Phraates had sufficient warning of his coming decease to make preparations with respect to a successor. Though he had several sons, some of whom were (we must suppose) of sufficient age to have ascended the throne, he left his crown to his brother, Mithridates. He felt, probably, that the State required the direction of a firm hand, that war might at any time break out with either Syria or Bactria; while, if the career of conquest on which he had made Parthia enter were to be pursued, he could trust his brother better than any of his sons to conduct aggressive expeditions with combined vigor and prudence. We shall see, as the history proceeds, how Mithridates justified his choice. Phraates would also appear to have borne his brother especial affection, since he takes the name of "Philadelphus" (brother-loving) upon his coins. It must have been a satisfaction to him that he was able by his last act at once to consult for the good of his country, and to gratify a sentiment on which it is evident that he prided himself.
Reign of Mithridates I. Position of Bactria and Syria at his accession. His first war with Bactria. His great Expedition against the Eastern Syrian provinces, and its results. His second war with Bactria, terminating in its conquest. Extent of his Empire. Attempt of Demetrius Nicator to recover the lost Provinces fails. Captivity of Demetrius. Death of Mithridates.
The reign of Mithridates I. is the most important in the Parthian history. [PLATE 1. Fig. 3.] Receiving from his brother Phraates a kingdom of but narrow dimensions, confined (as it would seem) between the city of Charax on the one side, and the river Arius, or Hori-rud, on the other, he transformed it, within the space of thirty-seven years (which was the time that his reign lasted), into a great and nourishing Empire. It is not too much to say that, but for him, Parthia might have remained a more petty State on the outskirts of the Syrian kingdom, and, instead of becoming a rival to Rome, might have sunk shortly into obscurity and insignificance.
As commonly happens in the grand changes which constitute the turning-points of history, the way for Mithridates's vast successes was prepared by a long train of antecedent circumstances. To show how the rise of the Parthians to greatness in the middle of the second century before our era was rendered possible, we must turn aside once more from our proper subject and cast a glance at the condition of the two kingdoms between which Parthia stood, at the time when Mithridates ascended the throne.
The Bactrian monarchs in their ambitious struggles to possess themselves of the tracts south of the Paropamisus, and extending from the Heri-rud to the Sutlej and the mouths of the Indus, overstrained the strength of their State, and by shifting the centre of its power injured irretrievably its principle of cohesion. As early as the reign of Demetrius a tendency to disruption showed itself, Eucratidas having held the supreme power for many years in Bactria itself, while Demetrius exercised authority on the southern side of the mountains. It is true that at the death of Demetrius this tendency was to a certain extent checked, since Eucratidas was then able to extend his sway over almost the whole of the Bactrian territory. But the old evil recurred shortly, though in a less pronounced form. Eucratidas, without being actually supplanted in the north by a rival, found that he could devote to that portion of the Empire but a small part of his attention. The southern countries and the prospect of southern and eastern conquests engrossed him. While he carried on successful wars with the Arachotians, the Drangians, and the Indians of the Punjaub region, his hold on the more northern countries was relaxed, and they began to slip from his grasp. Incursions of the nomad Scyths from the Steppes carried fire and sword over portions of these provinces, some of which were Even, it is probable, seized and occupied by the invaders.
Such was, it would seem, the condition of Bactria under Eucratidas, the contemporary of Mithridates. In Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes had succeeded his brother Seleucus IV. (Philopator) about a year before Mithridates ascended the Parthian throne. He was a prince of courage and energy; but his hands were fully occupied with wars in Egypt, Palestine, and Armenia, and the distant East could attract but a small share of his thought or attention. The claim put forward by Egypt to the possession of Coele-Syria and Palestine, promised to Ptolemy V. (it was affirmed) as a dowry with Cleopatra, the daughter of Antiochus the Great, led to hostilities in the south-west which lasted continuously for four years (B.C. 171 to B.C. 168), and were complicated during two of them with troubles in Judaea, rashly provoked by the Syrian monarch, who, unaware of the stubborn temper of the Jews, goaded them into insurrection. The war with Egypt came to an end in B.C. 168; it brought Syria no advantage, since Rome interposed, and required the restitution of all conquests. The war with the Jews had no such rapid termination. Antiochus, having not only plundered and desecrated the Temple, but having set himself to eradicate utterly the Jewish religion, and completely Hellenize the people, was met with the most determined resistance on the part of a moiety of the nation. A patriotic party rose up under devoted leaders, who asserted, and in the end secured, the independence of their country. Not alone during the remaining years of Epiphanes, but for half a century after his death, throughout seven reigns, the struggle continued; Judaea taking advantage of every trouble and difficulty in Syria to detach herself more and more completely from her oppressor; being a continual thorn in her side, a constant source of weakness, preventing more than anything else the recovery of her power. The triumph which Epiphanes obtained in the distant Armenia (B.C. 166-5), where he defeated and captured the king, Artaxias, was a poor set-off against the foe which he had created to himself at his doors through his cruelty and intolerance.
