IRANIAN HISTORY: SASANIAN DYNASTY
Sasanian Irredentism and the Foundation of Constantinople: Historical Truth and Historical Reality
Racked as it was by constant civil wars, the empire was the less
able to resist foreign aggression, and unluckily its enemies were at this time
particularly active. On the eastern frontier the Parthians had offered no
serious threat, but during the reign of Alexander Severus a revolution took
place, and the Persian dynasty of the Sassanids established itself. The
Sassanids were much more efficient rulers than the Arsacids, and moreover
revived the national pride of the Persian people, restoring the old faith of
Zoroastrianism and recalling the glories of the Achaemenids. The new dynasty
nursed irredentist ambitions of recovering all the territories which the ancient
Persian kings had ruled, Syria, Egypt and Asia Minor, and the Roman Empire was
henceforth continually menaced by an aggressive eastern neighbour, who on
several occasions invaded Mesopotamia and Syria.
Of course, there is inevitably an element of anachronism in the
attempt to apply to the circumstances and values prevailing in the Roman and
Persian empires in the third century CE a term bred of nineteenth-century
European nationalism such as the word "irredentist," but once due allowance is
made for the inherent distinction between a national and a dynastic concept of
sovereignty the term provides us with a convenient label for a historical
phenomenon which deserves to be investigated. It will be the object of the
present paper, therefore, to re-examine the few, relatively meagre, pieces of
evidence upon which this theory of dynastic irredentism has been constructed.
But before that can be done, it will be necessary to distinguish as far as
possible the various but interrelated strands of interpretation with which this
particular notion has been overlaid. For it is clear from A. H. M. Jones'
reference to "irredentist ambitions" in the passage just quoted that such a
notion is presented as forming an integral part of a more general and
comprehensive description of the essentially revolutionary role attributed there
to the Sasanian dynasty. What is described amounts in fact to a sort of
programme for national renaissance, ranging from increased administrative
efficiency to heightened national pride, from the restoration of Zoroastrianism
to its pristine state to the revival of the memory of the former glories of the
Achaemenids and culminating in the aspiration to recover all lost territories
once held by that ancient dynasty.
Now it is precisely this kind of overall picture of the
Sasanians, with its implied antithetical view of their immediate predecessors,
the Arsacids, which in many of its detailed assumptions has been increasingly
challenged by specialists in Iranian history. Particularly important in this
respect is an article by the distinguished Iranist, Ehsan Yar-Shater, published
in 1971 and entitled "Were the Sasanians heirs to the Achaemenids?"
Significantly, the writer of this article sets out to build up by means of
selective quotation from earlier scholars a general view of the Sasanians,
not unlike that conveyed by Jones, most of which he successfully demolishes in
the course of his discussion. Most but not all: and that too is important.
But let us confine our attention for the moment to the question
of dynastic irredentism as evidenced by our sources, such as they are.
Our first piece of evidence is important, concerning as it does
the founder of the dynasty, Ardashir, and because it comes from the pen of a
contemporary, the historian Cassius Dio. In the latter connection it should
perhaps also be noted that, where he deals with the events of his own times,
Dio's information is derived both from the direct experience of public life and
from personal contact with other, similarly placed, individuals, so that his
testimony is often of considerable value.
Placed in its immediate context (without which it becomes
unintelligible, the passage runs roughly as follows.
There were many rebellions involving large numbers of people,
some of which caused great alarm, but they were all put down. But the situation
in Mesopotamia was more alarming and struck a more genuine terror in the hearts
of all, not just the Romans but the rest of mankind as well. Artaxerxes, a
Persian, after conquering the Parthians in three battles and slaying their king,
Artabanus, marched against Hatra in an attempt to convert it into a base for
operations against the Romans. He did in fact manage to break the wall but he
lost a considerable number of soldiers as a result of an ambush and so turned
his attack against Media. By a combination of force and intimidation he took
over a large part of that country and of Parthia and then moved against Armenia.
