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Institute of History and International Relations Faculty of Humanities Siedlce University

The Military History of the Third Century Iran

Ilkka Syvänne Katarzyna Maksymiuk

Siedlce 2018

Authors: Ilkka Syvänne (University of Haifa, Israel) Katarzyna Maksymiuk (Siedlce University, Poland) Reviewer: Vladimir Dmitriev (Pskov State University, Russia) Meysam Labbaf-Khaniki (University of Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran)

The results of the research carried out under the research theme No. 452/16/S (Army of ancient Iran in comparative background) were financed from the science grant granted by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education The Book is dedicated to ‘EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES’ Editorial Committee: Andrzej Barczak, Andrzej Borkowski, Mikołaj Bieluga, Grażyna Ciepiela, Janina Florczykiewicz (przewodnicząca), Robert Gałązkowski, Jerzy Georgica, Arkadiusz Indraszczyk, Beata Jakubik, JarosławKardas, Wojciech Kolanowski, Agnieszka Prusińska, Zofia Rzymowska, Sławomir Sobieraj, Stanisław Socha, Maria Starnawska, Grzegorz Wierzbicki, Waldemar Wysocki

© Copyright by Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities, Siedlce 2018 © Copyright by Katarzyna Maksymiuk, 2018 © Copyright by Ilkka Syvänne, 2018

ISBN 978-83-7051-894-3 Scientific Publishing House of Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities (

Typesetting and text makeup: Anita Smyk, Ed. I The relief of Šāpur I at Bīšāpur, Iran (photo by E. Shavarebi) Cover design: Adam Lech Kubik Print: ELPIL Siedlce

Acknowledgements The book The Military History of the Third Century Iran is the result of several years of collaboration between the authors who undertake daily research on the history of pre-Islamic Iran. The present work is primarily addressed to students of history who acquire their first experiences in exploring the history of the Near East. We hope that it will help readers with a fascinating topic and will encourage them to continue their studies on ancient military. We would like to express our gratitude to everyone whose work helped to bring this volume to press, above all our sincere thank to Vesta SARKHOSH CURTIS (the British Museum, London, United Kingdom), Vladimir DMITRIEV (Pskov State University, Russia), Kaveh FARROKH (Langara College, Vancouver, Canada), Gholamreza KARAMIAN (Tehran Azad University, Iran), Meysam LABBAF-KHANIKI (University of Tehran, Iran), Ehsan SHAVAREBI (University of Vienna, Austria) and Patryk SKUPNIEWICZ (Siedlce University, Poland).

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1. INTRODUCTION ............................................................. 2. THE PARTHIAN BACKGROUND ................................. 3. THE REIGN OF ARDAŠĪR I (ca. 224-240/242) .............. 3.1. The rise and revolt of Pābag and the early of years of Ardašīr, ca. 211-216 ................................................ 3.2. Ardašīr takes the torch in ca.216-224 ......................... 3.3. Ardavān Reacts ........................................................... 3.4. The Battle of Hormzdagān on April 28, 224 .............. 3.5. Ardašīr I consolidates his position .............................. 3.6. Ardašīr I’s organization of the Empire ....................... 3.7. Ardašīr I the “Achaemenid”: the War against Rome and other campaigns 230-240 ...................................... 3.8. Ardašīr I the Founding Father of the Sāsānian Iran .... 4. ŠĀPUR I OF THE HOSTS (ca. 240/242-272) .................. 4.1. Šāpur I’s First War against Rome: Gordian III Invades Iran in 242-244 ........................... 4.2. Šāpur I’s Eastern Anabasis in ca. 243-249 ................. 4.3. Šāpur I’s Second War against Rome in ca. 253-256 ... 4.4. The Roman counter-attack and the Armenian question in ca. 253-257/8 ............................................ 4.5. Šāpur’s Third War against Rome in ca. 259-270 ........ 4.6. Šāpur as šāhānšāh and Military leader ....................... 5. HORMOZD (ca. 272-273) ................................................. 6. BAHRĀM I (273-276) ....................................................... 7. BAHRĀM II (276-293) ..................................................... 8. BAHRĀM III (293) ........................................................... 9. NARSEH (293-302) .......................................................... 10. EPILOGUE ........................................................................ APPENDIX: Select passages from sources ....................... BIBLIOGRAPHY ..............................................................

9 11 19 19 24 27 29 38 53 66 78 79 79 83 84 93 96 108 109 111 112 119 121 128 131 137

1. INTRODUCTION The aim of this study is to present to the audience Iranian perspective of the military history of the 3rd century CE. This book seeks to give a general but still brief overview of the Sāsānian military history and its military methods during the 3rd century CE. The analytical approach adopted here is the point of view of military historian because this side of the Sāsānian history has either not received adequate attention from historians so far or has been dominated by some earlier misunderstandings of how the Persians actually fought. The resulting military analysis re-dates some of the events on the basis of military probability which in its turn helps to understand the other changes that took place during this era. The study of the era from the Sāsānian point of view is a must because we cannot really understand what went on in the ancient world unless we understand what went on in Iran. Therefore, it is valuable to try to see the things from the Iranian perspective too and not only from the Roman standpoint1. The sources for the Sāsānians are plentiful and varied, but unfortunately often very difficult to use. The Roman writers were obviously very prejudiced towards their eastern foes, but this is not the whole scale of the problem. The Roman historians, who usually presented the tastes and prejudices of the senatorial class, were not above presenting information in the best possible light when it was a question of their favorite emperor and in the worst possible light when the emperor was considered an enemy of their class2. The only unbiased source for military matters is the Strategikon of Maurice, but its information refers to the situation prevailing in the late 6th century3. The Armenian and Georgian sources are unfortunately full of inconsistencies and mistakes, which makes their use quite hazardous an undertaking. E.g. these quite often confuse the names and reigns of various rulers4. The Chinese sources do not include much information of the events in the west, but these do provide some pieces of information that is useful for the reconstruction of events in Central Asia5. Unfortunately, the Xwadāy Nāmag – the official history of the Sāsānian Empire is no longer extant and we have to rely on the fragments preserved


See DARYAEE’s Prolegomena (2009: XII-XXIII) on the current state of research and the need to subject the sources to historical analysis. 2 DEN HENGST 2010. 3 RANCE 2017: 217-255. 4 KETTENHOFEN 1995a. 5 See for comparison MAKSYMIUK 2018: 13-20.

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by later Arabic sources, Firdawsī, and later Iranian texts6. These include plenty of legendary material amidst the facts that has to be taken into account when making interpretations. However, these still provide us with very important pieces of information not extant in any other sources. By far the best sources are the Sāsānian inscriptions, which give us period information from the Persian perspective. However, we should not forget that these sources are also biased in their own way. The purpose of these inscriptions was to present to the public the official version of the events that suited the cultural milieu. The following account of the rise of the Sāsānians is based on the interpretation of the information provided mainly by: al-Ṭabarī; Bal’amī; Firdawsī; Sāsānian inscriptions: Šāpur I (r. 242-272)/ŠKZ, Kartīr7/KKZ, Narseh (r. 293-302)/Pāikūlī8 and reliefs (esp. Naqš-e Rostam)9; Chronicle of Arbela (a Syriac church history of Nōdšīragān)10, Agathangelos11; Movsēs Khorenats'i12, Georgian Chronicles13; Herodian14; Historia Augusta15, Dio16; Zonaras17. We will specify the exact source in the footnote or text only in such cases where we propose something that is not generally accepted or is otherwise potentially controversial. In addition to these we should mention the Roman military treatises Maurice’s Strategikon, Byzantine Interpolation of Aelian18, and the Persia military treatises the Āʾīn-nāma (a fragment in Ibn Qutaybah)19 as well as other remnants of Persian military treatises in later Muslim manuals. A short analysis of the archery techniques on the basis of archery manuals will also be included. Unfortunately, the influence of the Sāsānian military theory on the subsequent military practices in the lands dominated by Muslims has largely been ignored. We would suggest that there are very strong reasons to suspect that a very significant number of later Muslim 6

SHAHBAZI 1990: 208-229. SKJÆRVØ 2012a: 608-628. 8 SKJÆRVØ 2003: 298-300. 9 MAKSYMIUK 2012a: 13-43; SHAVAREBI 2015: 47-63. 10 KAWERAU 1991: 548-549. 11 Agathangelos 1.1ff. 12 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.65ff. 13 Georgian Chronicles, p.73ff. 14 Herodian 3.1ff. 15 HA, Caracalla 1ff. 16 Dio Cassius 78.1ff. 17 Zonaras 12.15ff. 18 MATTHEW 2012. 19 TAFAŻŻOLĪ 1984: 691-692. 7

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military treatises include direct or indirect borrowings from earlier Sāsānian manuals and that the Sāsānian practices were still employed at least until the early 16th century CE in these areas. The influence of the Sāsānian texts is quite evident at least in the following treatises: Abridgment of al-Harthami’s treatise Siayasat al-Hurub; the Ādāb al-ḥarb (13th century); Gotha Manuscript 258 (c. 1400, contains the same info as Nihāyat al-su'l). There are also other Muslim treatises that appear to contain Sāsānian material, but an analysis of their content will be made later.

2. THE PARTHIAN BACKGROUND The Parthians20 were originally part of the Dahaean21 Tribal Confederacy which gained its independence in the 3rd century BC. Eventually the Parthians under their Arsacid22 kings conquered Iran from the Seleucids and Sakāi (so-called eastern Scythians, henceforth Sakas) followed up by the conquest of Kūšān and Indian territories. The conquest of the Seleucid territory brought the Parthians into contact with the Romans for the first time in the 70’s BC23. The first war between the empires resulted from the greed of Crassus who invaded Parthia with well known results. He and his army were annihilated at Carrhae by Sūrēn’s 10,000 Sakāi horsemen in 53 BC24. 20

For the Parthians in general, see: DEBEVOISE 1938; WOLSKI 1993; KOSHELENKO, PILIPKO 1994; VERSTANDIG 2001; BIVAR 1983a; 1983b; OLBRYCHT 1998; 2013. For the military, see SYVÄNNE 2017a; SYVÄNNE 2017c: 237ff. 21 DE BLOIS, VOGELSANG 1991: 581-582. 22 SHAHBAZI 1986a. 23 . WOLSKI 1956-58: 35-52. 24 Plut. Crass. 23-27; Dio Cassius 40.21-24; The Sūrēns were descendants of Sam and Rustam in Firdawsī. They had very important role in the conquest of Greek held territories in Bactria (Kabul), Mesopotamia and India. I.e. the demons in Firdawsī are the Greeks, but the Sūrēns also married themselves into Greek families as their marriage with the daughter of the king of Kabul proves. It should be noted, however, that the story in Movsēs Khorenats'i (2.28, 2.68) that the Sūrēns, Kārens, and Ispāhbudhāns (Aspahapets) all descended from the Armenian branch of the Arsacids may well be at least partially true. It is quite possible that so-called the brothers ‘Sūrēn’ and ‘Kāren’ married girls from those families (and changed their family names? or were they also girls?) while their sister Košm married a general from the Ispāhbudhān family during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius. It seems, however, that the story of Movsēs Khorenats'i is more romantic and legendary than historical “the existence of these families as great feudal nobility is established long prior to the periodization provided by Khorenats'i” (POURSHARIATI 2008: 27).

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Eventually the empires found a way to co-exist through a compromise that divided the spheres of interest (e.g. Armenia was to be ruled by an Arsacid king)25. There were obviously occasions in which either side violated the peace, but Rome was by far the more aggressive of the two. The probable reasons for this were that the Arsacid realm was plagued by civil wars as well as that their imperial aspirations were directed primarily to Central Asia. The Parthian (Pahlav) society was very fragmented. It consisted of the nobles who belonged to the Parthian nobility26 most of whom (the clan of Kāren27 with its seat in Māh Nehāvand and the clan of Esfandīār in Ray28) were related to the ruling House of the Arsacids. The other Parthian dynastic families were Sūrēn of the Sakāi tribe that also married themselves into the Arsacid family and of some unknown Greek family whose only traces in history can be found in Firdawsī29 and Tacitus30 and in later Sāsānian sources (see below); and of the native Persian nobility in Fārs such as the Farrukhāns31. Notably, the Sūrēn clan had the hereditary right of crowning the king32. In addition to these there were the Greek and Persian cities that retained their self-rule under the Parthians, the various Persian satrapies with their own traditions, and the various semi-independent tribes. It was only the prestige of the king of kings and the self-interest of the nobility in maintaining such prestige that kept the empire from falling apart. The Parthian military consisted of the tribal levies provided by the aristocracy (Parthian, Sakāi, Greek), militia provided by free cities, contingents provided by various subject tribes, mercenaries, and of the allies. The flower of the Parthian military consisted of the combination of armored cavalry lancers (Gk. kataphraktoi) supported by horse archers (Gk. hippotoxotai), as seen for example at the Battle of Carrhae33. The army 25

Dio Cassius 63.1-7; CUMONT 1933; STÉPANIAN 1975/1976: 205-218; TOUMANOFF 1986; GOLIYSKI 2013: 78-86. 26 Powerful noble families: the Varāz, Kāren, Surēn, Mehrān, Esfandīār (Spandiāδ), Žik, and Nehābed. 27 POURSHARIATI 2017. 28 Isfandiyār 91; KHURSHUDIAN 1992: 175-186; KARIMIAN 2008: 99-105: 108; POURSHARIATI 2008: 104-118, 127-160; contra MAKSYMIUK (2015b: 193), that Ispāhbudhān (Esfandīār) is branch of Sūrēn one in fact. 29 Probably the demon king of Kabul who married into the Sūrēn clan (Firdawsī, e.g. The Tale of Zāl and Rudāba). 30 Hiero possibly from Kabul (Tacitus, Ann. 6.42-43). 31 LUKONIN 1993: 702-706. 32 Tacitus, Ann. 6.43. 33 FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 11.

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was divided according to the steppe practice into decimal units (about 10,000, 1,000, and 100 men)34, but we should not take these figures too literally35. Furthermore, contrary to the popular opinion, the cavalry force under Sūrēn at Carrhae should not be taken to reflect the typical cavalry army of the Parthian realm36. His forces consisted of his own personal retainers (mainly Sakāi tribesmen), and of the accompanying baggage train (1,000 camels to carry arrows etc.) which included Sūrēn’s concubines (in 200 wagons). He had with him 10,000 horsemen consisting of 1,000 heavy cataphracts (man and horse fully armored with scale or lamellar armor; armed with long composite bow, two-handed version of the kontos, long sword, dagger)37 and of 9,000 light cavalry archers (long composite bow, long sword, dagger)38. i.e. Sūrēn’s army consisted of the typical number of men, but that was as far as similarities go. The proportion of the heavy cavalry 1/10 was probably less than it was for the actual native Parthian contingents because when the sources refer to the forces under the king of kings these are said, or implied, to have consisted of fully-armored cataphracts39. Indeed it was the subject and allied tribes that contributed the bulk of the lightequipped mounted archers. Sūrēn’s pattern of grand tactical deployment, however, seems to have mirrored standard Indo-Persian practices. He posted a light cavalry vanguard as his first line behind which he posted his cataphracts and presumably the rest of his light cavalry. I.e. he appears to have followed the standard practice of using two cavalry lines of which the first was to be used for skirmishing at a distance with the possible intention of inducing the enemy to follow the fleeing enemy who peppered their followers with arrows even while doing so (the so-called Parthian shot), and then of the second line, the center (consisting of cataphracts) of which was to be used to engage the disorganized pursuers frontally, while the light cavalry wings surrounded the pursuers in loose formation. It is very likely that the battle lines were divided according to the practices that can be detected 34

DEBEVOISE 1938: 83; WIDENGREN 1976: 261-283. For other views of the Parthian military, see SHAHBAZI 1986b; WILCOX1986: 6-24; SYVÄNNE 2004 and SYVÄNNE (2017a) for a discussion of figures. 36 The following discussion of Sūrēn’s army is based on Plut. Crass. 21.6ff. 37 MIELCZAREK 1993; FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 30-34. 38 OLBRYCHT 2010: 66-81; WOJNOWSKI 2012. 39 Note for example, Justin (41.2: Parthian horses and men using ‘feathered-armor’, i.e. scale or lamellar), and Plutarch (Antony 44.1-45.3: king had sent his personal retainers to the combat so that there were 40,000 Parthians and Medes that were armed with both contuslances and bows). 35

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in Achaemenid times, in the Arthaśāstra40, and in Sāsānian and Muslim military treatises, namely in five parts (outer left, left, center, right, outer right) each of which could act independently as required by the battle plan and situation. What is not known with certainty, however, is the deployment pattern of Sūrēn’s units. According to Aelian, the Scythians employed the wedge formation, the Armenian and Parthian mounted archers employed the rhombus (128 men) and the Persians the square formation (apparently with a frontage of 8 and depth of 4 for a total of 32 men)41. The western sources consider the Sakāi to be a Scythian tribe, but we do not know for certain whether their unit formation was also similar. As a working hypothesis one can perhaps suggest that the Sakāi mounted archers would have at least originally used the wedge, but may have subsequently adopted the Parthian/Armenian rhombus formation, but we cannot know this for certain. For what it is worth, we know for certain that at a later date at least the Huns, Turks and Avars all used wedge formations, which does suggest the probability that whenever the Parthians employed other nomadic tribes as their allies, it is likely that most of them would have similarly used the wedge-array42. We do not know for certain what type of unit formation was used by the cataphracts, but on the basis of the sources that describe their use, the use of either the wedge (64 men) or the square (8 by 4) or oblong (e.g. 4 by 8, or 8 by 8 etc.), all of which were used for frontal charge, would be quite possible. Furthermore, it is probable that they used also the rhombus-order, because the native Parthian cavalry used combat units of 128 men with the implication that the cataphracts could also use this unit formation. The original Iranian square array was a skirmishing formation in which one to four files of javelin throwers advanced out of the array, threw their javelins and returned back, after which another one to four files advanced to do the same. This was repeated until it was time to charge. If there were some


An ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit (an English translation along with detailed endnotes: OLIVELLE 2013). 41 Aelian (18.4) and its Byzantine Interpolation (45.1-2); Aelian’s 113 men is to be emended to 128. Being an armchair philosopher/theorist he has made the mistake of assuming that the array was an exact rhombus while still noting the sizes of cavalry units being 64 (wedge), 128 (rhombus), 256 etc. and while still noting that the wedge was one half of the rhomboid. SYVÄNNE 2009a, 2015a: 113ff. 42 SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1.

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units that still employed only javelins, like there were in the Roman army, such units would have still employed similar skirmishing methods43. Of particular importance is the method of dividing the native Parthian army and its units of cataphracts into rhomboids of 128 men, which finds confirmation also in Justin’s figures44. Justin claims that Mark Antony faced 50,000 horsemen that were led by 400 men, which means that each leader commanded 125 men to be rounded up to the figure of 128 required by the rhomboids45. According to Justin, all of these were fully armored cataphracts. Plutarch46 also implies the same by noting that the Parthians put aside their bows and came to close quarters with kontoi when they mistakenly thought that the Romans had become fatigued, but claims that there were only 40,000 horsemen. Plutarch appears to have made the typical mistake of assuming that each of the 400 nobles led 100 men while Justin’s rounded figures are closer to the actual size. The same campaign also shows the Medes and Parthians employing crescent formation as well as rapid-firing archery volleys to decimate the enemy, feigned retreat and closing in with the kontos-lances once the Romans appeared to have lost morale. At least the last of the Parthian kings of kings Ardavān IV (r. 216-224) appears also to have experimented with cataphracted camels47. In sum, on the basis of the heterogeneous composition of the Parthian forces, it is clear that the equipment and tactics varied according to the circumstances. It is quite clear that if the army included large numbers of light cavalry provided by the Sakās or other nomadic groups, the commander had to adopt entirely different tactics than was the case with the fully armored Parthian or Mēdian cavalries.


The Greeks/Macedonians probably copied the cavalry square formation from the Persians, and the wedge from the Scythians. The Thessalians are claimed to have invented the rhombus, but it is possible that they could have copied it from the so-called Thessalians of Georgia or from the Armenians and Dahae while serving under the Persians. However, the current state of research suggests that the Armenians and Dahae copied their rhombus array from the hated Greeks. SYVÄNNE 2009a; 2015a: 113ff.; 2017a. 44 Justin 41.2. 45 The 8th century Muslims re-adopted the use of the rhomboid tactics. Their name for it was the karadis-formation (plural for the sing. kardus of 128 men). Notably, the Dahae (the Parthians were originally a part of the Dahae confederacy) used the rhomboid formation when they served in the Seleucid armies, SYVÄNNE 2009b; 2017c. 46 Plut. Ant. 45.3. 47 Herodian 4.14.3ff; SYVÄNNE 2017c: 240.

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Fig. 1. Left: Parthian light cavalry mounted archer. The Palazzo Madama museum, Turin; Right: Relief at Tang-e Sarvak in Elymais. (the first quarter of the 3rd century). Drawn after von Gall, 15. © SYVÄNNE 2012.

Fig. 2. Left: Cataphract, Graffito from Dura-Europos, (3rd century); Right: Drawn after von Gall, 77; Right: Mounted archer in armored horse, Graffito from Dura-Europos, (3rd century). Drawn after James, fig. 17 D. © SYVÄNNE 2012.

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Fig. 3. Relief in Panj-e Ali, 3rd century, (photo by G. Karamian).

The nationality and type of force determined what type of bow and shooting technique was used48. Some of the forces used the so-called Sāsānian bow (long composite bow with long ears), while others used the so-called Hunnish bow (long composite bow that could be asymmetric) and still others a variant of the Scythian short composite bow. It is clear that the names of the bows are misleading. The “Sāsānian bow” was particularly useful for the shooting of volleys of arrows by using either the so-called “Sāsānian draw/lock” or the “thumb/Mongolian draw/lock”. The “Hunnish bow” was at its best when used to deliver powerful long range shots with the so-called “thumb draw/lock”. Both of these bows could also be used with other draws and both enabled the use of prolonged archery barrage at long range and the avoidance of having to make contact with the enemy. In contrast, the effective shooting range of the Scythian bow was shorter, which meant that those who used it usually charged immediately with lances and shot at the enemy only during the approach.


FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 52-53; SYVÄNNE 2015a: 123-4 and 2017c: 241.

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The above, however, is an oversimplification of the facts. The archer's height, muscle-power and length of arms were also important. Furthermore, the length of the fingers and the size of the hand affected which of these the archer could use and the archers could also have their own favorite techniques. The materials used in the construction as well as the skill of the bowyer, and the type and material of the cord all affected the performance of the bow. The length, weight, and material of the arrow and the type of arrowhead all had influenced how the bow could be used. If one wants to make a generalization, the longer and heavier the arrow, the shorter its range would be and the greater its penetrative power, and the lighter the arrow and the wider the arrowhead, the longer its flight would be but at the cost of loosing penetrative power49. The bow and the physical qualities of the archer also determined what the ideal length for the arrow was for each individual. This means that each of the archers brought his own customized arrows to the military campaigns. However, the replacement arrows provided by the state or feudal lord would have consisted of the standardized types that each individual would have been forced to use in the best way he could. The different arrows with different arrowheads enabled the Parthians and their allies to vary their tactic according to the type of enemy they faced50. Of particular note is the fact that the Parthians were already employing at least one early version of the so-called rapid firing shower archery technique that the Sāsānians were later to make famous51. The Parthian melee techniques were very sophisticated and quite varied. The Parthian cataphracts and kontoforoi (i.e. lancers with less or no armor) employed their long kontoi with different types of two-handed grips that enabled them to vary the attack technique according to the situation52. As Plutrach’s account of the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC attests, the Parthian/Sakā cataphracts could in the right circumstances even spear two of their static opponents simultaneously. The art and literary works also prove that the Parthians already employed the famous Indian-steel (twoedged straight) long swords as well as pick-axes and maces against armored and helmeted opponents. It is also very likely that just like the Sāsānians later 49

The arrow-guide with its short darts was probably invented by the Sāsānians later in the 5 th (or 6th) century. Arab Archery, 124ff.; SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1.; SYVÄNNE 2017c: 264. 50 For a list of various types of arrows, see Fakhr-i Mudabbir’s text. 51 For further details, see the chapter on the battle of Hormzdagān. See also SYVÄNNE 2015a: 123-124. 52 The 14th century Munyatu'l-Ghuzat and the Sāsānian reliefs give us a good indication of such variants.

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the Parthians were already employing their long swords with the so-called Italian grip which allowed better control of the blade53. The principal weapon of the light cavalry was obviously their bow, but they could also employ close quarters weapons like swords, axes and daggers (and probably also javelins) when the situation was favorable. Similarly the tactic employed by the infantry depended upon its armament (bows, swords, spears, and javelins depending upon the type of unit), but in general terms it can be stated that the role of the infantry was usually restricted only to the holding of the camp or to the taking of fortresses54. The beginnings of organized Iranian wrestling have also been traditionally dated to the Parthian era, even if it was definitely already used in one form or another at the dawn of time. In addition, each of the Iranian tribes of Fārs, and Central Asia, and each of the Indian tribes and descendants of the Greek settlers (Pankration, wrestling, boxing) and Roman turncoats had their own styles of martial arts. In short, the Parthians and their subjects and allies possessed very sophisticated melee techniques that they could also employ very successfully if they decided to close in with the enemy.

3. THE REIGN OF ARDAŠĪR I (ca. 224-240/242) 3.1. The rise and revolt of Pābag and the early of years of Ardašīr, ca. 211-216 The rise of the Sāsānians began in the heartland of ancient Persia in the province of Fārs at a time when the ruling house of the Parthian Arsacids was divided into supporters of Ardavān IV and Balaš VI (ca. 207223?)55 and into those who opposed both. The Parthian Empire was in a state 53

FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 33, 36-38. MIELCZAREK 1993: 55; FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 42; SYVÄNNE 2017c: 242. 55 Coins of Balaš were struck in Seleucia at least until 221/222/223. However, some Parthian coins were still struck later in Seleucia in about 228/229 (SELLWOOD 1971: 290), which has led some to speculate that Balaš was still alive while others believe those to be coins of Artavasdes (or Arsaces?), who was probably Ardavān IV’s son, while still others think that there was a Parthian uprising in 227-229. For the various ways to interpret the sources, see: GHRISHMAN 1962: 115; BIVAR 1983a: 96-97; FRYE 1983: 118-120; CHOISNEL 2004: 194-195; FARROKH (2007: 169, 179-180) suggests that Balaš was finally defeated in 229, but that the Parthian resistance continued until 230 under Ardavān; DEBEVOISE 1938: 268-269; VERSTANDIG 2001: 350ff.; WOLSKI 1993 191ff.; DARYAEE 2008a: 54

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of anarchy. Ardavān, whose capital was either in Ray or in Eṣfahān during summers and in Xūzestān (al-Ahwāz/Elymais) during winters according to Mir-Khwānd56, was the more powerful of the two kings, but he was still unable to defeat his brother whose base of power lay in southern Mesopotamia and Seleucia as Balaš’ coins attest. Furthermore, the severe beating Ardavān had taken from Caracalla in 216 had seriously undermined his standing. It was not enough that Ardavān had achieved a minor victory in a battle over Caracalla’s successor Macrinus. Caracalla’s successes had caused irreparable damage to his prestige. By employing a ruse Caracalla had managed to kill and capture a very significant number of Ardavān’s nobility, loot and pillage lands far and wide, and most importantly disgrace and destroy the royal tombs and the most sacred of the Fire Temples. The timing of the Sāsānian revolt could not have been any better. Ardavān had risen to power with the help of the Mēdians as a result of which he had lost his legitimacy in the eyes of most. The House of the Arsacids had also proved itself feeble. Ardavān could not even protect their royal tombs and Fire Temples57. The genealogy of Ardašīr, the founder of the Sāsānian dynasty is obscured by the many different versions in existence. According to one version, he was the son of Pābag, and grandson of Sāsān, a great warrior, and the head priest of the Anāhitā Fire Temple of Eṣṭaḵr, and related by marriage to the Bāzrangī family58. According to another version, Ardašīr’s father was actually Sāsān who had married to Pābag’s daughter, but that Ardašīr became Pābag’s son through adoption. This version claims that Dārā (Dareios III) was one of Sāsān’s ancestors making Ardašīr legitimate successor to the Achaemenids59. Still another version given by Agathias60 claims that Pābag had placed his own wife into Sāsān’s bed so that they would produce an offspring. It is possible that the family of Sāsān originally

13ff.; 2009, 2ff.. The interpretation adopted here is that Balaš was indeed killed in ca. 221223 by Ardavān IV’s forces (and not by Ardašīr as suggested by some historians) and that the later coins belong to Ardavān’s son Ardavān (V). The beginning of Ardavān’s revolt can be dated approximately to the year 213 on the basis of Caracalla’s claim that he had encouraged the Parthian brothers to rise against each other. For the beginning of the civil war between Balaš and Ardavān, SYVÄNNE 2017a. 56 Mir-Khwānd 274. 57 SYVÄNNE 2017c. 58 Ṭabarī 814; ŠKZ (Pārsīg. 25) names Sāsān as a lord, but not as Pābag’s father. 59 Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān I 6-7; ADHAMI 2003: 223-230; SYVÄNNE 2018; MAKSYMIUK 2019a. 60 Agathias 2.27.1-5.

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came from the east and had Sakā-tribal ancestry. On the basis of Ardavān’s supposed letter, Sāsān’s ancestors also included Kurds61. After having served his years as apprentice successfully, which may also have included time spent in the court of Ardavān62 or some noble like Gōzihr, Ardašīr was appointed as military governor (argbed) of Dārābgerd in eastern Fārs by Gōzihr, the King of Fārs, whose capital was located in the city of Eṣṭaḵr. This appointment, as well as the presence of the garrison in Dārābgerd, proves quite nicely the existence of permanent professional army in Fārs at this time. As befitted the chaotic situation, Ardašīr enlarged his territories through raiding and killing. It was most likely during these times that he gathered his loyal friends, followers and his most trusted soldiers. The shared dangers created strong bonds of fellowship. One may surmise that at least some of the old Persian military traditions were still followed by the local inhabitants, including its infantry heritage with units of spearmen and archers deployed behind huge shields, and the use of fortified camps63. At least the information in Procopius, Agathias and the Strategikon suggests that the late Sāsānian armies, both infantry and cavalry, were deployed in ranks and files and therefore as square and oblong ‘blocks’64. According to Baḷʿamī’s version65, Ardašīr was actually the grandson of Sāsān, who was a general and who was married with a woman who belonged to the Bāzrangī family. The Bāzrangī family provided the kings of Persia. Sāsān then had a son called Pābag who was the father of Ardašīr. The Gōzihr Bāzrangī, the King of Eṣṭaḵr, gave Pābag the control over all of the Fire Temples of the area, which was a great honour. Gōzihr had also given control of the city of Dārābgerd to his eunuch Tīrī, and Pābag exploited this by asking this Tīrī to adopt his son Ardašīr as son of his own so 61

Daryaee (2009: 6) notes the possible eastern origins of the house of Sāsān. Pourshariati (2008: 155-156) has speculated that by the late sixth century at least part of the Sūrēn family had become so enmeshed with the Persian House that they had adopted the title pārsīg. If one likes to continue in the same vein, it would be possible to speculate that the Sūrēns and Pābag had formed an alliance in which the Sakā-Parthian-Persian-Kurd origin of Ardašīr as a mix of Sūrēns and Pābagians was suppressed beneath the legendary accounts. In other words, Sāsān the warrior (in some of the versions he is called a mighty warrior) would have been a member of the Sūrēns whose family-tree had indeed had Sāsāns in the past and which would also be the reason why the Sūrēns could later be called pārsīg (aspbed i pārsīg) and the Persian kings with the mysterious family name Sāsānians. SYVÄNNE 2018. 62 Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 4-6 claims that Ardašīr served in Ardavān’s court. 63 Note e.g. Herodotus 9.61-70. 64 SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1. 65 Baḷʿamī 67-68.

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that Ardašīr succeeded Tīrī as ruler of Dārābgerd. Gōzihr agreed to this, and so it was that Ardašīr became the son of Tīrī and then the ruler of the city according to this version. According to the version provided by Mir-Khwānd66, Ardavān had appointed Tīrī, an officer of his palace, as governor of Fārs, and Pābag as his guardian of the fire. The earliest possible date for such an appointment would be the year 211, unless of course Ardavān was already king of Fārs and other areas before his usurpation. When Tīrī learnt that Pābag had a son, he asked him to send him to his court. When Tīrī became aware of Ardašīr’s great talent as administrator, he appointed him to be his personal assistant/lieutenant in Dārābgerd, and after Tīrī died, Ardašīr duly followed him as governor of Dārābgerd. Ardašīr then subdued some provinces and wrote to his father to overthrow Ardavān’s governor of Fārs, but when Pābag did this, he did not give the throne to Ardašīr but to his favorite son Šāpur. According to the usual version of events, once in control of Dārābgerd Ardašīr is said to have urged his ‘father’ Pābag to kill their lord Gōzihr, which must have taken place at some point in time in after c. 208-21167. After the assassination, Pābag sent a letter to Ardavān in which he demanded the now vacated position of King of Fārs for his eldest son Šāpur. If there is any truth to the story that Ardašīr had served as a hostage in the court of Ardavān and then fled, it must have happened before the final breakup of relations. Ardavān was aware of how the position had become vacated and refused. The Sāsānians were now considered rebels, but there was not much that Ardavān could do about it because he was in the middle of a civil war. In the midst of all this he also foolishly accepted Caracalla’s false promise to marry Ardavān’s daughter in 216, which enabled Caracalla to destroy the flower of Ardavān’s army and loot and pillage Parthian territory far and wide68.


