Hellenistic Period > Parthian Empire

Parthian Empire


Following the sudden and unexpected death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Parthia became a satrapy within the fledgling Seleucid Empire during the period of internal strife known as the Wars of the Diadochi.

In 316 BCE a man named Stasander was given the position of

Before Arsaces I of Parthia founded the Arsacid Dynasty, he was chieftain of the Parni, an ancient Central-Asian tribe of Iranian peoples and one of several nomadic tribes within the confederation of the Dahae.[14] The Parni most likely spoke an eastern Iranian language, in contrast to the northwestern Iranian language spoken at the time in Parthia.[15] The latter was a northeastern province, first under the Achaemenid, and then the Seleucid empires.[16] After conquering the region, the Parni adopted Parthian as the official court language, speaking it alongside Middle Persian, Aramaic, Greek, Babylonian, Sogdian and other languages in the multilingual territories they would conquer.[17]Why the Arsacid court retroactively chose 247 BC as the first year of the Arsacid era is uncertain. A.D.H. Bivar concludes that this was the year the Seleucids lost control of Parthia to Andragoras, the appointed satrap who rebelled against them. Hence, Arsaces I "backdated his regnal years" to the moment when Seleucid control over Parthia ceased.[18] However, Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis asserts that this was simply the year Arsaces was made chief of the Parni tribe.[19] Homa Katouzian[20] and Gene Ralph Garthwaite[21] claim it was the year Arsaces conquered Parthia and expelled the Seleucid authorities, yet Curtis[19] and Maria Brosius[22] state that Andragoras was not overthrown by the Arsacids until 238 BC.It is unclear who immediately succeeded Arsaces I. Bivar[23] and Katouzian[20] affirm that it was his brother Tiridates I of Parthia, who in turn was succeeded by his son Arsaces II of Parthia in 211 BC. Yet Curtis[24] and Brosius[25] state that Arsaces II was the immediate successor of Arsaces I, with Curtis claiming the succession took place in 211 BC, and Brosius in 217 BC. Bivar insists that 138 BC, the last regnal year of Mithridates I, is "the first precisely established regnal date of Parthian history."[26] Due to these and other discrepancies, Bivar outlines two distinct royal chronologies accepted by historians.[27] Later on, some of the Parthian Kings would claim Achaemenid descent. The claim has recently received support from numismatic and other written evidence suggesting that both Achaemenid and Parthian kings suffered from the hereditary disease neurofibromatosis.[28]A map centered on the Mediterranean and Middle East showing the extent of the Roman Republic (Purple), Selucid Empire (Blue), and Parthia (Yellow) around 200 BC.Parthia, shaded yellow, alongside the Seleucid Empire (blue) and the Roman Republic (purple) around 200 BCFor a time, Arsaces consolidated his position in Parthia and Hyrcania by taking advantage of the invasion of Seleucid territory in the west by Ptolemy III Euergetes (r. 246–222 BC) of Egypt. This conflict with Ptolemy, the Third Syrian War (246–241 BC), also allowed Diodotus I to rebel and form the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in Central Asia.[22] The latter's successor, Diodotus II, formed an alliance with Arsaces against the Seleucids, but Arsaces was temporarily driven from Parthia by the forces of Seleucus II Callinicus (r. 246–225 BC).[29] After spending some time in exile among the nomadic Apasiacae tribe, Arsaces led a counterattack and recaptured Parthia. Seleucus II's successor, Antiochus III the Great (r. 222–187 BC), was unable to immediately retaliate because his troops were engaged in putting down the rebellion of Molon in Media.[29]Antiochus III launched a massive campaign to retake Parthia and Bactria in 210 or 209 BC. He was unsuccessful, but did negotiate a peace settlement with Arsaces II. The latter was granted the title of king (Greek: basileus) in return for his submission to Antiochus III as his superior.[30] The Seleucids were unable to further intervene in Parthian affairs following increasing encroachment by the Roman Republic and the Seleucid defeat at Magnesia in 190 BC.