Name: Lord Oda Nobunaga
Title: Shapur and the First Roman-Sassanid War

Shapur and the First Roman-Sassanid War

Shapur and the First Roman-Sassanid War

Ardashir I (180-242), King of Kings and founder of the Sassanid Empire

The conflict between Shapur and the Romans stems back to the reign of his father Ardashir, the first King of Persia from the Sassanid dynasty (crowned in 226).
Shapur had taken part in his father's campaigns against the Arsacid Parthians and helped his father Ardashir take the throne of Persia. Ardashir began to expand his empire in the north and east as well as in the west so that his glory might exceed that of the Arsacids whom he overthrew but also to rival the Achaemenid kings of antiquity. He began by invading the Arsacid kings in Armenia who were allied with Rome as well as the fortress of Hatra which lay in the desert of upper Mesopotamia and the area known as Adiabene (which lay between Mesopotamia, Iran and Armenia) but these invasions were not very successful as he only gained minor ground in the aforementioned regions and did not capture Hatra. Through this political nonsense Rome ended up fighting the newly established Sassanids by 229. Ardashir, accompanied by his son Shapur, tried to take the Roman provinces in the upper parts of Mesopotamia. Ardashir's army was unable to take Nisibis but he was able to order large raids into Cappadocia and Syria. The Roman legions in the east had poor morale and organization and were no match for a surprise incursion like this one. The Romans tried to intimidate him into signing a treaty which Ardashir rejected and led his army on a further campaign in upper Mesopotamia in 231, though Ardashir was unable to capture the fortresses there. Emperor Alexander Severus marched his army eastwards but tried to make a diplomatic solution which Ardashir again refused, his demands were all of the Roman eastern provinces. Alexander Severus set himsel up in Antioch and had to suppress revolts in Syria and Egypt, the east was truly in shambles. In 232 Alexander Severus ordered his troops to march along three routes and converge around eastern Mesopotamia and Iran itself. The troops marching through Armenia to Atropatene were halted by Ardashir's attack there. Soon after Ardashir shifted his army southwards to defeat the central army that had crossed the Euphrates and tried to march on Ctesiphon, it was led by Alexander Severus and was the largest force. Ctesiphon was built as the capital of the Parthian Arsacids and it lay along the Tigris river just across from Seleukia, the city which had replaced ancient Babylon in its glory and splendor in the time of the Makedonian Diadoch, Seleukos Nikator. The southern army was to march from Syria and cut across central Mesopotamia, cross the Tigris and invade southern Iran. The central army led by Alexander Severus was defeated by Ardashir near Ctesiphon and the two Roman armies retreated back towards Syria but Ardashir did not pursue. The legions in Armenia also retreated and were harassed by other Sassanid forces. As it so happened the legions mutinied during the retreat and declared a general called Taurinus as Emperor, as fortune would have it Alexander Severus put down this mutiny and Taurinus drowned while crossing the Euphrates. Alexander Severus returned to Europe and the war was put on pause until 237.

the mighty Arab city of Hatra, all who tried to take it had failed until now

The fortresses of Nisibis, Carrhae, Hatra and Singara fell to Ardashir and Shapur's army from the time of 237 until 242. Allegedly another attempt to grab Hatra by Ardashir was foiled when his army was forced to leave the field of battle at Shahrazoor in 238, though the extent of the damage to the Sassanian forces is unknown it must not have been too high as the Sassanians continued camaigning throughout this time. Now Hatra was a city built by the Parthians of the Arsacid Dynasty and eventually became an Arab city in northern Mesopotamia. It's importance lay in its access to wells in the northern desert and the many caravans which traveled there making the city an axis for trade in that area. Though the city was not directly along the Mesopotamian routes it had been besieged in the time of Parthia by Trajan (117), twice by Septimius Severus (198, 199) and more recently twice by Ardashir (228, 238) and all these attempts had failed. However since the reign of Septimius Severus the Arab kings of that city had been allies of the Romans. For these Roman and Persian conquerors it had been a thorn in their side.
Ardashir had crowned his son Shapur as his co-ruler in 240. In 241 Shapur marched his Persian armies to besiege the mighty fortress of Hatra. He did the impossible and took the city though it is generally unknown how as the city lay in the desert a fair distance from the Euphrates and lay on a strong position, on rocky terrain, and had powerful walls. One story claims that the daughter of King Sanatruces II, al-Nadirah according to Arabic sources, had fallen for Shapur and so helped him to enter the city either by having someone open the gates or by a secret passage. The same story claims that Shapur killed Sanatruces II, married the daughter but later had her killed as well. Obviously it sounds rather dubious but somehow the Sassanids took Hatra and possibly destroyed the city or its walls. The destruction of a valuable city should be questioned however, especially because its ruins seem to indicate that the city remained mostly intact.
Now when Ardashir usurped the Arsacid Parthians he had also claimed the title King of Kings from the beginning, according to the Romans he believed himself to be ruler of the entire East and intended the reclamation of lost Achaemenid glory. Ardashir having started as a minor king in 222 and renegade in Persis he had defeated the Parthian Arsacid dynasty (226), expanded his kingdom in every direction and defeated Rome so it is safe to say that upon his death in 242 he died an accomplished man. But Shapur would inherit this conflict and throughout his campaigns he did not try to hold anything west of the Euphrates aside from the fortresses around that river. In this manner Shapur did not act as a suppsoed King of Kings over the whole of the East as his father had allegedly wanted.

