First Iranian National Hero

INTRODUCTION: The terms hero (as a male), and heroine (as a female) have been used to define a person who is admired for having done something very brave or having achieved something great. In mythology and legend, it is defined as a person, often of divine ancestry, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for the bold exploits, and favored by the gods. In science and technology, a hero or heroine is a person noted for special achievement in a particular field (e.g., the heroes of medicine). In literature, it is the principal character of a novel, a poem, or a dramatic presentation. In history, that is a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life (e.g., war hero, and national hero). In this article, the family tree, the life story and the battles of Ario Barzan (ARB), the very First Iranian National Hero will be studied and discussed.

HIS FAMILY TREE: The reliable documents indicate that ARB, known as Ariobarzanes-II (Old Persian: Ariyabrdna-II) and also as Artabazus-II, was a descendant of Pharnabazus (PHA) who was the son of an Iranian nobleman. In 387 BC, PHA was a satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia in Anatolia (the northwest of present-day Turkey). Satrap or Satrapes derived from Old Persian xsatrapa, means the Protector of the Land, and it was the name given to the provincial governors in the ancient Achamenid Empire. Darius I or Darius the Great (522-486 BC) established 20 satraps with an annual tribute. Appointed by the king, satraps were usually of the royal family or Iranian nobility and held office indefinitely. They collected taxes, were the highest judicial authority, and were responsible for internal security and for raising and maintaining an army. A satrap was assisted by a council of Iranian noblemen, to which also provincials were admitted; and was controlled by a royal secretary and by emissaries of the king, especially the Eyes of the King. After the fall of Achamenid Empire, Greek Alexander and his successors retained the satraps.
It should be noted that PHA cultivated the friendship of Athens and Sparta and, about 366 BC, he led the unsuccessful revolt of the satraps of western Anatolia against the Achamenian King Artaxerxes II (reigned 404-359 BC). PHA, however, maintained his friendship with the King, greatly complied his commands, and preserved his position as a satrap until he died in 360 BC. Out of the marriage of PHA and lady Apamea, Ariobarzanes-I (AR-I) was born who later also became a satrap. AR-I was betrayed by his son, Michradates, and was crucified in 362 or 363 BC. Then, his half-brother, Artabazus-I (ART), succeeded him. ART (389-325 BC) was also an Iranian nobleman who had a respectable position in the court of Darius-III Codomannus or D3C (reigned 336-330 BC), the last king of Achamenids Dynasty. Ario Barzan (ARB) was the son of ART.

HIS LIFE: Though the exact birth-date of ARB is unknown, it is speculated that he was born around 368 BC. Any research work on the early life of ARB is a very complicated task and requires time and space. However, it is well documented that ARB was the satrap of Persepolis and Persis (the southern province of Fars in present-day Iran) in 335 BC. For many researchers it is surprising that D3C had appointed a satrap for Persepolis and Persis. It seems that previously, this office did not exist, and it is possible that D3C, who had come to power in a period of some social problems in Iran, needed a reliable man at home while he was away, fighting against the invader Macedonians at Issus (an ancient town close to present-day Iskenderun in Turkey) in 333 BC, and at Gaugamela (a flat plain near ancient town of Tel Gomel east of Mosul in northern part of present-day Iraq) in 331 BC. If this is correct, ARB must have been a close relative or a personal friend of D3C. It is also speculated that the only reason for his appointment as the satrap of Persepolis and Persis was due to the fact that he was a very strong supporter of D3C.

