Khosrow II (Chosroes II in classical sources; Middle Persian: Husrō(y)), also known as Khosrow Parviz (New Persian: خسرو پرویز, "Khosrow the Victorious") was the last great Sasanian king (shah) of Iran, ruling from 590 to 628, with an interruption of one year.
He was the son of Hormizd IV (reigned 579–590) and the grandson of Khosrow I (reigned 531–579). Khosrow II was the last king of Iran to have a lengthy reign before the Muslim conquest of Iran, which began five years after his execution. He lost his throne, then recovered it with Roman help, and, a decade later, went on to emulate the feats of the Achaemenids, conquering the rich Roman provinces of the Middle East; much of his reign was spent in wars with the Byzantine Empire and struggling against usurpers such as Bahram Chobin and Vistahm.
During the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, Khosrow expanded deep into western Asia Minor, eventually besieging the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 626 alongside Avar and Slavic allies. Following the failure of the siege, Heraclius started a counterattack, undoing all territorial gains by Khosrow in the Levant, most of Anatolia, the western Caucasus, and Egypt, eventually marching into the Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon. The Byzantines also regained the True Cross, which Khosrow had captured following his conquest of the Levant during the same 602–628 war.
In works of Persian literature such as the Shahnameh and Khosrow and Shirin, a famous tragic romance by Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209), a highly elaborated fictional version of Khosrow's life made him one of the greatest heroes of the culture, as much as a lover as a king. Khosrow and Shirin tells the story of his love for the Aramean or Roman princess Shirin, who becomes his queen after a lengthy courtship strewn with mishaps and difficulties.
Khosrow II was born in c. 570; he was the son of Hormizd IV and an unnamed noblewoman from the House of Ispahbudhan, one of the Seven Great Houses of Iran. Her brothers, Vinduyih and Vistahm, were to have a profound influence in Khosrow II's early life. Khosrow's paternal grandfather was the famed Sasanian shah Khosrow I Anushirvan (r. 531–579), whilst his paternal grandmother was the daughter of the khagan of the Khazars. Khosrow is first mentioned in the 580s, when he was at Partaw, the capital of Caucasian Albania. During his stay there, he served as the governor of the kingdom, and managed to put an end to the Kingdom of Iberia and make it into a Sasanian province. Furthermore, Khosrow II also served as the governor of Arbela in Mesopotamia around this period.
In 590, Hormizd IV had his prominent general Bahram Chobin disgraced and dismissed. Bahram, infuriated by Hormizd's actions, responded by rebelling, and due to his noble status and great military knowledge, was joined by his soldiers and many others. He then appointed a new governor for Khorasan, and afterwards set for the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon. Meanwhile, Hormizd tried to come to terms with his brothers-in-law Vistahm and Vinduyih, "who equally hated Hormizd". Hormizd shortly had Vinduyih imprisoned, while Vistahm managed to flee from the court. After a short period of time, a palace coup under the two brothers occurred in Ctesiphon, which resulted in the blinding of Hormizd and the accession of Khosrow II. The two brothers shortly had Hormizd killed. Nevertheless, Bahram continued his march to Ctesiphon, now with the pretext of claiming to avenge Hormizd.
Khosrow then took a carrot and stick attitude, and wrote a message to Bahram, stressing his rightful claim to the Sasanian kingship: "Khosrow, kings of kings, ruler over the ruling, lord of the peoples, prince of peace, salvation of men, among gods the good and eternally living man, among men the most esteemed god, the highly illustrious, the victor, the one who rises with the sun and who lends the night his eyesight, the one famed through his ancestors, the king who hates, the benefactor who engaged the Sasanians and saved the Iranians their kingship—to Bahram, the general of the Iranians, our friend.... We have also taken over the royal throne in a lawful manner and have no upset Iranian customs.... We have so firmly decided not to take off the diadem that we even expected to rule over other worlds, if this were possible.... If you wish your welfare, think about what is to be done."
Bahram, however, ignored his warning—a few days later, he reached the Nahrawan Canal near Ctesiphon, where he fought Khosrow's men, who were heavily outnumbered, but managed to hold Bahram's men back in several clashes. However, Khosrow's men eventually began losing their morale, and were in the end defeated by Bahram's forces. Khosrow, together with his two uncles, his wives, and a retinue of 30 nobles, thereafter fled to Byzantine territory, while Ctesiphon fell to Bahram. Bahram declared himself king of kings in the summer of 590, asserting that the first Sasanian king Ardashir I (r. 224–242) had usurped the throne of the Arsacids, and that he now was restoring their rule.
