Professor Shapour Shahbazi: Origins of the Parthians

The article below on the origins of the Parthians is authored by the late Professor Shapur Shahbazi and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica). Readers are also referred to Professor Shahbazi’s article on the Parthian army (kindly click the picture below):

Parth-Savar1

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Our sources on the ancestry of the eponymous founder of the dynasty, Arsaces, vary irreconcilably. He is introduced as a bandit who seized Parthia by attacking and killing its satrap, Andragoras (Justin 41.4; Ammianus Marcellinus 23.6.2); as a Bactrian who found the rise of Diodotus unbearable, moved to Parthia, and securing the leadership of the province, rose against the Seleucids (Strabo 11.9.3); or as a Parni chief of the Dahae Sacians, who conquered Parthia shortly before Diodotus’ revolt (ibid., 11.9.2).

34-Map of Parthian Empire 44 BC to 138 AD

[Click to Enlarge] 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). 

A fourth account alleges that “the Persian” Andragoras whom Alexander left as satrap of Parthia was the ancestor of the subsequent kings of Parthia (Justin 12.4.12). A fifth version had been provided by Arrian in his Parthica, now lost, which was epitomized on this point by Photius (Bibliotheca 58) and the twelfth-century Syncellus (Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae XIII, ed. W. Dindorf, Bonn, 1829, p. 539). Photius’ epitome runs as follows: “Arsaces and Tiridates were brothers, descendants of Phriapites, the son of Arsaces [Syncellus: the brothers “were allegedly descendants of the Persian Artaxerxes”]. Pherecles [Syncellus: Agathocles], who had been made satrap of their country by Antiochus Theus, offered a gross insult to one of them, whereupon … they took five men into counsel, and with their aid slew the insolent one. They then induced their nation to revolt from the Macedonians and set up a government of their own.” Finally, the Iranian national history traced Arsaces’ lineage to Kay Qobād (Ferdowsī, Šāh-nāma VII, p. 116; Ṭabarī, I, p. 710), or to his son Kay Āraš (Ṯaʿālebī, p. 457), or to Dārā the son of Homāy (Ṭabarī, I, p. 704; Bīrūnī, The Chronology, p. 118), or even to the famous archer, Āraš (Šāh-nāma VII, p. 115; anonymous “authorities” apud Bīrūnī, op. cit., p. 119).

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A reconstruction of the face on the statue of a Parthian nobleman housed at Tehran’s Iran Bastan Museum (Picture Source: Parthian Empire).

These reports reflect developments in political ideologies. Humble origin and robbery are folkstories told also of Cyrus, Sāsān, and other dynastic heroes. The association with Āraš the archer was occasioned by similarity in names and the fact that Arsaces is figured on Parthian coins as a bowman (cf. A. v. Gutschmid in ZDMG 34, 1880, p. 743), although the bow was always regarded as a royal symbol. “The Persian Artaxerxes” in Syncellus has generally been taken to mean Artaxerxes II because Ctesias said (apud Plutarch, Artoxares 2) that he was called Arsaces prior to his coronation (A. v. Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans und seiner Nachbarländer, Tübingen, 1888, p. 30, and others). But this ignores the fact that Artaxerxes I also was called Aršak/Arsaces, Babylonian Aršu (A. Sachs, “Achaemenid Royal Names in Babylonian Astronomical Texts,” American Journal of Ancient History 4, 1979, pp. 131ff.).

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Parthian Horse Archer (Picture Source: Civilization fanatics)

The tradition that Arsaces was a Parni chief is supported, as R. N. Frye has noticed (The History of Ancient Iran, Munich, 1983, p. 206), by a statement in Bundahišn (35.43f.) according to which Dastān (= Zāl), “Prince of the Sacas” and Aparnak, Lord of Aparšahr (later Nīšāpūr) were descendants of Sām: “Aparšahr is thus named because it is the land of the Aparnak” (corrected translation in Frye, loc. cit., with n. 3). By the middle of the third century B.C., the Parni appear to have been assimilated to the Iranian Parthians: They adopted the latter’s name, bore purely Iranian—even Zoroastrian—names (Lassen, Indische Altertumskunde II, Bonn, 1847, p. 285 n. 3, could connect the name of Arsaces’ father, Phriapites, with an Avestan *Friya pitā “father-lover” = Greek Philopatros). On his coins, Arsaces wears Sacian dress but sits on a stool (later ampholas) with a bow in hand, as Achaemenid satraps, such as Datames, had done before. He deliberately diverges from Seleucid coins to emphasize his nationalistic and royal aspirations, and he calls himself Kārny/Karny (Greek Autocratos), a title already borne by Achaemenid supreme generals, such as Cyrus the Younger (see for details M. T. Abgarians and D. G. Sellwood, “A Hoard of Early Parthian Drachms,” NC, 1971, pp. 103ff.).

