“I serve the people and live for the people, even if that means I have to die for them.”Empress Borandukht the Great was the Empress of Persia and is often regarded as one of the greatest rulers, sometimes even the greatest ruler of Persia.
Borandukht is the romanized name of the Persian name Borandokht or Purandokht (Persian:بوراندخت). Borandukht means "girl with a rosy face" in Persian. She is also sometimes referred to as Queen Boran or Empress Boran.
Borandukht was born in 611 AD, Ctesiphon, as the daughter of Emperor Khosrau and one of his wives, Shirin. As she was a girl, she was not in the line of succession, and if she would have been, she would have come last because she had many older siblings. Being of royal descent, she was well educated and taught in the arts, the culture, the literature and mathematics. She also learned to write, which was a luxury in her time. She was expected to marry a rich nobleman which was customary for women, especially princesses and rich ones. In her time women had far less rights than men, as they could not serve as priests, military leaders, politicians and many in other positions. They also could only inherit property if they were the only surviving relative, they were also always obliged to listen to their patriarchs, which could be their father, uncle, brother or even son. Every woman was required to have a patriarch, with the exception of woman who had no surviving relatives. At the age of 16, Borandukht was forced to marry a rich nobleman, the governer of Tabaristan. She was a strong willed and independent woman and refused to marry the governor, which almost led to her demise. She was fortunate in that her father favored her and he understood her statement, blowing off the marriage. Borandukht was quite happy with her life in the palace and was popular with the people, she was famous for her generosity and frequently made public appearances.
Sassanid succession crisis
In 628 AD, the Emperor Khosrau II fled the capital city of Ctesiphon, fearing the Byzantine armies advancing towards the capital, already having won at Nineveh and capturing many cities and territory. The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius was confident in that he would capture Ctesiphon, ending the Sassanid Empire. However, Borandukht assumed de facto leadership of the empire, together with the empire's most praised general Shahrbaraz. Together, they managed to defeat the forces of Heraclius and signed a peace treaty. Their victory was temporary and they were put in prison by the so called true heir and Khosrau's son, Kavadh. Kavadh was in turn replaced and assassinated by his own son, Ardashir III. The continuously change of ruler left the empire decentralized, weak and collapsing. On 21 March 630 AD, Ardashir III was assassinated by the dissatisfied clergy and nobles, further weakening the empire and leaving the empire without leader. The final blow wasthe founding and rise of Islam, founded by the Prophet Muhammed, soon rebelling and conquering Arabia. Still being in prison, Shahrbaraz planned to become Emperor himself and negotiated with various military leaders to help them. On 14 April 630 AD, Shahrbaraz and Borandukht broke out of prison with the help of their allies, escaping to the Imperial Palace. It was here were Shahrbaraz announced his plans to Borandukht, he would become Emperor, squash the rebellion and then marry her, ensuring his legitimacy to the throne. Borandukht was shocked and expected that she herself would finally be free and independent, but Shahrbaraz reasoned that it would be better for her own good and safety that she obeyed. Nevertheless, the people were still not satisfied and insisted that a real descendant of the late emperor rule Persia. In June 630, Shahrbaraz was overthrown and killed in a coup, again weakening the empire. The sole legitimate descendant of the late emperor and heir to the the throne was Borandukht herself and on 16 June 630 she was coronated as the first Empress regnant in the history of Persia.
With no surviving relatives, as they were all murdered, captured, arrested or incapacitated, she was deemed the last surviving descendant of Emperor Khosrau II and the dynasty's founder Ardashir I. As soon as she became Empress, she proved to be a capable and cunning leader, centralizing the government and lowering taxes, the implementation of the reconstruction of the infrastructure, the transport system and the minting of new coins. Within two years of her reform the empire was in it's state it had been in before it's weakening, again bringing a new Golden Age to Persia and her holdings. She proved to be a great military leader and reorganized the army, also conquering much of Central Asia and Pakistan, reaching as far as the Ganges and the Tarim Basin, rivaling the long gone Achaemenid Empire. She proved her capability as a military strategist by personally overseeing the Battle of Kadisiya against the Arab invaders, proving to be more than a match and eventually defeating them. For many years the empire prospered, but all good things come to an end. The continuing military invasions terrorized many parts of Mesopotamia, this led to the establishment of a new capital which was named Sahr az-Sahra, meaning "City of the desert". Located in the Great Salt Desert, Central Persia, the city was completely hidden and secured from attacks. Fearing the Arab invaders, hundreds of thousands of people migrated to the province of Persia, with the capital city as largest destination. Within ten years, the population of the city grew to more than 500,000, making it one of the largest cities at that time. She also gave women equal rights of men and instituted total gender equality, being the first nation in world history to do so. During its height the empire had a population of 80 million, accounting for 38% of the world population.
