The Parthian Empire

After the collapse of the Persian Empire and the fall of the Seleucid Empire, the Parthian Empire (also called the Arsacid Empire) began in 170 BC and continued on until around 226 AD. Parthia was an early Persian empire , situated in what is now known as northeastern Iran. When Parthia was at the height of its power, it ruled the region and everything else found between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea.

Situated in the ancient Near East, the Parthian Empire became a major Iranian political and cultural powerhouse. It came into existence in the mid-3rd century BC after Arsaces I of Parthia conquered the Parthia region. At the time, he was the leader of the Parni tribe. While his ascent to power is well documented, his personal information has remained largely a mystery, including the details of his birth and death.

The Parthian Empire quickly grew in power and influence, as its location allowed it to successfully become a center for trade and commerce. The empire was located on the Silk Road trade route between the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty in China.

The art, architecture, religious beliefs, and other details of the Parthians blended some of the cultural aspects of the Persians, Hellenistic, and regional cultures. Half of the existence of the Parthians was spent adopting characteristics of the Greek culture. Gradually, a revival of Iranian traditions emerged, but the Parthians were pretty tolerant of other cultures.

The Arsacid rulers referred to themselves as the ‘King of Kings’ because they claimed to be heirs to the Achaemenid Empire. They accepted many local kings as vassals instead of centrally appointed people as the Achaemenids may have done. The concept of satraps (provinces governed by satrapies) also started to fade during this time,

The Parthians found early enemies in the Seleucids from the west and the Scythians in the east. When Parthia expanded into the west, they also feuded with the Kingdom of Armenia, which eventually brought trouble from the late Roman Republic. In a race to make kings of Armenia under their rule, Rome and Parthia set their sights on competing against one another to spread their power. At the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, the Parthians defeated Marcus Licinius Crassus. In 40 to 39 BC, Parthian forces took all of the Levant. However, when Mark Antony led a counterattack against Parthia and several Roman emperors invaded Mesopotamia , the Roman-Parthian Wars were in full effect.

The Romans went on to capture the cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon on more than one occasion during the war. The Parthians also had to deal with civil war that broke out, which proved more detrimental than the Romans. When Ardashir I (who would become the first Sassanid king) revolted against the Arsacids, it was clear that Parthian power was fading. Ardashir killed the last ruler of the Parthians, Artabanus IV in 224 AD, which allowed him to build his Sassanid Empire.