Bahram V (Middle Persian: 𐭥𐭫𐭧𐭫𐭠𐭭 Wahrām, New
Persian: بهرام پنجم Bahrām), also known as Bahram Gor
(بهرام گور, "onager [hunter]") was the fifteenth king (shah)
of the Sasanian Empire, ruling from 420 to 438.
The son of Yazdegerd I, Bahram was exiled at an early age to the
Lahkmid court in al-Hira, where he was raised under the tutolage of
the Lakhmid kings. After the assassination of Yazdegerd I, Bahram
hurried to the Sasanian capital of
Ctesiphon with an Lakhmid army, and
won the favour of the nobles and priests, according to a long-existing
popular legend, after withstanding a trial against two lions.
Bahram V's reign was generally peaceful, with two briefs wars—first
against his western neighbours, the Eastern Roman Empire, and then
against his eastern neighbours, the Hephthalites, who were disturbing
the Sasanian eastern provinces. It was also during his reign that the
Arsacid line of Armenia was replaced by a marzban (governor of a
frontier province, "margrave"), which was the start of a new era in
Armenia, known in Armenian historiography as the "Marzpanate period".
Bahram V is a central figure in several of the most famous works in
Persian literature. He is mentioned in Ferdowsi's
Kings") written between 977 and 1010, and he is the protagonist of
Nizami Ganjavi's romantic epic Haft Peykar ("The Seven Beauties", also
known as the "Bahramnameh"), written in 1197.
The Seven Beauties
The Seven Beauties were
princesses, which—in Nizami's imagination—became Bahram's wives
and received each their own residence in his palace. He visited them
on a rotating basis, and they entertained him with exciting stories.
He is also the focal point in the Hasht-Bihisht ("Eight Paradises"),
Amir Khusrow in ca. 1302.
Bahram V is remembered as one of the most famous kings in Iranian
history, due to his cancellation of taxes and public debt at
celebratory events, his encouragement of musicians, and his enjoyment
of hunting. However, albeit he is revered in many historical tales as
a bold, vivid, and suited ruler, his reign is considered as the start
of the decline of the Sasanian Empire, which lasted until the reign of
Kavadh I (r. 488–496 & 498–531), when the empire experienced a
1 Early life and rise to power
2.1 War with Rome
2.2 War with the Hephthalites
2.3 Relations with Armenia
3 Death and legacy
5 The Seven Beauties
8 External links
Early life and rise to power
Bahram V seizes the crown after having killed two lions.
Bahram V was born in ca. 400, he was the son of shah Yazdegerd I
(r. 399–420) and Shushandukht, a daughter of the Jewish exilarch.
Richard Frye believes that the Yazdagird's marriage to a daughter of
the patriarch of the Jews is "probably folk tales". Bahram, during
his youth, fell out with his father due to a disagreement, which made
the latter sent him to exile in the Lakhmid court in al-Hira, where he
was raised under the tutolage of the Lakhmid king al-Nu'man I ibn
Imru' al-Qays (r. 390–418). There al-Nu'man provided Bahram with
teachers from the Sasanian court, where Bahram was taught law,
archery, and equestrian arts.
Since the death of the powerful Sasanian shah
Shapur II (r.
309–379), the aristocrats and priests had expanded their influence
and authority at the cost of the Sasanian government, nominating,
dethroning, and murdering shahs, which included Yazdegerd I, who was
murdered in 21 January 420. They now sought to stop the sons of
Yazdegerd I from the ascending the throne—Shapur IV, who was the
eldest son of
Yazdegerd I and governor of Armenia, quickly rushed to
the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon, and ascended the throne. He was,
however, shortly murdered by the nobles and priests, who elected a son
of Bahram IV, Khosrow, as shah.
Bahram was informed about the news of Yazdegerd I's death when he was
in the Arabian Desert—he opposed the decision of the nobles, and
asked al-Mundhir I ibn al-Nu'man (who had succeeded his father
al-Nu'man I) for military assistance, who agreed to help him.
Bahram and al-Mundhir I, at the head of an army of numerous soldiers,
marched towards Ctesiphon, where Bahram promised that he would not
reign like his father
Yazdegerd I did. According to the Shahnameh,
Bahram suggested that the royal crown and attire should be placed
between two lions, and the person that retrieved them by killing the
wild animals should be recognized as the shah of Iran.
Khosrow chose to pull out, whilst Bahram withstood the trial and won
the throne. Bahram distrusted the nobles, who had been unreliable
to the earlier Sasanian shahs, and thus chose instead to seek support
Zoroastrian priesthood. He was the first Sasanian shah to not
be crowned by a noble, but by a chief priest (mowbed).
