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A tiny bronze of Kavad I


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Sasanian Kingdom. AE pashiz (12 mm, 0.35 g). Kavad I, second reign (499- 531). Obverse: Bust of king right, star behind and crescent before, ribbons before and in front. Reverse: Fire-altar with two attendants, star and crescent at top, to right unclear mintmark (possibly AT, Azerbaijan), to left unclear date. This coin: Pars Coins Bargain Auction 11, lot 76 (October 13, 2023).

(note: historical section contains reused text)

Kavad was born in 473, the son of Peroz I (459-484). After Peroz' death, his brother Valkash was appointed by the nobles to rule, but proved unpopular and was deposed after just four years. Kavad ascended the throne in 488, but as he was just 15 he was largely a figurehead for his advisors, particularly a Parthian-descended noble named Sukhra. In 493, by now more confident and worried about Sukhra's dominance, Kavad had Sukhra exiled to his native Shiraz. However, Sukhra still proved troublesome, and Kavad had him imprisoned and then executed. This, understandably, damaged his relations with the nobility. Around this time, Kavad also fell in with a heretical Zoroastrian faction known as the Mazdakites. The Mazdakites preached a socialist-sounding program of redistribution of wealth, as well as the more lurid idea they are most remembered for, wife-swapping. Some modern historians argue that the wife-swapping part was heavily embellished by the enemies of the Mazdakites to make them look bad; Touraj Daryaee argues that they merely loosened marriage rules to help the lower classes, which the wealthier nobles saw as a threat to their marriage-based alliances and traditional lineages. Regardless of how true the "wife-swapping" was, the wealth-redistribution part was more than enough to alarm the nobles. In 497 they overthrew Kavad, imprisoning him in the awesomely-named Tower of Oblivion and installing his brother Zamasp as king. Zamasp was apparently a moderate and humane king; he returned the state religion to more orthodox Zoroastrianism, and while he stopped the confiscation and redistribution of wealth, he did lower the taxes on the poorer classes. Meanwhile, Kavad managed to escape from captivity and make his way east. In 499 he returned at the head of a large force of Hephthalites. Zamasp decided not to fight his brother and relinquished the throne to him, heading into exile in Armenia. 

Having regained the throne, Kavad continued a reform program, but one more moderate than previously. He instituted a poll tax and reviewed the assignments of tax dues to improve fairness, strengthened small landowners, and introduced a new priestly office called "advocate and judge of the poor" to oversee charity programs. He also reformed the army, reducing the influence of noble-controlled cavalry and enlisting troops from Hephthalite and Arab allies. By the 520s, he had turned away from the Mazdakites, and had many of them executed, possibly including their leader Mazdak. (There is some debate over whether Mazdak was actually a real person, or just a name used for the movement.) Kavad proved a strong military leader, successfully leading Sasanian armies against the Byzantine emperor Anastasius I from 502-505. Around 520, Kavad tried to simultaneously strengthen the position of his son (and eventual successor) Khusro, and also improve relations with the Byzantines, by having him adopted by the Byzantine emperor Justin I. Negotiations broke down, however, reportedly over fears that Khusro might try to usurp the Byzantine throne. This was later used as a pretext, in 528, for renewal of warfare between the two empires. In 531, Kavad died of natural causes, and his son and successor, now Khusro I, made peace once again with the Byzantines under Justinian I.

This is a rather well-preserved small bronze coin, if it were larger I expect it would have received much stronger bids in the auction ( I won it at a practically-larcenous $16). I have called it a pashiz, but pashiz seems to be a pretty general term for any small Persian bronze coin, not necessarily a specific denomination. Please post your coins of Kavad I, or any related coins.

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