Spectacular tomb of Sarmatian Warrior Woman Discovered in Russia

The article “Spectacular tomb of Sarmatian Warrior woman found in Russia” written by Mihai Andrei was posted in the ZME Science venue on August 18th, 2015. Kindly note that the article fails to mention the Iranian connection of the Amazons as well as the Scythians and Sarmatians/Alans. For the Iranian Iranian identity of the Scythians, Sarmatians and Alans readers are referred to the following sources:

The Amazons were essentially of Iranian stock as these were of the above noted Iranian peoples. Readers are referred to the following sources on the Amazons:

There are also archaeological reports pertaining to excavations of Amazon warrior women in Iran – see for example:

Kindly note that Mihai Andrei’s article has been slightly edited below – also: the images and accompanying captions inserted below do not appear in the original ZME Science posting.

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Russian archaeologists have unearthed a trove of remarkable significance: the tomb of a Sarmatian noble woman warrior who worshiped fire. The female fighter was a Sarmatian, a people who worshipped fire and whose prominent role in warfare was seen as an inspiration for the Amazons of Greek mythology. A gem with a single-line Phoenician or early Aramaic inscription was found buried with her, placed on her chest. At her feet there were fragments of a bronze bucket with floral ornaments (pictured) and the image of the Gorgon’s head on a stick. In the north-eastern part of the grave were located four ceramic vessels.

The tomb was found with more than 100 arrowheads, a horse harness, a collection of knives and a sword, which all attest she was a warrior. Alongside, they also found a gem with inscription in Aramaic, as well as both gold and silver jewelry, which indicate a high status.

Sarmatian female warrior (Source: Imgur). Her attire and equipment are virtually identical with fellow Iranian peoples of the period.

The Sarmatians were nomadic people who flourished from about the 5th century BCE to the 4th century CE in parts of today’s Iran and Russia, and at one point, up to Ukraine and Moldova. The Sarmatians differed from the Scythians in their veneration of the god of fire rather than god of nature, and women’s prominent role in warfare, which possibly served as the inspiration for the Amazons.

However, unlike the mythological Amazons, the real life Sarmatian Amazons had nothing against men – they fought side by side men and often got married, as is the case here. The woman was buried with someone else, likely her husband, but his tomb was looted, revealed experts from the Institute of Archaeology, of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Around them, 29 other burial mounds were discovered during the construction of a new airport serving Rostov-on-Don.

A reconstruction of a female Achaemenid cavalry unit by Shapur Suren-Pahlav.

Unfortunately, most of them were already pillaged. Archaeologist Roman Mimokhod said:

“Most of the burials on this site are plundered and, of course, it is great luck to find an intact one. It is interesting that there are two burials in this mound. One obviously belonged to man and was totally looted. We believe that it was a double burial of some noble Sarmatian and his wife.”

According to initial analysis of the Sarmatian female warrior’s teeth, she lived to a very respectable age, which certainly meant surviving some harsh battles. The results of more detailed analysis will be announced soon. Archaeologists added:

‘The depth of the tomb is [13 feet] four metres and it was covered with a wooden decking. At the edge of the grave pit were found the remains of a harness and more than 100 iron arrowheads. According to ancient historians, Sarmatian women participated in hostilities and this find of arrowheads is indirect confirmation of this.’

Female Scythian horse archer (Source: Osinform). The Sarmatians who succeeded the Scythians on the steppes and the Ukraine region were similar to their cousins in Persia where Romans made references to female fighters in the Sassanian army for example. Weapons have also found to be buried in the graves of Parthian females in northern Iran – for more see:

The association of both jewelry and battle items is intriguing. This means that the woman was a warrior of high status – the wife of a warchief, or a warchief herself. Mimokhod noted:

‘The collar of her dress was decorated with stamped buckles of gold leaf in the form of a stylised ram’s head … Her sleeves were embroidered with colourful beads combined with gold triangular and hemispherical plaques.  On each hand – a gold bracelet. On her breasts were various beads, among which was a gem with a single-line Phoenician or early Aramaic inscription. At her pelvis lay a gold vial. … This had a tight lid and its contents are fossilised. We will analyse this to understand what it was, but most likely it contained some incense. By her right hand were fragments of wooden dishes and a cup. At her feet there were fragments of a bronze bucket (ladle) with floral ornaments and the image of the Gorgon’s head on a stick. In the north-eastern part of the grave were located four ceramic vessels.’

To make things even more interesting, a collection of knives and a sword was hidden inside the tomb, and all these items belonged to different times: from the first century BCE to the first century CE, they spanned for maybe 200 years. This means that the items were likely passed down from generation to generation, until they were finally buried with her. It’s a rather unique and surprising aspect which adds even more value to the discovery.

