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Near East Kingdoms

Persia and the East


Incorporating the Parni / Parthava

The mountainous region known as Parthia lay to the north of Persia itself, nestled between the later satrapy of Bactria and the southern third of the Caspian Sea. With the Caspian Sea on its north-western flank, it extended from the Elburz chain eastwards towards Herat. It was bounded on the northern flank by the fertile plain of Hyrcania (around Astrabad) at the foot of the mountains in the corner of the Caspian, and by the Turanian desert. To the south was the great salt desert of central Iran. Generally the ancient region corresponds to the more modern province of Khorasan in the north-eastern segment of Iran.

FeatureParthia was inhabited by an Indo-Iranian tribe, the Parthava of the inscriptions of Darius, otherwise referred to as the Parni. These Parni tribesmen were originally one of three tribes which formed a confederation in the former Persian satrapy of Dahae. During his reign between 485-465 BC, the Persian King Xerxes added two new regions to the empire, neither of which were very descriptive or clear in their location.

The first was 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. This region contained a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii.

Parthia became a province of the Achaemenid and then Macedonian empires. Seleucus I and Antiochus I of the subsequent Seleucid empire founded various Greek towns such as Soteira, Charis, Achaea, and Calliope, while the region's capital was known only by its Greek name of Hecatompylos ('The Hundredgated') from the many roads which met there. According to Appian the city was founded by Seleucus I. The Assyrians had previously recorded a country which they named Partakka or Partukka which may or may not have been Parthia. During the third century BC the Parni gradually liberated Parthia from its Macedonian overlords, but they must have been present in the region before that date, having migrated there from Dahae after their subjugation by Xerxes.

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), 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 Britannica 1911.)

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.

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 and begin to settle there.

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

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.

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).

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)

c.620 BC

The Medians (possibly) take control of Persia 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 Hyrcania, Parthia, Drangiana, and Carmania.

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, Hyrcania, 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.

Persian Satraps of Parthawa (Parthia)

Conquered by Cyrus the Great, the region of Parthia was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was an eastern part of the Median empire. Under the Persians, it was formed into an official main satrapy or province which was called Parthawa (the 'w' is pronounced with a 'v' sound, while Parthia is a Greek mangling of the name).

The 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 (Hyrcania) 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, and Uwarazmiy could have too. In Seleucid times, Strabo notes that the two provinces were still assessed together for taxation purposes.

These eastern regions of the new-found empire were ancestral homelands for the Persians. They formed the 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.

Persians and Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), 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), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.546 - 540 BC

During his campaigns in the east, Cyrus the Great initially takes the northern route from Persis towards Bakhtrish to reassure or subdue the provinces. This route probably involves the 'militaris via' by Rhagai to Parthawa. At some point he takes the more difficult southern route, destroying Capisa along the way (possibly Kapisa on the Koh Daman plain to the north of Kabul - which is possibly also the Kapishakanish named at Behistun as a fortress in Harahuwatish).

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

On a fresh leg of the campaign, Cyrus enters the Dasht-i-Lut desert (the modern Dasht-e Loot) on the eastern route out of Karmana towards Harahuwatish. His army faces crippling loses but for the assistance provided by the Ariaspae on the River Helmand. They are named 'the Benefactors' (Greek 'Euergetai') by Cyrus in thanks. This route appears to have been poorly reconnoitred, hinting at a lack of Persian knowledge of this region and therefore a lack of preceding Median occupation here in what has been claimed to have been its eastern empire.

fl c.540s BC

Hystaspes / Wishtaspa

Son of Arsames of Persia (a king?). Satrap of Parthawa.

Hystaspes (the Greek version of his Old Persian name of Wishtaspa or Vishtaspa - not to be confused with Kai Vishtāspa of the seventh century BC Parsua kings), satrap of Parthawa, is the father of Darius the Great according to Darius' own Behistun inscription.

In 521 BC, Darius kills the usurper Gaumata (Smerdis) and seizes control of the Persian empire. Hystaspes is the son of Arsames, and brother of Pharnaces, whose own son, Artabazus, becomes a satrap of Phrygia. Arsames is the son of Ariaramnes, son of Teispes, son of Achaemenes, founder of the Parsua dynasty in Persis.

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)

Ariaramnes and Arsames have been assumed to be a junior (cadet) line of the royal house, although their spans would seem to be rather long for the age in which they live. Darius claims that both Hystaspes and Arsames are alive when he becomes king (as is Pharnaces). Whilst this is possible for Hystaspes, could he be speaking figuratively in terms of Arsames? If he is indeed alive, he would be very old indeed, possibly approaching a hundred.

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.

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.

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

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


Of Uwarazmiy. Satrap of Parthawa & Verkâna. Reinstated.

330/329 BC

Phrataphernes accompanies King Darius to the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. He returns with him in his flight east, but soon surrenders the province to Alexander the Great shortly after his victorious Greeks take Babirush and then enter Verkâna. General Craterus is sent by Alexander to subdue the Tapurians.

The Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC
Alexander defeated the Persian king Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela in Mesopotamia in 331 BC, with the victory giving him control of all the lands to the west of Iran

Argead Dynasty in Parthia

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, Parthia was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 312 BC.

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

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 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (London, 1873), 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), and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org.)

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
Alexander in the Temple of Jerusalem
With Darius III dead and Alexander quickly suppressing his eastern regions, various appointments had to be made so that everyday governance could continue in those regions, with some governors (satraps) being retained, some being executed, and some being replaced by Greeks (Alexander the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem is an oil on canvas by Sebastiano Conca,completed around 1736), while above is the route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns across the ancient world (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, 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. His eventual fate is unknown, but natural causes may be the reason for his unmentioned disappearance between 323-321 BC.

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, but 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

Satrap for Antigonus (was in Cappadocia). To Media.

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. 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.

