CONQUEST OF PERSIA
21-22 A.H. / 642-643 A.D.
IT was not long before any lingering doubts of 'Omar were put an end to. He was compelled at last by the warlike attitude of the Persian court to bid his armies take the field with the avowed object of dealing the Empire a final blow.
Though forced to fly, Yezdejird may have buoyed himself up with the hope that the Arabs, content with the fertile plain of Mesopotamia, would leave his possessions undisturbed beyond the mountain range. But the capture of Sus, the ancient capital of Media, and the advance on Ispahan put an end to any such imagination. Arabian hordes still pressed upon the border; and their irruption into farther Persia was inevitable. The King, having resolved once more to stem the hostile tide, ordered the Governors of provinces to gather their forces together for a vigorous attack. Many of these enjoyed a virtually independent rule; but now their interests were knit together by a common danger. From the shores of the Caspian to the Indian Ocean, from the Oxus to the Persian Gulf, they rallied in vast numbers around the Royal standard on the plain below the snow-capped peak of Demavend, on the south of the Caspian Sea.
Tidings of the rising storm as they reached Sa'd were passed on directly to the Caliph. Each courier brought a fresh alarm. A host of 150,000 was assembled under a general named Firuzan; now encamped at Hamadan, now marching on Holwan, they would soon be close to Al-Kufa, at their very doors. The crisis, no doubt, was serious. Any reverse on the mountain border would loosen hold upon the
plains below; and Chaldĉa, even Al-Kufa and Al-Basra, might be wrested from them. As on previous occasions of imminent danger, 'Omar declared his resolve to march in person. Encamped midway between these two Cities, his presence would restore confidence; and while able from thence to direct the movements in front, his reserve would be a defence to them in the rear. But the old arguments again prevailed, and 'Omar was persuaded to remain behind. An-No'man was summoned from the campaign in Khuzistan to take the chief command. Leaving strong garrisons behind, troops were pushed forward in two columns from Al-Basra and Al-Kufa. The army at Sus, besides furnishing a contingent for the main advance, renewed its attack upon Istakhr (Persepolis), and so prevented the forces in that quarter from joining the royal standard.
Arrived at Holwan, An-No'man sent forward spies, who the enemy pitched in great force on the plain bounded by the lofty peaks of Elvand, or Arvand, to the south-west of Hamadan, but the road thus far clear. So they marched forward, and were soon face to face with the Persians on the memorable field of Nihavend. The Muslims were 30,000 strong, one-fifth only of the enemy; weak in numbers, but strong in faith, and nerved by the presence of veterans and heroes of former fields. After two days' skirmishing, the Persians retired behind their line of fortification, from whence they were able at pleasure to issue and molest their adversaries. The Muslims at last, wearied by delay, resolved by artifice to draw them out. At Toleiha's instance they fell back, and on the Persians following, wheeled round and cut them off from their return. A fierce engagement followed, and in it An-No'man was slain. But the Arabs achieved at last their wonted success. Of the enemy 30,000 were left on the field; the rest fled to an adjoining hill, and there 80,000 more were slain. Of the great army but shreds effected their escape. The fate of Firuzan gave rise to a pious proverb. He fled towards Hamadan, but finding the mountain pass choked by a caravan of honey, and losing his way, was overtaken thus and slain. Hence the saying"Part of the Lord's host is the honey-bee". Hamadan fell into the hands of the victorious army; and the royal treasure and jewels, deposited for safety
in the great fire-temple there, were delivered up.
The chiefs and people of all western Persia submitted and became tributary. The booty was immense; and amongst it two caskets of rare gems, which 'Omar at first placed in the treasury at Medina. Next morning, the courier was recalled, 'Omar having seen a vision of angels who warned him of punishment hereafter if he kept the jewels. "Take them hence," he said; "sell them, and let the price be divided amongst the army." They fetched 4,000,000 dirhems.
