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Archaeologia Bulgarica (some observations

the origin of Byzantine-Persianxx-xx Sofia
political symbiosis)

(some observations on the origin of Byzantine-Persian political symbiosis)


The present study is a modest attempt at a ticed by the most of the modern scholars. It
new interpretation of some aspects of the ori- might well be under the strong influence of
gin of the political symbiosis established be- Dölger’s undisputed authority that the idea of
tween Byzantium and Sassanid Iran in the con- the existence of a concrete legal document,
text of an open dynamic system, such as is, in which regulated the particulars of the contacts
most general terms, the so called “Hierarchy of between the two powers, was adopted and later
the rulers”. In the ideological phraseology and promoted indiscriminatingly by A. Chekalova
rhetoric of the two powers this symbiosis is (×åêàëîâà 1999, 83) in a paper dedicated to
most clearly demonstrated by the practice the effect of the cultural diffusion on the do-
termed fraternitas – in other words, the ad- mestic affairs and foreign policy of Byzantium
dress “brother” used by the rulers in the official in the early Middle Ages. This view is also
correspondence. The circumstances which led shared by V. Vachkova (Âà÷êîâà sine an-
to its introduction and establishment in the pro- no, 127; Âà÷êîâà 2004, 54, 151), who be-
tocol and the offices in Rome/Byzantium and lieves the treaty of 283 AD to be one of the
Eranshahr were first studied by Fr. Dölger. factors, playing an important role in the political
This, otherwise brilliant, Byzantologist derives, identification of both Byzantium and Sassanid
rather speculatively, the beginning of the fra- Iran. It is necessary, however, to draw atten-
ternal relations from an alleged treaty con- tion to the fact that neither Chekalova, nor
cluded between emperor Carus (282-283 AD) Vachkova focus their attention precisely on the
and šahanšah Bahram II (276-293 AD) in 283 problem we are interested in, and it is not their
AD. In his opinion, this treaty could reasonably purpose to reconstruct a possible scheme of
be considered terminus post quem for the ap- events.
pearance of the address in question in the cor- The iranologists, on the other hand, do not
respondence between the rulers. In fact, Fr. show any originality in methodological respect.
Dölger does not make reference to any histori- Already at end of the 19 century G. Rawlinson
cal source to support his point but a single one spontaneously inferred that a separate peace
to the classical study of A. Christensen, which was concluded in the autumn of 283 AD (Raw-
deals with the general chronology of the period linson 1876, 112). A. Christensen, the most
(Dölger 1976, 60, #62). Some twenty years af- learned researcher in the history of Sassanians,
ter the first publishing of Fr. Dölger’s study in also shares the view of the existence of such
1940 his speculation was completely revised by treaty, according to the terms of which the Ro-
K.-H. Ziegler who weighty points out that no mans took control over Armenia and Mesopo-
such treaty was concluded in 283 (Ziegler 1964, tamia (Christensen 1936, 222; identical point of
146, #33). Later, Ziegler’s arguments were view is also presented in Christensen/Ensslin
summarized by E. Chrysos according to whom: 1965, 113). Again no sources whatsoever are
“…Dölger was at pains to find the treaty which mentioned. His thesis was used, almost as an
included the conditions for this institutionaliza- axiom, by F. Gignoux (Gignoux 1971, 88) and,
tion of “brotherhood”, and suggested that this what is more, it appeared in a paper on the ad-
could have been the treaty of 283 between ministrative division of Eranshahr. R. Frye was
Emperor Carus and the Great King Bahram II” the next to entertain the same opinion, though,
(Chrysos 1976, 18 f.). Unfortunately, for some with the difference that, unlike his colleagues,
reasons both works remained as a whole unno- he made references to some sources concern-
Theodor Dimitrov

ing the period in question (Frye 1983, 128, #2). sticks to the apparently quite popular version of
We cannot blithely dismiss the fact that the “the latter being burnt by a strike of lightning
Iranologists actually tend to accept the exist- (fulminis tactu conflagravit).” The same story
ence of a peace treaty, yet, without necessarily repeats almost word-for-word in the epitomized
connecting it with the development of fraternal edition of the text (Aurelius Victor, Epitome de
relationships. All things considered, the com- caesaribus, 382). Also similar is what Eutropius
paratively correct and pragmatic use they make narrates (Eutropius, Breviarium ab urbe
of the Greek and Latin sources (which have to condita, IX, 18). Zosimus (Zosimus, Historia
be of primary importance to the students of nova, Vol. II, III, 23), who very accurately
Late Antiquity and Byzantium), as well as the traces the famous Persian campaign of Julian
fact that they are reasonably disinclined to Apostate (361-363 AD), describes the fortress
hyperinterpret the texts, well deserve our admi- of Meinas Sabbatha, “which, being Persian, the
ration. Emperor Carus happened to sack (¿n œtucen
Now, what information is contained in the Ð basileÝj K£roj Persîn oâsan ˜lèn).”
