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Great King (Shah) of Ērānshahr
Reign 27 April 629 – 17 June 629
Predecessor Ardashir III
Successor Borandukht
Died 17 June 629
Spouse Mirhran
Issue Niketas
Shapur-i Shahrvaraz
House House of Mihran
Religion Zoroastrianism

Shahrbaraz (Persian: شهربراز‎‎) or Shahrvaraz (Middle Persian: Šahrwarāz) (died 17 June 629) was king of the Sasanian Empire from 27 April 629 to 17 June 629. He usurped the throne from Ardashir III, and was killed by Sasanian nobles after forty days. Before usurping the Sasanian throne he was a general (spahbed) under Khosrau II (590–628). He is furthermore noted for his important role during the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, and the events that followed afterwards. His name Shahrbaraz is actually an honorific title, and means "the Boar of the Empire", attesting to his dexterity in military command and his warlike person, as the boar was the animal associated with the Zoroastrian Izad Vahram, the epitome of victory.


  • Early life 1
  • War against the Byzantine Empire 2
    • Siege of Constantinople 2.1
  • Overthrow of Khosrau II 3
  • Usurping the throne 4
  • Legacy 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Shahrbaraz belonged to the House of Mihran,[1] one of the Seven Parthian clans; he was the son of a certain Ardashir. During Shahrbaraz's later life, he joined the Sasanian army, where he rose to high offices, and was appointed as spahbed of Nēmrōz. He was married to the sister of the Sasanian king Khosrau II, Mirhran, whom Shahrbaraz had one boy with named Shapur-i Shahrvaraz.[2] Shahrbaraz also had another son named Niketas the Persian, who may be from the same woman or from another.

War against the Byzantine Empire

Shahrbaraz is first mentioned when Khosrau II started the last and most devastating of the Byzantine–Sasanian wars, which was going to last 26 years. Khosrau II, along with Shahrbaraz and his other best generals, conquered Dara and Edessa in 604, and in the north, the Byzantines were driven back to the old, pre-591 frontier before Khosrau II gave them most of Sasanian Armenia, parts of Mesopotamia and western half of the Kingdom of Iberia. After reconquering lost territory, Khosrau II withdrew from the battlefield and handed military operations to his best generals. Shahrbaraz was one of them. In 610, Heraclius, an Armenian[3] of probable Arsacid descent,[4] revolted against the Byzantine Emperor Phocas and killed him, crowning himself as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire.[5] After becoming Byzantine Emperor, he prepared a major counter-attack against the Sasanians outside Antioch in 613, but was decisively defeated by Shahrbaraz, who inflicted heavy losses on the Byzantine army and then captured the city,[6][7] giving the Sasanians naval access to the Mediterranean sea.

Campaign map from 611 to 624 through Syria, Anatolia, Armenia, and Mesopotamia.

After the Byzantine defeat outside Antioch, Heraclius and his brother Theodore, along with General Nicetas, combined their armies in Syria, but were defeated by Shahrbaraz and his forces who besieged Damascus and captured it along with a large number of Byzantine troops as prisoners.[8] Furthermore, Shahrbaraz also defeated a Byzantine army near Adhri'at, which was important enough for the Arabs to write it down in Quran.[9]

One of most important events during his career was when he led the Sasanian army towards Palaestina, and after a bloody siege captured Jerusalem, a city sacred to the Christians. After his conquest of Jerusalem the Holy Cross was carried away in triumph. In 618, Shahrbaraz was ordered by Khosrau II to invade Egypt, and by 619, Alexandria, the capital of Byzantine Egypt, was in Sasanian hands.[10][11]

After the fall of Alexandria, Shahrbaraz and his forces extended Sasanian rule southwards along the Nile.[12] By 621, the province was securely in Sasanian hands, and a certain Sahralanyozan was appointed as its governor.[13] In 622, Heraclius counter-attacked against the Sasanian Empire in Anatolia. Shahrbaraz was sent over there to deal with him, but was eventually defeated by him.[14]

