The defense lines
) of the Sasanians
were part of their military strategy and tactic. They were networks of fortifications, walls, and/or ditches built opposite the territory of the enemies.
These defense lines are known from tradition and archaeological evidence.
Map showing Darial, Derbent, Gorgan (Hyrcania), and Basra (the defense lines of eastern borders are omitted)
The fortress systems of the Western, Arabian, and Central Asian fronts were of both defensive and offensive functions.
The rivers Euphrates
, Great Zab
, and Little Zab
acted as natural defenses for Mesopotamia.
Sasanian developing of irrigation systems in Mesopotamia further acted as water defense lines, notably the criss-crossing trunk canals in Khuzestan
and the northern extension of the Nahrawan Canal
, known as the Cut of Khusrau
, which made the Sasanian capital Ctesiphon
virtually impregnable in late Sasanian period.
In the early period of the Sasanian Empire
, a number of buffer states
existed between Persia and the Roman Empire
, which played major role in Roman-Persian relations. Both empires gradually absorbed these states, and replaced them by an organized defense system
run by the central government and based on a line of fortifications (the limes
) and the fortified frontier cities, such as Dara
, Zenobia (Halabiye
, Theodosiopolis (Erzurum
According to R. N. Frye
, the expansion of the Persian defensive system by Shapur IIr
. 309–379– ) was probably in imitation of Diocletian
's construction of the limes
of the Syrian and Mesopotamian frontiers of the Roman Empire over the previous decades.
The defense line was in the edge of the cultivated land facing the Syrian Desert
During the early years of Shapur II
. 309–379), nomadic Arabian
tribesmen made incursions into Persia from the south. After his successful campaign in Arabia
(325) and having secured the coasts around Persian Gulf, Shapur II established a defensive system in southern Mesopotamia
to prevent raids via land.
The defensive line, called the Wall of the Arabs
: War ī Tāzīgān
, in Arabic
: خندق سابور
, literally "Ditch of Shapur", also possibly "Wall of Shapur"),
consisted of a large moat
, probably also with an actual wall on the Persian side, with watchtowers and a network of fortifications, at the edge of the Arabian Desert
, located between modern-day al-Basrah
and the Persian Gulf
The defense line ran from Hit
, on the margin of fertile lands west of Euphrates. It included small forts at key spots, acting as outliers for larger fortifications, some of which have been uncovered.
The region and its defense line was apparently[original research?]
governed by a marzban
. In the second half of the Sasanian history, the Lakhmid
/Nasrid chiefs also became its rulers. They would have protected the area against the Romans and against the Romans' Arab clients the Ghassanids
, sheltering the agricultural lands of Sasanian Mesopotamia
from the nomadic Arabs
The Sasanians eventually discontinued the maintenance of this defense line, since they perceived the main threats to the empire lay elsewhere. However, in 633 the empire's ultimate conquerors
actually came from this direction.
In the Caucasus
Massive fortification activity was conducted in the Caucasus
during the reign of Kavad I
. 488–496, 498–531– ) and later his son Khusrow I
. 531–579– ), in response to the pressure by people in the north, such as the Alans
. Key components of this defensive system were the strategic passes Darial
in the Central Caucasus and Derbent
just west of the Caspian Sea
, the only two practicable crossing of the Caucasus ridge through which the land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe
and the Middle East
was conducted. A formal system of rulership was also created in the region by Khusrow I, and the fortifications were assigned to local rulers. This is reflected in titles like "Sharvān-shāh
" ("King of Shirvan"), "Tabarsarān
Pass of Derbent
The citadel and walls of Derbent
wall (maximum thickness 8 m, maximum height ca. 16 m) near Torpakh-Kala has been attributed to Yazdegerd II
. 438–457– ) as the first Sasanian attempt to block the Derbent pass, though it may have been a reconstruction of earlier defenses. It was destroyed in a rebellion in 450.
With a length of 3,650 m on the north side and 3,500 m on the south and featuring seven gates, massive rectangular and round towers
, the Wall of Derbent
connected 30 already existing fortifications. Today the northern wall and the main city walls remain, but most of the southern wall is lost. The construction techniques used resemble those of Takht-e Soleiman
, also built in the same period.