Here he suffered a reverse at the hands of the local population, certain Medes
and the sons of Artabanus and fled according to one report, but withdrew
according to another with a view to equipping a larger force. Consequently, he
gave us cause for alarm when he bore down with a large army not just on
Mesopotamia but also on Syria, threatening that he would recover everything that
the ancient Persians had once held as far as the Greek Sea, on the grounds that
all this too belonged to him through his forefathers. He does not pose any
serious threat in himself, but what does cause alarm is the fact that the morale
of our troops is such that some are actually joining him and others are refusing
to defend themselves.
Dio's account, despite the fact that it must have suffered some
loss and dislocation at the hands of its epitomizer,
is in the main relatively clear and straightforward. It is important to note
that the extent of the territorial claim is concisely but clearly stated:
Mesopotamia, Syria and the whole of Asia Minor. Yet, equally significant is the
absence of any mention of Egypt, display of antiquarian learning or rhetorical
infilling of the subject matter. Perhaps the reality underlying such a statement
is a vague territorial claim capable of indefinite extension and adapted to suit
the military possibilities of the moment. The abrupt and matter-of-fact
reference to Roman soldiers changing sides and refusing to fight is, on the face
of it, astonishing. Were these defections the work of Iranian elements within
the Roman frontier forces? Unfortunately, it is impossible to do more than
speculate owing to the brevity of the notice and the lack of supporting
On the other hand, the version of these events given by another
contemporary, the historically less reliable Herodian,
attributes to the Sasanian Ardashir certain views about the Achaemenids and
their empire which are so obviously drawn from the classical historiographical
tradition as to render their discussion superfluous.
Accordingly, the next piece of evidence to be considered must be extracted from
a work that belongs to a completely different historical period and intellectual
milieu. The work in question is the world history of Tabari, first published in
the first decade of the tenth century.
Close to the beginning of that part of the pre-Islamic section of his history
which deals with the Sasanians, Tabari, in fact, informs us that:
When five hundred and twenty-three years according to the
reckoning of the Christians and the people of the First Book (two hundred and
sixty-six years according to the reckoning of the Magi) had passed since
Alexander's taking possession of the land of Babylon, Ardashir the son of Papak
Shah, King of Khir, son of the younger Sasan etc. [a long double genealogy
follows] rose up in Fars seeking, according to his claim, blood-revenge for his
remote ancestral cousin Dara, the son of Dara, the son of Bahman the son of
who had fought against Alexander and whose two chamberlains had turned against
him and murdered him. He would, he said, restore the monarchy to its family and
to what it still was in the days of his ancestors and forefathers who had passed
away before (the time of) the petty kings and he would unite it under one leader
and one king.
What is attributed to Ardeshir inn the present passage, in the
present passage, then is an undertaking to secure blood-vengeance, on behalf of
the last Achaemenid, a claim to descent from the Achaemenids via a junior branch
of the dynasty and a further undertaking to bring about the full restoration of
that dynasty's former sovereignty. There is in fact no express mention of any
undertaking to recover lost territory but the one notion would appear to follow
from and be implicit in the other.
But before embarking on any further discussion of the material so
far adduced, we must now turn our attention to a third, no less significant,
piece of information. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary
of the events which he is at this point describing and a man with direct recent
military experience of the affairs of the Eastern frontier, gives us what
purports to be the gist of a letter (belonging to the period CE 357-358) from
Shapur II to the Roman emperor Constantius.
The part of that letter which concerns us here may be rendered as follows:
I Shapur, King of Kings, partner with the stars, brother of the Sun and Moon, offer to my brother Constantius Caesar most cordial greetings.
I rejoice and am glad at last that you have returned to the best
course and have come to acknowledge the incorruptible verdict of justice through
actual experience of the havoc caused on various occasions by persistent
covetousness of what belongs to others. Since, therefore, a consideration of the
truth ought to be free and unfettered and it is proper that persons of exalted
rank should speak their mind I shall state my purpose briefly, recalling that
what I am about to say I have often repeated. That my ancestors held sway as far
as the river Strymon and the boundaries of Macedonia your ancient records also
bear witness; these lands it behoves me to demand, since (and may my assertion
not be construed as arrogance) I surpass the kings of ancient times in the
length and splendour of the list of my outstanding and heroic exploits. But on
all occasions right reason is my chief concern. I have been wedded to it from my
earliest youth and have never undertaken to do anything that I had cause to
regret. Accordingly, it is my bounden duty to recover Armenia together with
Mesopotamia, which carefully planned deception wrested from my grandfather. The
view which you triumphantly uphold, granting universal approval to all success
in war and making no distinction between virtue and deceit, will never gain
acceptance amongst us.
