Khosrow I

Khosrow I
Shahanshah of Iran and Aniran
Anushiruwan (of the immortal soul)

Coin of Khosrow I
Reign September 13, 531 –
31 January 579 (48 years)
Predecessor Kavadh I
Successor Hormizd IV
Born 496
Died 31 January 579 (aged 78)
Issue Hormizd IV
Father Kavadh I
Mother Bawi's sister
Religion Zoroastrianism

Khosrow I (also known as Chosroes I and Kasra in classical sources; 501–579, most commonly known in Persian as Anushiruwān "the immortal soul";[2] Persian: انوشيروان), also known as Anushiruwan the Just (انوشيروان دادگر, Anushiruwān-e-dādgar), was the King of Kings (Shahanshah) of the Sasanian Empire from 531 to 579. He was the successor of his father Kavadh I (488–531). Khosrow I was the twenty-second Sasanian Emperor of Persia, and one of its most celebrated emperors.

He laid the foundations of many cities and opulent palaces, and oversaw the repair of trade roads as well as the building of numerous bridges and dams. His reign is furthermore marked by the numerous wars fought against the Sassanid's neighboring archrivals, the Roman-Byzantine Empire, as part of the already centuries-long lasting Roman-Persian Wars. The most important wars under his reign were the Lazic War which was fought over Colchis (western Georgia-Abkhazia) and the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 572–591. During Khosrow's ambitious reign, art and science flourished in Persia and the Sasanian Empire reached its peak of glory and prosperity. His rule was preceded by his father's and succeeded by Hormizd IV. Khosrow Anushiruwan is one of the most popular emperors in Iranian culture and literature and, outside of Iran, his name became, like that of Caesar in the history of Rome, a designation of the Sasanian kings.[3]

He also introduced a rational system of taxation, based upon a survey of landed possessions, which his father had begun, and tried in every way to increase the welfare and the revenues of his empire. His army was in discipline decidedly superior to the Byzantines, and apparently was well paid. He was also interested in literature and philosophical discussions. Under his reign chess was introduced from India, and the famous book of Kalilah and Dimnah was translated. He thus became renowned as a wise king.

Early life

Birthplace and family

Artwork of Khosrow's war with the Mazdakites.

Khosrow I was born in Ardestan, an ancient town which was built by the Achaemenids,[4] and was to close the major city of Spahan. He was the third son of Kavadh I, and had three brothers named Xerxes, Zamasp and Kawus. Khosrow's mother was the sister of Bawi,[5][6] making Khosrow I related to the Parthian House of Ispahbudhan.

His father was involved with a group of Zoroastrians called the Mazdakites. The Mazdakites believed in an egalitarian society and many lower class peasants supported the Mazdakite revolution.[7] Kavadh, wanting to centralize power by taking power away from the great noble families, supported this movement. In 531, Kavadh, while on his death-bed, appointed Khosrow as his successor.[5]

War with the Mazdakites

However, upon Kavadh's death, the Mazdakites gave their loyalty to Kavadh's eldest son, Kawus, while the noble families and the Zoroastrian Magi gave their support to Khosrow I. Khosrow presented himself as an anti-Mazdakite supporter.[8] He, much like his father, believed in a strong centralized government. Khosrow met his brother Kawus in war and defeated him as well as his Mazdakite followers. Subsequently, Mazdak, as well as a majority of his followers, were executed for his heretical beliefs and Khosrow took the Sasanian throne.[9] At Khosrow's succession, Byzantium and Sasanian Persia were in open conflict with each other. Neither empire was able to get an advantage of the other, causing Emperor Justinian and King Khosrow to agree on a peace treaty in 531.[10]

However, in 531, Bawi, along with other members of the Persian aristocracy became involved in a conspiracy in which they tried to overthrow Khosrow I and make Kavadh, the son of Kavadh I's second eldest son Djamasp (Zames),[11] the king of the Sasanian Empire. Upon learning the plot, Khosrow I executed all his brothers, their offsprings, along with Bawi and the other "Persian notables" who were involved.[12] Khosrow I also ordered the execution of Kavadh, who was still a child, and was away from the court, being raised by Adergoudounbades.

Khosrow sent orders to kill Kavadh, but Adergoudounbades disobeyed and brought him up in secret, until he was betrayed to the shah in 541 by his own son, Bahram (Varranes). Khosrau had him executed, but Kavadh, or someone claiming to be him, managed to flee to the Byzantine Empire.[13] In 532, Khosrow and Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire concluded Pax Perpetuum, or the Eternal Peace in hopes of settling all land disputes between the Romans and Sasanians.[14][15]



Khosrow I represents the epitome of the philosopher king in the Sasanian Empire. Upon his ascent to the throne, Khosrow did not restore power to the feudal nobility or the magi, but centralized his government.[16] Khosrow's reign is considered to be one of the most successful within the Sasanian Empire. The peace agreement between Rome and Persia in 531 gave Khosrow the chance to consolidate power and focus his attention on internal improvement.[17] His reforms and military campaigns marked a renaissance of the Sasanian Empire, which spread philosophic beliefs as well as trade goods from the far east to the far west.

