Sassanian Navy

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Imperial Sassanian Navy
Flag of the Sassanid Empire.png
Flag and Standard of the Sassanian Navy
Active221 AD-651 AD
AllegianceSassanian Empire
BranchArmed Forces of the Sassanian Empire
EngagementsArdashir I's Arab Campaign
Shapur II's Arab Campaign
Aksumite–Persian Wars
Byzantine–Sassanian War (602–628)

The Sassanian Navy or Imperial Sassanian Navy or Sassanian Persian Navy was the naval force of the Sassanian Empire active from its establishment in 221 AD until 651 AD. It operated in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and briefly in the Mediterranean Sea.


The Sassanian naval forces were established since the time of the empire's founder, Ardashir I 211/2–224 AD. The main role of the Sassanian Navy was to protect Sasanian economic interests, not military expeditions, as the coasts of the Persian Gulf were already under rule of Sasanians or their vassals.[1] According to V. A. Dmitriev, the role of the navy was to enhance the military, political, and commercial influence of the empire in the north of the Indian Ocean.

The navy was mostly active in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea. The Sasanians did not emphasize the development of their navy due to their geopolitical interests as well as the fact that their military was highly influenced by the land-based military of the Parthian Empire, and that, unlike the Achaemenids, the Sassanians failed to capture the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. There were two distinct areas of operation for the Sassanian Navy: the Indian Ocean basin (against the Arabs and the Ethiopians) and the Mediterranean (against the Byzantines).

The Sassanian Navy played an important role in Ardashir I's conquest of the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf as well as in Shapur II's Arab campaign. The peak of the navy's activities was during the reign of Khosrow I (r. 531-579), who sent a force of eight ships (kashtīg) under Vahrez to conquer Yemen—each ship could carry 100 men. Six of the ships managed to reach Yemen safely. An attempt by Khosrow I to establish a Sassanian fleet in the Black Sea via the ports of Lazica in 540s, which was able to directly threaten the heart of the Byzantine Empire, was thwarted by the defeats at Petra and Phasis in the last stage of the Lazic War.

During the climactic Byzantine–Sassanian War (602–628), the Sassanian navy tried naval expeditions in the Mediterranean Sea—although not very successful, they managed to capture the island of Rhodes in 622/3 and several other islands in the eastern Aegean around the same time. Since the Sassanian did not use to have a fleet in the Mediterranean, it has been suggested that their forces were transported either by the captured Byzantine ships in the newly conquered ports (e.g. Alexandria, Antioch, and Rhodes) or by vessels built in Egyptian or Syrian shipyards especially for them.[2]

Later in that war, they were forced to rely on monoxyla of their allied Slavs in order to transport the 3,000 troops across the Bosphorus which they had promised the khagan of the Avars.The weakness of the Sassanian Navy is considered a key factor in their failure to defeat the Byzantines in the last war between them. After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the Sassanian Navy forces joined the Muslim armies and participated in the wars against the Byzantines and elsewhere. For example, according to the Chinese source Old Book of Tang, Guangzhou was ravaged and burned during the joint naval expedition of the Arabs and the Persians in 758.


The leader of the navy allegedly bore the title of Navbed or Nāvbed.


The vessels used by the Sassanian military were exclusively transport landing ships used to transport land forces, and possibly also merchant ships to transport cavalry. The dhow-type vessels were used in the Indian Ocean basin, while the Byzantine-style sailing-rowing dromons and chelandions were used in the Mediterranean, but only for the purpose of transporting troops.

The Persians were able to construct large ships suited for long voyages as far as the marginal seas of the north of the Indian and west of the Pacific Oceans.

Bases and Ports

This section is undergoing construction

  1. Adan (modern day Aden)
  2. Bandar Siraf


  2. Dmitriev, Vladimir (2017). "The Sasanian Navy revisited: An unwritten chapter in Iran's military history". International Journal of Maritime History. 29 (4): 727–737. doi:10.1177/0843871417726966. S2CID 158676495