In another quarter, too, the Syrian power received a severe shake through the injudicious violence of Epiphanes. The Oriental temples had, in some instances, escaped the rapacity of Alexander's generals and "Successors;" their treasuries remained unviolated, and contained large hoards of the precious metals. Epiphanes, having exhausted his own exchequer by his wars and his lavish gifts, saw in these un-plundered stores a means of replenishing it, and made a journey into his south-eastern provinces for the purpose. The natives of Elymais, however, resisted his attempt, and proved strong enough to defeat it; the baffled monarch retired to Tabae, where he shortly afterward fell sick and died. In the popular belief his death was a judgment upon him for his attempted sacrilege; and in the exultation caused by the event the bands which joined these provinces to the Empire must undoubtedly have been loosened.
Nor did the removal of Epiphanes (B.C. 164) improve the condition of affairs in Syria. The throne fell to his son, Antiochus Eupator, a boy of nine, according to Appian, or, according to another authority, of twelve years of age. The regent, Lysias, exercised the chief power, and was soon engaged in a war with the Jews, whom the death of Epiphanes had encouraged to fresh efforts. The authority of Lysias was further disputed by a certain Philip, whom Epiphanes, shortly before his death, had made tutor to the young king. The claims of this tutor to the regent's office being supported by a considerable portion of the army, a civil war arose between him and Lysias, which raged for the greater part of two years (B.C. 163-2), terminating in the defeat and death of Philip. But Syrian affairs did not even then settle down into tranquillity. A prince of the Seleucid house, Demetrius by name, the son of Seleucus IV., and consequently the first cousin of Eupator, was at this time detained in Rome as a hostage, having been sent there during his father's lifetime as a security for his fidelity. Demetrius, with some reason, regarded his claim to the Syrian throne as better than that of his cousin, the son of the younger brother, and being in the full vigor of early youth, he determined to assert his pretensions in Syria, and to make a bold stroke for the crown. Having failed to obtain the Senate's consent to his quitting Italy, he took his departure secretly, crossed the Mediterranean in a Carthaginian vessel, and, landing in Asia, succeeded within a few months in establishing himself as Syrian monarch.
From this review it sufficiently appears that the condition of things, both in Syria and Bactria, was favorable to any aspirations which the power that lay between them might entertain after dominion and self-aggrandizement. The Syrian and Bactrian kings, at the time of Mithridates's accession, were, both of them, men of talent and energy; but the Syrian monarch was soon involved in difficulties at home, while the Bactrian had his attention attracted to prospects of advantage in a remote quarter, Mithridates might, perhaps, have attacked the territory of either with an equal chance of victory; and as his predecessor had set him the example of successful warfare on his western frontier, we might have expected his first efforts to have been in this direction, against the dependencies of Syria. But circumstances which we cannot exactly trace determined his choice differently. While Eucratidas was entangled in his Indian wars, Mithridates invaded the Bactrian territory where it adjoined Parthia, and added to his Empire, after a short struggle, two provinces, called respectively Turiua and that of Aspionus. It is conjectured that these provinces lay towards the north and the north-west, the one being that of the Turanians proper, and the other that of the Aspasiacae, who dwelt between the Jaxartes and the Oxus. But there is scarcely sufficient ground for forming even a conjecture on the subject, since speculation has nothing but the names themselves to rest upon.
Successful in this quarter, Mithridates, a few years later, having waited until the Syrian throne was occupied by the boy Eupator, and the two claimants of the regency, Lysias and Philip, were contending in arms for the supreme power, made suddenly an expedition towards the west, falling upon Media, which, though claimed by the Syrian kings as a province of their Empire, was perhaps at this time almost, if not quite, independent. The Medes offered a vigorous resistance to his attack; and, in the war which followed, each side had in turn the advantage; but eventually the Parthian prince proved victorious, and the great and valuable province of Media Magna was added to the dominons of the Arsacidae. A certain Bacasis was appointed to govern it, whether as satrap or as tributary monarch is not apparent; while the Parthian king, recalled towards home by a revolt, proceeded to crush rebellion before resuming his career of conquest.