The internal reforms under Khosrow were much more important than those on the exterior frontier. The subsequent reforms resulted in the rise of a bureaucratic state at the expense of the great noble families, strengthening the central government and the power of the Shahanshah. The army too was reorganized and tied to the central government rather than local nobility allowing greater organization, faster mobilization and a far greater cavalry corps. Reforms in taxation provided the empire with stability and a much stronger economy, allowing prolonged military campaigns as well as greater revenues for the bureaucracy.[18]

Tax reforms

Khosrow's tax reforms have been praised by several scholars, the most notable of which is F. Altheim.[19] The tax reforms, which were started under Kavadh I and completely implemented by Khosrow, strengthened the royal court by a great deal.[20] Prior to Khosrow and Kavadh's reigns, a majority of the land was owned by seven Parthian families: Suren, Waraz, Karen, Ispahbudhan, Spandiyadh, Mihran, and Zik.[21] These great landowners enjoyed tax exemptions from the Sasanian empire, and were tax collectors within their local provincial areas.[22]

With the outbreak of the Mazdakite revolution, there was a great uprising of peasants and lower class citizens who grabbed large portions of land under egalitarian values. As a result of this there was great confusion on land possession and ownership. Khosrow surveyed all the land within the empire indiscriminately and began to tax all land under a single program. Tax revenues that previously went to the local noble family now went to the central government treasury.[22] The fixed tax that Khosrow implemented created a more stable form of income for the treasury.

Because the tax did not vary, the treasury could estimate fairly well how much they were going to make in revenue for the year.[23] Prior to Khosrow's tax reforms, taxes were collected based on the yield that the land had produced. This system was changed to one which calculated and averaged taxation based on the water rights for each piece of property. Lands which grew date palms and olive trees used a slightly different method of taxation based on the amount of producing trees that the land contained.[22] These tax reforms of Khosrow were the stepping stone which enabled subsequent reforms in the bureaucracy and the military to take place.

Administrative reforms

Khosrow I seated on a throne

The hallmark of Khosrow's bureaucratic reform was the creation of a new social class. Before, the Sasanian Empire consisted of only three social classes, magi, nobles, and peasants/commoners. Khosrow added a fourth class to this hierarchy between the nobles and the peasants, called the deghans. The deghans were small land owning citizens of the Sasanian Empire and were considered lower nobility.

Khosrow promoted honest government officials based on trust and honesty, rather than corrupt nobles and magi.[24] The small landowning deghans were favored over the high nobles because they tended to be more trustworthy and owned their loyalty to the Shah for their position in the bureaucracy.[16] The rise of deghans became the backbone of the empire because they were now held the majority of land and positions in local and provincial administration.[25]

The reduction of power of the great families helped to improve the empire. This was because previously, each great family ruled a large chunk of land and each had their own king. The name Shahanshah, meaning King of Kings, derived from the fact that there were many feudal kings in Sasanian Persia with the Shahanshah as the ruler of them all. Their fall from power meant their control was redirected to the central government and all taxes now came to the central government rather than to the local nobility.

Military reforms

Major reforms to the military made the Persian army capable of fighting sustained wars and on multiple fronts as well deploy armies faster.[26] Prior to Khosrow's reign, much like other aspects of the empire, the military was dependent on the feudal lords of the great families to provide soldiers and cavalry. Each family would provide their own army and equipment when called by the Shahanshah. This system was replaced with the emergence of the lower deghan nobility class, who was paid and provided by the central government.[22]

The main force of the Sasanian army was the Savaran cavalry. Previously only nobles could enlist into the Savaran cavalry which was very limited and created shortages in well trained soldiers. Now that the deghan class was considered nobility, they were able to join the cavalry force and boosted the number of cavalry force significantly.[26]

The military reform focused more on organization and training of troops. The cavalry was still the most important aspect of the Persian military, with foot archers being less important, and mass peasant forces being on the bottom of the spectrum.

