Part 30: Breakthrough
Part 30: Breakthrough

Kavad, first King of Kings to bear that name, knew before taking office that the task ahead of him was likely an impossible one. Huge amounts of money and tens of thousands of soldiers had been lost in the last couple of years thanks to the brief civil war, Ardashir III's attempt to subdue the Huns, which ended catastrophically, and finally Khushnavaz's invasion of the east, which led to the defeat of Shapur II and the utter destruction of his mighty army. His enthronement ceremony was, perhaps unsurprisingly now but not to his contemporaries, nowhere near as dazzling and bombastic as it was supposed to be. Not that the man himself cared: he had mingled with commoners anonymously since his childhood, after all, and had grown to privately despise the excessive pomp and snobbery of the inner court, which reminded him of his more indolent, wasteful days.

Nevertheless, it was still a reminder of just how little gold there was left in the treasury. Were he to even have a slim chance of winning the war, Kavad needed more money fast, and there was no easy way of getting that, so tough, controversial measures were required. The first such move was to promove Farrukhan to the extremely prestigious and important position of wuzurg framadar ("grand lord", practically a prime minister) soon after being enthroned, a decision that caused an uproar inside the court thanks to the suspicions that the Surenid noble, the last of whom still loyal to Ctesiphon, was a traitor.

Though we'll likely never truly know what was in the Shah's mind (and the sources, from Pabag of Ahvaz (1) to Honorius of Olissipo, all contradict each other) we can always speculate why he acted the way he did:
  1. First, the Shah and Farrukhan were old acquaintaces, and the promotion could be a way of rewarding the very wealthy noble and showing that he hadn't been forgotten during his days as governor of Meshan;​
  2. A way to sway Farrukhan from Khushnavaz's camp, in case he was truly an enemy spy;​
  3. A way to put him on a position where he could be closely scrutinized and dealt with as soon as possible if necessary.​
But if this was a controversial decision, it was nothing next to what became infamously known as the Samarra Decree, which was given this name because Kavad briefly fled to the city in question to excape its immediate aftermath. Said decree ordered that every single valuable religious image or decoration, no matter which faith it belonged to, be given to the state in order to finance the training of a new army. Fire temples, churches (whether Christian or Manichean) and synagogues were all pillaged and laid bare by soldiers enforcing the order, who likely saw a chance to enrich themselves in the process. Though the members of the clergy tried to reassure their followers that this was being done for a good cause, lack of proper communication and acts of brutality commited by the enforcers led to the eruption of riots in multiple cities, the situation in Ctesiphon itself only calming down after two weeks and thousands of deaths.​


Iranian soldiers destroying a church on the orders of Kavad I (left), as shown in a Roman manuscript.

But while the short term effects of the decree were horrendous, in the end it had its intended results as the treasury suddenly received a massive influx of cash in the following months, cash that was duly invested in the military immediately after. No expense was spared, and soldiers were raised from every possible source: common citizens were conscripted (and sometimes straight up abducted) to serve as paighan infantrymen (a light levy armed with spears and wicker shields), while Hunnic horse archers, renowned for their proven skill, as well as hardy Arab tribesmen were hired as mercenaries. Even a few ambitious Romans, looking for a way to get rich, answered the call, the most famous of them by far being Honorius of Olissipo, due to his long life and many travels as a mercenary and later a civilian (2).

But while this force began to steadily grow to a formidable size, it was desperately lacking in both heavy infantry and cavalry, since the former's primary recruting grounds were in Daylam, outside of the Sasanians' reach, and the latter's numbers were slaughtered. And unless this new army was given some time to be trained properly, it would be annihilated in a pitched battle. The sudden influx of internal troubles and misfortunes that befell Khushnavaz's enourmous empire gave them exactly that, but would that be enough? No one wanted to answer.

All they could to do now was gather their strength until the invader inevitably crossed the Zagros, and Kavad had already done multiple preparations for that. Wanting for the Hephthalites to come from through the northern passes, the longest route to Ctesiphon, the Shahanshah ordered for their defenses to be deliberately undermanned. Canals and ditches were dug along the Tigris, so they could be deliberately flooded and slow down the enemy's advance, so that by the time they finally reach the capital and attempt to besiege it, they would be exhausted, trapped between the city walls and the field army, and finally starved until they had no choice but to surrender.

