Sultan Palace Merv

Parthian Empire. Continuation. Part 2

Parthian Empire (Start – Arsaces I 248-247 – 211 B.C. and the last Artabanus IV until 224 A.D). Part 2

Between 230-227 B.C, the Seleucus II led the campaign to return his Eastern Satrapies (provinces). The Parni backed by the nomadic tribes Apasiacae (Scythians of the Waters – one of nomadic tribes of Massagetae), managed to calm the revolts broken out in the regions to the west of the Seleucid Empire preventing Seleucus II to continue the war. However, his successor Antiochus III, in 209 BC started his eastern campaign and defeated the Arsaces, forcing the Artabanus to recognize Seleucid supremacy. Then, when the Romans defeated the Seleucids in the battle of Magnesia 192 BC, the Arsaces were able to take advantage and reconquered the provinces south of the Caspian Sea. The Arsaces made again Parthia independent and resumed its expansion both eastward and westward. The Graeco-Bactrian and Seleucid kingdoms lacked political stability and were open to internal strife. The Arsaces dynasty ruler – Mithradates I (171-139 BC) made use of these favorable circumstances. He attacked Bactria in the east and took there the number of regions, then he took Media what opened the way to west and south, to Mesopotamia, Susiana and Elymais. The instability in these regions enabled the Parthians invade central Mesopotamia in 141 BC and seize the major centre of the Hellenistic east, Seleucia on the Tigris. Next, Susa fell under their suzerainty.

However, these conquests showed to the Parthians a complex problem of empire building. The people on new territories had the important communities of Greek and Hellenized inhabitants who enjoyed privileged position in the Seleucid Empire. For the next two centuries, these Greek cities had been the main opposing force within Parthian Empire. In 141 BC, the Seleucid ruler Demetrius II unsuccessfully attempted to recover Mesopotamia. In 131-130 BC, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus VII Sidetes inflicted severe defeats on the Parthians and penetrated into the innermost regions of Parthia but finally in 129 BC the Seleucid forces were routed and Antiochus VII himself killed in the battle. This was the turning point in the History of Hellenistic Central Asia. The Seleucids stopped to exist as world power, becoming petty rulers of rival warring states in northern Syria.

Starting 130 BC onwards, Arsacids waged wars against the nomadic tribes – various tribal confederations of the Sakas, the Massagetae and the Greater Yuezhi (Kushans) from one side and against the Seleucids and the Romans from other side.

The Parthians recovered all the lands they had earlier lost the way westward into Syria now lay open. However, the situation was once more aggravated on its eastern frontier. The new movement of the nomadic tribes in Central Asia what brought the downfall of the Graeco- Bactrian kingdom between 140-130 BC was bound to affect Parthia as well. In 130 BC the Saka tribes invaded the eastern regions of Parthia and some detachments penetrated as far as Mesopotamia. The Parthian king Phraates II lost his life in the struggle against nomads in 129 BC, and his successor and uncle – Artabanus I in 123 BC. Parthia also faced substantial problems in the west where Hyspaosines, King of Characene (a small region on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf), had seized most of Mesopotamia. Thus after a period of resounding success against the Seleucids, Parthia found itself on the verge of collapse.

Mithridates II 123- 87 BC, managed to stabilize the situation. He subjugated Characene and reestablished calm in Greek cities. Parthia followed moderate policy towards Greeks and they became more reconciled to Parthian rule.

The problem of the nomads on eastern front was solved by means of diplomacy and military force. They were displaced from Parthian territory proper and settled around Lake Hamun on the lands of Arachosia and Drangiana – the region later named Sakastan – the land of Sakas (Sistan – parts of Iran and Afghanistan around Helmand river). The emerging state formations under nomadic leaders mainly remained within Parthian influence, and some becoming vassal small states. Parthian influence in the east considerably extended and came to include the greater part of modern western Afghanistan.

The beginning of the first century BC, Parthian state had achieved the unprecedented strength and had become the foremost power in Western Asia. However, the latter years of the reign of Mithridates II marked by new complications: the internal struggle for power in Arsacid house; the interference of Armenian kings in Parthian affairs; the relentless eastward expansion of Rome. This led to further troubles in the first centuries A.D. Parthia's northern provinces suffered from incursions from Alani tribes. The emergence and growth of the powerful Kushan empire created a permanent danger in the East. The exhaustion from the internecine wars with Rome. Parthia sought to minimize the tension in the East.

In 53 BC, the Parthian ruler Orodes II sent his cavalry under command of Surena to combat the Romans (under command of Marcus Licinius Crassus). The two armies met at the Battle of Carrhae (present day Turkey – Haran). The Parthians lured the Romans out into the middle of the desert and defeated the numerically outstanding Romans. The Romans lost 20,000 as dead and another 10,000 as prisoners, this produced a mighty echo amongst the peoples of the East, but did not brought any decisive shift in the balance of power or gain of the territory.

In the period of Vologases IV and his successors there was bitter clash between Parthian and Romans, in 161-163 A.D. The northern flank of the Roman defense collapsed and Parthian troops invaded Syria. Rome launched the counter-offensive. The peace treaty was harsh for the Parthians, since the whole of Mesopotamia as far as the Tiver Khabur was ceded to Rome. The next war in 195 A.D. had even harsher consequences for the Parthians, in the period of Vologases V. The Roman military expedition dealt a heavy blow to Parthia: the richest parts of the country were devastated and some 100,000 inhabitants taken to Syria and sold into slavery. The last war between Rome and Parthia began in 216 -217 AD and it was the last success for Parthians. After decisive battle at Nisibis the Romans had to sue for peace.

Arsacid dynasty had their power base in Parthia, relying on the local Parthian aristocracy families, who supported them military and financially, receiving in return the lands of conquered adjacent territories, where they ruled as provincial rulers. The biggest of these cities controlled by Parthian nobility were Kuchan, Semnan, Gorgan, Merv, Zabol, and Yazd. The power of these Parthian families increased after centuries, allowing them to play important role in Parthian empire and was one of controbutary factor to fall of Arsacid Empire.

By the second century AD, the frequent wars with neighboring Rome Empire and with the nomads, the internal squabbling within Parthian nobility led to weaken the Arsacids to the point when they could no longer defend their enormous empire. This led to fragmentation of the empire, some claiming independence, some subjugated by other forces. Finally, the Arsacids vanquished by the Sassanids, who emerged from minor vassal to new Persian power in 224 AD. After the battle of Hormizdagan, the entire territory of the Arsacids fell into the hands of new dynasty of the Sasanians, Ardashir. Under Sassanian rule, Parthia transformed into a newly formed Khorasan province and Parthian nobility formed the new Sassanian institution known as seven Parthian clans (Seven Houses). Parthia stopped its existence as a political entity.