The territorial claim attributed by Ammianus to Shapur II is in
fact much the same as that attributed by Dio to Ardashir in connection with the
latter's campaign of some one hundred twenty-seven years earlier.
What is remarkable, however, is Shapur's suggestion that he is
prepared to waive a part of that claim. And it is perhaps even more significant
that the part exempted should be the area at the northwestern most edge of the
Achaemenian empire, an admittedly unspecified area extending "as far as the
river Strymon and the boundaries of Macedonia," as he puts it. Such a waiver,
made over a century and a quarter after Ardashir's triumphant promise to
"recover everything that the ancient Persians once held as far as the Greek Sea"
and twenty-seven years after the foundation of Constantinople, looks very much
like a tacit concession to a radically altered reality. Also interesting is the
reference to Mesopotamia and Armenia having been wrested by stealth from
Shapur's grandfather, reflecting a disregard for the known facts of recent
history which throws further light on the true import of this letter. In the
summer of 296, Shapur's grandfather, Narseh I, invaded Syria but later suffered
a crushing defeat at the hands of Galerius, losing in the process not only a
huge booty but also the royal harem and children. The upshot of all this was the
acceptance of a treaty which entailed the surrender of Mesopotamia and the
establishment of a Roman protectorate over Armenia.
Moreover, the territory thus wrested from Narseh had changed hands frequently
according to the fortunes of war as a result of the policy of territorial
aggrandizement first pursued by Ardashir and systematically renewed by his
successors whenever circumstances allowed it and, of course, thanks to the
capacity and determination of the Romans to hold onto their empire.
Finally, the statement "your ancient records also bear witness" might, at first sight, suggest direct access to and interest in the facts preserved by the classical historiographical tradition. That is unlikely to have been the case. With the aid of his highly trained secretariat, Shapur might indeed have informed himself or been informed on this particular point, yet such a move will have been prompted not by historical curiosity but by political expediency. When historical arguments are invoked in order to serve as diplomatic bargaining counters it is unlikely that much concern will be felt for the notion of historical truth.
Having reached this point in our analysis, it seems not
inappropriate to return to some of the issues raised by Yar-Shater in his
article. He argues in particular that by the time of the Sasanians all accurate
recollection of the Achaemenian period had been lost (he even speaks of
but that the Sasanians waged a successful propaganda campaign against the
dynasty they had ousted, portraying the Arsacids as the traducers of the true
Iranian tradition in matters both civil and religious and themselves as its
All this is no doubt true and the case is cogently argued, as he skillfully
sifts through a somewhat amorphous body of very late romantic and legendary
material in order to demonstrate just how massively the historical record of the
Achaemenian period had in the course of time become garbled, distorted and
overlaid with fiction and myth.
However, when it comes to the question of Sasanian irredentism his position is
confused and contradictory. After a few brief and sketchy references to the
relevant passages in Dio, Ammianus, Tabari and Herodian, Yar-Shater concludes:
"Reading Herodian and Tabari, one would think that the Sasanians had a good
knowledge of the Achaemenids and were conversant with their history. Yet Noldeke
is able to state that the Sasanians, particularly in the time of Chosroe I, "had
almost no information about the Achaemenids. They were only in possession of a
tradition according to which a Dara had been killed by a wicked Alexander, and
before this Dara another Dara had ruled.”