'Omar had now embarked on an enterprise from which there was no returning. The proud Yezdejird refused to yield, and the Caliph no longer scrupled pursuing him to the bitter end. The warlike races south of the Caspian again gathered under Isfandiyar, brother of the ill-fated Rustem, for the defence of Ar-Reiy. The Muslims advanced to meet them; and another great victory placed the City at their mercy. Isfandiyar retired to Azerbijan; again defeated, he was taken prisoner; then, despairing of success, he changed sides, and made common cause with the invading army. From Ar-Reiy, Yezdejird fled to Ispahan; finding no shelter there, he hurried to Kirman, and thence retired to Balkh. At last he took refuge in Merv, whence he sought aid from the Turks, and even from the Emperor of China. The former espoused his cause; and for several years the contest was waged with varying success in the vicinity of Merv. But in the end the Turkish hordes retired, and with them Yezdejird, across the Oxus. The conflict was subsequently renewed, but Yezdejird never recovered his authority; bereft of his treasures and deserted by his followers, who in vain besought him to tender submission, he survived till the reign of 'Othman, when, as we shall see, he met with an ignoble death.
On the fall of Ar-Reiy, the Arabs turned their arms against the various Persian provinces. Some of these, though subordinate in name, had been, in point of fact, their own masters; and now, even when the heart had ceased to beat, maintained a dangerous vitality. Six columns, drawn from Al-Kufa and Al-Basra, and continually replenished by new Arabian levies thirsting for rapine and renown, invaded as many different regions, each falling under the government
of the leader who reduced it. Thus, one after another, Fars, Kirman, Makran, Sijistan, Khorasan, and Azerbijan, were overrun. But the people would ever and anon rise again in rebellion; and it was long before the invaders could subside into a settled life, or feel secure away from the protection of garrisoned entrenchments. The privileges enjoyed by professors of the faith were so great that the adherents of Zoroastrian worship were not long able to resist the attraction; by degrees the Persian race came over, in name at least, to the dominant creed, and in the end all opposition ceased. The notices of Zoroastrian families, and of fire-temples destroyed in after reigns, show indeed that in many quarters the conversion was slow and partial.1
But after the fall of the Court, the political and social inducements to bow before Islam were, for the most part, irresistible. The polished Persian formed a new element in Muslim society. Yet, however noble and refined, he held for long a place apart and altogether inferior to that enjoyed by the rude but dominant class of Arabian blood. Individuals or families belonging to the subject peoples could only gain a recognised position by attaching themselves to some Arab chief or clan, as mawali (plural of maula), "clients" or adherents; and, though thus dependent, might claim some of the privileges of the ruling faith. But neither here nor elsewhere did they intermarry with the Arabs on equal terms, nor were they, in point of fact, looked upon otherwise than as of inferior caste. Thus though in theory, on becoming Muslims, conquered nations might enter the "equal brotherhood" of Islam, they formed not the less an altogether lower estate. The race and language, ancestral dignity, and political privileges of the Arab hue continued for many generations to be paramount.
1 Zoroastrianism continued to be professed in Persia long after
the Arab Conquest, in fact almost down to the present day. The laws passed against it were not enforced.
Little over a century ago it had many adherents; but to-day there are said to be only some score of
fire-temples in the country. The social and political inducements to profess Islama profession
at first but superficialare well brought out in The Apology of Al-Kindi. See especially
the speech of Al-Ma'mun, pp. 29 and 84. Many, however, emigrated to India and founded the Parsee
communities of that country.
1 Zoroastrianism continued to be professed in Persia long after the Arab Conquest, in fact almost down to the present day. The laws passed against it were not enforced. Little over a century ago it had many adherents; but to-day there are said to be only some score of fire-temples in the country. The social and political inducements to profess Islama profession at first but superficialare well brought out in The Apology of Al-Kindi. See especially the speech of Al-Ma'mun, pp. 29 and 84. Many, however, emigrated to India and founded the Parsee communities of that country.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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