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The Parthians (Arsacids)

The revolt of the Parthian tribes under the leadership of Arsaces against the Seleucid rulers in Iran was in fact the reaction of the Iranians against the West which resulted in the revival of Persia and the continuation of the Persian culture. The family of Arsaces which was the head of the Aparni branch of the Dāheh tribes hailed from Ostovā (present-day Quchān). Arsaces revolted against the Greek ruler of the Ostovā region and in 238 BC freed Parthia, and later on, Gorgān from the Seleucid domination. After him, his younger brother Tirdād who succeeded him called himself “Arsace II” in honor of his older brother. From then on, all the kings of this dynasty added the title of “Arsace” to their names and it is for this reason that their successors were all called the “Arsacids” or the “Ashkāniyān”. The ascension of Mehrdād I to the throne of the Parthian Dynasty in c. 171 BC was an important event in the history of this dynasty. He first conquered a part of Bactria or Balkh and subsequently, after the conquest of the Median territories and Hamadān (148 or 147 BC) annexed Babylonia and Seleucia to his empire in 141 BC. Thereupon, he also conquered Ilām and minted coins under his name in Sush. A little later, Persia, too, came under his control and all of Ilām fell into his hands. Mehrdād I had proclaimed himself as “The Great King” on his coins. At the time of his death in 138 BC the Parthian rule had turned into a great global empire from being merely a local rule in the eastern part of the Iranian plateau.

After Mehrdād I, the Parthian kingdom was threatened and invaded by the Sakas in the east. Nevertheless, Farhād II managed to drive away the remaining Seleucids from Iran in 129 BC. His successor Mehrdād II (ruled 123-87 BC) engaged himself in bringing about order and solving the internal and external problems facing the empire. After conquering Babylonia (121 or 120 BC), he invaded Armenia and captured Dura Europos in Mesopotamia in 113 BC. Thereafter, he led an expedition to the east in order to put an end to the Saka rebellion and recaptured Herāt and annexed Sistān to his conquests. At this time, apparently, the satrapies of the eastern part of the Caspian Sea were also part of Mehrdād II’s empire. A little later, he again attacked Mesopotamia and by overthrowing the small local kings, extended the boundaries of his empire up to the River Euphrates. From then on, the Parthians came to become the neighbors of the Romans. During the times of Mehrdād II, Iran and China also exchanged ambassadors. Like the Achaemenian kings, he, too, gave himself the title of “King of Kings”. During his reign, administrative and tribunal reforms took place and topography was given importance.

With the expansion of the Parthian Empire and their neighborhood with Rome, the first serious differences between these two governments erupted during the reign of Farhād III and Pompey, the great Roman ruler, which however never developed into a serious war. However, during the reign of Herod I, a Roman general, Crassus, attacked the Parthian territory that resulted in war between the two empires. In this war, Crassus was slain and the Parthians won the battle of Harrān in 53 BC. A few years later and during the reign of Farhād IV, Mark Anthony, the Roman general and the ruler of Syria invaded the Parthian kingdom in 36 BC but eventually suffered heavy casualties and had to retreat. Even after this battle, the Parthians and the Romans repeatedly fought over Armenia and the Syrian borders. The last great Parthian king was Balāsh I (ruled 51-80 AD) who spent most of his reign in stabilizing the rule of the Iranians in Armenia. Following his death Iran plunged into internal conflicts, prompting the Roman generals to think of conquering the Parthian territory. During the course of their military expeditions, the Roman invaders did not make much gain even though they did manage to capture Ctesiphon - the capital of the Parthians - several times. The last Parthian king, Ardavān V (or according to the latest narrations Ardavān IV) crushed the Roman army in 127 AD and even forced them to pay compensation. However, he could not withstand the revolt of his rival Ardashir Bābakān (Ardashir I) and was defeated in the “Hormezdagān” plains and was killed in 224 AD, marking the collapse of the Parthian Empire.


* source: Zarrinkoob ,Roozbeh "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V. 10 , pp. 527

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