After Heraclius' victory, he marched towards Caucasian Albania and wintered there.[15] Shahrbaraz, along with Shahin and Shahraplakan were later sent by the orders of Khosrau II to trap the forces of Heraclius.[16] Shahin managed to rout the Byzantine army. Due to jealousy between the Sasanian commanders, Shahrbaraz hurried with his army to take part in the glory of the victory. Heraclius met them at Tigranakert and routed the forces of Shahraplakan and Shahin one after the other. After this victory, Heraclius crossed the Araxes and camped in the plains on the other side. Shahin, with the remnants of both his and Shahraplakan's armies joined Shahrbaraz in the pursuit of Heraclius, but marshes slowed them down.[17][18] At Aliovit, Shahrbaraz split his forces, sending some 6,000 troops to ambush Heraclius while the remainder of the troops stayed at Aliovit. Heraclius launched a surprise night attack on the Sasanian main camp in February 625, destroying it. Shahrbaraz only barely escaped, naked and alone, having lost his harem, baggage, and men.[17]

Heraclius spent the rest of winter to the north of Lake Van. In 625, his forces attempted to push back towards the Euphrates. In a mere seven days, he bypassed Mount Ararat and the 200 miles along the Arsanias River to capture Amida and Martyropolis, important fortresses on the upper Tigris.[19][20] Heraclius then carried on towards the Euphrates, pursued by Shahrbaraz. According to Arab sources, he was stopped at the Satidama or Batman Su River and defeated; Byzantine sources, however, do not mention this incident.[20] Another minor skirmish between Heraclius and Shahrbaraz took place at the Sarus river near Adana.[21] Shahrbaraz stationed his forces across the river from the Byzantines.[22] A bridge spanned the river, and the Byzantines immediately charged across. Shahrbaraz feigned retreat to lead the Byzantines into an ambush, and the vanguard of Heraclius' army was destroyed within minutes. The Sasanians, however, had neglected to cover the bridge, and Heraclius charged across with the rearguard, unafraid of the arrows that the Sasanians fired, turning the tide of battle against the Sasanians.[23] Shahrbaraz expressed his admiration at Heraclius to a renegade Greek: "See your Emperor! He fears these arrows and spears no more than would an anvil!"[23] The Battle of Sarus was a successful retreat for the Byzantines that panegyrists magnified.[21] In the aftermath of the battle, the Byzantine army wintered at Trebizond.[23]

Siege of Constantinople

Shahrbaraz, along with a smaller army, later managed to slip through Heraclius' flanks and bee-lined for Chalcedon, the Sasanian base across the Bosphorus from Constantinople. Khosrau II coordinated with the Khagan of the Avars so as to launch a coordinated attack on Constantinople from both European and Asiatic sides.[19] The army of Shahrbaraz stationed themselves at Chalcedon, while the Avars placed themselves on the European side of Constantinople and destroyed the Aqueduct of Valens.[24] Because of the Byzantine navy's control of the Bosphorus strait, however, the Sasanians could not send troops to the European side to aid their ally.[25][26] This reduced the effectiveness of the siege, because the Sasanians were experts in siege warfare.[27] Furthermore, the Sasanians and Avars had difficulties communicating across the guarded Bosphorus—though undoubtedly, there was some communication between the two forces.[19][26][28]

Map of the environs of Constantinople in Byzantine times.

On 7 August, a fleet of Sasanian rafts ferrying troops across the Bosphorus was surrounded and destroyed by Byzantine ships. The Slavs under the Avars attempted to attack the sea walls from across the Golden Horn, while the main Avar host attacked the land walls. Patrician Bonus' galleys rammed and destroyed the Slavic boats; the Avar land assault from 6 to 7 August also failed.[29] With the news that Theodore had decisively triumphed over Shahin (supposedly leading Shahin to die from depression), the Avars retreated to the Balkan hinterland within two days, never to threaten Constantinople seriously again. Even though the army of Shahrbaraz was still encamped at Chalcedon, the threat to Constantinople was over.[30][31]

