Shapur I.

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Shapur I coin

Shapur I. (or Šābuhr, Sapor ; Persian شاپور Shāpūr [ ʃɔːˈpuːr ]), reign 240 / 242-270 AD, is considered the Sassanid ruler who consolidated and expanded the New Persian Empire of the Sasanids founded by his father Ardaschir I.


The oriental sources are ambiguous as to the origin of Shapur. His year of birth is unknown. The king called himself in the Res Gestae divi Saporis as the son of Ardashir and a woman named Mirdod; later literary sources such as the Karnamag (10: 13-17) claim that Shapur was the son of an Arsakid princess and an unknown father, and that Ardashir merely adopted him. Some researchers consider this to be fundamentally plausible, others see an invention in the story that was supposed to construct a fictional genealogical connection between the Sassanids and their Arsakid predecessors.

War against Gordian III.

The Roman-Persian border in the middle of the 3rd century.

Shapur, who had probably been co-ruler of his father Ardaschir since around 239, probably succeeded him to the throne in 240, although Ardaschir probably lived until 242. Shapur continued the war against Rome that Ardaschir had started and, after conquering the Mesopotamian fortresses of Nisibis and Karrhai, was able to penetrate deep into Syria ; The case of Hatras (240/41) probably served as the reason for war for the Romans . A final success of Schapur was however by Timesitheus , the father-in-law of the emperor Gordian III. (238–244), prevented by his victory over the Persian army at Resaina 243. According to Western sources, the Persians had to withdraw in a hurry. According to the same sources, Gordian was murdered by his own men and Emperor Philip Arabs (244–249) concluded a peace with the Persians that was quite favorable for them, which the Romans bought with large sums of money.

According to the Persian sources (the trilingual rock inscription of Shapur, the so-called res gestae divi Saporis , a central source for the three campaigns of Shapur against the Romans, but also according to some later Byzantine sources) the picture is somewhat different. Accordingly, the Romans took action against Shapur, who was in Mesopotamia, and Gordian was not murdered, but fell during the battle of Mesiche (Misik), in which Shapur inflicted a serious defeat on the Romans.

In research, Shapur's point of view is often believed (although Gordian probably did not fall in battle, but died while retreating, perhaps as a result of an injury sustained in battle), although one should not underestimate the Sassanid potential for aggression. The Roman sources probably tried to cover up this shame by claiming that Gordian was killed by his successor Philip Arab , not by the Persians.

After the death of Philip's successor Decius in 251 and the ensuing internal turmoil in the Roman Empire, Shapur resumed the war against Rome and began his second campaign ( agoge ). There were probably already 252, but no later than 253 fighting. Shapur led his army to the eastern provinces of Rome in Syria , Cappadocia and Armenia . The exact period in which Schapur's campaigns against Rome take place in this second campaign is controversial in research (according to Erich Kettenhofen 253 to 256), as well as some detailed questions. In any case, Shapur plundered Antioch on the Orontes and several other cities, e.g. B. Gindaros (Antioch fell 253, but possibly only 256 and a second time 260). Dura Europos fell in 256, with the Sassanids using sophisticated siege techniques in the conquest.

Triumph over Valerian

Shapur's triumphal relief near Naqsch-e Rostam: Emperor Philip Arabs kneels in front of the Persian king (on horseback); Emperor Valerian stands next to Shapur, who has grabbed his arm as a sign of imprisonment.

The Roman usurper Uranius Antoninus opposed the Persians at Emesa and was also able to repel them. Emperor Valerian eventually counterattacked with a very strong army. However, the Romans were badly defeated in a battle between Edessa and Karrhai in 260 and Valerian was captured and slavery in Shapur for the rest of his life, which was deeply shameful for the Romans. A few years later, Shapur had his military successes recorded in 4 triumphal reliefs (which showed Gordian III, Philip and Valerian at the same time) and in a trilingual inscription at Naqsch-e Rostam (the so-called res gestae divi Saporis ), as well as in a rock relief at Bischapur .

