Parthia

By Night_Raider

The Parthian Empire is an interesting and yet perplexing part of Persian history. The empire was the dominating force atop the Iranian Plateau beginning in the late 3rd Century B.C.E. and intermittently controlled Mesopotamia between ca 190 B.C.E. and 224 CE.

The core lands of the Parthian Empire lay between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and its borders included all of modern day Iran and contained portions of what are now modern Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ancient Parthia covered an area of land roughly the size of Germany, Great Britain, France, and Spain all put together or about the size of the eastern United States of America, excluding the New England region. The total land area was about 648,000 square miles.

Although true Parthian early history is clouded, most believe the Parthians were a part of a nomadic Iranian tribe known as the Parni. The Parni were thought to have spoken some type of Iranian language, and they had arrived on the Iranian Plateau from Central Asia. The Parthians were excellent horsemen, and well known for developing a technique called the 'Parthian Shot' in which mounted archers could turn full circle and fire at fleeing or pursuing enemies at full gallop. This type of warfare was very hard to overcome by even the Romans or other civilization of that time. At the height of their power, Parthian influences reached as far as Ubar in Arabia.

The Parthians had no system of literature that was set in stone, and thus their written history consists of biased writings about conflicts with Romans, Jews, Greeks, and at the far end of the Silk Road, the Chinese. So much about the Parthians is debated, that even what they called themselves is under fire due to the lack of written domestic records. The best guess researchers have is Eranshahr. The strength of the Parthian Empire was in its guerilla warfare tactics and sufficient organization to build a vast empire, even if it never matched the strength or power of the two Persian empires. Their territory was made largley of Vassal Kingdoms, and even Hellenic societies got a taste of Parthian cultures, as many were employed by the Parthians.

Initially, a king names Arsacas had made himself independent of Seleucid rule in the remote areas of northern Iran ca. 250 B.C.E., where his descendants of the same name ruled until they were forced to submit to Seleucid rule under Antiochus III the Great in ca. 206 B.C.E. During the second century B.C.E., the Parthians benefitted greatly from the increasing Seleucid weakness, and they began to capture regions east of Syria. The trade routes to and from China along the Silk Road were effectively choked off when the Parthians captured Herat; the post-Alexandrian Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was doomed. At its height, Parthia at one time occupied areas now in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaidzhan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire spent his last year fruitlessly fighting against the Parthian onslaught before his death in 163 B.C.E. The Parthians immediately took advantage of the ensuing confusion. Parthian King Mithridates I captured the Seleucid monarch Demetrius Nicator in 129 B.C.E. and held him captive for the next 10 years while the Parthians overran Mesopotamia and Media. By 129 B.C.E., the Parthians controlled all lands right to the Tigris River and had set up a winter encampment just downstream from modern day Baghdad, Iraq. Ctesiphon, as the encampment was called, was a small suburb directly across the river from Seleucia, the most populous Hellenistic city of western Asia. They only harassed Seleucia, as they needed its trade and wealth benefits and the city preserved its independence and Greek culture. In the Mesopotamia summer, the Parthian horde would withdraw to the Persian capitals of Susa and Ecbatana.

In the first century B.C.E., the Parthians frequently intervened with eastern Mediterranean politics. They gained immeasurable respect when they defeated the Roman general Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C.E. They eventually established themselves across the majority of the old Persian Empire, and subsequently became arch-rivals to the Roman Empire, whose eastern campaigns, such as those under Trajan and Septimius Severus, never crushed the resilient and somewhat de-centralized Parthian 'empire', but bled capital out of Rome.

In 224 CE, Ardashir, governor of the Achaemenid home province of Fars/Persis, overthrew Artabanus V, effectively establishing the Sassanid dynasty. After their defeat of the Parthians, at this point no doubt a thin stratum of nobles, seem to have vanished with few traces.

Sources:
Parthian Empire http://www.parthia.com/
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthia

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