Shapur II (Middle Persian: 𐭱𐭧𐭯𐭥𐭧𐭥𐭩 Šāpuhr),
also known as
Shapur II the Great, was the tenth
Shahanshah of the
Sasanian Empire. The longest-reigning monarch in Iranian history, he
reigned for his entire 70-year life from 309 to 379. He was the son of
Hormizd II (r. 302–309).
His reign saw the military resurgence of the country, and the
expansion of its territory, which marked the start of the first
Sasanian golden era. He is thus along with
Shapur I and Khosrow I
regarded as one of the most illustrious Sasanian kings. His three
direct successors, on the other hand, were less successful.
Shapur II pursued a harsh religious policy. Under his reign, the
collection of the Avesta, the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, was
completed, heresy and apostasy were punished, and Christians were
persecuted. The latter was a reaction against the
Roman Empire by Constantine the Great. Shapur II, like Shapur I,
was amicable towards Jews, who lived in relative freedom and gained
many advantages in his period (see also Raba). At the time of Shapur's
Sasanian Empire was stronger than ever, with its enemies to
the east pacified and Armenia under Sasanian control.
2.1 War with the Arabs
2.2 Early campaigns and first war against the Romans
2.3 Second war against the Romans and invasion of Armenia
2.4 Death and succession
3 Relations with the Christians
4 Imperial beliefs and numismatics
Hormizd II died in 309, he was succeeded by his son Adur Narseh,
who, after a brief reign which lasted few months, was killed by some
of the nobles of the empire. They then blinded the second, and
imprisoned the third (Hormizd, who afterwards escaped to the Roman
Empire). The throne was reserved for the unborn child of Hormizd
II's wife Ifra Hormizd, which was Shapur II. It is said that Shapur II
may have been the only king in history to be crowned in utero, as the
legend claims that the crown was placed upon his mother's womb while
she was pregnant.
However, according to Alireza Shapour Shahbazi, it is unlikely that
Shapur was crowned as king while still in his mother's womb, since the
nobles could not have known of his sex at that time. He further states
that Shapur was born 14 days after his father's death, and that the
Adur Narseh and crowned
Shapur II in order to gain
greater control of the empire, which they were able to do until Shapur
II reached his majority at the age of 16.
War with the Arabs
Main article: Shapur II's Arab campaign
Nakhal Fort and the Al Hajar Mountains
During the childhood of Shapur II, Arab nomads made several incursions
into the Sasanian homeland of Pars, where they raided Gor and its
surroundings. Furthermore, they also made incursions into Meshan
and Mazun. At the age of 16,
Shapur II led an expedition against the
Arabs; primarily campaigning against the Ayad tribe in
thereafter he crossed the Persian Gulf, reaching al-Khatt, modern
Qatif, or present eastern Saudi Arabia. He then attacked the Banu
Tamim in the Al Hajar Mountains.
Shapur II reportedly killed a large
number of the Arab population and destroyed their water supplies by
stopping their wells with sand.
After having dealt with the
Arabs of eastern Arabia, he continued his
expedition into western Arabia and Syria, where he attacked several
cities—he even went as far as Medina. Because of his cruel way of
dealing with the Arabs, he was called Dhū l-Aktāf "he who pierces
shoulders" by them. Not only did
Shapur II pacify the
the Persian Gulf, but he also pushed many Arab tribes further deep
into the Arabian Peninsula. Furthermore, he also deported some Arab
tribes by force; the
Taghlib to Bahrain and al-Khatt; the Banu Abdul
Banu Tamim to Hajar; the
Banu Bakr to Kirman, and the Banu
Hanzalah to a place near Hormizd-Ardashir. Shapur II, in order to
Arabs from making more raids into his country, ordered the
construction of a wall near al-Hirah, which became known as war-i
tāzigān ("wall of the Arabs").
The Zoroastrian scripture
Bundahishn also mentions the Arabian
campaign of Shapur II:
During the rulership of Shapur (II), the son of Hormizd, the Arabs
came; they took Khorig Rūdbār; for many years with contempt (they)
rushed until Shapur came to rulership; he destroyed the
Arabs and took
the land and destroyed many Arab rulers and pulled out many number of
Early campaigns and first war against the Romans
In 337, just before the death of
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great (324–337),
Shapur II, provoked by the Roman rulers' backing of Roman Armenia,
broke the peace concluded in 297 between emperors
Diocletian (284–305), which had been observed for forty years.
This was the beginning of two long drawn-out wars (337–350 and
358-363) which were inadequately recorded.
