maternal uncles of Ḵosrow II Parvēz and leading statesmen and soldiers under Hormozd IV and Ḵosrow Parvēz.


BESṬĀM O BENDŌY, maternal uncles of Ḵosrow II Parvēz and leading statesmen and soldiers under Hormozd IV and Ḵosrow Parvēz. They were sons of Šāpūr, grandsons of Ḵorbondād (Dīnavarī, p. 107; Nehāyat al-arab fī aḵbār al-fors wa’l-ʿarab, apud E. G. Browne, JRAS, 1900, p. 238, omits Šāpūr and gives Ḵorbondādōya only, and Šāh-nāma (Moscow) VIII, p. 42, gives Ḵarrād [< Ḵorradād] instead of Šāpūr). Their family, the Spāhbad (Theophylactos Simocatta, 4.3.5), was one of the seven great houses of the Parthian and Sasanian periods (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 306; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 104 n. 1), and allegedly descended from Dārā and Esfandīār through the Arsacids (Dīnavarī, loc. cit., with Theophylactos, loc. cit.). So elevated was the position of this family in the Persian empire that its members were acknowledged as “kin and partners of the Sasanians” (Dīnavarī, loc. cit.). Yet they did not escape harm when Hormozd proceeded, in his last years, to murder or detain powerful magnates whom he mistrusted exceedingly. Šāpūr was among those killed ([Pseudo-]Sebeos in M. K. Patkanian, Essai d’une histoire de la dynastie des Sassanides, Paris, 1866, p. 89) and his sons were among those imprisoned (Die von Guidi herausgegebene syrische Chronik, tr. Th. Nöldeke, Vienna, 1893, p. 8; Dīnavarī, p. 86; Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 273). This king further antagonized the army by reducing its pay by 10 percent (Theophylactos, 3.13.16) and dismissing some cavalry units (Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, p. 267). Hormozd finally drew the most celebrated of all the nobles, Bahrām Čōbīn to rebellion, and as the latter marched on Ctesiphon, the magnates “who equally hated Hormozd” (Syrische Chronik, p. 5) instigated their own revolt, seized the palace and released the detainees. In the panic-stricken capital the reins of power fell into the hands of Besṭām and Bendōy (Arm. Vndoy, Greek Bindoēs; diminutive of Vinda[-farnah?]; see Justi, op. cit., p. 370). In league with Ḵosrow, the two brothers first arrested and blinded Hormozd, and then—as Bahrām drew closer—put him to death, and fled toward Azerbaijan (summer 590) to escape being seized by Bahrām (ibid., pp. 5ff.; Dīnavarī, pp. 87f.; for further references see bahrām čōbīn). In the first two troubled years of Ḵosrow, Bendōy and Besṭām encouraged him to face Bahrām (Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 664f.; Nehāya, p. 238), stood by him wholehearted­ly, and earnestly strove to restore his authority. While Besṭām gathered royalists in Azerbaijan, Bendōy led Ḵosrow toward the Byzantine border, and, when overtaken by Bahrām’s troops, he displayed heroic devotion, masquerading as the prince and allowing himself to be captured so that his royal nephew could escape to safety. Bahrām detained him but treated him with chivalry (Dīnavarī, pp. 89ff.; Baḷʿamī, ed. Bahār, pp. 1080ff.; Nehāya, pp. 239f.; Ṯaʿālebī, pp. 665ff.; Šāh-nāma IX, pp. 10ff.).