Khosrow made four military districts with a spahbed, or general, in charge of each district.[22] Before the reforms of Khosrow, the general of the Iranians (Eran-spahbed) controlled the military of the entire empire.[27] The four zones consisted of Mesopotamia in the west, the Caucasus region in the north, the Persian Gulf in the central and southwest region, and Central Asia in the east. This new quadripartition of the Empire not only created a more efficient military system but also "[administration] of a vast, multiregional, multicultural, and multiracial empire".[26]


During Khosrow's reign, a "list" for equipment for the cavalry was written. The list comprised a helmet, a gorget, a chain mail shirt, a lamellar coat or cuirass, leg armour, gauntlets, sword, shield, two bows with spare strings, 30 arrows, axe or mace, and horse armour.[28]

Sasanian bullae showing the four spahbeds show that horses were still fully armoured during this period and heavy cavalry tactics were still used by the Sasanian cavalry. It is highly likely that the stirrup had been introduced to the Sasanian cavalry two centuries before Khosrow's reforms[29] (and are mentioned in Bivar (1972)[28]), and a "stirrupped" foot position can be seen on the Sasanian bullae and at Taq-e-Bostan.

The image of Khosrow I at Taq-e-Bostan shows a different style of armour and equipment. Khosrow is shown wearing a helmet with a chain mail veil, and a chain mail shirt. His horse is shown only wearing armour from the front. This style of armour shows some parallels with Soghdian armour of the 6th–8th centuries, as depicted at Afrasiab and Panjikent, and may be related to a Soghdian style of armour.

Military campaigns

War with the Byzantine Empire, 540–562

Map of Sasanian military campaigns.

In 540, Khosrow broke his peace with the Byzantines and struck Mesopotamia and Syria; he sacked Sura and killed it's commander, Arsaces. He then moved out to Antioch, taking a path that was south of the usual military route in order to extract tribute from towns along the way to Antioch.[22] The walls of Antioch had been greatly damaged during an earthquake in 525–526, and the Romans had not since repaired them because of western military campaigns, which made it much easier to conquer.[15] Khosrow sacked and burned the city, at which point Justinian sued for peace, giving Khosrow a large amount of money; a down payment of 5000 pounds of gold plus 500 pounds of gold extra each year. While traveling back to Persia, Khosrow took ransoms from multiple Byzantine towns, at which point Justinian called off his truce and prepared to send his great commander Belisarius to move against the Sasanians.[22]

There were many motives behind Khosrow's strike against the Byzantines during their Eternal Peace. Emissaries from the Ostrogoth kingdom in the west appealed to Khosrow to put pressure on the eastern front of East Rome.[22] Gothic envoys spoke to Khosrow's court and spoke of Justinian's goal to unite the world under Roman rule. The Gothic envoys persuasively informed Khosrow that if Persia did not act soon, they would soon become victims of Byzantine aggression.[30]

It was the Persian military's fear that once the Roman army had conquered the west, they would turn east and strike down Persia. In order to prevent this, Khosrow preemptively struck Antioch.[31] There were also pressure and unrest in both Arabia and Armenia, who were both eager for war.[22] Furthermore, Justinian had also refused to give back the riches, which his Arab vassal Al-Harith ibn Jabalah had with no reason aggressively seized from Khosrow's Arab vassal, Al-Mundhir III ibn al-Nu'man.[32]

A year after his sack of Antioch, Khosrow brought his army north to Lazica on request of the Lazic King to fend off Byzantine raids into his territory. At the same time, Belisarius arrived in Mesopotamia and began attacking the city of Nisibis. Although Belisarius had greatly outnumbered the city garrison, the city was too well fortified and he was forced to ravage the country around the Nisibis, subsequently getting recalled back west.[22]

After successful campaigns in Armenia, Khosrow was encouraged once again to attack Syria. Khosrow turned south towards Edessa and besieged the city. Edessa was now a much more important city than Antioch was, but the garrison which occupied the city was able to resist the siege. The Persians were forced to retreat from Edessa, but were able to forge a five-year truce with the Byzantine Empire in 545. Four years into the five-year truce, rebellion against Sasanian control broke out in Lazica. In response, a Byzantine army was sent to support the people of Lazica, effectively ending the established truce and thus continuing the Lazic Wars.[22]

Lazic wars

Main article: Lazic War
Map of Lazica.

The Lazic wars are intertwined with Khosrow's war with Justinian insomuch as there were many battles which overlapped each other, yet they are generally considered different wars. Whereas Khosrow's wars with Justinian were fought at the sake of fighting Romans, the Lazic wars were often fought on behalf of Lazic and Armenian citizens, or in defense of Sasanian outposts in Lazica.

