KESRĀ (KASRĀ), the Arabic equivalent of Ḵosrow (q.v.), and thus used in pre-modern Arabic writing to refer to the two Sasanian kings of that name, but more generally to any Persian monarch. In the latter sense it has the plural forms akāsera, kasāsera, and kosūr. The derived adjective is kesri, kesrawi (Ebn Manẓur, p. 3874), or kasrawi (Jawāliqi, p. 128).

Derivation. The word comes from the Persian name Ḵosrow. The substitution of k for appears to have come about through Aramaic, in which the two sounds are allophones (Ciancaglini, p. 197). Although the Aramaic and Syriac scripts accordingly treat word-initial as k, it does not seem plausible that the Arabic pronunciation is based on an ambiguous Syriac grapheme, as implied by Michael Morony (EI2 V, p. 184), but rather on a k-pronunciation by Aramaic speakers. The Arabic lexicographers’ claim that the k was adopted “to shew that [the word] is Arabized” (Lane, p. 2670) seems merely to reflect ignorance of the intermediate stage. The ending may represent a reanalysis of -ow as the Syriac emphatic suffix. But the use of the alef maqṣura at the end of the Arabic word also suggests an attempt to represent the diphthong -oy, a variant of -ow (see KAYĀNIĀN vii, first paragraph).

In Arabic historiography. The first famous Kesrā is Ḵosrow I Anuširwān (q.v.; r. 531-79), of whom Ṭabari (q.v.) says that “he remained long victorious, feared by all nations; to his gate came delegations” of such distant peoples as “the Turks, the Chinese, and the Khazars” (Ṭabari, I, pp. 892-900 and 958-66, citation at 899; for other accounts of his reign see Masʿudi, Moruj, secs. 618-31; Tanbih, pp. 101-2, summarized in Cooperson, sec. II. C). During his reign the Persians expelled the Abyssinians from Yemen (Ṭabari, I, pp. 946-58) and the Prophet Moḥammad was born (Ṭabari, I, p. 966).

The second famous Kesrā is Ḵosrow II Abarviz/Parvēz (q.v.; r. 590-628), who after sponsoring a successful campaign against the Byzantines and seizing the True Cross, was defeated by Heraclius. This reversal is reportedly the event referred to in Qur’an 30:1-5: “Alef lām mīm. The Romans have been defeated in the nearest part of the land, but after their defeat they will be victorious.” During his reign, omens of Moḥammad’s prophecy began to appear, and Persian troops were routed by Arabs at Ḏu Qār (q.v.; Ṭabari, I, pp. 995-1045; Masʿūdī, Moruj, secs. 645-53, summarized in Cooperson, sec. II, C). It was to Kesrā Abarviz that the Prophet Moḥammad sent a letter asking him to submit and thereby ensure his well-being or salvation (aslem taslam). Kesrā reportedly tore up the letter, prompting Moḥammad to pray that his (Kesrā’s) kingdom would be torn up, or indeed to declare that it had been (mozzeqa molkoho; Ṭabari, I, pp. 1571-75, citations at 1571 and 1572).

In addition to these two well-known sovereigns, Arabic historiography also mentions Kesrā son of Ardavān, one of the Ašḡāniān or “factional kings” (moluk al-ṭawāʾef; see ARSACIDS) who preceded the Sasanians (Ṭabari, I, pp. 707, 709; Masʿudi, Moruj, sec. 561; cf. Masʿudi, Tanbih, p. 96, where he is called Ḵosro; the Kayanid king Kay Husrōy is called Kayḵosraw or Kayḵosrū in Masʿudi, Moruj, sec. 543).

