MAZDAK’S FLIGHT – A Sassanid TL

Interesting tl, it's not often seeing a TL that deals with Mazdak and his religion having a big impact, even rarer seeing a TL focused on Persia because most of the time they just serve to be conquered or dismembered by a more powerful Rome/Byzantines.

Just two questions, will the plague also hit the Ostrogoths and weaken them enough that they'll have to accept a peace deal more favorable to the Romans? Also how Ethiopia/Axum is doing? Without Khosraw and with slightly less territory, the Sassanids might not be in the position of helping out the Yemeni kick out the Ethiopians, which could be interesting as a domination of the Red Sea by the Ethiopians means Islam might get butterflied away, as well as otl Yemen and western Arabia being "core" Axum provinces, more African than Arab.
 
Interesting tl, it's not often seeing a TL that deals with Mazdak and his religion having a big impact, even rarer seeing a TL focused on Persia because most of the time they just serve to be conquered or dismembered by a more powerful Rome/Byzantines.

Just two questions, will the plague also hit the Ostrogoths and weaken them enough that they'll have to accept a peace deal more favorable to the Romans? Also how Ethiopia/Axum is doing? Without Khosraw and with slightly less territory, the Sassanids might not be in the position of helping out the Yemeni kick out the Ethiopians, which could be interesting as a domination of the Red Sea by the Ethiopians means Islam might get butterflied away, as well as otl Yemen and western Arabia being "core" Axum provinces, more African than Arab.
Precisely my thoughts, it's time Mazdak had his day in the sun!
The plague is going to hit the Ostrogoths hard. Remember - the Byzantines have an entirely peaceful eastern frontier (unlike Khosrow I when Jamasp I makes a perpetual peace he keeps it) allowing them to deploy more troops to Italy than they did in OTL. I'll go into more detail next chapter but, yeah, as refugees flee from the countryside into the big cities what remains of Gothic Italy is in for a nightmare.
As to your second question, I'm going to hopefully do a chapter on Axum later on but yes Jamasp and his successors have neither the ability nor the inclination to expel the Ethiopians from Axum, at least not for the next few decades,
 
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A fascinating idea for a TL! Mazdakism is a fascinating ideology/religion, and seeing a TL centered around it is amazing, and it's helped all the more by your writing style, which is excellent. Looking forward to reading more! Will there be a chapter regarding the specifics of Mazdakism? The information we have on it is greatly obscured by biased sources, so I'm curious to see what direction you'll take it in. Keep it up!
Thank you, it's something I've been wanting to do for a while. If I don't do a whole chapter I'll at the very least include elaborations - exploring its central tenets, how the priesthood works, what their rituals and ceremonies are, etc. In TTL as in OTL early Mazdakism, how it functions as a religion, what its rites are, even its role at court, are obscured by biased sources (albeit biased in favour of Mazdak not against him). I'll also include snippets of The Writings in most chapters so you can get a flavour of what Mazdakite scholars and Mobeds study.
 
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Chapter Three – Reconquest & Rebellion
Chapter Three – Reconquest & Rebellion

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Extract taken from an English translation of the Writing Of Mazdak.
(1831)​

Whence you go among the foreigners they will ask many things of you. Give with both hands and receive gratefully. But never give them your faith, or loyalty, for that alone belongs to Ahura-Mazda. And you shall keep these ideals, that he hath sent down; that you shall not kill another man for such is the way of coveters and sinners, that you shall share all that you possess no matter how much you cherish it, especially with the sick and the despised and the poor, that you shall respect your women and women shall be respectful unto your men whom you lay with, that you shall never harm animals or other living things for sport or to glut your appetite or pleasure for all these things Ahura-Mazda hates.

Extract from a VoiceCentre video, “Mazdakism: What You Need To Know Pt. 2”, by user PJHist.
(2018)​

So last week we learned about Mazdak the man, the times in which he lived in, and the early history of Mazdakism up until its adoption as Persia’s state religion in 531. Today, we’re going to be looking at some of the most important beliefs held by Mazdakites of all stripes. As we briefly covered last time there are two states of being in Mazdakism: Asha and Drug. Followers of Mazdak believe that banishing Drug is the most vital task in a man’s life.

