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Near East Kingdoms

Persia and the East


Hyrcania / Verkâna
Incorporating the Hyrcani

A Bronze Age culture emerged in Central Asia around 2200-1700 BC, at the same time as city states were beginning to flourish in Anatolia. This was known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus civilisation, and Indo-European tribes soon integrated into it from the north. These northern tribal bodies of the Indo-Iranian grouping were largely held back by this civilisation until it began to fade from around 2000 BC.

Within a few centuries the same people could be found well to the south of it and beginning the process of migrating into India. Those who remained behind appear to enter the historical record around the sixth century BC, when they came up against their cousins of the rapidly expanding Persian empire.

In this particular region, the Hyrcani gave their name to the later satrapy of Hyrcania. They were an Indo-Iranian people, almost certainly of the same general stock as the Persians themselves and part of a long swathe of migratory settlers which had occupied territory between the Zagros Mountains in the west and the River Oxus in the east. The Hyrcani were mentioned in connection with Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian empire, when they sent a delegation to him. Prior to that, Cyrus 'the Great' had resettled some of them in Lydia in Anatolia in order to act as peacekeepers in the face of Ionic raids.

The ancient province of Hyrcania (sometimes shown as Hyrkania) was situated along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, in what is now north-eastern Iran. It stretched deep into territory to the east of that, abutting Aria and then Bactria. Margiana lay to the north-east, and Parthia to the south. Prior to its late sixth century BC domination by the Achaemenid Persians, Hyrcania may have provided the main route to the west for Indo-Iranian tribes which were migrating from Transoxiana, the region around the River Oxus (the Amu Darya).

The unexpected acquisition of what has been termed an empire by the Medes following their part in the downfall of Assyria in 609 BC gave them access to poorly-defined eastern territories too. Their holdings may well have included territory which covered Verkâna (later mangled into 'Hyrcania' by the Greeks), Parthia, Drangiana, Carmania, and Bactria, although the latter may only have been commanded nominally as many modern scholars reject the idea of a major Median empire.

Tepe Fullol bowl fragment, third millennium BC

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, from Empire of Gold: Foundations, Jo Amdahl, from The Civilisation of the East, Fritz Hommel (Translated by J H Loewe, Elibron Classic Series, 2005), from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

c.1000 - 900 BC

The Parsua begin to enter Iran, probably by crossing the Iranian plateau to the north of the great central deserts (through Hyrcania, probably skirting to the north of neighbouring Parthia) but also by working round to the south of the deserts.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - was used as a demarcation border throughout history - it was also a hub of activity in prehistoric times, providing a home to the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation, which preceded Indo-Iranian settlement into Iran

Already separated during their journey, Parsua groups head in two main directions. In time the northern groups find themselves in the Zagros Mountains alongside their cousins, the Mannaeans and Medians. They are attested there during the ninth and eighth centuries but disappear afterwards. The southern groups, perhaps more numerous, trickle in through Drangiana and Carmania, towards southern Iran where they begin to settle.

Located in the Fārs region of Iran, these Parsua come under the overlordship of their once-powerful western neighbour, the kingdom of Elam. In the later stages of Persian settlement, Assyria and Media also claim some control over the region. As Elam's influence weakens, the Persians begin to assert their own authority in the region, although they remain subjugated by more powerful neighbours for quite some time.

c.843 BC

The Parsua receive their first mention in history. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, records their existence on the Black Obelisk, which covers his campaign of about this year. Their position is not precisely fixed but 'Pasua' seems to lay in what is now Iranian Kurdistan (immediately east of Kurdistan in northern Iraq), far to the north of Persis and the heart of Persian settlement.

Map of Central Asia & India c.700 BC
Following the climate-change-induced collapse of indigenous civilisations and cultures in Iran and Central Asia between about 2200-1700 BC, Indo-Iranian groups gradually migrated southwards to form two regions - Tūr (yellow) and Ariana (white), with westward migrants forming the early Parsua kingdom (lime green), and Indo-Aryans entering India (green) (click or tap on map to view full sized)

They also occupy territory which stretches back into the east, seemingly along the Great Khorasan Road which follows the southern edge of the Elburz Mountains on the south coast of the Caspian Sea (largely within the later province of Hyrcania). These would seem to represent the northern groups and their still-active migratory trail to the east.

