Battle of Edessa

The Battle of Edessa took place between the armies of the Roman Empire under the command of Emperor Valerian and Sassanid forces under Shahanshah (King of the Kings) Shapur I in 260. The Roman army was defeated and captured in its entirety by the Persian forces; for the first time in Rome's military history their emperor was taken prisoner. As such, the battle is generally viewed as one of the worst disasters in Roman military history.

Battle of Edessa
Part of the Roman–Persian Wars
Bas relief nagsh-e-rostam al

A rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rostam, depicting the triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor Valerian.
DateSpring 260
Edessa, Osroene (southern Turkey)
Result Decisive Sasanian victory[1]
Sasanian Empire Roman Empire
Germanic and Goth allies
Commanders and leaders
Shapur I Valerian (POW)
Successianus (POW)
Unknown (including grivpanvar and light horse archers) 70,000[2] (including Praetorian Guards)
Casualties and losses
Minimal[3] Entire force[4] or more than 60,000[5]

Background and prelude

Prior to the battle, Shapur I had penetrated several times deeply into Roman territory, conquering and plundering Antioch in Syria in 253 or 256. After defeating the usurper Aemilianus and assuming the purple for himself, Valerian arrived in the eastern provinces as soon as he could (254 or 255) and gradually restored order.[6] Soon he had to confront a naval Gothic invasion in northern Asia Minor. The Goths ravaged Pontus and moved south into Cappadocia. An attempt from Valerian and his army in Antiocheia to intercept them failed because of the plague. While his army was in that weakened state, Shapur invaded northern Mesopotamia in 260, probably in early spring.[4]


In his sixties, the aged Valerian marched eastward to the Sassanid borders. According to Shapur I's inscription at the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht, Valerian met the main Persian army, under the command of Shapur I, between Carrhae and Edessa (in Middle Persian: Urhāy), with units from almost every part of the Roman Empire, together with Germanic allies,[7] and was thoroughly defeated and captured with his entire army.[4][8]

According to Roman sources, which are not very clear, the Roman army was defeated and besieged by the Persian forces. Valerian subsequently tried to negotiate, but he was captured; it is possible that his army surrendered after that. The prisoners included, according to Shapur's claims, many other high-ranking officials, including a praetorian prefect,[9] possibly Successianus. It has also been claimed that Shapur went back on his word by having the emperor seized after agreeing to truce negotiations.[10]


Firdawsi - Shapur Captures the King of Rum - Walters W603151B - Full Page
"Shapur Captures the King of Rum", Persian miniature from Shahnameh

There are varying accounts as to Valerian's fate following his capture at the hands of Shapur.

Some scholars claim Shapur sent Valerian and some of his army to the city of Bishapur, where they lived in relatively good conditions. Shapur used the remaining soldiers in engineering and development plans, as the Romans were skilled tradesmen and artisans. Band-e Kaisar (Caesar's dam) is one of the remnants of Roman engineering located near the ancient city of Susa.[11]

According to another source (Lactantius), Shapur humiliated Valerian, using the former emperor as a human stepping-stool while mounting his horse. He was reportedly kept in cage and was humiliated for the Persian Emperor's pleasure, according to Aurelius Victor. Upon his death, Valerian's body was allegedly skinned and stuffed with, depending on which account, manure or straw, to produce a trophy of Roman submission preserved in a Persian temple.[9][10]

However, there are also accounts that stipulate he was treated with respect, and that allegations of torture may have been fabricated by Christian historians of the Late Antiquity to show the perils that befell persecutors of Christianity.[10]

Following Valerian's capture, Shapur took the city of Caesarea and deported some 400,000 of its citizens to the southern provinces of the Sassanian Empire.[12] He then raided Cilicia, but he was finally repulsed by a Roman force that was rallied by Macrianus, Callistus and Odenathus of Palmyra. Macrianus proclaimed his sons Macrianus and Quietus as Emperors while in the Balkans; Ingenuus and Regalianus revolted too, only to be defeated by an army sent by Gallienus, the son of the captured Emperor Valerian.[9]


