Revolt Against Darius
We find the name Parthava mentioned for the first time on the inscriptions of Achaemenian King Darius the Great (522-486 BCE) at Naqsh-e-Rustam and Behistun. The inscriptions at Behistun record that when Darius seized power from Gaumata the usurper, several kingdoms of the Aryan federation who were at that time part of the the Persian empire, rebelled against him. Perhaps they did not accept his claim to the throne or sensed an opportunity to assert themselves. Darius successfully put down all the rebellions.
One of the nations that rebelled against Darius' assumption as emperor of the Persian empire was Parthava.
Suppression of the Rebellion by Darius
Darius suppressed all the rebellions against him and went on the expand the Persian empire making it the largest empire the world had ever known (Meyer, p. 85). He has left us with a record of the rebellions and his suppression in the inscriptions at Behistun, part of which reads:
Column 2, Lines 92-8:
"Says Darius the King: Parthava and Varkana* revolted against me, declaring themselves on the side of Fravartaish (Fravarta, Phraortes). My father Vishtasp (Hystaspes) who was in Parthava, was forsaken by the people who became rebellious. Thereupon Vishtasp advanced with an army that had remained faithful. At a town named Vishpauzatish in Parthava he fought a battle with the Parthavaibish (Parthavi, Parthians). With Ahuramazda's blessings and by the grace of Ahuramazda, Vishtasp utterly defeated that rebel host on the second day of the month of Viyakhna (March 8, 521 BCE), the date of the battle."
[*Note: Varkana (Av. Vehrkana, Eng. Hyrcania, modern Gorgan, Iran), lies to the north and west of Parthava, downstream on the river Atrek. Parthava and Varkana are noted together indicating a close cooperation as well as physical proximity.]
Column 3, Lines 1-9:
"Says Darius the King: Then I sent a Parsa (Persian) army to Vishtasp from Raga (Rhagae). When that army reached Vishtasp, he marched forth with the host. At a city in Parthava called Patigrabana he battled with the rebels. With Ahuramazda's blessings and by the grace of Ahuramazda, Vishtasp utterly defeated that rebel host on the first day of the month of Garmapada (July 11, 521 BCE), the date of the battle."
"Says Darius the King: Then the province became mine. This is what was done by me in Parthava." (End of inscription selection.)
Thereafter, the Parthians became important and integral partners in the Persian-Aryan federation and empire.
Revolt Against Macedonian Domination
|Map of Ancient Parthava (Parthia) & Modern Khorasan, Iran.|
Base map credit: Microsoft Encarta
Alexander of Macedonia conquered Persia and its empire in 336-330 BCE. On his death in 323 BCE, the empire he inherited from the Persians was fought over by his generals, until 312/311, when one of the generals Seleucus took control of the main parts of the slowly disintegrating Macedonia empire and established a dynasty called the Seleucid dynasty.
During the reigns of Seleucus (312-280 BCE) and his son Antiochus I, Soter, (280-261 BCE), Persians and Parni-Parthians began to assert a measure of independence. Local Parsa (Persian) rulers began to strike their own coins from 280 BCE - the earliest coins discovered so far. At the same time, in the region stretching from the Caspian Sea to Balkh (Bactria), the Parthava / Parthians started an insurrection against the Macedonians, slowly displacing them.
By 246 BCE, the Bactrians and Parthians had launched, and were successful in, a full scale revolution against the Seleucids who lost control of Bactria and Parthia. Arshak (known to the Greeks as Arsaces), a Parthava chieftain asserted his kingship over Parthava and the liberated its lands in 247 (Justinus jus (41.4) notes, "One Arsaces, a man of uncertain origin, but of undisputed bravery... ."). Arshak went on to establish his royal house which became the Arshaki (Arsacid) dynasty of Parthians. Thereafter: "Such also is the custom among the Parthians; for all have the name Arsacę" [Strabo str 15.1.36].
We find the name Arshak (Gk. Arsaces) is an Iranian-Aryan elsewhere in Persian history. During the Persian Achaemenian (c 675-330 BCE) domination of the Iranian-Aryan federation, we learn from Athenian Aeschylus' (524/525-455/456 BCE) play Persians 996, that among the Persian commanders who were killed when Achaemenian king Xerxes attacked Greece in 480 BCE, was a cavalry leader 'on a mail-clad horse' called Arsaces. Not only do we find the name Arsaces used in a Persian context, but also as a "cavalry leader 'on a mail-clad horse'," a feature that defined the later Parthian army. The fact that Aeschylus lived between 524 and 455 BCE, a contemporary of the Achaemenians, is significant since that was two hundred years before the Parthian leader Arsaces was born or known to history. Several writers incorrectly ascribe the innovation of mail-clad horses and indeed the concept of a cataphract (a cavalry horseman riding a mail-clad horse into battle), as being a Parthian innovations introduced after the Parthians came to power.
