Šābuhr I’s new gold coin depicting the Roman Emperor

In 243 CE, Gordian invaded Mesopotamia to take back what had been taken by Ardaxšīr and his son after Alexander Severus’ death. Šābuhr tells us (according to ŠKZ) that he was able to kill him at Misikhe in 244 CE, close to the Euphrates river which he later called Pērōz-Šābuhr (Victorious is Šābuhr).[1] In fact it appears that Gordian had died in Zaitha in northern Mesopotamia in 244 CE at a time when warfare between the two sides seemed unlikely.[2] It is suggested by some that the Roman forces after the defeat murdered Gordian in retreat at Zaitha.[3] According to Šābuhr I’s Ka’be-ye Zardošt inscription Gordian had come with a force composed of “Goths and Germans” (ŠKZ Pa4/37 gwt w grm’ny), and they were defeated in a frontal battle. Philip the Arab was forced to sign a treaty which ceded much territory and a large sum of gold as war reparations, amounting to 500,000 denarii.[4]

Šābuhr I commemorated his victory in a rock-relief at Naqsh-ī Rustam showing him subjugating the two Roman emperors to his will. Šābuhr I has also left us a long biography of his deeds at Ka’be-ye Zardošt, in Persis which is the first long testament from the Sasanians themselves and demonstrates their outlook in an epic narrative. In his res gestae he provides information on his religious conviction, lineage, the areas that he ruled over, and also the fate of the Romans.

He states that Gordian and his army were destroyed. Šābuhr I also tells us that Caesar lied, putting the matters in a Zoroastrian doctrinal context where the Romans represented the concept of Lie / Disorder, against the Persian representatives of Truth / Order. The second campaign began in 252 CE against a Roman force of 60,000 at Barbalissus which ended in total defeat of the Romans, and if we are to believe the ŠKZ narrative, some 37 towns in Mesopotamia and Syria were taken.[5]

What is of interest here is a new find which reflects a mobile form of propaganda by Šābuhr I. A unique gold coin of our victorious Persian warrior came to light several years ago. On the obverse we see a typical legend with the bust of the king which reads:

mzdysn bgy shpwhry MLK’n MLK’ ’yl’n W’nyr’n MNW ctry MN yzd’n

mazdēsn bay šābuhr šāhān šāh ērān ud anērān kē čihr az yazdān

“Mazda-worshipping Lord, Šābuhr, king of kings of Iranians, who is from the lineage of gods”

On the reverse, however, we have a new iconographic depiction that shows the king holding the hand of an individual, similar to the rock reliefs in Persis. The legend, however, is new :[6]

ZNH ZK AMTš plypws kycry W hrwm’y PWN b’cy W OBDk YKAYMWN / HWEd

Ēn ān kā-š frlipōs kēsar ud hrōmāy pad bāz ud bandag estād hēnd

“This is when Philip the Caesar and the Romans were stopped and became captive:

[1] Roman sources are divided as to the cause of death of Gordian. Oracaula Sibyllina XIII, 13-20 predicts Gordian’s downfall as a betrayal; Aurelius Victor, liber de Caesaribus 27, 7-8: 7 states that he was a victim of intrigues of his Praetorian Perfect, Marcus Philippus; Festus, Breviarium 22 mentions that Gordian was returning, victorious from his war against the Persians when he was murdered by Philip. For all these sources see M.H. Dodgeon and S.N.C. Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, A Documentary History, Routledge, London and New York, 1991, pp. 36-45. For details see Kettenhofen, op. cit., p. 31-37.

[2] Potter, op. cit., p. 236.

[3] Potter, op. cit., p. 236.

[4] ŠKZ 5/4/9.

[5]ŠKZ 12/9/11.

[6] Skjaervo has read the legend and I have simply given my English translation.