Lur woman in a local competition in Luristan province in Western Iran, partaking in a shooting contest on horseback (Source: Wisgoon.com). Many of the traditions of the Amazon warrior women continue to endure among the nomadic peoples of Iran … for more on this topic, click here

Mithradates VI Eupador

The article below by Brian McGing: Mithradates VI “Eupador” of the Pontus Kingdomwas originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica. Kindly note that the images, videos and accompanying descriptions below do not appear in the Encyclopedia Iranica original version. See also Kaveh Farrokh article: Eastern Anatolia: Heir to an Irano-Greek legacy

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Mithradates VI Eupator Dionysos (r. 120-63 BCE), last king of Pontus, the Hellenistic kingdom that emerged in northern Asia Minor in the early years of the 3rd century BCE. He is noted primarily for his opposition to Rome. Of the three wars he fought against Rome, the first (89-85 BCE), in which his armies swept through Asia Minor and Greece, eventually only meeting defeat at the hands of Sulla, identified him as Rome’s most determined foreign enemy since Hannibal. His massacre in this war of tens of thousands of Roman and Italian civilians (the ‘Asian Vespers’) helped to establish his legendary notoriety as an exotic and cruel Oriental, a formidable but ultimately unsuccessful challenger to Rome’s Mediterranean supremacy.

Mithradates’ ancestors may well have been an offshoot of the Achaemenid royal family (Bosworth and Wheatley, 1998). They were certainly Iranian nobility who took part in the Persian colonization of Asia Minor, and in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE ran a fiefdom on the shore of the Propontis (the Sea of Marmara) and western end of the south coast of the Black Sea. Shortly before 300 BCE the family became involved in intrigues at the court of Antigonos and they were forced to flee further east into Paphlagonia, where, accompanied by six knights in a manner surely meant to recall the circumstances in which Darius became king of Persia, Mithradates I Ktistes founded what came to be known as the kingdom of Pontus and the line of Pontic kings (Diod. 20.111.4). Greek-style diplomacy, including a consistent policy of intermarriage with the Seleucids, established the kingdom’s Hellenistic credentials, but there was no attempt to hide the family’s Iranian origins: indeed it was precisely the mixture of Greek and Persian background that Mithradates Eupator later publicized, when he claimed (with some justification) to be descended from Cyrus and Darius, and (less convincingly) from Alexander the Great and Seleukos (Justin, Epit. 38.8.1). Stories of his birth and early life—comets, lightning, riding a dangerous horse, retreat to the wilderness for seven years—reflect this mixed Persian and Macedonian lineage (McGing, 1986, pp. 43-46).

An interesting relief at the ruins of Arsameia, the capital of the kingdom of Commagene in 1st century BCE (Source: Klaus-Peter Simon in Public Domain). King Mithradates I Kallinikos of Commagene (100–70 BC) dressed as the Zoroastrian Magi (left) shakes hands with the Greek god Hercules.  Note that Hercules in Commagene also represented the Persian god Artagnes. Commagene like the Pontus was a small post-Achaemenid  Iranian kingdom in Anatolia situated between Parthia and Armenia to its east and the expanding Roman Empire to its west. Various versions of Mithradates’ crown continue to appear among various mystical sects of Western Iran, notably Kurdistan.

Eupator was about 13 years old when his father, Mithradates V Euergetes, was assassinated in 120 BCE. Once in sole control of his kingdom, having murdered his mother and brother (App., Mith. 112), he first turned his attention to conquest on the northern side of the Black Sea (Justin, Epit. 37.3.1, 38.7.4-5), where his grandfather Pharnakes had established diplomatic links in the first half of the 2nd century (IosPE I2 402; IG Bulg. I2 40). An opportunity for military intervention presented itself when the city of Chersonesos, under intense pressure from its barbarian neighbors, invited Mithradates to become its protector (Strabo, 7.4.3 C309). The resulting campaigns of his general Diophantos against the Scythians—recorded in a long inscription (IosPE 352)—ended with the conquest of the Crimea and annexation of the Bosporan kingdom of Paerisades (Strabo, 7.4.4 C310). This was the beginning of a highly successful policy that, by the time of his first clash with Rome, left Mithradates master of a network of subjects, allies, and friends incorporating almost the entire circuit of the Black Sea. While there were material benefits from this Euxine ‘empire’—the annual tribute from the Crimea and adjoining territories was 180,000 measures of corn and 200 talents of silver (Strabo. 7.4.6 C311)—the major significance of the Black Sea for Mithradates was military manpower. Time and again the literary sources emphasize the Euxine composition of his armies (e.g., App., Mith. 15; 69). Without this resource he could not have challenged Rome.

A 1st century CE Roman marble portrait of the Pontic king Mithradates VI as Hercules at the Louvre Museum (Ma: 2321; Source: Sting in Public Domain).