Shapur I (215-273), bane of the Roman Emperors and taker of cities; ultimately he killed an emperor, captured an emperor and defeated a would be King of the East, taking cities as far west as Cappadocia and ravaging Syria multiple times in the process

Shapur with his army advanced towards the Euphrates for the first time on his own in 243 to face Emperor Gordian III, who had revived the campaigning in the east to retake the fortresses which had fallen in the previous four years. Gordian had already crossed from the opposite direction and they met at Resaena, a battle which Gordian was able to win. Shapur then managed to bounce back and defeat Gordian III at Misiche in the winter of 244, Gordian either died in battle or was killed by his own soldiers for failure. Philip the Arab ceded Armenia and Mesopotamia to them and gave 500,000 denarii, but went back on some of his word and grabbed some border fortresses. However the war with the Sassanids was very unpopular, cost the empire a fortune and the Romans had to contend with Germanic barbarians as well, naturally after a nasty defeat, invasions from the north and losing an emperor a peace had to be made at all costs. Right at the beginning of his reign two provinces grabbed, 1 emperor dead. Some intrigues and a few emperors later and 249 Philip was usurped so Shapur marched into Mesopotamia the next year to seize the territory that Philip promised him. Some issues with the tribes in his north east forced him to call off the campaign and march to the Central Asian frontier to quell some revolts in those provinces.

the strong position at Dura Europos, it is alleged that Shapur also used chemical warfare in a vast network of tunnels

In 252 more Roman activity along the frontier and the Armenian king being a little too independent minded forced Shapur to make a show of strength. He used this as a casus belli and took Nisibis, in the upper Euphrates area, yet again. Shapur then marched down the Euphrates along the border with Roman Syria and attacked a Roman army at Barbalissos along the Euphrates and annihilated it. He then marched into Syria and took Antioch which guarded the all important Cilician-Syrian mountain passes. Antioch was of course the ancient city that had been built by the Seleukids along the north western coast of Syria.
In Armenia the King of Kings Shapur had a usurper remove that king, he then had the Armenian nobles kill that usurper and placed his own son Hormizd as King of Armenia. The Sassanids then successfully secured Georgia as well.
Shapur then proceeded to reduce the fortresses behind him all along the Euphrates. By 256 he had seized the mighty fortress of Dura Europos and raided Syria. Now Dura was a city along the Euphrates in southern Syria. It had switched hands many times between the Parthians and the Romans. In the later days of the Roman Empire the city had been fortified as it was a very strong position on a rock and along the Euphrates river. It was resettled by Romans, Greeks, Jews and Syrians and turned into a fine example of Roman colonization in the east. This city could not withstand Shapur's siege as tunnels, mounds, trenches and siege engines had littered its terrain and broke the defenses of the city. Many powerful cities had now fallen to the Sassanid armies.

By 257 the new Emperor Valerian led a campaign to reclaim all of the lost territory. He retook Antioch marching all the way to Edessa on the Euphrates however the next year Gothic tribes raided Anatolia and a plague broke out. When the spring broke in 260 Shapur put himself into the counter-offensive and marched to the Euphrates, towards Edessa. The Romans were completely defeated and cut off and their camps and Edessa itself were under siege. Defeated and logistically broken the entire army along with Emperor Valerian were captured. Most of these legionaries were resettled in the north eastern frontier and in the south western areas by Shapur. 1 Emperor captured.
He pressed his advantage and took Antioch once again and besieged Caesarea (aka Mazaka) in Cappadocia and after a hard siege took it and raided eastern Anatolia. He resettled many of the people in this area inside of the Persian/Sassanid Empire.
After taking the province of Cappadocia he temporarily occupied it and then retreated back into Mesopotamia.

Shapur defeats Valerian at Edessa

Shapur also launched larger raids into Syria at the end of 260 or in 261. He was ambushed by the Palmyrene king Odenathus, a vassal of Rome, on his march through Cilicia and Syria to Mesopotamia near Samosata and Zeugma and according to Roman sources captured Shapur's royal harem. This was probably not a massive victory as the Romans might claim however Shapur was forced to be cautious and remain on the defensive. Shapur had the habit of simply raiding Anatolia and Syria and then retreating back across the Euphrates so he had no real hold west of the Euphrates other than fortresses along this river. Shapur seems to have lost control of Armenia at this time. Odenathus then seems to have rebelled against Emperor Gallienus and tried to take over Syria, convincing the city of Emesa to revolt and crowned himself and his son in Antioch (a startling foreshadowing of what Palmyra would do later in the reign of Zenobia). Galienus had no choice but to recognize his conquests and retain him as a vassal in 261.

