SOME COMMENTS ON PARTHIAN HISTORY

by Robert M. Harlick

The two main books on Parthian coins are David Sellwood, An Introductionto the Coinage of Parthia, 2d ed, 1980 Spink and amp; Son (3rd Edition beingprepared) and Fred B. Shore, Parthian Coins and History - Ten Dragons againstRome, 1993, Classical Numismatic Group. Two articles by Dr. G. R. F. Assarappeared in the Celator (Dec. 2000, and Jan. 2001) which contain some recentrevisions (but were not consulted prior to the preparation of these notes.

Whatever history probably suppressed and erased by Sassanians-and alsoseen through the eyes of enemy Rome. There were no real direct Parthianchronicles. Their language was written in a Semitic script.

Arsakes I (238-211), the first Parthian king, was the leader of theParni, which were of Scythian origin from what is now Russian Turkestan.After the defeat of Seleukos II by the Gauls, Arsakes overthrew the Seleukidgovernor of Parthia, who had attained independence from the Seleukidae,and established his kingdom.

Parthia did not spring up full-blown-- in the 7th century the Assyriansraided an area called Parthia, and 100 years later Cyrus the Great includedParthia in the Persian empire.

During the reign of Mithradates I (171-138) the Parthian empire wasexpanded from Parthia proper to become a world power. He captured the Seleukidking, Demetrios, who stayed in Parthia for 10 years and married a daughterof Mithradates. Looking at the titles on Mithradates and #39; coins the progressedfrom Arsakes to King Araskes to Great King Arsakes Philhellene. His son,Phraates in a struggle with the Seleukid, Antiochus, released Demetriosto cause dynastic problems and that coupled with a revolt of the Mediansstarted a Seleukid decline from which it never recovered.

Nonetheless, inroads were made on the Parthian kingdom until MithradatesII (123-88) reconquered all and assumed the title King of Kings. He madewar on Armenia and captured the King and #39;s son, Tigranes, which he later placedon the Armenian throne. This caused trouble between Rome and Parthia ata later date as to who would control Armenia.

Rome war. During 95-57 and quot;Dark Ages and quot; of Parthia the succession the thronewas always in doubt and contested. Phraates III (70-57) fought with Pompeybut could not defeat him. He was murdered by two of his sons, MithradatesIII and Orodes II. Orodes murdered his brother. and #160; Crassus invaded Parthiaprobably in support of Mithradates III, and at a meeting with the Parthians,Crassus was murdered. More than one-half of Crassus and #39; army was killed andmuch of the remainder captured.

The Parthians under Pakorus I assisted the Pompeian cause. Brutus andCasius appealed to Orodes II, Pakorus I and #39;s father, for assistance againstCaesar and a small contingent of Parthian cavalry fought with them (althoughOctavian and Mark Anthony defeated Caesar and #39;s assassins).

As part of an agreement with Augustus, Augustus presented Phraates IV(38-2) with a slave girl named Musa. She had a son by Phraates (calledPhraatakes) and was promoted to queen. She and her son poisoned the king,and in 2 AD he married Musa, his mother.

After they were overthrown by the nobility, a number of kings were onthe throne for short periods of time, and often Rome was asked for helpby one king or another. Vologases I (70-88 AD) placed a brother on thethrone of Armenia-which was always claimed by Rome. and #160; After a war betweenthem, a compromise was reached. The brother remained on the throne, butwas crowned by Nero.

Trajan led his army into Armenia in 114, and Trajan withdrew after acounter attack by Osroes. After much fighting, Trajan placed a puppet kingon the throne of Parthia, Parthmaspates. Trajan died in 117, his successor,Hadrian abandoned Parthian land still occupied by Rome.

Septimius also attacked Parthia, but like Trajan had a harder time withdrawing.

The last two kings were Vologases VI and Artabanus IV who fought eachother for sixteen years. Their mutual hatred of Caracalla allowed the brothersto have a truce, and by the time there was to be a battle with Caracalla,Caracalla was dead, and Artabanus defeated Macrinus. After three hundredyears of almost constant war with Rome, the Parthians had a great victory,at the point of the overthrow of the Parthian empire by the Sassanians.

Nature of the Parthians-- The Parthians had a feudal system, althoughcentral control, which they did not have, would have been of great advantage.There were no real rules of succession. They remained semi-nomadic.

They allowed great freedom to their subjects, and perhaps even morepersonal freedom to that of a Roman. Their economy was based on trade;they were on the silk route, and were the middlemen of trade. and #160; Thenoble families amassed great wealth. They preferred diplomatic solutionseven if it involved loss of face.

They were not particularly religious, and afforded their people muchtolerance. Artemis was probably the cult most favored. They also worshipedthe sun and the moon as well as their ancestors.

Thomas spread Christianity in Parthia. Mithraism spread from there toRome. Judaism flourished. The native Iranians practiced Zoroastrianism,but not the Parthians.

Their art was derivative, and they were greatly influenced by Greekculture. When Crassus and #39; head was presented to Orodes, he was attending aGreek tragedy. Later in the dynasty, and by the time of Artababus II (10-38AD) the eastern cultural influence was ascendant, and Greek influence becamerelatively non-existent.