Arab Invasion of Persia (262–264)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Palmyran Prince Odaenathus vs.
Shapur I of Persia
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Persia, Armenia, Mesopotamia,
and parts of Asia Minor
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: After routing Persian king
Shapur I at the end of the Roman-Persian War of
257–261, the Arab firebrand Odaenathus, backed by
Rome, invaded Persia itself.
OUTCOME: Odaenathus defeated Shapur and reclaimed
Rome’s lost provinces in the east.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
After Roman emperor Valerian died in captivity (c. 261)
during the ROMAN-PERSIAN WAR (257–261), his captor,
King Shapur I (d. 272), overran Syria, retook Antioch, and
raided throughout the Roman east. Returning home
loaded with booty from Asia Minor, Shapur’s Persian army
ran into a small Roman-Arab force west of the Euphrates
River. Shapur was surprised and routed by Septimus
Odaenathus (d. c. 267), prince of Palmyra, a Romanized
Arab who made himself so indispensable to the new caesar,
Gallienus (218–268), that the latter made Odaenathus
his virtual coruler in the east. Given the title “Dux Orientis”
as a reward for attacking, defeating, and executing
Quietus, one of the so-called Thirty Tyrants, Odaenathus
invaded Persia itself in 262.
Reinforced with a substantial number of Roman
legionnaires, courtesy of Emperor Gallienus, Odaenathus
attacked first the lost Roman provinces east of the
Euphrates. Although his army was still comparatively
small, composed mainly of light foot archers, cataphracts,
and lancers plus his irregular light Arabian cavalry, Odaenathus
nevertheless managed to drive off the Persians
investing Edessa and to recapture Nisbis and Carrahe.
Accompanied and assisted by his beautiful and capable
wife, Zenobia (d. after 274), the Palmyran prince harassed
Armenia and raided far into Mesopotamia over the course
of the next two years. He consistently defeated Shapur and
his generals, twice capturing the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon.
By 264 Shapur had had enough and sued for
peace, freeing Odaenathus for another assignment—a successful
punitive expedition against the Goths who had
recently begun to ravage Asia Minor.
In 266, at the conclusion of that adventure, Odaenathus
was murdered. Although his son Vaballathus (d. c. 273),
became the new prince of Palmyra, true power, and Rome’s
eastern dominions as well, lay in the hands of his widow.
See also AURELIAN’S WAR AGAINST ZENOBIA; ZENOBIA’S
CONQUEST OF EGYPT.
Further reading: A. D. Lee, Information, Frontiers, and
Barbarians: The Role of Strategic Intelligence in the Relations
of the Late Roman Empire with Persia and Northern Peoples
(Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1987); Josef Wiesehöfer,
Ancient Persia: From 550 B.C.E to 650 A.D. (London:
I. B. Tauris, 1996)