Mir-Khwānd 274-276. Based on the inscription at Bīšāpur the start of the Sāsānian era was in 208. MAKSYMIUK 2001: 58 year – the date of the foundation of the monument, 40 years after Ardašīr took power, 24 years after Šāpur took power. 266-58=208. 68 SYVÄNNE 2017a. 67

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Fig. 4. The City of Ray The citadel and the wall of Shahrestan were built during the early Parthian period (ramparts consisted of mud bricks; construction style was the same as in Balkh), which continued to be occupied during the Sāsānian period. The small castle Qal’a Gabr/Qal’eh Gabr was probably built by the Sāsānians and then incorporated into the latest wall during the Islamic period and came to be called as the Gate to China. Source: Rocco Rante and the accompanying maps, which are slightly at variance with the text. Drawn after Rante, Ray i. © SYVÄNNE 2014.

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Still another possible dating for the legend of Ardašīr’s period as hostage in the court of Ardavān would be that it occurred in about 212-216 after Pābag had murdered Gōzihr so that Ardašīr was sent then as a gesture of reconciliation, and that the flight of Ardašīr from the court of Ardavān took place immediately after Ardavān had been defeated by Caracalla and/or in the aftermath of the death of Pābag and that Ardašīr, because of his former military glory as a military governor of Dārābgerd, immediately managed to gather a loyal following from among his former troops and then revolt against Šāpur. This version of events would nicely reconcile Ṭabarī’s version (and Mir-Khwānd, see below) with those of Firdawsī and the Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān. 3.2. Ardašīr takes the torch in ca.216-224 Soon after this Pābag appears to have died of natural causes after which he was succeeded by his co-regent Šāpur. Ardašīr did not accept this. According to the usually related (apparently the official) version of events related by Ṭabarī69, Šāpur assembled his forces and marched against Ardašīr, but died en route when part of a building collapsed on top of him, after which Ardašīr marched immediately to the scene and his brothers offered him the crown. However, according to Mir-Khwānd70 and Baḷʿamī71, whose versions are to be preferred, Šāpur was actually assassinated by his brothers, closest relatives and officers who then offered the crown to Ardašīr72. Ardašīr set about immediately to reorganize his realm73. He appointed Abarsām as his Chief Minister (vuzurg-framadār) and Fāh.r (?) as his Chief Priest (mowbedān mowbed)74. According to the extant tradition, Ardašīr’s position was not yet secure, Ardašīr’s brothers and members of his entourage supposedly planned to assassinate him, but Ardašīr learnt of the plot 69

Ṭabarī 816. Mir-Khwānd 276. 71 Baḷʿamī 69. 72 SYVÄNNE 2018. 73 According to Mir-Khwānd’s calculation (278), who claims that Ardašīr ruled for 12 years before the death of Ardavān, this event took place either in 212 (224-12=212) or 214 (226-12=214). If the dating is accurate, it proves that it was the revolt of Ardavān in 213 that enabled Ardašīr to secure his position so that he was able to challenge Ardavān when the men eventually faced each other on the battlefield. 74 The appointment of the chief priest at the very beginning of his rule would have suited Ardašīr’s political and religious goals, and was also particular suitable for him as the guardian of the temple of Anāhitā. 70

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in a timely fashion and had the conspirators killed. It is of course quite possible that this version was just an excuse to have all those who could threaten his position killed, and in fact Mir-Khwānd75 claims that it was because of the advice of his vizir (Abarsām?) that Ardašīr executed them. Regardless, this was what not the whole extent of the trouble, because then was brought the unwelcome news that the people of Dārābgerd had revolted. Ardašīr marched there, took the city and let his forces loose to kill and pillage76. There are two versions of what happened after Ardašīr had secured his throne. According to the version provided by Ṭabarī77 and Baḷʿamī78, Ardašīr proceeded first against Balaš of Kermān immediately after having crushed the revolt of Dārābgerd. He led the soldiers in person and captured the king in a fiercely fought battle, and then the city. This version is also supported by Mir-Khwānd79. Ardašīr was a firm believer in heroic leadership in the Iranian tradition. Ardašīr appointed as governor of Kermān one of his sons also called Ardašīr. Then Ardašīr proceeded against the king Haftvād (Haftānbūkht?, Haftānbōxt) of the coastal areas of the Persian Gulf and cut him in two with his sword and looted his treasury80. According to Ṭabarī and Baḷʿamī, Ardašīr then wrote to Mehrak Anōšagzātān, the king of Zarham (Abarsās? in Fārs), ordering him to submit, but with no result. Consequently, Ardašīr proceeded then against Mehrak and killed him. After this, Ardašīr had a huge circular city built nearby which he called Ardašīr-Xwarrah “glory of Ardašīr”81. It had a prominent fire temple and served as his temporary capital. The building of the city was a huge undertaking and involved the transformation of the entire landscape and the building of aqueducts and huge walls. The location was well chosen and all of the routes leading into the city were protected with fortifications82. According to the version provided by Firdawsī and Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān, which are both based on legendary fables and which both date the events to the period after the death of Ardavān and Kurdish campaign, the abovementioned conquests were considerably more difficult than in Ṭabarī’s version. Both also include a story of a giant worm that 75

Mir-Khwānd 276. Ṭabarī 816ff.; Baḷʿamī 69. 77 Ṭabarī 817. 78 Baḷʿamī 69. 79 Mir-Khwānd 276. 80 MAKSYMIUK 2017a: 90. 81 Gūr, Fīrūzābād. 82 Ṭabarī 817; Baḷʿamī 70-71; HUFF 2008. 76

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Haftvād supposedly fed with various things and which was also the basis of his fortune. The auspicious worm simply refers to silk worm and through it to the silk trade. According to Firdawsī83 and the Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān, Haftvād with his sons and 10,000 men had seized control of a city called Kojārān by the sea as well as the province of “Kermān”, where he had founded the city of Kermān. Ardašīr was not pleased and sent an army to crush the upstart, which Haftvād ambushed and destroyed. After this, Ardašīr collected his men and advanced against Haftvād in person. Ardašīr put Haftvād under a siege, but the arrival of Haftvād’s eldest son with a large force of Arabs, Makrāns and Omanis84 by sea put Ardašīr between two forces with the result that his supply lines were cut off. In addition, Mehrak, the king of Jahrom (Zarham the city in Abarsās), attacked and sacked Ardašīr’s capital. Ardašīr had no other alternative than to flee, which he did, but with the result that most of his men were killed during the fight. Ardašīr managed to flee to a town called Mavad where he found a place of refuge in the house of two religious and pious brothers Burjak and Burj-ataro. They advised Ardašīr to use a ruse. It is probable that these pious brothers were in truth part of the secret underground led by the King’s Eye. Ardašīr gathered a new army in his capital after which he proceeded against Mehrak. Mehrak and his family, save a girl (supposedly Šāpur’s future wife and mother of Hormozd Ardašir) who managed to flee, were killed. On the basis of the story that Šāpur subsequently encountered this girl during one of his hunting trips and then married her in secrecy, suggests that Šāpur may have been given the former lands of Mehrak as his own personal fief by his father. After this, Ardašīr proceeded against Haftvād with 12,000 veteran fighters, but this time Ardašīr decided to resort to the stratagem proposed by the brothers. He first sent a messenger to the brothers with an invitation to join him (does this mean that the brothers gave a report of the enemy activities?) and then together with his two accomplices pretended to be Khorasanian merchants (i.e. silk traders) as a result of which Ardašīr gained access to the fort. When inside, Ardašīr gave the guards a plentiful supply of wine to make them drunk. After having killed the guards, Ardašīr gave 83

Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 12-16. According to DARYAEE (2016a: 42), Mazunshahr “Oman”, refers to the Persian Gulf, not Mazandaran according to Darab Dastur Peshotan Sanjana: “At this juncture, one of the sons, who was in Arvastan, came by the passage of a sea, with a, large army composed of soldiers from Arabia and Mazenderan, and stood against Ardashir in battle.” The Makranians (myč(w)nygʾn) SHAPUR SHAHBAZI 2012: 534-536. 84

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the signal to his army led by Yazdānkard Šahrzūrīg (Šahrgir) to attack the city and fort. Haftvād and his eldest son Šāhōy were captured and then tied alive to the gallows by the sea in front of the army. Ardašīr took his place in the center of his host and put both to death with showers of arrows. Then, Ardašīr rested his army, which was then divided into two divisions. One was sent against Kermān while the other half proceeded with Ardašīr to Ardašīr-Xwarrah. As can be seen both versions may refer to the same events, but these still cannot be reconciled unless one picks and chooses what one likes. Ṭabarī has clearly dated the building of the city of Ardašīr-Xwarrah differently and has separate kings for the coastal regions (Haftvād) and Kermān (Balaš). One possible way to reconcile the different versions would be to place the founding of Ardašīr-Xwarrah to the period before the Kermān campaign and/or suggest that the traditions have confused two different campaigns in the same area, one before the defeat of Ardavān and one after it. This actually appears to be the likeliest alternative. The probable aim of Ardašīr’s campaign was to secure for himself a share of the silk trade85. 3.3. Ardavān reacts Amidst all this Ardašīr received an angry letter from Ardavān in which he insulted Ardašīr as a Kurd who had been brought up in the tents of the Kurds, and who had assumed his crown and built a city without the proper authority. He also informed Ardašīr that he had sent the king of Xūzestān against him. Ardašīr stated to his followers that it had been the God who had made him king and had helped him defeat his enemies, and he also likened himself to God in all his endeavors86. It is probable that while Ardašīr had been engaged in enlarging his realm and laying out the foundations of his administration and the city of Ardašīr-Xwarrah, Ardavān had launched his final and decisive campaign against his brother Balaš in Seleucia/Ctesiphon with the result that the latter was killed in ca. 222-223. While the fighting was still going on, Ardavān sent the king of Xūzestān to finish the upstart and according to Firdawsī his son Bahman87. 85

MAKSYMIUK 2017a. The following is based on Ṭabarī 818ff. For the Sāsānian concept of kingship, see DARYAEE 2008b. 87 Ardavān must have still been engaged in fighting Balaš at the time, because Ardašīr was able to advance against Eṣfahān. 86

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According to Ṭabarī and Baḷʿamī, Ardašīr, instead of waiting for the enemy to act, took the initiative. Ardašīr left Abarsām in charge of Ardašīr-Xwarrah and marched out with the bulk of his forces toward Eṣṭaḵr and from thence to Eṣfahān. Ardašīr knew that there was no danger of encountering Ardavān’s main army, which was still apparently in Mesopotamia. According to the version provided by Firdawsī88, Ardavān sent his son Bahman with Sabak, the ruler of the city of Zarham (i.e. of the same city that was supposedly ruled by Mehrak, but which now apparently had a new master appointed) against Ardašīr at the time when Ardašīr was advancing toward Eṣṭaḵr. Sabak together with his sons and army of cavalry and infantry then deserted Bahman and joined Ardašīr, who in return appointed Sabak as “Commander of the men of name”. If there is any basis in truth, this may suggest the desertion of one of the Parthian clans, which on the basis of later information could have been members of the Sūrēns, Mehrāns and Esfandīār (spāhbed, Arm. sparapet). These were always associated with military commands89. Pourshariati90 suggests that the Esfandīār, as spāhbed, would have been the second most important family right after the Sāsānians, which would imply that Sabak would have been a member of that house. The problem with this is that the Sūrēns, as the family in charge of coronation, would have been the second most important. Pourshariati writes in reference to the events of the 6th century. However, her claim that the Esfandīār was “probably the second most important family in Sāsānian history”, in fact, confirms that this Partian clan was branch of Sūrēn. Ammianus Marcellinus91 describes of Sūrēn dignitary’s status as “the Second Person After the King” (Surena potestatis secundae post regem).However, it would certainly explain why we subsequently find the Sūrēns of Sakastān (Sistān) opposing Ardašīr. Another possibility is that Sabak was Iranian and therefore quite willing to desert, but the fact that Sabak is later shown to pay particular respect to the corpse of Ardavān rather suggests a Parthian origin. En route Ardašīr and Sabak encountered Bahman before the city of Eṣṭaḵr. Sabak led the attack and closed in with the enemy. After this, arose a blast of dust (i.e. the wind blew into the enemy’s face) and Ardašīr led his men forward from the army’s center as a result of which Bahman, who was pierced with arrows, fled. In other words, there were apparently two cavalry 88

Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 7-8. MAKSYMIUK 2015b; 2015c. 90 POURSHARIATI 2008: 107. 91 Ammianus Marcellinus 30. 2. 5. 89

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lines. Ardašīr pursued the enemy relentlessly and subjected it to a rain of arrows until he reached the city of Eṣṭaḵr, the seat of Bahman. The enemy surrendered and the city was taken. If one tries to reconcile Firdawsī’ version with those of Baḷʿamī and Ṭabarī, then this would mean that Bahman had retaken Eṣṭaḵr while the king of Xūzestān was threatening Fārs, and that Ardašīr encountered Sabak and Bahman en route to Eṣṭaḵr, a detail which was left out by Ṭabarī. In this case, Ardašīr’s game plan would have been to destroy Bahman’s army with superior numbers while trusting that the walls of Ardašīr-Xwarrah would keep the king of Xūzestān at bay. According to Ṭabarī and Baḷʿamī, Ardašīr received en route to Eṣfahān a message that king of Xūzestān had appeared on the scene, but that Abarsām had soundly defeated him and forced him to retreat. After having learnt of this, Ardašīr advanced to Eṣfahān and took its king Šād-Šāpur prisoner only to kill him later. Once again, according to Ṭabarī and Baḷʿamī, Ardašīr returned to Fārs and proceeded to fight a battle with the king of Xūzestān, which he followed up by looting and pillaging the whole of Xūzestān up to the Little Tigris. Ardašīr secured his conquest by founding a royal city called Hormozd-Ardašīr (Sūq al-Ahwāz). According to Ṭabarī, Ardašīr then returned back to Fārs after which he marched through Xūzestān to Mēšān (Mesene) and killed its king, and once again he secured his conquest by founding a new city called Astarābād-Ardašīr (Karx-e Meyšān, a rebuilt Charax?) and returned back to Fārs. However, according to Baḷʿamī, Ardašīr continued from Xūzestān to Mēšān immediately92. The sequence of Ardašīr’s maneuvers suggest that he conquered Eṣfahān while Ardavān was still in Mesopotamia and then retreated back to Fārs before Ardavān could catch him, and then moved against Xūzestān and Mēšān while Ardavān was in Eṣfahān or marching towards Eṣfahān. The news of Ardašīr’s actions seems to have caused Ardavān to halt his advance either in Nehāvand or Šuš (Susa). 3.4. The Battle of Hormzdagān on April 28, 224 At this time, Ṭabarī claims that Ardašīr challenged Ardavān to figh against him in a place chosen by him, but according to Baḷʿamī, Ardašīr actually chose the place and challenged Ardavān to fight him there. The news of which must have come as a welcome news to Ardavān because he also 92

Ṭabarī 818; Baḷʿamī 71-72.

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needed a decisive battle. According to Ṭabarī, Ardavān replied that he would meet Ardašīr at a place called Hormzdagān (Hormazǰān, location unknown, but probably somewhere south of Nehāvand), while Baḷʿamī claims that this was the place chosen by Ardašīr93. If Ṭabarī is correct then Ardavān’s plan was clearly to exploit his supposed advantage in heavy cavalry. The reason why Ardavān was ready to meet Ardašīr in a battle that would decide the fate of both lay in Ardašīr’s abilities both as a general and as a diplomat. Ardavān had been utterly frustrated by the tricks of Ardašīr who also appears to have benefitted greatly from Ardavān’s unwise harshness towards the Parthian clans that had opposed him. According to Firdawsī94, Ardavān’s capital was situated at Ray and his army consisted of men collected from Mēdia, Nehāvand, Deylamān (possessed crack troops of infantry), Ṭabaristān, and Gīlān which on paper would suggest the support of the Kārin, Mehrān and Esfandīār95 families. However, the information provided by the Nāma-ye Tansar96 and Masʿūdī97, proves otherwise. According to these, the most important man right after Ardavān was Gušnasp, king of Ṭabaristān and of Parišwār (the Elburz Range from Armenia up to about Marv and Herāt) and of Gīlān, Dēlemān (Deylamān), Rōyān (a place in Deylamān?), and Dumbāvand (Damāvand) all of which were apparently included as parts of Parišwār. Gušnasp’s forbears (actually seems to be his father who lived to be 90 years old) were said to have retaken the land of Parišwār by force from Alexander the Great’s lieutenants (i.e. from the Parthian petty kings). Some of these events are probably connected with the previous revolt of the “Persians and Medians” in ca. 180’s or 190’s and with the civil war between Ardavān and Balaš. Gušnasp’s possessions consisted of the areas traditionally held by the Esfandīār (Ray, Elburz Range, Gīlān, Dēlemān, Dumbāvand) and Mehrāns (Ray). This suggests that Gušnasp’s father had supported Ardavān against Balaš in the course of which he had ousted the Mehrāns, and Esfandīār from their traditional possessions making them vehement enemies of Ardavān and therefore supporters of Ardašīr. To this list of enemies of Ardavān should also be added the Sūrēns, whose traditional power base was in Sakastān. It should be noted, however, that by now they too were Pahlavs/Arsacids as a result of dynastic marriages. The apparent reason for their betrayal of Ardavān was that they appear to have been ousted 93

Ṭabarī 818; Baḷʿamī 72-3; Mir-Khwānd 277. Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 7-9. 95 The branch of Sūrēn family. 96 Nāma-ye Tansar, 4-6. 97 Masʿūdī, Le livre, 142. 94

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from Sakastān as well as from Ṭoxārestān (Bactria) by the Kārins before ca. 208, who in their turn appear to have been supporters of Ardavān. In fact, the Greek version of Agathangelos98, which is not part of the Armenian original, claims that before Ardašīr and Ardavān met on the battlefield (i.e. in the immediate aftermath of Balaš’ demise) the council of Persian nobles (i.e. Parthian nobles) had already voiced their support for Ardašīr and sent Žik (Zecas) and Kārin (Carinas) as ambassadors to Ardavān with the message that he should step down. In order to gain their support Ardašīr must have promised to hand their domains back to them. Ardavān refused and both sides prepared for war99. The information provided by the Nāma-ye Tansar does indeed give credence to this version. Ardavān had ousted most of the Parthian noble houses from their domains with the help of Gušnasp’s father who was a Mede or Persian. This was an outrage that even Ardavān’s supporters appear to have found difficult to swallow. The choice of the Žik and Kārin100 as ambassadors would also fit the circumstances. Both had apparently supported Ardavān in the past, for at least one Kārin was the šāh of Balkh (the city in Ṭoxārestān), before Ardavān had killed Balaš and could therefore be trusted to act as mediators. The meeting of the Parthian clans and Ardašīr must have taken place in 223, which then resulted in the exchange of messages until both sides decided to meet on the battlefield101. In short, thanks to the cruelty of Ardavān, Ardašīr had managed to gather a sizable support from among the Parthian noble houses. However, Ardavān was not without the supporters of his own. Besides his own and Gušnasp’s forces, Ardavān may also have managed to obtain support from some of the other rulers of the area which also included some Parthian magnates. Besides the Kārins of Nehāvand and the Žiks, it appears probable the kanārang of Ṭūs102, whose domains laid just outside the Elburz Range, 98

Agathangelos 1.6. After this, in Agathangelos’ version, Ardavān with his own Persian supporters (i.e. Parthians) fought against Ardašīr, but Ardašīr managed to gain upper hand in the first encounter when many of Ardavān’s supporters deserted (does this refer to the desertion of Sabak?). In the 2nd battle Ardašīr was also victorious and Ardavān fled (the defeat of king of Xūzestān or Mēšān?). The fight then supposedly continued for 12 months until Ardavān was defeated (at Hormzdagān?). 100 It is of course possible that the House of the Kārin was divided and that one of its branches actually supported Ardašīr. 101 Mir-Khwānd (276-277) also states that many letters and messages were exchanged between the kings before the battle of Hormzdagān. 102 The hereditary title of the ruler of Ṭūs (military governor). KHURSHUDIAN 2015: 95100; FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 18. 99

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belong to this category. In addition, Xusrō (Trdat II, r. 216/7-252/256)103, the Arsacid king of Armenia, who owed his position to Ardavān104, and Vesachan Kārin105 and the šāh of Balkh, both supported Ardavān, but failed to provide assistance in time. Consequently, the contending parties converged on the plain of Hormzdagān probably already in March of 224 so that the actual battle was fought at the end of April in 224 (April 28, 224?)106. Ardašīr was the first to reach the site. His plan was to occupy a favorable position. As a result, he gained the possession of the only spring in the area, and surrounded it and his army with a ditch and gained a very significant advantage as a result107. What is notable is that the Sāsānians were from the very beginning of Ardašīr’s reign using fortified marching camps and field fortifications to their advantage. The occupation of the spring by Ardašīr suggests that he did not immediately march out to meet his enemy, but played a waiting game until the enemy would start to suffer from the lack of water. It was only after that Ardašīr deployed his army in two cavalry lines. According to Firdawsī, the battle lasted for forty days, which may be the time Ardašīr procrastinated before fighting. Ardašīr may have also waited until he would have favorable wind blowing from behind (“Storm from God assisted Ardašīr”). Ardašīr’s frontline was commanded by the crown prince Šāpur and the second by Ardašīr108. In the fierce fighting Šāpur killed Ardavān’s secretary Dādhbundādh. According to Firdawsī109, Ardašīr led a charge from the centre in person through the clashing weapons and hail of arrows, which suggests that after having defeated Ardavān’s first line, Šāpur was forced to retreat by Ardavān’s second line, which was then crushed by the charge of Ardašīr’s line which he led in person. According to Ṭabarī’s version, Ardašīr charged from his battle position toward Ardavān and killed him after


On problem with identification see: in DODGEON, LIEU 1992: 298, n. 10; TOUMANOFF 1969. 104 SYVÄNNE 2017c. 105 According to SETTIPANI (2006: 389, 535) and TOUMANOFF (1990: 274.) Vesachan (Vehsatchan), who died in 245 was a member of the house of Kārin Pahlav and the ancestor of the Armenian Kamsarakans. 106 According to FRYE (1983: 119), one of the possible dates for the accession of Ardašīr on the throne is April 28, 224. 107 This and the following account is based on: Ṭabarī 818ff.; Baḷʿamī 72ff.; Mir-Khwānd 277; Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 9. 108 Ṭabarī 818-819; Baḷʿamī 72-73. 109 Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 9.

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which he dismounted and trampled Ardavān’s head with his feet110. Baḷʿamī, however, claims that Šāpur killed Dādhbundādh with the result that the Parthians fled and Ardašīr then charged after them with one corps of the army and captured and killed Ardavān. According to Firdawsī, the two eldest sons of Ardavān managed to flee, but the other two were taken prisoner. Sabak was said to have cleansed Ardavān’s corpse and wept, which suggests that he must have belonged to one of the Parthian noble houses. According to the Nāma-ye Tansar111, Ardašīr captured 90 petty kings on the battlefield some of whom were executed while others died in captivity. In short, the Parthians were utterly routed and Ardašīr I was proclaimed the šāhānšāh (king of kings) on the battlefield. The enthroning was later confirmed in a religious ceremony. The Fīrūzābād relief also supports the use of at least two cavalry lines (Ardašīr and Šāpur leading separate lines) possibly even three if the page is interpreted to present one. If Page represents a vanguard or first line, then the fight between the Parthian and Sāsānian vanguards/first lines resulted in a stalemate after which both sent their second or first lines (depending on the interpretation) to the attack. Šāpur was able to defeat the opposing line (represented by the killing of the enemy) with the result that Ardavān charged with the reserve and routed Šāpur after which Ardašīr charged and defeated and killed Ardavān and won the war. On the basis of this and the extant references to Sāsānian battle formations, it is very likely that both sides used a vanguard after which followed the traditional Indo-Persian formation that consisted of five parts (outer left, left, centre, right, outer right, with ‘heavy’ units in the centre) each arrayed into two successive lines so that the battle began with the encounter between the vanguards followed up by the use of long range archery which was then followed up by a wild charge at a gallop with lances. This interpretation reconciles both the text of Ṭabarī and the information contained in the Fīrūzābād relief with each other. The only problem with it is the text of Bal’amī, but it is possible that he has just left out the portion in which Šāpur had been forced to retreat. However, there is still another possible interpretation which would be to think that the page would actually represent the first line, Šāpur the second so that Ardašīr would have been located where the king of kings was usually located in the extant military manuals which contain Sāsānian material. However, 110

In Firdawsī’ version Ardavān was captured by a man named Kharrād who seized his bridle and Ardavān was then executed only after that. Firdawsī’s text is full of such examples of knighly behaviour which did not take place in practise. His intention was to whitewash the rather brutal reality. 111 Nāma-ye Tansar, 4.

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since the overall commanders/rulers were always free to choose where they located themselves, it is safest to place Ardašīr where Ṭabarī placed him, namely in charge of the second line. It would be interesting to know whether the Sāsānians and their Parthian supporters had any advantage in archery over Ardavān’s army. The later Muslim archery treatises do refer to a thumb lock/draw of Ardašīr which suggests that he may have invented a particular way of successive/shower shooting that required the use of that particular lock. One may speculate that since we know for a fact that the Parthians knew at least the shower shooting technique in which the extra arrows were placed in the left hand and Ardašīr’s thumb lock refers to the right hand that he may have invented one of the shower archery techniques which would have been used with the thumb lock bearing his name. If this line of thinking is correct, then this would have provided a partial explanation for the military successes achieved by Ardašīr. There are three other pieces of evidence to support this. Firstly, despite being a commonplace in Firdawsī’s poem, his accounts of the battles against Bahman and Ardavān both mention the use of shower archery. Secondly, in addition to a military treatise, Ardašīr is said to have also written an archery treatise himself. Thirdly, the Muslim archery treatises, all which were based on Iranian originals, do state that Ardašīr and Šāpur both paid a lot of attention to archery and it was after them that archery declined until it was revived by Bahrām V Gōr (r. 420-438)112.


Details of archery during the reigns of Ardašīr and Šāpur in: Contribution a l’étude…, 46-47 (archery fell into decline after the reigns of Ardašīr and Šāpur); Ḥājiābād Inscription; Saracen Archery, 37-39, 200. For further details of various archery techniques, see Arab Archery; Saracen Archery; SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1 and SYVÄNNE 2015b with further references.

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Fig. 5. Ardašīr at the relief at Fīrūzābād, (photo by E. Shavarebi, drawing by P. Skupniewicz).

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Fig. 6. Šāpur at the relief at Fīrūzābād, (photo by E. Shavarebi, drawing by P. Skupniewicz).

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The Arab Archery113 claims that, there were five (if Bustam’s version is counted as one) versions of shower shooting: 1-3) a maximum of six arrows are grasped by the right hand with varying gripping techniques; 4) a bundle of arrows is placed in the left hand, which in the opinion of the author of the Arab Archery114 resulted in a weak grip (at least the Parthians used this for which see the accompanying illustration in the chapter on Parthians); 5) Bustam, who lived during the reign of Xusrō I Anōšīrvān (r. 531-579), invented the most effective version of shower/successive shooting with five, ten or fifteen arrows all held at the same time in the archer’s (right?) hand. The Persians also knew a trick shooting technique in which up to ten arrows were placed simultaneously on the bowstring115. The accounts of Procopius, Strategikon and Arab Archery116 prove that the favorite archery technique of the Sasanians and most of the peoples of the Middle and Near East was the shower/successive shooting. The Persians trained to shoot at specific targets and zones and it is probable that the above shower archery technique was particularly usable for both117. In light of the evidence, it is more than likely that Ardašīr had invented at least one of the versions (1-3) in which the arrows were gripped with the right hand, and that this invention could have given his forces a slight advantage over the Parthians118. 113

Arab Archery, 151-155. When reading these opinions, the readers and historians should always keep in mind that the views expressed are always subjective. Some other archer could and can have a different opinion. 115 Arab Archery, 149. 116 Arab Archery, e.g. 112, 149-153. 117 Arab Archery, 131ff., 149-153. 118 SYVÄNNE 2015a: 123ff.; 2015b; FARROKH 2017: 56ff. The invention of the successive/shower shooting was of utmost importance for the military history of the world. The Sasanian archery techniques and archery manuals were later incorporated into the Muslim archery treatises and these techniques came to have an important role later because these enabled the Mamluks to outshoot the Mongols. To quote from SYVÄNNE (2015a: 413, n.133): “In comparison, the rapid shooting practiced by the Tang Dynasty Chinese (who had copied the technique from the steppes) consisted of the shooting of three shots in rapid succession (Chinese Archery, 202) while in the aftermath of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese considered the shooting of two arrows in rapid succession to be shower shooting (Chinese Archery, 272, 303). This post Yuan Dynasty Chinese version that had been copied from the steppe nomads consisted of the taking of two arrows simultaneously in the right hand. The Chinese also used only two different types of locks: the Chinese (for infantry shooting with more punching power) and nomadic (for rapid shooting with weaker power).” These techniques pale in comparison with the Sasanian versions. 114

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3.5. Ardašīr I consolidates his position The Armenian and other sources imply that the first thing Ardašīr did after his victory over Ardavān was to send messengers to all of the magnates, petty kings and satraps ordering or asking them to submit in return for a pardon. Most appear to have answered in the affirmative, but as we shall see, Ardašīr still marched through the domains of the most important magnates later to make certain that they would stick to their agreement while others chose to continue to fight. In addition, as the Nāma-ye Tansar119 proves, a great many of the rulers chose to offer their submission without even being prompted but only after having noted that it was no longer possible to resist. In the case of the Nāma-ye Tansar, it was the king of Ṭabaristān and Parišwār, Gušnasp who offered his submission in a letter addressed to Tansar (or Tōsar),, the chief hērbed of Ardašīr. Tansar had in the past been friend of Gušnasp’s father as a result of which he though that he would be ready to act as a mediator. The answer was affirmative. Ardašīr favored the use of diplomacy over brute force where possible and Gušnasp retained his life and the kingdoms of Ṭabaristān and Parišwār. However, at some later point in time, the latter kingdom was partitioned between the Parthian families and members of the royal family. The Nāma-ye Tansar also includes a reference to one Qābūs of Kermān who had supposedly previously offered his submission in return of which he had been forgiven. This instance has been used as an example of later falsification on the basis that Ardašīr had already previously conquered Kermān. This line of thinking fails to take into account the possibility that Ardavān may have appointed a new king for Kermān from among his supporters and that Ardašīr may have decided to actually give the kingship of Kermān to this person. After the victory, there were plenty of strategically important lands to distribute to relatives and supporters and Ardašīr would naturally have preferred to transfer his son Ardašīr from Kermān to one of these. According to Ṭabarī120 and Mir-Khwānd121, after his decisive victory, the first thing Ardašīr did was to advance to Hamadhān (ancient Ecbatana just north of Nehāvand) and conquer it by force. From there he went to the mountain region of Mēdia and from thence to Ādurbādagān, Armenia (undoubtedly only to the border) and Mosul (at this time probably implying Niniveh on the opposite side of the river). 119

Nāma-ye Tansar, 4ff. Ṭabarī 819/ 121 Mir-Khwānd 277-278. 120

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According to Dio’s version122, after the death of Ardavān, Ardašīr marched first against the city of Ḥaṭrā with the intention of making it his assembly point for his planned campaign against the Romans, but as P.M. Edwell notes it is more likely that Ardašīr’s goal was simply to consolidate his victory over the Arsacids123. The Persians managed to breach the wall, but could not force their way in and in fact suffered grievous losses. When looking only into chronology of Dio’s testimony some of the historians have come to the conclusion that this expedition should have to be dated to 226/7 a year before the invasion of Armenia 227/8124. The siege was abandoned and Ardašīr marched back to Mēdia. It was not wise to spent too much time in front of Ḥaṭrā when the remnants of the enemy army were still at large. According to Dio125, then Ardašīr proceeded to subdue most of Mēdia and Parthia, after which he marched to Armenia. Confirmation of both texts (Dio and Ṭabarī) allows one to believe that after the failed attempt of capturing Ḥaṭrā, the ruler withdrew to Ādurbādagān which remained in his hands already before the attack on the city. In that case the first attempt to capture the city should be dated for about 229126? Therefore we should consider this campaign to be separate from Ardašīr’s invasion of Roman territory in which he besieged Nisibis without result and advanced as far as Cappadocia, which is mentioned by Zonaras127 and Syncellus128. The first part of the itinerary of Ṭabarī and Baḷʿamī is to be preferred in this instance because Mosul is near Ḥaṭrā, and it is also likely that Ardašīr had followed in the footsteps of the defeated army of Ardavān which retreated north into Armenia. According to Agathangelos’ account129, at the time when Xusrō learnt of the death of Ardavān he had not yet completed preparations for war as a result of which he returned back to his own country greatly distressed. On the basis of this, it is probable that at this stage of the conflict Ardašīr had defeated or at least forced the Armenians to retreat back to Armenia, the information of which was suppressed by 122