32-Partho-Sassanian belt buckle 2nd or 3rd century CE

[Click to Enlarge] Partho-Sassanian belt buckle dated to the 2nd or 3rd century CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 143, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا). 

Later Parthian kings assumed Achaemenid descent, revived Achaemenid protocols (J. Neusner, “Parthian Political Ideology,” Iranica Antiqua 3, 1963, pp. 45ff.), and Artabanus III, who named one of his sons Darius (Dio Cassius 59.27), laid claim to Cyrus’ heritage (Tacitus, Annals 4.31). On the whole, then, onomastic, numismatic, and epigraphic considerations point to the conclusion that the Parthian dynasty was “local, Iranian by origin;” on this ground “the Zoroastrian character of all the names of the Parthian kings, and the fact that some of these names . . . belong to the “heroic background” of the Avesta,” afford logical explanation (G. V. Lukonin in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, 1983, p. 687).

Professor C. Toumanoff: The Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia

The article below on the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia is authored by Professor C. Toumanoff and was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica). Kindly note that apart from the map and table of kings which have been posted on Encyclopedia Iranica and CAIS, all other pictures are unique to this posting.

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Third dynasty of Armenia (in Armenian, Aršakuni), from the first to the mid-fifth century. The preceding dynasty of the Artaxiads became extinct about A.D. 12, amid a secessionist chaos caused by the perennial struggle of Iran and Rome over Armenia—the second throne, after Media, in the Iranian scheme of vassal kingdoms. It was then that the ex great king of Iran, Vonones I became king of Armenia. After him, seven Arsacid princes from Parthia came at different times to occupy the Armenian throne, interchangeably with six others, candidates of Rome. A compromise was finally attempted in 63 (Treaty of Rhandeia).

Arsacid-Armenia

[Click to Enlarge] Map of Armenia under the Arsacid House (Picture Source: CAIS).

An Arsacid, Tiridates I, was recognized by both empires as king of Armenia. Roman “friendship” was imposed upon him—and in 66 he journeyed to Rome to be crowned by Nero—and, at the same time, as a Parthian prince, he was bound to accept the family ascendancy of the head of the Arsacids, the great king. The balance thus established between political and dynastic allegiance proved, however, precarious. Dynastic allegiance often became political as well, and Armenia continued to oscillate between the two rivals. None of the first eight Arsacids who reigned in Armenia founded a line of kings; it was left to the ninth, Vologases (Vałarš) II (180-191), to achieve this: his posterity of thirteen kings formed the Armenian Arsacid dynasty (see table below).

Armenia-Arsacid-kings

[Click to Enlarge] Arsacid Royal Lineage of Armenia (Picture Source: CAIS).

The Armenian historical tradition (found chiefly in Ps.-Movsês Xorenac’i) represented the earlier, national Artaxiads as also a branch of the Iranian Arsacids, and the Armenian Arsacids as their direct continuation, creating thus an imbroglio from the effects of which Armenian historiography has only recently succeeded in freeing itself.

Arsacid rule brought about an intensification of the political and cultural influence of Iran in Armenia. Whatever the sporadic suzerainty of Rome, the country was now a part-together with Iberia (East Georgia) and (Caucasian) Albania, where other Arsacid branched reigned-of a pan-Arsacid family federation. Culturally, the predominance of Hellenism, as under the Artaxiads, was now followed by a predominance of “Iranianism,” and, symptomatically, instead of Greek, as before, Parthian became the language of the educated. However. since the Iranian Arsacids themselves took pride in being philhellene, Armenian Hellenism was not destroyed.

Varazdat-Armenia

A portrait of Armenian King Varazdat (r. 374-378 CE) who was a descendant of the Parthian nobles of Armenia, known as the Arshakuni.

