Image of King Narseh on a coin minted during his reign.

Narseh (whose name is also sometimes written as Narses or Narseus) was the seventh Sassanid King of Persia (293–302), and son of Shapur I (241–272).[1]

During the rule of his father Shapur I, Narseh had served as the Viceroy of Sistan, Baluchistan and Sindh. Prior to becoming King of Persia, he held the title Great King of Armenia.[2]

Narseh overthrew the increasingly unpopular Bahram III in 293 with the support of most of the nobility. The circumstances of Narseh's rise to power are detailed in the Paikuli inscription.


Relations With Rome

During Narses' time, Rome was ruled by Diocletian and it was with Diocletian and his son-in-law Galerius that Narses was engaged in eight years of constant warfare.

In 296, fed up with incursions made by the Armenian monarch Tiridates III, Narses invaded Armenia. Surprised by the sudden attack, Tiridates fled his kingdom. The Roman Emperor Diocletian dispatched his son-in-law Galerius with a large army to Tiridates's aid.

Galerius invaded Mesopotamia, which Narses had occupied hoping to check his advance. Three battles were fought subsequently, the first two of which were indecisive. In the third fought at Callinicum, Galerius suffered a complete defeat and was forced to retreat. Galerius crossed the Euphrates into Syria to join his father-in-law Diocletian at Antioch. On his arrival at Antioch, Galerius was rebuked by Diocletian who disgraced him for his shameful defeat at the hands of Narses. Vowing to take revenge, Galerius made preparations throughout the winter of 297 and invaded Armenia with 25,000 men.

Supported by the Armenians, Galerius surprised Narses in his camp at the Battle of Satala and inflicted a crushing defeat on the latter forcing him to flee in haste. His wife, prisoners, his sisters and a number of his children were captured apart from his prodigious military chest. Eastern Mesopotamia was recovered by the Romans and Tiridates was reinstated as the monarch of Armenia.

Anxious to make peace with the Romans, Narses dispatched his envoy Aphraban to Galerius with the following message:

"The whole human race knows that the Roman and Persian kingdoms resemble two great luminaries, and that, like a man's two eyes, they ought mutually to adorn and illustrate each other, and not in the extremity of their wrath to seek rather each other's destruction. So to act is not to act manfully, but is indicative rather of levity and weakness; for it is to suppose that our inferiors can never be of any service to us, and that therefore we had bettor get rid of them. Narses, moreover, ought not to be accounted a weaker prince than other Persian kings; thou hast indeed conquered him, but then thou surpassest all other monarchs; and thus Narses has of course been worsted by thee, though he is no whit inferior in merit to the best of his ancestors. The orders which my master has given me are to entrust all the rights of Persia to the clemency of Rome; and I therefore do not even bring with me any conditions of peace, since it is for the emperor to determine everything. I have only to pray, on my master's behalf, for the restoration of his wives and male children; if he receives them at your hands, he will be forever beholden to you, and will be better pleased than if he recovered them by force of arms. Even now my master cannot sufficiently thank you for the kind treatment which he hears you have vouchsafed them, in that you have offered them no insult, but have behaved towards them as though on the point of giving them back to their kith and kin. He sees herein that you bear in mind the changes of fortune and the instability of all human affairs."

But Galerius dismissed Aphraban without giving any definite answer, at the same time accusing the Persians of ill-treating Valerian. In the meantime, he consulted Diocletian at Nisibis who persuaded Galerius to offer terms of peace to the Persians.

Accordingly terms of peace were agreed upon, and were ratified by a treaty concluded by Narses with the Romans.

According to this treaty,

  • Five provinces beyond the Tigris were to be ceded to the Romans. One writer gives these provinces as Intilene,

Sophene, Arzanene, Carduene, and Zabdicene; by another as Arzanene, Moxoene, Zabdicene, Rehimene, and Corduene.

  • The semi-independent kingdom of Armenia was to be extended up to the fortress of Zintha, in Media
  • Persia was expected to relinquish all her rights over Iberia.
  • Formal dealings between Persia and Rome would henceforth be conducted at Nisibis.


Narses did not survive for long after the conclusion of this humiliating treaty. He abdicated in 301, in favor of his son, Hormizd, probably ashamed at the humiliation he had suffered. He spent the last years of his life in self-renunciation.

It is not known for how long Narses survived his abdication. However, it is well-known that Narses was already dead by the time of Hormizd's death in 309 for the throne passed onto Hormizd's still-unborn son Shapur.

See also


  1. ^ Touraj Daryaee, Sasanian Persia, (I.B.Tauris Ltd, 2010), 10.
  2. ^ Touraj Daryaee, 11.

Preceded by
Bahram III
Great King (Shah) of Persia
Succeeded by
Hormizd II

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