extant sources? Our first source, Flavius Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis, in his trea-
Vopiscus of Syracuse (SHA, XXX, 8), gives a tise Refutation of All the Heresies (Epipha-
brief account of Carus’ campaign against Iran, nius, Panarion, Vol. III, 48) mentions nothing but
emphasizing the fact that the emperor took over the duration of the reign of Carus and his sons
Mesopotamia without difficulty and reached as (K©roj kaˆ Kar‹noj kaˆ NoumerianÕj œth
far east as Ctesiphon, because the Persians dÚo). Almost hundred years later, in his note of
“were engaged in suppressing a revolt (oc- 397 or 398 AD to Emperor Arcadius (395AD-
cupatisque Persis domestica seditione).” The 408AD), Epiphanius’ colleague Synesius (Syne-
author goes on to describe Carus’ death, which sius, Oratio de regno, XVI, 19-20) mentions,
was caused “as some say, by a disease (ut alli almost as an anecdote, the presence of Roman
dicunt morbo)” or “according to the majority, troops lead by Carinus “in the vicinity of the
he was struck by a thunderbolt (ut plures Armenian mountains (prÕj ta‹j Øperbola‹j
fulmine interemptus est).” Almost the same tîn ‘Armen…wn).” R. Volkmann believes
evidence is to be found in the Anonymous con- (Volkmann 1869, 32) that the author has most
tinuator of Dio Cassius, whose work is in part probably made a mistake, replacing the name
preserved in book XII of John Zonaras’ Annals of the emperor Carus by that of his son, who is
(Zonaras, Annales 610-611; cf. the comments known for certain not to have campaigned in
of Mazzarino 1971, 668-671). However, unlike the East. Unfortunately, the passage is not clear
Flavius Vopiscus, the Continuator of Dio enough to allow for even a rough identification
Cassius is definite: “[Carus] sacked Ctesiphon of the topographical context of the events or
and Seleucia (katšsce Kthsifînta te kaˆ making inferences about whether the legions
SeleÚkeian).” This version is, to some extent, succeed in establishing lasting control over Ar-
supported by Ammianus Marcellinus, menia. In any case, one should be slightly
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae, XXIV, 5), skeptical about the value of this episode, bear-
according to whom Seleucia was destroyed by ing in mind that the Ptolemaic bishop has intro-
the Princeps Carus (a Caro principe). In his duced it in the structure of his narrative with
book About the Caesars Aurelius Victor the portentous “lšgetai d»”. It is, nonetheless,
(Aurelius Victor, De caesaribus, 276-278) curious, that having been taken once into ac-
writes that after he seized the power, Carus count by Th. Mommsen (Mommsen 1894, 442,
“immediately set off for Mesopotamia, which #1), the Synesius’ account was later left with-
was at the time in the usual, recurring almost out any further attention by many modern schol-
annually state of war (in Mesopotamiam pergit ars, who tend to bind the war of 283 AD with
protinus, quod ea Persarum quasi solenni certain territory annexation to Rome.
bello subest).” In his description of the circum- It is quite natural that the Byzantine narra-
stances which lead to the Emperor’s death, he 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- ¹gemon…an ™dšxato K£roj sÝn to‹j uƒo‹j
graphia, 302-303) has confused the order of aÙtoà Kar…nJ kaˆ Noumerianù œth dÚo).
events and written that the Emperor takes con- From the Paschal Chronicle (Chronicon
trol over the whole of Persia up to Ctesiphon, Paschale, 510) we only learn about the Persian
and “having returned to Rome, started on a new war and the unenviable death of the Emperor
campaign against the Huns (Øpostršyaj d (Óstij K©roj ™keraunèqh ™n tÍ
™n `RèmV, ™xÁlqen ™n ¥llJ polšmJ Mesopotam…v). The extant fragments from
OÛnnouj).” Initiating a distance dispute with the works of John of Antioch (Joannes Antio-
Zosimus, in whose opinion it was Christianity chenus, Fragmenta, fr. 160, 600) offer but a
that was to blame for all misfortunes which brief excurse on the Probus’ legionaries’ trea-
struck the Roman people, Evagrius Scholas- son (oƒ mn pemfqšntej prÕj K£ron
ticus (Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesias- metšsthsan) and the fates of Carinus and Nu-
tica, III, 41) recalls the victories of some em- merianus.
perors over the Persians: “PÒsa d Pšrsai The reign of the three emperors is placed,
periekÒphsan ØpÕ Bentid…ou without exception, in the context of the general
KourboÚlwnÒj te toà Nšrwnoj strathgoà, chronology of the Roman Empire till
kaˆ Seu»rou,Traianoà kaˆ K£rou, Constantine the Great (324-337 AD) by the
Kass…ou te kaˆ ‘Odain£qou toà ™k later chronographers and authors of epitomes,
PalmÚraj kaˆ ‘Apollwn…ou kaˆ ˜tšrwn”. such as, for example, in the Brief Chronogra-
What is more, taking pride in the matter, the phy by patriarch Nicephorus (Nicephorus
Church historian asks the rhetorical question of Patriarcha, Chronographia brevis, 223): K£roj
“how many times (Ðs£kij)”, as a result of sÝn Kar…nJ kaˆ Noumerianù uƒo‹j aÙtoà
those victories, “the two Armenias, together œth b, and the work of George the Synkellos
with the neighboring tribes, were annexed to the (Georgius Syncellus, Ecloga chronographica,
Romans (™p’ ¢mfÒtera trepomšnh 471): ‘Rwma…wn basileÝj lb K©roj sÝn
‘Armen…a te kaˆ t¦ plhsi£zonta œqnh to‹j paisˆ Kar…nJ kaˆ Noumerianù œth b.
