Author Topic: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?  (Read 351 times)

belisiriaus

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Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« on: July 28, 2020, 05:42:44 PM »
Hi All

For the last Forty years I have believed that Sassanid Infantry- the levy were mere cannon fodder.

Due to the lock down - I have tidied my wargame room and rediscovered my partially complete 15mm Sassanid Army- plus those 15mm Plastic Soldier Co figures appeared which in turn lead to Lurkio figures and Mortiem and Gloria rules. You get the picture like topsie's baby the project just grew and grew and is beginning to cost real money.

I also started to read my Osprey by Kaveh Farrohh and discovered that my cannon fodder were probably  the Paighan but that there were also heavy infantry prior to the arrival/recruitment of the Dailamites. A description of these is given as mail covered with cane shields.

In discussion with Simon Hall he disputes their existence. Does anyone know the truth or have a view. I am intending to field mail covered heavy Infantry from Lurkio's early range with the addition of cane shields and spears.

Thanks in advance

Belisirias aka Peter Studd
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2020, 07:00:32 PM »
my cannon fodder were probably  the Paighan

Some recent writers suggest that the paighan are the levies, other that they are the more competent infantry. As far as I can see, "paighan" is just a generic term meaning "infantry", not a specific type. Thus:

Quote
"while of the faige, who are the Persian infantry, many were cut down and hurled back by the Helurians, under Butzes, to the east of the city."
-  (Pseudo-)Zachariah, writing in Syriac, of the battle of Dara

Quote
payadag [pd'tk1 I M py’dg, N piyada] on foot, foot-soldier, (chess) pawn.
….
payg [pdk1 I (P pdg), N -] foot-soldier, courier.
http://www.rabbinics.org/pahlavi/MacKenzie-PahlDict.pdf
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aligern

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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2020, 09:16:13 PM »
Sasanid infantry are a very polarising topic.  Kaveh Farrokh has done a lot  to elevate them from the rabble of unenthusiastic peasants conscripted to do earthmoving at sieges that Western contemporary sources present them as.  Unfortunately we are deep in topos territory here.  Greek and Roman authors contrasted Persian foot soldiers unfavourably with hoplites , phalangites and legionaries. It is a key  theme in the systematic denigration of Eastern states and armies. It does appear that the Sasanids improved their infantry the better to stand against the Romans and third  century results in the field suggest that this was effective.  At the time the legions were probably declining in effectiveness, but were still better than the Sasanid foot at hand to hand combat, but then the Persian infantry had no great tradition and were more designed to act as a refuge and support for the cavalry. However, wargames  rules and lists rate the Romans very highly.  It is not at all impossible tgat Persian foot were average performers, using spearmen and bowmen in combination and with at least the front ranks mailed. After all their original tactical requirement was possibly to be effective against Eastern armies that Relied on mounted archery.......or the Roman authors might be right.
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2020, 08:01:05 AM »
Needless to say I have quite strong opinions on this one. Firstly, I think you need to be careful with Farrokh. My impression is that he is perhaps as partisan about Persia generally, as Phil is about Julian.

Secondly a great deal of received wargames wisdom about the Sasanians stems from some unfortunate mistranslations, particularly around the infantry. The key one I would suggest is the confusion between farmers given spear and shield and brought along to provide Labour at sieges, as opposed to professional soldiers. There's evidence of centralised equipment inspections, payment and postings to remote locations. In addition the degrees of the warrior include foot soldiers, while farmers are another degree. A senior Persian general, the Kardarigan is chastised by the Shahanshah for allowing his peasant levy to become engaged in combat.

My own conclusion is that there were large numbers of foot brought as manual labour, and I'll equipped, smaller numbers of professional soldiers, often garrisons in fortifications who were primarily archers, allied contingents, and a small number of heavy foot available only as part of the Shahanshah's forces.
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DBS

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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2020, 01:09:00 PM »
I have been revisiting "Persia's Imperial Power in Late Antiquity" - an archaeological monograph on the Gorgan and Tammisheh Walls up by the Caspian, following excavations circa 2005.  It does not help on the nature of the garrisons but the potential numbers are surprisingly large.  The walls are estimated from radiocarbon dates from their brick kilns to somewhere in the range of early 5th C to first half of 6th C.  They speculate that the reigns of Yazdgerd II and Peroz may be likely candidates given their know history of activity on this specific frontier.

