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Sassanian Elite Cavalry AD 224–642 Paperback – July 13, 2005
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From the Publisher
An unrivalled illustrated reference source on fighting men and commanders, past and present. Each volume is packed with full colour artwork, making military history uniquely accessible to enthusiasts of all ages.
About the Author
Dr Kaveh Farrokh was born in Greece and emigrated to Canada in 1983. Kaveh has been collecting data on Sassanian cavalry for 18 years, travelling to regions such as Naghshe-Rustam (Iran). He has given lectures and seminars in the University of British Columbia, where he acquired his PhD in Persian language acquisition, and on the Knowledge Network Television Program of British Columbia and has written articles for various journals. Kaveh is currently a learning and career specialist in Langara College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
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Top Customer Reviews
. I suspect he was being restrained by the Osprey editors from putting even more in this book, for it seems this scholar is amazingly knowledgeable about the subject matter - the Sassanian military and history. One thing became victimized by this magnitude of knowledge that is pouring form these pages - the geography i.e. maps of the region, countries etc (perhaps editors figured one immediately will run the store to purchase a few of those Osprey books listed in the text or in the related titles list where there might be maps). Anyway, the book is restrained in many ways, for the amount of space is limited and I suspect the editors of Osprey felt that not all the info could be of interest to an average Osprey buyer/ reader (in this case the most glaring omission is the discussion on the ancient breeds and types of Sassanian horses - the most essential part of the cavalry, any cavalry , I presume).
Nevertheless it is worth the purchase price many times over, as not much can be found about the Persian heavy cavalry in Roman service in today's literature. Here you can find almost all you want (in such a small space) about the Sassanian Persian heavy cavalry - Savaran of 3-7th centuries AD, along with info on the supporting troops, allied troops etc. The author even gives a little, albeit very interesting, insight on the Arab commanders of the Conquest period. In short it is a remarkable little volume that puts the Persian pre-Islamic war machine in proper context in respect to the development of the mounted warrior in Europe, from the Roman heavy cavalry to the medieval knights. Some concepts worth mentioning here are especially the evolution of Sassanian swords and development of a 'pistol grip,' changes in saddle construction eg high pommel and cantle saddles, stirrups, panjagan-five arrow firing device, armour and especially the plate armour and helmets etc.
So as I strongly prize the textual information (and the period illustrations from various museums) then I must express my criticism of the color plates painted by Mr.McBride.
The first plate - depicting the very victory by Shapur I over Valerian has some very weird proportions, large heads, short torsos, exaggerations in dress and headgear, and it is a far cry from Mr. McBride depictions of the Sassanian subjects in Dr Nicolle's work for Montvert. I am curious whether depicting the 3rd century Romans (emperor Valerian) wearing sandals and not the military boots is some sort of anachronistic approach undertaken by the painter known for his frivolities with the Roman costume?
Second plate shows Savaran in training, here the bow looks as it is going to hit the horse any moment, while the swords used by the sparing warriors are awfully large,like the 15th century large swords. Otherwise the costumes are unique (the cloak of the instructor, his headgear and its interpretation ), designs on the trousers, and spectacular horse trappings - all are outstanding and certainly potent food for many ideas for those wanting to tackle the Sassanians.
Third plate can be found in the Osprey webpage description of this tittle, is is another wealth of info - eg. a woman warrior, albeit the whole plate is painted so confusingly as the composition seems to suffer a form of malady - too much, too colorful, too little space.
Fourth and fifth depicts the scene of Julian's death. Romans have armour that is to anachronistic for the event portrayed, while mounted Julian is shown wearing sandals from 4 centuries ago, and some strange off-white tunic (something to contrary to the info conveyed in the excellent Osprey title on the Roman Military Costume). I am not sure about his sword but it seem to belong to much earlier period and definitely it is not a spatha. Too bad the charging Savaran is show straight in the lower middle of the folding plates, so not a best place to show the principal actor of this title, his costume and amrour details all but disappear in th confusion of this battlescene. I guess the most important here is Julian's death - no doubt Osprey editors choosing - too bad two plate space was wasted to show Romans running around in some anachronistic equipment (I miss the old Elite titles where they had 4 more plates -12 plates altogether).
