The Arab invasion in the 7th century forced Iran to consolidate its forces. Chivalry, “Ayyari”, was quickly established. To rise above the conflict and strangle the adversary, Iran needed men of other qualities than individuality, even of the elite, given to austere practices. The valiant knight was sacred, a “Pahlavan”, only after having proved himself. To physical strength and control of his reflexes, had to be added the art of noble behavior, “Marefat”, respect for law, humanitarian conduct and the acceptance of an authority founded upon justice.
The influence of this knighthood was without comparison, not only in the reconsolidation of strength but also in the safeguarding in the national traditions and the propagation of Shiite faith in the 11th century. From the beginning this militant form of Islam took on a particularly Iranian form. The movement crystalized around the following idea: the true succession of the prophet Mohammad falls by right to his son in law Ali, married to his daughter Fatima and to their children.
Bahar (1880-1951), the last Persian who possessed the title of “Malek-ol-Shara”, Prince of Poets, was not only a chanter of poetry but a great historian. He edited an old manuscript “Tarikh-e-Sistan”, (a border province of Afghanistan) which he enhanced with an excellent preface in which he gives a remarkable definition of this Persian knighthood: “Courageous and fast, intelligent and quick to sense hurricanes and storms endangering the peace of their country, the “Ayyar” were knights.
A brotherhood was constituted under the Abbasid caliphate (762-1258) at Baghdad itself the capital of Arab power which extended up to Sistan & Khorasan (Landof the rising sun which formerly extended as far as the borders of India). Here one of the knights, Yaqoub Leys, succeeded in founding an Iranian dynasty in the 10th century. Through the centuries the “Ayyari” took on various aspects, the first of which is attested in the “Book of Kings”. Perhaps the events of this epic are frescoes of the imagination or exalted adaptations of local incidents but their importance is guaranteed by the eternal popularity of the heroes portrayed, by the part which they have never ceased to play and the place which they continue to hold in the memory of the people.
For the poet, “Ayyar” was Rostam who went into enemy territory on his own in search of his son. “Guiv” was another hero who went into the hideout of his adversary in “Touran” in order to trace a kidnapped Persian prince. These lonely crusades punctuated with heroic acts are typical of the chivalry as it was thought of by “Ferdowsi”.
With the installation of the Arabs in Iran all forms of patriotism were silences. However, little by little, the “Ayyari” reorganized itself as a political movement and rediscovered the rules which it had spread since its foundation under the parthons (250-224)
Instead of the Mithras it was now the Alidians who were venerated, those martyrs of a just cause falling under the blows of opportunists. The chivalrous brotherhood formed a chain which, in encircling the entire Iranian plateau, spread its branches into the very heart of the Abbasid capital. The form which these activities took was firstly in allegiance to shiism and later the movements led to the return of armed persecution.
In another chronicle, the “Qabous Nameh”, of the princes of Gorgan in the 10th century there is this explanation of the “Ayyari”: “An Ayyar is he who possesses the necessary qualities – courage and strength, the suppression of personal profit in favor of that the community, a feeling for friendship and brotherhood, charity and mercy, just thought and upright speech and gratitude towards the host who set before him bread and salt. An “Ayyar” is not discouraged by the blows of fate. The profound analysis of the ways of the world must assure him of a fruitful teaching”.
The moralist sums up his remark in a phrase: “Wisdom, honesty, harmonious strength”.
Steeped in every battle of wits, spurred on by an awareness of good, accustomed to all military exercises, the “Ayyar” took up arms in the 10th century against the Arabian invader and the legions of the powerful caliphate “Haroun-al-Rashid”.
Spectacular defeats were nullified when the Persian mountain dwellers stormed over the plains and dealing a staggering blow to the Abbasid pride, established the foundations of national hegemony. After brilliant victories over the Arabs, Yaqoub Leys, the Saffarid, the liberator par excellence, received a message from the caliphate. The reception which he gave him bears witness of the rustic simplicity and wisdom of this artisan knight. He ordered that he be brought leaks, onions and fish. This was done. He then received the Arab ambassador.
He bade him be seated and then, turning towards him said:
“Go and tell your master that I am a tin smith and that I leraned this craft from my father who taught me to work with bronze and brass. I eat my bread with fish, leaks and onions. I have taken over the kingship. I seized it thanks to knighthood. Valour, endurance and skill have opened the gates of glory for me.
I inherited no treasure and I shall not rest before having crushed your masters and kept my promises. Then the time will come when I shall quietly enjoy the sweetness of my bread rubbed with my onion and my fish with leaks”.
Unfortunately, this “Iranian Interlude”, characterized by regional dynasties founded all over Iran, was of short duration. Another period of invasions, this time Turkish, began in the 11th century. This period was only to end in the 16th century when Seljuks re-occupied Iran by expelling the Ghaznavids and taking Bghdad in 1055. At the beginning of the 12th century when the Mongolian conquest began, eastern Iran was devastated and the population massacred.
The occupation lasted for a century during which time all the terrible abuses of a Mongolian regime became widespread: immortality, corruption and brutality of all kinds were dealt to the population. This community, already tried to such an extent, was to face another ordeal by the end of the 14th century, namely the invasion by Turko Mongolian nomads led by “Timour Leng”, “the cripple” – whom we call Tamerlan. The invasion brought with it the usual train of misery, the decline of agriculture, the weakening of city life and financial depression. Then came the Black Sheep Turks of Anatolia and then those of western sheep only to be ousted by Redheads whose chief Shah Ismael, founded the Safavid Dynasty (1587 – 1722)
Badly treated by these successive unrests the “Ayyar” suffered a considerable decline but recovered its strength under the authority of Mongol sovereigns: since the “Ilkhans” were unable to govern their non-nomadic subjects competently, they entrusted the administration to Iranian viziers. These administrators helped to maintain and revive Persian culture and often proved to be enlightened patrons.
Knighthood spread to all the provinces, as it had done at the time of the Arab invasion. Once again in the “Zoorkhaneh”, physical exercises was forming muscled bodies capable of taking up arms when the moment came to oust the invader. Knighthood codified itself through treatises and formulative rules. A chronical of Khorasan provides us with a portrait of the accomplished knight of the time: “At Mashhad there was an “Ayyar” – a knight of merit and a famous “Pahlavan””. In combat everybody feared the sharp point of his dagger which pierced the coats of mail.