Dio Cassius 80.3.1-2. EDWELL 2008: 153. 124 CHAUMONT 1969: 32; WIESEHÖFER 1986: 372; If Ardašīr besieged Ḥaṭrā immediately after the death of Ardavān, then it would have happened at the same time in 224 as he besieged Mosul (in truth Niniveh on the opposite side of the river) because these cities are close to each other. 125 Dio Cassius 80.3.3 126 MAKSYMIUK 2017a: 91. 127 Zonaras 12.15. 128 Syncellus 437. 129 Agathangelos 1.18-23. 123

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the Armenian sources. However, there are also the problematic accounts of Firdawsī130 and the Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān131 of a war against the Kurds to be considered which both claim to have taken place immediately after the battle of Hormzdagān132. According to this version, Ardašīr was first defeated by the numerically superior Kurds led by the King of Mēdia, after which he sent spies who informed him that the enemy was celebrating its victory. Ardašīr decided to capture a victory from the jaws of a defeat. He chose 3,000 horsemen and 1,000 archers (with artillery = crossbows?) and surprised the careless enemy with a night attack. If this story has any basis in truth, then it is quite likely to have taken place between the Persian army and Kurdish army in the mountains of Mēdia before the advance into Ādurbādagān, or that this would refer to the first stage of the conflict between Xusrō and Ardašīr which had ended in the latter’s victory. While Ardašīr continued his campaign towards Mosul, the defeated Xusrō did not dwell in his misery. He had sent ambassadors to all Parthian and Pahlav families and to all of the forces of the Kūšāns and to the Romans begging them to help133. The Parthian chiefs and princes and leaders and his relatives all informed him that they preferred to serve under Ardašīr. Xusrō assembled his own forces and the remnants of Ardavān’s army. Except of Armenia North-Western provinces of Iran and Ādurbādagān stood up in defense of the Arsacid royal house134, Agathangelos lists the countries of the Caucasus region Arrān (Albania) and Viruzān (Georgia, Iberia) and the Huns allied with them135. The plan included the attack of allied forces on Āsōristān and reaching Ctesiphon. The Armenian sources inform us about the battle in Āsōristān in course of which Ardašīr was defeated and which should be dated according to Armenian sources to 225/226136, but it is actually quite possible that this campaign took place already in late 224 because there was plenty of time to regroup the forces after May/June for this battle to take place also in the same year. Ardašīr’s army was unable to withstand the enemy’s cavalry attack, and the road lay open all the way to Ctesiphon, 130

Firdawsī, Aškānīāns, 10-11. Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān, 5. 132 The other possible date for this Kurdish campaign would be the time when Ardašīr allied himself with the kings of Karkā ḏe Bēṯ Selōḵ and Aramaic speakers against the sons of Ardavān described by the Chronicle of Arbela. 133 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.71-72; MAKSYMIUK 2019b. 134 Zonaras 12.15. 135 Agathangelos 1.19. 136 MAKSYMIUK 2017b. 131

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where Xusrō installed one of Ardavān’s sons as king of kings (?). The royal residence mentioned in the text of Movsēs Khorenats'i might be Hamadān in Mēdia. Nevertheless the possibility that Xusrō had a control over Mēdia should be refuted as this is not confirmed even by Agathangelos himself who wrote that after the battle with Ardašīr, Xusrō withdrew to Armenia137. Once again Xusrō sent messages to the Parthian and Pahlav families, but to no avail. Consequently, he withdrew his army back to Armenia only to learn later that Vesachan of the Kārin had promised help138. There are basically two alternative versions of how things progressed from this point onwards. The problem is confounded by the fact that all of the sources have condensed several years’ worth of events into a couple of sentences. According to the Armenian version of the events, after his Armenian debacle, Ardašīr proceeded against the Kārins. Both the forces and family of the Kārins were annihilated except those who managed to flee to the protection of their Kūšān relatives. These included Pērōzmat Kārin, the future founder of the Armenian great family of the Kamsakaran139. According to Ṭabarī’s140 and Mir-Khwānd’s141 sequence of events, Ardašīr’s campaigns progressed from “Mosul” to Āsōristān and Ctesiphon and from thence to Eṣṭaḵr, Sakastān (the land of Sūrēns), and from thence to Gurgān (Hyrcania), Abaršahr (Khorasan), Margianē, Ṭoxārestān, and Xwārazm (Chorasmia), after which he returned to Margianē and from thence to Fārs. There are two possible ways to reconcile the accounts. The first is that the Armenian version has predated the conflict between the Kārins and Ardašīr and that the events progressed exactly as described by Ṭabarī. The second is to combine these versions of events with the account preserved by Baḷʿamī so that it takes into account the very high probability that the Iranian sources have covered up the successes of Xusrō the Great just as the Armenian sources have covered up his losses. It is 137

Agathangelos 1.21; Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.72. Some historians (e.g. FRYE 1983: 120) have thought that the name Vesachan refers to the Kūšān king. However, Movsēs Khorenats'i (2.72) is quite specific that the Vesachan belonged to the Arsacid branch of the Kārin Pahlav, and that the messengers bringing the news of the forthcoming help of the Kārin had gone as far as Balkh. Ṭabarī (820) confirms the information by stating that Ardašīr campaigned in Balkh after which he returned to Margianē (Marw) and from thence to Fārs. It was at Ardašīr-Xwarrah in Fārs that the envoys from the kings of Kūšān, of Ṭurān, and of Makurān arrived offering submission. The envoys arrived from those areas in which Ardašīr had not yet campaigned and were not yet part of Iran, but that could fear that he would. 139 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.73. 140 Ṭabarī 819. 141 Mir-Khwānd 277-278. 138

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extremely unlikely that Xusrō and then the Kārins would not have attempted to crush the upstart Ardašīr at the very beginning of his usurpation before he had managed to secure his position. In this context it should also be remembered that the expedition by Kārins could only have come about as a result of the defeat of Gušnasp by the Kārins or by his defection to their side because it would have been the duty of Gušnasp to protect the approaches to Mēdia as king of Parišwār and Ṭabaristān. The subsequent partition of Gušnasp’s lands by Ardašīr suggests that his position had weakened enough for this to take place with the implication that one of the above must have taken place. The sequence of events in Baḷʿamī’s text142 is crucially important because when one combines it with the above, the likely course of events emerges. According to Baḷʿamī, after Ardašīr had killed Ardavān at Hormzdagān, he advanced to Hamadān, Nihāwand, and Dinwer and killed their kings. After this, he advanced to Ādurbādagān and Armenia (this would be the occasion in which the Xusrō of Armenia retreated back to Armenia) and from there to Mosul and conquered those provinces. Following this, Ardašīr advanced to Sawad, the district where Baghdad stood (later built very close and on top of Ctesiphon), and conquered it. This implies that Ardašīr had now taken the capital because Xusrō had failed to protect it. After this, Ardašīr advanced to Abaršahr, and from there to Kermān and Sakastān, and then again back to Abaršahr where he conquered Balkh, Marv, Nišāpur and Xwārazm. This leaves out the encounter between Xusrō and Ardašīr, which ended in the defeat of the latter so that the account progresses straight into the first fight between the Kārins of Abaršahr and Ardašīr in Gurgān (Ṭabarī), which ended in the latter’s victory all of which must have taken place at some point in time between late 224 and early 225. It also leaves out the march of Ardašīr to Eṣṭaḵr and from there to Kermān and Sakastān. The likeliest course of action is that Ardašīr marched from Ctesiphon against Xusrō who defeated him either in Armenia or Mēdia, after which Ardašīr retreated back to Eṣṭaḵr from whence he advanced against the Kārins either in Gurgān from whence he would have pursued them up to Abaršahr, or that he defeated the Kārins in Abaršahr and then returned back to Eṣṭaḵr from whence he would have advanced to Kermān and Sakastān as described by Ṭabarī, and then after that he would have advanced again to Gurgān/Abaršahr following the route Nišāpur, Marv, Balkh, Xwārazm


Baḷʿamī 73-74.

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and back to Marv, or he advanced counter clockwise from Sakastān to Balkh, Marv, Nišāpur up to Xwārazm as described by Baḷʿamī. The above account of Baḷʿamī and others can be clarified further with the information provided by the Chronicle of Arbela. Ardašīr followed up his conquest of Mēdia with the conquest of Mesopotamia and this included the conquest of the Empire’s economic and political heartland with its capital Ctesiphon. The problem with the information provided by this chronicle is that we do not know whether its information refers to the situation in 224 or to the second conquest of Ctesiphon by Ardašīr in about 227-228. Consequently, the readers should keep in mind that the following information could equally well have taken place only in about 227-228 as in about 224143. However, with these caveats let us assume that it was in 224 that Ardašīr formed an alliance with the Kings of Nōdšīragān (Adiabene), the King of Karkā ḏe Bēṯ Selōḵ (the city in Nōdšīragān)144 and the King of Āsōristān (Bēṯ Āramayē)145 against the remnants of the Parthian resistance, which were concentrated in the areas just west of the seat of the King of Nōdšīragān, and in Ctesiphon. It is indeed notable that Ardašīr “the Kurd” received support from the kings of “Kurdistan”, which gives some credence to Ardavān’s insult. According to the Chronicle of Arbela146, the first enemies to be defeated were the remnants of Parthian forces just south of Lake Van. It is quite possible that these were commanded by Xusrō, the King of Armenia, so that the Armenian sources have hidden this defeat of Xusrō underneath the generalized claim that he just retreated back to Armenia when he arrived too late to assist Ardavān. However, it is equally possible that this defeat was caused by Xusrō’s failure to assist the remnants of the Parthian forces. From the Lake Van the combined forces moved against Ctesiphon that last of which was actually a group of several towns and cities. Aršak (Arsaces) one of the sons of Ardavān, who was holed up in Ctesiphon, was defeated and killed. To secure his conquests Ardašīr founded and garrisoned a new city called Vēh-Ardašīr in Ctesiphon to stand as 143

Since the last coins of the some Parthian king were possibly struck in 227, but these are likely to have been the coins struck by the ruler, the son of Ardavān, who was installed on the throne by Xusrō the Great, but unfortunately there is no certainty about this. There is no general agreement regarding the dating of the last coins minted by the Parthians. For example, Daryaee (2009, 3) states that the minting of coins in the name of Balaš stopped in 221-222, while Verstandig (195) suggests the year 227 and Wolski the year 228. 144 Chronicle of Arbela, 8. 145 Ṭabarī 821. 146 Chronicle of Arbela, 8.

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the new capital of the empire147. The last detail may actually imply that we are here dealing with the second of the conquests that took place in about 227-228.

Fig. 7. The City of Ctesiphon. The map demonstrates why the siege and conquest of Ctesiphon was a major engineering project. Ctesiphon was a large and well protected city which was surrounded by waterways. With these conquests Ardašīr had gained possession of the fertile and rich Mesopotamia. The Neigbourhood of Ctesiphon according to the Barrington Atlas © SYVÄNNE 2013.


Chronicle of Arbela, 8.

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However, the change of rule in the region was not welcomed by all locals. According to Ṭabarī, a part of the important tribal confederation Tanūkh, inhabiting the vicinities of Ḥira, fled to Roman Syria148. The submission of the clan of the Naṣrids King of Ḥira149, Amr b. 'Adī150 to Ardašīr in about 227-228 speaks volumes. Amr and his subjects of various creeds clearly did not fear the change of rule. This submission, however, took place only after the second conquest of the city of Ctesiphon by Ardašīr, which took place only in about 227-228151. The willingness of the King of Ḥira to submit himself to Ardašīr’s rule and the readiness of the latter to respect the King of Ḥira’s right to exercise control over the various mutually hostile tribes was to have long lasting consequences. The Naṣrids essentially became the Sāsānians’ buffer state against the Arab clients of Rome, and against the Bedouins and Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula. Most importantly, the Naṣrids controlled the strategic approaches from the northeastern fringes of the Arabian desert to the lands of Mēšān, and the route leading into the city of Anbār (crossingpoint of the Euphrates) and from thence to Ctesiphon. The Naṣrids understood the intricacies of the Arab tribal politics far better than the Sāsānians and could exploit the rivalries among the various tribal groups to maintain a balance of power. At the time when Amr submitted, he ruled only those tribes that bordered his seat of power at Ḥira, namely the Tanūkh (dwelled in tents between Ḥira and Anbār), the Ibād (the Arab founders of Ḥira who were mostly Christians), Aḥlāf (Bedouin settlers in Ḥira), and Arab immigrants (fugitives resulting from bloodfeuds and poor people seeking living). Ardašīr, however, recognized the usefulness of this ruler and after he had conquered the whole length of the southern portion of the Persian Gulf, he entrusted the Naṣrids with the control over all of the Arab tribes bordering the Sāsānian Empire and beyond152. 148

Ṭabarī 821-822; MAKSYMIUK 2017a: 89-91. FISHER 2011: 245-267; FISHER, WOOD 2016: 247-290. 150 WOOD 2016: 789-790. 151 Ṭabarī 821-822 (dates the accession of Amr to c.226 and death to c.248), Ṭabarī 833-834 (dates the death of Amr to c. 247 and accession of his son Imru to 247). 152 Ṭabarī 821-822; 834. This study adopts the view that the tradition followed by Ṭabarī would not necessarily have exaggerated the sphere of control and influence attributed to the early Naṣrid governors as claimed by Bosworth (1999: 44, n.132) in his translation of Ṭabarī. There is nothing inherently improbable in this tradition. The use of the Naṣrids by the Sāsānians to exercise control over the Arabic tribes was just wise policy that saved Persian manpower for other more important missions. It should be noted, however, that the first experiment in the use of Arabs to control Arabs on Sāsānian behalf was to last only 149

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Fig. 8. Ardašīr I’s Conquest of Parthia (Phase 1). © SYVÄNNE 2011.

After the conquest of Ctesiphon, the itinerary of Ardašīr would have progressed as reconstructed above so that he would have advanced first against Xusrō, who defeated him, and then to Eṣṭaḵr and then against the Kārins in Gurgān153 and then to Eṣṭaḵr, Kermān and Sakastān. The accounts in Firdawsī and the Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān actually support such an eastern campaign, since both place the campaigns against Haftvād to this time period (these places lay along the route), but as we have seen the details are actually a fit also with the events dated to the beginning as long as the Persians themselves showed interest in Arabian affairs and were ready to back up their word with military action. See later the reign of Šāpur II (Ṭabarī 833-834, 836ff.). 153 Another possibility would also be to place the encounter between the Kārins and Ardašīr near the city of Eṣṭaḵr in c. 225 so that the Kārins would have marched there through the either the northern route via Mēdia or through the southern route via Sakastān and Kermān.

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of Ardašīr’s rule. This leaves open the actual reason for this campaign unless of course there had indeed been a revolt by someone called Haftvād (possibly the king of Kermān who had been forgiven previously), who had attacked Ardašīr’s returning cavalry forces in Fārs and captured their booty. According to the Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān154, Ardašīr was planning to march against Armenia and Ādurbādagān (Mēdia Atropetene), but then because Yazdānkard Šahrzūrīg had allied himself with the ruler of Kermān (i.e. with ‘Haftvād’), he then decided to crush first Haftvād as a result of the outrage he had committed. It is possible that this Yazdān-kard could be either Xusrō, the king of Armenia, or Vesachan Kārin of Balkh, both of which would explain such a decision155. It is in fact possible that the Kārins and Kūšāns could have advanced against Sakastān. Still another possibility is that the Sūrēns could have risen against Ardašīr for example because his representatives overcharged customs duties along the Silk Route, or that some other Sakā chieftains who were related to the Sūrēns had invaded from India, or because the Sūrēns of Sakastān felt outraged that Ardašīr had honored the above-mentioned Sabak and revolted. And still another possibility is that Ardašīr simply marched to Sakastān to install his favorite member of the Sūrēn family on the throne. The likeliest alternative is that the king of Kermān (let us call him Haftvād) had indeed revolted and joined Xusrō and Vesachan together with the unknown ruler of Sakastān (probably belonging to the Sūrēn family). Regardless of the immediate cause, it is still abundantly clear that with his campaign in Sakastān Ardašīr secured his south-east frontier. After this, according to Ṭabarī156, Ardašīr continued his eastern campaign by marching north-west to Gurgān157, Nišāpur, Margianē, Ṭoxārestān, Xwārazm, as far as the farthest frontiers of Abaršahr , and from thence to Marv, or according to Baḷʿamī158, from Kermān and Sakastān 154

Kārnāmag ī Ardašīr ī Pābagān, 6. If Šahrazur refers to the later Šahrwarāz of the Mehrāns, then one can dismiss the story as fable. See about Šahrwarāz MAKSYMIUK 2017c. 156 Ṭabarī 819-820. 157 I.e. This version doesn’t agree with Frye’s interpretation (1983: 121-124) that Gīlān and the coast of the Caspian Sea (Gurgān) did not submit to Ardašīr, because the name Gīlān King appears for the first time in the reign of Šāpur who installed his son, the later king Bahrām I, as its ruler. Ṭabarī clearly implies that the areas that he mentioned were conquered and Movsēs Khorenats'i is quite specific that all of the Parthian clans except the Kārins supported Ardašīr, which means that the Esfandīār family of Gurgān under Sabak with traditional powerbase in Nišāpur supported them too not to mention its current Gušnasp overlords. 158 Baḷʿamī 73-74. 155

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to Abaršahr where he conquered Balkh, Marv, Nišāpur and Xwārazm. It is possible to reconcile the two, if one assumes that Baḷʿamī has left out the advance to Gurgān, but it is also possible that Ṭabarī’s Gurgān means Baḷʿamī’s first Abaršahr campaign and the first encounter between the Kārins and Ardašīr. It is impossible to be certain which of the versions is correct. Considering the huge distances covered in the course of this campaign, it must have lasted at least from 225 until late 226 or early 227. The massive size of the cities conquered in Abaršahr prove that Ardašīr possessed superb diplomatic skills which must have been backed by a formidable siege train to convince the lords in possession of these massive fortifications to submit without a fight. The first of the examples is the city of Marv. The archaeologists have identified three main phases for the construction of the truly massive city walls159: 1) Seleucid wall, around 280 BC; 2) Parthian wall, around second century BC; 3) Late Parthian wall, around 1st century CE; 4) all phases. On the basis of this, it is possible that some additional repairs were made during the Sāsānian era (note the debris in area 4), but the evidence for this is still lacking. Note the size of the men on top of the wall. The walls were truly massive.

Fig. 9. The city of Marv (two interpretations) 1. The usual: a/Alexandria in Margiana in the Seleucid age is the Parthian Marv. 2. Koshelenko and Pilipko (after V.M. Masson): A/ Alexandria in Margiana during the Seleucid age B/ The Parthian enclosure. © SYVÄNNE 2013.


CORBISHLEY 2005: 14-15.

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It is probable that it was before the first encounter between Ardašīr and the Kārins at Gurgān (if it took place there) that Ardašīr marched through the territories owned by the Gušnasp and from thence against the Kārins, and that it was also at this time that Ardašīr took away the kingdom of Parišwār from Gušnasp and divided it among its former Parthian kings. There were at least two probable reasons for such a move: 1) Ardašīr wanted to secure the support of the Parthian nobles; 2) He wanted to weaken the Gušnasp and possibly also to punish them for their failure to protect the lands against the Kārins. As a result, Ardašīr would also have gained the firm and loyal support of the retainers of the Mehrāns (Ray) and Esfandīār (Ray, Gurgān, Nišāpur), and the kanārang of Ṭūs (in Abaršahr) with the help of which he would then have engaged Vesachan Kārin. According to Baḷʿamī160, following the campaigns in Kermān, Sakastān, Abaršahr and Xwārazm, Ardašīr sent the heads of the kings of all of these provinces to Persia where the heads were suspended from the entrance of the Fire Temple of Eṣṭaḵr. Following this, Ardašīr returned back to Persia where he resided at Ardašīr-Xwarrah. Then Ardašīr attacked Māḥozē (this implies Ctesiphon with its new ruler, one of the sons of Ardavān, who had been installed on the throne by Xusrō the Great of Armenia when Ardašīr was campaigning in the east)161 with one army and then invaded Baḥrayn. According to Ṭabarī, Ardašīr returned from Marv to Ardašīr-Xwarrah where he received envoys from the kings of Kūšān, Ṭurān, and of Makurān (Makran) who offered their submission. Ṭoxārestān was henceforth ruled by the kings/regents/governors who were subjects of the Sāsānian king of kings. The Sūrēns must have therefore been disappointed in their hopes of regaining all their previous possessions. The separation of the city of Balkh with Ṭoxārestān and the kingdoms of the Sakastān (the Sūrēns), of the Kūšāns, of Ṭurān and of Makurān, suggests the probability that the mighty Kūšān Kingdom had already been broken apart by the Parthians or Sūrēns or Indo-Sakāi kings of Ṭurān before the eastern campaign of Ardašīr. Furthermore, the fact that the Kārins, whose power base lay in Nehāvand in Mēdia, had been in command of the Parthian forces in Balkh as well as the ease with which the Kūšāns and others offered their submission to Ardašīr after the defeat of Vesachan prove that the Parthians or the Sakās had either already crushed the Kūšān Empire before this date or that 160

Baḷʿamī 73-74. It is quite possible that the conquest of Ctesiphon as described by the Chronicle of Arbela 8 belongs here (c. 227-228) rather than to the year 224. 161

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the Kārins and Kūšāns had intermarried with the result that the former had received Ṭoxārestān as a dowry from the Kings of the Kūšāns. It is probable that the destruction or partition of the Kūšān Empire occurred at some point in time between ca. 185 and the death of Balaš in c. 208, or possibly even before that under the Sūrēn leadership. If the Sūrēns had defeated the Kūšāns, which seems to be the likeliest alternative, then the victory of Balaš and Kārins against the Easterners during those years would also have meant the ousting of the Sūrēns from those lands and the creation of alliance between the Kārins and Ardavān and Kūšāns, with the result that the Sūrēns joined Ardašīr’s revolt.162 After their eastern conquests the Sāsānians were now in a position to control most of the trade routes along the Silk Road. 162

It is tempting to time the possible destruction of the Kūšān Empire either to the period before 180’s under the Sūrēns or to the 180’s or 190’s on the basis of the Chronicle of Arbela, 6. According to this text, Balaš engaged the “Persians” and “Medes” with 120,000 soldiers in the land of Abaršahr . The “Persians”, who were deployed across a river, were initially successful and managed to surround the Parthians who fled to the hills and dismounted. The surrounded Parthians realized that their only hope laid in attack which they did with such desperation and boldness that they won. They pursued the Persians up to the sea (Caspian?) and then turned back to crush the rest of the Persians (those who had been on the other side of the hills). It is likely that this instance refers to a civil war that was fought between the supporters of Balaš (whose forces included at least the Kārins) and the supporters of some unknown usurper (probably a Sūrēn?) who had gathered the support of some of the Parthian and Persian clans and the eastern petty kings (mostly Sakāi). It is probable that at the time the Kārins (under Balaš) and Kūšāns were in alliance against the Sūrēns (who had conquered Balkh and Ṭoxārestān from the Kūšāns). Of particular note is that in Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.74 “Ardašīr” promised Anak Sūrēn (see chapter 4.4) the return of his original home called Pahlav (Sakastān?), the city of Balkh and all the country of the Kūšāns, if he killed Xusrō, which, if true, would indeed suggest that the Sūrēns had managed to take Ṭoxārestān from the Kūšāns even before the Kārins came to rule over Balkh! This makes it likely that Balaš followed up his success by advancing further east to crush the remaining centres of resistance in the process of which the Kārins came to occupy the throne of Balkh. According to DANI (1999: 163), some Indian scholars place the revolt of the Indian tribes in northern India and the end of the Kūšān Empire to the 180’s. However, there is no consensus among the Indian historians regarding the dating of the events. E.g. B.N. Mukherjee (1988: 35) places the annexation of the Kūšān Empire by the Sāsānians to the period before CE 262. Regardless, there still exists a very strong possibility that the Kūšāns may have faced problems on two fronts simultaneously at the time their empire dissolved. It should be noted, however, that it would not have been easy to defeat the Kūšāns, since according to Chinese sources they had an army consisting of well over 100,000 warriors (there were more than 100,000 soldiers in Ṭoxārestān alone). For the Kūšāns in general, see: MUKHERJEE 1988, BIVAR 1983b and PURI 1994. For the subsequent “Kūšāno-Sāsānian dynasty”, see: BIVAR 1983b, and DANI, LITVINSKY1999.

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Fig. 10. Ardašīr I’s Conquest of Parthia (Phase 2). © SYVÄNNE 2011.

After having defeated Vesachan Kārin, Ardašīr was immediately ready to reconcile himself with the sole survivor of the disaster Pērōzmat Kārin, but the boy’s Kūšān relatives would not hand him over. However, eventually Ardašīr was able to convince them that he was earnest and the boy was returned and given command of the campaign against northern nomads quite evidently in Abaršahr (Gurgān, Pahlaw and Xwārazm), because Pērōzmat was in command of these areas during the reign of Šāpur I. This proves that Ardašīr’s conquest of these lands had brought only a temporary submission and required a new campaign to force the leaders to respect their treaties. It is likely that the surrender of Pērōzmat took place at the time when Ardašīr received ambassadors from Kūšān, Ṭurān, and of Makurān offering submission. Pērōzmat was apparently highly successful and managed to defeat Vzurk of Ṭurān (?). Pērōzmat also took many wives from the relatives of Ardašīr to secure his position163. Baḷʿamī’s account proves that after Ardašīr had returned back from his eastern anabasis, his first campaign was directed against Māḥozē, which 163

For further details, see Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.73, 2.87. Before his death Pērōzmat sired many sons, one of whom called Kamsar eventually fled to Trdat of Armenia in about 283-287 or 296-297. Movsēs Khorenats'i’ Constantine should be amended to Diocletian.

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is the neighbourhood of Ctesiphon. This means that he overthrew the last Arsacid ruler installed by Xusrō in about 227-228164. However, there were also other problems to be solved. According to Mir-Khwānd165, the only king who did not offer his submission while Ardašīr was in Fārs was the king of Baḥrayn with the result that the king of kings marched against him. It is more than likely that this campaign involved Persian fleet, because it would have been next to impossible to supply the army and defeat Baḥrayn without a navy. This account is confirmed by Ṭabarī and Baḷʿamī, who stated that from Ardašīr-Xwarrah, Ardašīr went on to Baḥrayn and put its king Sanaṭrūq166 under a siege evidently in ca. 228/9. Bosworth167 notes that the name of the king Sanaṭrūq is Parthian suggesting the likelihood that he was an Arsacid vassal168. Ardašīr opted to use a blockade as a result of which the defenders were reduced to the extremity of need. The king chose to kill himself by throwing himself down from the walls of the citadel rather than surrender. Ardašīr conquered the whole length of the Persian Gulf from its head along its southern coast to the island of Baḥrayn and from thence to Oman. It is likely that it was at this time that Ardašīr delegated to the king of the Naṣrids the right to exercise power of various Arabic tribal groupings in northern Arabia and in the deserts of Mesopotamia and Syria. After the Arabian campaign, Ardašīr marched to Ctesiphon evidently to begin his Roman campaigns169. The other alternative date for Ardašīr’s Arabian campaign would be the years 233 to 237. With the conquest of the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, Ardašīr effectively controlled all of the trade routes along the Persian Gulf together with the spice trade conducted by Arab merchants. It is also of note that in order to put Baḥrayn under siege, Ardašīr must have by now possessed a powerful navy.


