Posts Tagged ‘Persia’

Thus Spat Zarathustra

Posted in General, On This Day on May 26th, 2018 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 451, when the Persians were much more likable….

Imagine having a Trump fan in the family. That dismay was exactly how Persia felt when Armenia converted to Christianity. Really, what is wrong with Zoroastrianism? Even the Jews never complained about it.

Worse, for a Persian satellite, Armenia seemed to be getting a little too cordial to Constantinople, sending bishops to synods. (It hardly mattered that the Armenian bishops were always picking the losing side in the debates on the Trinity. The Persians couldn’t tell the difference) The Persians decided to suppress Christianity in Armenia, replacing priests with magi. The Armenians could tell the difference and rose in rebellion. Of course, with an army three times the size of Armenia’s, Persia won–on this day in 451.   The Persians spent the next thirty years ruling Armenia.  It turned out that the Zoroastrians had no reason to fear the Armenian Church conspiring with Constantinople.  The Byzantines were so obnoxious; their theological quibbling created schisms among Christians.   So Persia finally offered Armenia its independence on these terms:  you can keep your religion but stay our stooge.  For lack of an alternative miracle. Armenia agreed.

Two centuries later, the conquering Arabs made the same offer to Armenia, but–ironically–were far less mellow with Persia. Convert or die. If you have noticed, those Ayatollahs are not magi.

Apocalypse Then: December 12, 627

Posted in On This Day on December 12th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

In 627 a biblical prophecy came true-for a while. Five centuries earlier a Jew-for-Jesus, now remembered as St. John, had predicted a decisive battle between the Empires of the East and the West. The Book of Revelation has been cited as a prediction of the Cold War, September 11th and Rupert Murdoch; however, St. John thought that he writing about Rome and Parthia.

Parthia was Rome’s annoying neighbor to the East. Alexander the Great may have destroyed one Persian empire but with sufficient time and spite the Iranians had created another. Parthia bordered Rome’s Asian provinces and was never shy about raiding them. Of course, Rome retaliated but lost a few armies learning the tactics of desert warfare. The two Empires had already been sparring for a century when John pioneered stream-of-consciousness.

The conflict had lasted nearly two centuries when the Emperor Trajan (53-117) resolved to end it by conquering Mesopotamia. Marching east from Asia Minor, through Armenia (Of course, no one asked the Armenians for permission; no one ever does.) Rome’s army then attacked south along the Euphrates. In a two year campaign (114-115), led personally by Trajan, the Romans conquered Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, the Parthians did not seem to realize that they had been defeated and humiliated. Their forces east of the Tigris were just as annoying as ever. Mesopotamia itself was in continuous rebellion. Trajan died of natural causes-really. The Roman army, hoping to do the same, left Mesopotamia soon after.

And the war continued. Eighty years later, the Emperor Septimus Severus “conquered” Mesopotamia and withdrew two years later. However, the Parthians could hardly feel victorious. Rome had repeatedly sacked their cities but they were in no position to rampage through Italy. Parthia’s leaders realized the futility of their situation and came to one rational conclusion: they needed even more belligerent rulers to fight Rome.

The new dynasty-the Sassanids for you name-droppers-managed to continue the war for another three centuries. Proclaiming themselves as the heirs and avengers of the first Persian Empire, the Sassanids were not merely aggressive and vain; they were lucky. Rome was growing weaker. When the legions were not slaughtering each other in civil war, they were floundering against the barbarian invasions. Rome–divided, diverted and dissipated–could no longer threatened its Iranian nemesis. Indeed, the new Persia was on the attack, rampaging through Rome’s eastern provinces and defeating the legions that Rome could muster. This emboldened Persia demanded tribute and Rome was reduced to paying it.

Byzantium succeeded Rome and continued the policy of appeasement. But if the Byzantines lacked the military resources to thwart the Sassanid empire, they made an art of undermining it. Where there was an idle tribe of barbarians on Persia’s borders, Byzantium would subsidize an invasion. If there were a surplus of Sassanid princes, the Greeks would generously encourage a civil war. Between paying tribute to the Sassanids while subsidizing attacks on them, the Byzantines probably would have found it cheaper to be looted by the Persians.