Bahram tried to support his cause with the Zoroastrian apocalyptic belief that by the end of Zoroaster's millennium, chaos and destructive wars with the Hephthalites/Huns and the Romans occurs and then a savior would appear. Indeed, the Sasanians had misidentified Zoroaster's era with that of the Seleucids (312 BC), which put Bahram's life almost at the end of Zoroaster's millennium, he was therefore hailed by many as the promised savior Kay Bahram Varjavand. Bahram was to re-establish the Arsacid Empire and commenced a new millennium of dynastic rule. He started minting coins, where he is on the front imitated as an exalted figure, bearded and wearing a crenellation-shaped crown with two crescents of the moon, whilst the reverse shows the traditional fire altar flanked by two attendants. Regardless, many nobles and priests still chose to side with the inexperienced and less dominant Khosrow II.
In order to get the attention of the Byzantine emperor Maurice (r. 582–602), Khosrow II went to Syria, and sent a message to the Sasanian occupied city of Martyropolis to stop their resistance against the Byzantines, but with no avail. He then sent a message to Maurice, and requested his help to regain the Sasanian throne, which the Byzantine emperor agreed with; in return, the Byzantines would re-gain sovereignty over the cities of Amida, Carrhae, Dara and Martyropolis. Furthermore, Iran was required to stop intervening in the affairs of Iberia and Armenia, effectively ceding control of Lazistan to the Byzantines.
In 591, Khosrow moved to Constantia and prepared to invade Bahram's territories in Mesopotamia, while Vistahm and Vinduyih were raising an army in Adurbadagan under the observation of the Byzantine commander John Mystacon, who was also raising an army in Armenia. After some time, Khosrow, along with the Byzantine commander of the south, Comentiolus, invaded Mesopotamia. During this invasion, Nisibis and Martyropolis quickly defected to them, and Bahram's commander Zatsparham was defeated and killed. One of Bahram's other commanders, Bryzacius, was captured in Mosil and had his nose and ears cut off, and was thereafter sent to Khosrow, where he was killed. Khosrow II and the Byzantine general Narses then penetrated deeper into Bahram's territory, seizing Dara and then Mardin in February, where Khosrow was re-proclaimed king. Shortly after this, Khosrow sent one of his Iranian supporters, Mahbodh, to capture Ctesiphon, which he managed to accomplish.
At the same time a force of 8,000 Iranians under Vistahm and Vinduyih and 12,000 Armenians under Mushegh II Mamikonian invaded Adurbadagan. Bahram tried to disrupt the force by writing a letter to Mushegh II, the letter said: "As for you Armenians who demonstrate an unseasonable loyalty, did not the house of Sasan destroy your land and sovereignty? Why otherwise did your fathers rebel and extricate themselves from their service, fighting up until today for your country?" Bahram in his letter promised that the Armenians would become partners of the new Iranian empire ruled by a Parthian dynastic family if he accepted his proposal to betray Khosrow II. Mushegh, however, rejected the offer.
Bahram was then defeated at the Battle of Blarathon, forcing him to flee with 4,000 men eastwards. He marched towards Nishapur, where he defeated a pursuing army as well as an army led by a Karenid nobleman at Qumis. Constantly troubled, he finally arrived in Fergana where he was received honorably by the Khagan of the Turks. Bahram entered his service, and was appointed as a commander in the army, achieving further military accomplishments there. Khosrow II, however, could not feel safe as long as Bahram lived, and succeeded in having him assassinated. The assassination was reportedly achieved out through distribution of presents and bribes between the members of the Turkic royal family, notably the queen.
After his victory, Khosrow rewarded his uncles with high positions: Vinduyih became treasurer and first minister and Vistahm received the post of spahbed of the East, encompassing Tabaristan and Khorasan, which was the traditional homeland of the Ispahbudhan. Soon, however, Khosrow changed his intentions: trying to disassociate himself from his father's murder, he decided to execute his uncles. The Sasanian monarchs' traditional mistrust of over-powerful magnates and Khosrow's personal resentment of Vinduyih's patronising manner certainly contributed to this decision. Vinduyih was soon put to death, according to a Syriac source captured while trying to flee to his brother in the East.
