Today’s installment concludes Reign of Persia’s King Sapor I,
our selection from The Seventh Great Oriental Monarchy by George Rawlinson published in 1875. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Reign of Persia’s King Sapor I.
Time: 240-270 AD
Place: Persia and the Levant
The successes of Odenathus, in A.D. 263, were followed by a period of comparative tranquility. That ambitious prince seems to have been content with ruling from the Tigris to the Mediterranean, and with the title of “Augustus,” which he received from the Roman emperor Gallienus, and “King of Kings,” which he assumed upon his coins. He did not press further upon Sapor, nor did the Roman Emperor make any serious attempt to recover his father’s person or revenge his defeat upon the Persians. An expedition which he sent out to the East, professedly with this object, in the year A.D. 267, failed utterly, its commander, Heraclianus, being signally defeated by Zenobia, the widow and successor of Odenathus. Odenathus himself was murdered by a kinsman three or four years after his great successes, and though Zenobia ruled his kingdom almost with a man’s vigor, the removal of his powerful adversary must have been felt as a relief by the Persian monarch. It is evident, too, that from the time of the accession of Zenobia the relations between Rome and Palmyra had become unfriendly; the old empire grew jealous of the new kingdom which had sprung up upon its borders; and the effect of this jealousy, while it lasted, was to secure Persia from any attack on the part of either.
It appears that Sapor, relieved from any further necessity of defending his empire in arms, employed the remaining years of his life in the construction of great works, and especially in the erection and ornamentation of a new capital. The ruins of Shapur, which still exist near Kazerun, in the province of Fars, commemorate the name and afford some indication of the grandeur of the second Persian monarch. Besides remains of buildings, they comprise a number of bas-reliefs and rock inscriptions, some of which were, beyond a doubt, set up by Sapor I. In one of the most remarkable, the Persian monarch is represented on horseback, wearing the crown usual upon his coins, and holding by the hand a tunicked figure, probably Miriades, whom he is presenting to the captured Romans as their sovereign. Foremost to do him homage is the kneeling figure of a chieftain, probably Valerian, behind whom are arranged in a double line seventeen persons, representing probably the different corps of the Roman army. All these persons are on foot, while in contrast with them are arranged behind Sapor ten guards on horseback, who represent his irresistible cavalry. Another bas-relief at the same place gives us a general view of Sapor on his return to Persia with his illustrious prisoners. Here fifty-seven guards are ranged behind him, while in front are thirty-three tribute bearers having with them an elephant and a chariot. In the centre is a group of seven figures, comprising: Sapor, who is on horseback in his usual costume; Valerian, who is under the horse’s feet; Miriades, who stands by Sapor’s side; three principal tribute bearers in front of the main figure; and a Victory>, which floats in the sky.
Another important work, assigned by tradition to Sapor I, is the great dike at Shuster. This is a dam across the river Karun, formed of cut stones, cemented by lime and fastened together by cramps of iron; it is twenty feet broad and no less than twelve hundred feet in length. The whole is a solid mass except in the centre, where two small arches have been constructed for the purpose of allowing a part of the stream to flow in its natural bed. The greater portion of the water is directed eastward into a canal cut for it; and the town of Shuster is thus defended on both sides by a water barrier, whereby the position becomes one of great strength. Tradition says that Sapor used his power over Valerian to obtain Roman engineers for this work; and the great dam is still known as the “Dam of Cæsar” to the inhabitants of the neighboring country.
Sapor died, having reigned thirty-one years, from A.D. 240 to A.D. 271. He was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable princes of the Sassanian series. In military talent, indeed, he may not have equalled his father, for though he defeated Valerian he had to confess himself inferior to Odenathus. But in general governmental ability he is among the foremost of the Neo-Persian monarchs, and may compare favorably with almost any prince of the series. He baffled Odenathus, when he was not able to defeat him, by placing himself behind walls, and by bringing into play those advantages which naturally belonged to the position of a monarch attacked in his own country. He maintained, if he did not permanently advance, the power of Persia in the West, while in the East it is probable that he considerably extended the bounds of his dominion.
To the internal administration of his empire he united works of usefulness with the construction of memorials which had only a sentimental and æsthetic value. He was a liberal patron of art and is thought not to have confined his patronage to the encouragement of native talent. On the subject of religion he did not suffer himself to be permanently led away by the enthusiasm of a young and bold freethinker. He decided to maintain the religious system that had descended to him from his ancestors, and turned a deaf ear to persuasions that would have led him to revolutionize the religious opinion of the East without placing it upon a satisfactory footing. The orientals add to these commendable features of character that he was a man of remarkable beauty, of great personal courage, and of a noble and princely liberality. According to them, “he only desired wealth that he might use it for good and great purposes.”
This ends our series of passages on Reign of Persia’s King Sapor I by George Rawlinson from his book The Seventh Great Oriental Monarchy published in 1875. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.