Whether he actually wanted to challenge Rome or was, rather, a compliant Hellenistic king dragged unwillingly into conflict by Bithynian and/or Roman aggression, is a matter of scholarly disagreement (e.g., McGing, 1986; Strobel, 1997). It would be difficult, however, to deny that he had some sort of imperial ambitions in Asia Minor. His first act in the area was to arrange, through his agent Gordios, the murder of his brother-in-law Ariarathes VI of Cappadocia (Justin, Epit. 38.1.1), with the purpose, presumably, of ensuring that his sister Laodice would be able to control the kingdom more easily as regent for her own young son, Ariarathes VII. His next major policy decision was the invasion and seizure of Paphlagonia (ca. 105 BCE), undertaken in cooperation with Nikomedes III of Bithynia (Justin, Epit. 37-38). At least initially, neither paid any attention to Roman demands for their withdrawal: Nikomedes placed his son on the throne, and Mithradates occupied part of Galatia. The alliance with Bithynia collapsed shortly thereafter, when Nikomedes invaded Cappadocia and married Laodike. Mithradates expelled them both, murdered his nephew Ariarathes VII, and installed his own eight-year-old son as Ariarathes IX, with Gordios as regent (Justin, Epit. 38.1). Mithradates’ diplomatic mission to Rome in about 101, just as Marius was winning great victories over the Teutones, Amrones, and Cimbri, may show him in more compliant form.

Video of the First Mithradatic War -Battles of Chaeronea (86 BC) and Orchomenus (85 BC) Mithridatic Wars (Source: Kings and Generals).

The 90s BCE, a period of chronological difficulty (de Callataÿ, 1997, pp. 186-214), are witness to firmer Roman action in Asia. In 99 or 98 Rome’s leading general Gaius Marius led an embassy to the east and issued a stern warning to Mithradates: “be stronger than the Romans or obey their commands in silence” (Plut., Mar. 31.2-3). He seems to have heeded Marius’s warning for a time. He reacted with diplomacy alone when Nikomedes, determined on causing trouble, put forward a false pretender to the Cappadocian throne. This forced a counterclaim, through Gordios, as to the legitimacy of Ariarathes IX (Justin, Epit. 38.2.5). When the Senate ordered the complete evacuation of Pontic and Bithynian forces from these lands, Mithradates complied, and had to stomach the loss of all Pontic influence in Cappadocia, when the ineffective Ariobarzanes was declared king. It was at this moment in 95 BCE that Eupator began to mint coins in earnest, with the first issues of his dated royal tetradrachms. If this was a hint of future defiance, it was soon followed by clearer recalcitrance: when Tigranes came to the throne of Armenia in the same year, Mithradates married his daughter Kleopatra to him and got him to invade Cappadocia and expel Ariobarzanes (or possibly, prevent him from taking his throne).

A late-19th century portrait of Tigranes II (The Great) by Ohan Gaidzakian (1837-1914) in the text book “Illustrated Armenia and the Armenians” (1898). Tigranes II had adopted the Achaemenid title “King of Kings” (Source: Public Domain).

The Senatorial response, in the past a mostly desultory diplomacy when it came to the intrigues of the Anatolian kings, was uncharacteristically forceful: the praetorian governor of Cilicia, C. Cornelius Sulla, was ordered to restore, or install, Ariobarzanes; and he did so at the head of an army which met opposition from Cappadocians, Armenians, Gordios, and even Mithradates’ own general, Arkhelaos (Plut., Sulla 5; App., Mith. 57; Front., Strat. 1.5.18). While this may have stopped short of direct military defiance by Mithradates, it was something very close. The message from Rome must have been clear: Mithradates could have been under no illusions that, if at a future date he attempted to use military force in Asia Minor, he would encounter Roman military opposition. So when, probably in 91, he again sent armies to annex both Bithynia and Cappadocia, no doubt taking advantage of the Social War in Italy, his ambitious aggression and readiness to defy Rome, are revealed. The Senate despatched Manius Aquillius at the head of an allied army to restore the kings, but he overstepped his orders and forced Nikomedes IV of Bithynia to invade Pontus, wishing, Appian says (Mith. 11), to stir up a war. Aquillius’s ineptitude in the negotiations that followed enabled Mithradates to present himself as the innocent victim of Roman and Bithynian aggression. In 89 BCE Aquillius got his war, but could hardly have foreseen the consequences. Mithradates crushed and scattered the allied and Roman forces facing him; he then occupied Bithynia, and his armies fanned out across Asia Minor; once master of Asia, he invaded and overran much of Greece too (Sherwin-White, 1984, pp. 121-48). These do not look like the actions of a king taken by surprise and forced reluctantly into a military struggle.

A map of the Pontic Kingdom at its greatest extent (Source: Javierfv 1212 in Public Domain).

