Bahram II

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Bahram II
King of kings of Iran and Aniran
Coin of Bahram II (cropped), Herat mint.jpg
Coin of Bahram II, possibly minted at Herat.
Shahanshah of the Sasanian Empire
ReignSeptember 274 – 293
PredecessorBahram I
SuccessorBahram III
IssueBahram III
HouseHouse of Sasan
FatherBahram I

Bahram II (Middle Persian: 𐭥𐭫𐭧𐭫𐭠𐭭‎, Wahrām; New Persian: بهرام دوم, Bahrām) was the fifth king (shah) of the Sasanian Empire from 274 to 293. He was the son of Bahram I (r. 271–274). He was the first Sasanian ruler to have coins minted of his family. He also ordered the carving of several rock reliefs that unambiguously emphasizes distinguished representations of his family and members of the high nobility. In the east, Bahram II had to deal with revolts by his cousin Hormizd of Sakastan and brother Hormizd I Kushanshah. At the same time his empire was invaded in the west by the Roman emperor Carus, who may have briefly occupied the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon. In Khuzestan, a Zoroastrian factional revolt had occurred. After making peace with the newly ascended Roman emperor Diocletian, Bahram II was capable of bringing peace to his domains.

Bahram II died in 293, and was succeeded by his son Bahram III, who after only four months of reigning, was overthrown by Narseh, a son of the second Sasanian shah Shapur I (r. 240–270).


His theophoric name "Bahram" is the New Persian form of the Middle Persian Warahrān (also spelled Wahrām), which is derived from the Old Iranian Vṛθragna. The Avestan equivalent was Vərəθraγna, the name of the god of victory, whilst the Parthian version was *Warθagn. The name is transliterated in Greek as Baranes.[1]


Bahram II was the son of Bahram I, and the grandson of the prominent Sasanian shah Shapur I (r. 240–270). Bahram I, although being the eldest son of Shapur I, was not considered a candidate for succession, probably due to his mother's lowly origin, who was either a minor queen or perhaps even a concubine.[2][3] Shapur I died in 270, and was succeeded by his son Hormizd I, whose only reigned for a year before he died. Bahram I, with the aid of the powerful Zoroastrian priest Kartir, ascended the throne.[4] He then made a settlement with his brother Narseh to give up his entitlement to the throne in return for the governorship of the important frontier province of Armenia, which was constantly the source of war between the Roman and Sasanian Empires.[2] Nevertheless, Narseh still most likely viewed Bahram I as a usurper.[4]

Governorship and accession[edit]

Bahram was shortly given the governorship of Sakastan, Sindh and Turgistan, which Narseh had previously governed.[5][6] The provinces were far away from the imperial court in Ctesiphon, and had since its conquest by the Sasanians served as a difficult area for them to maintain control over.[7] As a result, the province had since its early days functioned as a form of vassal kingdom, ruled by princes from the Sasanian family, who held the title of sakanshah ("King of the Saka").[7] Bahram I's reign, however, lasted shortly, ending on September 274 with his death.[4] Bahram II, still in his teens,[5] succeeded him as shah; he may have been aided by Kartir to ascended the throne instead of Narseh.[8][9] This most likely frustrated Narseh, who held the title of Vazurg Šāh Arminān ("Great King of Armenia"), which was used by the heir to the throne.[10]



Bahram II was met with considerable challenges during his reign. His brother Hormizd I Kushanshah, who governed the eastern portion of the empire (i.e., the Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom), rebelled against him.[11][12] Hormizd I Kushanshah was the first Kushano-Sasanian ruler to mint coins with the inscription of "Hormizd, the Great Kushan King of Kings" instead of the traditional "Great Kushan King" title.[13] The Kushano-Sasanian king, now laying claims to the title of King of Kings, which had originally also been used by the Kushan Empire, displays a noteworthy transition in Kushano-Sasanian ideology and self-perception and possibly a direct dispute with the ruling branch of the Sasanian family.[13] Hormizd I Kushanshah was supported in his efforts by the Sakastanis, Gilaks, and Kushans.[10] Another revolt also occurred in Sakastan, led by Bahram II's cousin Hormizd of Sakastan, who has been suggested to be the same person as Hormizd I Kushanshah.[11] However, according to Rezakhani, this proposal must now be disregarded.[13] At the same time, a revolt led by a high-priest (mowbed) occurred in the province of Khuzestan, which was seized by the latter for a period.[14]

Meanwhile, the Roman emperor Carus, hearing of the civil war occurring in the Sasanian Empire, chose to take advantage of the situation by making a campaign into the empire in 283.[11] He invaded Mesopotamia while Bahram II was in the east, and even besieged the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon without facing much fighting.[15][4] The Sasanians, due to facing severe internal problems, were unable to mount an effective coordinated defense at the time; Carus and his army may have captured Ctesiphon.[16] However, Carus shortly died afterwards, reportedly being struck by lightning.[16] The Roman army as a result withdrew, and Mesopotamia was re-conquered by the Sasanians.[4]

