The Parthians (pages 51 - 53)


During the second millennium BC (between 2000 and 1000 BC) groups of animal-herders had moved down from the steppes of central Asia, and established themselves on the Iranian plateau. They became the Medes and the Persians. But plenty of Iranian peoples stayed on the steppes - becoming expert horsemen, and perfecting a nomadic lifestyle. The Greeks ignorantly referred to all these peoples as "SCYTHIANS" - there were many different nations, but they all spoke Iranian languages related to Persian. During the Seleucid period, around 250 BC, another movement began. One of the nomadic horse-riding nations began filtering down into the area east of the Caspian Sea, in seach of more arable land. These were the Parni or Aparni, a branch of the semi-nomadic DAHAE PEOPLE. Deterred from taking on the powerful Bactrian kingdom, they infiltrated the satrapy known to the Greeks as Parthia, and so became known as PARTHIANS.

More here:




Mithridates (Latin); Mithradates (Greek); Mehrdad (Parthian). Don't confuse him with Mithridates VI, King of Pontus ("The Poison King"), subject of three Roman wars between 89 and 63 BC.

Silk Road



Note that relations were originally friendly - Roman cheating caused the rift (which might have been inevitable). The Romans found the Parthians a problem - mainly because generals and emperors wanted to win glory by "doing an Alexander". The Parthians, once they'd taken Iraq were mostly content with their side of the Euphrates.

Bactria = Afghanistan. Ruled by Greek kings long after the Seleucids had disappeared. Story here: For the greek city of Ai Khanum - on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan see here:

Huns - probably the Xiongnu, who were a major threat to China before they began expanding to the west.

Research: the silk Road was not a road, and not only silk moved along it. Plenty on website



Aftermath - an incident at the Parthian court:

Plutarch (whose "orientalism" has already come to our notice) has this bizarre story about the aftermath of the Battle of Carrhae:

Now when the head of Crassus was brought to the palace, an actor, Jason by name, was performing the part of the "Bacchae" of Euripides where Agave is about to appear. While he was receiving his applause, Sillaces stood at the door of the banqueting-hall, and after bowing to the king, threw the head of Crassus into the centre of the festivities. The Parthians picked it up, clapping their hands and shouting for joy. The king ordered his servants to give Sillaces a seat. Then Jason handed his costume of Pentheus to one of the chorus, seized the head of Crassus, and assuming the role of the crazed Agave, sang her lines through as though inspired:

“We've caught a lion cub today,

And from the hills we bring our glorious prey.” [Plutarch, Life of Crassus]

And so the tragedy of Crassus ended in farce. 

In the play, Agave, in a mad fit, has, with her friends, hunted down, killed and torn to pieces what she believes is a lion cub. She enters in triumph, carrying its head – as she thinks. But she is about to find out that it's the head of her son, Pentheus.


Greek culture in Parthia - how strong?

Can you explain why the Parthian empire lasted so long (500 years ruled by one family - longest of any dynasty), and why it collapsed?

Why did so many Romans want to invade Parthia?


Find out about the Greeks in Bactria and India.

Investigate the Silk Road.