What is one to make of such an assertion? The position stated by Noldeke is in
fact exactly that reflected in the relevant passage in Tabari which I have
translated and discussed. Herodian I have omitted from discussion since, as
already pointed out, his contribution is, in this particular case, historically
valueless. Both Dio and Ammianus attribute to Ardashir and Shapur respectively a
relatively imprecise knowledge of the territorial extent of the Achaemenian
which they themselves could have filled out with familiar inherited material,
had they so wished. The fact that they do nothing of the kind is an eloquent
testimony to their basic historical honesty and accuracy in this particular
matter. Furthermore, neither classical author attributes to either Sasanian king
any knowledge of the Achaemenids themselves: they are simply referred to in the
first instance as the "ancient Persians" and in the second as the ancient kings.
But the substantial concurrence of these two writers with Tabari, who must in
this matter reflect the Iranian tradition,
constitutes an overwhelming proof of the existence, for the early Sasanians at
least, of imprecisely formulated but nonetheless powerful and deeply felt
irredentist aspirations. That these aspirations could be adapted to suit
changing circumstances is clear from what Ammianus tells us and it is even
possible that their very vagueness may have assisted both their opportunistic
modification and their indefinite retention. Our final task, therefore, is to
consider what happened to Sasanian irredentism in the remaining period of
Sasanian history. Was it lost sight of in the circumstances of a profoundly
altered reality? Was it ever revived?
The first question is difficult to answer with any degree of
certainty, but the fact that from CE 363 to 502 there ensued a period of one
hundred forty years of peace broken only by two minor wars (in 420-422 and
440-442) would seem to suggest at least the possibility of a shift of emphasis
in the diplomatically stated Iranian position.
Moreover, in our record of the four wars which took place in the fifty-five years from 502-557 there appears to be no mention of Iranian irredentist objectives, only a general impression of wars fought for immediate, limited or short-term, financial and strategic gains. Indeed an even later piece of negative evidence is perhaps not entirely without significance in that Agathias, writing after the accession of Justin at a time when Byzantine-Iranian relations were far from cordial, should confine himself to explaining the extent and nature of Shapur I's incursions into Roman territory solely in terms of the arrogance and elation induced by his defeat and capture of the Roman emperor Valerian. If the Byzantine perception of Iranian aims has shifted in the intervening three centuries, that might perhaps reflect a differently perceived contemporary reality on both the Byzantine and the Iranian sides. But it is not until the flight in March 570 of Khusrau II to the Byzantine frontier and his appeal to the emperor Maurice for protection against the usurper Bahrain Chobin and for assistance to help him regain his throne that we find once more attributed to a Sasanian monarch a statement on the existing and ideal relationship between the two empires. This time the source is the historian Theophylact Simocatta who wrote his history during the first two decades of the reign of Heraclius at the time of the last and deadliest Byzantine-Iranian conflict.
The statement in question occurs in the first part of a letter
which Khusrau sent after his arrival at Circesium to the emperor Maurice and of
which Theophylact claims to give an accurate and relatively literal rendering.
The relevant portion runs roughly as follows:
To the most prudent emperor of the Romans, a beneficent, peaceful sovereign, lover of true lineage and hater of usurpers, clement, exacting in the pursuit of justice, saviour to those who are wronged, both ready to do good deeds and to forget evil ones, from Chosroes emperor of the Persians greetings. The Deity has brought it about from the very beginning that the world should be illumined by two eyes, so to speak, that is, by the most powerful realm of the Romans and the most prudent sceptre of the Persian state. For it is by these paramount powers that the unruly and warlike peoples are winnowed and the conduct of men is ordered and guided throughout. And one can see that the course of events is consistent with our words. Moreover, since certain sinister and wicked demons who wander about the world are hastening to subvert in its entirety the good order of things ordained by God, even though their attempt is unsuccessful, it is right that men who enjoy the favour of heaven and are most pious should fight against them, receiving as they do from God a storehouse of wisdom and the strong arm and weapons of justice.
Now, in these days the most destructive demons have attacked the
Persian state and inflicted terrible damage, enlisting slaves against their
masters, servants of the palace against the monarchy, disorder against order,
impropriety against decorum, and supplying weapons to the enemies of good deeds.
