» Suggested prior reading: Aryan Prehistory
Pishdadian Dynasty Part II
The change in dynasty, or as we have taken to saying, the change in eras - from the Pishdadian to the Kayanian saw the introduction of the legends of the heroes of Airan, heroes who had many an opportunity to sit on the supreme throne of the empire of Airan, but whose code of honour prevented usurping the throne of the Aryans. The legends of the heroes are recounted in our pages on Ferdowsi's Shahnameh.
The founder of the Kayanian dynasty was Kavi Kavata (later, Kaikobad), a reclusive holy man, who had to be persuaded to sit on the vacant Aryan throne.
The Kayanian dynasty is particularly noteworthy in Zoroastrian history since it was during the reign of a Kayanian king, King Vishtasp (later called Gushtasp) that Zarathushtra preached. King Vishtasp was also Zarathushtra's first patron king.
The list of Kayanian kings mentioned in the Avesta (Zamyad Yasht 19.71, and Farvardin Yasht 13.132) contains some names not mentioned in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. The names include: Kavi Aipivohu, Kavi Usadha, Kavi Arshan, Kavi Pisina, Kavi Byarshan, and Kavi Syavarshan.
Decades before Vishtasp's ascension to the throne of Airan (as we shall call the Iran of those days), Airan had lost its sovereignty and had become a vassal state of the kingdom of Turan. As a consequence, Airan continued to send an annual tribute to the Khyonian King Arjasp whose kingdom included Turan, Chin and Ma-Chin (the Turkmenistan and China of those days). In the early years of his reign, Vishtasp decided to assert Airan's autonomy and he sent a dispatch to King Arjasp saying that Airan would no longer pay a tribute. In response, King Arjasp sent a delegation to convince King Vishtasp about the error of his ways. Arjasp threatened Vishtasp that if he did not pay tribute, Arjasp would enter Airan with fire and sword to destroy Vishtasp's authority and put Vishtasp to death. King Vishtasp refused to be coerced and the delegation returned with his defiant reply.
Arjasp lost no time in gathering a large army to invade Airan. Once he had gathered an immense horde, they marched towards Airan. Devastation marked their route and villages they passed were plundered and put to the torch. The dust they raised in their march obscured the sun and the moon until at last they entered the battlefield where the army of Airan awaited them.
The army of Airan commanded by Zarir, King Vishtasp's valiant brother, arrayed itself against the invaders. The two kings gave their generals their battle standards and a furious battle ensued and raged on for two weeks. Zarir had a superior battle plan and fought so courageously at the head of his troops that slowly the tide of battle began to turn against the armies of Arjasp. Arjasp's soldiers became so fearful of Zarir when he came into their midst, that Arjasp put a handsome bounty on Zarir's head. Arjasp promised a treasury of gold, command of the army and marriage into the royal family to the soldier who would slay Zarir. The enticement produced the intended result. Bidirafsh, one of Arjasp's soldiers, motivated by the promise of instant wealth, power and royalty, with remorseless fury, killed the now exhausted Zarir with a double-headed spear. The Airanian soldiers were demoralized at the death of their general and the Arjasp's army began to push back the Airanians.
On hearing the news about the death of his brother, the disconsolate King Vishtasp delegated command of the army to his son Esfandiar (also spelt Isfandiar), a man of strong character. Esfandiar rallied the distraught and dispirited Airanian army, rode into the thick of battle, and sought out Bidirafsh who had adorned Zarir's armour. Locked in mortal combat, Esfandiar drove a spear through Bidirafsh's heart. Esfandiar then led his army to a hard fought victory over the much larger enemy force and made Arjasp his next target. Facing imminent capture, Arjasp fled for his life and escaped from the battlefield.
Amongst the many dead lying on the battlefield, Vishtasp found the body of his brother. The King embraced his brother's corpse and spoke to him in grief. He wiped the fallen hero's bloody and soiled face with hand and placed the body on a golden bier. On the spot where he found the slain Zarir, Vishtasp had a lofty memorial constructed, and within this monument, an flame burned day and night as a testament to Zarir's undying spirit.
With his victory over Arjasp, Vishtasp had succeeded in taking a first, though risky and costly step, in removing Airan from the yoke of feudal domination. Leaving the battlefield, the victorious Airanian army returned to the jubilant capital of Balkh, and the people of Airan celebrated their victory for many days. In recognition of Esfandiar's fearless leadership, Vishtasp designated Esfandiar as prince regent. Even as he did so, King Vishtasp was leery of Esfandiar's sudden rise to fame. In an effort to keep Esfandiar away from the capital and court, the King dispatched Esfandiar to lead additional campaigns against neighbouring states that had traditionally competed with Airan for power and commerce. Esfandiar accepted this commission and in a relatively short space of time expanded the control and boundaries of Airan to the extent it had been under the rule of Feridoon, that is from Asia Minor in the west, to Sind and Hind (Pakistan and India of old) in the east.
