Reforms of the Khosrau I Anushirvan

Khosrau I, also Anushirvan, ruled the Sāsānian Empire between 531 and 579. He was a reformist that led his people through a period that experienced inordinate political and socio-economic reforms. He was not the oldest son of his father, Kavadh (I), and he was not able to succeed him immediately after his death. In spite of his father’s wishes, he had to engage in a struggle for the throne with his other brothers. He had to overcome a plot by nobles to raise one of his brothers to rule the empire. Furthermore, the region was going through a period that was marred by social disorder caused by a ruthless sect that caused a religious revolution. Khosrau initially had to restore order within his empire, and then he embarked on putting in place the much-needed reforms to revive the empire. These reforms would set a precedent how the empire was run in the future. His reforms would be recorded in Islamic writings that were passed down through the centuries. Additionally, there are plenty of similar later writings that feature his just ways as well as how the region thrived under his rule. In essence, he inhabits a similar position to the great Shah ‘Abbas from the Safavid era (Frye, 2015). This paper endeavors to highlight all the political and socio-economic reforms brought about by Khosrau (I) as well as their implications.

Tax Reforms

The Iranians still believe that Khosrau’s greatest achievement was reforming the taxation system. Tax reforms were started by Kavad and later completed under the rule of Khosrau. He made the region abandon the inefficient annual tax calendar, and to pick up a survey-based taxation system that was reliant on the annual income and property of the citizens. According to Slatyer (2012) his change of the taxation policy gave the leader the ability to develop long-term strategies for the region. Under the previous policy, nobles enjoyed great freedoms and they were often exempted from taxation. During the Mazdakite movement[1]there were very many cases of land-ownership confusion. Khosrau rectified the situation and made sure that all land across the empire irrespective of the ownership had to be taxed equally. Also, revenue that used to be collected and taken to the nobles had to go to the main registry run by the central government. A lot of income for the kingdom used to be lost due to such inefficiencies. Nobles often took a colossal part of the amounts that they collected (Harrison, 2011).

Some historians argue that Khosrau’s tax system largely borrowed from what used to be run by the Romans. The Roman Empire had a tax system that was based on the reforms of the Roman emperor Diocletian. This system was born after the combination of the Roman capitatio and iugatio that called for the collection of taxes three times annually. This increased the accuracy as well as the fairness in tax collection. The items that used to be imposed include fruits, land produce, and grains. However, most of these products were highly perishable, and they ended up getting spoilt before they could be assessed by the tax collectors. The new taxation system required that land had been evaluated based on size and water rights. Rates were fixed for the grain-producing land, and land that had olive, and date trees were taxed according to the number of trees on the land. A poll tax was also introduced for male adults between the ages of 20 and 50. Every male that fell within this category was expected to pay this tax annually (Salehi-Esfahani, 2008).

Implications of the Tax Reforms

The tax reforms were Khosrau’s most significant reforms. The taxes turned out to be fairer to those who paid them. As a result, the state began witnessing a stabilization of the income that they received annually. The set tax policy was so good that they lasted even during the Islamic periods. With a more stable income, the king was able to transform his army from a disorganized group of self-armed warlords into an organized military made up of fully armed knights (Slatyer, 2012, p.290). To minimize the chances of his kingdom being overthrown, Khosrau separated the empire into four distinct army districts. These districts were led by military governors, all under the rule of the king. Mining and extraction of metals became a state enterprise. Also, the increased income gave the king the ability to engage in various building projects across the empire. He built very incredible infrastructure and improved the livelihood of many of the country’s citizens (Firdawsī. & Atkinson, 2012).

Infrastructure Development

Khosrau I believed in the importance of infrastructure development, and he slowly turned his kingdom into the Seraglio of the region. He significantly improved his empire’s capital, building new towns and putting up many new buildings. Intensive agriculture was taken up, driven by wells, canals, dams and bridges that were set up. This agriculture was run in a feudal system. Mesopotamia, which was part of the kingdom, is termed as one of the places where modern day agriculture was started. The region was miles ahead the other regions in terms of technological advancements in agriculture. Historians believe that agricultural produce increased by up to five times during his reign. He rebuilt all the canals and farms that were destroyed during the war. Trade expanded further under Khosrau I and the state controlled the trade in luxury goods. Port facilities and caravansaries were further enhanced in a bid to improve trade. Resultantly, the Persians dominated both sea and land trade through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia (Ben-Meir, 2010).

Military Reforms

It is important to note that the army was a crucial part of the empire. The king’s reform of the army was equally as important, if not more than, that of the tax system. Previous armies were only focused on technical advances and new weaponry, and they were not paid for their services. Under Khosrau I, the army became more organized and focused on training. The members of the army were now regarded as very important members of society (Frye, 2015). Researchers note that the number and die quality of the coins used under Khosrau significantly improved. The kingdom’s army became even more disciplined that that of the romans. It should be noted that Khosrau I also became the first ruler of the country to pay the army a salary. The iconography of the coins became more pronounced as well. Some elements were still retained such as the domination of the heavily-armed cavalry, with the archers playing an elfin role.