For Bahrain, that abominable slave who was raised to dazzling heights by our
ancestors, could not contain the greatness of his glory and has kicked over the
traces and followed the road to ruin, and courting kingship for himself has
thrown the entire Persian state into disarray.
Certain features of this extract deserve special comment and
elucidation. Firstly, the formula of address in the intitulatio is
accommodated to the central message and specific occasion of the letter, which
is an appeal from one monarch to another for help against a usurper. This
example is by no means isolated and comparison may prove instructive. Secondly,
what follows immediately is a clear statement of acceptance in principle of the
idea of the necessary coexistence of the Sasanian and Byzantine empires. This is
not the first such statement known to the extant record. Peter the Patrician,
in fact, writing in the reign of Justinian about the events of CE 296 when
Narseh I was disastrously defeated after invading Syria, lost the royal harem
and children and was reduced to suing for peace
puts into the mouth of the Persian envoy Appharban the following assertion: "It
is universally recognised that the Roman and the Persian monarchies are as it
were two luminaries; and it is proper, just as for eyes, that the one should be
adorned with the brilliance of the other and that they should not be constantly
at odds so as to effect their mutual extinction."
It is interesting to note, incidentally, that in both cases this formal
concession in principle to existing reality was made for outside consumption and
under the constraint of dire necessity. Imagery and phraseology are strikingly
similar and may, to a certain extent, be paralleled, complemented and explained
by material contained in other specimens of what purport to be translations of
official Sasanian correspondence.
Thirdly, the present extract concludes with a denunciation made in terms of
traditional Zoroastrian piety and of the Sasanian notion of strict dynastic
legitimacy, of the usurper Bahram Chobin, which is perhaps a further indication
of the underlying authenticity of this document.
However, to return to the earlier instance of professed acceptance in principle
of the idea of the necessary coexistence of the two empires, it is not without
significance that little more than sixty years after Narseh's envoy, Appharban
had expressed such sentiments, Shapur II's letter to Constantius as recorded by
Ammianus revives in toto the old irredentist claim. Moreover, the formula
of address in the intitulatio (in this case the titles assumed by the
sender) is again accommodated to the general import of the letter, since Shapur
refers to himself as "brother of the Sun and Moon," which can only mean that he
is laying claim to the territory of both empires.
Of course, every peace treaty concluded between the two powers was a concession
in practice to the idea of coexistence, but we have only two such explicit
official concessions in principle on record in the whole of what has come down
to us of Sasanian-Roman relations, and there is a distinct possibility that such
a concession was never made amongst Iranians inside Iran and her empire. Khusrau
II, in fact shortly before his flight to Byzantium, when writing to Bahram
Chobin in a last and desperate bid to secure his allegiance, begins with an
impressive array of high-sounding titles applied to himself among which is the
expression "who rises with the sun and who bestows his eyes on the night,”
which, if it has any precise meaning, would appear to indicate a claim to
undivided sovereignty over East and West.
