Narseh (Middle Persian: 𐭭𐭥𐭮𐭧𐭩 Persian: : نرسه, Narsē, whose name is also sometimes written as Narses or Narseus) was the seventh Sasanian king of Ērānshahr (293–302). He was the son of Shapur I (240–270).
During the rule of his father Shapur I, Narseh had served as the governor of Sakastan, Sindh and Turan. Prior to becoming King of Persia, he held the title Great King of Armenia. Narseh overthrew the increasingly unpopular Bahram III in 293 with the support of most of the nobility. The circumstances of Narseh's rise to power are detailed in the Paikuli inscription. Narseh was known for his tolerance of other religions.
Early life and accession
Narseh is quoted in an inscription by his father Shapur I as the governor of Sindh, of Sakastan and Turan. Narseh was later appointed as governor of Armenia. Following the death of Bahram II in 293 CE, his son Bahram III was proclaimed king in Pars by a group of nobles led by Wahnam and supported by Adurfarrobay, governor of Mesan. However, Bahram III was considered a weak ruler by the other nobles, who decided to pledge allegiance to Narseh, the last remaining son of Shapur I, and someone who was perceived as being a stronger leader and one who would be able to bring glory to Persia. Four months into Bahram III's reign, Narseh was summoned to Ctesiphon by the request of many members of the Persian nobility. According to the Paikuli inscription these nobles swore their total allegiance to him there and asked that he would take the throne. In a brief revolt, Wahnam was captured and executed and Bahram was removed from the throne. It is assumed Bahram III was also killed in the uprising though there is no documentation of this so his fate remains uncertain.
During Narseh's time, Rome was ruled by Diocletian and it was with Diocletian and his son-in-law Galerius that Narseh was engaged in eight years of constant warfare.
In 296, fed up with incursions made by the Armenian monarch Tiridates III, Narseh invaded Armenia. Surprised by the sudden attack, Tiridates fled his kingdom. The Roman Emperor Diocletian dispatched his son-in-law Galerius with a large army to Tiridates's aid.
Galerius invaded Mesopotamia, which Narseh had occupied hoping to check his advance. Three battles were fought subsequently, the first two of which were indecisive. In the third fought at Callinicum, Galerius suffered a complete defeat and was forced to retreat. Galerius crossed the Euphrates into Syria to join his father-in-law Diocletian at Antioch. On his arrival at Antioch, Galerius was rebuked by Diocletian who disgraced him for his shameful defeat at the hands of Narseh. Vowing to take revenge, Galerius made preparations throughout the winter of 297 and invaded Armenia with 25,000 men.
Supported by the Armenians, Galerius surprised Narseh in his camp at the Battle of Satala and inflicted a crushing defeat on the latter forcing him to flee in haste. His wife, prisoners, his sisters and a number of his children were captured apart from his prodigious military chest. Eastern Mesopotamia was recovered by the Romans and Tiridates was reinstated as the monarch of Armenia.
Anxious to make peace with the Romans, Narseh dispatched his envoy Aphraban to Galerius with the following message:
But Galerius dismissed Aphraban without giving any definite answer, at the same time accusing the Persians of ill-treating Valerian. In the meantime, he consulted Diocletian at Nisibis who persuaded Galerius to offer terms of peace to the Persians.
Accordingly terms of peace were agreed upon, and were ratified by a treaty concluded by Narseh with the Romans.
According to this treaty,
- Five provinces beyond the Tigris were to be ceded to the Romans. One writer gives these provinces as Intilene, Sophene, Arzanene, Carduene, and Zabdicene; by another as Arzanene, Moxoene, Zabdicene, Rehimene, and Corduene.
- The semi-independent kingdom of Armenia was to be extended up to the fortress of Zintha, in Media.
- Persia was expected to relinquish all her rights over Iberia.
- Formal dealings between Persia and Rome would henceforth be conducted at Nisibis.
Narseh did not survive for long after the conclusion of this humiliating treaty. He died in 302 and was succeeded by his son, Hormizd II.