There is a lot of disagreement on how exactly a person is supposed to do this with the only consensus being that you should live your life according to four rules, called tenets. The original Writings of Mazdak, which are the holy books of the two main denominations of Mazdakites, the Jangists and the Orthodox, are based on identify four central tenets, which must be obeyed at all costs.

  • You must not kill another man.
  • You must share everything you have, especially with those that society despises.
  • You must respect everyone regardless of their sex.
  • You must never eat meat.
Orthodox and Jangists both have very different interpretations of these tenets but that is, unfortunately, beyond the remit of this episode since this split didn’t solidify until about the year 630 …

Extract taken from Religion: The Briefest Possible History by Zoe Alvarez.
(1982)​

Mazdakism has always been a decentralized religion. In part, this is due to its origins as a grassroots movement in Persia, and in part due to Mazdakism’s proliferation among the steppe nomads of Asia. There is no central authority though the Jangist sect maintains a leader in Iran known as Judge and Advisor to the Poor. But his role remains purely that of an advocate and respected leader, he does not dictate church policy.

Mazdakite mobeds are usually selected by the communities they come from rather than imposed from above, the way that a Parish Priest might be. They are ordained by being bathed in a water temple by a Chief Mobed. These mobeds will then annually elect, amongst themselves, a Chief Mobed for a particular region. For example, in Dublin, there are three water temples of the Jangist Mazdakite sect, the Mobeds of which then select a leader to be the Chief Mobed of Dublin. This Chief Mobed is tasked with advocating for this region and keeping the Advisor of the Poor up to date on local affairs. It is said that this model can be traced back to Persia during the 6th and 7th centuries, though primary sources on this matter remain unreliable at best.

Extract taken from Sasania: Her Rise, Her Fall by Zoreh Kian.
(1982)​

I was raised in a Jangist Mazdakite household, and this naturally shaped my political beliefs. My mother and I would pray before a small coal burner, behind which we kept a small picture of Mazdak my grandfather had painted. My father helped maintain a small water temple, though much to the horror of my conservative grandmother the spring was manmade.

Extract taken from Religion: The Briefest Possible History by Zoe Alvarez.
(1982)​

In both Zoroastrianism and Mazdakism, atar, or holy fire, refers to the invisible presence of Ahura Mazda in everyday life. In both religions, clean water and fire are seen as purifiers. Accordingly, fires were kept lit in major fire temples by the Zoroastrian faithful. In contrast to this, Mazdak sponsored the construction of water temples, so that people might wash away their sins just as Jamasp I had been purified in the Tigris.

Water temples are the holiest places in Mazdakism. Built on natural springs, they usually consist of a large foundation surrounded by a shallow pool in which believers can pray and bathe. In keeping with the Mazdakite view that asha was a state to which people had to actively strive and purify themselves, ritual bathing is very important. Mazdakism holds that there are two kinds of matter: Asha and Drug. Asha represents purity of thought and action, whilst Drug represents deceit, disorder, and evil. It is believed by followers of Orthodox Mazdakism that bathing in the spring water in these temples can repel Drug and the wild animals and bad luck associated with it. This is a practice that dates back to the reign of Jamasp I.

Extract taken from Italy in the Dark Ages: 476 to 1290 AD by Lawritz Arglitz.
(1966)​

Why did the Italians, who had once welcomed the Greeks with open arms, turn their hearts against Byzantium? Much had changed in the six years since Belisarius first landed his fleet. Plague and famine had turned northern Italy into a hell beyond imagining. The four Byzantine commanders – John, Bessas, Cyprian, and Mundus – despised each other, and squabbled constantly. The only man they all respected, Belisarius, had departed and with him went any central authority among the Roman forces. Their primary concern was plundering the country of its wealth. Their rapacity makes one sick for being a man, and the suffering of the common people was appalling.

Against this, Totila offered to redistribute the land of the aristocracy, rebuild the cities, free the slaves, and return the Pope to Rome. It was an egalitarian and reforming ideology, and in the wars to come this King of Goths would demonstrate considerable humanity, that put his foes to shame.

