The capital of Nisaya was Nisa city located in today's Turkmenistan. When Nisaya became Parthava, Nisa city was known as Parthau-nisa. The interchange of the names Nisaya and Parthava is also noted in Isidorus Characenus' (Isidore of Charax) Parthian Stations isi. There he states, "Beyond is Parthyena, 25 schoeni (parsangs)(25 schoeni is about 200 km); within which is a valley, and the city of Parthaunisa after 6 schoeni; there are royal tombs. But the Greeks call it Nisaea."
While Parthaunisa was a major city, if not the principle commercial centre of northern Parthava, there is some suggestion in the literature that it might have been the capital, or one of the capitals, of Parthava (Parthia), and was used in this capacity by the founder of the Parthian empire, Arshak (Arsaces) I (reign c 247-211 BCE). Isidorus notes that in Parthaunisa "there are royal tombs" meaning that it was a royal necropolis.
To add confusion to the use of names, Parthaunisa is also known in literature as Mithradatkirt / Mithradatkerd. Some authors speculate that the name implies that the fortress was constructed by Parthav king Mithridates I (reign c 171-138 BCE) but other than the names being homonyms, there is no evidence to support this conclusion.
Ruins found near modern-day Bagir village, 18 km southwest of present-day Ashgabat the capital of Turkmenistan, have been identified by archaeologists as fortified Nisa. The ruins include impressive buildings and fortifications, mausoleums and shrines, and a treasury robbed of its contents. The artefacts found include inscribed documents, art and ivory drinking cups with their outer rims decorated with ancient Iranian classical mythological scenes and themes. The ruins were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007.
Achaeologists have determined that Nisa / Parthaunisa / Mithradatkirt was destroyed by an earthquake in the first decade BCE, at which time the Parthavi (Parthian) capital could very well have been moved to the south slopes of the Kopet Dag - slopes that flow on to the Iranian plateau.
According to John H. Hansman in Encyclopaedia Iranica, in 330 BCE Alexander pursued the last Achaemenid king Darius III through the Caspian Gates, which were described by Arrian (Anabasis 3.20) as being one day's march to the east for a traveler of Alexander's speed, from Rhagae (modern Shahr-e Ray a southern suburb of Tehran).
Partly on this evidence the Caspian Gates have been equated by Jackson and other writers with Tang-e Sar-e Darra, 82 km or 51 miles east of Ray on the Khorasan road (Jackson, pp. 127-37) between Rhagae and Hecatompylos. Tang mean narrow or tight in Persian, and is used for 'pass' 'canyon' gorge' and 'strait'. Tang-e Sar-e Darra sounds like 'Pass of Dara's (Darius') Head'. Today, it would be the pass between Eyvanakey and Aradan on the Tehran-Mashhad road that skirts the foothills of the Elburz mountains.
According to John H. Hansman, "Pliny describes the Caspian Gates (Caspias portas) as a mountainous pass that forms in part a narrow passage, the rocky sides of which appear to have been exposed to fire. Salt water issues from the rock and collects in a stream (Pliny, Natural History 6.14-15). This description is appropriate for a western segment of Tang-e Sar-e Darra where the barren and eroded rock and clay sides are variously coloured dull brown and ochre and where salt leaches from the ground to pollute a small, seasonal stream (Jackson, pp. 132-34; Curzon, Persian Question I, p. 293).
"Pliny states that upon leaving the Gates one comes at once to the realm of the Caspian (Caspiis) tribes (q.v.), and it was through this connection that the pass derived its name. Pliny adds that the Caspian Sea (Caspium mare) to the north of the Caspian Gates is also named for the Caspian people who inhabited part of its shores (Pliny, 6.17). On the other hand, he complains that some contemporary writers wrongly give the name Caspian Gates to the Gates of the Caucasus in Hiberia (Georgia; Pliny, 6.15).
"The orientation of the Caspian Gates is further confirmed by Strabo str (2.12.4), who states that they extended toward the east bordering on Aria (eastern Afghanistan). Eustathnis (p. 393) calls the Gates 'the keys to the earth of Asia,' a description that reflects the importance of the trade route to central Asia, which traversed the pass."