The Byzantine machinations did achieve a remarkable coup, however. In 590, a deposed Persian king appealed to the Byzantines for support. Always willing to encourage Persian fratricide, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice lent Chosroes II an army and helped restore him to his throne. Chosroes’ response was unusual if not aberrant for a king: sincere gratitude. He established peace between the two kingdoms and dispensed with Persia’s extortion racket. Chosroes, who had overthrown and murdered his own father, behaved like an exemplary son to his Byzantine patron.

And when Maurice was murdered in 602, Chosroes declared war on the usurper: a red-headed and warted miscreant named Phocas. This war was more than the usual Persian exercise in pillage; it was a determined, uncompromising effort to overthrow the usurper. And Phocas certainly was helping the Persians. He executed capable generals, replacing them with idiot relatives. His order to coerce the conversion of Jews set off riots and civil war in the very provinces where the Persians were encroaching. Rather than resisting the invaders, Byzantines were defecting to Chosroes. Persian armies quickly conquered Syria and Asia Minor. The ease of these campaigns convinced Chosroes that he was the rightful successor of Maurice on the Byzantine throne.

However, Chosroes was not the only alternative to Phocas. There were quite a few plots against the usurper, and in 610 one succeeded. The new emperor was Heraclius, and he would live up to his name. His labors included the reorganization of the army, replacing a slapdash, unreliable collection of mercenaries with an uniform system of recruiting, supplying and training an army of Byzantines. This transition took more than a decade, and during that time the Persians conquered all of Byzantium’s Asian provinces and Egypt. Chosroes now ruled a realm as vast as the first Persian Empire. To his frustration, however, the Mediterranean Sea put up a better defense than Byzantine armies. Since Persia had no navy, Constantinople and her European provinces remained safe.

Chosroes should have realized that he had reached his limits. The Byzantines would have negotiated–after all, they were Byzantines–but Chosroes had become insatiable, mistaking his luck for infallibility. He insisted the war continue, no matter how pointless it had become. He kept an army stationed on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, perhaps waiting for the Mediterranean to dry up.

Chosroes certainly had patience but so did the Byzantines, and they also had a navy. In 622, Heraclius and his new army landed in Asia Minor and began the reconquest. Heraclius had created an army superior to any the Persians could muster. Furthermore, the Emperor gladly entered into unsavory but expedient alliances with Huns and other barbarians. Over the next five years, campaigning in Asia Minor, Armenia (as usual) and Mesopotamia itself, Heraclius’ forces smashed one Persian army after another.

On December 12, 627, near the ruins of Ninevah, Heraclius confronted Persia’s last standing army in Mesopotamia. This would be the decisive battle of the war. Chosroes was not there; his boldness did not extend to personal courage. On the other hand, Heraclius was feeling obnoxiously chipper. When challenged to personal combat by the Persian commander, the 52 year old Emperor accepted. The Persian general must have felt embarrassed to be decapitated by a middle-aged man. And the rest of the Persian army had the same kind of day.

Mesopotamia was at the mercy of the Byzantines. In frustration with Chosroes’ disastrous leadership, rebellion was breaking out in Persia and throughout what was left of the empire. But Chosroes refused to acknowledge the defeat and chaos. The next year his son murdered him. (This was a Sassanid family tradition). Persia then signed an apologetic peace treaty with Byzantium.

Byzantine supremacy would last all of eight years. It had recovered from the Persian invasion but had exhausted its manpower and resources in the effort. The Empire could not withstand a few thousand enthusiastic Arab horsemen who wrested control of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and North Africa. (And they still seem to be the predominant influence there.) Another small but equally zealous Arab force overran what was left of Persia.

So, in the war between Heraclius and Chosroes, Mohammed won.

Persian Aspersions

Posted in General on March 16th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Outraged over the portrayal of Persians in the snuff-cartoon “300“, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will sponsor a conference on whether the battle of Thermopylae actually occurred.