Odenathus defeats the Sassanian "tigers"

In 262 Odenathus began attacking the Sassanid cities of Mesopotamia. He crossed the Euphrates into the northern areas of Mesopotamia, former Roman provinces. He retook Edessa and Carrhae then took Nisibis but sacked the latter because its inhabitants were sympathetic to Shapur's regime. Odenathus sacked Nehardea and advanced all the way to the Sassanid capital at Ctesiphon by 263. The raids and skirmishes were intense and the siege of Ctesiphon was underway. The Sassanid tactics in these instances and indeed used throughout most of Iranian history succeeded, Odenathus was spent and his logistics weak. Shapur had staved off total defeat and Ctesiphon was saved.

By 264 Odenathus retreated along the Euphrates and regained the lost territory in northern Mesopotamia for Rome. He hauled much plunder and many prisoners and was given the title Persicus Maximus by Gallienus.
According to one source a final campaign by Odenathus was launched into Mesopotamia. In 266 he again attempted to besiege Ctesiphon but due to the incursions of Gothic tribes into Asia Minor Odenathus was forced to retreat and face these tribes in Anatolia which he defeated by 267.
In that same year Odenathus and his son Hairan were assassinated (either in Pontus or in Emesa) and his wife Zenobia was made regent for her young son. No one knows the culprits but it is believed that it was done by disgruntled Syrian nobles.
Fighting between the Romans, Sassanids and Palmyrenes seems to have cooled down.
Indeed Shapur lived until around 270-273 and so he was able to see the rise of Emperor Aurelian and the defeat of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, he tried to establish an alliance with Palmyra and it may have been he or his son Hormizd who offered sanctuary to Zenobia when she was running from Aurelian, though she was captured by the Romans before she could make it to Persia.

Shapur was succeeded by his many sons. He was succeeded by his son Hormizd who reigned for a year or two and then his other son Bahram then his grandson Bahram II. It came to pass that Bahram II was forced to march his army to Bactria and face tribal revolts there, he also faced problems from the nobility and so could not raise a large force. The Romans appeared at the most inopportune time, led by Emperor Carus the legions marched into Mesopotamia and took Ctesiphon even crossing the Tigris in 283. But fortune was not with him and he died suddenly for an unknown reason, unable to make further conquests his legions retreated past Mesopotamia. Bahram II reclaimed Mesopotamia, signed a treaty with the Romans in 287 (which ceded Armenia to a Roman vassal king Tiridates) and reigned until 293. The year that the great grandson of Shapur, Bahram III gained the throne was eventful. Finally Shapur's younger son Narseh would overthrow his great nephew the greatly unpopular Bahram III. In 296 Narseh declared war upon the Romans and Armenians. He invaded Armenia and the king Tiridates fled. Emperor Diocletian sent his son-in-law Galerius with a large force to the upper areas of Mesopotamia. Narseh marched up the Euphrates and fought Galerius in two indecisive battles around Carrhae. Finally at Callinicum the Persians under Narseh defeated the Galerius. Galerius retreated to Antioch to meet with Emperor Diocletian and organize a new campaign. In 298 he advanced into Armenia and with the help of the Armenians retook most of that kingdom. Galerius then advanced south towards Mesopotamia and was confronted by the army of Narseh. There along the Armenian and Mesopotamian border regions the Battle of Satala was fought. A massive blow for Narseh and the Sassanid Persians. It was said that Narseh himself was wounded, his treasury and royal harem were captured and he fled into Persia itself to try and raise a new army and save his empire. Galerius took Resaena and Nisibis. Then he advanced past the Tigris into Adiabene (the border area between Mesopotamia and Iran, around Arbela) and into Media (north western Iran). He also marched down the Tigris and took Ctesiphon, going as far south as old Babylon and returned to Roman lands by marching up the Euphrates.
This huge victory resulted in the treaty of Nisibis in which the Romans gained Armenia, the upper areas of Mesopotamia and the border areas between Armenia and the Mesopotamian provinces between the rivers Zab and Tigris.

Galerius defeats Narseh the Sassanid Emperor/King of Kings

The first part of the wars between the Sassanids and Romans had ended in a hard fought Roman victory. From 230 in the reign of Ardashir to 298 in the reign of Narseh. These wars coincided with many of the political intrigues that saw so many Roman Emperors rising and falling one after another. The Sassanids on the other hand had seen their fair share of internal problems but remained consistently united.
Both sides also faced external threats in the north of their realms. The Romans for their part faced many more however and this was a factor for why they were unable to bring their full force to bear. Though the Romans had been fighting the Arsacid Parthians since the days of the Republic and though this was a conflict with many of the same factors the Sassanids remained a constant threat and on the whole proved to be more capable than their Parthian predecessors. For example they had been more successful in capturing Roman cities than the Parthians had ever been.
The next phase of the war would see the same patterns but would see the Sassanids as having more consistency in their ability to remain on campaign, unlike early on where though largely successful under Ardashir and Shapur the Sassanids lost their momentum and were battered around after prolonged campaigning and the command of lesser leaders.