THE EMPIRE OF THE SASSANIDS
The New Persian Empire of the Sassanidae arose on the ruins of the Parthian Empire of the Arsacidae. The Persians had for a long time been discontented with the Parthian dominion. Although the last Parthian king, Arsaces had defeated the Romans, the Parthian Empire was distracted with the claims of rival pretenders who contended with Arsaces for the Parthian crown. Two branches of the family of the Arsacidae—both of them settled in Bactria—were at feud with the reigning Parthian monarch; and these offended relatives carried their animosity to such extremes as to regard submission to a foreign ruler preferable to subjection to the ruling head of their dynasty. The success of Arsaces, in his war with the Romans, had no effect upon his domestic foes.
This condition of affairs encouraged the Persians to cast off their allegiance to the Parthians and to recover their independence. In the original arrangements of the Parthian Empire, the Persians had been treated with a certain degree of favor, being permitted to retain their native kings—a concession naturally involving the continuance of the nation’s laws, customs and traditions. Their religion had not been persecuted, and had even attracted a considerable degree of favor with the Parthian court in the early times of the Parthian dominion. But it appears that in the latter period of the Parthian supremacy the national privileges of the Persians had been diminished, while their prejudices were wantonly shocked.
At that time the tributary King of Persia under the Parthian dominion was Artaxerxes, or Ardeshir Bábigan, as the native Persian historians call him, the son of Sassan, who claimed descent from the ancient dynasty of Cyrus the Great. Encouraged by dissensions in the Parthian kingdom, Artaxerxes, or Ardeshir Bábigan, rose in arms against his suzerain, the Parthian king, Arsaces, in 220, or perhaps a little later; and was soon successful in establishing the independence of Persia proper, the modern province of Fars, or Farsistan. He then turned his victorious arms eastward against the ancient province of Carmania, the modern Kerman, and reduced it; after which he proceeded to overrun Media. The Parthian monarch then marched against his rebellious vassal, but was defeated three times, and finally killed in the great battle of Hormuz, A.D. 226. Artaxerxes was saluted on the field with the title of Shah in Shah, or King of Kings—a title ever since assumed by the Persian kings.
The sons of Arsaces continued the struggle against the Persians, and were assisted by Chosroes, King of Armenia; but the Persians were everywhere victorious, and the old Parthian Empire of the Arsacidae gave place to the New Persian Empire of the Sassanidae, after a struggle of a few years. After Artaxerxes had been thus left in possession of the new Persian monarchy, he proceeded to consolidate his empire, and restored the ancient religion of Zoroaster and the authority of the Magi. The dynasty which he founded—called the Sassanidae, from his father, Sassan—occupied the Persian throne for more than four centuries and consisted of twenty-nine kings.
Artaxerxes took advantage of the impression made by his great triumph to enlarge the New Persian Empire, extending it to the Euphrates on the west and to the Kingdom of Kharasm on the north. His fame spread in all directions, and all the petty states in the vicinity of his empire proffered submission, while the greatest monarchs from Orient to Occident courted his friendship. He was one of the wisest sovereigns that Persia ever had. The revolution which he effected in his country’s condition was truly wonderful. He formed a well-consolidated empire out of the scattered fragments of the Parthian monarchy, which had been for centuries in a distracted condition. The name Parthia, given by Western writers to the empire east of the Euphrates for almost five centuries, ceased upon the elevation of Artaxerxes to the throne; and the empire which he founded was recognized by the title Persia.
Persian writers have preserved sayings of Artaxerxes which exhibit his goodness and wisdom, such as the following: “There can be no power without an army; no army without money; no money without agriculture; and no agriculture without justice.” It was one of his common sayings that “a ferocious lion was better than an unjust king; but an unjust king was not as bad as a long war.’’ He was likewise in the habit of saying that “kings should never use the sword when the cane would answer”—a fine lesson to tyrannical sovereigns, whom it was designed to teach that they should never take away life when the offense will admit of a milder punishment.
One of the characteristic features of the reign of Artaxerxes was his zeal to uphold the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which the Parthian monarchs had neglected or degraded. This zeal was as much attributable to policy as to piety. He summoned a great assembly of mobuds and Magi from every portion of his dominions to aid him in his religious reform—a circumstance still considered as most important in the creed of Zoroaster. The testamentary advice which Artaxerxes addressed to his son, as recorded by Firdusi, the renowned Persian poet of the eleventh century, exhibits his views of religion and of the duties of a sovereign in a very favorable light. Artaxerxes caused the Zend-Avesta to be published.
Artaxerxes was involved in a war with Chosroes of Armenia, who was on friendly terms with Rome, and might count on a Roman contingent and the assistance of the Bactrian Arsacidae. Chosroes took the Parthian Arsacidae under his protection, giving them a refuge in Armenia, and also negotiated with Bactria and Rome, made arrangements with the barbarians on his northern frontier to assist him, and led a large army into the New Persian Empire on the northwest and achieved some successes, thus establishing the independence of Armenia and checking the advance of the New Persians in Western Asia.
Axtaxerxes next entered upon a series of negotiations with Rome, the result of which was a final rupture between the New Persian and Roman Empires. Artaxerxes was not satisfied with the monarchy which he had built up in five or six years; but longed for the glorious times of Cyrus the Great and Darius Hystaspes, when all Western Asia from the shores of the Aegean to the valley of the Indus, and parts of Europe and Africa, acknowledged the dominion of the Persian monarch. Artaxerxes considered the territories ruled by these princes as his own right by inheritance, and Herodian and Dio Cassius tell us that he boldly proclaimed these views. His emissaries everywhere declared that their sovereign claimed the dominion of Asia as far westward as the Aegean and the Propontis. It was his duty and his mission to recover the pristine Persian Empire. What Cyrus the Great had conquered, what the Persians had held from that time until the overthrow of Darius Codomannus by Alexander the Great, belonged to Artaxerxes by indefeasible right, and he was about to take possession thereof.
The Persian army at once crossed the Tigris and overran the entire Roman province of Mesopotamia. The youthful Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus, at once sent an embassy to Artaxerxes, counseling him to be satisfied with what belonged to him and not seek to revolutionize Asia. Artaxerxes replied by an embassy in which he ostentatiously displayed the wealth and magnificence of Persia, and demanded the immediate acceptance of his terms, ordering the Romans and their Emperor to give up all of Syria and the rest of Western Asia, and to allow the Persians to exercise dominion over all Asia Minor, because “these countries belonged to Persia by right of inheritance.’’
Alexander Severus was so incensed at the insolence of these demands that he stripped the Persian ambassadors of their magnificent apparel, treated them as prisoners of war, and settled them as agricultural colonists in Phrygia. He instantly raised an army and led it against the Persian king, crossing the Euphrates into Mesopotamia, in 232, and recovered that province. A Roman force traversed Armenia and overran and ravaged Media; but another Roman detachment which crossed Mesopo
tamia and threatened to invade Persia proper was cut to pieces by a countless Persian host under King Artaxerxes himself—a defeat characterized by Herodian as ‘‘the greatest calamity which had ever befallen the Romans.”
The Roman forces at once retreated to the west side of the Euphrates into Syria; but Artaxerxes, finding Rome more powerful than he had imagined, abandoned his grand ideas of conquest and dispersed his army. Peace was thereupon made between the Roman and New Persian Empires on the general principle of a return to the status quo ante bellum, or a restitution of the old boundaries between the Roman and Parthian Empires.
Not feeling perfectly at ease so long as an Arsacid reigned in Armenia, Artaxerxes renewed the war with that country immediately upon the conclusion of peace with Rome. Chosroes, the Armenian king, defended himself so successfully that the Persian monarch summoned an assembly of all the vassal kings, governors and commandants throughout his Empire, and promised a rich reward to anyone who would assassinate the Armenian king. His offers were accepted by Anak, a Bactrian noble of Arsacid blood, who accordingly undertook the assassination of his own relative, the Armenian monarch. Anak, with his wife, his children, his brother, and a train of attendants, pretended to seek refuge in Armenia from the threatened vengeance of the Persian monarch, who caused his troops to pursue him as a deserter and a rebel to the very frontiers of Armenia.
Chosroes, not suspecting any evil design, received the pretended exiles with favor and discussed with them his designs for the conquest of Persia. After sheltering them during the autumn and winter he asked them to accompany him in his campaign the next spring. Anak at once arranged a meeting between himself, his brother and the Armenian king, without attendants, on the pretext of discussing the plan of campaign; and at this meeting he and his brother treacherously murdered the unsuspecting Chosroes with their swords. The Armenians rose in arms and seized the bridges and practicable outlets of their capital, and the assassins were drowned in an attempt to escape by swimming the river Araxes. The Persian armies at once entered Armenia and easily reduced the country to submission, notwithstanding that the Armenians were aided by a Roman contingent. Thus Armenia lost its independence and became an integral portion of the New Persian Empire of the Sassanidae.
Artaxerxes governed his dominions either through native vassal kings or through Persian satraps. Like the old Achaemenian dynasty, he kept the armed force under his control by the appointment of generals or commandants distinct from the satraps. Unlike the Parthian monarchs, he did not intrust the defense or tranquillity of his dominions to a mere militia; but maintained a standing army on a war footing, regularly paid and disciplined.
His chief endeavors were to administer strict justice. Daily reports were made to him concerning all that occurred in his capital and in every province of his Empire, and he was acquainted with even the private actions of his subjects. He earnestly desired that all well-disposed persons should feel absolutely secure in their lives, their property and their honor. He severely punished crimes, even making entire families suffer for the misdeeds of one of their members.
Artaxerxes was an absolute monarch, like all Oriental sovereigns, having entire power of life and death over his subjects, and deciding all matters according to his own will and pleasure. But like most Oriental despots, he took the advice of counselors. In his foreign relations he consulted with the vassal kings, the satraps and the commandants. In religious affairs he counseled with the Magi.
In his “testament,” or “dying speech,” which he addressed to his son Sapor, he said: “Never forget, that, as a king, you are at once the protector of religion and of your country. Consider the altar and the throne as inseparable. They must always sustain each other. A sovereign without religion is a tyrant, and a people who have none may be deemed the most monstrous of all societies. Religion may exist without a state, but a state cannot exist without religion, and it is by holy laws that a political association can alone be bound. You should be to your people an example of piety and of virtue, but without pride or ostentation. Remember, my son, that it is the prosperity or adversity of the ruler which forms the happiness or misery of his subjects, and that the fate of the nation depends on the conduct of the individual who fills the throne. The world is exposed to constant vicissitudes. Learn, therefore, to meet the frowns of fortune with courage and fortitude, and to receive her smiles with moderation and wisdom. To sum up all—may your administration be such as to bring, at a future day, the blessings of those whom God has confided to our parental care upon both your memory and mine!’’
The Arabian writer Masoudi and Tabari say that Artaxerxes near the end of his life appointed his favorite son Sapor regent and relinquished to him the government, at the same time appointing him his successor. Artaxerxes placed Sapor’s effigy on one of his later coins, and in a bas-relief at Takht-i-Bostan he is represented as investing Sapor with the royal diadem. The coins of Artaxerxes present five different types.
On the accession of Artaxerxes there was immediately a revival of Persian art, which under the Parthians had sunk to its lowest ebb; and the coins of Artaxerxes, compared with those of the later Parthian kings, at once show a renaissance. The head is well cut; the features have individuality and expression, and the epigraph is sufficiently legible. The sculpture of Artaxerxes is still more surprising. He represents himself as receiving the Persian diadem from the hands of Ahura-Mazda, both he and the god being mounted upon chargers of a stout breed spiritedly portrayed; while Arsaces, the last Parthian king, lies prostrate under the feet of the steed of Artaxerxes; and under the feet of Ahura-Mazda is the form of Angra-Mainyus, also prostrate, and apparently dead.
The coins of Artaxerxes and of the Sassanian Kings of Persia are based partly upon Roman and partly upon Parthian models. Artaxerxes found current in the countries which he overran and conquered a gold and a silver coinage, coming from different sources and possessing no common measure. As he retained what he found already existing, the New Persian monetary system had an anomalous character.
The bas-relief of Artaxerxes already alluded to is accompanied by two bilingual inscriptions, which possess much antiquarian and some historical interest. These inscriptions proved the continued use of the Greek character and language by the Sassanian kings; while they also show the character of the native language and letters which the New Persians used when they suddenly came into notice as the ruling people of Western Asia; and they inform us of the relationship of Artaxerxes to Babek, or Papak, of the rank of Babek, and of the religious sympathies of the Sassanians.
The bas-reliefs and their inscriptions show us that the New Persians under the early Sassanian kings exhibited their great theological personages in sculptured forms, and reveal to us the actual forms then regarded as appropriate to Ahura-Mazda (Ormuzd) and Angra-Mainyus (Ahriman). These inscriptions also show that the Sassanian sovereigns, from the very beginning of their monarchy, claimed a qualified divinity for themselves, assuming the title of Bag or Alha, meaning “god,” and, according to the Greek version of their legends, the corresponding name of Zeus.
At the very beginning of his reign Artaxerxes addressed himself to the task of substituting the ancestral Persian religion in the place of the Parthian idolatry. This religion—as already observed in the history of the ancient Medes and Persians—was a combination of Dualism with a qualified creature-worship, and a special reverence for the elements—earth, air, fire and water. In other words, it was a combination of Zoroastrianism and Magism. We refer the reader to our account of the ancient Medes and Persians for a description of this religion.
Artaxerxes found the Magi depressed by the systematic action of the later Parthian kings, who had virtually abandoned the Zoroastrian religion and had become mere idolators. He found the fire-altars in ruins, the sacred flame extinguished, and the most essential of the Magian ceremonies and practices disregarded. He found idolatry established in every portion of his dominions except in Persia proper. Temples of the sun abounded, where images of Mithra were the object of worship, and the Mithraic cult was carried out with a variety of imposing ceremonies. Similar temples to the moon existed in many places, and the images of the Arsacidae were associated with those of the sun and moon gods in the sanctuaries dedicated to them.
Zoroaster’s precepts were forgotten. Though the sacred compositions bearing that illustrious sage’s name, and which had been transmitted from a remote antiquity, were still preserved in the memory of the faithful few who clung to the old creed, if not in a written form, yet they had ceased to be considered by the great mass of Western Asiatics as binding upon their consciences. In Western Asia were mixed up a score of contradictory creeds, old and new, rational and irrational; the most prominent being Sabaism, or star-worship, Magism, Zoroastrianism, Greek polytheism, teraphim-worship, Chaldee mysticism, Judaism and Christianity.
Artaxerxes undertook to bring order out of this confusion—to establish an absolute uniformity of religion in the place of this extreme diversity. He suppressed idolatry by a general destruction of the images. He raised the Magian hierarchy to a rank of honor and dignity which they had not enjoyed even under the later Achaemenidae, securing them in a condition of pecuniary independence by assigning them lands and allowing their title to claim a tithe of all the possessions of the faithful. He caused the sacred fire to be rekindled on the altars where it was extinguished, and assigned to certain bodies of priests the charge of maintaining the fire in each locality.
Artaxerxes next proceeded to publish the Zend-Avesta, by collecting Zoroaster’s supposed precepts into a volume, for the purpose of establishing a standard of orthodoxy whereto he might require all to conform. He found the Zoroastrians themselves divided into a number of sects, among which he established uniformity by means of a general council, which was attended by Magi from every portion of the New Persian Empire, and which settled what was to be considered the true Zoroastrian faith. Oriental writers tell us that forty thousand, or eighty thousand, Magi, after assembling, reduced themselves to four thousand, to four hundred, to forty, and finally to seven, the most highly respected for their piety and learning. There was one of these seven, a young but holy priest named Arda-Viraf, who was recognized as preeminent by the universal consent of his brethren.
Says Milman, in his History of Christianity, concerning this priest: “Having passed through the strictest ablutions, and drunk a powerful opiate, he was covered with a white linen and laid to sleep. Watched by seven of the nobles, including the king, he slept for seven days and nights; and, on his reawaking, the whole nation listened with believing wonder to his exposition of the faith of Ormazd, which was carefully written down by an attendant scribe for the benefit of posterity.”
Thus was brought about the authoritative issue of the Zend-Avesta, which the learned of Europe have now possessed for almost half a century, and which the labors of Spiegel have in our own day made accessible to the general reader. Though the Zend-Avesta may contain fragments of a very ancient literature, it assumed its present shape in the time of the first of the Sassanidae, and was perhaps first collected from the mouths of the Zoroastrian priests and published by Arda-Viraf. Certain additions may have been made to it since; but Max Muller tells us that “their number was small,” and that we “have no reason to doubt that the text of the Avesta, in the days of Arda-Viraf, was on the whole exactly the same as at present. ’’
The religious system of the New Persian Empire is thus completely shown to us. After settling the true text of the Zend-Avesta, its interpretation was to be agreed upon. Though the language of this sacred volume was pure Persian, it was of so archaic a type that none but the most learned of the Magi were able to understand it, and it was a dead letter to the common people and even to the ordinary priest. Artaxerxes appears to have recognized the necessity of accompanying the Zend text with a translation and a commentary in the Pehlevi, or Huzvaresh, the Persian language of his own time. Such a translation and commentary exist, and their earlier parts date back to the time of Artaxerxes, who may be credited with the desire to make the Zend-Avesta “understood of the people.”
In order to secure uniformity of belief, it was also necessary to give very extensive powers to the Magian priesthood, the keepers and interpreters of the Zend-Avesta. The Magian hierarchy was therefore associated with the Persian king in the civil government and administration. It was declared that the altar and the throne were inseparable and must always sustain each other. The Magi were constituted the great national council of Persia; and while they supported the crown, the crown upheld them against all impugners and enforced their decisions by pains and penalties. Persecution was adopted and asserted as a principle of action without any disguise. An edict of Artaxerxes closed all places of worship except the temples of the fire worshipers. Christians and Jews, Greeks, Parthians and Arabs, submissively allowed their sanctuaries to be closed; and the non-Zoroastrians of the New Persian Empire—the votaries of foreign religions—were soon estimated at the small number of eighty thousand.
Upon the death of Artaxerxes, in 240, his son, Sapor I, or Shahpuhri I, became King of Persia. The Persian historians tell us that Sapor’s mother was a daughter of Artabanus, or Arsaces, the last Parthian monarch; Artaxerxes having married her after he had conquered her father. The series of wars in which Sapor I engaged show his active and energetic character. At the beginning of his reign Armenia revolted and attempted to regain its independence, but was reduced to submission.
At the same time Manizen, King of Hatra, or El Hadhr, declared himself independent, and even assumed dominion over the entire region between the Euphrates and the Tigris, the Jezireh of the Arabian geographers. The city of Hatra was betrayed into Sapor’s hands by Manizen’s daughter, who thus turned against her father and treacherously betrayed him into the power of the Persian king upon the latter’s promise to marry her; but, instead of fulfilling his part of the bargain, Sapor delivered the traitress into the hands of the executioner, to suffer the death which she merited on account of her treacherous and unnatural conduct.
These two minor successes encouraged Sapor to resume his father’s bold projects and to engage in a war with Rome. He crossed the Tigris and invaded the Roman province of Mesopotamia, where he attacked the strong and important city of Nisibis, which he reduced by breaching its walls after it had made a prolonged resistance. Sapor then crossed the Euphrates and invaded the Roman province of Syria, where he surprised and took the rich and luxurious city of Antioch. The Romans under Timesitheus defeated the New Persian invaders in a series of engagements, recovered Antioch, crossed the Euphrates, retook Carrhae, defeated the Persian king near Resaina (Ras-el-Ain), recovered Nisibis, and again planted the Roman standards on the banks of the Tigris. Sapor hastily evacuated most of his conquests and retired across the Euphrates and the Tigris, pursued by the Romans, who garrisoned the various towns of Mesopotamia, and even menaced the great city of Ctesiphon; but a treaty of peace was made between the Roman and New Persian Empires in 244, Armenia being left to the Persians, while Mesopotamia was restored to the Romans.
In the meantime Bactria revolted from the dominion of the Sassanidae and recovered its independence, at the same time entering into an alliance with Rome. Sapor provoked a second war with Rome by again invading Mesopotamia in 258, carrying all before him, becoming master of Nisibis, Carrhae and Edessa, and crossing the Euphrates into Syria and surprising Antioch while that city was occupied in the enjoyment of theatrical and other representations.
The aged Roman Emperor Valerian hastened to the protection of his more eastern provinces, and at first achieved some successes, retaking Antioch and making that city his headquarters during the campaign. But the tide soon turned in favor of the New Persians. Through the treachery of his lieutenant, the Praetorian Prefect, Macrianus, the Emperor Valerian was brought into a difficult position, and the Roman army in Mesopotamia was betrayed into a situation whence escape was impossible, and where its capitulation was but a question of time.
A bold attempt to force a way through the Persian lines utterly failed, after which famine and pestilence commenced their work in the Roman camp.
The Emperor Valerian vainly sent envoys to solicit peace and offered to purchase his escape by the payment of an immense sum in gold. Sapor, confident of victory, rejected the overture, and, when the aged Emperor was in the greatest extremity, invited him to a conference, where he treacherously made him a prisoner; whereupon the Roman army surrendered or dispersed. While rival Emperors distracted the Roman world with their dissensions, Sapor invested Miríades, or Cyríades, an obscure citizen of Antioch, with the imperial purple.
Sapor’s victory at Edessa exposed the whole of Roman Asia to attack, and the Persian king at once crossed the Euphrates in force and took Antioch a third time. Sapor then overran the Roman provinces of Cilicia and Cappadocia, capturing the famous city of Tarsus, and also taking Caesarea Mazaca, which was bravely defended by its governor, Demosthenes, and only captured through the treachery of some of its citizens, Demosthenes escaping by cutting his way through the victorious Persian host.
Sapor ravaged Asia Minor with fire and sword, marking his course everywhere by ruin and devastation, by smoking towns, ravaged fields and heaps of slain; filling the ravines and valleys of Cappadocia with dead bodies, and leading his cavalry across them. He depopulated Antioch, killing or carrying off into slavery nearly the entire population. He suffered his prisoners in numerous instances to perish from hunger, and drove them to water once a day like beasts; thus proving himself a merciless scourge, and an avenger bent on spreading the terror of his name, rather than a conqueror seeking to enlarge his empire. During this plundering expedition Sapor I met with but one check. His attack upon Emesa (now Hems) was repulsed by the inhabitants led by the High Priest.
When Sapor advanced into Syria he received an embassy from Odenatus, a Syrian or Arab chief, who occupied a position of semi-independence at Palmyra, which had recently become a flourishing commercial city in the midst of the Syrian desert. Odenatus sent a long train of camels laden with presents, consisting partly of rare and precious merchandise, to the King of Persia, imploring him to accept them, and claiming his favorable regard because he had hitherto refrained from hostile acts against the New Persians. Sapor was offended at the tone of this communication, because it was not sufficiently humble to please him. He tore the letter to pieces and trampled it under his feet, exclaiming: “Who is this Odenatus, and of what country, that he ventures thus to address his lord? Let him now, if he would lighten his punishment, come here and fall prostrate before me with his hands tied behind his back. Should he refuse, let him be well assured that I will destroy himself, his race and his land.” At the same time he ordered his servants to cast the costly presents of the Palmyrene prince into the Euphrates.
This arrogant and insolent conduct of Sapor naturally changed Odenatus from a willing friend into a hostile enemy. The Palmyrene prince, however, remained aloof from the contest until the Persian army commenced its retreat toward the Euphrates, when he collected an army of Syrians and Arabs and harassed the retreating Persian host, cutting off their stragglers and capturing much of their spoil, even taking a part of the Great King’s seraglio. The retreating Persians only escaped across the Euphrates with considerable difficulty and loss. On their retreat through Mesopotamia the Persians purchased the neutrality of the people of Edessa by relinquishing to them all the coined money that they had carried off in their raid through Syria, after which their retreat was unmolested, and Sapor returned safely to Persia with most of his army, taking with him his imperial captive.
The writers nearest to Sapor’s time tell us that the captive Roman Emperor Valerian grew old in his captivity, and that he was kept in the condition of a slave. Authors of the next generation say that he was exposed to the constant gaze of the multitude, fettered, and clad in the imperial purple, and that whenever Sapor mounted his horse he placed his foot upon his illustrious prisoner’s neck. Others say that when Valerian died, about 265 or 266, his body was flayed and his skin stuffed, and dyed in scarlet and hung up in a Persian temple as a precious trophy, exposed to the view of Roman envoys on their visits to the Great King’s court. As the writers of Sapor’s own time say nothing of these atrocities, and as Sapor’s inscriptions and bas-reliefs do not record anything of the kind, Gibbon’s skepticism concerning them may be well founded. The bas-reliefs simply represent Valerian in an humble attitude but not fettered, simply bending his knees in the Great King’s presence.
Odenatus of Palmyra resolved upon wresting Mesopotamia from the New Persians, who had held possession of that province as a prize of their victory over Valerian. After a short contest with the Romans under Macrianus and his son Quietus, Odenatus again took the field against the New Persians about 263, crossed the Euphrates into Mesopotamia, took Carrhae and Nisibis, defeated Sapor and some of his sons in a battle, drove the whole Persian army into confusion to the gates of Ctesiphon, the Western capital of the New Persian Empire, and besieged that city. Contingents for the relief of the beleaguered capital flocked from all portions of the New Persian Empire; and Odenatus was defeated in several engagements and forced to retreat, but he succeeded in carrying off a vast amount of booty and prisoners, among whom were several satraps. Odenatus also retained possession of Mesopotamia, which remained a portion of the Palmyrene kingdom until the capture of Zenobia, the widow of Odenatus, by the Roman Emperor Aurelian in 273.
The successes of Odenatus in 263 were followed by a long period of tranquillity; as that ambitious prince appears to have been satisfied with holding dominion over the region from the Tigris to the Mediterranean, and with the tides of Augustus, which he received from the Roman Emperor Gallienus, and King of Kings, which he assumed upon his coins. He did not press upon Sapor any further, nor did the Roman Emperor make any serious effort to recover his father’s person or avenge his defeat upon the New Persians.
Odenatus was murdered by a kinsman a few years after his great successes; and his widow, Zenobia, who styled herself Queen of the East, defeated a Roman expedition under Heraclianus, and governed her kingdom with masculine vigor. The enmity which sprung up between Rome and Palmyra at the time of Zenobia’s accession secured Persia from any attack on the part of either.
Relieved from any further necessity of defending his dominions by arms, Sapor employed his remaining years in constructing great works, especially in the erection and ornamentation of a new capital named Shahpur, the ruins of which yet exist near Kazerun, in the province of Fars, and which commemorate the name and afford some indication of the grandeur of the second sovereign of the New Persian Empire. Among these ruins are the remains of buildings and a number of bas-reliefs and rock inscriptions, some of which were the work of Sapor I.
In one of the most remarkable of these works the Persian king is represented on horseback, wearing the crown usually seen upon his coins, and holding by the hand a figure clothed in a tunic, believed to be Miríades, whom he presented to the captured Romans as their sovereign. The kneeling figure of a chieftain, believed to be Valerian, is the foremost to do him homage, and behind this figure are seventeen persons in a double line, apparently representing the different corps of the Roman army. All these persons are on foot; and, in contrast with them, ten guards on horseback are arranged behind Sapor I, representing his irresistible cavalry.
Another bas-relief at the same place represents a general view of Sapor’s triumph on his return to Persia with the captive Valerian. In this bas-relief fifty-seven guards are ranged behind the king, while thirty-three tribute-bearers are in front, having an elephant and a chariot with them. In the center is a group of seven figures, comprising Sapor, who is represented on horseback in his usual costume; Valerian, who is represented under the horse’s feet; Miríades, who stands by Sapor’s side; three principal tribute-bearers in front of the main figure; and a figure of Victory which floats in the sky.
Tradition also assigns the great dyke at Shuster to Sapor I. This important work is a dam across the river Kanin, constructed of cut stones, cemented by lime and fastened together by iron clamps. This dyke is twenty feet wide and about twelve hundred feet long. The whole is a solid mass except in the center, where two small arches have been formed in order to enable a portion of the stream to flow in its natural bed. The greater part of the water is directed eastward into a canal cut for it; and the town of Shuster is thus protected by a water barrier, whereby its position becomes one of immense strength. According to tradition Sapor I used his power over the captive Valerian to procure Roman engineers for this work; and the great dam is yet called the Bund-i-Kaisar, or “Dam of Caesar,” by the inhabitants of the neighboring country.
Sapor I also erected memorials to himself at Haji-abad, Nakhsh-i-Rajab and Nakhsh-i-Rustam, near Persepolis, and also at Darabgerd, in South-eastern Persia, and other places; most of which yet exist and have been described by different travelers. At Nakhsh-i-Rustam, Valerian is seen in one tablet making his submission, while the glories of Sapor’s court are represented in another. In some instances inscriptions accompany the sculptures; one being, like that of Artaxerxes, bilingual, Greek and Persian. Sapor, in the main, follows the phrases of his father, Artaxerxes, but claims a more extensive dominion. Artaxerxes is content to rule over Ariana, or Iran, only while his famous son calls himself lord both of the Aryans and the non-Aryans, or of Iran and Turan. From this it has been inferred that Sapor I held some Scythic tribes under his dominion.
Sapor’s coins resemble those of Artaxerxes in general type, but may be distinguished from them, first by the headdress, which is either a cap terminating in the head of an eagle, or a mural crown surmounted by an inflated ball; and, secondly, by the emblem on the reverse, which is almost always a fire-altar between two supporters.
The legends on Sapor’s coins show that he was a zealous Zoroastrian. His faith was exposed to considerable trial, as there never was a time of greater religious ferment in the East, or a crisis which more shook men’s beliefs in ancestral creeds. The absurd idolatry which had generally been prevalent throughout Western Asia for two thousand years—a nature-worship which gave the sanction of religion to the gratification of men’s lowest propensities—was shaken to its foundations; and everywhere men were striving after something higher, nobler and truer than had satisfied previous generations for twenty centuries.
The sudden revival of Zoroastrianism, after it had been depressed and nearly forgotten for five centuries, was one result of this stir of men’s minds. Another result was the rapid progress of Christianity, which in the course of the third century spread over large parts of the East, taking deep root in Armenia and obtaining some hold in Babylonia, Bactria, and probably even India. Judaism, which for a long time had a footing in Mesopotamia, and which, after the time of the Roman Emperor Adrian, may be considered as having had its headquarters at Babylon, also exhibited signs of life and change, assuming a new form in the schools wherein was compiled the vast and strange work called the Babylonian Talmud.
Mani, or Manes, who was born in Persia about A.D. 240, grew to manhood during the reign of Sapor I, exposed to the influences of the various religions just alluded to, studying the different systems of belief which he found established in Western Asia—the Cabalism of the Babylonian Jews, the Dualism of the Magi, the mysterious doctrines of the Christians, and even the Buddhism of India. He first inclined toward Christianity, and is said to have been admitted to priest’s orders and to have ministered to a congregation; but he afterwards aimed at the formation of a new religious creed, which should combine all that was best in the religious systems with which he was acquainted, and omit all that was objectionable or superfluous.
Manes adopted the Dualism of the Zoroastrians, the metempsychosis of India, the angelism and demonism of the Talmud, and the Trinitarianism of the Gospel of Christ. He identified Christ with Mithra, and assigned Him Mithra’s abode in the sun. He assumed to be the Paraclete promised by Christ, who should guide men into all truth; and claimed that his Ertang, a sacred book illustrated by pictures of his own painting, should supersede the New Testament. Soon after making these pretensions Manes was expelled from the Christian Church, and was obliged to carry his teaching elsewhere. He then addressed himself to Sapor, who was at first disposed to show him some favor; but when the king discovered what the new teacher’s doctrines actually were, Manes was proscribed or threatened with penalties, and was thus obliged to retire to a foreign land.
Thus Sapor I maintained the Zoroastrian faith in its purity, not allowing himself to be imposed upon by the new teacher’s specious eloquence, but ultimately rejecting the strange amalgamation offered by Manes. Though the morality of the Manichaeans was pure, and though their religion is by some considered as a kind of Christianity, there were very few points in which it was an improvement upon Zoroastrianism. Its characteristic features were its pronounced and decided Dualism; its questionable Trinitarianism; its teaching regarding Christ, which destroyed the doctrines of the incarnation and the atonement; and its Ertang, which was a poor substitute for the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Its morality was deeply penetrated with asceticism, and was therefore a wrong type and inferior to that preached by Zoroaster. It was well for the progress of Christianity in the East that Sapor rejected the creed of Manes, as the general currency of the debased amalgam would have checked the advance of the purer faith of Christ.
Sapor I was one of the most remarkable of the Sassanidae. He was inferior to his father in military talent, but as a statesman he was one of the foremost of the New Persian kings. He maintained Persia’s power in the West, and perhaps extended his dominion in the East. He united works of utility with the construction of memorials having only a sentimental and aesthetic value. He liberally patronized art, and is believed to have encouraged foreign as well as native talent. He decided to maintain unimpaired the religious system transmitted to him from his ancestors. He is represented as having been a man of remarkable beauty, of great personal courage, and of a noble and princely liberality. The Orientals also tell us that “he only desired wealth that he might use it for good and great purposes.”
Sapor I died in 271, after a reign of thirty-one years (240-271). Artaxerxes I and Sapor I—the first and second sovereigns of the New Persian Empire—were men of mark and renown. Their successors for several generations were comparatively feeble and insignificant. The first burst of vigor and freshness usually attending the advent of a new race to power in the East, or the recovery by an old one of its former position, had passed away; and was followed, as so frequently occurs, by reaction and exhaustion, the monarchs becoming luxurious and inert, while the people readily submitted to a policy the principle of which was “Rest and be thankful.” The short reigns of the New Persian kings during this period tended to keep matters in this condition; four monarchs successively occupying the throne within twenty-two years.
Sapor I was succeeded by his son, Hormisdas I—also called Hormisdates I, or Hormuz I—who reigned but one year and ten days (271-272), during which Mani, who fled from Sapor, returned to Persia and was received with respect and favor. Hormisdas I received him kindly, permitted him to propagate his doctrines, and even assigned him a castle named Arabion for a residence, whence he spread his views among the Christians of Mesopotamia, and soon founded the sect of the Manichaeans, or Manichees, which gave the Christian Church much trouble for several centuries. Some writers tell us that Hormisdas I founded the city of Ram-Hormuz, in the province of Carmania, now Kerman.
Upon the death of Hormisdas I, in 272, Varahran I, or Vararanes I, became his successor. Varahran I reigned only three years (272-275); and the Persian historians tell us that he was a mild and amiable ruler, but the little that is known of him does not corroborate this testimony. It is said that he flayed Mani alive, stuffed his skin with straw, and suspended it over the gate of the great city of Shahpur. He followed up this atrocity by persecuting the disciples of Mani, who had organized a hierarchy consisting of twelve apostles, seventy-two bishops, and a numerous priesthood, and whose sect was widely established at the time of his execution. Varahran handed such of the Manichaeans whom he was able to seize over to the tender mercies of the Magi, who put many of them to death. Many Christians at the same time perished, as the Magian priesthood devoted all heretics to a common destruction.
Varahran became the ally of Zenobia, the Queen of the East, the widow and successor of Odenatus of Palmyra. This illustrious queen maintained a position inimical to both Rome and Persia; but when the Roman Emperor Aurelian took the field against her, she made overtures to the New Persians, which were received with favor by the Persian monarch, who sent troops to her assistance. But Varahran allowed Zenobia to be defeated and made a captive without making a determined effort to save her, though he continued his alliance with her to the end. After Zenobia’s overthrow, Varahran sent an embassy to the victorious Aurelian, deprecating his anger and seeking to propitiate him by costly presents, among which were an exceedingly brilliant purple robe from Cashmere and a splendid Persian chariot. The Roman Emperor accepted these gifts and granted the Persian monarch terms of peace. In Aurelian’s triumph at Rome, in 274, the Persian envoys bore the presents with which their sovereign appeased the wrath of the Roman Emperor.
But in 275 Aurelian declared war against the New Persians and marched for the East with a large army, but was assassinated near Byzantium. Varahran I died the same year, and was succeeded on the Persian throne by his young son, Varahran II, who is said to have ruled tyrannically at first, and to have disgusted all his principal nobles, who conspired against his life. The chief of the Magians interposed, and so alarmed the king that he acknowledged himself wrong and promised an entire change of policy, whereupon the nobles returned to their allegiance. Varahran II thereafter ruled with such wisdom and moderation as to gain popularity with all classes of his subjects.
Varahran II engaged in a war with the Segestani, or Sacastani, the inhabitants of Segestan, or Seistan, a people of Scythic origin, and soon reduced them to subjection; after which he engaged in a long and indecisive war with some native tribes of Afghanistan. In 283 he became involved in hostilities with the Roman Emperor Carus, who crossed the Euphrates and quickly overran Mesopotamia, while Persia was distracted by a civil war and most of her forces were engaged in the struggle with the Afghan tribes. The Roman writers tell us that the Romans recovered Mesopotamia, ravaged the whole tract between the Euphrates and the Tigris, and easily took the two great cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Persia proper was saved from Roman invasion by the sudden death of the Emperor Carus during a thunderstorm in 283, whereupon the Romans retreated and made peace with the Persian king.
In 286 the celebrated Roman Emperor Diocletian provoked a war with Persia by espousing the cause of Tiridates, son of Chosroes, and directed his efforts to the establishment of that Arsacid prince as a Roman tributary on his father’s throne. Varahran II was unable to offer any effectual resistance. Armenia had at this time been a Persian province for almost half a century, but it had not been conciliated or united with the rest of the New Persian Empire. The Armenian people had been distrusted and oppressed. The Armenian nobles had been deprived of employment, while a heavy tribute had been imposed upon their country, and a religious revolution had been violently effected.
Accordingly when Tiridates, supported by a Roman contingent, appeared upon the Armenian frontiers, the whole Armenian population welcomed him with transports of joy and loyalty. All the Armenian nobles flocked to his standard, and instantly acknowledged him as their king, while the Armenian people received him with acclamations. A native Arsacid prince received the support of all Armenians, who enthusiastically engaged in a war of independence. The fact that Tiridates was but a puppet in the hands of the Roman Emperor, and that Armenia was simply changing foreign masters, was lost sight of.
Tiridates was at first successful; defeating two Persian armies in the open field, driving the Persian garrisons out of the more important Armenian towns, and becoming undisputed master of the country. He even invaded the other Persian provinces, particularly Assyria, and won signal victories on recognized Persian territory. The native Armenian writers tell us that Tiridates performed most extraordinary personal exploits; defeating singly a corps of giants, and routing on foot a large Persian detachment mounted on elephants. Though these statements are highly exaggerated, Tiridates was complete master of the Armenian highland within a year of his invasion, and was in a position to carry his victorious arms beyond the Armenian frontiers.
Varahran II died in A292, after a reign of seventeen years, leaving the Persian crown to his elder son, Varahran III, who was of an amiable temper but a feeble constitution. He was with difficulty persuaded to accept the throne, and anticipated an early death from the very first. According to the best authorities his reign lasted but four months.
Upon the death of Varahran III, in 292, two brothers, Narses and Hormisdas, contended for the Persian crown. Narses was from the very first preferred by the Persians, and Hormisdas relied chiefly for success upon the arms of foreign barbarians. As Hormisdas was beaten in conflicts in which Persians fought against Persians, he called the wild hordes of the North to his aid—Gelli from the shores of the Caspian, Scyths from the Oxus or the regions beyond, and Russians, who were now mentioned for the first time by a classical writer. Hormisdas failed in his efforts and is no more heard of, while Narses was firmly established on the Persian throne.
In 296 Narses made war on Tiridates of Armenia, who had made constant raids into Persian territory, sometimes even as far south as Ctesiphon. Unable to resist the invading arms of Narses, Tiridates sought refuge in flight, thus leaving Armenia in the hands of the Persians, and a second time placed himself under the protection of Rome. The Roman Emperor Diocletian made war on the Persian king in 296, and sent an army under his son-in-law Galerius to reinstate Tiridates on the Armenian throne and to punish Narses.
Narses having invaded the Roman province of Mesopotamia, Galerius attempted to expel him, but, after two indecisive battles, he was defeated most disastrously near Carrhae, near the very site of the disastrous defeat and death of Crassus by the Parthians three and a half centuries before. Both Galerius and Tiridates of Armenia escaped from the field, Tiridates swimming the Euphrates in safety. The vanquished Galerius hastened toward Antioch to rejoin his father-in-law, the Emperor Diocletian, who was so offended that he refused to speak to his unfortunate son-in-law or to listen to his explanations and apologies until he had followed him a mile on foot.
Galerius importuned Diocletian for an opportunity to redeem the past and recover his lost laurels, and the Emperor finally acceded to his wishes. Accordingly Galerius led a Roman army of twenty-five thousand men into Armenia 297, and defeated Narses, making many illustrious Persians prisoners, and also taking captive the wives, sisters and many of the children of the Persian monarch, and obtaining possession of his military chest. Narses was wounded, and his army was totally destroyed.
The Persian king sent Apharban as an envoy to the camp of Galerius to solicit peace. Apharban implored for moderation and clemency, but Galerius reminded him of the barbarous treatment of Valerian and dismissed the envoy. After congratulating Galerius upon his victory, Diocletian sent Sicorius Probus as an envoy to the Persian king in Media to offer peace. Narses received the Roman envoy with all honor, but detained him until he had collected a large army, merely for the purpose of securing better terms by the display of force. The Persian king was surprised at the moderation of the Roman demands; and peace was accordingly concluded, the Tigris being recognized as the boundary between the Roman and New Persian Empires, and Persia yielding to Rome the protectorate over Iberia, along the western shore of the Caspian, including the right of giving investiture to the Iberian kings.
Narses abdicated the Persian throne in 301, and was succeeded by his son Hormisdas II, whose reign lasted but eight years (301-309). Hormisdas II had a pleasing personal appearance, and was able to control his naturally harsh temper. His reign was one of absolute peace, and he devoted himself to the welfare of his subjects. He displayed a remarkable taste for building. In his journeys through his dominions, he was followed by an army of masons who rebuilt the ruined towns and villages, repairing dilapidated homesteads and cottages with the same care as the public edifices. Some writers tell us that Hormisdas II founded several new towns in Susiana, or Khusistan; while others say that he built the important city of Hormuz, or Ram-Hormuz, in the province of Kerman; but others state that this city was founded by Hormisdas I.
Hormisdas II established a new Court of Justice for the express purpose of listening to the complaints of the poor and weak against oppression and extortion by the rich and powerful; the Judges being required to redress such wrongs and to punish the oppressors. To strengthen the authority of this court and secure impartial sentences, the king himself frequently presided over it, hearing causes and pronouncing judgments in person. Thus the most powerful and influential nobles were made to feel that they could not offend without being subjected to proper punishment, while the weakest and poorest of the people were encouraged to come forward and make complaint if they had suffered injury.