But the battle most certainly occurred, and the Iranians should blame their ancestors for needlessly aggravating the Spartans. Persia actually only intended to destroy Athens; that city state had exerted its maritime power to support rebellions in Asia Minor against Persian rule. True, the Persians crushed the rebellions but they did not appreciate the extra work. In 490 B.C., the Shah (yes, they did use that title back then) Darius launched a punitive expedition against those meddling Athenians.

As you know, the Persians did not get past Marathon. Twenty thousand Persians proved no match for ten thousand Athenians. The Greeks’ body armor was more than just a fashion statement. Furthermore, in hand to hand combat, metal shields are better than wicker ones.

Ten years later, to avenge that botched invasion and his father’s honor, the new Shah Xerxes amassed an army of 100,000 men to invade Greece. (However, he hadn’t improve the quality of Persian shields or body armor.) The Persians did attempt one precaution, however. Their diplomats went to the other Greek city states, warning them not to help Athens. The envoys could have tried charm or bribes to ensure Greek neutrality; they preferred to be obnoxious and overbearing. The Persians demanded the Greek principalities acknowledge the Shah as their overlord. As an expression of their fealty to Xerxes, each state should offer a sample of its soil and water, symbolically surrendering their sovereignty to Persia. Many Greek states did comply with the Persian demand, including Macedonia. (Alexander the Great was not particularly proud of those ancestors.) However, Sparta responded to the Persian demand for soil and water by throwing the envoys down a well.

Aggravating the Spartans proved a disaster for Persia, first at Thermopylae and then at the subsequent battle of Plataea, where the Shah’s army was routed and slaughtered. Yet, the Persians did not seem to hold a grudge against the Peloponnesian war machine. Perhaps Persia just hated Athens so much more.

When the Athenians and the Spartans finally had their showdown (430-404 BC), guess which country lent landbound Sparta a navy?

Apocalypse Then: December 12, 627

Posted in On This Day on December 14th, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

In 627 a biblical prophecy came true-for a while. Five centuries earlier a Jew-for-Jesus, now remembered as St. John, had predicted a decisive battle between the Empires of the East and the West. The Book of Revelations has been cited as a prediction of the Cold War, September 11th and Rupert Murdoch; however, St. John thought that he writing about Rome and Parthia.

Parthia was Rome’s annoying neighbor to the East. Alexander the Great may have destroyed one Persian empire but with sufficient time and spite the Iranians had created another. Parthia bordered Rome’s Asian provinces and was never shy about raiding them. Of course, Rome retaliated but lost a few armies learning the tactics of desert warfare. The two Empires had already been sparring for a century when John pioneered stream-of-consciousness.

The conflict had lasted nearly two centuries when the Emperor Trajan (53-117) resolved to end it by conquering Mesopotamia. Marching east from Asia Minor, through Armenia (Of course, no one asked the Armenians for permission; no one ever does.) Rome’s army then attacked south along the Euphrates. In a two year campaign (114-115), led personally by Trajan, the Romans conquered Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, the Parthians did not seem to realize that they had been defeated and humiliated. Their forces east of the Tigris were just as annoying as ever. Mesopotamia itself was in continuous rebellion. Trajan died of natural causes-really. The Roman army, hoping to do the same, left Mesopotamia soon after.

And the war continued. Eighty years later, the Emperor Septimus Severus “conquered” Mesopotamia and withdrew two years later. However, the Parthians could hardly feel victorious. Rome had repeatedly sacked their cities but they were in no position to rampage through Italy. Parthia’s leaders realized the futility of their situation and came to one rational conclusion: they needed even more belligerent rulers to fight Rome.

The new dynasty-the Sassanids for you name-droppers-managed to continue the war for another three centuries. Proclaiming themselves as the heirs and avengers of the first Persian Empire, the Sassanids were not merely aggressive and vain; they were lucky. Rome was growing weaker. When the legions were not slaughtering each other in civil war, they were floundering against the barbarian invasions. Rome–divided, diverted and dissipated–could no longer threatened its Iranian nemesis. Indeed, the new Persia was on the attack, rampaging through Rome’s eastern provinces and defeating the legions that Rome could muster. This emboldened Persia demanded tribute and Rome was reduced to paying it.

