The Seven Great Monarchies: The Sassanian or New Persian Empire
George Rawlinson author
Accession of Balas or Palash. His Relationship to Perozes. Peace made with the Ephthalites. Pacification of Armenia and General Edict of Toleration. Revolt of Zareh, Son of Perozes, and Suppression of the Revolt with the help of the Armenians. Flight of Kobad to the Ephthalites. Further Changes in Armenia. Vahan made Governor. Death of Balas; his Character. Coins ascribed to him.
Perozes was succeeded by a prince whom the Greeks call Balas, the Arabs and later Persians Palash, but whose real name appears to have been Valakhesh or Volagases. Different accounts are given of his relationship to his predecessor, the native writers unanimously representing him as the son of Perozes and brother of Kobad, while the Greeks and the contemporary Armenians declare with one voice that he was Kobad's uncle and Perozes's brother. It seems on the whole most probable that the Greeks and Armenians are right and we may suppose that Perozes, having no son whom he could trust to take his place when he quitted his capital in order to take the management of the Ephthalite war, put the regency and the guardianship of his children into the hands of his brother, Valakhesh, who thus, not unnaturally, became king when it was found that Perozes had fallen.
The first efforts of the new monarch were of necessity directed towards an arrangement with the Ephthalites, whose signal victory over Perozes had laid the north-eastern frontier of Persia open to their attack. Balas, we are told, employed on this service the arms and arts of an officer named Sukhra or Sufraii, who was at the time governor of Seistan. Sukhra collected an imposing force, and conducted it to the Ephthalite border, where he alarmed Khush-newaz by a display of his own skill with the bow. He then entered into negotiations and obtained the release of Firuz-docht, of the Grand Mobed, and of the other important prisoners, together with the restoration of a large portion of the captured booty, but was probably compelled to accept on the part of his sovereign some humiliating conditions. Procopius informs us that, in consequence of the defeat of Perozes, Persia became subject to the Ephthalites and paid them tribute for two years; and this is so probable a result, and one so likely to have been concealed by the native writers, that his authority must be regarded as outweighing the silence of Mirkhond and Tabari. Balas, we must suppose, consented to become an Ephthalite tributary, rather than renew the war which had proved fatal to his brother. If he accepted this position, we can well understand that Khush-newaz would grant him the small concessions of which the Persian writers boast; while otherwise the restoration of the booty and the prisoners without a battle is quite inconceivable.
Secure, so long as he fulfilled his engagements, from any molestation in this quarter, Balas was able to turn his attention to the north-western portion of his dominions, and address himself to the difficult task of pacifying Armenia, and bringing to an end the troubles which had now for several years afflicted that unhappy province. His first step was to nominate as Marzpan, or governor, of Armenia, a Persian who bore the name of Nikhor, a man eminent for justice and moderation. Nikhor, instead of attacking Vahan, who held almost the whole of the country, since the Persian troops had been withdrawn on the news of the death of Perozes, proposed to the Armenian prince that they should discuss amicably the terms upon which his nation would be content to end the war and resume its old position of dependence upon Persia. Vahan expressed his willingness to terminate the struggle by an arrangement, and suggested the following as the terms on which he and his adherents would be willing to lay down their arms:
(1) The existing fire-altars should be destroyed, and no others should be erected in Armenia.
(2) The Armenians should be allowed the full and free exercise of the Christian religion, and no Armenians should be in future tempted or bribed to declare themselves disciples of Zoroaster.
(3) If converts were nevertheless made from Christianity to Zoroastrianism, places should not be given to them.
(4) The Persian king should in person, and not by deputy, administer the affairs of Armenia. Nikhor expressed himself favorable to the acceptance of these terms; and, after an exchange of hostages, Vahan visited his camp and made arrangements with him for the solemn ratification of peace on the aforesaid conditions. An edict of toleration was issued, and it was formally declared that "every one should be at liberty to adhere to his own religion, and that no one should be driven to apostatize." Upon these terms peace was concluded between Vahan and Nikhor, and it was only necessary that the Persian monarch should ratify the terms for them to become formally binding.
While matters were in this state, and the consent of Balas to the terms agreed upon had not yet been positively signified, an important revolution took place at the court of Persia. Zareh, a son of Perozes, preferred a claim to the crown, and was supported in his attempt by a considerable section of the people. A civil war followed; and among the officers employed to suppress it was Nikhor, the governor of Armenia. On his appointment he suggested to Vahan that it would lend great force to the Armenian claims if under the existing circumstances the Armenians would furnish effective aid to Balas, and so enable him to suppress the rebellion. Vahan saw the importance of the conjuncture, and immediately sent to Nikhor's aid a powerful body of cavalry under the command of his own nephew, Gregory. Zareh was defeated, mainly in consequence of the great valor and excellent conduct of the Armenian contingent. He fled to the mountains, but was pursued, and was very shortly afterwards made prisoner and slain.
