Given the state Iran proper was left in by the Hephthalite invasion, doing so would give the term "victory disease" a whole new meaning.
It is of course much wiser for Kavad to first consolidate his empire, as I already mentioned, and leave potential expansion to a successor.
 
Part 33: The Perpetual Peace and the Paper Revolution
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Part 33: The Perpetual Peace and the Paper Revolution


Kavad first received news of Farrukkhan's dealings with the Guptas when he was still in Bukhara, busy consolidating his conquest of the city and its surrounding areas. Though slightly miffed that he wouldn't be able to completely restore Iran's eastern borders to what they were in the days of Ardashir I, the Shah was fully aware that recognizing Chandragupta's control over Qandahar was more than a reasonable price to pay for the invaluable economic and military aid the Maharaja provided him, and thus approved of the treaty. He was delighted with the possibility of marrying one of his mighty eastern neighbor's daughters, something that would forever bind their dynasties.

Thus, he approved and signed the document that would become known as the Treaty of Perpetual Peace someday on July 390. Once everything was set and the diplomats dispatched to send the good news to Pataliputra, Kavad left Bukhara and returned to his own capital, Ctesiphon, personally seeing the devastation caused by the four year war against Khushnavaz. It would take at least a decade for the empire to fully recover, and certainly more for the horrific losses the main army suffered to be replaced. If the words of Pabag of Ahvaz are to be trusted, the Shah prayed every day that God would grant him the time he needed and keep the empire safe from foreign invasions.

As it turned out, he would not only have plenty of time to rest, but he would also gain access to a revolutionary new substance that would make the daunting task administrating Iran much easier: paper. The official starting year of the process that became known as the Paper Revolution was 397, when a group of notales and scholars from the eastern provinces, likely seeking favor from the King of Kings, entered the imperial court, presented several manuscripts written in paper (the contents of said manuscripts were sadly lost) to the monarch in person, explained how to produce it in large quantities and, finally, its advantages over the writing materials that were used at the time, namely parchment, vellum and papyrus.

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The imperial court in Ctesiphon receiving its visitors with a banquet.

Though Kavad himself was unsure of the idea, prince Narseh enthusiastically supported it, arguing that such a cheap and abundant material could allow the central government to greatly expand its bureaucracy without crippling its finances. Within twenty years (so around 417), said bureaucracy reported that there were five major paper manufactories in Ctesiphon, Arbela, Shushtar, Istakhr and Qumis, while there were dozens of smaller ones spread throughout Iranian territory. Unsurprisingly, the number of surviving documents focusing on all sorts of subjects, from economics to medicine, exploded, since it was now much easier and cheaper to produce them. In fact, some say that, had paper not been introduced, it is quite likely that many priceless texts written by intellectuals such as the poet Ferdowsi (1), the already mentioned historian Pabag of Ahvaz and Azarmidokht of Qumis, known as the grandmother of modern dental medicine, would either decompose with the passage of time or be burned along with most of Ctesiphon in the worst days of the Zanj Rebellion (2).

Of course, the adoption of paper wasn't the only good thing to happen to Iran during the reign of Kavad I. Five years before that, in 392, and after two years of meticulous preparations, the Shahanshah and his newest wife, Sandhyagupta, were wed to one another in a ceremony whose pomp and circumstance suited the marital union of two of the most powerful dynasties in the world (3). Immediately promoted to the position of chief wife, showing just how serious the king was about making sure that his eventual successor had both Sasanian and Gupta blood flowing in his veins, Sandhyagupta set about making herself at home in this strange yet eerily familiar place and learning the complexities and intrigues of Iranian palace politics, first of all by learning the Middle Persian language, a must if she hoped to be a player and not just a pawn. Her position in the court improved further after she gave birth to a healthy son named who was named after his uncle, Narseh.
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A 5th century silver plate celebrating Kavad and Sandhyagupta's marriage.
The Perpetual Peace, along Sandhyagupta's influence, brought great and lasting gains to Iran. In the decades that followed, trade between India and Iran intensified and only grew as each empire conquered new territories, increasing their revenues and strengthening their governments. Important goods (and ideas) were exchanged between the two empires, goods that changed them forever: India acquired the knowledge of papermaking and went through many of the changes Iran did before it, while the latter got its hands on a sweet substance that would, in centuries, simultaneously bring it to an age of unbelievable prosperity and, in an instant, to the brink of ruin.

