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

=========================================================================

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

Appian, “The Mithridatic Wars,” in Roman History, tr. H. White and E. I. Robson, 4 vols., LCL, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1912-13, II, book 12.

E. Badian, “Rome, Athens and Mithridates,” American Journal of Ancient History 1, 1976, pp. 105-28.

L. Ballesteros Pastor, Mitrídates Eupátor, rey del Ponto, Granada, 1996.

R. Bernhardt, Polis und römische Herrschaft in der späten Republik (149-31v. Chr), Berlin, 1985.

L. Boffo, “Grecità di frontiera: Chersonasos Taurica e i del Ponto Eusino (SIG 3 709),” Athenaeum 67, 1989, pp. 211-59, 369-405.

A. B. Bosworth and P. V. Wheatley, “The Origins of the Pontic House,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 118, 1998, pp. 155-64.

F. de Callataÿ, L’histoire des guerres mithridatiques vue par les monnaies, Louvain-La-Neuve, 1997.

M. D. Campanile, “Città d’Asia Minore tra Mitridate e Roma,” Studi ellenistici 8, 1996, pp. 145-73.

Diodorus of Sicily, tr. C. H. Oldfather, et al., 12 vols., LCL, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1933-67.

Eutropius, Brevarium ab urbe condita, ed. C. Santini, Leipzig, 1979; The Breviarum, tr. H. W. Bird, Liverpool, 1993.

J.-L. Ferrary, Philhellénisme et impérialisme: Aspects idéologiques de la conqûete romaine du monde hellénistique, de la seconde guerre de Macédoine à la guerre contre Mithridate, Rome, 1988.

Frontinus, The Stratagems, tr. C. E. Bennett, LCL, London and New York, 1926.

D. Glew, “Mithridates Eupator and Rome: A Study of the Background of the First Mithridatic War,” Athenaeum 55, 1977, pp. 380-405.

Idem, “Between the Wars: Mithridates Eupator and Rome, 87-73 BC,” Chiron 11, 1981, pp. 467-95.

C. Habicht, Athens from Alexander to Antony, tr. D. L. Schneider, Cambridge, Mass., 1997.

H. Heinen, “Mithradates VI. Eupator und die Völker des nördlichen Schwarzmeerraums,” Hamburger Beiträge zur Archäologie 18-19, 1991-92, pp. 1-15.

J. Hind, “Mithridates,” CAH 2 IX, pp. 129-64.

IG Bulg. I 2: G. Mikhailov, Inscriptiones graecae in Bulgaria repertae, I: Inscriptiones orae Ponti Euxini, 2nd ed., Sofia, 1970.

IosPE I 2: V. V. Latyshev, Inscriptiones antiquae orae septentrionalis Ponti Euxini graecae et latinae I: Inscriptiones Tyriae, Olbiae, Cherosnesi Tauricae, 2nd ed., St. Petersburg, 1916.

Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, tr. J. C. Yardley, Atlanta, 1994.

R. Kallet-Marx, Hegemony to Empire: The Development of the Roman Imperium in the East from 148 to 62 BC, Berkeley, 1995.

A. Keaveney, Lucullus: A Life, London, 1992.

G. Kleiner, “Bildnis und Gestaltdes Mithridates,” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 68, 1953, pp. 73-95.

D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor: To the End of the Third Century after Christ, 2 vols., Princeton 1950.

C. Marek, “Karien im ersten mithridatischen Krieg,” in Alte Geschichte und Wissenschaftgeschichte: Festschrift für Karl Christ zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. P. Kneissl and V. Losemann Darmstadt, 1988, pp. 285-308.

B. C. McGing, The Foreign Policy of Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, Leiden, 1986.

Idem, “Appian’s Mithridateios,” in ANRW II.34.1, pp. 496-522.

A. Mastrocinque, Le guerre di Mitridate, Milan, 1999.

E. Olshausen, “Mithridates VI. und Rom,” in ANRW I, 1, 1972, pp. 806-15.

Idem, “Das Königreich Pontos,” in Pauly-Wissowa, RE Suppl. XV, cols. 396-442.

