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LE TRAITÉ IMAGINAIRE (some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis

Archaeologia Bulgarica XI 2007 2 xx-xx Sofia
(some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)
The present study is a modest attempt at a
new interpretation of some aspects of the ori-
gin of the political symbiosis established be-
tween Byzantium and Sassanid Iran in the con-
text of an open dynamic system, such as is, in
most general terms, the so called “Hierarchy of
the rulers”. In the ideological phraseology and
rhetoric of the two powers this symbiosis is
most clearly demonstrated by the practice
termed fraternitas – in other words, the ad-
dress “brother” used by the rulers in the official
correspondence. The circumstances which led
to its introduction and establishment in the pro-
tocol and the offices in Rome/Byzantium and
Eranshahr were first studied by Fr. Dölger.
This, otherwise brilliant, Byzantologist derives,
rather speculatively, the beginning of the fra-
ternal relations from an alleged treaty con-
cluded between emperor Carus (282-283 AD)
and šahanšah Bahram II (276-293 AD) in 283
AD. In his opinion, this treaty could reasonably
be considered terminus post quem for the ap-
pearance of the address in question in the cor-
respondence between the rulers. In fact, Fr.
Dölger does not make reference to any histori-
cal source to support his point but a single one
to the classical study of A. Christensen, which
deals with the general chronology of the period
(Dölger 1976, 60, #62). Some twenty years af-
ter the first publishing of Fr. Dölger’s study in
1940 his speculation was completely revised by
K.-H. Ziegler who weighty points out that no
such treaty was concluded in 283 (Ziegler 1964,
146, #33). Later, Ziegler’s arguments were
summarized by E. Chrysos according to whom:
“…Dölger was at pains to find the treaty which
included the conditions for this institutionaliza-
tion of “brotherhood”, and suggested that this
could have been the treaty of 283 between
Emperor Carus and the Great King Bahram II”
(Chrysos 1976, 18 f.). Unfortunately, for some
reasons both works remained as a whole unno-
ticed by the most of the modern scholars. It
might well be under the strong influence of
Dölger’s undisputed authority that the idea of
the existence of a concrete legal document,
which regulated the particulars of the contacts
between the two powers, was adopted and later
promoted indiscriminatingly by A. Chekalova
(×åêàëîâà 1999, 83) in a paper dedicated to
the effect of the cultural diffusion on the do-
mestic affairs and foreign policy of Byzantium
in the early Middle Ages. This view is also
shared by V. Vachkova (Âà÷êîâà sine an-
no, 127; Âà÷êîâà 2004, 54, 151), who be-
lieves the treaty of 283 AD to be one of the
factors, playing an important role in the political
identification of both Byzantium and Sassanid
Iran. It is necessary, however, to draw atten-
tion to the fact that neither Chekalova, nor
Vachkova focus their attention precisely on the
problem we are interested in, and it is not their
purpose to reconstruct a possible scheme of
The iranologists, on the other hand, do not
show any originality in methodological respect.
Already at end of the 19
century G. Rawlinson
spontaneously inferred that a separate peace
was concluded in the autumn of 283 AD (Raw-
linson 1876, 112). A. Christensen, the most
learned researcher in the history of Sassanians,
also shares the view of the existence of such
treaty, according to the terms of which the Ro-
mans took control over Armenia and Mesopo-
tamia (Christensen 1936, 222; identical point of
view is also presented in Christensen/Ensslin
1965, 113). Again no sources whatsoever are
mentioned. His thesis was used, almost as an
axiom, by F. Gignoux (Gignoux 1971, 88) and,
what is more, it appeared in a paper on the ad-
ministrative division of Eranshahr. R. Frye was
the next to entertain the same opinion, though,
with the difference that, unlike his colleagues,
he made references to some sources concern-
Theodor Dimitrov
ing the period in question (Frye 1983, 128, #2).
We cannot blithely dismiss the fact that the
Iranologists actually tend to accept the exist-
ence of a peace treaty, yet, without necessarily
connecting it with the development of fraternal
relationships. All things considered, the com-
paratively correct and pragmatic use they make
of the Greek and Latin sources (which have to
be of primary importance to the students of
Late Antiquity and Byzantium), as well as the
fact that they are reasonably disinclined to
hyperinterpret the texts, well deserve our admi-
Now, what information is contained in the
extant sources? Our first source, Flavius
Vopiscus of Syracuse (SHA, XXX, 8), gives a
brief account of Carus’ campaign against Iran,
emphasizing the fact that the emperor took over
Mesopotamia without difficulty and reached as
far east as Ctesiphon, because the Persians
“were engaged in suppressing a revolt (oc-
cupatisque Persis domestica seditione).” The
author goes on to describe Carus’ death, which
was caused “as some say, by a disease (ut alli
dicunt morbo)” or “according to the majority,
he was struck by a thunderbolt (ut plures
fulmine interemptus est).” Almost the same
evidence is to be found in the Anonymous con-
tinuator of Dio Cassius, whose work is in part
preserved in book XII of John Zonaras’ Annals
(Zonaras, Annales 610-611; cf. the comments
of Mazzarino 1971, 668-671). However, unlike
Flavius Vopiscus, the Continuator of Dio
Cassius is definite: “[Carus] sacked Ctesiphon
and Seleucia (xoxco,c Kxnoiocvxo xc xoi
lcìcuxciov).” This version is, to some extent,
supported by Ammianus Marcellinus,
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae, XXIV, 5),
according to whom Seleucia was destroyed by
the Princeps Carus (a Caro principe). In his
book About the Caesars Aurelius Victor
(Aurelius Victor, De caesaribus, 276-278)
writes that after he seized the power, Carus
“immediately set off for Mesopotamia, which
was at the time in the usual, recurring almost
annually state of war (in Mesopotamiam pergit
protinus, quod ea Persarum quasi solenni
bello subest).” In his description of the circum-
stances which lead to the Emperor’s death, he
sticks to the apparently quite popular version of
“the latter being burnt by a strike of lightning
(fulminis tactu conflagravit).” The same story
repeats almost word-for-word in the epitomized
edition of the text (Aurelius Victor, Epitome de
caesaribus, 382). Also similar is what Eutropius
narrates (Eutropius, Breviarium ab urbe
condita, IX, 18). Zosimus (Zosimus, Historia
nova, Vol. II, III, 23), who very accurately
traces the famous Persian campaign of Julian
Apostate (361-363 AD), describes the fortress
of Meinas Sabbatha, “which, being Persian, the
Emperor Carus happened to sack (nv cxu,cv
o 0ooiìcùc Koooc Hcoocv o6oov cìcv).”
Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis, in his trea-
tise Refutation of All the Heresies (Epipha-
nius, Panarion, Vol. III, 48) mentions nothing but
the duration of the reign of Carus and his sons
(Koooc xoi Kooivoc xoi Nouucoiovoc cxn
óuo). Almost hundred years later, in his note of
397 or 398 AD to Emperor Arcadius (395AD-
408AD), Epiphanius’ colleague Synesius (Syne-
sius, Oratio de regno, XVI, 19-20) mentions,
almost as an anecdote, the presence of Roman
troops lead by Carinus “in the vicinity of the
Armenian mountains («ooc xoic 6«co0oìoic
xcv ¯Aoucvicv).” R. Volkmann believes
(Volkmann 1869, 32) that the author has most
probably made a mistake, replacing the name
of the emperor Carus by that of his son, who is
known for certain not to have campaigned in
the East. Unfortunately, the passage is not clear
enough to allow for even a rough identification
of the topographical context of the events or
making inferences about whether the legions
succeed in establishing lasting control over Ar-
menia. In any case, one should be slightly
skeptical about the value of this episode, bear-
ing in mind that the Ptolemaic bishop has intro-
duced it in the structure of his narrative with
the portentous “ìcvcxoi ón”. It is, nonetheless,
curious, that having been taken once into ac-
count by Th. Mommsen (Mommsen 1894, 442,
#1), the Synesius’ account was later left with-
out any further attention by many modern schol-
ars, who tend to bind the war of 283 AD with
certain territory annexation to Rome.
It is quite natural that the Byzantine narra-
tives should add nothing essentially different.
LE TRAITÉ IMAGINAIRE (some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)
For example, John Malalas (Malalas, Chrono-
graphia, 302-303) has confused the order of
events and written that the Emperor takes con-
trol over the whole of Persia up to Ctesiphon,
and “having returned to Rome, started on a new
campaign against the Huns (6«ooxocooc óc
cv Pcun, ccnì0cv cv oììc «oìcuc
O\vvouc).” Initiating a distance dispute with
Zosimus, in whose opinion it was Christianity
that was to blame for all misfortunes which
struck the Roman people, Evagrius Scholas-
ticus (Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesias-
tica, III, 41) recalls the victories of some em-
perors over the Persians: “Hooo óc Hcoooi
«coicxo«noov 6«o Bcvxióiou
Kouo0ouìcvoc xc xo\ Ncocvoc oxooxnvo\,
xoi lcunoou,1ooiovo\ xoi Kooou,
Koooiou xc xoi ¯Oóoivo0ou xo\ cx
Hoìuuooc xoi ¯A«oììcviou xoi cxcocv”.
What is more, taking pride in the matter, the
Church historian asks the rhetorical question of
“how many times (oooxic)”, as a result of
those victories, “the two Armenias, together
with the neighboring tribes, were annexed to the
Romans (c«¯ ouooxcoo xoc«oucvn
¯Aoucvio xc xoi xo «ìnoio¸ovxo c0vn
Pcuoioic «ooocxc0n).” However, it will re-
main uncertain whether the abovementioned
campaign to Armenia under the command of
Carus is to be counted in the number of
Evagrius’ examples. In his catalogue of Sas-
sanid šahanšahs Agathias of Myrina (Agathias,
Historiae, IV, 24) mentions that the son of
Bahram I (i.e. Bahram II) ruled seventeen
years and conquered the Segestani (the inhab-
itants of the province of Sakastan, Th.D.), and
thereafter his successor adopted the title
“lcvovooo”. Though phonetically close to
“king of kings” this title is rather the Greek
equivalent of šakan – šah “king of the Segesta-
ni”, which is also implied by the text cited above
(Hemmerdinger 1971, 54). In the first part of
Alexander the Monk’s writing The Discovery
of the Cross (Alexander Monachus, Inventio
Crucis, 4049) – which is a history of Christian-
ity from the times of Tiberius (14-37 AD) to the
finding of the relic in Jerusalem by Helena –
we find a brief and not very useful passage
about the rule of Carus and his sons (xnv
nvcuoviov cóccoxo Koooc oùv xoic uioic
o¡xo\ Kooivc xoi Nouucoiovc cxn óuo).
From the Paschal Chronicle (Chronicon
Paschale, 510) we only learn about the Persian
war and the unenviable death of the Emperor
(óoxic Koooc cxcoouvc0n cv xn
Mcoo«oxouio). The extant fragments from
the works of John of Antioch (Joannes Antio-
chenus, Fragmenta, fr. 160, 600) offer but a
brief excurse on the Probus’ legionaries’ trea-
son (oi ucv «cuo0cvxcc «ooc Kooov
ucxcoxnoov) and the fates of Carinus and Nu-
The reign of the three emperors is placed,
without exception, in the context of the general
chronology of the Roman Empire till
Constantine the Great (324-337 AD) by the
later chronographers and authors of epitomes,
such as, for example, in the Brief Chronogra-
phy by patriarch Nicephorus (Nicephorus
Patriarcha, Chronographia brevis, 223): Koooc
oùv Kooivc xoi Nouucoiovc uioic o¡xo\
cxn 0, and the work of George the Synkellos
(Georgius Syncellus, Ecloga chronographica,
471): ¯Pcuoicv 0ooiìcùc ì0 Koooc oùv
xoic «oioi Kooivc xoi Nouucoiovc cxn 0.