But these preparations would take a long time to be completed, and the siege of Nahavand suddenly put the whole strategy at risk, since there would be nothing stopping Khushnavaz from taking the shortest rout and invading Asoristan from Media if the fortress was taken. Thankfully, the garrison, composed of around 10.000 men, was more than able to defend itself, at least for the moment, repelling multiple enemy frontal assaults and even torching much of their siege equipment in a daring night sortie. But as time went on and the Hephthalites settled in for a long siege instead of fruitlessly trying to scale or breach the walls, supplies began to dwindle for the defenders.

By the fourth month of the siege (so around February 389) the situation was getting desperate, and the commander of the garrison, a noble of the House of Karen named Vistahm (or Bistam) managed to slip through the besiegers to Ctesiphon a message that said that unless something was done quickly, he would have no choice but to surrender.​


The mighty castle of Nahavand.

Kavad, not willing to risk his entire army to relieve the fotress, contemplated abandoning it to its fate, but then decided to send a small raiding party in a diversionary attack directed to Adurbadagan, hoping that it could be enough to distract the besiegers. This force, composed of lightly armored and fast Arab and Hunnic mercenaries, was strictly ordered to wreak as much havoc as possible until Khushnavaz either gave up or loosened the siege to stop them. 10.000 men, led by a certain Shahin, crossed the northern passes of the Zagros and, as instructed, burned and looted everything on their way, not stopping to attack any important settlements but devastating the landscape around them.

Pabag of Ahvaz, the most important historian of the war and someone who usually described the many atrocities of the war in great detail, was, perhaps unsurprisingly considering his main sponsor was the Shah himself, rather vague when describing what happened in Adurbadagan, but, considering other, scarcer sources, it is safe to say that many civilians were killed in this campaign. The only place worthy of note to not suffer any damage was the great fire temple of Adur Gushnasp, since pillaging what is to this day one of the most important places in the Zoroastrian religion would surely whip the Magi into a burning rage to the point where they would deliver Kavad's head to Khushnavaz on a silver platter. The Samarra Decree was bad enough.

Although the invader wanted to press on the siege with his entire army, fully aware that victory was now within his sight and that the raid was made out of desperation, in the end he was trapped between a rock and a hard place: if he simply let the raiders have their way in Adurbadagan, they would eventually move into other provinces and devastate them as well, and besides, the Iranian nobles loyal to him would return to the Sasanian fold if he didn't try to defend their estates. With a heavy heart, the king split his army in half, leaving one to press on against Nahavand's defenders while the other one, under his personal command, scattered the Huns and Arabs before they could return to Mesopotamia.

Neither of these aims were achieved: the raiders quickly retreated back to friendly territory with all their booty as soon as the army meant to crush them got close, while the besiegers were unable to prevent a convoy full of supplies and reinforcements from reaching Nahavand. But even though Khushnavaz was infuriated, he had no intention to withdraw now. The success of that convoy was only a matter of luck, all that had to be done was make sure none of those slipped through again, with hunger and disease doing the rest of the work for him.

But things could always get worse. Much, much worse.

Everything began when several diplomats arrived in the port of Meshan and made their way to Ctesiphon as fast as they could, where they duly informed the Shahanshah that help was in the way. Kavad was perplexed at who this new ally could be, but he needed any assistance he could get.

That ally just so happened to be the mighty emperor of Magadha, Chandragupta II.​


A coin depicting Chandragupta II.

