Khosrau II of Persia

"Chosroes" redirects here. For for other uses, see Khosrau (disambiguation).
Khosrau II
Great King (Shah) of Ērānshahr
Parviz (The Victorious)
Gold coin of Khosrau II.
Reign 590 (first reign)
591 – February 25, 628 (second reign)
Born Circa 570
Birthplace Ctesiphon (modern day Iraq)
Died February 28, 628
Place of death Ctesiphon (modern day Iraq)
Predecessor Hormizd IV, Bahram Chobin, Hormizd V and Vistahm
Successor Kavadh II
Consort Shirin, Miriam/Maria
Issue Mardanshah
Kavadh II
Khosrau IV
Shahryar, and many more
Father Hormizd IV
Religious beliefs Zoroastrianism

Khosrau II (Chosroes II in classical sources, entitled "Aparvez"; later garbled into Parviz), "The Victorious" – (Persian: خسرو پرویز, Khosrow Parviz), was the last great king of the Sasanian Empire, reigning from 590 to 628.[1] He was the son of Hormizd IV (reigned 579–590) and the grandson of Khosrau I (reigned 531–579). He was the last king of Persia to have a lengthy reign before the Muslim conquest of Iran, which began five years after his death by assassination. He lost his throne, then recovered it with Roman help, and, a decade later, went on to emulate the feats of the Achaemenids, conquering the rich Roman provinces of the Middle East; much of his reign was spent in wars with the Byzantine Empire and struggling against usurpers such as Bahram Chobin and Vistahm.

In works of Persian literature such as the Shahnameh and Khosrow and Shirin (Persian: خسرو و شیرین‎), a famous tragic romance by Nizami Ganjavi (1141−1209), a highly elaborated fictional version of Khosrau's life made him one of the greatest heroes of the culture, as much as a lover as a king. Khosrow and Shirin tells the story of his love for the Aramean princess Shirin, who becomes his queen after a lengthy courtship strewn with mishaps and difficulties.


Early life

Khosrau II was born around the 570's; his father was Hormizd IV and his mother descended from the Ispahbudhan from Parthia; her two brothers named Vinduyih and Vistahm were to have a profound influence in Khosrau II's early life.[2]

Personality and skills

Historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari describes him as:

Excelling most of the other Persian kings in bravery, wisdom and forethought, and none matching him in military might and triumph, hoarding of treasures and good fortunes, hence the epithet Parviz, meaning victorious.[3]

According to legend, Khosrau had a shabestan in which over 3,000 concubines resided.[3]

Accession to the throne

Khosrau II was raised to the throne by the same magnates who had rebelled against his father Hormizd IV. Soon after being crowned, Khosrau had his father blinded, then executed. However, at the same time, General Bahram Chobin had proclaimed himself King Bahram VI (590–591), exemplifying Khosrau's difficulty in maintaining control of his kingdom.

The war with the Byzantine Empire, which had begun in 571, had not yet come to an end. So, Khosrau II fled to Syria, and, subsequently, to Constantinople, where the Emperor Maurice (582–602) agreed to assist Khosrau in regaining his throne. In return, the Byzantines would re-gain sovereignty over the cities of Amida, Carrhae, Dara and Miyafariqin. Furthermore, Persia was required to cease intervening in the affairs of Iberia and Armenia, effectively ceding control of Lazistan to the Byzantines.[4][5]

A large percentage of the leading bureaucrats, administrators, governors, and military commanders, along with the majority part of the Persian military, acknowledged Khosrau II as the King of Persia. Therefore, in 591, Khosrau returned to Ctesiphon with Byzantine aid and subsequently defeated Bahram VI at the Battle of Blarathon. Bahram fled to the eastern parts of Persia and settled in Balkh,[2] or Ferghana.[6] However, a few years later, he was killed by a hired assassin sent by Khosrau II.[7] Then, peace with Byzantium was concluded. For his aid, Maurice received much of Persian Armenia and western Georgia, and received the abolition of the subsidies which had formerly been paid to the Persians.[2]

Music during the reign of Khosrau II

Khosrau II's reign was considered a golden age in music. Before Khosrau II there were many other Sasanian kings that showed particular interest in music, like Khosrau I, Bahram Gur, and even Ardashir I. Notable musicians during the reign of Khosrau II were Barbad, Bamshad, Sarkash, and Nagisa.

Religious policy

Khosrau II married a Christian named Shirin, whose son Mardanshah he wanted to succeed to the throne. Khosrau's relationship to Christianity was complicated: his wife Shirin was Christian, and so was Yazdin, his minister of finance.[8] During his reign there was constant conflict between Monophysite and Nestorian Christians. Khosrau favored the Monophysites, and ordered all his subjects to adhere to Monophysitism, perhaps under the influence of Shirin and the royal physician Gabriel of Sinjar, who both supported this faith. His positive policy toward Christians (which, however, was probably politically motivated) made him unpopular with the Zoroastrian priests.

