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Bust of a Sassanid king. Bronze, 5th–7th century AD, found in Ladjvard, Mazandaran.
Heartlands of the Sāsānian Empire c.600 CE.
For the character in the 10th century Persian epic Shahnameh or Epic of Kings, see Rostam.

Rostam Farrokhzād (رستم فرّخزاد in Persian) (6?? - 636/7 CE) was the Ērān Spāhbod (Spāhbod of Iran, Commander of the Army of Iran) of the Sāsānian Empire under the reign of Yazdgird, r. 632 - 651. Rostam is remembered as an historical figure, a character in the Persian epic poem Shāh-nāmeh, and as a touchstone of most Iranian nationalists.

Contents

Rise

Rostam Farrokhzād was a powerful Sāsānian general and aristocrat from Azarbaijan, one of the provinces of the Persian empire, and was Persian by ethnicity. Rostam, his father, Farrukh-Hormuzd, and his brother served the Sāsānian rulers in high office. As his father before him, Rostam was "ishkan" or "prince” of Azarbaijan (Atrpatakan) and governor of Khorassan. By this date Sāsānian governors (Spahbods) held their lands in a type of hereditary fiefdom. In a period of Sāsānian decline, such aristocrats became increasingly powerful and in many cases were the power behind a series of weak rulers.

During the regency of Ardashir III, Farrukh-Hormuzd attempted to seize power by a proposed marriage to queen Azarmidokht, but Rostom's father was rebuffed and murdered. In revenge, Rostam led his army to the Persian capital of Ctesiphon and had the queen blinded and deposed.

In 631 CE, Rostam conquered Armenia from its Byzantine governor Prince Varaz-Tirots Bagratuni, and added it to his fief.

By 632, Rostam reappears in Persian sources as a supporter of another young ruler Yazdegerd III who had just taken Ctesiphon, perhaps with the aid of Rostam's faction. Rostam's brother Khurrazad was the 'darik-pat' (or chamberlain). With another aristocrat named Zadhoe, there appears to have been a triumvirate behind the new ruler.

Throughout this period the great expansion of Arab-Muslim armies had slowly been penetrating the south-western frontiers under Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattāb. The Persians had repeatedly blocked this advance and in 634 the Caliph's army suffered a seemingly decisive defeat at the Battle of the Bridge. The Sāsānian general Bahman, though, was ordered back to Ctesiphon by Rostam (who seems to have led the Persian ruling faction by this point) in order to put down a revolt in his own capital city. Caliph `Umar's forces retreated, only to launch a successful assault three years later.

Battle of al-Qadisiyyah

In 636 CE Rostam set out from Ctesiphon in command of a large Persian force to confront the Arab-Muslim army of Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattāb on the western bank of the Euphrates River at the plains of al-Qādisiyyah.

The two armies met in Al-Qādisiyyah, a now abandoned city in southern Mesopotamia, southwest of al-Hillah and al-Kūfah in Iraq.

According to Arab sources, negotiations were carried out between the two sides with Arab delegations coming to the Persian camp and demanding that the latter accept Islam or agree to pay the tribute (jizyah). Rostam, having pessimistic premonitions, tried to delay the battle. When neither side came to an agreement fighting broke out.

The Persians fielded a much larger force (sources disagree on the exact size: 60,000 to 100,000 are cited below) and looked certain of victory. Again according to Arab accounts, at dawn of the fourth day a sandstorm broke out – blowing sand in the Persians' faces turning the tide and forcing the Sassanid centre to give way, particularly with the help of Arab archers. Rostam, who had been commanding his force from that location, sought to flee by swimming across the canal (al-`Atīq), but was caught by an Arab soldier and beheaded. The latter (sometimes recorded as Hilāl ibn `Ullafah) announced the deed, displaying Rostam's head before the soldiers, exclaiming: By the Lord of the Ka`bah! I have slain Rustam! I am Hilal ibn 'Ullafah! Seeing their respected leader's head dangling before them, the Persian soldiers lost nerve and begin to flee, leading to a devastating rout. Most of the Sassanid soldiers lost their lives in this melée, with a sizable number announcing their conversion to Islam.

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Consequences

See Sāsānian Empire: Decline and fall (622–651)

The defeat of Rostam's army marked the beginning of the end of the Sāsānian Empire and the conversion of Persia (and soon all Central Asia) to Islam.

See also

References


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