J. van Ooteghem, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, Brussels, 1959.

Plutarch, Lives, tr. Charlotte Perrin, 11 vols., LCL, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1914-26; “Lucullus,” II, pp. 470-611; “Caius Marius,” IX, pp. 464-599; “Sulla,” IV, pp. 324-445.

T. Reinach, Mithridates Eupator: König von Pontos, tr. A. Goetz, Leipzig, 1895.

W. Z. Rubinsohn, “Mithradates VI Eupator Dionysos and Rome’s Conquest of the Hellenistic East,” Mediterranean Historical Review 8, 1993, pp. 5-54.

E. Salomone Gaggero, “La propaganda antiromana di Mitridate VI Eupatore in Asia Minor e in Grecia,” in Contributi di storia antica in onore di Albino Garzetti, Genoa, 1976, pp. 89-123.

Sallust, Historiarum reliquiae, ed. B. Maurenbrecher, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1891-93; The Histories, tr. P. McGushin, 2 vols., Oxford, 1992-94.

D. B. Selov, “Le royaume pontique de Mithridate Eupator,” Journal des savants, 1982, pp. 243-66.

A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Foreign Policy in the East: 168 B.C. to A.D. 1, London, 1984.

Strabo, Geography, III: Books 6 and 7, tr. H. L. Jones, LCL, London and New York, 1924.

K. Strobel, “Mithradates VI. Eupator von Pontos: Der letzte große Monarch der hellenistischen Welt und sein Scheitern an der römischen Macht,” Ktema 21, 1996, pp. 55-94.

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.

====================================================

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.

Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia

The article “Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia” written by Mahbod Khanbolouki was originally published in the Ancient Origins venue on January 21, 2015. The version printed below has been slightly edited.

Readers interested in this topic can also read and download the below article as well:

Farrokh, K. (2014). An Overview of the Historical Circumstances that led to the Revolts of Babak Khorramdin. Persian Heritage, Volume XIX, No. 74, Summer, pp.21-23.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The Umayyad- and Abbasid Caliphate of the Arabs had invaded and occupied the Sassanid Persian empire for 144 years when in 10 July 795 CE, a child was born in a village called Balal Abad situated near modern day Ardabil in northwestern Iran. This child would grow up to become the most prominent rebel leader of the Persians and he would create the largest rebel force the Arabs had ever faced anywhere in the Islamic Caliphate. He fought the invading Arabs for regaining control over Persian territories in order to liberate the Persian people and to restore Persian culture. He would be known as Babak Khorramdin.

Babak lost his father Merdas in his early childhood which resulted in him taking on the responsibility of his family, including his mother and his two younger brothers. His mother Mahrou worked as a nurse for infants while Babak himself worked as a cowherd until he was twelve years old. By the age of eighteen he was already involved in arms trade and business. He enjoyed music and singing and learned to play the Persian string instrument called tambour. A number of stories have been told about him. One story says that Babak was sleeping under a tree during an afternoon when his mother saw his hair and chest drenched in blood. But when his mother quickly woke him up and he stood on his feet, all blood had vanished and he was unharmed. Based on what she had witnessed, she told Babak that he had a great task ahead of him.

A conjectural image Babak Khorramdin (Source: Ancient Origins). Note the Bazz castle in the mountainous background.

The Khorramian sect

One winter day, a wealthy man named Javidan Shahrak was on the way home from the city of Zanjan where he had gained the leadership of a Persian rebel group called the Khorramian sect established in the nearby highlands. Due to a violent snow storm, Javidan couldn’t continue his journey and had to find shelter. By chance, he found the home of Babak and knocked on the door. His mother welcomed him into their home and lit a fire for him. During his stay, Babak took care of Javidan’s horses and showed good manners towards the guest. His level of intelligence impressed Javidan and when the time had come for Javidan to leave, he asked Mahrou whether he could take Babak with him to work in his farms. Javidan also promised her that he would send plenty of money. She accepted his request and by this event, Babak joined the Khorramian rebel group and Javidan became Babak’s role model and teacher. After some time, Babak gained the name Khorramdin, meaning of the delightful faith referring to the pre-islamic religion Zoroastrianism which is the ancient native religion of Persia.