The Caucasus region, especially northern Armenia, has always been a major area of Romano-Sasanian rivalry.[33] The Lazic wars began when the Sasanians intervened on Byzantine encroachments on behalf of the King of Lazica. Khosrow was able to penetrate deep into Lazica and secure the fortress city of Petra, located on the coast of the Black Sea, which provided Persia with a strategic port.[22]

Khosrow was forced to pull out of Lazica, leaving only a 1,500 man garrison in Petra to defend the territory while he went to deal with Belisarius in Mesopotamia.[34] In 542, Justinian attempted to make a truce with Khosrow, but rather than sending peace delegates, Justinian sent a massive 30,000 man army into Armenia. Sasanian general Nabed's army of 4,000 was severely outnumbered and was forced to retreat to the town of Anglon in Armenia.[34] The Byzantine army pursued the Sasanians into the town but to Byzantines' dismay, they walked into an ambush and were completely routed. This massive defeat in 543 gave Sasanians the offensive in the Lazic war as well as in the war against Justinian.[14]

Justinian and Khosrow declared a five-year truce in 545 but war continued to ravage the Caucasus region. An uprising of anti-Sasanian control struck the Lazica region in 547. In response, Justinian sent 8,000 troops in support of Lazic King Gubazes.[34] A Byzantine-Lazic army besieged the city of Petra, holding a garrison of 1,500 Sasanian troops. As a result, 1,200 of the Sasanian soldiers were killed, but the Byzantine-Lazic coalition was soon forced to retreat when a relief army of 30,000 pro-Sasanian troop arrived.[34]

Sometime later, Khosrow, who was keen to wrest Dara from Byzantine control, and would do so even if he risked to break the truce they had made regarding Mesopotamia, tried to capture it by tricking them; he sent one of highest officials, Izadgushasp, as a diplomat to Constantinople, but in reality the latter would stop by Dara, and with the aid of his large crew, he would seize the city. However, this plan was prevented by a former of adviser of Belisarius named George, who demanded that if Izadgushasp should enter the city he should have only twenty members of his crew with him. Izadgushasp then left the city and continued his journey to Constantinople, where he was friendly welcomed by Justinian, who gave him some gifts.[35]

In 549 the previous truce between Justinian and Khosrow was disregarded and full war broke out once again between Persians and Romans. The last major decisive battle of the Lazic wars came in 556 when Byzantine general Martin defeated a massive Sasanian force led by a Persian nakhvaegan (field marshal).[36] Negotiations between Khosrow and Justinian opened in 556, leading to the Fifty-Year Peace Treaty in 562 in which Persians would leave Lazica in return for an annual payment of gold.[22]

According to ancient historian Menander Protector, a minor official in Justinian's court, there were 12 points to the treaty, stated in the following passage:

1. Through the pass at the place called Tzon and through the Caspian Gates the

Persians shall not allow the Huns or Alans or other barbarians access to the Roman Empire, nor shall the Romans either in that area or on any other part of the Persian frontier send an army against the Persians.

2. The Saracen allies of both states shall themselves also abide by these agreements and those of the Persians shall not attack the Romans, nor those of the Romans the Persians.

3. Roman and Persian merchants of all kinds of goods, as well as similar tradesmen, shall conduct their business according to the established practice through the specified customs posts.

4. Ambassadors and all others using the public post to deliver messages, both those traveling to Roman and those to Persian territory, shall be honoured each according to his status and rank and shall receive the appropriate attention. They shall be sent back without delay, but shall be able to exchange the trade goods which they have brought without hindrance or any impost.

5. It is agreed that Saracen and all other barbarian merchants of either state shall not travel by strange roads but shall go by Nisibis and Daras, and shall not cross into foreign territory without official permission. But if they dare anything contrary to the agreement (that is to say, if they engage in tax-dodging, so-called), they shall be hunted down by the officers of the frontier and handed over for punishment together with the merchandise which they are carrying, whether Assyrian or Roman.

6. If anyone during the period of hostilities defected either from the Romans to the Persians or from the Persians to the Romans and if he should give himself up and wish to return to his home, he shall not be prevented from so doing and no obstacle shall be put in his way. But those who in time of peace defect and desert from one side to the other shall not be received, but every means shall be used to return them, even against their will, to those from whom they fled.

7. Those who complain that they have suffered some hurt at the hands of subjects of the other state shall settle the dispute equitably, meeting at the border either in person or through their own representatives before the officials of both states, and in this manner the guilty party shall make good the damage.

8. Henceforth, the Persians shall not complain to the Romans about the fortification of Daras. But in future neither state shall fortify or protect with a wall any place along the frontier, so that no occasion for dispute shall arise from such an act and the treaty be broken.

9. The forces of one state shall not attack or make war upon a people or any other territory subject to the other, but without inflicting or suffering injury shall remain where they are so that they too might enjoy the peace.

10. A large force, beyond what is adequate to defend the town, shall not be stationed at Daras, and the general of the East shall not have his headquarters there, in order that this not lead to incursions against or injury to the Persians. It was agreed that if some such should happen, the commander at Daras should deal with the offence.