After the men returned to their homeland and brought the news to their sovereign, a huge fleet composed of hundreds of ships, most of them transports, entered the Persian Gulf in May and landed in Meshan, its richly decorated occupants, all of them wearing expensive silks and carrying several jewels, marched in an enormous, splendid procession to Ctesiphon. This huge group was led by none other than the long lost prince Narseh, who fled to India in order to escape the wrath of Ardashir III and had, as the years passed, become a member of the Gupta court. Said court had no interest in allowing Khushnavaz to fully conquer Iran, since India may well become his next target, and so they sent many gifts to the Sasanian dynasty in order to strengthen their position, the most important of them being:
  1. 20.000 heavily armored elite infantrymen;​
  2. 100 war elephants;​
  3. At least two tons of gold.​
Now you may ask, why would Chandragupta send so many people and valuables on a long journey where several things could go horribly wrong? Other than the reason said above (preventing the Hephthalites from conquering Iran while also winning over a new ally) there was also the simple reality that, at this point, such an amount of money and soldiers was nothing to him. As the undisputed ruler of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, one of the richest regions on the planet, he could easily replace any losses in case this particular enterprise went south thanks to, say, a storm.

Kavad was overjoyed when he received the news, and Narseh reputedly refused to believe at first that the fine, hardworking man who stood in front of him was, in fact, his embarrassing younger brother. After the initial shock from this dramatic reunion was overcome, the Shahanshah eagerly signed a treaty of alliance and already intended to cement it by marrying one of Chandragupta's daughters once everything was over.​


An Egyptian artist's impression of Kavad I (seated, wearing blue) receiving a Gupta ambassador (wearing green).

Predictably, word about the new alliance and the magnificent ceremonies involved spread like wildfire and soon reached the ears of the Hephthalite king, who was thrown into a panic over the possibility of fighting a war on two fronts. He could hold his own against the Guptas and definitely could defeat the Sasanians, as his previous successes showed, but fighting both of them at the same time was suicide. Knowing that he couldn't keep wasting time anymore, but go straight for the heart, Khushnavaz lifted the siege of Nahavand (whose garrison successfully resisted him for seven months) and set about assembling one of the largest armies ever organized by what was still primarily a nomadic empire. Alongside its elite, veteran core, Iranian nobles and even the king of Albania were pressed and bribed into giving troops to him, swelling Khushnavaz's army to a whooping 100.000 men.

Upon receiving the news that the castle had been saved, Kavad also ramped up his own preparations, knowing that a Hephthalite crossing of the Zagros was now imminent. Ctesiphon's civilian population was slowly evacuated, a task that was more easily said than done considering that the Iranian capital, though not exactly deserving of the title of "Darling of the World" just yet, still had at least 500.000 people living within its walls. If these people, who began to march along the Royal Road to Syria and Palestine, stayed, it would be impossible to supply the local garrison in case of a siege.

Starting in August, reports came in from the northern passes that the Hepthalites were sending probing attacks that were only barely repulsed by the soldiers stationed there. Soon enough, the main army would barge in.

All the court had to do was wait while their city slowly became less and less busy as its people were sent away.

Any moment now, a message would come in, and the ditches and canals that were built on the backs of thousands of hardworking laborers would prove their worth.

Any day now...

Finally, the invaders had come!

Wait, what do you mean they're coming from the south?​


The Hephthalites attack Ahvaz.

Rather than take the bait and sweep from the north, Khushnavaz led his soldiers into crossing the Persian Gates, which were unguarded since they were deep within Sasanian territory, and blitzed into Khuzestan with lightning speed. By the time Kavad and the rest of the court got word of what was happening, the invaders were already on the gates of Ahvaz, capital of the province, and brushed the defenders aside effortlessly.

Since Pabag's words about what happened to the city and its surroundings are very... charged, for obvious and very understandable reasons (Ahvaz was his birthplace, after all) we'll use Honorius' version of the aftermath of what happened to the provincial capital and its surroundings:

"The people hid in any place they could find - forests, wells, graves, pits, no place was too foul - and a great many of them, all ill-dressed, starving and afraid, lacked noses, ears and hands. Even those whose bodies were otherwise unharmed clearly carried horrible scars on their souls. The city (Ahvaz), not comparable to the shining metropolis on the Tigris (Ctesiphon) but still a respectable place, had been reduced to ashes, a fate shared by the surrounding villages and fields. Any items, be they food, water or gold, were taken away by the invaders." (3)

Although some details should be taken with a grain of salt, considering Khushnavaz's concern with showing himself to the Seven Great Houses as a reasonable, just ruler rather than a barbaric conqueror, an army as large as the one he commanded at that time was surely not only very difficult to control, but also consumed extremely high quantities of supplies. Combining these factors with the fact that Khuzestan, along with its neighboring province of Meshan, were very loyal to the Sasanians, their loyalty second or third only to Pars and Asoristan, it is possible that the Hephthalite king turned a blind eye to these atrocities not only out of necessity but also because he knew he just wasn't going to win any local inhabitants or notables over.

