XI: The Great King and the Seven Princesses

From: 428 AD

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The Great King and the Seven Princesses I  of the now irreversible changes triggered by the migrations of peoples and political instability, there was still an entity that could be defined as “Rome,”which was acknowledged as such by its subjects and its enemies, and maintained its ancient authority over the Mediterranean world and, to a lesser extent, Europe too. But the Roman Empire was not the only empire. Beyond the Euphrates another sovereign, or rather the “King of Kings” (shāhanshāh), reigned over the great Sassanian Empire which extended as far as Central Asia. Direct contacts between the two empires were rare, but this did not mean that Constantinople and Ravenna ignored the problem.Of course, Theodosius II had had to renounce the traditional Roman policy towards the east to concentrate on recovering a unified empire, and this had led to the permanent loss of the Kingdom of Armenia and a stronger position for the rival empire. Nevertheless, the emperor continued to ruminate on possible strategies for regaining the initiative. In this period, war against the Persians was of particular concern to the emperor , and Nestorius has been exploring these anxieties (see Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, , , ). Moreover, the problems of the Euphrates were not only disturbing military leaders and the court at Constantinople: even the African Quodvultdeus, who had humbly declared to Saint Augustine that he knew no Greek and did not even know how to read Latin very well, would thirty years later prove to be fully aware of the crisis of the Eastern  C H A P T E R X I Roman Empire in the s, when speaking specifically about the “Armenians ”who were seeking refuge from the emperor against the will of the Persians (Quodvultdeus, Book of God’s Promises and Predictions, , ). During the same period in Ravenna,Bishop Peter Chrysologus referred in his sermons to the symbols of royalty in the Sassanian Empire (Peter Chrysologus, Sermons, , ).1 The Great King of Iran was the Sassanid Bahrām V, the son of Yazdegerd I, and about the same age as Theodosius II. Arab authors are in agreement in claiming that the future emperor had been educated as an Arab at the Oasis of Hīra (close to the current town of Kūfa in southern Iraq), and this may have been to avoid plots in the court.This story, which was developed in the Islamic tradition, was embellished with important details in the poem Haft Paikar (“The Seven Beauties”) by the Persian poet Nezāmī, who lived from  to  in the Caucasian city of Ganja (now Gyandzha in Azerbaijan).2 Hīra was one of the great centers of pre-Islamic Bedouin culture. Nezāmī describes it as a city fit for A Thousand and One Nights, with decorated palaces, hanging gardens, and, above all, the marvelous castle of Khawarnaq, built by the great architect Semnār and commissioned by Prince No‘mān (in Arabic al-Nu‘mān).3 It was said that the Arabs developed their own writing in this city, and the most ancient historical inscription in Arabic does indeed date from the first half of the fourth century and was written on behalf of one of the first Lakhmids, the princes who had set up the structures of an autonomous kingdom.4 Initially, the Lakhmids sided with Rome, but very soon became vassals of the Sassanian Empire, and governed the oasis—until the Great King Khusro II suppressed the dynasty in . In the fifth century, the Bedouins of Hīra were the guardians of the Sassanian border. When Flavius Dionysius carried out his embassy, his Persian opposite number was probably escorted by these warriors. In , their leader was al-Nu‘mān’s son, Prince al-Mundhir, who in the past had taken in and protected Bahrām, who had studied alongside the prince’s own son, Nu‘mān the Younger. Like other “Saracens ,” al-Mundhir was close to Christianity: he was a worshiper of Saint Sergius, whose shrine was in a place known as the “Plain of the Barbarians,” close to the desert frontier with Iran.5 However, in / this lord of the desert fought alongside Iran against the most Christian Roman Empire, and clashed with the Roman Empire’s Alan general, G R E A T K I N G A N D S E V E N P R I N C E S S E S  Ardabur, on the Mesopotamian front where...