  1. ^ Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals "We learn that during the decisive battle near Edessa, not only high Roman officials but also the emperor Valerian himself were captured by Shapur with his own hands ... The Sasanians celebrated this victory, which was one of their greatest successes over the Western opponent, as an unparalleled triumph"
  2. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica, "And in the third campaign, we set upon Carrhae and Edessa, and as we were besieging Carrhae and Edessa, Valerian Caesar came against us, and with him was a force (later specified as totaling 70,000) from the province (hštr) of the Goths and Germans (most Roman provinces are named)."
  3. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica "Losses: Roman, more than 60,000; Persian, minimal."
  4. ^ a b c Potter 2004, p.255
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica "Losses: Roman, more than 60,000; Persian, minimal."
  6. ^ Potter 2004, p.254
  7. ^ "... Valerian Caesar marched against us, and he had had with him, from [Magna] Germania (Germān-šahr), Raetia (Rešyā-šahr), Noricum (Nirkos-šahr), Dacia (Dākyā-šahr), Moesia (Mūsyā-šahr), Istria (Estriyā-šahr), Hispania (Espāniyā-šahr), Africa (Afrikiyā-šahr), Thracia (Trākyā-šahr), Bithynia (Butniyā-šahr), Asia (Āsiyā-šahr), Pamphylia (Pamfaliyā-šahr), Isauria (Esuriyā-šahr), Lycaonia (Lūkunyā-šahr), Galatia (Galātenyā-šahr), Cilicia (Kilikiyā-šahr), Cappadocia (Kappadukiyā-šahr), Phrygia (Frūgiyā-šahr), Syria (Sūriyā-šahr), Phoenicia (Funikiyā-šahr), Judaea (Jehūdiyā-šahr), Arabia (Arabiyā-šahr), Mauretania (Murin-šahr), Germania (Germānyā-šahr) [the province], Rhodes (Rodās-šahr), Osrhoene (Asenyos-šahr), and Mesopotamia (Meyānrōdān-šahr) an army of 70 000 men." —Res Gestae Divi Saporis
  8. ^ Slootjes, Daniëlle; Peachin, M. (2016). Rome and the Worlds beyond Its Frontiers. BRILL. ISBN 9789004326750.
  9. ^ a b c Potter 2004, p.256
  10. ^ a b c David Vagi (2001) [Coinage and History of the Roman Empire: C 82 BC - AD 480: Vol. 1] [Routledge]
  11. ^ Zarinkoob (1999), p. 195
  12. ^ Paul Chrystal, Roman Military Disasters: Dark Days & Lost Legions, (Pen & Sword, 2015), 198.


External links

Coordinates: 37°09′00″N 38°48′00″E / 37.1500°N 38.8000°E


Year 260 (CCLX) was a leap year starting on Sunday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Saecularis and Donatus (or, less frequently, year 1013 Ab urbe condita). The denomination 260 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.


The 260s decade ran from January 1, 260, to December 31, 269.

Aquila (Roman)

An aquila, or eagle, was a prominent symbol used in ancient Rome, especially as the standard of a Roman legion. A legionary known as an aquilifer, or eagle-bearer, carried this standard. Each legion carried one eagle.

The eagle was extremely important to the Roman military, beyond merely being a symbol of a legion. A lost standard was considered an extremely grave occurrence, and the Roman military often went to great lengths to both protect a standard and to recover it if lost; for example, see the aftermath of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where the Romans spent decades attempting to recover the lost standards of three legions.

No legionary eagles are known to have survived. However, a number of other Roman eagles, either symbolizing imperial rule or used as funeral emblems, have been discovered.


Balista or Ballista (died c. 261), also known in the sources with the name of "Callistus", was one of the Thirty Tyrants of the controversial Historia Augusta, and supported the rebellion of the Macriani against Emperor Gallienus.