After a while, however, the Armeno-Iranian symbiosis came to an end. Early in the third century. the Arsacids of Iran were overthrown by the Sasanians; the family federation existed no longer; instead, a family feud separated the Armenian Arsacids from the “usurping” new rulers of Iran. Next, in 314, under King Tiridates (Trdat) the Great and through the apostolate of ‘St. Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia, nearly simultaneously with the Roman empire. officially accepted Christianity, a turning point in its history. An unbridgeable gulf between the militant Mazdaism of Sasanian Iran and Armenia’s no less uncompromising Christianity, now replaced the unity of the easy syncretistic paganism of the Armeno-Iranian symbiosis. Politically, religiously, and culturally, this was a victory of the Roman empire and Hellenism. But this, the “neo-Achaemenianism” of the Sasanians could not tolerate. So the struggle of empires went on, more intensely than before, until, finally, the Roman empire, occupied elsewhere, was obliged to come to terms with Iran and to agree to the partitioning between them of the apple of discord, especially as, quite conveniently, the latter had just itself effected its division.

Sassanian and Armenian Knights

 [CLICK TO ENLARGE] PHOTO INSERT & COMMENTARY BY Kaveh Farrokh: Sassanian metalwork at right depicting  Khosrow I Anoushiravan and four Sassanian knights (possibly the Sassanian empire’s primary generals). Note the stance of one of the knights from the plate highlighted for reference. Note the figure highlighted  on the Surp Neshan Basilica – the parallels of this form (despite the wear of weather over the centuries) with its Sassanian counterparts are virtually exact.

Parallel to the tension of imperial rivalries outside, there was also a tension at home, one between the crown and the great nobility. Armenia was a highly aristocratic society, its peculiar feature being the presence, above the lesser, azat nobility, of a group of dynastic princes, descendants and successors of prehistoric tribal chiefs, who regarded themselves as minor kings and the king of Armenia as a primus utter pares. The crown endeavored to enhance its ascendancy over the princes. In an attempt to replace the purely political subordination of sovereign princes to a more powerful sovereign, the king, feudalism was introduced, reaching its fullest development in the Arsacid period, with its fundamental conception of the derivation of all authority from the king. The princes, on their part, strove to preserve the older conception, their traditional dynastic position. Hence both conceptions coexisted, in a typically Armenian- and Caucasian- blend. Hence, also, the inner tension. So, while the crown was drawn towards the autocratic and bureaucratic empire. the princes, albeit Christians, gravitated towards the comparatively more aristocratic Iranian monarchy. During one of the internal crises, the kingdom was divided in 384 between the pro-Roman Arsaces (Arsak) III and the pro-Iranian Chosroes (Xosrov) IV. With this fait accompli before them, the Emperor Theodosius I and the Great King Shapur III hastened to ratify in 387 the existence of two Armenian kingdoms, one, western, a Roman, and the other, eastern and vastly larger, an Iranian vassal. Arsaces I11 died in 390 and the western kingdom became a part of the Roman empire; but the eastern kingdom (Persarmenia) continued to exist. The crown, however, was fatally weakened; and, finally, the princes, weary of all immediate authority over them, deposed with Iranian connivance the last king, Artaxias (Artâshês) IV in 428 and brought about the abolition of the monarchy. Thereafter Armenia was a part of the Iranian empire, with the princes as its sovereign oligarchs, vassals of the distant great king, whose suzerainty expressed itself in the presence of his viceroy (marzpan) and in the obligation of fealty and military aid imposed on them.

Armenia-Anahit

Armenian depiction of Goddess Anahit – Armenian equivalent of the Goddess Anahita (Picture Source: News.Am).

An event of importance in the Arsacid period was the invention on the threshold of the fifth century, of the Armenian alphabet by St. Mashtoc’ (Mesrop). With this Armenian became the language of the educated; it was introduced into the liturgy; and national literature was born (under Hellenistic and Syrian influences). Armenia’s identity and individuality were thus saved and an absorption by either Byzantine or Iranian civilization was precluded.

Farrokh Lecture on Iran-Caucasus Links at University of Southern California

Kaveh Farrokh will be providing a two-part lecture at the University of Southern California (USC) (topic: Iran and the Caucasus: A Long-Lasting Legacy of Historical & Cultural Ties) on April 22, 2013.