See also the Chapter 3.7. Mir-Khwānd 278. 166 Ṭabarī 820; The appearance of the Parthian name Sanatruq/Sinatrices, so common among the Arsacids, may mean that this local ruler was an Arsacid vassal; BOSWORTH 1983: 603-604; WIESEHÖFER 1986: 373. 167 Bosworth (1999: 16, n.61) in his translation of Ṭabarī. 168 This also suggest the likelihood that all of the areas that offered submission (or failed to offer like Baḥrayn) to Ardašīr in Ardašīr-Xwarrah in Fārs had previously been considered part or at least client states of Parthia, and that Ardašīr considered it his duty subdue all these areas. I.e. at the height of its power the Parthian Empire with its client kingdoms had probably encompassed Armenia, Asūrestān, southern portion of the Persian Gulf, Fārs, Mēdia, Gurgān, Pahlaw and Xwārazm, Ṭoxārestān, Kūšān kingdom, Sakastān, Ṭurān and Makurān. 169 Ṭabarī 820 lists the southern coast of the Persian Gulf as Ardašīr’s possessions. 165

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3.6. Ardašīr I’s organization of the Empire The Sāsānian Society and Army (the Spāh) According to the Nāma-ye Tansar, Ardašīr is claimed to have divided the Iranian society into four major groups which consisted of the priests, warriors, the bureaucrats, and the common people (peasants; artisans/workmen)170. This is the Avestan concept of four estates: 1) of the priests (āsrōnīh); 2) of the warriors (artēštārīh); 3) of the husbandmen (wāstaryōš); 4) of the artisans (hutuxšīh)171. In realm, Sāsānian society was basically comprised of three classes: the warriors, the commoners, and the clergy172. They were symbolized by the three great fires of the empire Ādur Gušnasp at Šiz in Ādurbādagān (the fire of the warrior), Ādur Buzēn Mehr at Rēvand, near Nišāpur in Abaršahr (the fire of the husbandman), and Ādur Farnbāg at Kāriān in Fārs (the fire of the priest)173. At the very top of the society was the šāhānšāh and below him were ranks of nobles: 1) The local kings who held important posts (šahrdārān); 2) The members of Sāsānian family who were not direct descendants of the ruler (wāspuhragān); 3) The heads of the most important noble families most of whom consisted of Parthians (wuzurgān)174; 4) The “householders” (katag xʷatāyān), 5) The lesser nobility (āzādān) and the military elite. The holding of all of the higher ranking offices and military commands were the privilege of the first three categories while the lesser positions were reserved for the āzādān. Each of the ranks, positions and offices was also separated from one another by the use of different types of clothing and colors that distinguished the higher ranking nobles from 170

Nāma-ye Tansar, 12. The class structure in the Parthian and Sāsānian Periods, see SHAKI 1992. 172 TAFAŻŻOLĪ 2000. 173 GYSELEN 2003; MAKSYMIUK 2016. 174 The wuzurgān consisted of the clans of Parthian origin such as the Andēgān, Wārāz, Kārin, Sūrēn as well as those in Fārs such as the Farrukhāns (LUKONIN 1993: 702-706). The great noble families are mentioned on the court list of early Sāsānian kings (ŠKZ; NPi). As is obvious there are more than seven families mentioned. This list includes all of the families which have been suggested as being the seven magnate families at various times. The only definitely certain ones are the Arsacid, Sāsānians, Sūrēns, Mehrāns, Kārins, and Esfandīār. 171

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the lesser ranks175. The most important offices were actually the hereditary privilege of the most important families of the realm most of whom were Parthian by origin176. There were to be seven great families just like there were in the Achaemenid times of which the Sāsānians were primus inter pares. These families occupied all of the highest offices of the empire, and just like it was during the Parthian era and the šāhānšāh could only come from the Sāsānian family just like previously it had been the hereditary privilege of the Arsacids177. Ardašīr continued the Arsacid tradition of entrusting high state positions to the great noble families. Most of these families were Parthians, who then intermarried with the Sāsānian families. The ŠKZ names five members of the great noble families being present at Ardašīr’s court, namely the Dēhēn (Warāz), Sāsān (Sūrēn), Sāsān (the lord of Andīgān), and Pērōz and Gōk (Kārin). The court list of the early Sāsānian kings calls these with the title wuzurgān. Only the vassal kings and dynasts (šahrdārān), and the princes of the royal blood as well as the members of royal families (wāspuhragān) had a higher rank. According to Movsēs Khorenats'i, the only Arsacids that continued to oppose Ardašīr I after the battle of Hormzdagān were the Arsacids of Armenia and the Kārin clan. The other Parthian dynastic families recognized the authority of the Sāsānian usurper178. The existence of the Sāsānian-Parthian confederacy is confirmed by the usage of both languages (Middle Persian and Parthian) in most of the inscriptions of


Nāma-ye Tansar, 19. WIESEHÖFER 1986: 171ff. 177 The magnate families had hereditary rights to the most important offices of the realm (POURSHARIATI 2008); Theophylact Simocatta 3.18.6-9: “I heard a certain Babylonian [Seleucia-Ctesiphonian?], a sacred official who had gained very great experience in the composition of royal epistles, say … For seven peoples among the Medes [Persians], allocated by ancient law [of the Achaemenids and Arsacids?], perform the sagacious and most honoured of their actions; and he stated that procedures could not be otherwise; and they say that the people entitled Arsacid hold the kingship and these place the diadem on the king, another is in charge of the military disposition, another is invested with the cares of the state, another resolves the differences of those who have some dispute and need an arbitrator, the fifth commands the cavalry, the next levies the taxes on the subjects and is overseer of the royal treasuries, the seventh is appointed custodian of arms and military uniform; Darius the son of Hydaspes [522-486 BC] inscribed this very law in the royal precincts.” (tr. by Michael and Mary Whitby); Procopius, Wars, 1.6.13: “a law of the Persians which ordains that offices among the Persians shall not be conferred upon others than those to whom each particular honour belongs by right of birth.” (tr. by Henry Bronson Dewing). 178 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2. 71. 176

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the early Sāsānian kings and by the several appeals of Narseh to the Parthians and Persians in NPi179. The Sūrēns were held in highest honor because they crowned the king with a diadem. The Sūrēns, Esfandīārs and later Mehrāns dominated the military appointments. The Sūrēns acted as commander-in-chief (artēštārān-sālār; spāhbedān-spāhbed) and the cavalry commanders came always from the Esfandīār (aswārān-sardār). According to Garsoïan the “master of ceremonies” (ēwēnbed/āyēnbed; Arm. nuirakapet) was the commander of the royal bodyguard and a hereditary position in the family of the Žik180. The hierarchical caste and class structures affected all sections of the society including its military organizations. According to Masʿūdī181, the “military” nobility present at the court were: 1) The “horseman” (aswārān)182 and princes and favourite scientists; 2) The“margrave of the land frontier” (marzbāns)183. At wartime he acted as one of the spāh’s military commanders subordinate to his regional spāhbed, tributary kings resident at the court, spāhbeds (four: Abaršahr, East, South, North)184; 3) the buffoons, familiars and friends. The division of the Empire into four large blocks each of which was under spāhbed mentioned above is confirmed by the evidence of Ammianus Marcellinus185 who states that there were viceroys (perhaps four vitaxae186 of North, East, South and West) for each corner of the Empire. Consequently, the four-fold division predates the reign of Xusrō I Anōšīrvān by two 179

MAKSYMIUK 2015b. GARSOÏAN (commentary in P’awstos Buzand 3535), but the researchers do not agree which offices and titles implied what. 181 Masʿūdī, Les Prairies d’or, 152-157. 182 SKJÆRVØ 1987. 183 KHURSHUDIAN 2015: 76-95. 184 According to Masʿūdī (Le livre, 147-149), there were four marzbāns (east, west, north, south) – i.e. marzbāns – serving as margraves of the four corners of the empire, which Masʿūdī in his Les Prairies d’or (156-157) contrasts by stating that there were four spāhbeds in charge of the four corners of the empire, each of whom had one marzbāns as his lieutenant. He furthermore claims that the system of four spāhbeds was in use until the reign of Bahrām V Gōr. SYVÄNNE 2015a: 113ff. 185 Ammianus Marcellinus 23.6.14: “Now there are in all Persia these greater provinces, ruled by vitaxae, or commanders of cavalry, by kings, and by satraps.” (trans. by John C. Rolfe). 186 Bidaxš. A. Pagliaro (1929: 165) suggested meaning as “the eye of the king”, W. Hinz (1969: 149-153) as “vice king”. In ŠKZ (Pārsīg 29), the lists of dignitaries mention as the highest dignitary after the members of the royal house under Ardašīr I: a certain Ardašīr, the bidaxš. 180

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centuries, but so that the earliest form of this practice was to divide the realm into the ‘Kingdoms’ of Armenia, Mēšān, Gīlān and Sakastān187. In fact, during the 3rd century these four kingdoms, which had been given to the members of the Sāsānian Family, formed the core structure of the military and civilian administrations188. Sāsānian Military At the very top of the Sāsānian military stood naturally the šāhānšāh and the supreme commander of Iran and the Great King of Armenia, the King of Sakastān, the King of Gīlān, the King of Mēšān. The other important military commands were: 1) the Ērān-spāhbed / the spāhbedān spāhbed (artēštārān sālār, Iṣbahbadh al-bilād, the commander of the spāh, hereditary in the Sūrēn family?)189; 2) the aswārān sālār (Commander of Cavalry, hereditary in the Esfandīār family?); 3) the paygān sālār (Commander of the Infantry)190, 4) the kanārang in the Abaršahr191; 5) other high ranking officers, such as spāhbeds (generals)192, marzbān (guardian of the borders)193, šahrab (Commander of a rural district e.g. Balkh)194 and pāygōsbān (guardian of the district)195. The hazāruft (Gr. chiliarchês, “Commander of a Thousand man”, who could also be the court’s master of ceremonies196), the ‘Prime Minister’, may also have had some military duties because the title implies this197. The likeliest military duty would have been to serve as an overall commander of the bodyguards in the same manner as the late Roman magister officiorum had under him the comes domesticorum, who was usually the man actually 187

ŠKZ (Pārsīg) 25: “varhrām gēlān šāh, (ud) šābuhr ī mēšān šāh, ud ohrmazdardašēr ī vazurg šāh arminān, ud nersah ī sagān šāh”. 188 SYVÄNNE 2015a:113ff. 189 SUNDERMANN 1986: 662; TAFAŻŻOLĪ 2000: 10; Ṭabarī (869) ranks the spāh’s three most important military titles as argbed (most important, “commander of a fortress”), followed by artēštārān-sālār and the spāhbed. See FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 15-16. 190 FOSS 2002: 170. 191 KHURSHUDIAN 2015: 95-100. 192 MAKSYMIUK 2017d. 193 KHURSHUDIAN 2015: 76-95. 194 NIKITIN 1994. 195 WIESEHÖFER 1996: 198. 196 GIGNOUX 1991: 423-424 197 KHURSHUDIAN 2015: 21-68, 101-119.

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in charge of the soldiers during the military campaigns. This title occurs from early Sāsānian times in ŠKZ with respect to a certain Pābag identified as a hazāruft198. The commander of the Royal Bodyguards (probably the puštigbān sālār)199 was also a person of great importance, but his title is not known with definite certainty. On the basis of the Kārnāmag ī Anōšīrvān200 and as-Siyāsa al-ʿāmmīya, it is probable that the Persian military hierarchy consisted of seven ranks, which according to the as-Siyāsa al-ʿāmmīya were: 1) ṣāḥib al-liqā’ (Lord of the Battle, presumably the Ērān-spāhbed?); 2) baṭrīq (patricius, a Roman dignity, possibly the equivalent of the Great King of Armenia and the Kings of Sakastān, Gīlān and Mēšān?); 3) amīr (general, this would correspond with the several different ranks of generals); 4) qā’id (senior officer, deputy of the commander); 5) mubāriza (champion, duellist); 6) ʿarīf (commandant of a squadron); 7) al-ǧund (soldiers)201. It goes without saying that the Sāsānian military was very sophisticated and it comes therefore as no great surprise that it included special functionaries: the senior vet, officers in charge of supply and arsenals, commanders of forts, cavalry instructors, infantry commanders, commanders for bodyguard units, commanders for foot archers, commanders for elite cavalry and so forth. Soldiers, Strategy and Tactics The Sāsānian Empire possessed all arms of service. It had masses of cavalry and infantry and a small navy of some sorts in the Persian Gulf. The armed forces were very well-organized and possessed engineering, medical and siege services. The usual assumption among the historians is that the Sāsānian army was based on the decimal system, but this is a mistake. Just like in the Roman army the decimals included recruits and servants. The smallest known unit was a 100 men ‘company’ (wašt) with a fighting strength of ca. 80 men; ten of these made up a 1,000 men ‘regiment’(drafš) with a fighting strength 198

ŠKZ 29; FOSS 2002: 170. 200 Kārnāmag ī Anōšīrvān, 9. 201 . See GRIGNASCHI 1966: 24, 42 n.76; The glossary of Arabic military terms in SCANLON 1961: 123-130 is used to shed further light. Note also that according to G.T. Scanlon the ṣāḥib al-liqā’ can also mean standard-bearer, flag-officer or flagcommander. The text in SYVÄNNE (2015a: 118) mistakenly refers only to the original source. 199

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of 800 men; ten regiments formed up a 10,000 men ‘division’(gund) with a theoretical fighting strength of 8,000 men. But, it is possible that even these figures should be modified because several sources prove that the Persians divided their armies like the Romans into divisions of 6,000 men (caterva/legion) and 12,000 men, which suggests the possibility that the Persians united several regiments to form up divisions of ca. 6,000 men (Roman legion or meros) rather than used gunds of 8,000 men, or alternatively the 6,000 men units consisted of those that the Persians could put to the field in practice while the rest of the 10,000 men would have either not joined the force or had become injured or ill in the course of the campaign202. What is particularly notable is that thanks to the use of the ‘feudal’203 system the Sāsānians were able to match or outnumber the size of the Roman field armies even though they possessed smaller population and weaker economy. Contrary to the popular belief among historians, military theorists and social scientists the ‘feudal’ system (just like the conscript army of the Roman Republic) offered some very tangible advantages over the use of the professional army, which were the smaller expenses and proportionally greater reserves. Before the advent of modern weaponry, the masses of conscripts/levies could be used to compensate for the relative lack of training, and even in this case the difference between professional soldier and levy should not be overstressed because the individuals without official military training could still be quite skilled in the use of weapons achieved as a result of civilian preoccupations (herding, hunting, wrestling, playing of polo etc.). The sources prove that when the Sāsānians were not simultaneously threatened by a major power in the East, West or Central Asia that they could regularly put to the field armies of 70,000-120,000 horsemen and infantry in addition to which came the servants/peasants, and if the Sāsānians collected a cavalry army of 70,000-120,000 horsemen, they could still add to it infantry and servants to serve the needs of the cavalry which could also be used as “cannon fodder” in sieges. Even when the Sāsānians faced difficulties on other fronts, they could still put to the field armies of 20,000-60,000


SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1; 2015a: 113ff.; 2017a; For a different view, see FARROKH 2017: 9ff. 203 The disscusion about the term feudal and its attendant economic and political structures in the Iranian context in POURSHARIATI 2008: 55.

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cavalry (with additional infantry/peasants as servants) or the same number of mixed forces of cavalry and infantry on every front204. The heavy cavalry formed the flower of the Sāsānian armed forces205. It consisted of the wuzurgān and āzādān nobles. The exact duties of the aswārān sālār are not known. In other words, we do not known whether he acted as a commander of the horsemen, or allied cavalry, or all cavalry, or some specific unit, or was in charge of the equipment, training and supply of the cavalry. The mural painting from Dura-Europos displays a fully armored cavalryman (man and horse) of the Iranian type wielding a lance with his sword hilt projecting from his left side206. One of the earliest depictions of Sāsānian cavalry is at the 3rd century site of Fīrūzābād, Naqš-e Rostam and Tang-e Sarvak. Note the combination of bow with the lance. During the reign of Xusrō I Anōšīrvān207, the martial equipment of the Sāsānian horsemen consisted of the helmet208, hauberk, breastplate, mail, gauntlet, girdle, thigh-guards, nēzak-spear, sword, battle-axe, mace, bowcase, two bows and bowstrings, a quiver with 30 arrows, two extra bowstrings, a lasso, a sling and stones, a shield, and horse armour (either metal or leather)209. It is not known whether the third century horsemen used the shields210 and face masks, but these were definitely used in the 4th century211. It is suggested here that the Persian cavalry could also use the shield, if it chose to, because this was needed when the horsemen fought in sieges. The Persian cataphracts were superb horsemen who had the confidence to face even heavy infantry formations head on. The crème de la crème of the cavalry consisted of the 10,000 Immortals who formed the šāhānšāh’s cavalry bodyguard212. The allies and subject nations consisted


SYVÄNNE 2004 Chapter 10.1; 2015a: 113ff. Olbrycht’s detailed analysis of the troop complements of the Parthian and Sāsānian military provide totals approximating 120,000150,000 when factoring all possible recruits from provinces, levies and auxiliaries in combination with the professional core (OLBRYCHT 2016: 292-296). 205 MIELCZAREK 1993; FARROKH, KARAMIAN, MAKSYMIUK 2018: 29-34. 206 NIKONOROV 2005; WÓJCIKOWSKI 2013: 233-234. 207 Ṭabarī 964. 208 SYVÄNNE 2017b; KUBIK 2017; SKUPNIEWICZ 2017. 209 For a fuller discussion of the equipment used by the Sāsānian cavalry, see SYVÄNNE 2015a: 119ff.; FARROKH 2007; 2017; SKUPNIEWICZ 2006a; 2014. 210 SKUPNIEWICZ 2006b. 211 SKUPNIEWICZ, MAKSYMIUK 2018; FARROKH, MAKSYMIUK, SÁNCHEZ GRACIA 2018: 32-34. 212 FARROKH 2005: 6.

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of the Armenians, Sakastāni, Albani, Kūšāns, and Arabs. With the exception of the Armenians, most of these consisted of light cavalry213. The Persian infantry consisted mostly of peasants who were naturally divided into ‘heavy infantry’ and light infantry. The Sāsānian infantry organization and combat practices were based on Iranian (heavy infantry with wattle mantlets and foot archers) and Greek traditions (spear-armed phalanx), and on Roman influence (men armed like murmillones or legionaries), and on the influence of the neighboring peoples like the Deylamites. The commander of the infantry was called as the paygān sālār. The infantry was primarily used as servants for the nobles, or as ‘cannon-fodder’ in sieges, or to protect the marching camps. The heavy infantry consisted of spearmen who were protected by wattle mantlets or by huge oblong curved shields covered with wickerwork and rawhide. The light infantry used bows. The standard infantry tactic was to form a phalanx wall of shields with a hedgehog of protruding spears so that the archers behind them could pepper the enemy with arrows. In addition to this, the Persians fielded some elite infantry who were equipped like the gladiator murmillones (gladius-armed swordsmen) and used Deylamites tribesmen as mercenaries. The versatile Deylamites were equipped with shields, spears, pikes, swords, and dirks tied to the left arm so that theý could serve as heavy and light infantry with equal ease214. In addition to this, the Deylamites had small numbers of archers. The conquest and subdual of the East appears to have caused some temporary modifications to the military system employed by Ardašīr. The details provided by the Historia Augusta215 suggest that Ardašīr brought with him from the East contingents provided by the local kings that included elephants, war-chariots and infantry. Ardašīr put these to a good use in his subsequent campaign, which included the besieging of many cities in Mesopotamia still controlled by the competing Parthian rulers. The elephants became a permanent feature in Persian war plans. The elephants originally obtained from the East were housed and maintained in the royal parks. The Sāsānians used the elephants as: 1) beasts of burden; 2) a workforce to clear roads etc.; 3) ‘tanks’ to penetrate the enemy line; 4) threatening beasts behind the line to force the men forward;


SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1; 2015a: 113ff. OVERLAET 1998. 215 HA, Severus Alexander 55-56. 214

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5) observations posts; 6) archery platforms; 7) siege towers; 8) battering rams in sieges216. The amount of training and natural inclinations determined how the elephants were used. Only the best and diligently trained elephants could be used in sieges and battles and could carry towers. In battles, depending upon the situation, the Persians placed their elephants either in front, or behind or on the flanks of the army. The value of the war elephants against the Romans was very limited because the Romans had the right training to face them, but in the right circumstances the elephants could defeat even them217. The narrative accounts prove that the Sāsānians had a fleet of some sort, but it is not known how this was organized218. It is possible that they had a small permanent navy that was reinforced with merchant ships when needed or that the merchant houses were simply ordered to perform service on ships. Whatever the actual details, it is known that the Sāsānians had the capability to conduct major naval campaigns in the Persian Gulf219. We have equally little information regarding the type and size of the ships used, but it is generally assumed that the ships would have been dhows used in the region and that the vast majority of the ships could have carried at least 100 passengers each in addition to the crew. It is probable that the title of the admiral of the navy was the nāvbed220. The dhow was a very seaworthy vessel able to stand its own against the dhows of the neighbouring countries, but as a sewn-ship it did not stand a chance against the Roman nailed warships.


SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1; 2015a: 113ff. M. Charles (2007: 305-306) has questioned the use of elephants in the early Sāsānian armies. 217 For different views regarding the Sāsānian elephants, see: RANCE 2003; KISTLER 2006; DMITRIEV 2014a; DMITRIEV 2014b; DARYAEE 2016b. 218 DMITRIEV 2017. 219 DARYAEE 2016a: 42. 220 DARYAEE 2009: 46-47.

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Fig. 11. Bahrām II at the relief at Naqš-e Rostam, (photo by E. Shavarebi, drawing by P. Skupniewicz).

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The Sāsānian Persia possessed long military traditions and it is therefore not surprising that their military methods were very sophisticated and also codified in writing (e.g. several archery manuals; the Āʾīn-nāma etc.) to enable successive generations of generals to learn the theoretical side of their trade through reading. Fakhr-i Mudabbir’s Ādāb al-ḥarb from the early 13th century contains several pieces of information that refers to earlier Sāsānian practices. The following translation by A.P. Martinez refers to the basic five part battle formation used by the Sāsānians, which was already used by the Achaemenids and also by the Indian Mauryas and their successors: “Know that warfare is [of] two kinds: one [with] riders and one [with] footsoldiers… Know that arrays on the day of battle are [of] two kinds: one [is] company by company Turkic-style and the other kind is [Arabo-Iranian]style, with right wing, left wing, center, outer wings, and rear, [according to] the custom of the Sassanians… just as Bahrā Čubin had done [when confronting] the army of the Turkish Xāgān and just as Kāvä, the general of Farīdūn, had done [when confronting] Dahhāk”221. This information can be combined with the information provided by the Āʾīn-nāma, Strategikon, Nihāyat al-su'l, Gotha Manuscript, Tafrīj alkurūb fī tadbīr al-hurūb, and narrative sources to form an overall reconstruction of the Sāsānian combat formations and tactics. The following text summarizes the findings so far222. The Persian military policies and practices were usually very sophisticated. First the šāhānšāh and his council formed objectives to achieve after which they analyzed what would be the best way to achive those. It could involve the use of alliances, fighting through proxies (mainly nomads and Arabs), use of threats and actual fighting. When the Persians set out on campaign, their combat doctrine called for the use of several safety features: 1) supplies and equipment were collected in advance; 2) on the march spies and scouts surrounded the army; 3) captives were taken for interrogation; 4) marching formations took into account the possibility of enemy attack (consisted of the vanguard, the rear guard, the wings, and the center); 5) fortified camps with a separate cavalry detachment outside the camp provided safety for the nights. In combat the Persians employed stratagems, ambushes and night attacks, and only if these were not possible then did they resort to the use of actual pitched battles. The commands were transmitted through shouting, 221 222

MARTINES 1986: 130; SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1. SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1; SYVÄNNE 2015a: 113ff.

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musical instruments and symbols (standards, flags etc.). In special occasions, the Sāsānians used their national standard to encourage the men. The Sāsānians knew more than well the motto that in a fight there are no atheists and put the Zoroastrian religion at the very heart of their military doctrine. The soldiers were always encouraged with religious ceremonies and pre-battle speeches. On top of that the Iranian culture stressed the male machismo and the ability to fight so that the soldiery was quite well-prepared for the manly pursuits. In the field of military doctrine this manifested itself in the eagerness of the Persian horsemen to challenge the enemies to single combat before the battle. The outcome of these fights could be decisive because most of the soldiers were superstitious and could see the result as a prophecy. If the Persians had decided to engage the enemy in combat, they sought a favourable position for their army which usually meant the higher ground with the advantage of the wind and sun behind them. The aim was to increase the effectiveness of the arrows and the cavalry charge. The attack was conducted with loud shouting and drumming with the aim to scare the enemy. The cavalry battle line had two main formations (single line with five divisions, or a double line with five divisions) and many variants. The different divisions in the line could be armed differently so that the archers (preferably left handed) were placed on the left and the lancers on the right, or that the first line consisted of archers and the second of lancers. In other words, the Persians varied the position of the light cavalry according to the tactic chosen. However, it was also possible for the entire cavalry force to consist solely of cataphracts. Even if all of the evidence for the different uses of infantry come from the post 3rd century sources, it is probable that it was already used in the same ways as later because the internal logic of how infantry was used in antiquity was the same. Consequently, if infantry accompanied the army, it was placed behind in front of the camp to protect the cavalry or alternatively it was placed between the cavalry wings. The unit formations for cavalry and infantry remained the same as during the Parthian period. The elephants were placed either before, between or behind the units depending on the purpose. When in front or between other units, the elephants were used to break through the enemy array, and when behind they forced the men forward and served as archery platforms223.


SYVÄNNE 2004: Chapter 10.1; 2015a: 113ff.

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Fig. 12. Some typical battle formations used by the Sāsānians (there were also other variants. © SYVÄNNE 2004.

The Persian cavalry and infantry tactics were based on Parthian ones so that the aim was: 1) to outflank the enemy on both flanks (crescent) when the Persians possessed numerical superiority; 2) to outflank the enemy only on one flank when both sides had roughly the same number of men (outflanking with the right flank was preferred because of the needs of archery); 3) to attack the enemy centre with a charge (convex) when the enemy had superior numbers; 4) to array the army on a defensive position on a hill and use archers, if the Persians could not meet the enemy in the open terrain; 5) to form a defensive circle on the spot with infantry and/or dismounted cavalry if the enemy outflanked the Persians. The Sāsānian infantry tactics appear to have presaged the Muslim infantry tactics and are therefore likely to have contributed to its development. The reason for this conclusion is that the Muslim military treatises, that have incorporated Sāsānian material, include descriptions of infantry formations and tactics that include clear Greek-Roman-Persian material so that the treatises include old Persian infantry traditions with spearmen armed with mantlets placed as a bulwark for foot archers, and a mix of Hellenistic-Roman practices in which there were spearmen and swordsmen placed in front (just like the Muslims are known to have done) behind whom were the foot archers. The Sāsānians became famous for their siege skills in fact so much so that the late Roman military treatise the Strategikon considered the Persians very skilled in offensive siege warfare and even more formidable in defensive siege warfare. Contrary to the popular view, it is probable

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as P. Skupniewicz224 has stated that the Parthians had actually been quite good at it. We have detailed evidence only for one siege in the western sources which describes the taking of Ctesiphon by Sūrēn during the 50s BC, but it is clear that this would not have been the last of the major Parthian siege operations. It is clear that Iran and Central Asia possessed major cities with massive fortifications that had to be besieged on occasion. Depending upon the locale the walls were built out of mud bricks, stones or asphalt. The accompanying illustrations show how massive these mud brick walls could be. Consequently, it is clear that the Sāsānians inherited their siege engineering skills from the Parthians. It should also be stressed that the Parthians had inherited Greek and Middle Eastern siege practices so that their siege skills were not nomadic, but urban thanks to the subject populations they had. In sum, one can conclude that the army of Ardašīr I was entirely based on earlier Parthian practices, but with the addition that he re-adopted some of the earlier Persian practises which included the use of the scythed war-chariots and elephants and some sort of navy. The experiment with chariots proved short-lived, but the elephants were there to stay and they performed many a great service to the Empire throughout its existence. It is possible (as usually believed) that the Sāsānians possessed better siege skills than the Parthians, but this could equally well be just a mirage resulting from the fact that we do not possess narrative sources of the wars in the East. The Roman imitation of the Parthian and Sasanian cavalry equipment, archery techniques and their use of cavalry reserves prove these to have been very practical. This imitation is the highest form of flattery. 3.7. Ardašīr I the “Achaemenid”: the War against Rome and Other Wars After defeating of the armies of Ardavān in the plain of Hormzdagān, Ardašīr declared himself the šāhānšāh of Iran225. At this stage, the principal goal of the first Persian King was to remove the opposition associated with the Parthians. At first he pacified the core territories as discussed above after which he pacified the Arabs dwelling at the banks of the Persian Gulf226.


SKUPNIEWICZ 2011: 14. Ṭabarī 819; WIESEHÖFER 1982: 442. 226 Ṭabarī 817; MAKSYMIUK 2017a. 225

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The next target of his attack was to become Armenia, the stronghold of the defiance against new power 227. What is clear from the written sources is the connection between military action and Arsacid-Parthian bloodline. It was because of this that the King of Armenia pointed that he and Ardavān were closely related by the blood-bonds228. Similarly, it was thanks to the association of the local aristocracy with the Parthian royal family that the city of Ḥaṭrā opposed Ardašīr so vehemently. Blood-ties were very important in Iranian tradition, especially in the case of the royal family. According to Ṭabarī, it was because of an oath made by Sāsān, an ancestor of Ardašīr, that Ardašīr sought to slaughter all members of the house of the Arsacids229. According to Iranian concept of royal power the legality of the ruler’s claim to power over Ērānšahr was assured only by the divine royal glory, farr(ah)/xᵛarənah which was transferred through blood ties and included all family members230. According to Movsēs Xorenac‘i, Armenian king Xusrō asked help from the Roman emperor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235)231, but a lot of events had taken place before this on the western front. The Armenian sources inform us about the battle in Āsōristān in course of which Ardašīr was defeated and which should be dated according to Armenian sources to 225/226232. As noted above, this Armenian counter attack should probably be dated to have taken place in late 224 (or in early 225). Dio and Agathangelos both state that Ardašīr moved with his army from Mēdia with the intention of invading Armenia and Ādurbādagān 233. The armies of Ardašīr were then defeated by the forces of the coalition consisting of the Armenians, “Medes”, “children of the Medes” and sons of Ardavān 234. The Nihāyat al-Irab235, states that the battle ended in Ardašīr’s victory. Ṭabarī does not mention the battle at all, but he just states that Ardašīr conquered Armenia and Ādurbādagān before the taking of Ctesiphon 236. Research literature usually limits the problem of the early wars with Armenia to the information that Ardašīr attacked Armenia probably in the late 220s 237. 227

MAKSYMIUK 2017b; 2019b. Movsēs Xorenac‘i 2.71; Agathangelos 1.19, 20, 22. 229 Ṭabarī 823. 230 GNOLI 1999. 231 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.71-72. 232 Agathangelos 1.21; Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.72. 233 Dio Cassius 80.3.3; Ṭabarī 819. 234 Dio Cassius 80.3.3; Zonaras 12.15. 235 Nihāyat al-Irab, 770, cf. 721. 236 Ṭabarī 819. 237 SHAVAREBI 2014: 128. 228

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We have already shown above that it is probable that Ardašīr either defeated or at least forced Xusrō back to Armenia already in 224, which enabled him to take Ctesiphon also in 224. It was after this that the coalition of Xusrō defeated Ardašīr and installed the son of Ardavān on the throne at Ctesiphon and then retreated back into Armenia. It is probable that this took place either in very late 224 or early 225 after which Ardašīr defeated Vesachan Kārin and subdued the eastern dominions and returned back to Persia. This campaign must have lasted at least until the late 226, but may also have lasted until 227. The second conquest of Ctesiphon therefore took place probably in about 227-228 and it is possible or even probable that Ardašīr defeated the Armenians at this time (this could be the defeat mentioned by the Chronicle of Arbela and/or by Nihāyat al-Irab) making it necessary for Xusrō to send his plea for help to the Romans. The Romans perceived the change of the Iranian dynasty as a potential threat for their own position in the Near East 238. Ardašīr proclaimed to be the legitimate successor of the Achaemenids and therefore the legal owner of the Roman lands in the east 239. It should be pointed out that the Parthian rule was not yet entirely broken. Some modern historians claim that Balaš minted the coins in Seleucia240. Some of the Arabs were also opposing the Sāsānians, and the city of Ḥaṭrā had formed an alliance with Rome and, most importantly, the survival of the Arsacids on the throne of Armenia formed a clear and present danger for the new Persian dynasty. As a founder of a new dynasty, Ardašīr needed to prove himself as the favorite of the gods on the battlefield, and he also needed to keep his soldiers busy and satisfied with booty. Despite not having yet defeated the Armenians, Ardašīr managed to gain the upper hand, because the Roman army in the East was mutinying: Some of the soldiers refused to fight; there were attempted usurpations; while others even joined the invaders. The initial Roman response was to send letters to Ardašīr in which it was demanded that he halted his operations, retreated back home and stay at peace241. Ardašīr had no intention of refraining from the use of force. Striving for direct military confrontation with Rome, Ardašīr marched his troops to Roman


Herodian 6.2.2; Dio Cassius 80.3.4; Zonaras 12.15; CAMPBELL 1993: 213-240. For Ardašīr’s Achaemenid rhetoric, see EDWELL 2008: 156-160; SHAHBAZI 2001; contra SYVÄNNE 2018. 240 As noted above, the historians have not found a consensus when the mints stopped producing coins in the name of Balaš but most still suggest that this took place at the latest in 228. 241 Herodian 6.2.3ff. 239

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Cappadocia, and then made an attempt to seize Nisibis in 229242. Most of Mesopotamia was overrun with infantry and cavalry, Cappadocia plundered and Syria threatened. Even though not mentioned by the Roman sources, it is more than likely that the Armenians conducted raids against the Persian’s supply lines and that these must have played a significant role in forcing the Persians out in 230243.

Fig. 13. The Investiture of Ardašīr I at Naqš-e Rostam, (photo by E. Shavarebi).

Emperor Severus Alexander ordered the army to assemble at Antioch244. Troops were transferred and assembled, roads repaired or built245, and magazines prepared in 230. In preparation for the campaign, Severus Alexander created a Macedonian phalanx with Silver Shields and Gold Shield in imitation of Alexander the Great (and his supposed father Caracalla). In truth, the phalanx consisted of six legions with the strength of ca. 30,000 men, but, excluding the color of the shields, it was still equipped like the rest. Troops were assembled from all of the western provinces and Italy and reinforcements added from Illyria before the crossing of the Hellespont in 231. The expeditionary forces were assembles at Antioch and contingents from Egypt and Syria were added to their numbers. After this, as the Roman military doctrine expected, Severus Alexander began 242

MAKSYMIUK 2015a: 29. Dio Cassius 80.3.3ff.; Herodian 6.2.1ff.; SYVÄNNE 2018. E.g. Movsēs Xorenac‘i 2.73 mentions that Xusrō continued his campaign against the Persians without any help from the Romans. 244 RÖSGER 1978; POTTER 1987. 245 STEIN 1941: 299-316. 243

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to train his men for the campaign. While this was still going, Severus Alexander supposedly once again tried to achieve peace through diplomacy, but to no avail. One rather suspects that Alexander’s real goal was to once again demonstrate his moderation and enemy’s hostility, and possibly also to spy upon the enemy’s strength. After having assembled the entire armed strength of the Roman Empire in the east, it is unlikely that Alexander would not have planned to use it. Unsurprisingly, Ardašīr refused. However, he then made the mistake of sending 400 nobles as his embassy to Alexander with the message that the Romans should evacuate the whole of Asia. Alexander violated the sanctity of envoys and imprisoned them246. He had no intention of letting the enemy spies return. Now everything was ready for the campaign, but before Severus Alexander could start his campaign the eastern forces mutinied probably because they had become used to easy living, which Alexander managed to suppress with stern measures247. According to Herodian, the Roman high command planned a three-pronged invasion for the campaign season of 232: 1) The northern army was to advance through Armenia into Mēdia; 2) The southern army was to advance from Dura Europus (Dux Ripae attested at this time) along the Euphrates to the point where it converged with Tigris and became a marsh with the implication that it was to bypass Ctesiphon and invade Xūzestān (this may imply the existence of a resistance movement in this area against the Sāsānians); 3) The third column consisting of the “phalanx” and the cream of the army under Alexander Severus’ personal leadership was to march between these two, but we do not know anything specific about its intended route248. One possibility is that Alexander’s intention was to march this column up to the Tigris and then down the river to meet his southern army. The division of the Roman forces gave Ardašīr the chance to use the inner lines to engage each of the enemy columns separately. Of note is Herodian’s claim that the Persian armies included also female warriors, which suggests the presence of Kūšān contingents who notably included women even as bodyguards of the kings as well as other eastern tribal forces249. 246

Herodian 6.3.1ff.; HA, Severus Alexander 50.1ff; MAKSYMIUK 2019c. Herodian 6.4.4ff. 248 Herodian 6.5.1ff. Alexander column: the presence of Alexander at Palmyra and Rutilius Pudens’ presence at Ḥaṭrā have been used to suggest that Alexander was actually marching to Ḥaṭrā and from thence forward. If both the southern and center armies initially used the same route from Palmyra to Dura Europos, then the purpose would have been to use the southern army as a decoy in front of Alexander’s main army. 249 Herodian 6.4.7ff.; HA, Severus Alexander 52.1ff. 247

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Fig. 14. Military operation in 229-240. Drawn after Maksymiuk 2015 with some changes by Syvänne.

