ŠAHRESTĀN YAZDEGERD, the Sasanian city-fortress built by Yazdegerd II (r. 439-57 CE) in the province of Čol, attested by the 6th-century Syrian chronicle of Karkā Bēṯ Selōḵ (present-day Kirkuk) of the district of Bēṯ Garmē in northeastern Iraq (Hoffmann, p. 50; Pigulevskaia, p. 44). The chronicle relates that after the eighth year of his reign, Yazdegerd II went to campaign in Čol where he subjugated the local kings and built his city, Šahrestān Yazdegerd. Some scholars located the city on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, to the north of the province Gorgān and the Atrak river (Marquart, 1901, p. 56; 1931, p. 57; Pigulevskaia, p. 44; Christensen, p. 287; Gubaev, p. 78; Kolesnikov, p. 97; Masson, p. 141). According to the Šahrēstānīhā ī Ērānšahr, Yazdegerd I (r. 399-420 CE) strengthened the province Kūmīs/Kōmiš (Ar. Qūmes, modern Dāmḡān) in the northeastern part of Iran against the invasion of the Turkic tribe Čol (Marquart, 1931, p. 12), and this appears to be the reason for its location. The Turkic ethnic name was incorrectly compared with the name of the province Čol which has an Iranian origin (cf. Yaghnobi čol ‘narrow gorge, pass’; Khromov, p. 134). But B. I. Marshak (pp. 58-59) and M. Gadjiev (1980, pp. 144-52; 2001, pp. 32-40) located the city on the western coast of the Caspian Sea where the province Čoł/Čor was known.

The name Čoł/Čor was used by early Armenian authors (Agathangełos, Movsēs Xorenac‛i, Ełišē, Łazar P‛arpec‛i, Anania Širakac‛i, Movsēs Dasxuranc‛i, Sebeos) for the designation of the Darband pass, Darband, and the fortifications in the pass – kapank‛ Čoray “pass/defile of Čor,” duṛn Čoray “gate of Čor,” drunk‛ Čoray “gates/fortress of Čor,” pahak Čoray “garrison/the sentry of Čor,” khalakh pahakin Čoray “city of the garrison of Čor” (see Kettenhofen, pp. 13-14). This Armenian name is echoed in the Tζούρ/Tzour documented by Procopius of Caesarea as the name of the pass (De bello Gothico, 4.8.3-4); the gate of Ṭūrāyē in the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian (Chron., ); the fortress Zōarou (Zουάρου πύργου, gen. sing) in the Greek rendering of Čoray by Agathangełos (p. 116; cf. Lafontaine, 1973, pp. 178-79); Čor in the Georgian Life of Saint Shushanik of Yacob Tsurtaveli (p. 6, 9-10; Lang, pp. 44-56); and Arabic Ṣūl as the name of the gate (bāb; Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, tr., p. 109; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 895-96), province (nāḥiya, agr), country (bilād; Ṭabarī, I, pp. 895-96; Shikhsaidov, pp. 69-70), fortress (kalʿa Ṣūl in Ta’riḵ Bāb al-abwāb, Minorsky, 1963, pp. 10, 52), and city (madīnat Ṣūl in Darband-nāma apud Saidov and Shikhsaidov, p. 26).

N. Kuznetsov (1893, p. 423) and J. Marquart (1901, pp. 96-100; 1903, p. 489) were the first who pointed out the connection between toponym Čoł/Čor and Darband and Darband pass. This ancient name in forms such as Čulli / Čurul / Čor till recent times was kept in the Daghestan (Dāḡestān) languages for the designation of Darband (Kuznetsov, p. 423; Kudriavtsev, 1979, p. 39; Gadjiev, 1980, p. 147). In accordance with the location of Čoł/Čor in the area of Darband pass, Šahrestan Yazdegerd is identified as the large fortified settlement situated 20 km to the south from Darband, at northern suburb of modern settlement Beliji and known as Torpakh-kala (Turk. “Earth fortress”) and Shehergah (Pers. Šahrgāh, “Place of the city”) (Gadjiev, 1980, pp. 144-52; 2001, pp. 32-40; Gadjiev and Magomedov, pp. 276-77, 281-85; Figure 1).