The USC lecture has been made possible by the organizational and coordination efforts of the Persian Academic and Cultural Student Association (PACSA – see Facebook) and support of the Persian American Society (PAS).

PACSA

[Click to Enlarge] The lecture will focus on the overview of the cultural and historical links between Iran and the Caucasus from antiquity to the signing of the Golestan and Turkmenchai treaties in the early 19th century. Examples of topics include influences in linguistics, arts, architecture and culture over the centuries in the regions of ancient Albania (modern Republic of Azerbaijan), Armenia and Georgia (ancient Iberia and Colchis). In addition to influences from Iran proper, the role of North-Iranian speakers in Eastern Europe and their impact on the Caucasus is also examined. The lecture will conclude with the Iranian legacy in the Caucasus after the Russian conquests of 1828.

The lecture at the University of Southern California on Iran and the Caucasus: A Long-Lasting Legacy of Historical & Cultural Ties will be held at:

Location: USC-Waite Phillips Hall (Room WPH B27) – 3470 Trousdale Parkway Los Angeles, CA 90089

Time: 6:30 pm

 

Farrokh Lecture on Ancient Iranian Women at Portland State University

Kaveh Farrokh will be providing a lecture at Portland State University (PSU) (topic: Women in Ancient Iran) on April 20, 2013.

The PSU lecture is part of larger series of talks on Persian Women organized by the Persian program at PSU and  presented with funding from PARSA Community Foundation (see Facebook) and co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Center and the Department of World Languages & Literatures at Portland State University.

Portland-PARSA-1

[Click to Enlarge] Kaveh Farrokh’s lecture begins with the role of women on the Iranian plateau from the Bronze Age both before and after the Indo-European arrivals. The prime importance of women in Iranian speaking tribes in the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (i.e. Scythians, Sarmatians, etc.), and the Iranian plateau are detailed, notably the Achaemenid and the ensuing Partho-Sassanian eras. (Time permitting) the discussion then draws on select highlights of the post Islamic era: notably the Karim Khan Zand era and the Constitutional Revolution.

Note that the lectures at Portland State University (April 20-21, 2013) also feature a highly impressive array of Iranologist scholars:

  • Dr. Nayareh Tohidi of California State University: Women as Agents of Change in Modern Iran
  • Dr. Dick Davis of Ohio State University: Women in Persian Literature
  • Dr. Shahla Haeri of Boston University: Women and Political Leadership in Iran

The lecture at Portland State University on “Women in Ancient Iran” will be held at:

Location: PSU-Smith Memorial Student Union, room 238, on Broadway St

Time: 3:00 pm

New Course: Forgotten Gifts of Persia

Kaveh Farrokh, an instructor at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division is offering a new course entitled:

The Forgotten Gifts of Persia

Below is the official course description:

Learn about the forgotten contributions of Persia to world civilization in the realm of technology and architecture. Topics include the world’s first movies, the artificial eye, the battery, aqueducts, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, windmills, pontoon bridges and the world’s first hospital and medical university, as well as examples of the influence of Persian architecture in China, India, Rome, Western Europe, and throughout the Middle East.

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[Click to enlarge] An 18th century Persian Astrolabe  housed in Cambridge Museum’s History of Sciences section Picture source: Fouman.com).

For details consult The Forgotten Gifts of Persia | UBC Continuing Studies (pdf):

  • Format: In Class
  • Code: UP723 W13 A
  • Start: Weds Mar 13, 2013
  • Schedule: Weds  1pm – 3pm
  • Location: Tapestry at Wesbrook Village (University of British Columbia Point Grey campus)

artificial-Eye

[Click to Enlarge] (RIGHT) Iranian researcher examining the artificial eye found at Shahr e Sookhteh – further tests are being conducted in Iran to determine the exact chemical composition of the prosthetic (LEFT) A curious feature of the “eye” are parallel lines that have been drawn around the pupil to form a diamond shape …READ MORE

There is also a determined drive from the Asian Studies department of the University of British Columbia to establish a full-time Iranian Studies program.

Professor Harjot S. Oberoi of the UBC Asian Studies program introduces “An Evening with Dr. Kaveh Farrokh – Sassanian Architecture” (Monday March 12, 2011). This talk was given as part of the overall drive to promote support for the University of British Columbia’s Iranian Studies and Persian language initiative.

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