The Eftal Shahs Here goes nothing. An Eftal Shah The fall of the Sassanian regime was not necessarily unexpected. The emergence into the historical record of the peoples the Greeks called the Hephthalites, and the Persians came to call Eftal, came at a time of great upheaval, famine and ethnic and religious conflict in the Sassanian Empire. Despite a scarcity of historical record, we see that they waged on and off war with the Sassanian Shahs, and in time would break out onto the Iranian plateau, raiding and pillaging. Latter Sassanian Shahs paid them exorbitant tribute. Their culture was not wholly unfamiliar to the Iranian civilization - they worshiped similar divinities, a syncretic faith which seems to be based on fire-worship but also Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of divinity - indeed they often tolerated and patronized Buddhist worship. From their capitals at Balkh and later Piandjikent, they asserted a dominion which was primarily established by their willingness to settle the lands they conquered. Since the middle of the fifth century, the Eftal had won major victories against the Sassanian Empire, gaining a foothold on the Iranian plateau that would become permanent. The latter Sassanian Shahs were generally placed on the throne with the aid of “Tokharian” nomads. Firuz himself, the last Shah, was originally granted his throne by these nomads. However, he would, after gaining the throne, turn against the Eftal, temporarily driving them back and putting an end to the incessant raiding that had characterized their arrival in Iran. However, it was not to last. In 484, in the province of Khurasan, Firuz was defeated in battle and slain after riding into an ambush. “Cudgel-armed and swift” warriors rode down his retinue and seized many of his family, killing the Emperor, and capturing a column of war elephants some of whom would see action at the later siege of Edessa, among other places. A succession crisis followed, with various Sassanian royals attempting to seize the throne. One of them, Kavad, was aided by the Eftal, but shortly after being placed on the throne, he reneged on his promises to pay the “barbarians” – trusting that his own troops would be sufficient to repel the Eftal and restore the Iranian Empire to its former glory. They were not. Despite a few inconclusive battles near Spahan, Kavad was chased south towards Sostar, where he was captured and executed and the Eftal King Akhshunwar rode into Ctesiphon as a conqueror, becoming in time the Shah of Iran. At first, the regime was essentially one of plunder. Ctesiphon and many of the Mesopotamian cities were sacked. Fortresses such as Nisibin surrendered to avoid a massacre and Baktrians, Sogdians and Kidarites among others were transplanted into newly founded garrison cities. Emulating the practices of settled conquerors proved a remarkably successful practice which would lead to a long-lasting dominion. From Susa, the new Shah Akhshunwar I would rule in the style of an Emperor. Roman-Eftal War Anastasius Dicorus, the Roman Emperor at the time, was struggling to manage the affairs of state. The dilapidation of many of the major eastern fortifications, and the lack of a fortified base such as Nisibin presented many logistical challenges to any General assigned to the Persian frontier. Ongoing sporadic warfare in the Isaurian mountains and religious challenges combined to threaten to undermine the Emperor much as they had his predecessor, Zeno. The Roman Empire appeared strong, but in truth was in many ways a paper tiger, one which had not been capable of responding to the vacuum established by the fall of the Sassanian Empire. Cursory diplomatic relations had been established, and a Hephthalite ambassador had arrived in Constantinople, where the Emperor tried his best to overawe the “barbarian” with the splendor of the Imperial City. Contemporary Byzantine records indicate that the Hephthalite was impressed, and it seems that the Emperor decided to respect a continuity of sorts – treating the new “Shah” Akhshunwar as merely the founder of a new dynasty of Persian kings. It would not last. By 499, Syriac records show that the Eftal were raiding in force into Syria and Orsoene. Roman reprisal was swift, and a Roman army under the elderly Flavius Patricius scored several major victories, even investing Nisibin for a time, before the Eftal armies rode north and enveloped the Roman army at the battle of Saokoros. Despite the slow Eftal response, Nisibin held out long enough that it mattered little. Despite the fall of such cities as Dura and Anat to Roman sieges, the battle of Saokoros would force the Romans to retreat. Saokoros was a major turning point in Roman history, though few would recognize it at the time. There were other armies, and other generals. But in the meantime, Edessa and Hierapolis would fall, and a series of inconclusive engagements such as the famous battle of Samosata between General Aerobindus and the Eftal Prince Kosnavaz would prolong the war until 503, when peace would finally be agreed upon. The war had been far more costly for the Romans than for their Hephthalite foes – Saokoros and Samosata alike represented major blows to Roman manpower - not blows that couldn't be absorbed by one of the most prosperous and powerful states in