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Albania in the period of leading Sassanid Marzbanians

Especially, at that period Sasanian Empire was shaken with the movement, led by Mazdak, which historians called and characterized as heretic-mobed, i.e. server of Zoroastrianism. Movement possessed its objective causes, there laid socio-economic demands of the phase on its ground. The population were divided into four stratums. Priests and soldiers, men were included to the first and second to stratums. The third one was compiled from document composers, authors, poets, book-keepers, translators, doctors and other representatives of intellectuals. Farmers, cattle-breeders, merchants and craftsmen were belonged to the fourth, most exploited stratum.

The explored period was the developing phase of feudal relations not only in Iran, but also in subordinated regions of Sasanian Empire, as we observe it from Albania. There was happening the concentration of all lands into feudal and nobles and peasants were exploited too. Allotments, which had been given to peasants were gradually concentrated in the hands of feudal. At the result of this, peasants became under the subordination of feudal, gave them big amount of taxes, as well as the division of communal lands and transition of such lands to the hands of feudal authority caused to decrease of taxes that were included to the state treasure.

The wars, implemented by the Sasanian Empire, the shape of great feudal hierarchy, deepening of exploitation of peasants and other problems created all conditions for mass dissatisfaction of people. There was shaped ideological ground of the movement, which was covered the years of 481-589 under the leadership of Mazdak, the son of Bamdad.

Mazdak began the propaganda of his teaching in Mesapotomia and soon plenty of leaders from the various areas of the Empire joint to him. The movement of Mazdakids was implemented under religious cover as other movements of medieval period. The defenders of this movement and believers, which jointed in itself the elements of Zoroastrianism, maniism, philosophic thoughts of hellinistic world and Christianity, taught the ideas of equality, censured thief, lie, struggled against the exploitation of civil population. The ideas of Mazdakids about social equality and justice made great attraction among the mass people, who disagreed with heavy economic circumstances and discriminations. The poor peoples among peasants and city people, slaves, craftsmen, the part of small and middle arable farmers joint to this movement. So, execute to the beginning of military movement in 491 became starvation of population at that time. Major driving force of movement was peasants, they attacked to the properties of arable farmers and homes of rich merchants, stole their properties and divided them among themselves. The part of rich land owners were killed, most of them escaped from the country.

In the first phase of the movement, i.e. till the year of 496, the teachings of Mazdak that aimed to weaken the power of priests and feudal was supported even by ShahenShah (Gubad) Kavad I. Kavad I appointed Mazdak his adviser and at the result of it he utilized the power of Mazdakid movement. By Mazdak’s advice Kavad I opened state granaries for starving people.

At the result of disagreement of the Sassanid feudal hierarchy, Kavad I was dethroned and his brother became a new ShahenShah of Sasanian Empire. But Kavad I was able to return the throne by the vehicle of eftalits. ShahenShah, who attained weakening of feudal hierarchy partly, did not need the help of the Mazdakid movement ever more. He was scared from the power of this movement and considered that Mazdak was the threat for statehood. That’s why, Kavad I refused to support above mentioned movement and his leader.

In 529, the Mazdakid movement was neutralized and his leaders, as well as Mazdak were assassinated approximately 80 participants of movement were killed.

Although the Mazdakid movement was depressed, it had great influence among the society-to the positions of head priests of Zoroastrianism were weakened, the number and influence of big arable farmers were reduced, central power and its columns-middle arable farmers, i.e. azats were strengthened too. The ideas of Mazdakids influenced to other people uprisings in this region.

After the neutralization of Mazdakid movement, during the reign of Khosrov I Anushiravan (531-579) the number of middle and small landowners were increased in Iran. According to our consideration, the Mazdakid movement influenced not only to Iran, but also to the areas of South Caucasus. That’s why, military-administrative reforms, made by Khosrov Anushiravan were concerned to the lands of Azerbaijan.

Interior governance was completely eliminated in Albania and in its major parts, i.e. in Chola, Kambisena, Paytakaran and etc. There were appeared Sassanid officers-marzbans, who were obeyed to the marzban of Partav. Marzbans had to make condition to extend Zoroastrianism,  as well as prevent anti-Sassanid movements in the regions. Albania, Adurbadagan, Iberia and Armenia were included to one of four great military-administrative provinces-to the part of Northern kustak (“kustak” means, “country” in pahlevid language).

Major political line, implemented in Albania by Sassanid regime, consisted of the strengthening of imperial power and defence of North frontiers of the empire. The security of Northern/Caucasian passages was important not only for Sasanian Empire, but also for Byzantine.