Median Satraps of Verkâna (Hyrcania)

The Medes, or Medians, were a collection of Indo-Iranian tribes which entered the area of the northern Zagros Mountains from the start of the first millennium BC. Initially they, along with other new arrivals such as the Alani, Mannaeans, and the Parsua, formed a state which was a very loose coalition of tribes, each with a leader or king of its own. Consolidation came later, probably as the Medes were co-operating with the Babylonians to destroy Assyria. They shared the captured territory between themselves and their allies, with Media assuming power in eastern Assyria, and north and east of the Tigris from 609 BC.

By now the kingdom's capital was at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan), although Median culture at the time had an aversion to large-scale building projects and even to living in cities. Apparently, Ecbatana was home only to the king, his family, and his administration. At this time they already dominated the Parsua - since around 620 BC when the Assyrians were notably weakening in their peripheral territories. According to Herodotus, Media governed all of the tribes of the Iranian steppe which extends far to the east of the Zagros Mountains.

This sudden empire may well have included territory which covered Verkâna (Hyrcania), Parthia, Drangiana, Carmania, and Bactria, although the latter may only have been commanded nominally as many modern scholars reject the idea of a major Median empire. Very little is known of the Median kingdom in terms of its organisation in Verkâna, other than its last satrap who was replaced by the region's Persian conquerors in 549 BC.

Persians and Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), from Persien: Das Land und seine Bewohner, Jakob Eduard Polak (in German, Olms, 1976), and from External Links: Concomitant Replacement of Language and mtDNA in South Caspian Populations of Iran (Science Direct), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Deipnosophists, Athenaeus of Naucratis (Greek grammarian and rhetorician of the late second and early third centuries AD, C D Yonge, Ed).)

c.620 BC

The Medians (possibly) take control of the Parsua from the weakening Assyrians who themselves had only recently taken control of the region from Elam. According to Herodotus, Media governs all of the tribes of the Iranian steppe. This sudden empire may well include territory to the east which covers Verkâna, Parthia, Drangiana, and Carmania.

Oxus Treasure chariot
The Oxus Treasure contains this Persian model of a Median war chariot, although it is only pulled by two horses rather than the customary four

? - 549 BC


Satrap for Astyages of Media. Retained by Cyrus.

549 BC

Cyrus ends the vassalage of the Parsua by defeating the Medes during the course of a four year war between 553-549 BC. The braver Parsua sometimes have to yield to the superior numbers of the Medes and eventually have to concentrate their women and children on the mountain of Pasargadai, where they are besieged by the Medes.

Cyrus is victorious, seemingly after the Medes mutiny against their king and hand him over to the Parsua. Artasyras of Verkâna willingly submits to Cyrus and is initially retained by him. Apparently, though, according to ancient writers, the defeated Astyages is subsequently granted the position of satrap in Persian-dominated Verkâna, replacing his own appointee, Artasyras.

Persian Satraps of Verkâna (Hyrcania)

Conquered by Cyrus the Great, the region of Hyrcania was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was the north-easternmost part of the Median empire. Under the Persians, it was formed into an official satrapy or province which was called Verkâna (or Warkana - Hyrcania is a Greek mangling of the name, while the 'w' in Warkana should be pronounced as a 'v'). The neighbouring main satrapy of Parthawa covered a territory which was described in two ways: 'Parthawa and Verkâna' or simply just 'Parthawa' on its own. It follows from this that Verkâna was subsumed within Parthawa, from a description which has the Chorasmians living to the east of the Parthians (recorded by Athenaeus). Administratively Verkâna belonged to Parthawa, most probably as a minor satrapy. Strabo backs this up with a record of the later taxation arrangements for the two regions.

These eastern regions of the new-found empire (in the mid-sixth century BC) were ancestral homelands for the Persians. The people here formed part of a broad Indo-Iranian melting pot from which the Parsua had migrated west in the first place to reach Persis. There would have been no language barriers for Cyrus' forces and few cultural differences. Although details of his conquests are relatively poor, he seemingly experienced few problems in uniting the various tribes under his governance.

He was the first to exert any form of imperial control here, although his campaign may have been driven partially by a desire to recreate the semi-mythical kingdom of Turan in the land of Tūr, but now under Persian control. Curiously the Persians had little knowledge of what lay to the north of their eastern empire, with the result that Alexander the Great was less well-informed about the region than earlier Ionian settlers on the Black Sea coast had been.