11. If a city causes damage to or destroys the property of a city of the other side not in legitimate hostilities and with a regular military force but by guile and theft (for there are such godless men who do these things to provide a pretext for war), it was agreed that the judges stationed on the frontiers of both states should make a thorough investigation of such acts and punish them. If these prove unable to check the damage that neighbours are inflicting on each other, it was agreed that the case should be referred to the general of the East on the understanding that if the dispute were not settled within six months and the plaintiff had not recovered his losses, the offender should be liable to the plaintiff for a double indemnity. It was agreed that if the matter were not settled in this way, the injured party should send a deputation to the sovereign of the offender. If within one year the sovereign does not give satisfaction and the plaintiff does not receive the double indemnity due to him, the treaty shall be regarded as broken in respect of this clause.

12. Here you might find prayers to God and imprecations to the effect that may God be gracious and ever an ally to him who abides by the peace, but if anyone with deceit wishes to alter any of the agreements, may God be his adversary and enemy.

13. The treaty is for fifty years, and the terms of the peace shall be in force for fifty years, the year being reckoned according to the old fashion as ending with the threehundred- and-sixty-fifth day.[37]

War in the East

For more details on this topic, see Battle of Bukhara.
Coin of Khosrow I from Tokharistan, a region that was lost during the reign of Peroz I, but was later reconquered by Khosrow I.

With a stable peace agreement with the Byzantines in the west, Khosrow was now able to focus his attention on the eastern Hephthalites[38] and end their domination over Central Asia.[39] Even with the growth of Persian military power under Khosrow's reforms, the Sasanians were still uneasy at the prospect of attacking the Hephthalite on their own and began to seek allies.[38] Their answer came in the form of Turkic incursions into Central Asia.[14] The movement of Turkic people into Central Asia very quickly made them natural enemies and competitors to the Hephthalites.[38]

The Hephthalites were a strong military power but they lacked the organization to fight on multiple fronts.[38] The Persians and the Turkic tribes made an alliance and in 557 launched a two pronged attack on the Hephthalites, taking advantage of their disorganization and disunity. As a result, the Turkic tribes took the territory north of the Oxus river, while the Persians annexed land to the south.[22] According to the medieval Arab historian al-Masudi, Khosrow had before this event campaigned deeply in Hephthalite territory, where he killed their king Khushnavaz (also known as Akhshunvar or Akhshunwar) at Khuttal.[40]

Friendly relations between Turks and Persians quickly deteriorated after the conquest of Hephthalite peoples. Both Turks and Persians wanted to dominate the Silk Road and the trade industry between the west and the far east.[22] In 562 Khosrow II defeated the Hephthalites once again, and then stopped the threat of the Turks.[39]

In 568 a Turkish embassy was sent to Byzantine to propose an alliance and two pronged attack on the Sasanian Empire. Fortunately for the Persians, nothing ever came from this proposal.[41] Later in 569 or 570 the Turkic Khan Istämi (known as Sizibul in Byzantine sources) attacked and pillaged Persian border lands, but a treaty was soon signed.[39] Khosrow then sent a Mihranid named Mihransitad, to estimate the quality of the daughter of the Turkish Khan.[42] According to Armenian sources her name was Kayen,[43] while Persian sources states that her name was Qaqim-khaqan.[44] After Mihransitad's visit in Central Asia, Khosrow married Qaqim-khaqan. According to some sources, Hormizd IV, the successor of Khosrow, was the son of the Turkish princess. However, Encyclopædia Iranica states that the "marriage with the daughter of the Turkish khaqan is chronologically impossible", and says that Hormizd was born in 540, thirty years before Khosrow's marriage.[39]

Campaign in Yemen against Ethiopia

For more details on this topic, see Ethiopian–Persian wars.
Khosrau I fighting Ethiopian forces in Yemen. Egyptian woven pattern on a woolen curtain or trousers, which was a copy of a Sassanid silk import, which was in turn based on a Persian fresco.

In 522, before Khosrow's reign, a group of monophysite Ethiopians led an attack on the dominant Himyarites of southern Arabia. The local Arab leader was able to resist the attack, and appealed to the Sasanians for aid, while the Ethiopians subsequently turned towards the Byzantines for help. The Ethiopians sent another force across the Red Sea and this time successfully killed the Arab leader and replaced him with an Ethiopian man to be king of the region.[22]

In 531, Justinian suggested that the Ethiopians of Yemen should cut out the Persians from Indian trade by maritime trade with the Indians. The Ethiopians never met this request because an Ethiopian general named Abraha took control of the Yemenite throne and created an independent nation.[22] After Abraha's death one of his sons, Ma'd-Karib, went into exile while his half-brother took the throne. After being denied by Justinian, Ma'd-Karib sought help from Khosrow, who sent a small fleet and army under commander Vahrez to depose the current king of Yemen. After capturing the capital city San'a'l, Ma'd-Karib's son, Saif, was put on the throne.[22]

Justinian was ultimately responsible for Sasanian maritime presence in Yemen. By not providing the Yemenite Arabs support, Khosrow was able to help Ma'd-Karib and subsequently established Yemen as a principality of the Sasanian Empire.[45]

War with the Byzantine Empire, 572–591

For more details on this topic, see Byzantine–Sasanian War of 572–591.
Map of the Byzantine–Sasanian frontier.