War with the Byzantine Empire

Military exploits and early victories

Toward the beginning of his reign, Khosrau II favoured the Christians. However, when in 602 Maurice was murdered by his General Phocas (602–610), who usurped the Roman (Byzantine) throne, Khosrau launched an offensive against Constantinople: ostensibly to avenge Maurice's death, but his aim clearly included the annexation of as much Byzantine territory as was feasible.[2] His armies invaded and plundered Syria and Asia Minor, and in 608 advanced into Chalcedon.

In 613 and 614, General Shahrbaraz besieged and captured Damascus and Jerusalem, and the True Cross was carried away in triumph. Soon afterwards, General Shahin marched through Anatolia, defeating the Byzantines numerous times; he conquered Egypt in 618. The Byzantines could offer but little resistance, as they were torn apart by internal dissensions, and pressed by the Avars and Slavs, who were invading the Empire from across the Danube River.

Richard Nelson Frye speculates that one major mistake Khosrau II made, which was to have severe consequences in the future, was the capture, imprisonment, and execution of Nu'aman III, King of the Lakhmids of Al-Hira, in approximately 600, presumably because of the Arab king's failure to support Khosrau during his war against the Byzantines. (According to some accounts, Nu'aman was crushed by elephants.) Afterwards the central government took over the defense of the western frontiers to the desert, and the buffer state of the Lakhmids vanished. This ultimately facilitated the Muslim Caliphs' invasion and conquest of Lower Iraq, less than a decade after Khosrau's death.[9]

Invasion and Defeat by the Byzantine Empire

In 622, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (who had succeeded Phocas in 610 and ruled until 641) was able to take the field with a powerful force. In 624, he advanced into northern Media, where he destroyed the great fire-temple of Ganzhak (Gazaca) at Takab, in modern East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. Several years later, in 626, he captured Lazistan (Colchis). Later that same year, the Persian general Shahin advanced on Chalcedon on the Bosphoros and attempted to capture Constantinople with the help of Persia's Avar allies. This maneuver failed, his forces were defeated, and he withdrew his army from Anatolia later in 628.

Following the Khazar invasion of Transcaucasia in 627, Heraclius defeated the Persian army at the Battle of Nineveh and advanced towards Ctesiphon. Khosrau II fled from his favourite residence, Dastgerd (near Baghdad), without offering resistance. Meanwhile, some of the Persian grandees freed his eldest son Kavadh II (he ruled briefly in 628), whom Khosrau II had imprisoned, and proclaimed him King on the night of 23–4 February, 628.[10] Four days afterwards, Khosrau II was murdered in his palace, or perished in a dungeon after suffering for five days on bare sustenance—he was shot to death slowly with arrows on the fifth day.[11] Meanwhile, Heraclius returned in triumph to Constantinople. In 629 the True Cross was returned to him and Egypt was evacuated. The Sassanid Empire sank into anarchy from the greatness it had reached ten years earlier, and was conquered by the armies of the first Islamic Caliphs, beginning in 634.

Muhammad's letter to Khosrau II

Khosrau II (Arabic: كسرى) is also remembered in Islamic tradition to be the Persian king to whom Muhammad had sent a messenger, Abdullah ibn Hudhafah as-Sahmi, along with a letter in which Khosrau was asked to preach the religion of Islam.[12][13] The account as transmitted by Muslim historians reads:

"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to the great Kisra of Iran. Peace be upon him, who seeks truth and expresses belief in Allah and in His Prophet and testifies that there is no god but Allah and that He has no partner, and who believes that Muhammad is His servant and Prophet. Under the Command of Allah, I invite you to Him. He has sent me for the guidance of all people so that I may warn them all of His wrath and may present the unbelievers with an ultimatum. Embrace Islam so that you may remain safe. And if you refuse to accept Islam, you will be responsible for the sins of the Magi."[13][14]

Khosrau II tore up Muhammed's letter[15] and commanded Badhan, his vassal ruler of Yemen, to dispatch two valiant men to identify, seize and bring this man from Hijaz (Muhammad) to him. Meanwhile, back in Madinah, Abdullah told Muhammad how Khosrau had torn his letter to pieces and Muhammad then promised the destruction of Khosrau II.[16]

In art

The battles between Heraclius and Khosrau are depicted in a famous early Renaissance fresco by Piero della Francesca, part of the History of the True Cross cycle in the church of San Francesco, Arezzo.

See also

References and sources

  • [4] — a primary source containing detailed information about the early reign of Khosrau II and his relationship with the Romans.
  • Continuité des élites à Byzance durante les siècles obscurs. Les princes caucasiens et l'Empire du VIe au IXe siècle, 2006
Khosrau II
Sasanian dynasty
Preceded by
Hormizd IV
Great King (Shah) of Ērānshahr
Succeeded by
Bahram Chobin
Preceded by
Bahram Chobin
Great King (Shah) of Ērānshahr
Succeeded by
Kavadh II

Template:Sassanid Rulers

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