The king also continued the policy that his predecessors had in place by shoring up the forts were built on the frontiers. This was to keep the kingdom safe from external attacks (Harrison, 2011). This army reforms proved to be useful for the king during his reign as he was involved in a number of wars. It is important to note that Khosrau reign is highly regarded for his battles against the Byzantines. As a case in point for Khosrau’s military prowess, he was able to conquer and hold Antioch for some time in 540. He took quite a number of prisoners from the city and settled them in a town near his capital. The new was modeled on the old Antioch, where the prisoners were brought from. On the eastern frontier, Khosrau formed an alliance with the Turks and destroyed the Hephthalites. Resultantly, Khosrau was able to establish hegemony over most of the surrounding regions (Ben-Meir, 2010).

Even in his old age, Khosrau was still able to fend off attacks because of the well-organized army that he had put in place. The Turks, following some stimulation from the Romans, attacked parts of the Persian Empire including Mesopotamia. Khosrau was able to lead his army and successfully defeat the Roman military. He also battled and won in Lazica and Armenia. Khosrau was heavily reliant on his professional army more than any of his predecessors. During his reign, the eastern frontier stretched as far as the Oxus River. In addition, the ruler was able to extend his empire to Yemen during his last years (Slatyer, 2012).

Administrative Reform

Khosrau engaged in dramatic bureaucratic reform. Ultimately, the region witnessed the creation of a new and very distinct social class. Initially, the empire consisted solely of 3 social classes. They included: peasants, nobles, and magi. The Khosrau retained these social classes, but he went a step further and added another social class – deghans. The deghans would fit in between the commoners and the nobles. The deghans consisted of the citizens that held small pockets of land in the empire. They would be regarded as lower nobility meaning that they would not be classified in the same group as the peasants who were dependent on handouts from the government. Government officials were promoted based on honesty as the ruler wanted to set up an honest administration (Frye, 2015).

Earlier government appointments were picked from the inefficient and very corrupt magi and nobles. Further, the deghans were favored over the nobles during appointments and promotions. They were believed to be more loyal, honest, and trustworthy. The growth of the deghan hierarchy is considered as the most significant social change that the Sāsānian Empire witnessed. The deghans who are a version of the modern-day middle class formed the Empire’s backbone, and they held a majority of government positions as well as land. The power of the great families was marginally reduced as the empire improved because of this change. Cases of corruption, as well as a waste of government property, took a dip. Earlier, the great families each owned colossal pieces of land and they all had their own kings.

It is interesting to note that the name Sāsānian was derived from the word Shahanshah which meant King of Kings. This was because the Sāsānian Persian Empire had very many feudal kings. Shahanshah was the overall leader such as Khosrau. During his reign, their powers were greatly reduced and redirected back to the king. Therefore, all the taxes and major decisions affecting the citizens were to come from the central government. This centralization of power was a very crucial reform that provided a much-needed political stability in the kingdom. The king would face a lesser threat from being overthrown. In addition, the division of the kingdom into four military districts would ensure that he had greater control. This power shift increased the income of the kingdom as well as the efficacy of the newly introduced tax collection system (Harrison, 2011).

It is imperative to note that Khosrau was a major influencer of the cultural achievements of the region. The academy of Athens was closed down in 529, and very many Greek philosophers decided to move to the Sāsānian Empire. The ruler was enthused and ensured that they were well received. Burzoe, the renowned physician, is believed to have been sent by the ruler to gather Sanskirt learning texts from India. These books of learning were to be translated to the local Middle Persian language (Salehi-Esfahani, 2008).

It is believed that Gondēshāpūr, a well-known medical school, was founded during his reign. Interestingly, he brought with him the game of chess from India and taught his subjects. Furthermore, astrology as well as astronomy thrived under this reign. One star table that eventually acted as a base for numerous latter Islamic tables is rumored to have been developed during Khosrau’s reign. Some notable literary works were created during this period. The infamous Book of Deeds written by Ardashir is from this time period. The revered text of the Zoroastrian religion was codification took place under explicit orders from Khosrau (Slatyer, 2012).

To conclude, Khosrau was a renowned reformer that ruled the Sāsānian Empire at a time when the Empire was crumbling. This research analyzed in detail and highlighted how he was engaged in a number of political as well as socio-economic reforms. Khosrau believed in the establishment of a powerful, just, and equal country. The most significant reforms, in this case, include the tax, administrative, military, and cultural reforms. His predecessors used a very trivial and ineffective tax system. Khosrau improved this system by allowing citizens to be taxed solely based on their produce.

Taxes were to be collected by the central government only and three times yearly. Further, Khosrau introduced much-needed administrative and social reform. Only 3 social classes existed earlier, and the ruler introduced a fourth social class that mirrors the modern-day middle class. This new class, deghans, was made up of landowners that ultimately went on to replace the nobles who held very important government positions. Increased revenue from the new tax policies as well as changes in the government prompted an improvement of the army. Khosrau turned his army into a very organized and well equipped military. This improvement of the army proved to be very beneficial, evidenced by the many battles that the kingdom was able to win.  All these measures changed the face of the kingdom, making it very strong. In fact, most of the policies that were put in place remained for very many years after.

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[1] The Mazdakite Movement was a movement by peasants in Sassanid between early 490s and late 520s that resulted in a shift to feudalized aristocracy.