The capital of the province until AD 225 was Zadracarta. Today its location is uncertain, with Sari and Gorgan on the south-eastern coast of the Caspian Sea both being claimed as its modern descendant, or at least neighbouring offshoot. The province enclosed the aforementioned corner of the Caspian Sea on both sides of the Gorgān-rud. In the north it reached the Oxus, which is to be identified with the modern day distributary of the Uzboy. From there the border may have run south-east alongside the northern slopes of the Kopet Dagh mountains and further eastwards to meet the border with Mergu. Only the south-western part of the Verkânian border with Parthawa can be determined more exactly. Between the Elburz and the Caspian Sea the province stretched to the border of Media Minor.

Persians and Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), from Persien: Das Land und seine Bewohner, Jakob Eduard Polak (in German, Olms, 1976), and from External Links: Concomitant Replacement of Language and mtDNA in South Caspian Populations of Iran (Science Direct), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Deipnosophists, Athenaeus of Naucratis (Greek grammarian and rhetorician of the late second and early third centuries AD, C D Yonge, Ed).)

549 BC

Cyrus ends the vassalage of the Parsua by defeating the Medes during the course of a four year war between 553-549 BC. The braver Parsua sometimes have to yield to the superior numbers of the Medes and eventually have to concentrate their women and children on the mountain of Pasargadai, where they are besieged by the Medes.

Cyrus is victorious, seemingly after the Medes mutiny against their king and hand him over to the Parsua. Apparently, according to ancient writers, the defeated Astyages is subsequently granted the position of satrap of Verkâna, replacing his own appointee of Median Verkâna, Artasyras.

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

549 - ? BC


Former governor of Median Verkâna. Initially retained.

? BC


Former king of Media. Appointed by Cyrus.

c.546 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus the Great with a wave of conquests, beginning in the west from 549 BC but focussing towards the east of the Persians from about 546 BC. Eastern Iran falls during a more drawn-out campaign between about 546-540 BC, which may be when Maka is taken (presumed to be the southern coastal strip of the Arabian Sea).

Further eastern regions now fall, namely Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, Carmania, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Gandhara, Gedrosia, Margiana, Parthia, Saka (at least part of the broad tribal lands of the Sakas), Sogdiana (with Ferghana), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse.

521 BC

Upon the execution of the Persian usurper, Smerdis, the Cyaxarid, Fravartiš, tries to restore Median independence. He is defeated by Persian generals and is executed. Embedded into the report on the rebellion of the Fravartiš in Media is confirmation that Armina belongs to the 'Great Satrapy Media', as suggested by Xenophon and documented by the Behistun inscription.

Darius the Great of Persia
The central relief of the North Stairs of the Apadana in Persepolis, now in the Archaeological Museum in Tehran, shows Darius I (the Great) on his royal throne (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 International)

The same happens in Parthawa and Verkâna whose inhabitants, as Darius the Great reports, had also joined Fravartiš. The quashing of the insurrections from Armina to Parthawa is chronologically coordinated in Persian records and occurs between May and June 521 BC. Another major rebellion in Mergu happens towards the end of 522 or 521 BC.

c.515 BC

The unreliable Ctesias has Cyrus the Great in 530 BC appointing Cambyses as his successor. He also makes two appointments to satrapies, placing Spitaces in command over the Dyrbaeans and his brother Megabernes over the Barcanians.

Since the Barcanians are not moved into the region until around fifteen years later, this appointment has to be a later one, or to a different location. It may not be coincidental that the same Megabernes, son of Spitamenes and grandson of Astyages, can be found as satrap of Verkâna in or around this time.

fl c.515 BC


Grandson of Astyages. Previously satrap of Barcanians.

479 - 465 BC

Xerxes apparently adds two new regions to the Persian empire during his reign, neither of which are very descriptive or clear in their location. The first is Daha, from 'daai' or 'daae', meaning 'men', perhaps in the sense of brigands. Daha or Dahae would appear to be the region on the eastern flank of the Caspian Sea, bordered by the Saka Tigraxauda to the north, and the satrapies of Mergu, Uwarazmiy, and Verkâna to the north-east, south-east, and south respectively. It contains a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii.

Ancient Bactra/Balkh city walls
The landscape around the walls of the ancient city of Bactra, capital of Bactria (shown here - now known as Balkh in northern Afghanistan, close to the border along the Amu Darya), was and still is very diverse, offering both challenges and rewards to any settlers there, including the newly arrived Greeks

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus the Hyrcanian kills Xerxes in collusion with the eunuch of the bedside and subsequently takes control of the Persian empire, ostensibly as a regent for Xerxes' three sons. Artabanus has the murder pinned on the eldest of these, Darius, and has him killed by the youngest son, Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes accedes to the throne before Artabanus attempts to murder him too.

