First Iranian Figures and War Materials in the History of Iranian Army


M. Saadat Noury
by M. Saadat Noury

INTRODUCTION: An army is a military force of a country that has the training and equipments to fight on land. In present-day world, most armed forces make considerable distinction between the land-based army, the sea-based navy, and the air-based air force, and they often maintain three independent organizations. In addition to the regular army, there have been also some historical armies in the world. The Red Army was the army of former Soviet in the past. The Salvation Army is an international Christian organization whose members have military-style ranks and uniforms, hold meetings with music, and work to help poor people. And Sally Army is the British version of the Salvation Army. In this article, the First Iranian Figures (in Persian: Afraad-e Barjesteh) and War Materials (in Persian: Abzaar-e Nabard/ Tajheezaat-e Janggi) in the history of the Iranian Army and a short note on the establishment of the Modern Army in Iran are studied and discussed.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The importance of the armed forces in Iran flows from Iran's long history of successive glorious Empires, i.e. Elamite Empire (10th Century BC to 7th Century BC), Median Empire (728 BC to 550 BC), Achaemenid Empire (550 BC to 330 BC), and the Sassanid Empire (224 AD to 651 AD). For over 2500 years, starting with the conquests of the Achaemenid rulers of the sixth century BC, Iran developed a strong military tradition. Drawing on a vast manpower pool in western Asia, the Achaemenid rulers raised an army of 360000, from which they could send expeditions to Europe and Africa. Iranian early military history boasts the epic performances of such great leaders as Cyrus the Great and Darius I. The first standing army (in Persian: Sepah or Artesh) of Iran was established in the Sassanid era.
RESTORATION ATTEMPTS AND CREATION OF SEPAH: The Sassanid era began in earnest in 228 AD, when Ardeshir Babakan (also called as Ardashir, another form of Artaxerxes, and also as Ardeshir 1st or Ardeshir Papakan, for his father Papak) defeated the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV. Ardeshir (reigned 224 ? 241 AD) and his successors created a vast empire, which included those lands of the old Achaemenid Empire east of the Euphrates River. With a clear military plan aimed at the revival of the Persian Empire, Ardeshir formed a Sepah, which was under his personal command. Ardeshir had started as the military commander of Darabgerd or Darabjerd (a town in Fars, a province in the south of present-day Iran). He restored Achaemenid military organizations, retained Parthian cavalry, a group of soldiers who fought on horses (in Persian: Savareh Nezaam), and employed new-style artilleries and siege-engines, thereby creating a Sepah, which served his successors for over four centuries, and defended Iran against Central Asiatic nomads and Roman armies. The backbone of the Sepah was its heavy cavalry in which all the nobles and men of rank underwent an excellent service and became professional soldiers.
WAR MATERIALS : The martial equipments of a heavily-armed Sassanian cavalry were as follows: helmet (in Persian: Kolaah Khood), hauberk (Zereh-e-Zaano-Poosh), shield (Seppar), mail (Zereh or Joashan), gauntlet (Dastkesh-e-Aahani), girdle (Kamar Band), thigh-guards (Raan Baan), lance (Naizeh), sword (Shamshir), axe (Tabar), mace (Koopaal), bowcase (Kamaan Daan), quiver (Tir Daan or Tarkash) arrow (Tir or Paikaan), spear (Sar Naizeh or Senaan), horse armour (Zeen Abzaar), lasso (Kamand), and sling (Rassan or Falakhan). The Sassanids did not form lightly-armed cavalry but extensively employed mercenaries-troops from warlike tribes who fought under their own chiefs. It is documented that the East Iranian mercenaries from Sisstaan (a province in the southeast of present-day Iran, which was also called Saggestaan in olden days) were the bravest of all, and those from Gilan and Mazanderan ( the northern provinces of present-day Iran) were the main suppliers of light-armed cavalry. The skill of the troops from Dailaman (a district in Geelaan) in the use of sword and dagger (in Persian: Khanjar) made them valuable troopers in close combat.
Since the Sassanian horseman lacked the stirrup (in Persian: Rekaab) Khosrow Parvez or KHP (reigned 590 ?628 AD) used a war saddle which, like the medieval type, had a cantle at the back and two guard clamps curving across the top of the rider's thighs enabling him to stay in the saddle especially during violent contact in battle.
CHAIN OF COMMAND: At least from the time of Khosrow Anushiravan or KHA (reigned 531-579 AD), a seven-grade system of hierarchy seems to have been favored in the organization of the army. Until KHA's military reforms, the Iranian army was entirely under the Supreme Army Commander or SAC (in Persian: Eran-Sepahbed or Sepahbod-e-Iran), who also acted as the minister of defense (in Persian: Vazir-e-Defaa). Along with the revival of heroic names in the middle of the Sassanid era, the title of Bozorg Arteshtaran was also created to designate a position with an extraordinary authority. However, that was soon abandoned when KHA closed down the office of SAC, and replaced its position with those of the four Marshals of the Monarchy, each of whom was the military authority in one quarter of the Empire.