It is said that, among his other wives, Hormisdas II married a daughter of the King of Kabul. From the first to the fourth century Afghanistan seems to have been governed by princes of Scythian descent and of considerable wealth and power. Kadphises, Kanerki, Kenorano, Ooerki and Baraoro had the principal seat of their empire in the region about Kabul and Jalalabad, from which center they exercised an extensive dominion. Their extensive gold coinage shows them to have been monarchs of vast wealth, while their use of the Greek letters and language indicates a certain degree of civilization. The reigning King of Kabul is said to have sent his daughter to her husband’s court in Persia with a wardrobe and ornaments of the utmost magnificence and costliness.
Hormisdas II had a son named Hormisdas, who grew to manhood during his father’s reign. This prince was regarded as the heir-apparent, but was no favorite with the Persian nobles, who openly and publicly insulted him during the celebration of the king’s birthday, which was always the greatest yearly festival in Persia. All the nobles, being invited to the banquet, came and took their respective places. The prince arrived late, bringing with him a quantity of game, the produce of the morning’s chase. The nobles, in direct violation of the rules of etiquette, did not rise from their seats and did not take the slightest notice of the prince’s arrival—an indignity which naturally aroused his resentment. In the heat of the moment, the prince loudly exclaimed that “those who had insulted him should one day suffer for it—their fate should be the fate of Marsyas.” This threat was at first only understood by one chieftain, who explained to his fellows that according to the Greek myth Marsyas was flayed alive— a punishment common in Persia. The nobles, fearing that the prince intended to carry out his threat, became thoroughly alienated from him and resolved that he should never reign, laying up the dread threat in their memory and patiently waiting for the moment when the throne would become vacant.
These nobles did not have to wait very long. King Hormisdas II died within a few years (309), whereupon the nobles rose in insurrection, seized prince Hormisdas and cast him into a dungeon, intending that he should remain there for the rest of his life. They themselves assumed the direction of public affairs, and as prince Hormisdas was the only son of his father, one of whose widows was about to become a mother, they proclaimed the unborn infant King of Persia. The short interregnum of a few months was ended when this widow of Hormisdas II fortunately gave birth to a boy, thus ending the difficulties of the succession.
All classes of Persians readily acquiesced in the rule of the infant king, who received the name of Sapor II.
The reign of Sapor II lasted about seventy years. He was born in 309, and died in 379. He thus reigned almost three-quarters of a century; and was contemporary with the Roman Emperors Galerius, Constantine the Great, Constantius II and Constans, Julian the Apostate, Jovian, Valentinian I and Valens, Gratian and Theodosius the Great, and Valentinian II. This long reign may be divided into two periods. The first period, embracing a space of twenty-eight years, from 309 to 337, comprised the sixteen years of Sapor’s minority and the twelve years during which he waged successful wars with the Arabs. The second period was the time of his wars with the Romans.
During Sapor’s minority the neighboring nations attacked and ravaged the New Persian Empire with impunity. The Arabs made constant raids into Babylonia, Khusistan, and the neighboring regions; desolating these provinces and carrying the horrors of war into the very heart of the empire. The Arab tribes of Beni-Ayar and Abdul-Kais, dwelling along the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, took the lead in these inroads; inflicting terrible sufferings on the inhabitants of the provinces which they invaded. About the same time a Mesopotamian chief named Tayer, or Thair, attacked Ctesiphon, took that western capital of the New Persian Empire by storm, and made captive a sister or aunt of King Sapor II.
The nobles who directed the Persian government during the king’s minority were incapable of checking these incursions, and for sixteen years the marauding bands had the advantage. Persia was gradually becoming weaker, more impoverished, and more unable to recover herself. It is said that the young king displayed extraordinary discretion and intelligence; diligently training himself in all manly exercises, and preparing himself mentally and physically for the important duties of his station. When Sapor II attained the age of sixteen his minority ceased, but at a later age than Oriental ideas require; and he asserted his manhood, placed himself at the head of his army, and took the entire direction of civil and military affairs into his own hands.
Thenceforth the fortunes of Persia rose. After repelling and chastising the marauding bands on Persian territory, Sapor II assumed the offensive. He collected a fleet, placed his troops on board, and conveyed them to the city of El Katif, an important town on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, where he disembarked and proceeded to ravage the neighboring region with fire and sword. In this and a long series of expeditions he devastated the whole region of the Hejer; gaining many victories over the Arab tribes, such as the Temanites, the Beni-Waiel, the Abdul Kais, and others who had taken a prominent part in raids into Persian territory.
Sapor’s military genius and his valor were everywhere conspicuous, but he tarnished his triumphs by the most inhuman cruelties. Exasperated by the sufferings of his countrymen for so many years, he massacred the greater portion of every tribe that he conquered; and the captives who escaped death had their shoulders pierced, and in the wound was inserted a string or thong by which they were dragged into captivity. These atrocities were approved by the age and by the nation; and the king who ordered them was saluted with the title of Dhoulastaf, or “Lord of the Shoulders,” by his admiring subjects.
At the same time Sapor II sanctioned cruelties almost as great toward his Christian subjects. His Zoroastrian zeal was so great that he felt it his duty to check the progress of Christianity in his dominions. Soon after attaining his majority he issued severe edicts against the Christians, and when they sought the Roman Emperor’s protection he punished their disloyalty by imposing an additional oppressive tax. When Symeon, Archbishop of Seleucia, complained of this additional burden in an offensive manner, Sapor retaliated by closing the Christian Churches, confiscating the ecclesiastical property, and putting the complainants to death.
When the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who had assumed the character of a sort of general protector of the Christians throughout the world, heard of these persecutions of the Christian subjects of the Persian king, he remonstrated with Sapor II, but to no purpose. Sapor II had resolved to renew the struggle which had been ended so unfavorably by his grandfather, Narses, forty years before. Making Constantine’s interference in Persian affairs and his encouragement of the Persian monarch’s Christian subjects a ground of complaint, Sapor II began to threaten hostilities. Some negotiations followed, but both sides resolved upon war. Constantine’s death in 337 dispelled the last chance of peace, as his great military fame had caused the Persian monarch to hesitate; but upon hearing of the great Emperor’s death Sapor instantly commenced hostilities.
Prince Hormisdas, Sapor’s elder brother and the rightful heir to the Persian throne, had, after a long imprisonment, contrived, with his wife’s help, to escape from his dungeon, and had fled for refuge to Constantine’s court as early as 323. The refugee prince had been received by Constantine with every mark of distinction and honor, and had been given a maintenance suited to his rank, also enjoying other favors. Fear that Constantine might create dissensions among the Persians by setting up prince Hormisdas as a pretender to the Persian crown may have caused Sapor’s hesitation to engage in war with the Roman Empire during Constantine’s reign.
The division of the Roman Empire among three Emperors after Constantine’s death, and the outburst of licentiousness and violence among the Roman soldiery in the imperial capital and in the Eastern Roman provinces, gave Sapor II high hopes of success; while the distracted condition of Armenia was also such as to encourage the Persian king. Though King Tiridates of Armenia had persecuted his Christian subjects in the early part of his reign, he had been afterwards converted to Christianity by Gregory the Illuminator; after which he enforced Christianity upon his subjects by fire and sword, thus giving rise to a sanguinary civil and religious war.
A large portion of the Armenians had been firmly attached to the old national idolatry, and had offered a determined resistance to the forced establishment of Christianity by their king. Armenian nobles, priests and people fought desperately in defense of their temples, images and altars; and though the king’s persistent will bore down all opposition, a discontented faction arose in Armenia and from time to time resisted its sovereign, being tempted all the while to ally itself with any foreign power from which it might hope for the reestablishment of the old national religion. After the death of Tiridates, Armenia had fallen under the government of weak monarchs, and Persia had recovered the portion of Media Atropatene ceded to Armenia by the treaty between Narses and the Roman Emperor Galerius. Sapor, therefore, could reasonably expect to find friends among the Armenians themselves in case he attempted to restore Persian influence over the Armenian highland.
Sapor’s forces crossed the Roman frontier soon after Constantine’s death; and, after a forty years’ peace between them, the two great powers of the world again engaged in a sanguinary contest. After paying the last honors to his illustrious father’s remains, the Roman Emperor Constantius II hastened to the eastern Roman frontier, where he at once applied himself to the task of strengthening the numbers and discipline of his poorly-armed, poorly-provided and mutinous army.
In the meantime Sapor II set the Arabs and Armenians in motion; exciting the pagan party in Armenia to revolt, to deliver their king, Tiranus, into his power, and to make raids into the Roman territory, while the Arabs ravaged the Roman provinces of Mesopotamia and Syria. Sapor II himself won moderate successes during the first year of the war (337). Constantius II gained some advantages; restoring the direction of affairs in Armenia to the party friendly to Rome, winning some of the Mesopotamian Arabs from the Persian to the Roman side, and even erecting forts in Persian territory on the east side of the Tigris.
The next year (338) Sapor II, resolved upon recovering Mesopotamia, overran and ravaged that Roman province, plundering the crops, driving off the cattle, and burning the villages and homesteads. He laid siege to the strongly fortified city of Nisibis, the Nazibina of the Assyrians, and the most important town of Mesopotamia under the Romans. After a gallant defense by the Roman garrison and the inhabitants, who were sustained by the prayers and exhortations of its Christian bishop, St. James, the Persian king was repulsed with heavy loss and forced to raise the siege, which had lasted two months.
The war between Persia and Rome languished for some years after the siege of Nisibis. The Persians constantly defeated Constantius II in the open field, but continually failed in their sieges of the Roman fortified posts. To the end of 340 Sapor II had made no permanent gain, had struck no decisive blow, but occupied almost the same position as at the beginning of the war. But affairs changed in the year 341.
After making Tiranus, the Armenian king, captive, Sapor II tried to make himself master of Armenia, and even endeavored to set up one of his own relatives as king; but his attempt failed on account of the indomitable spirit of the Armenians and their attachment to their Arsacid princes, and tended to throw Armenia into the arms of Rome. Sapor, after some time, convinced of the folly of his policy, endeavored to conciliate the Armenians. He even offered to replace Tiranus on the Armenian throne; but as Tiranus had been blinded by his captors, and therefore could not exercise royal power, according to Oriental notions, he declined the proffered honor, and suggested the substitution of his son Arsaces, who was also a prisoner in Persia, like himself. Sapor II willingly consented; and Arsaces was released from captivity, whereupon he returned to his own country, and was installed as King of Armenia by the Persians, with the good will of the natives, who were satisfied so long as they had an Arsacid prince on their throne. By this arrangement Armenia became the ally of Persia, and so remained for many years during Sapor’s struggle with Rome.
Thus Sapor II had a friendly sovereign on the Armenian throne, whom he had bound to his cause by oaths, establishing his influence over Armenia and the region northward to the Caucasus. As he still longed to drive the Romans from Mesopotamia, he besieged Nisibis a second time, in A. D. 346; but after a vigorous siege of three months, he was again repulsed and forced to retire with heavy loss, thus losing much of his military prestige.
In 348 Sapor II called out the whole military force of his empire and increased it by large bodies of allies and mercenaries; and towards the middle of summer he crossed the Tigris by three bridges and invaded Central Mesopotamia with a large and efficient army. The Roman army under the Emperor Constantius II was in the vicinity of the town of Síngara, the modern Sinjar. The Roman Emperor acted on the defensive.
Sapor established a fortified camp along the skirts of the Sinjar hills, which he occupied with his archers. His troops then advanced and challenged the Romans to battle —a challenge accepted by the Romans. The battle began about noon, but the Persians soon hastily retreated to their fortified camp, where their cavalry and the flower of their archers were posted. The Persian cavalry charged, but were easily defeated by the Roman legionaries, who, flushed with success, burst into the Persian camp, in spite of the efforts of their leader to check their ardor. The Romans massacred a small detachment within the ramparts, and dispersed among the tents, some in quest of plunder, others only to find some means to quench their raging thirst. In the meantime the sun had set, and night was rapidly approaching.
The Romans, sure of victory, gave way to sleep and feasting. But Sapor II now saw his opportunity. His light troops on the neighboring hills advanced and surrounded the camp. The Persians, fresh and eager, fought under cover of the darkness, while the fires of the camp showed them the Romans, who were fatigued, sleepy and drunken. The carnage was frightful, the Roman legionaries being overwhelmed with showers of Persian darts and arrows. As flight was impossible, most of the Roman soldiers perished where they stood. In their desperation, the Roman legionaries took an atrocious revenge. Turning their fury upon Sapor’s son, whom they had taken prisoner during the day, they beat the innocent youth with whips, wounded him with the points of their weapons, and finally killed him with countless blows.
Sapor neglected to follow up his victory; but in 350 he made his third and most desperate effort to take Nisibis. He collected a large army and reinforced it by a body of Indian allies, who brought a large troop of elephants with them. He led this army across the Tigris early in the summer, took several fortified posts, and marched northward and commenced the third siege of Nisibis. Count Lucilianus, the Roman commander, defended the place by various subtle stratagems; but the bishop, St. James, roused the enthusiasm of the inhabitants by his exhortations, counsels and prayers.
After battering the walls with his rams and sapping them with mines, Sapor, seeing that the river Mygdonius (now the Jerujer), swollen by the melting snows in the Mons Masius, had overflowed its banks and inundated the plain around Nisibis, embanked the lower part of the plain to prevent the water from running off, thus forming a deep lake around the city, the water gradually creeping up the walls until it had almost reached the battlements. After creating this artificial sea, the Persian king quickly collected or constructed a fleet, on board of which he placed his military engines, and launched the ships upon the waters, thus attacking the walls of the town at great advantage.
The Roman garrison made a determined resistance, setting the engines on fire with torches, and lifting the Persian ships from the water by means of cranes or shattering them with huge stones which they discharged from their balistae; but still no impression was made. Finally an unforseen circumstance reduced the besieged to the most imminent peril, and almost caused the capture of Nisi bis. The inundation was prevented from running off by the mounds of the Persians, thus pressing with constantly increasing force against the defenses of the city, until one part of the wall was unable to withstand the tremendous weight of the water which bore upon it, and suddenly gave way for about one hundred and fifty feet, thus opening a breach through which the Persians were about to enter the town, Sapor taking up his position on an eminence, while his troops rushed to the assault. First came the heavy Persian cavalry and the horse-archers; then the elephants bearing iron towers on their backs, accompanied by heavy-armed infantry.
The Persian assault ended in failure, as usual. The horses became quickly entangled in the ooze and mud which the subsiding waters had left behind. The elephants were not equal to these difficulties, and sank in the swamp as soon as they were wounded, never to rise again. Sapor hastily ordered the assailing column to retreat and to seek shelter in the Persian camp, while he also ordered his light archers to the front; and these were formed into divisions which were to act as reliefs, and were ordered to shower an incessant storm of arrows into the breach made by the waters, for the purpose of preventing the Romans from restoring the ruined wall.
The firmness and activity of the Roman garrison and the inhabitants foiled Sapor’s undertaking. While the heavy-armed troops stood in the breach defending themselves against the shower of arrows as best they could, the unarmed inhabitants erected a new wall in their rear, and by the next morning this wall was six feet high. This evidence of his enemies’ resolution and resource thoroughly convinced Sapor of the hopelessness of his enterprise. After some delay he raised the siege, which had lasted three months and cost him twenty thousand men, and retired.
Sapor II was called away from the siege of Nisibis by an invasion of his dominions by the Massagetae, a nomadic Scythian tribe, whose seat was in the low flat sandy region east of the Caspian, and whose whole life, like that of other Scythian tribes, was spent in war and plunder. Though the Oxus was the nominal boundary of the New Persian Empire on the north-east, the Turanian and Scythian nomads were practically dominant over the entire desert to the foot of the Hyrcanian and Parthian hills, and made constant plundering forays into the fertile region south and east of the desert. Occasionally some bolder chieftain made a deeper inroad and a more sustained attack than usual, spreading consternation mound, and terrifying the reigning court for its safety.
The Massagetae made such an attack towards the autumn of 350. These people are considered as of Turkoman or Tartar blood, akin to the Usbegs and other Turanian tribes still occupying the sandy steppe. Sapor II regarded the crisis so serious as to require his personal presence; and thus, while the Roman Emperor was recalled from Mesopotamia to the West of Europe to contend against two rival pretenders to the imperial throne, the Persian king was summoned to his north-eastern frontier to repel a Scythian invasion. War-ridden Mesopotamia was now given a breathing-spell to recover from the ruin and desolation which had overwhelmed it; while the rivalry between Rome and Persia was transferred from the battlefield to the cabinet, and the Roman Emperor found in diplomatic triumphs a compensation for his ill success in the field.
Soon after the close of the first war between Sapor II and Constantius II circumstances once more placed Armenia under Roman influence. Arsaces, whom Sapor II had placed upon the Armenian throne in 341, upon the notion that he would govern Armenia in the Persian interest, soon began to chafe under the obligations which Sapor had put upon him, and desired to be a real and independent sovereign, and not a mere vassal monarch. In the interval between 351 and 359, while the Persian king was engaged in his war with the invading Massagetae, Arsaces sent envoys to Constantinople requesting the Emperor Constantius II to give a member of the imperial house in marriage to him.
Constantius II gladly accepted this proposal, and sent Olympias, the lately betrothed bride of his own brother Constans, to Armenia, where she was welcomed by Arsaces, who made her his chief wife, thus provoking the jealousy and aversion of his previous chief queen, Pharandzem, a native Armenian. This engagement naturally led to a formal alliance between Rome and Armenia—an alliance which Sapor II vainly endeavored to disturb, and which continued unimpaired to 359, when another war broke out between the Roman and New Persian Empires.
Sapor’s Eastern wars, of which very little is known, occupied him for seven years (350-357), and were generally successful. The Eastern enemies of the Persian king were the Chionites and the Gelani, and perhaps the Euseni and the Vertae. The Chionites are supposed to be the Hiung Nu or Huns. The seat of these wars was east of the Caspian, and Persian influence and power was extended over this region.
While Sapor II was thus engaged in the far East, he received a letter from the officer whom he had left in charge of his western frontier, informing him that the Romans very much desired a more settled and formal peace than the precarious truce which Mesopotamia had been permitted to enjoy for the last five or six years. Two great Roman officials, Cassianus, Duke of Mesopotamia, and Musonianus, Praetorian Prefect, had considered the time favorable for ending the provisional truce in Mesopotamia by a definite peace, as Sapor II was engaged in a bloody and difficult war at the eastern extremity of his dominions, while the Emperor Constantius II was fully occupied with the troubles occasioned by the barbarian inroads into the more western Roman provinces.
Accordingly these two Roman officials had opened negotiations with Tamsapor, the Persian satrap of Adiabene, suggesting to him that he should sound his sovereign on the subject of concluding peace with Rome. Tamsapor seems to have misunderstood the character of these overtures, or to have misrepresented them to Sapor II. In his dispatch he represented the Emperor Constantius II as moving in the matter and as humbly imploring the Persian monarch to grant him conditions. The message happened to reach Sapor II just as he had come to terms with his eastern foes and had succeeded in making them his allies. Elated by his success and considering the Roman overture as a simple acknowledgment of weakness, the Persian king gave it a most haughty reply. His letter was conveyed to the Roman Emperor at Sirmium, in Pannonia, by an ambassador named Narses, and was couched in the following terms:
“Sapor, king of kings, brother of the sun and the moon, and companion of the stars, sends salutation to his brother, Constantius Caesar. It glads me to see that thou art at last returned to the right way, and art ready to do what is just and fair, having learned by experience that inordinate greed is ofttimes punished by defeat and disaster. As then the voice of truth ought to speak with all openness, and the more illustrious of mankind should make their words mirror their thoughts, I will briefly declare to thee what I propose, not forgetting that I have often said the same things before. Your own authors are witness that the entire tract within the river Strymon and the borders of Macedon was once held by my ancestors; if I required you to restore all this, it would not ill become me ( excuse the boast), inasmuch as I excel in virtue and in the splendor of my achievements the whole line of our ancient monarchs. But as moderation delights me, and has always been the rule of my conduct—wherefore from my youth up I have had no occasion to repent of any action—I will be content to receive Mesopotamia and Armenia, which were fraudulently extorted from my grandfather. We Persians have never admitted the principle, which you proclaim with such effrontery, that success in war is always glorious, whether it be the fruit of courage or trickery. In conclusion, if you will take the advice of one who speaks for your good, sacrifice a small tract of territory, one always in dispute and causing continual bloodshed, in order that you may rule the remainder securely. Physicians, remember, often cut and burn, and even amputate portions of the body, that the patient may have the healthy use of what is left to him; and there are animals which, understanding why the hunters chase them, deprive themselves of the thing coveted, to live thenceforth without fear. I warn you, that, if my ambassador returns in vain, I will take the field against you, so soon as the winter is past, with all my forces, confiding in my good fortune and in the fairness of the conditions which I have now offered.”
The Persian ambassador, Narses, endeavored by his conciliating manners to atone for his sovereign’s rudeness; but the Emperor Constantius II replied in a dignified and calm tone, as follows: “The Roman Emperor, victorious by land and sea, saluted his brother, King Sapor. His lieutenant in Mesopotamia had meant well in opening a negotiation with a Persian governor; but he had acted without orders, and could not bind his master. Nevertheless, he (Constantius) would not disclaim what had been done, since he did not object to a peace, provided it was fair and honorable. But to ask the master of the whole Roman world to surrender territories which he had successfully defended when he ruled only over the provinces of the East was plainly indecent and absurd. He must add that the employment of threats was futile, and too common an artifice; more especially as the Persians themselves must know that Rome always defended herself when attacked, and that, if occasionally she was vanquished in battle, yet she never failed to have the advantage in the event of every war.”
The three Roman envoys intrusted with the delivery of this reply to the Persian king were Prosper, a count of the Empire; Spectacus, a Tribune and notary; and Eustathius, an orator and philosopher, a pupil of the famous Neo-Platonist, Iamblichus, and a friend of St. Basil. The Roman Emperor was most anxious for peace on account of the threatened war with the Alemanni. But the Persian king was bent on war, and had concluded arrangements with the Eastern tribes, so long his enemies, by which they agreed to join his standard with all their forces in the following spring. Sapor was acquainted with the perilous position of Constantius II. in the West, and of the dangers with which he was constantly menaced from external foes.
Antoninus, a Roman official, had recently taken refuge with the Persian king from the claims of pretended creditors, and had been received into high favor because of the information which he was able to communicate concerning the Roman forces. Antoninus was ennobled by Sapor and assigned a place at the Persian royal table. He thus gained great influence over the Persian king, and stimulated him by alternately reproaching him with his past awkwardness, and reminding him of the prospect of easy victory over Rome in the future. He stated that the Roman Emperor, with most of his troops and treasures, was detained in the regions bordering on the Danube, and that the Eastern Roman provinces were left almost unprotected. He exaggerated his own abilities, and exhorted the Persian king to bestir himself and to have confidence in his good fortune. He advised the Persian monarch to flank the strongholds of Mesopotamia and march across that province into the rich and unprotected Syria, which had not been invaded for almost a century.
The views of Antoninus were adopted, but were practically overruled by the circumstances of the situation. A Roman army occupied Mesopotamia and advanced to the Tigris, laying waste the country as the Persians advanced, destroying the forage, relinquishing the indefensible towns to the Persians, and fortifying the Euphrates with castles, military engines and palisades. The swell of the Euphrates prevented the Persians fording the river at the usual point of passage into Syria. By the advice of Antoninus, Sapor marched to the Upper Euphrates, defeated the Romans near Amida, now Diarbekr, and took two castles which defended the town.
Amida was an important town from very ancient times, and had been fortified by the Emperor Constantius II, who repaired its walls and towers. It was defended by a garrison of seven Roman legions, and some horse-archers, composed of foreigners. Sapor, hoping to terrify the town into submission by his mere appearance, rode up to the gates with a small body of troops, expecting the gates to be opened to him; but the brave garrison showered their darts and arrows upon him, directing them against his person, which was conspicuous by its ornaments. One of the Roman weapons passed through his dress and almost wounded him.
Sapor was then induced by his followers to withdraw and leave Grumbates, King of the Chionites, to continue the assault. The next day Grumbates assailed the walls with a body of select troops, but was repulsed with heavy loss; his only son, a promising youth, being killed by his side by a dart from a Roman balista. The death of this prince spread dismay and mourning through the Persian camp, but it was now a point of honor to take a town which had injured one of the Great King’s allies, and Grumbates was promised that Amida should be made the funeral pile of his lost son.
Amida was then regularly invested and besieged. Each of the allied nations in the Persian army was assigned its place. The Chionites, burning with a desire for revenge, were on the east. The Vertae were on the south. The Albanians, warriors from the region west of the Caspian, were on the north. The Segestans, regarded as the bravest soldiers of all, were on the west. A continuous line of Persians, five ranks wide, surrounded the city and supported the foreign auxiliaries. The whole besieging army was estimated at a hundred thousand men; while the besieged, both the garrison and non-combatants, numbered less than thirty thousand.
After a day’s pause, Grumbates gave the signal for the assault by hurling a bloody spear into the space before the walls, in the style of a Roman fetialis. Thereupon a cloud of darts and arrows were showered upon the besieged, doing considerable damage; while the garrison was also galled with discharges from the Roman military engines which the Persians had captured at Síngara. The vigorous resistance of the garrison, and the heavy losses of the besiegers during the two days’ assault, caused the adoption of the slow process of a regular siege. Trenches were opened before the walls, along which the troops advanced under cover of hurdles towards the ditch, which they proceeded to fill up in places. Mounds were then thrown up against the walls, and movable towers were constructed and brought into play, guarded externally with iron, and each mounting a balista.
Sabinianus, the new Roman Prefect of the East, jealous of his subordinate, Ursicinus, rejected the latter’s advice to harass the rear of the Persians and attack their convoys. He was old and rich, and both disinclined to and unfit for military enterprise. He said he had positive orders from the imperial court to act on the defensive, and not to imperil his troops by employing them in hazardous adventures. He declared that Amida must not expect relief from him. Ursicinus was obliged to submit to this decision, but chafed terribly under it. His messengers carried the dispiriting tidings to the devoted city. Sabinianus had orders to keep Ursicinus unemployed.
The brave garrison, thus left to its own resources, made occasional sallies upon the besiegers’ works; and on one occasion two Gaulish legions, which had been banished to the East for supporting Magnentius, penetrated into the heart of the besieging camp by night, and imperiled King Sapor’s person; but these legions were repulsed with the loss of one-sixth of their number. The losses of both sides were terrific, and a truce of three days followed.
The besieged city soon suffered the horrors of pestilence, while desertion and treachery were also added to the garrison’s difficulties. A native of Amida went over to the Persians and informed them that on the southern side of the city a neglected staircase led up from the margin of the Tigris through underground corridors to one of the principal bastions; and under his guidance seventy archers of the Persian guard, picked men, ascended the dark passage at dead of night, occupied the tower, and at dawn the next morning they displayed a scarlet flag, as a sign to their countrymen that a part of the wall was taken. The Persians instantly made an assault; but the garrison recaptured the tower by extraordinary efforts before its occupants could receive any support, and then directed their battering-rams and missiles against the assailing Persian columns, inflicting heavy losses upon them and soon compelling them to return hastily to their camp. The Vertae, who maintained the siege on the south side of the city, chiefly suffered from this useless attempt.
Having spent seventy days in the siege of Amida, without making any progress in the reduction of the city, Sapor determined on a last effort. He had erected towers higher than the walls, and from these towers missiles were discharged upon the garrison. He had brought his mounds in places to a level with the ramparts, and had forced the garrison to raise mounds within the walls for defense. Having resolved to press the assault day after day, his battering-rams, his infantry and his elephants were all employed; and the garrison were allowed no rest. He personally directed the operations and participated in the supreme struggle, exposing his life and losing many of his attendants.
After a conflict of three days, one of the inner mounds, raised by the garrison behind their wall, gave way suddenly, involving its defenders in its fall, and also filling up the entire space between the wall and the mound raised outside by the Persians. The Persians instantly occupied the way thus made into the town, and speedily put an end to all resistance. Some of the besieged fled; and all who remained, armed and unarmed, regardless of age or sex, were barbarously massacred by the victorious Persians.
Thus Amida fell into the hands of the Persians after a siege of seventy-three days. Sapor was exasperated by the prolonged resistance of the garrison and by the losses which he had sustained in the siege, thirty thousand of his best soldiers having perished, and the son of his principal ally having been among the slain. He therefore alloed his infuriated soldiery to massacre and pillage with impunity. All his captives who belonged to the five provinces beyond the Tigris, claimed by Sapor as his own, but ceded to Rome by his grandfather, were slaughtered in cold blood. Count Elian, the commander of the brave Roman garrison, was barbarously crucified. Many other Romans of high rank were manacled, and were carried into captivity or slavery into Persia.
The campaign of 359 ended with this costly victory, and Sapor retired across the Tigris without leaving any garrisons in Mesopotamia. He prepared for the next year’s campaign, accumulating stores of all kinds during the winter; and in the spring of 360 he again invaded the Roman province of Mesopotamia with a larger and better-organized army than the one with which he took Amida the year before. The Roman garrison in Síngara having refused to surrender, the Persian king attacked that city by scaling parties with ladders, and by battering parties which shook the walls with the ram.
The garrison kept the scalers at bay by a constant discharge of stones and darts from their balistae, arrows from their bows, and leaden balls from their slings. They met the assaults of the battering-ram by efforts to fire the wooden covering which protected it and those who worked it. The besiegers finally discovered a weak point in the defenses of the town—a tower so recently built that the mortar in which the stones were laid was still moist, and which therefore crumbled before the blows of a strong and heavy battering-ram, and soon fell to the ground. The Persians entered the town through the gap and soon put an end to all resistance.
In consequence of this easy victory, Sapor forbade any further bloodshed, and ordered that as many as possible of the garrison and inhabitants should be taken alive. He revived the favorite policy of the most ancient Oriental sovereigns by transporting his captives to the extreme eastern parts of his empire, where he might employ them in defending his frontier against the Scythians and the Indians.
After the capture of Síngara, Sapor marched northward and attacked the strong fort of Bezabde, on the east bank of the Tigris, the chief city of the province of Zabdicene. This place was highly valued by the Romans, who fortified it partially with a double wall, and defended it with three legions and a large body of Kurdish archers. Sapor reconnoitered the place and recklessly exposed his life. He sent a flag of truce to demand a surrender, sending some prisoners of high rank taken at Síngara, along with the messengers, to prevent his convoys being fired upon by the enemy. This device succeeded, but the garrison determined to resist to the last. All the known resources of attack and defense were again brought into play; and after a long siege the wall was breached, the city was taken, and its garrison was indiscriminately massacred. Sapor carefully repaired the defenses of Bezabde, provisioned it abundantly, and garrisoned it with some of his best troops.
After the capture of Bezabde the Persian king took many lesser strongholds, which offered little resistance. Near the end of the year (360) he attacked the strong fortress of Virta, on the Tigris, but failed to persuade or force the garrison to surrender; and, after considerable loss, the Persian king reluctantly relinquished the siege and returned to his own country.
In the meantime the Roman Emperor Constantius II proceeded to the East; and when Bezabde refused to surrender, he laid siege to that strong fortress, but his repeated assaults failed to reduce the place, and the bold sallies of the garrison destroyed the Roman works. The Emperor was finally obliged to relinquish the siege, whereupon he retired across the Euphrates and went into winter quarters at Antioch.
The successes of Sapor II in the campaigns of 359 and 360—his captures of Amida, Síngara and Bezabde, and the repulse of Constantius II before the last-named city—tended to shake the fidelity of the Roman vassal kings, Arsaces of Armenia and Meribanes of Iberia. Therefore Constantius II sent emissaries to these tributary monarchs, and sought to secure their fidelity by bestowing upon them valuable gifts. The Roman Emperor succeeded so far as to prevent any revolt of these dependent sovereigns, who remained nominally subject to Rome.
Both the Persian and Roman monarchs were inactive during the year 361; and Constantius II died near the close of the year, whereupon Julian the Apostate became sovereign of the vast Roman Empire. Sapor II found Julian a far abler antagonist than Constantius II had been. Julian assigned the legions he had collected for the campaign of 362 to two generals, Victor, a distinguished Roman, and Prince Hormisdas, the Persian refugee, who safely led the legions to Antioch, where the new Emperor himself arrived during the summer. By the advice of his counselors, Julian deferred the campaign until the next year, and passed the winter of 362-3 in collecting ships, military stores and engines of war.
During Julian’s stay at Antioch he received an embassy from King Sapor II, who made overtures of peace. The new Roman Emperor treated the Persian envoys with great haughtiness and rudeness; tearing their sovereign’s autograph letter to pieces before their faces, and responding with a contemptuous smile that ‘‘there was no occasion for an exchange of thought between him and the Persian king by messengers, since he intended very shortly to treat with him in person.” After receiving this rebuff, the Persian envoys returned to their sovereign and informed him that he must prepare to resist a serious invasion.
About the same time the Roman Emperor received offers of assistance from the independent or semi-independent princes and chieftains of the regions bordering on Mesopotamia; but Julian rejected these overtures, saying that it was for Rome rather to give aid to her allies than to receive assistance from them. He, however, had taken a strong body of Gothic auxiliaries into his service, and had called upon the neighboring Arab tribes to fulfil their promise to lend him troops, but he afterwards allowed these brave nomads to become disaffected.
Early in 363 Julian addressed a letter to Arsaces, King of Armenia, ordering him to levy a considerable army and to be ready to execute such commands as he would shortly receive. The haughty and offensive character of this letter affronted Arsaces, who desired to remain neutral in the war, as he was under obligations to both Rome and Persia, and felt no interest in the standing quarrel between them, while it was for his advantage to have them evenly balanced. The Armenian people, the most educated of whom were now strongly attached to the Christian religion, supported their king in his course; as they hated Julian the Apostate, who had renounced Christianity and become a pagan, and who had intimated his design of sweeping the religion of Christ from the face of the earth. Moses of Chorene, the great Armenian historian, stated that Julian the Apostate offered an open insult to the Armenian religion.
Julian’s own troops numbered almost a hundred thousand, while Armenia and the Arabs were expected to furnish considerable forces. In the spring of 363 Julian marched from Antioch hastily to the Euphrates, crossed the river at Hierapolis by a bridge of boats, and proceeded to Carrhae, the Haran of Abraham’s time. He then divided his army; sending a force under Procopius, his relative, and Sebastian, Duke of Egypt, to Armenia, to join the forces of the Armenian king in invading and ravaging Media, and then to join him at Ctesiphon; and with the main body of his army he marched from Carrhae down the Euphrates valley to Callinicus, or Nicephorium, where the Arab chiefs made their submission and presented the Emperor with a golden crown, and where his fleet of eleven hundred vessels made its appearance.
Thence the Roman Emperor marched to Circesium; whence he proceeded to invade the Persian territory, placing his cavalry under the command of Prince Hormisdas, the Persian refugee, and some of his select legions under the command of Nevitta, and retaining the main body under his own direction; while a flying corps of fifteen hundred men proceeded in advance as a reconnoitering party, and the rear was covered by a detachment under Secundinus, Duke of Osrhoene, Dagalaiphus and Vidor.
Julian crossed the Khabour in April by a bridge of boats, which he immediately broke up, and marched along the Euphrates, supported by his fleet. At Zaitha, where Gordian was murdered and buried, the Emperor encouraged his soldiers by an eloquent speech, recounting the past Roman successes, and promising an easy victory over the Persian king. He then marched to Anathan, the modem Anah, a strong fortress on an island in the Euphrates, garrisoned by a Persian force. After failing to surprise the place by a night attack, Julian caused Prince Hormisdas to persuade the garrison to surrender the fort and place themselves under his mercy. Julian burned Anathan and sent his prisoners to Syria, settling them in the territory of Chalcis, near Antioch.
Thilutha, another strong fortress, on an island eight miles below Anathan, was held by a Persian garrison. Feeling unable to take it, Julian sought to persuade the garrison to surrender. The garrison rejected his overtures, but promised to remain neutral and not to molest his advance so long as they were not attacked. Julian left Thilutha unassailed and marched on, allowing other towns also to assume a neutral position, and thus permitting the Euphrates route to remain practically in Persian hands.
The ancient town of Diacira, or Hit, on the west side of the Euphrates, was well provided with stores and provisions, but was deserted by its male inhabitants, and the women were massacred by the Romans. At Zaragardia, or Ozogardana, was a stone pedestal known to the natives as “Trajan’s Tribunal,” in memory of that great Roman Emperor’s expedition against the Parthians a century and a half before.
When the Roman army thus arrived on the fertile alluvium of Babylonia, the Persians changed their passive attitude and began an active system of perpetual warfare; placing a Surena, or general of the first rank, in the field, at the head of a strong body of cavalry, and accompanied by an Arab sheikh called Malik, or King Rodosaces. The Persians retreated as Julian advanced; but continually delayed his progress by harassing his army, cutting off stragglers, and threatening every unsupported detachment.
On one occasion Prince Hormisdas was almost made a prisoner to the Surena. On another occasion the Persian force, after allowing the Roman vanguard to proceed unmolested, suddenly appeared on the southern bank of one of the great canals connecting the Tigris and the Euphrates, and sought to prevent Julian’s main army from crossing the canal. But the Roman Emperor detached troops under Victor to make a long circuit, cross the canal far to the east, recall Lucilianus with the vanguard, and then attack the Surena’s troops in the rear; and he thus finally overcame the resistance in his front and got across the canal.
Julian continued his march along the Euphrates, and soon came to the city of Perisabor (now Firuz-Shapur), almost as important as Ctesiphon. As the inhabitants refused all terms, and insulted Prince Hormisdas, who was sent to treat with them, by reproaching him as a deserter and a traitor, the Roman Emperor resolved to besiege the town to force it to surrender. Perisabor was surrounded with a double wall, and was situated on an island formed by the Euphrates, a canal, and a trench connecting the canal with the river. The citadel, on the north, commanding the Euphrates, was particularly strong; and the garrison was large, brave and confident. But the walls were partly composed of brick laid in bitumen, and were thus weak, so that the Romans easily shattered one of the comer towers with the battering-ram, thus gaining an entrance into the city.
The real struggle now commenced. The brave garrison retreated into the citadel, which was of imposing height, and from which they galled the Romans who had entered the town with an incessant shower of arrows, darts and stones. As the ordinary catapults and balistae of the Romans could not avail against such a storm descending from such a height, Julian attempted to burst open one of the gates on the second day of the siege. Accompanied by a small band, who formed a roof over his head with their shields, and by a few sappers with their implements, the Roman Emperor approached the gate-tower, and made his troops begin their operations. As the doors were found to be protected by fastenings, too strong to make any immediate impression upon them, and as the alarmed garrison kept up a furious discharge of missiles on the bold assailants, the Emperor was obliged to relinquish the daring effort and to retire.
Julian then constructed a movable tower like the Helepolis invented by Demetrius Poliorcetes seven centuries before, thus placing the assailants on a level with the garrison even on the highest ramparts. The garrison, feeling that they could not resist the new machine, anticipated its use by surrendering. The Roman Emperor consented to spare their lives, and allowed them to retire and join their countrymen, each man taking with him a spare garment and some money. The victorious Romans obtained possession of the corn, arms and other valuables found within the walls of the city. The Emperor distributed among his troops whatever was serviceable, while that which was useless was cast into the Euphrates or burned.
Julian continued his march along the Euphrates, while the dashes of the Persian cavalry caused him some sensible losses. He finally came to the point where the Nahr Malcha, or “Royal River,” the principal canal connecting the Euphrates with the Tigris, branched off from the Euphrates and ran almost directly east to the vicinity of Ctesiphon. The canal was navigable by the Roman ships, and the Emperor therefore directed his march eastward along the canal, following the route taken by Septimius Severus in his expedition against the Parthians, a century and a half before. As the Persians flooded the country with water and disputed his advance at every favorable point, his progress was slow and difficult; but by felling the palms which grew so abundantly in this famous region, and forming them into rafts supported by inflated skins, Julian was able to pass the inundated region.
When the Roman Emperor approached within about eleven miles from Ctesiphon, his progress was obstructed by the fortress of Maogamalcha, or Besuchis, erected to protect the western capital of the new Persian Empire, and being strongly fortified, commanded by a strong citadel, and held by a large and brave garrison. As a part of the garrison made a sally against the Roman army, Julian laid siege to the town. All the usual arts of attack and defense were employed for several days; while the garrison used blazing balls of bitumen, which they shot from their high towers against the besiegers and their works. The Emperor Julian continued assailing the walls and gates with his battering-rams; while he also caused his men to construct a mine, which was carried under both of the walls of the city, thus enabling him to introduce suddenly a body of troops into the heart of the city, and all resistance was at an end.
Thus fell the strong fortress of Maogamalcha, which had just boasted of being impregnable and had laughed to scorn the vain efforts of the Roman Emperor. The triumphant Romans sacked and pillaged right and left, and massacred the entire population, without distinction of age or sex. The commandant of the fortress was executed on a trivial charge; and a miserable remnant of the populace which had concealed itself in caves and cellars was hunted out, smoke and fire being employed to drive the fugitives from their hiding-places, or to cause them to perish in their darksome dens by suffocation.
Only the river Tigris was now between the Roman army and the great city of Ctesiphon, which had for centuries been successively a capital of the Parthian and New Persian Empires. It had been in later Parthian times perhaps the sole capital of the great empire of the Arsacidae. It was also the western capital of the Sassanidae; being secondary only to Persepolis, or Istakr, the ordinary residence of the New Persian court. In the vicinity of Ctesiphon were various royal hunting-seats, surrounded by shady gardens and adorned with paintings and bas-reliefs; while near these were parks or “paradises,” containing the game kept for the monarch’s sport, including lions, wild-boars and fierce bears.
As Julian advanced, these pleasuregrounds successively fell into his possession; and the rude Roman soldiery trampled the flowers and shrubs under foot, destroyed the wild beasts, and burned the residences. The Roman army spread ruin and desolation over a most fertile district, after drawing abundant supplies from it in their advance, leaving only behind them a blackened, wasted, and almost uninhabited region. One of Sapor’s sons made a reconnaissance in force, but retired when he saw the strength of the Roman advanced guard.
Julian had now arrived at the western suburb of Ctesiphon, the suburb which was formerly the great city of Seleucia, but which was at this time called Coche. Some country people whom he had seized showed him the line of the canal which his great predecessors, Trajan and Septimius Severus, had cut from the Nahr-Malcha to a point on the Tigris above Ctesiphon. The Persians had erected a strong dam with sluices on the Nahr-Malcha where the short canal began, by this means turning a part of the water into the Roman cutting. Julian caused the cutting to be cleared out and the dam to be torn down, whereupon the main body of the stream flowed into the old channel, which filled rapidly and was discovered to be navigable by the largest Roman vessels. Thus the Roman fleet was brought into the Tigris above Coche, and the Roman army advancing with it encamped on the west bank of the river.
The Persians now appeared in force to dispute the passage of the Tigris. Along the east bank of the river, which was naturally higher at this point than the west bank, and which was also crowned by a wall built originally to fence in one of the royal parks, dense masses of the Persian cavalry and infantry could be seen; the cavalry encased in glittering armor, and the infantry protected by huge wattled shields. Vast forms I of elephants could be seen behind these troops, and were regarded with extreme dread by the legionaries.
