The Achaemenid Persian Immortals, also known as the Persian Immortals or The Immortals were an elite force of Persian soldiers who performed the dual roles of both Imperial Guard and standing army during the Greco-Persian Wars. Herodotus describes the Immortals as being heavy infantry led by Hydarnes that were kept constantly at a strength of exactly 10,000 men — every killed, seriously wounded or sick member was immediately replaced with a new one, maintaining the cohesion of the unit. The regiment accepted only Median, Elamite or Persian applicants.
The term Immortals comes from Herodotus
who called them either the Ten Thousand
Herodotus' source may have confused the name Anūšiya (companions) with Anauša (Immortals). Alexander the Great's historians mention a Persian unit similar to Herodotus' Immortals that they called 'Apple Bearers'.
The Immortals in history
The Immortals played an important role in Cyrus the Great
's conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire
in 547 BC
in 525 BC
' invasion of India
in 520 BC
and 513 BC
. Immortals participated in the Battle of Marathon 490 BC
and the Battle of Thermopylae 480 BC
and were in the Persian occupation troops in Greece in 479 BC
The title of "Immortals" was first revived under the Sassanids. The most famous of the Savaran units were the Zhayedan
(Immortals) and numbered 10,000 men, like the Achaemenid predecessors, with the difference that they were cavalry. Their task was mainly to secure any breakthroughs and to enter battles at crucial stages.
The title of "Immortals" was again revived under the Byzantine Empire
, under the Emperor Michael VII
(1071–1081). His general Nikephoros
reorganised the central field army ("Tagmata") of the Eastern Empire
following the disastrous defeat of Manzikert
by the Turks
in 1071. The remnants of the provincial troops of the Eastern Themes (military provinces) were brought together in a new Imperial Guard regiment named after the Persian Immortals and reportedly also numbering about 10,000 men. These were however cavalry, like the remainder of the Byzantine field army.
Many centuries later during the Napoleonic Wars/Wars of the Coalitions, French soldiers referred to Napoleon's Imperial Guard as "the Immortals.
The modern Iranian Army
under the last Shah
included an all volunteer Javedan Guard, also known as the "Immortals" after the ancient Persian royal guard. The "Immortals" were based in the Lavizan Barracks in Tehran
. By 1978 this elite force comprised a brigade of 4,000–5,000 men, including a battalion of Chieftain tanks
. Following the overthrow of the Imperial regime in 1979 the "Immortals" were disbanded.
The Immortals in popular culture
- Frank Miller's comic book 300, turned into a motion picture in 2007, presents a heavily fictionalized version of the Immortals at the Battle of Thermopylae. The Immortals depicted in the comic book wear all black clothing with stylized silver Japanese Kabuki masks and silver shields, wielding a pair of scimitars. The 1962 film The 300 Spartans includes similar depictions, although far less fanciful.
- The Drenai series, written by David Gemmell, features a military unit named the Immortals. Similar to the Persian Immortals, its number is maintained at a constant 10,000 soldiers.
- In his novel Executive Orders, Tom Clancy uses the name for the army of the United Islamic Republic (made up of Iran and Iraq)