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Shapur II the Great was the ninth King of the Persian Sassanid Empire from 309 to 379. During his long reign, the Sassanid Empire saw its first golden era since the reign of Shapur I (241–272).

Early childhood

When King Hormizd II (302–309) died, Persian nobles killed his eldest son, blinded the second, and imprisoned the third (Hormizd, who afterwards escaped to the Roman Empire). The throne was reserved for the unborn child of one of the wives of Hormizd II. It is said that Shapur II may have been the only king in history to be crowned in utero: the crown was placed upon his mother's belly. This child, named Shapur, was therefore born king; the government was conducted by his mother and the magnates. But when Shapur II came of age, he turned out to be one of the greatest monarchs of the dynasty.


the early years of the reign of Shapur, Arabs crossed the Persian Gulfmarker from Bahrainmarker to "Ardashir-Khora" of Parsmarker and raided the interior. In retaliation, Shapur led an expedition through Bahrainmarker, defeated the combined forces of the Arab tribes of "Taghlib", "Bakr bin Wael", and "Abd Al-Qays" and advanced temporarily into Yamama in central Najd. He resettled these tribes in Kermanmarker and Hormizd-Ardashirmarker. Arabs named him, as "Shabur Dhul-aktāf" or "Zol 'Aktāf" that means "The owner of the shoulders" after this battle.In 337, just before the death of Constantine I (324–337), Shapur II broke the peace concluded in 297 between Narseh (293–302) and Emperor Diocletian (284–305), which had been observed for forty years. A twenty-six year conflict (337–363) began in two series of wars, the first from 337 to 350. After crushing a rebellion in the south, he headed toward Mesopotamia and recaptured Armeniamarker. From there he started his first campaign against Constantius II, a campaign which was mostly unsuccessful for Shapur II. He was unable to take the fortress of Singara in the Siege of Singara (344). Shapur II also attempted with limited success to conquer the great fortresses of Roman Mesopotamia, Nisibismarker (which he besieged three times in vain) and Amidamarker.

Although often victorious in battles, Shapur II made scarcely any progress. At the same time he was attacked in the east by nomad tribes, among whom the Xionites are named. He had to interrupt the war with the Romans and pay attention to the east. After a prolonged struggle (353–358) they were forced to conclude a peace, and their king, Grumbates, agreed to accompany Shapur II in the war against the Romans.

In 358 Shapur II was ready for his second series of wars against Rome, which met with much more success. In 359, Shapur II conquered Amidamarker after a siege of seventy-three days, and he took Singara and some other fortresses in the next year (360). In 363 the Emperor Julian (361–363), at the head of a strong army, advanced to Shapur's capital at Ctesiphonmarker but was defeated by superior Sassanid army at the Battle of Ctesiphonmarker, and was killed during his retreat. His successor Jovian (363–364) made an ignominious peace, by which the districts beyond the Tigrismarker which had been acquired in 298 were given to the Persians along with Nisibis and Singara, and the Romans promised to interfere no more in Armenia. The great success is represented in the rock-sculptures near the town Bishapur in Persismarker (Stolze, Persepolis, p. 141); under the hoofs of the king's horse lies the body of an enemy, probably Julian, and a supplicant Roman, the Emperor Jovian, asks for peace.

Shapur II then invaded Armenia, where he took King Arshak II, the faithful ally of the Romans, prisoner by treachery and forced him to commit suicide. He then attempted to introduce Zoroastrian orthodoxy into Armenia. However, the Armenian nobles resisted him successfully, secretly supported by the Romans, who sent King Pap, the son of Arshak II, into Armenia. The war with Rome threatened to break out again, but Valens sacrificed Pap, arranging for his assassination in Tarsus, where he had taken refuge (374). Shapur II subdued the Kushans and took control of the entire area now known as Afghanistanmarker and Pakistanmarker. Shapur II had conducted great hosts of captives from the Roman territory into his dominions, most of whom were settled in Susianamarker. Here he rebuilt Susamarker, after having killed the city's rebellious inhabitants.

By his death in 379 the Persian Empire was stronger than ever before, considerably larger than when he came to the throne, the eastern and western enemies were pacified and Persia had gained control over Armenia.


Under Shapur II's reign the collection of the Avesta was completed, heresy and apostasy punished, and the Christians persecuted (see Abdecalas, Acepsimas of Hnaita). This was a reaction against the Christianization of the Roman Empire by Constantine I. He was successful in the east, and the great town Nishapurmarker in Khorasan (eastern Parthia) was founded by him. He founded some other towns as well.

See also


  1. [1]
  2. Encyclopaedia Iranica: p.202. Link: [2]

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