In the end, it is Artabanus who dies, but Artaxerxes is forced to defeat the second of Xerxes' sons, Hystaspes, satrap of Bakhtrish and his own brother. This brief civil war is ended when Artaxerxes defeats the forces of Hystaspes in battle during a sandstorm.

446 BC

Artaxerxes appoints Nehemiah, his Jewish cup-bearer, as the governor of Judea. With the king fully supporting him, there can be no open opposition to Persian control of this fractious region. At some point after his accession, he also appoints his own (illegitimate) son, Ochus, as satrap of Verkâna.

c.450? - 423 BC

Ochus / Okhos (Darius II)

Son of Artaxerxes I of Persia.

424 - 423 BC

After forty-five days on the throne, Xerxes II is murdered in his bed after a drinking session by Sogdianus. Another claimant for the throne is Ochus, who is married to Xerxes' half-sister, Parysatis. She may be able to call upon large numbers of followers from her considerable estates in Babirush, and the couple are joined by the satrap of Mudrāya and the commander of the household cavalry in their resistance against Sogdianus.

Achaemenid palace decoration at Babylon
This Achaemenid (Persian empire) palace decoration stood in the city of Babylon (Babirush) and was transported to Berlin upon being rediscovered by archaeologists in the twentieth century

Six and-a-half months after usurping the throne, Sogdianus has to surrender to the forces being led by Ochus. He is put to death, while Ochus ascends the throne as Darius II.

423 - ? BC


Unnamed replacement for Ochus.

360s/350s BC

Artaxerxes II is occupied fighting the 'revolt of the satraps' in the western part of the empire. Nothing is known of events in the eastern half of the Persian empire at this time, but no word of unrest is mentioned by Greek writers, however briefly. Given the newsworthiness for Greeks of any rebellion against the Persian king, this should be enough to show that the east remains solidly behind the king. It seems that all of the empire's troubles hinge on the Greeks during this period.

? - 330 BC


Satrap of Parthawa & Verkâna. Reinstated by Alexander.

334 - 331 BC

In 334 BC Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. The first battle is fought on the River Graneikos (Granicus), eighty kilometres to the east, and the Persians are defeated. The campaigning season of 333 BC sees Darius III and Alexander miss each other on the plain of Cilicia and instead fight the Battle of Issos on the coast. Darius flees when the battle's outcome hangs in the balance.

Alexander the Great crosses the River Graneikos
Alexander the Great crossed the River Graneikos (or Granicus) in 334 BC to spark a direct face-off with the Persians which had been brewing for generations, and his victory in battle near the river sent shockwaves through the Persian empire

330/329 BC

Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia (principally Byblos and Sidon, with Tyre holding out until it can be taken by force). Athura, Gaza, and Egypt also capitulate (not without a struggle in Gaza's case).

By 331 BC, he is ready for the expected confrontation with Darius III in the heartland of Persian territory, which he also wins, with Darius fleeing into the east where he is killed by Bessus of Bakhtrish. The victorious Greeks have taken Babylonia and now enter Verkâna. General Craterus is sent by Alexander to subdue the Tapurians.

Following DNA sampling of the modern Tabari population, their origins would seem to be as a South Caucasian people who have incorporated Iranian women over several centuries, which has seen them converted to Iranian speakers. Phrataphernes of Uwarazmiy is reinstated in 330 BC, as satrap of now-Macedonian-controlled Hyrcania.

Argead Dynasty in Hyrcania

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-328 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC. Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and during the course of several wars, Hyrcania was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 312 BC.

Conquered by Cyrus the Great, the Persian region of Parthawa (Parthia) covered a territory which was described in two ways: 'Parthia and Hyrcania' or simply just 'Parthia' on its own. It follows from this that during the Achaemenid period Hyrcania was subsumed within Parthia, from a description which has the Chorasmians living to the east of the Parthians (recorded by Athenaeus).

Administratively Hyrcania belonged to Parthia, most probably as a minor satrapy. In Seleucid times, Strabo notes that the two provinces were still assessed together for taxation purposes, and satrapal arrangements during the Argead period seem to support a continuation of this arrangement between those two periods.

Alexander the Great

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from A Companion to Ancient Macedonia, Joseph Roisman & Ian Worthington (Eds, 2010), from Brill's Companion to Alexander the Great, Joseph Roisman (BRILL, 2002), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Deipnosophists, Athenaeus of Naucratis (Greek grammarian and rhetorician of the late second and early third centuries AD, C D Yonge, Ed).)

