecessors the Parthians, the Sassanid Persians relied heavily on cavalry. However they did not commit the same error as the first who ‘annihilated’ the role of the infantry. Generally, their army was more aggressive and more effective comparing to the Parthian.


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