Eumenes of Cardia
Eumenes of Cardia, Macedonian general and one of Alexander the Great's 'successors' between whom a series of wars were fought

316 - 315 BC

Stasander the Solian

Greek satrap of Aria & Drangiana. Seized Parthia?

315 - 312 BC

Having been defeated in Asia, Eumenes 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. Unfortunately he dies almost immediately and has to be replaced by Euagoras.

315 BC


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

315 - 312? BC


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

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 (of Egypt), Lysimachus (of Phrygia and Thrace), Cassander (of Macedonia), and Seleucus (of Babylonia). The latter re-secures Babylon itself and the others conclude peace terms with Antigonus in 311 BC.

Phrygian horseman attacking a Greek psiloi
Turkey's Çanakkale Archaeological Museum contains the Altıkulaç Sarcophagus which depicts a Phrygian horseman of the early fourth century BC attacking a floored Greek psiloi (skirmisher)

Re-securing Babylon also means recapturing from Antigonus all the eastern territories. Bactria is taken around 312 BC, and it is possibly this event which serves to end the reign of Stasanor. Some areas seem to have been lost to regional warlords, such as parts of Drangiana, but by far the larger part remains under the control of the Greek satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana.

Euagoras attempts to fight Seleucus alongside Nicanor of Media in May 311 BC but he is killed and his men join Seleucus. Then the replenished force goes on to defeat and kill Nicanor and take Media too. Unfortunately the name of the replacement in Parthia seems to have been lost to history.

312? - ? BC


Unnamed satrap of Aria, Drangiana, & Parthia for Seleucus.

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.

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

Seleucus is now king of all Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards (and has been since 305 BC, having declared as such along with the other generals). This process of dividing the conquests of Alexander the Great has turned the eastern part of his empire into the Seleucid empire, which includes Parthia.

Macedonian Parthia

The Greek general, Seleucus, 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). After that 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).

Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of these regions, 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 of these wars 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 Anatolia and Central Asia.

The chronology of the Parthian satraps seems to be completely unknown until the middle of the third century BC, and even then the written records contradict one another. Coinage was issued by the Seleucid emperor in Syria, so there seem to be no local issues to provide names, even though the interpretation of numismatic evidence can sometimes be very uncertain.

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, from Thundering Zeus: The Making of Hellenistic Bactria, Frank Lee Holt, from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner (1999), 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.)

301 - c.250 BC

The Seleucids are masters of the entire Syrian, Mesopotamian, Persian, and eastern sections of Alexander's empire. The Seleucid ruler selects the satrap of Parthia between the dates forming this first half-century of the empire's existence, but if the names are ever recorded they have since been lost to history.

Seleucid war elephants
Seleucid war elephants were first introduced into the empire thanks to an exchange of gifts with the Mauryan emperor in India, these being the larger Indian elephants rather than the slightly smaller, now-extinct North African forest elephant used by Egyptians and Carthaginians

fl 250s? BC


Seleucid satrap of Parthia. Killed by the Parni?

fl 250s? BC


Seleucid satrap of Parthia. Killed by the Parni?

c.250s BC

Ancient sources are somewhat confused about the state of affairs in Parthia. It could be the case that events are fast-moving and the recording of them appears confused or contradictory to modern eyes which have even less of the story than their ancient counterparts.

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 leadership of this take-over is Arsaces. He is ascribed various origins but, together with his brother Tiridates, he is claimed as being responsible for overthrowing not one but two Parthian satraps before the rise of Andragoras, the defeated satraps being Pherecles and Agathocles. Both of these fall around the end of the reign of Antiochus II or the beginning of Seleucus II, so in the 250s or 240s BC.

fl 256 - 238 BC

Andragoras / Narisanka

Indo-Iranian Seleucid satrap of Parthia. Killed by the Parni.

c.256 BC

Andragoras declares independence from Seleucid Greek rule at the same time as the satrap of Bactria. It may even be the actions of Andragoras which force the hand of Diodotus I Soter of Bactria, since there is little immediate chance of Seleucid retaliation. However, although the written evidence is confused and somewhat contradictory, it is more likely to happen the other way around. Bactria declares independence and Parthia follows.

Antakya Mosaic Museum
Although the mosaics exhibited today in the Antakya Mosaic Museum in Turkey generally date to the first to fifth centuries AD, Seleucid Antioch of the third to first centuries BC would have been just as grand a city

248 - c.238 BC

The Parthian kingdom of Andragoras is secured by his Parni opponents with the seizure of Asaak (location unknown) in 248/247 BC. Andragoras would seem to soldier on in reduced circumstances but, by about 238 BC, Arsaces secures undisputed Parthian independence by attacking and killing this former Macedonian satrap of Parthia. Hyrcania falls almost immediately afterwards. Arsacid domination of the region is now assured and the Seleucid Greeks are cut off from their Bactrian brothers.

Arsacid (Parthian) Persia / Parni (Indo-Iranians)
248/7 BC - AD 224

Around 256 BC, Andragoras, Macedonian satrap of Parthia, declared his independence from the Seleucid empire. Almost immediately, he faced a threat to his rule not from the Seleucids in the west but from infiltrating tribesmen from the north. These were Indo-Iranian Parni tribesmen who emerged out of obscurity on the Iranian Plateau and took over north-eastern and central Iran while the Seleucids weakened in the west.

By 130 BC the Parni had been completed absorbed by the indigenous Indo-Iranian Parthians, and had conquered all of Iran. In 126 BC they took Babylonia. The rise of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty also saw Greek Bactria cut off from the Seleucids, and an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom was declared there. The Bactrian king, Diodotus II, concluded a peace treaty with Arsaces of the Parni to forestall a Seleucid re-conquest both of Persia and Bactria.

FeatureThese Parni tribesmen from the north were originally one of three tribes which formed a confederation in the former Persian satrapy of Dahae. During his reign between 485-465 BC, the Persian King Xerxes added two new regions to the empire, neither of which were very descriptive or clear in their location. The first was 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. This region contained a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii.

