Posts filed under 'Persia'

922: Mansur al-Hallaj, Sufi mystic

Add comment March 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 922, Sufi Mansur al-Hallaj was put to a torturous end in Baghdad — either crucifixion, dismembering, or both — for “theological error threatening the security of the state.”

Born in Persia, al-Hallaj traveled widely from India to Mecca, eventually settling in Baghdad, the capital of the Abassid Empire.

Ana al-Haqq

Al-Hallaj espoused the mystical Islamic school of Sufism and produced gorgeous poetry.

But he ran afoul of the authorities for his unusual willingness to speak publicly about Sufi concepts which were held to require mystic initiation in order to grasp.

Most particularly, saying “ana al-Haqq” — “I am God” — and poems directly identifying himself with divinity were thought by the state theologians to have mystical wisdom for initiates, but to be exceedingly dangerous sentiments to set loose among the hoi polloi, especially given popular devotion to the Abassid government that was less than ironclad.

In truth, al-Hallaj’s condemnation seems to have been rooted in contemporary imperial politics, his demise representing the (momentary) upper hand of the more autocratic elements against potentially more sympathetic parties.

He spent eleven years in a Baghdad jail, reportedly enduring torture with placidity. Accounts of his execution speak of him greeting a horrific death with joy.

Mansur al-Hallaj remains revered today among mystically inclined followers of many faiths and admired by many westerners, factors which do not quite resolve the dispute over his place within Islam. Ultimately, the rightness of his choices remains very much in the eye of the beholder.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Caliphate,Capital Punishment,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Dismembered,Early Middle Ages,Execution,Famous,God,Gruesome Methods,Heresy,History,Iran,Iraq,Martyrs,Persia,Power,Religious Figures,Torture

838: Babak Khorramdin

Add comment January 4th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 838, Babak Khorramdin was chopped to pieces for his 20-year rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate.

A Zoroastrian son of northwest Iran’s Azerbaijan region, Babak rose to head a movement at once political and religious rooted in cultural preservation against the Arab-dominated caliphate.

Captured at last — he had spurned a guarantee of safety with that timeless insurrectionary sentiment, “Better to live for just a single day as a ruler than to live for forty years as an abject slave” — he had his hands and legs struck off in the presence of the caliph. It is said that Babak washed his face in the blood of these wounds to deprive his royal observer the pleasure of seeing his face fall pallid.

Babak remains an iconic figure in his homeland for his resistance to Arab domination, as evidenced by this Farsi-language vignette …

… and this performance of the Persian Ballet.

But he is not an unproblematic character for contemporary Iran, and not so much because of the anti-Islamic character of his revolt. Babak, whose personal ethnic composition seems to be a bone of historical contention, is also hailed an Azeri nationalist hero vis-a-vis Iran. His fortress is mountainous northern Iran still stands … and has latterly become a meeting-ground for advocates of “greater Azerbaijan” on the occasion of Babak’s birthday in July, much to the displeasure of Iranian authorities.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Azerbaijan,Caliphate,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Early Middle Ages,Execution,Famous,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Iran,Martyrs,Persia,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Summary Executions

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401 B.C.E.: Clearchus of Sparta

2 comments December 15th, 2007 Headsman

Around this time in the late autumn or early winter some weeks following the Battle of Cunaxa, the general of a Greek mercenary army — along with most of its other commanders — was treacherously seized by a Persian satrap and summarily beheaded.

In the train of the Peloponnesian War‘s devastation, sturdy Greek hoplites with bills to pay found a lucrative gig backing a Persian prince‘s bid to seize the throne.

The prince marched the Hellenes deep into Persia before falling in battle at Cunaxa in Mesopotamia, a discomfiting scenario alike for the stranded but still-potent invading army and the somewhat outclassed Persians.

The seizure around this day of the veteran soldier and former tyrant of Byzantium Clearchus — lured under color of friendship — aimed to crush the Greeks’ morale, but instead feathered the laurels of “the Ten Thousand”. This “marching Republic” hastily self-organized and proceeded upon an astonishing escape, intrepidly fighting its way north over the ensuing year to the Black Sea, and thence to hearth and home.

The Greeks’ perseverance offers one of classical antiquity’s stock testimonies to the resilient polis — and at this stage, practically the last breath of that dying spirit. More to the immediate point, it illustrated strikingly the Persian army’s vulnerability to the phalanx, exploited to decisive effect in the century to come by Alexander the Great.

One of the replacement generals, Xenophon, immortalized the Greeks’ march in the Anabasis.

After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep perplexity — a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the king’s gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit: was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one soul of them would survive?

Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire, and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the plight in which each and all tried to seek repose.

The tale’s motif was borrowed for a 1965 novel of a New York gang struck leaderless making its way out of hostile territory, later adapted for a cult 1970’s film:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,Heads of State,History,Mass Executions,Mercenaries,No Formal Charge,Persia,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

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