The common mistake among modern commentators regarding the nature of the Parthian and Persian armies is to see it as less effective than the professional Roman army. It should not be forgotten that the Parthians and Persians practiced the military skills of riding and archery and hunting constantly even during the peacetime. Furthermore, the general muster produced proportionally larger numbers of fighters out of the population than the use of the professional army, and it was not only the Parthians/Persians who had difficulties in mustering armies for winter campaigns, the Romans also faced serious problems when they tried to force their men to fight in the winter. Furthermore, at this time the forces of Persia were actually more disciplined and less prone to revolt than the professional Roman armies. The sole weakness of this system was that each person brought his supplies, but this problem could also be corrected by organizing imperial supply trains in advance of the campaign season which Ardašīr appear to have organized at least when he intended to besiege cities. The Roman northern army achieved considerable success undoubtedly because it was also supported by the Armenians 250 and remnants 250

Armenian position towards Ardašīr was strengthened by the alliance with Rome. This alliance is confirmed by the military actions taken by Severus Alexander in the course of the war in years 231-233, when part of the Roman army attacked Iran from the north

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of the Parthian army. It burned and pillaged Mēdia almost at will, and may have even advanced as far as Parthia251 proper because the mountainous terrain made this quite possible. Ardašīr abandoned his attempt to contain this force when he received the news that another Roman army was marching along the Euphrates. According to Herodian, thanks to Alexander’s inactivity (he and his army were also suffering from illnesses due to insufficient acclimatization) Ardašīr was able to leave a sufficient force to defend Mēdia and then muster the rest of his army against the southern column in “eastern Parthia” and destroy it in its entirety with archery. When the news was brought to Alexander he was seriously ill. He immediately ordered the army in Mēdia to retreat while he led his own army back to Antioch. During the retreat, the northern army suffered grievously as a result of cold winter in the mountains. The soldiers supposedly accused Alexander that he had not stuck to the original plan as a result of which the southern army had been destroyed. The Persian campaign of Severus Alexander ended up when the Romans withdrew their armies in 233252. On the basis of this it would appear that the Roman plan had been an utter failure. However, there are several things that speak against this. According to the Historia Augusta253 Severus Alexander did actually manage to score a victory over Ardašīr I in a pitched battle254. According to the Historia Augusta, Alexander commanded the flanks, urged on the soldiers, and exposed himself to missiles, and finally managed to rout the šāhānšāh, after which he immediately returned to Antioch and presented the booty taken to the tribunes, generals and soldiers to keep. The referral to the decisive role of the flanks suggests that the Romans somehow managed to defeat the likely outflanking maneuvers and then outflank the enemy. It is actually possible to reconcile Herodian’s account with the Latin tradition, if one assumes that Alexander failed to exploit the victory and follow the retreating Ardašīr down the Tigris River to meet his other invading column for the reason that he and his troops fell ill after the victory. There are two things that support that there may be something behind this claim. Firstly, even Herodian is ready to admit that the Romans through the mountains of Armenia, and when Persian campaign ended up with defeat, part of the army withdrew the same way. Severus Alexander employed Armenians in Germania in 235, which may imply the use of allied forces, but this is not necessarily so because the Romans had Armenian units of their own (HA, Sev. Alex. 61.8). 251 MAKSYMIUK 2015a: 29. 252 Herodian 6.5.5ff. 253 HA, Severus Alexander 56.1-67.3. 254 See: e.g. Eutropius 8.23; Festus 22; Orosius 7.18.7.

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had caused serious damage to the enemy with skirmishes in Mēdia and in a pitched battle in “eastern Parthia”. In fact, it is quite possible that Herodian may have confused the battle of the southern army in “eastern Parthian” and Alexander’s battle against Ardašīr with each other. Secondly, Ardašīr did not attempt to invade Roman territories again during Alexander’s lifetime even though the latter marched west against the Germans. Thirdly, the Romans had managed to re-conquer all of the terrain previously lost and gain the alliance of Ḥaṭrā. Fourthly, Alexander Severus’ coins in 233 proclaimed victory. Fifthly, he was also able to take with him to the west considerable numbers of Oshroenian and Parthian mounted archers – still another example which suggests a victory. However, in 235/236 Ardašīr apparently gained control of fortresses in Roman Mesopotamia (Nisibis and Carrhae)255. However, the numbers given by the Historia Augusta256 regarding the scale of Alexander’s victory are suspect. According to the Historia Augusta, Ardašīr’s army included 700 elephants (30 captured, 200 killed, 18 reserved for triumph), 1,800 scythed war-chariots. The author of this text also claims that Alexander routed 120,000 cavalry and killed 10,000 cataphract cavalry called clibanarii (their equipment was used to equip the Roman cavalry), and took “Persian prisoners”. Let us suppose that the figures are correct because it is clear that Ardašīr possessed a huge army and he certainly had the ability to collect a force of this size. If one makes this assumption, the implication is that the Romans actually managed to destroy only the 10,000 super-heavy clibanarii, and presumably most of the elephants and chariots. This means that most of the 120,000 horsemen were able to flee and fight another day, which they certainly did. This interpretation would suggest that Ardašīr had indeed suffered a defeat, but not a decisive one because he had still managed to save the bulk of his army which he then used very successfully by annihilating the enemy’s southern division. The casualties suffered by the Roman southern division would have definitely been greater because it was annihilated in its entirety than the casualties suffered by Ardašīr when he fought against the Roman central division. There are several important points to make regarding the composition of Ardašīr’s army in the Historia Augusta. The details provided suggests the use of the traditional Indo-Persian system of four arms (chariots, cavalry, elephants, infantry) that was still used in India and apparently also by 255 256

KETTENHOFEN 1982: 21-22; KETTENHOFEN: 1995b: 159-177. HA, Severus Alexander 55-56.

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the Kūšāns. In other words, as a result of his eastern campaign, Ardašīr appears to have adopted some of the eastern practices which had also been followed up by the Achaemenids. However, on the basis of the general unreliability of the Historia Augusta, the info regarding the chariots has been considered particularly suspect, but in this case there are strong reasons to accept this information just like Y. Le Bohec has done257. The pitiful performance of the war-chariots against the Romans convinced the Sāsānians to abandon their use. After this, the elephants were also rarely used in battles for the reason that the Persians appear to have lacked a steady supply of reliable and well trained war elephants. However, the elephants were still regularly used as beasts of burden, road builders, and as “siege towers” and battering rams in sieges258. The fully-trained battle elephants were difficult and expensive to obtain and therefore used sparingly. On the basis that the Romans were preoccupied with wars along the Rhine and Danube frontiers and suffering a series of civil wars (the assassination of Alexander Severus by Maximinus Thrax resulted in a series of revolts) have been used to prove that Ardašīr must have suffered significant numbers of casualties during Alexander’s campaign, which meant that he had to rebuild his strength, and consolidate his gains. This is indeed possible in light of the evidence, but there may also have been other reasons. It is possible that the conquest of the southern shore of the Persian Gulf up to Oman should be dated to these years (233-237) rather than to the year 228-229, or that the Persians fought continuously against the Armenians during those years, and on the basis of one interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the capture of Ḥaṭrā in 240, it is also possible that Šāpur I campaigned in Abaršahr from ca. 233-237. What is certain is that by about 238 Ardašīr began another campaign in Mesopotamia (the city of Dura Europos was besieged in 239 and the strategically important Nisibis and Carrhae were captured259), in course of which, after two years of siege he finally captured Ḥaṭrā260. The city was taken as a result of betrayal of al-Nadīrah, the daughter of the Hatrean king261 and then demolished262. The foundation of datation of this event is a certain fragment in the biography of Mani from the Codex 257

LE BOHEC, 2009: 148. GLOVER 1948; HALEWOOD 1999; RANCE 2003; CHARLES 2007; SYVÄNNE, 2004: Chapter 10.1; 2015a: 113ff. 259 KETTENHOFEN 1982: 20. 260 Ṭabarī 828. 261 Ṭabarī 828-830. 262 Ṭabarī 829. 258

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Manichaicus Coloniensis263. Based on this it is possible to assume that capturing of the city took place in the year 551 of the Seleucid (Babylonian) era which means between April 14, 240 and March 31, 241264. The iconographic material, which some of the researchers have used to support the idea of the co-regency of Ardašīr and Šāpur I, are the relief at Salmās265 and the emissions of the coins of Ardašīr where he is shown together with his son Šāpur. The acceptance of the above-mentioned numismatic evidence, which depicts Ardašīr and Šāpur together, would result in the absurd idea that we should also accept the co-regency of Bahrām II (r. 276-293) with his son Bahrām III (r. 293). There is no doubt whatsoever that such a conclusion should be considered incorrect and should be refuted. The coins do indeed occasionally show the šāhānšāhs together with their sons, but the intention was merely to advertise that these sons were the ones that the kings found worthy of inheriting the throne. Another piece of evidence which has been used to support the idea of the co-regency of Ardašīr and Šāpur consists of a fragment of the biography of Mani included in the Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis “When I was twenty[-four] years old, in the year in which Dariadaxir, the king of Persia, subjugated the city of Hatra, and in which Sapores, his son assumed the mighty diadem [διάδημα μέγιστον]”266. This account refers only to the capture of Ḥaṭrā. There is no mention of any co-regency in the text. In the Manichean texts the king's accession is termed as his “assumption of the diadem”, while it does not have the direct, verbal meaning but rather 263

P. Colon. Inv. 4780. MAKSYMIUK 2001; 2017a; New Proposal of SYVÄNNE: If one dates the campaign of Ḥaṭrā described by Ṭabarī (827-828), Baḷʿamī (80-83) and Mir-Khwānd (286-289) to the year 240 and not to the reign of Šāpur like Ṭabarī and Mir-Khwānd because Masʿūdī (Prairies d’or, 78, 81ff.,) stated that the siege of Ḥaṭrā took place after a campaign in Mesopotamia (see also the years 249-253, 268-270), the implication is that Šāpur would have campaigned in Abaršahr during the years 233-236/238 or that Ṭabarī, Baḷʿamī and MirKhwānd have made a mistake. This is by no means impossible and would explain why the Sāsānians remained idle until ca. 238 and did not exploit the chaotic state of the Roman Empire. However, on the basis of Mir-Khwānd’s account it is also possible that the Persians conquered Ḥaṭrā twice on two separate occasions first in about 240 and then again in 251 or 253. Of particular importance in this respect is that both Ṭabarī and Mir-Khwānd place the capture by betrayal to the reign of Šāpur, while Šāpur was made a joint ruler only after the [first?] conquest of Ḥaṭrā in 240/241, and that Mir-Khwānd claims that Šāpur besieged Nisibis immediately after the capture of Ḥaṭrā. This would suggest that the betrayal of the city occurred in 251, but since Ṭabarī places the siege after the capture of Valerian this alternative has also been included in the following account. 265 MAKSYMIUK 2017b. 266 P. Colon. Inv. 4780. 264

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an idiomatic one which describes the attainment of royal sovereignty267. In this case the phrase the “mighty diadem” was without any doubt used to describe the royal crown of šāhānšāh. This is the crown that distinguished the monarch from the predecessors and from the other nobles, and it was encircled by the diadem with ribbon ties that symbolized the divine blessing268. The royal inscription of Narseh (r. 293-302) from Pāikūlī could serve as a confirmation of such an idea269. Ṭabarī attests that “and he [Ardašīr] had his son Shābūr crowned within his own lifetime”270. According to Bal‘amī, Šāpur was crowned twice, for the first time he was crowned by Ardašīr who “with his own hand placed his personal crown upon Šāpūr’s head”271, while when he ascended the throne “he crowned himself [anew]”272. Until the mid-5th century each Sāsānian šāhānšāh crowned himself273. Therefore we can state that Ardašīr had only appointed his successor because Šāpur had to fulfill after his death the full crowning ceremony which clearly proves that the father’s appointment was insufficient for the legal acquisition of power. The arguments against the alleged co-regency can be found in the Iranian tradition. In this place we need to revoke the idea of the “royal fire” and the official protocol which was followed up when the Persians elected new kings. The Iranian šāhānšāh started a “royal fire” at his accession. This fire was announced only after the death of the predecessor, and the successor was allowed to ignite his own fire only three days after the predecessor’s death274. This procedure is confirmed by the inscription at Bīšāpūr275. The coin emissions depicting Ardašīr with Šāpur contain Ardašīr's own fire on the reverse. The other Iranian custom which is of relevance here is the official procedure which was used when the new kings were chosen. The Šāhānšāh was elected by the Royal Council and the king in power could only suggest his own successor. As good examples of this procedure could serve the accession of Narseh on the throne276, and the crowning of king 267

RICHTER-BERNBURG 1993: 78. CHAUMONT 1979: 217-221. 269 NPi 2.4. 270 Ṭabarī 820. 271 Bal‘amī 884. 272 Bal‘amī 886. 273 SHAHBAZI 1993: 277-279. 274 SHAHBAZI 1980: 131-134. 275 ŠVŠ: “The month of Fravardīn, the year 58, (which is) the year 40 of Ardašēr’s Fire, (and) the year 24 of Šābuhr’s Fire”. 276 NPi 2-7. 268

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Šāpur II’s (r. 309-379) when the Royal Council placed the crown on the womb of his mother when she was pregnant 277. It seems that the main argument to refute the idea of the co-regency is Iranian tradition which rejected such an option. There could be only one šāhānšāh278.

Fig. 15. The relief of Salmās, (photo by E. Shavarebi).


Agathias 4.25.2-5; Ṭabarī 836. While not disagreeing with the above analysis, the co-author Ilkka Syvänne would still like to add a few additional comments. In his opinion, it is probable that Ardašīr did indeed crown his son Šāpur as a co-regent, as stated by the narrative sources, because for example the Nāma-ye Tansar includes an accusation that Ardašīr had introduced “heresy into religion” (tr. by M. Boyce, p. 42). In Ilkka Syvänne’s opinion one should compare the situation with the Roman practice in which the ruling emperor (augustus) could nominate a successor by naming him augustus while still retaining the de facto power in his own hands. A good example of this is the nomination of Caracalla and then later Geta as augusti by Septimius Severus (see e.g. SYVÄNNE 2017c: 79ff., the name/title caesar already meant that the person was the designated successor, but the title augustus made the case even stronger). Both sons were therefore officially the equals of their father in power while they were not so in practice, and while being officially the augusti both sons still required the support of the praetoriani, the army and the senate to become augusti in practice after the death of their father. Ilkka Syvänne would therefore suggest that it is quite possible that there is no real discrepancy between the narrative sources and the Iranian practice of starting the royal fire after the accession. There could indeed be only one šāhānšāh with royal fire. 278

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3.8. Ardašīr I the Founding Father of the Sāsānian Iran There is no doubt that Ardašīr I is among the greatest military, political and religious leaders of all time. He was a man who possessed extraordinary ability to unite the people of Iran under his religious and nationalistic banner, and he was a man who was not afraid to reform the religion and administration to suit his needs and then claim that he was actually restoring the ancient Persian ways of the Achaemenid Iran. In the beginning of his career he managed to exploit his family connections to the tilt and form a loyal following among the magi, the people of Fārs and his soldiers, which he then used to secure for himself and his family the core Empire at a time when the Parthians were fighting a civil war. By the time Ardavān was ready to confront his disloyal subject, it was already too late. Ardašīr had built a loyal army which was fanatically loyal to him and he had managed to organize the society of his domains in such a manner that the loyal magi controlled every human activity in the area in such a manner that it was very difficult to challenge Ardašīr’s position. On top of this, he was able to exploit the divisions among the Parthian clans that resulted from Ardavān’s persecution of followers of his brother Balaš. The families who had suffered under Ardavān were ready to abandon him in favour of Ardašīr, and this they did. Ardavān was forced to fight a decisive battle in a location of Ardašīr’s choosing and when he was then killed in it, the Parthian magnates could not rally behind any other Arsacid ruler even when the king of Armenia tried his best to rally them. It was relatively easy for Ardašīr to unite the rest of the Parthian realm under him because his enemies were divided and could not unite their forces in time. In fact, Ardašīr was able to defeat his enemies piecemeal and then use the policy of clemency to divide his enemies even further. The only enemies that proved troublesome for Ardašīr were the Romans and Armenians. Even if he suffered defeats against both, he was still able to force both parties to accept the status quo. The main reasons why Ardašīr was less successful in the Roman territory than he had been in Parthia were obviously: 1) the Romans were not as divided amongst themselves as the Parthian magnates; 2) despite the presence of Zoroastrian communities in Roman territory279, the local population was by and large hostile towards the Parthians and Persians. In other words, there were not enough local collaborators to help the invaders. In this situation, Ardašīr would have 279

EDWELL (2008: 159) after Kerdir’s inscription. SYVÄNNE would suggest that these communities also provided intelligence reports for the Persians.

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needed to defeat the Roman armies and to possess enough men to occupy the land. He possessed neither and had to accept the status quo on the border. In short, the Romans and Armenians put a limit to the advance of Ardašīr280. The fact that Ardašīr was unable to defeat the Romans and Armenians should not cloud our judgment of his achievements. He created one of the most powerful empires of the ancient period, which lasted for centuries. It is also clear that his Sāsānian Empire was the most powerful of the enemies of Rome, and that it was Ardašīr’s army under his son Šāpur I that inflicted some of the greatest defeats on the Romans that the Romans ever suffered.

4. ŠĀPUR I OF THE HOSTS 242-272 4.1. Šāpur I’s First War against Rome: Gordian III Invades Persia in 242-244 Ardašīr died in c.242 and his gifted son Šāpur I of the Hosts followed him281. The first thing Šāpur did was to secure the support of the ‘great men’ of the empire, who undoubtedly consisted of the heads of the seven families of grandees, of the generals and of the commanders of the bodyguards, of the leading civil servants, and of the leading members of the clergy. Most of the nobles of the epee and robe were obviously related to the families of grandees. After Šāpur had secured the support of the ‘great men’ with promises, he ordered that riches from the treasuries were to be given (as bribes) to the people (the landed and military classes, i.e. the nobility), which in practice meant the military commanders and troops. After this, Šāpur wrote to the governors that they also had to distribute money 280

SYVÄNNE 2018. On the basis of the Chronicle of Arbela, R. Frye (1983: 125) has suggested that Šāpur had in the meanwhile subdued Xwārazmns and Gīlān. This is plausible if one dates these events to the years 240-243, but the HA (Gord. 23.5-6) claims that there was a war between Rome and Persia in 241 with the implication that Šāpur would probably have stayed on that theatre of war. Furthermore, the revolt of Pērōzmat is said to have occurred only after the death of Ardašīr in ca. 242, which doesn’t leave enough time for a long campaign to be fought in Xwārazm. However, if we still suppose that the revolt of Pērōzmat (in Gīlān and Xwārazm) occurred in 243 and did not last as long as implied by Movsēs Khorenats'i, then this would have meant that the successes of Timesitheus and Gordian were achieved before Šāpur returned to the theatre in early 244. 281

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to the aristocrats and troops to secure their loyalty. The whole transition process appears to have proceeded smoothly and quickly282. According to Mir-Khwānd283, at the very beginning of his rule Šāpur made the statement to his noble advisors that every time they discussed the matters amongst themselves, they were free to express their opinions openly of what would be useful and what disadvantageous in their opinion, but after he (Šāpur) would have made his decision nobody would be allowed to oppose his ruling or to judge the way in which he ruled his empire. This sort of policy obviously ensured that Šāpur would get the best possible advice and that there would not be any significant opposition to his rulings since all the great men of the empire had had their chance of speaking openly before any decision would be made. The Romans under Gordian III (r. 238-244) were eager to retake the land lost and at the same time exact vengeance upon the Persians. The Historia Augusta dates the beginning of the war with Persia in 241284, while the Roman army entered the East in 242285. In the initial stages of the conflict the Romans were led by the able praetorian prefect Timesitheus who defeated the Persians first at Rhesaina in 242 or 243 286 and then recaptured the lost cities287. But then the gifted Timesitheus died as a result of diarrhea and the fortunes changed. The other praetorian prefect Priscus managed to have his brother Philip appointed as Timesitheus’ successor, but since both were bureacrats rather than soldiers, the expedition lacked a true leader. Instead of trying to find a suitable man to put in charge, the young and inexperienced emperor Gordian III took charge of the operation in person with predictable results288. The young emperor wanted and needed to prove himself also on the battlefield, and the Romans decided to continue their campaign deep into Persian territory down the Euphrates towards Ctesiphon. The Persians appear to have resorted to the use of guerrilla warfare, and confronted the Roman army only when it reached Misixē (Anbār, later Pērōz Šāpur) in early 244 where they engaged the Romans in a frontal battle and defeated them decisively289. By now the Romans were suffering from the lack of supplies and were utterly exhausted 282

Ṭabarī 826. Mir-Khwānd 286. 284 HA, Gordiani 23.5. 285 Eutropius 9.2.2; HA, Gordiani 26.3. 286 Ammianus Marcellinus 23.5.17. 287 KETTENHOFEN 1983. 288 KETTENHOFEN 1983. 289 MAKSYMIUK 2005: 55-56. 283

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by their march and it is by no means surprising that they faced defeat. They had been outgeneraled. According to Šāpur’s inscription, Gordian was killed and his army destroyed. This, however, appears to be an exaggeration. Firstly, the Roman army was not destroyed, but forced to retreat. Philip the Arab (r. 244-249) was even able to assume the title Persicus/Parthicus Maximus afterwards. Indeed, the likeliest reason for the Roman defeat would be the successful use of guerrilla warfare by the Persians, because Gordian’s successor Philip the Arab was later accused of withholding supplies in an effort to make them mutiny against Gordian. One cannot entirely rule out this possibility, but it is still likelier that the food shortage was primarily caused by the Persian guerrilla campaign. Secondly, Gordian appears to have only fallen off from his horse during the battle as a result of which his thigh was broken, but it is also possible that this was just one of the versions later spread by Philip to cover up his role in the murder of Gordian. Strictly speaking, Gordian was therefore not killed in action as claimed by the Persians. The Roman sources make it quite clear that Gordian died later at Zaitha290 between January and mid-March 244 either as a result of his broken hip or at the hands of the supporters of Philip – in other words, he did not die at Misixē291.

Fig. 16. Silver coin of Philip the Arab, mint: Antioch, Obverse: IMP IVL PHILIPPVS PIVS FEL AVG, Reverse: PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS; British Museum, Reg. No. 1937,0509.55; © Trustees of the British Museum.

After having usurped the power, Philip the Arab’s first goal was to secure his position. He could do this only at Rome. The fate of Maximinus Thrax, who had failed to do that, served as a good reminder of the need 290

According to Ammianus Marcellinus (23.5.7) the tomb of the Emperor Gordian was there. 291 Disscusion in MAKSYMIUK 2005: 73.

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to pay lip service to the Roman upper classes. Therefore, Philip immediately ‘bought’ a peace. The peace treaty did not introduce any territorial changes in Mesopotamia. Assuming control of Armenia reigned by the Arsacids was of utmost importance for Šāpur I, which explains why Iran made no territorial claims while the emperor pledged not to intervene in Armenia’s affairs292. In fact, he appears to have broken his part of the contract almost immediately by providing some direct military support for Xusrō293. However, at the time Šāpur was willing to accept Philip’s peace proposals because he too had other pressing problems. He faced trouble in the east. Consequently, it was possibly already at this time that Šāpur nominated his eldest son Šāpur as king of Mēšān unless of course his brother Mihršāh294 continued in this capacity. This appointment would have meant that Šāpur the son or Mihršāh was trusted with the control of Mesopotamia and capital to enable Šāpur the father to march east.

Fig. 17. Military operation under Gordian III in 242-244. Drawn by Maksymiuk. 292

Philip’s antoniniani from the mint of Antioch: PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS (RIC IV/III, 76, no. 69, pl. 7.2); WINTER 1988, 97-107. 293 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.72: Philip sent letters to Egypt, desert and to the shores of the Pontic Sea with instructions to provide troops for Xusrō which he used with great success (Zonaras 12.19). 294 In a Manichean fragment Mihršāh, Lord of Mēšān is mentioned as a brother of Šāpur, but the historicity of the text is not certain (SUNDERMANN 1987: 61-63).

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4.2. Šāpur I’s Eastern Anabasis in ca. 243-249 Šāpur I had a good reason for his haste. According to Movsēs Khorenats'i’ account, Pērōzmat Kārin, who had been forgiven by Ardašīr and put in command of an army against the northern nomads (with the implication of command of the forces in Abaršahr), had revolted. In other words, Pērōzmat acted as a supreme commander of the eastern/north-eastern frontier. It appears probable that Pērōzmat had decided to revolt when he had learnt of Šāpur’s defeat at Rhesaina as a result of which such a course of action would have seemed like worth trying, or because Šāpur had appointed his son Hormozd as governor of Abaršahr already at the very beginning of his rule as claimed by Ṭabarī295, and Mir-Khwānd296. If this latter is true, then it is likely that Šāpur and Hormozd had both been fighting against Pērōzmat at the time Timesitheus (242/243) had achieved his successes as result of which both had returned west to defend the capital. According to the information provided by Movsēs Khorenats'i, Pērōzmat was not entirely mistaken in his dreams of usurping the power, because he managed to defeat Šāpur in a series of battles apparently even after Šāpur had already proved himself against the Romans. The other reasons for the success of Pērōzmat’s revolt would obviously have been the Roman support for Xusrō and the possible revolt of the kings Gīlān, and Sakastān. Consequently, Šāpur had to find another way to defeat him, which he did. Šāpur’s friends somehow managed to assassinate Pērōzmat with poison perhaps in about 246-247(?). Šāpur clearly had some very capable friends acting as his special forces297. After this, Šāpur I appears to have pursued his advantage ruthlessly and crushed all remaining pockets of resistance in the east. It was only now that Hormozd could in practice become the governor of Abaršahr in the capacity of which he performed some outstanding military feats. It is also likely that the appointment of Šāpur’s son Bahrām as king of Gīlān should be dated to the immediate aftermath of the murder of Pērōzmat. The Sāsānians always preferred to place their relatives on the thrones of such lands that required closer attention in the immediate aftermath of a revolt or military campaign. The appointment of a prince as king of Gīlān suggests that Pērōzmat had not been alone in his revolt against the Sāsānians, but may also 295

Ṭabarī 833. Mir-Khwānd 292. 297 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.87; Chronicle of Arbela, 9; The other alternative date for his revolt would be the year 251 when there was trouble in Abaršahr, but Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.87 claims that the revolt occurred immediately after Ardašīr’s death. 296

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have been joined by the Esfandīār and Sūrēn families. It is actually possible that the responsibility of the defense of the frontiers was divided between the king of Gīlān, who would have had the responsibility over the defense of Parthia and Xwārazm against the nomads, and that Hormozd, as governor of Abaršahr, would have had the responsibility of defending the provinces of Ṭoxārestān, Sakastān and Ṭurān. According to Ṭabarī298 and Mir-Khwānd299, after his appointment Hormozd adopted an independent policy and conquered the neighboring kingdoms and behaved like a proud and effective ruler, which suggests that he may have overstepped the limits of his own jurisdiction and conducted far reaching campaigns in the east. On the basis of this, it is quite possible that it was Hormozd who added both Hind(estān) and the last remnants of the Kūšān Kingdom to his dominions during the years 246-249(?). This is obviously not entirely certain, but we know for certain that these areas were definitely part of the Sāsānian Empire at the time the ŠKZ was carved in stone. It should be noted that it is actually quite possible that the claims that Mani converted the king of Ṭurān actually refer to the conversion of Hormozd, who after becoming the šāhānšāh, showed him favor. The subsequent revolts in the east under Šāpur I would then have resulted from the continued resistance among the ruling classes and people of these areas that were not yet quite willing to submit without further resistance. The great successes of Hormozd as a military commander caused jealousy and his enemies in the court implanted into Šāpur’s mind that Hormozd was planning to usurp the power. According to the story preserved by Ṭabarī, Hormozd removed all fears by cutting off a part of his hand as a sign of loyalty because it was forbidden for anyone with a physical defect to be a king. When Šāpur learnt of this ultimate show of loyalty, he proclaimed Hormozd as his successor. 4.3. Šāpur I’s Second War against Rome in ca. 253-256 After having pacified the east, Šāpur I appears to have decided to punish the Romans for their breach of terms of peace. According to Šāpur I’s inscription, Caesar had lied and done wrong in Armenia300. Ii is likely that 298

Ṭabarī 833. Mir-Khwānd 292. 300 On the basis of Zonaras’ claims (12.21-22) that it was during the reign of Gallus that the Persians captured Armenia and their king Tirdād (Tiridates) fled to Roman territory, it is usually assumed that Xusrō was assassinated in 251-252. However, since both Movsēs 299

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Šāpur’s text refers to the military support Philip the Arab had provided to the Armenians. The situation was very opportune. The Romans were facing a series of barbarian invasions and civil wars301. On the basis of Zonaras and ŠKZ it is possible that Armenia was conquered by the Sāsānian forces in about 252/253302, and what is especially vague Šāpur I gave his son Hormozd-Ardašir the title of Wuzurg Šāh Arminān “Great King of the Armenians”303. The Sāsānid attack on Armenia is dated by Zonaras304 to the reign of Emperor Gallus (r. 251-253). This is closely connected with the tradition handed over by ŠKZ, which links the entry into Armenia, the establishment of the “vice-kingdom” there for the son Hormozd and dates in the spring of 253305. In the following Chapter 4.4., it is assumed on the basis of the Armenian sources and the Historia Augusta that the murder of Xusrō took place in the winter of 253 or after this. Unfortunately, the evidence for the dating of the murder of Xusrō and the Persian conquest of Armenia is contradictory and allows the making of different interpretations. It is because of this uncertainty that different alternatives are offered here and in the subsequent discussion. In order to prevent any Roman intervention aiming at backing the Arsacids, Šāpur I attacked Syria and Cappadocia306. The second military campaign of Šāpur I against Rome consisted of three military actions: the march into Syria in 253 and into Lesser Armenia (253 or 256?) as well as the attack on Dura Europos and Circesium in 256. The Iranian army moved along the Euphrates, omitting Roman fortresses whose resistance could delay the march. The encounter with the Roman legions took place in the northern Mesopotamia, leading to the battle of Barbalissus in 253. By defeating Khorenats'i (2.73, 2.76: the emperors Philip, Decius, Gallus, and Valerian all supposedly failed to support Xusrō) and the Historia Augusta (Valerian, 2.1-4.1) still show the Armenians independent during the reign of Valerian, it appears possible that Xusrō’s murder should be dated later (CHAUMONT 1976: 171). The lie and wrongdoing in Armenia can just as easily refer to the military assistance given to Xusrō by Philip against Šāpur (Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.72), or to the Roman military campaign in Mesopotamia (242/243) and Armenia (Zonaras 12). The Historia Augusta implies that Xusrō’s successor (dayeak of Tirdād) the naxarar Artavazd Mandakuni (or Mamikonean) had allied himself with Šāpur ca. 258-260, but the Armenian and Georgian sources do not support this, because both stress the continued Armenian resistance against the Persians up to the time the Persians invaded after Xusrō’s death. 301 ALFÖLDI 1967; HARTMANN 1982; BÖRM 2008; SYVÄNNE 2011; 2019. 302 MAKSYMIUK 2007a: 348. 303 ŠKZ 23; KETTENHOFEN 1995a: 43-45. 304 Zonaras 12.21-22. 305 Disscusion in HARTMANN 2006: 106, note 5. 306 MAKSYMIUK 2005: 57-71; MOSIG-WALBURG 2009: 43-44.

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the Romans, Šāpur had an open route to Syria. In Hierapolis the Iranian army was divided: the southern group reached Raphanea while the northern division moved through Zeugma in the direction of Seleucia. Then the two armies jointed their forces in order to conquer the main city in Syria, Antioch. After the seizure of Antioch, the Iranian army struck in two directions: the northern, reaching Germanikeia and the southern in the region of the upper Orontes, where the Iranians lost the battle of Emesa in 253. Unfortunately, the lack of historical data makes it impossible to reconstruct the events until 256 CE, the time of Šāpur’s second capture of Antioch307 and the destruction of Dura Europos308. According to the Historia Augusta, in Šāpur’s second war, the Persians were also assisted by a Roman collaborator Mareades (Cyriades). who first brought Hormozd-Ardašir (Odomastes) to the Roman territory and then his father Šāpur. Historians have usually associated Hormozd-Ardašir’ campaign with the separate campaign against Satala in Cappadocia mentioned in the ŠKZ309. It should be noted, however, that the sources do not give us enough information regarding the circumstances and timing of these campaigns. Consequently, it is possible to interpret the evidence in many different ways310. According to Petrus Patricius311 in the summer of 253, Šāpur and Mareades were in a camp near Antioch, awaiting conquest of the city. Seven years later, in 260, during third campaign of Šāpur, both suddenly stood before Antioch again312.