Analysing the name Dahae is somewhat complicated but it can be done. Some interchange has been found to exist between the letters 'h' and 's' in the Sanskrit Avesta and the Vedas. For example, in the Avesta, 'hepta hindu' is the 'sapta sindhu' of the Vedas, 'homa' in the Avesta is the 'soma' of the Vedas, and 'daha' is the 'dasas'. Other examples exist. Dasa or das in Sanskrit can also be found in Indo-Aryan texts such as Rig Veda and Arthasastra. It usually means either 'enemy' or 'servant', which would gel with the sense given by the use of Dahae as the name of a conquered region. Dahae seemingly remained a conquered region throughout the rest of the Persian empire period and well into the Macedonian period... until Andragoras took Parthia out of the Seleucid empire.

The dating for the Arsacids is uncertain, as is the sequence of rulers in some cases, and is largely known from coins alone. Not all pretenders and temporary rulers are mentioned in this list, though a fair number of overlapping reigns do seem to be mentioned. It seems to have been rare for Indo-Iranian states to record their histories in any real detail. The Persian empire was largely the same, with the Greeks being the ones to produce the best records concerning it. With Arsacid Persia being largely more eastwards-looking than its predecessor, and the Greeks of Bactria cut off from their fellow Greeks in the west, there was less knowledge in the Classical Greek world of general Parthian events.

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Janos Harmatta, B N Puri, & G F Etemadi (Eds, Delhi 1999), from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from Thundering Zeus: The Making of Hellenistic Bactria, Frank Lee Holt, from The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1970), from The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires: Adaptation and Expansion, Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Michael Alram, Touraj Daryaee, & Elizabeth Pendleton (Eds), from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner (1999), and from External Links: Ancient History Encyclopaedia (Sakas - dead link), and Ancient History Encyclopaedia (Aria), and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

c.250 - 211? BC

Arsaces I of the Parni

Tribal leader or disaffected Indo-Greek? Dynasty founder.

c.250 - c.238 BC

FeatureAreas 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. The name has an Indo-Iranian origin in the form of 'Arsi'. This appears to be yet another example of the verb 'to be', used as a noun, of which there are many other examples which include Asia (see feature link), Arte (Indo-Iranian), Rte (Indo-Aryan), and Aria.

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

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.

Instead he moves to Parthia (or is forced out of Bactria according to Strabo), and secures leadership of the Parni as an opponent to Satrap Andragoras. Or he could be descended from Andragoras the Parthian, satrap of Parthia under Alexander (possibly himself a confusion with the third century Andragoras of Parthia). He could even be a descendant of Artaxerxes of the Persian empire.

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.

Ruins of Lyrba
The site of this ancient city in the Pamphylia region (now in Turkey) is sometimes claimed as being Seleucia - clearly far away from the site of Seleucia-on-Tigris (close to modern Baghdad) - although linking the ruins to the city of Lyrba has much more widespread acceptance

235 - 229 BC

While Arsaces consolidates his seized territory, Antiochus Heirax continues his campaign to wrest the Seleucid empire from his brother by defeating him at the Battle of Ancyra in 235 BC, leaving Anatolia outside of Seleucid power. Seleucus II then marches into Parthia, intent on regaining that, but is forced to be satisfied with a peace agreement. Arsaces I is recognised as king of Parthia. The tide of Seleucid defeats turns when Attalus of Pergamon beats Antiochus at the Battle of Harpasus in 229 BC.

216 - 213 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. Rather than try his hand against these, Antiochus concentrates on the northern and eastern provinces of the empire. Xerxes of Armenia is persuaded to acknowledge his supremacy in 212 BC, but more is to come in 209 BC.

Pergamon ruins
Pergamon rose to prominence during the years of division in the Greek empire following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC when his empire was divided among his generals - now it worked in tandem with Cappadocia

? - 211 BC


Brother. Possibly ruled in succession until 211 BC.

c.211 - 191 BC

Artabanus I ?

Existence disputed and uncertain.

c.211 - 191 BC

Arsaces II

Son of Arsaces I. Reign obscure.

209 - 206 BC

Continuing a strong run of victories, Seleucid ruler Antiochus III 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. 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.200 BC

FeatureThe Persian 'ancient batteries', basic electric cells, are dated to this point in time, although their function and origin remain unclear to this day. The most reasonable explanation seems to be that they are used for electroplating - transferring a thin layer of metal on to another metal surface - a technique still used today.

c.191 - 176 BC

Phriapitius / Phriapatius / Priapatius

Grandson of Tiridates. Reign obscure.

185 BC

The Parthians expand into eastern Iran at the expense of the Seleucid ruler, Seleucus IV. The reign of Phriapitius is otherwise largely obscure, although the Parthians experience little trouble from the Seleucid west following the latter's disastrous defeat of 188 BC at the hands of the Romans.

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)

c.176 - 171 BC

Phraates I

Son. Reign obscure.

171 - 132 BC

Mithradates I / Mithridates

Brother. (Not the same as the king of Pontus.)

167 BC

Under Mithradates the Parthians rise from obscurity to become a major regional power, although a precise chronology is still not possible. Their first expansion takes the former province of Aria (now northern Afghanistan) from the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.

It seems possible that Aria (and possibly a rebellious Drangiana too) had already been conquered once by the Arsacids, with the Greco-Bactrians recapturing it, probably during the reign of Euthydemus I Theos. During the reign of Eucratides I the Greco-Bactrians are also engaged in warfare against the people of Sogdiana, showing that they have lost control of that northern region too (and by inference Ferghana).

The other eastern provinces, all of which still appear to be in Seleucid hands, must also fall to the Parthians very quickly after this - including Carmania, Gedrosia, and Margiana - although firm evidence to show a specific date appears to be lacking.

Another date which may be valid for these losses is 185 BC, when Seleucus IV loses eastern Iran to Parthian expansion, but the fact that the Parthians fail to expand out of their initial conquests until Mithradates accedes makes this period a more likely one.

