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Kavad I (Middle Persian: 𐭪𐭥𐭠𐭲Kawād; New Persian: قباد Qobād; 473 – 13 September 531) was king (shah) of the Sasanian Empire from 488 to 531, with an interruption of two years. A son of Peroz I (r. 459–484), he was crowned by the nobles in place of his deposed and unpopular uncle Balash (r. 484–488). His reign saw the uprising of Vakhtang I of Iberia, the rise of Mazdakism, as well as the Anastasian War and the Iberian War against the Byzantine Empire. During Kavad's reign, massive fortification activities were conducted in the Caucasus, including Derbent.

Kavad I
King of Kings of Iranians and non-Iranians
Plate with king hunting rams (white background).jpg
Plate of a Sasanian king hunting rams, perhaps Kavad I
Shahanshah of the Sasanian Empire
1st Reign488–496
2nd Reign498–531
SuccessorKhosrow I
Died13 September 531(531-09-13) (aged 57–58)
Khosrow I
HouseHouse of Sasan
FatherPeroz I

At the accession of Kavad, the authority and status of the Sasanian kings had reached rock-bottom; when Kavad died 43 years later, his son Khosrow I inherited a sturdy and mighty empire that equaled that of the Byzantines. Many vital reforms were introduced by Kavad, which were completely implemented by Khosrow I. Due to the many challenges and issues that Kavad successfully thwarted, he is considered one of the most effective and successful kings to rule the Sasanian Empire, in the words of Schindel, "a genius in his own right, even if of a somewhat Machiavellian type."[1]



Due to increased Sasanian interest in Kayanian history, Kavad was named after the mythological Kayanian king Kavi Kavata.[2] The name is transliterated in Greek as Kabates, and in Arabic as Qubādh.[3]

Early life and accessionEdit

The son of the Sasanian shah Peroz I (r. 459–484), Kavad was born in 473.[1] In 484, Peroz was defeated and killed by a Hephthalite army at the battle of Herat. The Iranian magnates—most notably Sukhra and Shapur Mihran—elected Peroz's brother, Balash, as the new shah. He did, however, prove unpopular among the nobility and clergy, who had him deposed after just four years–in 488.[4] Sukhra, a member of the House of Karen, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran, played a main role in Balash's deposition,[4] and appointed Kavad as the new shah of Iran.[5]

First reignEdit

Accession and conditions of the empireEdit

Kavad ascended the throne at age of 15; his young age is emphasized on his coins, which shows him with short whiskers.[1] He inherited an empire that had reached its lowest; the nobility and clergy held much influence and authority over the nation, and were able to act as king-makers, as seen by their choice to depose Balash.[6] Economic wise, the empire was not doing well either, due to drought, famine, and the crushing defeats suffered by the Hephthalites, who not only had large seized huge parts of its eastern provinces, but had also forced the Sasanians to pay vast amounts of tribute to them.[7][8] Rebellions were occurring in Armenia, Iberia, and in the western provinces.[7][9] Simultaneously the peasant class of the country was getting more and more uneasy and alienated from the elite.[9]

Conflict with Sukhra over the empireEdit

Illustration of Sukhra.

The young and inexperienced Kavad was tutored by Sukhra during his first five years as shah. During this period, Kavad was a mere figurehead, whilst Sukhra was the de facto ruler of the empire. This is emphasized by al-Tabari; "The people came to Sukhra and undertook all their dealings with him, treating Kavad as a person of no importance and regarding his commands with contempt."[5] Numerous regions and the representatives of the elite paid tribute not to Kavad, but Sukhra.[10] Sukhra also controlled the royal treasury and the Iranian military.[10] In 493, Kavad, now having reached adulthood, wanted to get rid of Sukhra's dominance, and as a result had him exiled to his native Shiraz in southwestern Iran.[1][10] Even in exile, however, Sukhra was in control of everything except the kingly crown.[10] He bragged about having put Kavad on the throne.[10]

