IRANIAN HISTORY: SASANIAN DYNASTY
UNDER THE SASANIAN IRAN
Sasanian occupation of Egypt
The occupation of Egypt, beginning in 619 or 618 (Altheim-Stiehl, 1991), was one of the triumphs in the last Sasanian war against Byzantium. Khosrow II Parvęz (Abarwęz; 590-628, with interruption) had begun this war in retaliation for the assassination of the emperor Mauricius (582-602) and had achieved a series of early successes, culminating in the conquests of Jerusalem (614) and Alexandria (619). A Byzantine counteroffensive launched by Heraclius in spring 622 shifted the advantage, however, and the war was brought to an end by the fall of Khosrow on 25 February 628 (Frye, pp. 167-70). His son and successor, Kavâd II Šęrôe (Šęrôy), who reigned until September, concluded a peace treaty returning territories conquered by the Sasanians to the eastern Roman empire.
Greek papyrus documents provide some termini for the arrival of the Persian conquerors in particular districts of Egypt. These termini show that Nomos Arsinoites was occupied some time after 21 July 618 (Äegyptische Urkunden, no. 725) and Nomos Oxyrhynchites some time between 5 July 619 (Kalbfleisch, III, no. 49) and 12 January 620 (Oxyrhynchus LVIII, no. 3959). The evidence from an anonymous Jacobite Syriac chronicle, in which the Sasanian conquest of Alexandria is assigned to June 619, is consistent with the mentioned termini ("Chronicon Miscellaneum," p. 146 ll. 25-27). The information from later chronographies, in which the conquest of the whole of Egypt is dated to the 6th or 7th year of Heraclius' reign, is thus incorrect (Boor, p. 301 ll. 8-11; Chabot, 1910, p. 404, col. 2 ll. 13-19; idem, 1920, p. 227 ll. 3-5; Bedjan, p. 94 ll. 21-27). In the anonymous Syriac chronicle the withdrawal of Sasanian troops from Alexandria is dated to a period corresponding to June 629 ("Chronicon Miscellaneum," p. 146 ll. 28-30). New evidence can also be expected from the excavations at Abű Mînâ (Grossmann, pp. 182-85).
The survival of many Middle Persian papyrus documents attests the presence of Sasanian occupation forces in Egypt through language, script, and use of the Zoroastrian calendar. In addition, there are more specific indications. For example, in one papyrus Persian military stations are listed (Weber, 1992, no. 55; for a dated Sasanian papyrus from Egypt, see Blois). Greek and Coptic documents also include references to particular incidents. For example, the father of a family who had fled before the Persians to Arsinoë in the Fayyűm wrote in Greek on papyrus to his master, complaining that the Persians had abducted him from his home, tortured him into unconsciousness, and then robbed him of his children (Zereteli, app., pp. 99-105). In a Coptic letter on papyrus found in the monastery of Epiphanius in western Thebes a woman asked a revered person for instruction in the matter of the Persians (Crum, 1926a, no. 433). Another Coptic letter from the same monastery, written on a potsherd, presupposes the Sasanian occupation of Thebes (Nę); the writer mentions someone called "(the) Persian that is in Nę," presumably the Sasanian chief official there (Crum, 1926a, no. 324). In a Coptic letter on a sandstone fragment a widow from Jęme sought help from Pisentius, bishop of Hermonthis: The Persians had murdered her son and taken all her livestock, so that she was unable to pay her taxes and was in serious danger of being evicted from her home (Drescher). In a Coptic letter on a potsherd from Thebes a man and his family are said to have been forced to flee before the Persians (Crum, 1939, no. 67). A Coptic papyrus from Nomos Hermopolites was addressed by fourteen villagers to their lord, whose name, Peręs (?) Kôsrôi, was presumably Persian (MacCoull, p. 311); they promised "by God and the good fortune [khúarrah] of the king of kings," to deliver a fixed quantity of flax in fourteen days. The date of this document corresponds to 8 November 625 (Till, no. 48). In a Greek papyrus letter a person named Serenus reported to his lord that he could not do his work because he had fallen into the hands of the Persians (Kalbfleisch, II, no. 22). Three Greek papyri from Oxyrhynchus include references to large sums of gold that were to be sent to the Sasanian "king of kings"; in two of them instructions issued about the matter by a person named Šahr-Âlânyôzân are also mentioned (Weber, 1991). These documents are dated respectively 19(?) October 623, 6 November 623, and between 26 April and 25 May 624 (Oxyrhynchus LI, no. 3637; XVI, no. 1843; LV, no. 3797).