Much the same facts are contained in the Brief
Chronicle by Symeon Metaphrastes (Symeon
Metaphrastes, Chronicon breve, 1281). Symeon
Logothetes (Symeon Logothetes, Chronicon,
81), who has used George the Synkellos’ nar-
rative, adds: “o\xoc o Koooc xnv Hcooióo
xoi Kxnoiocvxo «oocìo0c, xo\xo nón
xcxooxov oìc0cvxcv 6«o 1ooiovo\, 6«o
Bnoou lcunoou xoi Kooou.” Half a century
later George the Monk (Georgius Monachus,
Chronicon, 476) exploits what was an old ver-
sion about a conspiracy against Carus, sug-
gested already by Flavius Vopiscus. According
to him, however, “[Carus] was slaughtered by
Carinus (cooovn 6«o xo\ Kooivou).” We
find an absolutely identical passage in the “Uni-
versal Chronicle” by Joel (Joel, Chronographia
compendiana, 35).
The name of Carus appears in a patriogra-
phical text, as well – in a passage from Patria
of Constantinople compiled circa 995 AD by
Pseudo-Codinus. The anonymous author of the
narrative, known as Parastaseis syntomoi
Theodor Dimitrov
chronikai (SOC, Vol. I, 37), calls Severus –
one of the three mythical founders of Byzan-
tium – “a [son] of Carus ([uio\] xo\ Kooou).”
It is needless to say, that this account is not to
be taken literally. It should rather be considered
through the prism of a possible patriograhpical
interpretation of the late antique history. The
inner logic of such interpretation suggests that
Carus’ death marked the beginning of the pe-
riod of the Tetrarchy, which had as its natural
climax the reign of Constantine the Great and
“founding” of the New Rome. Likewise, the
proclaiming Flavius Valerius Severus (306-307
AD) Caesar in Italy led to the mutiny and proc-
lamation of Constantine Caesar in Gaul. The
appearance of Carus’ name finds explanation
and fits perfectly the structure of the narrative
(Dagron 1984, 82-83), if one takes into consid-
eration that, influenced by the homonymy of the
names, the author has “fused” into one person
Septimius Severus (193-211 AD) and Flavius
Valerius Severus, the origin of the latter re-
maining unclear (sic!). Carus’ name is men-
tioned once more in the same text, though, in
quite a different context. He is enumerated
among the seven philosophers – namely
Koovoc, Koooc, Hcìoo, ¯A«cììnc,
Ncoouoc, liì0ovoc, Kuo0oc – to whom the
brothers of the convicted (óixoo0cionc) Athe-
nais-Eudokeia appeal for help (SOC, Vol. I, 64).
To cite G. Dagron (Dagron 1984, 116), the most
authoritative modern scholar studying Patria of
Constantinople: “Le sept philosophes portent
des noms fictifs, lointains echos de mytholo-
gie, de culture grecque et d’histoire romai-
The reminiscences of the reign of this em-
peror are also projected in a curious way on the
topography of Constantinople. The building of a
gate in the old wall, at the so called “Philadel-
phion”, is attributed to Carus, although there is
no evidence at all for his ever visiting this town.
In fact, the gate was built at the beginning of
Diocletian’s rule (Janin 1964, 368; Dagron 1984,
As it is well apparent from this “dry” review
of the evidence, the Greek and Latin narratives
are lacking in indications of any change what-
soever of the paradigm of the Roman-Sassanid
relations under the Emperor Carus. Regretta-
bly, the poor and unvarying contents of the
sources cannot be compensated for by parallel
epigraphic or numismatic evidence. It is a
standing fact, that the extant epigraphic monu-
ments from the period cannot shed additional
light to the events we are interested in. Nor will
it be practical to change the approach and make
use of the ruler’s titles as a marker of a new
stage in the international relationships, since
emperor Carus adopted the standard titles
“restitutor orbis” and “auctor salutis publi-
c[a]e” (Mastino 1983, 102). The numismatic
finds show no change in the iconography, as
well. Understandably (because of the campaign
against Persia), the later emissions (Cf. RIC,
120 ff; Kienast 1996, 258) bear the standard
consecration: Divus Carus (Pius, Parthicus or
Persicus Maximus). In so far as Armenia is
concerned, it should be pointed out, even as an
argumentum ex silentio, that so far there has
been found no evidence for Carus being titled
“Armeniacus”, as is the case, for example, with
Philip the Arab (244-249 AD), who adopted the
title because of the intense pressure exerted by
the Romans in the region in 245-248 AD (Traina
2003, 135).
On the other hand, the political situation in
the summer of 283 AD cannot be recreated on
the basis of the existing synchronic Persian
sources only, which makes it necessary for the
historians to juxtapose them with Roman and
Byzantine narratives. Following this logic, E.
Herzfeld (Herzfeld 1930, 34-35) put the ac-
count of Flavius Vopiscus about a mutiny to-
gether with that of Claudius Mamertinus about
the revolt of Bahram II’s brother, Hormizd, in
Sakastan, and, having juxtaposed the two
sources, concluded that they reflected the same
event. His thesis was, obviously, taken with full
trust by the Iranologists, as it figures in the gen-
eral article on the history of Sassanid Iran in
the third volume of authoritative an edition such
as is The Cambridge History of Iran (Frye
1983, 128). However, the chronology proposed
by E. Herzfeld runs counter to the contents of
some preserved Persian rock reliefs. First, we
have at our disposal the triumphal relief of
Bahram II on Bišapur. It represents the king
LE TRAITÉ IMAGINAIRE (some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)
mounted on a horse, three lances in hands, in a
gesture of saluting a general of his, who him-
self is followed by his people – turbaned, as it is
typical for the Arab tribes, horses and camels
behind them. The crowding people could be
identified as representatives of the tribe of the
Lahmidi, formally under the control of the king
of Mešan (Messena). Unfortunately, there is no
concrete information available as to who con-
trolled this “province” in the early 80s of the 3d
century AD. This could well have been the
queen Denak, the wife of the deceased son of
Shapur I (AD 240-272), Shapur, or else her
first-born son Hormizdak (?). It is also possible
that Hormizdak, whose claims to the Iranian
throne were as justified as those of Bahram II
himself, made an attempt to place himself at the
head of Eranshahr supported by the Lahmidi.