At the beginning of this first war with Rome, Mithradates had two years to advance his cause almost unchecked, while the Senate sorted out its problems with the Italian allies. In this time the limited resistance he encountered was local, and most of it easily overcome; his only substantial rebuff was his failure to capture Rhodes (App., Mith. 24-25). However, there was more to his success than the absence of a Roman army (although that must have been a powerful incentive for waverers to take his side): he seems to have been welcomed at such places as Kos, Magnesia, Ephesus, and Mytilene; and when he ordered the famous massacre of Romans and Italians in 88, the Greeks of Asia were on the whole obligingly enthusiastic (App., Mith. 22-23). Mithradates undoubtedly exploited the widespread dislike of Rome in Asia (Kallet-Marx, 1995, pp. 138-48), but was in himself an attractive and convincing champion. On one side, his royal Persian background gave him great prestige amongst an Anatolian population heavily influenced by Iranian culture; and he was not slow to behave like his Achaemenid forbears. He gave all his sons Persian names; he kept a harem and appointed eunuchs to positions of power and responsibility; he offered sacrifices on mountaintops in the grand manner of the Persian kings at Pasargadae (App., Mith. 66, 70); he organized his empire into satrapies (App., Mith. 21-22). He also came with a leading reputation as a civilized benefactor of the Greek world (McGing, 1986, pp. 88-108). Dedications on Delos demonstrate the high regard in which he was held there and at Athens; he competed in equestrian games at Chios and Rhodes; he cultivated Greek learning, and his court, which in most respects was structured on standard Hellenistic lines and in its senior levels was manned largely by Greeks, became a center for philosophers, poets, historians, doctors; his coins depicted a new Alexander; and militarily he had already won great victories for the protection of the Black Sea Greeks. When faced with a choice between this proven winner and a very distant Rome, many of the cities of Asia Minor must have found the king of Pontus a good option. So too did many Greeks of the mainland, where, as in Asia, any opposition was fairly swiftly overcome. Astonishingly, given their consistent policy of loyalty to Rome for many generations, the Athenians went over willingly to Mithradates’ side: he was mint magistrate at Athens in 87/86 and may well have been Eponymous Archon the year before (Habicht, 1997, pp. 303-21).

A Coin of Mithradates VI (Source: Public Domain).

When Sulla landed in Greece with five legions in the summer of 87, all Mithradates’ successes proved illusory. His support rapidly deserted him, and he found himself besieged in Athens, which fell to Sulla’s forces on 1 March 86. The three main Pontic army groups then came together for the decisive battle of the war: at Chaironeia Sulla triumphed, and a little later at Orchomenos he destroyed another Pontic army dispatched from Asia. This was the end of the war in Greece. In Asia Minor Mithradates’ supporters, willing and forced, all now realized that they were backing the loser, and Pontic control began to disintegrate. Mithradates’ brutal treatment of the individuals and cities that deserted his cause merely hastened the end. After further defeat at the hands of the Roman general Fimbria, he accepted the lenient terms offered by Sulla, which amounted to little worse than a return to the pre-war status quo. Having devastated Asia and Greece, and murdered thousands of Romans and Italians, he was lucky, as Sulla’s troops complained, to get off so lightly. Terms may have been agreed at the Peace of Dardanos in 85, but many Romans must have suspected there was unfinished business with the king of Pontus.

In 83 and 82, L. Licinius Murena, whom Sulla had left in charge of Asia with two legions, launched a series of raids into Pontus that have come to be called the Second Mithradatic War (App., Mith. 64-66). When Mithradates finally responded by inflicting a heavy defeat on Murena, the stage was set for another major conflagration in Asia. However, Mithradates declined the opportunity: clearly he was not ready to challenge Rome again, and Sulla called off Murena, thus bringing an end in 81 to this particular round of hostilities. Eupator’s subsequent determination to set down in writing what had been agreed verbally at Dardanos (App., Mith. 67) may signify a genuine attempt to regularize his relations with Rome. At any rate, with one of his armies suffering a heavy defeat against the Achaian tribes in the northeast corner of the Black Sea, and with Cilicia designated as the province of P. Servilius Vatia, consul for 79, Mithradates was ready to agree to all Sulla’s conditions. When his second embassy to Rome arrived, however, in 78, they found Sulla had just died and the Senate was too busy to receive them. The royal anger is clear: Eupator immediately persuaded his son-in-law Tigranes of Armenia to invade Cappadocia. Tigranes did on this occasion withdraw, but the Senate realized who was behind the operation, and it is hardly surprising to find prominent Romans admitting that another war with Mithradates was looming ahead (Sallust, Hist. 1.77.8; 2.47.7 Maur.).

A map of the Mithradatic Wars fought in 87-86 BCE (Source: Cristianio64 in Public Domain).

