1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Parthia

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PARTHIA, the mountainous country S.E. of the Caspian Sea, which extends from the Elburz chain eastwards towards Herat, and is bounded on the N. by the fertile plain of Hyrcania (about Astrabad) at the foot of the mountains in the corner of the Caspian and by the Turanian desert; on the S. by the great salt desert of central Iran. It corresponds to the modern Khorasan. It was inhabited by an Iranian tribe, the Parthava of the inscriptions of Darius; the correct Greek form is Παρθυαῖοι. Parthia became a province of the Achaemenian and then of the Macedonian Empire. Seleucus I. and Antiochus I. founded Greek towns: Soteira, Charis, Achaea, Calliope (Appian, Syr. 57; Plin. vi. 15; cf. Strabo xi. 516); the capital of Parthia is known only by its Greek name Hecatompylos (“The Hundred-gated”) from the many roads which met there (Polyb. x. 28), and was, according to Appian, founded by Seleucus I. (cf. Curtius vii. 2). In 208 many Greek inhabitants are found in the towns of Parthia and Hyrcania (Polyb. x. 31, 11).

When about 255 B.C. Diodotus had made himself king of Bactria (q.v.) and tried to expand his dominions, the chieftain of a tribe of Iranian nomads (Dahan Scyths) east of the Caspian, the Parni or Aparni, who bore the Persian name Arsaces, fled before him into Parthia.[1] Here the satrap Andragoras appears to have shaken off the Seleucid supremacy, as he struck gold and silver coins in his own name, on which he wears the diadem, although not the royal title (Gardner, Numism. Chronicle, 1879-1881). In Justin xii. 4, 12, Andragoras is wrongly made satrap of Alexander, of Persian origin, and ancestor of Arsaces. He was slain by Arsaces (Justin xli. 4), who occupied Parthia and became the founder of the Parthian kingdom. The date 248 B.C. given by the list of the Olympionicae in Euseb. Chron. i. 207, and in his Canon, ii. 120 (cf. Appian, Syr. 65; Justin, xli. 4, gives wrongly 256 B.C.), is confirmed by numerous Babylonian tablets dated simultaneously from the Seleucid and Arsacid eras (cf. Mahler, in Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlands, 1901, xv. 57 sqq.; Lehmann Haupt in Beiträge zur alten Geschichte, 1905, v. 128 sqq.). The origin and early history of the Parthian kingdom, of which we possess only very scanty information, is surrounded by fabulous legends, narrated by Arrian in his Parthica (preserved in Photius, cod. 58, and Syncellus, p. 539 seq.). Here Arsaces and his brother Tiridates are derived from the royal house of the Achaemenids, probably from Artaxerxes II.; the young Tiridates is insulted by the prefect Agathocles or Pherecles; in revenge the brothers with five companions (corresponding to the seven Persians of Darius) slay him, and Arsaces becomes king. He is killed after two years and succeeded by his brother Tiridates, who reigns 37 years. There is scarcely anything historical in this account, perhaps not even the name Tiridates, for, according to the older tradition, Arsaces himself ruled for many years. The troubles of the Seleucid empire, and the war of Seleucus II. against Ptolemy III. and his own brother Antiochus Hierax, enabled him not only to maintain himself in Parthia, but also to conquer Hyrcania; but he was constantly threatened by Diodotus of Bactria (Justin xli. 4). When, about 238 B.C., Seleucus II. was able to march into the east, Arsaces fled to the nomadic tribe of the Aspasiacae (Strabo xi. 513; cf. Polyb. x. 48). But Seleucus was soon recalled by a rebellion in Syria, and Arsaces returned victorious to Parthia; “the day of this victory is celebrated by the Parthians as the beginning of their independence” (Justin xli. 4). Arsaces was proclaimed king at Asaak in the district of Astauene, now Kuchan in the upper Atrek (Attruck) valley (Isidor. Charac.), and built his residence Dara on a rock in a fertile valley in Apavarktikene (Justin xli. 5; Plin. vi. 46), now Kelat still farther eastward; the centre of his power evidently lay on the borders of eastern Khorasan and the Turanian desert. The principal institutions of the Parthian kingdom were created by him (cf. Justin xli. 2). The Scythian nomads became the ruling race; they were invested with large landed property, and formed the council of the king, who appointed the successor. They were archers fighting on horseback, and in their cavalry consisted the strength of the Parthian army; the infantry were mostly slaves, bought and trained for military service, like the janissaries and mamelukes. But these Scythians soon amalgamated with the Parthian peasants. They adopted the Iranian religion of Zoroaster (in the royal town Asaak an eternal fire was maintained), and “their language was a mixture of Scythian and Median” (i.e., Iranian). Therefore their language and writing are called by the later Persians “Pehlevi,” i.e. Parthian (Pehlevi is the modern form of Parthawa) and the magnates themselves Pehlevans, i.e. “Parthians,” a term transferred by Firdousi to the heroes of the old Iranian legend. But the Arsacid kingdom never was a truly national state; with the Scythian and Parthian elements were united some elements of Greek civilization. The successors of Arsaces I. even founded some Greek towns, and when they had conquered Babylonia and Mesopotamia they all adopted the epithet “Philhellen.”

