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When Western academics first investigated the Muslim conquest of Persia, they relied solely on the accounts of the Armenian Christian bishop Sebeos, and accounts in Arabic written some time after the events they describe. The most significant work was probably that of Arthur Christensen, and his L’Iran sous les Sassanides, published in Copenhagen and Paris in 1944.[9]

Recent scholarship has begun to question the traditional narrative: Parvaneh Pourshariati, in her Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran, published in 2008, provides both a detailed overview of the problematic nature of trying to establish exactly what happened, and a great deal of original research that questions fundamental facts of the traditional narrative, including the timeline and specific dates.

Pourshariati's central thesis is that contrary to what was commonly assumed, the Sassanian Empire was highly decentralized, and was in fact a "confederation" with the Parthians, who themselves retained a high level of independence.[10] Despite their recent victories over the Byzantine Empire, the Parthians unexpectedly withdrew from the confederation, and the Sassanians were thus ill-prepared and ill-equipped to mount an effective and cohesive defense against the Muslim armies.[11] Moreover, the powerful northern and eastern Parthian families, the kust-i khwarasan and kust-i adurbadagan, withdrew to their respective strongholds and made peace with the Arabs, refusing to fight alongside the Sassanians.

Another important theme of Pourshariati's study is a re-evaluation of the traditional timeline. Pourshariati argues that the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia "took place, not, as has been conventionally believed, in the years 632–634, after the accession of the last Sasanian king Yazdgerd III (632–651) to power, but in the period from 628 to 632."[12] An important consequence of this change in timeline means that the Arab conquest started precisely when the Sassanians and Parthians were engaged in internecine warfare over succession to the Sassanian throne.[12]

Sasanian Empire before the Conquest

Since the 1st century BC, the border between the Roman (later Byzantine) and Parthian (later Sassanid) empires had been the Euphrates River. The border was constantly contested. Most battles, and thus most fortifications, were concentrated in the hilly regions of the north, as the vast Arabian or Syrian Desert (Roman Arabia) separated the rival empires in the south. The only dangers expected from the south were occasional raids by nomadic Arab tribesmen. Both empires therefore allied themselves with small, semi-independent Arab principalities, which served as buffer states and protected Byzantium and Persia from Bedouin attacks. The Byzantine clients were the Ghassanids; the Persian clients were the Lakhmids. The Ghassanids and Lakhmids feuded constantly, which kept them occupied, but that did not greatly affect the Byzantines or the Persians. In the 6th and 7th centuries, various factors destroyed the balance of power that had held for so many centuries.

The conflict with the Byzantines greatly contributed to its weakness, by draining Sassanid resources, leaving it a prime target for the Muslims.

Social problems

Sassanid society was divided into four classes: priests, warriors, secretaries, and commoners. The latter formed the bulk of the population, served as its sole tax base, and remained its poorest class.

At the climax of Khosrau II's ambitious Byzantine territory conquests in the Levant and much of Asia Minor, taxes rose dramatically, and most people could not pay. Years of Sassanid-Byzantine wars had ruined trade routes and industry, the population's main income sources. The existing Sassanid administrative structure proved inadequate when faced with the combined demands of a suddenly expanded empire, economy, and population.[13] Rapid turnover of rulers and increasing provincial landholder (dehqan) power further diminished the Sassanids. Over a period of fourteen years and twelve successive kings, the Sassanid Empire weakened considerably, and the power of the central authority passed into the hands of its generals. Even when a strong king emerged following a series of coups, the Sassanids never completely recovered.