Many Mazdakite scholars believe Totila’s policies represent one of the early Christian responses to the spread of Mazdakism. But I am personally skeptical of this train of thought as it reminds one of those odious western scholars who claim Mazdakism is an attempted Zoroastrian response to Christianity.

Extract taken from TITAN OF WORLD HISTORY: Vol. II From the Fall of Rome to the War of the Polish Succession by Adelaide de Temps and Farhan Ali.
(1967)​

Italy (530-549 cont’d)

543. Extensive plague outbreaks in Italy and demoralization of Byzantine troops after the departure of Belisarius lead to a Gothic resurgence. Battle of Florence sees Totila win the first major Gothic victory in three years. Totila then marches on Ravenna.

544. Fall of Ravenna; Isaurian Byzantine soldiers open the gates to the Gothic army. Battle of Bononia sees a numerically superior force led by Mundus defeated. Mundus dies of wounds shortly thereafter and four Byzantine commanders vie for power.

545. Totila bypasses Rome and moves most of his forces into southern Italy where there are few Byzantine garrisons.

546. Goths take Rome. Narses appointed Exarch (Leader) of Italy and sets up his court in Naples.

547-549. Desultory fighting. Goths seize swathes of central and southern Italy, and Byzantium retains control of Otranto, Naples, and Tarentum.

Italy (550-570)

550. Germanus arrives in Tarentum with 35,000 troops and defeats a Gothic fleet off the coast. Steady Byzantine reconquest begins. Rome retaken from Totila the Lesser.

551. Plague outbreak ravages Byzantine armies in Italy. Ravenna besieged by the vanguard of the Byzantine Army. Byzantine troops are overstretched and demoralized. Narses dies of the plague.

552. Totila rallies 20,000 men and moves against the now depleted Byzantine army. Totila bypasses Ravenna, leaving a small force behind to screen his rear and moves against Rome.

Extract taken from Italy in the Dark Ages: 476 to 1290 AD by Lawritz Arglitz.
(1966)​

Germanus decided to make his stand in Rome. She was but a shadow of her former glory; filled with crumbling buildings, and a population one-quarter of what it had been at the time the conquest began. But she was the capital of the old empire, nevertheless. Germanus concentrated his best troops within the walls, which were by this point, ‘piles of stones tottering constantly on the brink of collapse, or so says Procopius. He conscripted the male population and had the women and children sent south to Naples. Many would never return.

On March 1st 553 the Goths’ banners were sighted by sentries on the walls. Germanus ordered fires lit, and teams of musicians to play atop the ramparts, to welcome the invaders. The next day Totila sent men to scale the walls. Once inside they found hard fighting; Germanus used the cramped streets to his advantage, drawing his men up into tight ranks.

Despite heavy Gothic losses, the Asinarian Gate was taken by the 5th, and Totila lead the greater part of his host inside. Fighting raged for two days straight on the banks of the Tiber, with men packed in formation so tightly, that their bodies could not fall when they were slain. Totila himself received multiple stab wounds whilst he skirmished with Germanus’s frontline.

By the twelfth day of fighting, the Romans had been pushed back towards the city centre, forming up in ordered lines, convinced they were about to meet their deaths. Yet, the Third Battle of Rome, did not end in a massacre. As the last defenders gathered atop the Capitoline Hill, the Goths took down their tents, dipped their banners, and withdrew. Totila, who had led the war of resistance for ten long years, was dead of his wounds. Worse still, news reached the camp of an invasion force that had crossed the Alps and was ransacking north Italy. Totila the Lesser, the King’s son, succeeded his father and led the army north.

The men who had ridden to the Greeks’ salvation were Germans. The Alemanni had become the subjects of the Franks in 496. Under Duke Butilinus many of them had participated in the invasion of Italy in 539, with the Frankish King Theudebert’s blessing. Impressed by stories of their fighting prowess General Narses employed Butilinus and seven thousand Alemanni as federate troops.