Justinian died in 565 and left Justin II to succeed the throne. In 555, the Sasanian governor of Armenia and a relative of Khosrow, Chihor-Vishnasp (also known as Suren), built a fire temple at the Armenian capital Dvin and put to death a popular an influential member of the Mamikonian family. This execution created tremendous civil unrest and led to a revolt and massacre of the governor including the capture of Dvin in 572. Justin II took advantage of this revolt and used it as an excuse to stop paying annual payments to Khosrow, effectively putting an end to the 51 year peace treaty that was established ten years earlier. Khosrow, who tried to avoid another war, sent a Christian diplomat named Sebokht to Constantinople in order to try to persuade Justin to change his mind. Justin, however, refused to listen to the diplomat, and prepared to help the Armenians, whom he considered his allies, in their war against Khosrow.[46] A Byzantine army was sent into Sasanian territory and besieged Nisibis in the same year.[22]

Meanwhile, Khosrow sent an army under Golon Mihran to Armenia, but the latter was defeated in Taron by the Armenian rebel leader Vardan III Mamikonian, who captured his war elephants as war booty. Sometime later, however, Golon Mihran managed to seize Angl. During the same time, the Siunian prince Vahan asked for Khosrow's permission that he could move his court from Dvin to the capital of Paytakaran, a region in eastern Armenia. Furthermore, Vahan also requested that Paytakaran should be merged with the Atropatene province. Khosrow accepted, and did what he asked.[47]

In 573, Khosrow sent an army under Adarmahan to invade Syria, while he himself along with the three Mihranid military officers Izadgushasp, Fariburz and Bahram Chobin[48][49] led an army towards Dara, where they captured the city after four months, while Adarmahan sacked several cities in Syria, which included Apamea.[50] Justin reportedly lost his mind after these Byzantine disasters, and abdicated.

He was succeeded by Tiberius, a high-ranking military officer in 578.[51] Khosrow invaded Armenia once again feeling that he had the upper hand, and was initially successful. Soon after, the tables turned and the Byzantines gained a lot of local support. This made the Sasanians attempt another truce. However, sometime later, Khosrow, with an army consisting of 12,000 Persian soldiers including a combined of Sabir-Arab soldiers numbering 8,000 sent by his allies, ravaged the places around Resaina and Constantia in Syria, thus turning the tables once more.[52] During the same time, one of Khosrow's chief generals, Tamkhosrau, managed to trick Maurice by faking an invasion of Theodosiopolis, and then plundered the countryside of Martyropolis and Amida.[53]

However, the tables of the war quickly turned again when the newly appointed Byzantine supreme-commander Maurice entered the field and captured many Sasanian settlements.[22] The revolt came to an end when Khosrow gave amnesty to Armenia and brought them back into the Sasanian empire. Peace negotiations were once again brought back up, but abruptly ended with the death of Khosrow in 579,[54] who was succeeded by his son Hormizd IV.

Building projects

Khosrow's reign marked an expansion in building. Khosrow constructed a number of walls on his frontiers to protect from nomadic incursions as well as other enemies. On the southeast frontier he built a wall called the Wall of the Arabs in order to prevent Arab nomads from raiding his empire. In the northeast he built a wall to protect the interior of his empire from the Hephthalite and Turkish threat that was growing on his border.[14] His wall building campaign was also extended into the Caucasus region where he built massive walls at Derbent.[55]

After the sack of Antioch in 540, Khosrau built a new city near Ctesiphon for the inhabitants he captured. He called this new city Weh Antiok Khusrau or literally, "better than Antioch, Khosrow built this."[56] Local inhabitants of the area called the new city Rumagan, meaning "town of the Greeks" and Arabs called the city al-Rumiyya. Along with Weh Antiok, Khosrow built a number of fortified cities.[25]

Khosrow I greatly improved the road system within the Sasanian empire. These roads greatly improved the quickness that the armies were able to move, increasing the efficiency of the military. This led to greater defense of the empire as well as much quicker transportation of military intelligence. Chains of stations were also built along the roads. This allowed couriers to travel much more quickly and have safe resting stops as well as provide travelers with shelter.[22] Furthermore, during his reign Kirman was brought under a huge cultivation, where many large qanats were built. According to a legend, extensive planting of trees was also made.[57]