The city of Dura-Europos was founded around 300 BC by the Seleucid Greeks, but it was subsequently seized by the Parthians as they expanded their territory westwards, before the Romans grabbed it as the Parthians weakened

164 BC

The Arsacids have been gradually extending their control over the eastern lands of former Persia, and Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV now campaigns against them. He recovers lost income from the region and forces the defector, Artaxias of Armenia, to recognise his suzerainty. Then he founds the city of Antioch on the Persian Gulf, sets out on an expedition to the Arabian coast and, at the end of 164 BC, dies of illness at Tabae (or Gabae, probably modern Isfahan) in Persis.

145 - 141 BC

Seleucid rival claimant Antiochus VI is recognised in Antioch, and Demetrius II is forced to flee to Seleucia near Babylon, although he only makes it thanks to soldiers from Judea who save his life. However, the Parthians under the very able Mithradates I make the most of the Seleucid civil war by taking Media in 141 BC (sometimes given as 148 BC). In the same year Mithradates also captures Seleucia and then Uruk.

Not long afterwards the Parthians are for the first but not the last time forced to defend themselves against a fierce attack by nomads in the east. These nomads are mostly likely the Sakas, recently forced south and west by other tribal migrations (mainly due to the Greater Yuezhi).

Mithradates takes personal command of the campaign, even though the Seleucids are preparing for the imminent reconquest of Mesopotamia. Presumably he considers the adversary in the east to be the more dangerous, an assessment of the situation which subsequent events confirm as correct. This invasion in the north-east is successfully repulsed and the focus is switched back to the Seleucids.

Map of the Yuezhi lands and exodus route
The Greater Yuezhi were defeated and forced out of the Gansu region by the Xiongnu, and their migratory route into Central Asia is pretty easy to deduct from the fact that they chose to try and settle in the Ili river valley below Lake Balkhash (click or tap on map to view full sized)

140 - 138 BC

In 140 BC, another Seleucid rival claimant, Diodotus, kills Antiochus VI and proclaims himself ruler of the empire with the name Tryphon. Diodotus Tryphon then goes on to destroy Beroth in his contest with Demetrius. The following year, Mithradates conquers Susa in Elam, leaving the Seleucids denuded of all lands east of the Euphrates. The end comes for Demetrius in 138 BC when he is captured by the Parthians.

c.132 - 126 BC

Phraates II

Son. Killed by Sakas.

132 - 129 BC

Antiochus VII takes up the reins of regaining lost eastern territories, but he turns out to be the last Seleucid emperor of the east. After the death of Mithradates I around 132 BC (138 BC is given as an alternate date, although this may mark the point at which Phraates is raised to a senior supporting role),

Antiochus launches a campaign which is initially successful, recapturing Media and Babylonia in 130 BC. Antiochus demands that the Parthians restore all Seleucid territories in Iran, so they defeat him in battle in 129 BC and he commits suicide later that year. His death ends Seleucid rule in Mesopotamia and Iran.

The Parthians release the captive Demetrius II and allow him to return to the remnants of the empire in Syria and Cilicia (plus Babylonia until 126 BC).

Saka coin of AD 15
Just as they caused the preceding Achaemenid Persians severe problems in the east, so the Sakas also provided the Parthians with some extensive trouble - albeit poorly documented trouble - and this coin was issued by them about AD 15

126 BC

In the core Parthian homeland, Phraates has continually fended off western elements of the Sakas. Now the Parthians are defeated in several battles, the last of which ends with the death of Phraates himself in the same year in which he regains Babylonia, removing the very last eastern territory from the Seleucid empire.

c.126 BC

Bacasis / Bagasis

Son of Phriapatius.

c.126 - 124 BC

Artabanus II (I)

Brother. Killed by Sakas.

c.126 - 124 BC

Having already caused the death of Artabanus' predecessor, Phraates II, the Sakas (partially displaced by the Greater Yuezhi) continue to press Parthian borders for territory. Artabanus is killed in one such encounter. The modern writer, René Grousset, instead attributes this act to the Greater Yuezhi who are now settled in Bactria.

The answer could lie in the fact that Saka groups have been dominated by the Greater Yuezhi since the latter's arrival thirty or forty years beforehand, so the Greater Yuezhi could be the driving force behind the fighting against the Parthians while a Saka could still be responsible for the wound which kills Artabanus II.

c.124 BC


Unnamed son, with the throne name of Arsaces X.

c.124 - 87 BC

Mithradates II the Great / Sinax

Son of Phriapatius.

c.124 - 113 BC

The Parthian empire is looking somewhat shaky following the deaths of two kings in battles and the loss of large areas of Mesopotamia to the kingdom of Characene. The first notable act by the new king is to put Hyspaosines of Characene in his place. Then he forces the northern Mesopotamian states of Adiabene, Gordyene, and Osrhoene to accept vassal status. The Seleucid city of Dura-Europas is conquered in 113 BC.

A coin of Mithradates II the Great of Parthia
Two sides of a silver tetradrachm which was issued during the reign of Mithradates the Great of Parthia, with the obverse (left) shown a bearded bust of the king who stabilised the empire's eastern borders with the Sakas and Greater Yuezhi

115 - 100 BC

Around this time, 115 BC, Mithradates is visited by an embassy from the Chinese emperor, Wu Di, and the two rulers reach an agreement on the opening of the trade route which is later known as the 'Silk Road'. This route suffers somewhat from decay, especially in Sogdiana of the first to third centuries AD, but soon becomes a major trading route after that.

Around the same time, with Parthian territory having been harried for years by the Sakas, Mithridates II is finally able to take control of the situation. First he defeats the Greater Yuezhi in Sogdiana in 115 BC, and then he defeats the Sakas in Parthia and around Seistan (in Drangiana) around 100 BC.

