An Expansive Alternate Timeline - The Riotous 5th Century

Shalom, I would like to share the first stirrings of a new timeline I'm working on. The scope is so unfocused and the divergences so numerous that I've elected to name this timeline "the Riotous 5th century." Right now the starting date for the timeline is 451 AD - the year that Attila, seeing the destruction he has wrought upon Europe, suffers a "Road to Damascus" moment and converts to Unitan (OTL: Arian) Christianity*. Although I plan on visiting Attila soon enough, the first published portion of this alternate history will actually focus on Persia and the destiny of a little-known sect we know as Mazdakism...

* The original name for this timeline was actually "Attila the Blessed" but I thought such a name would be too Eurocentric and belie the global scope of this project.
The Rise of Mazdak (490 – 496)

Mazdak was a 5th century Persian prophet, statesman, and political revolutionary who became leader of the philosophical sect of the Dorost Dinan during the reign of Shahanshah Kavad I.

The Dorost Dinan were a Persian religious sect founded in the mid-5th century by Khuragan, a renegade mobad from Pars. Khuragen, who had studied at Athens and spent much time in the Hellenised lands of Bactria and Mazandaran, espoused a reformed version of Zoroastrianism distinct from the orthodox Mazdayasna of the Sasanian state. The Dorost Dinan, heavily influenced by Platonism, were concerned with both metaphysical and societal realities, and were declared heretics by the Mazdayans for their beliefs in the transmigration of souls and vegetarianism.

Originally a small sect, the Dorostites saw their numbers swell during the 480s. A succession of natural disasters and a catastrophic war with the Heptalians in 486 had brought the Sasanian realm to its knees. Poverty, famine, and social unrest were rampant across the empire, prompting much of the peasantry to turn to millenarian aspirations.

It was around this time that the Dorost Dinan fell under the charismatic leadership of Mazdak. A man deeply committed to equality, Mazdak reorganised the Dorostite sect from a mere religious fraternity into a mass social movement with a radically transformative vision for society, involving the communal ownership of property, mass wealth redistribution, and the decentralisation of political power.

In 488, Kavad, son of Peroz I, ascended to the Sasanian throne. An ambitious ruler, Kavad resented the stifling power of the clergy and aristocracy. Curious about the Dorostites and their utopic vision, Kavad sought out Mazdak. After a fifteen-hour conversation with the fiery Dorostite leader, the Shahanshah was convinced of the sect’s interpretation of the good religion as well as much of their political programme.

Mazdak was installed as Prime Minister of the Persian Empire and introduced a series of unprecedented reforms. Throughout the empire fire temples were closed, the mansions and granaries of the rich were opened to the poor, and wealth was reapportioned to the lower classes. The peasants were emboldened to such a degree that a wealthy noble could not display his jewellery on his person lest a mob attack him. Mazdak also outlawed polygyny, blaming the practice for reducing the pool of women available for poor men to marry.

The Coup Against Kavad (496 – 500)

In 496, an alliance of the Persian nobility and Mazdayan priesthood rose in rebellion against Shahanshah Kavad I. The nobles were fearful of the Dorostite reforms initiated by Kavad and Mazdak which saw their powers severely curtailed in favour of greater enfranchisement of the peasant classes.

The coup was quick, with the conspirators overpowering Kavad’s palace guard and securing Ctesiphon in a single evening. The emperor was overthrown and his brother, Jamasp, was crowned in his stead. A wholesale slaughter of the peasantry followed as the ‘upholders of Mazdayan orthodoxy’ attempted to purge the country of Mazdakite influence, although they could not find Mazdak himself.

The deposed Kavad fled to the realm of the Heptalians where he was honoured as an esteemed guest. For three years he implored the Heptalian king to furnish him with an army with which he could recover the Persian throne. Finally, in the spring of 499, was the erstwhile emperor’s wish granted.

Crossing the Oxus at the head of a Heptalian host, Kavad embarked on a lightning swift campaign across the empire’s northern flank. After capturing several forts in Khorasan, the erstwhile emperor linked up his forces with those of House Ispahbudhan in Gurgan. The Dorostite-aligned Parthian clans had spent the past three years plotting Kavad’s return. House Karen had successfully hidden Mazdak in Nahavand, whilst House Varaz had secretly petitioned the Heptalian king to avail Kavad of arms.

Kavad’s arrival in Gurgan stirred the heads of the other clans into action. Co-ordinated uprisings flared up in Ray, Kerman, and Hamadan – forcing Jamasp to divest attention and resources away from Kavad’s invasion. By the time these cities were secured, Kavad and his troops were already in Pars.

The civil war in Persia proved to be a windfall for the Roman Empire. Emperor Petronius Maximus, long covetous of the Sassanids’ western territories, invaded Armenia in the summer of 500 and easily wrested control of the country from the paralysed Persians. For the first time since the rule of Emperor Trajan was the mountainous kingdom incorporated as a province of Rome.

By October, Kavad had reached the gates of Ctesiphon. The nobles of the city hastily tried to reconcile themselves to the overthrown emperor, offering Kavad the throne without further resistance on the condition that he repudiate Mazdak and his Dorostite philosophy. Kavad, hardened to obstinacy by his years of exile, resolutely refused. The former emperor entered the royal capital on the festival of Mehregan in 500, as devotedly dorostist as he was on the day of his deposition.

Kavad met no resistance as he rode through the streets of Ctesiphon, crowds cheering both his name and that of Mazdak. The leaders of the coup, seeing that the game was up, humbly prostrated themselves before Kavad. After four years of bitter struggle the Shahanshah had at last reclaimed his throne.