330 - 323 BC

Alexander III the Great

King of Macedonia. Conquered Persia.

323 - 317 BC

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander the Great.

317 - 310 BC

Alexander IV of Macedonia

Infant son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

331 - 330 BC

Andragoras / Amminapes the Parthian

Parni satrap of Parthia & Hyrcania. Replaced as incapable.

331 - 330 BC

The identity of the first satrap of Parthia and Hyrcania in the Alexandrine era seems somewhat confused. Generally he is shown as being Andragoras the Parthian, but A Companion to Ancient Macedonia states that he is 'the Parthian Amminapes, who had lived a long time at the court of Philip II [of Macedon] as an émigré'. It seems likely that they are one and the same person, and possibly with a nickname which is used as a main form of address. To Andragoras/Amminapes is assigned a royal overseer (episkopos) named Tlepolemos, but no Macedonian garrison.

Map of Central Asia & Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
The route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns are shown in this map, with them leading him from Europe to Egypt, into Persia, and across the vastness of eastern Iran as far as the Pamir mountain range (click or tap on map to view full sized)

However, Andragoras has been an expatriate from Parthia for too long. He finds he is unable to govern efficiently, so that Alexander has to replace him in autumn 330 BC. The last satrap of Achaemenid Parthawa and Verkâna, Phrataphernes of Uwarazmiy, who had been granted clemency by Alexander, is reinstated. To ensure his loyalty, his two sons are assigned to the companion cavalry. Phrataphernes proves to be a most capable and active satrap.

330 - 321 BC


Persian satrap of Parthia & Hyrcania. Reinstated.

320 - 318 BC

Philip / Philippus

Formerly in Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana, then Parthia.

320s BC

Alexander's general, Seleucus, governs Persis during the period of the Wars of the Diadochi, and it is possible that he also has some authority over Atropates and Peithon in Media. During the Third War of the Diadochi, the Antigonids capture areas of Seleucus' rule (between 315-312 BC) and Peithon fights alongside Antigonus. Once Persia is recovered by Seleucus, it is retained by his descendants within the Seleucid empire until 141 BC.

At this time the Sakas appear to reside midway between modern Iran and India, or at least the Amyrgian subset or tribe does. Achaemenid records identify two main divisions of 'Sakas' (an altered form of 'Scythians', these being the Saka Haumavarga and Saka Tigraxauda, with the latter inhabiting territory between Hyrcania and Chorasmia in modern Turkmenistan.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Sakas (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Indo-Scythians) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time

318 - 317 BC

Peithon, satrap of Media, seizes Parthia and appoints his brother Eudamus as its new satrap. Philip is put to death. However, his period of enforced office seems to be relatively brief. The other satraps unify to drive them both back into Media and peace is restored.

318 - 317 BC


Greek satrap. Brother of Peithon. Expelled.

317 - 316 BC

Nikanor / Nicanor

Greek satrap for Antigonus (was in Cappadocia). Killed.

316 BC

In the resultant shifts in power and control, Cappadocia and its surrounding regions (including Paphlagonia) become part of the Antigonid territories. The kingdom of Cappadocia is subsumed by the empire until 301 BC with Nikanor as its satrap until 316 BC when he is transferred by Antigonus to govern Media (and seemingly also Parthia from 317 BC, possibly on a temporary basis at first which would explain his nominal continuance in office in Cappadocia until the following year).

However, Stasander the Solian rules Parthia from 316 BC, so Nikanor's time in charge of it is brief before he is killed in battle. Stasander is the brother of Stasanor the Solian, satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana, who takes control of the Northern Indus in 316 BC. Stasander himself is satrap in Aria and Drangiana, in which post he succeeded Stasanor. Clearly the two are either working in unison with Seleucus of Babylonia from the beginning or are attempting to stamp their own independent authority on much of the east.

Coin depicting Antigonus Monophthalmus
Shown here are both sides of a silver coin bearing the ANT monogram as a handy way of determining the fact that it was minted by Antigonus during his period as an independent king who was contesting control of Alexander the Great's former empire

316 - 315 BC

Stasander the Solian

Greek satrap of Aria & Drangiana. Seized Parthia & Hyrcania?

315 - 312 BC

Eumenes is defeated in Asia and is murdered by his own troops, and Seleucus is forced to flee Babylon by Antigonus. The result is that Cassander controls the European territories (including Macedonia), while the Antigonids control those in Asia (Asia Minor, centred on Lycia and extending as far as Susiana), and also temporarily some of the eastern territories, including Aria, Drangiana, and Parthia, where Stasander is removed from office and replaced by Euitus (his date of death is unknown).