Philosopher King

Khosrow I holds a banquet for Bozorgmehr, his vizier.
Anushiruwan the Just statue in Tehran courthouse

Khosrow I was known to be a great patron of philosophy and knowledge. An entry in the Chronicle of Séert reads:

Khosrau was very learned in philosophy, which he had studied, it is said, under Mar Bar Samma, the Syriac bishop of Qardu, and under Paul the Persian.[58]

Khosrow I is known for saying a philosophic quote that follows:

We examined the customs of our forebears, but, concerned with the discovery of the truth, we [also] studied the customs and conducts of the Romans and Indians and accepted those among them which seemed reasonable and praiseworthy, not merely likeable. We have not rejected anyone because they belonged to a different religion or people. And having examined “the good customs and laws of our ancestors as well as those of the foreigners, we have not declined to adopt anything which was good nor to avoid anything which was bad. Affection for our forebears did not lead us to accept customs which were not good.[39]

Khosrow I accepted refugees coming from the Eastern Roman Empire when Justinian closed the neo-Platonist schools in Athens in 529.[14] He was greatly interested in Indian philosophy, science, mathematics, and medicine. He sent multiple embassies and gifts to the Indian court and requested them to send back philosophers to teach in his court in return.[59] Khosrow made many translations of texts from Greek, Sanskrit, and Syriac into Middle Persian.[22] He received the title of "Plato's Philosopher King" by the Greek refugees that he allowed into his empire because of his great interest in Platonic philosophy.[14] Nöldeke states that Khosrow I was "certainly one of the most efficient and best kings that the Iranians have ever had".[39]

Sasanian Plate depicting Khosrow I.

A synthesis of Greek, Persian, Indian, and Armenian learning traditions took place within the Sasanian Empire. One outcome of this synthesis created what is known as bimaristan, the first hospital that introduced a concept of segregating wards according to pathology. Greek pharmacology fused with Iranian and Indian traditions resulted in significant advances in medicine.[59] According to historian Richard Frye, this great influx of knowledge created a renaissance during, and proceeding Khosrow's reign.[60]

Intellectual games such as chess and backgammon demonstrated and celebrated the diplomatic relationship between Khosrow and a "great king of India." The vizier of the Indian king invented chess as a cheerful, playful challenge to King Khosrow. When the game was sent to Iran it came with a letter which read: "As your name is the King of Kings, all your emperorship over us connotes that your wise men should be wiser than ours. Either you send us an explanation of this game of chess or send revenue and tribute us."[61] Khosrow's grand vizier successfully solved the riddle and figured out how to play chess. In response the wise vizier created the game backgammon and sent it to the Indian court with the same message. The Indian King was not able to solve the riddle and was forced to pay tribute.[61]

Academy of Gondishapur

Khosrow I is known to have greatly expanded the Academy of Gondishapur, located in the city of Gundeshapur.[62] As to the development of non-religious knowledge and research in Persia and apart from historical evidence given on such traditions in the preceding Persian Empires, there are reports on systematic activities initiated by the Sasanian court as early as in the first decades of Sasanian rule. The Middle Persian encyclopaedia Denkard states that during the reign of Shapur I writings of this kind were collected and added to the Avesta. And an atmosphere of vivid reflection and discussion at the early Sasanian court in the third century AD is reflected in such accounts.[63] The foundation of the Academy of Gondishapur introduced the studies of philosophy, medicine, physics, poetry, rhetoric, and astronomy into the Sasanian court.[64] According to some historical accounts, this famous learning center was built in order to provide a place for incoming Greek refugees to study and share their knowledge.[59] Gundeshapur became the focal point of the combination of Greek and Indian sciences along with Persian and Aramaic traditions. The cosmopolitan which was introduced by the institution of Gondishapur became a catalyst for modern studies.