[30] Phriapatius of Parthia (r. c. 191–176 BC) succeeded Arsaces II, and Phraates I of Parthia (r. c. 176–171 BC) eventually ascended the throne. Phraates I ruled Parthia without further Seleucid interference.[31]Expansion and consolidation[edit]Main article: Seleucid–Parthian warsParthian Empire timeline including important events and territorial evolution.Faded relief carved into the side of a rock. The scene portrays a man on horseback as well as several other characters.A rock-carved relief of Mithridates I of Parthia (r. c. 171–138 BC), seen riding on horseback, at Kong-e Aždar, city of Izeh, Khūzestān Province, IranPhraates I is recorded as expanding Parthia's control past the Gates of Alexander and occupied Apamea Ragiana, the locations of which are unknown.[32] Yet the greatest expansion of Parthian power and territory took place during the reign of his brother and successor Mithridates I of Parthia (r. c. 171–138 BC),[25] whom Katouzian compares to Cyrus the Great (d. 530 BC), founder of the Achaemenid Empire.[20]Relations between Parthia and Greco-Bactria deteriorated after the death of Diodotus II, when Mithridates' forces captured two eparchies of the latter kingdom, then under Eucratides I (r. c. 170–145 BC).[33] Turning his sights on the Seleucid realm, Mithridates invaded Media and occupied Ecbatana in 148 or 147 BC; the region had been destabilized by a recent Seleucid suppression of a rebellion there led by Timarchus.[34] This victory was followed by the Parthian conquest of Babylonia in Mesopotamia, where Mithridates had coins minted at Seleucia in 141 BC and held an official investiture ceremony.[35] While Mithridates retired to Hyrcania, his forces subdued the kingdoms of Elymais and Characene and occupied Susa.[35] By this time, Parthian authority extended as far east as the Indus River.[36]Whereas Hecatompylos had served as the first Parthian capital, Mithridates established royal residences at Seleucia, Ecbatana, Ctesiphon and his newly founded city, Mithradatkert (Nisa, Turkmenistan), where the tombs of the Arsacid kings were built and maintained.[37] Ecbatana became the main summertime residence for the Arsacid royalty.[38] Ctesiphon may not have become the official capital until the reign of Gotarzes I of Parthia (r. c. 90–80 BC).[39] It became the site of the royal coronation ceremony and the representational city of the Arsacids, according to Brosius.[40]The Seleucids were unable to retaliate immediately as general Diodotus Tryphon led a rebellion at the capital Antioch in 142 BC.[41] However, by 140 BC Demetrius II Nicator was able to launch a counter-invasion against the Parthians in Mesopotamia. Despite early successes, the Seleucids were defeated and Demetrius himself was captured by Parthian forces and taken to Hyrcania. There Mithridates treated his captive with great hospitality; he even married his daughter Rhodogune of Parthia to Demetrius.[42]Two sides of a coin. The side on the left showing the head of a bearded man, while the right a standing individual.Drachma of Mithridates I of Parthia, showing him wearing a beard and a royal diadem on his headAntiochus VII Sidetes (r. 138–129 BC), a brother of Demetrius, assumed the Seleucid throne and married the latter's wife Cleopatra Thea. After defeating Diodotus Tryphon, Antiochus initiated a campaign in 130 BC to retake Mesopotamia, now under the rule of Phraates II of Parthia (r. c. 138–128 BC). The Parthian general Indates was defeated along the Great Zab, followed by a local uprising where the Parthian governor of Babylonia was killed. Antiochus conquered Babylonia and occupied Susa, where he minted coins.[43] After advancing his army into Media, the Parthians pushed for peace, which Antiochus refused to accept unless the Arsacids relinquished all lands to him except Parthia proper, paid heavy tribute, and released Demetrius from captivity. Arsaces released Demetrius and sent him to Syria, but refused the other demands.[44] By spring 129 BC, the Medes were in open revolt against Antiochus, whose army had exhausted the resources of the countryside during winter. While attempting to put down the revolts, the main Parthian force swept into the region and killed Antiochus in battle. His body was sent back to Syria in a silver coffin; his son Seleucus was made a Parthian hostage[45] and a daughter joined Phraates' harem.