Events

Revolt of the Arab client states (602)

The assassination of Khosrau II in a manuscript of the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp made by Abd al-Samad c. 1535

The Byzantine clients, the Arab Ghassanids, converted to the Monophysite form of Christianity, which was regarded as heretical by the established Byzantine Orthodox Church. The Byzantines attempted to suppress the heresy, alienating the Ghassanids and sparking rebellions on their desert frontiers. The Lakhmids also revolted against the Persian king Khusrau II. Nu'man III (son of Al-Monder IV), the first Christian Lakhmid king, was deposed and killed by Khusrau II in 602, because of his attempt to throw off Persian suzerainty. After Khusrau's assassination, the Persian Empire fractured and the Lakhmids were effectively semi-independent. It is now widely believed that the annexation of the Lakhmid kingdom was one of the main factors behind the fall of the Sasanian Empire and the subsequent Islamic conquest of Persia, as the Lakhmids agreed to act as spies for the Muslims after being defeated in the Battle of Hira by Khalid ibn al-Walid.[14]

Byzantine–Sassanid War (602–628)

The Persian ruler Khosrau II (Parviz) defeated a dangerous rebellion within his own empire, the Bahram Chobin's rebellion. He afterward turned his energies towards his traditional Byzantine enemies, leading to the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. For a few years, he succeeded gloriously. From 612 to 622, he extended the Persian borders almost to the same extent that they were under the Achaemenid dynasty (550–330 BC), capturing Western states as far as Egypt, Palestine (the conquest of the latter being assisted by a Jewish army), and more.

The Byzantines regrouped and pushed back in 622 under Heraclius. Khosrau was defeated at the Battle of Nineveh in 627, and the Byzantines recaptured all of Syria and penetrated far into the Persian provinces of Mesopotamia. In 629, Khosrau's general Shahrbaraz agreed to peace, and the border between the two empires was once again the same as it had been in 602.

Plague of Sheroe

The Plague of Sheroe (627–628) was one of several epidemics that occurred in or close to Iran within two centuries after the first epidemic was brought by the Sasanian armies from its campaigns in Constantinople, Syria, and Armenia.[15] It contributed to the fall of the Sasanian Empire.

Execution of Khosrau II

Khosrau II was executed in 628 and as a result, there were numerous claimants to the throne; from 628 to 632 there were ten kings and queens of Persia. The last, Yazdegerd III, was a grandson of Khosrau II and was said to be a mere child aged 8 years.[16]

Tale of Muhammad's letter

After the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah in 628, Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad sent many letters to the princes, kings, and chiefs of the various tribes and kingdoms of the time, exhorting them to convert to Islam and bow to the order of Allah. These letters were carried by ambassadors to Persia, Byzantium, Ethiopia, Egypt, Yemen, and Hira (Iraq) on the same day.[17] This assertion has been brought under scrutiny by some modern historians of Islam—notably Grimme and Caetani.[18] Particularly in dispute is the assertion that Khosrau II received a letter from Muhammad, as the Sassanid court ceremony was notoriously intricate, and it is unlikely that a letter from what at the time was a minor regional power would have reached the hands of the Shahanshah.[19]

With regards to Persia, Muslim histories further recount that at the beginning of the seventh year of migration, Muhammad appointed one of his officers, Abdullah Huzafah Sahmi Qarashi, to carry his letter to Khosrau II inviting him to convert:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to the great Kisra of Iran. Peace be upon him, who seeks truth and expresses belief in Allah and in His Prophet and testifies that there is no god but Allah and that He has no partner, and who believes that Muhammad is His servant and Prophet. Under the Command of Allah, I invite you to Him. He has sent me for the guidance of all people so that I may warn them all of His wrath and may present the unbelievers with an ultimatum. Embrace Islam so that you may remain safe. And if you refuse to accept Islam, you will be responsible for the sins of the Magi.[20]

There are differing accounts of the reaction of Khosrau II.[21]

Military

Years of warfare between the Sasanians and the Byzantines, as well as the strain of the Khazar invasion of Transcaucasia, had exhausted the army. No effective ruler followed Khosrau II, causing chaos in society and problems in the provincial administration, until Yazdegerd III rose to power. All these factors undermined the strength of the Persian army. Yazdegerd III was merely 8 years old when he came to the throne and, lacking experience, did not try to rebuild the army. The Sasanian Empire was highly decentralized, and was in fact a "confederation" with the Parthians, who themselves retained a high level of independence.[10] However, after the last Sasanian-Byzantine war, the Parthians wanted to withdraw from the confederation, and the Sasanians were thus ill-prepared and ill-equipped to mount an effective and cohesive defense against the Muslim armies.[11] Moreover, the powerful northern and eastern Parthian families, the Kust-i Khwarasan and Kust-i Adurbadagan, withdrew to their respective strongholds and made peace with the Arabs, refusing to fight alongside the Sasanians.