Decline and Fall
Eventually the Arabs lost their patience and attacked the former capital of Ctesiphon, with the Empress being unable to help because she was too far away to know of the attack. After a long battle, the city was razed to the ground, with thousands killed and tens of thousand captured. In the following decade, the Arabs managed to conquer all of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Anatolia, Mesopotamia whil dealing with both the Persians and the Byzantines. Empress Borandukht managed to protect Persia for another 15 years, until she was defeated at Gondeshapur. Although the victory was pyrrhic, the city was nevertheless almost completely destroyed, including the world famous University of Gundeshapur. Accepting her defeat, the empress and her people left the capital of Sahr az-Sahra in 661 to settle a new city, high in the mountains, safe from the invaders. After many months she arrived at the small fortress of Alamut, which she made the new capital, founding the city of Sahr bar-rawa Sangu (City on the rock in Persian). Soon the Persian Empire was nothing more than a small remnant of what it had been, only controlling Tabaristan and Greater Azerbaijan. Decades later, it was still independent, defeating all attempts to conquer it by the Arabs and Khazars. Hundreds of thousands of people migrated to the so called unconquerable city of Alamut, by 690, it had become the second largest city in the world, with an estimated population of 1 million, second only to the Chinese capital of Chang'an. The city center was located on a large rock and the Imperial Palace and holy temples were located on the summit. The city walls were more than six meters thick and 20 meters high. For many years it was one of the world's leading cities. In 690, the Empress was old and made her oldest daughter, Shervindokht regent.
In 700, at the age 90, the empress was still alive and well, but her daughter acted as regent and was responsible for many matters of state. In January 700, the Arabs were finally able to penetrate the defenses of the front line and headed straight to the capital, besieging the city. The siege lasted for more than a year, with the Arabs slowly conquering the city, house by house. Eventually, the regent Shervindokht asked her mother to flee to city, as she had arranged an agreement with Empress Wu of China to give them protection, but she refused to leave her people, saying she would live and die with her people. Shervindokht left the city with many of her servants, crossing the Caspian Sea and safely escaping to China. Borandukht witnessed her city being burned and died on 30 December during the collapse of the Imperial Palace.
Borandukht is praised and hailed for her actions for the Persian nation in modern Persia and many parts of the world. Virtually all Persian sources describe her as a great and wise ruler, including the book of Shahnameh by Ferdowsi. Many scholars consider her to be one of the greatest leaders to ever rule over Persia, honoured with the epithet. Her military tactics were very effective against the Arab armies and many are still in awe of her impressive construction projects. She is often depicted a national heroine and earns a place in the Great Memorial of Esfehan, together with Cyrus II, Darius I, Ardashir I, Shapur II and Khosrau II. Her efforts to preserve Persian independence were one of the inspirations of the Persian Revolution. Borandukht's daughter continued the Sassanid Dynasty until today. The descendants of Borandukht today still rule Persia since it gained independence in 2013. Borandukth reigned for seventy years, she is one of the longest reigning monarchs of all time and the longest reigning female monarch of all time. She was the only Persian Empress regnant to reign until Empress Jasmine was coronated in 2013 as Persia's first monarch since its independence.
Personality, traits and personal life
Borandukht was described as being a strong willed and independent woman, being capable to survive on her own, with knowledge in martial arts. She was also described as being a generous, friendly and fair person. She was a leader of the people, always taking their opinion into account and promoting their well-being. She was a peaceful person, however the Golden Age "Pax Persica" was also an armed peace, suppressing rebellions that threatened the empire's continuing prosperity. She was however far from a pacifist and used violence when needed, such as when she brutally slaughtered the Khazars at the Battle of Urganj and refused their surrender, killing them all. She was a kind person, to both her servants and her people. Although she did punish injustice severely, sometimes by death.
The Empress was described as "a true beauty", both on the inside and outside. She had wavy, black hair that she wore in many different ways. She had brown eyes and her faces was "faultlessly". She was average in height, standing 1.65 meters tall, which was actually quite tall for women in her time. When she was still a princess, she had reportedly received hundreds of marriage proposals.
Unlike all her predecessors, Borandukht was a woman, which caused some difficulties regarding concubines. When she ascended the throne of the Sassanid Empire, she was unmarried and did not intend to take a chief consort. The nobility adviced her to take some "male concubines" to ensure to continuing existence of the dynasty. With some reluctance she agreed, on the condition that she would decide which ones would become her "concubines". Hundred men were presented to her from all across the empire, she would only choose four to become her concubines. She chose Shahin, Dariush, Kayvan and Jahan as her favourites. The empress outlived all of them.
Shahin was the son of a nobleman, born in the satrapy (province) of Media, he was of Persian nationality, which was an advantage in his time. The Empress chose him first, which may have been a sign that she favored him. He is depicted in many murals and painting as the closest concubine to the empress. He had one child with the empress, Shirvandokht, who would succeed the empress as head of the Sassanid Dynasty. He was nicknamed by the empress "The Handsome". It was rumored that he was secretly married to the empress, however there are no sources confirming that.
Kayvan was originally a Greek orphan, born in Ephesus, Satrapy of Lydia. His original name was Leonidas. He was a homeless child and was forced to survive on the streets on his own. One day he impressed the governer of Lydia and was adopted by him. He was chosen as second by the Empress. He was nicknamed "The Muscular" by the empress. He had a son with the empress, Samir.
Dariush was a half Persian/half Assyrian, born in Assur, Satrapy of Assyria, son of an influential merchant. He was an intelligent boy and wanted to become a scientist. He was chosen third by the empress. He was nicknamed "the Smart" by the empress. He had one unnamed son with the empress.
Jahan was a half Indian/half Persian, born in Lavapuri (present day Lahore), Satrapy of Hindush ,as the son of a military general. He was a cunning and strong willed young man. He was chosen as last by the empress. He was nicknamed the "The Romantic" by the empress. He had one unnamed son and one unnamed daughter with the empress.
- You could interpret history in different ways, for example: Borandukht caused both the Golden Age and the Fall and Destruction of the Sassanid Empire