The revolt which now occupied for a time the attention of Mithridates was that of Hyrcania. The Hyrcanians were Arians in race; they were brave and high-spirited, and under the Persian monarchs had enjoyed some exceptional privileges which placed them above the great mass of the conquered nations. It was natural that they should dislike the yoke of a Turanian people; and it was wise of them to make their effort to obtain their freedom before Parthia grew into a power against which revolt would be utterly hopeless. Hyrcania might now expect to be joined by the Medes, and even the Mardi, who were Arians like themselves, and could not yet have forgotten the pleasures of independence. But though the effort does not seem to have been ill-timed, it was unsuccessful. No aid was given to the rebels, so far as we hear, by any of their neighbors. Mithridates's prompt return nipped the insurrection in the bud; Hyrcania at once submitted, and became for centuries the obedient vassal of her powerful neighbor.
The conquest of Media had brought the Parthians into contact with the rich country of Susiana or Elymais; and it was not long before Mithridates, having crushed the Hyrcanian revolt, again advanced westward, and invaded this important province. Elymais appears to have a had a king of its own, who must either have been a vassal of the Seleucidse, or have acquired an independent position by revolt after the death of Epiphanes. In the war which followed between this monarch and Mithridates, the Elymseans proved wholly unsuccessful, and Mithridates rapidly overran the country and added it to his dominions. After this he appears to have received the submission of the Persians on the one hand and the Babylonians on the other, and to have rested on his laurels for some years, having extended the Parthian sway from the Hindoo Koosh to the Euphrates.
The chronological data which have come down to us for this period are too scanty to allow of any exact statement of the number of years occupied by Mithridates in effecting these conquests. All that can be said is that he appears to have commenced them about B.C. 163 and to have concluded them some time before B.C. 140, when he was in his turn attacked by the Syrians. Probably they had been all effected by the year B.C. 150; since there is reason to believe that about that time Mithridates found his power sufficiently established in the west to allow of his once more turning his attention eastward, and renewing his aggressions upon the Bactrian kingdom, which had passed from the rule of Eucratidas under that of his son and successor, Heliocles.
Heliocles, who was allowed by his father a quasi-royal position, obtained the full possession of the Bactrian throne by the crime of parricide. It is conjectured that he regarded with disapproval his father's tame submission to Parthian ascendency, and desired the recovery of the provinces which Eucratidas had been content to cede for the sake of peace. We are told that he justified his crime on the ground that his father was a public enemy; which is best explained by supposing that he considered him the friend of Bactria's great enemy, Parthia. If this be the true account of the circumstances under which he became king, his accession would have been a species of challenge to the Parthian monarch, whose ally he had assassinated. Mithridates accordingly marched against him with all speed, and, easily defeating his troops, took possession of the greater part of his dominion. Elated by this success, he is said to have pressed eastward, to have invaded India, and overrun the country as far as the river Hydaspes, but, if it be true that his arms penetrated so far, it is, at any rate, certain that he did not here effect any conquest. Greek monarchs of the Bactrian series continued masters of Oabul and Western India till about B.C. 126; no Parthian coins are found in this region; nor do the best authorities claim for Mithridates any dominion beyond the mountains which enclose on the west the valley of the Indus.
By his war with Heliocles the empire of Mithridates reached its greatest extension. It comprised now, besides Parthia Proper, Bactria, Aria, Drangiana, Arachosia, Margiana, Hyrcania, the country of the Mardi, Media Magna, Susiana, Persia and Babylonia. Very probably its limits were still wider. The power which possessed Parthia, Hyrcania, and Bactria, would rule almost of necessity over the whole tract between the Elburz range and the Oxus, if not even over the region between the Oxus and the Jaxartes; that which held the Caspian mountains and eastern Media could not fail to have influence over the tribes of the Iranic desert; while Assyria Proper would naturally follow the fortunes of Babylonia and Susiana. Still the extent of territory thus indicated rests only on conjecture. If we confine ourselves to what is known by positive evidence, we can only say that the Parthian Kingdom of this period contained, at least, twelve provinces above enumerated. It thus stretched from east to west a distance of fifteen hundred miles between the Suleiman mountains and the Euphrates, varying in width from three or four hundred miles—or even more—towards the west and east, to a narrow strip of less than a hundred miles toward the centre. It probably comprised an area of about 450,000 square miles; which is somewhat less than that of the modern Persia.
