|"King of kings of Iran and Aniran"|
Coin of Yazdegerd I
|Reign||399 – 21 January, 420|
|Died||21 January, 420|
|Place of death||Hyrcania, Ērānshahr|
|Royal House||House of Sasan|
Yazdegerd I (Middle Persian: 𐭩𐭦𐭣𐭪𐭥𐭲𐭩 Yazdākird, meaning "made by God"; New Persian: یزدگرد), or Izdekerti, was the fourteenth Sassanid king of Persia and ruled from 399 to 420. He was the son of Shapur III (383–388). He succeeded to the Sasanian throne on the assassination of Bahram IV in 399 and ruled for twenty-one years till his death in 420.
Yazdegerd I's reign was largely uneventful. The king is described as being of a peaceful disposition. There were cordial relations between Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire as well as between Persia and the Western Roman Empire. Early during his reign, Yazdegerd was entrusted the care of the Roman prince Theodosius by his father Arcadius on the latter's death in 408, and Yazdegerd faithfully defended the life, power and possessions of the Roman prince.
Yazdegerd promoted Christianity in the early years of his reign and later opposed it. His alternate persecution of Zoroastrians and later Christians earned him the epithets of Al Khasha or "the Harsh" and Al Athim or "the Wicked" and Yazdegerd the Sinner. However, his general disposition towards the citizens of the Persian Empire was good. They gave him the epithet of Ramashtras or "the most quiet".
The later part of his reign was occupied by his attempts to convert Armenia to Zoroastrianism. During his last days, there took place a civil war between his sons. Bahram V emerged victorious and claimed the throne. Yazdegerd I died in 420 and was succeeded by his son Bahram V.
When Bahram IV was assassinated in 399, his son Yazdegerd succeeded him. The Persian soldiers who had murdered Bahram IV did not hurt him on account of his excellent character and fine disposition. The general tenor of his rule was quite peaceful.
Relations with Rome
The Ostrogoth invasion of 386, the revolt of Maximus in 387, the Antioch revolt of 387, the invasion of Gaul in 388, the massacres at Thessalonika and the rebellion of Arbogastes and Eugenius in 393 had severely weakened the Roman Empire. Between 386 and 398, Gildo the Moor ruled an independent kingdom in Africa, and in 395 the Goths took to arms under their leader Alaric. But Yazdegerd on his accession to the throne desisted from assuming any aggressive posture towards the Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius or the Western Roman Emperor Honorius. Yazdegerd's extreme tranquility and his reluctance to invade the Roman Empire earned him the epithet "Ramashtras," "the most quiet," or "the most firm," he justified his assumption of it by a complete abstinence from all military expeditions.
Adoption of Theodosius
On the ninth year of his reign, it is believed, Yazdegerd was entrusted the care of Prince Theodosius by his father Arcadius, the Eastern Roman Emperor. It was strange that Arcadius chose neither his younger-brother Honorius nor any of his distinguished subjects for the purpose and instead entrusted his son to the charge of the Persian monarch. He accompanied the appointment by a solemn appeal to the magnanimity of Isdigerd, whom he exhorted at some length to defend with all his force, and guide with his best wisdom, the young king and his kingdom. One writer even goes to the extent of claiming that Arcadius gifted Yazdegerd a thousand pounds of pure gold in return for his favour. When Arcadius died, and the testament was opened, information of its contents was sent to Isdigerd, who at once accepted the charge assigned to him, and addressed a letter to the Senate of Constantinople, in which he declared his determination to punish any attempt against his ward with the extremest severity. Flattered, he performed his newfound role with utmost sincerity providing him the best possible education and assistance.
A eunuch named Antiochus was selected and sent to Constantinople to look after the young Emperor. He was, for many years, the prince's intimate companion. He was supposed to have been killed or expelled from the kingdom by Pulcheria, elder sister of Theodosius. However, even after Antiochus' end, Yazdegerd continued his aid to the young monarch.
However, these narratives were written a century and a half after the death of Arcadius, and have been rejected by modern scholars due to the silence of contemporary writers as outweighing the positive statements of the later ones.
According to Wein, Yazdegerd I was a wise, benevolent, and astute ruler. He was also known for his religious tolerance, towards both Christians and Jews. For example, the Talmud (Ksubos, 61a) relates that Ameimar, Rav Ashi, and Mar Zutra would sit in his court. However, excessive zeal of the Christian bishop of Ctesiphon, Abdaas, provoked a reaction, and when he tried to burn the Great Fire temple of Ctesiphon, Yazdegerd I turned against the Christians (see following).
Early inclination towards Christianity
During the early part of his reign, Yazdegerd inclined towards Christianity. George Rawlinson feels that Yazdegerd may even himself wanted to convert to Christianity. Antiochus openly wrote in favor of Christians, and this rapidly increased conversions to Christianity. He openly persecuted the Magi, the Zoroastrian high-priests, who were sworn enemies of Christians.
Yazdegerd is believed to have been an ardent follower of at least two prominent Christian bishops: Marutha, bishop of Mesapotamia, and Abdaas, the bishop of Ctesiphon. Marutha in particular exerted a great amount of influence over the Persian Emperor, and it was at his insistence that Yazdegerd issued a declaration in 410 giving Christians the freedom of worship. This proclamation is sometimes regarded as "the Edict of Milan for the Assyrian Church".