Band-e Kaisar

The Band-e Kaisar (Persian: بند قیصر, "Caesar's dam"‎), Pol-e Kaisar ("Caesar's bridge"), Bridge of Valerian or Shadirwan was an ancient arch bridge in Shushtar, Iran, and the first in the country to combine it with a dam. Built by a Roman workforce in the 3rd century AD on Sassanid order, it was also the most eastern Roman bridge and Roman dam, lying deep in Persian territory. Its dual-purpose design exerted a profound influence on Iranian civil engineering and was instrumental in developing Sassanid water management techniques.The approximately 500 m long overflow dam over the Karun, Iran's most affluent river, was the core structure of the Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System (سازه‌های آبی شوشتر) from which the city derived its agricultural productivity, and which has been designated by the UNESCO as Iran's 10th World Heritage Site in 2009. The arched superstructure carried across the important road between Pasargadae and the Sassanid capital Ctesiphon. Many times repaired in the Islamic period, the dam bridge remained in use until the late 19th century.


Edessa (Ancient Greek: Ἔδεσσα; Arabic: الرها‎ ar-Ruhā; Turkish: Şanlıurfa; Kurdish: Riha‎) was a city in Upper Mesopotamia, founded on an earlier site by Seleucus I Nicator ca. 302 BC. It was also known as Antiochia on the Callirhoe from the 2nd century BC. It was the capital of the semi-independent kingdom of Osroene from c. 132 BC and fell under direct Roman rule in ca. 242. It became an important early centre of Syriac Christianity.

It fell to the Muslim conquest in 638, was briefly retaken by Byzantium in 1031 and became the center of the Crusader state of the County of Edessa from 1098–1144. It fell to the Turkic Zengid dynasty in 1144 and was eventually absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. The modern name of the city is Urfa and it is located in Şanlıurfa Province in the Southeast Anatolia Region of Turkey.

Gallic Empire

The Gallic Empire (Latin: Imperium Galliarum) or the Gallic Roman Empire are names used in modern historiography for a breakaway part of the Roman Empire that functioned de facto as a separate state from 260 to 274. It originated during the Crisis of the Third Century, when a series of Roman military leaders and aristocrats declared themselves emperors and took control of Gaul and adjacent provinces without attempting to conquer Italy or otherwise seize the central Roman administrative apparatus.It was established by Postumus in 260 in the wake of barbarian invasions and instability in Rome, and at its height included the territories of Germania, Gaul, Britannia, and (for a time) Hispania. After Postumus' assassination in 268 it lost much of its territory, but continued under a number of emperors and usurpers. It was retaken by Roman emperor Aurelian after the Battle of Châlons in 274.


Gallienus (; Latin: Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus Augustus; c. 218 – September 268), also known as Gallien, was Roman Emperor with his father Valerian from 22 October 253 to spring 260 and alone from spring 260 to September 268. He ruled during the Crisis of the Third Century that nearly caused the collapse of the empire. While he won a number of military victories, he was unable to prevent the secession of important provinces. His 15-year reign was the longest since the 19-year rule of Caracalla.

Born into a wealthy and traditional senatorial family, Gallienus was the son of Valerian and Mariniana. Valerian became Emperor on 22 October 253 and had the Roman senate elevate Gallienus to the ranks of Caesar and Augustus. Valerian divided the empire between him and his son, with Valerian ruling the east and his son the west. Gallienus defeated the usurper Ingenuus in 258 and destroyed an Alemanni army at Mediolanum in 259.

The defeat and capture of Valerian at Edessa in 260 by the Sasanian Empire threw the Roman Empire into the chaos of civil war. Control of the whole empire passed to Gallienus. He defeated the eastern usurpers Macrianus Major Mussius Aemilianus in 261–262 but failed to stop the formation of the breakaway Gallic Empire under general Postumus. Aureolus, another usurper, proclaimed himself emperor in Mediolanum in 268 but was defeated outside the city by Gallienus and besieged inside. While the siege was ongoing, Gallienus was stabbed to death by the officer Cecropius as part of a conspiracy.


The Grivpanvar (literally: neck-guard wearer), were an elite late Parthian and Sassanian division who fought as heavy knights or Cataphract cavalry. According to Roman sources, the Grivpanvar had the ability to impale two men on the long, heavy spears that they carried. Historical evidence suggests that the heavily armoured Parthian grivpanvar were at least partially influenced by the military of the Central Asian steppes, who in turn had inherited their armoured cavalry traditions from the Massagetae and the late Achaemenid Persians.