War with Rome
The Roman-Sasanian frontier.
At the urging of the
Bahram V began his reign
with a systematic persecution of the Christians as reprisal for
Zoroastrian temples by Christians during his reign;
Bahram continued this persecution, during which many died. Among them
there was James Intercisus, a political counsellor of Yazdegerd I's,
who had converted to
Zoroastrianism but then converted back to
The persecuted Christians fled to Roman territory, and were welcomed
by the bishop of Constantinople, Atticus, who informed the Emperor of
the persecution. The Eastern Roman Emperor
Theodosius II was at the
time deeply influenced by his religious sister Pulcheria, and had
become more and more interested in Christianity. The Roman-Sasanian
relationship already had some friction. The Sasanians had hired some
Roman gold-diggers, but now refused to send them back; furthermore,
the Sasanians seized the properties of Roman merchants. So, when
Sasanian ambassadors reached the Roman court to ask for the fugitives,
Theodosius choose to break the peace and declare war, rather than
giving them back.
In the year 421, the Romans sent their general
Ardaburius with an
extensive contingent into Armenia.
Ardaburius defeated the Sasanian
Narseh and proceeded to plunder the province of
lay siege to Nisibis.
Ardaburius abandoned the siege in the face of an
advancing army under Bahram, who in turn besieged Theodosiopolis
(probably Theodosiopolis in Osroene).
The peace treaty that ended the war (422) was negotiated by the
magister officiorum Helio. It returned everything to the situation
before the war (status quo ante bellum). Both parts agreed to reject
Arab defectors of the other part, as well as to guarantee liberty
of religion in their territories.
War with the Hephthalites
Map of the Silk Road.
While Bahram was occupied with the war with the Romans, the rich city
of Marv was captured by the Hephthalites. Bahram was thus forced to
pay tribute to the Hephthalites, in order to stop their incursions
into his empire. When Bahram had made peace with the Romans, he
started preparing to deal with the Hephthalites. Not only was Marv a
rich city, but also an important trading spot in the Silk Road, which
Central Asia and continued through Iran to Europe.
Bahram shortly invaded the domains of the Hephthalites, and recaptured
Marv, killing the Hephthalite ruler, and seizing many riches. He then
erected a pillar at the Amu Darya, which marked that the river
constituted his empire's eastern frontier. By 427, he had fully
secured his eastern section of the empire, and the inhabitants of
Bukhara had started minted coins which imitated the coins of Bahram V,
which implies that he had either conquered the city, or had left a
strong influence there.
To further strengthen Sasanian supremacy in Central Asia, Bahram
appointed his brother, Narseh, as the governor of the eastern
provinces, with his capital at Balkh. Furthermore, in order to
demonstrate his appreciation to Ahura Mazda, Bahram bestowed most of
his booty to the Adur Gushnasp, one of the three holy temples of
Relations with Armenia
Map of Sasanian Armenia.
The situation in Armenia occupied Bahram immediately after the
conclusion of peace with Rome. Armenia had been without a king since
Shapur IV had vacated the country in 418. Bahram now
desired that a descendant of the royal line of kings, a scion of the
Arsacids, should be on the throne of Armenia. With this intention in
mind, he selected an Arsacid named
Artaxias IV (Artashir IV), a son of
Vramshapuh, and made him king of Armenia.
But the newly appointed king did not have a good character. The
frustrated nobles petitioned Bahram to remove
Artaxias IV and admit
Armenia into the
Sasanian Empire so that the province would be under
the direct control of the Sasanian Empire. However, the annexation
of Armenia by Iran was strongly opposed by the Armenian patriarch
Isaac of Armenia, who felt the rule of a Christian better than that of
a non-Christian regardless of his character or ability. Despite his
strong protests, however, Armenia was annexed by Bahram, who placed it
under the charge of a Sasanian governor in 428.
Death and legacy
20th-century illustration of
Bahram V hunting.
According to a popular legend, Bahram died in 438 while hunting in
Media. He was succeeded by his son Yazdegerd II.
Bahram V has left
behind a rich and colorful legacy, with numerous legends and
fantastical tales. His fame has survived the downplay of
Zoroastrianism and the anti-Iranian measures of the Umayyads and the
Mongols, and many of the stories have been incorporated in
contemporary Islamic lore.