After their defeat, the Greater Yuezhi tribes concentrate on consolidation in Bactria-Tokharistan while the Sakas are diverted into Indo-Greek Gandhara. The western territories of Aria, Drangiana, and Margiana would appear to remain Parthian dependencies. Although Carmania doesn't seem to be mentioned directly, its position between Drangiana and Persia would make it likely that this too is still in Parthian hands.

96 - 95 BC

In 96 BC (and not 92 BC as has previously been stated), Rome and Parthia meet on the Euphrates. The Parthian ambassador, Orobazos, offers Sulla, the propraetor of the province of Cilicia, the 'friendship' and 'alliance' of his master. Though the exact outcome of this meeting is unclear, the agreements with China and Rome prove Parthia's rise as a world power.

Map of Central Asia & India c.50 BC
By the period between 100-50 BC the Greek kingdom of Bactria had fallen and the remaining Indo-Greek territories (shown in white) had been squeezed towards eastern Punjab, while India was partially fragmented (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Now unquestionably a powerful state in Mesopotamian affairs, the Arsacids extend their influence further in 95 BC by removing Artavazde from the throne of Armenia and raising up his son, Tigranes. In exchange for this they received 'seventy valleys' according to Strabo. The two countries now remain in virtually constant contact with one another, although not always on a friendly basis.

c.90 - 87 BC

Gotarzes I

Son and rival with backing from the powerful Parthian nobility.

89 - 87 BC

Mithradates launches an attack against the Seleucid empire with Aziz the Arab as his ally. The target is Antiochus X who is killed during the fighting. The weakened and distracted Seleucids also lose Harran to Armenia as Tigranes the Great conquers much of Syria (between this point and 69 BC).

The civil war at least would seem to be over - until Philip and Demetrius fight each other for the throne. The spark seems to be Demetrius breaking off his attacks against the Hasmonaeans to capture Antioch.

Unbelievably, Philip invites the Arsacids to help him, and in 88/87 BC they capture Demetrius. He later dies in captivity. Philip seizes the northern part of the empire and is recognised in Antioch but his younger brother, Antiochus XII, now claims Damascus in the south and a fresh civil war is triggered.

Jerusalem of the Hasmonaean period was an expanding city with a burgeoning population and a thriving spirit of independence which was supported by the lack of Seleucid coordination and ability to recapture the city

However, the aged Mithradates dies in this year and the Parthian empire experiences a period of destabilisation and uncertainty. The Armenians take the opportunity to reconquer the 'seventy valleys'. Several successive Arsacid kings are recorded about which virtually nothing is known, starting with the rival, Gotarzes, who now rules unopposed.

c.87 - 80 BC

Gotarzes I

Former rival, now unopposed. Reign obscure.

c.80 - 78 BC

Orodes I

Brother. Reign obscure.

c.80 BC

On the eastern edge of Parthian territory, the Greater Yuezhi continue to drive the Sakas southwards from Central Asia. In turn, the Parthians divert the Sakas from Persian territory into Indo-Greek Gandhara, ensuring that their future lies in entering India.

c.77 - 70 BC


Son of Mithradates I. Reign obscure.

c.70 - 58 BC

Phraates III

Son. Reign obscure. Killed by sons, Orodes & Mithradates.

c.70 BC

Sakas expel the Indo-Greeks from Arachosia but subsequently lose the region to the Parthians. Parthian rule seems to be limited and perhaps does not include the entire region. In this period of Parthian near-obscurity it is hard to be certain.

Hermaios coin from Gandhara
A Hermaeus (c.90-70 BC) coin from Paropamisadae at the beginning of the first century AD. The rear of the coin shows Zeus enthroned and facing three quarters to the left, right hand extended, and holding a sceptre in his left hand, with a monogram in the field to the left

66 BC

The Parthians take control of Harran, known to Rome as Carrhae and the former Seleucid capital of the province of Osrhoene. That province has enjoyed independent status for roughly seventy years, but its capital in later days is or has been Edessa, which is located farther to the north than is Harran.

c.58 - 55 BC

Orodes II

Son and regicide. Reign obscure. Temporarily dethroned.

54 BC

Having murdered their father to seize the throne, Orodes and Mithradates now fight each other for superiority. Orodes initially seems to have the upper hand, displacing his brother from his position as 'king of Media'. But Mithradates is in power by about 54 BC, albeit briefly as he is besieged by Orodes and is killed.

c.55 - 54 BC

Mithradates III

Brother and joint regicide. 'King of Media'. Killed.

c.54 - 37 BC

Orodes II

Restored after killing his brother. Murdered by Phraates IV.

53 BC

The Battle of Carrhae (Harran) turns out to be a disaster for Rome, and a badge of shame to be worn for many years. Triumvir Crassus is killed and 34,000 legionnaires are captured or killed. Some captured Romans may later be used to fight against China, while others are sold as slaves by the thousand in China and India, as well as closer to home. However, the victorious Arsacid general, Surena, has been too successful. He is executed by Orodes as a potential rival.

The town of Liqian may be the location in which Roman soldiers settled in the first century BC, but the claim seems unlikely despite the dominant Caucasian DNA of the town's modern inhabitants

c.50? BC

To the east of the Parthian empire, the Kushans capture the territory of the Sakas in what will one day become Afghanistan, and have probably already caused the downfall of Indo-Greek King Hermaeus, conquering Paropamisadae in the process.

At some point, probably in the 40s BC, the Romans incite a governor in Syria to proclaim Pacorus as king in opposition to his father. Coins are briefly minted in the name of the young Pacorus, but he is soon reconciled with his father and coin production ceases. The Syrian governor is probably executed. Pacorus would seem to retain his position as heir to the throne until his death in battle in 38 BC.

fl 40s BC

Pacorus I

Son. Possibly co-ruler, and short-term rival. Killed 39 BC.

c.37 - 3 BC

Phraates IV

Brother. Possibly co-ruler from c.40 BC. Killed his father.