MAKSYMIUK 2007b; An alternative interpretation is included in SYVÄNNE 2019. Modern historians are divided in their views of how many times and when Šāpur I captured the city of Antioch. The historians have not even found a consensus regarding the exact date when Šāpur captured the emperor Valerian so that some suggest the year 259 while others suggest the year 260 308 MCDONALD 1986; JAMES 2011. 309 ŠKZ 11. 310 ROSTOVTZEFF 1943/44: 42 (before 253); KETTENHOFEN 1982: 83ff. (in 253/254); ESSLIN 1949: 46f. and SPRENGLING 1953: 96 (in 256); FELIX 1985: 61 (in 258). 311 Anon. Cont. Dionis, fr. 2. 312 HARTMANN 2006.

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Fig. 18. Military operation under Šāpur in 253. Drawn by Maksymiuk.

According to the ŠKZ, the Persians conquered Anatha, BYRTʼkwpn(?), Birthan, Sura, Barbalissos, Hierapolis, Beroea, Chalcis, Apamea, Rephaneia, Zeugma, Ourima, Gindaros, Larmenaz, Seleucia, Antiochia (Antioch), Cyrrhus, another Seleucia, Alexandretta, Nicopolis, Sinzara, Chamath, Ariste, Dikhor, Doliche, Doura, Circesium, Germanicia, Batna, and Chanar with their surroundings. Antioch appears to have been betrayed by Mareades’ friends. Basically, the Persians managed to destroy most of the Roman military presence in the east. However, the city of Emesa (Homs) appears to have managed to defend itself successfully against one Persian invasion column as a result of which its leader priest Sampsigeramus (L. Iunius Aurelius Sulpicius Uranius) usurped the power, which he then surrendered without a fight to the new emperor Valerian in ca. 253/4313. The ability of the Persians to take so many sizable and well defended cities proves that they possessed truly remarkable siege skills and that they also possessed enough supplies to outlast the defenders. Naturally, the panic resulting from the scale of the defeat would have eased this process as the people and the citizen militias were undoubtedly too frightened to think about the defense of their cities. 313


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The ŠKZ also mentions that the Persians captured the cities and surrounding territories of Satala, Domana, Argangil, Souisa and Phraeta in ‘Cappadocia’ (in truth Little Armenia and Pontus)314. These areas bordered Armenia and contained Roman garrisons315 which suggests that the Sāsānian campaign was indeed directed against the Roman garrisons that had previously supported the Armenians 316.

Fig. 19. The 3rd century Walls of Antioch. Redrawn after Downey 1961 and adapted. © SYVÄNNE 2014.


ŠKZ 11-12. e.g. Legio XV Apollinaris’ base was at Satala from ca. 120-400 CE. 316 FARNUM 2005: 87-88. 315

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The fact that there was a considerable distance between the cities conquered in Mesopotamia and Syria, and Armenia Minor has led most of the researchers317 to conclude that the Persians must have invaded Armenia Minor from Armenia via the royal road running from Artaxata to Satala after the assassination of Xusrō in 253. However, it is possible that this invasion took place only later in about 257318. Possible alternative chronological interpretations suggested by Syvänne One of the possible alternative interpretation suggested here by Syvänne319 is that Hormozd-Ardašir (Odomastes) conducted one or two separate campaigns, the first against the Roman territory in Syria with Cyriades-Mareades in ca. 250-252 (the exact date unknown) and another against the region around Satala (this is the uncertain one) so that the Armenians under Artavazd cooperated with him in ca. 256-258 (the exact date unknown). The identification of Odomastes with Hormizd is accepted here on the basis of the etymology of the name320. His presence in the west in ca. 250-252 would also explain why Šāpur would have been forced to abandon the siege of Nisibis in 251, if it is dated to this year (see below). There were not enough men in the east to keep the newly acquired territories pacified. Hormozd’s campaign with the help of Cyriades-Mareades, which took place probably in Mesopotamia and Syria in about 250-252(?), however, was a great success321. Hormozd’s campaign with Cyriades-Mareades may have started already under Decius (249-251) because he dispatched the Leones of Caracalla to the frontier zone of Arabia and Palestine up to 317

KETTENHOFEN 1982: 38-89. See chapter 4.4. 319 This alternative timeline is based on what is discussed above. At the heart of this alternative dating is that the ŠKZ lists the Cappadocian campaign (i.e. the campaign around Satala) after the Persian campaign of 253 but before the 259-260 campaign, and because the Historia Augusta claims that the Armenians under Artavazd had cooperated with the Persians before 260. 320 For the possible presence of Hormozd in the west at this time, see Kettehofen (1982: 83-87). Kettenhofen suggests that Hormozd’s campaign proceeded from Armenia (the acting king or regent of which he was after the death of Xusrō) to Cappadocia in 253 or 254/256. 321 Kettehofen’s monograph contains very useful maps of the various places and locations mentioned in the ŠKZ with an analysis of the campaigns (Gordian III’s campaign 19-37; Šāpur’s second campaign 38-96; Šāpur’s third campaign 97-126; With the end maps). However, the readers should still be aware that the interpretation of the sequence and timing of the events and campaigns adopted here differs from that adopted by him. This also means that the sequence of events differs from the one adopted by Katarzyna Maksymiuk in 2015. 318

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Circesium to fight against the Saracens at some unknown point in time during his reign, and if it did not start under Decius, it certainly started at the latest when Gallus was the emperor (251-253) because he concentrated a large army at Barbalissos which was subsequently destroyed by Šāpur I in about 253322. This concentration of forces must have been the result of the sending of reinforcements to the east in the aftermath of Hormozd’s invasion and also in preparation for the forthcoming war. According to Ṭabarī323, Šāpur besieged the city of Nisibis in the eleventh year of his reign. If the beginning of his reign is dated to the year 240, as it sometimes is, then this would mean the year 251, which would therefore coincide roughly with the first of the Hormozd-Ardašir’s campaigns. And, if the beginning of his reign is dated to the year 242, then this would mean that the first siege of Nisibis took place during Šāpur’s great campaign against the Romans in 253. Ṭabarī, however, states that then came the news of the revolt in Abaršahr, which called for Šāpur’s personal attention. This would suggest the possibility that some of the newly conquered areas and possibly also some of the Parthian magnates revolted immediately after the king of kings had marched west. According to the first alternative, after Šāpur had crushed the revolt in Abaršahr in about 252, he returned west (apparently with the Roman turncoat Mareades acting as his advisor). The walls of Nisibis were breached and the defenders put to the sword in about 253. Šāpur followed up his success by proceeding towards Antioch and en route he defeated 60,000 Romans at Barbalissos also in 253324. According to the second alternative, the first siege of Nisibis took place in about 253 after which Šāpur marched to the east, and then besieged Nisibis again in about 256. 322

Birley (1998: 77-77) suggests that Cyriades-Mereades fled in 251 and then played a role in the invasion of Hormozd in 252. He also suggests that the lions sent from Africa by Decius (Chronicon Paschale, 504-505) to the east must be the Leones of Caracalla, which obviously could not be used against their fellow Goths in the Balkans. There must have been a need for reinforcements in the east at this time, because the Leones could have been kept in their garrison in Africa where they did not face any Goths – hence the suggestion that the Persian war started already under Decius or at least that the Persians sent their Saracen allies against the Romans possibly as a distraction for their main campaign further north under Hormozd and Cyriades-Mereades. Still another possibility would be to think that it was actually Hormozd with Mereades who conducted the entire campaign in about 252/3 and Hormozd was the person who defeated the Romans at Barbalissus and conquered Antioch while his father was somewhere in the east. The nature of the extant material is such that there are many different ways to interpret the contradictory evidence. SYVÄNNE 2019. 323 Ṭabarī 826. 324 Ṭabarī 826-827.

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Baḷʿamī325, however, claims that Šāpur besieged Nisibis in the fifteenth year of his reign, but was forced to abandon the siege and march to Abaršahr to crush the invaders, after which he returned back to besiege Nisibis which he then captured so that he was able to massacre the defenders. This would date the first campaign to the year 255 (reign started in 240) or 257 (reign started in 242) and the second campaign possibly to the year 259 or 260 when Šāpur fought against Valerian. In fact, Baḷʿamī claims that Šāpur advanced from Nisibis to Syria and captured Valerian at Antioch, but this account clearly confuses two separate campaigns, one that took place in 253 and another that took place in about 259-261. If one summarizes the above evidence, it becomes possible that the two sieges of Nisibis took place either in 251 and 253, or 253 and 256, or 255/7 and 259/261. The evidence is clearly open to many interpretations. According to Ṭabarī326 and Baḷʿamī327 (both place the siege after the capture of Valerian, i.e. in 259-261, but in such a manner that the earlier dating is also quite possible) and Mir-Khwānd328, the king of Ḥaṭrā ravaged Mesopotamia while Šāpur was preoccupied with the war in Abaršahr. Consequently, the first thing Šāpur did after having returned from Abaršahr was to besiege Ḥaṭrā, which would time the beginning of the siege to coincide with Šāpur’s Roman campaign in 259-261 if it took place after the capture of Valerian. On the other hand the dating of the campaign after the Abaršahr campaign could also be used to date the campaign to the years of 253 and 256, if one assumes that these accounts have confused the different campaigns with each other or that the accounts given do not follow any chronological order329 – and one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that there were several campaigns against Ḥaṭrā. At least there certainly were several campaigns in Abaršahr. The siege of Ḥaṭrā lasted either four or two years and ended only after the daughter of the king of Ḥaṭrā betrayed the city. According to this story, the king’s daughter fell in love with Šāpur who promised to take her as his first wife with the result that she gave wine to the guards who fell asleep and the city was taken. Šāpur also appears to have brought war elephants from the east that were used successfully against enemy cavalry and fortifications. At first Šāpur respected their mutual deal, but after the daughter had shown herself headstrong, he had her killed. 325

Baḷʿamī 79. Ṭabarī 827-828. 327 Baḷʿamī 80-83. 328 Mir-Khwānd 286-289. 329 This was actually very typical for these accounts, which in most cases give several different versions of the same events in no particular chronological order. 326

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After this, according to this version, Šāpur proceeded to besiege Nisibis, which fell after a part of the wall collapsed. This would actually imply that the length of the siege of Ḥaṭrā cannot have been two or four years, but closer to two or four months. Following this, Šāpur’s army entered the Greek (i.e. Roman) territory and burnt a large number of cities. The best fit for this would once again be the years 253 and 259-261. According to the version of Masʿūdī330 Šāpur’s campaign against Ḥaṭrā in which the city was conquered through the treachery of the daughter of the king of Ḥaṭrā took place after he was returning from a campaign in Mesopotamia. If one follows Masʿūdī, the other alternative dates for the capture of Ḥaṭrā would naturally be in 253 (siege lasting either from 249 or 251 until 253) or 260-261 (siege lasting either from 256 or 258/9 until 260/61), the latter date would of course correspond with the version provided by Ṭabarī, Baḷʿamī and Mir-Khwānd. The traditional date of 240 would also fit the bill thanks to the very problematic nature of the sources. It is actually quite possible that Ḥaṭrā was besieged several times and that it was only during the last one of these that the city was betrayed by the king’s daughter. One possible way to reconcile all of the sources is that the king of Ḥaṭrā revolted in ca. 247-249, after which Šāpur would have besieged it from 247 or 249 until 251, and that he then proceeded against Nisibis and then to Abaršahr and then back to besiege either Ḥaṭrā or Nisibis in 253. The other possible ways to reconcile the sources would of course be to place the events in a timeline according to the other alternative dates given for the sieges of Nisibis above, but in all cases it is impossible to reconcile the two different timings for the ending of the siege of Ḥaṭrā – it took place either as the first or as the last act of the campaign. This raises once again the possibility that there were several sieges of Ḥaṭrā and Nisibis just like there were several sieges of Nisibis in the 4th century. The likeliest reconstruction would probably be to suggest that Šāpur besieged Ḥaṭrā and Nisibis in about 255-7, and that he kept Ḥaṭrā under siege while he abandoned the siege of Nisibis and marched to Abaršahr and then returned back in 259-260 and then captured both Ḥaṭrā and Nisibis. The capture of Nisibis cannot have taken place after 260-261, because Odaenathus recaptured it from the Persians immediately after this. Regardless, it is still clear that the poor survival of the sources and the contradictions in the extant ones make it impossible to be absolutely certain of any of the dates and events331. 330 331

Masʿūdī, Prairies d’or, 78, 81ff. Additional alternatives can be found in SYVÄNNE 2019.

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4.4. The Roman Counter-attack, and the Armenian question in ca. 253257/8 In c.253/254 the new emperor Valerian appeared on the scene. It is usually presumed that his arrival in the east turned the tables, but this conclusion overlooks the decisive role of the Armenian king Xusrō. First of all, on the basis of Georgian and Armenian sources we know that Xusrō and his allies were still continually harassing the Persians in Ādurbādagān (Mēdia Atropatene?) and “Assyria” (Nōdšīragān?). But even more importantly, both the Georgian Chronicles332 and Movsēs Khorenats'i333 state that the Armenians, Iberians and northerners ravaged Persia and annihilated Šāpur’s army just before Xusrō was be assassinated. In fact, the successes of Xusrō mentioned by these sources explain far better why the very able Šāpur was forced to temporarily halt his campaign in 253 than the arrival of the aged and incompetent Valerian. It was thanks to the victory of Xusrō that Valerian was now able to retake most of the cities previously lost to the Persians and claim Parthian Victory in his coins. It was also thanks to this that Valerian was able to spend most of 254 and 255 near Viminacium and then after a brief spell in the east on January 255 return back to the west to meet Gallienus at Cologne in August 256 or 257. It was only after 256 or 257 that Valerian went back to the east for good. There were two reasons for this: Firstly, he must have then learnt of the murder of Xusrō; Secondly, the Borani and Goths were raiding the Roman territories by sea with frightening frequency334. Consequently, it was the severe defeat suffered by Šāpur at the hands of Xusrō’s army probably in ca. 253 that caused the lull in Persian activities against the Romans. Šāpur335 summoned the princes and nobles of the provinces to find a remedy to the situation and held a war council in which he promised to reward and honor the one who would defeat Xusrō. A relative of Xusrō, Anak of the Sūrēns336 promised to assassinate him, while Šāpur promised them back their Pahlav homeland, the royal city of Balkh, 332

Georgian Chronicles, 70-73. Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.73-74. 334 Zosimos 1.31-36; SOUTHERN 2001: 78; POTTER 2004: 254; SYVÄNNE 2019. 335 The Ardašir of the Armenian sources should be emended to Šāpur as has been done here. The assassination of Xusrō is timed to the reign of Valerian on the basis of the references to the reign of Valerian in this context both in Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.73, 76 (the emperors Philip, Decius, Gallus, and Valerian all supposedly failed to support him) and the Historia Augusta (Valerian, 2.1-4.1). 336 Anak means the evil one and is clearly an invented name. 333

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and the lands of the Kūšāns. Anak and his brother and their families pretended to have deserted Šāpur and fled to Ādurbādagān from which they were brought to Xusrō in his winter quarters. The fact that they brought their families with them convinced Xusrō. During the winter Xusrō and his kinsmen spent a lot of time together (possibly two years), but when the spring came and it was time to wage war against Persia, the brothers assassinated the king. The assassins and their families, save two boys who were taken to safety, were killed in revenge. The assassination of Xusrō appears to have occurred in about 253-256337. At this point, it should be noted that the information about the murder of Xusrō by Anak Sūrēns is not confirmed by other sources. E.g. According to Ełišē Vardapet338, Xusrō was killed by his own brothers. If there is any basis in truth for the assertion of the Historia Augusta339 that the Armenians under Artavazd (of course, if we consider him a historical figure)340 had cooperated with the Persians prior to the capture of Valerian, then this would have occurred soon after Xusrō’s assassination after the Armenians would have learnt that Valerian would not come to their assistance. It is quite probable that the conquests in ‘Cappadocia’ mentioned in the ŠKZ resulted from the cooperation mentioned by the Historia Augusta341. This is contradicted by the Armenian sources all of which claim that the Armenians remained on friendly terms with the Romans until the flight of Tirdād. It is of course difficult to reconcile the Roman support for both Tirdād and Artavazd with the claimed Armenian and Persian 337

According to Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.74, Xusrō had ruled for 48 yrs, which means that he probably assumed the throne in about 208/9 (apparently jointly with his brother and father). He would have been one of the princes with which the king of Armenia had quarrels with in ca. 213/4 when Caracalla lured the king of Armenia (father) to Rome for discussions of reconciliation, but with the result that the king was imprisoned. Xusrō appears to have been the person who assumed the throne in about 215 (SYVÄNNE 2017c); Syvänne based on the information in the Historia Augusta suggests that the Armenians retained their independence as allies of Persia until ca. 260-261. The Armenians apparently asked Valerian to assist them after the assassination of Xusrō when the Roman army was garrisoning Phrygia (Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.76), which proves that the murder probably occurred during Valerian’s reign. Syvänne prefers to put the date of the murder roughly to the year 256. 338 Ełišē Vardapet 3.48; It is possible that Ełišē has confused “Anak” and his brother with the actual brothers of Xusrō because these were related to Xusrō. 339 HA, Valerian, 3. 340 A. Alföldi (1964) and M.L. Chaumont (1986) consider Artavazd to be a legendary figure. 341 The Historia Augusta (Valerian 3.1) mentions the cooperation between them in the aftermath of the capture of Valerian in 259/260, but it is not impossible that the referral to the sending of aid to Šāpur could actually refer to the earlier incident or to both. SYVÄNNE 2019.

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cooperation in the Historia Augusta, but it is not impossible that the Armenians and Romans found each other again after the Armenians had witnessed Šāpur’s famed cruelty and that the Armenians later suppressed their treachery, but this study still suggests that there was indeed a breach in the relations after the murder of Xusrō in about 256 which is recorded in both the Historia Augusta and ŠKZ independently of each other, but which is not mentioned by the Armenian sources342. It is likely that the Persian invasion in 256 together with the raids of the Borani, Goths and others forced Valerian to return back to the east and that the surprise invasion of Hormozd-Ardašir (mentioned in ŠKZ) via Armenia into ‘Cappadocia’ took place at about the same time as Valerian arrived in the east in about late 256 or in 257. The likeliest date is the year 257/8 when Valerian responded to the Gothic invasion of Asia Minor by sending one general to Byzantium while he himself marched from Antioch to ‘Cappadocia’ to oppose the invaders and then returned back to Antioch without doing anything343. Such a division of forces by the Romans to face the Goths would have facilitated a simultaneous surprise invasion by the Persians in Armenia. It is also clear that Valerian’s march to ‘Cappadocia’ was only meant as a stopgap move to limit the ravages caused by the Persian advance. It is also very likely that the ŠKZ is correct in stating that the campaign targeted also Cappadocia proper and that it was because of this that Valerian went in person to Cappadocia which is mentioned by Zosimos344.


Syvänne assumes that, it is probable that Artavazd the regent changed the allegiance to the Persian side already in 256, but then did not contribute forces for the 259 campaign so that the Persians punished the Armenians after they had defeated Valerian and that the flight of Tirdād with his tutors to the Roman territory took place only then in ca. 260-262. 343 Zosimos 1.36.1; SYVÄNNE 2019. See Kettehofen’s comments (1982: 84 n.269) regarding Sprengling’s suggestion that Valerian marched to Cappadocia in response for the Persian invasion. There is of course no need to suppose that Valerian’s march to Pontus (if Cappadocia is to idenfied with it) to protect the region was caused by the Persian invasion, because Zosimos does indeed give a plausible cause in the invasion of Goths. It is quite possible that we are dealing with two entirely separate invasions as suggested by the narrative sources. 344 Zosimos 1.36.1.

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4.5. Šāpur’s Third War against Rome in ca. 259-270 The campaign of Šāpur in 259/260-260/261345 In 258 or 259, Šāpur was ready to begin his campaign against the Romans. Valerian, whose army was suffering from the plague tried to buy peace with money, but when Šāpur learnt of the plague and of the offer, he was elated. At first he temporized probably with the purpose of getting time to assemble his army after which he dismissed the envoys, but instead of negotiating he immediately set in pursuit of the envoys and achieved a surprise346. According to Šāpur (ŠKZ), he defeated Valerian’s 70,000 men army in the neighborhood of Carrhae and Edessa and captured Valerian by his own hand347. It should be noted that Šāpur’s own account of the events appears to be a summary. However, it appears probable that Šāpur did not actually encounter the whole 70,000 men force in a single battle, but only a part of the army which was actually garrisoned in at least two cities (Edessa and Samosata). However, this doesn’t diminish anything from the glory of the victory. On the contrary, it was with a brilliant surprise invasion that Šāpur managed to catch the Romans totally off guard and defeat their formidable army piecemeal. Two things contributed to this victory, one of which was the mutinous mood of the Roman army resulting from the poor leadership skills of the Roman high command and the second of which was the unbelievable naivety of the emperor Valerian. It did not suffice for him to inform the enemy of his own difficulties, but after the Persians had arrived in front of Edessa, after some successful skirmishes, he led his army of 20,000 or 40,000 men (the sources give different numbers) out of the gates against the vastly superior Persian army. Unsurprisingly, the Persians encircled the Romans and killed most. However, there were still enough survivors among those who managed to flee back inside the city to prevent the Persians from taking it. In fact, the Persians despaired of even attempting to take the city. Instead, Šāpur decided to employ one of his trademark stratagems. He suggested armistice negotiations to Valerian and his staff. After 345

Modern historians have not found a consensus regarding the dating of this campaign. Some date the campaign to the years 259-260 while others date the campaign to the years 260-261, but other views have also been presented thanks to the contradictions in the sources. 346 In this case we have accepted Petrus Patricius’ version of the events on the grounds that he had access to the official state records kept in Constantinople. 347 ŠKZ 12, 14; ALFÖLDI 1938; KETTENHOFEN 2001.

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the Romans came out of the city for negotiations, Šāpur in person with his entourage captured and imprisoned the unprotected emperor and the whole Roman high command. Consequently, Šāpur had managed to decapitate the whole enemy leadership with a single masterful stroke. The captured Valerian ended his days in humiliation. On top of it all, after his death Valerian was flayed and stuffed and placed in the imperial trophy room as a remainder to all future Roman ambassadors of the might of the Persian Empire348. Šāpur exploited his success to the tilt. He by-passed Edessa, because it was too strongly defended and advanced against Samosata (where he started negotiations with the later usurper Macrianus Major), which appears to have been less well defended. However, as usual he tried to use a ruse first. Valerian was forced to send an order to Macrianus, who had been left behind at Samosata in charge of the supplies, to join his emperor. Unsurprisingly, Macrianus declined to do that.349 However, the Roman forces withdrew from Samosata to Emesa, thus opening the route to Asia Minor. Šāpur attacked Cilicia and meeting no resistance moved to Tarsus, where the Iranian army was divided into two groups. One of them aimed at plundering the towns on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This subdivision managed to reached Sellinos but then retreated under the force of Roman army in the vicinity of Pompeiopolis. The second division of the Iranian army made for Tyana, from which it raided Iconium, and then attacked Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia. Šāpur faced serious troubles only at Caesarea, but it was betrayed by a prisoner. This time, however, the Persians failed to capture the Roman commander Demosthenes, because the Persian soldiers had been given an order to capture him alive. Consequently, he was able to fight his way out and take command of other Roman troops350.


It should be noted that the Roman sources are quite explicit about the cruel treatment meted to Valerian by Šāpur as befitted the times and we should not accept the later epic version of kind treatement provided by Firdawsī to be representative of the facts. Similarly, Baḷʿamī’s (80-81) version which claims that Valerian was relased after the workers from the Roman territory had built a city is simply a ridiculous later attempt to whitewash the Persian brutal treatment of the prisoner. The many generations of humiliated Roman envoys knew full well the details. As such the fate of Valerian as a sort of hunting trophy does fit the circumstances of his capture perfectly. He was the game captured in a trap set up by Šāpur. 349 Figure of 20,000 Romans in Cedrenus (454) and 40,000 in Leo Grammaticus (78, also known as Symeon Magister or Symeon the Logothete, the identification is controversial). Other soures collected in DODGEON, LIEU1992: 57ff. 350 KETTENHOFEN 1982: 97-126; LUTHER 2006; MAKSYMIUK 2015a: 40-43.

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Fig. 20. The relief of Šāpur I at Bīšāpur, (photo by E. Shavarebi).

Regardless of this minor setback, Šāpur’s campaign was a huge success. Besides the above, according to the ŠKZ, Šāpur’s armies conquered 36 Roman cities with their surroundings: Alexandria, Katabolon, Aegeai, Mopsuestia, Mallos, Adana, Tarsus, Augousta, Zephyrion, Sebaste, Korykos, Agripiada, Kastabala, Neronias, Flavias, Nicopolis, Kalenderia, Anemourium, Selinus, Myonpolis, Antiochia, Seleucia, Dometioupolis, Tyana, Meiankarire, Comana, Kybistra, Sebastia, Birtha, Rhakoundia, Laranda, and Iconium351. Having plundered the Roman towns in their way, the Persian soldiers retreated to Iran in 261.


ŠKZ 13-20.

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Fig. 21. Military operation in 259-260. Drawn after Maksymiuk 2015 with some changes by Syvänne.

Šāpur, however, was not only a skilled strategist, tactician and user of stratagems, but also a very adept user of what is today termed hybrid warfare. He fought for the hearts and minds of the populace through religion. It was during this campaign that Šāpur employed the services of both Mani and Kartīr in the Roman territory. According to Kartīr’s own inscription, he was used to set the Zoroastrian religion in order in the Roman territory and in Armenia, Iberia, Albania and Balāsagān up to the “Gate of the Alans” after these had been plundered and burnt by Šāpur. The quite obvious purpose of these actions was to exercise greater control over the Zoroastrians in these areas so that the Persians could employ these persons for intelligence gathering purposes. It is probable that the main intention for the employment of Mani in the Roman territory was to attempt to convert the local population into the Manichean faith so that these could be used to undermine the loyalty of the locals towards the Roman Empire which in turn could also be used for the intelligence gathering purposes352. It was for a very good reason that 352

DODGEON, LIEU (1992: 65) after the KKZ lines 11-13; and Alexander Lycopolitanus (4.19-22). As noted by Dodgeon and Lieu (1992: 368, n.56) the invasion of Armenia, Iberia, and Albania at the same time as the Persians fought against Valerian support the view that the Persians (HA, Valerian 1.4) had not yet subdued these territories before the final campaign against Valerian. For the Persian use of religion in warfare, see SYVÄNNE 2018; 2019.

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the Manicheans became to be considered as a pro-Persian fifth-column353. The Roman reaction to the existence of this fifth-column inside their own territory was slow because the first piece of legislation against them was introduced by Diocletian in c.302. This proves how subtle and ingenious Šāpur’s approach was. The Romans failed to understand that it was possible to undermine their standing in the east through the spreading of the Manichean faith, which after all was not the same as the Zoroastrian faith. Šāpur was clearly the unsurpassed master of his own day in the use of unorthodox warfare and stratagems. The subtlety of his approach to warfare deserves our admiration.

Fig. 22. The relief of Šāpur I at Naqš-e Rostam, (photo by E. Shavarebi).


DODGEON, LIEU (1992: 135) after Collatio Mosaicarum 15.3; SYVÄNNE 2018.

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Odaenathus In the course of the invasion in 259-261 Šāpur had also overextended his resources by dividing his army into several divisions as a result of which he suffered several setbacks at the hands of two commanders: 1) the Palmyrene lord Odaenathus; 2) and the Roman Callistus (Ballista). Ballista appears to have surprised the Persians. He launched an amphibious assault and landed his forces near Pompeiopolis, which the Persians were besieging, and then surprised them, killed 3,000 Persians, captured Šāpur’s harem or at least some of his concubines, and then returned his fleet to Sebaste and Corycus. The fact that Ballista’s amphibious landing took place late in the campaign season (it took a while for the armies to besiege the cities and then advance to Cilicia) means that it had been undertaken on behalf of the legitimate emperor Gallienus even if he appears to have originally been chosen as a leader by those Roman soldiers who had fled. On the basis of the Iggereth Rav Sherira Gaon354, it is possible that Odaenathus pillaged Neherdea near Ctesiphon already in 259-260 while Šāpur was besieging Roman cities, but it is likelier that this took place only after Šāpur had already been forced to evacuate the Roman territory. The sources also suggest that Odaenathus joined Roman legions into his own tribal army, and probably retook Nisibis (the city itself backed Šāpur) in 262355, Carrhae (?)356 and Mesopotamia very soon after Šāpur had moved on. The information in the Historia Augusta357 suggests the possibility that the re-conquest of Carrhae and Nisibis could also have taken place later in 264. If this is true, the implication is that Odaenathus conducted three campaigns against the Persians: The first in 259-261 during which he pursued Šāpur up to Ctesiphon after which returned back to fight the Macriani; The second in 264 when he re-conquered Nisibis and Carrhae; The third in 266-267 when he marched to Ctesiphon and then returned back to fight against the Goths. Odaenathus’ eldest son Herodes also appears to have inflicted a serious defeat on the Persians on the banks of the River Orontes with the result that they evacuated Antioch and areas south of it358. Nonetheless, we should not overestimate the effectiveness of this Romano-Palmyrene counterstrike. Odaenathus and Ballista had managed to intercept and harass only some of the Persian marching columns, but not 354

Iggereth Rav Sherira Gaon, 82. Zosimos 1.39; Persicus Maximus on the Gallienus’ coin (CIL VIII 22765=ILS 8923). 356 KETTENHOFEN 1982: 100. 357 HA, Gallienus10.1ff.. 358 MAKSYMIUK 1998; HARTMANN 2001: 162-230; SYVÄNNE 2019. 355

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to destroy those in their entirety as is clear from the fact that Šāpur and Valerian both reached Persian territory safe and sound, and because Šāpur was able to continue his march to the east. The Persians were able to transfer most of their booty and huge numbers of prisoners to the Persian lands that were later used as a workforce in many a building project within Iran. The Persians had also conquered Armenia, Iberia and Albania, which gave them control over the principal passes of the Caucasus359. Yet, Šāpur’s absence in the east enabled Odaenathus and Romans to consolidate their position. In the meanwhile, the grateful Gallienus had made Odaenathus the supreme commander of all Roman forces in the east. In this capacity Odaenathus led still another campaign against Ctesiphon in ca. 266-267, but once again he had to cut short his campaign because the Goths had invaded the Balkans and Asia Minor. He expelled the Goths, but then together with his eldest son Herodes fell victim to a plot or quarrel resulting in his murder probably in the following winter. As usually, the circumstances of the conspiracy are shrouded in the veil of mystery. The likeliest candidates for the instigator of the assassination are: 1) the nephew or cousin of Odaenathus (immediately killed by the bodyguards); 2) or his wife Zenobia who succeeded him; 3) or Gallienus360. On the basis that Odaenathus had faced only “satraps” in 266, it is clear that Šāpur must have been away in the east and cannot have returned back to the west before ca. 267. Šāpur’s eastern campaign still appears to have been a great success as a result of which he was able to place his son Narseh on the throne of Sakastān with the mission of keeping the Sakās (and other easterners) submissive to the Sāsānian rule361. It is very unfortunate that we do not know the exact date of the death of this great ruler (probably 272)362 because it is thanks to this that we are 359

SHAHBAZI, 2002. MAKSYMIUK 1998: 150; SYVÄNNE 2019. 361 As noted before, it is possible that the siege of Ḥaṭrā mentioned by Ṭabarī and MirKhwānd belongs to the last years of Šāpur’s rule. It is possible that the successes of Odaenathus could have caused other Arab monarchs, including the king of Ḥaṭrā, to revolt against Persia. Indeed, according to the abovementioned account of Ṭabarī (827-828), the king of Ḥaṭrā had ravaged Persian territory when Šāpur was in Abaršahr. This brought the expected reprisals when the victorious Šāpur returned from the east. Excluding the possible siege of Ḥaṭrā, Šāpur appears to have spent the very last years of his life either in the east fighting the nomads or in supervising the construction of the new cities and irrigations systems with the help of the Roman prisoners most of whom were duly granted their freedom afterwards as subjects of the šāhānšāh. 362 The usually suggested dates are 270, 271 and 272. 360

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unable to assess the exact circumstances in which the Romano-Palmyrene war took place. What is known is that the Romans under Emperor Aurelian advanced against Palmyra in 271-272 and defeated the Palmyrenes in successive battles in 272 after which they besieged Zenobia and her followers inside the city also in 272363. It is also very probably that the Persians and Palmyrenes had concluded a military alliance prior to this and that the Persians dispatched Persian and Armenian cavalry to relieve the besieged city and that Aurelian annihilated the relief army364. It seems that these events took place during the very last days of Šāpur I’s reign or immediately after his death and that the Persians and Palmyrenes had reached an accord already in 269-270. It would have been this alliance that had enabled Šāpur to concentrate most of his forces to the east to crush the nomads without having to fear the Romans as his western border was protected by Zenobia. It seems probable that the person who sent the relief army against Aurelian was the new Great King of Armenia Narseh in 272 so that the previous holder of this position Hormozd, the youngest son of Šāpur and his designated successor, had already succeeded his father on the throne365. The Caucasus front – an alternative interpretation suggested by Syvänne The following alternative interpretation is based on the assumption that the Armenian sources, the Historia Augusta and the inscription KKZ contain information, which can be used to shed further light into events. In other words, the assumption is that Armenia and the Caucasian and Caspian lands were not under full Persian control in about 259-260. After the battle of Edessa in 259366, Šāpur sent messages to the neighbors or allied nations with orders to submit, but all of whom still appear to have resisted. The Historia Augusta claims that king Velsolus (unknown), and Velenus, king of the Cadusii (people of the south-west coast of the Caspian Sea), and Artavazd, king of the Armenians all recommended the return of Valerian, and that the Bactrians, Iberians (Georgians), (Caucasian) Albanians, and Tauroscyhians (Goths?) all even refused to receive Šāpur’s letters


