Mihranid commander, Northern Iran, late Sasanian era (6th – 7th Century)
The Mihrans were one of the great noble houses serving under the Sasanian dynasty, who ruled from the 3rd to the 7th Century. The Sasanians were at the forefront of armoured cavalry development and used extremely sophisticated armour in their wars with the Romans and various Central Asian tribes.
The individual here is equipped in a royal manner. The helmet is a copy of one excavated in Amlash, dated from the 5th – 7th Centuries AD, and is worn here with a jewelled diadem (headband) on which one can see the motifs of a crescent moon and wings. The helmet is itself decorated with embossed silver sheeting, and has a maille hanging covering the warrior’s face. On his body he wears a shirt of maille, made of interlocking rings which is protective and flexible, and an additional cuirass of lamellar covering his upper arms and torso, which provides additional protection. Many pieces of lamellar dating from the Sasanian era have been found in southern Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and northwestern India. His legs are likewise protected with greaves, and he also has gauntlets to protect his hands, copied from an example found in northern Iran, near Amlash.
The globes or pompoms seen on the helmet and on the shoulders are known as “korymboi” and are marks of rank – the ancestors of modern day epaulettes. They are made of horsehair tied into a topknot and covered with a silk panel and they help mark out kings and commanders on the battlefield.
The primary weapon of the Sasanians was the bow, and they were famous for the speed of their archery. After releasing a volley of arrows, the knights would charge on horseback with long lances designed to pierce armour. Other weapons included axes, maces, swords and lariats.
In the bigger picture, the Sasanian dynasty represented the last pre-Islamic dynasty of Iran. It was during this time that Iranian culture flourished, and trade of commodities such as silk and metalwork really started to grow among the Silk Road in Central Asia. The Shahnameh, a literary epic on the history and mythology of Iran, started to materialise during the late Sasanian period and was finalised in the 10th Century by Ferdowsi. The memory of the Sasanians and the various Sasanian noble houses (the most important being the Mihran, the Karen, and the Ispahbudhan) remained in the Iranian ethos long after the fall of the Sasanian dynasty in the 7th Century and was often used to assert the legitimacy of ruling dynasties following the Arab conquest in the 7th Century.