315 - 312? BC


Greek satrap of Aria, Drangiana, & Parthia for Antigonus.

314 - 311 BC

The Third War of the Diadochi results because the Antigonids have grown too powerful in the eyes of the other generals, so Antigonus is attacked by Ptolemy ( Egypt), Lysimachus (Phrygia and Thrace), Cassander ( Macedonia), and Seleucus (Babylonia). The latter re-secures Babylon itself and the others conclude peace terms with Antigonus in 311 BC. Re-securing Babylon also means recapturing from Antigonus all the eastern territories, with the result that Euitus is removed and a replacement is installed. Unfortunately the name of that replacement seems to have been lost to history, but he ushers in the Seleucid era of government in the region.

Battle of Ipsus
The Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC ended the drawn-out and destructive Wars of the Diadochi which decided how Alexander's empire would be divided

312? - ? BC


Unnamed satrap of Parthia & Hyrcania for the Seleucids.

308 - 301 BC

The Fourth War of the Diadochi soon breaks out. In 306 BC Antigonus proclaims himself king, so the following year the other generals do the same in their domains. Polyperchon, otherwise quiet in his stronghold in the Peloponnese, dies in 303 BC and Cassander of Macedonia claims his territory. The war ends in the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. Seleucus is now king of all Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards, turning Alexander the Great's eastern empire into the Seleucid empire, which includes Parthia and Hyrcania.

Macedonian Hyrcania

The unexpected death of Alexander in 323 BC changed the situation dramatically within his vast Greek empire. Immediately his generals divided the empire between them. Seleucus was able to expand his holdings with some ruthlessness, building up his stock of Alexander's far eastern regions as far as the borders of India and the River Indus (Sindh). He fought a number of wars as the empire fragmented in order to secure his own hold on power.

In 312 BC he regained Babylon from the Antigonids and safely held it while Antigonus tried to retrieve it (until 309 BC). Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of the regions he secured or attempted to secure, which included Arabia, Arachosia, Aria, Armenia, Bactria, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia (as it was known) by 301 BC, Carmania, Cilicia (eventually), Drangiana, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Media, Mesopotamia, Paropamisadae, Parthia, Persis, Sogdiana, and Tapouria (a small satrapy beyond Hyrcania), plus eastern areas of Phrygia.

The final war was the Fourth War of the Diadochi ('successors', these being Alexander's generals), which followed the murder of Alexander IV and helped to set Seleucus' own borders. When Antigonus proclaimed himself king in 306 BC, all the other surviving generals followed suit, confirming the dismantling of the empire into various regional domains. The stage was set for the final showdown at the Battle of Ipsus, which left Antigonus and Lysimachus defeated and the Seleucid empire virtually unchallenged between eastern Anatolia and Central Asia.

Second century BC Greeks in internecine strife

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Revised Chronology for the Late Seleucids at Antioch, O Hoover, and from External Links: University of Leicester, and Listverse, and Virtual Religion: Into His Own, and Encyclopædia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History (dead link), and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

c.250 - c.238 BC

Areas of eastern Iran and the Seleucid satrapy of Parthia are gradually liberated from Greek rule by tribesmen from the Iranian Plateau. The founder of the Parthian dynasty which assumes the leadership of this takeover is Arsaces. His background is somewhat hazy, with various sources ascribing different beginnings to him. Apart from the obvious origin as a chieftain of the Parni people in Dahae, he could also be a dissatisfied Bactrian who finds the rise there of Diodotus Soter to be unbearable.

Iranian Plateau
The Parni emerged from the Iranian Plateau which forms a vast stretch of territory from the Zagros Mountains to the west and extending as far as Pakistan to the east - this section is at Jaghori, now in northern central Afghanistan

He is introduced into history as a bandit who seizes Parthia, primarily between about 248-238 BC. The Parthian kingdom is pronounced with the seizure of Asaak (location unknown) in 248/247 BC. By about 238 BC he secures undisputed Parthian independence by attacking and killing the former Macedonian satrap of Parthia, its recently-self-proclaimed king, Andragoras. Hyrcania falls almost immediately afterwards. However, ancient sources also claim that Arsaces and his brother, Tiridates, overthrow not one but two further Parthian satraps: Pherecles and Agathocles.