THE FAMOUS FIGURES OF THE IRANIAN ARMY UP TO AFSHARID ERA: Here is a list of a few famous figures of the Iranian army from Achaemenid Empire to Afsharid era: Artemis (a female admiral in Achaemenid era), Ario Barzan (a satrap in Achaemenid era who led the Iranian army to fight against the Greek Alexandria), Surena (a famed commander of cavalry during the reign of the Arsacid dynasty of the Parthian Empire), Bahram Chobin (a famous military commander during Khosrau II's rule in Sassanid era), Rostam Farrokh Zaad (the Commander-in-Chief of Iranian Army in final years of Sassanid Empire), Abu Muslim Khorasani (a general and a revolutionary leader during Abbasid Caliphate), Babak Khorramdin (a revolutionary leader during Abbasid Caliphate), Afshin (a senior general who joined the army of Babak Khorramdin), Maziar (a ruler of Tabaristan or Mazandran in the present-day Iran who joined  the army of Babak Khorramdin), and Mardaviz or Mardavij  (an Iranian freedom fighter who founded the Zeyarid dynasty).
HISTORY OF IRANIAN ARMY DURING AFSHARID AND QAJAR: The last great Iranian military ruler was Nader Shah (reigned 1736-1747), whose army defeated the Mughals of India in 1739. During much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British and Russian military forces regrettably occupied some parts of Iran. When their interests coincided in 1907, they entered into the Anglo-Russian Agreement, which formally divided Iran into two spheres of influence. During World War I, the weak and ineffective Qajar Dynasty, allegedly hindered by the effects of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1907, could not prevent increasing British and Russian military interventions, despite Iran's declaration of neutrality.
In 1918 the Qajar armed forces consisted of four separate foreign-commanded military units. Several provincial and tribal forces could also be called on during an emergency, but their reliability was highly questionable. More often than not, provincial and tribal forces opposed the government's centralization efforts, particularly because Tehran was perceived to be under the dictate of foreign powers during Qajars. Having foreign officers in commanding positions over Iranian troops added to those tribal concerns. Loyal, disciplined, and well trained, the most effective government unit was the 8000-man Iranian Cossacks Brigade (in Persian: Briggaad-e-Ghazaagh). Created in 1879 and commanded by Russian officers until 1917, its command passed into Iranian hands, the brigade represented the core of the new Iranian armed forces. Swedish officers commanded the 8400-man Gendarmerie (later the Imperial Gendarmerie), organized in 1911 as the first internal security force. The 6000-man South Persia Rifles unit was financed by Britain and commanded by British officers from its inception in 1916. Its primary task was to combat tribal forces allegedly stirred up by German agents during World War I. During World War I the 24400 troops in those separate military units made up one of the weakest forces in Iranian history.
ESTABLISHMENT OF MODERN ARMY: Upon signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and Turkey on December 15, 1917, Russia put in motion its eventual withdrawal from Iran, preparing the way for an indigenous Iranian military. A hitherto colonel, Reza Khan (later known as Reza Shah Pahlavi, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty), assumed leadership of the Iranian Cossacks Brigade in November 1918, after the expulsion of its Russian commanders. In February 1921, Reza Khan and Seyyid Ziaa-o-din-e-Tabatabaii (SZT), a powerful politician and journalist, entered Tehran at the head of 1500 to 2500 Iranian Cossacks and overthrew the Qajar regime. (SZT was the founder and editor of a daily journal called Thunder, in Persian: Ra'ad). Within a week, SZT formed a new government and made Reza Khan the army chief. Recognizing the importance of a strong and unified army for the modern country, Reza Khan rapidly dissolved all [independent military units] and prepared to create a single national army for the first time in Iranian history.
By 1925 the army had grown to a force of 40000 troops, and Reza Khan had gradually assumed control of the central government. His most significant political accomplishment came in 1925 when the parliament (in Persian: Majless), enacted a universal military conscription law. In December 1925, Reza Khan became the commander in chief of the army; with the assistance of the Majless, he assumed the title of His Imperial Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi. Reza Shah created the Modern Iranian Army. Under the shah, the powerful army was used not only against rebellious tribes but also against foreign aggression. The need for such a military arm of the central government was quite evident to Reza Shah, who allocated anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of total yearly national expenditures to the army. Not only did he purchase modern weapons in reasonable quantities, but also, in 1924 and 1927, respectively, he created an Air Force and a Navy as branches of the Army, an arrangement unchanged until 1955. AND BY 1941, THE IRANIAN ARMY STOOD AT 125000 TROOPS; FIVE TIMES ITS ORIGINAL SIZE, CONSIDERED WELL TRAINED AND WELL EQUIPPED.