In the third campaign, when we advanced against Karrhai and Edessa and besieged Karrhai and Edessa, Emperor Valerian marched against us, and it was with him, an army of 70,000 men. And on the other side of Karrhai and Edessa, a great battle for Us took place with Emperor Valerian, and We captured Emperor Valerian with our own hands and the rest of them, the Praetorian prefects and senators and officers, all whoever were leaders of that army, all of them We took these with our hands and deported them to Persis.
Shapur takes Valerian prisoner (medieval depiction in an edition of Shahname )

The Roman prisoners of war are said to have been assigned to build the Band-e Kaisar . Ultimately, Shapur I did not succeed (if that was his plan at all) to penetrate permanently to the Mediterranean , probably also because his forces were tied up by Septimius Odaenathus , the ruler of Palmyra , who had the Persian army from 261 had struck several times with Roman Palmyrenian troops and was able to retake both Karrhai and Nisibis . In addition, there were probably problems on the Persian eastern border, so that Shapur broke off the war against Rome and Palmyra. It is generally questionable whether, as the Romans assumed, he wanted to renew the old Achaemenid Empire . He was probably more interested in driving the Romans out of Mesopotamia and Armenia and re-establishing the Euphrates as a border, which he ultimately failed to do. Nevertheless, Shapur had been able to prove that the Sassanids were militarily equal to the Romans in contrast to the late Arsacids; the Sassanids were also able to assert themselves in heavy fighting in his later years on the border with the Caucasus and on the northeast border, which is always endangered.

Domestic and religious policy

Inside, Shapur evidently proved to be a capable and just ruler who, among other things, promoted urbanization and improved the administration of the empire. He called himself King of the Kings of Ērān and Anerān and thus expressed his claim to an imperial position of power (his father had only called himself “King of the kings of Eran”). During his reign the religious founder Mani appeared in Persia , whose religion the Persian king (his brother allegedly even converted to Manichaeism ) was quite positive. Mani himself wrote a pamphlet called Schabuhragan , which was dedicated to the king, and proclaimed his dualistic beliefs at the coronation ceremony of Shapur. However, Mani was later banished from Shapur; Shapur's son and later successor Bahram I is said to have even killed him.

The religious policy of Shapur and his sons was influenced by the great mobed Kartir , the reformer of Zoroastrianism, who formed a unified Zoroastrian church from the scattered cults, initiated missionary activities and later called for the persecution of competing religions. Shapur himself, however, behaved tolerantly, with no convincing evidence of a Zoroastrian state church at this time. He legitimized the role of the exile in the administration of Jewish affairs and demanded obedience to state laws, in particular with regard to regulations on land ownership and the collection of taxes. The Talmudic scholar Samuel made an agreement with Shapur and summarized it in the words: "The law of the (local) government is law." It still applies to the Jews in the Diaspora today .

Overall, Shapur went down in history as a militarily successful and tolerant ruler. He is not wrongly considered one of the most important Sassanid kings. After his death in 270 (more likely than 272), his son Hormizd I succeeded him on the throne.

See also


Web links

Commons : Schapur I.  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. See Wiesehöfer (2008), p. 537ff.
  2. Cf. also generally David MacDonald: The death of Gordian III - another tradition. In: Historia 30 (1981), pp. 502-508.
  3. For the details cf. Kettenhofen (1982).
  4. SKZ, §18–22, Greek version; Translation taken from: Engelbert Winter / Beate Dignas: Rome and the Persian Empire . Berlin 2001, p. 98. In order to ensure better readability, the supplementary and omission marks have been omitted.
  5. Ursula Weber: Wahram I. , in: Prosopography of the Sasanid Empire in the 3rd Century AD , p. 39ff.
  6. The exact date of Schapur's death cannot be determined with certainty, but more recent research usually assumes 270 instead of 272. See Wiesehöfer (2008), p. 541; see. also Shapur I. , in: EncIr .
predecessor Office successor
Ardashir I. King of the New Persian Empire
240 / 242–270
Hormizd I.