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Babak Khorramdin

Babak Khorramdin
Statue in Babek city, Azerbaijan
Native name پاپک خرمدین
Born 795 or 798
Kaleybar,[1] East Azerbaijan
Died 7 January 838[2]
Ethnicity Persian[3][4][5][6][7][8]
Years active 23
Known for Leader of the Khorram-Dinān
Opponent(s) Abbasid Caliphate
Religion Zoroastrianism

Bābak Khorram-Din (Formally known as "Pāpak" meaning "Young Father") (Persian: بابک خرمدین‎‎, alternative spelling: Pāpak Xorramdin; 795, according to some other sources 798— January 838[9]) was one of the main Persian[3][4][5][6][7][8] revolutionary leaders of the Iranian[10] Khorram-Dinān[11] ("Those of the joyous religion"), which was a local freedom movement fighting the Abbasid Caliphate. Khorramdin appears to be a compound analogous to dorustdin "orthodoxy" and Behdin "Good Religion" (Zoroastrianism),[2] and are considered an offshoot of neo-Mazdakism.[12] Babak's Iranianizing[13] rebellion, from its base in Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran,[14] called for a return of the political glories of the Iranian[15] past. The Khorramdin rebellion of Babak spread to the Western and Central parts of Iran and lasted more than twenty years before it was defeated when Babak was betrayed. Babak's uprising showed the continuing strength in Azerbaijan of ancestral Iranian local feelings.[16]


  • Etymology 1
  • Early life 2
  • Movement 3
  • Death 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Sources 9


Babak (Persian: بابک) is a given name for Iranian males[17][18][19] The name derives from Pāpak which means "young father" in Middle Persian.[20][21]

Early life

Bābak was born into a Persian[3][4] family in Azerbaijan (northwestern Greater Iran) close to the city of Artawila (modern Ardabil). According to Wāqid ibn 'Amr Tamimi, the oldest biographer on Babak, Bābak's father was a Persian cooking-oil vendor from Ctesiphon, capital of the Sasanian Empire (modern al-Mada'in, 35 km south of Baghdad in Iraq) who left for the Azerbaijani frontier zone and settled in the village of Balālābād in the Maymadh district. According to Fasīh, his mother - a native Persian of Azerbaijan - was known as Māhrū Moon-Face/Belle.[2]

After his father's death in his early teens, Babak was given the responsibility of his two brothers and mother during a Zoroastrian ceremony in a fire temple. By the age of 18, Bābak had established himself in the city of Tabriz and was engaged in the arms trade and industry. He also served a certain Muhammad ibn Rawwad Azdi. Later on, this engagement gave him the opportunity to travel to some regions and become familiar with regions like the Caucasus, the Middle East, and the Byzantine Empire.[22]


View of the landscape from the castle.
Babak Castle.
Babak Castle.
Babak Castle.
The castle could be seen at the peak between fog.
The castle from the camp.

In 755, Abu Muslim was murdered. Although he had helped the Abbasids to defeat the former Caliphs, the Umayyad dynasty, the ruling Caliph had given the order to kill him, probably because of his increasing popularity among Iranians and Non-Muslims.[2] Many Iranians, who had expected more freedom and more rights from the new rulers, could not believe that their hero was killed by the ruling Caliph whom they had considered a friend of Iran and Iranians.[23]

This incident led to many revolts, mostly by angry Zoroastrians. This, in turn, forced the Caliphs to use more violence against the Iranian population in order to keep the eastern provinces under control. The constant revolts did not come to an end in the following decades, and the Iranian population of the Caliphate was constantly being oppressed.

Babak joined the Khurramiyyah (Khorram-Dinān) where he met his wife and battle companion, Banu Khorramdin. The story of joining the Khorrami movement is being told in Waqed's account, in summary, as follows:

Under the direction of his mentor Javidan Shahrak, a leader of one of the sects of the Khorramdin, Babak's knowledge of history, geography, and the latest battle tactics strengthened his position as a favorite candidate for commander during the early wars against the Arab occupiers.

Bābak was a highly spiritual person who respected his Zoroastrian heritage. He made every possible effort to bring Iranians together and also with leaders such as Maziar to form a united front against the Arab Caliph. According to the medieval historian, Ibn Esfandyar, who composed the book Tarikh-e Tabaristan "History of Tabaristan", Maziar said:

However, one of the most dramatic periods in the history of Iran was set under Bābak's leadership between 816-837. During these most crucial years, they not only fought against the Caliphate, but also for the preservation of Persian language and culture.