Pourshariati argues that the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia "took place, not, as has been conventionally believed, in the years 632–634, after the accession of the last Sasanian king Yazdgerd III (632–651) to power, but in the period from 628 to 632."Central Persia

Northern Persia

The Muslim conquest of Persia, also known as the Arab invasion of Iran,[2] led to the fall of the Sasanian Empire of Iran (Persia) in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion.

The rise of Muslims coincided with an unprecedented political, social, economic, and military weakness in Persia. Once a major world power, the Sasanian Empire had exhausted its human and material resources after decades of warfare against the Byzantine Empire. The internal political situation quickly deteriorated after the execution of King Khosrow II in 628 AD. Subsequently, ten new claimants were enthroned within the next four years.[3] Following the Sasanian civil war of 628-632, the empire was no longer centralized.

Arab Muslims first attacked the Sassanid territory in 633, when general Indus Valley

Caucasus

Transoxiana

Transoxiana

Visigothic Kingdom (Hispania)

Frankish Empire (Gaul)

The Muslim conquest of Persia, also known as the Arab invasion of Iran,Visigothic Kingdom (Hispania)

The Muslim conquest of Persia, also known as the Arab invasion of Iran,[2] led to the fall of the Sasanian Empire of Iran (Persia) in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion.

The rise of Muslims coincided with an unprecedented political, social, economic, a

The rise of Muslims coincided with an unprecedented political, social, economic, and military weakness in Persia. Once a major world power, the Sasanian Empire had exhausted its human and material resources after decades of warfare against the Byzantine Empire. The internal political situation quickly deteriorated after the execution of King Khosrow II in 628 AD. Subsequently, ten new claimants were enthroned within the next four years.[3] Following the Sasanian civil war of 628-632, the empire was no longer centralized.

Arab Muslims first attacked the Sassanid territory in 633, when general Khalid ibn Walid invaded Mesopotamia (Sassanid province of Asōristān; what is now Iraq), which was the political and economic center of the Sassanid state.[4] Following the transfer of Khalid to the Byzantine front in the Levant, the Muslims eventually lost their holdings to Sasanian counterattacks. The second invasion began in 636 under Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, when a key victory at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah led to the permanent end of Sasanian control west of Iran. The Zagros mountains, a natural barrier, marked the border between the Rashidun Caliphate and the Sassanid Empire. Caliph Umar ordered a full invasion of the Sasanian empire in 642, which led to the complete conquest of the Sasanians around 651. Directing from Medina, a few thousand kilometres away, Caliph Umar's quick conquest of Iran in a series of well-coordinated, multi-pronged attacks became his greatest triumph, contributing to his reputation as a great military and political strategist.[3]

Some Iranian historians have defended their forebears using Arab sources to illustrate that "contrary to the claims of some historians, Iranians, in fact, fought long and hard against the invading Arabs."[5] By 651, most of the urban centers in Iranian lands, with the notable exception of the Caspian provinces (Tabaristan) and Transoxiana, had come under the domination of the Arab armies. Many localities fought against the invaders; ultimately, none were successful. In fact, although Arabs had established hegemony over most of the country, many cities rose in rebellion by killing the Arab governor or attacking their garrisons. Eventually, military reinforcements quashed the insurgency and imposed Islamic control. Conversion to Islam was gradual and incentivized over a period of centuries with some never converting still to this day; however, there were cases of Zoroastrian scriptures being burnt and some priests being executed, particularly in areas that experienced violent resistance.[6] However, the Persians began to reassert themselves by maintaining Persian language and culture. Islam would become the dominant religion late in the Middle Ages.[7][8]

When Western academics first investigated the Muslim conquest of Persia, they relied solely on the accounts of the Armenian Christian bishop Sebeos, and accounts in Arabic written some time after the events they describe. The most significant work was probably that of Arthur Christensen, and his L’Iran sous les Sassanides, published in Copenhagen and Paris in 1944.[9]

Recent scholarship has begun to question the traditional narrative: Parvaneh Pourshariati, in her Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran, published in 2008, provides both a detailed overview of the problematic nature of trying to establish exactly what happened, and a great deal of original research that questions fundamental facts of the traditional narrative, including the timeline and specific dates.

