Bahram I

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Bahram I (Persian: بهرام Bahrām) (also spelled Varahran or Vahram, r. 273–276) was the fourth Sassanid emperor of the second Persian Empire. He succeeded his brother Hormizd I (r. 272–273), who had reigned for only a year.


His person

The theophoric name Bahram comes from middle Persian Varahrän, 'victory', that is represented by the Zoroastrian divinity of the same name (see Vahram).

According to a Pahlavi inscription, Bahram I was the son (not, as the Greek historiographers and Tabari note, the grandson) of Shapur I (r. 241–272).

The earliest reference to Bahram I occurs in the coronation monument of Bahram's grandfather Ardeshir I at Naqsh-e Rajab. There, the future king appears as a smaller figure between Ardeshir and Ahura Mazda, and Bahram is seen bowing before the divinity after whom he is named. Similar iconography, such as the boar motifs in the seals and crown of Bahram, apparently reinforced the association with the yazata of victory.

Bahram died (apparently of disease) in 276. He was succeeded by his son who bore the same name and is known to history as Bahram II.

Persecution of Manichaeism

Under the guidance of Kartir, Bahram I had the prophet Mani, the founder of Manichaeism (and the author of the Shapurgan, which was dedicated to Bahram's father Shapur I) sentenced to death. Mani died in his cell shortly before his execution. However, rumors persist that Mani might have been flayed alive: his skin, stuffed with straw, is said to have been suspended for some time over one of the gates of the great city of Shahpur.

On orders of Bahram I, the prophet's death was followed by the persecution of his disciples. Manichaeism was relatively well established by that time, and was supported by numerous priests under a hierarchy of religious leaders that including twelve apostles and seventy-two bishops. Nearly all of them were handed over to the Zoroastrian clergy, who - under Kartir - considered Manichaeism a heresy and caused the followers of Mani to be executed or otherwise punished.

Relations with Rome

Bahram I did not have good relations with Rome. Zenobia, the wife of Odenathus had established herself the regent of Palmyra in the name of Odenathus minor son. However, Odenathus had expanded his little kingdom to such a large extent that it now arouse the jealousy of the Roman Emperor. Hence despite the fact that the dealings between Rome and Palmyra were friendly, the Roman Emperor Aurelian still commissioned a force to capture Palmyra in the year 273. Zenobia appealed to Bahram for help, who then provided her with an armed contingent.

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