Shapur II (Also known as “The Great”), Sasanian King AD 309-379

Sunrise # 829, SNS Type Ia/1b,, Extremely Fine

Mint : Ctesiphon.


Shapur II is one of the greatest Sasanian monarchs who through his military strategies and strength brought the Sasanian Empire to it zenith. He goverend for 70 years and was contemporary with several Roman emperors, most notably Constantine I “the Great” and Julian II “the Apostate”. Shapur is given the title of “Dhu’l-Aktaf” in Arabic literature meaning “Lord of the shoulders” due to his severe punishment of Arab pirates who menaced commercial ships in the Persian Gulf. The pirates, who operated from the island known today as Bahrain, were defeated in several engagements along with their allied Arab tribe, who raided Persian territory in and along the coast of the Persian Gulf. As a punishment, the defeated pirates’ shoulders were pierced and the captives strung together like beads on a necklace. Shapur was a charismatic figure who personally lead his troops in battle with Romans. The Roman officer and historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote about his encounter with Shapur duringa the siege of the City of Amida. He describes Shapur mounted on his horse wearing full armor and a jeweled golden helmet in the shape of a Ram. Shapur, he wrote, looked larger than others and pushed forward toward the enemy line in a hale of hundreds of javelines and arrows which nearly killed him. Shapur was also a clever military strategist. When the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate invaded the Sasanian realm, he lost all of his engagements against Shapur, along with most of his troops and supplies. Julian was wounded in a sudden raid conducted by the elite Persian Cavalry and died shortly thereafter. During his reign, Constantine I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine selected Constantinople (modern Istanbul in Turkey) as the new capital of the Roman Empire,rclose to the border with Persia, so he might more effectively and quickly counter Sasanian military pressure. Given these developments, Christians living within the Sasanian Empire came under suspicion of acting as a fifth column for the Romans against the Persians. This suspicion resulted in a persecution that continued for some time, until the Nestorian Christianity of the Sasanian Empire was able to fully separate itself from its Roman counterpart. Nestorian Christian communities survive to this day in Iran, Iraq and Syria, as well as in India, Central Asia and China. In addition, Shapur maintained a friendly relationship with the Jewish community by allowing the Jewish courts to practice independently. This friendship continued until the end of the Sasanian dynasty. One of the most important events of Shapur’s reign is his two-decade campaign against the Kushan Empire to the east. The elimination of the Kushans was out to fear of a potential alliance with Rome, leaving Sasanian Persia to be attacked simultaneously from both east and west. However, the removal of the Kushans opened the door for Hunnic and Turkic tribes to move westward, posing a new threat to the eastern region of the Sasanian Empire.