When night had fully set in, Julian divided his fleet into parts and embarked his army upon it, and gave the signal for the passage, against the dissuasions of his officers. Five ships, each conveying eighty soldiers, led the way, and safely reached the opposite shore, where the Persians showered burning darts upon them, soon setting the two foremost on fire. The rest of the Roman fleet wavered at this sight; but Julian, with remarkable presence of mind, exclaimed aloud: “Our men have crossed and ; are masters of the bank; that fire is the signal which I bade them make if they were victorious.”
The crews were so encouraged that they plied their oars vigorously, thus rapidly impelling the other vessels across the stream. At the same time some of the Roman soldiers who had not been put on board were so impatient to aid their comrades that they plunged into the stream and swam across supported by their shields. The impetuosity of the Romans soon put an end to all resistance on the part of the Persians. The half-burned vessels were saved, the flames were extinguished, and the men on board were rescued from their perilous position; while the Roman troops safely landed, fought their way up the bank against a storm of missiles, and drew up in good order upon its summit.
At dawn the next day Julian led his troops against the Persians and engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle from morning until noon, when the Persians fled. Their leaders—Tigranes, Narseus and the Surena—were the first to leave the field and take refuge within the defenses of Ctesiphon. The entire Persian army then abandoned its camp and baggage, and rushed across the plain in the wildest confusion to the nearest of the gates of Ctesiphon; being closely pursued by the victorious Romans to the very walls of the city. The Roman general Vidor, who was wounded, recalled his men as they were about to rush into the open gateway; and the Persians closed the gate upon them.
Thus the entire Persian army was defeated by one-third of the Roman army under the Emperor Julian. The vanquished Persians left twenty-five hundred men dead upon the field, while the triumphant Romans lost only about seventy-five. The Romans came into possession of rich spoil; as they found couches and tables of massive silver in the abandoned camp, and a profusion of gold and silver ornaments and trappings and apparel of great magnificence on the bodies of the slain Persian soldiers and horses. The lands and houses in the vicinity of Ctesiphon also furnished a welcome supply of provisions to the almost famished Roman soldiers.
As the Romans had not yet seen the great Persian army which Sapor had collected for the relief of his western capital, Julian called a council of war, which pronounced the siege of Ctesiphon too hazardous an enterprise, and dissuaded the Emperor from undertaking it, as the heat of summer had arrived and the malaria of autumn was not far off; and as the supplies brought by the Roman fleet were exhausted, Julian decided upon a retreat and caused all his vessels but twelve to be burned, these twelve to serve as pontoons.
As the route along the Euphrates and the Nahr-Malcha had been exhausted of its supplies and its forage, and its towns and villages desolated, Julian ordered the retreat through the fertile country along the east bank of the Tigris, and the army to spread over the productive region to obtain ample supplies. The march was to be directed on the rich Roman province of Cordyene (now Kurdistan), about two hundred and fifty miles north of Ctesiphon.
The retreat began June 16, 363. No sooner had the Roman army been set in motion than an ominous cloud of dust on the southern horizon appeared, and grew larger as the day advanced. Julian at once knew that the Persians were in full pursuit. He therefore called in his stragglers, massed his troops, and pitched his camp in a strong position. At dawn the earliest rays of the sun were reflected from the polished breastplates and cuirasses of the Persians, who had drawn up during the night at no great distance from the Roman army. The Persian and Arabian cavalry vigorously attacked the Romans, and especially threatened their baggage, but were repulsed by the firmness and valor of the Roman infantry.
Julian after a while was enabled to resume his retreat; but his enemies surrounded him, some keeping in advance of his army, or hanging on his flanks, destroyed the com and forage so much needed by his troops, while others pressing upon his rear retarded his march and occasionally caused him some loss. The Roman army was closely pursued by dense masses of Persian troops, by the heavy Persian cavalry clad in steel panoplies and armed with long spears, by large bodies of Persian archers, and even by a powerful corps of elephants. The Persian army which thus pressed heavily upon the Roman rearguard was commanded by Meranes and two of Sapor’s sons.
Julian was obliged to confront his pursuers and give them battle at Maranga. The Persians advanced in two lines, the first composed of the mailed horsemen and the archers intermixed, the second of the elephants. Julian arranged his army in the form of a crescent to receive the attack; but as the Persians advanced into the hollow space, he suddenly and hastily led his troops forward, and engaged the Persians in close combat before their archers had time to discharge their arrows. After a long and bloody conflict the Persians broke and fled, covering their retreat with clouds of arrows which they discharged at the victorious foe. The Romans were unable to pursue very far because of the weight of their arms and the fiery heat of the summer sun, and Julian recalled them to protect his camp, and rested for some days to care for the wounded.
The Persian troops destroyed or carried off all the forage and provisions, and wasted the country through which the Roman army was obliged to retire. The Roman troops were already suffering from hunger, and the Emperor’s firmness gave way to melancholy forebodings, and he saw visions and omens portending disaster and death. While he was studying a favorite philosopher during the dead of night in the silence of his tent, he imagined that he saw the Genius of the State, with veiled head and cornucopia, stealing away slowly and sadly through the hangings. Soon afterward, when he had just gone forth into the open air to perform some averting sacrifices, the fall of a shooting star appeared to him a direct threat from Mars, he having recently quarreled with that god. The soothsayers who were consulted counseled abstinence from all military movements, but the exigencies of the situation caused their advice to be disregarded on this occasion. The continuance of the retreat was rendered necessary by the want of supplies, and for the final extrication of the Roman army from the perils surrounding it.
At dawn on June 26, 363, the Roman army struck its tents and resumed its retreat across the wasted plain along the east side of the Tigris. Near Samarah the Roman rearguard was violently assailed by the Persians, and when Julian hastened to its relief he was informed that the van was also attacked and was already in difficulties. While the Emperor was hurrying to the front, the right center of his army suffered the brunt of the Persian attack; and he was dismayed at finding himself entangled amid the masses of Persian cavalry and elephants, which had thrown his column into confusion. He had been unable to don his complete armor, because of the suddenness of the appearance of the Persians; and as he fought without a breastplate, and, aided by his light-armed troops, repulsed the Persians, falling on them from behind and striking the backs of their horses and elephants, the javelin of a Persian horseman grazed the flesh of his arm and lodged in his right side, penetrating through the ribs to the liver.
Julian grasped the weapon and vainly endeavored to draw it forth, as the sharp steel cut his fingers, and the pain and loss of blood caused him to fall fainting from his steed. His guards carried him to the camp, where the surgeons at once pronounced the wound fatal. When the Roman soldiery heard the sad news they struck their shields with their spears and rushed upon their enemies with incredible ardor and reckless valor, determined on vengeance. But the Persians resisted obstinately until the darkness of night put an end to the conflict. Both armies lost heavily. Among the Roman slain was Anatolius, Master of the Officers. The Persian generals Meranes and Nohodares and about fifty satraps and great nobles also perished.
The wounded Julian died in his tent towards midnight on the day of the battle, whereupon his army proclaimed Jovian Emperor. A Roman deserter informed the Persian king that the new Emperor was slothful and effeminate, thus giving a fresh impulse to the pursuit; and the Persian army engaged in disputing the Roman retreat was reinforced by a strong force of cavalry, while Sapor himself pressed forward with all haste, resolved to hurl his main force on the rear of the retreating foe.
On the day of his elevation to the imperial dignity Jovian proceeded to lead his army over the open plain, where the Persians were assembled in great force, ready to dispute with him every inch of ground. Their cavalry and elephants again assailed the Roman right wing, throwing the renowned Roman corps of the Jovians and Herculians into disorder, and driving them across the plain in headlong flight and with heavy loss; but when the fleeing Romans reached a hill, their baggage train repulsed the Persian cavalry and elephants. The elephants, wounded by the javelins hurled down upon them, and maddened by the pain, turned upon their own side, roaring frightfully, and carried confusion into the ranks of the Persian cavalry, which thus broke and fled. Many of the frantic beasts were killed by their own riders or by the Persians on whom they were trampling, while others fell by the blows of the enemy. The frightful carnage ended with the Persian repulse and the resumption of the Roman retreat. Just before night the Roman army arrived at Samarah, a fort on the Tigris, and quietly encamped in its vicinity during the night.
The Roman retreat now continued for four days along the east bank of the Tigris, constantly harassed by the Persians, who pressed on the retreating columns but avoided fighting at close quarters. On one occasion they even attacked the Roman camp and insulted the legions with their cries; after which they forced their way through the Praetorian gate, and had almost penetrated to the Emperor’s tent when they were met and defeated by the legionaries. The Arabs, who had deserted the Romans and joined the Persians, because they were offended at Julian, who had refused to contribute to their subsidies, were particularly troublesome, and pursued the Romans with a hostility intensified by indignation and resentment.
When the Romans reached Dura, a small town on the Tigris, about eighteen miles north of Samarah, they entreated the Emperor Jovian to permit them to swim across the river. His refusal led to mutinous threats, and he was obliged to allow five hundred Gauls and Sarmatians, who were expert swimmers, to make the attempt, which succeeded beyond his hopes. A part of the Roman army crossed at night and surprised the Persians on the west bank of the river. Jovian proceeded to collect timber, brushwood and skins to construct rafts to transport the remainder of his troops, many of whom were unable to swim.
This movement of his enemy caused no little solicitude to the Persian king, who saw that the foe which he had considered as almost a certain prey was about to escape from him. As his troops could not swim the Tigris; as he had no boats and as the country about Dura could not supply any; and as the erection of a bridge would consume sufficient time to place the Roman army beyond his reach, he opened negotiations with the enemy, who were still in a perilous position, as they could not embark and cross the river without suffering tremendous loss from the pursuing Persians, and as they were still two hundred miles from the Roman territory.
Accordingly Sapor sent the Surena and another great Persian noble as envoys to the Roman camp at Dura to make overtures of peace. The envoys said that the Great King would mercifully allow the Roman army to escape if the Caesar would accept the terms of peace required, which terms would be explained to any envoys whom the Roman Emperor might authorize to discuss them with the Persian plenipotentiaries. Jovian and his council gladly availed themselves of the offer, and appointed the general Arinthaeus and the Prefect Sallust to confer with King Sapor’s ambassadors and to ascertain what conditions of peace would be granted. These terms were very humiliating to Roman pride, and great efforts were made to induce the Persian king to relent, but Sapor remained inexorable; and after four days of negotiation the Roman Emperor and his council were obliged to accept their adversary’s terms.
The treaty stipulated first, that the five provinces east of the Tigris which had been ceded to Rome by Narses, the grandfather of Sapor II., after his defeat by Galerius, were to be restored to Persia with their fortifications, their inhabitants, and all that they contained of value, the Roman population in the territory to be allowed to withdraw; secondly, that three places in Eastern Mesopotamia—Nisibis, Síngara, and a fort called “the camp of the Moors”—were also to be ceded to Persia, the inhabitants to be allowed to retire with their movables; thirdly, that all connection between Rome and Armenia was to be dissolved, Arsaces to be left to his own resources, and Rome to be precluded from affording him any assistance in any quarrel which might arise between him and Persia. Peace for thirty years was concluded on these conditions; and oaths were interchanged for its faithful observance; while also hostages were given and received on both sides, to be retained until after the execution of the stipulations of the treaty. To the honor and credit of both parties, the treaty was faithfully observed, and all its stipulations were honestly and speedily executed.
Thus the second period of the great struggle between Rome and Persia ended in a triumph for the Persian king; Rome being obliged to relinquish all what she had gained in the first period, and even to cede some of the territory which she had occupied at the beginning of hostilities. Thus Nisibis—the great stronghold of Eastern Mesopotamia, and so long the bulwark of Roman power in the East, having been in Rome’s possession for two centuries, and having been repeatedly attacked by Parthia and Persia, and only once taken but soon recovered—was now surrendered to the victorious Persian monarch, thus dealing a fatal blow to Roman prestige in the East, and exposing the whole eastern frontier of the Roman dominion to attack, making Amida and Carrhae, and even Antioch itself tremble. This fear proved groundless, as the Roman possessions in the East were not further reduced by the New Persians for two centuries; but Roman influence in Western Asia steadily declined from the time of this humiliating treaty, and Persia was thenceforth considered the greatest power in these regions.
King Sapor II exhibited great ability and sagacity during his long war with the Emperors Constantius II, Julian the Apostate and Jovian. He knew when to assume the offensive and when to take the defensive; when to press on the enemy and when to hold himself in reserve and let the enemy follow his own devices. He rightly perceived the importance of Nisibis from the very first, and resolutely persisted in his determination to acquire possession, until he ultimately succeeded. He might have appeared rash and presumptuous when he threw down the gauntlet to Rome in 337, but the event justified him. In a war which lasted twenty-seven years, he fought many pitched battles with the Romans, and did not suffer a single defeat. He proved an abler general than Constantius II. and Jovian, and not inferior to Julian the Apostate. By his courage, perseverance and promptness, he brought the long contest to a triumphant close; restoring Persia to a higher position in 363 than she had held even under his illustrious predecessors, Artaxerxes I and Sapor I, the first two monarchs of the Sassanian dynasty. He fully deserves the title of “the Great,” which historians with general consent have assigned him; as he was without doubt among the greatest of the Sassanidae, and may with propriety be ranked above all his predecessors, and above all his successors but one.
The attitude assumed by Armenia soon after Julian the Apostate began his invasion contributed largely to Sapor’s triumph in his war with Julian and Jovian. The Roman generals Procopius and Sebastian, whom Julian had sent into Armenia, were joined by the Armenian army under King Arsaces; and the allies invaded Media and ravaged the fertile district of Chiliacomus, or “the district of a Thousand Villages,” with fire and sword. The refusal of the Armenians to advance any further caused the defeat of Julian’s plans. Moses of Chorene, Zuraeus, the Armenian historian, informs us that the Armenian general, felt repugnance to aid the apostate Roman Emperor who had renounced the Christian faith.
The Roman generals who were thus deserted differed as to the proper course to pursue, and a policy of inaction was the natural result. When Julian on his march to Ctesiphon heard of the defection of the Armenians, he sent a letter to Arsaces, complaining of his general’s conduct, and threatening to exact a heavy contribution on his return from his Persian campaign if the offense of Zuraeus was not punished. Arsaces was very much alarmed at the message, and hastened to acquit himself of complicity in the conduct of Zuraeus by executing him and his entire family, but did not lend the aid of fresh troops to the Roman Emperor. Supposing himself thus secured against Julian’s anger, the Armenian king indulged his love of ease and his dislike for the Roman alliance by remaining wholly passive during the remainder of the war.
Notwithstanding the hostile attitude of Arsaces towards Rome, the Persian king was so little satisfied with the Armenian monarch that he determined to invade Armenia at once and deprive Arsaces of his crown. As Rome had relinquished her protectorate over Armenia by the recent treaty with Persia, and had bound herself not to interfere in any quarrel between Armenia and Persia, Sapor II resolved to embrace the opportunity thus afforded to subject Armenia to his sway, using intrigue and violence to attain that end. By intriguing with some of the Armenian satraps, and making armed raids into the territories of others, he so harassed the country that most of the satraps after some time went over to his side, and represented to Arsaces that submission to Persia was the only course left open to him. In order to obtain possession of Armenia, Sapor II addressed a letter to Arsaces in the following terms:
“Sapor, the offspring of Ormazd, comrade of the sun, king of kings, sends greeting to his dear brother, Arsaces, King of Armenia, whom he holds in affectionate remembrance. It has come to our knowledge that thou hast approved thyself our faithful friend, since not only didst thou decline to invade Persia with Caesar, but when he took a contingent from thee thou didst send messengers and withdraw it. Moreover, we have not forgotten how thou acted at the first, when thou didst prevent him from passing through thy territories, as he wished. Our soldiers, indeed, who quitted their post, sought to cast on thee the blame due to their own cowardice. But we have not listened to them. Their leader we punished with death, and to thy realm, I swear by Mithra, we have done no hurt. Arrange matters then so that thou mayest come to us with all speed, and consult with us concerning our common advantage. Then thou canst return home ”
On receiving this missive, Arsaces at once left Armenia and hastened to Sapor’s court in Persia, where he was instantly seized and blinded; after which he was fettered with silver chains, according to a common practice of the Persians with distinguished prisoners, and was strictly confined in a place called “the Castle of Oblivion.” But the Armenian people did not at once submit because their king was removed. A national party in Armenia rose in revolt under Pharandzem, the wife of Arsaces, and Bab, or Para, his son, who shut themselves up in the strong fortress of Artogerassa (Ardakers), and there offered a determined resistance to the Persian king. Sapor entrusted the conduct of the siege to two renegade Armenians, Cylaces and Artabannes, and also sought to extend his influence over the neighboring country of Iberia, which was closely connected with Armenia and generally followed its fortunes.
Iberia was then governed by a king named Sauromaces, who had received his investiture from Rome, and was therefore likely to uphold Roman interests. The Persian king invaded Iberia, drove Sauromaces from his kingdom, and bestowed the Iberian crown on Aspacures. Sapor II then retired to his own country, leaving the complete subjection of Armenia to be accomplished by his officers, Cylaces and Artabannes, or, as the Armenian historians call them, Zig and Garen.
Cylaces and Artabannes vigorously besieged Artogerassa, and strongly urged the garrison to submit; but when they entered within the walls to negotiate, they were won over to the national side, and joined in planning a treacherous attack on the besieging army, which was surprised at night and forced to raise the siege. Para at once left the town and threw himself upon the protection of the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens, who permitted him to reside in kingly state at Neocaesarea; but he soon afterwards returned to Armenia by the advice of Cylaces and Artabannes, and was hailed as king by the national party, Rome secretly countenancing his proceedings.
Therefore the Persian king led a large army into Armenia, drove Para and his counselors, Cylaces and Artabannes, to the mountains, besieged and took Artogerassa, captured the queen Pharandzem and the treasure of Arsaces, and finally induced Para to come to terms and send him the heads of the two arch-traitors, Cylaces and Artabannes. Notwithstanding the treaty of Jovian with Sapor II, Rome now came to Armenia’s assistance.
The Armenians and Iberians, with a burning love of liberty and independence, were particularly hostile to Persia, the power from which they had most to fear. As Christian nations, they had at this time additional reason for sympathy with Rome and for hatred of the Persians. The patriotic party in both Armenia and Iberia were thus violently opposed to the extension of Sapor’s dominion over them, and spumed the artifices by which he endeavored to persuade them that they still enjoyed freedom and autonomy.
At the same time Rome was under the sway of Emperors who had no hand in making the disgraceful peace with the Persian king in 363, and who had no overmastering feeling of honor or religious obligation concerning treaties “with barbarians,” and were getting ready to fly in the face of the treaty, and to interfere effectually to check the progress of Persia in Northwestern Asia, regarding Rome’s interest as the highest law.
Rome first interfered in Iberia, sending the Duke Terentius into that country with twelve legions towards the end of 370 to place Sauromaces, the old Roman feudatory, upon the Iberian throne. Terentius marched into Iberia from Lazica, which bordered it on the north, and easily conquered the country as far as the river Cyrus, where Aspacures, Sapor’s vassal king, proposed a division of Iberia between himself and Sauromaces, north of the Cyrus to be assigned to Sauromaces, and south of the river to himself. Terentius agreed to this arrangement, and Iberia was accordingly divided between the rival claimants.
Upon hearing of this transaction King Sapor II was intensely excited. He complained bitterly of the division of Iberia without his consent and even without his knowledge, and that the spirit, if not the letter, of his treaty with the Emperor Jovian had been violated by that Emperor’s successor, as Rome had by that treaty relinquished Iberia along with Armenia. The Count Arinthaeus had also been sent with a Roman army to assist the Armenians if the Persian king molested them.
King Sapor II vainly appealed for the faithful observance of the Treaty of Dura in 363. Rome dismissed his ambassadors with contempt and adhered to her policy. Sapor II accordingly prepared for war, and collected a large army from his subjects and from his allies to punish Rome for her unfaithfulness. The Eastern Roman Emperor Valens prepared to resist the threatened Persian invasion, and sent a large army to the East under Count Trajan and Vadomair, ex-king of the Alemanni. The Emperor Valens, however, pretended to feel so much regard for the Treaty of Dura that he ordered his generals not to begin hostilities, but to wait until they were attacked.
They did not have to wait long; as the Persian king led a large army of native cavalry and archers, supported by many foreign auxiliaries, into the Roman territory in the East, and attacked the Romans near Vagabanta. The Roman commander ordered his troops to retire, which they did under a shower of Persian arrows, until several of them were wounded, when they felt that they could truly declare that the Persians were responsible for the rupture of the peace. The Romans then advanced and defeated the Persians in a short action, inflicting a severe loss upon their enemies.
After a guerrilla warfare in which the advantage was alternately with the Persians and the Romans, the commanders on both sides negotiated a truce, which allowed King Sapor II to retire to Ctesiphon, while the Emperor Valens went into winter quarters at Antioch. After an alternation of negotiations and hostilities during the interval between 371 and 376, a treaty of peace was concluded in the last-named year, which gave tranquillity to the East during the remaining three years of Sapor’s reign.
The reign of Sapor II, which began with his birth in 309, ended with his death in 379; thus embracing his whole life of seventy years. Notwithstanding the length and brilliancy of his reign, he left behind him neither any inscriptions nor any sculptured memorials; and the only material evidences of his reign are his numerous coins. The earliest have on the reverse the fire-altar, with two priests or guards looking towards the altar, and with the flame rising from the altar in the usual way. The head on the obverse is archaic in type, and very much resembles that of Sapor I. In many cases the crown has that “cheek piece” attached to it which is otherwise confined to the first three of the Sassanian kings. These coins are the best from an artistic standpoint, and very much resemble those of Sapor I; but are distinguishable from them, first, by the guards looking towards the altar instead of away from it; and, secondly, by the greater abundance of pearls about the monarch’s person. The coins of the second period lack the ‘‘cheek piece’’ and have on the reverse the fire-altar without supporters; while they are inferior to those of the first period in artistic merit, but much superior to those of the third. These last display a marked degeneracy, and are particularly distinguished by having a human head in the middle of the flames that rise from the altar; while in other respects, except their inferior artistic merit, they much resemble the early coins. The ordinary legends upon the coins are not remarkable, but in some instances the king takes the new and expressive epithet of Totem, “the strong.”
The glorious reign of Sapor II, under which the New Persian Empire had reached the highest point whereto it had thus far attained, was followed by a time which offered a most thorough contrast to that remarkable reign. Sapor II had lived and reigned seventy years, but the reigns of his next three successors together amounted to only twenty years. Sapor I. had been engaged in constant wars, had spread the terror of the Persian arms on every side, and reigned more gloriously than any of his predecessors. His immediate successors were pacific and unenterprising. They were almost unknown to their neighbors, and were among the least distinguished of the Sassanidae. This was more especially the case with the two immediate successors of Sapor II—Artaxerxes II and Sapor III—who reigned respectively four and five years, and whose annals during this period are almost a blank.
Artaxerxes II is called by some of the ancient writers a brother of Sapor II, but the Armenian writers call him Sapor’s son. He succeeded to the Persian throne upon Sapor’s death in 379, and died near Ctesiphon in 383. He was characterized by kindness and amiability, and is known to the Persians as Nikoukar, “the Beneficent,” and to the Arabs as Al Djemil, ‘‘the Virtuous.’’ According to the Modjmel-al-Tewarikh, he took no taxes from his subjects during the four years of his reign, thus securing their affection and gratitude.
Artaxerxes II received overtures from the Armenians soon after his accession, and for a time those turbulent mountaineers recognized him as their sovereign. After the murder of Bab, or Para, the Romans placed Varaztad, or Pharasdates, an Arsacid prince, but no relative of the recent Arsacid kings, on the Armenian throne; while they assigned the real direction of Armenian affairs to an Armenian noble named Moushegh, one of the illustrious family of the Mamigonians. Moushegh governed Armenia with vigor; but was suspected of maintaining overfriendly relations with the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens, and of designing to undermine and supplant his sovereign, who finally caused him to be executed, having been influenced to the act by his counselors.
Thereupon Moushegh’s brother Manuel excited a rebellion against King Varaztad, defeated him in battle and drove him from his kingdom. Manuel then surrounded the princess Zermanducht, widow of King Para, and her two young sons, Arsaces and Valarsaces, with royal pomp, conferring the title of king on the two princes, but retaining the real government himself. Manuel then sent an embassy with letters and rich gifts to King Artaxerxes II, offering to acknowledge the Persian King lord-paramount of Armenia, in return for his protection, and promising unshaken fidelity.
The terms were accordingly arranged. Armenia was to pay a fixed tribute to Persia; to receive a Persian garrison of ten thousand men and to provide liberally for their maintenance; to allow a Persian satrap to share with Manuel the government of Armenia, and to supply his court and table with all that was necessary. Arsaces and Valarsaces and their mother Zermanducht were to be allowed royal honors; Armenia was to be protected against invasion; and Manuel was to be maintained in his office of Sparapet, or generalissimo of the Armenian forces.
A few years later Meroujan, an Armenian noble, jealous of Manuel’s power and prosperity, made Manuel believe that the Persian commandant in Armenia intended to send him a prisoner to Persia or put him to death. Manuel, in great alarm, thereupon attacked and massacred the ten thousand Persians in Armenia, only permitting their commander to escape. War then followed between Persia and Armenia, but Manuel repulsed several Persian invasions and maintained the independence and integrity of Armenia until his death in 383.
Sapor III, the brother and successor of Artaxerxes II, became King of Persia in 383. He attacked the warlike Arab tribe of Yad in their own country, and thus received the title of “the Warlike.” One party in Armenia called on Rome for help, while the other party solicited the aid of Persia. But as neither Rome nor Persia desired to renew the old contest concerning Armenia, those two great powers concluded a treaty; and in 384 the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great received in Constantinople the envoys from the court of Persepolis and concluded a treaty with them, providing for the partition of Armenia between Rome and Persia, annexing the outlying Armenian districts to their own territories, and dividing the remainder of the country into two unequal parts, the smaller and more western portion being conferred upon the young King Arsaces and placed under the protection of Rome, while the more eastern and larger portion was bestowed on an Arsacid named Chosroes, a Christian, who received the title of king, and one of the sisters of King Sapor III of Persia as a bride. The friendly relations thus established remained undisturbed for thirty-six years (384-420).
A sculptured memorial of Sapor III is still seen in the vicinity of Kermanshah, consisting of two very similar figures, looking towards each other, and standing in an arched frame. On each side of the figures are inscriptions in the old Pehlevi character, by which the individuals represented with the second and third Sapor can be identified. The coins of Artaxerxes II and Sapor III have little about them that is remarkable, and exhibit the marks of decline, but the legends upon them are in the usual style of royal epigraphs.
Sapor III was a man of simple tastes, and was more fond of the freedom and ease of a life under tents than the magnificence and dreary etiquette of the court. On one occasion, while he was encamping, a violent hurricane fell with full force on the royal encampment, blowing down the tent, the main tent-pole striking the king in a vital part, thus causing his death (388).
Sapor III was succeeded by Varahran IV, who is called his brother by some authorities, and his son by others. Oriental writers call this king “Varahran Kermanshah,” or “Varahran, King of Carmania.” Agathias tells us that during the lifetime of his father he was made governor of Kerman, or Carmania, thus obtaining the title of Varahran Kerman-shah; and this statement is confirmed by this king’s seal before he ascended the throne—a curious relic which is still preserved, and which contains his portrait and an inscription, which, translated into English, reads: “Varahran, King of Kerman, son of Ormazd-worshipping divine Sapor, King of the Kings of Iran and Turan, heaven-descended of the race of gods.” Another seal of Varahran IV, probably belonging to him after he became King of Persia, contains his full-length portrait, and exhibits him as trampling under foot a prostrate figure.
On the death of Arsaces of Western Armenia in 386, Rome absorbed his territories into her Empire, placing the new province under a count. About 390 Chosroes of Eastern Armenia became dissatisfied with his position as a vassal king under Persia, and entered into relations with Rome which greatly displeased the Persian king. Chosroes obtained from the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great his appointment as Count of Armenia, thus uniting both Roman and Persian Armenia under his government.
Chosroes then trenched on the rights of the Persian king as lord-paramount; and when Varahran IV addressed him a remonstrance, Chosroes replied in insulting terms, renounced Varabran’s authority, and placed the whole of the Armenian kingdom under the suzerainty and protection of Rome. As the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great refused to receive the submission which Chosroes tendered to him, the unfortunate Armenian prince was obliged to surrender himself to Varahran IV, who imprisoned him in the Castle of Oblivion, and placed his own brother, Varahran-Sapor, upon the Armenian throne.
Some native Persian authorities represent Varahran IV as mild in temper and irreproachable in conduct. Others say that he was a hard man, and so neglectful of his duties as even not to read the petitions or complaints addressed to him. His death was the result of a mutiny of his troops, who surrounded him and shot their arrows at him. One well-aimed arrow struck him in a vital part, causing his instant death. Thus perished in 399, the third son of the great Sapor II, after a reign of eleven years.
Varahran IV was succeeded by his son Isdigerd I, or Izdikerti I, who is said to have been prudent and moderate at his accession—a character which he sought to confirm by uttering high-sounding moral sentiments. His reign was peaceful, and the Roman Empire had split into two separate sovereignties. When Isdigerd I had reigned nine years he is said to have received a compliment of an unusual character from the Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius, who committed his son Theodosius, a boy of tender age, to the guardianship of the Persian king. Arcadius solemnly appealed to the magnanimity of Isdigerd, exhorting him to defend with all his force, and guide with his best wisdom, the young prince and his dominion. One writer says that Arcadius also bequeathed a thousand pounds of pure gold to the Persian king, requesting him to accept the bequest as a token of his good will.
When the Emperor Arcadius died and his will was opened, Isdigerd I was informed of its contents, and at once accepted the guardianship of the young prince, addressing a letter to the Senate of Constantinople, in which he announced his determination to punish any attempt against his ward with the utmost rigor. The Persian monarch selected a learned eunuch of his own court, named Antiochus, as a guide and instructor for the youthful prince, and sent him to Constantinople, where he was the constant companion of the youthful Theodosius for several years. Even after the death or expulsion of Antiochus, in consequence of the intrigues of Pulcheria, the elder sister of Theodosius, the King of Persia remained faithful to his charge. During his whole reign, Isdigerd I maintained peace and friendship with the Romans.
During the first part of his reign, Isdigerd I seemed inclined to favor the Christians, and even contemplated accepting Christian baptism and entering the Christian Church. The eunuch Antiochus, his representative at Constantinople, openly wrote in favor of the persecuted Christians; and the encouragement thus given from high quarters rapidly increased the number of professing Christians in the New Persian Empire. The Persian Christians had long been allowed their own bishops, though they had been oppressed; and Isdigerd I is said to have listened approvingly to the teachings of two of these Christian bishops—Marutha, Bishop of Mesopotamia, and Abdaas, Bishop of Ctesiphon.
Convinced of the truth of Christianity, but unfortunately not acting in accordance with its loving spirit, Isdigerd I began a persecution of the Magians and their most powerful adherents; thus causing himself to be detested by his subjects, and attaching to his name such epithets as Al-Khasha, “the Harsh,” and Al-Athim, “the Wicked.” But this persecution soon ceased. The excessive zeal of Bishop Abdaas eventually produced a reaction, and Isdigerd I deserted the cause of the Christians and joined the Zoroastrian and Magian party. Abdaas had ventured to burn down the great Fire Temple of Ctesiphon, and had then refused to rebuild it. Isdigerd I authorized the Magian hierarchy to retaliate by a general destruction of the Christian churches throughout the New Persian Empire, and by the arrest and punishment of all avowed Christians.
A terrible massacre of the Christians in Persia followed during five years. Some of these Christians, in their eagerness for the earthly glory and the heavenly rewards of martyrdom, boldly proclaimed themselves members of the persecuted sect. Others, with less courage or less inclination to self-assertion, sought rather to conceal their creed; but these latter were carefully sought out, alike in the towns and in the country districts, and upon conviction were mercilessly put to death. The victims were subjected to various kinds of cruel sufferings, and most of them expired from torture. Thus Isdigerd I alternately persecuted the two religious creeds which divided the great mass of his subjects; and by thus giving both Zoroastrians and Christians reason to hate him, he deserved and received a unanimity of execration which has very seldom been the lot of persecuting sovereigns.
Isdigerd I also sanctioned an effort to extirpate Christianity in the dependent country of Armenia. Varahran-Sapor, the successor of Chosroes, had governed Armenia quietly and peaceably for twenty-one years. Dying in 412 he left behind him but one son, Artases, then but ten years of age. Isaac, the Metropolitan of Armenia, proceeded to the court of Ctesiphon and petitioned Isdigerd to replace on the Armenian throne the prince who had been deposed twenty years before, and who was still a prisoner on parole in the Castle of Oblivion —Chosroes. Isdigerd I granted the request; and Chosroes was released from confinement and restored to the throne from which Varahran IV had expelled him in 391, but he survived his restoration but one year.
Upon the death of Chosroes in 413, Isdigerd I appointed his own son Sapor to the viceroyalty of Armenia, forcing the reluctant Armenians to acknowledge him as their sovereign. Prince Sapor was instructed to ingratiate himself with the Armenian nobles by inviting them to visit him, by feasting them, making them presents, holding friendly intercourse with them, hunting with them; and was ordered to use such influence as he might obtain to convert the Armenian chiefs from Christianity to Zoroastrianism. The young prince seems to have done the best he could; but the Armenians were obstinate, resisted his blandishments and continued Christians, in spite of all his efforts. Sapor ruled over Armenia from 414 to 418, and then, upon hearing of the ill health of his father, he returned to the Persian court to press his claims to the succession.
The coins of Isdigerd I are numerous and possess some interesting features, but are not remarkable for their artistic merit. They seem to have been issued from the same mint, and all have a head of the same type—that of a middle-aged man, with a short beard, and hair gathered behind in a cluster of curls. The distinguishing mark is the head-dress, having the usual inflated ball above a fragment of the old mural crown, and also having a crescent in front. The reverse has the usual fire-altar with supporters, and is rudely executed. The ordinary legend on the obverse is, translated into English, “The Ormazd-worshipping divine most peaceful Isdigerd, King of the Kings of Iran”; and on the reverse is, “The most peaceful Isdigerd.’’
Oriental writers tell us that Isdigerd I had by nature an excellent disposition, and that at the time of his accession he was generally considered eminently wise, prudent and virtuous; but after he became king his conduct disappointed all hopes. These writers say that he was then violent, cruel and pleasure-seeking; that he broke all human and divine laws; that he plundered the rich, oppressed the poor, despised learning, did not reward those who did him a service, and suspected everybody. They likewise say that he wandered about his vast dominions continually, to make all his subjects suffer equally, but not to benefit any of them.
The Western authors represent his character as quite in contrast with the above. They praise his magnanimity and his virtue, his peaceful temper, his faithful guardianship of the young Byzantine prince Theodosius, and even his exemplary piety. His alternate persecutions of Zoroastrians and Christians show that religious tolerance was at least none of his virtues; though Mr. Malcolm, a modern British writer, has tried to make it appear that he was a wise and tolerant prince, whose very mildness and indulgence offended the bigots of his own country and caused them to do their utmost to blacken his memory and to represent his character in the most odious light.
There is a curious legend concerning the death of Isdigerd I, which occurred in 420. It is said that while he was still in the full vigor of manhood, a horse of rare beauty, without bridle or caparison, came of its own accord and stopped before the gate of the king’s palace. When Isdigerd was informed of this, he ordered that the strange steed should be saddled and bridled, and prepared to mount the animal. But the horse reared and kicked, so that no one could come near, until the king himself approached, when the beast entirely changed its conduct, appeared gentle and docile, stood perfectly still, and allowed both saddle and bridle to be put on. But the crupper required some arrangement, and Isdigerd proceeded with the fullest confidence to complete his task, when the horse suddenly lashed out with one of his hind legs, inflicting upon the king a blow which killed him on the spot; after which the animal sped off, released itself of it accouterments, and galloped away to be seen no more. Mr. Malcolm simply tells us that ‘‘Isdigerd died from the kick of a horse.” The Persians of Isdigerd’s time considered the occurrence as an answer to their prayers, and looked upon the wild steed as an angel sent by God.
Isdigerd’s death was followed by a disputed succession. His son Varahran, whom he had named as his heir, seems to have been absent from the capital at the time of his father’s death; while his other son, Sapor, who had been the Persian viceroy of Armenia from 414 to 418, was present at court and determined on pressing his claims. The Oriental writers all tell us that Varahran had been educated among the Arab tribes dependent upon Persia, who now occupied most of Mesopotamia; that his training had made him more of an Arab than a Persian; and that he was believed to have inherited the violence, the pride and the cruelty of his father. His countrymen had therefore resolved that he should never reign; nor were they disposed to support the pretensions of Sapor, who had not been a very successful viceroy of Armenia, and whose recent desertion of his proper post for the advancement of his own private interests was a public crime meriting punishment rather than reward. As Armenia had actually revolted and driven out the Persian garrison, and had become a prey to rapine and disorder, it is not surprising that Sapor’s hopes and schemes were ended by his own murder soon after his father’s death.
The Persian nobles and the principal Magi formally enthroned a prince named Chosroes, a descendant of Artaxerxes I, but only remotely related to Isdegerd I. But Prince Varahran persuaded the Arabs to espouse his cause, led a large army against Ctesiphon, and prevailed upon Chosroes, the nobles and the Magi to submit to him. The people readily acquiesced in this change of masters; and Chosroes descended into a private station, while Varahran V, son of Isdigerd I, became King of Persia (420).
Varahran V immediately threw himself into the hands of the Magian priesthood and resumed the persecution of the Christians inaugurated by his father. Various kinds of tortures were employed against the followers of Christ, and in a short time many of the persecuted sect left the Persian dominions and placed themselves under Roman protection. The Persian king instructed his ambassadors to the court of Constantinople to require the surrender of the Persian Christian refugees; and when the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II, to his honor, indignantly rejected the insolent demand, the Persian ambassadors were ordered by their sovereign to protest against the Emperor’s decision and to threaten him with the Persian monarch’s vengeance.
The relations of the New Persian and Eastern Roman Empires at this time were not very friendly. The Persians had recently commenced to work their gold mines and had hired experienced Roman miners, whose services they found so valuable that they would not permit them to return to their homes when their term of service had expired. The Persians were also accused of mistreating the Roman merchants who traded in the Persian dominions, and of having actually robbed them of their merchandise. The Eastern Romans made no counter-claims, simply refusing to accede to the Persian demand for the extradition of the Persian Christian fugitives; but their moderation was not appreciated by the Persian king.
When Varahran V heard that the Eastern Roman Emperor would not restore the Persian Christian refugees, he declared the peace at an end and immediately prepared for war; but the Romans had anticipated his decision, and took the field before the Persians were ready. An Eastern Roman army under Ardaburius marched through Armenia into the fertile Persian province of Arzanene, where he defeated the Persian army under Narses. As the Roman commander was about to plunder Arzanene, he suddenly heard that his antagonist was on the point of invading the Eastern Roman province of Mesopotamia, which was then perfectly defenseless.
Ardaburius thereupon hastened to the defense of Mosopotamia, and was in time to prevent the threatened Persian invasion. Narses then threw himself into the fortress of Nisibis, where he stood on the defensive. As Ardaburius did not feel himself strong enough to invest the fortified city, the two commanders remained inactive for some time, watching each other.
The Greek writer Socrates tells us that during this period of inactivity the Persian general sent a challenge to the Roman, inviting him to fix the time and place for a trial of strength between the two armies. Ardaburius prudently declined, saying that the Romans were not accustomed to fighting battles when their enemies wished, but when it suited themselves. When he was reinforced he invaded Persian Mesopotamia and besieged Narses in Nisibis.
The danger to Nisibis—that dearly won and highly prized possession—so alarmed Varahran V that he took the field in person, enlisting on his side the services of the Arabs under their great sheikh, Al-Amundarus, or Moundsir, and collecting a strong body of elephants. When the Persian king advanced to the relief of the beleaguered city, the Roman commander burned his siege machinery and raised the siege and fled. Soon afterwards the Arab allies of Varahran V were seized with a sudden panic, rushed in headlong flight to the Euphrates, threw themselves into the river, and a hundred thousand of them perished in the stream.
The next year (421) the Persian king besieged the strong city of Theodosiopolis, which had been built near the sources of the Euphrates by the reigning Eastern Roman Emperor, Theodosius II, for the defense of Roman Armenia, and which was defended by strong walls, lofty towers and a deep ditch, while hidden channels conducted an unfailing supply of water into the heart of the town, and the large public granaries were usually well supplied with provisions.
King Varahran V besieged Theodosiopolis for more than a month and employed all the means of capture then known to the military art; but the defense was ably conducted by Eunomius, the bishop of the city, who was resolved to do his utmost to prevent a non-Christian and persecuting monarch from lording it over his see. Eunomius animated the garrison and took part personally in the defense, even on one occasion discharging a stone from a balista with his own hand, and thus killing a prince who had insulted the Christian religion. The death of this prince is said to have caused Varahran V to raise the siege and to retire.
It is said that the Emperor Theodosius II appointed the Patrician Procopius to an independent command, and sent him with a detachment against the Persian king. Just as the armies were about to engage in battle, Varahran V proposed to decide the war by a single combat. Procopius assented; and a warrior was selected from each side, the Persians choosing Ardazanes as their champion, while the Romans presented Areobindus the Goth, Count of the Foederati. In the combat which followed, the Persian champion charged his antagonist with his spear; but the nimble Goth avoided the thrust by leaning on one side, after which he entangled Ardazanes in a net, and then killed him with his sword. The Persian king accepted the result as decisive of the war, and abstained from any further hostilities. Areobindus received the thanks of the Emperor Theodosius II for his victory, and was rewarded with the Consulate twelve years later.
In the meantime the Romans were successful in other quarters. In Mesopotamia, Ardaburius had enticed the Persian army into an ambuscade, where he destroyed it with seven of its generals. Vitianus had exterminated the remnant of the Arabs not drowned in the Euphrates. The Persians were everywhere defeated.
Early in 422 Maximus, a Roman envoy, appeared in the Persian king’s camp, and, when brought into the presence of Varahran V, stated that he was authorized by the Roman commanders to open negotiations, but had no communication with the Eastern Roman Emperor, who resided at so great a distance that he had not heard of the war, and who was so powerful that even if he did know of it he would consider it of small account.
As Varahran V was tired of the war and was short of provisions, he was disposed to entertain the proposals of the Roman envoy; but the famous Persian corps of the Immortals took a different view and requested to be granted an opportunity to attack the Romans unawares, while they supposed negotiations to be in progress. The Greek writer Socrates states that the Persian king consented, and that the Immortals attacked the Romans, who were at first in some danger, but were finally saved by the unexpected arrival of a reinforcement, when the Immortals were defeated and all slain. King Varahran V then made peace with Rome through the instrumentality of the envoy Maximus, consenting that Rome might furnish an asylum to the Persian Christians, and that all persecutions of Christians throughout the New Persian Empire should cease thenceforth.