In Arabic poetry. Al-Aʿšā al-Akbar (d. after 625) is credited with four poems about the encounter at Ḏu Qār, including one refusing Ḵosrow II’s demand for Arab hostages (Diwān, pp. 226-32 = poem 34; on the other poems see p. 226). For the same poet, the first Kesrā (Anuširwān) is by contrast an elegiac figure who evokes mighty kingship as well as its inevitable end. Al-Aʿšā speaks of him as the king of kings (šāhanšāh) who enjoyed all the revelry that he could wish for, but was denied immortality (Diwān, p. 217 = poem 33 line 6). In the same vein, ʿAdī b. Zayd, who served the second Kesrā as a secretary and intermediary between him and his Arab vassals, asks: “Where now is Kesrā Anuširwān, the greatest of kings, and where Šāpur?” Upon their deaths, he says, their kingdoms fell away like dried leaves tossed by the wind (Masʿudi, Moruj, sec. 677). The transition from two specific kings (Kosrow II and Šāpur) to “they” (in the plural, not the dual) makes it clear that even in early Arabic poetry (presuming the line is authentic) “Kesrā” was already a topos.

In later poetry the name appears regularly as a figure of vanished glory. Boḥtori’s (d. 897) famous meditation on the ruins of Ctesiphon (q.v.) imagines two scenes from Sasanian times: Anuširwān’s battle against the Byzantines at Antioch (q.v.), and a drinking party where the poet imagines “that Kesrā Abarviz hands me the cup.” But now the so-called “white palace of Madāʾen” stands bleak and deserted (Diwān, pp. 1152-62 = poem 470; citations at lines 33 and 11). And Ṣāleḥ Rondi’s (1204-85) elegy for Seville reminds its hearers that Fate turned on Darius (q.v.) and Alexander (q.v.) alike, and as for Kesrā, no palace (īwān; see AYVĀN) could shield him from death (Monroe, pp. 332-37).

For the richly detailed image of the Sasanians in the Ketāb al-tāj attributed to Jāḥeẓ, see JĀḤEẒ; and for other associations in Hadith, adab literature, and material culture, see Morony.


Maymun b. Qays al-Aʿšā al-Akbar, Diwān al-Aʿšā al-Akbar, ed. M. Moḥammad Ḥosayn, Alexandria, 1950.

Abu ʿObāda Walid b. ʿObayd Boḥtori, Diwān al-Boḥtorī, ed. Ḥasan Kāmel Ṣirafi, Cairo, 1963.

C. A. Ciancaglini, Iranian Loanwords in Syriac, Wiesbaden, 2008. Michael Cooperson, “Masʿudi,” available online at

Ebn Manẓur, Lesān al-ʿarab, ed. ʿAbd-Allah ʿAli Kabir, Moḥammad Aḥmad Ḥasb-Allāh, and Hāšem Moḥammad Šāḏeli, Cairo, n.d., available online at

Nadia El Cheikh, “Sūrat al-Rūm: A Study of the Exegetical Literature,” JAOS 118/3, 1998, pp. 356-64.

Mawhub b. Aḥmad Jawāliqi, al-Moʿarrab men al-kalām al-ʿajami ʿalā ḥoruf al-moʿjam, ed. E. Sachau, Leipzig, 1867.

E. W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, London, 1863, available online at

Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli Masʿudi, Moruj al-ḏahab, ed. Charles Pellat, 7 vols., Beirut, 1965-79, secs. 530-663, 1298–301, 1370-75 (references in the texts are to this edition by section).

Idem, Ketāb al-tanbih wa’l-ešrāf, ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1894.

J. T. Monroe, Hispano-Arabic Poetry: A Student Anthology, Berkeley, 1974; repr. Piscataway, N. J., 2004 (page reference is to the latter).

M. Morony, “Kisrā,” EI2 V, pp. 184-85.  Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, Ketāb taʾriḵ al-rosol wa’l-moluk, ed. M. J. de Goeje et al., 15 vols. in 3, Leiden, 1879-1901.

Moḥammad b. Jarir Ṭabari, Ketāb taʾriḵ al-rosol wa’l-moluk, ed. M. J. de Goeje et al., 15 vols. in 3, Leiden, 1879-1901.

(Michael Cooperson)

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