Babak's Decision to Revolt
One of Babak's supporters was a prince, Afshin Kheydar. According to the medieval historian, Ibn Esfandyars book Tarikh-e Tabaristan, the History of Tabaristan (Mazandaran and Gorgan), they made a pact together stating "I, Afshin Kheydar son of Kavus, and Babak had made an oath and allegiance that we re-take the government back from the Arabs and transfer the government and the country back to the family of Kasraviyan (Sassanids)." Gardizi reports that Afshin was of Zoroastrian descent. He cites members of his family who were clearly Zoroastrian.
Babak's Revolt Against the Arabs
Around 816 CE, Babak began to recruit followers inciting the to hate the Arabs and rise in rebellion against the caliphate. Babak's campaign, however, was not just a military campaign but one to restore the Persian language and culture. The forces he put together soon seized castles and garrison outposts. The numbers at his command grew as others joined his campaign until it grew to 100,000 men (by Abu'l-Ma'ali's account), then 200,000 (by Mas'udi's account) and 300,00 (by Baghdai's account).
His army consisted of farmers who had shunned the taking of life and whose only weapons training was sling-shots. Nevertheless, Babak moulded them into a fighting force that took on the well trained and battle hardened Arabs. Soon people in Hamadan, Isfahan and Iraq were joining Babak's group of followers.
From 817 to 837, Babak's force fought hard. His insurrection developed into the most serious revolt the Arabs had faced since their invasion of the Aryan lands. Gardizi reports that Mazyar (d. 839 CE), the ispahbad (sepabad) of Mazandaran and Gorgan (Tabaristan), who had abandoned Zoroastrianism for Islam, decided to become a Khurramdin after learning of Babak's campaign and successes.
In 819-820, The Arab caliphate sent Yahya ibn Mu'adh to battle Babak, but Babak could not be defeated. Two years came armies under Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid and these too very defeated. In 824-825, the caliphate sent general Ahmad ibn al Junayd to subdue Babak, but Babak defeated and captured the Arab general instead. Then in 827-828 the caliphate dispatched Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi to fight Babak and the Arabs gained victory but could not capture Babak. On June 9, 829, Babak returned the favour and defeated Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi at Hashtadsar. This defeat cost ibn Humayd his life and the Arabs lost many soldiers as well. In 835-836 the caliph al-Mu'tasim sent one of his best generals Haydar bin Kavus Afshin (not to be confused with Babak's ally, though the name sounds suspiciously Iranian) against Babak.
Babak's Castle. Ghaleye Babak
Babak's Castle exists today as ruins on a mountain top and, it is known variously. It is known as Badd, Ghaley-e / Qale-e Babak and Qala-e Jomhur. In Turkish Azeri, it is also known as Bazz Galasi .
The castle itself was not built by Babak. Its origins goes back to the Sassanian era (c 249-650 CE) and possible even the Parthian era (c 227 BCE - 249 CE).
Today, Babak has become a national hero and the castle's ruins have become a Iranian nationalist symbol and the castle is also known as the Castle of the Republic or the Immortal Castle. Every July 10th, many Iranians journey to the castle to celebrate the life and ideals of Babak and his companions. Their sacrifice in the giving of their lives while seeking to free Iran from Arab domination as well as their efforts for the preservation of Iranian culture are also honoured.
The citadel's ruins are located in East Azarbaijan Province some 50 km north Ahar city some5 km southwest of Kalibar town as the crow flies. It overlooks the left bank of a tributary of the river Qarasu. The surrounding mountains are called the Jomhur mountains and the mountains are home to the Arasbaran or (in Turkish, Qaradag) forest, a UNESCO registered biosphere.
The structure was built on a mountain-top 2,300-2,600 m above sea level, and is surrounded on all sides by ravines 400-600 m deep.
Access to the castle is a narrow track that winds its way across patches of dense forest, through gorges, and up steep slopes. The final approach to the castle's gate is through a narrow defile wide enough for only one person to walk at a time. Large military equipment can be carried up this path. The citadel itself was located a further 100 m climb from the castle's walls via a narrow path along a ridge, and the path once again was wide enough for only one person. The ridge is surrounded by a forested ravine some 100 m deep.
Babak had other castles as well (Nafisi, pp. 69-71; Tabatabai, pp. 472-75).
Babak's Defeat & Execution
The curtains now began to close for Babak and Hatdar Afshin captured Babak's stronghold of Badhdh. Babak, however, managed to escape and did not surrender despite an offer for amnesty saying, "Better to live for just a single day as a ruler than to live for forty years as an abject slave." Besides the Arabs seldom kept their word and lived by deceit. Babak sought refuge in Armenia. Enticed by a large reward and perhaps the fear of retribution as well, the Armenian Prince of Khachen, Sahl Smbatean (Sahl ibn Sunbat in Arab sources) delivered Babak to Afshin.
Babak asked Afshin if he could spend a last night at his castle at Badhdh and Afshin consented. That castle would come to be known as Ghaleye Babak. Haydar Afshin delivered Babak as a prisioner to the Abbasid Caliph who with characteristic Arab cruelty had his executioners first cut off his legs and then his hands. Legend has it that as a final act of defiance, Babak rinsed his face with the blood that poured from his severed limbs before succumbing to his wounds.
A year after Babak's execution in 838 CE, Mazyar of Mazandaran was captured and killed. A similar fate awaited Afshin, whose sincere adherence to Islam and allegiance to the caliphate was questioned.
After the defeat of the Khurramdins, there is no longer any mention of non-Muslim uprisings in Iran. Even references to Zoroastrians in Muslim documents become rare.
Babak & Khurramdin's Humane Reputation
Arab historians tell us that it was Babak and Zoroastrianism / Khurramdin's social message that attracted these followers. An example of the expression of his faith was the manner in which his army treated prisoners fairly and humanely (cf. Cyrus' treatment of prisoners - he was more a liberator than conqueror). This was in marked contrast to the brutality with which the caliph's army treated their prisoners. Babak's prisoners were often set free on the promise that they would not fight against Babak's army again. His administration improved the treatment of women and children giving them legal rights as people identical as men. When Babak was taken in shackles to be tortured and executed, women demonstrated their mourning without restraint, striking their faces and crying.
Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi who was a mortal enemy of Babak states that Babak and his followers, most of whom were Zoroastrians, practiced great religious tolerance and (despite the harm that Muslims had caused Zoroastrians) allowed Muslims to freely practice their religion and even helped them build a mosque. Abu Mansur mentions that the Khurrami were of the Mazdakite school. When we put the Baghdadi and Mansur statements together, we have that Babak and his Khurrami followers were of the Mazdaki school (denomination) in Zoroastrianism.
Mazdakite influence seems evident in the social order he and his followers were trying a build - a classless society where rich landowners and military lords did not oppress the common person. He divested landowners of land they had obtained through illegal means and distributed the land free to farmers.
|A view of the peak from the base ravine|
Image credit: Tabriz-Iran.com
|Approach along the lower slopes to Babak's castle|
Image credit: Ali Mirghader at Flickr
|The walls of Babak's castle cascading down the slopes|
Image credit: IASBS
|A view of Babak's castle and the valley below|
Image credit: Fouman.com