The well-judged charity of an admirable Christian prelate accompanied the formal conclusion of peace. Acacius, Bishop of Amida, pitying the condition of the Persian prisoners captured by the Romans during their raid into Arzanene, and who were being carried off into slavery, interposed to save them; and used all the gold and silver plate that he could find in the churches of his diocese in ransoming seven thousand captives, whose wants he most tenderly supplied, and whom he sent to King Varahran V.
Persian Armenia had no sovereign since Varahran’s brother Sapor had withdrawn from that country in 418, and had fallen into a condition of complete anarchy and wretchedness; no taxes being collected; the roads being unsafe; the strong robbing and oppressing the weak at their pleasure. Isaac, the Armenian Patriarch, and other Christian bishops, had abandoned their sees and taken refuge in Roman Armenia, where they were received with favor by Anatolius, the Roman Prefect of the East. The Persian king’s fear that his portion of Armenia might also fall to Rome hastened the conclusion of peace.
After making peace with Rome, Varahran V conciliated the Armenian nobles by conferring the royal dignity of Persian Armenia upon an Arsacid prince named Artases, whom he required to assume the illustrious name of Artaxerxes, and to whom he assigned the entire government of the country (422). But the bad personal character of Artaxerxes and the caprice of the Armenian nobles caused the Armenians six years later to request Varahran V to absorb Persian Armenia into the New Persian Empire and to place the new province under the government of a Persian satrap (428).
Isaac, the Armenian Patriarch, resisted this movement with all his might, as he maintained that the rule of a Christian, however lax he might be, was preferable to that of a heathen, however virtuous. But the Armenian nobles were resolute, and the opposition of Isaac only had the result of involving him in his sovereign’s fall. The nobles appealed to the Persian king; and Varahran V, in solemn state, listened to the charges made against Artaxerxes by his subjects, and heard his answer to the charges. The Great King then gave his decision; pronouncing Artaxerxes to have forfeited the Armenian crown, deposing him, confiscating his property, and imprisoning him. The Armenian kingdom was declared to be at an end, and Persarmenia was absorbed into the New Persian Empire and placed under the administration of a Persian satrap. The Patriarch Isaac was degraded from his office and kept a prisoner in Persia; but was released some years later, when he was permitted to return to Armenia, and to resume his episcopal functions under certain restrictions.
During the reign of Varahran V began the wars of the Persians with the Ephthalites, a people living on the north-eastern frontier of the New Persian Empire—wars which lasted about a century and a half. During the fifth and sixth centuries of the Christian era the Ephthalites occupied the regions east of the Caspian Sea, particularly those regions beyond the Oxus river. They were generally considered as belonging to the Scythic or Finno-Turkish population which as early as 200 had become powerful in that region. Such Greek writers as Procopius, Theophanes and Cosmas designated them as White Huns; but it is admitted that they were entirely distinct from the Huns under Attila who invaded Europe. The description of the physical character and habits of the Ephthalites left to us by Procopius is utterly inconsistent with the view that they were really Huns. The Ephthalites were light-complexioned, while the Huns were swarthy. The Ephthalites were not ill-looking, whereas the Huns were hideous. The Ephthalites were an agricultural people, whereas the Huns were nomads. The Ephthalites had excellent laws, and were somewhat civilized, but the Huns were savages. The Ephthalites probably belonged to the Thibetan or Turkish stock, which has always been in advance of the Finnic, and has exhibited a greater talent for political organization and social progress.
It is said that the war of Varahran V with the Ephthalites began with an invasion of the New Persian Empire by the Ephthalite Khakan, or Khan, who crossed the Oxus with a large army and ravaged some of the most fertile provinces of Persia with fire and sword. The rich oasis of Merv, the ancient Margiana, was overrun by these invaders, who are said by the Arab writer Masoudi and others to have crossed the Elburz mountain range into the Persian province of Khorassan, and to have proceeded westward to Rei, or Rhages.
The Persian court was terribly alarmed upon receiving tidings of the Ephthalite invasion. Varahran V was urged to collect his forces instantly and to encounter the new and strange enemy; but he pretended absolute indifference, saying that Ahura-Mazda would preserve the Empire, that he himself was going to hunt in Azerbijan, or Media Atropatene, and that his brother Narses could conduct the government in his absence.
All Persia was thrown into consternation; and it was believed that Varahran V had lost his senses, and that the only prudent course was to send an embassy to the Ephthalite Khakan and make a treaty with him by which Persia should acknowledge his suzerainty and agree to pay him tribute. Accordingly Persian ambassadors were sent to the invaders, who were satisfied with the offers of submission and remained in the position which they had taken up, waiting for the tribute and keeping slack guard, as they thought that they had nothing to fear.
But during all this time King Varahran V was preparing to attack the invaders unawares. He had started for Azerbijan with a small force of select warriors, and collected additional troops from Armenia. He proceeded along the mountain line through Taberistan, Hyrcania and Nissa, or Nishapur; marching only by night and cautiously masking his movements, thus reaching the vicinity of Merv unobserved. He then planned and successfully executed a night attack upon the invaders; attacking them suddenly in the dark, alarming them with strange noises and assailing them most vigorously, thus putting their entire army to flight. The Khan himself was killed, and the fleeing host of the Ephthalites was pursued by the victorious Persians to the banks of the Oxus. The entire camp equipage of the vanquished invaders became the spoil of the victors; and Khatoun, the great Khan’s wife, was taken captive. The plunder was of immense value, and included the royal diadem of the Khan with its rich setting of pearls.
The Persian king then followed up his victory by sending one of his generals with a large force across the Oxus, while he attacked the Ephthalites in their own country and defeated them in a second battle with frightful carnage. The Ephthalites begged for peace, which the triumphant Varahran V granted them; while he also erected a column to mark the boundary of the New Persian Empire in that region, and appointed his brother Narses satrap of Khorassan, ordering him to fix his residence at Balkh, the ancient Bactria, and to prevent the Ephthalites and other Tartar races from making raids across the Oxus. These precautions were successful, as there were no more hostilities in that region during the remainder of the reign of Varahran V.
The coins of Varahran V are mainly remarkable for their rude and coarse workmanship, and for the number of mints from which they were issued. The mint-marks include Ctesiphon, Ecbatana, Ispahan, Arbela, Ledan, Nehavend, Assyria, Khuzistan, Media and Kerman, or Carmania. The usual legend upon the reverse is “Varahran” with a mint-mark. The head-dress has the mural crown in front and behind, but between these are a crescent and a circle. The reverse shows the usual fire-altar, with guards or attendants watching it. The king’s head is seen in the flame upon the altar.
Oriental writers tell us that Varahran V was one of the best of the Sassanidae. He carefully administered justice among his many subjects, remitted arrears of taxes, bestowed pensions upon scientific and literary men, encouraged agriculture, and was extremely liberal in relieving poverty and distress. His faults were his over-generosity and his over-fondness of amusement, particularly of the chase. The Orientals conferred upon him the nickname of “Bahram-Gur’’, which marks his predilection for hunting by giving him the name of the animal which was the special object of his pursuit. He was almost as fond of dancing and of games. Still his inclination for pastime did not interfere with his public duties. Persia is said to have been in a most flourishing condition during the reign of Varahran V. He was an active, brave, energetic and sagacious sovereign, as the great acts of his reign clearly demonstrate. He does not appear to have appreciated art, but he encouraged learning, and exerted himself to his utmost to advance science.
Varahran V died in 440, after a reign of twenty years. The Persian writers state that he was engaged in the hunt of the wild ass, when his horse came suddenly upon a deep pool, or spring of water, and either plunged into it or threw the king into it, Varahran sinking and being never seen thereafter. This incident is supposed to have occurred in a valley between Ispahan and Shiraz. In that same valley in 1810 an English soldier lost his life through bathing in the spring which tradition declared to be the one which proved fatal to King Varahran V. This coincidence has caused a story which would perhaps otherwise have been considered wholly romantic and mythical to be generally accepted as true.
Upon the death of Varahran V, in 420, his son, Isdigerd II, became King of Persia. His first act was to declare war against the Eastern Roman Empire, whose forces were then concentrated in the vicinity of Nisibis. Isdigerd II invaded the Roman territory to anticipate a Roman invasion of his own dominions. His army was composed partly of his own subjects, and partly of foreign auxiliaries, such as Arabs, Tzani, Isaurians and Ephthalites. With this force he made a sudden irruption into the Roman territory when the imperial officers were totally unprepared for it; but storms of rain and hail hindered the advance of the Persian invaders, and gave the Roman generals a breathing spell, during which they collected an army.
The Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II was so anxious for peace that he ordered Count Anatolius, the Roman Prefect of the East, to conclude a peace. A truce of a year was then made, and this was followed by a permanent treaty. Anatolius went alone and on foot to the Persian camp, in order to place himself wholly in the power of King Isdigerd II—an act which is said to have so impressed the Persian king that he immediately consented to a peace on the terms suggested by Anatolius, one condition being that neither the Persians nor the Romans should erect any new fortified post in the vicinity of the other’s territory.
The Ephthalites were again making trouble on the north-eastern frontier of the New Persian Empire, and King Isdigerd II undertook a long war against them and conducted it with great resolution and perseverance. Leaving the administration of affairs in the capital to his vizier, Mihr-Narses, the Persian king established his own residence at Nishapur, in the mountain region between the Persian and Khorasmian deserts, whence he conducted a campaign against the restless Ephthalites regularly every year from 443 to 451. In the last-named year he crossed the Oxus, attacked the Ephthalites in their own country, utterly defeated them, drove their sovereign from the cultivated part of the country, and forced him to seek refuge in the desert.
Isdigerd II next undertook to forcibly convert Armenia from Christianity to Zoroastrianism. The religious differences which had separated the Armenians from the Persians ever since Armenia had made Christianity the religion of the state and nation was a source of weakness to Persia in her wars with Rome. Armenia was always naturally on the Roman side, as a religious sympathy united it with the court of Constantinople, and a religious difference tended to detach it from the court of Ctesiphon.
During the war between Isdigerd II and the Emperor Theodosius II the former was obliged to send an army into Persarmenia on account of Roman intrigues in that country. The Persians knew that so long as Armenia remained Christian and Persia continued Zoroastrian the two countries could never maintain friendly relations with each other. Persia would always have a traitor in her camp; and in any time of trouble—especially in any trouble with Rome—might expect this part of her territory to desert to the enemy. It is no wonder that Persian statesmen were anxious to end so unsatisfactory a condition of affairs, and to find some means whereby Armenia might be made a real friend instead of a concealed enemy of Persia.
King Isdigerd II therefore undertook to convert the Armenians to the Zoroastrian religion. In the early part of his reign he hoped to accomplish this by persuasion, and sent his vizier, Mihr-Narses, into the country with orders to employ all possible peaceful means—gifts, blandishments, promises, threats, removal of malignant chiefs—to induce the Armenians to change their religion. Mihr-Narses exerted himself to his utmost, but signally failed. He carried off the Christian leaders of Armenia, Iberia and Albania, telling them that the Persian king required their services against the Tartars, and forced them with their followers to take part in the Persian war against the Ephthalites. He intrusted Armenia to the charge of the Margrave, Vasag, a native Armenian prince who was well disposed toward the Persian cause, instructing him to bring about the change of religion by a conciliatory policy.
But the Armenians were obstinate, and were not moved by threats, promises or persuasions. A manifesto was vainly issued, painting the religion of Zoroaster in the brightest colors and requiring every Armenian to conform to it. It was in vain that arrests were made and punishments threatened. The Armenians were not affected by argument or menace, and no progress was made toward the desired conversion.
In 540 the Armenians induced their Patriarch, Joseph, to hold a great assembly, at which they declared by acclamation that they were Christians and would remain thus, whatever it might cost them. The Persian king thereupon summoned to his presence the principal Armenian chiefs—Vasag the Margrave, the Sparapet or commander-in-chief, Vartan the Mamigonian, Prince Vazten of Iberia, and King Vatche of Albania —and then threatened them with instant death if they did not at once renounce Christianity and profess Zoroastrianism. The chiefs yielded to this threat and declared themselves converts, whereupon Isdigerd II sent them back to their respective countries, with orders to force a similar change of religion on their fellow-countrymen.
Thereupon the Armenians and Iberians openly revolted. Vartan the Mamigonian repented of his weakness, abjured his new creed, resumed his former profession of Christianity, made his peace with Joseph, the Armenian Patriarch, called his people to arms, and soon raised an army of a hundred thousand men. Three Armenian armies were formed, to ad separately under different generals—one watching Azerbijan, or Media Atropatene, whence the principal attack of the Persians was expected; another, under Vartan, proceeding to the relief of Albania, where efforts were also made to fasten Zoroastrianism on the people; the third, under Vasag the Margrave occupying a central position in Armenia, ready to move wherever danger should threaten.
The Armenian rebels also attempted to induce the Eastern Roman Emperor Marcian to espouse their cause and afford them military aid; but Marcian declined to interfere, as he was then in danger of conquest by Attila the Hun. Thus Armenia had to face the Persians single-handed; and Vasag deserted to the enemy, carrying his army with him, thus dividing Armenia against itself and ruining the cause of the Christian party. When the Persians entered the field half of Armenia was ranged on their side; and the victory was already decided in their favor, although a long and bloody struggle followed. After much desultory warfare, a great battle was fought in 455 or 456, in which the Armenian Christians were defeated by the Persians and their Armenian allies, Vartan and his brother being among the slain. All further resistance was hopeless; the Patriarch Joseph and other Armenian bishops were carried off to Persia and martyred; and the religion of Zoroaster was enforced upon the Armenian nation. All Armenians accepted Zoroastrianism, except a few who took refuge in the Eastern Roman dominions or fled to the mountain fastnesses of Kurdistan.
About the time of the close of the Armenian war of religion King Isdigerd II was again involved in a war with the Ephthalites, who had again crossed the Oxus and invaded the province of Khorassan in force. The Persian king drove the Ephthalites from his dominions; but when he retaliated by invading their country, they lured him and his army into an ambuscade, where they inflicted a severe defeat upon him, thus compelling him to retreat to his own dominions. This occurred near the end of Isdigerd’s reign.
The coins of Isdigerd II are almost similar to those of his father, Varahran V, differing only in the legend and in the fad that the mural crown of Isdigerd is complete. The legend on Isdigerd’s coins is, translated, as follows: “Ormazd-worshiping great Isdigerd”, or ‘‘Isdigerd the Great.’’ The coins are not numerous and have only three mint-marks, which are interpreted to mean “Khuzistan,” “Ctesiphon” and “Nehavend.’'
Isdigerd II was an able, resolute and couragous sovereign. His subjects called him “the Clement,” but his policy in religious matters showed anything but clemency. He was a bitter and successful persecutor of the Christian religion, which he entirely stamped out for his time, both in his own proper dominions and in the newly-acquired province of Armenia. When less violent means failed, he did not scruple to use the extremest and severest coercion. Being a bigoted Zoroastrian, he was determined to have religious uniformity all over his dominions; and he secured such uniformity at the cost of crushing a Christian people, and so alienating them as to make it certain that they would cast off the Persian yoke entirely at the first convenient opportunity.
Isdigerd II died in 457 after a reign of seventeen years; and his younger son, Hormisdas III, seized the Persian throne, owing his elevation largely to the partiality of his father, who preferred his younger son above his elder. Isdigerd II had made his elder son, Perozes, satrap of the remote province of Seistan, thus removing him from court, while he retained Hormisdas about his own person. The advantage thus secured to Hormisdas enabled him to usurp the throne when his father died; and Perozes was obliged to flee from the Persian dominions and place himself under the protection of the Ephthalite Khan, Khush-newez, who ruled in the valley of the Oxus, over Bactria, Tokaristan, Badakshan and other neighboring districts. The Ephthalite Khan received the refugee Persian prince favorably, and finally agreed to afford him military aid against his brother.
Hormisdas III, though bearing the epithet of Ferzan, “the Wise,” was soon at variance with his subjects, many of whom gathered at the court which his brother was permitted to maintain in Taleqan, one of the Ephthalite cities. With the support of these Persian refugees and an Ephthalite contingent, Perozes advanced against his brother. His army was commanded by Raham, or Ram, a noble of the Mihran family, and attacked the forces of Hormisdas III, defeated them, and made Hormisdas himself a prisoner. The vanquished king’s troops then deserted in a body to his victorious brother (459).
Thereupon Perozes was acknowledged king by the whole Persian people, after he had lived in exile for more than two years (457-459). Perozes then left Taleqan and established his court at Ctesiphon, or Al Modian, which had by this time become the principal capital of the New Persian Empire. The Armenian writers say that Raham caused Hormisdas III to be put to death after defeating him; but the native Persian historian, Mirkhond, states that the triumphant Perozes forgave his brother for having usurped the Persian throne, and amiably spared his life.
The short civil war between the princely brothers cost Persia a province. Vatche, King of Albania, or Aghouank, took advantage of this civil war to cast off his allegiance to Persia, and succeeded in making himself independent. As soon as Perozes became King of Persia he made war on Vatche to recover Albania, though Vatche was his sister’s son; and with the aid of his Ephthalite allies, and of a body of Alans whom he had taken into his service, Perozes vanquished the revolted Albanians and thoroughly subdued the rebellious province.
An era of prosperity for Persia now ensued. King Perozes ruled with moderation and justice. He dismissed his Ephthalite allies with presents that amply satisfied them, and lived and reigned for five years in peace and honor. But in the fifth year of his reign the prosperity of Persia was suddenly interrupted by a terrible drought, which produced the most frightful consequences. The crops failed; the earth became parched and burnt up; smiling districts were changed into wildernesses; fountains and brooks ceased to flow; the wells had no water; and, it is said, even the great rivers Tigris and Oxus ran entirely dry. Vegetation wholly ceased; the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air perished; not a bird was to be seen throughout the whole Persian dominion; the wild animals and the reptiles entirely disappeared.
This dreadful calamity afflicted Persia for seven years; but owing to the wisdom and beneficence of King Perozes, it is said that not one person, or, according to another account, but one, perished from hunger. Perozes began by issuing general orders that the rich should come to the relief of the poor. He required the governors of towns and the headmen of villages to see that food was furnished to such as were in want; and threatened that for each poor man who died from starvation in a town or village, he would put a rich man to death. After the drought had continued two years he refused to take any revenue from his subjects, remitting taxes of all kinds, whether they were money imposts or contributions in kind. In the fourth year of this terrible calamity he distributed money from his own treasury to those in need. He also imported corn from Greece and India, from the valley of the Oxus and from Abyssinia, thus obtaining ample supplies to furnish adequate sustenance to all his subjects. In consequence of these measures of the king, the famine caused no mortality among the poorer classes, and no Persian subject was obliged to leave his country to escape the pressure of this affliction.
Such are the Oriental accounts of the great famine which afflicted Persia during the early part of the reign of Perozes; but as he then engaged in a great war with the Ephthalites, who had aided him to obtain his crown, and as his ambassadors to the Greek or Eastern Roman court then requested a subsidy for his military preparations, and not food supplies, it seems probable that the accounts of the famine are largely exaggerated.
A contemporary Greek authority states that the cause of the war of Perozes against the Ephthalites was the refusal of those people to pay their customary tribute to Persia. Perozes resolved to enforce his claims, and led an army against the Ephthalites, but was defeated in his first operations. After some time he concluded to end the war, but determined to take a secret revenge upon his enemy by means of an occult insult. He proposed to the Khan, Khush-newaz, to conclude a treaty of peace and to strengthen the agreement by a marriage alliance, Khush-newaz to take one of the Persian king’s daughters as a wife, thus uniting the interests of the two reigning families. Khush-newaz accepted this proposal, and readily espoused the young Persian princess who was sent to his court in attire suitable to her rank.
But the Ephthalite Khan soon found that he had been deceived. The Persian king had not sent his daughter, but one of his female slaves; and the royal race of the Ephthalite sovereigns had been disgraced by a matrimonial union with a person of a servile condition. Khush-newaz was rightly indignant, but he dissembled his feelings, and resolved to retaliate by a trick of his own. He wrote to Perozes that he intended to make war on a neighboring tribe, and that he wanted experienced officers to conduct the military operations. The Persian king, unsuspicious of any deception, readily granted this request, and sent three hundred of his principal officers to Khush-newaz, who instantly put some of them to death, mutilated the remainder, and commanded them to return to their sovereign and inform him that the Khan of the Ephthalites now felt that he had adequately avenged the trick of which he had been made the victim by the Persian monarch.
When Perozes received this message he renewed the war, marched toward the country of the Ephthalites, and established his headquarters in Hyrcania, at the city of Gurgan. He was accompanied by Eusebius, a Greek, an ambassador from the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno, who brought to Constantinople the following account of the campaign.
When Perozes invaded the Ephthalite country and engaged the enemy, the latter pretended to be seized with a panic and instantly fled. They retreated to a mountainregion, where a broad and good road led into a wide plain, surrounded on every side by wooded hills, steep and in places precipitous. There the mass of the Ephthalite troops were cunningly concealed amid the foliage of the woods, while a small number remained visible and allured the Persian army into the ambuscade, the unsuspecting Persians only perceiving their peril when they observed the road by which they had entered occupied by the troops from the hills. The Persian officers then only knew that they had been cleverly entrapped, but all seemed afraid to inform their king that he had been deceived by a stratagem. They therefore requested Eusebius to inform Perozes of his perilous situation, and to exhort him to try to save himself by counsel and not by any desperate act.
Eusebius thereupon employed the Oriental method of apologue, relating to Perozes how a lion in pursuing a goat got himself into difficulties, from which all his strength was not able to extricate him. Perozes caught his meaning, comprehended the situation, desisted from the pursuit, and prepared to offer battle where he stood. But the Ephthalite monarch did not wish to push matters to extremities. He sent an embassy to Perozes, offering to release him from his perilous position and allow him and his army a safe return to Persia, if he would swear a perpetual peace with the Ephthalites and do homage to himself as his lord and master by prostration before him. Perozes felt that his only choice was to accept these humiliating terms. Instructed by the Magi, he made the required prostration at the moment of sunrise, with his face turned toward the east, thinking thus to escape the humiliation of abasing himself before a mortal by the mental reservation that the intention of his act was to adore the great Persian divinity. He then swore to the peace, and was permitted to return with his whole army to Persia.
Soon after this disgraceful peace, serious troubles again broke out in Armenia. Perozes followed his father’s policy, incessantly persecuting the Christians of his northern provinces, especially those of Armenia, Georgia and Albania. His measures were so severe that many of the Armenians fled from their country and placed themselves under the protection of the Eastern Roman Emperor, becoming his subjects and entering into his service. Persian officials and apostate natives governed Armenia, treating the Christian inhabitants with extreme rudeness, insolence and injustice. They particularly oppressed the few noble Armenian families who adhered to the religion of Christ and who had not expatriated themselves The most important of these were the Mamigonians, who had long been renowned in Armenian history, and who were then the chief of the Armenian nobility.
The renegade Armenians sought to discredit this noble family with the Persians; and Vahan, son of Hemaiag, the head of the family, was obliged to repeatedly visit the Persian court to refute the charges of his enemies and counteract their calumnies. He successfully vindicated himself, and was received into high favor by King Perozes; in consequence of which treatment he became a religious apostate, formally abjuring the Christian religion, for which he had defended himself firmly against all the blasts of persecution, and professing himself a Zoroastrian; thus turning his back upon all his past professions and record, merely to please his sovereign.
When the triumph of the anti-Christian party in Armenia thus seemed secured, a reaction began. The perfidious Vahan became subject to remorse, returned secretly to his old religious creed, and longed for an opportunity to wipe out the shame of his apostasy by imperilling his life for the Christian cause. The desired opportunity presented itself in A. D. 481, when King Perozes was defeated by the barbarous Koushans, who then occupied the low tract along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, from Asterabad to Derbend. Iberia at once revolted, killed its Zoroastrian king, Vazken, and placed a Christian king, Vakhtang, upon the Iberian throne. The Persian satrap of Armenia, who received orders to suppress the Iberian rebellion, marched with all the troops that he could muster into Iberia, thus leaving the Armenians free to follow their own devices.
A rising instantly occurred; and all the efforts of Vahan, who doubted Armenia’s power to cope with Persia, were not capable of restraining the popular enthusiasm of the Armenian Christians, who rushed to arms with the determination to be free. The Persians and their Armenian supporters fled from the country. The Christian party besieged and took Artaxata, the Armenian capital, and were completely victorious. After making themselves masters of all Persarmenia, they proceeded to establish a national government, with Sahag the Bagratide as king and Vahan the Mamigonian as Sparapet, or commander-in-chief. Upon hearing of these events, Ader-Veshnasp, the Persian satrap, returned to Armenia from Iberia with a small army of Medes, Atropatenians and Cadusians; but was utterly defeated and slain by Vasag, Vahan’s brother, on the river Araxes (481).
In 482 the Persians vigorously endeavored to recover their lost ground by sending an army under Ader-Nerseh against Armenia, and another under Mihran into Iberia. Ader-Nerseh was defeated by the Armenians under Vahan and King Sahag in the plain of Ardaz. Mihran soon overmatched the Iberian king, Vakhtang, who was obliged to apply to Armenia for aid. The Armenians who came to Vakhtang’s assistance were ill rewarded for their generosity, as the Iberian king plotted to make his peace with Persia by treacherously betraying his allies into the power of their enemies; and the Armenians, thus obliged to fight at a great disadvantage, were severely defeated. Sahag, the Armenian king, and Vasag, Vahan’s brother, were slain; and Vahan escaped with a few followers to the highlands of Daik, on the frontiers of the Roman and Iberian territory. There he was hunted upon the mountains by Mihran; but when the Persian general was summoned by his sovereign to take the field against the Koushans of the low Caspian region, Vahan recovered possession of all Armenia in a few weeks.
In 483 the Persians made another desperate effort to crush the Armenian revolt, sending an army under Hazaravougd into Armenia early in the spring. Vahan was for some time besieged in the city of Dovin, but finally escaped, and renewed the guerrilla warfare in which he was so skillful. The Persians recovered most of Armenia, and Vahan was repeatedly driven across the border and obliged to seek refuge in Roman Armenia, whither he was pursued by the Persian general, and where he was for some time in constant peril, from which he was only saved when Hazaravougd was ordered by his king to direct his efforts to suppress the revolt in Iberia, and was succeeded in the government of Armenia by Sapor, a newly-appointed satrap.
Hazaravougd succeeded in restoring Persian authority in Iberia, and the Iberian king, Vakhtang, fled to Colchis. Sapor vainly attempted to procure Vahan’s assassination by two of his officers, whose wives were Roman prisoners; after which he led a formidable army against Vahan, but was surprised and defeated with great loss and his army was dispersed. A second battle resulted as disastrously, and the demoralized Persian army was compelled to retreat; while Vahan assumed the offensive, established himself in Dovin, and again rallied the great mass of the Armenian nation to his side. The breaking out of another war between the Persians and the Ephthalites caused a pause in the Armenian struggle, and resulted in putting Armenian affairs on a new footing.
Some years after his disgraceful treaty with the Ephthalites, Perozes determined to renew the war with that people to atone for his humiliation by a great and signal victory. The Chief Mobed and the king’s other counselors vainly opposed this design and sought to dissuade him, as did also his great general, Bahram; while his soldiers also displayed reluctance to fight. Perozes could not be turned from his resolution; and collected an army of a hundred thousand men and five hundred elephants, and then took the field against the Ephthalites, leaving the government in the hands of Balas, or Palash, his son or brother.
Some Oriental writers tell us that Perozes sought by a curious subterfuge to free himself from the charge of having broken his treaty with the Ephthalite Khan. By that treaty the Persian king had sworn never to march his forces past a certain pillar which Khush-newaz, the Ephthalite sovereign, had erected to mark the boundary line between the Persian and Ephthalite dominions. Perozes persuaded himself that he would sufficiently observe his engagement if he kept its letter; and he therefore lowered the pillar and placed it on a number of chariots attached together and drawn by a train of fifty elephants in front of his army. In this way he never “passed be yond’’ the pillar which he had sworn not to pass, no matter how far he invaded the Ephthalite country. In his own opinion he kept his vow, but not in the judgment of his advisers. By the mouth of the Chief Mobed, the Magian priesthood disclaimed this wretched casuistry and exposed its fallacy.
On hearing of the design of Perozes, the Ephthalite monarch prepared to meet his attack by stratagem. He had established his camp near Balkh, the ancient Bactria, where he dug a deep and wide trench in front of his whole position; and after filling this trench with water, he covered it carefully with boughs of trees, reeds and earth, so that it could not be distinguished from the general surface of the plain on which he was encamped. When the Persians arrived in his front he held a parley with Perozes, reproaching him with ingratitude and breach of faith, and offering to renew the peace.
When Perozes scornfully refused, the Ephthalite sovereign hung the broken treaty on the point of a lance, paraded it in front of the Persian army, and exhorted the Persian troops to avoid the vengeance which was certain to overtake the perjured by deserting their doomed sovereign. Tabari tells us that one-half of the Persian army then retired, and that Khush-newaz then sent a part of his army across the trench with orders to challenge the Persians to battle, and when the conflict commenced, to flee hastily, and to return within the trench by the sound passage and unite themselves with the main army.
As had been expected, the whole Persian host pursued the fleeing Ephthalites and came unawares upon the concealed trench and plunged into it, becoming inextricably entangled and being easily destroyed. King Perozes, several of his sons, and most of his army, perished. Firuzdocht, his daughter, along with the Chief Mobed and many of the rank and file, were made prisoners. The victorious Ephthalites took a vast booty, among which, Procopius and Tabari tell us, were an earring, and an amulet which King Perozes carried as a bracelet. Khush-newaz did not stain his triumph by any cruelties, but treated his captives with kindness, and searched for the body of the Persian king, which, after being found, was honorably interred.
Thus perished King Perozes in 483, after a reign of twenty-six years, according to Tabari and Mirkhond. He was a brave monarch and fully merited the epithet of Al Merdaneh, “the Courageous,” which his subjects bestowed upon him. But his bravery amounted to rashness, and he was not possessed of any other military quality. He did not possess the sagacity to form a good plan of campaign, nor the ability to conduct a battle. He was personally unsuccessful in all the wars in which he engaged, and his generals won the only triumphs which attended his arms. He obtained a reputation for humanity and justice in his civil administration; and, if the Oriental accounts of his conduct during the great famine are correct, his wisdom and benevolence had no parallels among Oriental monarchs. His conduct toward Khush-newaz was the great blot which tarnished his fair fame.
There are numerous coins of Perozes, and they are distinguished usually by having a wing in front of the crown and another behind it. They bear the legend, Kadi-Piruzi, or Mazdisn Kadi Piruzi, ‘‘King Perozes”, or “the Ormazd-worshiping King Perozes.” The king’s earring is a triple pendant. The reverse has the usual fire-altar and supporters, and also a star and a crescent on each side of the altar-flame. The mints named are those of Persepolis, Ispahan, Rhages, Nehavend, Darabgherd, Zadracarta, Nissa, Behistun, Khuzistan, Media, Kerman, Azerbijan, Rasht, Baiza, Modain, Merv, Shiz, Iran, Yez and others. The general character of the coinage is rude and coarse, and the reverse of the coins especially exhibit signs of degeneracy. There is also a cup or vase of antique and elegant form assigned to the reign of Perozes, engraved with a hunting-scene.
Perozes was succeeded by a king called Balas by the Greeks, and Palash by the Arabs and the later Persians, but whose real name seems to have been Valakhesh, or Volagases. The native Persian writers call him the son of Perozes, while the Greeks and the contemporary Armenians represent him as the brother of Perozes.
The new king immediately sent Sukhra, or Sufrai, the satrap of Seistan, to defend the north-eastern frontier against the victorious Ephthalites. Sukhra led a large army to the menaced frontier, and alarmed Khush-newaz by a display of his skill in archery; after which he entered into negotiations with the Ephthalite sovereign and obtained the release of Firuzdocht, of the Grand Mobed and of the other important prisoners, along with the restoration of a considerable part of the captured booty. But the Persian general was probably compelled to accept some humiliating conditions on his sovereign’s part, as Procopius informs us that Persia became subject to the Ephthalites and paid them tribute for two years.
Balas next devoted his attention to the pacification of Armenia. He first appointed Nikhor, a Persian, Marzpan, or governor of Armenia. Nikhor, who was a man of justice and moderation, proposed to Vahan, the Armenian prince, who was then master of most of Armenia, that they should discuss amicably the terms upon which the Armenian people would be satisfied to resume their old position of dependence upon Persia. Vahan declared that he and his partisans were willing to lay down their arms on the conditions that the existing firealtars in Armenia should be destroyed, and no others erected in that country; that the Armenians should be allowed the full exercise of the Christian religion, and no Armenians should in the future be bribed or tempted to declare themselves disciples of Zoroaster; that if converts were made from Christianity to Zoroastrianism, no places should be assigned to them; and that the Persian king should personally administer the government of Armenia, and not by viceroy or governor.
Nikhor agreed to these terms; and, after an exchange of hostages, Vahan visited the Persian camp and arranged with Nikhor for a solemn ratification of peace on the aforesaid conditions. An edidt of toleration was issued, and it was formally declared that “everyone should be at liberty to adhere to his own religion, and that no one should be driven to apostatize.” Upon these terms Vahan and Nikhor concluded peace; but before King Balas had ratified the treaty. Zareh, a son of Perozes, laid claim to the Persian crown, and, being supported by a large body of the Persian people, involved the country in civil war.
Nikhor, the Persian governor of Armenia, was one of the officers appointed to suppress Zareh’s rebellion. By suggesting to Vahan that it would strengthen the Armenian claims to afford effective aid to Balas, Nikhor induced the Armenian leader to send a formidable force of cavalry commanded by his own nephew, Gregory. By the valor of this Armenian contingent, Zareh was defeated, and was pursued in his flight to the mountains, taken prisoner and slain. Soon afterward Kobad, another son of Perozes, claimed the Persian crown, but met with no success, and was obliged to leave Persia and place himself under the protection of the Ephthalites.
Balas then directed his attention to the complete pacification of Armenia. He summoned Vahan to his court, received him with the highest honors, listened attentively to his representations, and finally accepted the terms formulated by Vahan. He then appointed Antegan governor of Armenia. This man was a worthy successor of Nikhor—“mild, prudent and equitable.” To show his confidence in Vahan, King Balas appointed him Sparapet, or commander-in chief. After Antegan had governed Armenia for a few months, he recommended to his sovereign that the wisest course would be to intrust Vahan with the government of Armenia.
The Persian king accordingly recalled Antegan and appointed Vahan to the governorship of Armenia; while Vahan’s brother, Vart, was assigned to the office of Sparapet. Christianity was then formally established as the state religion of Armenia. The fire-altars were destroyed; the churches were reclaimed and purified; and the Christian hierarchy was restored to its former position and powers. Almost the entire Armenian nation was reconverted to the Christian religion, the apostate Armenians abjuring Zoroastrianism. Armenia and Iberia were pacified, and the two provinces which had been so long a cause of weakness to Persia soon became the main sources of Persian strength and prosperity.
Balas was a wise and just sovereign, mild in his temper, averse to war, and conciliatory. His internal administration gave general satisfaction to his subjects. He protected and relieved the poor, extended cultivation, and punished governors who permitted any men in their respective provinces to fall into poverty. His prudence and moderation ended the chronic Armenian difficulty and made Armenia a loyal province of the New Persian Empire.
The coins assigned to Balas have on the obverse the head of a king with the usual mural crown surmounted by a crescent and an inflated ball. The beard is short and curled, while the hair falls behind the head in curls. The earring ornamenting the ear has a double pendant. Flames issue from the left shoulder. The full legend upon the coins is Hur Kadi Valakashi “Volagases, the Fire King.” The reverse has the usual fire-altar, but with the king’s head in the flames, and with the star and the crescent on each side. It usually bears the legend “Valakashi,’’ with a mint-mark. The mints named are those of Iran, Kerman, Ispahan, Nissa, Leden, Shiz, Zadracarta and several others.
Soon after the pacification of Armenia, Balas died (487), after a reign of four years, without appointing a successor. When Kobad fled to the Ephthalites, on his failure to seize the Persian crown, he was welcomed; and when Balas withheld his tribute, three years later, Khush-newaz furnished Kobad with an army with which he returned to the Persian capital. Kobad’s first reign lasted eleven years (487-498), and during its early portion he intrusted the administration of public affairs to Sukhra, or Sufrai, his father’s chief minister. Sufrai’s son, Zer-Mihr, had faithfully adhered to Kobad throughout his exile, and Kobad magnanimously forgave Sufrai for opposing his ambition and using his power against him.
Sufrai accordingly governed Persia for some years, having the civil administration wholly in his hands, while the army obeyed him. Kobad therefore grew jealous of his minister, and sought to deprive him of his quasi-legal authority and to assert his own right to direct public affairs. He therefore called in the aid of an officer named Sapor, who quarrelled with Sufrai and imprisoned him, putting him to death several days afterward. Sapor then became Kobad’s prime minister, and also Sipehbed, or commander-in-chief. Kobad allowed the whole administration to fall into Sapor’s hands.
During Kobad’s first reign Persia was engaged in a war with the Khazars, who then occupied the steppes between the Volga and the Don, whence they made raids through the passes of the Caucasus into the fertile Persian provinces of Iberia, Albania and Armenia. The Khazars were at this time a race of fierce and terrible barbarians, nomadic in their habits, ruthless in their wars, cruel and uncivilized in their customs, and a fearful scourge to the regions which they overran and desolated. Kobad led a hundred thousand men against them, defeated them in a battle, destroyed most of their army, and returned to his capital with a vast booty. Tabari tells us that Kobad built the town of Amid on the Armenian frontier to check the inroads of the Khazars.
Soon after returning in triumph from his Khazar campaign, Kobad was involved in difficulties which finally lost him his crown. Mazdak, a Persian and an Archimagus, or High Priest of the Zoroastrian religion, announced himself as a reformer of Zoroastrianism early in Kobad’s reign, and commenced making proselytes to the new doctrines which he declared himself commissioned to reveal. He asserted that all men were, by God’s providence, born equal; that none brought any property into the world, nor any right to possess more than another; that property and marriage were mere human inventions, contrary to God’s will, which required an equal division of the good things of this world among all, and which forbade the appropriation of particular women by individual men; that in communities based upon property and marriage, men might lawfully vindicate their natural rights by taking their fair share of the good things wrongfully appropriated by their fellows; and that adultery, incest, theft, etc., were not really crimes, but necessary steps towards the reestablishment of the laws of nature in such societies.
Besides these communistic views, the Magian reformer added tenets from the Brahmans of India, or from some other Oriental ascetics; such as the sacredness of animal life, the necessity of abstaining from animal food, except milk, cheese or eggs, and also the propriety of simplicity in dress and the need of abstemiousness and devotion. He thus appeared as a religious enthusiast preaching a doctrine of moral laxity and self-indulgence, simply from a conviction of duty, and not from any base or selfish motive.
It is not surprising that the new teacher’s doctrines were embraced with ardor by large classes of Persians—by the young of all ranks, by the lovers of pleasure, and by the great bulk of the lower orders. But it naturally excites our wonder that the king himself was among the proselytes to the new religion which leveled him with his subjects. Mazdak claimed to authenticate his mission by the possession and exhibition of miraculous powers. He imposed on Kobad’s weak mind by a clever device.
He excavated a cave below the fire-altar on which he was accustomed to offering, and contrived to pass a tube from the cavern to the upper surface of the altar, where the sacred flame was maintained perpetually. He then placed a confederate in the cavern and invited Kobad to attend, and in the king’s presence he appeared to converse with the fire itself, which the Persians regarded as the symbol and embodiment of divinity. The king accepted the pretended miracle as conclusive evidence of the divine authority of the new teacher, and thenceforth was his zealous supporter and disciple.
Disorders followed the king’s conversion to the new creed. The followers of Mazdak were not satisfied with establishing community of property and of women among themselves, but claimed the right to plunder the rich at their pleasure, and to carry off the inmates of the most illustrious harems for the gratification of their own passions. The Mobeds vainly declared that the new creed was false and monstrous, and that it ought not to be tolerated for an hour. Mazdak’s disciples had the king’s support—a protection which secured them perfect impunity. They grew bolder and more numerous daily. Persia became too narrow a field for their ambition, and they sought to diffuse their doctrines into the neighboring countries.
Traces of their doctrine were to be found in the remote West of Christendom; and the Armenian historians tell us that they so pressed their doctrines upon the Armenian people that an insurrection broke out, and Persia was threatened with the loss of one of her most valued dependencies by intolerance. Vahan the Mamigonian had been superseded in the government of Armenia by another Marzpan, who was resolved upon forcing the Armenians to adopt the new creed. Vahan again appeared as his country’s champion, took up arms to defend the Christian faith, and sought to induce the Eastern Roman Emperor Anastasius I. to accept the sovereignty of Persarmenia, along with the duty of protecting it against the. Persians. Anastasius hesitated, but a revolution in Persia itself rescued the unfortunate Armenians.
The Mobeds and the chief nobles in Persia had vainly protested against the diffusion of the new religion and the patronage which it received from the Persian court. Finally an appeal was made to the Chief Mobed, who was requested to devise a remedy for the existing evils, which were now regarded as beyond endurance. The Chief Mobed decided that the only effectual remedy, under the circumstances, was the deposition of the sovereign, through whose culpable connivance the disorders had reached their height. This decision was generally sustained. The Persian nobles unanimously agreed to depose Kobad and to place his brother Zamasp upon the throne. Zamasp was noted for his love of justice and for the mildness of his disposition. After making the requisite arrangements they rose in unanimous rebellion, arrested Kobad and imprisoned him in the “Castle of Oblivion,’’ and proclaimed Zamasp and crowned him King of Persia with all the usual formalities.
An effort to inflict a fatal blow on the new religion by seizing and executing Mazdak failed. The seizure and imprisonment of Mazdak roused his followers, who broke open his prison doors and released him. The government did not possess sufficient strength to enforce its intended policy of coercion; and Mazdak was permitted to live in retirement unmolested, and to augment the number of his followers.
Zamasp’s reign lasted almost three years, from 498 to 501. The Persian army urged him to put Kobad to death, but he hesitated to adopt so extreme a course, and preferred to retain his rival in imprisonment. The “Castle of Oblivion’’ was considered a safe place, but the ex-king soon effected his escape from prison through the assistance of his wife. He took refuge with the Ephthalites, and sought to induce the Great Khan to espouse his cause and furnish him with an army. Khush-newaz received the royal fugitive with every mark of honor, betrothed him to one of his daughters, and placed an army of thirty thousand men at his disposal.
Kobad returned to Persia with this force and offered battle to Zamasp, who declined the conflict, as he had not secured the popularity of his subjects, and as he knew that a large party desired his brother’s return to the throne. Therefore when Kobad reached the vicinity of the Persian capital with the thirty thousand Ephthalites and a strong force of Persian supporters, Zamasp abdicated the throne in favor of his brother and voluntarily retired to private life. Procopius tells us that the restored Kobad blinded his brother’s eyes; but Mirkhond says that Zamasp was pardoned, and that his brother even bestowed marks of affection and favor upon him.