Consolidation of the empire[edit]

"Victory" of Bahram II over Roman Emperor Carus is depicted in the top panel, and the victory over Hormizd I Kushanshah is depicted in the bottom panel at Naqsh-e Rustam.[11]

The following year, Bahram II made peace with the Romans, now ruled by Diocletian, who was faced with internal issues of his own.[4][15] The terms of the peace was reportedly that Armenia was to be divided between the two empires, with Western Armenia being ruled by the pro-Roman Arsacid prince Tiridates III, and the remaining greater portion being kept by Narseh.[15] However, this division is dismissed by Weber, who argues that it conflicts with other sources, and that the Sasanians most likely kept control over Armenia until the later Roman-Iranian treaty of 299.[2] In the same year, Bahram II secured the Iberian throne for Mirian III, an Iranian nobleman from the House of Mihran, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran.[17] The motive behind was to strengthen Sasanian authority in the Caucasus and utilize the position of the Iberian capital Mtskheta as an entrance to the important passes through the Caucasus Mountains.[17] This was of so high importance to Bahram II, that he allegedly himself went to Mtskheta in order to secure Mirian's position.[17]

By the time of Bahram II's death in 293, the revolts in the east had been suppressed, with his son and heir Bahram III being appointed the governor of Sakastan, receiving the title of sakanshah ("King of the Saka").[4][15] Following Bahram II's death, Bahram III was unwillingly proclaimed shah in Pars by a group of nobles led by Wahnam and supported by Adurfarrobay, governor of Meshan.[18] After four months of reigning, however, he was overthrown by Narseh, who had Wahnam executed.[2] The line was thus shifted to Narseh, whose descendants continued to rule the empire until its fall in 651.[19]

Relations with Kartir and religious policy[edit]

Bahram II, like his father, received the influential Zoroastrian priest Kartir well. He saw him as his mentor, and handed out several honors to him, giving him the rank of grandee (wuzurgan), and appointing him as the supreme judge (dadwar) of the whole empire, which indicates that thenceforth priests were given the office of judge.[20][21] Kartir was also appointed the steward of the Anahid fire-temple at Istakhr, which had originally been under the care of the Sasanian family.[20][10] The Sasanian kings thus lost much of their religious authority in the empire. The clergy from now on served as judges all over the country, with court cases most likely being based on Zoroastrian jurisprudence, with the expection of when representatives of other religions had conflicts with each other.[10]

It is thus under Bahram II that Kartir unquestionably becomes a powerful figure in the empire; he started persecuting the non-Zoroastrian minorities, such as the Christians, Jews, Mandeans, Manichaeans, and Buddhists.[10] Before Bahram II, all the previous Sasanian shahs had been "lukewarm Zoroastrians."[9] He displayed a particular fondness to his name-deity by giving his son the name of Bahram, and selecting the wings of the god's bird, Vərəθraγna, as the central component of his crown.[20]


Bahram II was the first Sasanian monarch to have coins minted of his family.[10] According to Daryaee, "this is an interesting feature of Wahram II in that he was very much concerned to leave a portrait of his family which incidentally gives us information about the court and the Persian concept of the royal banquet (bazm)."[10] Several coin types were minted during Bahram II's reign; one type imitates him alone; another with him and his wife Shapurdukhtak; a third one with Bahram II and the crown prince Bahram III; and a fourth one shows Bahram II with his queen and crown prince all together. The reverse shows the traditional fire altar flanked by two attendants.[20]


  1. ^ Wiesehöfer 2018, pp. 193-194.
  2. ^ a b c d Weber 2016.
  3. ^ Frye 1983, p. 127.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Shahbazi 1988, pp. 514–522.
  5. ^ a b Frye 1984, pp. 303-304.
  6. ^ Lukonin 1983, pp. 729-730.
  7. ^ a b Christensen 1993, p. 229.
  8. ^ Daryaee 2014, pp. 10-11.
  9. ^ a b Skjærvø 2011, pp. 608-628.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Daryaee 2014, p. 11.
  11. ^ a b c d Shahbazi 2004.
  12. ^ Rezakhani 2017, pp. 81-82.
  13. ^ a b c Rezakhani 2017, p. 81.
  14. ^ Daryaee 2014, pp. 11-12.
  15. ^ a b c d Daryaee 2014, p. 12.
  16. ^ a b Potter 2013, p. 26.
  17. ^ a b c Rapp 2014, pp. 243-244.
  18. ^ Klíma 1988, pp. 514-522.
  19. ^ Shahbazi 2005.
  20. ^ a b c d Shahbazi 1988, pp. 514-522.
  21. ^ Daryaee 2014, p. 76.


Bahram II
Preceded by
Bahram I
King of kings of Iran and Aniran
Succeeded by
Bahram III