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Iranian Religions

MAZDAKISM


 

By: Norman Hugh Redington

 

The Mazdakites were socially radical religious sectarians who dominated Iranian politics in the late CE 5th and early 6th Centuries.

Mazdak of Fesa, building on foundations laid by earlier heterodox religious leaders from the same part of the country, apparently taught that good and evil are everywhere randomly mixed, even in the nature of God, and that the adept who mastered the occult correspondences governing the universe had no need of outward religious formalities.

Mazdak advocated a social program of vegetarianism, pacifism, anti-clericalism, and utopian communism. When the Emperor Kavadh (Ghob‚d), locked in struggle with the high aristocracy and perhaps seeking lower class support, converted to the new religion, Mazdak was able to start putting these theories into practice on a vast scale, opening government warehouses to the poor and closing all but three of the kingdom's Fire Temples.

Amid rumors (not altogether improbable) that the abolition of private property and of marriage were next on Mazdak's agenda, conservative Zoroastrians rallied behind the feudal lords to overthrow Kavadh in 496. The Emperor managed to regain his throne, but increasingly distanced himself from the Mazdakites and in 528 Crown Prince Chosroes launched a pogrom to eliminate them entirely. Among those killed in the massacres were Mazdak himself and Kavadh's first-born son, whom the Emperor declined to protect.

In remote areas, however, Mazdakism lingered for centuries, eventually becoming hard to distinguish from Central Asian Buddhism which it had always in some ways resembled. Later Islamic writers often use "Mazdakite" (like "Manichee") as simply a generic word for "heretic".

 

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