Francis Cairns Publications

ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs ISSN 0309-5541

Rome and Persia at War, 502-532

Geoffrey Greatrex

ARCA 37. ISBN 978-0-905205-93-9. Cloth. xvi+301 pp., 14 maps and plans. 1998. (pb repr. 2006. 978-0-905205-48-9)

Contents   Reviews

Rome and Persia at War, 502-532 provides the first modern account of this important conflict between the eastern Roman empire and the Sasanian kingdom. Although the reigns of Anastasius, Justin I and Justinian are rightly seen as a pivotal period in the history of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine state, there has so far been no detailed consideration of Roman-Persian relations in the early sixth century.

This book traces the background to the war, investigating in turn relations between Rome and Persia, the state of Roman defences in the East and the chaotic situation in Persia at the end of the fifth century. After a careful evaluation of all the available sources concerning the war, Dr Greatrex offers a detailed narrative of the course of events, including the development of Roman defences along the eastern frontier in the uneasy peace which followed the first phase of the war, and the attempts by both powers to secure control of the Transcaucasian kingdoms. The book concludes with a chapter on the ill-fated Eternal Peace and its consequences; an appendix deals with events in southern Arabia, a region which the Emperor Justinian unsuccessfully sought to involve in the conflict. Maps, battle plans and indexes are included.

Rome and Persia at War joins other ARCA volumes on the later Roman Empire, and it complements especially those of Roger Blockley, since it continues chronologically from his East Roman Foreign Policy (ARCA 30). Rome and Persia at War addresses itself particularly to historians of the Later Roman Empire, of Sasanian Persia and of the eastern frontier. Military historians will also find it of interest as a thorough account of the late Roman army on campaign.

GEOFFREY GREATREX did his undergraduate degree in Classics, and then his doctorate, at Exeter College, Oxford. In Britain, he taught part-time at Oxford Brookes University and at the University of Warwick and held research fellowships at the Open University and Cardiff University. Having returned to Canada in 1998, he taught initially at Dalhousie University and then, since 2001, at the University of Ottawa, where he is now full professor. He has published extensively on the reign of Justinian and the eastern Roman frontier in Late Antiquity. He is currently engaged on a SSHRC-funded project to produce a commentary on Procopius’ Persian Wars.





i) Introduction

ii) The historical setting

iii) The geographical setting

iv) Roman defences: (a) Roman allies. (b) Roman forces. (c) Roman fortifications.


(i) The Sasanian empire in the late fifth century.

(ii) The Sasanian army


i) Introduction

ii) Lost sources

iii) Contemporary sources: a) Procopius. (b) 'Joshua the Stylite'. (c) 'Pseudo-Zachariah' of Mytilene. (d) John Malalas. (e) Marcellinus Comes. (f) John the Lydian.

iv) Later sources

v) Other sources


i) The sources

ii) The immediate background

iii) Kavadh's invasion (502)

iv) The siege of Amida (502-3)

v) The first Roman counter-offensive (503)

vi) Kavadh's renewed invasion (503)

vii) The second Roman counter-offensive (503-4)

viii) The Persian surrender of Amida (504/5)

ix) Peace negotations (505-6)


i) The eastern frontier, 506-518

ii) The north-eastern frontier and the Transcaucasus (to c.518)

iii) The early years of Justin's reign (518-c.525)


i) The reign of Justin: (a) The build-up to the war in the Transcaucasus. (b) Skirmishes in Armenia. (c) Tensions in Mesopotamia and Syria.

ii) The opening of Justinian's reign (527-529): (a) The Lakhmid threat. (b) The reorganisation of Armenia. (c) Mesopotamia and Osrhoene.

iii) Negotations for peace (529)

iv) Conclusion


i) Sources

ii) The battle of Dara

iii) The battle of Satala

iv) Negotiations

IX The final campaign

i) Sources

ii) The Callinicum campaign

iii) The battle of Callinicum

iv) The aftermath of Callinicum

X The Eternal Peace (532-540)

i) Negotations

ii) The treaty

iii) The aftermath

Appendix: The Roman initiative in southern Arabia

i) Background; ii) Justinian and southern Arabia: the aims; iii) Justinian and southern Arabia: the methods; iv) Conclusion

Bibliography; Glossary; Index locorum; Maps; Battle Plans; Chronological Tables



Bryn Mawr Classical Review 23/11/1998 . "Throughout the book, G.’s command both of the sources and of the modern literature is impressive. Thus his introductory chapters which are meant to provide the reader with a general idea are especially powerful. I know of hardly any other account of the historical and geographical setting which is so brief but so informative ... G.’s sober and lucid narrative will provide future students of 6th c. Roman-Persian relations as well as readers of Procopius Persian Wars with a very solid base to start from. It will certainly not be superseded for a very long time."

Slingshot [ISSN 1355-2880] 199, September 1998, 50-53. "This is a great book, beg, borrow or buy (do not steal) a copy; you will enjoy and learn much from it."

The Journal of Military History 63 (1999) 435-6. "In sum, specialists will welcome this thorough and useful synthesis of scholarship on the war of 502-32."

Bulletin of the School of Oriental & African Studies 62 (1999) 552. "The work provides a capital resource for the student of Late Antiquity, and for the topographer and visitor in northern Mesopotamia, where so many relics of the time can be seen on the ground."

Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d'histoire 34 (1999) 429-30). "There is much to learn here, and little with which to quarrel."

Phoenix 53 (1999) 3-4 (Hugh Elton). "Greatrex has written a sound monograph on an interesting subject. It should provide a solid foundation for future research on the sixth century and hopefully encourage more work on the army of Justinian."

The Classical Review 49 (1999) 605-6 (Mary Whitby). "... this is a well-informed and workmanlike book which will be valued for its lucid, well-organized narrative, underpinned by extensive footnote documentation and illuminated by rhiteen clear, aptly located maps and six battle-plans drawn by Maurice Clayton. Bibliography and indices are full, as one would anticipate from G.'s excellent work on the Mango-Scott Theophanes volume."

Revue des Etudes Byzantines 58 (2000) 299 (C. Zuckerman). "L'auteur fait preuve d'une grande clarté de style et d'une érudition remarquable, qu'il s'agisse de sources ou de travaux modernes; un index locorum et un bon index général facilitent une consultation ponctuelle de l'ouvrage."

Mediterraneo Antico. Economie società culture. 3 (2000) 488-91 (Umberto Roberto). “Una caratteristica degli studi del Greatrex è la capacità di restituire con perizia e lucidità la complessità delle vicende descritte attraverso un’acuta analisi delle diverse tradizioni storiografiche. Così il suo lavoro offre generalmente più di quanto promette. È il caso di questo denso volume sulle guerre tra impero romano e impero sassanide dal 502 al 532.”