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The Parthian Empire

250 BC- AD 225

Parthian Empire in the 1st century BC

The Parthian Empire encompassed the northeast region of present day Iran. It is the second significant era in the extensive history of Iran. After the collapse of the Acheaemind Empire, the first significant era in the Iranian history, the Greeks had taken over the governing of the land.

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Fresco. Horseman hunting onagers. Dura Europos, Mesopotamia, Parthia. 2nd c. AD 6.5' wide. (Paris: Louvre)

In 247 BC, Arsaces, a Parni leader, revolted against the Greek ruling and the Seleucid Empire advanced in the east. He had now established the Parthian Empire. Tiridates then succeeded his brother Arsaces. He consolidated the Parthian power in the east. In 211 BC, Tiridates was succeeded by Artabanus I. He increased Parthian domains, including the Iranian Plateau and Tigris/Euphrates River Valley.

171-138 BC, Mithridates I ruled. He took back the remainder of Iran from the Greeks and issued the first Parthian coins that were based on Greek models.

Early Parthian drachma. Perhaps with head of Mithradates I (ca. 171-138 BC) He is clean shaven in the Hellenistic fashion.

In 130-12 4 BC, Mithridates II ruled. He recovered all previously lost territories from the loss due to the fall of the Acheaemind Empire. He also expanded the empire, westward into present day Armenia and Syria, northward as far as Merv, and eastward keeping the Sakas under control. The first sign of trouble came in 96 BC, under Mithridates II, when Parthia confronts Rome. In 92 BC, Mithridates II was able to conclude the first treaty between Parthia and Rome. Euphrates was established as a mutual boundary. Upon the death of Mithridates II, external relations remained tense, and rival dynastic claimants fight for major territories became more prominent.

Parthian coin with Mithradates II (128-88 BC) on recto. The verso shows Arsaces, the deified Parthian Urfather.

The Emperor Orodes II gained succession after Mithridates II. During his reign, problems between the Roman and Parthian Empires had reached the point of war. Rome had initiated the wars, wanting to take the inheritance of Alexander the Great of the Greeks, believing it was their own. In 54 BC, The Roman general Crassus claimed he could conquer Parthian Mesopotamia, but in 53 BC, the Parthians defeated the Romans and Crassus was killed, by beheading.

In 36 BC, Phraates IV, son of Orodes II, gained control of the empire. He had defeated the Roman forces, that were in Armenia and media Atropatene under Mark Antony's rule, during his reign. The Romans could not claim anything beyond the Euphrates River.

In AD 65, the Roman Emperor crowned Tiridates king of Persia to demonstrate the balance of power. Vologases, the brother of Tiridates, took control through AD 51-76. This time was noted for consolidation.

The decline of the Parthian Empire was due to the Romans invading and sacking the Parthian Empire. In the east, the rise of the Kushan dynasty came, and the west, the province of Persia in the Parthian Empire gained more power. The Emperor Vologases dealt with the new Roman campaigns against the Parthians and the usurpation of his brother who became the Emperor Artabanus V. The Empire was further weakened by the invasions of border people and the Romans.

In AD 222, Ardashir, the ruler of Persia, successfully revolted against Artabanus V. This ended the Parthian rule over Persia and began the ruling of the Sassanians.



All pictures are from:

The map is from:

The Smithsonian Institution National Numismatic Collection



Africa, Thomas W. "Parthian Empire." World Book Encyclopedia .1996 ed.

Culican, Willaim. "Parthians." The Encyclopedia Americana. 1988 ed.

Embra, Ainslie T. "Parthia." Encyclopedia of Asian History. 1988 ed.

"Parhian Empire." The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 1992 ed.

Wetteru, Bruce. "Parthia." World History. 1994

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