Multilingualism and Empires: Byzantium and Sasanian Persia

Multilingualism and Empires: Byzantium and Sasanian Persia

By Antonio Panaino

Iranica, Volume 25, 2017

Sassanid era silver plate with gold coating, Azerbaijan Museum , Tabriz , Iran.

Introduction: The long and bitter confrontation between Byzantium and the Sasanian Empire was one of the most important historical phenomena of Late Antiquity; it was also very significant for the development of later mediaeval societies and institutions in East and West, although the real impact of this tremendous legacy has not yet been fully recognized in the scholarly literature.

In fact, in the course of this “dialogue”, sometimes violent and brutal, between the “two eyes of the world”, the pillars of modern diplomacy were erected: the two courts established a series of rules based on reciprocity; regular exchanges of ambassadors, particularly after the accession of a new emperor, were initiated; rules for the protection of diplomats and messengers were shared; and a well-defined protocol for epistolary exchanges was determined and approved, so that we find emperors and empresses greeting each other as “brother” and “sister”.

The progressive definition of protocols and agreements concerning practical matters connected with reciprocal economic and religious interests became normal, as did the creation of a staff of specialists, including spies, who had a fundamental role in studying the enemy and understanding his mentality and point of view. The evidence thus presents a reality very far from that of two archaic powers merely fighting each other. On the contrary, the attested scenario is one in which two different state entities tried to overcome each other and determined a political game, whose dimensions were, for those times, worldwide.

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