The immediate causes of the Third Mithradatic War (73-63 BCE) are disputed, but Appian (Mith. 70) and Sallust (Hist. 4.69 Maur.) both admit that Mithradates made no attempt to deny his responsibility for what he regarded as merely a resumption of hostilities started by the Romans. Probably in 76 or 75 he entered negotiations with the Roman rebel in Spain, Sertorius. He could not have thought that the Senate would see his treaty with Sertorius, concluded in 74, as anything other than a declaration of war. An explosion of activity in the Pontic royal mint from February 75 also points to his martial intentions (de Callataÿ, 1997, p. 46). The immediate impetus for war was probably provided by the Roman annexation of Bithynia: according to Eutropius (6.6) it was in 74 that Nikomedes IV died and bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. Whether it was the realization that Mithradates would not accept Roman control of Bithynia, or that they had just got news of the Pontic-Sertorian alliance, by late 74 even the Senate knew that war was imminent: the consular provinces of Lucullus and Cotta were changed, and both consuls were dispatched to the east. In the spring of 73 Mithradates overran Bithynia and invaded the Roman province of Asia. The whole region had suffered terribly in the aftermath of the First Mithradatic War (Plut., Luc. 20) and there was widespread disaffection with Rome, but this time, in contrast to what happened in 89, two Roman proconsuls and an army awaited Mithradates’ onslaught. He made his main objective the capture of Cyzicus on the Propontis, but was outwitted by the superior strategy of Lucullus and forced to withdraw in disorder (App., Mith. 72-76). This was the last serious threat Mithradates could muster. Lucullus pursued him slowly across Asia Minor into Armenia, where Tigranes reluctantly received him. In 68 and 67 political conditions in Rome caused the Roman advance to stall, allowing Mithradates to slip back into Pontus and defeat the occupation forces. In 66, however, Pompey succeeded to the Mithradatic command and drove him out of Asia to his last remaining stronghold in the Crimea. Here in 63 BCE he succumbed to the treachery of his son, Pharnakes, who in negotiating with the Romans was no doubt trying to salvage something from the wreckage of his father’s empire. Rather than face the humiliation of capture, Mithradates, having failed to do away with himself by poison, asked an obliging Celtic bodyguard to run him through with a sword (App., Mith. 111).

Video documentary outlining the Second and Third Mithradic Wars (Source: Kings & Generals).

Mithradates Eupator presented himself as heir to the empires of Darius and Alexander the Great. Imperial conquest was central to this identity. Many of the ancient sources assume that the king’s ambitions included plans from an early stage for war with Rome. While this looks very much like hindsight, it is also probable that by the mid 90s, it was clear to Mithradates that even limited aggression in Asia Minor would be thwarted by Rome; and he spent the remaining thirty years of his life trying to balance the realities that an independent king must face when confronted by a superior power. Although he failed to be stronger than Rome, his failure was a grand one, and he was long remembered as a symbol of uncompromising defiance. On hearing of his death, Pompey ordered a full royal burial at Sinope, “because he admired his great deeds and considered him the best of the kings of his time” (App., Mith. 113).

Bibliography

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Archaeologists Discover 2500 Year-old Achaemenid Military Base in Northern Israel

The article “Archaeologists May Have Found 2,500-year-old Persian Military Base in Northern Israel” written by Phillipe Bohstrom was originally published on December 23, 2018 in Haaretz. Excepting images that appear in the original Haaretz publication, all other images and accompanying captions are unique to the version printed below (and do not appear in Haaretz). Kindly noted that version printed below has been edited.

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Around 2,500 years ago, the Achaemenid king Cambyses II (r. 530 to 522 BCE) mounted an all-out assault on Egypt, basing the campaign in Palestine. Now archaeologists believe they may have found a camp in northern Israel from which the Achaemenid emperor launched his invasion of the Nile Kingdom.

The Achaemenid Empire had been founded by Cyrus the Great (having united the Medes and the Persians) in the 580s BCE, overcoming the Lydian and Neo-Babylonian empires as it expanded. Cambyses was his son.

A map of the Achaemenid Empire drafted by Kaveh Farrokh on page 87 (2007) of the book Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-:

Among the findings at Tel Keisan, a hill rising 28 meters from the coastal plain near the city of Acre (aka Akko) in northern Israel, were ruins dated to the Persian period by ceramic jars and cooking pots in Greek and Phoenician styles typical of that time.

The Phoenicians on the Palestine coast and their fleet had been subjugated by the Assyrians and then by the Persians; and the ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that Greek mercenaries fought in the Persian emperor Cambyses’ army. The Greek and Phoenician ceramic finds in the Persian layer of Tel Keisan suggest that this area was part of  the base camp of the great Achaemenid campaign. As noted by Prof. Gunnar Lehmann of Ben-Gurion University, who has been codirecting the Tel Keisan excavation:

“Under Cambyses, the Persians wanted to prepare for war with and conquest of Egypt. They did that in Palestine”.