`Rwma…oij prosetšqh).” However, it will re- Much the same facts are contained in the Brief
main uncertain whether the abovementioned Chronicle by Symeon Metaphrastes (Symeon
campaign to Armenia under the command of Metaphrastes, Chronicon breve, 1281). Symeon
Carus is to be counted in the number of Logothetes (Symeon Logothetes, Chronicon,
Evagrius’ examples. In his catalogue of Sas- 81), who has used George the Synkellos’ nar-
sanid šahanšahs Agathias of Myrina (Agathias, rative, adds: “oátoj Ð K£roj t¾n Pers…da
Historiae, IV, 24) mentions that the son of kaˆ Kthsifînta paršlabe, toàto ½dh
Bahram I (i.e. Bahram II) ruled seventeen tštarton ¡lwqšntwn ØpÕ Traianoà, ØpÕ
years and conquered the Segestani (the inhab- B»rou Seu»rou kaˆ K£rou.” Half a century
itants of the province of Sakastan, Th.D.), and later George the Monk (Georgius Monachus,
thereafter his successor adopted the title Chronicon, 476) exploits what was an old ver-
“Segansa¦”. Though phonetically close to sion about a conspiracy against Carus, sug-
“king of kings” this title is rather the Greek gested already by Flavius Vopiscus. According
equivalent of šakan – šah “king of the Segesta- to him, however, “[Carus] was slaughtered by
ni”, which is also implied by the text cited above Carinus (™sf£gh ØpÕ toà Kar…nou).” We
(Hemmerdinger 1971, 54). In the first part of find an absolutely identical passage in the “Uni-
Alexander the Monk’s writing The Discovery versal Chronicle” by Joel (Joel, Chronographia
of the Cross (Alexander Monachus, Inventio compendiana, 35).
Crucis, 4049) – which is a history of Christian- The name of Carus appears in a patriogra-
ity from the times of Tiberius (14-37 AD) to the phical text, as well – in a passage from Patria
finding of the relic in Jerusalem by Helena – of Constantinople compiled circa 995 AD by
we find a brief and not very useful passage Pseudo-Codinus. The anonymous author of the
about the rule of Carus and his sons (t¾n narrative, known as Parastaseis syntomoi
Theodor Dimitrov

chronikai (SOC, Vol. I, 37), calls Severus – relations under the Emperor Carus. Regretta-
one of the three mythical founders of Byzan- bly, the poor and unvarying contents of the
tium – “a [son] of Carus ([uƒoà] toà K£rou).” sources cannot be compensated for by parallel
It is needless to say, that this account is not to epigraphic or numismatic evidence. It is a
be taken literally. It should rather be considered standing fact, that the extant epigraphic monu-
through the prism of a possible patriograhpical ments from the period cannot shed additional
interpretation of the late antique history. The light to the events we are interested in. Nor will
inner logic of such interpretation suggests that it be practical to change the approach and make
Carus’ death marked the beginning of the pe- use of the ruler’s titles as a marker of a new
riod of the Tetrarchy, which had as its natural stage in the international relationships, since
climax the reign of Constantine the Great and emperor Carus adopted the standard titles
“founding” of the New Rome. Likewise, the “restitutor orbis” and “auctor salutis publi-
proclaiming Flavius Valerius Severus (306-307 c[a]e” (Mastino 1983, 102). The numismatic
AD) Caesar in Italy led to the mutiny and proc- finds show no change in the iconography, as
lamation of Constantine Caesar in Gaul. The well. Understandably (because of the campaign
appearance of Carus’ name finds explanation against Persia), the later emissions (Cf. RIC,
and fits perfectly the structure of the narrative 120 ff; Kienast 1996, 258) bear the standard
(Dagron 1984, 82-83), if one takes into consid- consecration: Divus Carus (Pius, Parthicus or
eration that, influenced by the homonymy of the Persicus Maximus). In so far as Armenia is
names, the author has “fused” into one person concerned, it should be pointed out, even as an
Septimius Severus (193-211 AD) and Flavius argumentum ex silentio, that so far there has
Valerius Severus, the origin of the latter re- been found no evidence for Carus being titled
maining unclear (sic!). Carus’ name is men- “Armeniacus”, as is the case, for example, with
tioned once more in the same text, though, in Philip the Arab (244-249 AD), who adopted the
quite a different context. He is enumerated title because of the intense pressure exerted by
among the seven philosophers – namely the Romans in the region in 245-248 AD (Traina
Kr£noj, K£roj, Pšloy, ‘ApellÁj, 2003, 135).