216 - 212 BC

Now strong enough to face his rebellious cousin, Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire is able to march his forces into western Anatolia. By 214 BC Achaeus has been driven back to Sardis where he is captured and executed. The citadel itself is able to hold out until 213 BC under Achaeus' widow Laodice. Central Anatolia has been recovered but several regional dynasties persist in Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Pergamon. Xerxes of Armenia is persuaded to acknowledge his supremacy in 212 BC.

209 - 206 BC

Rather than try his hand against the regional dynasties of Anatolia, Antiochus III concentrates on the northern and eastern provinces of the empire. In 209 BC he invades Parthia. Its capital, Hecatompylos, is occupied and Antiochus forces his way into Hyrcania, with the result that the Parthian king, Arsaces II, is forced to sue for peace.

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse, while around the northern and eastern borders dwelt various tribes which would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Greater Yuezhi (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Buoyed by his successes in the east, Antiochus continues on to Bactria. This independent former satrapy is now ruled by Euthydemus Theos after he has deposed the son of the original ruler. Euthydemus is defeated at the Battle of the Arius but resists a two-year siege of the fortified capital, Bactra. In 206 BC Antiochus marches across the Hindu Kush.

c.AD 36

Following his expulsion from the kingdom in the previous year, King Artabanus III of Parthia returns with an army of Dahan auxiliaries which he has raised in Hyrcania. The support of his opponent, Tiridates, has evaporated because he is little more than a puppet of Rome. In the face of this new threat and with no support he flees to Syria and Artabanus is accepted by his rebellious nobility. The name Hyrcania subsequently fades into historical obscurity.

Persian Province of Khorasan
AD 1495 - 1795

From the sixteenth century, the former Saffarid emirate at Seistan generally formed part of an eastern province of Persia. The province continued to be referred to as Khorasan even though it had formed only a small part of the greater emirate of Khorasan. It had also formed part of the holdings of Timurid Herat until the start of the sixteenth century.

In addition, it frequently also provided a bolt-hole for the defeated participants in various Persian civil wars. It allowed them to control the eastern border and still claim to form part of a valid dynasty which could vie for control of the whole of Persia. Seistan was located in the south-east of the province (now a little way inside the modern Afghanistan border), while the rival city of Mashhad dominated the north.

In the first half of the eighteenth century the Turkic Afshar tribe of the province of Khorasan produced a warlord by the name of Nadir Kuli. He quickly rose to power and formed his own short-lived Afsharid dynasty in Iran. His successors were nowhere near a match for his abilities, and they soon ended their days carving out a small Khorasanian state in the east. They were allowed to get on with it by their replacements in Persia, the Zands, but were soon annexed to the new Afghan empire. In 1795, while Afghanistan was in turmoil, Khorasan was annexed back to Persia by Qajar Shah Agha Mohammad.

As mentioned, ownership of the province of Khorasan was batted back and forth between various rulers and empires in this period. To try and reflect this in the list below, dominating rulers of neighbouring empires are shown in grey, while local rulers who claim independence or who rule Khorasan in opposition to those empires are shown normally.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, from Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, Carsten Niebuhr, 1792, from First Light, Al Khalifa, from the History of Torbat-e-Heydariye, Mohammad Qaneii, The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, Michael Axworthy (I B Tauris Language, 2006), The Cambridge History of Iran, William Bayne Fisher, P Avery, G R G Hambly, & C Melville (Cambridge University Press), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

1736 - 1747

Nadir Shah / Nader Kuli

Afsharid shah of Iran. Assassinated.

1738 - 1740

Nadir Shah marches his army through Afghanistan in 1738, destroying the ruling Hotaki dynasty at Kandahar and capturing that city along with Ghazni, Kandahar, Kabul, and Lahore. Alongside him is his vassal, the future King Erekle II of Kakhetia, and a contingent of Georgian troops.

The following year Nadir loots Delhi, heart of the Moghul empire, humiliating the emperor, looting his treasures and causing the empire to fragment into a loose association of states. In 1740 he occupies the khanate of Khiva, reducing it to the status of a dependency during this period. Bukhara is also forced to submit.

Nadir Shah
Nadir Shah rose spectacularly from his early life as the son of a maker of sheepskin coats to the leading general and then ruler of the Persian empire, although he showed little compassion towards the poor people who formed part of his origins


Khiva remains a troubled state. Now Persia's General Ali Kuli goes on the offensive, defeating the Turkic yomuts in battle close to Old Urgench, these being the main supporters of the rebel khan. Abu al-Ghazi remains the figurehead for the rebels but Ali Kuli appoints Ghaib as the 'official' khan. He is the son Batir or Batyr Khan of the Kazakh Lesser Horde and, with the support of the Uzbek Karakalpak, he is also a rival to Nurali, son of Abu l-Khayr, for control of the horde.