There is little information on the Sasanians in Egypt from literary sources. In the only surviving Ethiopic translation of the chronicle of John, bishop of Niciu, written in the second half of the 7th century, there is a gap between 610 and 640. Some of the more credible reports are the following. As the conquerors approached Alexandria John III, patriarch of the Chalcedonian church of Egypt, along with the imperial magistrate and commander, Nicetas, fled by boat (Festugieŕre, pp. 402 l. 22-405 l. 14). There had been much tumult in the city, and, when news of the capture of Niciu and Babylon arrrived, a Cypriote monk and his compatriot, a deacon, embarked for home as quickly as possible (Ven, pp. 81 l. 3-82 l. 9). According to a Nestorian Syriac chronicle attributed to Elias, bishop of Merv (?), Alexandria was taken by treachery. The traitor was a Christian Arab who came from the Sasanian-controlled northeastern coast of Arabia (BętŻ QatÂrâyę). The booty and the keys to the city were sent to Yazdîn, minister of finance (vâstaryôšânsâlâr) of the Persian empire, and through him to the Sasanian "king of kings" ("Chronicon Anonymum," pp. 25 l. 22-26 l. 15). Severus b. al-Moqaffa´ (10th century) knew of a palace in Alexandria called Qasr Fâresî (Persian castle; Evetts, 1904, p. 485 ll. 8-10). He also reported that in Alexandria every man between the ages of eighteen and fifty years had been brutally massacred (Evetts, 1904, pp. 485 l. 10-486 l. 3). The Coptic patriarch Andronicus remained in the country, experiencing and witnessing suffering as a result of the occupation (Evetts, 1904, p. 486 ll. 8-11). His successor in 626, Benjamin I, remained in office well beyond the end of the occupation; during his time the Sasanians moderated their policy to a certain extent. When the Persian conquerors approached Coptus, the bishop Pisentius abandoned his episcopal see; with his disciple and biographer, John, he sought refuge at Jęme and later joined the community of Epiphanius in western Thebes (Gawdat, pp. 314-19).
The preceding information is consistent with reports of pillaging and the destruction of Coptic monasteries in Lower Egypt, for instance, at Pelusium (Evetts, 1895, pp. 71 l. 22-72 l. 4). A group of prosperous monasteries not far from Alexandria was ravaged and the monks murdered or exiled (Evetts, 1904, p. 485 ll. 1-5). The monastery of Canopus escaped only because it was difficult for the Persian troops to reach it (Evetts, 1904, p. 487 ll. 3-6). The vacant Coptic bishopric of Latopolis (Isnâ) was taken over by the bishop of Hermonthis "because the Persians did not permit the ordination of new bishops," evidence that the Sasanian conquerors meddled in the administrative affairs of the Coptic church (Forget, p. 345 ll. 11-13).
(for cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see "Short References.")
Äegyptische Urkunden aus den Koeniglichen Museen zu Berlin. Griechische Urkunden III, Berlin, 1903; repr. Milan, 1972.
R. Altheim-Stiehl, "Wurde Alexandria im Juni 619 n. Chr. durch die Perser erobert? Bemerkungen zur zeitlichen Bestimmung der sâsânidischen Besetzung Ägyptens unter Chosrau II. Parwęz," Tyche 6, 1991, pp. 3-16.
Idem, "The Sasanians in Egypt—Some Evidence of Historical Interest," Bulletin de la Socie‚te‚ d'Arche‚ologie Copte 31, 1992a, pp. 87-96.
Idem, "Zur zeitlichen Bestimmung der sâsânidischen Eroberung Ägyptens. Ein neuer Terminus ante quem für Oxyrhynchos ist nachzutragen," in O. Brehm and S. Klie, eds., Musikos Aner. Festschrift für Max Wegner zum 90. Geburtstag, Bonn, 1992b, pp. 5-8.
R. S. Bagnall and K. A. Worp, The Chronological Systems of Byzantine Egypt, Zutphen, the Netherlands, 1978.
Idem, Regnal Formulas in Byzantine Egypt, Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists, Suppl. 2, Missoula, Mont., 1979.
P. Bedjan, ed., Gregorii Barhebraei Chronicon Syriacum, Paris, 1890.
F. de Blois, Review of D. Weber, ed. and tr., Pahlavi Inscriptions IV-V, BSOAS 55, 1992, pp. 377-78.
C. de Boor, ed., Theophanis Chronographia I, Leipzig, 1883; repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1980.
L. Bre‚hier, Le monde byzantin I. Vie et mort de Byzance, Paris, 1946; repr. Paris, 1969 (pp. 51-56).
A. J. Butler, The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion, 2nd ed., ed. P. M. Fraser, Oxford, 1978 (pp. 69-129, 498-507).
J.-B. Chabot, ed., Chronique de Michel le Syrien. Patriarche jacobite d'Antioche (1166-1199) IV, Paris, 1910; repr. Brussels, 1963.