But when we pass from a few suggestive hints of the survival
throughout the Sasanian dynasty's long history of an undiminished inner
conviction of its undivided sovereignty over the whole of an ill-defined
ancestral domain to evidence of any serious attempt to translate such vague
aspirations into reality, it would appear that after the early Sasanians there
is none until we come to the reign of Khusrau II and the strange circumstances
of his restoration. Accordingly, before turning to that monarch's actions and to
what can be gathered of his intentions in the conduct of a war during which he
succeeded briefly in wresting from the Romans practically all the territory
which had once been held by the Achaemenians, one anecdote, which Theophylact
Simocatta relates on the authority of a contemporary and eyewitness, Probus
bishop of Chalcedon,
deserves mention. It throws an interesting sidelight both on the intoxicating
potential of the irredentist dream and on the superstitious and impressionable
nature of the young Khusrau. We are told that
when the emperor Maurice had sent him [i.e., Probus] to Chosroes
in Ctesiphon, he was summoned one day at high noon to the palace, where
Chosroes, bathed in sweat, demanded of the priest to see an ikon of the Mother
of God. The prelate, who carried about with him her image on a tablet, granted a
view of it to the Persian king. After doing homage to the ikon, he declared that
its original had stood beside him and told him that she had bestowed upon him
the victories of Alexander of Macedon;
and yet Chosroes had only just been restored to his kingdom and overcome the
usurper and his supporters by the armed might of the emperor's decisive
Weak and humiliated, an untried ruler restored to an imperilled
throne by a traditionally hostile foreign power, Khusrau, who was still
may fairly be suspected of having indulged at this juncture in what has been
Yet, eleven years later, he was afforded the unique opportunity of combining
self-aggrandizement and the possibility of realizing some of his youthful
irredentist fantasies with virtuous conduct: his friend and benefactor, Maurice,
was put to death by the usurper Phocas, clearly pretext enough for an invasion
of Byzantine territory. When, however, in 610 Herachus, the son of the Exarch of
Africa, in Gibbon's words "punished a tyrant and ascended his throne,"
Khusrau's position became more complicated. The embassy sent by Heraclius in 610
to the Persian court to announce his accession and to sue for peace was
perfunctorily dismissed and its members put to death, and the delegation sent
five years later by the Byzantine Senate, possibly in the hope of legitimizing
Heraclius' position in the eyes of the Sasanian monarch, fared no better. By 619
Khusrau's armies had occupied Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and finally
the whole of Egypt. What had started off ostensibly as a war of high-minded
revenge had in fact become a war of reconquest. No Sasanian had ever come so
close to restoring the ancient boundaries of the Achaemenian Empire. And so, in
the twenty-fourth year of his reign the now mature Khusrau sent a letter to
Heraclius, preserved in a literary adaptation in the Armenian historical work
commonly ascribed to Sebeos,
from which it is clear that he had come to regard Herachus not as a fellow
emperor or even as a usurper but as a rebellious subject and had resolved to
annex what little still remained of the once great rival empire.
The sequel is too well known to need repeating: how the reckless
pursuit of total war left the Sasanian empire in ruins, seriously weakened the
Byzantine state's capacity for effective action and left the way open for the
gigantic convulsion of the Arab conquests and the virtual and permanent
redrawing of the map of the Middle East. Yet, it is perhaps no exaggeration to
say that behind the complex web of proximate and remoter causes-Justin II's
embarking on Byzantium's only aggressive war against Iran, the revolt of Bahram
Chobin, the circumstances of Maurice's restoration of Khusrau II, the murder of
Maurice by Phocas, Khusrau's own particular psychological makeup and so on-there
lurks a single if ambiguous constant: that call for a return to the glories of a
dimly recollected past which provided a watchword for the first Sasanian's
aggressive acts against a neighbouring power and became embedded in the birth
legend of an entire dynasty. In the relatively short space of 398 years Iran
fought no less than twenty-two wars with the Roman State,
figuring as the principal aggressor in all but one. And as for the accurate
knowledge of their ancient past, which the Sasanians clearly lacked, such lack
of knowledge has never proved a serious impediment to a suitably determined
attempt to restore the past or to return to some fancied previous state of
knowledge or existence.
Examples of such attempted returns are indeed not unknown to the
nationalisms of modern times, though in such cases one can plead neither
historical ignorance nor historical amnesia in mitigation of their consequences,
but only advert to a conscious move from the intellectual detachment of history
to the revolutionary potential of myth.
 A. H. M. Jones, The Later
Roman Empire, 284-602 (Oxford, 1973/, vol. 1, p. 25.
 Atti del convegno
internazionale sul terra: La Persia nel Medioevo, Accademia Nazionale dei
Lincei (Rome, 1971 ), Quaderno n. 160, pp. 517-31.
 Ibid., 517-18.
 Cf. Fergus Millar, A Study
of Cassius Dio (Oxford, 1964/, esp. pp. 171-73.
 Cf. Dio's Roman History,
Loeb Classical Library, vol. 9, pp. 482-84/80.4. The translation is mine.
 For a short discussion of
the problem cf. Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio, pp. 1-4.
 Cf. the remarks of Fergus
Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio, pp. 124; p. 163, n. 4. Herodian is not above
inventing material to suit his purpose.