It was they who would finally defeat the last Gothic army in the field. The Alemanni caught Totila the Lesser at Mugello valley north of Florence. The last Gothic King of Italy died with a curse on his lips. After this, surviving enemy troops were rounded up and marched back to Rome. In 558, Butilinus accepted a large sum of gold and silver, 10,000 pieces each if contemporary sources are to be believed, and lead his Alemanni home. They would return, in force, some years later…

Extract taken from TITAN OF WORLD HISTORY: Vol. II From the Fall of Rome to the War of the Polish Succession by Adelaide de Temps and Farhan Ali.
(1967)​

Spain (550-560)

550. King Agila of the Visigoths is murdered by the usurper Athanagild, and the city of Cordoba subsequently declares itself to be in rebellion. Justinian launches an intervention, 30,000 men led by Belisarius, to find the killers and bring them to justice. They land at Guadalete.

551. The Battle of Seville ends in a numerically superior Visigothic force defeated by the Byzantine Army, with heavy casualties on both sides. Athanagild withdraws to Mérida. The fleet under Justin departs Italy and takes Cartagena.

552. Battle of Mérida ends in an overwhelming Byzantine victory. Athanagild is killed by his bodyguards. Alaric III takes the throne in Toletum but lacks popular support.

553. Indecisive fighting. Alaric III is unable to rally Gothic resistance, Belisarius’s troops struggle with difficult terrain, and morale is low.

554. Siege of Toletum. Alaric III surrenders the city to Belisarius and agrees to go into exile.

555-557. Brutal shudoushi warfare on the part of the Visigoths. The majority of northern Spain remains in Visigothic hands.

558. Visigoths besiege Toletum.

Extract taken from Great Land Battles by Lord John Summerton.
(1997)​

Jamasp I began raising an army in the winter of 558. He had been in power almost three decades and in that time he had overseen wide-reaching reforms, made the government wealthy and strong, and kept peace on his frontiers. But all of it came with a cost, an annuity to the hated Hephthalites who had murdered his grandfather and besmirched Persian honour. The Battle of Margus, which saw the power of the White Huns broken forever, was to be his crowning triumph.

Crucial to his victory were the Göktürks. This confederation of Turkic peoples had recently moved into Central Asia. They sought Persian assistance against the Hephthalites in early 559 and in this he saw an opportunity. He withheld the annual payment of tribute, and the Hephthalites declared war. Rallying a force, between 18,000 and 25,000 contemporary sources differ, and invaded Hephthalite territory early the next year.

The two sides met at Margus, in present-day Lower Turkiyland, June 560. Jamasp hit upon a cunning strategy. He had his weakest units form up on his left flank, supported by the Turks. When the Hephthalites charged, and the left-wing faltered, they plunged into the breach. The Turks then came up to take them in the rear. Despite another day’s heavy fighting, most Hephthalite forces were killed or scattered.

It was a stunning victory and the magnum opus of Jamasp’s reign. In one way, however, he failed to learn from the mistakes of his grandfather Peroz. He had insisted on riding with the Turks when they took the Hephthalites in the rear. When the army advanced the men were suddenly disheartened. There, amid the bodies of his men, lay the King of Kings of Persia…

Extract taken from Sasania: Her Rise, Her Fall by Zoreh Kian.
(1982)​

Jamasp I ruled for thirty years. In that time he created the first standing army with professional soldiery loyal to the king, revolutionized the economy, and brought his country forward in great leaps and bounds. And yet, under his rule, he neglected kingly duties in order to study Mazdak’s teachings, allowed valuable opportunities to exploit Byzantium’s weakness pass him by, and showed exceeding clemency to those who intended him harm. In this respect Jamasp II would exceed his father.

When he heard the news of his old enemies’ death, Justinian I is said to have wept. Jamasp II was alike his father in many ways. Both were strong and athletic, practiced, and respected soldiers. Yet, where his father was deeply concerned with religious matters and never strayed from Mazdak’s teachings, Jamasp II was more pragmatic. Whilst he probably respected the tenet of non-violence, he also understood that his father had let valuable opportunities to weaken his enemies pass by due to his rigid adherence to it.