EPILOGUES: 1. The Persian terms cited for the War Materials in this article are all selected by this author; any other logic suggestion to replace them or to use different terms will be truly appreciated. 2. It may be interesting to know that an Iranian bear named Voytek also played a role in the history of Iranian army! As Ryzard Antolak noted, “After the Battle of Monte Cassino, one of the fiercest and bloodiest conflicts of the Second World War, many accounts emerged of the bravery and heroism of the soldiers. But perhaps the strangest story of all was of an Iranian brown bear who served alongside the allied soldiers in the worst heat of the battle. Despite the incessant bombardment and constant gunfire, the bear carried vital supplies of ammunition and food to his fellow-soldiers fighting on the mountainside. Many observers who witnessed his remarkable actions doubted the reality of what they were seeing. But the story was no legend”.

Adamyyat, F. (1962): “The Idea of Freedom”, ed., (in Persian), Tehran, Iran.
Antolak, R. (2005): Online Article on Voytek.
Ghaem Maghami, J. (1954): “The History of Iranian Army”, ed., (in Persian), Tehran, Iran.
Roknzadeh Adamyyat, H. (1950): “The Warriors of Tangestan”, ed., (in Persian), Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1984): “The Anglo-Iran War”, (A Translation from the English Notes of Captain Hent to Persian), 2nd ed., Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1984): Safar Nameh-e-General Sir Percy Sykes (in Persian), a Translation of Ten Thousand Miles in Persia by General Sir Percy Sykes, ed., Loheh Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1976): Safar Nameh-e Wilson (in Persian), a Translation of South West Persia: Letters and Diary of a Young Political Officer 1907-1914 by Arnold Talbot Wilson, ed., Vaheed Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1933): “The Short History of Iran”, (A Translation from the English Notes of General Sir Percy Sykes to Persian), ed., Erfan Publications, Isfahan, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on First Iranians who established the Iranian Army.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Online Articles on First Iranians.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Various Articles on Persian Culture and the History of Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2009): Online Articles on Artemis, Ario Barzan, and Rostam Farrokh Zaad.
Shahbazi, A. Sh. (2005): Online Article on Ancient Iranian Army.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2009): Online Notes on Army, Surena, Abu Muslim Khorasani, Babak Khorramdin, Afshin, Maziar, Iranian Military, and Persian Empire.
Yekrangian, M. H. (2005): “A Survey of the History of the Iranian Army, from the beginning to September 1941”, ed., (in Persian), Tehran, Iran.



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