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Shapur III (Middle Persian: 𐭱𐭧𐭯𐭥𐭧𐭥𐭩Šābuhr; New Persian: شاپور‎, Šāpur), was the twelfth Sasanian king (shah) of Iran from 383 to 388. He was the son of Shapur II (r. 309–379) and succeeded his uncle Ardashir II (r. 379–383). Shapur III's reign was largely uneventful, with the only noteworthy event being the dispute over Armenia with the Romans, which he settled through diplomacy, partitioning the area between the two powers, with most of it remaining under Sasanian control. He ultimately met the same fate as his predecessor, being killed by the nobility.

Shapur III
King of kings of Iran and Aniran
Coin of Shapur III, Merv mint.jpg
Coin of Shapur III, minted at Marw.
Shahanshah of the Sasanian Empire
PredecessorArdashir II
SuccessorBahram IV
DiedDecember 388
IssueYazdegerd I
Bahram IV
HouseHouse of Sasan
FatherShapur II


"Shapur" was a popular name in Sasanian Iran, being used by three Sasanian monarchs and several notables of the Sasanian era and its later periods. The name is derived from Old Iranian *xšayaθiya.puθra ("son of a king") and initially must have been a title, which became−at least in the late 2nd century AD, a personal name.[1] The name appears in the list of Arsacid kings in some Arabic-Persian sources, however, this is anachronistic.[1] The name of Shapur is known in other languages as; Greek Sapur, Sabour and Sapuris; Latin Sapores and Sapor; Arabic Sābur and Šābur; New Persian Šāpur, Šāhpur, Šahfur.[1]


Map of the Roman-Iranian frontier.

In 379, Shapur II designated Ardashir II as his successor, and made him vow to abdicate when Shapur II's son, Shapur III reached adulthood.[2] This led to some Armenian writers to wrongly state that Ardashir was Shapur's son.[2] Ardashir was later killed in 383 by the Iranian nobility. The reason behind his murder was due to his continuation of Shapur II's policy of restricting the authority of power-hungry nobles.[2] Shapur III then succeeded him; according to the narratives included in the history of al-Tabari, Shapur III was well received by his subjects due to the crown being given to a offspring of Shapur II.[3] Knowing about the murder of several Sasanian kings by the nobility, Shapur III declared to them in his accession speech, that he would not allow deceit, greed or self-righteousness at his court.[4] However, in the opinion of the nobility, this was unacceptable.[5]

The dispute over Armenia was reinvigorated at Shapur III's accession; his father had conquered the province, along with Georgia and Albania.[6] He had allowed the Arsacid dynasty to continue ruling Armenia as a Sasanian vassal.[6] A small part of Armenia, however, remained under Roman rule.[6] In 383/4, with the intention to increase Roman holdings in Armenia, Emperor Theodosius I sent an army to the Roman-Sasanian border.[6] However, war did not once erupt once again; instead, the two powers agreed to come to terms through diplomacy.[6]

An agreement was made to partition Armenia into two areas.[6][7] The boundary line stretched through Theodosiopolis in the north and Amida in the south, which meant that most of Armenia remained in Sasanian hands.[7] When this treaty exactly took place is unsure; according to the majority of scholars it took place in 387, whilst a few others state 384 or unexpectedly in 389/90.[7] The Sasanian diplomat who was part of the negotiations was supposedly a certain Yazdan-Friy-Shabuhr.[8] Besides the dispute over Armenia, Shapur III may have fought the Kidarites in Balkh.[6]


Shapur III died in 388, after reigning a little more than five years. He was a man of simple tastes, and was fond of spending his time outdoors in his tents. He died when some nobles cut the ropes of a large tent that he had erected in one of his palace courts, so that the tent fell on top of him.[5] He was succeeded by his son Bahram IV.

Memorials of Shapur III's ReignEdit

Shapur III left behind him a sculptured memorial, which is still to be seen in the vicinity of Kermanshah. It consists of two very similar figures, looking towards each other, and standing in an arched frame.

On either side of the figures are inscriptions in the Old Pahlavi character, whereby we are enabled to identify the individuals represented with the second and the third Shapur. They are identical in form, with the exception that the names in the right-hand inscription are "Shapur, Hormizd, Narseh," while those in the left-hand one are "Shapur, Shapur, Hormizd."

It has been supposed that the right-hand figure was erected by Shapur II and the other afterwards added by Shapur III; but the unity of the whole sculpture, and its inclusion under a single arch, seem to indicate that it was set up by a single sovereign, and was the fruit of a single conception.

If this be so, we must necessarily ascribe it to the later of the two monarchs commemorated, i.e. to Shapur III, who must be supposed to have possessed more than usual filial piety, since the commemoration of their predecessors upon the throne is very rare among the Sasanians.


  1. ^ a b c Shahbazi 2002.
  2. ^ a b c Shahbazi 1986, pp. 380–381.
  3. ^ Al-Tabari 1985–2007, v. 5: p. 68.
  4. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 57-58.
  5. ^ a b Pourshariati 2008, p. 58.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Kia 2016, p. 278.
  7. ^ a b c Chaumont 1986, pp. 418-438.
  8. ^ Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 16.


  • Al-Tabari, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir (1985–2007). Ehsan Yar-Shater (ed.). The History of Al-Ṭabarī. 40 vols. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Chaumont, M. L. (1986). "Armenia Iran ii. The pre-Islamic period". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 4. pp. 418–438.
  • Kia, Mehrdad (2016). The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1610693912.
  • Shahbazi, A. Shapur (2005). "SASANIAN DYNASTY". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition.
  • Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (Part II, 363–630 AD). New York, New York and London, United Kingdom: Routledge (Taylor & Francis). ISBN 0-415-14687-9.
  • Shahbazi, A. Shapur (1986). "Ardašīr II". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 4. pp. 380–381.
  • Daryaee, Touraj (2009). Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. I.B.Tauris. pp. 1–240. ISBN 0857716662.
  • Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-645-3.
  • Shahbazi, A. Shapur (2002). "Šāpur I". Encyclopaedia Iranica.

External linksEdit

Shapur III
Preceded by
Ardashir II
King of kings of Iran and Aniran
Succeeded by
Bahram IV