As soon as he had assumed the throne Jamasp II began planning for a war with Byzantium. From his perspective, the Romans had never been so vulnerable. Numerous wars in the colonies were bleeding the empire’s treasury dry, her armies spread thin across the frontiers, and sporadic flare-ups of plague continued to dog her major cities.

The excuse he needed would present itself handily in 564. Justinian I was a true believer in the Roman ideal, he had expanded Byzantium to heights not seen since the days of Augustus, set down a law code in the Corpus Juris Civilis that would be used for centuries to come, and exhausted the empire with his over-ambitious conquests of the former provinces. And in 564 he died.

Immediately, his family began jockeying for position. The favourite among the masses to succeed him was Germanus, the hero of Italy. The matter became more complicated, however, when Justinian’s adoptive nephew Justin attempted to seize the throne. His forces were swiftly defeated but Justin escaped and traveled to Ctesiphon, where he sought aid from Jamasp II. Dutifully the Shah of Shah’s declared war and went tearing off into Syria.

Extract taken from TITAN OF WORLD HISTORY: Vol. II From the Fall of Rome to the War of the Polish Succession by Adelaide de Temps and Farhan Ali.
(1967)​

Italy (550-570 cont’d)

555-563. Instability, famine, and societal collapse ravage Italy.

564. The Lombards under King Alboin invade Italy. Byzantine response stymied by the Persian invasion of Syria.

565-566. Lombard troops sweep south. Romans hold major urban centres and fortresses whilst the Lombards seize the countryside.

567. Treaty presented to Butilinus offering him an annuity from Rome as well as the title of Patrician in return for aid against the Lombards. A 9,000-strong Alemanni army invades northern Italy in April.

568. Butilinus catches Alboin by surprise as he is crossing the Po River. The Battle of the Po River sees the main Lombard army in Italy destroyed.
 
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This was a very cool update, and thanks for the map!

I really like how your handling the historical commentary and historical 'facts' within this piece to be sure. I can see why Justinian wept, he's massively overextended his empire and given plenty of reason for Jamasp II to dislike him, and now the Shah of Shah's has his justification, let's rock.

Weird question, is their a historical basis for Germanus sending the women and girls away? I thought standard procedure was they help by delivering arrows and food and such?
 
Another great chapter, it seems I was right when it came that the Byzantines would have more luck with their conquests, North Africa is secure as well the majority of Hispania, the Mediterranean as well as the Red Sea is controlled by them and Italy is more or less submitted with them controlling key parts of the peninsula including Rome as the Alemanni managed to prove themselves loyal enough and won't be causing much trouble.

I'm also not as pessimistic as some people here are with the new showdown between these two enemies, Jamasp has a well trained and reformed army alongside money but he'll be facing two powerful generals (Belisarius and Germanus) who'll be bringing battle hardened troops to face off against him, so it won't be as triumphant as Khosraw's wars against Justinian II(which I wouldn't say is the worst emperor, Byzantium ittl should be glad he's not giving orders to anyone about anything) and we'll see very hard pitched battles against one another and much territory going back and forth instead of one side completely dominating the other.
 
This was a very cool update, and thanks for the map!

I really like how your handling the historical commentary and historical 'facts' within this piece to be sure. I can see why Justinian wept, he's massively overextended his empire and given plenty of reason for Jamasp II to dislike him, and now the Shah of Shah's has his justification, let's rock.

Weird question, is their a historical basis for Germanus sending the women and girls away? I thought standard procedure was they help by delivering arrows and food and such?
Thanks!
And yep, Jamasp I was about as close to a perfect neighbour as you could ask for, what with his belief that if he went to war he'd damn his immortal soul and all. Jamasp II has no such qualms about war with Byzantium, and things are about to get distinctly uncomfortable for anyone living in Syria and Palestine.
So, the historical basis for Germanus sending the women and girls away was an account of Belisarius sending the women, children, and those unable to fight out of Rome during the Siege of Rome in 537. Germanus's reasoning for doing so is similar; he's about to face off against a numerically superior enemy and can't afford to spare any food for the civilians, so he simply packs them off. Due to plague outbreaks, the famine which has been raging on-and-off for about a decade now, and over-extension of the Byzantine lines their supply situation is abysmal.
Another great chapter, it seems I was right when it came that the Byzantines would have more luck with their conquests, North Africa is secure as well the majority of Hispania, the Mediterranean as well as the Red Sea is controlled by them and Italy is more or less submitted with them controlling key parts of the peninsula including Rome as the Alemanni managed to prove themselves loyal enough and won't be causing much trouble.

