Shapur I (New Persian: شاپور Šāhpuhr), also known as Shapur I the Great, was the second shahanshah (king of kings) of the Sasanian Empire. The dates of his reign are commonly given as 240/42 – 270/72 CE, but it is likely that he also reigned as co-regent (together with his father) prior to his father's death in 242 (more probably than 240).
The name Shapur is a combination of the word šāh (king) and puça (son), thus literally meaning the “son of a king”. The name is derived from Old Iranian xšāyaθiyahyā-puθra. The name is attested in Manichaean sources as Shabuhr, while it is attested in Latin sources as Sapores and Sapor, which Shapur is also known by in modern sources.
Shapur was the son of Ardashir I (r. 224–242 [died 242]), the founder of the Sasanian dynasty and whom Shapur succeeded. His mother was Lady Myrōd, who—according to legend—was an Arsacid princess. The Talmud cites a nickname for her, "Ifra Hurmiz", after her bewitching beauty Shapur also had a brother named Ardashir, who would later serve as governor of Kerman. Shapur may also had another brother with the same name, who served as governor of Adiabene.
Shapur accompanied his father's campaigns against the Parthians, who — at the time — still controlled much of the Iranian plateau through a system of vassal states, in which the Persian kingdom had itself previously been a part. Before an assembly of magnates, Ardashir "judged him the gentlest, wisest, bravest and ablest of all his children" and nominated him as his successor. Shapur also appears as heir apparent in Ardashir's investiture inscriptions at Naqsh-e Rajab and his capital, Firuzabad.
|Ardeshir I Coin|
The Iranian historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari observed of Shapur before his ascension to the Sasanian throne:, "The Iranians had well-tried Shapur already before his accession and while his father still lived on account of his intelligence, understanding and learning as well as his outstanding boldness, oratory, logic, affection for the subject people and kindheartedness.” Then after he came to the throne, he showed such generosity towards the nobility and commoners and took such care in running the state benevolently but efficiently that “he became renowned everywhere and gained superiority over all kings.”
The Cologne Mani-Codex indicates that, by 240, Ardashir and Shapur were already reigning together. In a letter from the Roman Emperor Gordian III to his senate, dated to 242, the "Persian Kings" are referred to in the plural. Synarchy is also evident in the coins of this period that portray Ardashir facing his youthful son and bear a legend that indicates Shapur as king.
The date of Shapur's coronation remains debated: 240 is frequently noted, but Ardashir lived very probably until 242 The year 240 also marks the seizure and subsequent destruction of Hatra, about 100 km southwest of Nineveh and Mosul in present-day Iraq. According to legend, al-Nadirah, the daughter of the king of Hatra, betrayed her city to the Sasanians, who then killed the king and had the city razed. (Legends also have Shapur either marrying al-Nadirah, or having her killed, or both.).
War against the Roman Empire
First Roman war
Map showing the Roman-Sasanian borders after the
peace treaty in 244.
Ardashir I had, towards the end of his reign, renewed the war against the Roman Empire. Shapur I conquered the Mesopotamian fortresses Nisibis and Carrhae and advanced into Syria. In 242, the Roman emperor Gordian III set out against the Sasanians with “a huge army and great quantity of gold,” (according to a Sasanian rock relief) and wintered in Antioch, while Shapur was busy in subduing Khwarezm and Gilan. There Gordian fought against the Sasanians and won repeated battles, and recaptured Carrhae and Nisibis, and at last routed an Sasanian army at Resaena, forcing Shapur to restore all occupied cities unharmed to their citizens. “We have penetrated as far as Nisibis, and shall even get to Ctesiphon,” he wrote to the Senate.
Gordian III later invaded eastern Mesopotamia but faced tough resistance from the Sasanians; following this blockade Gordian died in battle and Romans chose Philip the Arab as Emperor. Philip was not willing to repeat the mistakes of previous claimants, and was aware that he had to return to Rome in order to secure his position with the Senate. Philip concluded a peace with the Sasanians in 244; he had agreed that Armenia lay within Persia’s sphere of influence. He also had to pay an enormous indemnity to the Persians of 500,000 gold denarii. Philip immediately issued coins proclaiming that he had made peace with the Persians (pax fundata cum Persis). However, Philip later broke the treaty and seized lost territory. Shapur I commemorated this victory on several rock reliefs in Pars.
