Sasanian Irredentism and the Foundation of Constantinople: Historical Truth and Historical Reality


By: David Frendo




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.[1]


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?"[2] 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,[3] 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.[4]


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.[5]


Dio's account, despite the fact that it must have suffered some loss and dislocation at the hands of its epitomizer,[6] 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 evidence.


On the other hand, the version of these events given by another contemporary, the historically less reliable Herodian,[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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 Isfandiyar,[10] 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.[11]

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[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]


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.[15]


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.[16] 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,[17] 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 "historical amnesia"[18], 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 restorers.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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 empire,[22] 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,[23] 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[24] 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[25] 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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]


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,[29] 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[30] 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."[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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,[35] 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,[36] 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;[37] 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 intervention.[38]


Weak and humiliated, an untried ruler restored to an imperilled throne by a traditionally hostile foreign power, Khusrau, who was still extremely young,[39] may fairly be suspected of having indulged at this juncture in what has been termed "overcompensation.[40] 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,"[41] 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,[42] 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.[43]


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,[44] 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.





[1] A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 (Oxford, 1973/, vol. 1, p. 25.

[2] Atti del convegno internazionale sul terra: La Persia nel Medioevo, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Rome, 1971 ), Quaderno n. 160, pp. 517-31.

[3] Ibid., 517-18.

[4] Cf. Fergus Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio (Oxford, 1964/, esp. pp. 171-73.

[5] Cf. Dio's Roman History, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 9, pp. 482-84/80.4. The translation is mine.

[6] For a short discussion of the problem cf. Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio, pp. 1-4.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] 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.

[13] Not, as Yar-Shater, p. 517 (see n. 2 above/, states, Constantinus'.

[14] Ammianus Marcellinus, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 1, pp. 332-34/17.5.3-7. The translation is mine.

[15] For the date of Ardashir's attack cf. CAH, vol. 12, p. 127.

[16] Ibid., pp. 335-37.

[17] 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.

[18] Ibid., p. 519.

[19] Ibid., pp. 525-30.

[20] Ibid., pp. 521-25.

[21] Ibid., p. 518.

[22] 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 Sasanians.

[23] 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."

[24] Viz.: 502-507, 527-532, 540-547 and 549-557.

[25] For the time of writing cf. A. Cameron, Agathias (Oxford, 1970), pp. 9-11.

[26] Ed. Keydell, 4.24.3-4.

[27] Cf. for this claim Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae, ed. C. de Boor, rev. P. Wirth (Stuttgart, 1972), p. 169, lines 11-15.

[28] Ibid., p. 169, line 16-p. 170, line 14.

[29] 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.

[30] 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. 188.

[31] Ibid., lines 4-9.

[32] 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.

[33] 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."

[34] 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.

[35] Theoph. Sim., p. 164, lines 20-21.

[36] 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.

[37] Such a claim from a Sasanian emperor in such circumstances can only suggest a return to the status quo ante Alexandrum.

[38] Theoph. Sim., p. 217, lines 9-20.

[39] 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.

[40] . 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 insolent familiarity.

[41] E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J. B. Bury, vol. 5 (London, 1898), p. 174.

[42] 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. 30-36.

[43] S. Malxasian, Sebeosi Episkoposi Patmut`iwn (Erevan, 1939), p. 91, line 22-p. 92, line 19.

[44] 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.