The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians Farrokh, Kaveh

March 21, 2019 by  

(Pen & Sword Publishing, Barnsley 2017) – Review by: Dr. Ilkka Syvanne

The Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians (Pen & Sword, Barnsley 2017) by Kaveh Farrokh is a very welcome addition to the books dealing with Sasanian Persia. Dr. Farrokh has divided his monograph into thematically organized chapters which deal with all of the issues relating to the Sassanian armed forces so that he analyses for example the organization, equipment, culture, training, personal combat skills, combat tactics, siege tactics, naval matters, and military history to provide a complete overview of the Sasanian armed forces throughout its history. In addition to this, it includes useful illustrative examples of battles, sieges, equipment (e.g. in the Plates which also includes re-enactor photos) and maps. Farrokh’s monograph is particularly valuable for its analysis of the military terms, changes is tactics and organization and because it corrects many earlier misunderstandings. Therefore the book also serves as a very good reference book all of the topics mentioned. The book relates all of the changes in organization, equipment and tactics throughout the existence of the Empire and provides an overview of the influence of Persian military and its military culture on other peoples and on the posterity. The actual narrative contents are as follows:
۱٫ Martial Ardour, Origins and Missions of the Spah; 2. Organization: Military Titles and Recruitment; 3. Military Reforms of the Sixth Century CE.; 4. Military Training, Polo, the Hun, and Military Music; 5. Archery; 6. The Savaran;  7. Infantry, Auxiliary Contingents and Naval Forces; 8. Preparations for War; 9.Tactics and Strategies along the Roman and Caucasian Frontiers; 10. Logistics and Support;  11. Post-Battle Scenarios and Diplomacy; 12. The Spah in Central Asia: Warfare, Military Developments and Tactics; 13. Military Architecture; 14. Siege Operations; 15. Sassanian Military Culture; 16. Military Weaknesses of the Spah; 17. The Fall of the Spah and the Empire; 18. Post-Sassanian Resistance and Rebellion against the Caliphate; 19. Legacy.
As a military historian whose areas of specialization include Greek, Roman, late-Roman, East Roman (Byzantine) and Iranian military history, I do obviously have disagreements with some of the interpretations and conclusions adopted by Kaveh Farrokh (obviously we do still agree on most issues). For example I date the four-fold strategic division of the Iranian Empire to an earlier period on the basis of Ammianus (e.g. Syvanne, Military History of Late Rome vol.1, p.113), interpret the developments in tactics, equipment and archery differently (e.g. MHLR Vol.1 p.113ff.; The Age of Hippotoxotai esp. chapter 10.1, Bahram V Gur in Historia i Swiat, two forthcoming books dealing with Iran) and many of the battles and sieges too (e.g. Farrokh p.155ff. vs. Syvanne, MHLR vol. 1 p.211ff., Desperta Ferro/Julian, forthcoming Gallienus, together with the forthcoming vols. of MHLR), but this should only to be expected. There are no two historians who would agree on everything especially when the evidence is such as we have for this period. It should still be noted that despite these minor differences, I naturally still agree with most of Farrokh’s excellent analysis. There are many different ways to interpret the evidence and this should always be kept in mind. It is also for this reason that Kaveh Farrokh’s book is so valuable. He provides a different perspective and interpretation of many events that give the readers the possibility and also the reason to ponder which of the different interpretations might be the correct one or if there even exist such a possibility. Despite our best efforts to be impartial and to seek honestly the truth, we historians are still humans with our subjective views and therefore we are all liable to make mistakes and/or interpret the evidence differently.
In sum, Dr. Kaveh Farrokh is an acknowledged expert of Iranian history and for a very good reason. This book proves this once again. He has been among those historians who have done the most to increase our understanding of Iranian history and culture. Indeed, the previous two to three decades has witnessed ever increasing interest in all things related to Middle East and this fortunately includes also the ancient pre-Islamic Iran, the study of which is absolutely necessary if we want to understand today’s phenomena in the Middle East, but a lot of work still needs to be done and I am not saying this because I am among those who have contributed to this discussion and have also written a number of books for the Pen &Sword Publishing. I am saying this because there really is still a lot to be researched and analysed in ancient Iranian history that is absolutely necessary for the understanding of how this great Empire has affected our history and our very existence today. Kaveh Farrokh’s book is not only a very good addition to this literature and discussion, but it is also a book which demonstrates also to the doubting Thomas’s that it is worthwhile to study Iranian history. His conclusions demonstrate the importance of understanding the Iranian history. I wholeheartedly recommend the buying of this book.


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