Idem, ed., Chronicon ad Annum Christi 1234 Pertinens I, CSCO 81, Scriptores Syri 36, Louvain, 1920; repr. Louvain, 1953. "Chronicon Anonymum de Ultimis Regibus Persarum," in Chronica Minora I, CSCO 1, Scriptores Syri 1, Louvain, 1903; repr. Louvain, 1960.
"Chronicon Miscellaneum ad Ann. p. Chr. 724 Pertinens," in Chronica Minora II, CSCO 3, Scriptores Syri 3, Louvain, 1904; repr. Louvain, 1960.
W. E. Crum, ed. and tr., "Coptic Ostraca and Papyri," in The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes II, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, New York, 1926a, pp. 3-117, 141-43, 148-52, 155-298, 326-28, 331-41, 343-48.
Idem, "The Literary Material," in The Monastery of Epiphanius at Thebes I, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, New York, 1926b, pp. 98-256.
Idem, ed. and tr., Varia Coptica, Aberdeen, 1939.
J. Drescher, ed. and tr., "A Widow's Petition," Bulletin de la Socie‚te‚ d'Arche‚ologie Copte 10, 1946, pp. 91-96.
B. T. A. Evetts, ed. and tr., The Churches and Monasteries of Egypt and Some Neighbouring Countries, Attributed to Abű Sâlih, the Armenian, Oxford, 1895.
Idem, ed. and tr., History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria II. Peter I to Benjamin I (661), Patrologia Orientalis 1/4, Paris, 1904; repr. Paris, 1948.
A. J. Festugieŕre, ed., Le‚ontios de Ne‚apolis, Vie de Syme‚on le Fou et Vie de Jean de Chypre, Paris, 1974.
J. Forget, ed., Synaxarium Alexan-drinum I, CSCO 47-49, Scriptores Arabici 3-5, Beirut, 1905; repr. Louvain, 1963.
R. N. Frye, "The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians," Camb. Hist. Iran III/1, pp. 116-80. G. A. Gawdat, Untersuchungen zu den Texten über Pesyntheus, Bischof von Koptos (569-632), Bonn, 1984.
H. Gelzer, ed., Leontios' von Neapolis Leben des heiligen Johannes des Barmherzigen, Erzbischofs von Alexandrien, Freiburg and Leipzig, 1893 (pp. 151-53).
M. Gelzer, Studien zur byzantinischen Verwaltung Ägyptens, Leipzig, 1909 (pp. 31-36).
P. Grossmann, Abű Mînâ I. Die Gruftkirche und die Gruft, Mainz, 1989.
E. R. Hardy, Jr., "New Light on the Persian Occupation of Egypt," Journal of the Society of Oriental Research 13, 1929, pp. 185-89.
C. Kalbfleisch, ed., Papyri Iandanae . . . I-IV, Leipzig, 1912-14; V-VIII, Leipzig and Berlin, 1931-38.
L. S. B. MacCoull, "Coptic Egypt during the Persian Occupation, the Papyrological Evidence," Studi Classici e Orientali 36, 1986, pp. 307-13.
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, 61 vols., London, 1898-1995.
K. Schippmann, Grundzüge der Geschichte des sâsânidischen Reiches, Darmstadt, 1990 (pp. 65-73).
A. N. Stratos, To Byzantion ston hebdomon aiôna I, Athens, 1965; tr. M. Ogilvie-Grant as Byzantium in the Seventh Century I. 602-634, Amsterdam, 1968 (pp. 113-14).
W. C. Till, ed. and tr., Die koptischen Rechtsurkunden der Papyrus-sammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Corpus Papyrorum Raineri . . . 4, Vienna, 1958.
P. van den Ven, ed., La le‚gende de S. Spyridon, e‚vęque de Trimithonte, Bibliotheŕque du Muse‚on 33, Louvain, 1953.
D. Weber, "Ein bisher unbekannter Titel aus spätsassanidischer Zeit?" in R. E. Emmerick and D. Weber, eds., Corolla Iranica. Papers in Honour of Prof. Dr. David Neil MacKenzie . . ., Frankfurt and New York, 1991, pp. 228-36.
Idem, ed. and tr., Pahlavi Inscriptions IV-V. Ostraca, Papyri und Pergamente. Textband, Corpus Inscr. Iran. III, London, 1992.
K. A. Worp, "Chronological Observations on Later Byzantine Documents," Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 22, 1985, pp. 357-63.
G. Zereteli, Papyri russischer und georgischer Sammlungen IV, Tiflis, 1927; repr. Amsterdam, 1966.
Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica
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Page Keywords: Aryans, Sasanians, Sassanians, Sassanids, Sasanids, Persians,