Unlike the modern Persia, however, the territory consisted almost entirely of productive regions. The excellent quality of the soil in Parthia Proper, Hyrcania, and Margiana, has been already noticed. Bactria, the next province to Margiana towards the east, was less uniformly fertile; but still it contained a considerable proportion of good land along the course of the Oxus and its tributaries, which was cultivated in vineyards and cornfields, or else pastured large herds of cattle. The Mardian mountain territory was well wooded; and the plain between the mountains and the Caspian was rich in the extreme. Media, where it adjoined on the desert, was comparatively sterile; but still even here an elaborate system of artificial irrigation brought a belt of land under culture. Further west, in the Zagros chain, Media comprised some excellent pasture lands, together with numerous valleys as productive as any in Asia. Elymais was, in part, of the same character with the mountainous portion of Media, while beyond the mountain it sank down into a rich alluvium, not much inferior to the Babylonian. Babylonia itself was confessedly the most fertile country in Asia. It produced wheat, barley, millet, sesame, vetches, dates, and fruits of all kinds. The return of the wheat crop was from fifty to a hundred-and-fifty-fold; while that of the barley crop was three hundred-fold. The dates were of unusual size and superior flavor; and the palm, which abounded throughout the region, furnished an inexhaustible supply both of fruit and timber.
The great increase of power which Mithridates had obtained by his conquests could not be a matter of indifference to the Syrian monarchs. Their domestic troubles—the contentions between Philip and Lysias, between Lysias and Demetrius Soter, Soter and Alexander Balas, Balas and Demetrius II., Demetrius II. and Tryphon, had so engrossed them for the space of twenty years (from B.C. 162 to B.C. 142) that they had felt it impossible, or hopeless, to attempt any expedition towards the East, for the protection or recovery of their provinces. Mithridates had been allowed to pursue his career of conquest unopposed, so far as the Syrians were concerned, and to establish his sway from the Hindoo Koosh to the Euphrates. But a time at last came when home dangers were less pressing, and a prospect of engaging the terrible Parthians with success seemed to present itself. The second Demetrius had not, indeed, wholly overcome his domestic enemy, Tryphon; but he had so far brought him into difficulties as to believe that he might safely be left to be dealt with by his wife, Cleopatra, and by his captains. At the same time the condition of affairs in the East seemed to invite his interference, Mithridates ruled his new conquests with some strictness, suspecting, probably, their fidelity, and determined that he would not by any remissness allow them to escape from his grasp. The native inhabitants could scarcely be much attached to the Syro-Macedonians, who had certainly not treated them very tenderly; but a possession of 170 years' duration confers prestige in the East, and a strange yoke may have galled more than one to whose pressure they had become accustomed. Moreover, all the provinces which Parthia took from Syria contained Greek towns, and their inhabitants might at all times be depended on to side with their countrymen against the Asiatics. At the present conjuncture, too, the number of the malcontents was swelled by the addition of the recently subdued Bactrians, who hated the Parthian yoke, and longed earnestly for a chance of recovering their freedom. Thus when Demetrius II., anxious to escape the reproach of inertness, determined to make an expedition against the great Parthian monarch, he found himself welcomed as a deliverer by a considerable number of his enemy's subjects, whom the harshness, or the novelty, of the Parthian rule had offended. The malcontents joined his standard as he advanced; and supported, as he thus was, by Persian, Elymsen, and Bactrian contingents, he engaged and defeated the Parthians in several battles. Upon this, Mithridates, finding himself inferior in strength, had recourse to stratagem, and having put Demetrius off his guard by proposals of peace, attacked him, defeated him, and took him prisoner. The invading army appears to have been destroyed. The captive monarch was, in the first instance, conveyed about to the several nations which had revolted, and paraded before each in turn, as a proof to them of their folly in lending him aid, but afterwards he was treated in a manner befitting his rank and the high character of his captor. Assigned a residence in Hyrcania, he was maintained in princely state, and was even promised by Mithridates the hand of his daughter, Ehodo-guns. The Parthian monarch, it is probable, had the design of conquering Syria, and thought it possible that he might find it of advantage to have a Syrian prince in his camp, well disposed towards him, connected by marriage, and thus fitted for the position of tributary monarch. But the schemes of Mithridates proved abortive. His career had now reached its close. Attacked by illness not very long after his capture of Demetrius, his strength proved insufficient to bear up against the malady, and he died after a glorious reign of about thirty-eight years, B.C. 136.
System of government established by Mithridates I. Constitution of the Parthians. Government of the Provinces. Laws and Institutions. Character of Mithridates I.
The Parthian institutions possessed great simplicity; and it is probable that they took a shape in the reign of Arsaces I., or, at any rate, of Tiridates, which was not greatly altered afterwards. Permanency is the law of Oriental governments; and in a monarchy which lasted less than five hundred years, it is not likely that many changes occurred. The Parthian institutions are referred to Mithridates I., rather than to Tiridates, because in the reign of Mithridates Parthia entered upon a new phase of her existence—became an empire instead of a mere monarchy; and the sovereign of the time could not but have reviewed the circumstances of his State, and have determined either to adopt the previous institutions of his country, or to reject them. Mithridates I. had attained a position which entitled and enabled him to settle the Parthian constitution as he thought best; and, if he maintained an earlier arrangement, which is uncertain, he must have done so of his own free will, simply because he preferred the existing Parthian institutions to any other. Thus the institutions may be regarded as starting from him, since he approved them, and made them those of the Parthian EMPIRE.