40 - 36 BC

Unable to make any headway against the Romans despite the latter's civil war, the Parthians now launch a major attack under the leadership of Pacorus and a Roman refugee from the civil war, Quintus Labienus. Between 40-37 BC, the Parthians attack and occupy areas of Roman Syria, including the cities of Bashan and Jerusalem. A Roman counterattack in 39 BC reverses massive gains in Anatolia and sees both Pacorus and Labienus killed.

With Phraates having murdered his own father to gain the throne in 37 BC, and then having killed his brothers and even his own son, the Parthian nobles begin to leave the empire. Seeing an opportunity, Rome's Mark Antony leads an army against the Parthians in 36 BC, supported by Polemon I of Cilicia, Kolkis, and Pontus. However, the force is defeated and Polemon is captured and ransomed.

Ephesos frieze
This scene from the Parthian War comes from Ephesos and shows a Roman warrior in typical heroic stance about to strike down his defeated Parthian opponent - all good propaganda for the Roman war effort, of course

c.32/1 - 25 BC

Phraates has made himself an entirely unpopular ruler. Civil war now grips the empire. A certain Tiridates leads the fight against him, probably supported by the nobility and possibly also aided from time to time by the Romans. In the end the rebellion fails, but Phraates still suffers. His coin production halts around 24 BC, a sure sign of serious problems within the empire.

c.32 - 25 BC

Tiridates (II)

Rebelled against Phraates and fought a civil war. Fled.

c.12 - 9 BC

According to Josephus, another revolt against Phraates is triggered. This time the instigator is a rival king by the name of Mithradates, although little else is known about this event. This one may not even be a member of the Arsacid family as no numbering is applied to his name. The nobility know that only an Arsacid is acceptable on the throne however good or bad they may be, so support for Mithradates may be temporary and possibly external to a large extent. Phraates is again victorious.

c.12 - 9 BC


Rebelled against Phraates and fought a civil war.

3 BC

Supported and encouraged by his Italian mother, Phrataces, son of Phraates IV, kills his father and seizes the throne. The nobility quickly learn to despise him, and he is exiled before he can become too entrenched in his position. His mother, a former handmaiden, rules for a short time before the nobility invite one of the legitimate sons of Phraates to take the throne.

3 BC - AD 4

Phraates V / Phrataces

Son of Phraates IV. Sidelined, expelled, and died.

AD 1

The threat of conflict between Rome and Parthia has been building over the question of Armenia. As a result the Romans build up a large military force in Syria. Phraates gives way, and negotiations which are held in this year end with the Parthians relinquishing any claims of influence in affairs in Armenia and the Romans granting recognition to Phraataces as a legitimate and sovereign ruler.

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to the city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

AD 2 - 4

Queen Musa / Thermusa

Mother, and Italian widow of Phraates IV. In charge from AD 2.


It is from this point that the empire, weakened by successive civil wars and squabbling over the throne, gradually begins to fade, breaking up into smaller kingdoms which remain loosely united for two hundred years. Having assumed power and seen to the removal of Phraates,

Queen Musa is now replaced on the throne by her stepson, Orodes. Within just a couple of years he too is despised by the nobility and is assassinated. The nobility ask Rome to return one of their hostage princes, but they also despise Vonones when he arrives for being a 'slave' (their term for those held as hostages).

4 - 7

Orodes III

Half-brother of Phraates V. Assassinated.

8 - 12

Vonones I

Son of Phraates IV. Deposed & exiled. Gained Armenia AD 15.


The Indo-Greek kingdom disappears under Saka pressure. It seems to be Rajuvula, the Saka kshatrapa of Mathura, who invades what is virtually the last free Indo-Greek territory in eastern Indus (Punjab), and kills the Greek ruler, Strato II and his son.

Pockets of Greek population probably remain for some centuries under the subsequent rule of the Kushans and Indo-Parthians. By now the Parthians already seem to have captured Kashmir from the Indo-Scythian Sakas, relieving them of an important prize.

Kadphises I coin from Tokharistan
This photo illustrates a Kadphises I coin which was discovered in the Bactria-Tokharistan region and which has on it a corrupt Greek legend

At the same time, the opinion of the Parthian nobility is that Vonones has been made soft by his time in Rome and they are unhappy about his tight budgetary control. A section of the nobility sets up a rival candidate in the form of Artabanus, an Arsacid who comes from the north-east of Iran, probably Hyrcania (based on subsequent events).

Vonones fends him off at the first attempt, but the second proves successful, and Artabanus is in command in AD 10. Vonones withdraws to Armenia where he is eventually placed on the throne by Rome.

10 - 35

Artabanus III (II)

Placed a son in Armenia 34-35. Fled the kingdom AD 35.


With the empire fragmenting over the course of several decades, the Parthian vassal in the east of Iran, Gondophares, ventures furthers east and establishes an independent Indo-Parthian kingdom in territory which stretches from Arachosia and Gedrosia to northern India.

Despite various efforts, Artabanus is unable to restore these Indo-Parthians, or Pahlavas, to Parthian control. Shortly afterwards, Kujula Kadphises founds the Kushan empire in Bactria-Tokharistan and seizes a long corridor of territory which stretches to the middle Amu Darya. This has the deliberate effect of creating a barrier around Sogdiana, which is then isolated for almost three hundred years.

The Iron Gates of the Baba-tag Mountains in Sogdiana
The Iron Gates (shown here), are part of a narrow but popular linking route between Sogdiana and Bactria in the Baba-tag Mountains (close to modern Derbent) (click or tap on image to view full sized)


Artaxes III of Armenia dies without having produced an heir. Artabanus moves to install his eldest son, Arsaces, on the throne. However, fearing that Artabanus is becoming too powerful, the nobility negotiates with Rome for someone they can see as being a more suitable candidate. Emperor Tiberius sends Phraates to Armenia. He is one of the four sons of the late Phraates IV of Parthia but he has the misfortune to die en route, in Syria.