His legacy even survives outside Iran. He is the king who receives the
Three Princes of Serendip in the tale that gave rise to the word
Serendipity. He is believed to be the inspiration for the legend of
Bahramgur prevalent in the Punjab.
He is a great favourite in Persian tradition, which relates many
stories of his valour and beauty; of his victories over the Romans,
Hephthalites, Indians, and Africans; and of his adventures in hunting
and in love. He is called Bahram Gur, "Onager," on account of his love
for hunting, and in particular, hunting onagers.
For example, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edward Fitzgerald,
"They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter - the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, and he lies fast asleep."
To which Fitzgerald adds the following footnote (1st edition, 1859):
"Bahram Gur - Bahram of the Wild Ass from his fame in hunting it - a
Sasanian sovereign, had also his seven palaces, each of a different
colour; each with a Royal mistress within; each of whom recounts to
Bahram a romance. The ruins of three of these towers are yet shown by
the peasantry; as also the swamp in which Bahram sunk while pursuing
Some have judged
Bahram V to have been rather a weak monarch, after
the heart of the grandees and the priests. He is said to have built
many great fire-temples, with large gardens and villages (Tabari).
The coins of
Bahram V are chiefly remarkable for their crude and
coarse workmanship and for the number of the mints from which they
were issued. The mint-marks include Ctesiphon, Hamadan, Spahan,
Arbela, Ledan, Nahavand, Asoristan, Khuzistan, Media, and Kirman. The
headdress has the mural crown in front and behind, but interposes
between these two detached fragments a crescent and a circle, emblems,
no doubt, of the sun and moon gods. The reverse shows the usual
fire-altar, with guards, or attendants, watching it. The king's head
appears in the flame upon the altar.
The Seven Beauties
Bahram sees the portraits of the seven beauties. Behzad School, 1479.
Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature, Baku.
The Seven Beauties
The Seven Beauties (Persian: هفت پیکر) also known as
Bahramnameh (بهرامنامه, The
Book of Bahram) is a famous
romantic epic written in 1197 by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. A
pre-Islamic story of Persian origin, it was dedicated to the ruler of
Maragha, 'Ala' Al-Din korp Arslan. It is a romanticized biography of
Bahram, who is born to
Yazdegerd I after twenty years of childlessness
and supplication to
Ahura Mazda for a child. His adventurous life
had already been treated by
Ferdowsi in the Shahnameh, to which fact
Nizami alludes a number of times. In general, his method is to
omit those episodes that the earlier poet had treated, or to touch on
them only very briefly, and to concentrate on new material. The
poet starts by giving an account of the birth of Bahram and his
upbringing in the court of the Arab king al-Nu'man and his fabled
palace Khwarnaq. Bahram whose upbringing is entrusted to al-Nu'man
becomes a formidable huntsman.
While wandering through the fabled palace, he discovers a locked room
which contains a depiction of seven princesses; hence the name Haft
Paykar (seven beauties). Each of these princesses is from the seven
different climes (traditional
Zoroastrian division of the Earth) and
he falls in love with them. His father
Yazdegerd I passes away and
Bahram returns to Iran to claim his throne from pretenders. After some
episodes he is recognized as shah and rescues the Iranians from a
famine. Once the country is stable, the shah searches for the seven
princesses and wins them as his brides. His architect is ordered to
construct seven domes for each of his new brides.
The architect tells him that each of the seven climes is ruled by one
of the seven planets (classical planetary system of
and advises him to assure good fortune by adorning each dome with the
color that is associated with each clime and planet. Bahram is
skeptical but follows the advice of the architect. The princesses take
up residence in the splendid pavilions. On each visit, the shah visits
the princesses on successive days of the week; on Saturday the Indian
princess, who is governed by Saturn and so on. The princesses names
are Furak (Nurak), the daughter of the Rajah of India, as beautiful as
the moon; Yaghma Naz, the daughter of the
Khaqan of the Turks; Naz
Pari, the daughter of the king of Khwarazm; Nasrin Nush, the daughter
of the king of the Slavs; Azarbin (Azareyon), the daughter of the king
of Morocco; Humay, the daughter of the Roman Caesar; and Diroste
(wholesome), a beautiful Iranian princess from the House of Kay Kavus.
Each princess relates to the shah a story matching the mood of her
respective color. These seven beautifully constructed, highly
sensuous stories occupy about half of the whole poem. While the
shah is busy with the seven brides, his evil minister seizes power in
the realm. Bahram discovers that the affairs of Iran are in disarray,
the treasury is empty and the neighboring rulers are posed to invade.