NeroÚaj, SilbanÒj, KÚrboj – to whom the On the other hand, the political situation in
brothers of the convicted (dikasqe…shj) Athe- the summer of 283 AD cannot be recreated on
nais-Eudokeia appeal for help (SOC, Vol. I, 64). the basis of the existing synchronic Persian
To cite G. Dagron (Dagron 1984, 116), the most sources only, which makes it necessary for the
authoritative modern scholar studying Patria of historians to juxtapose them with Roman and
Constantinople: “Le sept philosophes portent Byzantine narratives. Following this logic, E.
des noms fictifs, lointains echos de mytholo- Herzfeld (Herzfeld 1930, 34-35) put the ac-
gie, de culture grecque et d’histoire romai- count of Flavius Vopiscus about a mutiny to-
ne...” gether with that of Claudius Mamertinus about
The reminiscences of the reign of this em- the revolt of Bahram II’s brother, Hormizd, in
peror are also projected in a curious way on the Sakastan, and, having juxtaposed the two
topography of Constantinople. The building of a sources, concluded that they reflected the same
gate in the old wall, at the so called “Philadel- event. His thesis was, obviously, taken with full
phion”, is attributed to Carus, although there is trust by the Iranologists, as it figures in the gen-
no evidence at all for his ever visiting this town. eral article on the history of Sassanid Iran in
In fact, the gate was built at the beginning of the third volume of authoritative an edition such
Diocletian’s rule (Janin 1964, 368; Dagron 1984, as is The Cambridge History of Iran (Frye
82). 1983, 128). However, the chronology proposed
As it is well apparent from this “dry” review by E. Herzfeld runs counter to the contents of
of the evidence, the Greek and Latin narratives some preserved Persian rock reliefs. First, we
are lacking in indications of any change what- have at our disposal the triumphal relief of
soever of the paradigm of the Roman-Sassanid 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 man cavalry. This conclusion is supported by a
gesture of saluting a general of his, who him- parallel representation of a horseman on the
self is followed by his people – turbaned, as it is famous “Helena’s sarcophagus” kept in the
typical for the Arab tribes, horses and camels Vatican Museums. In his attempt to place the
behind them. The crowding people could be relief in a certain historical context the author
identified as representatives of the tribe of the tends to assume that the unknown enemy of
Lahmidi, formally under the control of the king Bahram II is emperor Carus. It does not follow,
of Mešan (Messena). Unfortunately, there is no of course, that the latter was killed in a combat
concrete information available as to who con- with the šahanšah; the monument rather re-
trolled this “province” in the early 80s of the 3d flects, at symbolic level, the claims of the
century AD. This could well have been the Sassanids to have caused the Emperor’s death
queen Denak, the wife of the deceased son of (Bivar 1972, 279-280).
Shapur I (AD 240-272), Shapur, or else her What has been said so far could be summa-
first-born son Hormizdak (?). It is also possible rized in the following way: in the summer of 283,
that Hormizdak, whose claims to the Iranian the emperor Carus took advantage of the un-
throne were as justified as those of Bahram II rest in the Sassanid Iran and invaded the unpro-
himself, made an attempt to place himself at the tected Mesopotamia, reaching as far as Ctesi-
head of Eranshahr supported by the Lahmidi. phon; it is also likely that simultaneously, for a
Although he succeeded to draw the main Per- short time, Roman troops occupied Armenia as
sian forces away from the Upper Mesopota- preventive measure against possible counterof-
mia, thus considerably easing the task of Carus, fensive by the enemy; after Carus’ unexpected
this intestine war quickly came to an end, and death, however, his successor, Numerianus
Hormizdak was replaced by the governor (AD 283-284) was not able to make use of his
Aturfarnbag. Around 293 AD, the latter was strategic advantage and backed away in panic
officially titled mešan-šah (Ëóêîíèí 1964, without concluding peace treaty. In March 283,
55-56; Ëóêîíèí 1979, 59-60). It was not until he seems to have reached Emessa, from where
recently that Brent D. Shaw (Shaw, 2001, 153) he moved back with the legions along the tradi-
made an assumption, not without good reasons, tional rout across Asia Minor (Miller 1996,
that it might have been the immediate success 176). There is no evidence to indicate whether
of Carus against the Persians, bringing into during the several months Numerianus’ stay in
doubt the ruler’s qualities and talent of Bahram the East, the two rulers, being in the state of
II, that had inspired the Hormizd’s revolt. It is continuous military clashes, kept regular corre-
needles to say, that the relief on Bišapur gives spondence. This fact is perfectly supported by
no information about any peace treaty con- the sources, all of which, judging from their con-
cluded with the Romans. tents, derive from a common original source .