MAKSYMIUK 2005: 86-88. HA, Aurelian 27.4: Zosimos 1.50.1ff. 365 MAKSYMIUK 2005: 121. 366 The battle is various dated to have taken place either in 259 or 260. This timeline adopts the earlier dating. For the reasons behind this, see SYVÄNNE 2019. 364

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and promised Roman generals aid367. Of particular note is the supposed reluctance of the Armenian regent Artavazd the Mandakuni368 to follow the orders of Šāpur I even though he is claimed to have been Šāpur’s ally previously as well as the hostility of the Bactrians (evidently therefore once again in revolt). According to Movsēs Khorenats'i369, the Armenian princes had united and brought to their assistance a Roman army that had been posted in Phrygia370. However, this time the Armenians together with their Roman reinforcements were crushed with a prompt campaign in ca. 260-262, and Iberia submitted without a fight. According to Agathangelos’ version371, after the assassination of Xusrō (in actual fact several years after the fact) the Persian king made incursions (i.e. several invasions) into Armenia as a result of which many men, beasts, old men, infants, youths and children were taken into captivity and the infant Tirdād was taken by his tutors to the Greek (Roman) territory. After this, according to Agathangelos372, the Persian king routed the Greek army (i.e. the Roman army that had now come to support the Armenian fugitives) and pursued it up the borders of Greece. According to Movsēs Khorenats'i’ version373, the Persians put the Greek (i.e. Roman) army to flight with the result that Artavazd the Mandakuni374 took Tirdād to the Roman territory, and in response to 367

The letters in the Historia Augusta are obviously fakes (or at least likely to be so), but still appear to contain a germ of truth. 368 It is usually asserted that Movsēs Khorenats'i’ Mandakuni hides the family name Mamikonean behind it because Movsēs Khorenats'i was hostile to the Mamikoneans, but this is not necessarily true so the family name has been left intact. 369 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.76. 370 HA, Valerian 2.1-4.1. 371 Agathangelos 2.35-36. 372 Agathangelos 2.36. 373 Movsēs Khorenats'i 2.76. 374 If Artavazd is to be identified as belonging to the Mamikonean Clan as postulated by the vast majority of modern historians and not to the Mandakuni as claimed by Movsēs Khorenats'i (2.78), then it would be possible to see why its member would feel willing to negotiate with the Persian assassins of the previous king of Armenia as the Historia Augusta suggests. The Mamikoneans were supposedly originally members of the Chinese imperial family, whose leader prince Mamkon gave name to the family. Movsēs Khorenats'i states that Mamkon arrived with his military retinue/followers during the very last years of Ardašīr’s reign. Ardašīr gave Mamkon and his followers a place of refuge in Sāsānian Persia, but then after Ardašīr’s death the Chinese Emperor threatened to launch a war unless he was handed over. The successor Šāpuh (usually identified as Šāpur I) avoided the conflict by sending the Mamikoneans to Armenia, which happened supposedly at the time Tirdād was returning to Armenia. At this stage it should be noted that the names of the Persian kings in Movsēs Khorenats'i (2.78) are not accurate (E.g. the name Ardašīr can refer to many

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the Persian conquest of Armenia, Tacitus (to be interpreted as Roman general and not as emperor which is a mistake) then marched to Pontus and sent his brother Florian (also to be interpreted as Roman general and not as brother of Tacitus, possibly the above mentioned Demosthenes because the capture of Caesarea would have taken place when the Persians were advancing from Cilicia towards Armenia) to Cilicia in response to which Ardašīr (=Šāpur) in his turn routed Tacitus with the result that both Tacitus and Florian were killed by their own men. Of note is that the itinerary of the ŠKZ Tyana, Caesarea, Sebasteia does lead towards Armenia and it would explain why Šāpur and his harem were at different locations – he had to pursue the fleeing Romans of “Florian” fast while leaving his slow moving harem behind which the Romans under Ballista exploited by attacking. As noted in the brackets, the references to the emperors Tacitus and Florian are obviously mistaken, but the involvement of Roman forces is still clear from both Agathangelos and Movsēs Khorenats'i. It is also likely that the leader of the Armenian campaign was not Šāpur, but some of his relatives or the satrap Spates, and that it would have been Šāpur who engaged ‘Florian’ (whoever he was) in Cilicia. Obviously, it is possible that Šāpur was leading the Armenian campaign in person, but then the presence of his harem in Cilicia at the time Ballista made an amphibious assault against them in Cilicia would be very difficult to explain. The only way to reconcile the defeat of the Romans at Cilicia with the victory of Ballista against the Persians in Cilicia is to suggest that Šāpur defeated “Florian” while Ballista also won because he attacked the defenseless baggage train with the harem and ultimately forced kings.). On the basis of the date of Mamkon’s arrival at the time when Tirdād returned back to Armenia it is clear that Ardašīr is probably Šāpur I Ardašīr and that Šāpuh is actually Bahrām II or Narseh, the former being likelier. The identification of the Artavazd as Mamikonean instead of Mandakuni on the basis of the fact that the position of sparapet was held by the Mamikoneans during the 5th century is not conclusive. The office could have easily been occupied by members of another family at an earlier date. This is according to the version provided by Movsēs Khorenats'i, but there are also other versions like the one by Sebeos who claims that there were two Chinese nobles Mamik and Konak who gave their name to the family. See Thomson’s comments in Movsēs Khorenats'i (p. 230). Some modern scholars prefer to consider the Chinese origin a mistake and claim that the Mamikoneans were Armenians. However, there are no compelling reasons to adopt this solution. It is entirely plausible that the male line of the Mamikoneans originated in China, even if it is clear that through intermarriage the Mamikoneans would have become Armenians within a couple of generations. However, it is possible that the Mamikoneans were not necessarily actual princes of the Chinese imperial family. It is also quite possible that they were actually princes of some nomadic tribe or confederation of tribes that had lost a power struggle in China or in the steppes.

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Šāpur to retreat. According to Malalas375, Šāpur sent a satrap called Spates to Cilicia or Armenia (two versions). This actually fits the above account. It is quite possible to think that Šāpur first engaged and defeated “Florian” (Demosthenes?) in Cilicia, pursued the Roman fugitives and possibly defeated “Tacitus” (whoever he was), and then left Spates to continue the pursuit up to Armenia when he turned back after he had learnt of Ballista’s capture of his harem. According to the Georgian Chronicles, the king of Georgia/Iberia, the ally of the Armenians, marched to the north to obtain Alan allies, but died en route apparently of natural causes376 as a result of which the Georgian nobility submitted and asked Šāpur to give them a king who would marry the daughter of the previous king. The Persians were now in control of most of the passes leading across the Caucasus. It was no longer easy for the Romans, Iberians, and Armenians to call to their assistance the Alans and other nomads. Furthermore, these conquests once again blocked one branch of the Silk Road and gave the Sāsānians access to additional customs duties along these routes377. Šāpur installed his son Hormozd on the throne of Armenia378 and according to the Georgian Chronicles his brother Mirian (Mihran), the offspring of a handmaid, on the throne of Iberia. Similarly, according to the Georgian Chronicles379, Mirvanoz was appointed as a tutor and guardian for Mirian with 40,000 soldiers because Mihran was too young to rule. Unfortunately, the Georgian Chronicles appear to have mixed the names and reigns of Hormozd, Narseh and their brother Mirian and their uncle Mihršāh all with each other. Furthermore, Šāpur’s inscription380 actually names one Hamazāsp as king of Viruzān (Iberia). The likeliest explanation for this confusion of persons is that Šāpur appointed probably his own underage (5 or 7 yrs old) illegitimate son Hamazāsp with the name of Mirian381 as king of Iberia so that his uncle (and brother of Šāpur) Mihršāh or someone else with high enough standing served as his guardian. 375

Malalas 12.26. Or could it be that this very timely death had been caused by Persian poison? What is certain is that Šāpur was quite ready to use unorthodox warfare and that his associates were very skilled assassins. 377 Georgian Chronicles, 73ff.. 378 Hormozd was the king of Armenia during his father’s reign and therefore the designated successor. 379 Georgian Chronicles, 74ff. 380 ŠKZ 30. 381 It has also been suggested that the Mirian was a member of the Parthian Mehrān Family rather than the son of king of kings. 376

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The confusion of personalities and powers becomes immediately apparent from the fact that Mirian is cleaimed to have also ruled Armenia, which was actually under Hormozd until 271 and after that under Narseh. As king of Iberia Mirian would also have taken part in the military campaigns of Narseh with the result that the actions and names of the two became mixed up together. Regardless, considering the amount of confusion in the Georgian Chronicles, it is safest not to make any definite conclusions based only on the information provided by it. The information regarding the hostility of the Bactrians to Šāpur in the Historia Augusta382 does indeed require an explanation. Hormozd, the new king of Armenia, had previously been the king of Sakastān, which suggests that when Hormozd had marched to the west to partake in his father’s campaign and to overtake Armenia, the Kūšāns in Ṭoxārestān and/or the Sakas had revolted possibly under the Sūrēns, because they had not received Balkh and the lands of the Kūšāns as their well earned reward for the murder of Xusrō or because the previous rulers opposed the arrival of the Sūrēns at Balkh. Furthermore, the Georgian Chronicles383 mention that Mirian (Mihršāh? or in this case Hormozd?) waged continuously war against the Xazars384 who repeatedly tried to seize Darband Gate, which would also suggest that the Persian occupation armies of Armenia and Iberia could not intervene with the events taking place further south or east. According to the Georgian Chronicles, on one occasion before the death of Šāpur, the Leks defected from Mirian and brought the Xazars to assist them, in which case he encountered them in a battle in Heret'i or Movakan, and on other occasions, the Durjuks and Didos joined forces and brought down the Xazars. In most cases, however, the Xazars came down to Darband and Mirian marched to the site to block their invasion. Sometimes the enemy did not wait his arrival and withdrew and on other occasions Mirian had to rout them in battle. It is of course probable that the name Mirian hides behind it his superior, the Great King of Armenia, and that Mirian fought as his subordinate.


HA, Valerian, 4. Georgian Chronicles, 78. 384 Anachronistic referral to the Xazar Turks that stand for some nomadic group like Turks or Huns or Massagetae other than the Alans/Ossetes which the Georgian Chronicles doesn’t fail to mention in its proper context. 383

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4.6. Šāpur as šāhānšāh and military leader The above account has proven that Šāpur was very capable as a King of Kings and also as a military leader. Šāpur had demonstrated himself to be an expert user of religious propaganda. Šāpur was clearly equally skilled in all forms of warfare. He was an expert user of stratagems, ruses, guerrilla warfare and conventional warfare. In modern parlance he was the unsurpassed master of his own day in the waging of hybrid warfare385. In the course of his life he had also demonstrated his personal bravery in the field of battle. His forces had defeated the steppe nomads, Arabs, Indians, and Romans. Šāpur’s forces were therefore able to operate in the deserts, mountains, woods, rainforests, and steppes. At the time of Šāpur’s death in ca. 272 with the exception of the north-east frontier, the borders of the Sāsānian Empire were secure. Regardless of the continued nomadic menace, it can be said with a good reason that at the time of the death of Šāpur I Persia was effectively the most powerful empire of the ancient world.

Fig. 23. Silver drachm of Šāpur I, British Museum, Reg. No. 1866,1201.4140; © Trustees of the British Museum. 385

The modern term hybrid warfare is just a new fancy term for the ancient ways of warfare that have always been practiced by the skilled practitioners of warfare. It is uncertain whether the economic side of the “hybrid warfare” was present in Šāpur’s campaigns in the same extent as it had been under his father who had sought and gained control of the silk route. However, even if it is clear that the conquest of Armenia and the Caucasian and Caspian lands and the areas in the east were also motivated by the need to reassert the Sāsānian domination in the areas previously dominated by the Arsacids, it is still clear that the control of these areas also gave Šāpur the control over the trade routes passing through these areas. It is therefore quite probable that the economic aspects formed at least one part of the strategic calculation alongside with the dynastic ones.

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5. HORMOZD (ca. 272-273) Šāpur was succeeded by his son Hormozd386, the king of Armenia. The sources for his short reign are very sparse and even the length of his reign is not known with definite certainty as some sources claim that he ruled for one year (or one year and ten days) while others claim that he ruled for 22 months. He is said to have been known for his determination and boldness in battle and for his massive build, but at the same time it was said that he lacked Ardašīr’s judgment and skillful management of affairs387. At the very beginning of his reing Šāpur appointed him as governor of Abaršahr388 and later as Great King of Armenia. This latter position made him the heir apparent389. Consequently, after the death of his father, the position of Hormozd was very strong. This did not, however, make Narseh, the king of the Sakās, ready to accept the situation without resistance. He assembled his army, but the Persian magnates mediated as a result of which Narseh was given Armenia and other territories evidently with the expectation that he would succeed Hormozd, and Sakastān in its turn was given to Hormozd’s grandson Hormozd, in return for Hormozd I becoming the king of kings390. The political situation at the time of the death of Šāpur I was as follows: 1) the eldest of Šāpur’s sons Bahrām was the King of Gīlān; 2) the second oldest son Šāpur was the King of Mēšān; 3) the youngest son Narseh was the King of Sakastān. As noted above, it is probable that Šāpur I had been in the east fighting against the nomads at the time of his death, which would have left Narseh in command of the main field army of Persia. This would explain his readiness to resort to the use of force. Ultimately, Narseh’s readiness to accept the compromise can also be explained by the same situation namely that the steppe nomads had not yet been decisively defeated, which would have meant that they still posed a threat to the kings of Gīlān and Sakastān. The presence of Aurelian’s army would also have threatened the territories of the Great King of Armenia and King of Mēšān, which would also have made them all ready to seek a compromise.


WEBER 2007. SYVÄNNE 2015a: 169-170. 388 Ṭabarī 833. 389 Ṭabarī 831ff.; SHAHBAZI 1989: 515. 390 As noted above, Mirian in the Georgian Chronicles (78-80) is to be idenfied with Narseh who at the time was King of Sakastān. 387

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The Georgian Chronicles391 also claim that while Mirian (probably Hormozd or Mihršāh) was preoccupied with the succession contest, the Ossetes (Alans?), P‛eroš and Kavtia exploited his (Mirian’s which means the absence of either Mihršāh or Hormozd) absence and had devastated K'art'li (the heart of Iberia). Consequently, Mirian (this would mean the new Great King of Armenia Narseh and/or Mihršāh?) invaded Ossetia and penetrated as far as Xazareti and then returned by the road of Dualeti. This indicates that the absence of Hormozd’s forces from Iberia and Armenia in ca. 272 invited the opportunistic attack of the Alans who pillaged the heart of Iberia. In short, the compromise had been achieved and Narseh had become the Great King of Armenia, the Persians retaliated and invaded through the Darband Pass up to Xazareti in the north of the Caucasus. This would have happened after the relief operation to save Zenobia had failed. According to Tha'ālibī392, Hormozd conducted a successful campaign against the Haitalites (Hepthalites?) or Sogdians after which he built a column of stones on the border. After this he returned to Eṣṭaḵr or Mēšān or Rāmhormoz in the province of Ahvāz where he died having ruled less than two years. This would mean that Hormozd had spent most of his very short reign in the east. Hormozd I’s rule lasted only for a year and he was succeeded by his Šāpur’s other son Bahrām, who, before his appointment, had served as king of Gīlān393. Therefore, it is quite possible that Bahrām was in command of the main field army as a result of the death of his brother and therefore in a position to dictate the terms to the other brothers. Consequently, Narseh was once again disappointed in his hopes, but out of patriotism he was ready to bide his time, because at the time the highly competent new Roman emperor Aurelian was leading his troops against Palmyra the ally of both Persia and Armenia. It is also probable that Narseh had weakened up his standing by suffering a defeat at the hands of Aurelian, which was a disgrace in the eyes of the other brothers and nobles.


Georgian Chronicles, 80. Tha'ālibī 498-499. 393 DARYAEE 2008a: 32. 392

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6. BAHRĀM I (273-276) The new šāhānšāh Bahrām I appears to have owed his position to the Zoroastrian high priest Kartīr394. In c. 274 Bahrām interrogated Mani in person and then had him imprisoned and executed, which was followed up by the persecution of his followers395. It may be assumed that only Bahrām I, after Hormozd’s death, made Narseh king of Armenia in return for the latter’s giving up of his right to the throne396. The other significant event of Bahrām’s reign was his war against the kings of the orient. It is very unfortunate that Masʿūdī does not give us any specific details, because “the war against the kings” could have been fought against kings that were at least nominally under Sāsānian rule like the kings of the Sakās, Kūšāns, Hind(estān), or that it signified a revolt of some Parthian houses like the Sūrēns, or it signified the revolt of the areas recently subdued by Hormozd. Regardless of who were the eastern kings, the renewal of the eastern problem meant that the Persians were unable to provide any adequate help for their Palmyran ally when the Roman emperor Aurelian was besieging Palmyra. As noted above, according to the Historia Augusta397, Aurelian defeated the reinforcements sent by the Persians (undoubtedly by Narseh) and then brought the forces sent by the Armenians and Saracens to his side either through force or through stratagems. Aurelian’ army even seems to have included some Persians amongst its ranks398. Bahrām I had no other alternative than to sue for peace so that he could march to the east399. The Persians were unable to respond even in late 272 and 273 when Palmyra and Egypt had both revolted. Narseh’ position as Great King of Armenia may also have been in jeopardy after the abovementioned defeats of Persians and because of the desertions of Armenian troops to the Romans. The wars in the east appear to have continued at the time Bahrām I died and was succeeded by his son Bahrām II in 276, because the emperor Aurelian was en route to the east to begin a war against Persia. However, he was assassinated before he could accomplish this. 394

MAKSYMIUK 2012b. Baḷʿamī (89-90); It is also possible as suggested by Ilkka Syvänne (2018) that the rebels in the east were followers of Mani, which would of course have sealed Mani’s fate; SUNDERMANN 2009. 396 WEBER 2008: 187. 397 HA, Aurelian 27.4-28.5. 398 Zosimos 1.54.2-3. 399 HA, Aurelian 29.2. 395

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7. BAHRĀM II (276-293) Bahrām II also owed his rise to power entirely to Kartīr’s influence. With Bahrām’s support Kartīr became the high priest and judge of the whole empire (hāmšahr mowbed ud dādwar)400. Narseh, the king of Armenia, and Hormozd, the king of Sakastān (son of Hormozd I), were not satisfied with by being bypassed. Narseh grudgingly accepted the situation, but Hormozd began a revolt in the east that required the king’s personal attention at least in 274?-282/5. Hormozd was supported by the Sakāi (Hormozd was the Sakānšāh, King of Sakastān), Gīlānis (i.e. by the King of Gīlān, presumably one of the brothers) and by the Kūšāns (presumably one of the Kārins)401. This means that Hormozd was probably supported by the Esfandīār, the kanārang of Ṭūs, Sūrēn Pahlaw, Andīgān and Kārins, while Bahrām’s supporters consisted of the forces of the Great King of Armenia, the King of Mēšān, western Kārins, Mehrāns, Sūrēn Pārsīg, King of Ḥira, and the kings of Fārs. The role of the Žik and Esfandīār families is unclear, but it is probable that they sided with Bahrām. The forces of Bahrām II and Hormozd were quite evenly matched402. The revolt of Hormozd was particularly dangerous as it was also supported by the Kūšāns and other eastern states or tribes. Narseh, the son of Šāpur I and Great King of Armenia (and uncle of Bahrām II), was also opposed to the accession of Bahrām II, but chose not to revolt at the time when the Romans threatened the western border. In fact, the new king appears to have left Narseh in charge of the defence of the western frontier. In addition, according to the Georgian Chronicles, which has mixed up


KKZ 8. Claudius Mamertinus 3.17.2. 402 The rise of the Zoroastrian orthodoxy under Kartīr did not result only the persecution of religious minorities, but apparently also in the persecution of heretical forms of the Zoroastrian Faith. It is possible that this intolerance contributed to the vehemence of the rebellion in the East. It is also probable that the strange revolt by the mobed Guprašnasp near Arbela (Chronicon of Arbela 10) in Xūzestān was one of the results of this intolerance towards the other forms of Zoroastrianism. It is unfortunately impossible to date the revolt accurately beyond the fact that it must have taken place at the time when Bahrām II was fighting against Hormozd. Just like the Man on the Mountain, Guprašnasp’s nest was located in a tower on a mountain which was protected by his 560 followers who were all expert archers. Guprašnasp terrorized all the surrounding areas with these madmen so that it became impossible for the merchants or farmers to practice their trades. The Persian army was unable to do anything until the commander in charge managed to lure the mobed to a parley where he was captured. 401

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Mirian and Narseh with each other, Narseh was at the time facing nomadic problem. The time was ripe for the Romans to attack, but as noted above the murder of Aurelian prevented this. It took six months for the Romans to appoint Tacitus as emperor and his first action was to seek military glory by killing the Gothic allies in Asia Minor. The eastern forces revolted and declared Probus as Emperor and murdered Tacitus in 276 after which there followed a short civil war between Probus and Tacitus’s brother Florianus. Consequently, the Romans failed to take advantage of the chaos in Persia. On top of that, as new emperor, Probus also needed to secure his position. He needed the approval of the other Roman armies as well as the approval of the Senate which consisted of the old nobility with money. In addition to this, Probus had to settle the problem posed by Aurelian’s murderers while securing the European frontiers that had once again been breached by the barbarian hordes when they had learnt of the death of the feared Aurelian. Unsurprisingly, Probus was in these conditions just as eager to avoid having to fight a war in the East as the Persians. Consequently, neither side made any move against each other at this time403. Probus settled the Gothic problem in late 276 with the help of the exiled Armenian king Tirdād who had been granted a place of asylum in the Roman territory in the house of the count Licinius. Tirdād fought a duel with the Gothic king and settled the war with his victory so that the defeated Goths were settled as Federates north of the Danube. The grateful Probus thanked Tirdād by giving him a great army with which to regain his kingdom. Tirdād took this army together with his loyal Armenian followers back to Armenia where he faced and defeated the Persians in a pitched battle in late 276 or early 277404. The Persians had been unable to make an effective response to this invasion because Bahrām II had to deal with the revolt of Hormozd in the East and Narseh was fighting against the nomads who had invaded through the Darband Pass. Tirdād’s successes enabled Probus to take the title of Persicus Maximus on 21 October 279405. The Georgian Chronicles406 shed further light on the events. It states that at the time when the Goths had invaded the Roman territory, the Xazars attacked the Darband as was their custom and Mirian went against them 403

HA, Probus 10.6ff; SYVÄNNE 2015a: 171ff. Agathangelos 43-47; HA, Probus 18.2; SYVÄNNE 2015a: 171ff. 405 The title Persicus Maximus has been found on papyrus dated 21 October 279. See KREUCHER (2003: 158-161) for this and analysis of Probus’ Persian campaign. 406 Georgian Chronicles, 80-81. 404

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as was his custom. Mirian would have been the ruler of Iberia, or alternatively Narseh whom the Chronicle would have consfused with him. Regardless, it is still clear that Narseh would have dealt with the nomadic threat in person. If Mirian is a separate person, then he would have simply acted as Narseh’ lieutenant and not as commander-in-chief. The presence of the main Persian Army of Armenia near the Darband Pass would have left a power vacuum in Armenia, which enabled Tirdād to regain his realm. Tirdād’s joy proved to be short-lived, because after Mirian (i.e. Narseh) returned victorious from the Darband in the late spring of 277 (?) the balance was tilted in favour of the Persians. Thanks to the precarious situation, the Persian nobles had sent reinforcements to Narseh. It is probable that the reinforcements included forces from the King of Mēšān. The army included a relative of Mirian whose name was Pērōz. Narseh or Mirian married his daughter to Pērōz and gave land in western Iberia as a dowry. Tirdād had too few men to oppose this massive army and was forced to resort to a prolonged guerrilla campaign against the Persians that lasted years. It was during these difficult years that Tirdād increased his reputation as unbeatable duellist407. The reason for the Roman inability to assist Tirdād was that the Empire was wrecked by civil and foreign wars in 277-278. The Isaurian revolt together with the usurpation of Saturninus the Moor, who had been left in charge of the Roman armies of the East, made it impossible for the local commanders to to interference with the forces in 277-279. The problem, however, was swiftly dealt in 279. There are two versions of what happened: 1) the usurper’s own soldiers killed him when when Probus’ army approached408; 2) Probus defeated the usurper in a series of battles after which the usurper was killed by Probus’ assassins409. Probus could not exploit his victory by invading the Persian territory, because the Isaurians were still in revolt, and the Blemmyes had invaded Egypt after the usuper had withdrawn troops from there, and because the generals he had left in charge of Gaul and Britain had revolted in 279. Probus faced now a very serious problem, because he was still at war with Persia. He needed to secure peace with Persia. But he then had a lucky break. The Persians sued for peace. Probus had a superb poker face because he rejected the gifts presented by the Persians and threatened to make war in person against Persia. The Great King of Armenia Narseh, as acting regent of the West, appears to 407

SYVÄNNE 2015a: 172ff. Zosimos 1.66, Zonaras 13.29. 409 HA Probus 18.4, Firmus 11.3. 408

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have been fooled by the stern stance taken by Probus, because he agreed to sign the peace on Roman terms. It should be noted, however, that neither side intended to respect the terms of the contract, but just bought a short respite from hostilities410. Probus began his preparations to start the war in 282 that Aurelian had planned. The situation remained opportune. The Persian šāhānšāh Bahrām II was still fighting against the rebels. The war between Bahrām II and Hormozd was clearly extraordinarily difficult because it had already lasted for seven years. Hormozd was supported by the Sakastānis of Sakastān, Gīlānis of Gīlān and Kūšāns. This meant that approximately half of the subjects were behind the rebel. Probus’ hopes were once again crushed when, as a result of having overworked the soldiers, he was killed in an usurpation launched by the praefectus praetorio Carus411. The new emperor Carus (r. 282-283), however, intended to put Probus’ plans into effect. The emperor undertook the expedition when he heard of a revolt among the Persians412. Carus’s troops marched through Mesopotamia with no major obstacles made by the Iranian forces, capturing Babylon, Seleucia and Ctesiphon in 283, and then crossing the river Tigris413. The emperor’s death, whose circumstances remain unclear414, interrupted the campaign. His successor, Numerianus (r. 283-284), intended to continue his father’s campaign, yet his expedition soon terminated. The Roman retreat from Ctesiphon along the Euphrates turned into disaster when the regrouped Persians started to harrass the retreating forces. In the northern Mesopotamia the Roman army was defeated near Carrhae by Bahrām II in 284.


SYVÄNNE 2015a: 172ff. SYVÄNNE 2015a: 177-178. 412 Eutropius 9.18; WINTER 1988: 130-33. 413 MAKSYMIUK 2015a: 46-47. 414 According to the sources, Carus was then urged to continue his march to the East by his praefectus praetorio Aper, and when he was intending to do so, he died in mysterious circumstances in June 283. The sources claim that he died either of illness or as a result of being struck by lighting, but the usual view among the historians is that these stories were just a coverup for the assassination of the emperor by Aper. Aper became the de facto ruler in the name of Carus’ son Numerian because he was his father-in-law, but this situation was not accepted by the comes domesticorum Diocles better known with his Imperial Name Diocletian who appear to have murdered Numerian so that he could then claim that Aper had killed Numerian. Diocletian killed Aper before the army on November 20, 284 and then usurped the power. 411

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The emperor sought refuge in Carrhae, but the town was also conquered by the Persians415. The Roman defeat was still so significant that Tirdād, the King of Armenia, was forced to swim across the Euphrates to the safety. On the basis of this, it seems probable that the Persians attacked the Romans just when they were crossing the Euphrates and annihilated the forces left behind to protect the crossing. It would have been possible for the Persians to achieve this sort of success even with the forces left for the protection of the West under Narseh, but it is possible that Bahrām II could have returned back from the East and then forced the Romans to retreat so that he waited until the opportune moment to launch his main attack against the Romans when they were most vulnerable. There is one important thing that speaks against the latter alternative which is that the Persians did not join the Bosporans when the latter invaded Roman territory in 285. Consequently, it is very likely that Bahrām II was still fighting in the East at least until 285. This would mean that it took at least ten years for Bahrām II to crush the revolt in the East, which is not surprising in light of the fact that the area in which it was fought included what is today called Afghanistan416. The Sāsānians never managed to conquer Ṭoxārestān permanently because in order to achieve this they would also have needed to conquer the territories east, north and south of it. It was from these areas that the local rebels could always expect to receive a place of asylum and/or military support. Ṭoxārestān and its neighboring territories had effectively become Kūšān territory in the course of the previous four centuries, which meant that the Kūšāns to the east of Ṭoxārestān proper could always expect help from their local compatriots. In addition to this, the leading families of Ṭoxārestān 415

MAKSYMIUK 2015a, 46. We have given here the benefit of the doubt to those sources (Malalas 12.35; Chronicon Pachale, 524; Zonaras 12.30) which mention the defeat of Numerian by the Persians at Carrhae. The problem with these sources is that these have confused the reigns of Valerian and Numerian with each other so that these claim that the Persians captured and flayed Numerian. This is obviously false, but it is possible that the confusion has resulted from the place where both were defeated (or because of the confusion of the names in Greek Ούαλεριανòς vs. Νουμεριαηός), hence our decision to include this Roman defeat. However, the readers should still keep in mind that the evidence for this is uncertain. Furthermore, even if there was such a battle, it is still clear that it was not a crushing defeat for the Romans because their field army remained a viable force even after this which is proven by its combat performance under Diocletian and others during the years 284-287 and by the subsequent readiness of the Persians to make concessions in order to obtain the peace in about 287. 416 Movsēs Khorenats'i 3.79; The rebellion of Hormozd was finally crushed (Agathias 4.24); SYVÄNNE 2015a: 177ff.

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had family relations both in the north and south that they could also use to great effect. In this case the situation was further aggravated by the fact the Sāsānian prince Hormozd could command support from the Iranian, Parthian and Kūšān royal houses. It was no mean feat for Bahrām to crush this difficult rebellion. It must have involved the conclusion of treaties with many of the rebels so that Hormozd would be deprived of their support, and plenty of heavy fighting. After having usurped the power Diocletian (r. 284-305) was also in no position to continue the war against Persia because he still needed to fight against Carus’s son Carinus and foreign invaders. The fragment preserved by Constantine Porphyrogenitus417 proves that the Sarmatians invaded Roman territory under the leadership of ‘Sauromatus the Bosporian’, and conquered Lazica and advanced as far as the Halys River. It is quite clear that this must have taken place with the tacit approval of Persia and their Iberian clients. Diocletian’s response was to send tribunus et magister officiorum Constantius to the scene while he advanced against Carinus. Constantius was forced to concede most of Asia Minor to the invaders. He formed a defensive line at the Halys River, but was unable to defeat the invaders. Constantius asked Diocletian to order the Chersonites to capture the Bosporan cities and families so that these could be used as bargaining chips. This operation proved a success. The invaders agreed to withdraw. It is possible that these negotiations took place at the same time as Diocletian negotiated with the Persians in 286-287 or already during the year 286418. In the meanwhile, Diocletian had defeated Carinus and had appointed his friend Maxentian (Maxentianus) as Caesar and left him in charge of the defense of the West. Diocletian is attested to have been at Nicomedia between January 286 and March 3, 286. It is probable that the abovementioned Bosporan campaign took place at this time. The removal of forces to Europe and the Sarmatian invasion had caused a revolt in the province of Asia and probably also in Palestine. One can suspect some Persian involvement. Diocletian marched to the scene to put an end to this. The Saracen rebels were transferred to Thrace to pacify Palestine. There are also grounds to believe that Diocletian fought a campaign against the Persians simultaneously with his war against the Arabs 287, because the ruler of Persia sent ambassadors bearing gifts in 287. The Persians must have suffered a defeat because the terms of peace were unfavorable to them, which may once again have resulted from the ongoing war in the east. 417 418

Constantine Porphyrogenitus 53.1ff. SYVÄNNE 2015a: 179ff.