At the news of his brother's murder, Vistahm rose in open revolt. According to Dinawari, Vistahm sent a letter to Khosrow announcing his claim to the throne through his Parthian (Arsacid) heritage: "You are not worthier to rule than I am. Indeed, I am more deserving on account of my descent from Darius, son of Darius, who fought Alexander. You Sasanians deceitfully gained superiority over us [the Arsacids] and usurped our right, and treated us with injustice. Your ancestor Sasan was no more than a shepherd." Vistahm's revolt, like Bahrams's shortly before, found support and spread quickly. Local magnates as well as the remnants of Bahram Chobin's armies flocked to him, especially after he married Bahram's sister Gordiya. Vistahm repelled several loyalist efforts to subdue him, and he soon held sway in the entire eastern and northern quadrants of the Iranian realm, a domain stretching from the Oxus river to the region of Ardabil in the west. He even campaigned in the east, where he subdued two Hephthalite princes of Transoxiana, Shaug and Pariowk. The date of Vistahm's uprising is uncertain. From his coinage, it is known that his rebellion lasted for seven years. The commonly accepted dates are ca. 590–596, but some scholars like J.D. Howard–Johnston and P. Pourshariati push its outbreak later, in 594/5, to coincide with the Armenian Vahewuni rebellion.
As Vistahm began to threaten Media, Khosrow sent several armies against his uncle, but failed to achieve a decisive result: Vistahm and his followers retreated to the mountainous region of Gilan, while several Armenian contingents of the royal army rebelled and defected to Vistahm. Finally, Khosrow called upon the services of the Armenian Smbat Bagratuni, who engaged Vistahm near Qumis. During the battle, Vistahm was murdered by Pariowk at Khosrow's urging (or, according to an alternative account, by his wife Gordiya). Nevertheless, Vistahm's troops managed to repel the royal army at Qumis, and it required another expedition by Smbat in the next year to finally end the rebellion.
Khosrow II's reign was considered a golden age in music. Before Khosrow II there were many other Sasanian kings that showed particular interest in music, like Khosrow I, Bahram Gur, and even Ardashir I. Notable musicians during the reign of Khosrow II were Barbad (Khosrow's favorite court musician), Bamshad, Sarkash, and Nagisa.
Khosrow II married a Christian named Shirin, whose son Mardanshah he wanted to succeed to the throne. Khosrow's relationship to Christianity was complicated: his wife Shirin was Christian, and so was Yazdin, his minister of finance. During his reign there was constant conflict between Monophysite and Nestorian Christians. Khosrow favored the Monophysites, and ordered all his subjects to adhere to Monophysitism, perhaps under the influence of Shirin and the royal physician Gabriel of Sinjar, who both supported this faith. Khosrow also dispensed money or gifts to Christian shrines. Khosrow's great tolerance to Christianity and friendship with the Christian Byzantines even made some Armenian writers think that Khosrow was a Christian. His positive policy toward Christians (which, however, was probably politically motivated) made him unpopular with the Zoroastrian priests, and also made Christianity greatly spread around the Sasanian Empire.
However, Khosrow also paid attention to the Zoroastrians, and built various fire temples. But this did not help the Zoroastrian church, which was in a heavy decline during the reign of Khosrow, which, in the words of Richard N. Frye, "was noted for its devotion to luxury more than its devotion to thought."
In 600, Khosrow II executed Al-Nu'man III, King of the Lakhmids of Al-Hira, presumably because of the Arab king's refusal to give him his daughter al-Ḥurqah in marriage and insulting Persian women. Afterwards the central government took over the defense of the western frontiers to the desert, and the buffer state of the Lakhmids vanished. This ultimately facilitated the Muslim Caliphs' invasion and conquest of Lower Iraq, less than a decade after Khosrow's death.
Toward the beginning of his reign, Khosrow II had good relations with the Byzantines. However, when in 602 Maurice was murdered by his General Phocas (602–610), who usurped the Roman (Byzantine) throne, Khosrow launched an offensive against Constantinople: ostensibly to avenge Maurice's death, but his aim clearly included the annexation of as much Byzantine territory as was feasible. Khosrow II, along with Shahrbaraz and his other best generals, quickly captured Dara and Edessa in 604, and recaptured lost territory in the north, which made the Sasanian–Byzantine borders go back to the pre-591 frontier before Khosrow gave Maurice territory in return for military aid against Bahram Chobin. After having reclaimed lost territory, Khosrow withdrew from the battlefield and handed military operations to Shahrbaraz and Shahin Vahmanzadegan. The Sasanian armies then invaded and plundered Syria and Asia Minor, and in 608 advanced into Chalcedon.