Byzantium succeeded Rome and continued the policy of appeasement. But if the Byzantines lacked the military resources to thwart the Sassanid empire, they made an art of undermining it. Where there was an idle tribe of barbarians on Persia’s borders, Byzantium would subsidize an invasion. If there were a surplus of Sassanid princes, the Greeks would generously encourage a civil war. Between paying tribute to the Sassanids while subsidizing attacks on them, the Byzantines probably would have found it cheaper to be looted by the Persians.

The Byzantine machinations did achieve a remarkable coup, however. In 590, a deposed Persian king appealed to the Byzantines for support. Always willing to encourage Persian fratricide, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice lent Chosroes II an army and helped restore him to his throne. Chosroes’ response was unusual if not aberrant for a king: sincere gratitude. He established peace between the two kingdoms and dispensed with Persia’s extortion racket. Chosroes, who had overthrown and murdered his own father, behaved like an exemplary son to his Byzantine patron.

And when Maurice was murdered in 602, Chosroes declared war on the usurper: a red-headed and warted miscreant named Phocas. This war was more than the usual Persian exercise in pillage; it was a determined, uncompromising effort to overthrow the usurper. And Phocas certainly was helping the Persians. He executed capable generals, replacing them with idiot relatives. His order to coerce the conversion of Jews set off riots and civil war in the very provinces where the Persians were encroaching. Rather than resisting the invaders, Byzantines were defecting to Chosroes. Persian armies quickly conquered Syria and Asia Minor. The ease of these campaigns convinced Chosroes that he was the rightful successor of Maurice on the Byzantine throne.

However, Chosroes was not the only alternative to Phocas. There were quite a few plots against the usurper, and in 610 one succeeded. The new emperor was Heraclius, and he would live up to his name. His labors included the reorganization of the army, replacing a slapdash, unreliable collection of mercenaries with an uniform system of recruiting, supplying and training an army of Byzantines. This transistion took more than a decade, and during that time the Persians conquered all of Byzantium’s Asian provinces and Egypt. Chosroes now ruled a realm as vast as the first Persian Empire. To his frustration, however, the Mediterranean Sea put up a better defense than Byzantine armies. Since Persia had no navy, Constantinople and her European provinces remained safe.

Chosroes should have realized that he had reached his limits. The Byzantines would have negotiated–after all, they were Byzantines–but Chosroes had become insatiable, mistaking his luck for infallibility. He insisted the war continue, no matter how pointless it had become. He kept an army stationed on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, perhaps waiting for the Mediterranean to dry up.

Chosroes certainly had patience but so did the Byzantines, and they also had a navy. In 622, Heraclius and his new army landed in Asia Minor and began the reconquest. Heraclius had created an army superior to any the Persians could muster. Furthermore, the Emperor gladly entered into unsavory but expedient alliances with Huns and other barbarians. Over the next five years, campaigning in Asia Minor, Armenia (as usual) and Mesopotamia itself, Heraclius’ forces smashed one Persian army after another.

On December 12, 627, near the ruins of Ninevah, Heraclius confronted Persia’s last standing army in Mesopotamia. This would be the decisive battle of the war. Chosroes was not there; his boldness did not extend to personal courage. On the other hand, Heraclius was feeling obnoxiously chipper. When challenged to personal combat by the Persian commander, the 52 year old Emperor accepted. The Persian general must have felt embarrassed to be decapitated by a middle-aged man. And the rest of the Persian army had the same kind of day.

Mesopotamia was at the mercy of the Byzantines. In frustration with Chosroes’ disastrous leadership, rebellion was breaking out in Persia and throughout what was left of the empire. But Chosroes refused to acknowledge the defeat and chaos. The next year his son murdered him. (This was a Sassanid family tradition). Persia then signed an apologetic peace treaty with Byzantium.