HIS BATTLES: As many historians documented, Iranians fought bravely at Issus and Gaugamela, but were unable to prevent Macedonian victories, and Alexander proceeded to Babylon and Susa in 330 BC. A Royal Road connected Susa (the first Iranian federal capital city in Elam) with the more eastern capitals of Persepolis and Pasargadae in Persis, and that was the road for Alexander to take. Meanwhile, D3C was building a new army at Ecbatana (Western province of Hamadan in present-day Iran). It was obvious that Alexander wanted to reach the treasures of Persepolis before D3C could defend them. ARB had to prevent the Macedonian attack on Persis, and had two advantages: in the first place, he commanded people who were defending their homes and were very motivated; in the second place, he knew the terrain and the topography of the place. There were only a few possible roads through the Zagros Mountains, which were at the time, in January 330, covered with snow and ice. And ARB knew how to exploit this.
When Alexander invaded an unknown country, he usually divided his forces to diminish the risks and facilitate the food supply. ARB must have learned from his spies that in the area of Masjed-e Soleyman, the Macedonian army had been split into two parts. Alexander’s general Parmenion took one half along the Royal Road, and Alexander himself took the route towards Persis. ARB knew where he could trap his main opponent: in the Persian Gate (in Persian: Darvaazeh Fars), northeast of modern Yasuj (the capital of southwestern province of Kohkiluyeh and Bovair-Ahmad in present-day Iran). And if ARB could have defeated Alexander in that Gate, he could turn to the south and attack Parmenion as well.
Alexander first massacred a mountain tribe named Uxians, and believed that after this deed, everyone would flee. (As Encyclopedia Britannica notes people of western province of Khuzistan in present-day Iran, came from a region where Uxians lived, and Khuzi could have been derived from the term Uxi). Indeed, at the so-called Susian Gate, west of Yasuj, no one appeared to block the road. Believing that he would not encounter any problems in the Persian Gate either, Alexander forgot to send scouts into the pass and walked into ARB’s trap with his eyes wide open. The satrap had occupied a position near the little village that is now known as Cheshmeh Chenar. When one approaches this place from the west, the valley, called Tang’e Meyran, is initially very wide, so the Macedonians marched at some speed. But ARB knew what he was doing. After an hour’s walk, the valley becomes narrower, and curves to the east-southeast, where the Macedonians were blinded by the morning sun. Immediately after they had crossed an icy brook, they would had to turn to the left, where ARB was ready to strike against an army that was standing on slippery ground, pushed forward by its rearguard, and under attack from all hilltops. Some sources mention that ARB had built a wall across the canyon, but he probably did not have to. The Persian Gate was only a couple of meters wide. However this may be, at some point, the first group of Macedonian invaders must have realized that they could no longer advance, understood that they were ambushed, and hesitated. This was the moment ARB had been waiting for. One signal was sufficient to convert the valley into a killing zone. From the northern slope, the Iranians rained down boulders and stones on the Macedonians, who were smashed away not individually, but by entire platoons. From the southern slope, Iranian archers and catapults launched their projectiles. The Macedonians panicked, tried to return, but were unable to do so, because their rear guard was still advancing. It must have taken some time before Alexander’s men were in full retreat.
ARB knew that the battle was not over yet. It was likely that Alexander would try again next day, or would try to take another road. This, however, would be dangerous. From Yasuj, the Macedonians could go to the north, to Gabae (which is now called Isfahan or Esfahan, a central province in present-day Iran)), where they would trap themselves between the army of Darius in Ecbatana and that of ARB in Persis. Alternatively, they could go to the south and join Parmenion, trapping themselves between ARB’s army and another Iranian army existed there. Given these facts, the Persians had some reason to believe that their success could change the course of the war. Alexander could not move to the north or south, but would have to retreat or try for a second time. It is documented that Alexander considered all options and finally he decided to send a message to ARB offering him a position as a Field Marshal of Greek army if ARB could surrender. ARB refused and declared that he would fight to death to protect Iran and his countrymen. Here is a part of a poem composed by poetess Turan Bahrami Shahriari, which portrays the last battle of ARB and the lessons that can be taught by his patriotic heroism:

كنون گويمت رويدادي دگر / زتاريخ ديرين اين بوم و بر
چو اسكندر آمد به ملك كيان/ يكي گرد فرمانده ي قهرمان 
به ايرانيان داد درس وطن/دراين ره گذ شت از سرو جان و تن
كه فرزند نام آور ميهن است / مرآن شير دل آريو برزن است
چو نزديك شد لحظه ي واپسين / به ميدان_ آورد گفت اين چنين
بدان اي سكندر پس از مرگ من/ پس از ريزش آخرين برگ تن
تواني گشايي در پارس را / نهي بر سرت افسر پارس را
به تخت جم و كاخ شاهنشهان / قدم چون نهي بادگر همرهان
مبادا شدي غره از خويشتن / كه ايران بسي پرورد همچو من
چو اسكندر اين جانفشاني بديد / سرانگشت حيرت به دندان گزيد 
به آهستگي گفت با خويشتن / كه اينست مفهوم عشق وطن
اگر چند آن آريا مرد گرد / پي پاس ايران زمين ، جان سپرد
ولي داد درسي به ايرانيان / كه در راه ايران چه سهل است جان

سروده ي خانم توران بهرامي ( شهرياري) برگرفته از كتاب ديوان توران

HIS END: After 48 days of fighting, an Iranian tribal chief, regrettably, betrayed his homeland and guided Alexander through the mountains to the rear of ARB’s lines. That was how Alexander managed to defeat the Iranians and subjugate the Achamenid Empire. It is reported that shortly after Alexander reached the rear of ARB’s lines, the Iranian hero also became under attack from the north (by Philotas), and from the west (by Craterus). Many Iranians were massacred. ARB and his loyal army battled bravely against the invaders. Sorrowfully, the Macedonians killed ARB in last day of January 330 BC. Alexander then reached the Palaces of Persepolis, and appointed a man named Phrasaortes as successor of ARB. Four months later, the Macedonian invaders burned the beautiful Palaces of Persepolis down.


1. Lendering (2005): Online Article on “Ariobarzanes”.
2. Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Various Articles on Persian History & First Iranians.
3. Speck, H. (2002): “Alexander at the Persian Gates. A Study in Historiography and Topography”, American Journal of Ancient History n.s. 1.1, Pp15-234.
4. Stein, A. (1940): Old Routes of Western Iran, ed., London, UK.
5. Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2005): Online Notes on “Persian Empire” and “Battle of Persian Gate”.
6. Zegorat-iran Website (2004): Online Poems and Notes on Aryo Barzan (in Persian).


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