As the leader of the Khorramian rebel group, Javidan fought the Arabs alongside Babak Khorramdin around their strong hold in northwestern Persian between the years 807-817 CE until Javidan became wounded in a battle and died in 817 CE. By the time Javidan died, Babak had learnt how to use geostrategic locations, to apply various military tactics and to lead troops. Javidan had chosen Babak as his successor and leader of the Khorramian sect before he died. Multiple rebel groups were scattered throughout the cities of Persia by the time Babak became a leader. Eventually Babak married Banu Khorramdin, the former wife of Javidan who was a female warrior and who fought side by side Babak and his men. Members of the Khorramian group wore red clothes and therefore they were known as sorkh jamegan among people, meaning the red clothed ones .

Beginning of the Rebellion

The same year as Javidan died, Babak started to motivate his followers to come together and to start a rebellion against the Arab Caliphate, and so the rebellion of the Persians begun. Babak started to recruit farmers and rebel leaders from all around Persia and ordered them to go to arms and to spread fear in the eyes of the Arabs. Babak’s popularity increased rapidly and thousands of people joined his movement. There are different accounts of the number of people who joined his rebel army but the number is estimated to be between 100 000 – 300 000 people strong. The army mainly consisted of farmers and when Babak recruited these men, he also trained them for battles. He ordered his men to raid caravans along the Silk Road, to destroy Arab strongholds and to seize villages, which in turn contributed to loss of control in many provinces ruled by the Arabs.

Statue of Babak Khorramdin the Nakhchevan region of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus (Wikimedia Commons). Kindly note that the Caucasian Republic with the name “Azerbaijan” was not known by this name until May 1918 – the historical Azerbaijan is located in southwest of Iran. The region of the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan was known as Arran and the Khanates and also as Albania in pre-Islamic times.

In 819 CE, full scale battles between Persians and Arabs were initiated. The Caliphate continuously ordered Arab generals to fight Babak. An Arab general named Yahya ibn Mu’adh was sent to fight the Khorramian rebel group, but failed to defeat Babak. During two years time, armies under the command of Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid continuously attacked Babak’s forces with no success. In 824 CE, Ahmad ibn al Junayd attacked the Khorramian rebel group but ended up captured by Babak. In 827 CE, the Arabs under the command of Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi attacked and became victorious but could not capture Babak and his closest men. In 829 CE, Babak returned to restore his strongholds and defeated Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi who ended up getting killed while his Arab army suffered heavy losses.

An image of Babak Khorramdin (Source: Ancient Origins).

The stronghold of the Khorramian rebel group was the Castle of Babak which is situated on an altitude of 2600 metres on the mountain Badd (also known as Bazz). The castle is surrounded by mountains and ravines which during ancient times provided protection from invading troops. A handful of Khorramian soldiers could easily wipe out thousands of enemies and the castle was impossible to invade during winter seasons. It was built during the Sassanid dynasty (224-651 CE) with foundations built during the Parthian dynasty (247 BC-224 CE). As the brilliant war lord that he was, Babak Khorramdin took full advantage of the strategic location of the castle which had an important role in the numerous victories he had against the Arab generals.

The remains of the Castle of Babak which are visited by Iranians and tourists all year round (Source: Iran Tour Center).

In 835 CE, the caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate named al Mu’tasim ordered his best general to confront Babak Khorramdin and to capture him. His name was Haydar ibn Kavus Afshin and was chosen as the governor of the area where Babak was active. He had been a former compatriot of Babak. In the early days of the Persian rebellion, Afshin made an oath together with Babak to cooperate and defeat the Arab armies and to bring back the power of Persia to the hands of the former Sassanid monarchs. By this time, after 18 years of Persian revolts, Afshin had treacherously started to cooperate with the Arabs in exchange for excessive riches, benefits and to be the head general of the Caliphate army. With the help and resources provided by the caliph, Afshin ordered Arab strongholds, which had been destroyed by Babak and his men, to be rebuilt and reinforced. Al Mu’tasim on the other hand managed to capture one of Babak’s men which by torture was forced to exploit information about Babak’s tactics, territorial strategies and about hidden pathways. Shortly before Afshin attacked the Castle of Babak, Babak had sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor Theophilus in request for military reinforcements but the letter did not reach the emperor in time. Babak and his men had to evacuate the castle and flee. Babak himself together with his wife and a few soldiers fled to Armenia while Afshin plundered and thereafter demolished the castle. While Babak was in the custody of the Armenian prince Sahl ibn Sonbāt, the prince was informed about the large reward for finding Babak. Afshin was informed about Babak’s presence in Armenia and he sent a large army to Sahl ibn Sonbāt’s residence and captured Babak.