Byzantine supremacy would last all of eight years. It had recovered from the Persian invasion but had exhausted its manpower and resources in the effort. The Empire could not withstand a few thousand enthusiastic Arab horsemen who wrested control of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and North Africa. (And they still seem to be the predominant influence there.) Another small but equally zealous Arab force overran what was left of Persia.

So, in the war between Heraclius and Chosroes, Mohammed won.

How To Conquer Iran

Posted in On This Day on October 1st, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 331 B.C.J. (Before Cousin Jesus), Alexander of Macedonia–as well as Greece and every leather bar from Athens to Babylon–completely justified his megalomania by defeating the Persian horde at the battle of Gaugemela. So it can be done. Notify the President immediately.

In fact, I am providing him with this Executive summary.

How to Conquer Iran

Iran couldn’t be more belligerent if it were broadcasting Wagner from minarets. So as long as we are in the neighborhood, transforming Iraq into Norway, we might as well change Iran into Sweden. However, let’s not be as giddy as we were invading Iraq. That adventure was planned by intellectuals who had no military experience, unless you count playing Risk at Cornell. This time we should first consider the successful invasions of Iran.

Iran wasn’t born Moslem, and you can’t attribute the conversion just to Arab charm. In the seventh century, religious fanaticism and cavalry made Islam nearly irresistible. Even the desolation of Iran was no hindrance to an army accustomed to the deserts of Arabia. The conquered pagans were presented with a compelling argument for Islam: conversion or death. Since the indigenous theological mix of Zoroastrianism and animism hadn’t proved much of a protection, the Iranians conceded the superiority of Allah.

So strategy #1: We have to be more psychotically devout than the Iranians. The armed forces could dispense with intelligence tests and let Pat Robertson recruit for us.

In the thirteenth century, Iran was introduced to the renowned entrepreneur Genghis Khan. A master of marketing, he demonstrated free samples of massacres and then let word-of-mouth do the rest. The towns that did not comply with immediate and abject surrender would learn the Mongol hobby of collecting decapitated heads and building them into pyramids. Such recreation perpetrated Mongol rule in Iran for more than two centuries. Over time, the Mongols did convert to Islam; jihads and harems had such a spiritual appeal. Known by the more Arabic pronunciation of Mogul, they overran India and made Islam so very popular there.

So strategy #2: We have to be more barbaric than the Iranians. Our recruiting ads should be developed by Wes Craven and broadcast on “South Park.”

The only successful invasion by a western army was by-who else—Alexander the Great. The unnatural wonder of the world really knew how to shock and awe. Beholding Alexander’s resplendent phalanxes, the Iranians felt so shabby. Chic yet practical, Greek bronze could stop weapons and conversation. The Persian Empire was embarrassed into extinction.

So strategy #3: We have to stress the camp in campaign. Of course, that would require one particular change in military policy. Instead of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” now we would have to insist upon it. However, the transition from Sousa to Sondheim might be surprisingly easy. Our officers already adorn themselves with garish costumes and have a habit of accosting young men.

Of course, any of these strategies would require armed forces; but ours are currently preoccupied in Iraq, on loan to Halliburton. That leaves us with the Byzantine approach: let someone else do the fighting for us. Through guile and manipulation, the medieval Greeks maintained an empire extending from Italy to Persia. Without the military resources to overwhelm Persia, the Byzantines made an art of undermining it. Where there was an idle tribe of barbarians on Persia’s border, Byzantium would subsidize an invasion. If there were a surplus of Persian princes, the Greeks would generously encourage a civil war. Through its pawns and proxies, Byzantium divided and distracted its eastern enemy; yet Constantinople could claim a sanctimonious innocence.

So, strategy #4: find a convenient but unincriminating ally. Israel would love to help, but how would we explain its air force refueling in Baghdad? No, we need an Arab leader who loves war and hates Iran. Fortunately, one comes readily to mind. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein now is unavailable.

copyrighted 2006

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