Pourshariati's central thesis is that contrary to what was commonly assumed, the Sassanian Empire was highly decentralized, and was in fact a "confederation" with the Parthians, who themselves retained a high level of independence.[10] Despite their recent victories over the Byzantine Empire, the Parthians unexpectedly withdrew from the confederation, and the Sassanians were thus ill-prepared and ill-equipped to mount an effective and cohesive defense against the Muslim armies.[11] Moreover, the powerful northern and eastern Parthian families, the kust-i khwarasan and kust-i adurbadagan, withdrew to their respective strongholds and made peace with the Arabs, refusing to fight alongside the Sassanians.

Another important theme of Pourshariati's study is a re-evaluation of the traditional timeline. Pourshariati argues that the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia "took place, not, as has been conventionally believed, in the years 632–634, after the accession of the last Sasanian king Yazdgerd III (632–651) to power, but in the period from 628 to 632."[12] An important consequence of this change in timeline means that the Arab conquest started precisely when the Sassanians and Parthians were engaged in internecine warfare over succession to the Sassanian throne.[12]

Sasanian Empire before the Conquest

Since the 1st century BC, the border between the Roman (later Byzantine) and Parthian (later Sassanid) empires had been the Euphrates River. The border was constantly contested. Most battles, and thus most fortifications, were concentrated in the hilly regions of the north, as the vast Arabian or Syrian Desert (Roman Arabia) separated the rival empires in the south. The only dangers expected from the south were occasional raids by nomadic Arab tribesmen. Both empires therefore allied themselves with small, semi-independent Arab principalities, which served as buffer states and protected Byzantium and Persia from Bedouin attacks. The Byzantine clients were the Ghassanids; the Persian clients were the Lakhmids. The Ghassanids and Lakhmids feuded constantly, which kept them occupied, but that did not greatly affect the Byzantines or the Persians. In the 6th and 7th centuries, various factors destroyed the balance of power that had held for so many centuries.

The conflict with the Byzantines greatly contributed to its weakness, by draining Sassanid resources, leaving it a prime target for the Muslims.

Social problems

Sassanid society was divided into four classes: priests, warriors, secretaries, and commoners. The latter formed the bulk of the population, served as its sole tax base, and remained its poorest class.

At the climax of Khosrau II's ambitious Byzantine territory conquests in the Levant and much of Asia Minor, taxes rose dramatically, and most people could not pay. Years of Sassanid-Byzantine wars had ruined trade routes and industry, the population's main income sources. The existing Sassanid administrative structure proved inadequate when faced with the combined demands of a suddenly expanded empire, economy, and population.[13] Rapid turnover of rulers and increasing provincial landholder (dehqan) power further diminished the Sassanids. Over a period of fourteen years and twelve successive kings, the Sassanid Empire weakened considerably, and the power of the central authority passed into the hands of its generals. Even when a strong king emerged following a series of coups, the Sassanids never completely recovered.

Events

Revolt of the Arab client states (602)

The assassination of Khosrau II in a manuscript of the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp made by Abd al-Samad c. 1535

The Byzantine clients, the Arab Ghassanids, converted to the Monophysite form of Christianity, which was regarded as heretical by the established Byzantine Orthodox Church. The Byzantines attempted to suppress the heresy, alienating the Ghassanids and sparking rebellions on their desert frontiers. The Lakhmids also revolted against the Persian king Khusrau II. Nu'man III (son of Al-Monder IV), the first Christian Lakhmid king, was deposed and killed by Khusrau II in 602, because of his attempt to throw off Persian suzerainty. After Khusrau's assassination, the Persian Empire fractured and the Lakhmids were effectively semi-independent. It is now widely believed that the annexation of the Lakhmid kingdom was one of the main factors behind the fall of the Sasanian Empire and the subsequent Islamic conquest of Persia, as the Lakhmids agreed to act as spies for the Muslims after being defeated in the Parthians, who themselves retained a high level of independence.[10] Despite their recent victories over the Byzantine Empire, the Parthians unexpectedly withdrew from the confederation, and the Sassanians were thus ill-prepared and ill-equipped to mount an effective and cohesive defense against the Muslim armies.[11] Moreover, the powerful northern and eastern Parthian families, the kust-i khwarasan and kust-i adurbadagan, withdrew to their respective strongholds and made peace with the Arabs, refusing to fight alongside the Sassanians.

