After Alexander (pages 50 -51) and The Parthians (52 -53)


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1000 years of history are brutally compressed : the detailed history is complicated, and sources are difficult.

Most teachers (even Classicists!) may feel they don't know much about the Seleucids, Parthians or Sasanians. Nevertheless, it very important to see the continuity – the Persian empire as an idea continued on into the Sasanian period – and well beyond. An idea beautifully illustrated in Michael Axworthy's book : Iran - Empire of the Mind. Both Parthians and Sasanians were seen as threats to the Roman empire – the Greek wars with Persia, and Alexander's conquests had led the west to underestimate Persia, and consequently, the eastern frontier of the Roman empire remained vulnerable.

Opportunity to explore contacts between China and the West. Does China plan a modern "Silk Route" into Europe and America?



Were pure Macedonian/Greek, although they tried to look Egyptian. Cleopatra VII was one of very few who bothered to learn to speak Egyptian.


For a Seleucid city in NW Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan see Ai Khanum:

The Parthians  For Parthians see and following pages on the Parthians. In a certain way, Rome needed Parthia (and later the Sasanians) as an enemy - hence the constant invasions by a succession of Romans. Balance of power (compare US v USSR/China)

The expression 'Parthian shot' comes from them, although it had been practised for 100s of years in this part of Iran. They would have needed between 1.6 and 2,000,000 missiles at Carrhae. Get learners to imagine the logistics involved. There were specialised workshops mass-producing  arrowheads all over the Iranian plateau. Camel trains bringing fresh supplies of arrows were timed to arrive at the battlefield when needed (like components to motor car factories!). The individual horseman's quiver held 30 arrows, enough for 2-3 minutes combat. The extract is from Plutarch's Life of Crassus.

 Nestorians, later known as Assyrians, or better 'The Church of the east'. Parallels perhaps with the way that Islam is viewed in some western countries?

For Christianity in Persia see here:


  1. Ptolemy had seized a comparatively small, rich and easily defended area. There was also an established “civil service” and taxation system – and its rulers (pharaohs) had been monarchs for millennia.
  2. The Parthians were efficient and well-organised. The total number of arrows is an amazing 1.6 million!
  3. Parthian prince. Note the moustache, hair-style and headband, torque, trousers – and probably more.
  4. The dramatic performance shows they were steeped in Greek culture – but – according to the Greek Plutarch, were still barbarians.
  5. Ardashir I: “I am on a level with Ahura Mazda, who is my friend: together we have trampled our enemies underfoot.” The “football” on the head is the Sasanian symbol of kingship. Ardashir is trampling his enemy (presumably the Parthian leader) while Ahura Mazda is crushing Ahriman, the embodiment of evil.


1. During the Parthian period, grapevines were sent to China. Use Wikipedia to find out about the cultivation of other fruit – apples, cherries, pears, apricots, pomegranates, lemons. Which would have been known in ancient Greece?

2. Write an interview with a Roman soldier who has met the Parthians in battle for the first time.