There is also a second relief which might be Some curious details from the later corre-
interpreted as relating to the Roman-Persian spondence between the monarchs attract atten-
war in the summer of 283 AD. The composi- tion. In his famous letter to Constantius II (AD
tion cut out on the Naqsh-i-Rustam represents 337-361) Shapur II (309-379) accurately refers
a typical tournament scene. On the left side to the boundaries of the Achemenidian state
stands the mounted figure of Bahram II with a from the time of Darius I (522-486 B.C.; ad
lance in his right hand. The king is encountered usque Strymona flumen et Macedonicos fi-
by an enemy depicted in much the same pose. nes tenuisse maiores imperium meos), point-
Although the figure of the antagonist is not well ing at the unjust annexation of Armenia and
preserved, A. D. H. Bivar thinks that the ico- parts of Mesopotamia under the terms of the
nography of the helmet suggests a Roman treaty of 298 AD (ideoque Armeniam recupe-
plummeted helmet at the time in use in the Ro- 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- poetic references (Christensen 1936, 127-128).
cellinus, Res Gestae, Vol. I, XVII, 5). Such his- On the second place, though not in signifi-
torical retrospections form an integral part of cance, we could explicitly emphasize the obser-
the rich set of rhetorical methods, which vation of J. Harmatta (Harmatta 1957, 273-
“mottle” the official Persian messages. Not in- 276) that the address of the letter is perfectly in
advertently, the Sassanids justify their invasion accordance with the formulae in use in the
of the West with the argument that it is their šahanšah’s office. The surviving examples
purpose to restore the centuries-old (i.e. legiti- show a surprising in its chronological scope
mate!) control of the Achaemenids in the Re- continuity between the Achaemenid, Parthian
gion. In a letter to Alexander Severus (222-235 and Sassanid bureaucratic traditions. They are
AD) Ardashir I Papak (c. 226-240) calls the all (with rare exceptions) characterized by plac-
whole Asia “possession of my ancestors ing in the first place the name and title of the
(progonikÕn ktÁma)” (Herodianus, Ab exces- person who occupies a higher position in the
su divi Marci, VI, 2). In view of this feature social or administrative hierarchy or otherwise
characteristic of the composition of the Iranian enjoys a greater authority in the context of the
messages, the following question arises, and international relations, no matter whether he is
with good reason at that: why should Shapur II the sender or recipient of the message.
forget to qualify the terms of the treaty of 298 In this connection, it should be added that
AD in the broader context the alleged treaty of the very idea of political sovereignty inherent in
283 AD must undoubtedly have provided? The the addresses under consideration makes it au-
answer seems to be self-evident. In E. Winter’s tomatically impossible for the name of the
opinion (Winter, 1989, 555), it was under the basileus to precede that of his Iranian counter-
terms of the treaty of 298 AD between part. Typical examples in this respect are the
Gallerius (293-311 AD) and Narseh (293-302 papyri dating from the period of the Persian
AD) that the eastern boundary of the Roman occupation of Egypt, in which there are greet-
Empire was first legally changed in the 3d cen- ing addresses like: “L hwt’ dy yzdkrty“ and “L
tury AD. This view is further supported by the hwt’y plhwtlkrty”; as well as some letters pre-
fact that Peter Patrician, who gives detailed served in the Byzantine narratives, for exam-
account of the contents of the treaty and the ple, ”Qe‹oj, ¢gaqÒj, e„rhnop£trioj,
intense correspondence preceding its conclu- ¢rca‹oj CosrÒhj, basileÝj basilšwn,
sion, never mentions a pervious agreement eÙtuc»j, eÙseb»j, ¢gaqopoiÒj, útini oƒ
(Petrus Patricius, Fragmenta, fr. 13-14, 188- qeoˆ meg£lhn tÚchn kaˆ meg£lhn
189). basile…an dedèkasi, g…gaj gig£ntwn, Öj
The evidence provided by Ammianus ™k qeîn carakthr…zetai, ‘Ioustinianù
Marcelinus could be accepted without undue Ka…sari, ¢delfù ¹metšrJ”, in the work of
doubts. Having meticulously analyzed the ex- Menander Protector (Menander Protector,
tant books of his work, E. Thompson comes to Fragmenta, fr. 11, 213); or “Rex regum Sapor,
the conclusion that even if the author has not particeps siderum, frater Solis et Lunae,
repeated the message of Shapur II word-for- Constantio Caesari fratri meo salutem
word, he has derived the information from offi- plurimam dico” in the above cited letter of
cial Roman sources (Thompson 1947, 36; cf. Shapur II. Such addresses are also present in
also Matthews 1989, 485, #12). We cannot the works of John Malalas (Malalas, Chrono-
blithely dismiss the fact that both the structure graphia, 449), Theophylactus Simmocatta
and style of the letter conform to the general (Theophylactus Simmocatta, Historia, IV, 7), as
principles of composition characteristic of the well as in the Paschal Chronicle (Chronicon
Persian epistolary practice. That is, the rela- Paschale, 735; cf. commentary of Oikonomides
tions between the two parties are developed 1971, 269-281).
