Thursday, January 19, 2023

Shapur I

Shapur I (شاپور یکم) was the second Sassanid King of the Second Persian Empire. The dates of his reign are commonly given as 241 - 272, but it is likely that he also reigned as co-regent (together with his father) prior to his father's death in 241. Shapur was the son of Ardeshir I (r. 226–241), the founder of the Sassanid dynasty and whom Shapur succeeded. His mother was Lady Myrod, who—according to legend—was an Arsacid princess.

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 that the Persian kingdom had itself previously been a part of. Before an assembly of magnates, Ardeshir judged him the gentlest, wisest, bravest and ablest of all his children and nominated him as his successor. The Cologne Mani-Codex indicates that, by 240, Ardeshir and Shapur were already reigning together.

The date of Shapur's coronation remains debated, but 241 is frequently noted. That same year also marks the death of Ardeshir, and earlier in the year, his and Shapur's 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 Sassanids, who then killed the king and had the city razed.

Ardeshir 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. Timesitheus, father-in-law of the young emperor, Gordian III, drove him back and defeated him at the Battle of Resaena in 243, regaining Nisibis and Carrhae. Timesitheus died shortly afterward, and Philip the Arab (244–249) murdered Gordian III after his defeat at the Battle of Misiche. Philip then concluded an ignominious peace with the Persians in 244. With the Roman Empire debilitated by Germanic invasions and the continuous elevation of new emperors after the death of Trajan Decius (251), Shapur I resumed his attacks.

Shapur conquered Armenia, invaded Syria, and plundered Antioch. Eventually, the Emperor Valerian (253–260) marched against him, but having been besieged in Edessa after a defeat nearby, he was seized when he attempted to meet for negotiations in 260. Shapur advanced into Asia Minor, but was driven back by defeats at the hands of Ballista, who captured the royal harem. Septimius Odenathus, prince of Palmyra, rose in his rear, defeated the Persian army and regained all the territories Shapur had occupied. Shapur was unable to resume the offensive and lost Armenia again.

One of the great achievements of Shapur's reign was the defeat of the Roman Emperor Valerian. This is presented in a mural at Naghsh'e Rostam, where Shapur is represented on horseback wearing royal armor and crown. Before him kneels Philip the Arab, in Roman dress, asking for grace. In his right hand the king grasps the uplifted arms of what may be Valerian; one of his hands is hidden in his sleeve as the sign of submission. The same scene is repeated in other rock-face inscriptions.

Phillip paid Iranians 500,000 golden coins and bought truce. Soon after the declaration made by Shapur I that Iran is the sole superpower, he decided to send thousands of Roman prisoners of war to Khuzestan as workers to help build the Shadravan dam and the Shushtar bridge. After this great victory, Shapur built a city near Kazeroon, which carried his name, Bishapur. He extended Iranian borders from the Indian and Mediterranean and Black seas, including Central Asia.

Shapur is mentioned many times in the Talmud, as King Shapur. He had good relations with the Jewish community and was a friend of Shmuel, one of the most famous of the Babylonian Amoraim.

Under Shapur's reign, the prophet Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, began his preaching in Western Iran, and the King himself seems to have favored his ideas. The Shapurgan, Mani's only treatise in the Middle Persian language, is dedicated to Shapur.

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