After the death of Javidan, Babak married Javidan's wife and became the Khorramis' leader, sometime in the year 816-17 during al-Ma'mun's reign. Babak incited his followers to rise in rebellion against the caliphal regime. The reports state that Babak called Persians to arms, seized castles and strong points, thereby barring roads to his enemies. Gradually a large multitude joined him.[2]

According to Vladimir Minorsky, around the 9th-10th century:[25]

There had long been groups of Khorramis scattered in Isfahan, Azerbaijan, Ray, Hamadan, Armenia, Gorgan, and elsewhere in Iran,[2] and there had been some earlier Khorrami revolts, e.g., in Gorgan jointly with Red Banner (Sorkh-'alamān) Bātenis in the caliph Al-Mahdi's reign in 778-79, when 'Amr b. 'Ala', the governor of Tabarestān, was ordered to repulse them, and at Isfahan, Ray, Hamadan, and elsewhere in Harun al-Rashid's realm, when 'Abd-Allah b. Malek and Abu Dolaf 'Ejli put them down on caliph's behalf - but none had the scale and duration of Babak's revolt, which pinned down caliphal armies for twenty years. After Babak's emergence, the Khorrami movement was centered in Azerbaijan and reinforced with volunteers from elsewhere, probably including descendants of Abu Muslim's supporters and other Iranian enemies of the 'Abbasid caliphate. The figures given for the strength of Babak's Khorramdinan army, such as 100,000 men (Abu'l-Ma'ali), 200,000 (Mas'udi), or innumerable (Baghdadi) are doubtless highly exaggerated but at least indicate that it was large.[2] At that time of Babak, there were Khorramis scattered in many regions of Iran, besides Azerbaijan, reportedly in Tabarestan, Khorasan, Balkh, Isfahan, Kashan, Qom, Ray, Karaj, Hamadan, Lorestan, Khuzestan as well as in Basra, and Armenia.[2]

Tabari records that Babak claimed he possessed Javadan's spirit and that Babak became active in 816-817. In 819-820 Yahya ibn Mu'adh fought against Babak, but could not defeat him. Two years later Babak vanquished the forces of Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid. In 824-825 the caliphal general Ahmad ibn al Junayd was sent against Babak. Babak defeated and captured him.

In 827-828 Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi was dispatched to fight Babak. He won a victory and sent some captured enemy, but not Babak, to al-Ma'mun. However, about two years later, on June 9, 829, Babak won a decisive victory over this general at Hashtadsar. Muhammad ibn Humayd lost his life. Many of his soldiers were killed. The survivors fled in disarray.

In 835-836 the caliph al-Mu'tasim sent his outstanding general Afshin against Babak. Afshin rebuilt fortresses. He employed a relay system to protect supply caravans. Babak tried to capture the money being sent to pay Afshin's army, but was himself surprised, lost many men and barely escaped. He did succeed in capturing some supplies and inflicting some hardship on his enemies. Amongst Babak's commander, various names have been mentioned including Azin, Rostam, Tarkhan, Mua’wiyah and Abdullah.[26]

The next year Babak routed the forces of Afshin's subordinate, Bugha al-Kabir. In 837-838 al-Mu'tasim reinforced Afshin and provided him clear military instructions. Patiently following these enabled Afshin to capture Babak's stronghold of Badhdh. Babak escaped. Al-Mu'tasim sent a safety guarantee for Babak to Afshin. This was taken to Babak who was very displeased. He said:

"Better to live for just a single day as a ruler than to live for forty years as an abject slave."

He made his way to the Armenian leader Sahl Smbatean (Sahl ibn Sunbat in Arab sources), Prince of Khachen. Sahl Smbatian, however, handed Babak over to Afshin, for big amount of reward. Al-Mu'tasim commanded his general to bring Babak to him. Afshin informed Babak of this and told him since Babak might never return, this was the time to take a last look around. At Babak's request, Afshin allowed his prisoner to go to Badhdh. There Babak walked through his ruined stronghold one night until dawn.

Eventually, Bābak, his wife, and his warriors were forced to leave Ghaleye Bābak after 23 years of constant campaigns.