After crushing a rebellion in the south,
Shapur II invaded Roman
Mesopotamia and captured Armenia. Apparently, nine major battles were
fought. The most renowned was the inconclusive Battle of Singara
(modern Sinjar, Iraq) in which
Constantius II was at first successful,
capturing the Persian camp, only to be driven out by a surprise night
attack after Shapur had rallied his troops (344-or 348?). Gibbon
Shapur II invariably defeated Constantius, but there is
reason to believe that the honours were fairly evenly shared between
the two capable commanders. (Since Singara was on the Persian side of
the Mesopotamian frontier, this alone may suggest that the Romans had
not seriously lost ground in the war up to that time.) The most
notable feature of this war was the consistently successful defence of
the Roman fortress of Nisibis in Mesopotamia. Shapur besieged the
fortress three times (337, 344? and 349) and was repulsed each time
by Roman general Lucilianus.
Although often victorious in battles,
Shapur II had made scarcely any
progress. At the same time he was attacked in the
east by Scythian
Massagetae and other Central Asian tribes.[citation
needed] He had to break off the war with the Romans and arrange a
hasty truce in order to pay attention to the east (350). Roughly
around this time the Hunnic tribes, most likely the Kidarites, whose
king was Grumbates, make an appearance as an encroaching threat upon
Sasanian territory as well as a menace to the Gupta Empire
(320-500CE). After a prolonged struggle (353–358) they were
forced to conclude a peace, and
Grumbates agreed to enlist his light
cavalrymen into the Persian army and accompany
Shapur II in renewed
war against the Romans, particularly participating in the Siege of
Amida in 359.
Second war against the Romans and invasion of Armenia
Map showing Julian's journey from
Antioch (in 362)
and his Persian expedition (in 363), ending with his death near
Shapur II was ready for his second series of wars against Rome,
which met with much more success. In 359,
Shapur II invaded southern
Armenia, but was held up by the valiant Roman defence of the fortress
of Amida (now Diyarbakır, Turkey), which finally surrendered in 359
after a seventy-three-day siege in which the Persian army suffered
great losses. The delay forced Shapur to halt operations for the
winter. Early the following spring he continued his operations against
the Roman fortresses, capturing Singara and Bezabde (Cirze?).
Constantius arrived from the west at this time, and unsuccessfully
tried to recapture Bezabde.
Sassanian relief of the investiture of
Ardashir II showing Mithra,
Shapur II and
Ahura Mazda above a defeated Julian, lying prostrate
In 363 the Emperor Julian (361–363), at the head of a strong army,
advanced to Shapur's capital city of
Ctesiphon and defeated a
presumably larger Sassanian force at the Battle of Ctesiphon; however,
he was unable to take the fortified city, or engage with the main
Persian army under Shaour II that was approaching. Julian was killed
by the enemy in a skirmish during his retreat back to Roman territory.
His successor Jovian (363–364) made an ignominious peace in which
the districts beyond the
Tigris 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 Pars
(Stolze, Persepolis, p. 141); under the hooves of the king's
horse lies the body of an enemy, probably Julian, and a supplicant
Roman, the Emperor Jovian, asks for peace.
According to the peace treaty between Shapur and Jovian, Georgia and
Armenia were to be ceded to Sasanian control, and the Romans forbidden
from further involvement in the affairs of Armenia. Under this
agreement Shapur assumed control over Armenia and took its King
Arsaces II (Arshak II), the faithful ally of the Romans, as prisoner,
and held him in the Castle of Oblivion (Fortress of Andməš in
Armenian or Castle of Anyuš in Ḵuzestān). Supposedly, Arsaces
then committed suicide during a visit by his eunuch Drastamat.
Shapur attempted to introduce Zoroastrian orthodoxy into Armenia.
However, the Armenian nobles resisted him successfully, secretly
supported by the Romans, who sent King Papas (Pap), the son of Arsaces
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).
In Georgia, then known as Iberia, where the Sasanians were also given
Shapur II installed
Aspacures II of Iberia in the east;
however, in western Georgia, Valens also succeeded in setting up his
own king, Sauromaces II of Iberia.
Shapur II subdued the Kushan
Empire and took control of the entire area now known as Afghanistan
Shapur II had conducted great hosts of captives from the
Roman territory into his dominions, most of whom were settled in Elam.
Here he rebuilt
Susa - after having killed the city's rebellious
Death and succession
Shapur later died in 379, although he had a son named Shapur III, he
was succeeded by his brother Ardashir II. By Shapur's death the
Sasanian 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. He is regarded as
one of the most important Sassanian kings along with
Shapur I and
Khosrow I, and could after a long period of instability regain the old
strength of the Empire. His three successors, however, were less
successful than he. Furthermore, his death marked the start of a
125-year-long conflict between the wuzurgan, a powerful group of
nobility, and the kings, who both struggled for power over Persia.