In 610, Heraclius, an Armenian, revolted against Phocas and killed him, crowning himself as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. He then tried to negotiate peace with Khosrow II by sending diplomats to his court. Khosrow, however, rejected their offer and said: "That kingdom belongs to me, and I shall enthrone Maurice's son, Theodosius, as emperor. [As for Heraclius], he went and took the rule without our order and now offers us our own treasure as gifts. But I shall not stop until I have him in my hands." Khosrow then had the diplomats executed.
In 613 and 614, General Shahrbaraz besieged and captured Damascus and Jerusalem, and the True Cross was carried away in triumph. Soon afterwards, Shahin marched through Anatolia, defeating the Byzantines numerous times; he conquered Egypt in 618. The Byzantines could offer but little resistance, as they were torn apart by internal dissensions, and pressed by the Avars and Slavs, who were invading the Empire from across the Danube River. In 622/3, Rhodes and several other islands in the eastern Aegean fell to the Sasanians, threatening a naval assault on Constantinople. Such was the despair in Constantinople that Heraclius considered moving the government to Carthage in Africa.
In ca. 606/607, Khosrow recalled Smbat IV Bagratuni from Sasanian Armenia and sent him to repel the Turko-Hephthalites, who had raided as far as Spahan in central Iran. Smbat, with the aid of an Iranian prince named Datoyean, repelled the Turko-Hephthalites from Iran, and plundered their domains in eastern Khorasan, where Smbat is said to have killed their king in single combat. Khosrow then gave Smbat the honorific title Khosrow Shun ("the Joy or Satisfaction of Khosrow"), while his son Varaztirots II Bagratuni received the honorific name Javitean Khosrow ("Eternal Khosrow").
In 622, despite the major progress the Sasanians were making in the area of the Aegean Sea, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius was able to take the field with a powerful force. In 624, he advanced into northern Adurbadagan, where he was welcomed by Farrukh Hormizd and his son Rostam Farrokhzad who had rebelled against Khosrow. Heraclius then began sacking several cities and temples, including the Adur Gushnasp temple.
Several years later, in 626, he captured Lazistan (Colchis). Later that same year, Shahrbaraz advanced on Chalcedon on the Bosphoros and attempted to capture Constantinople with the help of Iran's Avar and Slavic allies. In this siege of Constantinople in 626, the combined Sassanid, Slavic and Avar forces failed to capture the Byzantine capital city. The Avars did not have the patience or technology to conquer the city. On top of that, the Iranians, who were siege warfare experts, were unable to transport their troops and equipment to the other side of the Bosphorus where their Slavic and Avar allies were located, due to heavy guarding of the strait by the Byzantine navy. Furthermore, the walls of Constantinople easily defended against the siege towers and engines. Another reason was that the Persians and Slavs did not have a strong enough navy to ignore the sea walls and establish a channel of communication. The lack of supplies for the Avars eventually caused them to abandon the siege. As this maneuver failed, his forces were defeated, and he withdrew his army from Anatolia later in 628.
Following the Third Perso-Turkic War in 627, Heraclius defeated the Iranian army at the Battle of Nineveh and advanced towards Ctesiphon. Khosrow II fled from his favourite residence, Dastagird (near Ctesiphon), without offering resistance. Heraclius then captured Dastagird and plundered it.
After the capture of Dastagird, the son of Khosrow, Sheroe, was released by the feudal families of the Sasanian Empire, which included: The Ispahbudhan spahbed Farrukh Hormizd and his two sons Rostam Farrokhzad and Farrukhzad. Shahrbaraz of Mihran family, the Armenian faction represented by Varaztirots II Bagratuni, and finally Kanadbak of the Kanārangīyān family. On the night of 25 February, the night-watch of the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon, which would usually shout the name of the reigning shah, shouted the name of Sheroe instead, which indicated a coup d'état was taking place. Sheroe, with Aspad Gushnasp leading his army, captured Ctesiphon and imprisoned Khosrow II in the house of a certain Mehr-Sepand (also known as Maraspand). Sheroe, who had now assumed the dynastic name of Kavad II, then ordered Aspad Gushnasp to lead the charge of accusations against the deposed shah. Khosrow, however, dismissed all accusations one by one.
