Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White Huns Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

From the third through the fifth centuries, the White Huns repeatedly invaded eastern Persia until they were finally crushed by a combined force of Sāsānians and Turks. At times an uneasy alliance between the Sāsānians and White Huns developed out of political or military necessity because of threats from the Byzantine and Roman empires in the west.

Summary of Event

The Parthians ruled Persia for four hundred years until the Sāsānians succeeded in overthrowing Artabanus V in 224, when he was killed in battle. The Sāsānian Dynasty ruled Persia from the third through the seventh centuries with the goal of diminishing Greek influence in the area. They centralized power by constructing roads and buildings; created a hierarchal social structure dependent on a king, followed by nobility (priests and warriors) and commoners (merchants, artisans, farmers, and slaves); established a code of law; and adopted Zoroastrianism, the belief that life was a continuous struggle between good and evil, as the designated state religion. The power of Sāsānian nobles also increased, and the king grew financially and militarily dependent on them, especially in their ongoing struggles against the White Huns (also known as the Hephthalites Ephthalites, or Hūṇas) during the next two hundred years. [kw]Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White Huns[Sasanians] (567-568) [kw]Turks Defeat the White Huns, Sāsānians and (567-568) [kw]White Huns, Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the (567-568) [kw]Huns, Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White (567-568) Sāsānian Empire[Sasanian Empire] Turks White Huns;defeat of Iran;567-568: Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White Huns[0130] Central Asia;567-568: Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White Huns[0130] Expansion and land acquisition;567-568: Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White Huns[0130] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;567-568: Sāsānians and Turks Defeat the White Huns[0130] Kavadh I Khosrow I

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The White Huns were an agricultural people who left no settlements or cities, nor written records. Famine was the reason they began to invade eastern Persia in the 390’. The White Huns also captured cattle for food and took people as slaves. They followed the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to Ctesiphon (south of modern Baghdad), one of Persia’s three capital cities. The White Huns managed to get to the outskirts of the city before Persian forces attacked them. Throughout the next two decades, the White Huns became a serious threat to Sāsānian rule in the region.

In 421, Barham V Barham V (r. 421-439) held various campaigns against the White Huns and was able to keep them from expanding farther into the Sāsānian kingdom. After his death, Persia experienced setbacks because of a series of severe droughts that caused the government to impose heavy taxes on the population.

Such issues helped the White Huns become victorious against Barham’s successor, King Peroz (r. 459-484). Peroz Peroz was taken prisoner and released after the Sāsānian government paid a huge tribute for his return. However, Peroz was forced to leave his son, Kavadh I, as a hostage with the White Huns. Kavadh I Kavadh I did assume the throne in 488 and tried to implement socialist reforms in the distribution of goods and the elimination of private property. Members of Kavadh I’s administration had him imprisoned, but he escaped and sought refuge with the White Huns in 499. Kavadh I eventually married the daughter of the Hunnish king and, with military support from the White Huns, recaptured the throne from his brother, Zamasp. He quickly abandoned his reform policies but continued to pay tribute to the White Huns. Kavadh I died in 531, and his son, Khosrow I Khosrow I , succeeded him to the throne.

Khosrow I proved to be a strong ruler who dealt the final blow to the White Huns. He began a series of administrative reforms that included taxes on land and a head tax. He also reorganized the military by forming four divisions under a separate commander, ordering compulsory service for peasants, reinforcing the infantry, and making nobles equip the army at their own expense. Khosrow I decided to stop the payment of tribute to the White Huns in 540 and built a line of defensive forts on the Gorgān Plain. He finally succeeded in destroying the White Huns’s kingdom with the help of Turkish tribes that came into the region from the east, particularly from Central Asia. In 563, the Turks and Sāsānians defeated an army of White Huns near the Oxus River (now the Amu Dar՚ya River).

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The White Huns’s threat had been eliminated for good; the few remaining White Huns were absorbed into tribes such as the Avars in eastern Iran. The Avars Avars were Mongolians known to the Chinese as the Juan-juan. However, economic, political, and social turmoil would plague Sāsānian Dynasty during the next one hundred years. The administration in the Byzantine Empire, the new Roman capital, noticed the increasing strength of Persia. In 568, conflicts arose in Armenia when Roman Mesopotamia was invaded, and the Sāsānians successfully fought against the Byzantine army. However, Khosrow I died during peace negotiations.

Significance

Khosrow’s death sparked the downfall of the Sāsānian Empire over the next century, and a succession of incompetent rulers followed him. Repeated wars had left the Sāsānian Dynasty weak, undermining the state’s economic, social, and religious stability. In 637, an Arab force destroyed the Sāsānians at Qadisiyah Qadisiyah, Battle of (637) , and by 651, the Sāsānian Dynasty had completely collapsed under Yazdegerd III Yazdegerd III (r. 633-651). The Turkish khan, Istemi, received the share of the White Huns’s lands after allying with the Persians. However, Turk power diminished in the region because of internal dissension and political problems. The Turks lost much of their eastern territory to China’s Tang Dynasty, and the end came when they, along with Chinese forces, were defeated by the Arabs at the Battle of Talas Talas River, Battle of (751) in 751.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bausani, Alessandro. The Persians from the Earliest Days to the Twentieth Century. Translated by J. B. Donne. London: Elek, 1971. Overview of the development of Persia from its origins to the early 1970’. Chapter 3 discusses the Sāsānid period. Includes illustrations and maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bournoutian, George A. A History of the Armenian People, Vol. 1. Pre-History to 1500 A.D. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda, 1993. Surveys the political history of the Armenian people from prehistory to 1500, with a focus on Armenian history in the context of world history. Includes maps, bibliography, and a good index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Curtis, John. Ancient Persia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. A good overview of Persian history for general readers. Includes color photographs of British Museum artifacts, a list of rulers with reign dates, and a color map.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ghirshman, Roman. Persian Art: The Parthian and Sassanian Dynasties, 249 B.C.-A.D. 651. New York: Golden Press, 1962. Discusses the artwork of the Parthians and the Sāsānians. Rejects the traditional view that Parthian art copies that of the Roman Empire, and argues instead that the works are Greco-Iranian-inspired and quite distinctive. Work includes numerous black-and-white and color plates with fold-out pages depicting sculptures and paintings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Author is a renowned military historian. Includes a select bibliography and sixty-three illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rawlinson, George. The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World. New York: B. Alden, 1885. Classic, scholarly three-volume work with detailed endnotes, chronological tables, illustrations, and fold-out maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wiesehofer, Josef. Ancient Persia: From 550 B.C. to 650 A.D. Translated by Azizeh Azodi. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1996. A comprehensive study of the Persian Empire under the Achaeminids, the Parthians, and the Sāsānians. Focuses primarily on Persian written and archaeological sources rather than inaccurate Greek or Roman accounts. Includes black-and-white plates, bibliographical essays, a chronological table, and a list of dynasties and kings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Windrow, Martin, ed. Rome’s Enemies 3: Parthians and Sassanid Persians. London: Osprey, 1986. Focuses on armies of the Parthians and the Sāsānid Persians. Contains color plates of uniforms and insignia by artist Angus McBride.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yarshater, Ehsan, ed. The Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian Periods. Vol. 3 in The Cambridge History of Iran. London: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Part of a seven-volume survey of essays on Iranian history, which provides political, military, and cultural information. Divided into themes such as institutions, religious history, art history, and languages and literature. Includes an extensive bibliography and a good index.

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