Derbent was also the seat of a Sasanian marzban
Derbent Wall was the most prominent Sasanian defensive structure in the Caucasus. Later Muslim Arab historians tended to attribute the entire defense line to Khosrow I, and included it among the seven wonders of the world
. In the Middle Ages, Alexander the Great
was credited with having sealed off the Darband pass against the tribes of Gog and Magog
advancing from the north;
whence the name "Gate of Alexander
" and the "Caspian Gates" for the Derbent pass.
Apzut Kawat and Beshbarmak
Part of the Dagh Bary
("mountain wall") defensive line which stretches between the citadel of Derbent and the Caucasus
Location: 41.133°N 49.052°E
. The second known Sasanian reconstruction of the fortifications in the Caucasus is attributed to the second reign of Kavadh I
(498–531), who constructed the long fortification walls at Besh Barmak
(recorded as Barmaki Wall
in Islamic sources) and Shirvan
(recorded as Arabic Sur al-Tin
in Islamic sources), also called the Apzut Kawat
(recorded in Armenian
sources, from Middle Persian *Abzūd Kawād
, literally "Kavadh increased [in Glory
]" or "has prospered"),
were constructed using a combination of mud brick, stone blocks, and baked bricks. The construction was carried out in three phases, extending to the end of the reign of Khusrow I, but was never actually completed. The defensive line stretched from the Caucasian mountains in the southwest to the shore of the Caspian Sea to the east (the water level was much lower back then).
This section needs expansion
. You can help by adding to it
. (June 2017)
Darial Gorge (Middle Persian
: ʾlʾnʾn BBA Arrānān dar
: ʾlʾnnTROA; meaning "Gate of the Alans
located in the Caucasus
, fell into Sasanian hands in 252/253 as the Sasanian Empire conquered and annexed Iberia
It was fortified by both Romans and Persians. The fortification was known as Gate of the Alans, Iberian Gates, and the Caucasian Gates.
For defending the Central Asian front, a different strategy had to be used: one of maximum concentration of forces in large strongholds; with Marv
acting as the outer bulwark, backed by Nishapur
The defense line was based on a three-tier system that allowed the enemy to penetrate deep into the Sasanian territories and to be channeled into designated kill zones between the tiers of forts. The mobile aswaran
cavalry would then carry out counter-attacks from strategically positioned bases, notably Nev-Shapur (Nishabur
). Kaveh Farrokh
likens the strategy to the Central Asian tactic of Parthian shot
—a feigned retreat followed by a counter-attack.
Great Wall of Gorgan
Map of the Great Wall of Gorgan
Ruins of the Great Wall of Gorgan
The Great Wall of Gorgan
(or simply the Gorgan Wall) was located in north of the Gorgan River
, at a geographic narrowing between the Caspian Sea
and the mountains of northeastern Persia
. It is widely attributed to Khosrow I
, though it may date back to the Parthian
It was on the nomadic route from the northern steppes to the Gorgan Plain
and the Persian heartland, probably protecting the empire from the peoples to the north,
in particular, the Hephtalites
The defensive line was 195 km (121 mi) long and 6–10 m (20–33 ft) wide,
featuring over 30 fortresses
spaced at intervals of between 10 and 50 km (6.2 and 31.1 mi). It is described as "amongst the most ambitious and sophisticated frontier walls" ever built in the world,
and the most important fortification in Persia.
The garrison size for the wall is estimated to be 30,000 strong.
Wall of Tammisha
The Wall of Tammisha
), with a length of around 11 km, was stretched from the Gorgan Bay
to the Alborz
mountains, in particular, the ruined town of Tammisha
at the foot of the mountains. There is another fortified wall 22 km to the west running parallel to the mentioned wall, between modern cities of Bandar-e Gaz
The Wall of Tammisha is considered to be the second line of defence after the Gorgan Wall.
Other defense lines
Recently, Touraj Daryaee
has suggested the defensive walls may have had symbolic, ideological and psychological dimension as well, connecting the practice of enclosing the Iranian (ēr
) lands against non-Iranian (anēr
) barbarians to the cultural elements and ideas present among Iranians since ancient times, such as the idea of walled paradise gardens
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Last edited on 25 July 2021, at 18:56
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