By January, 591, Ḵosrow was returning with a large Byzantine army that he had obtained by making territorial concessions. Besṭām supported him with 8,000 royalists while Bendōy managed to escape and join them in Azerbaijan. A great battle was fought with Bahrām’s outnumbered army (see bahrām  čōbīn), and Bendōy shrewdly induced mass desertions among the enemy ranks by promising the troops, in the name of Ḵosrow, pardon and protection (Dīnavarī, p. 98). Even after the reestablishment of his authority, Ḵosrow did not feel secure, and kept a guard of 1,000 Byzantine soldiers (Theophylactos, 5.11-13). He rewarded his supporters with estates and offices, appoint­ing Bendōy treasurer and grand minister of the state and Besṭām governor of Ṭabarestān, Gorgān, Kōmeš and Khorasan (Dīnavarī, p. 102; Nehāya, p. 241; cf. Šāh-nāma IX, pp. 136-37; Masʿūdī, Morūj II, p. 223; see also J. Marquart, “Beiträge zur Geschichte und Sage von Ērān,” in ZDMG 69, 1895, p. 638). To discourage future regicide, and to prove his own innocence in the murder of Hormozd (Baḷʿamī, pp. 1154, 1169) Ḵosrow decided to execute his uncles. His motives were strengthened by distrust for the magnates, especially for those who knew how to topple kings (Nöldeke, p. 484), and Bendōy’s repeated protestations at the prince’s inexperience and incompetence (Syrische Chronik, p. 8; Dīnavarī, p. 105). Soon after his restoration (Nöldeke, op. cit., pp. 486-87; Dīnavarī, loc. cit., is wrong in referring to Ḵosrow’s 10th year), a case of reasonable disobedience furnished Ḵosrow with the opportunity to act against Bendōy; he had him arrested, mutilated, and put to death. Dying, Bendōy “shouted insults at Ḵosrow and his father, and recalled the faithlessness and breaking of pacts by the Sasanians” (Dīnavarī, pp. 106f.; see further Šāh-nāma IX, p. 178; Baḷʿamī, p. 1154; Masʿūdī, loc. cit.). Accord­ing to the Syrische Chronik (p. 8), Bendōy was arrested while fleeing toward Azerbaijan to join Besṭām; his right hand and foot were cut off, and then he was sent to Gondīšāpūr and crucified. Ḵosrow invited Besṭām to come to the court, ostensibly for consultation, but the latter was informed of the truth in time, and promptly rose in rebellion, claiming kingship (like Bahrām Čōbīn) on grounds of his Arsacid heritage: “You are not worthier to rule than I am. Indeed, I am more deserving on account of my descent from Dārā, son of Dārā, who fought Alexander. You Sasanians deceitfuly gained superiority over us [the Arsacids] and usurped our right, and treated us with injustice. Your ancestor Sāsān was no more than a shepherḍ . . .” (Dīnavarī, p. 108). He carved a kingdom for himself that stretched from the Oxus to the Zagros (Nöldeke, p. 484), and had the support of many magnates as well as the remnants of the troops of Bahrām Čōbīn who had settled in Deylam (Dīnavarī, pp. 106f.; Šāh-nāma IX, pp. 180ff.) and were led, it seems, by his son, Šāpūr (see below). He married Gordīya, Bahrām’s sister (Dīnavarī, p. 107; Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ I, p. 194; Šāh-nāma IX, p. 181), thereby increasing his prestige. His coins (minted at Ray) bore the legend Pērōz Vistān “the victor Besṭām,” and showed him wearing a crenellated crown adorned with three crescent moons. They are dated to years 1 through 7 and thus support some Christian sources that place his downfall in 596 (R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics, Brunswick, 1971, pl. XV and p. 53; Nöldeke, pp. 484-85). Having been joined by numerous kinsmen from Iraq and mercenaries from Ray and Qazvīn (Dīnavarī, p. 107; Šāh-nāma IX, p. 179), Besṭām succeeded in obtaining the allegiance of local magnates in Gīlān, Babr (the Ardabīl region), and Ṭaylasān (i.e., Ṭālešān; Dīnavarī, loc. cit.), and was able to repulse several forces sent against him (ibid.; Šāh-nāma, loc. cit.; cf. Nöldeke, op. cit., p. 485). He even expanded his authority to the land of the Hephthalites and subjugated two princes, Šaug and Pariowk ([Ps.-] Sebeos, in Patkanian, op. cit., p. 95). As Markwart (Ērānšahr, pp. 83f.) recognized, the Bahrām Čōbīn­-nāmak has transferred these two princes to the history of the more famous hero: Šaug has replaced Šāba the Great Ḵāqān of the Turks, whom Bahrām slew with an arrow shot, the father of Parmōda, whom Bahrām is supposed to have besieged and forced to surrender.

These successes emboldened Besṭām. Having made Daštāba/Dastabī (near Ray) his headquarters, he proceeded in earnest to make inroads into Media (Dīnavarī, pp. 107-08). Deeply alarmed (Nöldeke, op. cit., pp. 485-86), Ḵosrow sent several armies against him, and later, with a larger host joined them in person. Besṭām garrisoned strategic mountain passes, and fought the royal forces in a great battle in the neighborhood of Hamadān. When the heavy engagements continued for three days, Ḵosrow resorted to treachery, and at his instigation, Pariowk, who accompanied Besṭām, murdered the latter and sent his head to Ḵosrow. The leaderless army panicked and scattered (for the campaign see Dīnavarī, pp. 108ff., which is followed by Nehāya, p. 243. The murder is described in [Ps.-]Sebeos, in Patkanian, loc. cit., and Syrische Chronik, p. 9. In another version Gordīya kills Besṭām upon receiving Ḵosrow’s instructions accompanied with the promise of marriage: Dīnavarī, pp. 109-­10; Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ I, p. 194; Šāh-nāma IX, pp. 184ff.). “They hung the head of Besṭām from the neck of Šāpūr, son of Bahrām [Čōbīn], who had risen in arms, and having mounted him on a camel, led him through the streets of the capital” (Syrische Chronik, p. 9). Some sixty kinsmen of Bendōy and Besṭām were also executed (Nöldeke, op. cit., 483; Baḷʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 1169). Ḵosrow then sent the Armenian Smbat Bagratōnī to regain the rebellious provinces ([Ps.-]Sebeos, in Pat­kanian, loc. cit.). Thirty-six years later, Ḵosrow was tried and executed for his great sins, among them his part in the murder of his father and his treacherous behavior toward his uncles (Nöldeke, op. cit., pp. 363ff.; Dīnavarī, pp. 112-13; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 721). A son of Bendōy was instrumental in these proceedings (Baḷʿāmī, op. cit., p. 1155). That the fate of Besṭām did not end the House of Spahbad is evidenced by the fact that of the commanders who fought the Arabs in 634, two, Tīrōya and Bendōya, were sons of Besṭām (Ṭabarī, I, p. 2169) and a third was his sister’s son, Narsē (ibid., p. 2125).

Besṭām’s name may survive in the name of Besṭām, a town north of Šāhrūd (cf. Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 71), and in that of Ḵosrow’s famous monument near Kermānšāh, Ṭāq-e Bostān “arch of Besṭām,” according to the Mojmal (p. 79), which says that near Kermānšāh there was a “village called Besṭām, and Besṭām is Gostahm, the uncle of Kosrow.” See also besṭām, the name.

Bibliography: Given in the text.

(A. Shapur Shahbazi)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 2, pp. 180-182