Reconstruction in 1971 of elite Achaemenid army infantryman (Source: Ancient Origins).

It was on the Acre plain that Cambyses assembled his army that would sweep down to Egypt,  in the 520s BCE. The excavations at Tel Keisan are being carried out by Lehmann and David Schloen from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. In the two seasons of excavations, in 2016 and 2018, the archaeologists exposed levels dating to the Hellenistic period (3rd and 2nd century BCE), the Persian period (5th-4th centuries B.C.E.) and the Iron Age IIC (7th century BCE). The archaeologists have also found earlier levels, dating to the Late Iron Age IIA around 3,000 years old, but these have yet to be thoroughly explored.

Tell Keisan means “hill of treachery” in Arabic, though why it got that name is no longer known. Mentioned from the 12th century onward by Arabic chroniclers, it presumably refers to an embarrassing military event now forgotten. Nor is the settlement’s name in antiquity known.

Tell Keisan (Source: Ivgeni Ostrovski – Haaretz). The Persian camp on the Acre plain seems to have been a base camp for King Cambyses’ all-out attack on Egypt in the 520s BCE.

Basket handle cases

Keisan sits on an imposing hill rising 28 meters above the ground in the heart of the Acre plain. The site, which has been occupied for at least 6,000 years, is strategically positioned overlooking the approach to the fertile Plain of Jezreel (Esdraelon), as well as commercial trade routes between the Galilee, the Jordan Valley, and other points to the east.

Previous surveys and excavations have exposed massive systems of fortifications from the Iron Age II, around 1,000 to 587 BCE, on the Acre plain.

Based on the archaeological layers, it seems that the serial conquerors of Palestine found the settlement’s strategic location irresistible: the locals, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Persians under Cambyses II, who seem to have used it as their administrative center and military base of operations in the 5th century BCE, and later as well.

Keisan was one of several Egyptian strongholds along the Acre coastal plain during the time they controlled Palestine, from around 637 to 605 BCE, says Lehmann. Two other known ones were at Achziv and Tel Kabri, and there may have been more.

Jar found at Tel Keisan (Source: Ivgeni Ostrovski – Haaretz).

At Keisan itself, immediately beneath the Persian level, the archaeologists exposed a large building with storage rooms dating to the earlier Egyptian empire of the 26th Dynasty. The building apparently began its career in the 7th century B.C.E. and seems to have served as a governmental or administrative building, which among other things provided food for its personnel.

The building also contained Phoenician, Cypriot and East Greek pottery, but of an earlier type, typical of that pre-Persian time. The storage rooms contained numerous complete storage jars, mostly of Phoenician origin, and also also Cypriot  “basket-handle” amphoras typical of the 7th century BCE. Among the people using the facility may have been Greek mercenaries serving under Egyptian command since the pottery included Greek cooking pots.

Cambyses assembles the Achaemenid Army

Under the Persians, the Mediterranean coastal city of Acre expanded to encompass the settlement at Keisan as well, and the peninsula that forms the northern end of the Bay of Haifa, with its ancient harbor Tell Abu Hawam.

Cambyses II’s campaign to conquer Egypt, assembling forces to “cross the waterless deserts” apparently in 525 BCE was described by Herodotus. Cambyses II thrashed Pharaoh Psamtik III at Memphis, and won “Egypt and the sea” (Herodotus 3.34) Consequently, Cambyses II became the first Persian king to rule ancient Egypt.

Scholars cite two other ancient sources aside from Herodotus that locate Cambyses II’s army and fleet in the Acre plain in the 520s B.C.E. The first is another Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, when telling of the preparations made in 374 B.C.E. by the Persian monarch Ataxerxes II towards subordinating Egypt:

The Perisan army gathered at the city of Ake, numbering two hundred thousand barbarians led by Pharnabazus, and twenty thousand Greek mercenaries under the command of Iphicrates. Of the fleet, the triremes numbered three hundred and the thirty-oared ships two hundred. And great was the number of those carrying food and other supplies – Diodurus Siculus, Bibliotheke 15.41.3 (Translated by Peter Green, 2010)

The second source is the Greek geographer and philosopher Strabo:

“Then follows Ptolemais, a large city, formerly called Ace. It was the place for rendezvous for the Persians in their expedition against Egypt”  – Strabo Geography 16.2.25-27 (Translation by H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, 2010)

These sources, combined with Herodotus, suggest that Artaxerxes was not the first to have used the Akko plain to launch a campaign against Egypt, which lies to the southwest of  Israel, then Palestine. In fact, it seems that from the 520s B.C.E. onwards, that several sites along the Palestine coast –  Tell al-Fuhkhar (Acre itself), Tell Keisan, Tell Kurdana (Tel Aphek), and Tell Abu Hawam (Haifa) were used for anchoring the fleet and as a rendezvous point for the Persian army and fleet. As noted by Barry Strauss, professor of History and Classics at Cornell University:

“Nimbleness was not the trademark of the Achaemenid way of war … Big and slow was how they liked their military, both to overwhelm the enemy and to impress their own subjects. A massive expeditionary force needed a big base of operations.”

