The Aswarān (singular aswār), also spelled Asbarān, was the name of a military nobility that formed the backbone of the Sasanian army. They primarily composed of Iranian aristocrats from the wuzurgan and the azadan.
They wore mail armor, and ranged from archers to cataphracts. They assumed an description with the bravery, tactics, and ethics of the Sasanians. They mastered in single combat in battles (mard o-mard), rode on elephants and horses, and their valor was recognized with ornamental emblems. Titles such as hazārmard ("whose strength is equal to one thousand men"), zih asbār ("superior rider"), and pahlawān-i gēhān ("hero/champion of the world"), were their epithets. They wrote the name of the Sasanian emperor and their valuable family members on their arrows as a good omen. They outperformed others in archery to the extent that later writers thought that they had introduced the profession. They were superior and unmatched in the profession, which was even acknowledged by their enemies.
The asbaran have often been demonstrated as an example of existence of feudalism in Iran by modern scholars, who simply refer them as either chevalier, knight, or ritter. According to historians such as Christensen and Widengren, the asbar had the same status as the knight. However, although the asbaran and knight resemble each other in many parts, the economic role and historical role of the knight is very different compared to the role of the asbaran in the Sasanian Empire, which thus makes it incorrect to refer the asbaran as knights.
Most of the asbaran was disbanded after suffering defeat and conquest during the Muslim conquest of Persia. However, several factions of the asbaran, each faction led by a different leader, defected to the Arabs in order to preserve their status and wealth. These asbaran factions settled in various places in the newly established Muslim territories, where they each become known by several names, the most known and prominent faction being the asawira, who under their leader Siyah settled in the newly established settlement of Basra.
The word comes from the Old Persian word asabāra (from asa- and bar, a frequently used Achaemenid military technical term). The various other renderings of the word are following; Parthian asbār, Zoroastrian Pahlavi aspabārak, New Persian suwār (سوار), uswār/iswār (اسوار), Modern Persian savār (سوار), and asāwira (أساورة), an Arabized broken plural form of the Middle Persian aswār.
The word only means "horseman" in Middle Persian literature, and it is only the late Arabic term which has a more specialized meaning. In the Sassanian inscriptions, the formula asp ud mard (Middle Persian: SWSYA W GBRA; Parthian: SWSYN W GBRYN; literally "man and horse") is used to refer to the infantry and horsemen in the military.
The asbaran sardar were high-ranking officers who were in charge of the asbaran, their position was so high up in Sasanian society that they were only answerable to the Eran-Spahbad (Commander in Chief) and the Shahanshah himself. They would be guarded heavily by cataphract style cavalry. The post of asbaran sardar was held by a member of the Mihran-Pahlav family. Parts of the asbaran division were high-ranking including the Pushtigban Body Guards, a super heavy shock cavalry, who were the royal guards of the Shah himself. The influential asbaran cavalry were mostly made up of heavily armoured cavalry, generally composed of aristocracy or even from the imperial family themselves. There were also commanders who were elite as well. These parts of the asbaran regiments were kept as reserves.
The asbaran during this early period had much in common with their Parthian (Arsacid) predecessors, most of whom would have worn a scale armor cuirass with long sleeves and chaps covered in scale armor or, less often, plated mail. Their helmets, of the Spangenhelm type, would have been adapted throughout the Sasanian period. Also horses would probably have had armored chests and heads, consisting of an apron and headpiece, or total body protection consisting of five separate pieces, made from either boiled leather or scale armor. Some asbaran units such as mercenaries may have worn little to no armor at all, allowing them to be rather more swift, silent, and mobile.
The Spangenhelm helmets worn by members of the asbaran units in battle would have evolved through the centuries. During the 3rd-to-6th-century era of the Sassanian empire, the Spangenhelm would have probably been made of felt and hardened leather. However, by the late 6th/early 7th century they would have been decorated with flowers and purple ball with mail and small areas through which to breathe and see.
The asbaran cavalry were armed with a variety of weapons. The traditional heavy cavalry weapons, such as maces, lances, and swords would have been used, as well as a variety of other weapons, such as axes. Asbaran cavalry were not, however restricted to short-range weapons, as they often carried weapons such as darts and bows.
Each asbaran unit would have a Drafsh, or heraldric standard. These would have often included mythological creatures and animals. These animals would have included: pil (elephants), asp (horse), khers (bears), sher (lions), ahu (deer); these would also include Zoroastrian mythological creatures such as Bashkuch and the army of asbaran would have the Derafsh Kaviani as their banner.