According to the Byzantine historian Procopius, "From the start, Yazdegerd was a sovereign whose nobility of character had won for him the greatest renown. He gave his Christian subjects such freedom, even support that they prayed daily for the safety of 'the victorious and glorious king' ". A contemporary Christian account says that "the good and clement King Yazdegerd did well to the poor and wretched".
Yazdegerd sent the Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon to mediate between the king and his brother who governed Pars. Another Catholicos was Yazdegerd's envoy to Theodosius.
Persecution of Christians
Engaged in a dispute with the local magi in AD 420, he was accused of burning down one of their temples, a pyramid of Ahura Mazda. Yazdegerd ordered the bishop to restore and repair the building at his own expense, upon Abdas' refusal the King ordered the destruction of the churches. These events soured the relationship between the Christian church of Persia and the Sasanians which had previously been good, and caused a wave of persecution against the Christians in Persia.
Though viewing the Christians of Persia with suspicion thereafter as potential internal subversives, and viewed as a tyrant by Persian Christians, he was held in high regard by the Roman Christians. In order to create a religious buffer between the Church of Rome and the Persian Church, Yazdegerd actively promoted Nestorianism Christianity.
Relations with Armenia
When indulging in the persecution of Christians in Persia, Yazdegerd also attempted to spread Zoroastrianism in Armenia. Under these circumstances, Isaac, the Metropolitan of Armenia, proceeded to the court of Ctesiphon, and petitioned Yazdegerd to replace Artaxias IV with Khosrov IV who had been deposed twenty-one years earlier, and whom Bahram IV had imprisoned in the "Castle of Oblivion". Yazdegerd I released Khosrov IV and reinstated him upon the throne of Armenia in order to stabilize the condition. However, Khosrov IV survived for only a year, and on his death, the throne became empty once again, leaving Armenia to chaos. So Yazdegerd responded by placing his own son Shapur IV on the throne of Armenia, forcing him upon the reluctant nobles of Armenia. Shapur IV concentrated on reconciliation and established friendly relations with the nobles. He made every effort to convert the Christian Armenians to Zoroastrianism, but was largely unsuccessful. He ruled Armenia for four years and returned to Ctesiphon in 419 to capture the throne from the king Yazdegerd I, who was in his death-bed.
Yazdegerd I died in 420. However, the circumstances surrounding Yazdegerd's death are not clear. According to popular legend, he was killed during his stay in Hyrcania by a fabulous horse which emerged magically from a stream. However, this is believed to be some sort of allusion to his death at the hands of his nobles.
War of succession
When Yazdegerd I was overcome by mortal illness in the year 419, Shapur IV immediately rushed to Ctesiphon to claim the Sassanian throne leaving behind a viceroy to govern Armenia. But the viceroy-designate was killed soon after Shapur left Armenia. A battle of succession followed and lasted for three years after Yazdegerd's death. Shapur was treacherously killed by the courtiers in the initial stages of the battle. Bahram V arrived from Al-Hira and captured the throne after defeating the Persian nobles with an Arab army in a three-year-long battle. Narseh, another son of Yazdegerd I was appointed governor of Khorasan.
Coins of Yazdegerd I
The coins of Yazdegerd are not of much artistic value. They all bear the head of a middle-aged man, with a short beard and hair gathered behind the head in a cluster of curls. The distinguishing mark is the inflated ball above the headdress which is adorned with a crescent in the front. On the reverse side of the coin is a fire-altar. The coins bear the legend: "Mazdisn bag ramashtras Izdikerti, malkan malka Airan," or "the Ormazd-worshipping divine most peaceful Isdigerd, king of the kings of Iran;" and on the reverse, Ramashtras Izdikerti, "the most peaceful Isdigerd". In some cases, Yazdegerd's coins also bear the names of "Ardashatri" (Artaxerxes) or, "Varahran", probably a reference to Ardeshir, the founder of the Sassanid Empire and Yazdegerd I's son Bahram V or Bahramgur. Perhaps a more reasonable account of the matter would be that Yazdegerd had originally a son Ardeshir, whom he intended to make his successor, but that this son died or offended him, and that then he gave his place to Bahramgur.
- Nöldeke, p. 73 n. 3
- This is, of course, not true: [Edward Gibbon; The History Of The Decline & Fall Of The Roman Empire; Womersley ed.; Ch.32, pg.261 (Vol.II)]
- Rawlinson 1882, p.275.
- Arabic al-atòim, Tabari I, p. 847
- Rawlinson 1882, p.272.
- Rawlinson 1882, p.269.
- Rawlinson 1882, p.270.
- Rawlinson 1882, p.273.
- Asmussen, 1983, p. 940
- Wigram, p. 89
- Procopius(1.2, 8)
- Nöldeke, p. 75 n.
- Greatrex-Lieu, p. 32
- Theodoret, v. 39
- This History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer, pg. 85-87>
- A Short World History of Christianity by Robert Bruce Mullin, pp. 82-85
- Rawlinson 1882, p.277.
- Rawlinson 1882, p.278.
- Nöldeke, p. 77 and 78
- Rawlinson, George. (1882). The Seventh Great Oriental Monarchy. Dodd, Mead and Company
- Rawlinson, George. (1885). The Seven Great Monarchies of the Eastern World, Vol 7 . J. B. Alden
- Nöldeke. (1879). Geschichte der Perser
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
|Great King (Shah) of Persia