Zamasp’s coins have the usual inflated ball and mural crown, but have a crescent instead of the front limb of the crown. The ends of the diadem appear over the two shoulders. There is a star on each side of the head and a crescent over each shoulder. There are three stars with crescents outside the encircling ring, or “pearl border.’’ The reverse has the usual fire-altar, with a star and a crescent on each side of the flame. The legend is either Zamasp or Bag Zamasp. “Zamaspes,” or “the divine Zamaspes.”
Kobad’s second reign lasted from 501 to 531, thus embracing a period of thirty years. He reigned contemporaneously with the Eastern Roman Emperors Anastasius I, Justin I and Justinian I, and with Theodoric, the Ostrogothic King of Italy; while such eminent characters as Cassiodorus, Boethius, Symmachus, Procopius and Belisarius flourished at the same time. We get little of this part of his history from the Oriental writers; while the Byzantine authors give us copious accounts of his transactions with the Eastern Roman Emperors, and also some interesting notices of other matters which engaged his attention.
Procopius, the eminent rhetorician and secretary of Belisarius, who was born about the time of Kobad’s restoration to the Persian throne, and who became secretary to the great Byzantine general four years before Kobad’s death, gives ample details of the principal events. Concerning this writer, Gibbon says: “His facts are collected from the personal experience and free conversation of a soldier, a statesman and a traveler; his style continually aspires, and often attains, to the merit of strength and elegance; his reflections, more especially in the speeches, which he too frequently inserts, contain a rich fund of political knowledge; and the historian, excited by the generous ambition of pleasing and instructing posterity, appears to disdain the prejudices of the people and the flattery of courts.’’
Though still holding fast to the views of the communistic prophet Mazdak, and not ashamed to confess himself an adherent of that creed, the restored Kobad, as a king, gave no support to the partisans of the new religion in any extreme or violent measures. As a result the new doctrine languished. Mazdak escaped persecution and continued to propagate his views, but the progress of the new opinions was practically checked. As these opinions no longer commanded royal advocacy, they no longer endangered the state. Though they still fermented among the masses, they were now the harmless speculations of a certain number of enthusiasts who no longer ventured to carry their theories into practice.
About a year after his restoration to the Persian throne, Kobad’s relations with the Eastern Roman Empire became troubled, and after some futile negotiations hostilities again commenced. By the terms of the peace between Isdigerd II and Theodosius II, concluded in 442, the Romans agreed to pay an annual contribution towards the expenses of a fortified post which the two powers undertook to maintain in the pass of Perbend, between the spurs of the Caucasus and the Caspian. This fortress, known as Juroipach, or Biraparach, commanded the usual passage by which the Northern hordes were accustomed to issue from their vast arid steppes upon the rich and populous regions of the South for the purpose of plundering raids, if not of actual conquests.
As these barbarian incursions threatened alike the Eastern Roman and the New Persian dominions, it was felt that the two empires both had an interest in preventing them. The original treaty stipulated that both powers should contribute equally, alike to the erect ion and to the maintenance of the fortress; but the entire burden fell upon the Persians, as the Romans were too much occupied in other wars. The Persians occasionally demanded from the Romans the payment of their share of the expenses, but as these efforts were ineffectual the debt accumulated.
When Kobad lacked money to reward sufficiently his Ephthalite allies, he sent an embassy to the Emperor Anastasius to demand a peremptory remittance. Procopius says that Anastasius absolutely declined to make any payment; while Theophanes says that he declared himself willing to loan his “Persian brother’’ a sum of money on receiving the usual acknowledgment, but refused an advance on any other conditions.
Kobad instantly declared war, and the sixty years’ peace between the Eastern Roman and New Persian Empires was broken. The war began by a sudden Persian invasion of Roman Armenia; and Theodosiopolis, after a short siege, was surrendered to the invaders by its commandant, Constantine; after which most of Roman Armenia was overrun and ravaged. Kobad led his army from Armenia into Roman Mesopotamia, and laid siege to Amida about the beginning of winter.
Amida was only defended by a small force under the philosopher Alypius; but the resolution of the inhabitants, and particularly of the monks, was great. All Kobad’s efforts to take the town met with a determined resistance. At first he hoped to effect a breach in the defenses by means of the battering-ram; but the besieged employed the usual means of destroying his engines, and where these failed the walls were so thick and strong that the Persian battering-rams could make no serious impression upon them. Kobad next raised an immense mound near the wall for the purpose of commanding the town, driving the defenders from the battlements, and then taking the city by escalade; but his mound was undermined by the enemy, and finally fell with a terrible crash, involving hundreds in its ruin.
It is said that Kobad, despairing of success, was then about to raise the siege and to retire with his army; but that the taunts and insults of the besieged, or his confidence in the prophecies of the Magi, who saw an omen of victory in the grossest of all the insults, induced him to alter his intention and to continue the siege. Soon afterward one of his soldiers discovered the outlet of a drain or sewer in the wall, imperfectly blocked up with rubbish, which he removed during the night, thus finding himself able to pass through the wall into the beleaguered town.
This soldier revealed his discovery to Kobad, who the next night sent a few picked men through the drain to seize the nearest tower, which was slackly guarded by some sleepy monks, who had been keeping festival the previous day. Kobad brought most of his army with scaling-ladders to the adjoining part of the wall; and by his presence, exhortations and threats, forced them to make their way into the town. The inhabitants strenuously resisted, but were overpowered by superior numbers, and the carnage in the streets was terrific.
Finally a venerable priest, appalled at the indiscriminate massacre, boldly addressed the Persian king, telling him that it was no kingly act to slaughter captives. The angry monarch asked: “Why, then, did you choose to fight?” The priest answered: “It was God’s doing; He willed that thou shouldest owe the conquest of Amida, not to our weakness, but to thy own valor.” Kobad was so pleased with this flattery that he stopped the shedding of blood, but he allowed the sack of the town to continue. The whole city was pillaged, and most of the inhabitants were carried into slavery.
The siege of Amida lasted eighty days, during the latter part of 502 and the beginning of 503. The Emperor Anastasius had sent a considerable force to the relief of this frontier town. This force was under four commanders—Areobindus, grandson of the Gothic officer of the same name who had distinguished himself in the Persian war of Theodosius II; Celer, captain of the imperial guard; Patricius, the Phrygian; and Hypatius, one of the Emperor’s nephews. This divided force arrived too late to save Amida and accomplished nothing.
Kobad left a small force to garrison Amida, carried off all of his rich booty to his city of Nisibis, and placed most of his army in a good position on the frontier. The Romans invaded the Persian territory, but Areobindus retreated when Kobad advanced, allowing the enemy to capture his camp and stories; while Patricius and Hypatius destroyed Kobad’s advance guard of eight hundred men almost to a man, but these Roman divisions were afterwards surprised on the banks of a stream while some of the men were bathing and others were breakfasting, and were completely cut to pieces by Kobad, scarcely any except the generals escaping.
But in 503, when fortune was wholly on the side of the Persians, Kobad was obliged to leave to others the conduct of the war against the Romans, being called to the defense of his north-eastern frontier by an Ephthalite invasion; and thenceforth the Romans had the advantage. In 504 the Roman division under Celer invaded Arzanene, destroyed a number of forts, and ravaged the whole province with fire and sword. Celer then marched southward and threatened Nisibis. Towards winter Patricius and Hypatius besieged Amida; and, after failing in several assaults on the town, they turned the siege into a blockade, entrapped Glones, the commander of the Persian garrison, by a stratagem, and reduced the garrison to such distress that they could not have held out much longer.
At this point a Persian ambassador of high rank arrived from King Kobad, authorized to conclude peace with the Romans, and instructed to declare his sovereign’s willingness to relinquish all his conquests, including Amida, on the payment of a considerable sum of money. The Roman generals gladly consented, and handed the Persians a thousand pounds of gold, receiving in exchange the captured city and territory. A treaty was signed by which the Romans and Persians agreed to remain at peace and respect each other’s dominions for seven years.
Kobad was occupied ten years in the Ephthalite war which compelled him to make peace with the Emperor Anastasius I. During this period the Romans profited by Persia’s difficulties by establishing strongly fortified posts upon their Persian frontier. Anastasius restored Theodosiopolis and greatly strengthened its defenses, and also erected an entirely new fortress at Daras, on the southern skirts of the Mons Masius, within twelve miles of Nisibis, at the edge of the great plain of Mesopotamia. This place was not merely a fort, but a city, containing churches, baths, porticos, large granaries and extensive cisterns. This place was a standing menace to Persia, and its erection was in direct violation of the treaty between Isdigerd II and Theodosius II, which both nations regarded as still in force.
It is not surprising that, as soon as his Ephthalite war was over, Kobad made formal complaint at Constantinople of the violation of the treaty (517). Anastasius met the charge by a mixture of bluster and professions of friendship, and when this method proved ineffectual he bribed the Persian ambassadors with a large sum of money. After the death of Anastasius, in 518, Kobad entered into negotiations with the new Emperor, Justin I.
But Justin I, soon after his accession, sent an embassy with rich gifts to the Hunnic chief, Ziligdes, or Zilgibis, and concluded a treaty with him by which the Hun bound himself to aid the Romans against the Persians. Soon afterwards a Lazic prince named Tzath, a vassal of Persia, went to Constantinople and expressed a desire to become a Christian and a vassal of the Eastern Roman Emperor. The Emperor Justin I warmly welcomed the Lazic prince, had him baptized, married him to a Byzantine lady of high rank, and sent him back to Lazica adorned with a diadem and robes that sufficiently indicated his position as a vassal of the Eastern Roman Emperor.
Neither Kobad nor Justin I desired a rupture, both being advanced in years and both having domestic troubles on hand, while Kobad was especially anxious about his succession. He had four sons—Kaoses, Zames, Phthasuarsas and Chosroes. Kaoses, the eldest prince, did not please him. His affections were centered on his fourth son, Chosroes, and he desired to secure his crown to his favorite child. Procopius and other Byzantine writers tell us that Kobad made a strange proposal to the Emperor Justin I, asking him to adopt Chosroes, so that that prince might have Roman assistance against his countrymen if his right of succession should be disputed; but the Eastern Roman Emperor declined the proposal.
Persia again became distracted with religious troubles about the year 523. Mazdak’s followers, who had thus far been protected by Kobad, and who had lived in peace and multiplied throughout the Persian dominions, had been content with the toleration which they had enjoyed for almost a quarter of a century, and thus created no disturbance. But as Kobad was growing old, and as Phthasuarsas, who had little chance for the succession, was the only one of all Kobad’s sons that embraced their doctrines, they began to feel that their position was insecure. Their happiness, their very safety, thus depended upon a single life.
They therefore resolved to anticipate the natural course of events by promising Phthasuarsas to obtain by their prayers his father’s abdication and his own appointment as his successor, and asked the prince to pledge himself to establish their religion as that of the state when he became king. Phthasuarsas consented; but when the Mazdakites proceeded to arrange their plans Kobad suspected that a conspiracy was on foot to deprive him of his crown. In the East it is an offense even to speculate on the king’s death, and Kobad construed the intrigues of the Mazdakites as a dangerous plot against himself. Resolved at once to nip the scheme in the bud, he invited the Mazdakites to a solemn assembly, pretending that he would there confer the royal dignity on Phthasuarsas, and caused his army to surround and massacre the entire unarmed multitude.
Kobad was now confronted with troubles in Iberia. Pursuing the intolerant policy of his predecessors, he had ordered Gurgenes, the Iberian king, to renounce Christianity and to profess Zoroastrianism. The Persian king had particularly demanded that the Iberian custom of burying the dead should be relinquished, and that the Persian practice of exposing corpses to be devoured by dogs and birds of prey should supersede the Christian rite of sepulture.
Gurgenes was too sincerely attached to the Christian faith to entertain these propositions for a moment. He immediately cast off the Persian yoke, and by declaring himself a vassal of the Eastern Roman Emperor he obtained a promise from Justin I to stand by the Iberian cause. The Emperor Justin I., instead of sending his own armies to that remote and inhospitable region, attempted to engage the Tartars of the Crimea in his service against the Persians; but only a small Crimean force was raised and sent to aid Gurgenes.
A large Persian army under Boes now entered Iberia; whereupon Gurgenes fled from Iberia into Lazica, where he was able to maintain himself through the difficult nature of the ground, the support of the natives and the aid of the Romans. But the Persians again became masters of Iberia, and even entered Lazica and occupied some forts commanding the passes between Lazica and Iberia.
The Romans retaliated on the Persians by invading Persarmenia and Mesopotamia. In this campaign the renowned and unfortunate Belisarius, the greatest general of that age, first held a command and commenced his experience as a military leader. He had hitherto been a mere guardsman, and was still a mere youth; and, as he was on this occasion hampered by a colleague, he did not win any laurels in this campaign. A Persian army under Narses and Aratius de fended Persarmenia, and defeated the Romans under Belisarius and Sittas. At the same time Licelarius, a Thracian in the Roman service, made an irruption into the Persian territory about Nisibis, but soon hastily retreated. Thereupon the Emperor Justin I recalled Licelarius, and intrusted Belisarius with the conduct of the war in Mesopotamia.
The Emperor Justin I died in 527, and was succeeded by his nephew Justinian I, the greatest of all the Eastern Roman Emperors. Justinian restored and strengthened the frontier city of Martyropolis, on the Nymphius; and early in 528 he ordered Belisarius to build a new fort at Mindon, on the Persian frontier, a little to the left of Nisibis. After Belisarius had begun work on the new fort, a Persian army of thirty thousand men under Xerxes, son of Kobad, and Perozes, the Mihran, attacked the Roman workmen, and afterwards defeated Belisarius, after he had been strengthened by reinforcements from Syria, and forced him to seek safety in flight. The unfinished fort was then leveled with the ground, and the Mihran returned to Persia with many important prisoners.
The Emperor Justinian I now conferred upon Belisarius the title of General of the East. Thereupon Belisarius assembled an army of twenty-five thousand men at Daras, consisting of Romans and allies, the latter being mainly Massagetae. He was soon confronted by a Persian army of forty thousand men under Perozes the Mihran, who sent an insolent message to Belisarius, asking him to have his bath prepared for the morrow, as he would need that kind of refreshment after taking Daras.
Belisarius so disposed his troops in front of Daras that his centre and his flanks would be protected by a deep ditch, outside of which there would be no room for his cavalry to act. After reconnoitering the position, Perozes hastily sent to Nisibis for ten thousand more troops, and passed the day in some insignificant single combats and a cavalry demonstration against the Roman left wing.
The Persian reinforcement arrived the next morning; and after some exchange of messages with Belisarius, Perozes placed his infantry in the center and his cavalry upon each wing, as the Romans had also done, and arranged his infantry so that one-half should from time to time relieve the other half, after which he assailed the Romans with a shower of darts and arrows. The Romans replied with their missile weapons; but the Persians had the advantage of numbers, and were protected by huge wattled shields, while they were also more accustomed to this style of warfare than the Romans. The Romans continued their resistance; and when the missile weapons on both sides became exhausted, and a closer fight began along the entire line with swords and spears, the Romans fought to more advantage. But the Romans were routed by the Cadiseni, or Cadusians, under Pituazes, who were hastily pursuing their enemies when they were charged on their right flank and thrown into disorder by the Massagetic cavalry under Sunicas and Aigan and by three hundred Heruli under Pharas. Three thousand were killed on the Persian side, and the rest were driven back upon the main army, which still fought gallantly. The Romans then occupied their former position.
Then the Persian corps of the Immortals and other troops furiously charged the Roman right and forced it to a hasty retreat, but the pursuing Persian column was cut in two by an impetuous charge of the barbarian cavalry in the Roman army, thus deciding the battle in favor of the Romans. Those Persians who advanced farthest were completely surrounded and slain. The fall of the standard-bearer of Baresmanes, the commander of the Persian left, increased the general confusion; and the Persian column vainly attempted an orderly retreat. The Romans attacked it in front and on both flanks, and a frightful carnage ensued. Baresmanes was slain by Sunicas, the Massa-Goth; whereupon the entire Persian army broke and fled, leaving five thousand dead, among whom were many of the Immortals.
In the meantime the Persian army under Mermeroes in the Armenian highlands was twice defeated by the Roman forces only half as large under Sittas and Dorotheus, once in Persarmenia and again in Roman Armenia. These Roman victories led to desertions to the Roman side.
After vainly attempting to negotiate peace with the Romans, the Persians entered into an alliance with Alamandarus, a powerful Arab shiekh, who had long been a bitter enemy of the Romans, and who for half a century had ravaged the eastern provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire with impunity, from his safe desert retreat. He had two years before ravaged Upper Syria with fire and sword, had burned the suburbs of Chalcis, and threatened the rich and luxurious Antioch. He apparently owed a nominal allegiance to Persia, though practically independent, and made his expeditions when and where he saw fit.
In 531 Alamandarus offered to unite with Persia in a joint expedition, and suggested a new plan of campaign. He proposed that the Persians should invade the country beyond the Euphrates and attack and sack Antioch. Kobad resolved to act upon the plan thus suggested, and sent a force of fifteen thousand cavalry under Azarethes, whom he ordered to take Alamandarus for a guide, and to make a joint expedition with the Arab shiekh across the Euphrates for the purpose of taking and pillaging Antioch.
The allied Persian and Arabian army crossed the Euphrates below Circesium, and moved up the west bank of the river as far as the latitude of Antioch, when they marched westward and arrived at Gabbula, the modern Jabul, on the northern shore of the salt lake now known as Sabakhah, where they were surprised to learn that Belisarius had become informed of their design. The great Roman general had at once left Daras, and proceeded by forced marches to the defense of Syria with an army of twenty thousand men, composed of Romans, Isaurians, Lycaonians and Arabs. Belisarius established his headquarters at Chalcis, between Gabbula and Antioch; thus thwarting the design of the invaders, who then retreated from Syria with the plunder of the towns which they had sacked in their advance.
Belisarius was obliged by the eagerness of his troops, against his own better judgment, to attack the retreating foe on the banks of the Euphrates, nearly opposite Callinicus, on Easter Eve, April 19, 531. The Roman infantry firmly held their ground; but his Arab allies and the Isaurian and Lycaonian cavalry, who had been most eager for the fray, almost instantly fled from the field. As the Roman right was thus left exposed, Belisarius made his troops turn their faces to the enemy and their backs to the Euphrates, and in this position to resist the foe until night, when he was able to transport his troops in boats across the river. Thus the Persian raid into Syria had failed of its main object, and Kobad reproached Azarethes for uselessly sacrificing so many lives.
Another Persian army was sent into Mesopotamia, where Sittas now commanded the Roman forces, Belisarius having been hastily summoned to Constantinople to take the field against the Vandals in Africa. As this Persian army was unopposed, it invaded Sophene and besieged the Roman fortress of Martyropolis, which was ill provisioned, and whose walls were out of repair. The fortress was saved from capture by a report spread by Sittas that the Huns were about to make a diversion as Roman allies. The Persian commanders were paralyzed by fear of being caught between two fires, and before they were undeceived they received tidings of the death of King Kobad and the accession of his son Chosroes to the Persian throne. Thereupon Chanaranges, the leading Persian commander, retired into the Persian territory with his army, thus yielding to the representations made by Sittas that a treaty of peace was now probable.
Kobad died of paralysis on the 13th of September, 531, after an illness of but five days. Before his death he had expressed to his chief minister, Mebodes, his earnest desire for the succession of his son Chosroes to the throne, and by the advice of Mebodes he bequeathed the crown to Chosroes by a will duly executed. He was eighty-two years of age at the time of his death. His long life was extremely eventful, and he was a monarch possessing the qualities of activity, perseverance, fertility of resource and general military capacity. But he was also cruel and fickle; he disgraced his ministers and generals for slight causes; he smothered his religious convictions from considerations of policy; and for the purpose of gratifying a favoritism he hazarded subjecting Persia to the horrors of civil war. He simply preferred Chosroes because of his beauty, and because he was the son of Kobad’s best-loved wife, rather than for any good qualities; and Chosroes inherited the Persian dominions because he was his father’s darling, and not because he had as yet shown any capacity for government.
Kobad’s numerous coins resemble those of Zamasp in their general appearance, but do not have so many stars and crescents. The legend on the obverse is either Kavat or Kavdt afzui, “Kobad,” or “May Kobad be increased.” The reverse exhibits the regnal year, ranging from eleven to forty-three, along with a mint-mark.
Thus began the reign of Chosroes I, or Khosrou Nushirvan—usually considered the greatest of the Sassanidae. His accession was disputed. Kaoses, Kobad’s eldest son, considering himself entitled to the Persian crown by right of birth, assumed the insignia of royalty upon his father’s death, and claimed to be acknowledged as sovereign. But Mebodes, the Grand Vizier, interposed by asserting a constitutional axiom that no one had the right to take the Persian crown until the assembly of the Persian nobles had assigned it to him. Causes, who fancied that he could count on the good will of the nobles, acquiesced; and, the assembly being convened, his claims were submitted to it. Thereupon Mebodes presented Kobad’s “testament,” or dying statement, which he had hitherto concealed, and submitting it to them, exhorted them to accept for their king the brave prince designated by a brave and successful father. The eloquence and authority of Mebodes prevailed; the claims of Kaoses and of at least one other son of Kobad were ignored; and, in accordance with his father’s will, Chosroes was proclaimed the lawful King of Persia.
But a party among the nobles were dissatisfied with the decision of the majority, and dreaded the restlessness of Chosroes. As Zames, Kobad’s second son, whom they would have supported, was legally incapacitated from reigning by having lost one eye, the discontented nobles formed a plot for the elevation of a son of Zames, a boy named after his illustrious grandfather Kobad, on whose behalf Zames would naturally be regent. Zames came into the plot very readily, and was supported by several of his brothers and by Chosroes’s maternal uncle, the Aspebed. Chosroes discovered the conspiracy in time to prevent its success, and took prompt and effectual measures for its suppression. By his orders, Zames, Kaoses, and all of Kobad’s other sons were seized, and were condemned to death, as were also their entire male offspring. The Aspebed and the other nobles found to have been accessory to the conspiracy were also executed.
The only prince who escaped was the intended puppet king, Kobad, who was saved through the compassion of the Persian who had the custody of him, and who passed many years in concealment, after which he became a refugee at the court of Constantinople, where he was kindly treated by the Emperor Justinian I.
After thus securing himself on the throne against the claims of pretenders, Chosroes I, or Khosrou Nushirvan, proceeded to repress the disorders, punish the crimes and compel the abject submission of his subjects. The first to suffer from the oppressive weight of his resentment were the heresiarch Mazdak, who had escaped the persecution instituted by Kobad in his later years, and the set of the Mazdakites, which was still strong and vigorous, in spite of Kobad’s persecution. The new king’s determination to make his will the law was attested by the corpses of a hundred thousand martyrs blackening upon gibbets. Mebodes also suffered capital punishment, because he hesitated to instantly obey an order sent him by the stem monarch, whose judgment on recent offenses was not affected by gratitude for past favors. Nor did Chanaranges, the nobleman who saved the young prince Kobad, escape his sovereign’s vengeance because of his military sendees. This general—who had conquered twelve nations—was betrayed by an unworthy son, and was treacherously entrapped and put to death because of a single humane act which had not in any manner injured or imperiled the jealous monarch.
Khosrou Nushirvan’s fame rests mainly upon his military exploits and successes. After ascending the Persian throne, he very readily assented to the Emperor Justinian’s overtures for peace, and a truce was concluded early in 532. This truce was soon followed by a treaty—called ‘‘the Endless Peace”—by which the Eastern Roman and New Persian Empires agreed to the following conditions: 1. Rome was to pay to Persia eleven thousand pounds of gold toward the maintenance of the defenses of the Caucasus, the actual defense being undertaken by Persia; 2. Daras was to remain a fortified post, but was not to be made the Roman headquarters in Mesopotamia, which were to be fixed at Constantia; 3. Rome was to restore to Persia the district of Pharangium and the castle of Bolon, which she had recently taken, while Persia was to surrender the forts which she had captured in Lazica; 4. Rome and Persia were to be friends and allies, and were to assist each other whenever required with supplies of men and money. Thus was ended the thirty years’ war, which, beginning with Kobad’s attack on the Emperor Anastasius I in 502, was terminated in 532, and was ratified by the Emperor Justinian the next year.
The “Endless Peace” was of short duration. The military prestige which the Eastern Roman Empire gained by the conquest of the Vandal kingdom in Africa and the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy alarmed the Persian king and aroused his jealousy. Khosrou Nushirvan first vented his envy in insolent demands for a share of the Roman spoils, which Justinian I prudently humored. But the repeated Roman victories induced the Persian monarch to listen to the applications for aid which were made to him by Vitiges, the Ostrogothic king, and by Bassaces, an Armenian chieftain; both of whom sent embassies to Chosroes I in 539, urging him to declare war against the Eastern Roman Emperor for his own security before it was too late. These ambassadors asserted that the Emperor Justinian I aimed at universal dominion, and that Persia was the only power in the world that was able to check his aggressions and frustrate his ambitious designs. In response to these appeals, Khosrou Nushirvan openly declared war against the Emperor Justinian I and made an attack in force on the eastern provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Khosrou Nushirvan crossed the Lower Euphrates with his army and invaded the rich Roman province of Syria. The small town of Suran resisted him, and the Persian king determined to take a signal revenge in order to terrify the other Syrian towns into submission. After losing their commandant, the garrison offered to surrender; but Chosroes insisted on entering forcibly at one of the gates, and then treated the city as though he had taken it by storm, pillaged the houses, massacred many of the inhabitants, enslaved the others, and reduced the city to ashes. He afterwards allowed the neighboring Christian Bishop of Sergiopolis to ransom the twelve thousand unfortunate captives for the modest sum of two hundred pounds of gold.
The Persian monarch then led his army to Hierapolis, whose inhabitants he allowed to ransom their city for two thousand pounds of silver. Procopius tells us that Chosroes now offered to evacuate the Roman territory for a thousand pounds of gold; but the Romans were not yet reduced so low as to purchase peace, and they therefore rejected the terms offered by the Persian king through Megas, Bishop of Berhoea (now Aleppo), which Chosroes reached after a four days’ march. As the defenses of this town were weak, Chosroes here demanded a ransom twice as large as that which he had received from the Hierapolites, and was only induced to relent by the tears and entreaties of the good bishop, who finally convinced the Persian king that the Berhoeans were unable to pay so large a sum, and induced him to accept the half of it. A few days later Chosroes reached the suburbs of Antioch, “the Queen of the East,” the richest and most magnificent of Oriental cities, which the Persians now besieged for the first time in three centuries.
Fourteen years before this siege, Antioch had suffered from a terrible calamity; the entire city having been ruined by a succession of earthquakes, beginning in October, 525, and ending in August, 526. For a time all was havoc and disorder. A part of the city had been buried by a landslide, and nearly every house in the remaining portion had been overthrown. But Justinian’s liberality, the spirit of the inhabitants and the efforts of the governor, had effaced these disasters; and when the Persians appeared before Antioch the city was grander and more magnificent than ever before. But the defenses were imperfect, especially the citadel; while the garrison was also weak, and the commandants lacked sufficient military talent for the defense of the city.
Justinian had originally sent his nephew Germanus to defend Antioch, and assigned Buzes, who had gained some distinction in the Armenian war, to the general command of the Roman forces in the East during the absence of Belisarius in Italy; but Germanus soon retired into Cilicia, while Buzes disappeared no one knew where. Theoctistus and Molatzes hastened from Lebanon with six thousand Roman troops to the relief of the feeble garrison of Antioch. The Persian king with the flower of his army assailed the citadel, after ordering his less trusty troops to attack the lower town in various places. The Persians soon reduced the garrison to great distress.
Cramped for room upon the walls, the Romans had erected wooden stages between the towers, and hung them out by means of ropes. One of these stages gave way in the rush and tumult. The ropes broke, and the beams fell with a crash to the ground, carrying many of the garrison with them. The great noise produced by the fall caused a general impression that the wall itself had fallen. The towers and battlements were deserted, and the Roman soldiers rushed to the gates and commenced leaving the town; while the Persians took advantage of the panic to advance their scaling ladders, to mount the walls, and to obtain possession of the citadel. Thus Antioch was taken by the Persians. Khosrou Nushirvan allowed the Roman soldiers to retire; but he caused the Antiochene youth, who still resisted, to be massacred, and, after plundering the churches, and carrying off the works of art, the marbles, bronzes, tablets and pictures, which adorned the city, he reduced Antioch to ashes.
Khosrou Nushirvan improved his opportunity by concluding an advantageous peace. Justinian’s ambassadors had long been pressing him to come to terms with the Eastern Roman Emperor. He now agreed to retire from Syria with his army on condition that the Romans should pay him five thousand pounds of gold as an indemnity for his expenses in the war, and that they should also contract to pay him five hundred pounds of gold annually toward the expense of maintaining the Caspian Gates and keeping out the Huns. He agreed to abstain from further hostile acts while Justinian was consulted on these proposals, and even to commence at once to withdraw his army, if hostages were given to him. Justinian’s ambassadors readily assented to these terms, and it was agreed that a truce should be observed until the Great King received the Emperor’s answer.
But the Persian monarch did not intend to leave the Syrian cities without a ransom. After visiting Seleucia, the port of Antioch at the mouth of the Orontes, bathing in the blue waters of the Mediterranean, and offering sacrifice to the setting sun upon the shore, he proceeded to Apamea, a city on the middle Orontes, which was famed for its wealth, and especially for possessing a fragment of the “true cross,” enshrined in a case which had been enriched with the most costly gold and jewels by the pious zeal of the faithful. He carried away all the valuables of the sacred treasury, along with the “true cross”—the relic which the Apameans prized as the most important of their posessions. But as he coveted only the case, and not its contents, he readily restored the “true cross” in answer to the entreaties of the bishop and the inhabitants.
Chosroes then returned to Antioch, witnessed the games of the amphitheater and secured victory to the green champions because Justinian favored the blue, after which he began his return march to Persia, visiting Chalcis on his way to the Euphrates, and compelling the Chalcidians to pay a ransom of two hundred pounds of gold and to agree to deliver to him the Roman garrison of the town, but they avoided this last condition. The Persian army then marched to Obbane, on the Euphrates, and crossed the river by a bridge of boats.
Chosroes thus entered Roman Mesopotamia, and increased his spoil by plundering the cities of Edessa, Constantia and Daras, which purchased their safety by ransoms. Procopius says that although Chosroes had already received a communication from Justinian accepting the terms arranged with the Roman envoys at Antioch, he laid siege to Daras, which was defended by two walls, the inner one being sixty feet high and having towers a hundred feet high. After investing the city, Chosroes endeavored to enter inside the defenses by means of a mine; but his design was betrayed, and the Romans met him with a counter-mine, thus utterly frustrating his plan. The Persian king then retired, upon receiving a contribution of a thousand pounds of silver as a ransom for the city.
Upon hearing of the fines levied upon Apamea, Chalcis, Edessa, Constantia and Daras, the Emperor Justinian renounced the recently concluded peace, throwing the blame of the rupture on the bad faith of Chosroes. The Persian king passed the winter in building and beautifying the new Persian city of Antioch, on the Tigris, in the vicinity of Ctesiphon; assigning it as a residence to his Syrian captives, for whose use he constructed public baths and a spacious hippodrome, where the entertainments with which they had been familiar from their youth were reproduced by Syrian artists. The new city was exempt from the jurisdiction of Persian satraps, and was directly governed by the Great King, who supplied it with corn gratuitously, and allowed it to become an inviolable asylum for all such Greek slaves as should seek refuge therein and be acknowledged by the inhabitants as their kinsmen. Thus a model of Greek civilization was brought into close contact with the Persian court.
In 541 the people of Lazica, in the Caucasus, revolted against their Roman masters, who encroached upon the rights of their dependents, seized and fortified a strong post called Petra, on the Euxine coast, appointed a commandant with authority equal to that of the Lazic king, and established a commercial monopoly which severely oppressed the poorer class of the Lazi. In the winter of 540-541 the Lazic ambassadors visited the Persian court, where they exposed the grievances of their countrymen, and besought Chosroes to become their suzerain and to extend to them the protection of his government. Lazica was a remote country, possessing but few attractions. It was poor and unproductive; and its inhabitants were dependent upon the neighboring countries for some of the necessaries and all the conveniences of life, having nothing to export but timber, skins and slaves.
The Persian king accepted the offer without hesitation. Lazica—the ancient Colchis, and the modern Mingrelia and Imeritia—bordered upon the Black Sea, which the Persian dominions did not yet touch. Chosroes perceived that if he possessed this track he might launch a fleet on the Euxine, command its commerce, threaten or ravage its shores, and even sail against Constantinople and besiege the Eastern Roman Emperor in his capital. Khosrou Nushirvan, pretending to be called into Iberia to defend that country against a threatened invasion of the Huns, led a large Persian army into I the heart of Lazica, the Lazic envoys leading the way; and after receiving the submission of Gubazes, the Lazic king, he pressed on to the coast and besieged Petra, which was defended by a Roman garrison. The garrison made a gallant defense and repulsed a number of Persian assaults, but capitulated after losing their commandant, Johannes, and after one of the principal towers had fallen. After thus obtaining possession of Petra the Persians strengthened its defenses, and Lazica became a Persian province for the time.
In 541 Belisarius led the Roman forces in Mesopotamia from Daras into the Persian territory, and repulsed a sally from the garrison of Nisibis; after which he captured the fort of Sisauranon, taking eight hundred Persian cavalry prisoners and sending them to Constantinople, whence they were sent to Italy, where they served in the Roman army against the Ostrogoths. Owing to the selfish conduct of Arethas, the Arab chief, who was to cooperate with Belisarius, the Roman general was obliged to retreat by his discontented troops, after the summer heat had decimated his army. Soon afterwards Belisarius was summoned to Constantinople by the Emperor Justinian.
In 542 Khosrou Nushirvan invaded the Roman province of Commagene, whereupon Justinian sent Belisarius to the East a second time. Belisarius drove the Persian king from Roman Mesopotamia, but Chosroes in his retreat destroyed the ungarrisoned city of Callinicus and enslaved its inhabitants.
In 543 Khosrou Nushirvan led a Persian army into Azerbijan, because of the desertion of the Persian cause by the Roman Armenians; but hastily retreated after the pestilence had broken out in his army, and after the failure of his negotiations with the Roman officers who opposed him. As Belisarius had been sent to oppose the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Roman army in the East, numbering thirty thousand men, was commanded by fifteen generals, who invaded Persarmenia, but were defeated and routed at Anglon by the Persians under Nabedes, who pursued the fleeing Roman hosts, taking many prisoners, arms, animals and camp equipments. Narses fell on the Roman side.
In 544 Chosroes invaded Roman Mesopotamia and besieged Edessa; but was forced to raise the siege after failing in many desperate assaults, and to retire into his own dominions, after extorting five hundred pounds of gold from Martin us, the commandant of the garrison, and after great losses of men, of stores and of prestige.
In 545 Chosroes listened to the peace proposals made to him by the Emperor Justinian’s ambassadors. There had been constant negotiations during the war; but thus far Khosrou Nushirvan had only trifled with his adversary, simply discussing the proposals without any serious purpose. But, now, after five years of incessant hostilities, in which he had gained much glory and little profit, he desired a rest.
Justinian’s envoys visited Chosroes at Ctesiphon and informed him of their sovereign’s desire for peace. The Persian monarch proposed a truce for five years, during which the two great powers might consider and discuss the causes of the quarrel and eventually arrive at a good understanding. The weakness of the Eastern Roman Empire is fully demonstrated by the fact that Justinian accepted his antagonist’s proposal and was even willing to pay for the boon thus granted him. Khosrou Nushirvan received the services of a Greek physician and two thousand pounds of gold as the price of the five years’ truce.
The Persian king seems to have observed the five years’ truce more faithfully than did the Eastern Roman Emperor. The Arab sheikh, Alamandarus, though a vassal of Persia, considered it his right to pursue his quarrel with his natural enemy, Arethas, the Arab sheikh who acknowledged the suzerainty of the Eastern Roman Emperor, notwithstanding the truce; but the Romans did not even accuse Chosroes of instigating the proceeding of Alamandarus; and the war between the vassals continued without involving either of the two lords-paramount in the quarrel, so that neither side could complain on this score. But in the fourth year of the truce, the Romans violated its stipulations by accepting an alliance with the Lazi and sending eight thousand troops to aid them against the Persians.
The Lazi very soon repented of their rash and hasty action in submitting to Persia; finding that they had gained nothing by changing masters, while in some respects they had lost. The general system of the Persian administration was as arbitrary and oppressive as the Roman. Lazic commerce disappeared under Persian sway, and the Lazi could find no market for their produces nor obtain the commodities which they needed. The Lazi, being zealous and devout Christians and possessed of a spirit of intolerance, detested the Persian customs and manners introduced into their country.
After holding Lazica for a few years, Khosrou Nushirvan became convinced that Persia could not retain that remote country unless the disaffected population were removed and replaced by faithful subjects. Procopius tells us that the Persian monarch therefore intended to deport the entire Lazic nation and to settle the country with Persian colonies. As a preliminary step, Chosroes suggested to Phabrizus, his lieutenant in Lazica, that he should contrive the assassination of Gubazes, the Lazic king, whom he looked upon as an obstacle to the scheme. Phabrizus failed in his attempt to execute this design, and the Lazi at once revolted from Persia and threw themselves into the arms of the Eastern Roman Emperor, who took them under his protection, notwithstanding the existing treaty.
Thus the Lazic war was renewed, and it lasted nine years, from 549 to 557. Procopius and Agathias relate that Khosrou Nushirvan was resolved upon holding Lazica for the purpose of constructing a great naval station and arsenal at the mouth of the Phasis, from which his fleets might issue to command the commerce of the Black Sea or ravage its shores. The Romans began the war by attacking Petra, the great center of the Persian power in Lazica. This town, strongly situated on a craggy rock projecting into the Black Sea, had been carefully fortified by Justinian before Lazica passed into the Persian king’s possession, and its defenses had afterwards been strengthened by the Persians. It was adequately provisioned and was garrisoned by fifteen hundred men.
A Roman force of eight thousand men under Dagisthaeus besieged Petra, and by their incessant assaults they reduced the garrison to less than five hundred men. After being baffled in one effort to effect a breach, Dagisthaeus contrived another, but threw away his chance of destroying the wall and entering the town by bargaining with the Emperor for a specific reward in case he captured the place. While waiting for his messenger to bring a reply, a Persian army of thirty thousand men under Mermeroes forced the passes from Iberia into Lazica, and descended the valley of the Phasis. Dagisthaeus retired in great alarm, and Petra was relieved and revictualed. The walls were hastily repaired with sandbags, and the town received a new garrison of three thousand men. As Mermeroes then found difficulty in obtaining supplies for his large army, he retired into Persarmenia, leaving only five thousand men in Lazica besides the garrison of Petra. The Romans and Lazi soon afterwards surprised and defeated this small Persian force, killing or making prisoners almost the entire number.
In 550 the Persian general Chorianes with a large army of Persians and Alans appeared in Lazica. The allied Romans and Lazi under Dagisthaeus and Gubazes encountered this new Persian army on the Hippis; and, though the Lazi were at first routed by the Persian cavalry, the Roman infantry finally carried the day after a severe battle, routing the Persian cavalry, who instantly fled after losing their general, Chorianes, who was killed by a chance arrow. The Romans and Lazi captured the Persian camp after a short conflict, and massacred most of the Persians found there, only a few escaping from Lazica to their own country.
Bessas, who superseded Dagisthaeus in the Roman command, began a second siege of Petra soon afterward. The Persians had built a new wall of great height and solidity upon a framework of wood in the place which Dagisthaeus had so nearly breached. The Persians had also filled up the Roman mines with gravel; and had collected a great quantity of offensive and defensive arms, a stock of flour and salted meat sufficient to support the garrison of three thousand men for five years, and a store of vinegar and of the pulse from which it was made.
The Roman general began the siege by attacking the defenses by means of a mine; but just as his mine was completed, the new wall with its framework of wood sank quietly into the excavation, without being disturbed in any of its parts, and enough still remaining above the surface to offer an effectual bar to the assailants. At the suggestion of his Hunnic allies, Bessas constructed three battering-rams so light that each could be carried on the shoulders of forty men. These rams would have battered down the wall, had not the garrison showered upon them from the walls lighted casks of sulphur, bitumen and naphtha; the last of which was known to the Greeks of Colchis as “Medea’s oil.”
The Roman general gallantly led a scaling party to another part of the walls, which he mounted at the head of his men, but he fell to the ground. About the same time the Romans had entered the town in two other places; one band having scaled the almost inaccessible rocks; and the other having effected its entrance after a severe struggle with the Persians at a gap in the piece of wall which sank into the Roman mine, the Persians having become dismayed when the wooden structure from which they fought had been lighted by the wind blowing back the fire which they showered upon the Roman battering-rams.
Thus the Romans captured Petra, the great Lazic fortress, after one of the most memorable defenses in history. Of the Persian garrison of three thousand men, seven hundred were killed during the siege. One thousand and seventy were slain in the last assault. Of the seven hundred and thirty who were taken prisoners, all but eighteen were wounded. The remaining five hundred defended themselves in the citadel, where they resisted to the last, refusing all terms of capitulation, until they all perished by sword and fire.
The siege of Petra had lasted far into the winter and had ended early in 551. In the spring of that year a large Persian cavalry force under Mermeroes, supported by eight elephants, marched to the coast to relieve Petra; but arrived too late, as the Romans had already taken the town and completely destroyed it. Mermeroes easily restored Persian authority over almost all of Lazica; and the Romans dared not meet him in the field, though they repulsed his attack on Archaeopolis, the only important place in Lazica remaining subject to the Eastern Roman Empire. The Lazic king, Gubazes, and his followers had to hide themselves in the mountain recesses. Mermeroes quartered his troops on the upper Phasis, mainly about Kutai’s and its vicinity, and strengthened his hold upon the country by building or capturing forts. He even extended the Persian dominion beyond Lazica into Scymnia and Suania. But the Romans still tenaciously held certain tracks; and Gubazes remained faithful to his allies in their extremity, maintaining a guerrilla war, and hoping for the best at some future time.
In the meantime fresh negotiations were in progress at Constantinople. Isdigunas, the Persian ambassador at the Byzantine court, was an able and skillful diplomat. Accusing the Emperor Justinian of various violations of the five years’ truce, he demanded the payment of two thousand six hundred pounds of gold, expressing his sovereign’s willingness to conclude a new truce of five years on these terms, to begin with the payment of the money. The truce was only to apply to the settled portions of the two empires, while Lazica and the Arab country were to be excluded from its operation. Justinian assented to these conditions, notwithstanding the opposition of many of his subjects, who felt humiliated by the repeated payments of money to Persia, which placed the Eastern Roman Empire almost in the position of a Persian tributary.
Thus the Lazic war continued during the second five years’ truce (551-556). This struggle was renewed with vigor in the spring of 553, when the Persians under Mermeroes advanced from Kutais against Telephis, a strong fort garrisoned by the Romans. After expelling the commandant of the garrison, Martinus, by stratagem, the Persian general pressed forward against the enemy, who fled before him from Oilaria; finally driving them to the coast and cooping them up in the Island,” a small track near the mouth of the Phasis, between that stream and the Docfinus. On returning he reinforced a garrison which he had established at Onoguris, in the vicinity of Archaeopolis, for the purpose of annoying and weakening that important station.