Yet again the Parthian nobility rebels against its king, despite his various successful efforts to reunite the empire. They again ask Rome to send them a descendant of Phraates IV (via one of his sons who had been held as a hostage). Emperor Tiberius sends Tiridates III along with Lucius Vitellius, the latter to reassert Roman authority in the empire. Artabanus is deserted by his supporters and flees.

35 - 36

Tiridates III

Pro-Roman. Ruled briefly. Lost support and fled.


Artabanus returns with an army of Dahan auxiliaries which he has raised in Hyrcania (the Dahae being involved in the origins of the Parthians themselves). Tiridates' own support 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. He also agrees to restore the status quo with Rome and stay out of Armenia.

Roman Gardens
A full sized view of the long-lost mosaics from General Lucullus' gardens in Rome (which were discovered by archaeologists in 2007), with him also being one of the conquerors of Armenia

c.36 - 38

Artabanus III (II)


36 - 42

Only briefly back on the throne, Artabanus has to cope with a seven year-long rebellion in Seleucia, former capital of the Seleucids. Still one of the most important cities in the region, its rebellion may be due to several reasons rather than one, such as tensions between its Greek aristocracy and the more recently-introduced Parthian one.

At the same time, Artabanus has to contend with a rival who enjoys the support of the Parthian nobility, Cinnamus, one of his own foster sons. Eventually the ruler of Adiabene, Izates II, into whose kingdom Artabanus withdraws, manages to reconcile the two rivals.

c.39 - 45

Vardanes I

Son. Murdered.

c.43 - 51

Gotarzes II

Brother, rival, and eventual successor. Died.

c.48 - 49

The fickle Parthian nobility quickly find themselves dissatisfied with Gotarzes. They request the return of a rival, Meherdates, son of Vonones, who is living in Rome. In AD 49, however, Gotarzes manages to win a decisive victory in Kurdistan over his new rival. The joys of victory are short-lived for Gotarzes, since he dies in AD 51.

Parthian Archers
These Parthian mounted archers at Carrhae in 53 BC were better armed than their Persian empire forebears, with arrows which could now pierce Roman armour whereas the Persians had no such luck against Greek armour

c.48 - 49


Son of Vonones. Rival to Gotarzes. Defeated.


Vonones II

Brother of Artabanus III. Died on the throne.


It is unclear whether Vonones returns from exile in Armenia to take the reigns of power now that Gotarzes is dead or if this is a fresh Vonones. Either is possible. Certainly his son, Vologeses, is on the throne within the year. Vologeses II is brother to two other eventual kings - Pacorus of Media and Tiridates II of Armenia, the latter of which sees this subsidiary branch of the Arsacids take over there to form their own distinctive dynasty by AD 62. Vologeses is also the father of the Tiridates I who becomes king of Armenia in AD 51.

c.51 - 77

Vologeses I

Son. Died by AD 80, possibly earlier.

c.55 - 58

Vardanes II

Son. Rebelled, probably at Ecbatana, and defeated.

56 - 62

Tiridates, a Parthian prince, has been placed on the throne of Armenia without Rome's agreement, and Rome and Parthia go to war. Rome enjoys some initial success and manages to impose its own vassal ruler in the form of Tigranes V, while placing other vassals in command of Armenia Sophene and Lesser Armenia.

However, in the winter of AD 62 Vologases I manages to surround a Roman army near Rhandeia (on the Arsanias, a tributary of the Euphrates) and forces it to capitulate.

With Armenia now all but a Parthian territory, Rome is forced to accept an Arsacid ruler in the form of Tiridates II. He travels to Rome in AD 66 to receive the crown in person from Emperor Nero. However, Rome ensures it has its portion of the spoils by annexing Armenia Sophene and Little, or Lesser Armenia.

Ruins at Satala
These ruins at Satala were occupied by the first century AD, and probably earlier. They formed part of Lesser Armenia when it was annexed by Rome around AD 60


Sanabares, satrap of Margiana, has been in a state of rebellion against central authority since about AD 50. With the throne witnessing a constant succession of incumbents, anyone who is a member of the Arsacid family may mount their own claim if they have enough backing.

At his satrapal capital of Merv, Sanabares mints his own coins, with these coins being the only clear indication of his rebellion in terms of historical sources. It takes until AD 65 before the latest Parthian king in the west, Vologeses I, can restore central authority in Margiana, at least to an extent.

Parthian events now become difficult to reconstruct. Various pretenders to the throne, Pacorus II, Vologeses II, and Osroes must hold sway over fairly large territories within the empire, although which is unknown. Some scholars have given Vologeses II an unlikely long reign, between circa AD 77-146. In view of the near-impossibility of this, Le Rider and E J Keall have classified the latter part of this reign, the segment between 111-146 as that of Vologeses III.


Axidares, son of soon-to-be Pacorus II, is placed on the throne of Armenia by his uncle, the equally soon-to-be Osroes I, who himself is probably already on the way towards becoming a competitor for the main prize, the Parthian throne. Axidares' brother, Parthamasiris, succeeds him, also with support from Osroes. However, this interference in what Rome sees as its own sphere of influence cannot be tolerated for long.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of Europe and the British Isles (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike International)

c.77 - 78

Vologeses II

Brother? Pretender who held parts of the empire.

77 - 80

Pacorus II

Son of Vonones II. Pretender who held parts of the empire.

79 - 80

Artabanus IV (III)

Briefly accepted, but then a weak pretender until AD 90.

80 - 115

Pacorus II

Former pretender. Accepted as king, albeit disputed.

89 - 90

Vologeses II

Now in opposition to Pacorus.

89 - 90

Osroes I

Brother of Pacorus. Pretender. In cooperation with Pacorus?


The Kushans capture the former Bactrian-controlled province of Arachosia from the Indo-Parthians and expand their borders right up to the edge of the Parthian empire. With pretenders to the throne regularly basing themselves in eastern Parthia, Pacorus is unable to do anything about it.

c.106 - 108

Vologeses II

Briefly supreme before being opposed by Osroes.