Although he succeeded to draw the main Per-
sian forces away from the Upper Mesopota-
mia, thus considerably easing the task of Carus,
this intestine war quickly came to an end, and
Hormizdak was replaced by the governor
Aturfarnbag. Around 293 AD, the latter was
officially titled mešan-šah (Ëóêîíèí 1964,
55-56; Ëóêîíèí 1979, 59-60). It was not until
recently that Brent D. Shaw (Shaw, 2001, 153)
made an assumption, not without good reasons,
that it might have been the immediate success
of Carus against the Persians, bringing into
doubt the ruler’s qualities and talent of Bahram
II, that had inspired the Hormizd’s revolt. It is
needles to say, that the relief on Bišapur gives
no information about any peace treaty con-
cluded with the Romans.
There is also a second relief which might be
interpreted as relating to the Roman-Persian
war in the summer of 283 AD. The composi-
tion cut out on the Naqsh-i-Rustam represents
a typical tournament scene. On the left side
stands the mounted figure of Bahram II with a
lance in his right hand. The king is encountered
by an enemy depicted in much the same pose.
Although the figure of the antagonist is not well
preserved, A. D. H. Bivar thinks that the ico-
nography of the helmet suggests a Roman
plummeted helmet at the time in use in the Ro-
man cavalry. This conclusion is supported by a
parallel representation of a horseman on the
famous “Helena’s sarcophagus” kept in the
Vatican Museums. In his attempt to place the
relief in a certain historical context the author
tends to assume that the unknown enemy of
Bahram II is emperor Carus. It does not follow,
of course, that the latter was killed in a combat
with the šahanšah; the monument rather re-
flects, at symbolic level, the claims of the
Sassanids to have caused the Emperor’s death
(Bivar 1972, 279-280).
What has been said so far could be summa-
rized in the following way: in the summer of 283,
the emperor Carus took advantage of the un-
rest in the Sassanid Iran and invaded the unpro-
tected Mesopotamia, reaching as far as Ctesi-
phon; it is also likely that simultaneously, for a
short time, Roman troops occupied Armenia as
preventive measure against possible counterof-
fensive by the enemy; after Carus’ unexpected
death, however, his successor, Numerianus
(AD 283-284) was not able to make use of his
strategic advantage and backed away in panic
without concluding peace treaty. In March 283,
he seems to have reached Emessa, from where
he moved back with the legions along the tradi-
tional rout across Asia Minor (Miller 1996,
176). There is no evidence to indicate whether
during the several months Numerianus’ stay in
the East, the two rulers, being in the state of
continuous military clashes, kept regular corre-
spondence. This fact is perfectly supported by
the sources, all of which, judging from their con-
tents, derive from a common original source
Some curious details from the later corre-
spondence between the monarchs attract atten-
tion. In his famous letter to Constantius II (AD
337-361) Shapur II (309-379) accurately refers
to the boundaries of the Achemenidian state
from the time of Darius I (522-486 B.C.; ad
usque Strymona flumen et Macedonicos fi-
nes tenuisse maiores imperium meos), point-
ing at the unjust annexation of Armenia and
parts of Mesopotamia under the terms of the
treaty of 298 AD (ideoque Armeniam recupe-
rare cum Mesopotamia debeo avo meo com-
This thesis gradually took shape in the course of my work with the sources and will be further developed and supported
with arguments in a separate future publication.
Theodor Dimitrov
posita fraude praereptam) (Ammianus Mar-
cellinus, Res Gestae, Vol. I, XVII, 5). Such his-
torical retrospections form an integral part of
the rich set of rhetorical methods, which
“mottle” the official Persian messages. Not in-
advertently, the Sassanids justify their invasion
of the West with the argument that it is their
purpose to restore the centuries-old (i.e. legiti-
mate!) control of the Achaemenids in the Re-
gion. In a letter to Alexander Severus (222-235
AD) Ardashir I Papak (c. 226-240) calls the
whole Asia “possession of my ancestors
(«oovovixov xxnuo)” (Herodianus, Ab exces-
su divi Marci, VI, 2). In view of this feature
characteristic of the composition of the Iranian
messages, the following question arises, and
with good reason at that: why should Shapur II
forget to qualify the terms of the treaty of 298
AD in the broader context the alleged treaty of
283 AD must undoubtedly have provided? The
answer seems to be self-evident. In E. Winter’s
opinion (Winter, 1989, 555), it was under the
terms of the treaty of 298 AD between
Gallerius (293-311 AD) and Narseh (293-302
AD) that the eastern boundary of the Roman
Empire was first legally changed in the 3d cen-
tury AD. This view is further supported by the
fact that Peter Patrician, who gives detailed
account of the contents of the treaty and the
intense correspondence preceding its conclu-
sion, never mentions a pervious agreement
(Petrus Patricius, Fragmenta, fr. 13-14, 188-
The evidence provided by Ammianus
Marcelinus could be accepted without undue
doubts. Having meticulously analyzed the ex-
tant books of his work, E. Thompson comes to
the conclusion that even if the author has not
repeated the message of Shapur II word-for-
word, he has derived the information from offi-
cial Roman sources (Thompson 1947, 36; cf.
also Matthews 1989, 485, #12). We cannot
blithely dismiss the fact that both the structure
and style of the letter conform to the general
principles of composition characteristic of the
Persian epistolary practice. That is, the rela-
tions between the two parties are developed
with astonishing pedantry, their positions being
supported by numerous religious, didactic and
poetic references (Christensen 1936, 127-128).