A 2009 canvas oil painting produced in Tehran by Shahab Mousavizadeh depicting the arrest of Babak Khorramdin (in c. 800 CE) by the Caliphate (Source: Shahab Mousavizadeh).

Babak Khorramdin was held in the presence of the caliph in the city of Samarra and was sentenced to death in 838 CE. Before he was executed, his hands and feet were cut off and it is said that in his agony, Babak washed his face with blood pouring out of his cuts. When the caliph asked him what he was doing, Babak answered that he wouldn’t let the Arabs see his pale face when he was dead so that they wouldn’t think he died with fear of the Arabs. He was decapitated and his head was later sent around the cities of Persia in order to spread fear among Iranians. His body was hanged on the walls of Samarra.

For 21 years, Babak Khorramdin successfully lead a major rebellion which brought the Arabs to their knees one battle after another. Ultimately, he wasn’t defeated by the Caliphate but by treacherous allies. He will always be remembered as the Persian hero who sacrificed his life for freedom and his cultural heritage. He was a brilliant leader and is very much alive today in the minds of Iranians just as he was back in time. Today Iranians visit the ruins of his castle 10 July every year to honor the great legend and his men.

Macrinus

The article “Macrinus and Diadumenianus” was originally posted in the Italian Tribune. The Famous and Infamous Rulers of Rome. The version below has been edited. Kindly note that a number of pictures and accompanying captions do not appear in the original version by the Italian Tribune.

=====================================================================

The history of the Roman Empire is perhaps unprecedented in its prosperity, with a stable economy, strong government and superb military. The men who ruled this empire varied greatly, from noble leaders like Antoninus Pius to oppressive despots like Caligula. The story of Rome’s rulers has it all – love, murder and revenge, fear and greed, envy and pride. Their history is a roller coaster that lurches from peace and prosperity to terror and tyranny. This article focuses on Macrinus and his son Diadumenianus, who took the throne when he was only ten years old.

A Roman aureus of Macrinus with the reverse side showing Macrinus with his son  Diadumenianus (Source: Classical Numismatic Group [CNG] in Public Domain).

Marcus Opellius Macrinus was the first emperor who was neither a senator nor of a senatorial family at the time of his accession. His 14-month reign was spent entirely in the East, where he proved unable to maintain the influence gained in the region by the campaigns of his predecessor, Caracalla, nor was Macrinus able to shake the suspicion that he was responsible for Caracalla’s murder.

Bust of Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus Augustus at the Palazzo Nuovo, Musei Capitolini in Rome (Source: José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro in Public Domain). Macrinus’ reign was ephemeral, having ruled for just a year in 217-218 CE

Growing up Macrinus, born in 165, received a literary education that enabled him to rise high as a bureaucrat in the imperial service during the reign of the emperor Severus. Caracalla made Macrinus a praetorian prefect, an equestrian post that was second to the emperor in power. Macrinus shared the position with the experienced soldier Adventus, and the pair served Caracalla during the emperor’s campaigns in the East.

By the end of the second campaigning season in 216-17, rumors were flying that Macrinus was promoting himself as a possible future emperor. Caracalla must have been aware of the rumors concerning Macrinus, for the historian Cassius Dio notes the emperor was already reassigning members of Macrinus’ staff. Such personnel moves may have accelerated Macrinus’ plot.

Shortly before the campaigning season was to begin, Caracalla paid a visit to a temple near Carrhae. The emperor was accompanied by hand-picked bodyguards. The guards returned with Caracalla’s murdered body along with the body of one of the guards and a story that the dead guard killed the dead emperor. Not everyone was convinced, but Macrinus was able to translate his authority as praetorian prefect into that of emperor, being proclaimed by the troops in 217. Macrinus soon named his son, Diadumenianus, as Caesar and heir. The new emperor also got his former colleague, Adventus, out of the way by sending him back to Rome as urban prefect.