Like most sovereignties which have arisen out of an association of chiefs banding themselves together for warlike purposes under a single head, the Parthian monarchy was limited. The king was permanently advised by two councils, consisting of persons not of his own nomination, whom rights, conferred by birth or office, entitled to their seats. One of these was a family conclave (concilium domesticum), or assembly of the full-grown males of the Royal House; the other was a Senate comprising both the spiritual and the temporal chiefs of the nation, the Sophi, or "Wise Men," and the Magi, or "Priests." Together these two bodies constituted the Megistanes, the "Nobles" or "Great Men"—the privileged class which to a considerable extent checked and controlled the monarch. The monarchy was elective, but only in the house of the Arsacidae; and the concurrent vote of both councils was necessary in the appointment of a new king. Practically, the ordinary law of hereditary descent appears to have been followed, unless in the case where a king left no son of sufficient age to exercise the royal office. Under such circumstances, the Megistanes usually nominated the late king's next brother to succeed him, or, if he had left behind him no brother, went back to an uncle. When the line of succession had once been changed, the right of the elder branch was lost, and did not revive unless the branch preferred died out or possessed no member qualified to rule. When a king had been duly nominated by the two councils, the right of placing the diadem upon his head belonged to the Surena, the "Field-Marshal," or "Commander in Chief of the Parthian armies." The Megistanes further claimed and sometimes exercised the right of deposing a monarch whose conduct displeased them; but an attempt to exercise this privilege was sure to be followed by a civil war, no monarch accepting his deposition without a struggle; and force, not right, practically determining whether he should remain king or no.
After a king was once elected and firmly fixed upon the throne, his power appears to have been nearly despotic. At any rate he could put to death without trial whomsoever he chose; and adult members of the Royal House, who provoked the reigning monarch's jealousy, were constantly so treated. Probably it would have been more dangerous to arouse the fears of the "Sophi" and "Magi." The latter especially were a powerful body, consisting of an organized hierarchy, which had come down from ancient times, and was feared and venerated by all classes of the people. Their numbers at the close of the Empire, counting adult males only, are reckoned at eighty thousand;' they possessed considerable tracts of fertile land, and were the sole inhabitants of many large towns or villages, which they were permitted to govern as they pleased. The arbitrary power of the monarchs must, in practice, have been largely checked by the privileges of this numerous priestly caste, of which it would seem that in later times they became jealous, thereby preparing the way for their own downfall.
The dominion of the Parthians over the conquered provinces was maintained by reverting to the system which had prevailed generally through the East before the accession of the Persians to power, and establishing in the various countries either viceroys, holding office for life, or sometimes dependent dynasties of kings. In either case, the rulers, so long as they paid tribute regularly to the Parthian monarchs and aided them in their wars, were allowed to govern the people beneath their sway at their pleasure. Among monarchs, in the higher sense of the term, may be enumerated the kings of Persia, Elymaiis, Adiabene, Osrhoene, and of Armenia and Media Atropatene, when they formed, as they sometimes did, portions of the Parthian Empire. The viceroys, who governed the other provinces, bore the title of Vitaxae, and were fourteen or fifteen in number. The remark has been made by the historian Gibbon that the system thus established "exhibited under other names a lively image of the feudal system which has since prevailed in Europe." The comparison is of some value, but, like most historical parallels, it is inexact, the points of difference between the Parthian and the feudal system being probably more numerous than those of resemblance, but the points of resemblance being very main points, not fewer in number, and striking.
It was with special reference to the system thus established that the Parthian monarchs took the title of "King of Kings", so frequent upon their coins, which seems sometimes to have been exchanged for what was regarded as an equivalent phrase, "Satrap of Satraps". This title seems to appear first on the coins of Mithridates I.