Increasing paranoia has blighted Nadir's later years. His blinding of courtiers who had witnessed his hasty and regretted decision to blind his own son, Reza Qoli Mirza, for his supposed part in the attempted assassination of 1741 seems to have set him on a downward spiral. Now Nadir Shah is assassinated.

In the east, his former general, Ahmad Shah Abdali, is appointed king by loya Jirga and establishes the Durrani empire in Afghanistan. In addition, Iran appears to lose direct control of Bahrain from this point, with Nasr Al-Madhkur, governor of Bushire (Bushehr) and Bahrain exercising semi-independent control of the island.

Bahrain Fort
Having been conquered by Iran in the fifteenth century, by the early part of the twentieth century a now-independent Bahrain was one of the region's fastest-developing states, although it still managed to maintain a good deal of its historical heritage

The territories in the Caucasus break away as independent khanates, whilst the Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti also reclaim their independence under the energetic Erekle II.


Adel Shah

Afsharid shah of Iran. Blinded and executed.



Afsharid shah of Iran. Captured and died.


In October 1748, Shah Rukh is freed from prison by members of the army. Ebrahim is quickly defeated and later dies in captivity. The unfortunate Adel Shah is also put to death. Shah Rukh governs a reduced empire and is briefly threatened in 1750 by a Safavid rival called Solayman II. Much of the Afsharid action is now focussed on eastern Iran, around the province of Khorasan.

1748 - 1750

Shah Rukh / Shahrokh

Afsharid shah of Iran. In Khorasan 1750 & 1755-1796.

1750 - 1751

In alliance with 'Ali-Mardān Khan Baḵtiāri, Karim Khan of the Zand tribe captures Esfahan (Isfahan) in opposition to the ruling Afsharids. There he installs a Safavid puppet ruler, Shah Esmail III (the son of a court official and his wife, the daughter of Safavid Shah Hosayn I), and the two allies initially rule central Persia together in the name of their puppet.

Isfahan 1700s
Isfahan was the capital of Iran in the 1700s, and this German print from the early years of the century shows the central and residential areas of the city (click or tap on image to view full sized)

Blinded by Solayman II, Shah Rukh is largely pushed towards the east and the province Khorasan which now forms Persia's eastern boundary territory. In 1751 Karim Khan defeats a bid for sole control by his former ally and then pacifies most of western and central Persia from the Caspian littoral and Azerbaijan to Kerman and Lār.

He rules from Shiraz as the Zand regent for Esmail III, while the Afsharids are left to command what they can in the east. Unfortunately for them, eastern Khorasan is now disputed territory with the Afghan Durranis. It is soon annexed to the new Afghan empire.


Solayman II

Safavid claimant. In Mashhad (northern Khorasan).


Mir Sayyed Mohammed

Afsharid ruler. In Khorasan.

1755 - 1796

Shah Rukh / Shahrokh

Afsharid ruler. In Khorasan. Tortured and killed.

1795 - 1796

Qajar ruler of Iran, Agha Mohammad, invades Durrani-controlled Khorasan and annexes it back to Iran (the Zands having let it go after 1750). in the same year, he mounts a campaign to re-strengthen Persian positions in Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. He also launches a devastating attack on Georgia which sees Tiblisi destroyed and from which the kingdom never recovers. In 1796 he tortures and kills Shah Rukh in his attempt to find the treasure of Nadir Shah.

Mullahs meet the shah
In a painting which exhibits a markedly Qajari style, visiting mullahs are entertained by the shah himself (on the far right)

1796 - 1803

Nader Mirza

Son and 'crown prince of Khorasan'. In Mashhad.

1797 - 1803

Following the death of the Qajar ruler of Iran, Agha Mohammad, Nader Mirza is actually appointed governor of Khorasan. Unfortunately, he is keen on restoring the Afsharid dynasty to its control of all of Iran. A revolt in 1802 is a complete disaster. Nader is captured, imprisoned in Tehran, blinded, has his tongue cut out, and finally is killed in 1803.

Two of his sons are also killed while the other three are blinded. One other son is able to flee to Hyderabad. After this Khorasan loses whatever pretences of semi-independence it may still have. It remains a subject region during the modern period, and then an incorporated province of modern Iran.

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