On the second place, though not in signifi-
cance, we could explicitly emphasize the obser-
vation of J. Harmatta (Harmatta 1957, 273-
276) that the address of the letter is perfectly in
accordance with the formulae in use in the
šahanšah’s office. The surviving examples
show a surprising in its chronological scope
continuity between the Achaemenid, Parthian
and Sassanid bureaucratic traditions. They are
all (with rare exceptions) characterized by plac-
ing in the first place the name and title of the
person who occupies a higher position in the
social or administrative hierarchy or otherwise
enjoys a greater authority in the context of the
international relations, no matter whether he is
the sender or recipient of the message.
In this connection, it should be added that
the very idea of political sovereignty inherent in
the addresses under consideration makes it au-
tomatically impossible for the name of the
basileus to precede that of his Iranian counter-
part. Typical examples in this respect are the
papyri dating from the period of the Persian
occupation of Egypt, in which there are greet-
ing addresses like: “L hwt’ dy yzdkrty“ and “L
hwt’y plhwtlkrty”; as well as some letters pre-
served in the Byzantine narratives, for exam-
ple, ”Ocioc, ovo0oc, cionvo«oxoioc,
oo,oioc Xoooonc, 0ooiìcùc 0ooiìccv,
c¡xu,nc, c¡oc0nc, ovo0o«oioc, cxivi oi
0coi ucvoìnv xu,nv xoi ucvoìnv
0ooiìciov ócócxooi, vivoc vivovxcv, oc
cx 0ccv ,oooxxnoi¸cxoi, ¯Iouoxiviovc
Koioooi, oócìoc nucxcoc”, in the work of
Menander Protector (Menander Protector,
Fragmenta, fr. 11, 213); or “Rex regum Sapor,
particeps siderum, frater Solis et Lunae,
Constantio Caesari fratri meo salutem
plurimam dico” in the above cited letter of
Shapur II. Such addresses are also present in
the works of John Malalas (Malalas, Chrono-
graphia, 449), Theophylactus Simmocatta
(Theophylactus Simmocatta, Historia, IV, 7), as
well as in the Paschal Chronicle (Chronicon
Paschale, 735; cf. commentary of Oikonomides
1971, 269-281).
The development of the splendid ceremonial
practices, which were part of the diplomatic
LE TRAITÉ IMAGINAIRE (some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)
contacts between Constantinople and Ctesi-
phon, might well have started four years after
the death of Carus outside the city walls of the
Iranian capital. In 287 AD Diocletian succeeded
in pushing away the Persian troops across
Euphrates and, following the precedents estab-
lished in Roman-Parthian diplomatic relations,
induced them to buy up the peace at the cost of
gifts. Indirect allusion to this emblematic event
is made, post factum, in the works of Maxi-
mian’s (286-305/ 397-310 AD) panegyrist
Claudius Mamertinus, who writes, “ille tibi
osetndendo dona Persica” (Panegyrici Latini,
II, 9), while comparing the deeds and excel-
lences of the two Augusti. Uncertain remains
whether the “architect” of the Tetrarchy was
himself in command of the legions and what the
course of the military actions was. Yet, it is a
fact that the ceremonial exchange of gifts is one
of the most persistent characteristics of the
Byzantine-Persian diplomatic protocol. As a
specific act, it is markedly outlined in magister
officiorum Peter Patrician’s account (Constan-
tinus Porphyrogenitus, De cerimoniis aulae
Byzantinae, I, 89) of the mission of the Persian
Yezdek. During the audience, after the custom-
ary questions about the Emperor’s health, the
šahanšah’s emissary pronounced the remark-
able phrase, “Your brother is sending you gifts,
and I invite you to accept them (o oócìooc oou
c«cuocv ooi ócoo, xoi «oooxoìc
óc,0nvoi o¡xo).” However, the events of 287
AD should not be taken at face value; neither
should an equal sign be put between them and a
possible sanction of the fraternal relations, be-
cause the existing information is not enough to
reconstruct in detail the picture of the rather
tense Roman-Persian relations at the time.
The correspondence between the rulers of-
fers some indirect evidence as to what mean-
ing was attributed by the Sassanians to the ad-
dress “brother”. We hardly need to go in detail
explaining that the providential character of the
Roman political doctrine predetermined the al-
most complete lack of domestic texts of consti-
tutional significance, containing comprehensive
description of their own political system or the
existing epistolary practice we are interested in
here, which forms essential part of it. We will
content ourselves with the particularly indica-
tive in this respect message of Kavadh I (488-
531 AD) to Justinian I (527-565 AD), which
appears in John Malalas’ writing (Malalas,
Chronographia, 449). The šah wrote, “in our
archives we found recorded that we (you and
I) were brothers (n\ooucv cv xoic nucxcooic
oo,oioic ovovcvoouucvo oócìooùc nuoc
oììnìcv civoi).” Did Kavadh really turn to
the Iranian archives for relevant materials; and
what is even more interesting, can we speak
about an archive in the modern sense of the
word? To add more weight to his writing
Malalas’ contemporary Agathias of Myrina
(Agathias, Historiae, II, 27) claims, very much
on Herodotus’ lines, that in his Histories he has
used official Persian sources (for the imitation
of Herodotus’ phraseology cf. Cameron 1964,
41; for a general investigation of the sources
used by Agathias cf. Cameron 1969/1970, 109).