the world, but blows nonetheless. Seven years later, when the war resumed, the political situation had changed in ways less than favorable to the Romans - but yet paradoxically, under able leadership, the Romans triumphed. The Balkan provinces had been denuded of manpower they critically needed, and a Bulgar tribe called the Kutrigurs had settled along the Roman border. Meanwhile the blond-haired Gepids were raiding into Moesia with relative impunity. Despite a series of punitive actions against the Gepids, the Romans were shaken – and forced to commit additional forces to the Balkans from the east. Yet this time against the odds, the Roman General Vitalian, a half-barbarian beloved by his troops was able to score a major victory and retake Edessa - though not many of the other cities lost. The Eftal and Persian aristocracy blamed their defeats for unknown reasons on the Christian populations of Mesopotamia. A series of vicious pogroms marked the first of many. Despite a series of rebellions, including the notable Insurrection of Ctesiphon, (511) the Eftal prevailed, settling Kidarites, Sogdians and their own people throughout the region in an effort to prevent further rebellions. Vitalian With Anastasius’ funding, Vitalian oversaw massive reforms to the defenses of the territory, and the construction of new walls to replace a series of dilapidated fortifications. However, a year later, in 512, a cabal of Thracian generals and bureaucrats, increasingly uncomfortable with Anastasius’ Miaphysitism, approached the General, and helped him gain the acclamation of his troops. Vitalian marched west. The Thracian troops marched on Constantinople and invested the city, preventing a rapid response – and allowing Vitalian to win a few early battles against loyal troops in the East. However, the Syrian Marinus, and trusted ally of Emperor Anastasius, refused to join the rebels. A Monophysite, and a famous tax reformer, the Emperor placed him in command of the fleet, a task he performed admirably at – preventing Vitalian from crossing into Europe and ensuring that the siege of Constantinople by the Thracian allies did not cut off the capital’s vital Egyptian food supply. However, the Constantinopolitan mob, knowing that they were besieged, broke into open rebellion nonetheless. Areobindus, a distinguished General who fought in the Hepthalite wars, was proclaimed Emperor by the mob. Most sources seem to agree that this was against his will – and also that the mob was unaware of Vitalian’s march, the flow of people and information in and out of the city being tightly controlled by Marinus. Anastasius managed, in a public appearance to calm the mob – but Areobindus could not be found, and a subsequent riot saw Anastasius struck in the head by a roof-tile. The Emperor retired to the palace, and Marinus, now in charge of the city for all intents and purposes, put down the riot which called for his head with a massacre. Administration As mentioned before, it was the willingness of the Eftal to settle which ensured their dominion. Buddhist missionaries from China reported “A people scattered in foreign countries, the masters of scores of strongly walled cities and towns, a thousand thousand lords. They are tent dwelling as well, and move with changing seasons.” While the rule of the eastern Eftal was decentralized, with many rulers in that region acting as absolute kings, the western regions, and the Sassanian provinces were ruled by a centralized bureaucracy based out of Susa. Patronizing temples to the “Holy Fire, Ahura Mazda, Mitra, and Visnu” the Shah spent his time alternating between riding from place to place, touring the regime and meeting with his vassals and governors, and residing in the administrative capital at Susa. The flaw with this system was evident in the Hepthalite-Roman wars, where it took the Eftal a remarkably long period of time to muster their armies – far eastern princes had be cajoled into sending assistance, and the Shah himself was sometimes difficult to track down. However, the Eftal armies enjoyed remarkable superiority over the Romans in the field, and had inherited quality auxiliaries and siegecraft from the Iranians. With the collapse of the Iranian state, the aristocracy and priesthood alike had fallen. The religion of the Magi was poised to undergo drastic changes, as the Eftal brought both their own unique version of Iranic paganism, and Buddhist and Hindu settlers into Iran and Mesopotamia. The great monasteries of Arghan and Sat-Sabuhr were built by Akhshunwar’s successor Toramana, as was the library at Mosil. By the reign of Shah Toramana, parts of the Arabian peninsula were swearing fealty to the Eftal, notably the city of Mazun – representing the continuation of Iranian pre-eminence over the trade routes of the Persian Gulf. A treaty between the Gupta Emperor Narasimhagupta Baladitya and Akhshunwar is credited as establishing clear defined borders between the two dynasties. Our Hindi sources describe a series of spectacular defeats of the “Hunas” – but little can be confirmed, save that an additional two hundred war elephants were sold to the Hunas in exchange for a series of Huna fortresses in the Hindu Kush – representing the focus of Akhshunwar’s policies on westward expansion rather than into the Indian subcontinent.