"Khusrau Parwiz dispatched / A thousand cavaliers of noble birth" - The Coronation of Chosrau II, King-of-Kings of the Sassanid Empire

15 February 590, Chosrau II was crowned King-of-Kings of the Sassanid Empire for the first time at Ctesiphon, near present-day Baghdad.

“He sent a crown — an heirloom of the Caesars / Reserved for fit occasions — with a pair / Of earrings and a royal torque, of robes / Eleven hundred broidered all in cold, / A hundred camel-loads of gold dinars, / As well as many pearls and precious stones, / A jewelled cross and throne all royal gems, / A green robe shot with gold whereof the fringe / Was finished off with jewels. With the gills / And offerings went four philosophers / Of those of Rum (Rome). Khusrau Parwiz dispatched / A thousand cavaliers of noble birth / To meet and welcome them.” (Ferdowsi, “The Shahnameh“) 

 The famous relief of Chosrau II between Ahura Mazda,
the high divinity of Zoroastrinaism and to the left of him Anahita,
a cosmological figure associated with fertility, healing and wisdom.
The trinity hovers over a mounted Grivpanvar,
more or less a knight, maybe Chosrau Parvez himself,
riding his legendary black stallion Shabdiz, “Midnight”.

Few Sassanid monarchs had a more legendary reputation and left a heritage as rich and colourful as the last great King-of-Kings: A chapter in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, an epic love story, “Khosrow and Shirin”, legends of 3,000 concubines residing in his shabestan on top of it, untold riches, elephants and what not – and, of course, miffing off Mohammed, capturing the True Cross and fighting a World War against Rome. The struggle that left both the Roman and Sassanid Empire weakened and ripe for Islam’s voyage of conquest that began in earnest about the time of Chosrau’s death in 629. And ironically enough, it was a Roman emperor that helped the King-of-Kings to regain his throne in 591. The Sasanian general Bahram Chobin seized the crown a year before from the 20 years old king who fled to the archenemy at Constantinople and Emperor Maurice lent him an army, probably sensing a wonderful opportunity of further destabilising his Eastern rival. Chosrau, however, managed to drive Bahram Chobin to the far end of Persia and divested himself of Mesopotamia, Armenia and parts of Georgia for Maurice’s pains, as well as the annual Roman tribute. Allegedly, the emperor even adopted the Persian king and the situation between the two empires was peaceful for a change. At least for a while.

A 16th century miniature illustrating a fictional duel between Chosrau and Bahram Chobin

When Maurice and his family were murdered during Phokas’ coup-d’etat in 602, Chosrau returned the situation back to normal, i.e. bloody war, acting as avenger for his assassinated benefactor and all of the sudden, it seemed as if the Achaemenid greatness of old had come again. Chosrau took the whole of the Roman Near East, Egypt, and Asia Minor, sacked Jerusalem and captured the True Cross and finally laid siege to Constantinople itself in 626. Then Rome’s new emperor Heraclius struck back with a vengeance, declared an outright Holy War against the Sassanids, pushing Chosrau back beyond the Euphrates in a desperate campaign. When the Göktürks, a confederation of nomadic Turkish tribes in Central Asia, invaded Persia, the King-of-Kings was up to his neck in a two-front-war and had to sue for peace. In 628, the conflict that had bled the two great powers dry, was over, Chosrau had to yield all conquered territories back to Rome, Heraclius returned the True Cross to Jerusalem as legend and late medieval iconography has it and Chosrau was dethroned, imprisoned and murdered by his son Kavadh in 629. And then, in 634, Abu Bakr and Kalid ibn al-Walid came and things would never be the same again.

Piero della Francesca (1420 - 1492): "Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes" (around 1450)

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