Shapur I (Middle Persian: 𐭱𐭧𐭯𐭥𐭧𐭥𐭩; New
Persian: شاپور), 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, 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).
Shapur I's rule was marked by successful military and political
struggles in the northeastern regions and the Caucasus, and two wars
Roman Empire during the second of which he captured the Roman
Emperor Valerian and his entire army at the Battle of Edessa. His
Zoroastrianism caused a rise in the position of the
clergy, and his religious tolerance accelerated the spread of
Manichaeanism and Christianity in Persia. He is also noted in the
2 Early years
3 Military career
3.1 First Roman war
3.2 Second Roman war
4 Interactions with minorities
5 Roman prisoners of war
7.1 Governors during his reign
7.2 Officials during his reign
7.4 Religious policy
8 In popular culture
9 See also
The name Shapur combines the words šāh (shah or king) and pūr
(son), thus literally meaning the “king's son”. The name derives
Old Iranian *xšāyaθiyahyā-puθra-, and appears 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.
Ardashir I and Shapur I
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
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 Kirman. Shapur may have also had
another brother with the same name, who served as governor of
Shapur accompanied his father's campaigns against the Parthians, who
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
The Iranian historian
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
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 of people and kindheartedness."
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 probably until 242. The year 240 also
marks the seizure and subsequent destruction of Hatra, about
100 km southwest of
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.)
See also: Roman–Persian Wars
Cameo of Shapur I
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
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
Gilan. There Gordian fought against the Sasanians and won repeated
battles, and recaptured
Carrhae and Nisibis, and at last routed a
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 the Romans chose
Philip the Arab
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
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
Shapur I invaded
Mesopotamia in 250 but serious trouble arose in
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. He then burned and ravaged the Roman province
Syria and all its dependencies.
Rock-face relief at
Naqsh-e Rustam of Shapur (on horseback) with
Philip the Arab
Philip the Arab and Emperor Valerian.
The Humiliation of
Emperor Valerian by Shapur I, pen and ink, Hans
Holbein the Younger, ca. 1521. At the time it was made, the above
rock-face relief was unknown in the west.
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.
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
Asia Minor and managed to capture Caesarea, deporting
400,000 of its citizens to the southern Sasanian provinces.[citation
The victory over Valerian is presented in a mural at Naqsh-e Rustam,
where Shapur is represented on horseback wearing royal armour and a
crown. Before him kneels a man 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.
However, the Persian forces were later defeated by
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.
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
Colossal Statue of Shapur I, Restored by George Rawlinson, 1876
Shapur is mentioned many times in the Talmud, in which he is referred
Jewish Aramaic as Shabur Malka (שבור מלכא), meaning
"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,
the Talmudic sages from among the important Jewish communities of
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.
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
Shapur I on horseback, followed by his sons and nobles
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
Sakastan and Turan; Ardashir, governor of Kirman; 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 commander of the royal guard (hazarbed), while
Peroz served as the chief of the cavalry (aspbed); Vahunam and Shapur
served as the director of the clergy; Kirdisro served as viceroy of
the Empire (bidakhsh); Vardbad served as the “chief of services”;
Hormizd served as the chief scribe; Naduk served as “the chief of
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
This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this
section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material
may be challenged and removed. (April 2017) (Learn how and when to
remove this template message)
Picture of the ruined palace of
Shapur I at Bishapur
Shapur I left other reliefs and rock inscriptions. A relief at Naqsh-e
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
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.
The Mazda worshipping lord Shapur, king of kings of Iranians and
non-Iranians, whose lineage is from the Gods, son of the Mazda
worshipping divinity Ardashir. — Shapur I, on the Naqsh-e Rustam
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
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 Shapur's
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.
In popular culture
Shapur I in the Shahnameh of
Shapur appears in Harry Sidebottom's historical fiction novel series
as one of the enemies of the series protagonist Marcus Clodius
Ballista, career soldier in a third-century Roman army.
Shapour I's inscription in Ka'ba-ye Zartosht
Shapour I's inscription in Naqsh-e Rostam
Siege of Dura Europos (256)
^ MacKenzie, David Niel (1998). "Ērān, Ērānšahr". Encyclopedia
Iranica. 8. Costa Mesa: Mazda.
^ a b c d e Shahbazi, Shapur (2003). "Shapur I". Encyclopedia Iranica.
Costa Mesa: Mazda.
^ ARDAŠĪR I, Joseph Wiesehöfer, Encyclopaedia Iranica, (August 11,
^ Herzfeld, E. E. (1988). Iran in the Ancient East. New York: Hacker
Art Books. ISBN 0-87817-308-0. p. 287.
Talmud Bavli, Tractate Baba Basra 8a. See there note 56 in Artscroll
^ J. Wiesehöfer, Ardasir, in: Encyclopedia Iranica.
^ "Hatra". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.
2008. Retrieved 8 December 2007.
^ Iranians in Asia Minor, Leo Raditsa, Cambridge History of Iran: The
Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods, Vol. 3, ed. Ehsan Yarshater,
(Cambridge University Press, 2003), 125.
^ a b c d e f Shapur I, Shapur Shahbazi, Encyclopaedia Iranica, (July
^ a b Cambridge History of Iran, Volume III, edited by Ehsan Yarshater
(professor of Iranian studies, Columbia University, New York)
^ Hovannisian, The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times,
Volume I: The Dynastic Periods: From Antiquity to the Fourteenth
^ Grishman, R.(1995):Iran From the Beginning Until Islam
^ Prof. A. Tafazzoll, (1990): History of Ancient Iran, pg. 183
^ Who's Who in the Roman World By John Hazel
Babylonia Judaica in the Talmudic Period By A'haron Oppenheimer,
Benjamin H. Isaac, Michael Lecker
^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica
^ Frye, Richard Nelson, (1983): History of Ancient Iran, p. 299
^ Frye, Richard Nelson, (1983): History of Ancient Iran, p. 373
^ Marco Frenschkowski (1993). "Mani (iran. Mānī<; gr.
Mανιχαῑος < ostaram. Mānī ḥayyā »der lebendige
Mani«)". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches
Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 5. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 669–80.
Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline and Fall of the Sasanian
Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of
Iran. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.
Shapur Shahbazi, A. (2005). "SASANIAN DYNASTY". Encyclopaedia Iranica,
Online Edition. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
Frye, R. N. (1983), "The political history of Iran under the
Sasanians", The Cambridge History of Iran, Cambridge University Press,
3 (1), ISBN 978-0-521-20092-9 chapter= ignored (help)
B. A. Litvinsky, Ahmad Hasan Dani (1996). History of Civilizations of
Central Asia: The crossroads of civilizations, A.D. 250 to 750.
UNESCO. pp. 1–569. ISBN 9789231032110.
Frye, Richard Nelson (1984). The History of Ancient Iran. C.H.Beck.
pp. 1–411. ISBN 9783406093975.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Shapur".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shapur I.
"King of kings of Iran and Aniran"
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
ISNI: 0000 0001 1930 8556