Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Isdigerdes I., king of Persia
Isdigerdes (1) I. (Jezdedscherd, Yazdejirdus, Yezdegerdes; Ἰσδιγέρδης and Ἰσδεγέρδης by the Greeks; in Armenian Yazgerd; on his coins, יזדכרתי, i.e. Izdikerti), king of Persia, surnamed Al Aitham (the Wicked), known in history as Isdigerd I., though an obscure and uncertain predecessor of the same name makes Mordtmann reckon him as Isdigerd II. Rawlinson thinks the best evidence favours 399 for the commencement of his reign, and 419 or 420 for his death. He was son of Sapor III., succeeding his brother Vararanes IV., and succeeded by his son Vararanes V. He reigned at Ctesiphon. With the Romans he appears to have lived in peace; Agathias (Hist. iv. 26, p. 264, ed. Bonn, 1828) and Theophanes (Chron. i. 125, 128, p. 69, ed. Bonn, 1839) relate how the emperor Arcadius on his death-bed directed his son Theodosius to be put under Isdigerdes's tutelage. (Petavius, Rat. Temp. pt. i. l. vi. c. 19, p. 249 Lugd. 1710; Greg. Abul-Pharajius, Hist. Comp. Dyn. i. p. 91, Oxf. 1663.) For a time he was almost a Christian, and as
Socrates (H. E. vii. 8) says, gave every facility for the propagation of the gospel, yet probably closed his days in persecuting the church. Under the example and influence of Maruthas, bp. of Martyropolis in Mesopotamia, who had been sent on an embassy from the Romans early in his reign, he was very favourably disposed towards Christianity and the church in Persia had peace with full liberty of worship and church-building. He overcame and exposed the impostures of the magi, with the assistance of Maruthas and other Christians, and miracles are said to have been wrought before him for the confirmation of the gospel. A second visit of Maruthas seems to have deepened the impression (Socr. ib.), but the indiscreet and impetuous zeal of one of Maruthas's companions, Abdas bp. of Susa, lost this royal convert to the faith. Abdas burned one of the temples of fire (Theod. H. E. v. 39). This offence Isdigerd was prepared to overlook, if Abdas would rebuild the burned pyreion; failing this, the king threatened to burn down and destroy all Christian churches in Persia. Abdas, esteeming it morally wrong to rebuild the temple, refused to comply, and the churches were burned. Abdas was among the first of the martyrs, and a persecution commenced in or towards the end of Isdigerd's reign, which his son and successor Vararanes or Bararanes carried on with most revolting cruelty and which was only ended by the presence of the Roman legions. From the odium of this persecution the memory of Isdigerd is specially shielded by Socrates (H. E. vii. 18–21), who throws it on his son; but Theodoret (v. 39) probably gives the truer account, though Isdigerd had probably neither the time nor inclination to carry out his edicts with severity. His character is described as noble and generous, tarnished only by this one dark spot in the last year of his reign or in a brief period in the middle of it. For the best modern literature of this reign see Isdigerdes (2).