Alarmed by the thought that Sukhra might rebel, Kavad wanted to completely get rid of him. However, he lacked manpower to do so, as the army was controlled by Sukhra, and the Sasanians mainly relied on the military of the Seven Great Houses of Iran.[11] He found his solution in Shapur of Ray, a powerful nobleman from the House of Mihran, and a resolute opponent of Sukhra.[12] Shapur, at head of an army of his own men and that of disgruntled nobles, marched to Shiraz, defeated Sukhra's forces, and took the latter to the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon.[11] However, even in imprisonment in Ctesiphon, Sukhra was considered too powerful, and was thus executed.[11] Sukhra's execution caused displeasure among some prominent members of the nobility, which weakened Kavad's status as shah.[13] His death marked the temporarily loss of authority of the House of Karen, whose members were exiled in the regions of Tabaristan and Zabulistan, which was away from the Sasanian court in Ctesiphon.[14][a]

The Mazdakite movement and depositionEdit

Not long after, a Zoroastrian priest named Mazdak caught the attention of Kavad. Mazdak was the chief representative of a religious and philosophical teaching called Mazdakism, which was against violence, and called for the sharing of wealth, women and property,[8] an archaic form of communism.[13] Mazdakism not consisted of theological and cosmological aspects, but also political and social impacts, which was to the disadvantage of the nobility and clergy. Kavad thus used the faith as a political tool in order to curb the power of the nobility and clergy.[13][8] Royal granaries and land was shared among the lower-classes.[15] Kavad was as a result deposed by the nobility in 496, who installed his brother Jamasp on the throne.[16] One of the other reasons behind Kavad's deposal was his execution of Sukhra.[1] Meanwhile, chaos was occurring in the country, notably in Mesopotamia.[17]

Imprisonment, flight and returnEdit

Coin of Jamasp (r. 496–499).

A council shortly took place among the nobility on what to do with Kavad. Gushnaspdad, a member of a prominent family of landowners (the Kanarangiyan) proposed to have Kavad executed. His proposal was, however, overruled and Kavad was instead imprisoned in the "Prison of Oblivion" in Khuzestan.[1][16] With the aid of his sister and the Iranian officer Siyawush, Kavad managed to free himself from imprisonment, and went to the court of the Hephthalite king, where he took refuge.[18][1][16] There Kavad gained the support of the Hephthalite king, and also married the latters daughter (who was Kavad's own niece).[1] In 498, Kavad returned to Iran with a Hephthalite army. When Kavad crossed the domains of the Kanarangiyan family in Khorasan, he was met by a member of the family, Adergoudounbades, who agreed to lend his aid.[19] Another noble who supported Kavad was Zarmihr Karen, a son of Sukhra.[1]

Jamasp, including the nobility and clergy did not put any resistance as they wanted to prevent another civil war.[20] They made an agreement with Kavad that he would be shah again with the understanding that he would not hurt Jamasp nor the elite.[20] Jamasp was spared, however Gushnaspdad and other nobles who had plotted against Kavad were executed. Generally, however, Kavad secured his position by lenience.[13] Adergoudounbades was appointed as the new head of the Kanarangiyan,[21] while Siyawush was appointed as the head of the Sasanian army (arteshtaran-salar).[18] Another son of Sukhra, Bozorgmehr, was made Kavad's minister (wuzurg framadār).[20] Kavad's reclaim of his throne displays the troubled circumstances of the empire, where in a time of anarchy a small force was able to overwhelm the nobility-clergy alliance.[16]

Second reignEdit


Kavad's reign is noteworthy for his reforms, which he had been able to make now with the nobility and clergy weakened by the Mazdakites.[1][22] The reforms would not be completed under his reign, and would be continued by his son, Khosrow I.[1][22] A new tax reform was implemented, a poll tax was created, and a examination of taxable land was made in order to make sure that the taxation was fair.[23] The empire was divided into four frontier regions, with a military commander (spahbed) in charge of each district, whilst a chancery was also added to keep the soldiers equipped.[23] Before the reforms of Kavad and Khosrow, the general of the Iranians (Eran-spahbed) managed the army of the whole empire.[24] Furthermore, a new priestly office was also created named "advocate and judge of the poor" (driyōšān jādag-gōw ud dādwar), which assisted the clergy to help the poor and underprivileged (an obligation they had possibly ignored previously).[25][23] The power of the dehqan, a class of small land-owning magnates, substantially increased (and possibly even led to their establishment in the first place).[23]