The fatigues of war hastened Mermeroes to his death during the winter of 553-554. He was succeeded in his command by Nachoragan, under whom the Persian cause was entirely ruined in the course of two years. But in the meantime the Roman influence over the Lazi was shaken by a most serious quarrel between Gubazes, the Lazic king, and some of the leading Roman commanders—a quarrel involving consequences fatal to the Lazi and the Romans. Gubazes had complained to the Emperor Justinian of the negligence and incompetency of the Roman commanders, who retaliated by accusing him of intending desertion to the Persian cause, and who had obtained the Emperor’s consent to have him arrested, forcibly if he resisted. The Roman officers then quarrelled with the Lazic king, and killed him with their swords when he refused to do as they required.
This outrage naturally alienated the Lazi from the Roman cause, and they manifested an inclination to throw themselves wholly into the arms of Persia. The Romans were so dispirited at the attitude of their allies, and so at variance among themselves, that they became thoroughly demoralized; and Agathias says that an army of fifty thousand Romans at this time was routed by about four thousand Persians, allowing their camp to be taken and plundered. During this time the Persian general, Nachoragan, remained inactive in Iberia, simply sending messengers to announce his near approach and to encourage and animate his party.
When the Lazi found that the Persians made no effort to take advantage of their alienation from the Romans, and that the Romans still held possession of most of Lazica, they concluded that it would be impolitic to desert their natural allies because of a single outrage, and agreed to renew their close alliance with the Romans on condition that the murderers of Gubazes should be punished, and that his brother, Tzathes, should be appointed king in his place. The Emperor Justinian readily consented to this, and in the year 555 the Lazi were again in hearty accord with their Roman protestors.
After thus missing his opportunity, the Persian general Nachoragan led an army of sixty thousand men from Iberia into Lazica, in the region about Kutais, and prepared for a vigorous prosecution of the war. The bulk of the Roman forces under Martinus and Justin occupied the region on the lower Thasis, known as “the Island;” while a Roman detachment under Babas held the more central post of Archaeopolis. After losing about two thousand men in the vicinity of Archaeopolis, Nachoragan attacked the important post of Phasis, at the mouth of the river. The town was defended on the south side by an outer palisade, a wide ditch protected by sharp stakes and full of water, and an inner wooden bulwark of considerable height. The river Phasis guarded the town on the north, where a Roman fleet was stationed which aided the garrison at both ends of their line. Soldiers manned the yards of the ships, from which boats were hung containing slingers, archers, and even workers of catapults, who discharged their missiles from an elevation exceeding that of the towers.
An obstinate struggle ensued, in which the Persians had the advantage of numbers. They soon filled up a part of the ditch; but the Roman commander. Martinus, contrived to send a false report to Nachoragan that a Roman reinforcement from Constantinople was approaching, thus causing the Persian general to divide his army by sending half of them to confront the supposed Roman reinforcement. The Persian general then renewed the assault, but Martinus secretly sent five thousand Roman troops under Justin a short distance from the town. This detachment suddenly returned while the conflict was in progress at the wall; and the Persians, supposing it to be the arrival of the reported Roman reinforcement, were seized with a general panic, and made a hasty flight. The Roman garrison in Phasis made a general sally, and the Persians were routed with terrible carnage, losing almost one-fourth of their army. Nachoragan retired to Kutais, and soon afterwards went into winter quarters in Iberia, leaving Vaphrizes in command of the Persian troops in Lazica.
Nachoragan’s failure convinced Khosrou Nushirvan of the hopelessness of annexing Lazica, and in the spring of 556 he sent an ambassador to Constantinople; and, after the negotiations had continued almost a year, a truce was agreed upon, which was to extend to Lazica as well as to the other dominions of the two great sovereigns. Each party was to retain all the territory, cities and castles which it possessed in Lazica. After a truce of five years, a treaty of peace was concluded in 562, by the ambassadors of the two powers, after a lengthy conference on the Mesopotamian frontier, between Daras and Nisibis.
The following were the terms of the treaty: 1. The Persians were to evacuate Lazica and to relinquish it to the Romans. 2. The Romans were to pay thirty thousand pieces of gold, the amount due for the first seven years to be paid in advance. 3. The Christians in Persia were guaranteed freedom of worship, but were forbidden to make proselytes from the disciples of Zoroaster. 4. Commercial intercourse was to be allowed between the two empires, but the merchants were restricted to the use of certain roads and certain emporia. 5. Diplomatic intercourse was to be entirely free, and the goods of ambassadors were to be exempt from duty. 6. Daras was to remain a Roman fortified town, but neither nation was to erect any new fortresses upon the frontier, and Daras itself was not to be made the headquarters of the Roman Prefect of the East, or to be occupied by a needlessly large garrison. 7. Courts of Arbitration were to settle all disputes arising between the two empires. 8. The allies of the two nations were to be included in the treaty, and to participate in its benefits and obligations. 9. Persia was to undertake the sole charge of maintaining the Caspian Gates against the Huns and the Alans. 10. The peace was for fifty years.
During the five years’ truce which preceded this fifty years’ peace between the New Persian and Eastern Roman Empires, Khosrou Nushirvan invaded the country of the Ephthalites, and, with the aid of the Great Kahn of the Turks, inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Ephthalites, who had so long been one of Persia’s most formidable enemies. Tabari tells us that the Persian monarch actually killed the Ephthalite Khan, ravaged his territory and pillaged his treasures. About the same time Khosrou Nushirvan also prosecuted a war against the Khazars, whose country he overran and wasted with fire and sword, massacring thousands of the inhabitants.
The vast and sterile peninsula of Arabia has from time immemorial been the home of almost countless tribes, living independently of one another, each under its own shiekh or chief, in wild and unrestrained freedom. Very seldom have native Arab princes acquired any widely extended dominion over the scattered population; and foreign powers have still more rarely exercised authority for any length of time over the freedom-loving descendants of Ishmael.
But about the beginning of the sixth century of the Christian era the Abyssinians of Axum, a Christian people, “raised above the ordinary level of African barbarism” by their religion and by their constant intercourse with the Romans, succeeded in acquiring dominion over a large part of Yemen, or Arabia Felix, and at first governed it from their African capital, but afterwards by means of viceroys, who acknowledged but little more than a nominal allegiance to the Negus of Abyssinia. Abraha, an Abyssinian of high rank, was sent by the Negus to restore the Abyssinian dominion over Yemen when it was shaken by a general revolt. Abraha conquered the country, assumed its crown, established Abyssinians in all the chief cities, built many churches, especially a very magnificent one at Sana, and at his death transmitted his kingdom to his eldest son, Yaksoum.
Thus an important Christian kingdom was established in the great south-western peninsula of Asia; and the Emperor Justinian was naturally gratified at beholding the development of a power in that remote quarter which was sure to side with the Eastern Roman Empire against Persia in case the rivalry of these two great powers of the civilized world should extend into that region. Justinian had hailed the original Abyssinian conquest of Yemen with the highest satisfaction, and had entered into amicable relations with the Abyssinians of Axum and their colonists in Yemen.
Khosrou Nushirvan, on the contrary, had viewed the growth of the Abyssinian power in South-western Arabia with the gravest alarm; and he now resolved upon a counter movement, to drive the presumptuous Abyssinians from Asiatic soil, and to extend Persian influence over the whole of Arabia and thus confront the Eastern Roman Empire along its entire eastern boundary. Chosroe’s expedition into Yemen was facilitated by an application which he received from a native of that part of Arabia.
Saif, the son of Dsu-Yezm, who was a descendant of the race of the old Homerite kings who had been conquered by the Abyssinians, grew up at Abraha’s court in the belief that that monarch, who had married his mother, was his father, and not his stepfather. After being undeceived by an insult offered him by Masrouq, the true son of Abraha and the successor of Yaksoum, Saif became a refugee at the Persian king’s court, and importuned Chosroes to espouse his quarrel and restore him to the throne of his ancestors. He asserted that the Homerite population of Yemen were groaning under the oppressive yoke of the Abyssinians, and that they only waited for an opportunity to free themselves. He declared that a few thousand Persian soldiers would be sufficient; that they might be sent by sea to the port of Aden, near the mouth of the Red Sea, where the Homerites would join them in large numbers; and that the combined forces might then engage in battle with the Abyssinians and exterminate them or expel them from Arabia.
Khosrou Nushirvan accordingly sent an expedition by sea against the Abyssinians of Yemen. After assembling his ships in the Persian Gulf and embarking a certain number of Persian troops on board of them, his flotilla proceeded, under the conduct of Saif, first down the Persian Gulf, and then along the southern coast of Arabia to Aden. The arrival of the Persian flotilla and troops encouraged the Homerites to revolt against their Abyssinian oppressors, whom they drove from Arabian soil. The native race recovered its supremacy; and Saif, the descendant of the old Homerite kings, was established on the throne of his ancestors as the vassal or viceroy of the Persian king. After a short reign, Saif was murdered by his bodyguard; whereupon Chosroes conferred the government of Yemen upon a Persian officer bearing the title of Marzpan, like the other Persian provincial governors; so that the Homerites in the end simply gained a change of masters by their revolt.
Tabari and Mirkhond state that Khosrou Nushirvan also sent an expedition by sea against some part of Hindoostan, and that he received a cession of territory from an Indian sovereign; but the ceded provinces appear to have belonged to Persia previously, as Tabari states that Serendib (now Ceylon) was the residence of the Indian monarch alluded to, and that the ceded provinces were those previously ceded to Bahramgur.
Khosrou Nushirvan seems to have been engaged in a war on his north-eastern frontier about this period. The Turks had been recently becoming more powerful and approaching the confines of the New Persian Empire; having extended their dominion over the great Ephthalite kingdom by force of arms and by the treachery of the Ephthalite chieftain, Katulphus; while they had also received the submission of the Sogdians and of other tribes of the Transoxianian region previously held in subjection by the Ephthalites.
About the close of 567 Dizabul, the Turkish Khan, sent ambassadors to the great Persian monarch with proposals for the establishment of free commercial intercourse between the Turks and the Persians, and even the conclusion of a treaty of friendship and alliance between the two nations. Chosroes suspected the motive for the overture, but was afraid to openly reject it. He desired to discourage intercourse between his own subjects and the Turks; but his only modes of effecting his purpose were burning the Turkish merchandise offered to him after he had purchased it, and poisoning the Turkish ambassadors and having it reported that they had fallen victims to the climate.
This outrage on the part of Khosrou Nushirvan exasperated the Turkish Khan and created a deep and bitter hostility between the Turks and the Persians. The Turkish Khan at once sent an embassy to Constantinople to offer to the Eastern Roman Emperor the friendship which the great Persian king had thus scorned. This Turkish embassy reached the Byzantine court early in 568, and was graciously received by the Emperor Justin II, Justinian’s nephew and successor. A treaty of alliance was concluded between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Turks; and a Roman embassy empowered to ratify the treaty visited the Turkish court in the Altai mountains in 569, and strengthened the bonds of friendship between the high contracting powers.
In the meantime Dizabul, the Turkish Khan, confident in his own strength, had resolved upon an expedition into the Persian dominions. He was accompanied on a portion of his march by Zemarchus, the Eastern Roman Emperor’s ambassador, who witnessed his insulting treatment of a Persian envoy sent by Chosroes to meet him and deprecate his attack. Mirkhond says that the Great Khan of the Turks invaded the Persian territory in force, occupied Shash, Ferghana, Samarcand, Bokhara, Kesh and Nesf; but when he heard that Prince Hormisdas, the Persian king’s son, was advancing against him, he suddenly fled, evacuating all the territory that he had occupied, and retiring to the most remote part of Turkestan.
In 571 Turkish ambassadors again visited Constantinople and entreated the Emperor Justin II to renounce the fifty years’ peace with Persia and to join them in a grand attack on the common enemy of the Turks and the Eastern Roman Empire. Justin II gave the Turkish ambassadors no definite reply, but renewed his alliance with Dizabul, the Turkish Khan, and seriously considered whether he should yield to the representations made to him by the Turkish envoys and renew the war terminated by Justinian nine years previously.
Many circumstances urged the Emperor Justin II to a rupture with the Persian king. The payments to be made to Persia under the terms of the fifty years’ peace appeared to him in the nature of tribute, which he regarded as an intolerable disgrace. He had already discontinued a subsidy allowed by Justinian to the Arabs under Persian rule, thus bringing on hostilities between the Arabs subject to Persia and those acknowledging the suzerainty of the Eastern Roman Emperor. The successes of Chosroes in South-western Arabia had aroused Justin’s jealousy and secured to the Eastern Roman Empire an important ally in the great Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. The Turks of Central Asia had sought his friendship and had offered to unite with him if he went to war with the great Persian monarch. The proselyting zeal of the Persian governors in Armenia had again produced rebellion in that country, where the natives took up arms and raised the standard of independence. Above all, the Great King, who had warred so successfully with Justinian I for twenty years, was now advanced in age and seemed to have exhibited signs of feebleness; as in his recent expeditions he had personally taken no part, but had intrusted the command of his troops to others, having assigned the expedition to Arabia to Saif, and the command against the Turks to his eldest son, Hormisdas.
All these circumstances induced the Emperor Justin II, in 572, to renounce the fifty years’ peace made by Justinian I with Khosrou Nushirvan ten years before, and to renew the war with that great Persian monarch. The Eastern Roman Emperor therefore at once dismissed the Persian envoy, Seboothes, with contempt, absolutely refused to make the stipulated payment, announced his intention of receiving the Armenian insurgents under his protection, and forbade the Persian king to do them the slightest harm. Justin II then appointed Marcian to the Prefecture of the East, and assigned him the conduct of the war with Persia which was now inevitable.
As soon as King Chosroes I found his dominions thus menaced by the Eastern Roman Emperor, he personally took the field at once, notwithstanding his advanced age. He assigned the command of a flying column of six thousand men to Adarman, a skillful general, and himself marched against the Romans, who, under Marcian, had defeated a Persian force and were besieging Nisibis. He forced the Romans to raise the siege, and advanced as they retired, compelling them to seek refuge within the walls of Daras, which he at once invested with his main army.
In the meantime the detachment under Adarman crossed the Euphrates near Circesium and entered Syria, which he overran and ravaged with fire and sword. He burned the suburbs of Antioch, where he was repulsed; after which he invaded Coele-Syria, took and destroyed Apamea, crossed the Euphrates, and rejoined Chosroes before Daras. That renowned fortress made a gallant defense of five months, resisting the Persian king’s army of one hundred thousand infantry and forty thousand cavalry; but was at last obliged to surrender, towards the end of 573, as it had received no relief, and was closely invested, while it was deprived of water by the diversion of its streams into new channels.
Thus the great Roman fortress in this section was taken by the Persians in the first year of Khosrou Nushirvan’s war with the Emperor Justin II. Justin II, becoming alarmed at his own rashness and recognizing his own incapacity, chose Count Tiberius as his colleague and successor. The Persian king having sent an embassy to the Romans immediately after capturing Daras, Tiberius and the Empress Sophia took advantage of this to send an envoy with an autograph letter from the Empress herself. A truce for a year was accordingly agreed upon, the Romans being obliged to pay to Persia forty-five thousand aurei.
During the truce the Emperor Tiberius made immense efforts for a renewal of hostilities, collecting an army of one hundred and fifty thousand men from the banks of the Danube and the Rhine, and from Scythia, Pannonia, Moesia, Illyricum and Isauria; and this army was placed under the command of a famous general named Justinian, the son of Germanus, and was concentrated upon the Persian frontier of the Eastern Roman Empire.
But still lacking confidence in his strength, Tiberius sent a second embassy to the Persian headquarters, early in 575, and solicited an extension of the truce. The Romans desired a short armistice only, but wished for a general suspension of hostilities between the two empires; while the Persians wanted a longer truce, but insisted that it should not extend to Armenia. The dispute continued until the expiration of the year’s truce, and the Persians resumed hostilities and threatened Constantia before the Romans would yield. A truce for three years was finally agreed upon, but Armenia was exempt from its operation. The Romans were to pay to Persia thirty thousand aurei annually during the continuance of the truce.
As soon as the three years’ truce was concluded, King Khosrou Nushirvan led the Persian army into Armenia proper, and crushing the revolt there, reestablished the Persian authority throughout that entire region; after which he invaded the Roman province of Armenia Minor and even threatened Cappadocia. The Roman General Justinian there opposed the Persian king’s progress; and Kurs, or Cursus, a Scythian leader in the Roman service, defeated the Persian rearguard and captured the camp and the baggage. Soon afterward the Persian king surprised and destroyed a Roman camp during the night, and then took and burned the city of Melitene (afterwards Malatiyeh); after which he retired across the Euphrates and returned to his own dominions on the approach of winter. The Roman general Justinian then invaded Persarmenia and plundered that country, even penetrating to the Caspian Sea and embarking upon its waters, and not returning to the Roman territory until the spring of the next year (576).
In 576 the Romans were successful in Northern Armenia and Iberia, while King Chosroes I again invaded the Roman province of Armenia Minor and engaged in an unsuccessful siege of Theodosiopolis. Thereupon negotiations for peace were resumed; but were broken off by the Persians upon the arrival of news that Tamchosro, a Persian general, had defeated the Roman army under Justinian, and that Armenia had returned to its allegiance to the Persian king.
Fruitless negotiations occupied the year 578, during which the two sovereigns made vast preparations. Hostilities were resumed by King Chosroes I in the spring of 578, when the Persian generals Mebodes and Sapoes invaded and ravaged Roman Armenia and threatened Constantia and Theodosiopolis; while another Persian force under Tamchosro entered the Roman territory from Persarmenia and plundered the country about Amida (now Diarbekr).
The Roman general Maurice, Justinian’s successor, at the same time invaded Persarmenia, destroying the forts and plundering the country. He also invaded Arzanene, occupied its stronghold, Aphumen, and carried off its ten thousand inhabitants; after which he entered Persian Mesopotamia, took Singara, and ravaged the entire province as far east as the Tigris with fire and sword. He even sent a body of skirmishers across the river into Cordyene (now Kurdistan); and these marauders, commanded by Kurs the Scythian, spread devastation and ruin over a region untrod by the foot of a Roman soldier for more than two centuries.
Agathias says that King Khosrou Nushirvan was then enjoying the summer in the Kurdish hills, and saw from his residence the smoke of the hamlets fired by the Roman troops. He hastily fled from the danger and sought refuge within the walls of Ctesiphon, where he was soon afterwards seized with the illness which ended his eventful life and reign.
In the meantime Kurs recrossed the Tigris with his booty and rejoined Maurice, who retired into the Roman territory on the approach of winter, evacuating all his conquests excepting Arzanene. The winter was passed in negotiations for peace. The Emperor desired to recover Daras, and was willing to withdraw the Roman forces from Persarmenia and Iberia if Daras were restored to him. While the Roman envoys authorized to propose these terms were on their way to the Persian court, early in the year 579, the aged King Chosroes, or Khosrou Nushirvan, died in his palace at Ctesiphon, after a reign of forty-eight years.
The Oriental writers—especially Mirkhond, Tabari, Masoudi and Asseman—represent the reign of Chosroes I, or Khosrou Nushirvan, as a period of improved domestic administration, as well as a time of great military activity. Chosroes I found the New Persian Empire in a disorganized and ill-regulated condition, taxation arranged on a bad system, the people oppressed by unjust and tyrannical governors, the military service a prey to the most scandalous abuses, religious fanaticism rampant, class arrayed against class, extortion and wrong connived at, crime unpunished, agriculture languishing, and the masses throughout almost the entire Persian dominion sullen and discontented.
Chosroes I determined from the very beginning to carry out a series of reforms—to secure the administration of even-handed justice, to arrange the finances on a better footing, to encourage agriculture, to relieve the poor and the distressed, to abolish the abuses that destroyed the efficiency of the army, and to curb the fanaticism that was sapping the vitality of the Persian nation. We have already related how he effected the last-named object by bis wholesale destruction of the followers of Mazdak.
Until the reign of Khosrou Nushirvan the New Persian Empire had been divided into a number of provinces, the satraps or governors of which held their offices directly under the Persian crown. It was no easy task for the sovereign to exercise an adequate supervision over so many rulers, many of whom were remote from the court, and all of whom were united by a tie of common interest. Chosroes I conceived the plan of forming four great governments, and assigning them to the charge of four individuals in whom he had confidence, whose duty should be to watch the conduct of the provincial satraps, to control them, direct them, or report their misconduct to the crown. The four great governments were those of the East, the West, the North and the South. The East comprised Khorassan, Kerman and Seistan. The West embraced Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Babylonia, or Irak. The North included Armenia, Azerbijan, Ghilan, Koum and Ispahan. The South consisted of Fars, or Persia proper, and Ahwaz.
The great monarch did not, however, put a blind trust in his instruments. He made occasional tours of inspection through his dominions, visiting each province in turn and inquiring into the condition of the inhabitants. He continually employed an army of inspectors and spies—the “Kings Eyes” and the “King’s Ears’’—who reported to him from every portion of the New Persian Empire the sufferings or complaints of the oppressed, and the sins of omission and commission on the part of those in authority. On the occurrence of any particularly suspicious circumstance, he appointed extraordinary commissions of inquiry, which proceeded to the suspected quarter, took evidence, and made a careful report of all wrongs and malpractices that they discovered.
When the guilt of the incriminated persons or parties was established they received swift and signal punishment. We have noticed the harsh sentences which Chosroes passed on those whose offenses were aimed at his own person and dignity. Where only the interests of his subjects were involved, an equal severity appears in his judgments. Mirkhond states that on one occasion he executed about eighty collectors of taxes on the report of a commission charging them with extortion.
Chosroes I is said to have introduced a new arrangement of the taxation. Hitherto all lands paid a certain proportion of their produce to the state, the proportion varying from one-tenth to one-half, according to the estimated richness of the soil. This had the tendency to discourage all improved cultivation, because the state might absorb the entire profit of any increased outlay; and also to cramp and check the liberty of the cultivators in various ways, because the produce could not be touched until the revenue official made his appearance and carried off the share of the crop which he was authorized to take.
Chosroes I substituted a land-tax for the proportionate payments in kind; and thus at once set the cultivator at liberty with respect to harvesting his crops, and allowed him the sole advantage of any increased production which might be secured by better methods of farming his land. His tax consisted partly of a money payment and partly of a payment in kind; but both payments were fixed and invariable, each measure of ground being rated in the king’s books at one dirhem and one measure of the produce. Uncultivated land, and land lying fallow at the time, were exempt; and thus the plan involved an annual survey and an annual registration of all cultivators with the quantity of land under cultivation held by each and the nature of the crop or crops to be grown by them.
The system was very complicated; but, though it may have pressed somewhat severely upon the poorer and less productive soils, it was a vast improvement upon the previously prevailing practice, which had all the disadvantages of the modem tithe system, aggravated by the high rates exacted, and by the certainty that in any disputed case the subject would have had a poor chance of establishing his right against the crown. It is no wonder that when the Saracens conquered Persia they maintained the land system of Khosrou Nushirvan unaltered, regarding it as not readily admitting of much improvement.
Chosroes I also introduced into Persia various other imposts. The fruit trees were everywhere counted, and a small payment was required for each. Masoudi gives the following as the rate of payment: “Four palms of Fars, one dirhem; six common palms, the same; six olives, the same; each vine, eight dirhems”. The personality of the citizens was valued, and a graduated property-tax was established, which did not exceed the moderate sum of forty-eight dirhems in the case of the most opulent. Jews and Christians were required to pay a poll-tax.
Liberal exemptions were made from all these burdens on account of age or sex; no male over fifty years of age or under twenty, and no female, being required to pay anything. A tax table was published in each province, town and village, in which each citizen or alien could see opposite his name the amount which would be exacted from him, with the ground upon which it was regarded as due. Payments were required by installments at the end of every four months.
For the purpose of preventing unfair extortion by the collectors of revenue, Chosroes I, by the advice of the Grand Mobed, authorized the Magian priesthood everywhere to exercise a supervision over the collectors of taxes, and to hinder them from exacting more than the legal rate. The priests were only too glad to discharge this popular function.
Chosroes I also reformed the administration of the army. Under the system previously existing Chosroes found the resources of the state lavishly wasted, thus weakening the efficiency and equipment of the army. No security was taken that the soldiers were in possession of their proper accouterments, or that they could discharge the duties appropriate to their several grades. Persons having no horse and unable to ride appeared before the paymaster, claiming the pay of cavalry soldiers. Some calling themselves soldiers were unfamiliar with the use of any weapon. Others claimed pay for higher grades of the service than those to which they' actually belonged. Those drawing the pay of cuirassiers had no coat of mail. Those professing themselves archers were wholly incompetent to draw the bow.
Tabari states that the fixed rate of pay for soldiers varied between a hundred dirhems a year and four thousand, and persons entitled only to the lowest rate often received an amount almost equal to the highest. Thus the public treasury was robbed by unfair claims and unfounded pretenses, while artifice and false seeming were encouraged, and the army was reduced to such a condition that no reliance could be placed upon it.
To remedy these evils, Chosroes I appointed a single paymaster-general and insisted on his carefully inspecting and reviewing each body of troops before he was permitted to draw its pay. Each man was required to appear before him fully equipped and to show his proficiency with his weapon or weapons. Cavalry soldiers were required to bring their horses and to show their mastery over the animals by putting them through their paces, mounting and dismounting, and performing the other usual exercises. If any clumsiness or any deficiency in the equipment were noticed, the pay was to be withheld until the defect observed had been removed. Special care was to be taken that no one drew the pay of a class superior to that to which he actually belonged.
Mirkhond and Tabari relate a curious anecdote in connection with these military reforms. When Babek, the new paymaster, was about to hold his first review, he issued an order requiring that all persons belonging to the army then present in the capital should appear before him on a certain day. The troops made their appearance; but Babek dismissed them on the ground that a certain person whose presence was indispensable had not appeared. Another day was appointed with a similar result, except that on this occasion Babek plainly intimated that it was the king whom he expected to attend.
Thereupon, when a third summons was issued, Chosroe took care to be present, and made his appearance fully equipped for battle, as he himself thought. But the critical eye of the reviewing officer detected an omission, which he declined to overlook—the king had neglected to bring two extra bow-strings with him. Chosroes was required to return to the palace and remedy the defect, after which he was permitted to pass muster, and was then summoned to receive his pay.
Babek affected to consider seriously what the king’s pay ought to be, and decided that it ought not to exceed that of any other individual in the army. In the presence of all, he then gave the king, or commander-in-chief, four thousand and one dirhems, which Chosroes carried home. In this way two important principles were believed to be established—that no defect of equipment whatsoever should be overlooked in any officer, however high in rank, and that none should draw more than four thousand dirhems (equal to five hundred and fifty dollars of United States money) from the public treasury.
An essential element in Zoroaster’s religious system was the encouragement of agriculture; and King Khosrou Nushirvan, in devoting his attention to it, was performing a religious duty, as well as increasing the resources of the state. Tabari tells us that the king earnestly desired to bring into cultivation all the soil that was capable of it; and for this purpose he issued edits commanding the reclamation of the lands, while at the same time he advanced from the public treasury the money necessary for the seed-corn, the implements and the beasts, to all poor persons willing to carry out his orders. The infirm, those disabled by bodily defect, and others, were relieved from the king’s private purse. Mendicancy was for bidden, and idleness was made punishable. Mirkhond and Tabari tell us that the lands forfeited by Mazdak’s followers were distributed to necessitous cultivators. Mirkhond also informs us that the water system was carefully attended to, and that river and torrent courses were cleared of obstructions and straightened. The superfluous water of the rainy season was stored, and meted out with a wise economy to the tillers of the soil, in the spring and summer.
Tabari states that King Khosrou Nushirvan encouraged and compelled marriage, in order to increase the population of Persia. All marriageable females were required to provide themselves with husbands. If they neglected this duty, the government interfered, and united them with unmarried men of their own class. These latter received an adequate dowry from the public treasury; and if any children resulted from the union, their education and establishment in life j were undertaken by the state. Another of Chosroes’s methods of increasing the population was the settlement of his foreign captives within his own dominions. The most important instance of this policy was the Greek settlement called Rumia (Rome), which Chosroes established near Ctesiphon, after his capture of Antioch in A. D. 540.
Unlike many other Oriental sovereigns, King Chosroes I displayed no narrow and unworthy jealousy of foreigners. His mind soared above all such petty prejudice. He encouraged the visits of all foreigners except the barbarous Turks, readily received them at his court, and carefully provided for their safety. Mirkhond says that he kept the roads and bridges in perfect order throughout his empire, so as to facilitate locomotion; while guard-houses were built and garrisons maintained along the chief lines of the route for the express purpose of securing the safety of travelers. The result was that many Europeans visited Khosrou Nushirvan’s court, and were hospitably treated, and invited, or even pressed, to prolong their visits.
King Chosroes I also displayed his wisdom and enlightenment by studying philosophy and patronizing science and learning. Agathias says that in the beginning of his reign he gave a refuge at his court to seven Greek sages who were driven from their country by a persecuting edict issued by the Emperor Justinian I. One of these Greek refugees was Damascius of Syria, author of De Principiis, which has recently been found to display an intimate knowledge of some of the most obscure of the ancient Oriental religions, such as that of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Another of these Greek exiles was the eclectic philosopher, Simplicius of Cilicia, “the most acute and judicious of the interpreters of Aristotle.”
Agathias says that King Chosroes I gave this band of Greek philosophers a hospitable reception, entertained them at his table, and was unwilling to have them leave his court. They discovered that he was familiar with the writings of Plato and Aristotle, whose works he had caused to be translated into the Persian language. He discussed with these seven sages such questions as the origin of the world, its destructibility or indestructibility, and the derivation of all things from one First Cause or from more.
From Agathias we also learn that later in his reign Khosrou Nushirvan bestowed special favor upon a Greek sophist named Uranius, who became the Great King’s instructor in Greek learning, and was presented by him with a large sum of money. Procopius tells us that Chosroes maintained the Greek physician, Tribunus, at his court for a year, and offered him any reward that he asked at his departure.
Khosrou Nushirvan also instituted a medical school at Gondi-Sapor, in the vicinity of Susa, which gradually became a university, wherein philosophy, rhetoric and poetry were likewise studied. He not only patronized Greek learning; but under his fostering care the history and jurisprudence of his native Persia were made special objects of study. The laws and maxims of Artaxerxes I, the founder of the New Persian Empire of the Sassanidae, were brought forth from the obscurity which had hidden them for ages, and were republished and declared to be authoritative. At the same time the annals of the New Persian Empire were collected and arranged; and a Shah-nameh, or “Book of the Kings,” was composed, which is believed to have formed the basis of the great work of Firdusi, the illustrious Persian poet of the eleventh century. Even far-off Hindoostan was explored in quest of varied knowledge, “and contributed to the learning and civilization of the time the fables of Bidpai and the game of chess.”
Though Khosrou Nushirvan fiercely persecuted Mazdak’s followers, he admitted and practiced the principles of toleration to a certain extent. When he ascended the Persian throne he announced as a rule of his government that only the actions of men were subject to his authority, not their thoughts. He was therefore bound not to persecute any of his subjects for their opinions, and he punished the Mazdakites for their crimes rather than for their views. He displayed mildness and moderation towards his numerous Christian subjects. Mirkhond informs us that he married a Christian woman and permitted her the free exercise of her religion; and when one of his sons became a Christian, he inflicted no other punishment upon him than to confine him to the palace.
The number of Christians in the New Persian Empire was increased by the colonies which Chosroes I introduced from other lands. He allowed his Christian subjects full religious toleration; permitting them to erect churches, choose bishops, and conduct Christian worship at their pleasure, and even allowing them to bury their dead, though such pollution was considered sacrilegious by the Zoroastrians. No unworthy observances of the state-religion were required of the Christians. But they were not permitted to make proselytes; and perhaps all Christian sects were not viewed with the same favor, as Chrosroes is accused of persecuting the Catholics and the Monophysites, and of compelling them to join the Nestorians, who constituted the prevailing Christian sect in the Persian dominions.
But while Chosroes disliked differences of practice, he appears to have encouraged a freedom of religious discussion which must have tended to shake the hereditary faith of his subjects. A remarkable indication of his liberal and tolerant views was given when he made his first peace with the Eastern Roman Empire, when he most stoutly insisted upon the article securing freedom of opinion in their own country to the seven Greek sages who had found at his court a refuge from persecution in their hour of need.
Khosrou Nushirvan was unfortunate in his domestic relations. He appears to have lived always on excellent terms with his chief wife, the daughter of the Great Khan of the Turks; and his affection for her induced him to select the son whom she had borne him to succeed him on the Persian throne. But the wife who occupied the next place in his favor displeased him by her persistent refusal to renounce the Christian religion and adopt the Zoroastrian in its stead; and the quarrel between them was apparently intensified by the conduct of their son, Nushizad, who, when he arrived at an age of discretion, deliberately preferred his mother’s religion to that of his father and of the Persian nation. Chosroes I was naturally offended at this son’s choice; but he restrained his anger within moderate bounds, and simply punished the young prince by forbidding him to leave the preempts of the palace.
Unfortunate consequences ensued. Nushizad in his confinement heard a rumor that his father, after starting for the war against the Romans in Syria, was stricken with illness, was unlikely to recover, was dead. A golden opportunity appeared to him, which it would be foolish in him not to improve. He therefore left his palace prison, circulated the report of his father’s death, seized the public treasure and distributed it liberally among the soldiers in the capital, summoned the Christians throughout the Persian dominions to his aid, assumed the title and state of king, was acknowledged by the entire province of the South, and believed himself strong enough to assume the offensive and attempt the subjugation of Irak, or Babylonia. Such is the account of Mirkhond, and that of Procopius is much the same. In Irak the young prince was utterly defeated in a pitched battle by Phabrizus, one of his father’s generals. Mirkhond says that Nushizad fell in the midst of the conflict, fatally wounded by a chance arrow. Procopius says that he was taken prisoner and brought to his father, who merely destroyed his hopes of ever reigning by cruelly disfiguring him, instead of punishing him with death.
It is the great glory of Khosrou Nushirvan that his subjects conferred on him the title of “the Just”. That epithet would seem to be unmerited according to modem ideas; and accordingly Gibbon has declared that he was actuated by mere ambition in his external policy, and that “in his domestic administration he deserved the appellation of a tyrant.” True, the punishments inflicted by him were mostly severe, but they were not capricious nor uniform, nor without reference to the character of the offense. He punished with death such offenses as plotting against his crown or his person when the conspirators were of full age, treasonable correspondence with the enemy, violation of the sanctity of the harem, and the proselytism which was strictly forbidden by the laws. But when the rebel was a mere youth he was satisfied with inflicting a disfigurement. When the offense was less, he could imprison, or confine to a particular spot, or merely banish the offender from his presence.
Instances are recorded of his clemency. Mirkhond relates an anecdote illustrating this, as follows: On one occasion, Chosroes banished one of his attendants from court upon being displeased with him. The man absented himself; but on a certain day, when all subjects had the right of appearing before the king, he returned to the palace, and, resuming his former duties, waited upon the guests at the royal table. While he was thus occupied, he took an opportunity of secreting a plate of solid gold about his person, after which he left the guest-chamber and disappeared entirely. Chosroes had seen the entire proceeding, but took no notice, and simply remarked, when the plate was missed: “The man who took it will not bring it back, and the man who saw him will not tell.” A year afterward the attendant appeared again on the same day; whereupon the king called him aside and said: “Is the first plate all gone that you have come again to get another”. The offender acknowledged his guilt and begged pardon, which was granted him. Chosroes also took him back into his service.
It is generally admitted that the administration of Khosrou Nushirvan was wise, and that Persia prospered under his government. His vigilance, his activity, his care for the poor, his efforts to prevent or check oppression, are notorious, and cannot be questioned. Nor can it be denied that he was brave, hardy, temperate, prudent and liberal. It may perhaps be open to doubt whether he possessed the softer virtues, compassion, kindness, a tender and loving heart. He appears to have been a good husband and a good father, not easily offended, and not unduly severe when offense was given him. His early severities against his brothers and their followers may be regarded as caused by the advice of others, and were perhaps justified by state policy. In his later years, when he was his own master, he punished rebellion in a milder manner.
Intellectually, the Persians, and even many of the Greeks, exalted Khosrou Nushirvan high above the ordinary Oriental level, representing him as capable of apprehending the most subtle arguments and the deepest problems of philosophy; but Agathias made a more moderate estimate of his mental abilities and attainments. To his credit, Chosroes I, although occupied in almost constant wars, and burdened also with the administration of a mighty empire, possessed a mind capable of considering intellectual problems and of enjoying and participating in their discussion. It cannot be denied that he possessed a quick, active intellect, and broad views seldom found in an Oriental monarch.
Great as Khosrou Nushirvan was in peace, he was still greater in war; and he chiefly distinguished himself and gained his greatest laurels in his wars, which occupied his entire reign of almost half a century, during which he triumphed over the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire, and over the Abyssinians, the Ephthalites and the Turks, and extended his empire on every side. He also pacified the discontented Armenians, crushed internal revolt, frustrated the most threatening combinations, and established Persia in a position which she had not occupied since the times of Darius Hystaspes more than a thousand years before, making her for the time the most powerful empire in the world.
The most remarkable of Khosrou Nushirvan’s many coins have the king’s head on the obverse, presenting the full face, and surmounted by a mural crown with a low cap. The beard is close, and the hair is arranged in masses on each side. There are two stars above the crown, and two crescents, one over each shoulder, with a star and a crescent on the dress in front of each shoulder. The king wears a necklace, from which hang three pendants. On the reverse these coins have a full-length figure of the king, standing to the front, with his two hands resting on the hilt of his straight sword, and its point placed between his feet. The crown resembles that on the obverse, and there is a star and a crescent on each side of the head. The legend on the obverse is Khusludi afzurt, “May Chosroes increase”. There are two legends on the reverse; the one on the left being Khusludi, with the regnal year. The one on the right has not yet been satisfactorily interpreted.
The more ordinary type on the coins of Chosroes I differs very little from those of his father, Kobad, and those of his son, Hormisdas IV. The obverse has the king’s head in profile, and the reverse has the usual fire-altar and supporters. In addition to the legends, these coins have three simple crescents in the margin of the obverse, instead of three crescents with stars.
A relic of Chosroes I, of great beauty, has been transmitted to us. This is a cup composed of a number of small disks of colored glass, united by a gold setting, and having at the bottom a crystal, engraved with a figure of the king.
On the death of King Chosroes I, or Khosrou Nushirvan, in 579, his son Hormazd, known to the Greek and Latin writers as Hormisdas IV, became King of Persia. Hormazd was the eldest, or perhaps the only son borne to Chosroes I, by his chief wife, the Turkish princess, Fakim. His illustrious descent on both sides, with the express appointment of his father, caused Hormisdas IV to be universally accepted as king; and he began his reign amid the acclamations of his subjects, delighting them by declaring that he would follow in the footsteps of his illustrious father in all things—that he would pursue the same policy, maintain the same officers in power, and try to govern in all respects as his father had governed.
The Mobeds endeavored to persuade him to favor only the Zoroastrians and to persecute such of his subjects as were Jews and Christians; but Hormisdas IV rejected their advice with the remark that, as there were certain to be varieties of soil in an extensive territory, so it was appropriate that a great empire should include men of various opinions and manners. In his tours through his empire he permitted no injury to the lands and gardens along the route, and severely punished all who disobeyed his orders. His good inclinations only lasted during the time that he had the counsel and support of Abu-zurd-mihir, one of his father’s best advisers; but when the infirmities of age obliged this venerated sage to retire from court, the king fell under other influences, and soon degenerated into a cruel tyrant.
Hormisdas IV was engaged in wars with the Eastern Roman Emperors Tiberius and Maurice, who pressed upon Persia with increased force, confidently hoping to recover their lost laurels. As soon as Tiberius heard of Khosrou Nushirvan’s death, he endeavored to negotiate with that great monarch’s successor, offering to relinquish all claim on Armenia and to exchange Arzanene with its strong fortress, Aphuman, for Daras; but Hormisdas IV absolutely rejected his proposals, declaring that he would surrender nothing, and declining to make peace on any other terms than that the Eastern Roman Empire should resume her old system of paying to Persia an annual subsidy.
The war therefore continued; and the Emperor Maurice invaded the Persian dominions in the summer of 579, sending a force under Romanus, Theodoric and Martin, across the Tigris. This force ravaged Kurdistan, destroying the crops with impunity. In 580 Maurice, supposing he had secured the alliance of the Arab skeikh, Alamandarus, and having collected a fleet to convey his stores, marched from Circesium down the course of the Euphrates, to carry the war into Persian Mesopotamia and to capture Ctesiphon. He was disappointed in his hopes of taking the Persians unawares, as the Arab sheikh proved treacherous, and the Persian king had heard of his enemy’s march and at once took measures to frustrate the designs of Maurice. A large Persian army under Adarman marched into Roman Mesopotamia and threatened the important city of Callinicus in the rear of the Roman army. Maurice was therefore obliged to burn his fleet and to retreat hastily into Roman Mesopotamia, where he defeated Adarman before Callinicus, driving him back into the Persian dominions.
After a futile effort at negotiation, in the spring of 581, the Persians again invaded the Roman territory and attacked the city of Constantia. Maurice hastened to its relief, and defeated the Persians in a great battle in the vicinity of the city; the Persian commander, Tamchosro, being killed. The triumphant Maurice returned to Constantinople, and became sole sovereign of the Eastern Roman Empire upon the death of Tiberius, who gave him his daughter in marriage.
Johannes, or Mustacon, whom the Emperor Maurice had left in the command of the Roman forces in the East, was defeated by the Persians at the junction of the Nymphius with the Tigris; after which he besieged Arbas, a strong fort on the Persian side of the Nymphius, while the Persian main army attacked Aphuman, in the neighboring district of Arzanene. The garrison of Arbas made signals of distress, whereupon the Persian army hastened to its relief; and Mustacon was again defeated at Arbas, and was obliged to cross the Nymphius into the Roman territory. The Emperor Maurice then removed the incompetent Mustacon, and appointed Philippicus, his brother-in-law, to the command of the Roman forces in the East.
In 584 and 585 Philippicus made plundering raids into the Persian territory on both sides of the Upper Tigris. Late in 585 the Persians made unsuccessful attacks on Monocartum and Martyropolis. After unsuccessful negotiations, in 586, Philippicus invaded Persian Armenia and defeated the Persians in a great battle near Solachon, after arousing the enthusiasm of his troops by carrying along their ranks a picture of Christ. He pursued the fleeing Persians to Daras, which refused to receive within its walls an army which had so disgraced itself. The Persian army retired farther inland; whereupon Philippicus invaded Arzanene and besieged the stronghold of Chlomaron, and sent detachments farther eastward.
The Persian general, after rallying his army and strengthening it by fresh recruits, hastened to the relief of Arzanene. Philippicus, utterly surprised, was forced to raise the siege of Chlomaron and to retreat in disorder. The Persians pursued him across the Nymphius, until he took refuge in the strong fortress of Amida. Disgusted and disgraced by his ill success, Philippicus assigned the direction of active operations to Heraclius, but remained at headquarters to supervise the general movements.