Strabo also states in 11.7.2: "But Hyrcania is exceedingly fertile, extensive, and in general level; it is distinguished by notable cities, among which are Talabroce, Samariane, Carta, and the royal residence Tape, which, they say, is situated slightly above the sea and at a distance of one thousand four hundred stadia from the Caspian Gates (some 230 km)."
In addition to the better know version of the 'gate' above (which is nowhere near the Caspian), there are several other versions of the Caspian Gate: one a physical wall with a possible gate located on the Caspian shores, and the other, a fanciful pass or fort in the Caucuses which misidentification Pliny complains about.
Alexander's route would have taken him through where a wall called the Great Wall of Gorgan is located. However, the wall may not have existed in Alexander's time - though we do not know if there was some kind of predecessor barrier in the same location. We will describe the Great Wall of Gorgan below.
|Arid landscape along the Tehran-Mashhad road in Semnan Province, Iran.|
Image credit: Alireza Javaheri
Hecatompylos / Hecatompylus means Hundred-Gated, from the many roads which met there. Greek author Polybius ref 4 (c.200-c.118 BCE) writes in World History, 10.28.7: "The king having traversed the desert came to the city called Hecatompylus, which lies in the centre of Parthia. This city derives its name from the fact that it is the meeting-place of all the roads leading to the surrounding districts."
Strabo str and other Greek writers note that at the time of their writing, it was Parthia's capital city. (Note: Parthava had several capitals. We do not have an Old Persian or Parthian name for Hecatompylos / Hecatompylus.) The city may not have literally had a hundred gates. Rather the name was generically used for a city with more than the usual four gates. Nevertheless, the name is still noteworthy. As with all the Iranian-Aryan nations, the Aryan trade roads (Silk Roads) passed through the Parthava / Parthia, and Hecatompylos must have been a particularly note-worthy trading centre.
|Ruins at Shahr-e Qumis or Sahr-i Qumis|
Thought to be Hecatompylos.
Image credit: Maya Vision
A site commonly identified as the location of Hecatompylos is Shahr-e Qumis or Sahr-i Qumis, a village in the modern Iranian province of Semnan. Shahr-e Qumis lies on the Tehran-Mashhad road in the province of Semnan close to the town of Qosheh. Qosheh lies between Semnan city and Damghan town. French Wikipedia notes that to access Shahr-e Qumis, the traveller passes through Qosheh and leaves the main road traveling east. After five kilometres passing through a cultivated area, the traveller arrives at a desert area with mounds and the ruins of brick buildings. The site is large and about 28 square kilometres in size. On the satellite photos, one can see the rows of kereez (ganat) access holes. The writer further states that, "at its peak, the city must have a population of tens of thousands."
While the Shahr-e Qumis site may indeed be that of a significant town in the past, we are not convinced that the Shahr-e Qumis ruins are those of Hecatompylus, a capital of Parthia, a city form which trade roads radiated in all directions. If Rhagae is approximately where Tehran is today, and if the Caspian Gates lay between Rhagae and the Parthian capital Hecatompylos, then according to Strabo's str measurement, the distance between Ragha and Hecatompylus should be about 330 km. This would place Strabo's Hecatompylos somewhere between Damghan and Imamshahr on the road to Khorasan (Mashhad) from Tehran, some 70 km further east than Qumis and closer to the Parthian heartland. However, if the Caspian Gates are in the southeast corner of the Caspian, then the possible location of Hecatompylus takes in right into the Parthian heartland - on the river Atrek or Gorgan. Here, roads radiating in all the directions of the compass make sense. George Rawlinson places the city close to the border of Varkana and Parthava in the vicinity of today's Imamshahr.
The descriptive name Hecatompylus comes from the numerous gates in the walls of the city. The only reason to have a large number of gates is if they led to different roads with heavy traffic. It is difficult to imagine roads radiating in every direction from the Shahr-e Qumis site. Most would lead to desert or mountain slopes. The description better fits cities like Imamshahr (and even Nishapur), centres historically known as trading centres and hubs. We do find a number of inconsistencies in the conclusions of several writers and their information must be carefully considered.
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