I am, of course, talking about sugar.

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Notes:

(1) Not the OTL guy, of course.

(2) Don't worry, there will be plenty of glorious days to come before that awful event arrives.

(3) Special thanks to @LostInNewDelhi, @Madhav Deval and @Shahrasayr for helping me come up with a good name for a Gupta princess.
 
Wonderful update, it's nice to see that Kavad is putting this moment of peace to good use, and that his chief wife, Sandhyagupta is well acclimated to life in Iran... Some of the foreshadowing is ominous, but for now things look good for the Sassanids...
 
It's nice to see the TL back as well.

Iran looks to be good so far with the new technology, but I wonder how perpetual the Perpetual Peace will actually be.
 
Part 34: One River, Two Worlds
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Part 34: One River, Two Worlds


The core land of Axum itself almost ensured that any state rising from it would be at least reasonably rich. Fertile, producing a great amount of grains such as wheat and barley, allowing it to sustain a large population, and close to the port of Adulis, a valuable trading post in the Arabian Gulf, it was only a matter of time before the kingdom became a respectable middle power, mentioned by texts such as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and by the prophet Mani. It was the perfect foundation to build a great empire, one which Ezana the Great used to great effect. After snatching Himyar from the decaying Palmyrene Empire in 330 A.D., giving him complete control over all trade in and out of the Arabian Gulf, the first Christian king in history marched northward and subjugated the states of Meroe and Napata, extending his domains to the fertile banks of the Nile and creating a third source of income for his kingdom, the other ones being agriculture from the Ethiopian highlands and maritime trade.

By the time of Ezana's death from old age sometime in the 360s, Aksum had become, proportionally speaking, the richest state in the world. Products from all corners of the world, such as wine from the Roman Empire, gold and ivory from the Swahili coast, spices from India, pearls and rugs from Iran, fine silks from China, all of them flowed through its ports and swelled its coffers immensely. With no foreign threats to speak of, Ezana's successor, Mehadeyis, used his unimaginable fortune to further the growth of Christianity inside and outside the kingdom, first financing the construction of the Old St. George's Basilica in the city of Aksum (which wouldn't be completed until over a century after his death), which would become the nerve center of all Orthodox Christianity (other groups would obviously either have their own centers or none at all), and the activities of countless missionaries throughout the Erythraean Sea.

By the time of Mehadeyis' natural death sometime in the late 4th century (now believed to be around 390), there were several churches of varying sizes scattered all over locations that were important Aksumite trade routes, especially the Swahili city-states, the southern coast of Arabia and, to a lesser degree, the coast of Malabar, India's main spice growing region and a critical point of the Maritime Silk Road. This growth wasn't entirely positive, unfortunately: when Honorius of Olissipo, a follower of Sol Invictus, passed through the kingdom's extensive territory on the long return journey back to his homeland of Roman Lusitania in 391 A.D., he remarked how he was forced to pay additional taxes and was almost denied some services since he didn't follow the state religion or belong to a 'protected class' (1).
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The Ezana Stone, which documents said king's conversion to Christianity and his many conquests.

Far to the north, down the Nile, a very different story unfolded. As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, Egypt once lived days of great riches and glory, when its pharaohs controlled a state that, at the apex of its power, stretched from Syria and Palestine to the sixth cataract of the great river. But these days were long gone, and had been for thousands of years, in fact. Although the land itself was still fertile and wealthy, its current foreign-born rulers, desperate to prove to the world that they were the last remnant of the Palmyrene Empire, were almost completely disconnected from the rest of the population as a result (especially when religion was involved), and did a horrible job administrating it.