Heraclius at once led the Roman army into the Persian territory, devastated the country on both sides of the Tigris, and rejoined Philippicus before the winter. Through the jealousy of Philippicus, who, in 587, divided his command between Heraclius and others, the Romans only reduced two fortresses. At the approach of winter Philippicus returned to Constantinople, leaving Heraclius in command of the Roman army in the East.
Encouraged by the mutinous spirit of the Roman army, the Persians invaded the Roman territory early in 588 and threatened Constantia, which was, however, saved by Germanus. The mutinous spirit having been quelled later in the year, the Romans invaded Arzanene, but were driven back into their own territory by the Persian general, Maruzas, who pursued them, but was defeated and killed near Martyropolis. The head of the slain Maruzas was cut off and sent as a trophy to the Emperor Maurice.
In 589 the Persians took Martyropolis, through the treachery of a petty Roman officer named Sittas. Philippicus vainly besieged the town twice. During the second siege the garrison was strongly reinforced by the Persian troops under Mebodes and Aphraates, who defeated Philippicus in a pitched battle and sent a large detachment to reinforce the garrison. Thereupon Philippicus was deprived of his command, and was succeeded by Comentiolus, with Heraclius as his lieutenant.
The new Roman commanders invaded the Persian territory in force, ravaging the country about Nisibis; and, in a pitched battle at Sisarbanon, near that city, in which Comentiolus was defeated and routed, Heraclius finally defeated the whole Persian army, driving it from the field with the loss of its commander, who was slain in the thick of the fight. The next day the Persian camp was taken, with a rich booty and many standards. The remnant of the vanquished Persian army found refuge within the walls of Nisibis. Later in the year Comentiolus took Arbas from the Persians, after a short siege.
The Oriental writers tell us that Hormisdas IV had gradually become a tyrant; oppressing the rich, under the plea of protecting the poor, and putting thirteen thousand of the higher classes to death, through jealousy or fear; thus completely alienating all the more powerful portion of the Persian nation. Aware of his unpopularity, the neighboring tribes and nations began a series of aggressions, plundered the frontier Persian provinces, defeated the Persian detachments sent against them under disaffected commanders, and everywhere reduced the New Persian Empire to the most imminent peril. The Arabs crossed the Euphrates and ravaged Mesopotamia; the Khazars invaded Armenia and Azerbijan; and the Great Khan of the Turks led his hordes across the Oxus, occupied Balkh and Herat, and was threatening to penetrate into the very heart of the New Persian Empire.
The advance of the Turks constituted the real danger to Persia. Hormisdas IV selected a leader of great courage and experience, named Varahan, or Bahram, who had won distinction in the wars of Khosrou Nushirvan; placing the resources of the Empire at his disposal, and assigning to him the entire conduct of the war against the Turks. Mirkhond, Tabari and Masoudi state that Bahram led only a small force of picked veterans against Balkh, and defeated the Great Khan of the Turks in a great battle, in which the Great Khan himself was slain. Bahram soon afterward defeated the Khan’s son, whom he took prisoner and sent to King Hormisdas IV. Bahram also sent a vast booty to the Persian court.
In 589 Hormisdas IV sent Bahram with an army into Colchis and Suania to renew the Lazic war. Bahram ravaged the province at his pleasure, but a Roman army soon hastened to its defense and defeated the Persians in a pitched battle on the Araxes. As soon as King Hormisdas IV heard of Bahram’s defeat, he sent a messenger to the Persian camp on the Araxes, who deprived the vanquished general of his command, and presented to him, on his sovereign’s behalf, a distaff, some cotton, and a full set of female garments. Bahram was so incensed by this unmerited insult that he retorted with a letter, addressing the king as the “daughter” of Khosrou Nushirvan, and not as his son. Soon afterwards a second messenger from the court arrived at Bahram’s camp, with orders to bring the recalcitrant commander home in chains. Thereupon Bahram openly revolted, caused the messenger to be trampled upon by an elephant, and induced his army to espouse his cause.
The news of Bahram’s revolt was hailed with acclamations by the Persian provinces. The Persian army in Mesopotamia, stationed at Nisibis, joined in the revolt with that of Bahram in Albania; and the united force marched on Ctesiphon by way of Assyria, and took up a position on the Upper Zab river. King Hormisdas IV sent an army under Pherochanes against the rebels; but Bahram’s emissaries seduced the troops of Pherochanes from their allegiance, whereupon they murdered their commander and joined the other rebel forces. The insurgents then advanced nearer to the capital.
In the meantime King Hormisdas IV, distracted between hate and fear, suspecting every one and trusting no one, confined himself within the walls of the capital, where he continued the severities which had lost him the affections of his subjects. The Oriental waiters state that the king suspected his son Chosroes of collusion with the rebels and drove him into exile, at the same time imprisoning his own brothers-in-law, Bindoes and Bostam, whom he feared would support their nephew. These violent measures precipitated the events which the king feared. A general revolt broke out in the palace. Bindoes and Bostam were released from prison, whereupon they placed themselves at the head of the malcontents, rushed into the presence-chamber, dragged the tyrant from his throne, deprived him of his diadem, and imprisoned him in the dungeon from which they had themselves escaped. The Oriental writers—Mirkhond, Tabari and Masoudi—state that Hormisdas IV was at once blinded, to disqualify him from thereafter reigning, and that he was soon afterwards assassinated in prison by Bindoes and Bostam.
The Greek and Oriental writers are unanimous in pronouncing Hormisdas IV one of the worst kings that ever reigned over Persia. The fair promise of his early youth soon faded away; and during most of his reign he was a jealous and capricious tyrant, influenced by unworthy favorites, and stimulated to ever-increasing severities by his fears. His suspicions were aroused by any kind of eminence in others; and, besides the nobles and the illustrious, many philosophers and scientific men fell victims to his jealous tyranny. His treatment of Bahram was a folly and a crime—an act of base ingratitude, and a rash proceeding, whereof he had not considered the consequences. He was also indolent and effeminate. During his entire reign he did not relinquish the soft life of the palace; and he did not take the field in a single instance, either against his country’s foes or his own. He deserved no pity for his miserable fate.
In the coins of Hormisdas I the head seems modeled on that of his father. The field of the coin is crowded with stars and crescents. The border also has stars and crescents, replacing the simple crescents of Chosroes I, and reproducing the combined stars and crescents of Zamasp. The legend on the obverse is Auhramazdi afzud, or sometimes Auhramazi afzun. On the reverse are the usual fire-altar and supporters, a regnal year and a mint-mark. The regnal years range from one to thirteen, and there are about thirty mint-marks.
Upon the deposition of Hormisdas IV, his eldest son, Chosroes II, or Khosrou Parviz, was proclaimed King of Persia. He was the last great Persian monarch belonging to the renowned dynasty of the Sassanidae. The rebels at Ctesiphon, who perhaps acted with his connivance, and who calculated on his pardoning them for raising him to the Persian throne, declared him king without binding him by any conditions, and without negotiating with Bahram, who was still in arms a short distance away.
Chosroes II, or Khosrou Parviz, was suspected by most of his subjects of complicity in the murder of his father. The rebel Bahram—the greatest Persian general of the time—refused to recognize his authority and was arrayed against him. He had no established character to recommend him as yet. He had no merits to plead; and nothing to urge in his favor except that he was the eldest son of his father—the legitimate representative of the ancient line of the Sassanidae. He had been placed upon the Persian throne by a revolution in a hasty and irregular manner. Nor is it certain that he went through the customary formality of asking the consent of the general assembly of the Persian nobles to his coronation; as Bahram stated that “the noble and respectable took no part in the vote, which was carried by the disorderly and low-born.”
The new king’s position was thus one of great difficulty, and perils surrounded him on every side. The most pressing danger, and the one which required to be at once confronted, was the threatening attitude of Bahram, who had advanced from Adiabene to Holwan and occupied a strong position less than a hundred and fifty miles from the capital. The young king’s security demanded the immediate conciliation or defeat of Bahram.
Chosroes II first endeavored to try conciliation, by writing a letter to Bahram, inviting the great general to his court and offering him the second place in the empire if he would come in and make his submission. With the message, the king sent rich presents and offered that if the terms proposed were accepted they should be confirmed by an oath.
To the king’s letter Bahram gave the following reply: “Bahram, friend of the gods, conqueror, illustrious, enemy of tyrants, general of the Persian host, wise, apt for command, god-fearing, without reproach, noble, fortunate, successful, venerable, thrifty, provident, gentle, humane, to Chosroes the son of Hormisdas (sends greeting). I have received the letter which you wrote with such little wisdom, but have rejected the presents which you sent with such excessive boldness. It had been better that you should have abstained from sending either, more especially considering the irregularity of your appointment, and the fact that the noble and respectable took no part in the vote, which was carried by the disorderly and low-born. If then it is your wish to escape your father’s fate, strip off the diadem which you have assumed and deposit it in some holy place, quit the palace, and restore to their prisons the criminals whom you have set at liberty, and whom you had no right to release until they had undergone trial for their crimes. When you have done all this, come hither, and I will give you the government of a province. Be well advised, and so farewell. Else, be sure you will perish like your father. ’’
King Khosrou Parviz, to his credit, was guilty of no hasty act or of no unworthy display of temper, in consequence of Bahram’s insolent missive; but he restrained himself, and even made another effort at reconciliation. He still addressed Bahram as his friend, while striving to outdo him in the grandeur of his titles. He complimented the great general on his courage, and congratulated him upon his good health. The king said as follows: “There are certain expressions in the letter which I have received which I am sure do not speak my friend’s real feelings. The amanuensis had evidently drunk more wine than he ought, and, being half asleep when he wrote, had put down things that were foolish and indeed monstrous. But I am not disturbed by them. I must decline, however, to send back to their prisons those whom I have released, since favors granted by royalty can not with propriety be withdrawn; and I must protest that in the ceremony of my coronation all due formalities were observed. As for stripping myself of my diadem, I am so far from contemplating it, that I look forward rather to extending my dominion over new worlds. As Bahram has invited me, I will certainly pay him a visit; but I will be obliged to come as a king, and if my persuasions do not produce submission I will have to compel it by force of arms. I hope that Bahram will be wise in time, and become my friend and helper.’’
Bahram did not reply to the king’s second overture, and it became tolerably evident that the quarrel could only be settled by an appeal to arms. Chosroes II therefore placed himself at the head of a body of troops and marched against his adversary, who was encamped on the Holwan river. Chosroes II, having no confidence in his soldiers, sought a personal interview with Bahram and renewed his offers of pardon and favor; but the conference only led to mutual recriminations, and at its close both sides resorted to arms. The two armies only skirmished for six days, as Chosroes II used all his endeavors to avoid a regular battle; but on the seventh day Bahram surprised the young king by a night attack, threw his troops into confusion, and then persuaded them to desert the king and join the rebel side.
King Chosroes II was compelled to flee. He fell back on Ctesiphon; but, as he despaired of making a successful defense, with the few troops that remained faithful to him, against Bahram’s overwhelming force, he decided to evacuate the capital, to leave Persia, and to seek the protection of one of his neighbors. He is said to have been for a long time undecided as to whether he should seek refuge among the Turks, or the Arabs, or the Khazars of the Caucasus region, or in the Eastern Roman Empire. Some writers say that after he left Ctesiphon with his wives and children, his two uncles, and an escort of thirty men, he laid his reins on his horse’s neck, leaving it to the animal’s instinct to determine in what direction he should flee. The sagacious beast proceeded toward the Euphrates; and when the fugitive king reached the banks of that river, he crossed the stream, followed up its course, and easily reached the well-known Roman station of Circesium, having been entirely unmolested in his retreat. As soon as Bahram was informed of the young king’s flight, he sent four thousand cavalry to pursue and capture the royal fugitive. They failed through the action of Bindoes, who devoted himself to his nephew, and who, by deceiving the officer in command, enabled Chosroes II to get so far in advance of his pursuers that the chase had to be abandoned; and the detachment returned to Ctesiphon with only Bindoes as a captive.
Probus, the Roman governor of Circesium, received the refugee Persian king with all possible honor, and the next day informed Comentiolus, the Roman Prefect of the East, then residing at Hierapolis, of what had transpired. At the same time Probus sent to Comentiolus a letter which the fugitive monarch had addressed to the Emperor Maurice, imploring his assistance against his enemies. Comentiolus approved what had been done, despatched a courier to carry the royal message to Constantinople, and soon afterwards, by direction of the imperial court, invited the illustrious refugee to take up his residence at Hierapolis, until the Eastern Roman Emperor should determine upon the course to be pursued.
After the letter of Chosroes II had been read at Constantinople, a serious debate arose there as to the proper course to pursue. Some maintained that it was for the interest of the Eastern Roman Empire that the civil war in Persia should be prolonged, that Persia should be left to waste her strength and exhaust her resources in the domestic strife, at the end of which the Romans might easily conquer her. Others were less selfish and more far-sighted, and were in favor of supporting the fugitive Persian king in his efforts to recover his lost crown. The Emperor Maurice coincided with the views of the latter party and accepted their counsels.
Maurice accordingly replied to Chosroes II that he accepted him as his guest and “son,” espoused his cause, and would aid him with all the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire to recover the Persian throne. Maurice also sent the fugitive king some magnificent presents, and released the Persian prisoners confined at Constantinople, bidding them go with the envoys of Chosroes II and resume the service of their sovereign. Soon afterward the Eastern Roman Emperor sent an army of seventy thousand men under Narses to support the claims of Chosroes II, and also advanced him a subsidy from the imperial treasury, equal in value to about five million dollars of United States money. But the refugee Persian king only obtained this aid by ceding to the Romans Persarmenia and Eastern Mesopotamia, with the strong towns of Martyropolis and Daras.
In the meantime Bahram had occupied Ctesiphon and proclaimed himself King of Persia, and had sent out messengers on every side to inform the Persian provinces of the change of kings. But when it was known that the Eastern Roman Emperor had espoused the cause of the dethroned Khosrou Parviz, the usurper Bahram found himself involved in difficulties. Conspiracy arose in his own court, and had to be suppressed by executions. Murmurs were heard in some of the more remote provinces. Armenia openly revolted, and declared fof Chosroes II. It was also soon apparent that the loyalty of the Persian troops to Bahram was uncertain in many places; especially in Mesopotamia, which would have to bear the brunt of the attack when the Romans advanced.
To strengthen his hold on Mesopotamia, Bahram in midwinter sent two detachments commanded by officers upon whom he could rely, to occupy respectively Anatho and Nisibis, the two strongholds in the suspected region. Miraduris succeeded in entering and occupying Anatho. But before Zadesprates reached the vicinity of Nisibis, the garrison there deserted the usurper Bahram’s cause and declared for Khosrou Parviz; and when Zadesprates approached to reconnoiter, he fell a victim to a stratagem, and was killed by an officer named Rosas. Soon afterwards Miraduris was slain by his own troops, who had caught the contagion of revolt, and his head was sent to Chosroes II.
Military operations began in the spring of 592. Chosroes II, besides his Roman and Persian supporters in Mesopotamia, had a second army in Azerbijan, raised by his uncles Bindoes and Bostam, which was reinforced by an Armenian contingent. Early in the spring Chosroes II. marched from Hierapolis, by way of Constantia, to Daras, and thence to the Tigris, across which he sent a detachment in the vicinity of the ruins of Nineveh. This detachment surprised and defeated Bryzacius, who commanded Bahram’s forces in that region, in the night, taking Bryzacius himself prisoner.
The Greek writer, Theophylactus, states that the captors of Bryzacius cut off his nose and his ears, and then sent him a prisoner to Chosroes II, who was overjoyed at the success. Chosroes II instantly led his entire army across the Tigris, encamping for the night at Dinabadon, where he entertained the Persian and Roman nobles at a banquet. In the height of the festivity the captive Bryzacius was brought in loaded with fetters, and was made sport of by the guests for a time, after which Chosroes II gave a signal, whereupon the guards plunged their swords into the unfortunate captive’s body, thus killing him in the presence of the banqueters. Chosroes II then anointed his guests with perfumed ointment, crowned them with flowers, and bid them drink to his success in the civil war. Theophylactus says: “The guests returned to their tents, delighted with the completeness of the entertainment, and told their friends how handsomely they had been treated, but the crown of all (they said) was the episode of Bryzacius.”
The next day Khosrou Parviz advanced across the Greater Zab, and a week later he reached the Lesser Zab, where he and his Roman allies outmaneuvered Bahram. After seizing the fords of the Zab, and after five days of marching and countermarching, Chosroes II. effected a junction with his uncles Bindoes and Bostam. At the same time Mebodes, with a small Roman force, marched southward and occupied Seleucia and Ctesiphon without opposition, thus obtaining possession of the royal treasures, while he proclaimed Chosroes II. king and sent the most precious emblems of the Persian sovereignty to him in his camp.
In the plain country of Adiabene, at the foot of the Zagros mountains, the first battle was fought between the armies of Khosrou Parviz and Bahram. In the army of Chosroes II the Romans were in the center, the Persians on the right and the Armenians on the left. When the battle commenced, the Romans routed Bahram’s center by a furious charge; whereupon Bahram retreated to a strong position on the slope of the hills, where he repulsed an attack of the Persians in Chosroes’s army. The Romans under Narses came to the relief of Chosroes’s routed troops; but the battle ended in an advantage for Bahram, who, however, evacuated his camp and retired to the fertile upland region.
Chosroes II and his allies pursued Bahram to Canzaca, or Shiz; whereupon Bahram retreated to the Balarathus, where a second battle was fought, Bahram having in the meantime been reinforced by a number of elephants from the provinces bordering on India. All of Bahram’s assaults upon the Roman lines were repulsed by Narses, who then charged in his turn and routed the whole of Bahram’s forces, which fled in confusion from the field, six thousand of Bahram’s troops deserting and allowing themselves to be made prisoners. Bahram himself fled with four thousand of his troops. His camp, with all its elegant furniture, and his wives and children, fell into the hands of the victors. The elephant corps still fought valiantly, but it was surrounded and compelled to surrender. The battle was entirely lost to Bahram, and the vanquished general fled for his life.
The triumphant Chosroes II sent ten thousand men under his uncle Bostam in pursuit of the fugitives, who were overtaken; but the pursuers were repulsed, and they returned to Chosroes’s camp. Bahram continued his flight, passed through Rei, or Rhages, and Damaghan, and finally reached the Oxus, where he placed himself under the protection of the Turks. After dismissing his Roman allies, the victorious Chosroes II. returned to Ctesiphon, after a year’s absence, and was again seated on the throne of his ancestors.
Bahram’s earlier coins have the mural crown, but no stars or crescents, his own head being among the flames of the firealtar. His legends were Varahran Chub, “Bahram of the mace,” or Varahran, malkan malka, mazdisn, bagi, ramashtri, “Bahram, King of Kings, Ormazd-worshiping, divine, peaceful.” His later coins resemble those of Hormisdas IV, except in the legend on the obverse, which is Varahran afzun, or “Varahran greater.” The regnal year and the mint-mark are on the reverse. The regnal year in every case is ‘‘one’’; and the mint-marks are Zadracarta, Iran and Nihach.
The second reign of Chosroes II, or Khosrou Parviz, lasted almost thirty-seven years—from the summer of 591 to February, 628. From an external view, it is the most remarkable reign of the whole line of the Sassanians. At no other time did the New Persian Empire extend itself so far, or so distinguish itself by its military achievements, as in the twenty years included in the period from 602 to 622. It was seldom reduced so low as in the periods immediately before or immediately after these eventful twenty years, in the earlier and in the later portions of the reign whose central period was so glorious.
As Chosroes II had achieved his triumph over Bahram by the assistance of the Eastern Roman Empire, he commenced his second reign amid the undisguised hostility of his subjects. He so greatly mistrusted their feelings towards him that he solicited and obtained from the Emperor Maurice the support of a Roman body-guard, to whom he intrusted the care of his person. Besides the odium always attaching in the minds of a spirited people to the sovereign imposed upon them by a foreign power, he was suspected of a crime of which no other Persian monarch had ever before been accounted guilty. He vainly protested his innocence. The popular belief held him an accomplice in the murder of his father, and branded the young prince with the horrible name of ‘‘parricide.’’
In order to clear himself of this imputation, he put to death the subordinate instruments by whom his father was actually deprived of his life; after which he instituted proceedings against his uncles Bindoes and Bostam, who had contrived the murder. So long as the success of his arms in the struggle with Bahram was doubtful, the young king had been glad to avail himself of the support of these two uncles, and to make use of their talents in his own interest. At one time in his flight he was indebted to the self-devotion of Bindoes for the preservation of his life; and both uncles had deserved his gratitude by their successful efforts to bring Armenia over to his cause and to raise a formidable army in that province. But the necessity of purging his own character made Chosroes II forget the ties of consanguinity and gratitude.
He accordingly caused Bindoes, who resided at court, to be drowned in the Tigris. He recalled Bostam, whom he had appointed governor of Rei and Khorassan; but Bostam, who suspected his royal nephew’s intentions, openly revolted, and proclaimed himself independent sovereign of the northern provinces, where he established his authority for some time. Tabari says that the young king caused Bostam’s wife, Bahram’s sister, to murder her husband, by promising to marry her.
In the meantime Bahram had been removed by similar intrigues. He had been a fugitive and an exile at the court of the Khan of the Turks, who had received him with honor and had given him his daughter in marriage. Chosroes II was in constant fear that the great general would lead a Turkish horde into Persia to renew the struggle for the crown. The young king therefore sent an envoy into Turkestan, well supplied with valuable presents, instructing him to procure the death of Bahram. The envoy sounded the Turkish Kahn on the subject, but met with a rebuff; after which he succeeded by liberal gifts in inducing the Khatun, the Khan’s wife, to cause Bahram to be assassinated by one of her slaves, the exiled general being killed by means of a poisoned dagger.
During his exile in the Eastern Roman Empire, Chosroes II was impressed by what he saw and heard of the Christian religion. He professed a high veneration for the Virgin Mary, and adopted the then-customary practice of addressing his prayers and vows to the Christian saints and martyrs, who were practically the chief objects of the Oriental Christians’ devotions. The exiled prince adopted Sergius, a martyr highly reverenced by the Christians of Osrhoene and Mesopotamia, as a kind of patron-saint; and in times of difficulty he would vow some gift to the shrine of St. Sergius at Sergiopolis, providing the event corresponded to his wishes.
He is said on two occasions to have sent with his gift a letter explaining the circumstances of his vow and its fulfillment, and these letters have been transmitted to us in a Greek version. In one letter Chosroes II ascribed the success of his arms on a certain occasion to the influence of the martyred St. Sergius; and in the other letter he attributed to that saint the credit of causing by his prayers Sira, or Shirin, the most beautiful and the best beloved of the young king’s wives, to become a mother.
Sira appears to have been a Christian, and in marrying her Chosroes II had violated the Persian laws, which forbade the Persian monarch to have a Christian wife. Sira had considerable influence over her husband, who allowed her to build many churches and monasteries about Ctesiphon. When she died, Chosroes II. caused her image to be perpetuated in sculpture; and Tabari tells that he sent statues of her to the Eastern Roman Emperor, to the Turkish Khan, and to different other potentates.
Mirkhond and Tabari state that Khosrou Parviz had an immense harem, or seraglio; his concubines numbering twelve thousand. The only one of his secondary wives whose name is known to us is Kurdiyeh, Bahram’s sister and Bostam’s widow, who murdered her first husband at Chosroes’s suggestion.
The Armenian writers tell us that Chosroes II intended to depopulate that part of Armenia which had not been ceded to the Romans, by making a general levy of all the males and marching them off to the East to fight the Ephthalites; but the design failed, as the Armenians carried everything before them, and under their native leader, Smbat, the Bagratunian, conquered Hyrcania and Taberistan, defeated the Koushans and the Ephthalites repeatedly, and even successfully encountered the Great Khan of the Turks, who supported his vassals with an army of three hundred thousand men. By Smbat’s valor the Persian dominion was reestablished in the north-eastern mountain region, from Mount Demavend to the Hindoo Koosh; the Koushans, the Turks and the Ephthalites were held in check; and the barbarian tide which had threatened to engulf the New Persian Empire in that quarter was effectually resisted and rolled back.
Khosrou Parviz maintained the most amicable and intimate relations with the Eastern Roman Empire during the remaining eleven years of the Emperor Maurice’s reign. Though he felt humiliated in accepting the terms on which alone Maurice was willing to aid him in recovering the Persian crown, after he had agreed to them he repressed every regret, made no effort to evade his obligations, refrained from all endeavors to undo by intrigue what he had done with his eyes open, however reluctantly.
Only once during these eleven years after the restoration of Chosroes II. did a momentary cloud threaten the peace between him and his imperial benefactor. In A.D. 600 some of the Arab tribes who were vassals of the Eastern Roman Empire made a raid across the Euphrates into the Persian territory, which they ravaged far and wide, after which they returned with their plunder to their desert homes. Khosrou Parviz was rightly incensed, but was pacified by the representations of Maurice’s envoy, George.
The deposition and assassination of the virtuous and perhaps over-rigid Maurice in 662, and the usurpation of the imperial throne by his murderer, the centurion Phocas, aroused the indignation of the Persian king, who was angered upon hearing that his friend and benefactor, and his many sons and his brother, had been murdered. He was informed that one son had been sent by Maurice to implore the aid of the Persians, that this son had been overtaken and murdered by the usurper’s emissaries; but it was also rumored that he safely reached Ctesiphon. Chosroes II himself asserted that this prince, Theodosius, was at his court and that he intended to assert the young prince’s right to the imperial throne.
Five months after his coronation, the usurper Phocas sent Lilius, the actual murderer of Maurice, as an envoy to Persia to announce his occupation of the imperial throne. Thereupon Khosrou Parviz resolved upon war, imprisoned the envoy, Lilius, declared his determination to avenge his dead benefactor’s murder, and openly proclaimed war against the Eastern Roman Empire.
The war began the next year (603). The Romans were then involved in civil war among themselves; as Narses, who commanded the Roman forces in the East ever since he restored Chosroes II to the Persian throne, took the field against Phocas as soon as he heard of the murder of Maurice, seized Edessa and defied the armies of the usurper. Narses afterwards retreated to Hierapolis, whence, trusting to the promises of Domentziolus, he returned to Constantinople, where Phocas burned him to death.
In the meantime Germanus, the Roman commander at Daras, found himself unable to make head against Narses in Edessa, or against the Persian king, who led an army into Mesopotamia. Germanus was defeated by Chosroes II near Daras, and was mortally wounded in the battle ; after which he retired to Constantia, where he died eleven days later. The eunuch Leontius, the successor of Germanus, was defeated by Chosroes II at Arxamus, and many of his troops were made prisoners. Phocas then recalled Leontius, and appointed Domentziolus to the command. The war now languished for a short time.
In 605 Chosroes II besieged Daras for nine months, finally capturing the stronghold, and thus striking a severe blow at Roman prestige. The Romans now suffered a long series of calamities. In A. D. 606 the Persian king took Tur-abdin, Hesen-Cephas, Mardin, Capher-tuta and Amida. In 607 he captured Carrhae (the Haran of Abraham’s time), Resaina, or Ras-el-ain, and Edessa, the capital of Osrhoene; after which he advanced to the Euphrates, led his army across that river into Syria, and besieged and took Hierapolis, Kenneserin and Berhoea (now Aleppo) in several campaigns.
In the meantime another Persian army was operating in Roman Armenia, where it captured Satala and Theodosiopolis; after which it invaded Cappadocia and threatened the great city of Caesarea Mazaca, the principal Roman stronghold in that quarter. Marauding bands desolated the open country, spreading terror through the fertile regions of Phrygia and Galatia, which had escaped the horrors of war for centuries, and which were rich with the accumulated products of industry. Theophanes states that some of the ravagers even penetrated as far westward as Chalcedon (now Scutari), on the Bosphorus, opposite Constantinople. In May, 611, the Persians again crossed the Euphrates, utterly destroyed the Roman army which defended Syria, and sacked the two great cities of Apamea and Antioch.
In the meantime the cruel and incompetent reign and life of the Emperor Phocas had been ended by the double revolt of Heraclius, Prefect of Egypt, and Gregory, his lieutenant; and Heraclius ascended the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although Heraclius was a youth of promise, innocent of any connection with the murder of Maurice, and well disposed to avenge that dark deed, the Persian king, instead of adhering to his original statement that he took up arms to punish the murder of his friend and benefactor, and desisting from further hostilities after the death of Phocas, continued the war in spite of the change of Emperors at Constantinople, and pushed his advantages to the very utmost.
In 611 Persian armies invaded Syria, defeated the Roman forces, and took Antioch and Apamea. In 612 Chosroes II again entered Cappodocia and captured Caesarea Mazaca. In 614 he sent his general, Shahr-Barz, into the region east of the Anti-Libanus mountains and took the ancient and celebrated city of Damascus. In 615 Shahr-Barz marched against Palestine, called the Jews to his assistance, and proclaimed a Holy War against the Christian “unbelievers,” whom he threatened to enslave or exterminate. Twenty-six thousand Jews flocked to the Persian standard; and after occupying the Jordan valley and Galilee, the Persian general invested Jerusalem, which he captured after a siege of eighteen days, forcing his way into the Holy City and giving it over to plunder and rapine.
The cruel and fanatical hostility of the Jews had free reign. The Christian churches of Helena, of Constantine, of the Holy Sepulcher, of the Resurrection, and many others were laid in ashes or ruined; most of the Holy City was destroyed; the sacred treasuries were plundered; the relics were scattered or carried away; and thousands of the unfortunate inhabitants fell victims to the fanatical Jews and their Persian allies. This dreadful massacre lasted for some days; and the Armenian writers state that seventeen thousand persons were thus slaughtered, while the Greek writer Theophanes places the number at ninety thousand, which is, however, improbable. Thirty-five thousand were taken prisoners, among whom was the aged Patriarch, Zacharias, who passed the remainder of his life in captivity in Persia. The Cross found by Helena, and believed to be the ‘‘True Cross”, was also taken to Ctesiphon, where it was carefully preserved and duly venerated by the Christian wife of Khosrou Parviz.
In 616 the Persians under Shahr-Barz marched from Palestine into Egypt, which had not seen a foreign foe on its soil since .the days of Julius Caesar, six and a half centuries before. The Persian general surprised Pelusiura, the key to Egypt, and pressed forward across the Delta and occupied the rich and luxurious city of Alexandria. John the Merciful, who was the Patriarch, and Nicetas the Patrician, who was the governor, had fled from the city before the Persians entered it, seeking refuge in Cyprus. After the capture of Alexandria, Egypt at once submitted to the Persians. Persian bands marched up the Nile valley to the Ethiopian frontier, and established the dominion of King Khosrou Parviz over the whole of Egypt—a land in which no Persian soldier had set foot since it had been wrested from King Darius Codomannus by Alexander the Great, nine and a half centuries before.
In the meantime another Persian army, under Saina, or Shahan, marched from Cappadocia through Asia Minor to the shores of the Thracian Bosphorus, and besieged the strong city of Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople. Chalcedon made a vigorous defense; and the Emperor Heraclius, anxious to save it from capture, had an interview with Shahan, at whose suggestion he sent three of his highest nobles as ambassadors to the Persian king, with an humble request for peace. The overture failed. King Chosroes II imprisoned the Roman ambassadors and treated them cruelly. He also threatened Shahen with death for not bringing the Emperor Heraclius in chains to the foot of his throne; and declared that he would grant no terms of peace—that the Eastern Roman Empire was his, and that Heraclius must descend from his throne. Soon afterwards (617) the Persians took Chalcedon, after a siege through the winter, and occupied this important stronghold, within a mile of Constantinople. In 620 the Persians also took Ancyra (now Angora), which had resisted for three years; and the island of Rhodes also submitted to the invaders.
Thus the Eastern Roman Empire had been deprived of all its dominions in Asia and Africa in the course of fifteen years; and the New Persian Empire was extended westward to the Aegean and the Nile, thus attaining the dimensions of the old Medo-Persian Empire. There were evidences of disorder and anarchy in the Provinces conquered from the Romans by the armies of Khosrou Parviz; but the Persians seem to have intended to retain, to govern, and to beautify the subjugated territory.
Eutychius informs us that when the Romans retired from Syria, the Jews resident in Tyre, numbering four thousand, plotted with their brethren of Jerusalem, Galilee, Damascus and Cyprus for a general massacre of the Tyrian Christians on a certain day. The conspiracy was discovered; and the Jews of Tyre were arrested and imprisoned by their fellow-citizens, who put the city in a state of defense. The twenty- six thousand foreign Jews, who came at the appointed time and attacked Tyre, were repulsed from the walls and defeated with terrible slaughter.
Khosrou Parviz augmented his revenue, thus indicating that he had established a settled government in the conquered provinces. The palace at Mashita, recently discovered by a traveler, is striking evidence that he looked upon his conquests as permanent acquisitions, and that he intended to retain them and to visit them occasionally.
The Emperor Heraclius was now well nigh driven to despair. Constantinople had been reduced to want by the loss of Egypt, and its tumultuous populace clamored for food. The Avars overran Thrace and continually approached nearer to the Byzantine capital. The glitter of the Persian arms could likewise be observed by the Emperor at any moment if he looked from his palace windows across the Bosphorus. There was no hope of relief or aid from any quarter. In the language of Gibbon, the Eastern Roman Empire was “reduced to the walls of Constantinople, with the remnant of Greece, Italy and Africa, and some maritime cities, from Tyre to Trebizond, of the Asiatic coast. ’’
It is no wonder that under such circumstances the despondent Emperor resolved upon flight, and secretly made arrangements to transport himself and his treasures to the distant Carthage, where he might find refuge. After his ships, laden with their precious freight, had put to sea, and he was about to follow them, his intention became known or was suspected. Thereupon the populace of Constantinople arose; and the Patriarch, who espoused their cause, compelled the reluctant Emperor to accompany him to the church of St. Sophia and there swear that he would not desert the imperial city under any circumstances.
Thus frustrated in his design to escape from his perils by flight, Heraclius took a desperate resolution. Leaving Constantinople to its fate, and trusting its safety to the protection afforded by its walls and by the Bosphorus, he embarked with such troops as he was able to collect, and carried the war into the enemy’s country. He had one advantage over his foe in possessing an adequate navy, and consequently having command of the sea and power to strike his blows unexpectedly in different quarters. When he revealed his design, it was not opposed, either by the Patriarch or by the people of Constantinople. He was permitted, to coin the treasures of the various churches into money, to collect stores, to enroll troops, and to start on his expedition on Easter Monday, 622.
The fleet of Heraclius sailed southward, and, in spite of adverse gales, made a speedy and successful voyage through the Propontis, the Hellespont, the Aegean and the Cilician Strait, to the Gulf of Issus, in the angle between Asia Minor and Syria. He was soon confronted by the Persians under Shahr-Barz, the conqueror of Jerusalem and Egypt; and after various movements the Persian general was defeated in a battle in the mountain country towards the Armenian frontier—the first victory which the Romans had won since the death of Maurice. On the approach of winter Heraclius returned by sea to Constantinople.
The next year (623) Heraclius, having in the meantime concluded an alliance with the Khan of the Khazars and other chiefs, embarked with five thousand men at Constantinople, and sailed across the Black Sea to Trebizond and thence to Lazica, or Mingrelia, where he obtained contingents from his allies, which, with the reinforcements which he had collected from Trebizond and the other maritime towns, raised his army to one hundred and twenty thousand men. He led this force across the Araxes and invaded Armenia.
On hearing of this invasion, the Persian king advanced into Azerbijan with forty thousand men and occupied the strong city of Canzaca, whose site is believed to be marked by the ruins of Takht-i-Suleiman. Khosrou Parviz also ordered the armies under Shahr-Barz and SHahen to effect a junction and oppose any further advance of the Eastern Roman Emperor’s army. But the two Persian generals were outstripped by the activity of Heraclius, who advanced from Armenia into Azerbijan and marched directly upon Canzaca. The advance-guard of Arabs in the Roman army actually surprised Chosroes’s pickets, but the Persian king hastily evacuated Canzaca and retreated southward through Ardelan towards the Zagros mountains. Chosroes’s army broke up and dispersed, upon beholding its sovereign flee. Heraclius pursued the fleeing Persian host, slaying all whom he captured; but his pursuit of Chosroes II was unsuccessful, as the Persian king baffled his enemy by moving from place to place through the rough and difficult mountain region between Azerbijan and the Mesopotamian plain.
As Heraclius was far from his resources, he retreated across the Araxes on the approach of winter, and wintered in Albania. He was harassed in his retreat; as he had excited the fanaticism of the Persians whereever he went by destroying the Magian temples and extinguishing the sacred fire, which the Magian religion required to be kept constantly burning. He had likewise everywhere reduced the cities and villages to ashes, and carried away captive many thousands of the population. The exasperated Persians therefore hung upon his rear and impeded his march, though they were always defeated by Heraclius when they ventured upon a battle. Heraclius reached Albania safely, bringing with him fifty thousand captives, whom he, however, soon liberated, as it would have been difficult to feed and house them through the long and severe winter, and as it would have been disgraceful to sell or massacre them.
In 624 Khosrou Parviz assumed the offensive, and sent an army under Sarablagas into Albania before Heraclius had left his winter quarters, for the purpose of detaining him there. But Sarablagas, who feared his imperial antagonist, simply guarded the passes and occupied the high ground; and Heraclius finally outwitted him and entered Persia through the plains of the Araxes. As his auxiliaries, on whom he relied, were unwilling to advance farther southward, Heraclius was obliged to forego his wishes; while three Persian armies, commanded respectively by Shahr-Barz, Shahan and Sarablagas, closed in upon him. Heraclius feigned a disorderly flight, and thus drew on an attack from Shahr-Barz and Sarablagas, whom he easily repulsed. He then fell upon Shahan and utterly defeated him.
A way thus seemed opened for Heraclius into the very heart of Persia, and he again started off in quest of Khosrou Parviz; but his allies began to desert his standard and to return to their homes, and the defeated Persians rallied and impeded his march. He, however, won a third victory at a place called Salban by Theophanes, where he surprised Shahr-Barz in the dead of night, massacred his wives, his officers, and the mass of the population, who fought from the flat roofs of the houses. The arms and equipage of Shahr-Barz were taken, and the general himself was almost captured. The remnant of the Persian army fled in disorder, and was relentlessly pursued by Heraclius until the arrival of the cold season, when he was obliged to retire into cantonments. The half-burned town of Salban afforded a welcome shelter to Heraclius’s army during the snows and storms of an Armenian winter.
Early in the next spring the indefatigable Heraclius led his army toward the Upper Tigris into Arzanene, marched westward and recovered Martyropolis and Amida, which had been in possession of the New Persians for more than twenty years. He halted at Amida, and wrote to the Senate of Constantinople, informing them of his position and his victories.
Before the close of March the Persians under Shahr-Barz had once more taken the field in force, had occupied the usual passage of the Euphrates, and threatened the Emperor’s line of retreat. As Shahr-Barz had broken the bridge over the Euphrates at that point, Heraclius descended the stream to a certain ford, by which he crossed the river with his army, and hastened by way of Samosata and Germanicaea into Cilicia, where he was again in his own dominions.
Heraclius took up a position on the right bank of the Sarus (now Syhun), in the immediate vicinity of the fortified bridge by which that river was crossed. Shahr-Barz pursued, and ranged his army along the left bank, placing the archers in the front line, and imperiling the Roman occupation of the bridge. But Heraclius struck down a gigantic Persian with his own hand and flung him from the bridge into the river; after which he and a few of his men charged the Persian host in the plain, where a desperate conflict lasted until night, when Shahr-Barz retreated from Cilicia.
Heraclius then crossed the Taurus into Cappadocia and marched to Sebaste (or Sivas), where he passed the winter. Theophanes tells us that Khosrou Parviz was so exasperated at the bold invasion of the New Persian Empire by the Emperor Heraclius that he revenged himself by seizing the treasures of the Christian churches in the Persian dominions and compelling orthodox Christians to embrace the Nestorian heresy.
The arrival of the twenty-fourth year of the war found the advantages on both sides about evenly balanced. The Persian king still held possession of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor, and his troops still occupied Chalcedon, thus flaunting their banners within sight of Constantinople. But his hereditary dominion had been deeply penetrated by his enemy; his best generals had been defeated; his cities and palaces had been burned, and his favorite provinces had been desolated. Heraclius had proved himself a most formidable foe.
Khosrou Parviz now endeavored to end the war by an effort, the success of which would have changed the history of the world. He enrolled a large number of foreigners and slaves as soldiers along with his Persians, entered into a close alliance with the Khan of the Avars, and organized two large armies. One of these Persian armies, under Shahen, was to watch the Emperor Heraclius in Asia Minor; while the other, under Shahr-Barz, was to cooperate with the Avars in an effort to force Constantinople to surrender.
Heraclius divided his own forces into three armies; sending one to assist in the defense of his capital, and leaving another under his brother Theodore to watch Shahen, while he himself led the third eastward to the distant province of Lazica. The Emperor again entered into an alliance with the Khazars, whose Khan, Ziebel, coveting the plunder of Tiflis, held an interview with Heraclius within sight of the Persian garrison of that town, adored his majesty, and received from the Emperor’s hands the diadem that adorned his own brow.
The Khan of the Khazars was luxuriously entertained, and was presented with all the plate used in the banquet, with a royal robe and a pair of pearl earrings. He was also promised the Emperor’s daughter in marriage. Thus dazzled and flattered, this barbarian chieftain readily concluded an alliance with the Eastern Roman Emperor and aided him with his arms. The allied Romans and Khazars then attacked Tiflis and reduced that town to great extremities, but a Persian force of a thousand men under Sarablagas forced their way into the town and reinforced the garrison, whereupon the allies raised the siege and fled.
In the meantime Theodore engaged Shahen’s army in Asia Minor, and defeated it with great slaughter, while a terrific hailstorm was raging, and driving into the faces of the Persians. Khosrou Parviz was infuriated at this defeat, and his displeasure weighed so heavily upon the mind of Shahen that the latter soon after sickened and died. The angry sovereign ordered that the corpse of the dead general should be embalmed and sent to the court, in order that he might gratify his spleen by treating it with the grossest indignity.
The Persians also failed in their attack upon Constantinople. Shahr-Barz, then at Chalcedon, entered into negotiations with the Khan of the Avars, easily persuading him to assail the imperial capital. Thereupon a host of barbarians from the region north of the Danube—Avars, Slavs, Gepidae, Bulgarians and others—advanced through the passes of the Haemus into Thrace, destroying and devastating. The inhabitants fled before the invaders and sought refuge within the walls of Constantinople, which had been carefully strengthened in anticipation of the attack.
The barbarian hordes forced the outer works; but all their efforts, both by land and sea, were of no avail against the main defenses. They failed in their attempt to breach the wall; their siege engines were crushed by those of the Byzantines; a fleet of Slavonian canoes which endeavored to force an entrance by the Golden Horn was destroyed or driven ashore; and the towers with which they sought to overtop the walls were burned. Accordingly, after ten days of constantly repeated assaults, the Khan of the Avars perceived that he had undertaken an impossible task, and retired afterburning his engines and siege-works. As the Persians under Shahr-Barz at Chalcedon had no ships, they were under the necessity of cooperating with the barbarians in their attack upon the Byzantine capital.