Persecution of Mazdak and his followersEdit

With the reforms roaring by the 520s, Kavad no longer had use of Mazdak.[23] As a result, he officially withdrew his support from the Mazdakites.[1] A debate was arranged, where not only the Zoroastrian priesthood, but also the Christian and Jewish ones slandered Mazdak and his followers.[23] According to the Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings"), written several centuries later by the medieval Persian poet Ferdowsi, Kavad had Mazdak and his supporters sent to Khosrow, who had his supporters killed by burying their heads in a walled orchard, with only their feet being visible.[23] Khosrow then summoned Mazdak to look at his garden, saying the following; "You will find trees there that no-one has ever seen and no-one ever heard of even from the mouth of the ancient sages."[23] Mazdak, seeing his followers corpses, screamed and passed out. He was afterwards executed by Khosrow, who had his feet fastened on a gallows, and had his men shoot arrows at him.[23] The validity of the story is uncertain; Ferdowsi used much earlier reports of events to write the Shahnameh, and thus the story may report some form of contemporary memory.[26]


The walls of Derbent.

Many places were founded and re-built under Kavad. He founded Eran-asan-kerd-Kawad in Media;[1] Fahraj in Spahan;[27] Weh-Kawad, Eran-win(n)ard-Kawad, Kawad-xwarrah, and Arrajan in Pars.[1][28] He rebuilt Kirmanshah in Media, which he also used as one of his residences.[29] He founded a township in Meybod, which was named Haft-adhar ("seven fires"), due to a Zoroastrian fire temple being established there, whose original fire was supported by fires brought from seven other temples in Pars, Balkh, Adurbadagan, Nisa, Spahan, Ghazni, and Ctesiphon.[30] In the Caucasus, Kavad had new fortifications made at Derbent,[31] and ordered the construction of the Apzut Kawat wall (Middle Persian: *Abzūd Kawād, "Kavad increased [in glory]" or "has prospered").[32] The prominent fortress of P'artaw, which had been rebuilt during the reign of Peroz I and named Perozabad ("the city of Peroz"), was fortified by Kavad under the name of Perozkavad ("victorious Kavad").[33]

Relations with his Christian subjectsEdit

Kavad's relation with his Christian subjects are unclear. In Christian Iberia, where the Sasanians had earlier tried to spread Zoroastrianism, Kavad represented himself as an advocate of orthodox Zoroastrianism. In Armenia, however, Kavad settled the disputes with the Christians and appears to have continued the pacific approach of Balash.[1] The Christians of Mesopotamia and Iran proper practised their religion without any persecution, despite the punishment of Christians in Iran proper being briefly mentioned in c. 512/3.[1] Like Jamasp, Kavad also supported the Patriarchs of the Church of the East, Babai, with Christians serving in high offices at the Sasanian court.[1]

Anastasian warEdit

Map of the Byzantine-Iranian frontier during the reign of Kavad I.

The Sasanians and Byzantines had kept peace since the brief Byzantine–Sasanian War of 440. The last major war between the two empires had been during the reign of Shapur II (r. 309–379).[34] However, war finally erupted in 502. Kavad needed money to pay his debts to the Hephthalites who had helped him regain his throne, and he applied for subsidies to the Byzantine Empire, which had before supported the Sasanians. But now the Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491–518) refused subsidies, which made Kavad try to gain the money by force.[35] According to another source, the Iranians had been displeased with the Byzantines reluctance to aid them in the defense of the Caucasus against the Huns.[16] Regardless, in 502, Kavad captured Theodosiopolis, perhaps with local support; the city was in any case undefended by troops and weakly fortified.[35]

He then besieged the fortress-city of Amida through the autumn and winter (502–503). The siege of the city proved to be a far more difficult enterprise than Kavad expected; the defenders, although unsupported by troops, repelled the Iranian assaults for three months before they were finally beaten.[36] The Byzantines attempted to recapture the city, but they were unsuccessful. Kavad then tried to capture Edessa in Osroene, but was unsuccessful.[37] In 505 an invasion of Armenia by the Huns from the Caucasus led to an armistice, during which the Byzantines paid subsidies to the Iranians for the maintenance of the fortifications on the Caucasus,[38] and in return for Amida, which was captured by Kavad. The peace treaty was signed by the Ispahbudhan aristocrat Bawi, the brother-in-law of Kavad.[39] Although Kavad's first war with the Byzantines did not end with a decisive winner, the conquest of Amida was the most prominent accomplishment achieved by a Sasanian army since 359, when the same city had been captured by Shapur II.[1]