Now it was Kavad's turn to panic. He had placed most of the defenses on the north, and only a few in the south, and these were only put due to Farrukhan's constant nagging about how it was always prudent to be prepared for the worst, as if their position wasn't already really bad (4). Ctesiphon was flooded by thousands of terrified refugees, ruining the Shah's steady, slow evacuation of the place. It was now impossible for the shining jewel of the Tigris to withstand a prolonged siege.

After they were done pillaging Khuzestan, the Hephthalites moved into Meshan and, using the Royal Road that had been built by Yazdegerd I more than a decade ago, advanced to the Iranian capital at lightning speed, reaching the outskirts of the city on September 8.

With no choice but to throw his carefully elaborated plan out of the window or witness the destruction of his dynasty, Kavad sallied forth with his own army (which, numbering 120.000 men, was slightly larger than the enemy force but also a mishmash of mercenaries and levies) to meet them in a pitched battle, the exact scenario he so desperately hoped to avoid.

One of the bloodiest battles in the history of the Middle East was about to begin.


(1) The same Pabag from the previous update.

(2) A soldier-historian not too different from someone like, say, Ammianus Marcellinus.

(3) What did you think of that? If you guys like it, I might put similar citations in future updates.

(4) So, was Farrukhan a spy or not? We'll likely never know. It is safe to guess that his biggest concerns, as with any good prominent noble, were his own safety and status.
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I'm predicting the Hephthalites are overstretching themselves to the point, they left their flanks to the Guptans and nomadic raiders not under Hepthalite rule.
Are Gupta trying to invade the hunic kingdom that occupies parts of India?
There is no such kingdom ITTL, the empire at this point stretches from Bengal to the Khyber.
I'm predicting the Hephthalites are overstretching themselves to the point, they left their flanks to the Guptans and nomadic raiders not under Hepthalite rule.
Can they beat the Sasanians (French) before the Guptas (Russians) mobilize their forces? They're one battle away from doing so. And since Khushnavaz is in a position of strength right now, the other nomads aren't a concern. At least for now.
got a question found out there is a persian tl finally a tl where rome doesn't just dominate cause rome. But can i ask how my favourite emperor Aurelian, what happened to him before i read the tl please.
got a question found out there is a persian tl finally a tl where rome doesn't just dominate cause rome. But can i ask how my favourite emperor Aurelian, what happened to him before i read the tl please.
He's one of my favorite emperors too (along with Majorian, Heraclius and Constantine V) and I REALLY wanted to feature him on a prominent role in this TL. Sadly, I couldn't risk having Rome suddenly reconquering the East and restoring its old empire while the Palmyrenes and the Iranians were busy fighting each other, since everything would go back to square one.

Thus, I decided to break the empire apart entirely to prevent that from happening, which necessarily meant that Aurelian never became anyone important.
Any part of the east other than west bengal under Gupta control? In the map, I can see east Bengal, not under Gupta control.

Hopefully, this will open up the Indian Iranian cultural exchange. How good is medical science in India?

Can we able to some radical sects or reform movement emerging from Buddhism like bhakti movement?
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Any part of the east other than west bengal under Gupta control? In the map, I can see east Bengal, not under Gupta control.

Hopefully, this will open up the Indian Iranian cultural exchange. How good is medical science in India?

Can we able to some radical sects or reform movement emerging from Buddhism like bhakti movement?
AFAIK East Bengal is basically a jungle in this time period, right? The eastern border of the Gupta Empire is the Meghna River, but there are friendly tributaries on the other side.

As for Indian medicine of the period, if this text is any indication it's pretty advanced.