Why were the Persians so adamant about conquering Egypt? One reason is because the various empires in the Levant and Middle East considered Egypt to be a major threat. That is just one more reason for their desire to control Palestine – a fertile land with a long coast, and a convenient origin for attacks on Egypt. Or, at least, to contain Egypt’s influence over the Levant.

So not only were the Mediterranean plains fertile, with plenty of space and grasses for horses: it was close to Egypt and was relatively safe ground for Cambyses to slowly prepare for his invasion, Lehmann sums up.

The forces Cambyses massed on the coast would have needed a huge apparatus and an incredible amount of resources. Tel Keisan would have been only one of a series of supply points along the Acre plain, Indeed the archaeologists found remnants of storage jars and cooking pots in large quantities that may have been used Cambyses’ armies. A key bit of evidence was a large pit with organic debris and substantial quantities of pottery, some of which was Phoenician pottery some imports from Greece, mainly from Athens.

After the Achaemenids

Sadly, the architecture of the Persian period at Tel Keisan was severely damaged when the armies of the Hellenistic ruler, Alexander, ravaged the land as they drove out the Persians (under King Darius) in the second half of the 4th century BCE.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his kingdom was divided up among his generals. This fine company of generals is usually referred to as the diadochi, simply meaning successors, in plain English. War among the diadochi broke out almost immediately. As the great German historian Niebuhr once put it:

“It is simply a matter if one or the other bandit will get the upper hand.”

Over the next century, Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria would be interlocked in a sweaty struggle over Palestine. It is highly probable that Alexander and subsequent Hellenistic rulers of what would become the Holy Land simply took over the infrastructure of the Persian Empire in the Acre plain. As noted by Strauss:

“Alexander and his successors were generally more interested in war than administration … It was cheaper and easier to take over the infrastructure of the Persian Empire. They demonstrably did so elsewhere and surely did in the Akko Plain as well.”

The Hellenistic levels represent what appears to be an industrial area with refuse pits and installations that yielded large quantities of pottery. The ceramic finds indicate that the link with the Mediterranean remained strong, and that trade with the Greek islands and the coast of Asia expanded until the 3rd century B.C.E.

Bust of Seleucus Nicator (“Victor”; c. 358 – 281 BCE), the last of the original Diadochi (National Archaeological Museum & Haaretz).

During the earlier Hellenistic period, Keisan remained a surburb to Acre – whose name had been changed to Ptolemais.

Some time during the later Hellenistic period, the settlement was abandoned. It would remain bereft of life during the Roman era, and afterwards, would be fitfully occupied and deserted. During the Byzantine period, the settlement was reinstated and a church with service buildings were built there. The foundations of the church are well preserved and were excavated and published by the French expedition.

But apparently by the early 8th century C.E. the mound was abandoned again, then resettled during the medieval period. From the 12th to the 16th century CE, the hill sustained a small rural site  – which, in the early Ottoman period, would be abandoned, once and for all.

Sassanian Inscription Unearthed in Ancient Iran Necropolis Being Deciphered

The article Sassanian Inscription Unearthed In Ancient Iran Necropolis Being Deciphered” was posted on Radio Farda (as reported by British-Iranian journalist Maryam Sinaiee) on March 28, 2020.

Kindly note that the version printed below has been edited with two of the images (and accompanying captions) not appearing in the original Radio Farda report.

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Experts are working to decipher a newly discovered inscription unearthed in an ancient necropolis near Persepolis, an official of the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran, said on Monday. The inscription which dates from the Sassanian period (224-651 CE) was found in Naqsh-e Rostam and is written in Pahlavi language (also known as Middle Persian) which was the official language of the Sassanian Empire.

Tomb of Darius the Great in Naqsh-e Rustam an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran (Source: Radio Farda).

Naqsh-e Rostam, the site where the inscription was found, was a necropolis and religious center about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-300 BCE). However, some of the relics on the cliffs may date as far back as the Pre-Iranian Elamite Period (2700-539 BCE).

Four huge tombs from the Achaemenid era (550-300 BCE), including the tomb of King Darius the Great (550-486 BCE) hewn into the cliff face and a square-shaped building made with stone blocks from the Sassanian which may also have had a significance in burial rites are among the most important relics of the necropolis.

Several inscriptions and reliefs of Sassanian kings including a rock relief showing the Sassanian king Shapur I on horseback, with the Roman Emperor Valerian bowing to him in submission, are among the other significant surviving relics of Naqsh-e Rostam.