Soon after this, Kobad, son of Perozes, regarding the crown as rightfully his, put forward a claim to it, but, meeting with no success, was compelled to quit Persia and throw himself upon the kind protection of the Ephthalites, who were always glad to count among their refugees a Persian pretender. The Ephthalites, however, made no immediate stir—it would seem, that so long as Balas paid his tribute they were content, and felt no inclination to disturb what seemed to them a satisfactory arrangement.
The death of Zareh and the flight of Kobad left Balas at liberty to resume the work which their rebellions had interrupted—the complete pacification of Armenia. Knowing how much depended upon Vahan, he summoned him to his court, received him with the highest honors, listened attentively to his representations, and finally agreed to the terms which Vahan had formulated. At the same time he replaced Nikhor by a governor named Antegan, a worthy successor, "mild, prudent, and equitable;" and, to show his confidence in the Mamigonian prince, appointed him to the high office of Commander-in-Chief, or "Sparapet." This arrangement did not, however, last long. Antegan, after ruling Armenia for a few months, represented to his royal master that it would be the wisest course to entrust Vahan with the government, that the same head which had conceived the terms of the pacification might watch over and ensure their execution. Antegan's recommendation approved itself to the Persian monarch, who proceeded to recall his self-denying councillor, and to install Vahan in the vacant office. The post of Sparapet was assigned to Vart, Vahan's brother. Christianity was then formally reestablished as the State religion of Armenia; the fire-altars were destroyed; the churches reclaimed and purified; the hierarchy restored to its former position and powers. A reconversion of almost the whole nation to the Christian faith was the immediate result; the apostate Armenians recanted their errors, and abjured Zoroastrianism; Armenia, and with it Iberia, were pacified; and the two provinces which had been so long a cause of weakness to Persia grew rapidly into main sources of her strength and prosperity.
The new arrangement had not been long completed when Balas died (A.D. 487). It is agreed on all hands that he held the throne for no more than four years, and generally allowed that he died peaceably by a natural death. He was a wise and just prince, mild in his temper, averse to military enterprises, and inclined to expect better results from pacific arrangements than from wars and expeditions. His internal administration of the empire gave general satisfaction to his subjects; he protected and relieved the poor, extended cultivation, and punished governors who allowed any men in their province to fall into indigence. His prudence and moderation are especially conspicuous in his arrangement of the Armenian difficulty, whereby he healed a chronic sore that had long drained, the resources of his country. His submission to pay tribute to the Ephthalites may be thought to indicate a want of courage or of patriotism; but there are times when the purchase of a peace is a necessity; and it is not clear that Balas was minded to bear the obligation imposed on him a moment longer than was necessary. The writers who record the fact that Persia submitted for a time to pay a tribute limit the interval during which the obligation held to a couple of years. It would seem, therefore, that Balas, who reigned four years, must, a year at least before his demise, have shaken off the Ephthalite yoke and ceased to make any acknowledgment of dependence. Probably it was owing to the new attitude assumed by him that the Ephthalites, after refusing to give Kobad any material support for the space of three years, adopted a new policy in the year of Balas's death (A.D. 487), and lent the pretender a force with which he was about to attack his uncle when news reached him that attack was needless, since Balas was dead and his own claim to the succession undisputed. Balas nominated no successor upon his death-bed, thus giving in his last moments an additional proof of that moderation and love of peace which had characterized his reign.
Coins, which possess several points of interest, are assigned to Balas by the best authorities. They bear on the obverse the head of the king with the usual mural crown surmounted by a crescent and inflated ball. The beard is short and curled. The hair falls behind the head, also in curls. The earring, wherewith the ear is ornamented, has a double pendent. Flames issue from the left shoulder, an exceptional peculiarity in the Sassanian series, but one which is found also among the Indo-Scythian kings with whom Balas was so closely connected. The full legend upon the coins appears to be Hur Kadi Valdk-dshi, "Volagases, the Fire King." The reverse exhibits the usual fire-altar, but with the king's head in the flames, and with the star and crescent on either side, as introduced by Pe-rozes. It bears commonly the legend, ValaJcdshi, with a mint-mark. The mints employed are those of Iran, Kerman, Ispahan, Nisa, Ledan, Shiz, Zadracarta, and one or two others. [PLATE XXI., Fig. 4].