with astonishing pedantry, their positions being The development of the splendid ceremonial
supported by numerous religious, didactic and 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- content ourselves with the particularly indica-
phon, might well have started four years after tive in this respect message of Kavadh I (488-
the death of Carus outside the city walls of the 531 AD) to Justinian I (527-565 AD), which
Iranian capital. In 287 AD Diocletian succeeded appears in John Malalas’ writing (Malalas,
in pushing away the Persian troops across Chronographia, 449). The šah wrote, “in our
Euphrates and, following the precedents estab- archives we found recorded that we (you and
lished in Roman-Parthian diplomatic relations, I) were brothers (hÛramen ™n to‹j ¹metšroij
induced them to buy up the peace at the cost of ¢rca…oij ¢nagegrammšna ¢delfoÝj ¹m©j
gifts. Indirect allusion to this emblematic event ¢ll»lwn enai).” Did Kavadh really turn to
is made, post factum, in the works of Maxi- the Iranian archives for relevant materials; and
mian’s (286-305/ 397-310 AD) panegyrist what is even more interesting, can we speak
Claudius Mamertinus, who writes, “ille tibi about an archive in the modern sense of the
osetndendo dona Persica” (Panegyrici Latini, word? To add more weight to his writing
II, 9), while comparing the deeds and excel- Malalas’ contemporary Agathias of Myrina
lences of the two Augusti. Uncertain remains (Agathias, Historiae, II, 27) claims, very much
whether the “architect” of the Tetrarchy was on Herodotus’ lines, that in his Histories he has
himself in command of the legions and what the used official Persian sources (for the imitation
course of the military actions was. Yet, it is a of Herodotus’ phraseology cf. Cameron 1964,
fact that the ceremonial exchange of gifts is one 41; for a general investigation of the sources
of the most persistent characteristics of the used by Agathias cf. Cameron 1969/1970, 109).
Byzantine-Persian diplomatic protocol. As a Following the colorful stories about Ardashir’s
specific act, it is markedly outlined in magister descent and the arguments between Papak and
officiorum Peter Patrician’s account (Constan- Sassan about the right of fatherhood, there
tinus Porphyrogenitus, De cerimoniis aulae comes in his text the authoritative conclusion,
Byzantinae, I, 89) of the mission of the Persian “tracing down Ardashir’s descent in this way,
Yezdek. During the audience, after the custom- the Persians claim that these stories are true,
ary questions about the Emperor’s health, the because they were recorded in the ruler’s
šahanšah’s emissary pronounced the remark- scrolls/parchments (oÛtw mn tÕn
able phrase, “Your brother is sending you gifts, ‘Artax£rhn genealogoàntej oƒ Pšrsai
and I invite you to accept them (Ð ¢delfÒj sou ¢lhqÁ taàt£ fasi kaqest£nai, æj kaˆ ™n
œpemyšn soi dîra, kaˆ parakalî ta‹j basile…oij difqšraij
decqÁnai aÙt£).” However, the events of 287 ¢nagegrammšna).” What is more, already
AD should not be taken at face value; neither Ctesias (Ctesias, Fragmenta, fr. 5, 22), the au-
should an equal sign be put between them and a thor of the history of the Achaemenids, which
possible sanction of the fraternal relations, be- has come down to us in fragments, claims to
cause the existing information is not enough to have used ruler’s scrolls/ parchments (tîn
reconstruct in detail the picture of the rather basilikîn difqerîn), on which the Persians,
tense Roman-Persian relations at the time. according to custom, used to write down the old
The correspondence between the rulers of- deeds. This evidence is supported by the late
fers some indirect evidence as to what mean- Sassanid treatise The Book of the Righteous
ing was attributed by the Sassanians to the ad- Wiraz. Describing the “evil deeds” of Alexan-
dress “brother”. We hardly need to go in detail der of Macedon after his invasion of Iran, the
explaining that the providential character of the anonymous compiler reminds that he “collected
Roman political doctrine predetermined the al- and burned up the sacred scripture – that is, the
most complete lack of domestic texts of consti- whole Avesta and Zand – written on tanned
tutional significance, containing comprehensive bull’s skin with golden water, which was kept in
description of their own political system or the Stahr…in the citadel of the records (Arda
existing epistolary practice we are interested in Wiraz namag, 96).
here, which forms essential part of it. We will The above examples seem to point unmis-
Theodor Dimitrov

takably that the documents of the Sassanid a simple answer to this question. Yet, Malalas
kings were composed in accordance not only himself draws a clear distinction between “the
with the secular texts, but also with the official records” and the contents of the concrete treaty
religious ones. As far as the former are con- between the two powers, accurately naming the
cerned, there should be no doubt that the trea- latter, several pages later, “gr£mmata tîn
ties between Rome/Byzantium and Eranshahr p£ktwn” (Malalas, Chronographia, 454). The
were considered of primary importance and problematic character of this text necessitates
must have been kept with due respect in the a broader interpretation, which goes out of the
Iranian archive. Menander Protector (Menan- framework of a classic study of institutions.