Kavad shortly proceeded to have all his brothers and half-brothers executed, including the heir Mardanshah, who was Khosrow's favourite son. The murder of all his brothers, "all well-educated, valiant, and chivalrous men", stripped the Sasanian dynasty of a future competent ruler, and has been described as a "mad rampage" and "reckless". Three days later he ordered Mihr Hormozd to execute Khosrow. However, after the regicide of his father, Kavad also proceeded to have Mihr Hormozd killed. Khosrow's daughters Boran and Azarmidokht reportedly criticized and scolded Kavad for his barbaric actions, which made him filled with remorse. With the support of the Iranian nobles, Kavad then made peace with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, which made the Byzantines regain all their lost territories, their captured soldiers, a war indemnity, along with the True Cross and other relics that were lost in Jerusalem in 614.
Due to Kavad's actions, his reign is seen as a turning point in Sasanian history, and has been argued by some scholars as playing a key role in the fall of the Sasanian Empire. The overthrow and death of Khosrow culminated in a chaotic civil war, with the most powerful members of the nobility gaining full autonomy and starting to create their own government. The hostilities between the Persian (Parsig) and Parthian (Pahlav) noble-families were also resumed, which split up the wealth of the nation. The civil war finally ended when Khosrow's eight year old grandson, Yazdegerd III, ascended the throne. The young king, however, inherited a disintegrating empire, which was dealt its last blow in 651 during the Arab conquest of Iran.
Islamic tradition tells a story in which Khosrow II (in Arabic: كسرى Transliteration: Kisra) was a Persian king to whom Muhammad had sent a messenger, Abdullah ibn Hudhafah as-Sahmi, along with a letter in which Khosrow was asked to preach the religion of Islam. The account as transmitted by Muslim tradition reads:
From Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, to Kisra, the great (leader/head) of the Persians. Peace be upon him, who seeks truth and expresses belief in Allah and in His Prophet and testifies that there is no god but Allah and that He has no partner, and who believes that Muhammad is His servant and Prophet. Under the Command of Allah, I invite you to Him. He has sent me for the guidance of all people so that I may warn them all of His wrath and may present the unbelievers with an ultimatum. Embrace Islam so that you may remain safe (in this life and the next). And if you refuse to accept Islam, you will be responsible for the sins of the Magi."
Islamic tradition further states that Khosrow II tore up Muhammed's letter saying, "A pitiful slave among my subjects dares writes his name before mine"  and commanded Badhan, his vassal ruler of Yemen, to dispatch two valiant men to identify, seize and bring this man from Hijaz (Muhammad) to him. When Abdullah ibn Hudhafah as-Sahmi told Muhammad how Khosrow had torn his letter to pieces, Muhammad promised the destruction of Khosrow II stating, "Even so, Allah shall destroy his kingdom."
The battles between Heraclius and Khosrow are depicted in a famous early Renaissance fresco by Piero della Francesca, part of the History of the True Cross cycle in the church of San Francesco, Arezzo. Many Persian miniature paintings depict events in his life, like his battles or his assassination.
Khosrow was the son of Hormizd IV, and an unnamed Ispahbudhan noblewoman who was the sister of Vistahm and Vinduyih. Khosrow also had two cousins from the Ispahbudhan family whom were named Mah-Adhur Gushnasp and Narsi. He had a brother-in-law named Hormuzan, a Sasanian nobleman from one of the seven Parthian clans, who later fought against the Arabs during the Muslim invasion of Persia. However, this is most likely wrong since Kavad's mother was a Byzantine princess named Maria.
Khosrow married three times: first to Maria, a daughter of the Byzantine emperor Maurice, who bore him Kavad II. Then to Gordiya, the sister of Bahram Chobin, who bore him Javanshir. Then to Shirin, who bore him Mardanshah. Khosrow also had other children whom were named: Borandukht, Azarmidokht, Shahriyar and Farrukhzad Khosrow V. All these persons except Shahriyar would later become the monarch of Iran during the Sasanian civil war of 628-632. Khosrow had a brother named Kavad and a sister named Mirhran, who was married to the Sasanian spahbed Shahrbaraz, and later bore him Shapur-i Shahrvaraz, while Kavad married an unnamed woman who bore him Khosrow III.