That’s why, Byzantine signed special agreement with Iran in 442. According to this agreement, Byzantine should pay the determined amount of “gold” to Sassanids, in order to defend the Daryal passage. It was interesting that, Iran and Byzantine made alliance with various rival tribes against hun-bulgarian tribes and protected Caucasian passages together although they were foes at that time. For example, sabirian tribes, which fought against Sassanids at the beginning of the 6th century, participated in the struggles for South-Caucasus on the side of Iran or Byzantine in 516. In the mid of the 6th century nomadic avars, settled in North Caucasus defeated sabirian union. After that, part of sabirian tribes settled in the territory between Aghstafa and Shamkir. Since that period khazars, which were included to the content of Turkish khaganate along with sabirians, bulgarians, barsilians and others began to play leading role among these tribes. At that time Turkish khaganate seized large territory from Mongolia to Black Sea.

In 552 khazars attacked to Albania. According to the information of the “History of Albanians”, the plunder and destruction at the result of these invasions were so terrible that, the residence of Albanian Catholicos in Chola was moved to the new political centre of the state- Partav (Barda). After short period, khazarian tribes intervened to Albania again. Sassanid army was able to withdraw them from the country, part of them were killed, others were captivated and about 10 thousands of khazars were settled in Gabala by the order of ShahenShah Khosrov Anushiravan.

Iranian-Byzantyne conflicts for Albania had not only political, but also economic goals: khazars and other nomadic tribes, who became the allies of Byzantine during its difficult periods aimed to live in rich cities of Azerbaijan-Albania and Adurbadagan. Agreement about armistice between Byzantine and Iran, which was signed in 562 gave a chance to regulate circumstances in Northern frontiers.

Among the countries, included to Northern Kustak, Azerbaijan that possessed special strategic essence and which could prevent the invasion of khazars in the North and Byzantine in the West was in the centre of attention of Sassanid Shahs. In 571, at the result of the annulment of the treaty between Byzantine and Iran, Albania was exposed to the attacks of Byzantine. Menandr, in his “History” work informed that, approximately in 574, Byzantine army invaded to Albania, met with sabirian and alanian tribes there and took captives from them; in 576 they again attacked to Albania, but at this time made sabirian and alanian tribes settle in right shore of Kura, in order to “stay in Roman land”. So, the joint attack of Albanians and khazars to Byzantine in 576 on the side of Sassanid Emipre was not casual fact.

During the last Iranian-Byzantine war in the year of 603, the people of Albania were subjected to new trials. At the result of military actions, which was resulted behalf on Sasanian Empire, many provinces that were subordinated to Byzantine passed to the power of Iran.

In the same year Albanian Catholicos Viro utilized from vague circumstances and began the struggle against Sassanid regime together with his supporters. But troops, sent to Albania by Khosrov II depressed this uprising. Most of representatives of Albanian feudal hierarchy were murdered. Viro was able to hide and run to the capital city of Iran – Ktesifon (Median). Only by the aid of the wife of Khosrov II – Christian Shirin Viro was not associated as other participants of revolt. By the order of ShahenShah, Viro had to live exile life in Ktesifon ever more but at the result of protection of Shirin he could play active role in political and religious life of his country.

In the years of 612-613 Viro took part in the church assemble, called by the initiative of Khosrov II from the representatives of Christian people of Sasanian Empire. Representatives of two rival sections (monophysite and dyophysite) had to determine the essence of khalkedonian and autikhalkedonian teachings and came to the sole decision. The assemble declared about the acceptance of official Christianity and namely, at the result of attempts of Viro, Khosrov II gave Albanian princes from the Mikhranid dynasty title of “master of Girdiman and prince of Albanian state”. First of all, this title was given to the first Albanian prince Varaz Griqor in the year of 627.

In 623, after unsuccessful attempt of armistice the emperor of Byzantine, Irakly (610-641) gathered great army and invaded to Azerbaijan through passing Kolhida, Iberia and Armenia; first of all he captured Nakhichevan and then crossing the river of Aras occupied Adurbadagan, its capital city, Kazaka and destroyed the temple of Zoroastrianism here.