Wars in the eastEdit

Not much is known about Kavad's wars in the east; according to Procopius, Kavad was forced to leave for the eastern frontier in 503 to deal with an attack by "hostile Huns", one of the many clashes in a reportedly lengthy war.[1] After the Sasanian disaster at the battle of Herat in 484, all of Khorasan was seized by the Hephthalites; no Sasanian coin mints from the area (Nishapur, Herat, Marw) have been found from this period until the second reign of Kavad, where a Sasanian coin dating to 512/3 has been found in Marw. This indicates that the Sasanians under Kavad had managed to re-conquer Khorasan after successfully dealing with the Hephthalites.[1]

Negotiations with the Byzantines over the adoption of KhosrowEdit

Coin of the Byzantine emperor Justin I.

In c. 520, Kavad, in order to secure the succession of his youngest son Khosrow, whose position was threatened by rival brothers and the Mazdakite sect, proposed that Emperor Justin I adopt him. The proposal was initially greeted with enthusiasm by the Byzantine Emperor and his nephew, Justinian, but Justin's quaestor, Proclus, opposed the move, due to the concern of Khosrow possibly later trying to take over the Byzantine throne.[1] The Byzantines instead made a counter-proposal to adopt Khosrow not as a Roman, but a barbarian.[40] In the end the negotiations did not a consensus.[1] Khosrow reportedly felt insulted by the Byzantines, and his attitude deteriorated towards them.[1]

Mahbod, who had along with Siyawush acted as the diplomats of the negotiations, accused the latter of purposely sabotaging the negotiations.[40] Further accusations were made towards Siyawush, which included the reverence of new deities and having his dead wife buried, which was a violation of Iranian laws.[1] Siyawush was thus most likely a Mazdakite, the religious sect that Kavad originally supported but now had withdrawn his support from. Although Siyawush was a close friend of Kavad and had helped him escape from imprisonment, the latter did not try to prevent his execution, seemingly with the purpose of restricting Siyawush's immensive authority as the head of the Sasanian army, a post which was disliked by the other nobles.[1] Siyawush was executed, and his office was abolished.[41] Despite the breakdown of the negotiations, it was not until 530 that full-scale warfare on the main eastern frontier broke out. In the intervening years, the two sides preferred to wage war by proxy, through Arab allies in the south and Huns in the north.[42]

Iberian warEdit

Ruins of the fortifications at Dara.

Hostility between the two powers erupted into conflict once again in 528, just a year after the new Byzantine emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565) had been crowned.[4] The reason behind the war was supposedly due to the Byzantines not acknowledging Khosrow as Kavad's heir.[4] According to the Greek chronicler John Malalas, military clashes first took place in Lazica, which had been disputed between the two empires since 522.[4] Not longer after the battles also spread down to Mesopotamia, where the Byzantines suffered a heavy defeat near the border.[4] In 530, one of the famous open-field battles took place between Byzantine and Sasanian troops took place at Dara.[4]

The Sasanian army, led by Perozes, Pityaxes and Baresmanas, suffered a severe defeat.[4] The battle, did not, however, bring an end to the conflict.[4] The following year Kavad raised an army, which he sent under Azarethes to invade the Byzantine province of Commagene.[43] When the Byzantine army under Belisarius approached, Azarethes and his men withdrew east, halting at Callinicum.[43] In the ensuing battle, the Byzantines suffered a heavy defeat, but Iranian losses too were so high that Kavad was displeased with Azarethes and relieved him of his command.[43][44] In 531, the Iranians besieged Martyropolis−during the siege, however, Kavad became ill and died.[4] As a result, the siege was lifted and peace was made between Kavad's successor Khosrow I and Justinian.[4]


The provinces of Gorgan, Khuzestan, and Asoristan provided the most mints for Kavad during his reign.[45]


Coin of Khosrow I Anushirvan (r. 531–579)