Although Khosrow's achievements were highly successful and helped centralize the empire, they did not last long after his death. The local officials and great noble families resented the fact that their power had been stripped away from them and began to regain power quickly after his death.[22] Khosrow's reign had a major impact on Islamic culture and political life. Many of his policies and reforms were brought into the Islamic nation in their transformation from a decentralized confederation into an imperial empire.[22]

There are a considerable number of Islamic works that were inspired by the reign of Khosrow I, for example the Kitab al-Taj of Jahiz.[25] The high number of Islamic texts referring to Khosrow's reign can make it hard to distinguish fact from fallacy.[22]

His reign signifies the promotion and possibly even the creation of the Silk Road between ancient China, India, and the western world.[59] Richard Frye makes the argument that Khosrow's rationale behind his numerous wars with the Byzantine empire as well as the eastern Hephthalites was to establish the Sasanian dominance on this trade route.[22]


  1. Ṭabarī (1993). The History of al-Tabari Vol. 11: The Challenge to the Empires A.D. 633-635/A.H. 12-13. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-9684-8.
  2. Compound of anuš (immortal) + ruwan (soul) Mackenzie, D. (1971). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary (p. 10, 73). Oxford University Press.
  3. Frye, Richard. The Heritage of Persia. The World Publishing Company, 1963, p. 215
  4. Hillenbrand 1986, pp. 385–387.
  5. 1 2 Martindale, Jones & Morris 1992, pp. 381–382
  6. Pourshariati (2008), pp. 110–111
  7. Frye, Richard. The Heritage of Persia. Mazda Publishers, 1993, p. 251
  8. Daryaee, Touraj. Sassanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. I.B. Tauris & Co., 2009, p. 28
  9. Daryaee 2009, p. 28–29
  10. Beate Dignas, Engelbert Winter: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, 38
  11. Frye 1983, p. 465
  12. (Pourshariati 2008, p. 111)
  13. Martindale, Jones & Morris 1992, pp. 16, 276; Pourshariati 2008, pp. 268–269; Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 112.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Daryaee 2009, p. 30
  15. 1 2 Farrokh 2007, 230
  16. 1 2 Daryaee 2009, p. 29
  17. Beate Dignas, Engelbert Winter: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Cambridge 2007, 28
  18. Frye 1993, 258, 260
  19. Frye 1993, 257
  20. Frye, Richard. "The History of Ancient Iran." Internet Islamic History Sourcebook.
  21. Johntson-Howard, James. “State and Society in Late Antiquity Iran,” in The Sassanian Era. Edited by Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Sarah Stewart. I.B. Tauris & Co., 2008, 126
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Frye Ancient Iran
  23. Frye 1993, 258
  24. Farrokh, Dr. Kaveh. Shadows in the Desert. Osprey Publishing, 2007, p. 230–230
  25. 1 2 3 Frye 1993, 259
  26. 1 2 3 Farrokh 2007, 229
  27. Daryaee 2009, 124
  28. 1 2 Bivar, ADH (1972). "Cavalry equipment and tactics on the Euphrates frontier". Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 26: 271–291.
  29. Herrmann, Georgina (1989). "Parthian and Sassanian saddlery". Archaeologia Iraníca et Orientalis.
  30. Beate Dignas, Engelbert Winter: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Cambridge 2007, 107.
  31. Farrokh 2007, 233
  32. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, pp. 102-103.
  33. Farrokh 2007, 234
  34. 1 2 3 4 Farrokh 2007, 235
  35. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 123.
  36. Farrokh 2007, 236
  37. Meander Protector. Fragments 6.1-6.3. Translated by R.C. Blockey, edited by Khodadad Rezakhani.
  38. 1 2 3 4 Farrokh 2007, 238
  39. 1 2 3 4 5 6 SASANIAN DYNASTY – Encyclopædia Iranica
  40. Brunner 1984, pp. 729–730.
  41. Beate Dignas, Engelbert Winter: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Cambridge 2007, 115
  42. Pourshariati (2008), p. 103
  43. Ter-Mkrticnyan L.H. Armyanskiye istochniki - Sredney Azii V - VII vv., p. 57.
  44. The Farsnama of Ibnu'l-Balkhi, pp. 24, 94.
  45. Farrokh 2007, 237
  46. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 141.
  47. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 149.
  48. Shahbazi 1988, pp. 514–522.
  49. Pourshariati (2008), p. 102
  50. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, pp. 146–149, 150.
  51. Farrokh 2007, 240
  52. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 160.
  53. Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 161.
  54. Farrokh 2007, 240–241
  55. Frye 1993, 260
  56. Beate Dignas, Engelbert Winter: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Cambridge 2007, 109
  57. Christensen 1993, p. 179.
  58. Addai Scher, ed., Histoire Nestorienne (Chronique de Seért), Patrologia Orientalis 7 (1910), 147.
  59. 1 2 3 4 Farrokh 2007, 241
  60. Frye 1993, 261
  61. 1 2 Canepa 2009, p. 181
  62. Taylor, Gail Marlow. "The Physicians of Jundishapur." e-Sasanika. 2010.
  63. Daryaee, Touraj. Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. I.B. Tauris & Co., 2009, p. 83.
  64. Taylor 2010 Jundishapur


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Khosrow I
Preceded by
Kavadh I
Great King (Shah) of Ērānshahr
Succeeded by
Hormizd IV
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