Coups, assassinations and uprisings were common, and by the early fifth century Egypt was "governed" by a king whose voice wasn't heard beyond the walls of Alexandria, still the largest and richest city in the Mediterranean despite everything happening in the rest of the country. It was only a matter of time before this weak monarch, ironically named Odainat (and thus called 'Odainat the Lesser' by historians), suffered the fate of his predecessors, and the Christian patriarch of Alexandria, a man by the name of Alexander, was already conspiring with local notables, particularly traders, who resented the wasteful privileges and incompetence of the men in charge.


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The port of Alexandria.

Back in Aksum, the king in charge, an ambitious youth by the name of Ouazebas, who was either Mehadeyis' grandson or great-grandson (most sources point to the latter, but lack of evidence and propaganda must be taken into account), watched the situation in the north with great interest. He had no doubt that most of Egypt's population was composed of good Christians who chafed under their stubbornly pagan rulers, Christians who would welcome him with open arms just like the Himyarites did with Ezana. It had been decades since the last time the kingdom got involved in a major war, and Ouazebas was eager to gain glory for himself and become even richer in the process.

As such, he assembled an army that may have numbered as many as 70.000 men and, in 418 A.D., finally invaded Egypt, marching along the Nile. The entire country crumbled like a house of cards, and within months the Aksumite army, fed by the abundant grain grown on the great river's banks, was at the gates of Alexandria. Ouazebas, sure that he was on the verge of victory, supposedly began to make preparations to move his seat of power to Dongola, from which he could administrate both Egypt and Aksum more effectively.

He had no idea what he had gotten himself into.

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Notes:

(1) Basically a tolerated religion.
 
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How aligned is the Ethiopian church with the Christians in Egypt in terms of dogma? Would there be any nasty, arcane, doctrinal disputes?
 
Will Chandragupta try to expand Buddhism in Iran? I mean having a loyal and politically none motivated religion is a good thing in the long run. It will also allow Iran to curtail Christianity in long term.
 
How aligned is the Ethiopian church with the Christians in Egypt in terms of dogma? Would there be any nasty, arcane, doctrinal disputes?
They're still pretty similar in terms of doctrine and such, but Alexandria will not accept being forced into a subordinate position so easily. And this rift will inevitably increase their differences as the decades go by.
Will Chandragupta try to expand Buddhism in Iran? I mean having a loyal and politically none motivated religion is a good thing in the long run. It will also allow Iran to curtail Christianity in long term.
What little remains of Buddhist presence in Iran is concentrated in the east (modern Afghanistan), but they're being replaced by the Manicheans very rapidly. There are some missionaries in Ctesiphon, but the local faiths are too heavily entrenched to be replaced without significant support from the imperial court, support that will never come since the Shah and his nobles have bigger fish to fry than adding an entirely new religion to the melting pot that is their empire.
 
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Great update! Moving the capital to Dongola is probably a good idea, although communications between the Nile Valley and the Ethiopian highlands will be quite difficult. Since Axum was quite active on the Red Sea a refurbished Canal of the Pharaohs could provide a link between Axum and Lower Egypt.
 
Part 35: Poking the Lion
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Part 35: Poking the Lion


News of the tremendous success of Ouazebas' invasion of Egypt spread far and wide, reaching Ctesiphon in no time. To say that this event caused an uproar in the Iranian court would be a gigantic understatement, and the nobles demanded an immediate reaction to prevent the Aksumite king from becoming a 'Khushnavaz of the west' who could very possibly threaten Syria, at this point thoroughly integrated into the rest of the empire, if he was allowed to complete his conquest. Kavad I, though fifty-seven years old at this point and not as vigorous as he was in his early reign, was nevertheless fully aware that this invasion could not be tolerated, and ordered the army and Mediterranean fleet (which had been expanded from 300 to 600 warships in the last twenty years) to be fully mobilized.

In the meantime, the King of Kings set up a council which would help prince Narseh, technically an adult but still somewhat of a young lad, rule the empire while he was busy waging war. Farrukhan, the wuzurg framadar, had already died from old age years ago, while Narseh the uncle, who was now sixty-five years old, had for all intents and purposes retired from politics and spent his days tending to his private library in Shushtar. Thus, the regency council's most prominent figure was the Shah's chief wife Sandhyagupta, who would hold most real power while her husband was away.