In the Parthian system there was one anomaly of a very curious character. The Greek towns, which were scattered in large numbers throughout the Empire, enjoyed a municipal government of their own, and in some cases were almost independent communities, the Parthian kings exercising over them little or no control. The great city of Seleucia on the Tigris was the most important of all these: its population was estimated in the first century after Christ at six hundred thousand souls; it had strong walls, and was surrounded by a most fertile territory. It had its own senate, or municipal council, of three hundred members, elected by the people to rule them from among the wealthiest and best educated of the citizens. Under ordinary circumstances it enjoyed the blessing of complete self-government, and was entirely free from Parthian interference, paying no doubt its tribute, but otherwise holding the position of a "free city." It was only in the case of internal dissensions that these advantages were lost, and the Parthian soldiery, invited within the walls, arranged the quarrels of parties, and settled the constitution of the State at its pleasure. Privileges of a similar character, though, probably, less extensive, belonged (it would seem) to most of the other Greek cities of the Empire. The Parthian monarchs thought it polite to favor them; and their practice justified the title of "Phil-Hellene," which they were fond of assuming upon their coins. On the whole, the policy may have been wise, but it diminished the unity of the Empire; and there were times when serious danger arose from it. The Syro-Macedonian monarchs could always count with certainty on having powerful friends in Parthia, whatever portion of it they invaded; and even the Romans, though their ethnic connection with the cities was not so close, were sometimes indebted to them for very important assistance.
We are told that Mithridates I., after effecting his conquests, made a collection of the best laws which he found to prevail among the various subject peoples, and imposed them upon the Parthian nation. This statement is, no doubt, an exaggeration; but we may attribute, with some reason, to Mithridates the introduction at this time of various practices and usages, whereby the Parthian Court was assimilated to those of the earlier Great Monarchies of Asia, and became in the eyes of foreigners the successor and representative of the old Assyrian and Persian Kingdoms. The assumption of new titles and of a new state—the organization of the Court on a new plan—the bestowal of a new character on the subordinate officers of the Empire, were suitable to the new phase of its life on which the monarchy had now entered, and may with the highest probability, if not with absolute certainty, be assigned to this period.
It has been already noticed that Mithridates appears to have been the first Parthian sovereign who took the title of "King of Kings." The title had been a favorite one with the old Assyrian and Persian monarchs, but was not adopted either by the Seleucidae or by the Greek kings of Bactria. Its revival implied a distinct pretension to that mastery of Western Asia which had belonged of old to the Assyrians and Persians, and which was, in later times, formally claimed by Artaxerxes, the son of Sassan, the founder of the New Persian Kingdom. Previous Parthian monarchs had been content to call themselves "the King," or "the Great King"—Mithridates is "the King of Kings, the great and illustrious Arsaces."
At the same time Mithridates appears to have assumed the tiara, or tall stiff crown, which, with certain modifications in its shape, had been the mark of sovereignty, both under the Assyrians and under the Persians. Previously the royal headdress had been either a mere cap of a Scythic type, but lower than the Scyths commonly wore it; or the ordinary diadem, which was a band round the head terminating in two long ribbons or ends, that hung down behind the head on the back. According to Herodian, the diadem, in the later times, was double; but the coins of Parthia do not exhibit this peculiarity. [PLATE 1, Fig. 4.]
Ammianus says that among the titles assumed by the Parthian monarchs was that of "Brother of the Sun and Moon." It appears that something of a divine character was regarded as attaching to the race. In the civil contentions, which occur so frequently throughout the later history, combatants abstained from lifting their hands knowingly against an Arsacid, to kill or wound one being looked upon as sacrilege. The name of Deos was occasionally assumed, as it was in Syria; and more frequently kings took the epithet of [Greek], which implied the divinity of their father. After his death a monarch seems generally to have been the object of a qualified worship; statues were erected to him in the temples, where (apparently) they were associated with the images of the great luminaries.
Of the Parthian Court and its customs we have no account that is either complete or trustworthy. Some particulars, however, may be gathered of it on which we may place reliance. The best authorities are agreed that it was not stationary, but migrated at different times of the year to different cities of the Empire, in this resembling the Court of the Achaemenians. It is not quite clear, however, which were the cities thus honored. Ctesiphon was undoubtedly one of them. All writers agree that it was the chief city of the Empire, and the ordinary seat of the government. Here, according to Strabo, the kings passed the winter months, delighting in the excellence of the air. The town was situated on the left bank of the Tigris, opposite to Seleucia, twelve or thirteen miles below the modern Baghdad. Pliny says that it was built by the Parthians in order to reduce Seleucia to insignificance, and that when it failed of its purpose they built another city.
Vologesocerta, in the same neighborhood with the same object; but the account of Strabo is more probable—viz., that it grew up gradually out of the wish of the Parthian kings to spare Seleucia the unpleasantness of having the rude soldiery, which followed the Court from place to place, quartered upon them The remainder of the year, Strabo tells us, was spent by the Parthian kings either at the Median city of Ecbatana, which is the modern Hamadan, or in the province of Hyrca—In Hyrcania, the palace, according to him, was at Tape and between this place and Ecbatana he no doubt regarded the monarchs as spending the time which was not passed at Ctesiphon. Athenaeus, however, declares that Rhages was the spring residence of the Parthian kings; and it seems not unlikely that this famous city, which Isidore, writing in Parthian times, calls "the greatest in Media," was among the occasional residences of the Court. Parthia itself was, it would seem, deserted; but still a city of that region preserved in one respect a royal character, being the place where all the earlier kings were interred.