He was eventually betrayed by Afshin and was handed over to the Abbasid Caliph. During Bābak's execution, the Caliph's henchmen first cut off his legs and hands in order to convey the most devastating message to his followers. The legend says that Bābak bravely rinsed his face with the drained blood pouring out of his cuts, thus depriving the Caliph and the rest of the Abbasid army from seeing his pale face, a result of the heavy loss of blood.[2][27] He was then gibbeted alive whilst sewn into a cow's skin with the horns at ear level to gradually crush his head as it dried out.[28]


Babak Khorramdin was not well known outside academia until the 20th century; however, due to Soviet nation building efforts and Babak's following of teaching of Mazdak with its pseudo-communist and socialist themes, Babak Khorramdin was proclaimed a national hero in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. For example, the Soviet era scholar Ziya Bunyadov, claimed that "Babak was a national hero of Azerbaijani people" while the Russian ethnologist, historian and anthropologist Victor Schnirelmann dismisses Bunyadov's theory, criticizing Bunyadov for not mentioning that Babak spoke Persian, and ignoring the witness accounts of Babak's contemporaries who call him Persian.[29] To this day, in the modern Republic of Azerbaijan, Babak is a cult figure and celebrated as a national hero.[30] In modern Iran, due to the rise of nationalism in the 20th century, and renewed interest in pre-Islamic Iran, Babak Khorramdin was rediscovered during the reign of Reza Shah, and is celebrated as a national hero.[31][32] However, Babak remains a controversial figure in the Islamic Republic, whose idolization is criticized by some Shia clerics.[31][33]


Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari History v. 32 "The Reunification of the Abbasid Caliphate", transl. C.E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1987; v. 33 "Storm and Stress along the Northern Frontiers of the Abbasid Caliphate", transl. C.E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1991

