Iran History The Parthian Empire

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The Parthian Empire

A rock-carved relief of Mithridates I of Parthia

A rock-carved relief of Mithridates I of Parthia

(r. c. 171–138 BC), seenriding on horseback, at

Xong-e Ashdar,city of Izeh, Khūzestān Province, Iran

Parthian Empire (247 B.C.-224 A.D.)

Under the Achaemenians, a satrapy named Parthava was annexed to the empire during Cyrus the Great's campaign south and east of the Caspian Sea. The Parthians were among the first to revolt against the Seleucids and were led by two brothers, Arsaces and Tiridates. Arsaces was proclaimed the first king, and his name became the honorific title used by all subsequent Parthian kings, who were generally known as the Arsacids.
Mithradates I is considered the founder of the Parthian empire. He is believed to have established his capital in Nysa, near modern Ashkhabad, the present-day capital of Turkmenistan. The reign of Mithradates II was the most glorious chapter in the Parthian history. Under him, Parthian realm stretched from Armenia to India. Mithradates H moved his capital from Ashkhabad to Hecatompylos (modern Damghan in Iran), almost in the centre of Parthava. Trade between East and West thrived, and Iran provided the most convenient route that later came to be known as the Silk Road. The Parthians were great fighters and wonderful horsemen. Their famous maneuver that became legendary as the "Parthian shot" was to pretend to gallop away from an enemy as if in retreat, and then turn in the saddles and shoot arrows at their pursuers, often defeating them by this ruse. The Parthians had no strict hierarchy or strong centralized power. Although mainly followers of the  Zoroastrian religion, they contributed to the dissemination of Buddhism in China, where a Parthian prince spread the word of Buddha near the middle of the 2nd century A.D. The Parthians spoke a language similar to that of the Achaemenians, used the Pahlavi script, and established an administrative system based on Achaemenid precedents. Talented architects, they invented the eivan, a feature later characteristic of Iranian Islamic architecture. Despite its long history of existence, following Mithradates's death, the empire fell into a state of chaos, with a short  interlude only during the reign of Orodes II. Constantly menaced by the Roman Empire, the Parthians acted as a barrier to the eastern nomad hordes, I and had it not been for the Parthians, these hordes would probably have overrun the Near East and even parts of Europe. Weakened by the internal dissension and exterior enemies, the Parthians were unable to resist a new power, the Sasanians. Still, they managed to rule for almost five centuries, and it was one of the most fascinating periods in Iranian history.

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