der Protector, Fragmenta, fr. 11, 213; cf. the After the enthronement of the Sassan’s de-
comments of Guterbock 1906, 57-105 and scendants in April 224 AD the need for eman-
Miller 1971, 72, #69) in his meticulous descrip- cipation and self-identification of the dynasty, it
tion of the technical details about the conclu- being still young and not strong enough, acted
sion of the peace of 526 AD between the two as a catalyst for the renewal of some pre-
powers, mentions the interesting fact that on the Avesta mythology (including the heroic cycle
final ratification of the treaty the diplomatic rep- about Kayanids) connected with the origin of
resentatives exchanged charters with the text the Iranians and their neighbours. Reinforced
of the treaty composed in Greek and Pahlavi by are myths which – at least from theoretical
twelve interpreters (˜rmhnšwn dška prÕj to‹j point of view – determined the motifs, goals and
dÚo), the number of the interpreters being equal implementation of the Sassanid foreign policy.
on both sides (›x mn ‘Rwma…wn, oÙc Âtton The paradigm of this policy is most markedly
d Persîn). These copies might well have outlined in the legend about the division of the
been at permanent disposal of a special offi- world between the three sons of Feridun –
cial-epistolographer in the Sassanian court, who Ayria (the eponym of the Iranians), Tura (the
also had as his duty to compose letters (sic!) eponym of the Turanians and all nomadic tribes
and write down the orders of the king (Lukonin as well) and Sairima (the eponym of the people
1983, 711-712; Ëóêîíèí, 1987, 123). It is not of Rum, i.e. the Romans). The legend says that
by accident that already among the court offi- driven by malice and envy because of their poor
cials enumerated in the famous three-lingual inheritance Tura and Sairima murdered their
inscription of Shapur I on Ka’be Zardusht we brother Ayria, and this action of theirs was the
come across certain Aštat Mihran titled “™pˆ symbolical beginning of the “fratricidal” enmity
™pistolîn” / Pahl. “dpyr” (Maricq 1958, 331). between the Romans and Persians. Although
John Malalas’ Chronography has a special Feridun is mentioned several times in Avesta,
bearing on the matters we are interested in be- mainly in the myth about his victory over the
cause of the real possibility that he has interpo- dragon-tyrant Dahak, personification of the en-
lated, completely or partly, in the structure of emies of the Zoroastrianism (Àâåñòà: Âèäåâ-
his narrative the authentic text of Kavadh’s äàä, I, 17; ßñíà, IX, 7; ßøò, V, 33, 61, XIV,
message. In his comments on the stylistic char- 40, XVII, 33, 35, XIX, 36, 92 ), the myth itself is
acteristics of this message R. Scott, the Aus- not an integral part of the sacred writings of the
tralian editor of the text (Scott 1992, 160), Iranians. Therefore, we are readily to accept
among other things mentions, “Hermogenes re- the conclusion of E. Yarshater (Yarshater 1983,
turned from Persia with Kavadh’s reply which 428-429; cf. also ×óêàíîâà, 2004, 197) that
Malalas quotes apparently verbatim in a Greek the identification of the race of the Sairima with
style much more sophisticated than his own.” the Romans is a late (dating from the middle
As matters stand, the curious question arises of Parthian epoch) adaptation of a considerably
whether by “records (¢nagegrammšna)” found older tradition. The eponym under discussion
in the Persian archives Kavadh I really meant might have been used to denote a hostile neigh-
the terms of a concrete legal document. The bouring tribe (e.g. Sarmatians?), which was
present state of our sources does not allow for 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 manifested, as it were, in a number of common
applied to the people from the West in much the duties (not always strictly discharged!), for ex-
same way as the Turks were steadily identified ample, the protection of the Caspian Gates, in
th th
with the descendants of Tura. the late 5 – 6 century, against the invasion of
On the other hand, the late Sassanid treatise the steppe people (Procopius Caesariensis, De
Judgements of the Spirit of Wisdom trans- bello Persico, I, 10; 16; 22; II, 10; Ïèãóëåâ-
forms the ideological charge of the legend into ñêàÿ 1940, 131, 136, 155).
the concrete accusation that the Roman treach- In light of what has been said above, one
ery manifested itself in the murder of Eraj / should not rule out the possibility of Kavadh’s
Ayria (Dadestan i menog i xrad, 98). Thus, in having referred to the canonic Zoroastrian texts
the course of the political contacts, the image from the ruler’s archive but in order to legiti-
of their western neighbors was gradually my- mize the address “brother” by placing it in the
thologized, attaining the features of the context of the sacred history. It is a standing
Romanus Perfidus , this sharply negative ren- fact that characteristic of the sacred history is
dering reaching its culmination in the face of to mix together the planes of the profane events
the “evil, wretched, apostate, the iniquitous and and their clarification in teleological perspec-
malicious Alexander-i Rum (that is, Alexander tive, as well as to contaminate the real and
the Great)” (Arda Wiraz namag, 96). mythological personages. It is this usage of the
At the same time, however, the legend about sacred history and tradition as major argument
Feridun’s descendants seems to have played an in the standard ideological phraseology and
important role in the process of self-identifica- rhetoric of the Sassanids that provides a satis-
tion of the Sassanid dynasty, as the pattern of factory explanation for the reference to ™n to‹j
the sacred history was appropriated to serve the ¹metšroij ¢rca…oij ¢nagegrammšna made
purposes of the political reality. In other words, in the letter of Kavadh I, as well as for the ref-
the Persian elite recognized Rome/ Byzantium erences to the accounts of earlier Greek and
through a constant projection of the relations Roman authors ([antiquitates] quoque ves-
between Ayria and Sairima at the background trae testantur) along with those to concrete
of the diplomatic contacts. The legend itself treatises in the message of Shapur I.