Hit-and-run tactics

Hit-and-run tactics is a tactical doctrine where the purpose of the combat involved is not to seize control of territory; instead, flexible noncommittal attacks are used to inflict damage on a target and immediately exit the area to avoid the enemy's defense and/or retaliation. Such raids can also expose enemy defensive weaknesses and achieve a psychological effect on the enemy's morale.Hit-and-run tactics are used in guerrilla warfare, militant resistance movements, and terrorism where the enemy typically overmatches the attacking force to the point where sustained combat is to be avoided. However, the tactics can also be used as part of more conventional warfare. Examples of the latter include commando or other special forces attacks or sorties from a besieged castle. Hit-and-run tactics were also where the lightly armed and nearly unarmored horse archers typical of the Eurasian steppe peoples excelled. This holds especially true for such troops that were not part of a large army (such as scouting parties), but it was not unusual to see them employed in such a way even as part of a major force.

List of Roman legions

This is a list of Roman legions, including key facts about each legion, primarily focusing on the Principate (early Empire, 27 BC – 284 AD) legions, for which there exists substantial literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence.

When Augustus became sole ruler in 31 BC, he disbanded about half of the over 50 legions then in existence. The remaining 28 legions became the core of the early Imperial army of the Principate (27 BC – 284 AD), most lasting over three centuries. Augustus and his immediate successors transformed legions into permanent units, staffed by entirely career soldiers on standard 25-year terms.

During the Dominate period (near the end Empire, 284–476), legions were also professional, but are little understood due to scarcity of evidence compared to the Principate. What is clear is that late legions were radically different in size, structure, and tactical role from their predecessors, despite several retaining early period names. This was the result of the military reforms of Emperors Diocletian and Constantine I, and of further developments during the 4th century.

The legions were identified by Roman numerals, though the spelling sometimes differed from the modern "standard". For example, in addition to the spellings "IV", "IX", "XIV", "XVIII" and "XIX", the respective spellings "IIII", "VIIII", "XIIII", "XIIX" and "XVIIII" were commonly used.

Macrianus Major

Fulvius Macrianus (died 261), also called Macrianus Major, was a Roman usurper. He was one of Valerian's fiscal officers. More precisely, sources refer to him as being in charge of the whole state accounts (A Rationibus) or, in the language of a later age, as Count of the Treasury (Comes Sacrarum Largitionum) and the person in charge of markets and provisions. It seems almost certain that he was an Equestrian. The Historia Augusta claims that he was the foremost of Valerian's military commanders, but that is most likely a gross exaggeration, if not entirely fictitious.He followed Valerian during his ultimately catastrophic campaign against the Persians in 259 or 260; however, he remained at Samosata during the fatal battle of Edessa and his role in the events before and after the battle is questionable. After Valerian's capture by Sassanid Emperor Shapur I, Valerian's son Gallienus became sole emperor, but was occupied with his own problems in the West. Macrianus grabbed the opportunity. With the support of Callistus, one of Valerian's military commanders, and with the influence that possession of the treasury of Valerian brought, Macrianus managed to have his two sons Macrianus and Quietus elevated to the throne. He himself was not able to assume the purple because he was deformed in one of his legs.Quietus and Balista stayed in the East to secure their rule. Macrianus Major and Minor marched the eastern army from Asia to Europe, but were defeated in Thrace in 261 by Aureolus. Macrianus and his son were killed in the battle. According to Joannes Zonaras, their army was encircled by Aureolus and surrendered, except for the Pannonian legions. Macrianus asked to be killed with his son to avoid delivery to Aureolus. Quietus was later murdered by Odaenathus of Palmyra.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Naqsh-e Rustam (Persian: نقش رستم‎ [ˌnæɣʃeɾosˈtæm]) is an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran, with a group of ancient Iranian rock reliefs cut into the cliff, from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods. It lies a few hundred meters from Naqsh-e Rajab, with a further four Sassanid rock reliefs, three celebrating kings and one a high priest.

