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Title: Narseh, König der Könige von Ērān und Anērān
Author(s): WEBER, Ursula
Journal: Iranica Antiqua
Volume: 47    Date: 2012   
Pages: 153-302
DOI: 10.2143/IA.47.0.2141965

Abstract :
Narseh, Šābuhr I’s youngest son, ruled the Sāsānian Empire as its seventh king between 293 and 302 A.D. In contrast to his royal predecessors, Narseh did not ascend the throne as a crown prince, but was crowned king only at the advanced age of approximately 60-65 after the short 4-month reign of his grandnephew, Wahrām III. According to the two big royal inscriptions of Naqs-i Ruštam [ŠKZ] and Pāikūlī [NPi] (293), Narseh successively became viceroy of two politically important provinces before his investiture as šāhān šāh. At first, Šābuhr I appointed his youngest son as king of 'Hind(estān), Sagestān and Tūrān up to the seashore', an extensive area which consisted of three partial provinces. The exact date of his coronation and the duration of his viceroyalty are not known. It is quite clear, however, that Narseh, according to Šābuhr’s Res Gestae, was viceroy in the East in the year 262 A.D. When Hormezd I, Šābuhr I’s successor, passed away after a one-year rule (273), not Narseh but his oldest brother Wahrām (I) seized the throne (ruled 273-276). The genealogy of Šābuhr’s inscription testifies to the fact that Wahrām had not belonged to the inner circle of the royal family, that he had therefore not been considered heir presumptive, and that he had not been the object of pious endowments. Šābuhr I had even distanced himself from Wahrām and had refused to call him 'Our son'. Narseh’s later damnatio memoriae of his brother at Wahrām I’s investiture relief makes it clear that he consequently looked at Wahrām as an usurper. However, one may assume that Wahrām I, after his investiture as šāhān šāh, compensated Narseh for his claim to the throne by making him viceroy of Armenia. The Pāikūlī inscription testifies to the fact that Narseh stayed in this office until 293 A.D. The regnal change from Wahrām I to Wahrām II (ruled 276-293) seems to have taken place without complications. Only after Wahrām II’s death, when Wahnām, the son of Tatrus, had the kings’s son of the same name crowned without the knowledge of the nobility, an open fight for the throne broke out and threw the Sasanian Empire into crisis. Nevertheless, it has to be noted that a share of the nobility, not Narseh, was responsible for this civil war. These nobles considered Wahrām III (293) not to be able to rule as king and to be Wahnām’s puppet, and they therefore asked Narseh to ascend his forefathers’ throne. In the end, the strife led to Wahrām III’s abdication and Wahnām’s arrest. After his victory, Narseh called up a meeting of the nobility to offer an election of the king. He set great store by not appearing as an usurper but by proving the legitimacy of his action. Only after a repeated questioning of the nobles and their unequivocal vote Narseh was ready to ascend the throne (293). In memory of the quarrel for the throne and his appointment as king Narseh had the Pāikūlī inscription set up. It is both his Res Gestae and a text to legitimise his rise to power as Sāsānian king. Three years after his coronation tensions broke out between the Roman and the Sāsānian Empire. These were caused by the question of the Roman fortresses on the Euphrates line, the strengthening of the Roman military presence in the East linked with it and the arrival of the Emperor Diocletian and his Caesar Galerius in Egypt and Syria. In the spring of 297, a first military confrontation in an area between Callinicum and Carrhae ended in a heavy defeat of Galerius. Assuming that his victory had been decisive and that fighting would come to an end Narseh withdrew to Armenia. However, Galerius planned to make up for his military defeat. After having recruited new troops he surprised Narseh in his camp at Satala and inflicted a crushing defeat on him. Galerius then took Narseh’s wives and children and a great number of Persian nobles prisoner. In view of the disastrous defeat and the members of the royal family held in Roman captivity Narseh was forced to accept Rome’s dictated peace and to yield control of a number of territories on the borderline. Narseh’s authority should have been strongly undermined by these events and the defeat should have contributed to a gradual loss of the king’s xwarrah (divinely conferred charisma). Only after a peace treaty had been concluded, the Romans allowed the captives to return home. Narseh’s second personal crown, which has now been identified as a lamella crown, may be proof of his recovery of the xwarrah. As far as his religious policy is concerned, Narseh, by supporting Zoroastrianism (Mazdaism), rather followed in his father’s footsteps. Both saw themselves as devout Mazda-worshippers and refrained from persecuting other religions. In contrast to both kings of the Wahrām family, who pursued an intolerant religious policy and fought against Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Mandaeans, Jainas and, above all, Manichaeans and Christians, those minorities witnessed religious tolerance in king Narseh’s time.

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