Category: Parthia


AS a superpower in its own right and in competition with Rome, Parthia’s empire – ruling from 247 BCE to 224 CE – stretched between the Mediterranean in the west to India in the east. Not only did the Parthians win battles against Rome they were also successful commercial competitors. On the military front, as part of their original expansion, Parthia’s victories against the Seleucid Empire would include the defeat of Antiochus VII by Phraates II at the Battle of Ecbatana in 129 BCE and the expansion and consolidation of their empire through the military campaigns of Mithridates I (r. 171-132 BCE) and Mithridates II (r. 124-88 BCE), but perhaps their greatest victories were against Rome.

While in control of the eastern trade routes by way of the Red Sea and overland routes through Arabia, Rome wanted to expand its interests to include the lucrative Silk Road through Mesopotamia. There was only one problem; Parthia was in the way. Mesopotamia was theirs, and Parthia would prove capable in defending its interests. After Crassus’ defeat at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE and Mark Antony’s retreat from Media in 36 BCE, a peace agreement was reached with Rome in 20 BCE. With peace obtained and its silk routes protected, Parthia could now go on to successfully compete with Rome through trade.

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THE Roman-Parthian War of 58-63 CE was sparked off when the Parthian Empire’s ruler imposed his own brother as the new king of Armenia, considered by Rome to be a quasi-neutral buffer state between the two empires. When Parthia went a step further and declared Armenia a vassal state in 58 CE all-out war broke out. The on-off war, in which the Roman commander Corbulo excelled, would only be settled in 63 CE with the Treaty of Rhandia which shared the responsibility of ruling Armenia between the two powers.

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THE Arsacid (Arshakuni) dynasty of Armenia ruled that kingdom from 12 CE to 428 CE. A branch of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia, the Armenian princes also played out a prolonged balancing act by remaining friendly to the other great power of the period and region: Rome. As so often before, Armenia continued to be a hotly disputed territory between Persia and Rome with both sides intervening directly into affairs of state and occasionally sending their armies to back their claims. 

The period saw great social changes in Armenia, too; notably the official adoption of Christianity in the early 4th century CE and the invention of the Armenian alphabet. The dynasty, as well as the 1000-year-old monarchic system of Armenia, ended with the installation of Persian viceroys in a system which would last until the Arab invasions of the 7th century CE.

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