Following the colorful stories about Ardashir’s
descent and the arguments between Papak and
Sassan about the right of fatherhood, there
comes in his text the authoritative conclusion,
“tracing down Ardashir’s descent in this way,
the Persians claim that these stories are true,
because they were recorded in the ruler’s
scrolls/parchments (o\xc ucv xov
¯Aoxocoonv vcvcoìovo\vxcc oi Hcoooi
oìn0n xo\xo oooi xo0coxovoi, cc xoi cv
xoic 0ooiìcioic óio0cooic
ovovcvoouucvo).” What is more, already
Ctesias (Ctesias, Fragmenta, fr. 5, 22), the au-
thor of the history of the Achaemenids, which
has come down to us in fragments, claims to
have used ruler’s scrolls/ parchments (xcv
0ooiìixcv óio0cocv), on which the Persians,
according to custom, used to write down the old
deeds. This evidence is supported by the late
Sassanid treatise The Book of the Righteous
Wiraz. Describing the “evil deeds” of Alexan-
der of Macedon after his invasion of Iran, the
anonymous compiler reminds that he “collected
and burned up the sacred scripture – that is, the
whole Avesta and Zand – written on tanned
bull’s skin with golden water, which was kept in
Stahr…in the citadel of the records (Arda
Wiraz namag, 96).
The above examples seem to point unmis-
Theodor Dimitrov
takably that the documents of the Sassanid
kings were composed in accordance not only
with the secular texts, but also with the official
religious ones. As far as the former are con-
cerned, there should be no doubt that the trea-
ties between Rome/Byzantium and Eranshahr
were considered of primary importance and
must have been kept with due respect in the
Iranian archive. Menander Protector (Menan-
der Protector, Fragmenta, fr. 11, 213; cf. the
comments of Guterbock 1906, 57-105 and
Miller 1971, 72, #69) in his meticulous descrip-
tion of the technical details about the conclu-
sion of the peace of 526 AD between the two
powers, mentions the interesting fact that on the
final ratification of the treaty the diplomatic rep-
resentatives exchanged charters with the text
of the treaty composed in Greek and Pahlavi by
twelve interpreters (counvccv ócxo «ooc xoic
óuo), the number of the interpreters being equal
on both sides (cc ucv ¯Pcuoicv, o¡, nxxov
óc Hcoocv). These copies might well have
been at permanent disposal of a special offi-
cial-epistolographer in the Sassanian court, who
also had as his duty to compose letters (sic!)
and write down the orders of the king (Lukonin
1983, 711-712; Ëóêîíèí, 1987, 123). It is not
by accident that already among the court offi-
cials enumerated in the famous three-lingual
inscription of Shapur I on Ka’be Zardusht we
come across certain Aštat Mihran titled “c«i
c«ioxoìcv” / Pahl. “dpyr” (Maricq 1958, 331).
John Malalas’ Chronography has a special
bearing on the matters we are interested in be-
cause of the real possibility that he has interpo-
lated, completely or partly, in the structure of
his narrative the authentic text of Kavadh’s
message. In his comments on the stylistic char-
acteristics of this message R. Scott, the Aus-
tralian editor of the text (Scott 1992, 160),
among other things mentions, “Hermogenes re-
turned from Persia with Kavadh’s reply which
Malalas quotes apparently verbatim in a Greek
style much more sophisticated than his own.”
As matters stand, the curious question arises of
whether by “records (ovovcvoouucvo)” found
in the Persian archives Kavadh I really meant
the terms of a concrete legal document. The
present state of our sources does not allow for
a simple answer to this question. Yet, Malalas
himself draws a clear distinction between “the
records” and the contents of the concrete treaty
between the two powers, accurately naming the
latter, several pages later, “voouuoxo xcv
«oxxcv” (Malalas, Chronographia, 454). The
problematic character of this text necessitates
a broader interpretation, which goes out of the
framework of a classic study of institutions.
After the enthronement of the Sassan’s de-
scendants in April 224 AD the need for eman-
cipation and self-identification of the dynasty, it
being still young and not strong enough, acted
as a catalyst for the renewal of some pre-
Avesta mythology (including the heroic cycle
about Kayanids) connected with the origin of
the Iranians and their neighbours. Reinforced
are myths which – at least from theoretical
point of view – determined the motifs, goals and
implementation of the Sassanid foreign policy.
The paradigm of this policy is most markedly
outlined in the legend about the division of the
world between the three sons of Feridun –
Ayria (the eponym of the Iranians), Tura (the
eponym of the Turanians and all nomadic tribes
as well) and Sairima (the eponym of the people
of Rum, i.e. the Romans). The legend says that
driven by malice and envy because of their poor
inheritance Tura and Sairima murdered their
brother Ayria, and this action of theirs was the
symbolical beginning of the “fratricidal” enmity
between the Romans and Persians. Although
Feridun is mentioned several times in Avesta,
mainly in the myth about his victory over the
dragon-tyrant Dahak, personification of the en-
emies of the Zoroastrianism (Àâåñòà: Âèäåâ-
äàä, I, 17; ßñíà, IX, 7; ßøò, V, 33, 61, XIV,
40, XVII, 33, 35, XIX, 36, 92 ), the myth itself is
not an integral part of the sacred writings of the
Iranians. Therefore, we are readily to accept
the conclusion of E. Yarshater (Yarshater 1983,
428-429; cf. also ×óêàíîâà, 2004, 197) that
the identification of the race of the Sairima with
the Romans is a late (dating from the middle
Parthian epoch) adaptation of a considerably
older tradition. The eponym under discussion
might have been used to denote a hostile neigh-
bouring tribe (e.g. Sarmatians?), which was
later surmounted and assimilated by the Irani-
LE TRAITÉ IMAGINAIRE (some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)
ans or Turanians. Still later, the eponym was
applied to the people from the West in much the
same way as the Turks were steadily identified
with the descendants of Tura.
On the other hand, the late Sassanid treatise
Judgements of the Spirit of Wisdom trans-
forms the ideological charge of the legend into
the concrete accusation that the Roman treach-
ery manifested itself in the murder of Eraj /
Ayria (Dadestan i menog i xrad, 98). Thus, in
the course of the political contacts, the image
of their western neighbors was gradually my-
thologized, attaining the features of the
Romanus Perfidus
, this sharply negative ren-
dering reaching its culmination in the face of
the “evil, wretched, apostate, the iniquitous and
malicious Alexander-i Rum (that is, Alexander
the Great)” (Arda Wiraz namag, 96).