Second Roman war
Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam of Shapur
(on horseback) with Philip the Arab and
Shapur I invaded Mesopotamia in 250 but serious trouble arose in Khorasan and Shapur I had to march over there and settle its affair. Having settled the affair in Khorasan he resumed the invasion of Roman territories and later annihilated a Roman force of 60,000 at the Battle of Barbalissos and burned and ravaged the Roman province of Syria and all its dependencies.
Shapur I then reconquered Armenia, and incited Anak the Parthian to murder the king of Armenia, Khosrov II. Anak did as Shapur asked, and had Khosrov murdered in 252; yet Anak himself was shortly thereafter murdered by Armenian nobles. Shapur then appointed his son Hormizd I as the “Great King of Armenia”. With Armenia subjugated, Georgia submitted to the Sasanian Empire and fell under the supervision of a Sasanian official. With Georgia and Armenia under control, the Sasanians' borders on the north were thus secured.
After his great victory against the Roman army at Barbalissos, Shapur divided his forces. Leading one army himself he penetrated deep into Syria all the way to the coast and plundered what he found, while his son Hormizd I took the other army and invaded Lesser Armenia and Cappadocia.
During Shapur's invasion of Syria he captured important Roman cities like Antioch. The Emperor Valerian (253–260) marched against him and by 257 Valerian had recovered Antioch and returned the province of Syria to Roman control. The speedy retreat of Shapur's troops caused Valerian to pursue the Persians to Edessa, but they were defeated by the Persians, and Valerian, along with the Roman army that was left, was captured by Shapur and sent away into Pars. Shapur then advanced into Asia Minor and managed to capture Caesarea, deporting 400,000 of its citizens to the southern Sasanian provinces.
However, he was later defeated by Balista and Septimius Odenathus, who captured the royal harem. Shapur plundered the eastern borders of Syria and returned to Ctesiphon, probably in late 260. In 264 Septimius Odenathus reached Ctesiphon, but was defeated by Shapur I.
One of the great achievements of Shapur's reign was the defeat of the Roman Emperor Valerian. This is presented in a mural at Naqsh-e Rustam, where Shapur is represented on horseback wearing royal armour and a crown. Before him kneels Valerian, in Roman dress, asking for grace. The same scene is repeated in other rock-face inscriptions. Shapur is said to have publicly shamed Valerian by using the Roman Emperor as a footstool when mounting his horse. Other sources contradict this and note that in other stone carvings Valerian is respected and never on his knees. This is supported by reports that Valerian and some of his army lived in relatively good conditions in the city of Bishapur and that Shapur utilized the assistance of Roman engineers in his engineering and development plans.
The colossal statue of Shapur I, which stands in the Shapur cave, is one of the most impressive sculptures of the Sasanian Empire.
Interactions with minorities
Shapur is mentioned many times in the Talmud, in which he is referred to as King Shabur. He had good relations with the Jewish community and was a friend of Shmuel, one of the most famous of the Babylonian Amoraim.
Roman prisoners of war
Shapur's campaigns deprived the Roman Empire of resources while restoring and substantially enriching his own treasury, by deporting many Romans from conquered cities to Sasanian provinces like Khuzestan, Asuristan, and Pars. This influx of deported artisans and skilled workers revitalized Persia’s domestic commerce.
Picture of the ruined palace of Shapur I
In Bishapur, Shapur died of an illness. His death came in May 270 and he was succeeded by his son, Hormizd I. Two of his other sons, Bahram I and Narseh, would also become kings of the Sasanian Empire; while another son, Shapur Mishanshah, who died before Shapur, sired children who would hold exalted positions within the empire.