The war now neared its end, as the last hope of the Persians had failed; and as Constantinople was now safe, Heraclius, with the assistance of the Khazars, was free to strike at Persia wherever he chose. In September, 627, he proceeded to Lazica with a large Roman army and a contingent of forty thousand Khazar cavalry, to surprise the Persians by a winter campaign. He rapidly marched through Armenia and Azerbijan without meeting an enemy that dared to dispute his progress, and suffered but a small loss from the guerrilla warfare of some bold mountaineers of those regions. The Khazars refused to accompany Heraclius farther south than Azerbijan. Notwithstanding their defection, the Emperor crossed the Zagros mountains into Assyria and menaced the royal cities of the Mesopotamian region; thus retaliating upon the Persian monarch for the Avar attack upon Constantinople of the previous year, which Chosroes II had instigated. Chosroes II had for the last twenty-four years established his court at Dastagherd, in the Mesopotamian plain, about seventy miles north of Ctesiphon.
In October of the same year (627), Heraclius refreshed his army by a week’s rest at Chnaethas, in the low country near Arbela; but his line of retreat was now threatened, and he was in danger of being placed between two fires, as Khosrou Parviz had collected a large army and sent it under Rhazates into Azerbaijan. This Persian army, after reaching Canzaca, found itself in the rear of Heraclius, between him and Lazica. The Emperor remained quiet for more than a month; and the Persian general, in accordance with his sovereign’s orders to fight the Romans wherever he found them at all hazards, quickly pursued Heraclius, and finally came up with him.
A battle occurred between the two armies in the open plain to the north of Nineveh, December 12th, 627. The conflict lasted from early morn until near midnight, and finally ended in the defeat of the Persians, Rhazates and their other commanders being slain, and the Persian chariots and twenty-eight standards being taken by the victorious Romans. During the night the Persians fell back upon their fortified camp, collected their baggage, and retired to a strong position at the foot of the mountains, where they were reinforced by a detachment sent to their aid by their king.
The Persians then approached Heraclius once more, harassed his rear and impeded his movements. After his victory, the Emperor had resumed his march southward, had occupied Nineveh, recrossed the Greater Zab, advanced rapidly through Adiabene to the Lesser Zab, seized its bridges by a forced march of forty-eight Roman miles, and conveyed his army safely to its left bank, where he pitched his camp at Yesdem, and allowed his troops another short rest for the purpose of keeping Christmas.
Upon hearing of the defeat and death of Rhazates, King Chosroes II was extremely alarmed for his own safety. He hastily recalled Shahr-Barz from Chalcedon, and ordered the troops recently commanded by Rhazates to overtake the Romans, if possible, and interpose themselves between Heraclius and Dastagherd; while he himself took up a strong position near that place with his own army and a number of elephants, there intending to await the Emperor’s approach.
The king’s army was protected by a broad and deep canal of the Baras-roth, or Baraz-rud, in his front, and further in his advance by the Torna, probably another canal. The defeated Persian army of Rhazates fell back from the line of the Torna; and as the victorious army of Heraclius advanced, King Khosrou Parviz became dreadfully alarmed, and secretly fled from Dastagherd to Ctesiphon, where he crossed the Tigris to Guedeseer, or Seleucia, with his treasure and the best-loved of his wives and children.
The Persian army recently commanded by Rhazates rallied upon the line of the Nahrwan canal, three miles from Ctesiphon, where it was largely reinforced, though with a mere worthless mob of slaves and domestics. But this army made a formidable show, supported by its two hundred elephants. It had a deep and wide cutting in its front, and had destroyed all the bridges by which that cutting might have been crossed.
Heraclius plundered the rich palace of Dastagherd and several less splendid royal residences, and on the 10th of January he encamped within twelve miles of the Nahrwan. The commander of the Armenian contingent, whom he sent forward to reconnoiter, informed him that the canal was impassable. The Emperor therefore thought it prudent to retreat at once, before the mountain passes would be closed by snow.
Like Julian the Apostate, Heraclius therefore shrank from the idea of besieging Ctesiphon, after having come within sight of that famous Persian capital, and retraced his steps; but his retreat was not so disastrous as that of his great predecessor, as the defeat which he had inflicted on the Persian army under Rhazates paralyzed the energies of the Persians, who did not therefore molest his retreat. Heraclius reached Canzaca on the 11th of March, 628, and there passed the rest of the winter.
Khosrou Parviz had escaped a great danger, but he had incurred a terrible disgrace by fleeing before the enemy without venturing to oppose his progress. He had seen one palace after another destroyed, and had lost the magnificent residence where he had held his court for the last twenty-four years. The victorious Romans had recovered three hundred standards, the trophies which Khosrou Parviz had won in the many victories of his early years. They had shown themselves able to penetrate into the heart of the New Persian Empire, and to withdraw without any loss.
Heraclius was desirous of peace, and was ready to grant it on reasonable terms, such as the restoration of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor to the Eastern Roman Empire. The Persians generally were tired of the long struggle, and would have hailed with joy almost any conditions of peace. But King Chosroes II was obstinate, and did not know how to bear the frowns of fortune. Instead of bending his spirit, the disasters of the late campaign had simply exasperated him, and he vented upon his own subjects the ill humor provoked by the successes of the enemy.
Listening to a whispered slander, King Chosroes II ordered the execution of Shahr-Barz, thus mortally offending that great general, to whom the Romans communicated the despatch. The king imprisoned the officers who had been defeated by the Emperor Heraclius, or had fled before that victorious invader. Tabari and Masoudi tell us that the tyrannical monarch put many of the imprisoned officers to death, that he imprisoned his sons and forbade them to marry, and that he mutilated Merdanshah, governor of Zabulistan.
It is said that Chosroes II was contemplating the setting aside of his son and legitimate successor, Siroes, in favor of a younger son, Merdasas, his offspring by his favorite Christian wife, Shirin; whereupon a rebellion broke out against his authority. Gurdanaspa, the commander of the Persian army at Ctesiphon, and twenty-two prominent nobles, among whom were two sons of Shahr-Barz, espoused the cause of Siroes, seized King Chosroes II, who meditated flight, and committed him to the “House of Darkness,” a strong place where he kept his money.
There the imprisoned king was confined for four days, his jailors allowing him daily a morsel of bread and a small quantity of water. When he complained of hunger, they told him, by his son’s orders, that he was welcome to satisfy his appetite by feasting upon his treasures. The officers whom he had confined were allowed free access to his prison, where they insulted him and spat upon him. Mardasas, the son whom he had preferred, and several of his other children, were brought into his presence and there murdered.
After suffering thus for four days, the unfortunate king was at last cruelly murdered by his son Siroes, on the fifth day from his arrest, February 28, 628. Heraclius says that Siroes destroyed his father “by a most cruel death.” Theophanes informs us that Siroes killed his illustrious sire with arrows. Thus perished miserably the renowned Chosroes II, or Khosrou Parviz, after a memorable and brilliant, though finally a disastrous, reign of thirty-seven years (591-628)—a tardy Nemesis overtaking the parricide.
The Oriental writers tell us that Khosrou Parviz was a sovereign whose character was at first admirable, but whose good disposition became gradually corrupted by the exercise of royal power. Says Mirkhond: “Parviz holds a distinguished rank among the Kings of Persia through the majesty and firmness of his government, the wisdom of his views and his intrepidity in carrying them out, the size of his army, the amount of his treasure, the flourishing condition of the provinces during his reign, the security of the highways, the prompt and exact obedience which he enforced, and his unalterable adherence to the plans which he once formed.”
The Eastern writers all give Chosroes II credit for a vigorous administration, a strong will, and a rare capacity for government. He may likewise be credited with a certain grandeur of soul, and power of appreciating the beautiful, not generally found to characterize the Sassanian kings. The architectural remains of Chosroes II, the descriptions given us of his treasures, his court, his seraglio, even his seals, surpasses all that is known of any other of the Sassanidae.
The most remarkable feature of the palace at Canzaca was a domed edifice, the ceiling of which was ornamented with representations of the sun, moon and stars, while below was an image of the king, seated, and attended by messengers bearing wands of office. Machinery was attached, by which rain and thunder could be imitated. The treasures which the Romans found in the palace of Dastagherd have been mentioned. The Orientals say that the palace was supported on forty thousand columns of silver, adorned by thirty thousand rich hangings upon the walls, and also ornamented by a thousand globes suspended from the roof. Among other treasures of Koshrou Parviz, Tabari mentions a throne of gold, called Takdis, supported on feet which were rubies, a napkin which would not burn, and a crown embellished with a thousand pearls, each as large as an egg.
Tabari tells us that Chosroes II had a thousand elephants; twelve thousand white camels; fifty thousand horses, mules and asses, of which eight thousand were kept for his own riding; and twelve thousand female domestics, many of whom were slaves. Masoudi says that he had fifty thousand horses and eleven hundred elephants, whiter than snow; some of them eleven cubits high, and all accustomed to kneel at the sight of the king. Mirkhond says that he had twelve hundred elephants, twelve thousand camels and fifty thousand horses. Gibbon tells us that Khosrou Parviz had three thousand concubines. Mirkhond and Tabari say that he had twelve thousand.
Masoudi says that Khosrou Parviz had nine seals of office. The first was a diamond ring with a ruby center, bearing the king’s portrait, name and title. This seal was used for despatches and diplomas. The second seal, likewise a ring, was a carnelian set in gold, with the legend “Khorassan Khurch”; and was used for the state archives. The third seal was an onyx ring with the legend “Celerity”; and was used for letters sent by post. The fourth seal was a gold ring with a pink ruby, having the legend “Riches are the source of prosperity” and was impressed upon letters of grace. The fifth seal was a red ruby, bearing the legend “Khurch va Khorrent” or “Splendor and Prosperity;” and was impressed upon the chests wherein treasure was stored. The sixth seal, made of Chinese iron, bore the emblem of an eagle; and was used to seal letters addressed to foreign kings. The seventh seal was a bezoard, bearing a fly upon it; and was impressed upon meats, medicines and perfumes reserved for the king’s use. The eighth seal was a pearl, bearing the emblem of a pig’s head; and was impressed on persons condemned to death, and on death-warrants. The ninth seal was an iron ring, which the king took with him to the bath.
The employment of Byzantine sculptors and architects, as indicated by his works, imply an appreciation of artistic excellence uncommon among Orientals.
But the character of Khosrou Parviz was likewise stained by some serious moral defects. The murder of his father may have been a state necessity, and Parviz may not have ordered it, or may not have been accessory to it before the fact; but his ingratitude towards his uncles, Bindoes and Bostarn, is utterly without excuse, and shows his cruelty, selfishness, and lack of natural affection, even in the earlier part of his ; reign.
He exhibited neither courage nor ability in war. All his chief military successes were due to his generals; and in his later years he appears never voluntarily to have exposed himself to danger. He followed the traditions of his race in suspecting and ill-treating his generals; but the insults which he offered to the dead body of Shahen, whose only fault was his defeat, were unusual and outrageous.
The accounts of his seraglio imply gross sensualism or extreme ostentation; but the Byzantine and Oriental writers all represent Chosroes II as faithful to his favorite Christian wife, Shirin, to the last. The cruelties of his later years are entirely unpardonable; but his preference for Merdasas, his son by Shirin, as his successor—the act which cost him his throne and life—was simply a partiality for the son of a wife who deservedly possessed his affection.
The ordinary type of the many coins of Chosroes II has on the obverse the king’s head in profile, covered by a tiara, ornamented by a crescent and a star between two outstretched wings. The head is surrounded by a double pearl bordering, outside of which, in the margin, are three crescents and stars. The legend is Khusrui afzud with a monogram of double meaning. The reverse has the usual fire-altar and supporters, inclosed by a triple pearl bordering. Four crescents and stars are in the margin outside the bordering. The legend is here only the regnal year and a mint-mark. Thirty-four mint-marks have been ascribed to Chosroes II.
A rarer type of this monarch’s coins presents on the obverse the king’s front face surmounted by a mural crown, having the star and crescent between outstretched wings at the top. The legend is “Chosroes, King of Kings—increase (be his).” The reverse has a head like that of a woman, also fronting the spectator, and wearing a band encircled with pearls across the forehead, above which the hair gradually converges to a point.
Siroes—also called Kobad II—was proclaimed King of Persia on February 25th, 628, four days before the murder of his illustrious father. The Oriental writers tell us that he was very unwilling to put his father to death, and that he reluctantly consented to his execution when his nobles represented to him that it was a state necessity. After his father’s death, he at once made overtures of peace to the Emperor Heraclius, who was then wintering at Canzaca. Kobad II addressed Heraclius as his brother and called him “most clement.” He then declares that, having been raised to the Persian throne by God’s special favor, he has resolved to do his best to serve the whole human race. He has therefore begun his reign by opening the prison-doors and restoring all who were detained in custody to their freedom. He also desired to live in peace and friendship with the Eastern Roman Emperor and his subjects, as well as with all neighboring kings and nations. He therefore has sent Phaeak, one of his privy councilors, to express the love and friendship that he feels towards his brother, and to learn the terms upon which peace will be granted to him.
To this letter from Kobad II, the Emperor Heraclius sent a complimentary and favorable reply, expressing his willingness to bring the war to an end, and suggesting moderate and equitable terms of peace. The treaty was formulated by Eustathius, who accompanied Phaeak to the Persian court, after Heraclius had royally entertained the ambassador for almost a week.
By this treaty the status quo ante bellum was restored. Persia was thus to restore Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Western Mesopotamia to the Eastern Roman Empire, and to withdraw her troops from those provinces. Persia was also to release all the captives whom she had carried off from these conquered provinces, and likewise to return to the Romans the precious relic which had been taken from Jerusalem, and which was universally regarded as the veritable cross whereon Jesus Christ had been crucified—the famous “True Cross.” The Romans having merely made raids, they had no conquests to restore to Persia. The Persians at once evacuated the Roman territories; and the wood of the “True Cross,” which had been carefully preserved by Shirin, was restored. The next year (629) the Emperor Heraclius made a grand pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and replaced the sacred relic in the shrine from which it had been taken.
Kobad II was as popular on his coronation day as princes usually are on that occasion. His subjects rejoiced at the end of the war which had lasted a quarter of a century, and which had been a serious drain upon the Persian population, and had recently brought ruin and desolation upon the hearths and homes of thousands. The reease of all prisoners had an appearance of liberality, and the remission of taxes was naturally a very popular measure. Kobad’s careful administration of justice, and his mild treatment of the victims of his father’s severities, also secured the regard of his subjects. He restored to their rank those whom Khosrou Parviz had degraded or imprisoned, and compensated them for their injuries by a liberal donation of money.
Thus far all seemed to promise well for the new reign, which bid fair to be tranquil and prosperous, though it had begun under unfavorable auspices. Only from one quarter was trouble threatened. Shahr-Barz, the great general, whose life Chosroes II had attempted shortly before his own death, seems to have been dissatisfied with the terms on which Kobad II had concluded peace with the Eastern Roman Empire. He held the government of the western Persian provinces, and commanded an army of sixty thousand men. Kobad II treated him with distinguished favor, but the great general occupied such a position as to render him an object of fear and suspicion. For the time, however, Shahr-Barz remained quietly in his province, cultivating friendly relations with the Eastern Roman Emperor.
After Kobad II had reigned but a few months he lost his character for justice and clemency by consenting to the massacre of all the other sons of Chosroes II, his own brothers or half brothers. Mirkhond says that Firuz, the chief minister of Kobad II, advised the deed; but no writer assigns any motive for this massacre, which almost extinguished the race of Sassan, and produced serious civil and dynastic troubles.
Kobad II permitted his two sisters to live. These were still unmarried, and resided in the palace and had free access to their kingly brother. The eldest sister was Purandocht, and the younger was Azermidocht. These sisters bitterly grieved at the murder of their kindred, and rushed into the royal presence, reproaching the king in the following words: “Thy ambition has induced thee to kill thy father and thy brothers. Thou has accomplished thy purpose within the space of three or four months. Thou hast hoped thereby to preserve thy power forever. Even, however, if thou shouldst live long, thou must die at last. May God deprive thee of the enjoyment of this royalty !”
His sisters’ words sank deep into the king’s mind. He acknowledged their justice, burst into tears, and flung the royal crown upon the ground. He then sank into a deep melancholy, cared no more for the exercise of the royal power, and shortly afterwards died. The Orientals ascribe his death to his mental sufferings; but a Christian bishop—Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria—and the Arabian writers tell us that before Kobad II had reigned many months he fell a victim to a plague in which several hundred thousand of his subjects also perished.
The coins of Kobad II show that his reign lasted more than a year. He became King of Persia in February, 628, and seems to have died about July, 629. His coins very much resemble those of Chosroes II and Artaxerxes III, but have no wings, and have the legend Kavat-Firuz. There is a single bordering of pearls on the obverse, and also on the reverse, but the king wears a double pearl necklace.
Kobad II was succeeded on the Persian throne by his son, Artaxerxes III, then a mere child. The nobles who proclaimed him king placed him under the direction of a governor or regent, to which office they appointed Mihr-Hasis, who had been the chief purveyor of Kobad II. Mihr-Hasis is said to have governed with justice and prudence, but he could not prevent the troubles and disorders so usual during the reign of a minor in the East.
Shahr-Barz considered the opportunity favorable for the gratification of his personal ambition and of avenging the wrong done him by Chosroes II, as the Persian throne was occupied by a mere boy and the posterity of Sassan was almost extinguished. As a preliminary step to revolt, he negotiated with the Emperor Heraclius, whose alliance and support he secured by promising him certain advantages.
Shahr-Barz met Heraclius at Heraclea, on the Propontis (now Sea of Marmora). Shahr-Barz undertook to complete the Persian evacuation of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor, which he had delayed hitherto. He also promised to pay to Heraclius a large sum of money as indemnity for the injuries which the Persians had inflicted upon the Eastern Roman Empire during the late war, providing he succeeded in his rebellious design.
Heraclius conferred on Nicetas, the son of Shahr-Barz, the title of Patrician; consented to a marriage between Shahr-Barz’s daughter, Nike, and his own son, Theodosius; and accepted Gregoria, the daughter of Nicetas, and grand-daughter of Shahr-Barz, as a wife for Constantine, the heir to the imperial throne. Heraclius is believed to have supplied Shahr-Barz with a body of troops to aid him in his revolt.
Shahr-Barz is said to have led an army of sixty thousand men against Ctesiphon, to have taken that Persian capital city, to have put to death Artaxerxes III, Mihr-Hasis and many of the nobles, and then to have seized the Persian throne. Thus began the reign of Shahr-Barz, which lasted less than two months.
During his brief reign, Shahr-Barz completed the Persian evacuation of the Roman provinces occupied by the armies of Chosroes II, and sent an expedition against the Khazars who had invaded Armenia, but this expedition was utterly cut to pieces by the barbarians. The Armenian writers say that Shahr-Barz married Purandocht, the eldest daughter of Chosroes II, with the view of securing his hold of the Persian crown; but this effort to conciliate his subjects failed in its design.
Before Shahr-Barz had reigned two months, his troops mutinied, and killed him with their swords in the open court before the palace. They then tied a cord to his feet and dragged his corpse through the streets of Ctesiphon, everywhere making the following proclamation: ‘‘Whoever, not being of the blood-royal, seats himself upon the Persian throne, shall share the fate of Shahr-Barz.” The mutineers then raised the princess Purandocht to the royal dignity, so that the seat of Cyrus the Great was now for the first time occupied by a female.
The rule of a woman was insufficient to restrain the turbulent Persian nobles, and pretenders arose in all parts of the New Persian Empire. It is unknown whether Purandocht died a natural or a violent death, but she reigned less than two years, and was succeeded by her sister Azermidocht, who was murdered. The Persian crown passed quickly from one noble to another; and during the first five years after the death of Khosrou Parviz, it was worn by nine different sovereigns, most of whom reigned but a few months or a few days, and most of whose names were obscure. During these five years the Persian government was entirely unsettled, anarchy prevailing in all the Persian dominions, and the distracted kingdom being torn to pieces by the struggles of pretenders. In the language of Gibbon, “every province, and almost each city of Persia, was the scene of independence, of discord, and of bloodshed.”
These internal commotions were finally ended in June, 632, by the elevation of a young prince, believed to be of the true blood of Sassan; and the entire Persian nation readily accepted this young sovereign, Isdigerd III, better known as Yezdijird III. This young king was the son of Shahriar and the grandson of Khosrou Parviz. He had been banished from the court, and had been brought up in obscurity at Istakr, the ancient Persepolis, where he lived unnoticed until the age of fifteen, when his royal rank was discovered, and he was called from his retirement and invested with the sovereignty of Persia.
But the days of the New Persian Empire were numbered, and Isdigerd III was the last of the famous dynasty of the Sassanidae. While the Eastern Roman and New Persian Empires had reduced each other to the most deplorable weakness by their long and bloody wars, a new power had arisen in the neighboring desert country of Arabia, a country hitherto almost without any history and despised for its weakness. This new power was the dominion whose cornerstone was the new religion, called Islam, founded by Mohammed, the camel-driver of Mecca. His armed hosts, inspired by religious fanaticism, were irresistible and carried everything before them. Mohammed had secured the submission of the Persian governor of Yemen, and also of Al Mondar, or Alamundarus, King of Bahrein, on the west coast of the Persian Gulf.
Isdigerd III at once found himself menaced by the new power, which had already sent its conquering hosts into the Eastern Roman and New Persian Empires. Thus Persia was in imminent peril, and she lacked sufficient means to cope with this new foe, as she had been exhausted by her long foreign wars and her internal dissensions. The youthful and inexperienced Persian king was unable to withstand the Arab chiefs; though he made a heroic resistance for a score of years, in the midst of continual defeats, and only succumbed when the treachery of pretended friends and allies was added to the hostility of open foes.
The events of the Mohammedan conquest of Persia will be narrated in detail in our account of the rise of Islam and the Saracen Empire, and need not be related here. This conquest was effected after a succession of Persian disasters, such as Khaled’s conquest of the vassal kingdom of Hira, on the west side of the Euphrates; the conquest of Obolla; the Arab invasion of Mesopotamia and the great Persian defeats in the bloody battles of El Boweib and Cadesia, in 636; the capture of Ctesiphon by the victorious Arabs and the flight of King Isdigerd III; the Persian defeat at Jalula and the Arab conquest of Susiana and invasion of Persia proper; the final defeat of the Persians in the great battle of Nehavend, in 641, and the flight of Isdigerd III; and the Arab conquest of the various Persian provinces.
King Isdigerd III wandered about as a fugitive in the Eastern Persian provinces for ten years, and finally found refuge in the frontier Persian city of Merv. The Persian governor of Merv invited a neighboring Tartar chief to seize the fugitive Persian monarch. The Tartar chief accordingly entered Merv and took possession of that frontier Persian city. King Isdigerd III fled from Merv on foot during the struggle between the Tartars and the inhabitants of the city. He reached a mill a few miles from Merv, and induced the miller to conceal him by the present of his elegant sword and belt; but the miller murdered the unfortunate king in his sleep, for the sake of getting possession of his valuable robes and other dress, and threw the corpse into the millstream. Thus King Isdigerd III, the last of the New Persian kings, was assassinated by one of his own subjects, like Darius Codomannus, the last of the Medo-Persian kings, a thousand years before.
In a few days the Persian governor of Merv began to suffer from the tyranny of the Tartars, and the inhabitants seized their arms and drove the invaders from the city. The sad fate of King Isdigerd III soon became known. The treacherous miller fell a victim to the popular rage, and the remains of the murdered king were embalmed and sent to Istakr, the ancient Persepolis, to be entombed in the sepulcher of his illustrious ancestors.
The New Persian Empire of the Sassanidae had lasted a little over four centuries (226-651); and with its overthrow ended the religion of Zoroaster and the Magi, as a national faith. Persia and its provinces remained under the Saracen dominion for two centuries, during which the Persians embraced the Mohammedan religion.
Isdigerd III was only fifteen years of age when he ascended the Persian throne, and thirty-four when he was murdered, in 651. In the language of Irving, “history lays no crimes to his charge.” This can be said of very few of the Sassanidae. Though persevering so long in the struggle against his fate, he seems to have been pesonally weak and of luxurious habits. He never led his armies in person, but intrusted the defense of his dominions entirely to his generals. He fled from one stronghold to another before the advance of the victorious Arabs, thus quitting Ctesiphon for Holwan, Holwan for Rei, and Rei for Merv; carrying the miserable pageant of an Oriental court with him in all his wanderings, and suffering his movements to be hampered and his resources to be crippled by four thousand useless retainers.
Having given the political history of the New Persian Empire, we will close this section by a brief sketch of New Persian civilization. Under the Parthian dominion architecture and the other arts had sunk to the lowest ebb in Persia and the other Parthian dependencies, as the Parthians preferred tents to buildings, and country life to city life. The Arab dynasty at Hatra, in Mesopotamia, ruling under the suzerainty of Parthia, had a palace; and this palace served as a model for Sassanian architecture.
The early Sassanian palaces have almost entirely disappeared. The oldest that can be traced and described are those erected between 350 and 450. The main features are uniform and simple, the later edifices being simply enlargements of the earlier. The plan of the buildings is an oblong square. The main entrance is a lofty vaulted porch or arched hall. The buildings also contain square apartments, vaulted, with domes resting on pendatives. The many apartments open into one another without intervening passages; and towards the rear of the palace is a court, with apartments opening into it.
The exterior ornamentation of the Sassanian palaces was by pilasters, cornices, string-courses, and shallow arched recesses, with pilasters between them. The interior ornamentation was by pillars supporting transverse ribs, or by doorways and false windows, like the Persepolitan.
The elegant palaces at Serbistan, Firuzabad, Ctesiphon and Mashita are the best specimens of Sassanian architecture. The Serbistan palace has been assigned to Sapor II, about 350; and the Firuzabad palace to Isdigerd II, about 450. The third and grandest of the Sassanian palaces was that of Khosrou Nushirvan at Ctesiphon, known as the Takht i-Khosrou. The palace at Mashita was erected by Khosrou Parviz in the latter part of his reign, or between 614 and 627, and was far more elegantly ornamented. This last palace consisted of two distinct edifices, separated by a courtyard, in which was a fountain.
The ornamentation of the southern building of the Mashita palace is unparalleled by other Sassanian structures, and unsurpassed by the architecture of any other age or nation. On the outer wall, built of hard stone, are elegant sculptures of vegetable and animal forms, such as a bold pattern of zigzags and rosettes, and over the entire surface is a most delicate tracery of foliage, fruits and animals. Among the animals represented are lions, wild boars, buffaloes, panthers, lynxes and gazelles. The mythological symbolism of Assyria is represented on a panel of this palace wall by a winged lion. Among the birds shown amid the foliage are doves, parrots, partridges and peacocks. The zizags and rosettes are ornamented with a patterning of large leaves; while the moulding below the zigzags, and the cornice or string-course above them, are covered with conventional designs.
The archivolte adorning the Takht-i-Bostan is also delicately ornamented, and its flowered panels are very elegant. Sassanian capitals are often of lovely design; being sometimes delicately diapered, sometimes worked with a pattern of conventional leaves and flowers, sometimes exhibiting the human form, or a flowery patterning, like that of the Takht-i-Bostan panels. The capitals are square.
The arch of Khosrou Parviz at Takht-i- Bostan, near Kermanshah, is an archway or grotto cut in the rock on the brink of a pool of clear water. The arch is twenty feet deep into the rock, thirty-four feet wide, and thirty-one feet high. The arch is elaborately ornamented, inside and outside. Externally the arch is surmounted by the archivolte, and in the spandrels on each side are flying figures of angels holding chaplets in one hand and cups or vases in the other. Between the figures is a crescent. The flowered panels are below the spandrels and the archivolte. The two sides and further end of the recess are decorated with bas-reliefs; those ou the sides representing Khosrou Parviz engaged in the chase of the wild boar and the stag; while those at the end are in two lines, the upper representing the king in his robes of state, receiving wreaths from ideal beings, and the lower showing him in his military costume, mounted on his favorite charger, Sheb-Diz, with his spear in his hand.
There is a mutilated colossal statue of Sapor I—believed to have been originally about twenty feet high—cut out of the solid rock, in a natural grotto near the ruined city of Shahpur. This statue represented the king in peaceful attire, but with a long sword at his left side, wearing the mural crown seen on his bas-reliefs, and dressed in a tunic and trowsers. The hair, beard and mustache were neatly arranged. The right hand rested on the hip; the other touched the long straight sword.
Among the bas-reliefs of Sapor I is one representing his triumph over the Roman Emperor Valerian, comprising four figures, three times life size. In this relief Sapor is represented on horseback; while the captive Valerian, on one knee and with outstretched arms, begs the conqueror’s mercy. Another bas-relief of Sapor I is seen on a rock surface at Shahpur; in which the king is represented mounted on horseback, and in his usual costume, with a dead Roman under his horse’s feet, and holding another by the hand, while a third Roman is in front making his submission, followed by thirteen tributebearers bringing gold rings, shawls, bowls, etc., and leading a horse and an elephant. Thirteen mounted guardsmen are behind the king, fifty-six guardsmen to the left, and thirty-five tribute-bearers to the right. The entire tablet embraces ninety-five human and sixty-three animal figures, and a figure of Victory soaring in the sky.
The bas-reliefs of Varahran II, Varahran III, Narses and Sapor III fall far below those of Sapor I. Varahran IV (388399) encouraged artists. His gems were exquisitely cut and embodied in excellent designs. One of the bas-reliefs of Varahran IV is at Nakhsh-i-Rustam, near Persepolis, and represents a mounted warrior, with the peculiar head-dress of Varahran IV, charging another at full speed, striking him with his spear, and bearing both horse and rider to the ground. A standard-bearer marches a little behind, and a dead warrior lies underneath the king’s horse, which is clearing the obstacle in his bound. There is a similar bas-relief at Nakhsh-i-Rustam, being almost a duplicate of the former, but without the dead warrior. The head-dress of the Sassanian warrior in this figure consists of a cap, which spreads towards the top and breaks into three points, ending in large striped balls. His enemy wears a helmet crowned with a similar ball. The standard, in the form of a capital T, displays five balls, three rising from the crossbar, and the other two hanging from it.
There is a bas-relief at Firuzabad showing the figures of five or six horsemen, one of whom is a warrior whose helmet ends in the head of a bird, and another one who wears a crown with a cap above, surmounted by a ball. The former of these pierces his spear into the latter, who falls to the ground, his horse tumbling also. At the right is a horse turning in falling.
There is also a bas-relief of Khosrou Nushirvan at Shahpur, seated on his throne, fronting to the spectator, with guards and attendants on one side, and soldiers bringing in prisoners, human heads, and booty on the other.
The bas-reliefs of Khosrou Parviz at Takht-i-Bostan consist of colossal figures and hunting-pieces. The king himself is represented as a mounted cavalier below the colossal figures, mounted on his war horse, Sheb-Diz. The hunting-pieces ornamenting the interior of the arched recess on each side are better. On the right is represented a stag hunt, in which the king and a dozen other mounted horsemen take part, aided by a dozen footmen and by a detachment mounted on nine elephants, three riders on each elephant. While the elephants are driving the deer into enclosures, a band of twenty-six musicians on a platform delights the assembled sportsmen with a “concord of sweet sounds.”
On the left side of the recess is represented a boar hunt, in which twelve elephants drive almost a hundred boars into an enclosure, while the king in a boat kills the game with his arrows. Two bands of harpers occupy boats on each side of the king’s boat. Numerous reeds, ducks and fish are in the water about the boats. There is another boat with five figures clapping their hands, to drive i the pigs towards the king. A more highly ornamented boat contains another figure of the king, discharging arrows, and his head being surrounded by a nimbus, or “glory.” We have already described Zoroastrianism and Magism, which was the religion of the New Persians, as well as of their ancient ancestors, the Medo-Persians. The Zoroastrianism of the New Persians was the most extreme kind of Dualism. We refer the reader to a former part of this work for an account of the ideas entertained with respect to the struggle between Ormuzd, or Ahura-Mazda, and Ahriman, or Angra-Mainyus; of Mithra, Serosh, and the other lesser divinities, or genii; of the holy angels, the six Amshas-pands, or Amesha-Spentas; of the six Daevas, or wicked angels; of the fate of the righteous and of the wicked; of the religious duties of the Magi; of the sacred fire altars; of the Homa cermony and the animal sacrifices; and of the Zoroastrian forms of worship, consisting in singing hymns, in praises, prayers and thankgivings. As we have seen, agriculture was a part of religion, and moral and legal purity were required. The New Persians represented Ahura-Mazda and Angra-Mainyus, and the lesser deities and the angels, by sculptured forms; which was their nearest approach to idolatry, except the worship of the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Anaitis, or Anahit. Ahura-Mazda was considered the special guardian of the New Persian kings, as He had been of their illustrious ancestors, the Medo-Persian kings.
Under the Sassanians, the Magi were entrusted with the whole control and direction of the Zoroastrian religion. At the head of this priestly tribe or caste was the Tenpet. “Head of the Religion,” or Mozpetan Movpet, “Head of the Chief Magi.” He was called upon to conduct a revolution in times of difficulty and danger. The Movpets or “Chief Magi,” ranked next to the Tenpet. These were called destoors, or “rulers;” and under them were the large body of the ordinary Magi, dispersed throughout the empire, but especially congregated in the chief towns. We have mentioned the religious duties of the Magi, their costumes, etc., in a previous part of this work.
The court of the Sassanians, especially in the later period of the empire, was upon a scale of almost unparalleled magnificence and grandeur. The Great King wore beautifully embroidered robes, covered with hundreds of gems and pearls. The royal crown, too large to be worn, was suspended from the ceiling by a gold cord exactly over the head of the king when he sat in his throne-room, and is said to have been adorned with a thousand pearls each as large as an egg. The throne was of gold, and was supported on four feet, each formed of a single immense ruby. The large throne-room was ornamented with vast columns of silver, with hangings of elegant silk or brocade between them. On the vaulted roof were represented the sun, moon and stars, while globes of crystal or of burnished metal hung suspended from the roof.
There were seven ranks of courtiers. The first were the Ministers of the crown; the second were the Mobeds. or Chief Magi; the third were the Hirbeds. or Judges; the fourth were the four Sipehbeds. or commanders-in-chief ; the fifth were the singers, the sixth the musicians, and the seventh the men of science. The king sat apart from all. Even the highest nobles could not approach nearer to him than thirty feet, unless summoned. He was separated from them by a low curtain, which was under the charge of an officer, who drew it only for those with whom the king desired to converse.
The king’s harem, or seraglio, was an important part of his palace. The Sassanians practiced polygamy on the largest scale ever heard of, even surpassing David and Solomon. Khosrou Parviz is said by some Oriental authorities to have had three thousand concubines; while Tabari and Mirkhond say that he had twelve thousand. Twelve thousand additional females, chiefly slaves, attended upon these royal favorites, dressed them and obeyed their behests. Eunuchs were also employed in the palace, according to Oriental custom, and some of the early sculptures represent them as holding important offices. Each Sassanian king had one Sultana, or chief wife.
The king was usually attended by his parasol-bearer; his fan-bearer, a eunuch; the Senekapan, or Lord Chamberlain; the Maypet, or Chief Butler; the Andertzapet, or Master of the Wardrobe; the Akhorapet, or Master of the Horse; the Taharhapet, or Chief Cupbearer; the Shahpan, or Chief Falconer; and the Krhogpet, or Master of the Workmen. Except the first two, all these officials presided over departments, and had many subordinates under them. Khosrou Parviz had thousands of grooms and stable-boys to attend fifty thousand horses, twelve hundred camels and twelve thousand elephants.
Other great officials were the Vzourk hramanatar, or Grand Keeper of the Royal Orders; the Dprapet Ariats, or Chief of the Scribes of Iran; the Hazarapet dran Ariats, or Chiliarch of the Gate of Iran; the Hamarakar, or Chief Cashier or Paymaster; and the Khohrdean dpir, or Secretary of Council.
The Sassanian court generally resided at Ctesiphon, but in the earlier times sat at Persepolis, the ancient Persian capital, and near the end of the empire in the comparatively modern city of Dastagherd. The New Persian kings maintained many palaces, visiting them at their pleasure and residing there for a time. Besides the palaces already mentioned, there was a magnificent one at Canzaca. Khosrou Parviz built one near Takht-i-Bostan; and Sapor I must have built one at Shahpur, where he set up most of his monuments.
The New Persian kings wore a long coat, partly open in front, and with close fitting sleeves reaching to the wrist; under which they wore a pair of loose trowsers descending to the feet. A belt or girdle encircled the waist. They wore patterned shoes, tied with long flowing ribbons. They sometimes wore a long cape or short cloak over the coat, and this was fastened across the breast with a brooch or strings, and flowed over the back and shoulders. The cloak was usually of light and flimsy material. The head-dress was a round cap.
The cap, the vest and the trowsers were richly ornamented with jewels. Every Sassanian king wore ear-rings, with one, two or three pendants. He also usually wore a collar or necklace around the neck, and this sometimes had two or more pendants in front. Sometimes a jewel hung from the point of the beard. The hair was worn long and elaborately curled, and hung down on each shoulder in many ringlets. When the king rode out in state, an attendant held the royal parasol over him.
In war the New Persian kings wore a coat of mail over the upper portion of the body, and this armor was composed of scales or links. The king wore three belts over this armor, one perhaps attached to his shield, another supporting his sword, and the third his quiver and probably his bowcase. The legs were protected by stiff embroidered trowsers, while the head was guarded by a helmet, and a vizor of chain mail hid all the face except the eyes. The head and fore-quarters of the royal charger were likewise covered with armor, which descended below the animal’s knees in front, but did not extend back behind the rider. The king’s shield was round, and carried on the left arm. His chief offensive weapon was a heavy spear, which he brandished in his right hand.
Hunting was one of the New Persian kings’ favorite pastimes. The Sassanian remains represent the royal sportsmen engaged in the pursuit of the stag, the wild boar, the ibex, the antelope and the buffalo. In addition to these beasts of the chase, the classical writers mention the lion, the tiger, the wild ass and the bear. Lions, tigers, bears and wild asses were collected and kept in royal parks or paradises for purposes of sport. The king attacked the lion with sword or spear, and the tiger with arrows. Stags and wild boars were not kept in paradises, but were hunted in the marshes and woodlands by means of elephants, which drove the animals towards an inclosed space, where the king shot his arrows at them from a boat in the marsh or while on horseback riding at full speed. The sport was enlivened with music by bands of harpers and other musicians.
The musical instruments represented by the Sassanian sculptures are the harp, the horn, the drum, and the flute or pipe. The sculptures represent bands of musicians with these instruments. Hawking was also a pastime of the Sassanian kings, and the Head Falconer was an officer of the court. The kings also spent their leisure hours in games, and Khosrou Nushirvan introduced the game of chess from India.
The character of the warfare of the New Persians was very much like that of their ancestors, the Medo-Persians, though the war chariot was almost out of use among the New Persians, while the elephant corps occupied the first position. The four arms of the service under the New Persians were the elephant corps, the horsemen, the archers, and the ordinary infantry. The elephant corps was recruited from India, and was commanded by the Zendkapet, or ‘‘Commander of the Indians.” The New Persian cavalry was almost wholly of the heavy kind, armed and equipped; the horses being heavily armored about the head, neck and chest, while the rider’s body was completely covered with a coat of mail as far as the hips, his head with a helmet, and his face with a vizor, which left only his eyes exposed. The cavalier carried a small round shield on his left arm, and was armed with a heavy spear, a sword, and a bow and arrows The New Persian cavalry often charged the Roman infantry with success, driving the legions from the battlefield.
The archers were the Hite of the New Persian infantry. They used the same style of huge wattled shields as the Medo-Persians and the Assyrians; and from behind these, which rested on the ground, the New Persian bowmen shot their arrows with deadly effect. When forced to retreat they shot backwards as they fled. The ordinary infantry were armed with swords and spears, and had little defensive armor.
The great national standard of the New Persians was the famous “leathern apron of the blacksmith,” originally unadorned, but ultimately covered with jewels. The cavalry generally carried a more ordinary standard, consisting primarily of a pole and a cross-bar, ornamented with rings, bars and tassels.
The infantry was the largest body of the army. In sieges the New Persians opened trenches near the walls, and advanced along them under cover of hurdles to the ditch, which they filled up with earth and fascines; after which they attempted escalade, or brought movable towers, armed with rams or balistae, close to the walls, and battered the defenses until a breach was effected. Sometimes they raised mounds against the walls, to attack the upper part. A prolonged siege was then turned into a blockade, the town was invested, water was cut off, and provisions were kept out, so that the besieged were eventually forced by hunger and thirst to surrender.
The leading classes were the great nobles, the court officials, and the dikhans, or landed proprietors, who generally lived on their estates, superintending the cultivation of the soil, on which they employed the free labor of the peasants. The standing army was chiefly recruited from the dikhans and the peasants, whose habits were simple. Polygamy was rare, though lawful. Zoroaster’s maxims commanding industry, purity and piety were fairly observed. Women were not kept in seclusion.
All classes, except the very highest, among the New Persians were free from oppression, though they had no voice in the government. Most of the Sassanidae desired to govern with mildness and justice. The system introduced by Khosrou Nushirvan, and maintained by his successors, secured the masses in their rights, as the provincial rulers were well watched and well checked. Tax-gatherers were not allowed to exact more than their share, for fear that their conduct would be reported and punished. Great care was taken that justice should be honestly administered ; and a person who felt aggrieved could appeal to the king, whereupon the case was again tried in open court at the gate, or in the open square, in the presence of the king, the Magi, the great nobles and the people. But the highest class—the king’s near relatives, the great court officers, the generals—were at the mercy and caprice of the king, who disposed of their lives and liberties at his pleasure; this class being arrested, imprisoned, tortured, blinded, or put to death, without trial when the king chose to pronounce sentence.
KINGS OF PERSIA.
Six other kings.
558. Cyrus the Great.
529. Cambyses II.
521. Darius Hystaspes.
486. Xerxes the Great.
465. Artaxerxes Longimanus
425. Xerxes II.
424 Darius Nothus
405 Artaxerxes Mnemon.
359 Artaxerxes Ochus.
336 Darius Codomannus
331 End of the Medo-Persian Empire
226 Artaxerxes I.
240 Sapor I.
271 Hormisdas I.
272 Varahran I.
275 Varahran II.
292 Varahran III.
301 Hormisdas II.
309 Sapor II.
379 Artaxerxes II.
383 Sapor III.
388 Varahran IV.
399 Isdigerd I.
420 Varahran V.
440 Isdigerd II.
457 Hormisdas III.
483 Balas, or Palash.
487 Kobad I. (deposed in 498).
501 Kobad I. restored.
531 Khosrou Nushirvan.
579 Hormisdas IV.
591 Khosrou Parviz (deposedin 591).
591 Khosrou Parviz restored
628 Siroes. or Kobad II
629 Artaxerxes III.
631 Six insignificant sovereigns
632 Isdigerd III.
651 End of the New Persian Empire.