Arshak eventually defeated and expelled the Macedonians from Iran-Shahr. During the brief domination of Iran-Shahr, the Macedonians had acheived nothing except the incalculable harm to a great civilization. We discuss Arshak's liberation of Iran-Shahr next.
|Parthian or Sassanian cataphract.|
Image credit: Various. This image from Iran Chamber
|Parthian lancer. Image credit: CIAS|
Macedonian Defeat & Parthava (Parthian) Rise to Power
Justinus jus (40.4) tells us that Arshak launched an attack on the Macedonian rulers of Parthia and "overthrew Andragoras, Seleucus II's lieutenant, and, after putting him to death, took upon himself the government of the country. Not long after, too, he (Arshak / Arsaces) made himself master of Hyrcania (Varkana), and thus, invested with authority over two nations, raised a large army." Next, having made an alliance with the rulers of Balkh (Bactria), Arshak engaged Seleucus II who had come "to take vengeance on the revolters, (and) he obtained a victory." "The Parthians observe the day on which it was gained with great solemnity, as the date of the commencement of their liberty."
Strabo's str contemporary Isidorus Characenus (1st c. BCE - 1st c. CE) in Parthian Stations ref 2, notes that it is in the district Astauena's "city of Asaak, in which Arsaces (Arshak) was first proclaimed king, (and) an everlasting fire is guarded there." Asaak was by definition an important Zoroastrian spiritual centre. Asaak's fire temple may even be the site one of the great cathedral fire temples of Zoroastrian history made famous during the Sassanian era. Some writers believe that Astauena is today's Quchan (Kuchan) district in the upper Atrek (Attruck) river valley in North Khorasan.
Further according to Justinus (40.5), "Seleucus II being then recalled into Asia by new disturbances, and respite being thus given to Arsaces (Arshak), he settled the Parthian government, levied soldiers, built fortresses, and strengthened his towns."
In 40.5, Justinus goes on to say, "He (Arshak / Arsaces) founded a city also, called Dara, in Mount Zapaortenon, of which the situation is such, that no place can be more secure or more pleasant; for it is so encircled with steep rocks, that the strength of its position needs no defenders; and such is the fertility of the adjacent soil, that it is stored with its own produce. Such too is the plenty of springs and wood, that it is amply supplied with streams of water, and abounds with all the pleasures of the chace (?)."
Further identifying Dara, Pliny* in vi. 18/16
states, "Lying to the east of the Caspii is the region known as Apavortene (also Apavareticene / Apavarktikene), in which there is a place noted for its singular fertility, called Dareium."
* Pliny the Elder, The Natural History
High fortresses or citadels are now called kelat (qalat) and kala. There are today ruins of a kalats on the Iranian side of the Kopet Dag. Dara has been variously identified as: 1. The oasis of Attek east of the Achal-Tekke; 2. Near Abivard in Apavortene (also Apavareticene / Apavarktikene); 3. Kala Maran; 3. Kelat, and 5. Near Kelat-e Nadiri, all in the Mashad environs. There is also a village called Darabad some 10 km. north of the outskirts of Mashhad city in Khorasan.
Around 238 BCE, Seleucus II began a counter-offensive against the Parthians that he couldn't sustain. At first Arshak (Arsaces) retreated to the Aspasiacae (Strabo str xi. 513; Polybius ref 4 x. 48) where he regrouped and then returned to take back Parthia.
According to Marcus Justinus jus in 40.5, "Thus Arsaces, having at once acquired and established a kingdom, and having become no less memorable among the Parthians than Cyrus among the Persians, Alexander among the Macedonians, or Romulus among the Romans, died at a mature old age; and the Parthians paid this honour to his memory, that they called all their kings thenceforward by the name of Arsaces. His son and successor on the throne, whose name was also Arsaces, fought with the greatest bravery against Antiochus, the son of Seleucus, who was at the head of a hundred thousand foot and twenty thousand horse, and was at last taken into alliance with him."
Liberation of Iran-Shahr
After some ebb and flow in control of lands between the Parthava and Seleucids, Mithradata I (c.171-138), known to the Greeks as Mithridates I Philhellene, marched westward at the head of an Aryan army and began the process of liberating all Iranian lands. In 144, he took Babylon. In 141 and 139 he took control of Mada (Media) and Parsa (Persia). During the reign of his namesake, Mithradata II, the Parthians had liberated all the Vendidad nations and later additions to the Aryan federation as well - from Hind (the Indus river lands of India) in the southeast, to the lands of the Amu Darya (Oxus) river, to the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates river lands in the west.