Governors during his reign
Under Shapur, the Sasanian court, including its territories, were much larger than that of his father. Several governors and vassal-kings are mentioned in his inscriptions; Ardashir, governor of Qom; Varzin, governor of Spahan; Tiyanik, governor of Hamadan; Ardashir, governor of Neriz; Narseh, governor of Rind; Friyek, governor of Gundishapur; Rastak, governor of Veh-Ardashir; Amazasp III, king of Iberia. Under Shapur several of his relatives and sons served as governor of Sasanian provinces; Bahram I, governor of Gilan; Narseh, governor of Sindh, Sakastan and Turan; Ardashir, governor of Kerman; Hormizd I, governor of Armenia; Shapur Mishanshah, governor of Maishan; Ardashir, governor of Adiabene
Officials during his reign
Several names of Shapur's officials are carved on his inscription at Naqsh-e Rustam. Many of these were the offspring's of the officials who served Shapur's father. During the reign of Shapur, a certain Papak served as the hazarbed (chiliarch) of the Empire, while Peroz served as the chief of the cavalry; Vahunam and Shapur served as the director of the clergy; Kirdisro served as bidakhsh (viceroy) of the Empire; Vardbad served as the “chief of services”; Hormizd served as the chief scribe; Naduk served as “the chief of the prison”; Papak served as the “gate keeper”; Mihrkhwast served as the treasurer; Shapur served as the commander of the army; Arshtat Mihran served as the secretary; Zik served as the “master of ceremonies”.
Shapur I left other reliefs and rock inscriptions. A relief at Naqsh-e Rajab near Estakhr is accompanied by a Greek translation. Here Shapur I calls himself "the Mazdayasnian (worshipper of Ahuramazda), the divine Shapur, King of Kings of the Iranians, and non-Iranians, of divine descent, son of the Mazdayasnian, the divine Ardashir, King of Kings of the Aryans, grandson of the divine king Papak." Another long inscription at Estakhr mentions the King's exploits in archery in the presence of his nobles. From his titles we learn that Shapur I claimed sovereignty over the whole earth, although in reality his domain extended little farther than that of Ardashir I. Shapur I built the great town Gundishapur near the old Achaemenid capital Susa, and increased the fertility of the district with a dam and irrigation system — built by Roman prisoners — that redirected part of the Karun River. The barrier is still called Band-e Kaisar, "the mole of the Caesar." He is also responsible for building the city of Bishapur, with the labours of Roman soldiers captured after the defeat of Valerian in 260. Shapur also built a town named Pushang in Khorasan.
|Coin of Shapur I|
Shapur on his coins and inscriptions calls himself a "worshiper of Mazda" the god of Zoroastrianism. In one of his inscriptions, he mentioned that he felt he had a mission to achieve in the world:
“ For the reason, therefore, that the gods have so made us their instrument, and that by the help of the gods we have sought out for ourselves, and hold, all these nations for that reason we have also founded, province by province, many Varahrān fires, and we have dealt piously with many Magi, and we have made great worship of the gods. ”
Shapur also wanted to add other writings to the Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, which included non-religious writings from Europe and India, about medicine, astronomy, philosophy and more.
The religious phenomenon shown by Shapur, shows that under his reign, the Zoroastrian clergy began to rise, as evidenced by the Mobed Kartir, who claims, in an inscription, that he took advantage of the conquests of Shapur to promote Zoroastrianism. Even though Kartir was part of the court of Shapur, the power of the clergy was limited, and only began to expand during the reign of Bahram I.
Shapur, who was never under the control of the clergy, appears as a particularly tolerant ruler, ensuring the best reception for representatives of all religions in his empire. Jewish sources have preserved him as a benevolent ruler that gave audiences to the leaders of their community. Later Greeks accounts writes about Shapurs invasion of Syria, where he destroyed everything except important religious sanctuaries of the cities. He also gave the Christians of his empire religious freedom, and allowed them to build churches without needing agreement from the Sasanian court.
During the reign of Shapur, Manichaeism, a new religion was founded by the Iranian prophet Mani, flourished. Mani was treated well by Shapur, and in 242, the prophet joined the Sasanian court, where he tried to convert Shapur by dedicating his only work written in Middle Persian, known as the Shabuhragan. Shapur, however, did not convert to Manichaeanism and remained a Zoroastrian.