Another important theme of Pourshariati's study is a re-evaluation of the traditional timeline. Pourshariati argues that the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia "took place, not, as has been conventionally believed, in the years 632–634, after the accession of the last Sasanian king Yazdgerd III (632–651) to power, but in the period from 628 to 632."[12] An important consequence of this change in timeline means that the Arab conquest started precisely when the Sassanians and Parthians were engaged in internecine warfare over succession to the Sassanian throne.[12]

Since the 1st century BC, the border between the Roman (later Byzantine) and Parthian (later Sassanid) empires had been the Euphrates River. The border was constantly contested. Most battles, and thus most fortifications, were concentrated in the hilly regions of the north, as the vast Arabian or Syrian Desert (Roman Arabia) separated the rival empires in the south. The only dangers expected from the south were occasional raids by nomadic Arab tribesmen. Both empires therefore allied themselves with small, semi-independent Arab principalities, which served as buffer states and protected Byzantium and Persia from Bedouin attacks. The Byzantine clients were the Ghassanids; the Persian clients were the Lakhmids. The Ghassanids and Lakhmids feuded constantly, which kept them occupied, but that did not greatly affect the Byzantines or the Persians. In the 6th and 7th centuries, various factors destroyed the balance of power that had held for so many centuries.

The conflict with the Byzantines greatly contributed to its weakness, by draining Sassanid resources, leaving it a prime target for the Muslims.

Social problems

The Persian ruler Khosrau II (Parviz) defeated a dangerous rebellion within his own empire, the Bahram Chobin's rebellion. He afterward turned his energies towards his traditional Byzantine enemies, leading to the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. For a few years, he succeeded gloriously. From 612 to 622, he extended the Persian borders almost to the same extent that they were under the Achaemenid dynasty (550–330 BC), capturing Western states as far as Egypt, Palestine (the conquest of the latter being assisted by a Jewish army), and more.

The Byzantines regrouped and pushed back in 622 under Heraclius. Khosrau was defeated at the Battle of Nineveh in 627, and the

The Persian ruler Khosrau II (Parviz) defeated a dangerous rebellion within his own empire, the Bahram Chobin's rebellion. He afterward turned his energies towards his traditional Byzantine enemies, leading to the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. For a few years, he succeeded gloriously. From 612 to 622, he extended the Persian borders almost to the same extent that they were under the Achaemenid dynasty (550–330 BC), capturing Western states as far as Egypt, Palestine (the conquest of the latter being assisted by a Jewish army), and more.

The Byzantines regrouped and pushed back in 622 under Heraclius. Khosrau was defeated at the Battle of Nineveh in 627, and the Byzantines recaptured all of Syria and penetrated far into the Persian provinces of Mesopotamia. In 629, Khosrau's general Shahrbaraz agreed to peace, and the border between the two empires was once again the same as it had been in 602.

Plague of SheroeThe Byzantines regrouped and pushed back in 622 under Heraclius. Khosrau was defeated at the Battle of Nineveh in 627, and the Byzantines recaptured all of Syria and penetrated far into the Persian provinces of Mesopotamia. In 629, Khosrau's general Shahrbaraz agreed to peace, and the border between the two empires was once again the same as it had been in 602.

The Plague of Sheroe (627–628) was one of several epidemics that occurred in or close to Iran within two centuries after the first epidemic was brought by the Sasanian armies from its campaigns in Constantinople, Syria, and Armenia.[15] It contributed to the fall of the Sasanian Empire.

Execution of Khosrau II