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Coin of Narseh

Narseh (also called Narses or Narseus ; Persian نرسی Narsī [ nærˈsiː ]; † 302 ) was from 293 to 302 Persian great king of the Sassanid family .


Narseh, the youngest son of Shapur I , was intended by his father to be the second most succession to the throne, according to the inscriptions, but was passed over to the throne after the death of his older brother Hormizd I in 273. There were probably tensions afterwards with regard to the succession to the throne, since after Hormizd's death Narseh's brother Bahram I and then his son Bahram II ascended the throne, supported by the Zoroastrian clergy. Narseh was able to gain a lot of experience, since he was first governor of Hindestān, Sakastān and Turān and then acted as viceroy of the important province of Armenia.

Narseh seems to have served loyally, but in 293 he followed the call of several nobles and moved against his young great-nephew Bahram III. to field, who had ascended the throne shortly before the death of Bahram II. Narseh will have already reached an advanced age and seems to have been a more level-headed man, because the ascension of Bahram I, who could not be considered a privileged heir to the throne of the sons of Shapur, did not induce Narseh to act disloyally. Apparently, however, several aristocrats were of the opinion that they had not been sufficiently taken into account in the selection of the new ruler, and therefore agreed on Narseh as the opposing candidate. From the following short civil war against Bahram III. he emerged victorious and ascended the throne of Persia.

Narseh documented his triumph in a large inscription near Paikuli . Accordingly, he had allowed himself to be elected king by a meeting of nobility in order to avoid the appearance of usurpation. Narseh had probably also become king because the empire was under increasing military pressure and he was an experienced military leader. Narseh appeared to be a good candidate as he had great administrative experience. The initiative to revolt against his great-nephew presumably did not come from him, but from influential aristocratic circles who wanted another, strong king.

From 296 to 298 Narseh waged war against the Romans under Emperor Diocletian , with whom Bahram II had concluded a peace treaty. The Romans had repeatedly intervened in Armenia, prompting Narseh to intervene. An important motive was probably to assert itself against the strengthening Roman Empire after the Sassanid Empire had gone through a phase of weakness in the 270s and 280s, combined with a ten-year civil war (Bahram II had to assert himself against his brother Hormizd in the east). The war must have appeared to him as a welcome opportunity to secure his position by acquiring military fame. At first the king was quite successful in this. But after a first victory over Diocletian's Caesar (lower emperor) Galerius near Callinicum on the Euphrates in 296, Narseh was severely defeated by the Romans in the Battle of Satala in late 297 or early 298 : In a surprise attack, Galerius's troops, even the royal ones, succeeded Harem with the wives and daughters of Narseh captured. Narseh was therefore forced to make an unfavorable peace. According to the provisions of the peace treaty, Persia had to cede western Mesopotamia and five provinces on the upper west bank of the Tigris (the regiones transtigritanae ) to the Romans. In addition, Narseh had to recognize the Roman supremacy over the Kingdom of Armenia. The Sassanids were only able to regain the lost territories in the peace of 363 . Narseh celebrated the reunification with his family, which the Romans released after the peace treaty, with a rock relief and the adoption of a new crown.

Apart from the foreign policy setback against Rome, Narsehs seems to have acted quite successfully domestically. In terms of religious policy, Narseh has probably given up the sharp Zoroastrian course of his predecessors and given the monarchy more freedom of action vis-à-vis the priesthood (see also Kartir ). Narseh seems to have behaved more tolerantly towards Christians and Manicheans than his direct predecessors, but without having diminished his own commitment to Zoroastrianism.


  • Henning Börm : Questionable Claims: Violent Transfer of Power in Late Antique Iran using the example of Narseh and Bahrām Čōbīn . In: Tilmann Trausch (Ed.): Norm, Norm Deviation and Practice of the Transfer of Power in a Transcultural Perspective , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2019, pp. 187ff.
  • Klaus Schippmann : Basic features of the history of the Sassanid Empire . WBG, Darmstadt 1990.
  • Ursula Weber: Narseh, King of the Kings of Ērān and Anērān. In: Iranica Antiqua 47 (2012), pp. 153-302.
  • Ursula Weber, Josef Wiesehöfer : King Narseh's understanding of rule . In: Henning Börm, Josef Wiesehöfer (eds.): Commutatio et contentio. Studies in the Late Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East , Wellem Verlag, Düsseldorf 2010, pp. 89ff.
  • Josef Wiesehöfer: The realm of the Sāsānids . In: Klaus-Peter Johne (Ed.): The time of the soldiers' emperors . 2 volumes, Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2008, p. 531ff.

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  1. For details on the family background and genealogy, see the remarks by Ursula Weber: Narseh, King of the Kings of Ērān and Anērān. In: Iranica Antiqua 47 (2012), pp. 153–302, here pp. 157ff.
  2. So at least Ursula Weber: Narseh, King of the kings of Ērān and Anērān. In: Iranica Antiqua 47 (2012), pp. 153–302, here pp. 250f.
  3. Ursula Weber: Narseh, King of the Kings of Ērān and Anērān. In: Iranica Antiqua 47 (2012), pp. 153–302, here pp. 213ff.
  4. On Narseh's religious policy, see Ursula Weber: Narseh, King of the Kings of Ērān and Anērān. In: Iranica Antiqua 47 (2012), pp. 153–302, here pp. 253ff.
predecessor Office successor
Bahram III King of the New Persian Empire
Hormizd II.