Disappointed by Shahrbaraz's failure, Khosrau II sent a messenger bearing a letter to Kardarigan, who was the second-in-command of the Sasanian army. The letter said that Kardarigan should kill Shahrbaraz and take his army back to Ctesiphon, but the bearers of the letter were intercepted in Galatia by Byzantine soldiers, who gave the letter to Constantine III who in turn gave it to Heraclius. After reading the letter, he offered to show the letter to Shahrbaraz in a meeting at Constantinople. Shahrbaraz accepted his proposal and met Heraclius at Constantinople, where he read the letter and switched over to Heraclius' side.[32] Shahrbaraz then changed the contents of the letter, making it state that Khosrau II wanted 400 officers killed, ensuring that Kardarigan and the rest of the army remained loyal to him.[33]

Shahrbaraz then moved his army to northern Syria, where he could easily decide to support either Khosrau or Heraclius at a moment's notice. Still, with the neutralization of Khosrau's most skilled general, Heraclius deprived his enemy of some of his best and most experienced troops, while securing his flanks prior to his invasion of Iran.[34]

Overthrow of Khosrau II

In 627, Khosrau sent Shahrbaraz a letter, which said that he should send his army to Ctesiphon. Shahrbaraz, however, disobeyed, and moved to Asuristan, where he set up a camp in Ardashir Khurrah. Khosrau then sent Farrukhzad to negotiate with him. However, Farrukhzad made a secret conspiracy against Khosrau and joined Shahrbaraz.[35]

One year later, the feudal families of the Sasanian Empire, who were tired of war against the Byzantines and Khosrau's oppressive policies, freed Khosrau's son Kavadh, who had been imprisoned by his own father. The feudal families included: Shahrbaraz himself, who represented the Mihran family; the House of Ispahbudhan represented by spahbed Farrukh Hormizd and his two sons Rostam Farrokhzad and Farrukhzad; the Armenian faction represented by Varaztirots II Bagratuni; and finally the Kanarang.[36] In February, Kavadh, along with Aspad Gushnasp, captured Ctesiphon and imprisoned Khosrau II. Kavadh II then proclaimed himself as king of the Sasanian Empire on 25 February, and with the aid of Piruz Khosrow, executed all his brothers and half-brothers, including Khosrau II's favorite son Mardanshah. Three days later, he ordered Mihr Hormozd to execute his father. With the agreement of the nobles of the Sasanian empire, Kavadh then made peace with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, which made the Byzantines regain all their lost territories, their captured soldiers, a war indemnity, along with the True Cross and other relics that were lost in Jerusalem in 614.[37][38]

Following the loss of territory required for the peace treaty, the embittered aristocracy started forming independent states within the Sasanian Empire. This divided the resources of the country. Furthermore, dams and canals became derelict, and a devastating plague erupted in the western provinces of Iran, killing half of the population along with Kavadh II, who was succeeded by Ardashir III.[4]

Usurping the throne

After the death of Kavadh II, Heraclius sent Shahrbaraz a letter saying:

On 27 April 629 (or 630)[40] Shahrbaraz besieged Ctesiphon with a force of 6,000 men.[41] He was, however, unable to capture the city, and then made an alliance with Piruz Khosrow, the leader of the Parsig (Persian) faction, and the previous minister of the Empire during the reign of Ardashir's father, Kavadh II. He also made an alliance with Namdar Jushnas, who had succeeded him as the spahbed of Nēmrōz in 626.[41] Shahrbaraz, with the aid of these two powerful figures, captured Ctesiphon, and executed Ardashir III along with many Sasanian nobles, including Ardashir's minister Mah-Adhur Gushnasp. Shahrbaraz then became the new shah (king) of the Sasanian Empire,[42] and killed Kardarigan, who opposed Shahrbaraz after his usurpation of the Sasanian throne.[6]

Heraclius also acknowledged Shahrbaraz's Christian son Niketas, as his heir. An Iranian Christian as the heir of the Sasanian Empire opened the chances of the Christianization of Iran.[43] After some time, Shahrbaraz had Shamta, the son of the former financial minister Yazdin, crucified on a church in Margha.[44] The reason of this execution was reportedly because the latter had insulted Shahrbaraz during the reign of Khosrau II.[45] Forty days later, during a ceremony, Shahrbaraz was killed by a spear thrown by Farrukh Hormizd, who then helped Borandukht, the daughter of Khosrau II, to ascend the throne.[46][47]