The name Parthav would gradually evolve to Pahlav. Today pahlavan means a strongman. In legend the pahlavans were the men who came to the aid of the Iranian nation and the emperor, the king-of-kings of the Aryan federation of kingdoms, especially when attacked by foreign forces. They were the heroes in the legends and the Parthians rose to the call by liberating the Aryan empire.
Pahlavans - Strong Men of Iran & Gymnasiums, Zurkhanes
|Toosi (?) posing with meels - wooden clubs.|
Image credit: Unknown
|Pahlavans training with the meel, wooden clubs, in a Zurkhane.|
Image credit: www.itto.org
Parthava (Parthia) is home of the pahlavans (the strong men and heroes) of Iran, the ones who in the tradition of Rostam were protectors and saviours of the Iranian lands. Today, pahlavans train with their maces and clubs in Mithraeum-like gymnasiums called zurkhanes meaning house of strength. During their meditative exercises that have spiritual overtones, a musician plays a drum while reciting Shahnameh verses that recount the heroic deeds of Rustam and other champions of Iran. The epic itself sits in a place of special reverence within the zurkhane.
Even today, wrestlers from all over Iran congregated annually in the Northern Khorasani city of Esfarayen for a wrestling tournament called Bachokheh. While wrestling, koshti-giri in Persian, (koshtan means to smite) in general may or may not involve pahlavans (becoming a pahlavan is like becoming part of an order based on a heritage and ethical order), the concept in both is hand-to-hand combat training for use in defence when needed. The city of Esfarayen has the local reputation of being the Aryan city of Khorasan (as opposed to a Turkic city), presumably since Khorasan / Parthava has been multi-ethnic with the different ethnic groups predominating in certain cities, and since Iranian-Aryans were are predominant in Esfarayen.
Governance & Democracy
Marcus Junianus Justinus (3rd c. CE) in his Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus 41.2 writes, "The government of the nation, after their revolt from the Macedonian power, was in the hands of kings. Next to the royal authority is the order of the people, from which they take generals in war and magistrates in peace."
Strabo makes an almost by-the-way remark regarding the method by which the Parthians chose their king. In 11.9.3 he states: "I shall omit discussion of that subject here, lest I may seem to be repeating what I have already said, though I shall mention this alone, that the Council of the Parthians, according to Poseidonius, consists of two groups, one that of kinsmen,* and the other that of wise men and Magi, from both of which groups the kings were appointed."
*According to Forbiger (Vol. III, p. 39, note 7), it appears that the kings were chosen from the first group by the members of the second. Justinus calls the supreme council a Seriate.
It seems that while family, presumably of a certain level of kinship, were part of a supreme council, it is from among their group that one was elected as king, with Zoroastrian priests playing a role. We read that while sons of kings could inherit the throne, their confirmation and office were subject to the approval and confidence of the Seriate. In this manner, Mithradata (Mithridates), after his war with Armenia, was banished from his kingdom for his cruelty by the Parthian Seriate. Similarly, Frahata (Phraates) IV was driven into exile by his subjects. He took refuge amongst the Saka who restored him to the throne. (The Saka here seemed to be played the same role as the champions of the king-of-kings as played by legendary Rustom). This introduces a democratic element in the selection of the king as well as their generals and magistrates.
We see in this system of governance a basic level of democracy, with the people the final authority. Although some kings managed to subvert the will of the people, it is nevertheless an interesting exercise in the development of governance principles.
Kar. The Kārnāmak-i Ardeshir-i Pāpakān / Kārnāmag-ī Ardashīr-ī Babagān, Book of the Deeds of Ardashir son of Babak / Babag. The extanct Karnamak has descended from a copy made by Rustakhm-i Mihraban. It also contains first reference to chess in literature.:
- at CAIS and at Iran Chamber, as translated in The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VII: Ancient Persia, pp. 225-253. Charles F. Horne, ed.
- at Avesta.org translated by Darab Dastur Peshotan Sanjana, B.A., 1896.
- transliterated text at Titus
Jus. Marcus Justinus (3rd cent. CE) in Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, translated by the Rev. John Selby Watson (London, 1853).
Isi. Parthian Stations (Mansiones Parthicae) was written sometime between 29 and 1 BCE. It lists all the supply stations, that is caravanserais maintained by the Parthavi (Parthian) Government for the convenience of merchants travelling along the caravan trail from Antioch, today a Mediterranean port in the southwest corner of Turkey, to the borders of India. With liberation from Macedonian rule, the Iranian-Aryans once again asserted control and facilitated trade along the Silk Roads.
Str. Strabo (ca. 63/64 BCE - 24 CE) Geography, translated by H. C. Hamilton, Esq. and W. Falconer, M.A.
Pol. Polybius (c 200-118 BCE) The Histories, was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period whose book covered history of the period of 220-146 BCE
Additional reading: » The Seven Great Monarchies, Vol. 6, Parthia by George Rawlinson