Capturing the great amount of captives and jewellery Irakly entered to Albania and aimed to stay there in winter. He appealed to the princes of Albania, Iberia and Armenia and offered them to pass into the side of Byzantine voluntarily, serve his army in winter, otherwise he would beat with them as heathens, his army would conquer castles and plunder the country. Moisey Kalankatlu wrote about this event as below mentioned: “Greek army settled in the area near the village of Kalankaytuk. This army plundered all areas and fields on their way and then settled in the camp near the river of Terter, next to the village of Divtakan”. By the order of Khosrov II feudal and princes of Albania left the capital and settled in castles, then Persian army suddenly attacked to Byzantine army and withdrew them from Azerbaijan.

At the result of this unsuccessful campaign of the Emperor, Irakly appealed to khazars in the year of 624 in order to, as Albanian historian described it, “undermine great Caucasus mountains, open the gates of Chora, call various barbarian people and together with them dethrone selfsatisfied Khosrov”.

The Byzantine Emperor inclined the leader of Khazars, Jebu- khagan to this invasion, promising him “eternal governance” of Albania, Lpinia and Chora. In 627, khazars intervened to Albania. This was first invasion from contentious attacks of khazars to Derbent/Chola and Partav/Barda. Prince and representatives of Sasanian Empire began to think only about their escape. Moisey Kalankatlu informed: “Jebu- khaqan attacked to Albania with his son Shat. Nobody could count the number of his army. When the feudal hierarchy and governors of Khosrov, which were sent there, heard about the destruction of the castle of Chola they had to escape and hide in the mountains of Artsakh region”. After that, Sassanid governors left the area, Albanian population had to hide in the mountains of Artsakh. Capturing Albania, Khazarian army directed to Tiflis and met with the army of Irakly there. Khazars continued to stay in Albania, especially in the region of Gabala during the whole winter.

In 628, khazarian Khaqan sent the second army to Albania under the leadership of his son, Shat. At this time they wanted to subordinate this state. Last marzban of Albania-Svema Vashnasp “brought all his properties, plundered Albania and escape to the Persion state”.

According to foreign and local sources, in 627, during the Iranian-Byzantyne war Irakly met with his new ally-khazars on the walls of besieged Tiflis and signed with them agreement. As Moisey Kalankatlu informed, “khazars implemented attacks to our Albania by the order of Irakly”. Albanian population had to leave their homes, properties and hide in the mountains of Artsakh.

After the murder of Khosrov II Parviz in Iran, in 628, his son Shiruya, who was well-known with the name of Kavad II came to the throne. He released all prisoners and the Catholicos Viro, who was taken into the prison during the reign of his father. After 25 years of exile, Viro returned to his motherland which was plundered and destroyed by khazars and at that time he was the sole influential person, who was able to aid to the political development of the country.

Due to prevent the destruction of the country, Viro appealed in one side to Iran, in the other side to the son of Khazarian Khagan Shah (in March-April of 629), who led to the campaign over Albania, Nevertheless, Khazars, who learnt the double policy of Viro broke off negotiations and began to new, more destructive invasions to Albania.

Viro again came to the camp of Shat near Partav. So that, at the end of 629 and at the beginning of 630 Albania was formally under the subordination of Sasanian Empire, simultaneously gave tribute to khazars.

Interference and strengthening of khazars in Albania continued in the 7th century too. At this time plenty of Turkish tribes lived compactly in all areas of the country. The one of such regions was Gabala, whose name in several Arabian sources was mentioned both Gabala and Khazar. Extended Turkish language was the vehicle of relations of people in Albania till the Arabian supremacy.

Plundering and destructing invasions of that time implemented their goal. Albania was captured by “three generals”-Hunger, Sward and their assistant Death. Thousands of people, as well as Catholicos Viro became the victims of epidemic.

Left shore of Albania and the ancient capital city was under the governance of khazars. But in 630 interior struggle, began in Turkish Khaganate ended the supremacy of Turks in North Caucasus and there was shaped independent Khazar Khaganate.

International circumstances, struggle of khalkedonits and diophisites in Byzantine, fought for the throne in Iran (during four years (629-632) 10 ShahenShah came to the throne of Sasanian Empire) certainly diverted the attention from the Northern frontiers of Empire, as well as from Albania. These events, also the weakening of both sides during Iranian-Byzantine wars gave a chance to the restoration of political independence of Albania and the Mikhranid dynasty came to the reign in Albania. The first representative of this dynasty was Varaz-  80


Grigor (628-642), the governor of Girdiman, who took the title of the prince of Albania even during the reign of Khosrov II.

About Ismayil bey Zardabli

Author of t extbook for the higher educational institutions "THE HISTORY OF AZERBAIJAN, from ancient times to the present day"