Macrinus immediately sent conciliatory messages to the Parthian ruler Artabanus V, but Artabanus sensed weakness and raised an army to avenge his losses from the previous year’s campaign. Macrinus hoped to avoid a battle with the Parthians, but fighting erupted between the armies while both sides were encamped around Nisibis. The Parthians gained victory and, during the following winter, peace negotiations were held. Macrinus ended up paying the Parthians large bribes and reparations. Settlements were also reached with the Armenians and with the Dacians, who had launched attacks on the Romans after learning of Caracalla’s death.

Parthian cataphract lancers attack the Roman lines during the battle of Nisibis in 217 (Source: Weapons and Warfare). Despite their successes, the camel’s feet proved highly vulnerable Roman caltrops that had been strewn on the battlefield.

By not returning to Rome in 217, Macrinus opened himself to criticism. Dissatisfaction was especially high in the city after a particularly violent thunderstorm started a fire that damaged much of the Colosseum and caused widespread flooding, especially in the Forum. Adventus proved himself incompetent as urban prefect and had to be replaced.

But grumblings in Rome were insignificant compared to the growing unease among the soldiers on campaign in the East. The defeat at Nisibis at the hands of Artabanus and the Parthian army disheartened the Roman troops. Macrinus also introduced an unpopular, two-tier pay system in which new recruits received less money than veterans.

Parthian Horse archers engage the Roman legions as they attempt to invade Persia. Unlike the Achamenid-Greek wars where Achaemenid arrows were unable to penetrate Hellenic shields and armor, Parthian archery was now capable of penetrating Roman armor and shields (Picture Source: Antony Karasulas & Angus McBride).

Earlier, Caracalla’s mother, Julia Domna, had toyed with the idea of raising a rebellion against Macrinus shortly after her son’s murder, but the empress was uncertain of success and already suffering from breast cancer. She chose to starve herself to death instead.

The grandchildren of her sister, Julia Maesa, would become the focus of the successful uprising that began in 218. Her 14-year-old grandson Avitus (known to history as Elagabalus) was proclaimed emperor by one the legions camped near the family’s hometown. Other troops joined the rebellion, but Macrinus ordered loyal soldiers to crush the revolt, and later promoted his son to the rank of emperor.

The forces met in a village outside Antioch in 218. Despite the inexperience of the leaders of the rebel army, Macrinus was defeated. He sent his son, Diadumenianus, with an ambassador to the Parthian king, while Macrinus himself prepared to flee to Rome. Macrinus traveled across Asia Minor disguised as a courier and nearly made it to Europe, but he was captured in Chalcedon. Macrinus was transported to Cappadocia, where he and his son Diadumenianus were executed and Elagabalus was declared emperor.

Contemporaries tended to portray Macrinus as a fear-driven impostor who was able to make himself emperor but was incapable of the leadership required by the job. Macrinus lacked the aristocratic connections and personal bravado that might have won him legitimacy. His short reign represented a brief interlude of Parthian success during what would prove the final decade of the Parthian empire.

Ancient Qanat discovered in Southern Iran

The report Ancient Qanat found in southern Iran” was first reported by the Tehran Times on November 15, 2018. The version below has been edited slightly. Readers are also referred to:

========================================================================

Residents of Rostaq, a rural district in Iran’s southern Fars province, have discovered an ancient qanat, which is estimated to date from some 2,000 years ago.

A piece of orange-colored pottery with a diameter of 2 centimeters was found next within the aqueduct, which is probably related to the Parthian era (247 BC–224 CE), as reported by IRNA. As noted by a local official:

“The aqueduct is probably associated with a mother well and several shaft friction structures. Inside the aqueduct was completely flawless and there were only some sedimentary material created over time at the bottom of the canals”

The ingress of a Parthia-era qanat or aqueduct discovered in Rostaq (Source: Tehran Times).

According to the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, some 120,000 qanats have so far been recognized across Iran, of which some 37,000 are still in use in arid and semi-arid regions.

The concept of Persian Qanat, which provides exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas, was registered on UNESCO World Heritage list in 2016.