Esfandiar's fame grew and was he widely admired as a hero and icon. The popularity and respect afforded Esfandiar by the people soon eclipsed that given to his father. It was a setting ripe for rumours, and rumours about the ambitions of the gallant and upright prince regent began to grow and spread. Gurzam, a wily courtier who secretly harboured a bitter enmity towards Esfandiar, took advantage of this situation. As a general and advisor, Gurzam had Vishtasp's confidence and ear. Gurzam informed the King that he had received disturbing intelligence from his sources in the regions and needed to speak to him alone and in confidence. He told the King that even at the risk of incurring the King's wrath; he felt duty bound to share some disturbing information with him. Esfandiar, his sources had reported, was preparing to march on the capital Balkh at the head of his immense army in order to depose and imprison the King.
The King, motivated perhaps by jealousy and insecurity, believed Gurzam. He was filled with rage. He directed his anger not towards the malicious Gurzam but towards his son – a son who had served King and nation loyally and faithfully. With the motivation provided by these intensely negative and dark feelings, he sent his Prime Minister Jamasp to summon his son to appear before him. When the Prime Minister conveyed the King's summons to Esfandiar, a sense of foreboding came over the prince regent. Nevertheless, Esfandiar dutifully went to the capital and appeared before his father. There before the assembled court, despite the caution counselled by his Prime Minister, the King accused Esfandiar of treason. In quick order, Vishtasp had Esfandiar indicted, found guilty, chained and imprisoned in a tower prison.
The ensuing days were filled with turmoil and anxiety. To escape the many demands on him, Vishtasp left his court and went to visit his neighbour King Rustam of Sistan. There he spent two years indulging in hunting and feasting while neglecting his responsibilities as king. With its king absent and its army leaderless, demoralized and in disarray, the kingdom of Airan was vulnerable to attack, and King Arjasp seized the opportunity. Arjasp sent his son Kahram at the head of a large army to attack Airan once again, seek retribution for their earlier defeat, and make Airan a vassal state of Turan once more. Kahram routed the much smaller, hastily assembled and ill-equipped army of Airan and succeeded in capturing its capital Balkh.
Vishtasp's wife who was in the capital when Kahram captured the city, disguised as a Turanian and escaped on horseback. She rode as hard as the horse could gallop, covered a distance that would take two days in one, changed horses along the way, and did not sleep until she reached Sistan and informed her husband of the fall of Balkh. After giving him this devastating news, she severely admonished Vishtasp for his abdication of responsibilities and negligence. Vishtasp was overcome with anguish and shame. He gathered his wits about him, put together a reserve force and rushed back to expel the invaders but was defeated in a battle with the enemy.
Jamasp advised the King that only Esfandiar had the ability to defend and liberate the kingdom, and that it was time to free Esfandiar from his unjust imprisonment. King Vishtasp, who had earlier ignored Jamasp's advice regarding the indictment of Esfandiar, agreed and dispatched Jamasp to Esfandiar's mountain prison. This time the Prime Minister's task was to ask Esfandiar to forgive his father, resume command of the army and liberate the territory captured by Kahram. Esfandiar was not so easily moved. It was only after listening to the imploring entreaties of Jamasp – who Esfandiar trusted completely – that Esfandiar finally agreed to accompany Jamasp and be reconciled with his father.
From the far reaches of the fractured empire, soldiers answered Esfandiar's call to reassemble the army. After they were equipped and retrained, he led them to a hard fought and resounding victory over the occupying army of Turan, Chin and their confederates. Esfandiar fought so fearlessly and tirelessly at the head of his troops that at the end of the battle, the multitude of arrows sticking in Esfandiar's armour made it look like a field of reeds. Esfandiar had routed the invaders once more and his army chased the remnants of the invading army until they were far beyond the borders of Airan. Airan was once again free from Turanian domination.
The Kayanian dynasty ends in the Avesta with Zarathushtra's patron king, King Vishtasp. In the Shahnameh, the dynasty fades out with Vishtasp's grandson Bahram.
The end of the Kayanian dynasty appears to coincide with the closing of the Avestan canon. Some disruption appears to have put an end to ancient Aryan history, especially Zoroastrian history in Central Asia. After a significant gap in time the missing years of Zoroastrian history - the next we hear of the Zoroastrian Aryans is not through legend or scripture, but with the emergence of the Medes and Persians a thousand kilometres to the west. In our pages on Aryan Religions we examine the possible reasons for the gap in Zoroastrian Aryan history - the war of religions - where the Zoroastrians (and perhaps even the Aryans) may have lost their claim to power in Central Asia. They could very well have continued to live and be part of the Central Asian kingdoms, but without a Zoroastrian king on the throne, until that is, the rise of the Medes and the Persians.
After the hiatus, the Medes and the Persians reasserted the tradition of Zoroastrian-Aryan kingship, and once they had consolidated their power, they brought back into their domain, the traditional Zoroastrian-Aryan eastern (Central Asian) lands as well. The one change was that the seat of power of the federation of Aryan kingdoms had now shifted westward.
This section brings our examination of Aryan prehistory - the first, Eastern, phase of Aryan history - to a close. The reader can continue to follow the sequence of pages under our History menu listings, or proceed to the page on Ranghaya which introduces the reader to the second, Western, phase of Zoroastrian-Aryan history.