Kavad I was succeeded by his youngest son Khosrow I; however, at the beginning of his reign in 531, Bawi, along with other members of the Iranian aristocracy, became involved in a conspiracy in which they tried to overthrow Khosrow and make Kavad, the son of Kavad's second eldest son Zamasp,[46] the shah of Iran. Upon learning of the plot, Khosrow executed all his brothers and their offspring, along with Bawi and the other nobles who were involved.[39]

Khosrow also ordered the execution of Kavad, who was still a child, and was away from the court, being raised by Adergoudounbades. Khosrow sent orders to kill Kavad, but Adergoudounbades disobeyed and brought him up in secret, until he was betrayed to the shah in 541 by his own son, Bahram. Khosrow had him executed, but Kavad, or someone claiming to be him, managed to flee to the Byzantine Empire.[47]


The reign of Kavad is considered a turning point in Sasanian history.[4] Due to his accomplishments, he is considered one of the most effective and successful kings to rule the Sasanian Empire.[1] He was successful in his efforts to reinvigorate his declining empire, which paved the way for a smooth transition to his son Khosrow I, who inherited a powerful empire, which was even further improved during his reign, becoming one of the most popular shahs of Iran, and as result earning the epithet of Anushirvan ("the immortal soul").[48][4][49]


  1. ^ Although some of Sukhra's sons would later serve Kavad, the power of the Karens was first restored during the reign of Kavad's son and successor, Khosrow I Anushirvan (r. 531–579), who reportedly regretted Kavad's approach to the family, and gave them the post of military commander (spahbed) of Khorasan.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Schindel 2013a, pp. 136–141.
  2. ^ Boyce 2001, p. 127.
  3. ^ Al-Tabari 1985–2007, v. 5: p. 128 (note #329).
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Chaumont & Schippmann 1988, pp. 574–580.
  5. ^ a b Pourshariati 2008, p. 78.
  6. ^ Daryaee 2014, pp. 25-26.
  7. ^ a b Axworthy 2008, p. 58.
  8. ^ a b c Daryaee 2014, p. 26.
  9. ^ a b Kia 2016, p. 253.
  10. ^ a b c d e Pourshariati 2008, p. 79.
  11. ^ a b c Pourshariati 2008, p. 80.
  12. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 79-80.
  13. ^ a b c d Frye 1983, p. 150.
  14. ^ a b Pourshariati 2017.
  15. ^ Daryaee 2014, pp. 26-27.
  16. ^ a b c d e Daryaee 2014, p. 27.
  17. ^ Axworthy 2008, p. 59.
  18. ^ a b Procopius, 6.
  19. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 267.
  20. ^ a b c Pourshariati 2008, p. 114.
  21. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 267–268.
  22. ^ a b Axworthy 2008, pp. 59–60.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Axworthy 2008, p. 60.
  24. ^ Daryaee 2014, p. 124.
  25. ^ Daryaee 2014, pp. 129-130.
  26. ^ Axworthy 2008, p. 61.
  27. ^ Langarudi 2002.
  28. ^ Gaube 1986, pp. 519-520.
  29. ^ Calmard 1988, pp. 319-324.
  30. ^ Modarres.
  31. ^ Kettenhofen 1994, pp. 13–19.
  32. ^ Gadjiev 2017.
  33. ^ Chaumont 1985, pp. 806-810.
  34. ^ Daryaee 2009.
  35. ^ a b Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 62.
  36. ^ Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 63.
  37. ^ Greatrex & Lieu 2002, pp. 69–71.
  38. ^ Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 77.
  39. ^ a b Pourshariati 2008, p. 111.
  40. ^ a b Procopius, 11.
  41. ^ Sundermann 1986, p. 662.
  42. ^ Greatrex & Lieu 2002, pp. 81–82.
  43. ^ a b c Martindale 1992, p. 160.
  44. ^ Procopius, XVIII.
  45. ^ Schindel 2013b, pp. 141–143.
  46. ^ Frye 1983, p. 465
  47. ^ Martindale, Jones & Morris 1992, pp. 16, 276; Pourshariati 2008, pp. 268–269; Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 112.
  48. ^ Kia 2016, pp. 256-257, 261.
  49. ^ Daryaee 2014, pp. 28-30.


Ancient worksEdit

Modern worksEdit

Kavad I
Preceded by
King of kings of Iran and Aniran
Succeeded by
Preceded by
King of kings of Iran and Aniran
Succeeded by
Khosrow I