See also


  1. ^ saeed Nafīsī, Bābak-e Ḵorramdīn, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1342 Š./1963, p.152
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Encyclopædia Iranica, "Babak Khorrami" by G.H. Yusofi
  3. ^ a b c Arthur Goldschmidt, Lawrence Davidson, "A concise history of the Middle East", Westview Press; Eighth Edition (July 21, 2005). Pg 81: "..a Persian named Babak whose rebellion lasted twenty three years. Victorious in every battle, these uprisings were inspired by Persia's pre-Islamic religions, such as Zoroastrianism (The faith of Sassanid rulers) and a peasant movement called Mazdakism"
  4. ^ a b c Whittow (1996), The Making of Orthodox Byzantium, 600-1025. New studies in medieval history, London: Macmillan, pp. 195, 203 & 215 
  5. ^ a b Daniel Pipes, "Slave soldiers and Islam: the genesis of a military system ", Middle East Forum, 1981. pg 153: "Al-Mutasim undertook two military campaigns during his caliphate, the attack on Amorium (a town in Anatolia) and the suppression of the Persian rebel Babak."
  6. ^ a b Bernard Lewis, "The Arabs in History", Oxford University Press, 2002. pp 109-110.
  7. ^ a b Armenian historian Vardan Areweltsʻi, ca. 1198-1271 notes: In these days, a man of the PERSIAN race, named Bab, who had went from Baltat killed many of the race of Ismayil(what Armenians called Arabs) by sword and took many slaves and thought himself to be immortal... See: La domination arabe en Armènie, extrait de l’ histoire universelle de Vardan, traduit de l’armènian et annotè, J. Muyldermans, Louvain et Paris, 1927, pg 119: En ces jours-lá, un homme de la race PERSE, nomm é Bab, sortant de Baltat, faiser passer par le fil de l’épée beaucoup de la race d’Ismayēl tandis qu’il.. Original Grabar: Havoursn haynosig ayr mi hazkes Barsitz Pap anoun yelyal i Baghdada, arganer zpazoums i sour suseri hazken Ismayeli, zpazoums kerelov. yev anser zinkn anmah. yev i mium nvaki sadager yeresoun hazar i baderazmeln youroum ent Ismayeli
  8. ^ a b The Arab historian ʻAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥazm (994-1064) mentions the different Iranian revolts against the Caliphate in Al-Faṣl fi l-Milal & l-Ahwāʾ & n-Niḥal.
    The Persians had the great land expanse and were greater than all other people and thought of themselves as better... after their defeated by Arabs, they rose up to fight against Islam but God did not give them victory. Among their leaders were Sunbādh, Muqanna‘, Ustasīs, Bābak and others.
    «أن الفرس كانوا من سعة الملك وعلو اليد على جميع الأمم وجلالة الخطير في أنفسهم حتى أنهم كانوا يسمون أنفسهم الأحرار والأبناء وكانوا يعدون سائر الناس عبيداً لهم فلما امتحنوا بزوال الدولة عنهم على أيدي العرب وكانت العرب أقل الأمم عند الفرس خطراً تعاظمهم الأمر وتضاعفت لديهم المصيبة وراموا كيد الإسلام بالمحاربة في أوقات شتى ففي كل ذلك يظهر الله سبحانه وتعالى الحق وكان من قائمتهم سنبادة واستاسيس والمقنع وبابك وغيرهم »Ibn Ḥazm, ʻAlī ibn Aḥmad (1995), Al-Faṣl Fī Al-Milal Wa-Al-Ahwāʾ Wa-Al-Niḥal (1st ed.), Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Jīl 
  9. ^ 3 Safar 223 A.H.
  10. ^ Bernard Lewis (1991), "The Political Language of Islam", University of Chicago Press, pp 314. "The last and most nearly successful of the Iranian movements, however was that of Babak, who established his independence in Iran's Azerbaijan early in al-Mamun's reign."
  11. ^ "Babak." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 7 June 2007 .
  12. ^ Dr Farhad Daftary C. E. Bosworth, Afshin; accessed March 15, 2007.
  13. ^ Bernard Lewis (1991), "The Political Language of Islam", University of Chicago Press, pp 482):""Babak's Iranianizing rebellion in Azerbaijan gave occasion for sentiments at the capital to harden against men who were sympathetic to the more explicitly Iranian tradition"
  14. ^ F. Daftary (1999) Sectarian and National Movements in Iran, Khurasan and Transoxania During Umayyad and Early 'Abbasid Times In History of Civilizations of Central Asia, vol. IV, part One, ed. M. S. Asimov and C. E. Bosworth. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, pp. 41-60. excerpt from pg 50: "The activities of the Khurammiya reached their peak in the movement of Babak al-Khurrami, whose protracted rebellion based in north-western Iran seriously threatened the stability of the Abbassid caliphate.... This revolt lasting for more than twenty three years, soon spread from Azerbaijan (North/West Iran) to western and central parts of Iran.
  15. ^ Kathryn Babayan, "Mystics, monarchs, and messiahs ", Harvard CMES, 2002. pg 138: "Babak revolted in Azerbaijan (816-838), evoking Abu Muslim as a heroic symbol..and called for a return to the Iranian past"
  16. ^ C.E. Bosworth, "AZERBAIJAN iv. Islamic History to 1941" in Encyclopaedia Iranica [2]. Excerpt: "An episode like Bābak’s uprising showed the continuing strength in Azerbaijan of ancestral Iranian local feelings."
  17. ^ Huart, Cl. "Bābek". Encyclopaedia of Islam, First Edition (1913-1936). E.J. Brill. Retrieved 2012-04-25. 
  18. ^ Sourdel, D. "Bābak". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. E.J. Brill. Retrieved 2012-04-25. 
  19. ^ , second editionEncyclopedia of Islam"BĀBAK",
  20. ^ "Bāpak". Encyclopedia Iranica. 
  21. ^  
  22. ^ "Khorramis in Byzantium" in Encyclopædia Iranica by Evangelos Venetis. Access date, Nov 5, 2007.
  23. ^ CAIS News, Restoration of Fortress of Babak Khorramdin to Continue, May 16, 2004.
  24. ^ Said Nafisi, Babak Khorramdin Delawar-e-Azerbaijan (Babak Khorramdin, the braveheart of Azerbaijan), Tabesh Publishers, Tehran 1955, pg 57, actual quote from Ibn Esanfiyar: Persian: من (مازیار) و افشين خيدر بن کاوس و بابک هر سه از دير باز عهد و بيعت کرده ايم و قرار داده بر آن که دولت از عرب بازستانيم و ملک و جهانداري با خاندان کسرويان نقل کنيم‎‎
  25. ^ V. Minorsky, Studies in Caucasian History, Cambridge University Press, 1957, pg 112
  26. ^ Said Nafisi, Babak Khorramdin Delawar-e-Azerbaijan (Babak Khorramdin, the brave-heart of Azerbaijan), Tabesh Publishers, Tehran 1955
  27. ^ CAIS News, Restoration of Fortress of Babak Khorramdin to Continue, May 16, 2004
  28. ^ The golden age of Islam by Maurice Lombard, page 152, ISBN 1-55876-322-8, ISBN 978-1-55876-322-7
  29. ^ Shnirelman, V.A.(2001), 'The value of the Past: Myths, Identity and Politics in Transcaucasia', Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology.pp 123: "Having claimed that, Buniiatov failed to mention that Babek spoke Persian, and ignored the witnesses of contemporaries who called him the "Persian".
  30. ^ David Menashri. Central Asia Meets the Middle East. Portland Frank Cass, 1998
  31. ^ a b Michael M.J. Fischer, Mehdi Abedi, "Debating Muslims: cultural diologues in postmodern and tradition", University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. pg 191
  32. ^ Zabiollah Safa,"Daliraan-i Jaanbaaz" (Brave Heroes), Firdawsi Publishers, Tehran, 1998.
  33. ^ Ahmed Hashim, International Institute for Strategic Studies, p80


  • SOURDEL, D (1986). "BĀBAK".  
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