In the months that followed, during which Ouazebas' army marched closer and closer to Alexandria, supplies were piled up and soldiers armed, and an immense force of 100.000 men, which dwarfed anything the Aksumites had, was assembled in Syria. Kavad, who led the army in person, ordered it to march along the Levantine coast, closely followed and supplied by the fleet, whose numbers were swollen by the addition of thousands of supply ships. The important fortress of Pelusium, on the eastern delta of the Nile, fell without resistance and was promptly occupied by the Iranians, giving them a strongpoint which would be critical for them later on.
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A map of Lower Egypt.
The Shah's counter-invasion won him an important ally in Alexandria, even though he wasn't fully aware of his reliability just yet. Patriarch Alexander, having disposed of king Odainat the Lesser in the middle of the chaos, had no intention of becoming a political and religious subordinate to Aksum, which dared to call itself the center of all Christianity even though this title obviously belonged to his own city (1). Thus, he sent pleading letters to Kavad urging him to hurry up while simultaneously trying to delay Ouazebas' inevitable entry into Alexandria's formidable walls through negotiations and ceremonies. Though the Iranian monarch wasn't sure of how trustworthy these messages were (he sensed a trap, and though he didn't believe Ardashir II drowned in a burning river, he obviously didn't have a happy end), he wasn't going to hand Egypt's largest city to the enemy. So he made preparations for his army to cross the Nile Delta and hopefully defeat the Aksumites in a pitched battle before they fled south.

Then disaster struck, for Ouazebas also had a card up his sleeve.

As the Iranian fleet, full of supplies, slowly sailed westward to ensure the land army's safety in this foreign landscape full of branches and canals, a much smaller group of warships, all bearing Roman flags, appeared and moved in to intercept them. The Iranian commander, aware of his great numerical superiority, ordered his ships to give battle, and within half an hour the enemy fleet was completely surrounded, with no hope of escape.

Then the Roman vessels suddenly breathed fire.
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The Battle of the Nile.
It had been decades since the last time the Iranians faced the terrifying chemical weapon known by the name of Syrian Fire, which had somehow fallen into Roman hands, and at this point most thought it was just a myth. As a result, the Battle of the Nile was an utter catastrophe for them, and most of their fleet went up in flames in just a few hours, the survivors only escaping because the wind suddenly changed direction and forced the enemy admiral to call off the attack, lest he end up torching his own ships.

His supply line literally turned to ashes, Kavad called off the crossing before he could suffer his grandfather' horrifying fate and retreated to Pelusium. He then got word that the Aksumites had finally occupied Alexandria and, as if that weren't enough, that a formidable Roman army, perhaps led by the emperor in person, had crossed the Hellespont and was now marching along the southern coast of Anatolia, obviously intending to attack Syria (2). Many spahbeds advised the Shah to retreat to the north and defend the province, while others warned that marching through the desert now, with barely any supplies, would have disastrous consequences for the Iranian soldiers, and that it would be better to plunder the Egyptian countryside and pin the Aksumites in place while the regency council in Ctesiphon handled this new threat (3).

Kavad followed the advice of the latter and spent the rest of 418 in Pelusium, figuring that, if he retreated and suffered great casualties from attrition in the Sinai desert, then Ouazebas would inevitably try to invade Syria from Gaza in a coordinated pincer movement with the Romans which could, if successful, bring Iran to the brink of ruin just like Khushnavaz did.

He couldn't afford to run away now. It was time for Narseh to prove his worth back home.

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Notes:

(1) Gee, I wonder why?

(2) Though the Roman Empire is extremely decentralized at this point, the threat of the eastern Mediterranean becoming an Iranian lake is scary enough to temporarily unite most of the duces under the emperor's leadership.

(3) Remember, at this point the Sasanian Empire has fully recovered itself from the war with the Hephthalites and has plenty of manpower to spare.
 
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