At the same time, however, the legend about
Feridun’s descendants seems to have played an
important role in the process of self-identifica-
tion of the Sassanid dynasty, as the pattern of
the sacred history was appropriated to serve the
purposes of the political reality. In other words,
the Persian elite recognized Rome/ Byzantium
through a constant projection of the relations
between Ayria and Sairima at the background
of the diplomatic contacts. The legend itself
implies the idea of predestined genealogical link
between he rulers based on their common ori-
gin on one hand, and on the other hand, on the
common source of their power. Quite indica-
tive in this respect is the letter of Chosroes II
(591-628 AD) to the emperor Mauricius (582-
602 AD). The šahanšah begins his message lik-
ening Byzantium and Eranshahr, in a typical for
the late Antiquity manner, to “two eyes which
illuminate the world (óuo xioiv oo0oìuoic xov
xoouov xoxoìou«co0oi).” This metaphor is,
however, preceded by the explicit assertion that
the existing order was “originally established by
the divine power (cc oo,nc xo 0ciov
c«oovuoxcuooxo)” (Theophylactus Simmo-
catta, Historia, IV, 11, 8; cf. the comments of
Ïèãóëåâñêàÿ, 1946, 94-95).
In spite of the frequent conflicts between the
two powers the propinquity of the rulers was
manifested, as it were, in a number of common
duties (not always strictly discharged!), for ex-
ample, the protection of the Caspian Gates, in
the late 5
– 6
century, against the invasion of
the steppe people (Procopius Caesariensis, De
bello Persico, I, 10; 16; 22; II, 10; Ïèãóëåâ-
ñêàÿ 1940, 131, 136, 155).
In light of what has been said above, one
should not rule out the possibility of Kavadh’s
having referred to the canonic Zoroastrian texts
from the ruler’s archive but in order to legiti-
mize the address “brother” by placing it in the
context of the sacred history. It is a standing
fact that characteristic of the sacred history is
to mix together the planes of the profane events
and their clarification in teleological perspec-
tive, as well as to contaminate the real and
mythological personages. It is this usage of the
sacred history and tradition as major argument
in the standard ideological phraseology and
rhetoric of the Sassanids that provides a satis-
factory explanation for the reference to cv xoic
nucxcooic oo,oioic ovovcvoouucvo made
in the letter of Kavadh I, as well as for the ref-
erences to the accounts of earlier Greek and
Roman authors ([antiquitates] quoque ves-
trae testantur) along with those to concrete
treatises in the message of Shapur I.
Regrettably, we are lacking in the parallel
Interpertatio Byzantina of the epistolary prac-
tice under discussion, which gives the modern
scholars ample opportunity for variable ap-
proaches to its interpretation and reconstruc-
tion. From the voluminous specialized literature
compiled no the problem we will only draw at-
tention to the main theses current in historio-
graphy. Thus, for example, O. Treitinger (Trei-
tinger 1956, 270, #63) presents the standard
scheme of ruler’s hierarchy contented with
briefly noting that the letter of Heraclius (610-
641 AD) to Chosroes II, in which the emperor
asks the šah to acknowledge him as his son, is a
striking exception. G. Ostrogorsky, one of the
greatest authorities in Byzantine studies, men-
tions in passing (Ostrogorsky 1936, 52, #8) that
the address “brother” applied to the Persian šah
did not convey the idea of equality, no matter
The term was coined by analogy with Graecus Perfidus – the mythologeme, reflecting the image of the treacherous Greek,
very popular in the West after the clashes with the Byzantines in the course of the Crusades.
Theodor Dimitrov
that, as Ostrogorsky himself points out in a later
publication (Ostrogorsky 1956/1957, 12), it was
only used in the relations with the šah. The
above-cited Fr. Dölger (Dölger 1976, 62-64)
also takes the fraternal relationships established
between the rulers of Byzantium and Eranshahr
to be exceptional in the context of their Hellen-
istic origin. A. Grabar (Grabar 1954, 119-120)
strictly adheres to this conclusion, adding to it,
rather casually, that the rulers were “brothers”
in so far as they shared the Universe in purely
geographical sense. Convincing, as it might
seem at first sight, this explanation rather re-
veals the difficulties of the Byzantologists to
produce an acceptable model of fraternitas,
and is by no means supported by the existing
narratives. Much on these lines, Luis Bréhier
(Bréhier 1970, 230-231) just emphasizes the
observable fact that Persia occupied the high-
est position in the hierarchy of the non-Chris-
tian countries, and that, up to the middle of the
century, the title “0ooiìcùc” was not re-
served to refer to the Constantinople’s ruler
The main weakness of the abovementioned
modern studies caused by their taxonomic char-
acter is that they all attempt to reconstruct a
general model of ruler’s hierarchy. Such specu-
lative schemes, influenced by the prevailing
standard ideas about the character, goals, and
implementation of the ideology of the Byzanti-
nes are rather conventional and static. Though
undoubtedly valuable for the purposes of clas-
sification, they stand for a concept of power as
a system of interdependences capsulated in
time. In this sense, they ignore its potential to
adjust to the constant challenges of the political
It is safe to say, however, that the purely
protocol projection of fraternitas dates back to
a time much earlier than the year 283 AD.
What is more, we readily accept the suggestion
of Fr. Dölger that the institutionalization of the
address “brother” probably started as early as
in the epoch of the Hellenism. In the Edessa
chronicle Leroubna we find an already well-
structured hierarchy of rulers. The toparch
Abgar, the main character of the narrative, who
according to the legend converts to Christianity
after his miraculous healing, keeps curious cor-
respondence with Christ, and in his messages
he calls the Parthian king “brother”, while ad-
dressing the Roman princeps Tiberius by “mas-
ter” (Leroubna d’Edesse, 329-330).