Emperor Valerian surrenders to Shapur I (241-272 CE) and Sassanian nobility at Edessa in 260 CE (Source: Kaveh Farrokh, 2005, Elite Sassanian Cavalry).

Despite the huge importance of the ancient necropolis, unlike Persepolis and Pasargadae, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-300 BCE) under Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE), Iran has not been able to list it as a UNESCO Heritage Site due to the failure to meet the requirements of UNESCO as to measures taken for the preservation of the site and documentation.

Officials say the inscription is being deciphered. But reading Pahlavi language texts is no easy task.

Inscription in Pahlavi from Pāikūlī (Image Source: Shapour Suren-Pahlav). The above Pāikūlī block appears as D3 in the academic publication by Dr. Helmut Humbach and Dr. Prods O. Skjaervo (The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli: Restored text and Translation. Reichert Verlag, 1983). Note that five of the above lines are intact with the sixth line damaged. ... For more on this Click Here …

An Aramaic-derived alphabet was used for writing in Pahlavi. The script is very difficult to read due to the use of heterograms. The heterograms were words written in Aramaic but read as their Middle Persian equivalent. It is similar to writing eg in English and reading it “for example”.

In addition to the use of heterograms, the variations of the alphabet between the ordinary script used on parchment and the version used in inscriptions make reading Pahlavi inscriptions which are often badly damaged by exposure to the elements even more complex.

In the past couple of decades, the decline of groundwater tables which has resulted in sinking ground has seriously damaged the relics in  Naqsh-e Rostam or put them in danger of further deterioration. Critics of the Islamic Republic say the government does not put enough effort into the preservation of pre-Islamic relics.

UNESCO: The Parthian Fortresses of Nysa

The article Parthian Fortresses of Nysa” was originally posted by UNESCO. The photographs inserted below are from the Meros.org venue, with the descriptive captions and map of the Parthian Empire provided by Kavehfarrokh.com. The version printed below has also been slightly edited.

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Nisa was the capital of the Parthian Empire, which dominated this region of central Asia from the mid 3rd century BCE to the early 3rd century CE. As such it formed a barrier to Roman expansion, whilst at the same time serving as an important communications and trading centre, at the crossroads of north-south and east-west routes. Its political and economic power is well illustrated by the surviving remains, which underline the interaction between central Asian and Mediterranean cultures.

Map of the Parthian Empire in 44 BCE to 138 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 155, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا). See also Military History and Armies of the Parthians

The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa consist of two tells of Old and New Nisa, indicating the site of one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian Empire, a major power from the mid 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. They conserve the unexcavated remains of an ancient civilization which skillfully combined its own traditional cultural elements with those of the Hellenistic and Roman west. Archaeological excavations in two parts of the site have revealed richly decorated architecture, illustrative of domestic, state and religious functions. Situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes, this powerful empire formed a barrier to Roman expansion while serving as an important communication and trading centre between east and west, north and south.

A close-up of one of the sections of Nysa’s enduring Parthian system of architecture (Meros.org).

UNESCO Criteria

Criterion (ii): Nisa is situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes. The archaeological remains vividly illustrate the significant interaction of cultural influences from central Asia and from the Mediterranean world.

Criterion (iii): The Parthian Empire was one of the most powerful and influential civilizations of the ancient world, and a brilliant rival of Rome which prevented the expansion of the Roman Empire to the east. Nisa, the capital of the Parthian Empire, is the outstanding symbol of the significance of this imperial power.

A walled structure of one the chambers at Nysa(Meros.org). Later Sassanian architecture would also display especially thick walls and depending on the region, either bricks or stones could be used in their construction. For more on Parthian and Sassanian military architecture, consult Chapter 13 “Military Architecture”  in Armies of Ancient Persia: The Sassanians (2017).

The integrity and authenticity of the property, and also of the surrounding landscape, in terms of the size of the two tells and the siting of the capital at the foot of the Kopet-Dag mountains, are unquestionable. The two tells do not in any sense represent the original appearance of the Parthian capital, but their present appearance is due solely to natural erosion.

A meandering pathway towards a Nysa structure(Meros.org).

The site is gazetted as one of the 1,300 historical and cultural monuments of Turkmenistan. Nisa is also one of the eight State Historical and Cultural Parks (SHCP) that have been created to protect the most significant sites in Turkmenistan. A buffer zone has been established. The property comes within the provisions of the Bagyr town development plan. Serious efforts are still needed to set up an efficient preventive maintenance scheme that will ensure the survival of recently excavated parts of the site. A five-year plan has been formulated for 2006-2010, in order to ensure a better balance between the different activities (e.g. archaeology vis-à-vis conservation) and to combine and harmonize all the existing documents and strategies relating to the site.