He clears his mind first by going hunting. After returning from hunt,
he sees a suspended dog from a tree. The owner of the dog, who was
shepherd, tells the story of how his faithful watchdog had betrayed
his flock to a she-wolf in return for sexual favors. He starts
investigating the corrupt minister and from the multitude of
complaints, he selects seven who tell him the injustice they have
suffered. The minister is subsequently put to death and Bahram
restores justice and orders the seven pleasure-domes to be converted
to fire temples for the pleasure of God. Bahram then goes hunting
for the last time but mysteriously disappears. As a pun on words,
while trying to hunt the wild ass (gūr) he instead finds his tomb
^ Bosworth 1999, p. 93.
^ Frye 1984, p. 319.
^ a b c Klíma 1999, pp. 514-522.
^ Bosworth 1999, p. 84.
^ Bosworth 1999, p. 87.
^ Traina 2009, p. 121.
^ a b c d Dodgeon, Greatrex & Lieu 2002b, pp. 36-43.
^ Malchus, fragment 1.4-7.
^ Chr. Arb., 16.
^ Frye 1984, p. 352.
^ a b Kia 2016, p. 238.
^ A Fifth Century Hoard of Sasanian Drachms (A.D. 399-460), Hodge
Mehdi Malek, Iran, Vol. 33, (1995), British Institute of Persian
^ Introduction to Christian Caucasian History:II: States and Dynasties
of the Formative Period, Cyril Toumanoff, Traditio, Vol. 17, 1961,
Fordham University, 6.
^ Simon Payaslian, The History of Armenia:From the Origins to the
Present, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 40.
^ Daryaee 2009, p. 23.
^ a b One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates
text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh,
ed. (1911). "Bahrām". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.).
Cambridge University Press. p. 211.
^ a b c d e f g "HAFT PEYKAR – Encyclopaedia Iranica".
Iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
^ Meisami, Julie Scott (1995). The Haft Paykar: A Medieval Persian
Romance. Oxford University Press. Abû Muhammad Ilyas ibn Yusuf ibn
Zaki Mu'ayyad, known by his pen-name of Nizami, was born around 1141
in Ganja, the capital of Arran in Transcaucasian Azerbaijan, where he
remained until his death in about 1209. His father, who had migrated
to Ganja from Qom in north central Iran, may have been a civil
servant; his mother was a daughter of a Kurdish chieftain; having lost
both parents early in his life, Nizami was brought up by an uncle. He
was married three times, and in his poems laments the death of each of
his wives, as well as proferring advice to his son Muhammad. He lived
in an age of both political instability and intense intellectual
activity, which his poems reflect; but little is known about his life,
his relations with his patrons, or the precise dates of his works, as
the accounts of later biographers are colored by the many legends
built up around the poet
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WILSON, B.A. (LOND.)- Romanticized story about Bahram Gur
Khosrow the Usurper
Great King (Shah) of Persia
Rulers of the
Sasanian Empire (224–651)
Ardashir I (224–242)
Shapur I (240–270)
Hormizd I (270–271)
Bahram I (271–274)
Bahram II (274–293)
Bahram III (293)
Hormizd II (302–309)
Shapur II (309–379)
Ardashir II (379–383)
Shapur III (383–388)
Bahram IV (388–399)
Yazdegerd I (399–420)
Shapur IV (420)
Khosrow the Usurper§ (420)
Bahram V (420–438)
Yazdegerd II (438–457)
Hormizd III (457–459)
Peroz I (459–484)
Kavadh I (488–496)
Kavadh I (498–531)
Khosrow I (531–579)
Hormizd IV (579–590)
Khosrow II (590)
Bahram VI Chobin§ (590–591)
Khosrow II (591–628)
Kavadh II (628)
Ardashir III (628–629)
Khosrow III§ (629)
Shapur-i Shahrvaraz§ (630)
Peroz II§ (630)
Farrukh Hormizd§ (630–631)
Hormizd VI§ (630–631)
Khosrow IV§ (631)
Farrukhzad Khosrow V§ (631)
Yazdegerd III (632–651)
Peroz III (pretender)
§ usurpers or rival claimants
Shahnameh of Ferdowsi
Clans and families
House of Goudarz
House of Viseh
House of Nowzar
House of Sasan
House of Sām
Shahnameh of Rashida
Shahnameh (or Demotte)
Shahnameh of Ghavam al-Din
Zal and Rudabeh
Rostam and Sohrab
Rostam's Seven Labours
Khosrow and Shirin
Bijan and Manijeh