Don't know enough about the last question to say anything. Do you mean a more "people-focused" Buddhism? One of the main problems of that religion in India, IIRC, was that the monks became too used to the luxury of the monasteries and universities, therefore becoming heavily dependant on state patronage. Toramana and Mihirakula's invasions (which were butterflied ITTL) didn't help either.
Can we able to see some version of Nichiren or Chaitanya like Buddhist cults?

Also, is Shankar butterflies always? Will we see Vedanta or Buddhism will take its place? I mean Shankar used much of Buddhist philosophy to make his creed. He even called by his enemies as crypto Buddhist. Will we see a Buddhist Shankar?
Can we able to see some version of Nichiren or Chaitanya like Buddhist cults?

Also, is Shankar butterflies always? Will we see Vedanta or Buddhism will take its place? I mean Shankar used much of Buddhist philosophy to make his creed. He even called by his enemies as crypto Buddhist. Will we see a Buddhist Shankar?
I... don't know anything about this. Zero.

EDIT: I might look into it later, though. As for now, this TL will take a short break since I intend to focus on another project of mine for the next week or two.
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should the sassanian lose this battle their Empire too will face the same fate.

then the new persian dynasty would likely end being enemies with India.

yet a eftal defeat would prove equally fatal, even given a Army mostly intact after a defeat with the gupta intervention they need this win
Wait what india is it not divided between petty in fighting kingdoms at most of history
Do you mean OTL? Because even though there were a few big empires every now and then (mostly on the Deccan and the Indo-Gangetic plain) there were multiple smaller states more often than not (Hindu Shahis, the southern dynasties such as the Cholas, the three empires that beat the crap out of each other over Kannauj, weakening themselves in the process, Kalinga ,etc), and even if they're actually pretty respectable and wealthy on their own, they're definitely petty kingdoms when compared to heavyweights like the Mauryas, Guptas, Harsha's Empire, the Chalukyas and so on.

I shiver for what comes with antici--pation. 😳
I hope I can make up to the hype I'm building right now.
Finally caught up, the forum dosen't like to send me notifications sometimes... So far your writing the Hephtalite invasion strikes me as some epic war worthy of a place in ATL history books, with many ups and downs for both sides. I personally hope that Kavad wins, as he and his men(and maybe a few women given how desperate the situation is) are fighting for their lives in a last stand against the hated enemy. A prediction of mine is that if Khushnav brings members of the Iranian nobility with him to attack, they'll end up betraying him, possibly in the hopes of rewards or mercy from Kavad...
Finally caught up as well. Excellent writing, I must say. This is truly a unique TL, with the destruction and refounding of Rome, the Palmyrene empire and the back-and-forth conflict with the Hephthalites being the best parts here (in my opinion). This war with the Hephthalites is especially well-written. I also am rooting for Kavad, but him dying a glorious death on the walls of Ctesiphon like Constantine XI at Constantinople would be satisfying also. I look forward to the upcoming epic battle!

(3) What did you think of that? If you guys like it, I might put similar citations in future updates.
Yes, please! In-universe quotes add to the immersion for me.
Tiny But Important Edit
So, y'all remeber that one time I put a photo dated from 1281 a particular update? Looking back, I decided that, while I want technology in this world to advance at a quicker pace than OTL, having photography develop in the 13th century was a bit too much considering my plans. Thus, I changed the photo's date from 1281 to 1481.
Part 31: Decision
Part 31: Decision

Valashabad, September 8, 389 A.D.

"I'm such a fucking idiot..." The mercenary silently cursed himself in Latin.

First, an introduction.

The man, Honorius, was far from a stranger to violence. Born to a poor family in Olissipo sometime during the late 340s, he was exposed to the uglier side of Roman society at a very young age, and he, like most of the lowborn men of his time, joined the military at the age of nineteen in order to escape from a life of poverty. Upon becoming a member of the army of the dux of Hispania, he spent his early years in garrison duty, during which he did little more than just patrol his home city's streets as well as arrest (and sometimes be bribed by) the occasional criminal. All in all, a pretty safe if boring life.