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The Persians accepted the Roman claims to the territories west and south of the Tigris, and accepted Tirdād as king of Armenia. It is possible that Tirdād may have conducted a campaign of his own in Armenia in conjunction with Diocletian’s campaign in Palestine419. The peace was beneficial to both superpowers. Bahrām II could now either continue his campaign in the east unhindered and/or rebuild his ravaged realm, while Diocletian could return back to the west to help his troubled co-emperor. However, before leaving, Diocletian reassessed the defensive needs and as a result of this he started the building of the socalled Strata Diocletiana. This road did not only include the building of a road but also the building of forts with garrisons between Damascus and Palmyra and Soura. His aim appears to have been to stop Saracen raids from the desert. The project was a great success and it altered the strategic balance in the area. This manifested itself with the desertion of several Arabic tribes to the Roman side in the next century420. As noted above, it is not known with any certainty when Bahrām finally managed to gain the upper hand in the conflict with his brother Hormozd. All that we know is that this was definitely achieved by the time of his death in 293, because his son Bahrām III was the King of Sakastān at that time. In light of the continuous difficulties in dealing with the Romans, it is entirely plausible that Bahrām II’s campaign against Hormozd and his allies lasted at least until 287/8. Bahrām’s victory over Hormozd meant the restoration of Šāpur’s borders in the east421. It seems probable that Bahrām II spent the last years of his life in an attempt to ensure the succession of his son Bahrām III422. He was appointed as King of Sakastān, which proves that the revolt in the East had been crushed after the peace with Rome in 287. It is possible that we should also associate the minting of the coins, with the family included, with Bahrām II’s project to ensure the succession of his son. According to Daryaee, Bahrām II was the first Sāsānian ruler to include family members on his coins – these included most notably his queen and cousin Šāpurduxtak and his son and successor Bahrām III. It is possible that Bahrām II had copied this practise from Rome because it was customary for the Roman rulers


SYVÄNNE 2015a: 179ff. EADIE 1996: 72-82; LEWIN 2002: 91-101; MOSIG-WALBURG 2009: 98-99; MAKSYMIUK 2015a: 110. 421 Agathias 4.24. 422 WEBER 2009; 2010. 420

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to include their intended successors in their coins to instill loyalty towards them among the soldiers423.

Fig. 24. Silver drachm of Bahrām II, British Museum, Reg. No. 1845,BdB.2; © Trustees of the British Museum.

8. BAHRĀM III (293) We are lucky to possess the Pāikūlī Inscription set up by Narseh, because it describes the principal events of the very short reign of Bahrām III. As noted above, Bahrām’s plan was to bypass his uncle Narseh who had the legitimate right to succeed on the throne as he was the eldest surviving son of Šāpur I and as Great King of Armenia the legitimate designated successor as well. The NPi does not state where Bahrām II was when he died, but it proves that his son Bahrām III was then in Sakastān and Narseh in Armenia. Wahnām, son of Tartus, took the initiative without consulting the princes, grandees, nobles, Persians, and Parthians, and placed the diadem on the head of Bahrām III, the King of the Sakān. This move naturally angered all of the above and Narseh as well. It would be interesting to know if Wahnām, the son of Tartus, belonged to the Greek noble house in charge of Kabul which had been in competition (despite the intermarriages) with the Sūrēns 423

DARYAEE 2009: 11.

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for the control of the region, because that would explain why the Sūrēns immediately backed Narseh against Bahrām III. Wahnām sent letters to the princes, grandees and nobles in which he threatened to kill them unless they accepted Bahrām’s nomination. The reaction was the exact opposite of what he wished, because the Persian and Parthian military forces who were at the border watch-post at Āsōristān convened an assembly which considered Narseh to be the best qualified to the position. It is clear that it was the military caste that supported Narseh, because the attendees at this initial meeting consisted of the members of that caste. The notables present at the meeting included Šāpur the (h)argbed, Narseh the Prince, Pābag the bidaxš, Ardašīr the hazāruft, Raxš the spāhbed, Ardašīr Sūrēn (the Sūrēns may have opposed Bahrām on the grounds that they had been deprived of their lands in Sakāstan)424, Hormozd Warāz, Warhāndād the Lord of Andīgān, and other princes, and grandees, and householders, and nobles, and Persians, and Parthians425. The location of the conference suggests that Narseh’s supporters were already in control of the city of Ctesiphon. The list and the location of the conference proves that Narseh was backed up by the bodyguard units, the armies of Armenia and Gīlān, and by the forces of Narseh the Prince (a member of the House of Sāsān), and by the forces of the noble houses of the Sūrēns, Warāz, and the Lord of Andīgān. It is also likely that his supporters included most of the petty kings and nobles classed as others. Narseh’ enemies consisted of the Army of Sakāstan and of the Army of Mēšān (Ādurfarrōbay, the King of Mēšān, sided with Bahrām III) and of the forces of the Kārins and of the Prince Pērōz. The attendees asked Narseh the Great King of Armenia to move from Armenia to Ērānšahr and to take the crown. Narseh entrusted the border watch-post at Pāikūlī to the (h)argbed with the orders to defend Āsōristān against the Army of Sakāstan at the same time as he dispatched instructions to Warhāndād the Lord of Andīgān to come with men and horses to the border of Xūzestān to protect the road and ford leading from Āsōristān to Xūzestān. This proves that the Lord of Andīgān cannot have been anywhere near his domains in the East at the time and it is actually possible that he may have been granted new domains somewhere further west. In fact, it is probable that his army was 424

It is not known whether this meant the Sūrēn Pārsīg or Sūrēn Pahlaw or both branches of the family. Pourshariati has proven that the House of Sūrēn had become divided into two branches, the Sakāstan branch and the Fārs branch. 425 NPi 10-15.

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located somewhere north-east of Pāikūlī because according to the NPi he had attended the previous meeting there in person. This may suggest some sort of trouble on the Abaršahr border region from the direction of Xwārazm. At the same time as Narseh did this, he also dispatched letters to Bahrām’s forces who had reached Xūzestān with promises of amnesty if they would desert Bahrām. This happened apparently at about same time as Bahrām started his march from Xūzestān towards Armenia. It is probable that he had marched to Fārs so that it would be easier to unite forces with the King of Mēšān. At the same time as this happened, Ādurfarrōbay, the King of Mēšān crossed the Tigris and went to support Bahrām, which proves that Narseh could not immediately convince everyone to join him. According to the Inscription before Bahrām’s army was able to reach the border of Āsōristān army … [a lacuna presumably meaning cavalry and] footsoldiers deserted from Bahrām to the Lord of Andīgān who then dispatched them to Narseh’ court. It was then that Narseh dispatched a letter to Bahrām in which he ordered him to come to his court at Bahrām -Šāpuhr and show his obedience. Bahrām’s response was to take away the diadem from his head and throw it away. In other words, Bahrām appears to have surrendered426. After this, Wahnām was probably sentenced to death after his capture427.

9. NARSEH (293-302) Narseh secured his throne by assembling a council to reaffirm his nomination. In addition to this, messengers were sent to the neighbors and client kingdoms to obtain their recognition. The Romans reaffirmed their friendship and peace with Narseh. The NPi includes a list of kings who showed their obedience and recognition of the new of šāhānšāh, but the unfortunate thing about the list is that it does not separate client kingdoms or allies from real subjects. The most interesting portions of the list is the referral to the King Tirdād428, and the inclusion of Amr King of the Naṣrids, Amr King of the Abgars (?), King of Iberia, King of Mskyt [possibly the Mskut/Massagetae of the Caucasus], King of Kūšān, the King 426

NPi 51. Wahnām may be the prostrate figure under Bahrām I’s horse on his investiture relief at Bīšāpur (WEBER 2012: 199-201). 428 Likely to be Tirdād of Armenia? 427

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of Pāradān, and King Rāzgurd, and King Pndplnk (?), and the King of Makurān, and the King of Tūrān429. This proves that Tirdād the King of Armenia had grown disillusioned with the joint rule of Diocletian and Maxentian and had formed an alliance with Persia by demonstrating his subservience somehow, but one should not take this as an indication that the Persians would now have become overlords of Armenia. This is proven by the subsequent betrayal of Tirdād by Narseh who foolishly attempted to wrest back the control of Armenia with a surprise attack in about 294/5 at the same time as he attacked the Roman territory. Narseh clearly wanted to make his backers, consisting of the military caste, happy by restarting the war with Rome and Armenia. Narseh’s Great War against Armenia and Rome in 293/4-299 After Narseh had secured the throne, he immediately started preparations for a war against Rome. As High King of Armenia he had been forced to watch the invasions made by the Romans and Armenians at a time when the šāhānšāhs had been fighting in the east. The wars in the east had left him with reduced resources with which to deal with the problems posed by the Romans. Now he was the šāhānšāh with all the resources of the empire at his disposal and he meant to use those. The situation was opportune. Narseh could concentrate the entire Persian might against the Romans because Bahrām II had defeated the enemies in the east. Furthermore, the NPi Inscription proves that the kings of the Kūšāns, Makurān, Tūrān etc. obeyed him, but even more importantly the inscription proves that the whole of Armenia with Tirdād of Armenia430 and the Naṣrids under their king Amr stood behind him. Now the entire Persian Empire stood united under a single overlord. The Naṣrids had already started raiding Roman territory, undoubtedly with Narseh’s permission, before the death of Bahrām II which suggests the probability that Narseh had been planning to launch operations against the Romans for a long time. In addition to this, the situation was also opportune for another reason, which was that the Romans could not concentrate their armies against the Persians because they faced a series of other wars at the same time. Most importantly the Romans were facing trouble in Egypt in 293-295 which was threatened by domestic and foreign foes. It is quite possible that these 429

NPi 40-44. Diocletian introduced Tirdād of the Arsacid dynasty to the Armenian throne in 290; TOUMANOFF 1969: 233-281; contra KETTENHOFEN 1995a: 48-55. 430

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troubles had been fomented by the Persians431. Consequently, the principal Roman field army of the Persian front was in Egypt at the time when the Persians launched their campaign. The exact date when Narseh launched his Armenian and Roman campaigns is not know, but it is still known that it was very soon after he had secured the throne for himself. The army had been assembled already for the civil war and the ruler now needed to prove himself as a worthy ruler to the military class and also to the soldiers who had backed him up. Furthermore, a war against a foreign foe gave Narseh the change to unite the two armies of the civil war against a common enemy. Contrary to the expectations of Tirdād, Narseh did not respect Tirdād’s official recognition of Narseh because Narseh would not accept any form of autonomy for Armenia. It is very likely that Narseh had just bided his time to exact vengeance for the previous defeats he had suffered at Tirdād’s hands at a time when he did not have the resources to defeat him. The sources (Georgian, Armenian and Roman) for the war are not detailed enough to make a definitive analysis of the war, but these still allow us to reconstruct the principal events of the war. Narseh’s plan was to crush Tirdād with a surprise attack after which his plan was to advance against the Romans. In other words, Narseh did not think it necessary to use the Armenians as allies against the Romans, but as his subjects. This proved to be a major strategic mistake. The Georgian Chronicles state that when Narseh became the King of Persia he sent a message to Mirian , the King of Iberia, to join forces for a war against Armenia and Greek (i.e. Roman) territory432. Tirdād of Armenia was unable to oppose the combined strength of these two kings and withdrew to the Roman territory. The Armenian portion of the campaign took place probably in about 293-294. The defeat of Armenia left the road open for the invasion of Roman territory. Galerius was able to defeat the Persians of Narseh in two battles in 294 or 295, which enabled all four Roman emperors to take the title Persicus maximus, but the victory proved ephemeral. Narseh renewed his offensive against Syria in the early summer of 296. According to one Roman source, the vast majority or at least a very significant portion of the Persian army consisted of the cataphracts. Diocletian reached Antioch in late 296. The evidence suggests that Diocletian probably brought with him five new legions (ca.30,000) that were subsequently garrisoned in the East, but it is probable that he also brought some veteran forces as well because the newly 431 432

MAKSYMIUK 2010: 393-400. Georgian Chronicles, 80-81.

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raised legions would have hardly been sufficient to contain the Persians. Diocletian gave Galerius a force which he deemed sufficient for him, but which was still not as large as the Persian army. It was with these forces that Galerius began his counter offensive in the spring of 297 so that he advanced against the dreaded Persian cavalry on the plain between Carrhae and Callinicum with predictable results. The army commanded by Galerius, was crushed by the Persian forces433. This time Galerius was severely defeated so that Narseh was able to conquer a number of Roman fortresses. This in its turn forced Galerius to ask help from Diocletian who was in the Balkans. Diocletian dispatched Galerius to the Balkans to gather a new army while Diocletian remained at Antioch to secure Syria. However, then the situation boiled over in Egypt again. Diocletian marched to Egypt to crush the revolt already during 297. This meant that even with the reinforcements from the Balkans, which included Gothic foederati, Galerius had once again too few men to deal with the Persians. However, this time Galerius had learned his lesson. He resorted to stratagems and surprise attacks. He simply did not have enough men to engage the Persians in the open. In 297 or 298 Galerius’s plan was to avoid the open terrain. On the basis of P’awstos Buzand, who misplaces the event by ca. 70 years, Narseh was actually playing into Roman hands by invading through Armenia434. There are two likely reasons for this. Firstly, it is quite probable that the Romans had left garrisons in all of the major cities of Mesopotamia and Syria still in their hands, which made fighting risky for Narseh in a situation in which Galerius’ field army was still intact. Secondly, it is very likely that the absence of Narseh’s main field army from Armenia had enabled Tirdād to regain possession of at least a part of his former kingdom. The fact that P’awstos Buzand places Narseh’s camp at Oschay in the District of Basean in Armenia is highly suggestive. It is probable that both of the above played a role so that Narseh chose to advance against Armenia and from there to the Roman territory. This obviously played into the Roman hands because the terrain was better suited to the Roman forces and the location also enabled Galerius to add to his numbers the remnants of the famed Armenian horsemen of Tirdād. Galerius now had an army which 433

Eutropius 9.24; Orosius 7.25; SYVÄNNE 2015a: 211-212. P’awstos Buzand 3.21 (tr. by BEDROSIAN also g65, 72-3); GARSOÏAN (3.21, pp. 9799). The Persian camp was in the district of Basean at the village called Oschay (Osxay/Osχay) and the Roman camp at Satala. P’awstos misplaces the event to take place under Valens. 434

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was particularly well-suited to fighting against the Persians because it included significant numbers of Gothic and Armenian cavalry lancers. Galerius had concentrated his army at Satala435, which was the traditional staging post for the operations in Armenia. He left his forces there and reconnoitered in person with the assistance of two Armenian speculatores (scouts). Galerius made an assessment of the enemy’s strength and of the way in which the Persians had built their marching camp at Oschay, after which he returned. Galerius and his men then attacked the Persians in their camp at daybreak. The surprise was complete, which means that the safety measures that the Persians had adopted were completely inadequate. Galerius’s forces annihilated the Persian army, wounded Narseh and captured his family and treasures. The šāhānšāh, however, was able to flee. According to the Georgian Chronicles, Narseh fled straight into Persia while his ally, the Iberian King Mirian fled to his capital Mcxeta. The battle was a complete disaster for the Persians. The Georgian Chronicles claim that all of the Persian and Iberian elite soldiers were killed in this one battle. It was thanks to this that the Iberian Mirian concluded a separate peace with the Romans and Armenians. Mirian gave his son Bakar as a hostage to the Romans, while Tirdād gave his daughter Salome in marriage to Bakar to seal the new alliance. The Persian-Iberian lord Pērōz, however, opposed the policy of Mirian, but was unable to change the situation436. Galerius advanced from Armenia to Mēdia and then to Nōdšīragān (Adiabene) and defeated the Persians in one or two pitched battles after which he captured Nisibis. At some point in time, probably after the loss of Nisibis, Narseh had sent an envoy to negotiate the terms of peace and the release of his family, but had got a stern refusal. Galerius moved south and reached Āsōristān. However, because of Diocletian’s orders, he did not make an attempt of capturing Ctesiphon437. The peace treaty was concluded in 298. Narseh tried to prolong the negotiations, but when it became apparent that the terms were non435

MOSIG-WALBURG 2009: 91-121. Georgian Chronicles, 81. 437 MAKSYMIUK 2015a, 48. However, the question whether Galerius took the city of Ctesiphon at this time is contested. None of the sources specifically state that the city of Ctesiphon was taken, but on the basis of Constantine the Great’s inscription, which is analyzed in detail by BARNES, (1976, 183-5: Constantine the Great advanced up to Babylon under Galerius), and the statement of Movsēs Khorenats'i (3.82) that Trdat had made an attack beyond Ctesiphon has led SYVÄNNE (2015a: 214), and many other authors before him to the conclusion, that it is likely that Galerius captured Ctesiphon as well because it lay on the route to Babylon. 436

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negotiable, he had no other alternative than to accept those. The Romans did not attempt to press their advantage probably because they had other difficult ongoing wars, but the terms were still harsh: 1) The border between the empires was placed along the Tigris; 2) Armenia became a Roman protectorate; 3) Iberia became a Roman protectorate and its king was nominated by Rome; 4) Five Armenian satrapies were handed over to the Romans; 5) Nisibis was the only place for commercial transactions (i.e. it limited the possibilities of spies posing as traders and also secured customs duties). The five Armenian satrapies on the other side of the Tigris even if not officially part of the Roman Empire still became a separate Roman bulwark. Their feudal lords were required to defend the area against the Persians and to contribute their feudal contingents to the Roman army when needed. However, officially these satrapies remained part of Armenia438.

Fig. 25. Territorial changes due to the treaty of 298 CE. Drawn by Maksymiuk.


Petrus Patricius 13-14; WINTER 1989; SYVÄNNE 2015a: 214.

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The Last Years of Narseh in 299-302 The relative moderation of the Roman terms of peace appear to have been sufficient to secure the position of Narseh within Persia against possible rebels and usurpers because the sources do not mention any such events for the last years of his reign. The other alternative is of course that the Persian nobility had lost so many men in the defeats that they lacked either the means or will to start a civil war against the ruler. This is of course an argument from the silence of the sources, but it is still the best one that we have in light of the silence. However, the fact that the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian accused the Manicheans of being a pro-Persian fifth-columnists in their Edict issued in ca.302 may suggests the possibility that just before his death Narseh may have been planning to renew his war against the Romans and that he had used the Manicheans as fifth-columnists to prepare the ground for his invasion. But this is once again an argument which is based solely on how one interprets the reason behind the issuing of the Edict439. It is very difficult to make any final judgment on Narseh’s ability as overall commander of the Persian Empire, because he lost his initial advantage in a surprise attack conducted by Galerius against his marching camp at Oschay and it was this that cost him the entire war. If Persian diplomacy was behind the Roman troubles in Egypt, Narseh was certainly a very capable strategist, but one still cannot escape the fact that Narseh lost the war thanks to the loss of his main field army at Oschay.



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10. EPILOGUE The Sāsānians had a very active western policy in the 3rd century CE. On the one hand this resulted from the legacy of the Arsacids, and on the other hand the policy that Ardašīr I initiated towards the Arabs was bound to lead to a confrontation with the Roman Empire. The gradual expansion of the Roman influence into the traditional Iranian territories had also its own consequences. The Persian reaction to this was to be expected. The Mesopotamian theater became one of the principal targets of Persian aggression. Although the first conflict with Alexander Severus did not bring any territorial changes, the Romans still recognized Ardašīr as their principal enemy in the East. The most spectacular of the Persian successes in this initial stage of the conflict was the capture of the Arab city of Ḥaṭrā, which the Romans had been unable to achieve. Once the Sāsānians had secured their position in Iran, they attempted to capture Armenia as well, but this proved very difficult to achieve. It was only under the great military leader Šāpur I that they were able to achieve this after so many years of trying and failing. The question of whether the Sāsānians really desired to extent their realm up to the borders of the former Achaemenid Empire is not certain despite what the Roman sources state. The reason for this conclusion is that the Persian military campaigns assumed the character of vast plundering expeditions in which the cities were destroyed and inhabitants were deported (e.g. Dura Europos, Antioch) back to Persia. The natural conclusion on the basis of this is that the principal aim of the Persian military campaigns was to make it impossible for the Romans to interfere in Armenia. This is the likeliest conclusion. However, one cannot completely preclude the possibility that the period Roman sources would be correct after all and that the ultimate Persian aim was to make it impossible for the Romans to maintain their military presence in the east through these successive invasions so that the Persians would be able to conquer these areas in due course of time. After all, the spreading of the Manichean faith and the reorganization of the Zoroastrian church in the Roman territories in the same manner as this was done in Armenia and the Caucasus implies this. The Roman counter attack under Valerian against the Persians ended in a shameful defeat, which seeks a counterpart in the annals of Roman history. The Emperor Valerian was taken captive at the Battle of Edessa in about 259/260 and was then flayed and stuffed to serve as a permanent reminder to all Roman ambassadors of the might of the Persian Empire.

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The Persian campaigns against Rome were a revelation to the Roman inhabitants in the east and west. The Persians proved the Roman defensive structures insufficient and vulnerable. Rome could not secure her Eastern provinces. The capture of Valerian and the loss of Armenia meant the loss of credibility in the eyes of the local inhabitants. The famed Roman legions were not invisible after all. The legions had not been able to withstand the Persian onslaught. The series of defeats and the loss of the aura of invinsibility explain why it was so easy for Palmyra, under the leadership of the famous queen Zenobia, to conquer the “Roman East”. The prolonged power struggles between the descendants of Šāpur I had its consequences. The Persians were unable to invade the Roman territories in any meaningful manner from ca. 272 until 293. It was then in about 293-4 that Narseh launched his invasion of the Roman territories which ended in disaster. This disastrous campaign and the resulting humiliating peace in 299 temporarily ended the period of Persian military successes against the Romans. The territorial concessions made by Narseh meant the abandonment of the achievements of Ardašīr I and Šāpur I. It is therefore not surprising that the cancellation or complete reversal of this humiliating treaty became of primary importance for the next great Sāsānian soldier/warrior šāhānšāh Šāpur II440. The rise of the Sāsānian Empire was one of the most momentuous moments in history. All Muslim successor states owed their administrative structure, most of their military practices and combat doctrine, and significant parts of their culture and science to the Sāsānians. In the field of military history the Sāsānians had a profound effect on the way how the wars were fought in the Middle East and Central Asia441. Similarly it is clear that the Romans copied some aspects of their cavalry warfare from the Sāsānians.

440 441


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APPENDIX: Select passages from sources The capture of Valerian Lactantius, de mortibus persecutorum 5 (Translation of J. Vanderspoel): And presently Valerian also, in a mood alike frantic, lifted up his impious hands to assault God, and, although his time was short, shed much righteous blood. But God punished him in a new and extraordinary manner, that it might be a lesson to future ages that the adversaries of Heaven always receive the just recompense of their iniquities. He, having been made prisoner by the Persians, lost not only that power which he had exercised without moderation, but also the liberty of which be had deprived others; and he wasted the remainder of his days in the vilest condition of slavery: for Sapores, the king of the Persians, who had made him prisoner, whenever he chose to get into his carriage or to mount on horseback, commanded the Roman to stoop and present his back; then, setting his foot on the shoulders of Valerian, he said, with a smile of reproach, “This is true, and not what the Romans delineate on board or plaster.” Valerian lived for a considerable time under the well-merited insults of his conqueror; so that the Roman name remained long the scoff and derision of the barbarians: and this also was added to the severity of his punishment, that although he had an emperor for his son, he found no one to revenge his captivity and most abject and servile state; neither indeed was he ever demanded back. Afterward, when he had finished this shameful life under so great dishonour, he was flayed, and his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians, that the remembrance of a triumph so signal might be perpetuated, and that this spectacle might always be exhibited to our ambassadors, as an admonition to the Romans, that, beholding the spoils of their captived emperor in a Persian temple, they should not place too great confidence in their own strength.

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The Persian Expedition of Carus Historia Augusta, Carus 8.1-9,1 (Translation of D. Magie): With a vast array and all the forces of Probus, he set out against the Persians after finishing the greater part of the Sarmatian war, in which he had been engaged, and without opposition he conquered Mesopotamia and advanced as far as Ctesiphon; and while the Persians were busied with internal strife he won the name of Conqueror of Persia. But when he advanced still further, desirous himself of glory and urged on most of all by his prefect, who in his wish to rule was seeking the destruction of both Carus and his sons as well, he met his death, according to some, by disease, according to others, through a stroke of lightning. Indeed, it cannot be denied that at the time of his death there suddenly occurred such violent thunder that many, it is said, died of sheer fright. And so, while he was ill and lying in his tent, there came up a mighty storm with terrible lightning, and, as I have said, still more terrible thunder, and during this he expired. Julius Calpurnius, who used to dictate for the imperial memoranda, wrote the following letter about Carus’ death to the prefect of the city, saying among other things: ‘When Carus, our prince for whom we truly care, was lying ill, there suddenly arose a storm of such violence that all things grew black and none could recognize another; then continuous flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, like bolts from a fiery sky, took from us all the power of knowing what truly befell. For suddenly, after an especially violent peal which had terrified all, it was shouted out that the emperor was dead. It came to pass, in addition, that the chamberlains, grieving for the death of their prince, fired his tent; and the rumour arose, whatever its source, that he had been killed by the lightning, whereas, as far as we can tell, it seems sure that he died of his illness.’ This letter I have inserted for the reason that many declare that there is a certain decree of fate that no Roman emperor may advance beyond Ctesiphon, and that Carus was struck by lightning because he desired to pass beyond the bounds which Fate has set up. But let cowardice, on which courage should set its heel, keep its devices for itself.

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The peace treaty of 298 Peter the Patrician, frg. 13-14 (Translation of B. Dignas, E. Winter): As Apharbān, who was a very close friend of the Persian king Narsē, had been sent as ambassador, he approached Galerius in supplication. When he had the opportunity to speak he said, ‘It is obvious for all mankind that the Roman and the Persian Empires are just like two lamps; and it is necessary that, like eyes, the one is brightened by the light of the other and that they do not angrily strive for each other’s destruction. For this is not held as a virtue but rather levity or weakness. As they believe that later generations will not be able to help them they make an effort to destroy their opponents.’ He continued by saying that it was not necessary to think that Narsē was weaker than the other kings but rather to see Galerius as that much superior to the other kings so that Narsē himself was inferior to him alone, and rightly so, without, however, proving to be lower in dignity than his ancestors. Apharbān added that Narsē had given him instructions to entrust, as they were fair, the right of his empire to the kindness of the Romans; that this was why he was not bringing the oaths by which the peace had to be concluded but was handing everything over to the judgement of the Emperor, asking only that his children and wives were returned to him, and he claimed that for their return he would owe the Emperor more for his benefactions than if spared by his arms. He was not able to thank him appropriately for the fact that those in captivity had not experienced any cruelty but had been treated as if soon to be returned to their own high status at home. In this context he also reminded the Emperor of the changeable character of human affairs. But Galerius seemed to be angry about this remark and, with his body beginning to shake, responded that it was not quite appropriate for the Persians to remind others of the changes in human affairs because they themselves did not cease to use every opportunity to add to human misfortune. ‘For you guarded the rule of victory well in Valerian’s case, when you deceived him with tricks, took him captive and did not release him until old age and his shameful death, when you, after his death, conserved his skin with some disgusting method and thereby afflicted the mortal body with immortal offence.’ The Emperor went through all this and added that his mind was not changed by what the Persian embassy tried to convey, namely that he should respect human fate (because one should rather be enraged by this if one considered what the Persians had done), but that he would follow the footsteps of his own ancestors, whose custom it had been to spare their subjects but to fight the ones who opposed them; he told the ambassador to

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inform his king of the generosity of the Romans, whose kindness he had challenged, and to hope that soon they [the captives] would return to him by judgement of the Emperor. When Galerius and Diocletian had come together in Nisibis, they took counsel there and agreed to send an ambassador to Persia, Sicorius Probus, an archivist. Narsē received him in a friendly way expecting to hear what had been reported to him. But Narsē also made use of delaying tactics. For as if he wanted the ambassadors who had come with Sicorius to recover (since they were exhausted), he took Sicorius, who knew well what was going on, as far as the Asproudis, a river in Mēdia, until the units who had been scattered here and there because of the war had gathered. And then, in the inner room of the palace, having sent away all others and allowing only the presence of Apharbān and of the archapetēs Barsaborsos, the one of whom was the praetorian prefect and the other held the rule over Syme, he asked Probus to deliver his message. The main points of the ambassador’s message were the following: that in the eastern region the Romans should receive Ingilēnē together with Sōphēnē, Arzanēnē together with Karduēnē and Zabdikēnē and that the river Tigris should be the boundary line between the two states, that the fortress of Zintha, which was located on the border of Mēdia, should mark the border of Armenia, that the king of Ibēria should owe his royal status to the Romans, and that the city of Nisibis, which lies on the Tigris, should be the place of trade. Narsē listened to these points and – as his present situation did not allow him to refuse any of this – agreed to all of them; with the exception, so that he would not seem to be forced to comply with everything, that he rejected the condition that Nisibis should be the only place for exchange. Sicorius, however, responded, ‘This point is a requirement because the embassy does not have full power and no instructions for this have been given by the emperors.’ When these matters had thus been settled, Narsē was given back his wives and children, whose pure reputation had been respected thanks to the emperors’ love of honour.

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Artēštārestān “Warrior code” Dēnkard IV. Duzd-sar-nizad Nask 6 (Translation of E.W. West): The third section is the Aratestaristan (‘warrior code’),… About selecting the daily supplies of warriors, the beasts of burden, clothing, and equipment of warriors, and other appurtenances which are to be given to them; also selecting a horse and accoutrements for each one. About having a man’s horse trained before one send him to smite enemies. About the efficacy of the resources and care of a warrior in the destruction which enemies occasion; also the army and the slaughter of war. About the sin of the village and abode of the warriors on the occurrence of a battle, and what is the retribution for wounds and damage; what is that which is disfiguring therein, what is that which is worthy of death therein. About the characteristics of wearing of armour and not wearing of armour by warriors. About the rank of the general (sipahpado), and other officers (padan) over the troops, as to daily supplies, pay, and dignity; also their subordinates (azirag), and the number of troopers (gurd) to each one of the officers. About the anxieties of a trooper for the protection of person and family. About the number of troopers when the king of king goes to battle. About the proportion of daily provisions for two warriors, the meat and milk and bread thereof, which are for the sake of providing guidance and causing contest of the warriors in that good eating; also the reason of certifying its distribution and weighing, the beasts of burden of the original village, and its means of being sent unto the troops. About cutting the herbs for the veterinary surgeon, the store of accoutrements, and other things which are necessary with an army. About the feeding of warriors on the day of battle, the meat and whatsoever are their eatables; even so the food of the horses. About the wealth which foreigners bring away… About the display of esteem by warriors together, the union of friendship one with the other, obedient unto their commander of the troops, and mindfully resigning themselves to death, there being seen a spiritual reward, without doubt, in the future existence. About the choice of a commander over the troops; also as his coming and understanding the habits of his troops, each separately, through the capability of skill which is theirs. About estimating the strength and resources of the troops, with those of their enemies; that is, how the battle is to be engaged in, or how the case is when it is to be avoided. About the provision of anything requisite which warriors shall leave for safety when there is danger in the neighborhood from a distant stronghold, or danger to a neighboring stronghold from afar. About the case

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where, when it is necessary to engage in battle, the horse of a warrior has not arrived, and it is allowable to seize upon several horses from a herd of horses. About the watchful sentinel, and of what kind is the information from which this is manifest, to the army and commander of the troops, that the enemy is well dead, or fled. About a demonstration whereby they produce terror and apprehension in the enemy. About an altercation of the commander of the troops with foreigners before a battle; altercation also through an envoy, and calling them into subjection to the king of kings and the religion of the sacred beings. About admonition to the troops, and declaring the share and arrangement of special duty of each one in the fight; announcing to the troops the recompense of the active, telling and informing the troops of the reason of being worthy of death, of the worthiness of destroying foreigners, of the command of the sacred beings as to their destruction when they shall not accept the Iranian nationality, and the equally great reward and recompense for their destruction announced by revelation, the legal code of Iran. About not uttering words of irritation on the day of battle, and not mentioning, among the troops, any intelligence which gives the troops apprehension, but only that which is agreeable and pleasing, through giving heartiness and increasing the strength. About the sacred ceremonial on the day of battle and evil deeds of war; - a twig of the sacred twigs of that ceremonial, and the Avesta as regards fighting, being the first arrow well delivered into the mark shot at; - the consecration of the water which is nearest to the place of battle, even by bringing holy-water; and the sequence of the fight, that with which arms and appliances it is first to be fought, and successively unto those which are the last. About the proportion of those who keep the arms for the combatants, and, after a victory over foreigners, are taking away hostages and captives, out of the foreigners, from the combatants; also their return from them. At what degree of distance from them they have to carry the arms and appliances and the restoratives for the unfatigued and the fatigued; and, the accoutrements being deposited, a warm bath prepared, and relaxation of the body effected, the reward of merit is given. One has to search offenders, to bring restoratives for the unfatigued and fatigued, to deliver the accoutrements back to the arsenal, to allot the share of the hostage brought back to his own people, and also much else on the same subject.”

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