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Shapur II to Bahram V, Persecutions and Tolerance

The ninth Sassanid king, Shapur II, began to rule in name from the day he was born, in the year 309. In 337, the Roman emperor Constantine died, followed by Shapur in his late 20s observing Constantine's sons fighting among themselves. Shapur II wanted to prove himself, and he broke the forty-years of peace that had been established with Rome. He led his armies into territory in Mesopotamia and Armenia that his predecessors had lost to the Romans, and he acquired a reputation as a brave warrior with god-like power.

His war against the Romans lasted to 350. That year he had to break of war with the Roman Empire to fight an invasion by the Huns from the East. By 357 he had defeated the Huns, and he forced them into an alliance. Two years later he resumed his war against the Roman Empire and advanced to Ctesiphon. In 363 his opponent the Roman emperor Julian (the Apostate) was killed. Then Shapur pushed the Romans out of Nisibis and nearby territory. Julian's successor, the Christian Emperor Jovian, made peace with Shapur, giving back to Persia all the Mesopotamian territories taken from them as well as Nisibis and Singara. And Jovian gave Shapur the territory of Armenia. Shapur forced the Armenian king, Arsaces III, to commit suicide, and then he tried to introduce Zoroastrian orthodoxy into Armenia, resisted by Armenia's nobility.

Manichaeans were scattered and it was past Katir's time. The Zoroastrian priesthood was still hostile toward religious rivals, including Christians. They viewed Christianity as the work of the devil just as Christians view rival religious views. Persecutions against Christians within the Sassanid Empire were on going, with Christians reported as welcoming martyrdom. The survival of Christianity under the Sassanids appeared threatened, but the same slowness and inefficiency that had taken place in Rome's attempted extermination of Christianity was being repeated under the Sassanids.

Shapur II died at age 70 in the year 379. He was succeeded by his brother and then his son, Shapur III, in 383. Shapur III failed to continue the persecutions of Christians. He freed Christian prisoners, believing they would be of greater value to him pursuing their crafts and paying taxes. Shapur III died in 388 and was succeeded by his son, Bahram IV. In 399, Bahram was succeeded by his brother, Yazdegerd I. Yazdegerd respected diversity and wanted peace between the religions of his realm and helped Christians rebuild their churches destroyed during the persecutions. Yazdegerd sponsored a council meeting of Christian bishops and other Christian ecclesiastics to mend their internal quarrels, and the council created rules and an organizational structure to unite Christians within the empire. The Zoroastrian priests were displeased. They spoke of "Yazdegerd the Wicked."

The Zoroastrians had more luck with Yazdegerd's son, Bahram V, who became known for his prowess in hunting game and women. Bahram V attempted to win and maintain good will for himself among the Zoroastrians, and, in 421, the persecution of Christians resumed. Many Christians fled westward to the Roman empire, and Bahram sought their extradition. But the Roman emperor at Constantinople, Theodosius II, himself a Christian, refused Bahram's request.

Bahram V responded with another war against the Roman empire. Constantinople overpowered Persia's forces in a series of skirmishes. Bahram made a 100-year peace with Constantinople in which he agreed to grant freedom of worship for Christians in the Sassanid Empire in exchange for Constantinople granting freedom of worship for Zoroastrians under its rule.


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