Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sassanian king Bahram Gur 'hunting' Hephthalites

Hello again,
I am working on many different sketches of the past (reworking them from drawing and watercolor paintings into the digital 'paintings'), but at this time would like to share with you something that is a curious (to me) combination of several persons efforts.
The story goes like this - the initial sketch was done based on my friend Kaveh's drawing - he did it for late Angus Mcbride so this famous illustrator could paint the plates for Kaveh's Osprey book on the Sassanian heavy cavalry, the particular plate depicting death of Julian Apostate battling Sassanian cavalry- then I did a sketch based on Kaveh's and then my friend Patryk - a scholar of the Ancient Iranian military, eg author of the Sassanian cavalry article for the Ancient Warfare Magazine vol.1, issue 4 - made many suggestions on how to improve and how to arrive closer to the probable historic appearance of such Sassanian rider wielding both a pistol grip Sassanian sword (the forerunner of a sabre grip) and short Sassanian bow.
Why the title - well, Patryk had suggested that this could be a depiction of Bahram Gur during hie famous campaign against the White Huns or Hephthalites - and I liked his title so it will stand...
Many thanks to Patryk :)
to be continued


Unknown said...

nice one , the sword looks like some sort of proto-pallash hehe

Dario T. W. said...

thanks for your comment :)

I am not going to pretend I know the ancient Persia in-and-out, that would have been preposterous.
Instead allow me to share with you the several thoughts my friend Patryk shared with me when we did our collaborating on this drawing:

Firstly, king Bahram was (perhaps still is) a symbolic personage (hero) in the Iranian/Persian consciousness. This guy represented all consuming vitality and personified any and all possible success in every endeavor undertaken (when some young woman catches his eye he simply marries her and 'consumes' the relationship – Sassanian kings had no lovers because adultery was a mortal sin). Perhaps because of his upbringing with the Lakhmids he was more prone to take plenty of personal risk – sort of Sassanian Herakles.

Secondly, the epic of Shahnameh - in that epic he always fights in the first rank and generally is shown as an exceptionally gung-ho character. Although Shahnameh must (obviously) be treated with a pinch of salt yet it appears that at least some Sassanian kings fought at the helm of their troops (especially in the early period of their state, eg king Ardashir killed himself his Parthian opponent Artaban in hand to hand combat and several sources do talk about that feat, however there is no agreement as to what weapon he used to dispatch his royal enemy).

Bahram's campaign against the Hephthalites was more like a commando operation than a Blietzkireg, or perhaps a combination of both – it was conducted by not too large, elite unit – perhaps all of them 40 years old and very experienced :) - no youngsters nor stately but older warriors, moving around while unknown to the enemy and striking this enemy with a surgical precision, at the most unexpected moment, always victorious.

This expedition against the Hephthalites was started under the guise of a normal royal hunting trip. Thus the origin of title to my post – hunting the Hephthalites – Bahram left with a small entourage to hunt lions yet hunted and killed a whole lot of... Hephthalites and no lions, wild boars nor onagers. This is why hunting terminology may be quite justified here. Additionally, Bahram was known to have been the master archer :) and must have used his bow and his early pallash like sword ( M .V. Gorelik - in his essay on the arms and armour of the South-Eastern Europe 5-10th c AD- advances this theory that Sassanian 'pistol-grip' swords were actually early pallashes)

Finally, in spite of or perhaps rather because of the iconographic sources, we should think that Sassanian kings did not hunt wearing their royal crowns. Our Bahram Gur was known to return from his hunting expeditions absolutely 'incognito', usually disguised as a 'young knight'. In this disguise he presented such an impressive and fine manly figure that the impressed dighan/dehkans gave him their daughters away in marriage, without checking his credentials nor lineages nor wealth. The surprising and unexpected grace and honor of their daughter being then allowed to enter the royal harem as a wife of the very shahinshah must have been truly amazing news to many an exasperated father (and mother). In the stories about him there is one anecdote how he hung his horsewhip on the gates of his 'marriage house' in such a way that the unsuspected owner was the last to learn that his house had been 'knighted' and blessed with king's favour. So perhaps if he were to roam around the countryside wearing all his royal paraphernalia, here especially his royal crown, thus the surprise displayed by the visited hosts' must have been all false and and pompous pretensions.