Fortunately the last 3 plates are dedicated soleley to the Sassanians and their history, equipment, fashions in costume and other aspects of their appereance. There is no more armor shown, but plenty of amazingly rich (in significant clan and religious motives and heraldry) costumes along with facial hair styles and headgear. Women are show, quite beautiful and very different from the Arabized images of the Nicolle's Sassanians. Morevoer, a few historical characters are portrayed, especially the 'bad good boy' of the Sassanian history and mythology Bahran Chobin - who was also one of the heroes of the islamic Persian poet Ferdowsi epic poem - the Shahnama [...] [...]
In those plates one can see the evolution of the swords and method of suspension, changed under the influence of the Turkish (nomadic Altaic tribes ) martial customs. Again painting suffers from 'fuzziness', unfinished quality, and composition also is quite questionable.
In my opinion the horses are especially malportrayed in those plates by mr.McBride, a far cry from this same painter's previous works in the Wilcox Osprey and Nicolle's books. After all in the surviving Sassanian/Iranian paintings/carvings the mounts for the elite warriors are magnificent, muscular beasts - dream of any performance horsebreader or owner.
In short, a must for those seeking academic yet accessibly written information on the Sassanian militray elite, their achievements and influence on the European mounted warrior culture, savaran knights, costumes, heraldry, personalities, reconstructions etc. I am giving this book 5 stars because it merits it in spite of my critical comments on the reconstruction plates (I am a great an of Mr.McBride art and own plenty of Osprey books illustrated by him, and I am disappointed with art in this splendid book).
You can see the pictures of the Sassanian rock carvings here [...]
Unlike most other writers on this little-studied subject, Farrokh goes beyond referencing the Sassanians' obvious Parthian and Sarmatian influences. Citing original sources and the archeological record, he traces the roots of Iranian heavy cavalry back to Achaemenid times, when that dynasty began adopting the armor technology of their Central Asian Iranian cousins --and onetime foes-- the Massagetae.
It was, however, the Sassanians who made heavy cavalry the focal point of Persian military organization. In turn, these lance-wielding, mail-clad Savaran were a direct influence on their perennial enemies the Romans and their Germanic allies.
Let me conclude by highlighting two things in this book that readers will most likely find quite interesting:
Like other writers, Dr. Farrokh demonstrates the strong case for the foundations of Medieval Europe's knightly ideal --via Late Roman military adaptations and Gothic/Sarmatian interminglings-- in the honor code of the Savaran.
And, as the book's cover hints, Farrokh emphasizes a strong female presence both in the Savaran battle-order and its administration. Dispelling some Western stereotypes of the Iranian Woman, several of the plates by artist Angus McBride depict beautiful warrior-women in combat and ceremonial settings.
Some related titles from Osprey Publishing:
-SHADOWS In The DESERT: ANCIENT PERSIA At WAR (Kaveh Farrokh/Richard Nelson Frye)
-The PERSIAN ARMY 560-330 BC (Nicholas Sekunda)
-ROME'S ENEMIES (3): PARTHIANS And SASSANID PERSIANS (Peter Wilcox)
-MOUNTED ARCHERS Of The STEPPE 600 BC-AD 1300 (Antony Karasulas)
-The SCYTHIANS 700-300 BC (E.V. Cernenko)
-The SARMATIANS 600 BC-AD 450 (Richard Brzezinski/Mariusz Mielczarek)
It's wonderful to see Dr. Farrokh discuss the elite Sassanian war machine, in particular the Savaran Knights (the world's first knights did come from Iran, a fact often left out by zealous graeco-roman eurocentrists)without leaving out any details.
Too often, Zoroastrian Iran and its prestigious contribution to civilization (in this particular case, the concepts of chivalry, knighthood, fealty and cavalry warfare) are merely discussed in brief footnotes. Mr. Farrokh also recalled instances of Persia's crushing of Roman armies, a fact seldom discussed in other Osprey publications such as by Mr. Nicolle.
I found the color plates fascinating, depicting Iranians as they looked before the arab invasions of the 7th century: their appearance, physical features, dress, demeanor and weaponry.
This publication is by the far the most detailed and best in quality, on the subject of pre-mohammedan Zoroastrian Persia and I highly recommend it to the student of ancient Persian and Iranian history... quickly pick up an issue and get busy reading!
I wish however that more space had been given to discussing the social position of the Savaran, and their relationship vis a vis the Sassanian state, and how they subsequently influenced the politics and fortunes towards the end of Sassanian Persia's rule but I assume that Dr. Farrokh had limited time and space so one must see the book for what it is and praise it for the wonderful color plates and great detailed information conveyed to the reader.
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