 Herodian 6.2.1-2. In
particular, the territorial claim is linked to the transference of the
Median Empire to the first Achaemenid, Cyrus, and the dynasty's succession
up to its last ruler, Darius. Incidentally, the territory laid claim to in
Herodian corresponds exactly to that in Dio: once again no mention of Egypt.
 For the genre cf. the
useful discussion in F. Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, 2d
rev. ed. (Leiden, 1968/, pp. 133ff., and for the date ibid., p. 71, n. 2.
 The last common link in
the genealogies of Dara and Ardashir. Incidentally, the expressions "in
Fars" and "the son of Bahman" appear, unaccountably, to have fallen out of
Noldeke's authoritative German translation.
 Ed. M. J. de Goeje, Prima
Series, vol. 2, pp. 813-14. German translation and commentary in Th.
Noldeke, Geschichte der Perser and Araber zur Zeit der Sasanider (Leiden,
1879/, pp. 1-3.
 We know that in 353 he
was attached by the emperor's order to the staff of Ursicinus,
commanderin-chief of the army in the East, and that he joined him at Nisibis
in Mesopotamia, for which cf. Ammianus 14.9.1.
 Not, as Yar-Shater, p.
517 (see n. 2 above/, states, Constantinus'.
 Ammianus Marcellinus,
Loeb Classical Library, vol. 1, pp. 332-34/17.5.3-7. The translation is
 For the date of
Ardashir's attack cf. CAH, vol. 12, p. 127.
 Ibid., pp. 335-37.
 For this secretariat and
the extensive diplomatic functions which it exercised cf. A. Christensen,
L'Iran sous les Sassanides, 2d ed. (Copenhagen, 1944/, pp. 132-36.
 Ibid., p. 519.
 Ibid., pp. 525-30.
 Ibid., pp. 521-25.
 Ibid., p. 518.
 The only exact knowledge
of historical geography recorded in this regard is the reference in Ammianus
17.5.5 to territory "ad usque Strymona flumen et Macedonicos fines."
Significantly, this is the territorial claim which Shapur professes to be
ready to overlook. Its implementation would have meant the annexation of the
Roman Empire's new capital. Moreover, that the claim is made in connection
with a reference to "antiquitates vestrae" would suggest at least the
possibility that it is the product not of Ammianus' historical imagination
but of informed and calculated Sasanian diplomacy. It might, of course, be
argued (though only on the hypothesis of historically conditioned selective
interpolation) that such a measure of precision reflects not Sasanian
diplomacy but fourth-century Roman concern at the threat to their new power
centre posed by the altered situation on their Eastern frontier, but even
such a possibility would do little to impugn the general solidity of the
evidence so far adduced for irredentist aspirations on the part of the early
 Cf. Rosenthal, A History
of Muslim Historiography, p. 75, "It is common knowledge that none of the
classical works of Greek historiography ever reached the Arabs."
 Viz.: 502-507, 527-532,
540-547 and 549-557.
 For the time of writing
cf. A. Cameron, Agathias (Oxford, 1970), pp. 9-11.
 Ed. Keydell, 4.24.3-4.
 Cf. for this claim
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae, ed. C. de Boor, rev. P. Wirth (Stuttgart,
1972), p. 169, lines 11-15.
 Ibid., p. 169, line 16-p.
170, line 14.
 An experienced diplomat,
he was appointed magister officiorum in 538, in which capacity he gained
extensive firsthand experience of ByzantineIranian relations. Cf. for a
useful short discussion, S. Impellizzeri, La letteratura bizantina da
Constantino agli iconoclasti (Bari, 1965), pp. 239-42.
 Cf. Eutropius, ed. F.
Ruehl (Stuttgart, 1887), 9.22; 9.24-25, and Peter the Patrician, fragment
13, lines 1-3; K. Muller, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (Paris, 1851), p.
 Ibid., lines 4-9.
