The Fall of Khusrow II

Last year in Medieval Warfare magazine we featured the wars between the Byzantine and the Sassanid empires in the early seventh-century. Since then an edition and translation of an interesting source has been published: A Short Chronicle on the End of the Sasanian Empire and Early Islam 590-660 A.D.

Gold coin of Khosrow II. Photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

The Short History was written by a Christian ecclesiastic from northern Mesopotamia - some have argued that he was a monk. Probably composed sometime between 660 and 680, the work offers accounts of secular and church history. This includes an interesting, if somewhat inaccurate, view of the wars that took place between the Byzantines and Sassanids in 627-28. The narrative focuses on the Shahanshah (Sassanid ruler) Khusrow II, beginning with his reaction to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius launching an invasion against Dastagird (Daskarta):

Khusrow was disturbed before him, and was filled with great fear. Heraclius descended on the northern territories, destroying, ruining and capturing all the northern lands. When he drew to Daskarta, Khusrow fled from before him and went to Maboze. It is said that when he wanted to escape from Daskarta he heard the sound of a bell and became disturbed; he struck his loins and his belly went loose. Shirin said to him: “Do not fear, O god!” He answered her: “How am I god when i am pursued by a priest?” He said this because he head that Heraclius had entered the priestly order.

The he swore: “if I am granted victory, I would leave no church or bell in my entire domain!” Now the trembling and the fear the gripped him on account of the sound of the bell, it was because he thought that the Byzantines had a bell with them, [a sign] that they reached Daskarta. He [Heraclius] carried away all the treasure of the kingdom, captured and destroyed many lands, and then went back.

The Short History then notes that following this defeat the Sassanid army revolted against Khusrow, with two officials Shamta and Norhormozd, setting up his son Shiroweh (also known as Kavadh II) as the new Shahanshah. The chronicle continues:

When Khusrow heard this, dizziness gripped him and deadly anguish seized him, so he deserted his kingdom and fled by night. He was accompanied by two small children of his household, and thus they fled and hid themselves in a royal park. When he saw the army drawing near him, he and the children wept facing each other. He stretched his hand to the fence to cross over the other side and flee, but out of fear he was unable to cross over, and was captured and brought to be incarcerated in the house of a man named Mihrsbind. He was given bread enough to maintain life.

The account of Khusrow ends with Shiroweh/Kavadh ordering his father's execution, and sending Shamta and Norhormozd to carry out the task:

Shamta drew the sword to strike him, but Khusrow cried before him, saying: “What offense did I do to you to kill me?” Shamta did not strike him but Norhormozd struck him in one shoulder with an ax and did it again to the other one. Shiroweh his son grieved over him and buried him in a royal tomb and made the wife of Yazdin endure many afflictions, and so did Norhormozd because he (Khursrow) murdered his father. Khusrow, the son of Hormozd, ruled for thirty-eight years.

A Short Chronicle on the End of the Sasanian Empire and Early Islam 590-660 A.D., edited and translated by Nasir al-Ka’bi, was published in 2016 by Gorgias Press. Click here to learn more about the book.

If you want to read more about the Byzantine-Sassanid wars, take a look at this issue of Medieval Warfare magazine.

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