Taq-e Bostan: high-relief of
Shapur II and Shapur III
Relations with the Christians
Shapur II was not initially hostile to his Christian subjects, who
were led by Shemon Bar Sabbae, the
Patriarch of the Church of the
East. However, the conversion of
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great to Christianity
gave Shapur distrust towards his Christian subjects, whom he
considered as agents of the foreign enemy. The war between the
Sasanian and Roman empires changed Shapur's mistrust into hostility.
After the death of Constantine, Shapur II, who had been preparing for
war for several years, imposed a double tax on his Christian subjects
in his empire to finance the conflict. Shemon, however, refused to pay
double tax. Shapur then gave Shemon and his clergy a last chance to
convert to Zoroastrianism, which they refused to do. It was during
this period the "cycle of the martyrs" began during which "many
thousands of Christians" were put to death. The two successors of
Shahdost and Barba'shmin, were also martyred the following
A near-contemporary 5th century Christian work, the Ecclesiastical
History of Sozomen, contains considerable detail on the Persian
Christians martyred under Shapur II.
Sozomen estimates the total
number of Christians killed as follows:
The number of men and women whose names have been ascertained, and who
were martyred at this period, has been computed to be upwards of
sixteen thousand, while the multitude of martyrs whose names are
unknown was so great that the Persians, the Syrians, and the
inhabitants of Edessa, have failed in all their efforts to compute the
— Sozomen, in his 'Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter XIV
Imperial beliefs and numismatics
Gold coin of Shapur II
Shapur II in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp
According to Ammianus Marcellinus,
Shapur II fought the Romans in
order to "re-conquer what had belonged to his ancestor". It is not
Shapur II thought his ancestor was, probably the Achaemenids
or the legendary Kayanian dynasty. During the reign of Shapur II,
the title of “the divine Mazda-worshipping, king of kings of the
Iranians, whose image/seed is from the gods” disappears from the
coins that were minted. He was also the last Sasanian king to claim
lineage from the gods.
Under Shapur II, coins were minted in copper, silver and gold,
however, a great amount of the copper coins were made on Roman
planchet, which is most likely from the riches that the Sasanians took
from the Romans. The weight of the coins also changed from 7.20 g to
Besides the construction of the war-i tāzigān near al-Hira, Shapur
II is also known to have created several other cities. He created a
royal city called Eranshahr-Shapur, where he settled Roman prisoners
of war. He also rebuilt and repopulated Nisibis in 363 with people
Istakhr and Spahan. In Asoristan, he founded Wuzurg-Shapur
("Great Shapur"), a city on the west side of the Tigris. He also
Susa after having destroyed it when suppressing a revolt,
renaming it Eran-Khwarrah-Shapur ("Iran's glory [built by]
Under Shapur II's reign the collection of the
Avesta was completed,
heresy and apostasy punished, and the Christians persecuted (see
Acepsimas of Hnaita and Aba of Kashkar). This was a
reaction against the
Christianization of the
Roman Empire by
^ Tafazzoli 1983, p. 477.
^ a b Al-Tabari 1991, p. 50.
^ Shahbazi 2004, pp. 461-462.
^ a b Daryaee 2009, p. 16.
^ a b c d e f g h i Daryaee 2009.
^ a b Frye 1983, p. 136.
^ Potts 2012.
^ a b c
Touraj Daryaee (2009), Sasanian Persia, London and New York:
I.B.Tauris, p. 17
^ a b c d
Touraj Daryaee (2009), Sasanian Persia, London and New York:
I.B.Tauris, p. 19
^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 58.
^ This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Shapur".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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,
Daryaee, Touraj (2009). Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an
Empire. I.B.Tauris. pp. 1–240. ISBN 0857716662.
Shapur Shahbazi, A. (2005). "SASANIAN DYNASTY". Encyclopaedia Iranica,
Online Edition. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
Tafazzoli, Ahmad (1989). "BOZORGĀN". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. IV,
Fasc. 4. Ahmad Tafazzoli. p. 427.
Daryaee, Touraj (2009). "SHAPUR II". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
Shahbazi, A. Shapur (2004). "HORMOZD (2)". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol.
XII, Fasc. 5. pp. 461–462.
Tafazzoli, Ahmad (1983). "ĀDUR NARSEH". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol.
I, Fasc. 5. p. 477.
Potts, Daniel T. (2012). "ARABIA ii. The Sasanians and Arabia".
Al-Tabari, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir (1991). Yar-Shater, Ehsan,
ed. The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume V: The Sasanids, the
Byzantines, the Lakhmids, and Yemen. Trans. Clifford Edmund Bosworth.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Sozomen, Hermias (2018). Walford, Edward, ed. The Ecclesiastical
History of Sozomen. Merchantville, NJ: Evolution Publishing.
p. 59. ISBN 978-1-935228-15-8.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shapur II.
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)
Adur Narseh (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