There are over thirty known forts on the Gorgan wall, and one large fort (Bansaran) on the Tammisheh, with a suspected smaller one just beneath the waters of the Caspian.  The traceable forts on the Gorgan all seem to contain symmetrical barrack blocks, ranging from two to eight in number.  It is possible but unknowable whether these blocks were two-storeys.  Based on rough comparisons with Roman barracks (which is admitted to be a potentially dodgy assumption, but their only available yardstick) it is suggested that the largest forts could have had a garrison of 2000 each, with the smaller ones hosting 500; the report has four sizes of fort defined - two barrack blocks (500 men), four blocks (1000 men), six blocks (1500 men) and eight blocks (2000 men).  Now if these figures are correct, that would give an estimated garrison of anything up to 30,000.  Even if garrison strengths are halved, that would still allow 15,000.

Now, there are no buildings identified as stables.  I suppose possible that the barrack blocks they have detected, if indeed two-storeys, could have had the chaps sleeping above the nags, if there were any in the forts.  Or else some rows being barracks, some being stables.  Interestingly, no signs of any coinage, so they conclude that the garrisons were not being paid in cash, though there was almost certainly a major mint at Gorgan city (Gonbad-e Kavus).

Just about no military equipment, including arrowheads, found, though some arrowheads were reported in earlier digs at one fortlet.  The only possible indication these more recent excavations found was a cluster of bird wing bones at one site - maybe evidence of fletching?  Or just a garrison KFC outlet?

Their conclusions:

- size of Sassanid army probably heavily underestimated, especially border garrisons;
- orderly system of fort design and barrack block numbers suggest standardised and organised forces;
- garrisons (vice field armies) not necessarily paid in coin.

Further inferences I think one can draw:

- clear that no evidence of armoured forces amongst these garrisons;
- open question as to whether infantry, cavalry (no direct evidence of the latter) or a mix.

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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2020, 01:31:56 PM »
I think that's one of the arguments that led Phil B to add "Garrison archers" to the last version of the DBMM Sassanid list.
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2020, 08:03:36 PM »
I think that's one of the arguments that led Phil B to add "Garrison archers" to the last version of the DBMM Sassanid list.

Yes, that and the evidence on accession that plaintive messages were sent asking to be returned home from garrison duty. I went through this some time back.

"As has become increasingly clear, border fortresses and walls were an integral part of the Sasanian military system, and of the Parthians. Excavations at the Red Snake demonstrate the extent and scale of the border fortifications. The barracks could hold several thousand troops in the largest fortresses, and stable blocks were sufficiently large to hold elephants if necessary.

Baladuri describes the fortification of al-Baylakan. Barda'a and Kabala by Kawad I, he also tells how he later erected a wall of brick extending from Sirwan in the East to the pass of Bab al-Lan (the 'Pass of the Alans'). 

Al-Fakih describes the fortification by Khusra (Kisra) of the town of al-Bab wa'l-Abwab (later Derbend), al-Sabiran and Maskat.

Similarly to the Roman Limes, extensive fortifications were clearly part of the Sasanian military system. Given the huge investment in resources to build such systems it only makes sense if either these fortifications were permanently manned or alternatively could be garrisoned at short notice on the approach of the enemy. The literary evidence from later accounts suggests that not unlike the Roman Auxilia, these were soldiers deliberately settled to man the fortifications in the event of emergencies.

On the accession of Shapur II:

“Among the matters they (secretaries & viziers) brought to his notice was the position of troops along the frontiers and those directly facing enemies there, for news had arrived that the greater part of them had been reduced to a sorry state. ..He ordered a letter to be sent to the whole of these troops, stating that he had learned about how long they had been stationed in those regions of the provinces where they were, and about the intensity of their deprivation of their dependants & brothers. Hence whosoever wished to return to his family was free to do so..whosoever wished to complete the rest of his service by remaining steadfast at his post, that would be reckoned to him favourably.”

