Kings of the Arshkan / Parthian Dynasty
After the downfall of the Achaemenian Empire, Iran was ruled by the Macedonian generals of the Seleucide dynasty for about 80 years, during which period they tried and largely succeeded to foist their Greek religion, culture, civilization, and language on the Iranian people.
After 80 years of Seleucid rule, an Iranian kingdom Parthia, in North-Eastern Iran, founded by Arsaces / Arshak, rose into prominence. This kingdom, later it grew into the Ashkanian or Parthian empire, which ruled from about 250 B. C. to 226 A. C.
The records of this dynasty are very sketchy. Pahlavi literature only vaguely refers to the Arshkanians and mentions only Valkhash and Ardavan by name. Firdausi has assigned only “two centuries” to the Arshkanians, and he sums up their long history of 476 years in a few couplets. He expressly states that their history was not preserved. The historian Tabari dismisses the Parthian rule in two pages, and Mirkhond states that he could not find the history of the Parthians.
Two important features of Parthian history are its struggle to get out of the Greek influence in the initial years, and their long drawn out wars with the Romans, later on. Just as the Achaemenians stood against Greek domination, the Parthians prevented the Romans from dominating Asia. The following are some of the main kings of this dynasty.
He became independent by defeating the Seleucide king Antiochus Theos. He ruled from 250 to 247 BC. He was proclaimed king in 248 BC but did not rule for long as he was killed in a battle.
Tiridates or Arsaces II, succeeded his brother Arsaces, and ruled from 247 to 214 BC. He defeated Seleucide King Seleucus II who attacked to recapture Parthia.
He ruled from 214 to 196 BC. Seleucid general Antiochus joined hands with the Romans and gave a very difficult time to the Parthians. Artabanus I however managed to occupy Media.
Mithradates I ascended the throne as Arsaces IV in 174 B. C. He greatly extended the Parthian Empire by extending its territory from the Euphrates to the Indus. He defeated Seleucide king Demetrius II and took him prisoner. Around 140 B. C. he conquered the Greek provinces and adopted the title “King of kings.”
He established a Parliament, known as Magistan “’the House of Wise Men”, and introduced the Parliamentary system of government. The Magistan not only had had the power to nominate the emperor from among the members of the royal family, but also to depose him if and when necessary. He ruled till 136 BC.
He ruled from 124 to 88 BC. During his reign Parthia came in contact for the first time with the Romans. In 92 B. C. Mithradates sent his ambassador Orobazus to Rome, formed an alliance, and established friendly relations with Rome.
He ruled from 55 to 37 BC. The Magistan chose him over his brother as the king. About the same time Crassus, the proconsul of Rome in the East, marched into the Parthian territory. The Parthian commander Suren inflicted crushing defeat to the Roman army in 53 B. C. in the battle of Carrhae. The Roman standards, known as the Roman Eagles were seized as trophies. Crassus while retreating was killed in mysterious circumstances, resulting in a resounding victory for the Parthian army.
He ruled from 37 to 02 BC. He was on friendly terms with Roman General Octavianus, later known as Augustus, who was a rival of another Roman General Mark Antony. About 37 BC, Mark Antony decided to destroy Parthia, but had to retreat on account of stubborn resistance and fierce counter-attack. This defeat was so disastrous for the Romans that thereafter there was no active warfare on a large scale between Parthia and Rome for about a century.
The Parthian Emperor also returned to Octavianus the Roman Eagles captured as trophies in the battles with Crassus. The Romans received the trophies with religious fervour and celebrated the event. At this time, relations between Rome and Parthia were so cordial that Phraates IV sent his four sons to Rome, where they were royally treated in about 10 B. C.
Phraates IV married an Italian girl Thea Musa who had dominant power over him. She urged him to appoint her son as his successor, but when he did not relent, the mother and the son conspired against him and had him murdered. The son became king as Phraates V (2 BC to 1 AC).
After Phraates V, Orodes II became the Emperor, but was assassinated within a year. Then the Magistan selected Vonones, one of the four sons of Phraates IV who was residing in Rome, as Emperor. On account of Roman influence and his pro-Roman leanings in the state affairs, he was not very popular. He ruled till 15 AC.
Artabanus was selected Emperor in 15 AC and ruled till 42 AC. Vonones had sought help from the Romans, who surreptitiously created trouble for Artabanus. During his reign there were wars between Parthia and Rome on account of Armenia. During his reign he was twice de-throned, at first by Tiridates in 36 A.C. and then by Kinamus in 40 A.C. Both the times Artabanus III was brought back to the throne as he was perceived to be better than the incumbents.
Open warfare with the Romans started once again in the time of Vologases I, who ruled from 51 to 77 A C. He appointed of Tiridates as the king of Armenia, and occupied the province. With the consent of Magistan, Vologases sent an army to Armenia and himself led another army to Nisibis in Rome. In the encounter, the Romans were defeated and they consented to withdraw beyond the Euphrates, which was the agreed boundary, and accepted Tiridates as the king of Armenia.
However, by the order of the Roman Emperor Nero hostilities resumed. The Roman armies crossed Euphrates, and marched against Parthia and Armenia. A treaty was concluded by which it was agreed that Tiridates should visit Rome, and receive the crown as king of Armenia from the Roman Emperor.
The Romans accepted Tiridates, an Arsacide, and a brother and appointee of the Parthian Emperor as the king of Armenia, and thus temporarily ended, the struggle between Parthia and Rome over Armenia.
Vologases I is also responsible for Zoroastrian revival and national reawakening in Iran. Pahlavi texts, mention him as Arshkanian Valkhash who ordered to collect the scattered fragments of Zoroastrian religious texts. Numismatic evidences satisfactorily support this statement. He was the first Parthian Emperor to strike coins with legend inscribed in Pahlavi language.
He ruled from 108 to 130 AC. During this time, the Roman emperor Trajan attacked and captured Ctesiphon. Chosroes had to flee. Trajan installed an Arsacid prince, Parthamaspates on the Parthian throne in 117 A.C, and crowned him with his own hands, but Trajan died in the same year.
Chosroes, who had fled to the eastern provinces, returned with a strong army, reconquered Ctesiphon, and expelled Parthamaspates, the protege of Trajan, and re-occupied Susiana and a part of Mesopotamia. After Trajan’s death, his successor Hadrian concluded peace with Parthia.
Vologases III ascended the throne in 148 AC and challenged the Romans. He conquered Armenia, dismissed the king appointed by Rome, and gave the throne to Tigranes, a member of the Parthian royal family. Ctesiphon was once again stormed and occupied by Roman Emperor Severus in 198 AC, but he was obliged to retreat quickly. He captured Syria and Palestine and retained them for some time. He ruled till 190 AC.
A civil war broke out between Vologases V and Artabanus V two sons of Vologases IV. After seven years of war, Artabanus V was recognised as the Emperor. He defeated Roman Emperor Iacarnus in the battle of Nisibis in 218 AC. The Romans bagged for peace after paying a heavy price. This was the last of the long battles between Rome and Parthia.
The Parthian empire was becoming weak. The Satraps had started becoming independent. One of the Satraps was Papak who ruled over Pars. When Artabanus V tried to take away his kingdom, Papak’s son Ardeshir rose in rebellion, defeated Artabanus V in 224 AC and later established the Sasanian dynasty.