What has been said so far points to the con-
clusion that all attempts to date certain element
of the Byzantine protocol on the basis of a sin-
gle legal act (the reality of which is not sup-
ported by the available sources!), especially for
the period of most intense infiltration of eastern
influences in the Byzantine court (Îñòðîãîð-
ñêè 1998, 72), are methodologically unjustified
and run counter to the profound and continuous
evolution of the concept of the fraternal rela-
tions between the rulers of the New Rome and
Sassanid Iran. So, making no claims for being
exhaustive, the present study advances just an-
other possible approach to the treatment of the
problem about the Byzantine-Persian political
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(íÿêîè íàáëþäåíèÿ âúðõó ïðîèçõîäà íà
âèçàíòèéñêî-ïåðñèéñêàòà ïîëèòè÷åñêà
Òåîäîð Äèìèòðîâ
Íàñòîÿùàòà ñòàòèÿ ñå êîíöåíòðèðà âúðõó
ïðîáëåìèòå, ñâúðçàíè ñ âúâåæäàíåòî è óïîòðåáà-
òà íà îáðúùåíèåòî „áðàòêî”, â îôèöèàëíàòà êî-
ðåñïîíäåíöèÿ ìåæäó âëàäåòåëèòå íà Ñàñàíèäñêè
Èðàí è Èçòî÷íàòà ðèìñêà èìïåðèÿ/Âèçàíòèÿ. Àâ-
òîðúò ðåâèçèðà óòâúðäåíîòî â ñúâðåìåííàòà âè-
çàíòîëîãèÿ ñòàíîâèùå íà Ôð. Äüîëãåð, ÷å ò. íàð.
“áðàòñòâåíè îòíîøåíèÿ” ìåæäó äâàìàòà ìîíàðñè
âîäÿò ñâîåòî íà÷àëî îò äîãîâîð, ñêëþ÷åí ìåæäó
ðèìñêèÿ èìïåðàòîð Êàð (282-283 ã.) è øàõèíøàõà
Áàõðàì ²² (276-293 ã.) ïðåç 283 ã. Ïðåãëåäúò íà ñú-
äúðæàíèåòî íà íàðàòèâèòå, äîïúëíåí ñ äàííè îò
íàëè÷íèÿ íóìèçìàòè÷åí è åïèãðàôñêè ìàòåðèàë,
ïîêàçâà íå ñàìî ïúëíî îòñúñòâèå íà èíôîðìàöèÿ
LE TRAITÉ IMAGINAIRE (some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)
îòíîñíî ñàíêöèîíèðàíå è óòâúðæäàâàíå íà âúï-
ðîñíîòî îáðúùåíèå â ïðîòîêîëà è êàíöåëàðèèòå
íà äâåòå äúðæàâè, íî è ëèïñà íà âñÿêàêâà èíäèêà-
öèÿ çà ñêëþ÷âàíåòî íà êîíêðåòåí þðèäè÷åñêè àêò.
Òîâà íàëàãà ïðåîñìèñëÿíå íà òåçàòà, íàëîæåíà îò
íÿêîè èçñëåäîâàòåëè íà Ñàñàíèäñêà Ïåðñèÿ êàòî
Äæ. Ðîóëèíñúí, À. Êðèñòåíñåí, Ô. Æèíüî è Ð.
Ôðàé, ñúãëàñíî êîÿòî êëàóçèòå íà äîãîâîðà îò
283 ã. äåëåãèðàò íà Ðèì êîíòðîëà íàä Àðìåíèÿ è
÷àñòè îò Ìåñîïîòàìèÿ.
Íà áàçàòà íà îòäåëíè òîïîñè â çàïàçåíèòå îá-
ðàçöè íà îôèöèàëíàòà êîðåñïîíäåíöèÿ å ïðåäëî-
æåíà è åäíà õèïîòåòè÷íà ðåêîíñòðóêöèÿ íà ñúäúð-
æàíèåòî, êîåòî ïåðñèéñêèòå âëàäåòåëè âëàãàò â
îáðúùåíèåòî „áðàòêî”. Òÿ ïîñòàâÿ íåãîâàòà
èäåîëîãè÷åñêà ðåöåïöèÿ â êîíòåêñòà íà åòíîãåíå-
òè÷íèÿ ìèò çà íàñëåäíèöèòå íà Ôåðèäóí – Òóðà,
Àéðèÿ è Ñàéðèìà, êîèòî ñå ÿâÿâàò ðîäîíà÷àëíèöè
è ñúîòâåòíî åïîíèìè íà òóðàíöèòå, èðàíöèòå è ðî-
ìåèòå. Â õîäà íà èçëîæåíèåòî å íàïðàâåí îïèò äà
ñå àðãóìåíòèðà òåçàòà, ÷å ñàñàíèäñêèÿò óïðàâëÿ-
âàù åëèò èçïîëçâà ðåàëèè îò ñâåùåíàòà èñòîðèÿ,
çà äà ëåãèòèìèðà áðàòñòâåíèòå îòíîøåíèÿ ìåæäó
äâàìàòà ìîíàðñè íå ñàìî êàòî åñòåñòâåíî ñëåä-
ñòâèå îò „îáùèÿ” èì ïðîèçõîä, íî è âúç îñíîâà íà
„îáùèÿ” èçòî÷íèê íà òÿõíàòà âëàñò, çà êîåòî îò-
÷åòëèâî íàìåêâà è øàõèíøàõúò Õîçðîé ²² (591-
628 ã.) â ïîñëàíèå äî èìïåðàòîð Ìàâðèêèé (582-
602 ã.).
Theodor Dimitrov MA
Sofia University “St. Kliment Okhridski”
Faculty of History
Department of History of Byzantium and Balkan
Home: Narodno horo St., bl. 35, vh. B, ap. 43
theodorr@abv. bg

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