Tabari

From this we can see that there were bodies posted to the frontiers at the command of the state, far distant from their families. At least some of the troops engaged were paid. As has been seen above they were entitled to no less than 100 dirhams at review. In support of this we also have:

"Balash's soldiers despised him because he did not have the money to support them, and the magi also hated him because he was annulling their laws and wanted to build municipal baths for bathing. When they saw the military thought nothing of him, they seized him and put out his eyes, and raise up in his stead Kawad,the son of Peroz his brother."

Al-Baladuri also refers to a kind of people called al-Siyasikin made to dwell in the fortifications. Al-Fakih describes how Khusrau's (Kisra’s) wall extended seven farsahs and how he made in these seven passages (gates) and over each he set a town in which he placed Persian warriors called al-Siyasikin.  Al-Masudi in “Murug al-Dahab” describes them using the so-called Siyawardi battle-axes.

Various interpretations of these names have been presented, but Kramers by comparison of the various terms concludes that this is a translation of  'nisastag', Middle Persian for 'somebody who has been made to dwell in a certain place’ or ‘garrison warrior’. 

The type of troops forming garrisons is not made explicit in any of the material that has come down to us, but by extension from Procopius’ comment that every man was an archer, and the large spearheads found in numbers at Qas-I –al Nasr it suggests a mix of archers and spearmen. Sadly, we haven’t yet had any finds of Siyawardi axes"
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2020, 08:21:44 PM »
Sadly, we haven’t yet had any finds of Siyawardi axes"

A couple of (allegedly) Sasanian battle-axes at http://www.anythinganywhere.com/commerce/relic/pak-darel-sas.html - not labelled "Siyawardi", of course.
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Jim Webster

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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2020, 08:32:11 AM »
I'm intrigued by the lack of coin from the excavations
I'd quite like to see the reports but am not entirely sanguine about paying £80 for the book  :-[
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2020, 05:56:37 PM »
I'm intrigued by the lack of coin from the excavations
I'd quite like to see the reports but am not entirely sanguine about paying £80 for the book  :-[

There are potentially lots of possible reasons for no coins being found. Tends to suggest they were evacuated in an orderly fashion, or despoiled incredibly thoroughly!
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DBS

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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2020, 06:23:21 PM »
I think I paid something like sixty quid - possibly discounted from Oxbow as an advance order...  still damned pricey.  The introduction makes the point that the Gorgan wall is longer than Hadrian's and Antonine's put together, and the acreage of of its forts is three times that of Hadrian's.  And that is just what survives - some of it has probably been lost under the Caspian, and it might originally have joined up with the Tammisheh Wall.  Associated with the walls are several sites that they think are campaign bases - ramparts but no barracks, so thought to be permanent forward operating bases where the field army could pitch tents to muster before heading into the badlands.  At least four of these are in the c40ha range, but there is one possible site of c120ha.

I mentioned the date range for construction above - they reckon the walls were abandoned early seventh century.

As well as a lack of coins and arrowheads, they were also surprised (given an assumption that there would have been at least some cavalry associated with the forts) to find little in the way of equid bones - nothing bigger than remains from the odd onager sized beast of indeterminate precise species.  They found a few camelid bones which also seem to date from the period, but again cannot tell whether they are dromedary or Bactrian - apparently the region now at least is one of the cross over points where both species can be found.  Oh, and the first ever archaeological remains of a water buffalo in Iran - there is a protected herd on the Caspian coast nearby today, so either they were always there, in an odd enclave, or were perhaps introduced from Iraq during the Sassanid period.  The wall garrisons seemed to have liked their pork and beef, whilst the campaign bases tucked into sheep / goats; the report notes that this might simply reflect different available herds, or just possibly differing status / taste between garrison and field forces.
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2020, 06:29:15 PM »
Interesting to note the different diets. Sheep and Goats are easier to move. That's assuming there weren't cultural reasons indicating different groupings.
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2020, 07:45:09 PM »
Interesting to note the different diets. Sheep and Goats are easier to move. That's assuming there weren't cultural reasons indicating different groupings.

Pork might indicate town or at least less rural recruits
Sheep and goats might indicate more 'herdsman'/nomad warriors
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2020, 08:28:15 PM »
Quote
Pork might indicate town or at least less rural recruits
Or even exiled Roman legionary prisoners...  :o

Sorry, could not resist.
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Re: Sassanid Persian Heavy Infantry?
« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2020, 08:31:40 PM »
Nah, too far from Tocharia.
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