The pomp and grandeur of the Parthian monarchs are described only in the vaguest terms by the classical writers. No author of repute appears to have visited the Parthian Court. We may perhaps best obtain a true notion of the splendor of the sovereign from the accounts which have reached us of his relations and officers, who can have reflected only faintly the magnificence of the sovereign. Plutarch tells us that the general whom Orodes deputed to conduct the war against Crassus came into the field accompanied by two hundred litters wherein were contained his concubines, and by a thousand camels which carried his baggage. His dress was fashioned after that of the Medes; he wore his hair parted in the middle and had his face painted with cosmetics. A body of ten thousand horse, composed entirely, of his clients and slaves, followed him in battle. We may conclude from this picture, and from the general tenor of the classical notices, that the Arsacidae revived and maintained very much such a Court as that of the old Achaemenian princes, falling probably somewhat below their model in politeness and refinement, but equalling it in luxury, in extravagant expenditure, and in display.
Such seems to have been the general character of those practices and institutions which distinguish the Parthians from the foundation of their Empire by Mithridates, Some of them, it is probable, he rather adopted than invented; but there is no good reason for doubting that of many he was the originator. He appears to have been one of those rare individuals to whom it has been given to unite the powers which form the conqueror with those which constitute the successful organizer of a State. Brave and enterprising in war, prompt to seize an occasion and to turn it to the best advantage, not even averse to severities where they seemed to be required, he yet felt no acrimony towards those who had resisted his arms, but was ready to befriend them so soon as their resistance ceased. Mild, clement, philanthropic, he conciliated those whom he subdued almost more easily than he subdued them, and by the efforts of a few years succeeded in welding together a dominion which lasted without suffering serious mutilation for nearly four centuries. Though not dignified with the epithet of "Great," he was beyond all question the greatest of the Parthian monarchs. Later times did him more justice than his contemporaries, and, when the names of almost all the other kings had sunk into oblivion, retained his in honor, and placed it on a par with that of the original founder of Parthian independence.
Reign of Phraates II. Expedition of Antiochus Sidetes against Parthia. Release of Demetrius. Defeat and Death of Sidetes. War of Phraates with the Northern Nomads. His death and character.
Mithridates was succeeded by his son, Phraates, the second monarch of the name, and the seventh Arsaces. This prince, entertaining, like his father, the design of invading Syria, and expecting to find some advantage from having in his camp the rightful occupant of the Syrian throne, treated the captive Demetrius with even greater kindness than his father had done, not only maintaining him handsomely, but even giving him his sister Ehodogune, in marriage. Demetrius, however, was not to be reconciled to his captivity by any such blandishments, and employed his thoughts chiefly in devising plans by which he might escape. By the help of a friend he twice managed to evade the vigilance of his guards, and to make his way from Hyrcania towards the frontiers of his own kingdom; but each time he was pursued and caught without effecting his purpose. The Parthian monarch was no doubt vexed at his pertinacity, and on the second occasion thought it prudent to feign, if he did not even really feel, offence: he banished his ungrateful brother-in-law from his presence, but otherwise visited his crime with no severer penalty than ridicule. Choosing to see in his attempts to change the place of his abode no serious design, but only the wayward conduct of a child, he sent him a present of some golden dice, implying thereby that it was only for lack of amusement he had grown discontented with his Hyrcanian residence.
Antiochus Sidetes, the brother of Demetrius, had been generally accepted by the Syrians as their monarch, at the time when the news reached them of that prince's defeat and capture by Mithridates. He was an active and enterprising sovereign, though fond of luxury and display. For some years (B.C. 140-137) the pretensions of Tryphon to the throne gave him full occupation; but, having finally established his authority after a short war, and punished the pretender with death, he found himself, in B.C. 137, at liberty to turn his arms against foreign enemies. He would probably have at once attacked Parthia, but for the attitude of a nearer neighbor, which he regarded as menacing, and as requiring his immediate attention. Demetrius, before his departure for the East, had rewarded the Jews for services rendered him in his war with Tryphon by an open, acknowledgment of their independence. Sidetes, though indebted to the Jewish High Priest, Simon, for offers of aid against the same adversary, could not bring himself to pay the price for it which Demetrius had thought reasonable—an independent Palestine appeared to him a danger close to his doors, and one that imperilled the very existence of the Syrian State. Accordingly, he had no sooner put down Tryphon than he resolved to pick a quarrel with the Jews, and to force them to resume their old position of vassalage to Syria. His general, Cendebseus, invaded their country, but was defeated near Azotus. Antiochus had to take the field in person. During two years, John Hyrcanus, who had succeeded his father, Simon (B.C. 135), baffled all his efforts; but at last, in B.C. 133, he was forced to submit, to acknowledge the authority of Syria, to dismantle Jerusalem, and to resume the payment of tribute. Sidetes then considered the time come for a Parthian expedition, and, having made great preparations, he set out for the East in the spring of B.C. 129.