108 - 116

Osroes I

Mainly accepted as king, but opposed frequently. Deposed.

111 - 127

Vologeses III

Eastern rival in opposition to Osroes. Vologases I of Armenia.

114 - 117

Seemingly out of the blue, after decades of peace, the Romans under Trajan march into Armenia and kill Parthia's king there, Parthamasiris, son of Pacorus II. The underlying reason, of course, is Parthia's interference in Armenia. Then they go on to occupy Mesopotamia right up to the former Elamite capital at Susa (now the Parthian capital). It is one Vologeses, who rules eastern portions of Parthia in opposition to Osroes, who is placed upon the Armenian throne.

Emperor Trajan and the Dacians
Trajan launched a series of wars to expand the Roman empire and conquer troublesome areas and enemies - the defeated Dacians are shown here - but many of these were unnecessary, and supplied short-term gains which were soon lost or handed back

Parthian internal conflicts come to an end in the face of this much more serious threat. Osroes is certainly leading the Parthian empire at this time, confirming his status (however brief) as accepted king. He is temporarily deposed by Trajan and replaced by his son, Parthamaspates. In Mesopotamia, Mithradates IV and his son, Sanatruces, take up the fight prior to being defeated. The conquests are given up following the Roman emperor's death.

113 - 114

Pacorus II

Returned as a rival in the face of Rome's advance.

116 - 117


Son of Osroes I. King under Roman control. Gained Osroene.

117 - 127

Osroes I

Defeated his son and restored himself. Defeated.

c.121 - 127

Despite easily regaining his throne from Parthamaspates, Osroes may have been permanently weakened. His coin production drops in this period while that of Vologeses III increases. With the final fall of Osroes, his brother Mithradates IV takes up the struggle against Vologeses.

127 - 146

Vologeses III

Former pretender and now seemingly accepted as king.

c.130 - 147

Mithradates IV

Brother of Osroes. Pretender. Generally unsuccessful.

134 - 136

The Alani are again showing their warlike demeanour by attacking Albania, Media, and Armenia. They penetrate as far as Cappadocia. The only way Vologeses III is able to persuade them to withdraw is probably by paying them. Within four years he also has to face an unnamed rebel in Iran, probably in the east which is becoming a rebel stronghold.

147 - 190/3

Vologeses IV / Volgash?

Son. Reign obscure but empire reunified.

161/2 - 166

Another conflict begins between the Parthian empire and Rome, with Armenia again playing a central role in events. Vologeses IV of Parthia attacks the Roman defences and secures control of Armenia. Sohemo is replaced on the Armenian throne by Pakoros, but Rome soon recovers and regains its losses. Sohemo is restored and the Parthian empire is invaded. Vologeses is forced to cede western Mesopotamia in return for renewed peace.

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region but also in securing territory along the dividing line with the Parthian empire


Osroes II

Briefly rebelled, hoping to succeed. Put down by Vologeses V.

190/3 - 206/9

Vologeses V

Son of Vologeses IV. Formerly Vologases II of Armenia.

195 - 199

Septimus Severus gains the upper hand in Rome's struggle for power and begins a new war against the Parthians. Although Seleucia and Ctesiphon again fall to the Romans, and Hatra is besieged, a shortage of food and supplies forces Septimus Severus and his army to withdraw. Even so, the Romans have managed this time to secure their frontier against Parthia by creating two new provinces, Osrhoene and Mesopotamia.

207/9 - 221

Vologeses VI

Son. Forced to rule a rival Parthian kingdom from c.216.

c.213 - 216

After perhaps five-or-so years of relative peace Vologeses has to fight his younger brother, Artabanus in yet another royal rebellion. In AD 216, Rome's Emperor Caracalla asks Artabanus for the hand of his daughter in marriage, in itself clear evidence of the fact that the latter is then regarded as being the ruling monarch, even though the coinage of Vologeses continues to appear in Seleucia until at least 221/2.

It would seem that Vologeses is ousted from the heartland of Parthian territory by his brother, but is still strong enough to secure a rival kingdom at Seleucia.

Parthian wall mural
This wall mural depicts a scene from the Biblical Book of Esther at the Dura-Europos synagogue which by this time was under Parthian control, with the mural being dated to AD 245

The fractured Parthian empire is breaking down now. With the claim to rule it already dividing the empire in two on official lines, other minor kingdoms have already started emerging or will soon do so. For the moment they probably acknowledge Parthian overlordship in name, but essentially they are probably all but independent states in their own right. At least three are known - Carmania (ruled by a certain Balash), Margiana (ruled by one Ardashir) and Persis (ruled by one Papak of the Sassanids).

c.213 - 224

Artabanus V (IV)

Brother and rival for the throne. Ruling king from c.216. Killed.

216 - 217

Artabanus refuses Caracalla's request, giving Rome the excuse it needs for another war. Although they succeeded in advancing as far as Arbela, the capital of Adiabene, no decisive victory over the Parthians is apparently achieved.

In April 217 the Parthians mount a fairly big offensive to avenge Caracalla's action, demanding from his successor, Macrinus, the withdrawal of Romans from Mesopotamia and restitution for the damage they have caused. Macrinus is neither able nor willing to agree to these demands, so the war continues and the Romans are defeated at Nisibis, as suggested by the terms of the peace treaty: Rome pays the Parthian king and the nobility a total of fifty million dinars in cash and gifts at the beginning of AD 218.

Battle of Nisibis
The Battle of Nisibis was the final throw of the dice in the intermittent Roman-Parthian Wars, and victory most likely went to the Parthians although they were to fall themselves just seven years later


Artabanus has left it too late to confront Sassanid expansion within the Parthian empire. The Battle of Hormozdgān costs Artabanus his life and, with Vologeses already gone, the Sassanids are now the most powerful faction in Iran. As an Arsacid of a cadet branch, King Tiridates IV of Armenia attempts to place his own claim on the empire's lands, but again it is too late.

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