Shahrbaraz had played an important role in the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, and the events that occurred after the war; his mutiny against Khosrau II resulted in a Byzantine Pyrrhic victory and caused the Sasanian Empire to fall into a civil war. After the death of Shahrbaraz, his son Shapur-i Shahrvaraz deposed Borandukht and became king of the Sasanian Empire. His reign, however, did not last long, and he was shortly deposed by the Sasanian nobles.[48] During the same period, Niketas entered in the service of the Byzantines, and would later appear as one of the Byzantine generals at the Battle of Yarmouk during the Arab–Byzantine wars.[49]


  1. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 181
  2. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 205
  3. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 287
  4. ^ a b Shapur Shahbazi 2005, "Sasanian Dynasty"
  5. ^ Olster 1993, p. 133.
  6. ^ a b Martindale, Jones & Morris 1992, p. 1278
  7. ^ Kaegi 2003, pp. 70–71.
  8. ^ Kaegi 2003, pp. 75–77.
  9. ^ Peter Crawford 2013, p. 43
  10. ^ Dodgeon, Greatrex & Lieu 2002a, pp. 196, 235
  11. ^ Howard-Johnston 2006, pp. 10, 90
  12. ^ Dodgeon, Greatrex & Lieu 2002a, p. 196
  13. ^ Jalalipour 2014.
  14. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 114
  15. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 128
  16. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 129
  17. ^ a b Kaegi 2003, p. 130
  18. ^ Dodgeon, Greatrex & Lieu 2002b, p. 204
  19. ^ a b c Oman 1893, p. 210
  20. ^ a b Kaegi 2003, p. 131
  21. ^ a b Kaegi 2003, p. 132
  22. ^ Norwich 1997, p. 91
  23. ^ a b c Norwich 1997, p. 92
  24. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 297
  25. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 133
  26. ^ a b Kaegi 2003, p. 140
  27. ^ Dodgeon, Greatrex & Lieu 2002b, pp. 179–181
  28. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 134
  29. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 137
  30. ^ Oman 1893, p. 211
  31. ^ Norwich 1997, p. 93
  32. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 148
  33. ^ Dodgeon, Greatrex & Lieu 2002b, p. 205
  34. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 151
  35. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 147
  36. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 173
  37. ^ Oman 1893, p. 212
  38. ^ Kaegi 2003, pp. 178, 189–190
  39. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 177
  40. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 182
  41. ^ a b Pourshariati 2008, p. 180
  42. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 181, 183
  43. ^ Kaegi 2003, pp. 188–189, 206
  44. ^ Morony 2005, p. 188.
  45. ^ Kaegi 2003, p. 176.
  46. ^ Pourshariati 2008, p. 184
  47. ^ Morony 2005, p. 92.
  48. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 204, 205
  49. ^ Martindale, Jones & Morris 1992, p. 943


  • Dodgeon, Michael H.; Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002a). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (Part I, 226–363 AD). Routledge.  
  • Dodgeon, Michael H.; Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002b), The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (Part II, 363-630 AD), Routledge,  
  • Martindale, John R.; Jones, A. H. M.; Morris, John (1992), The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire - Volume III, AD 527–641, Cambridge University Press,  
  • Olster, David Michael (1993). The politics of usurpation in the seventh century: rhetoric and revolution in Byzantium. A.M. Hakkert. 
  • Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.  
  • Shapur Shahbazi, A. (2005). "SASANIAN DYNASTY". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  • Treadgold, Warren T. (1997), A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford University Press,  
  • Jalalipour, Saeid (2014). Persian Occupation of Egypt 619-629: Politics and Administration of Sasanians (PDF). Sasanika. 
  • Crawford, Peter (2013). The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians and the Rise of Islam. Pen and Sword. pp. 1–240.  

External links

  • Howard-Johnston, James (2010). "ḴOSROW II". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
Preceded by
Ardashir III
Great King (Shah) of Ērānshahr
27 April 629 – 17 June 629
Succeeded by
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