[46]Drachma of Mithridates II of Parthia (r. c. 124–90 BC)While the Parthians regained the territories lost in the west, another threat arose in the east. In 177–176 BC the nomadic confederation of the Xiongnu dislodged the nomadic Yuezhi from their homelands in what is now Gansu province in Northwest China;[47] the Yuezhi then migrated west into Bactria and displaced the Saka (Scythian) tribes. The Saka were forced to move further west, where they invaded the Parthian Empire's northeastern borders.[48] Mithridates was thus forced to retire to Hyrcania after his conquest of Mesopotamia.[49]Some of the Saka were enlisted in Phraates' forces against Antiochus. However, they arrived too late to engage in the conflict. When Phraates refused to pay their wages, the Saka revolted, which he tried to put down with the aid of former Seleucid soldiers, yet they too abandoned Phraates and joined sides with the Saka.[50] Phraates II marched against this combined force, but he was killed in battle.[51] The Roman historian Justin reports that his successor Artabanus I of Parthia (r. c. 128–124 BC) shared a similar fate fighting nomads in the east. He claims Artabanus was killed by the Tokhari (identified as the Yuezhi), although Bivar believes Justin conflated them with the Saka.[52] Mithridates II of Parthia (r. c. 124–90 BC) later recovered the lands lost to the Saka in Sistan.[53]Han-dynasty Chinese silk from Mawangdui, 2nd century BC, silk from China was perhaps the most lucrative luxury item the Parthians traded at the western end of the Silk Road.[54]Following the Seleucid withdrawal from Mesopotamia, the Parthian governor of Babylonia, Himerus, was ordered by the Arsacid court to conquer Characene, then ruled by Hyspaosines from Charax Spasinu. When this failed, Hyspaosines invaded Babylonia in 127 BC and occupied Seleucia. Yet by 122 BC, Mithridates II forced Hyspaosines out of Babylonia and made the kings of Characene vassals under Parthian suzerainty.[55] After Mithridates extended Parthian control further west, occupying Dura-Europos in 113 BC, he became embroiled in a conflict with the Kingdom of Armenia.[56] His forces defeated and deposed Artavasdes I of Armenia in 97 BC, taking his son Tigranes hostage, who would later become Tigranes II "the Great" of Armenia (r. c. 95–55 BC).[57]The Indo-Parthian Kingdom, located in modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan made an alliance with the Parthian Empire in the 1st century BC.[58] Bivar claims that these two states considered each other political equals.[59] After the Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana visited the court of Vardanes I of Parthia (r. c. 40–47 AD) in 42 AD, Vardanes provided him with the protection of a caravan as he traveled to Indo-Parthia. When Apollonius reached Indo-Parthia's capital Taxila, his caravan leader read Vardanes' official letter, perhaps written in Parthian, to an Indian official who treated Apollonius with great hospitality.[58]Following the diplomatic venture of Zhang Qian into Central Asia during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BC), the Han Empire of China sent a delegation to Mithridates II's court in 121 BC. The Han embassy opened official trade relations with Parthia via the Silk Road yet did not achieve a desired military alliance against the confederation of the Xiongnu.[60] The Parthian Empire was enriched by taxing the Eurasian caravan trade in silk, the most highly priced luxury good imported by the Romans.[61] Pearls were also a highly valued import from China, while the Chinese purchased Parthian spices, perfumes, and fruits.[62] Exotic animals were also given as gifts from the Arsacid to Han courts; in 87 AD Pacorus II of Parthia sent lions and Persian gazelles to Emperor Zhang of Han (r. 75–88 AD).[63] Besides silk, Parthian goods purchased by Roman merchants included iron from India, spices, and fine leather.[64] Caravans traveling through the Parthian Empire brought West Asian and sometimes Roman luxury glasswares to China.[65] The merchants of Sogdia, speaking an Eastern Iranian language, served as the primary middlemen of this vital silk trade between Parthia and Han China.[66]



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