THE SASANIANS: SHAPUR I

Three Roman emperors bite the dust

Uniquely, we have Shapur's own account of his reign. Which is good, because otherwise sources for this period are very limited.

Naqsh-i Rustam

The Achaemenid tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam (photo AMW)

On a building from the Achaemenid period (known as the Cube of Zoroaster - Ka'be-ye Zaradusht - although we don't know what it was actually for) just opposite the Achaemenid tombs on the cliff at Naqsh-i Rustam in Persis, Shapur had his achievements inscribed. Just like Darius at Bisitun, they were in three languages (Parthian Pahlavi, Sasanian Middle Persian, and Greek). He wanted to impress those who remembered the Parthian triumphs over Rome, his own countrymen from Persis, and the wealthy Greek residents of the empire. It's a summary, not a full and detailed history.

Cube of Zoroaster

The so-called "Cube of Zoroaster" on which Shapur I had his achievements inscribed (photo AMW).

This is part of what Shapur said:

I, the Mazda worshipping lord Shapur, king of kings of Iran and non-Iran, whose lineage is
from the Gods, son of the Mazda worshipping divinity Ardashir, king of kings of Iran, whose
lineage is from the Gods, grandson of king Papak, am ruler of Eranshahr, [and I hold ?] the
lands:
Persis, Parthia, Khuzistan, Mesene, Assyria, Adiabene, Arabia, Atropatene, Armenia, etc

And these many lands, and rulers and governors, all have become tributary and subject to us.

When at first we had become established in the empire, Gordian Caesar raised in all of the Roman Empire a force from the Goth and German realms and marched on Babylonia [Assyria] against the Empire of Iran and against us. On the border of Babylonia at Misikhe, a great "head to head" battle occurred. Gordian Caesar was killed and the Roman force was destroyed. And the Romans made Philip Caesar [ie emperor]. Then Philip Caesar came to us for terms, and to ransom their lives, gave us 500,000 denarii, and became tributary to us. And for?this reason we have renamed Misikhe Peroz-Shapur.

And Caesar lied again and did wrong to Armenia. Then we attacked the Roman Empire and annihilated at Barbalissos a Roman force of 60,000 and Syria and the environs of Syria we burned, ruined and pillaged all.

In this one campaign we conquered of the Roman Empire fortresses and towns: [there's a list of names of places in Syria] a total of 37 towns with surroundings.

Cameo with Shapur and Valerian

An exquisite sardonyx cameo, showing the influence of Roman craftsmanship.
Shapur and Valerian face each other.

In the third campaign, when we attacked Carrhae and Edessa and were besieging Carrhae and Edessa, Valerian Caesar marched against us. He had with him a force of 70,000 from Germany, Raetia, Noricum, Dacia, Pannonia, Moesia, Istria, Spain, Africa (?), Thrace, Bithynia, Asia, Pamphylia, Isauria, Lycaonia, Galatia, Lycia, Cilicia, Cappadocia, Phrygia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judaea, Arabia, Mauritania, Germania, Rhodes [Lydia], Osrhoene (?), Mesopotamia.

And beyond Carrhae and Edessa we had a great battle with Valerian Caesar. We made prisoner ourselves with our own hands Valerian Caesar and the others, chiefs of that army, the praetorian prefect, senators; we made all prisoners and deported them to Persis. And Syria, Cilicia and Cappadocia we burned , ruined and pillaged.

Valerian surrenders to Shapur

In that campaign we conquered of the Roman Empire [he lists the conquered cities in Anatolia] altogether all these 36 cities with their surroundings.

And men of the Roman Empire, of non-Iranians, we deported. We settled them in the Empire of Iran in Persis, Parthia, Khuzistan, in Babylonia and in other lands where there were domains of our father, grandfathers and of our ancestors.

We searched out for conquest many other lands, and we acquired fame for heroism, which we
have not engraved here, except for the preceding. We ordered it written so that whoever
comes after us may know this fame, heroism and power of us.

Band-i Qaisar

Band-i Qaisar, 'Caesar's Bridge' built by Roman prisoners from Valerian's army at Shushtar, Khuzistan around AD 260 (photo AMW).

Click here for more pictures of the Band-i Kaisar and the hydro-power complex at Shushtar

Archaeological evidence: Dura Europos

Archaeological discoveries have been able to add to Shapur's own account, though they are little help in unravelling the sequence of events. During the invasion of Syria, among other cities, the Sasanians besieged Dura Europos, a frontier town on the Euphrates. The Romans had taken it from the Parthians in around AD 165 and it became an important base for them. It was already a multi-cultural community, with a predominantly Greek flavour derived from its Seleucid founders, who had given it the traditional Greek grid-pattern layout of streets. There were temples to Greek and Roman gods - and also a church, a mithraeum and a synagogue (all containing remarkably well-preserved paintings).

Worshipping the golden calf

Fresco from the synagogue at Dura Europos showing the worship of the golden calf. Wikimedia commons.

Shapur's siege was determined and highly organised: he built ramps, used catapult artillery, and tunnels to undermine the walls. A sealed-off tunnel was found to contain 20 bodies - 19 Romans (coins on them help date the siege to AD 256) and a Persian. The presence alongside the bodies of traces of bitumen and sulphur have led to speculation that they were killed by poison gas released into the mine - presumably by the lone Persian. After the fall of the city, its population was deported, and the site abandoned to the desert, until its chance rediscovery in 1920. Further discussion here.

NEXT: SHAPUR'S MORE PEACEFUL ACHIEVEMENTS