I'm also not as pessimistic as some people here are with the new showdown between these two enemies, Jamasp has a well trained and reformed army alongside money but he'll be facing two powerful generals (Belisarius and Germanus) who'll be bringing battle hardened troops to face off against him, so it won't be as triumphant as Khosraw's wars against Justinian II(which I wouldn't say is the worst emperor, Byzantium ittl should be glad he's not giving orders to anyone about anything) and we'll see very hard pitched battles against one another and much territory going back and forth instead of one side completely dominating the other.
Thank you, it means a lot.
The Empire is holding steady for now, and the war to come certainly won't be a cakewalk for the Persians (there'll be no bathing in the Mediterranean Khosrow I fans will be sad to hear). The Persian army is strong, but untested against infantry-based armies, for the last thirty years they've mostly been fighting the horse armies of the asian steppe nomads. Keep in mind though, Belisarius is getting old, and the troops he's bringing with him may be battle-hardened, but they're also war-weary from a decade's hard fighting in Spain. I'll get into more depth next chapter, but the Visigothic War, which is still ongoing when Jamasp II invades Syria, makes Italy look like a day at the beach. At least the Alemanni are keeping the Lombards in check, for now anyway...
 
Thanks!
And yep, Jamasp I was about as close to a perfect neighbour as you could ask for, what with his belief that if he went to war he'd damn his immortal soul and all. Jamasp II has no such qualms about war with Byzantium, and things are about to get distinctly uncomfortable for anyone living in Syria and Palestine.
So, the historical basis for Germanus sending the women and girls away was an account of Belisarius sending the women, children, and those unable to fight out of Rome during the Siege of Rome in 537. Germanus's reasoning for doing so is similar; he's about to face off against a numerically superior enemy and can't afford to spare any food for the civilians, so he simply packs them off. Due to plague outbreaks, the famine which has been raging on-and-off for about a decade now, and over-extension of the Byzantine lines their supply situation is abysmal.
NP, thanks for sharing!
Yuuuup, things are about to get messy!
I see, thanks for the info, that is very good to know!
As it is, I am sort of expecting a middling start for Jamasp II, followed by a harsh middle, but an ultimate triumph against the world weary enemy.
 
Well if the Byzantine reconquests hold a bit longer, the Papacy's schism from Constantinople could be delayed by another century or so.

Back to the east, I suspect the Persians will likely be able to take inland Syria, parts of Palestine and bits of Anatolia before significant Roman reinforcements arrive.
 
Your timeline genuinely inspires me and impresses me. I myself am writing a timeline right now about Iran, though not about the Sassanids. Instead, I am writing on the point of divergence that Ismail I defeats Sultan Selim I at the Battle of Chaldiran (note that this page isn't the actual timeline). Thus, Ismail never falls into alcoholism, and, exploiting the weakness of the kingdoms around him, delivers another defeat to a young Suleiman I, conquers the Mamluks, and becomes the most successful battlefield general since Timur, achieving the same glory that Suleiman did in our timeline. However, the timeline really isn't about Ismail, but instead about the religious effects of a Shia state (for Ismail I and his successors were fanatic Shi'a) having hegemony over the middle east for hundreds of years instead of the Sunni Ottomans. I am continuing to explore the options for how the religious state of the Middle East will turn out. But this timeline impresses me because you have created a very detailed religion from very little sources--and it inspires me to do the same in my own. In general, this timeline will probably inspire my own.

I was very close to creating a timeline about the Sassanids instead, but I realized that not many people had written about the Safavids. But you have done an excellent job expanding on what I always saw as an interesting social concept in the Sassanid State. I am always excited for when someone makes something about Iran, but this is particularly well-produced. I love your descriptions of Mazdakism! Great job!
 
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