The archeological monument was first mentioned by John Cook (I, p. 375; vol. II, pp. 363, 364) and Johann Lerche (pp. 304-305) who traveled to the coast of Daghestan in 1747 as members of Russian prince Golitsyn’s mission to Persia. Both authors report similar accounts according to which the site of the settlement appears as ancient “royal residence.”  Obviously, this is the residence mentioned by Movsēs Dasxurancʿi in the 7th century in the story about bishop Israyēl’s mission, directed by the prince of Albania Varaz-Trdat in winter of 681-82, to Alp ʿIlutʿuēr, prince of the Huns: short of the gate of Čor and Darband the mission arrived “at the site of the ancient royal residence where St. Grigoris, Catholicos of Albania and grandson of the great Gregory were martyred” (Dasxurancʿi, tr., pp. 154-55). Not far away from the site of the ancient settlement Torpakh-kala, in the village of Nyugdi, at the place of St. Grigoris’ martyrdom, there is an Armenian chapel named after him, which as early as the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century, was the preeminent Christian shrine of the eastern Caucasus (Komarov, pp. 438-39; Gadjiev, 2001, p. 32).

The site of the ancient settlement is trapezoidal in shape and occupies an area of more than 100 hectares (Figure 2). The length of its swells is from 950 m to 1150 m, with a height of 7 to 8 m and a width of 30 to 39 m (Figure 3), and the total length of the swells comes to 4400 m. On the external side they have 144 semicircular ledges located every 28 to 30 m and fixing tower sites. In each swell there are breaks indicating, in some cases, that city gates flanked with towers were in these places. On the perimeter the settlement was protected with a now shallow moat 20 to 25 m wide. Archeological excavations showed that the massif of the swell represents the rests of the defensive wall built entirely of adobe bricks (40 х 43 х 10 to 12 cm). The wall is 10.2 m thick and now reaches 6 m in height. The shape of the excavated tower was semi-oval; its length makes 16-17 m, and the projection out of the line of the defensive wall is about 7.5 m (Gadjiev and Magomedov, 2008, pp. 282-83).

The construction features of the Torpakh-kala fortifications have the nearest chronological and ethno-cultural analogues in the adobe brick fortifications of Darband, built in the 440s under Yazdegerd II (Kudriavtsev, 1978, pp. 243-57; 1979, pp. 31-43; Gadjiev, 1989, pp. 61-76), and in the fortifications of the long Ghilghilchay (Ḡilḡičay/Gilgičay) wall, built under Kawād I at the beginning of the 6th century and identified with the Apzut Kawāt wall (Aliev, Gadjiev, et al., 2006, pp. 143-77; Gadjiev, 2017). The ceramic assemblage of the settlement, representing almost exclusively the so-called Sasanian pottery, as well as building materials and engineering features allow us to trace the construction of Torpakh-kala back to the 5th century CE. The date of this monument, its ethno-cultural context, its location within the Darband pass (the ancient province Čoł/Čor), and also the analysis of the military-political situation in the region confirm its identification with the Sasanian royal city Šahrestan Yazdegerd (Gadjiev, 2011, pp. 239-64).

The construction of fortifications in the province of Čoł/Čor (Darband pass) under the reign of Yazdegerd II marked the first stage of Sasanian fortification and city construction in the Caucasus (Gadjiev, 2006, pp. 25-27). It was caused by the military activity of the Huns and the preparations of Attila for the new invasion into the frontier of Ērānšahr (Priscus Panites, Fragmenta 8, p. 312). In 442, the Sasanians and Byzantines signed the long-term peace treaty which confirmed the obligation of Byzantium to make annual payment of consignments of gold to Iran for the protection of Caucasian passes (Darband and Dar-e Alan, modern Darial) in the volumes stipulated by the agreement of 424 (see Marcellinus Comes, p. 75; Byzantine-Iranian Relations). That, obviously, made 500 litres (160 kg) of gold annually (Theophanes Chronographia, 207, 18-26). The sums were not only spent on the maintenance of garrisons, but also went to the creation of the echelon system of defense in the East Caucasus – building the adobe long wall and fortress in Darband pass and Šahrestan Yazdegerd (Torpakh-kala fortified settlement).


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(Murtazali Gadjiev)

Originally Published: August 9, 2017

Last Updated: August 9, 2017

Cite this entry:

Murtazali Gadjiev, “ŠAHRESTĀN YAZDEGERD,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sahrestan-yazdgerd (accessed on 30 April 2017).