Everything changed when the first news came in about a major revolt that erupted in the far north. From what few sources are left about what happened, it seems that the Cantabri and Vascones, two Iberian peoples who were only somewhat romanized, rose up against the diocese's authority over them due to a series of incidents related to an abusive taxation system that finally pushed the locals past their breaking point. Honorius was among the 15.000 soldiers sent to crush the uprising, which went on for three very long years (372-375) before the northerners were firmly under Tolentum's control once more. The man from Olissipo was handsomely rewarded with a promotion and an increased salary thanks to his bravery.

But something in that war changed Honorius. He had never left his home city before, and was amazed by the places he passed through in his travel to the north.

Thus, the soldier, with his quality of life already secure thanks to his service, decided to become a wandering mercenary of sorts and visit as many places as he could, going first to the dioceses of Mauritania and Africa, where he took part in the not quite brutal but also seemingly perpetual war between local Romans and the Berbers. Growing bored after doing this for a few years, he traveled to Britannia upon hering rumors that the dux there found a respectable gold mine to the north of Hadrian's wall, on the very edge of the known world, and participated in another endless war, this time against the Picts and Caledonians (1). That service completed, he was given a very handsome reward and offered a chance to settle down in Londinium. But Honorius, the fool he was, refused that offer, saying that he still had many years left to live and many places to visit.

Now he was about to fight and very possibly die for a king whose country fought against his own countless times over in the last centuries. The Roman breathed in deeply as he saw a group of clibanarii (2), who were quite probably the only men in this mess of an army to have some decent armor (other than Honorius himself, of course (3)) inspect the very long line of infantry he was a part of. One of them, whose armor was particularly well decorated (probably the king, he thought), took off his helmet and began to address the thousands of men in a language he couldn't understand. Once the speech was over, most of the soldiers cheered and raised their simple spears and wicker shields (4).

This was going to be a bloodbath.


If there is one single word that can describe everything to do with the Battle of Valashabad, it is desperation. Both sides of this cataclysmic engagement were stretched to the very limit of their financial and logistical capabilities, with practically their entire armed forces, from city garrisons to hastily assembled militias, being mobilized to participate in this single event. Whichever empire lost would collapse like a house of cards, and the walls of Ctesiphon, looming on the horizon, were a constant reminder of what was at stake for both the kings who personally led their armies as well as the countless anonymous soldiers who did most of the work.

Practically everything to do with the battle has been mythologized by now, starting with the fact that the field was supposedly silent in the moments before everything came crashing down, a sign that the local wildlife wanted nothing to do with the huge massacre that was about to take place. Not even the vultures.​


The Battle of Valashabad. Though this painting has more errors than I can count (is that a phalanx in the middle?) it does highlight the apocalyptic atmosphere quite nicely (5). Just look at the sky!

Both Kavad and Khushnavaz organized their armies in a fairly orthodox manner, with the bulk of the infantry being organized into a single long line whose flanks were guarded by the cavalry. Though both sides were evenly matched when it came to the number and quality of the horsemen, the Iranian army's huge disadvantage when it came to the infantry was obvious to everyone. Despite the presence of a few good units here and there, such as hardy axe-wielding hillmen from Corduene (6) who would in time become as famous as the Daylamites, most of the defending army's center was composed of paighan soldiers armed with spears and wicker shields, nothing more than cannon fodder.

To make matters worse, the Shahanshah insisted on keeping the Indian soldiers granted by Chandragupta II were kept away from the front line, even though their heavy armor made them perfectly capable to withstand the full brunt of the fighting. And as if that weren't enough, they were divided into two groups of roughly equal size and put near the flanks, rather than the very vulnerable main center.

Khushnavaz was clearly aware of this weakness to some degree, as he organized his own line in an oblique manner, with the middle containing a larger number of soldiers than usual, so as to punch a hole through the enemy center and break the opposing force into smaller, more manageable pieces (7).

Everything began with an exchange of missile fire from both sides' skirmishers and horse archers, one which inflicted noticeable casualties among the Iranian infantry since their shields, although large, were easily pierced and broken by Hephthalite arrows and javelins. That is not to say that the invaders didn't suffer any losses during this opening stage either, but they were much less severe.