To Arsaces I. probably belong the earliest Parthian coins; the oldest simply bear the name Arsaces; others, evidently struck after the coronation in Asaak, have the royal title (βασιλέως Ἀρσάκου). The reverse shows the seated archer, or occasionally an elephant; the head of the king is beardless and wears a helmet and a diadem; only from the third or fourth king they begin to wear a beard after the Iranian fashion. In honour of the founder of the dynasty all his successors, when they came to the throne, adopted his name and officially (e.g. on the coins) are almost always called Arsaces, whereas the historians generally use their individual names.

Of the successors of Arsaces I. we know very little. His son, Arsaces II., was attacked by Antiochus III., the Great, in 209, who conquered the Parthian and Hyrcanian towns but at last granted a peace. The next king, whom Justin calls Priapatius, ruled 15 years (about 190–175); his successor, Phraates I., subjected the mountainous tribe of the Mardi (in the Elburz). He died early, and was succeeded not by one of his sons but by his brother, Mithradates I., who became the founder of the Parthian empire. Mithradates I. (c. 170–138) had to fight hard with the Greeks of Bactria, especially with Eucratides (q.v.); at last he was able to conquer a great part of eastern Iran. Soon after the death of Antiochus IV. Epiphanes (163) he conquered Media, where he refounded the town of Rhagae (Rai near Teheran) under the name of Arsacia; and about 141 he invaded Babylonia. He and his son Phraates II. defeated the attempts of Demetrius II. (139) and Antiochus VII. (129) to regain the eastern provinces, and extended the Arsacid dominion to the Euphrates.

For the later history of the Parthian empire reference should be made to Persia: Ancient History, and biographical articles on the kings. The following is a list of the kings, as far as it is possible to establish their succession.

The names of pretenders not generally acknowledged are put in brackets.

Arsaces I. (perhaps Tiridates I.) 248–c. 211 
Arsaces II. c. 211–190 
Priapatius c. 190–175 
Phraates I. c. 175–170 
Mithradates I. c. 170–138 
Phraates II. c. 138–127 
Artabanus I. c. 127–124 
Mithradates II. the Great c. 124-88[2]
Sanatruces I. 76–70 
Phraates III. 70–57 
Orodes I. 57–37 
(Mithradates III. 57–54) 
Phraates IV. 37–2 
(Tiridates II. 32–31 and 26) 
Phraates V. (Phraataces) 2 B.C.A.D.
Orodes II A.D. 5–7 
Vonones I. 8–11 
Artabanus II. c. 10–40 
(Tiridates III. 36) 
(Cinnamus 38) 
(Vardanes I. 40–45) 
Gotarzes 40–51 
Vonones II. 51 
Vologaeses I. 51–77 
(Vardanes II. 55) 
Vologaeses II. 77–79; 111–147 
Pacorus 78–c. 105 
(Artabanus III. 80–81) 
Osroes 106–129 

(Mithradates IV. and his son
 Sanatruces II., 115;
 Parthamaspates, 116–117;
 and other pretenders.)

Mithradates V. c. 129–147 
Vologaeses III. 147–191 
Vologaeses IV. 191–209 
(Vologaeses V. 209–c. 222) 
Artabanus IV. 209–229 

Authorities.—Persian tradition knows very little about the Arsacids, who by it arc called Ashkanians (from Ashak, the modern form of Arsaces.) Of modern works on the history of the Parthians (besides the numismatic literature) the most important are: G. Rawlinson, The Sixth Oriental Monarchy (1873), and A. von Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans und seine Nachbarländer von Alexander d. Gr. bis zum Vntergang der Arsaciden (1888).

The principal works on the Arsacid coinage are (after the earlier publications of Longpérier, Prokesch-Ostan, &c.): Percy Gardner, The Parthian Coinage (London, 1877), and especially W. Wroth, Catalogue of the Coins of Parthia in the British Museum (London, 1903), who carefully revised the statements of his predecessors. Cf. also Petrowicz, Arsacidenmünzen (Vienna, 1904), and Allotte de la Fuye, “Classement des monnaies arsacides,” in Revue numismatique, 4 série, vol. viii., 1904.  (Ed. M.) 

  1. Strabo xi. 515; cf. Justin xli. 4; the Parni are said by Strabo [ibid.] to have immigrated from southern Russia, a tradition wrongly transferred to the Parthians themselves by Justin xli. 1, and Arrian ap. Phot. cod. 58.
  2. The names of the following kings are not known; that one of them was called Artabanus II. is quite conjectural.