Shapur I’s victory over Valerian at Edessa was one of the worst moments in Roman history. The Emperor Valerian marched to stem a Persian invasion. He enjoyed initial success before a plague struck his army. The Persian forces routed the decimated Roman army and captured Valerian. The emperor died in captivity.
Valerian spent little time in Rome. He faced barbarian incursions and a Persian, or Sassanid, invasion. The Roman Empire’s borders had become a sieve. The government experienced great difficulties in controlling the frontier. Valerian moved to meet the multiple threats.
The emperor managed to pacify much of the eastern empire. However, the Goths and Persians both struck around the same time. Then, the plague hit the Roman army effectively limiting their ability to wage war. The Goths moved unchecked while Sassanid forces invaded Mesopotamia. The emperor decided to move eastward toward Shapur I and his Persians.
Valerian and Shapur faced each other near Edessa in upper Mesopotamia. The Persians gained the upper hand and besieged the weakened Roman legions. Valerian parlayed for a ceasefire to negotiate. Shapur agreed, but then arrested the emperor. The Romans surrendered shortly following Shapur’s duplicity.
The Persian king of kings violated Roman trust and basically committed a criminal act. However, the Romans were in no position to retaliate or even object. Roman prisoners were shipped eastward as slaves. They worked in skilled trades and as artisans throughout the Sassanid Empire. Meanwhile, Valerian died in captivity.
The Persians inflicted one of the greatest defeats upon the Roman Empire and the west in 260. Shapur I defeated a Roman army, enslaved its survivors, and captured the emperor. Valerian died in captivity while Shapur lived another decade before succumbing to an illness. Rome fell two hundred years later to the barbarians while the Sassanid Empire collapsed in 651.