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Originally a nomadic people hailing from the backwater regions to the northeast of Iran, the Parthians would grant Iran its first native rulers a generation after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire to the Greeks, and would ensure that the Persian Empire would be a thorn in Roman flesh for more than six centuries thereafter.

Children of the SteppesEdit

The Parthians, Scythians and Sarmatians were originally descended from the same stock as the Iranian peoples of Asia, and their close proximity to the Achaemenid empire resulted in their being assimilated into the Persian politico-cultural sphere.

Achaemenid records indicate that at one point in time, there was a satrapy named Parthava which was located between Bactria to the east and the Hyrcanian Sea (the Caspian). However, these people weren't related to the Arsacid Parthians — Roman historians argued that the Parthians of their time were descended from tribes who came northwards to settle in Parthia during the Seleucid era, and by doing so obtained the demonym by which they are known today.

The Call to Power Despite a promising start, the ruling Seleucids soon ran into problems. Continuous war with Egypt and failed projects to establish hegemony in Greece sapped vital manpower and resources, causing the Seleucid dream of a melting pot of eastern and western cultures to turn instead into a salad bowl of nightmares.

After 308 BCE, Seleucus I had conquered the eastern part of Iran. By 245 BCE, during the rule of Seleucus II, Parthia fell under the authority of Narisanka, or Andragoras ; an Iranian nobleman appointed by the Seleucids to govern under their name. Seleucus II was occupied in bitter fighting with the rival Diadochi forces of the Ptolemaic kingdom, and Andragoras seized the opportunity to make himself independent.

Only a few years after this secession, Aršak, or Arsaces; leader of the Aparna a tribe of the Eastern Iranian Dahā Confederacy, saw an opportunity to be had as well. From their base around Nisa, the Aparna were eventually to grant Iran her first non-Greek rulers in centuries since the fall of the Achaemenid empire, ensuring her identity for posterity. The Aparna invaded the newly independent Parthia, and by 238 BCE Andragoras had been defeated and killed. Parthia fell under the rule of Arsaces, and the next year he was proclaimed king of Parthia at Asaak. The Seleucids did not mount a counter-campaign in the east until 231-27 BCE, by which time it was already too late. Unrest in Asia Minor soon forced Seleucus II to break off operations, and for two decades thereafter, the Arsacids would not see another Seleucid attempt to recover Parthia. With the foundation of this kingdom, later empire, the Aparna appear to have been assimilated to the Parthians: They adopted the latter’s name, bore Western Iranian—even Zoroastrian—names(for instance, the name of Arsaces’ father, recorded by the Greeks as "Phriapites", could be connected with an Avestan *Friya pitā “father-lover” = Greek Philopatros). On his coins, Arsaces wears Scythian dress but sits on a stool, bow in hand, as Achaemenid satraps, such as Datames, had done before. He deliberately diverges from Seleucid coins to emphasize his nationalistic and royal aspirations, and he calls himself Kārny (Greek Autocratos), a title already borne by Achaemenid supreme generals, such as Cyrus the Younger.

Around 209 BCE, the great Seleucid ruler Antiochus III made a renewed attempt to regain Parthia and the now Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which had also independized from Seleucid authority, but this, too, was a failure. Although he was able to register a certain degree of success, in the end the warring parties concluded treaties, according to which the Parthians and Greco-Bactrians nominally recognized the Seleucids as overlords, although the letter conceded de facto independence to the two kingdoms.

Besides the consolidation of the Parthian kingdom, little is known of what happened after under the rule of the early descendants of Arsaces I. But the situation was to change.

Mithradates: Iran under Parthian Rule Edit

The next ruler, Mithradates I, ushered in that great and decisive epoch in the history of his people during which Parthia rose to become a major power in the Near East. This Mithradates and his successors achieved in a series of campaigns in the west against the Seleucids, and later the Romans; and in the east against the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and the nomadic peoples who again and again emerged from the steppes between the Oxus and the Jaxartes. More source materials are available for this period in Parthian history than for the initial phase, but the exact chronology of events is still in many ways unclear.

The first campaign of Mithridates I was probably directed against the Greco-Bactrian kingdom (between 160 and 155 BCE) with the aim of reconquering the territories that had been lost in that region during the reign of Arsaces I, especially the area around Nisa. What is certain is that the Parthians then conquered Media in the second half of 148 BCE (According to the Seleucid inscription of June 148 at Bīsotūn a Seleucid governor was at any rate still in office there at that point in time.)

On the evidence of a cuneiform text it is also known that by 12 October 141, Mithridates’ power was recognized as far afield as the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. Shortly before this he had had himself crowned king in Seleucia, the great capital of Babylonia, and the former heart of the now languid Seleucid Empire. It is also possible that the later Parthian capital of Ctesiphon, was founded during his rule. Strabo tells us that when the Parthian armies finally reached Seleucia, a camp on the opposite bank of the Tigris was established, "in order that the Seleucians might not be oppressed by having the "Scythian" folk or soldiery quartered amongst them". Pliny, on the other hand, reported that Ctesiphon was founded to actually draw the population away from Seleucia. In any case, this former camp would eventually grow to a large village winter residence of the Parthian king, who tended and cared for it, and from there would become a great city that eclipsed former Seleucia.

Like most Seleucid satraps, the Parthians inherited the Graeco-Iranic culture of the Seleucid domain and in their early days used Greek as the administrative language; coins in the Greek style were cast, many labelling kings as "Philhellenes" (admirers of everything Greek), while great temples such as those of Palmyra and Hatra exhibited an blend of Greek and Iranic elements in architecture and sculpture. Greek Theatre, in other times unknown, became a valued form of entertainment. In the later period, Parthian kings assumed Achaemenid descent, revived Achaemenid protocols, and Artabanus III, who named one of his sons Darius, laid claim to Cyrus’ heritage. At the height of its power, the empire straddled from the Indus Valley to Assyria, and with the coming of the Roman Empire to the Near East, they found in the Parthians the very limits of their expansion; an equal foe they could not overcome, Western historical tradition has oft repeated.

The End, and a New Beginning Edit

By the beginning of the 4th century CE, the Parthian empire had been victim of a plague of smallpox, and war both with Rome and from within the realm. The formerly glorious empire would be challenged by the rebel king of Pārs, the very kingdom of Persia Proper who long ago had rebelled against the Medes. Ardashir I, who founded the Sasanian, or Second Persian empire, decisively defeated the Parthians in the Battle of Ormuz and seized Ctesiphon in 226 CE. The last Parthian king, Artabanus V, fell in battle, but the legacy of his ancestors would live on. On of the vital elements that aided Ardashir in his restoration of a Persian Empire, was the support of the Parthian clans, some of which supported the idea of an Iran under a Persian King of Kings, and had vast power across all of the decentralized former Parthian Empire. References