implies the idea of predestined genealogical link Regrettably, we are lacking in the parallel
between he rulers based on their common ori- Interpertatio Byzantina of the epistolary prac-
gin on one hand, and on the other hand, on the tice under discussion, which gives the modern
common source of their power. Quite indica- scholars ample opportunity for variable ap-
tive in this respect is the letter of Chosroes II proaches to its interpretation and reconstruc-
(591-628 AD) to the emperor Mauricius (582- tion. From the voluminous specialized literature
602 AD). The šahanšah begins his message lik- compiled no the problem we will only draw at-
ening Byzantium and Eranshahr, in a typical for tention to the main theses current in historio-
the late Antiquity manner, to “two eyes which graphy. Thus, for example, O. Treitinger (Trei-
illuminate the world (dÚo tisˆn Ñfqalmo‹j tÕn tinger 1956, 270, #63) presents the standard
kÒsmon katal£mpesqai).” This metaphor is, scheme of ruler’s hierarchy contented with
however, preceded by the explicit assertion that briefly noting that the letter of Heraclius (610-
the existing order was “originally established by 641 AD) to Chosroes II, in which the emperor
the divine power (™x ¢rcÁj tÕ qe‹on asks the šah to acknowledge him as his son, is a
™pragmateÚsato)” (Theophylactus Simmo- striking exception. G. Ostrogorsky, one of the
catta, Historia, IV, 11, 8; cf. the comments of greatest authorities in Byzantine studies, men-
Ïèãóëåâñêàÿ, 1946, 94-95). tions in passing (Ostrogorsky 1936, 52, #8) that
In spite of the frequent conflicts between the the address “brother” applied to the Persian šah
two powers the propinquity of the rulers was 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 after his miraculous healing, keeps curious cor-
publication (Ostrogorsky 1956/1957, 12), it was respondence with Christ, and in his messages
only used in the relations with the šah. The he calls the Parthian king “brother”, while ad-
above-cited Fr. Dölger (Dölger 1976, 62-64) dressing the Roman princeps Tiberius by “mas-
also takes the fraternal relationships established ter” (Leroubna d’Edesse, 329-330).
between the rulers of Byzantium and Eranshahr What has been said so far points to the con-
to be exceptional in the context of their Hellen- clusion that all attempts to date certain element
istic origin. A. Grabar (Grabar 1954, 119-120) of the Byzantine protocol on the basis of a sin-
strictly adheres to this conclusion, adding to it, gle legal act (the reality of which is not sup-
rather casually, that the rulers were “brothers” ported by the available sources!), especially for
in so far as they shared the Universe in purely the period of most intense infiltration of eastern
geographical sense. Convincing, as it might influences in the Byzantine court (Îñòðîãîð-
seem at first sight, this explanation rather re- ñêè 1998, 72), are methodologically unjustified
veals the difficulties of the Byzantologists to and run counter to the profound and continuous
produce an acceptable model of fraternitas, evolution of the concept of the fraternal rela-
and is by no means supported by the existing tions between the rulers of the New Rome and
narratives. Much on these lines, Luis Bréhier Sassanid Iran. So, making no claims for being
(Bréhier 1970, 230-231) just emphasizes the exhaustive, the present study advances just an-
observable fact that Persia occupied the high- other possible approach to the treatment of the
est position in the hierarchy of the non-Chris- problem about the Byzantine-Persian political
tian countries, and that, up to the middle of the symbiosis.
7 century, the title “basileÝj” was not re-
served to refer to the Constantinople’s ruler BIBLIOGRAPHY
only. Àâåñòà â ðóññêèõ ïåðåâîäàõ (1861-1996).
The main weakness of the abovementioned Ñîñò., îáù. ðåä., ïðèìå÷., ñïðàâî÷íûé ðàçäåë È.
modern studies caused by their taxonomic char- Â. Ðàê. Ñàíêò-Ïåòåðáóðã. 1998
acter is that they all attempt to reconstruct a Âà÷êîâà, Â. sine anno. Âúîáðàæàåìè è ðåàëíè
general model of ruler’s hierarchy. Such specu- ãðàíèöè â ðàííîñðåäíîâåêîâíà Åâðîïà. Ñîôèÿ.
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Äèìèòðîâ, Ò. 2007. Íàáëþäåíèÿ âúðõó ãå-
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íåçèñà íà âèçàíòèíî-ïåðñèéñêàòà ïîëèòè÷åñêà
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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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