After that, the two armies engaged each other in close combat. And to say that the Iranian position was dire right from the get go would be the understatement of the century.

While the cavalry battle was at first somewhat even or perhaps even favorable for the outnumbered Sasanian horsemen, the infantry suffered horrendous casualties and was gradually back as time went by. However, the first part of the army to give way wasn't the center but rather the right wing, and the Hephthalite cavalrymen on this sector, rather than chase their defeated opponents, decided to roll up and smash the Iranian flank, a sound decision considering that many of them were cataphracts and thus ill suited for a long pursuit.

However, due to the dust cloud raised by the ongoing mayhem, they didn't see that they weren't charging into the vulnerable enemy rear, but rather straight into the waiting spears of the Indian soldiers, who promptly slaughtered and routed them. This enabled the retreating Sasanian horsemen to rally themselves and rejoin the fight. On the other end of the line, the Iranian left, led by Kavad in person, held its own against the Hephthalite right, which was also led by Khushnavaz himself. Both kings were hellbent on impaling one another with their lances as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

But these little successes couldn't offset the catastrophe that was about to happen in the center. Indeed, it was quite admirable that the paighan held their position for so long in spite of the horrific casualties they were suffering, but now they were about to break and there was no time for the right wing to make a difference. Kavad had no choice but to deploy his secret weapon.

He ordered the elephants to attack.


Once said order was received, all 100 of these terrifying living battering rams charged into action, each indiscriminately trampling scores of Hephthalite and Iranian soldiers alike and impaling dozens more with their enormous tusks, some of which had blades attached. The archers on top of them were more careful with their target selection for obvious reasons, and only contributed to the chaos. Kavad hoped they wouldn't need to be deployed, thanks to the risk of these huge creatures running amok and slaughtering his own soldiers in the process. Thankfully, the mahouts (riders) managed to keep them under control somewhat. And in the meantime, the right wing fell upon the Hephthalite flank like a hammer, its mighty cataphracts ditching their kontos for maces better suited for close combat.

The tides turned decisively, but Khushnavaz refused to order a retreat even though it was now his army which was on the verge of annihilation. The invader knew that this was his last chance to take the Iranian throne from the Sasanians, and the walls of Ctesiphon loomed tall over him showed just how close he was to his objective. Perhaps he hoped that the elephants would finally run amok due to the chaos and bloodshed.

However, it was not to be: desperately trying to keep his horsemen from breaking, Khushnavaz was hit in the shoulder by a stray javelin and collapsed unconscious on the ground soon after. Presuming that his king had been killed, Khingila ordered a general retreat that quickly turned into a disastrous rout after the news spread. Khushnavaz woke up many hours later, upon which he was promptly informed that he was now a prisoner.

In time, an endless number of poets, historians, musicians and other such intellectuals would eventually call the Battle of Valashabad the Victory of Victories.

70.000 men lay dead on the battlefield, and a greater number still were wounded for life, with missing limbs and scarred minds (8). To those lucky few who escaped unscathed, this was anything but a glorious triumph. Still, at least they could sigh in relief that the carnage had ended.

It was all over, and Kavad had won. This was no time to celebrate, but rather to mourn.

Mourn and, after that, finish this stupid war once and for all.


(1) The Tyndrum gold mine.

(2) "Oven-bearers". This was the how the Greeks and Romans referred to the cataphracts.

(3) Since he's just one very foreign soldier in the middle of a multi-ethnic army, Honorius doesn't know about the Indians.

(4) Kavad certainly addressed the paighan either in Middle Persian or Aramaic. Either language is a must learn for a successful Shahanshah for obvious reasons.

(5) That's because the painting portrays the Battle of Issus. You can see the word "Alexander" written with a bunch of other Latin stuff on top.

(6) Kurdistan.

(7) Here's a map of the Battle of Leuctra to give you an idea of what an oblique order looks like.

(8) 70.000 men on both sides. This was a very, very costly victory.
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I'm so glad to see that Kavad has prevailed, the war is not yet over but he seems to have struck a devastating blow to the invaders. Hopefully, once the war is over he can turn himself to two important manners of business: Rebuilding his shattered Empire, and producing an heir....