Naqsh-e Rustam is the necropolis of the Achaemenid dynasty (c. 550–330 BC), with four large tombs cut high into the cliff face. These have mainly architectural decoration, but the facades include large panels over the doorways, each very similar in content, with figures of the king being invested by a god, above a zone with rows of smaller figures bearing tribute, with soldiers and officials. The three classes of figures are sharply differentiated in size. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus.Well below the Achaemenid tombs, near ground level, are rock reliefs with large figures of Sassanian kings, some meeting gods, others in combat. The most famous shows the Sassanian king Shapur I on horseback, with the Roman Emperor Valerian bowing to him in submission, and Philip the Arab (an earlier emperor who paid Shapur tribute) holding Shapur's horse, while the dead Emperor Gordian III, killed in battle, lies beneath it (other identifications have been suggested). This commemorates the Battle of Edessa in 260 AD, when Valerian became the only Roman Emperor who was captured as a prisoner of war, a lasting humiliation for the Romans. The placing of these reliefs clearly suggests the Sassanid intention to link themselves with the glories of the earlier Achaemenid Empire.

Roman Syria

Syria was an early Roman province, annexed to the Roman Republic in 64 BC by Pompey in the Third Mithridatic War, following the defeat of Armenian King Tigranes the Great. Following the partition of the Herodian Kingdom into tetrarchies in 6 AD, it was gradually absorbed into Roman provinces, with Roman Syria annexing Iturea and Trachonitis.

Shapur I

Shapur I (Middle Persian: 𐭱𐭧𐭯𐭥𐭧𐭥𐭩‎; New Persian: شاپور‎), also known as Shapur the Great, was the second shahanshah (king of kings) of the Sasanian Empire. The dates of his reign are commonly given as 240/42 – 270, but it is likely that he also reigned as co-regent (together with his father) prior to his father's death in 242 (more probably than 240).Shapur I's rule was marked by successful military and political struggles in the northeastern regions and the Caucasus, and two wars with the Roman Empire during the second of which he captured the Roman Emperor Valerian and his entire army at the Battle of Edessa. His support for Zoroastrianism caused a rise in the position of the clergy, and his religious tolerance accelerated the spread of Manichaeanism and Christianity in Persia. He is also noted in the Jewish tradition.

Shapur I's inscription at Naqsh-e Rostam

Shapur I's inscription at Naqsh-e Rostam is located 3 kilometers away from the north of Takht-e Jamshid. This is probably the most famous inscription dating from Sasanian Persia. This inscription depicts a famous scene in which the Roman Emperor, Valerian, is kneeled before Shapur I and asking for grace. Shapur defeated Valerian at the Battle of Edessa, in which the entire Roman army was destroyed and Valerian itself became Shapour's prisoner. This was the first and only time a Roman emperor was taken as prisoner. There's a Greek inscription that has 5 lines in the bottom of the horse, but it is damaged. It is believed that there was two inscriptions in Middle Persian and Parthian language as well, but were destroyed.

Siege of Caesarea Cappadocia (260)

The Siege of Caesarea took place when the Sassanids under Shapur I besieged the Roman city of Antioch in 260 after winning over the Romans in the Battle of Edessa.


Successianus was a Roman soldier, general and praetorian prefect in the third century AD of whom very little is known for certain. He is said to have distinguished himself as commander of the garrison of an allied city besieged by barbarian pirates, and then made praetorian prefect by the emperor Valerian on the strength of this. As praetorian prefect appears to have done useful work in restoring Antioch, the capital of the Roman East, after the devastation which had been inflicted by Shapur, the King of the Persians, in his invasion of 252. However, he was overwhelmed by the circumstances with which he had to contend when Shapur invaded on a second occasion in 260 and seems to have shared in the defeat of Valerian at the Battle of Edessa and his subsequent captivity in Persia.

Valerian (emperor)

Valerian (; Latin: Publius Licinius Valerianus Augustus; 193/195/200 – 260 or 264), also known as Valerian the Elder, was Roman Emperor from 22 October 253 AD to spring 260 AD. He was taken captive by the Persian Emperor, Shapur I, after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the first Roman emperor to be captured as a prisoner of war, causing shock and instability throughout the empire.

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