 There is some useful
discussion of relevant epistulary conventions and formulae in K. Guterbock,
Byzanz and Persien in ihren diploma tisch-volkerrechtlichen Beziehungen im
Zeitalter Justinians (Berlin, 1906), pp. 8-10. Also in Nicolas Oikonomides,
"Correspondence between Herachus and KavadhSiroe in the Paschal Chronicle
(628)," Byzantion 41 (1971), pp. 274-75. But this particular aspect of the
subject requires further investigation.
 So also Giiterbock,
Byzanz and Persien, p. 32, n. 1, and P. Goubert, Byzance avant L'Islam, vol.
1 (Paris, 1951), p. 135 and n. 3 for a similar view of the religious
content, for which in general cf. M. Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious
Beliefs and Practices (London, 1986), pp. 21-24. I cannot understand on what
basis Peter Schreiner, Theophylaktos Simokates, Geschichte (Stuttgart,
1985), p. 300, n. 566, is able to conclude that "Der ganze Satz ist Ausdruck
einer christlichen Weltordnung."
 Ammianus Marcellinus,
17.5, "frater Solis et Lunae" for further elucidation of which expression
cf. Malalas 449, 19-20, the Persian king as the "eastern sun" and the Roman
Empire as the "western moon" in connection with a letter sent from Kavad to
Justinian in 529 after the latter had sent the customary letter to announce
his accession. The adoption of such a conceit conferred upon the Sasanian
monarch the distinct advantage that, even when obliged through force of
circumstances to make some concession to the principle of coexistence, he
could, by claiming for himself the role of the sun, still retain something
of the traditional notion of an ancestral concept of preeminent sovereignty.
 Theoph. Sim., p. 164,
 Ibid., p. 217, lines
7-10. Cf. T. Olajos, Les sources de Theophylact Simocatta historien (Leiden,
1988), p. 151, who classifies this material as directly imparted oral
information from an eyewitness.
 Such a claim from a
Sasanian emperor in such circumstances can only suggest a return to the
status quo ante Alexandrum.
 Theoph. Sim., p. 217,
 In connection with the
events of February 590 (i.e., anything from two to four years earlier)
Theoph. Sim., p. 154, line 22, refers to him as "the boy" and Sebeos, ed.
Malxasian, p. 36, line 6, describes him as "a mere boy." Olajos, op. cit.,
p. 170 suggests after 593 as, a possible date for Probus' mission, but
Theophylact's vague expression (p. 217, line 7) "ou ~tsTn noXu," "not long
afterwards" merely suggests a relatively short lapse of time: it does not
allow us to establish a chronology. Michael Whitby, The Emperor Maurice and
His Historian (Oxford, 1988), p. 241, claims on the basis of a by no means
certain identification with a mission led by a bishop of Chalcedon recorded
in the Chronicle of Seert, that "the embassy of Probus can be dated to 596
or later." I see no advantage in such a procedure, which seems to rob
Theophylact's anecdote of much of its point.
 . Initially, according to
Theophylact (p. 210, lines 4-7), Khusrau felt so insecure after his return
that he asked the emperor Maurice for a onethousand-strong bodyguard to
protect him against the possible threat of assassination, a request to which
Maurice acceded (p. 212, lines 6-7). On another occasion, not long before
his return, he had had to put up with taunts and ridicule at the hands of
the Roman general, John Mystakon, for alleged impulsiveness and indiscipline
(p. 216, lines 16-23) and had pointed out that in normal circumstances the
general would not have dared address so exalted a personage with such
 E. Gibbon, The Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J. B. Bury, vol. 5 (London, 1898), p. 174.
 For a study of the
Armenian version's relationship to its own historical and literary context
and to that of the lost original cf. J. D. Frendo, "The Territorial
Ambitions of Chosroes II, an Armenian View?," Florilegium 7 (1985), pp.
 S. Malxasian, Sebeosi
Episkoposi Patmut`iwn (Erevan, 1939), p. 91, line 22-p. 92, line 19.
 44. CE 230-232; 237-238;
242-243; 252; 254260; 262; 267; 282-283; 296; 338; 346; 348; 350; 359-363;
420-422; 440-442; 502-507; 527-532; 540547; 549-557; 572-591; 605-628.