It is impossible to accept without considerable reserve the accounts that have come down to us of the force which Antiochus collected. According to Justin, it consisted of no more than 80,000 fighting men, to which was attached the incredible number of 300,000 camp-followers, the majority being composed of cooks, bakers, and actors. As in other extreme cases the camp-followers do but equal or a little exceed the number of men fit for service, this estimate, which makes them nearly four times as numerous, is entitled to but little credit. The late writer, Orosius, corrects the error here indicated; but his account seems to err in rating the supernumeraries too low. According to him, the armed force amounted to 300,000, while the camp-followers, including grooms, sutlers, courtesans, and actors, were no more than a third of the number. From the two accounts, taken together, we are perhaps entitled to conclude that the entire host did not fall much short of 400,000 men. This estimate receives confirmation from an independent statement made by Diodorus, with respect to the number who fell in the campaign—a statement of which we shall have to speak later.
The army of Phraates, according to two accounts of it (which, however, seem to represent a single original authority), numbered no more than 120,000. An attempt which he made to enlist in his service a body of Scythian mercenaries failed, the Scyths being willing to lend their aid, but arriving too late to be of any use. At the same time a defection of the subject princes deprived the Parthian monarch of contingents which usually swelled his numbers, and threw him upon the support of his own countrymen, chiefly or solely. Under these circumstances it is more surprising that he was able to collect 120,000 men than that he did not bring into the field a larger number.
The Syrian troops, magnificently appointed and supported by a body of Jews under John Hyrcanus, advanced upon Babylon, receiving on their way the adhesion of many of the Parthian tributaries, who professed themselves disgusted by the arrogance and pride of their masters. Phraates, on his part, advanced to meet his enemies, and in person or by his generals engaged Antiochus in three battles, but without success. Antiochus was three times a conqueror. In a battle fought upon the river Lycus (Zab) in further Assyria he defeated the Parthian general, Indates, and raised a trophy in honor of his victory. The exact scene of the other combats is unknown, but they were probably in the same neighborhood. The result of them was the conquest of Babylonia, and the general revolt of the remaining Parthian provinces, which followed the common practice of deserting a falling house, and drew off or declared for the enemy.
Under these circumstances Phraates, considering that the time was come when it was necessary for him to submit or to create a diversion by raising troubles in the enemy's territory, released Demetrius from his confinement, and sent him, supported by a body of Parthian troops, to reclaim his kingdom. He thought it probable that Antiochus, when the intelligence reached him, would retrace his steps, and return from Babylon to his own capital. At any rate his efforts would be distracted; he would be able to draw fewer reinforcements from home; and he would be less inclined to proceed to any great distance from his own country.
Antiochus, however, was either uninformed of the impending danger or did not regard it as very pressing. The winter was approaching; and, instead of withdrawing his troops from the occupied provinces and marching them back into Syria, he resolved to keep them where they were, merely dividing them, on account of their numbers, among the various cities which he had taken, and making them go into winter quarters. It was, no doubt, his intention to remain quiet during the two or three winter months, after which he would have resumed the war, and have endeavored to penetrate through Media into Parthia Proper, where he might expect his adversary to make his last stand.
But Phraates saw that the position of affairs was favorable for striking a blow before the spring came. The dispersion of his enemy's troops deprived him of all advantage from the superiority of their numbers. The circumstance of their being quartered in towns newly reduced, and unaccustomed to the rudeness and rapacity of soldiers and camp-followers, made it almost certain that complications would arise, and that it would not be long before in some places the Parthians, so lately declared to be oppressors, would be hailed as liberators. Moreover, the Parthians were, probably, better able than their adversaries to endure the hardships and severities of a campaign in the cold season. Parthia is a cold country, and the winters, both of the great plateau of Iran and of all the mountain tracts adjoining it, are severe. The climate of Syria is far milder. Moreover, the troops of Antiochus had, we are informed, been enervated by an excessive indulgence on the part of their leader during the marches and halts of the preceding summer. Their appetites had been pampered; their habits had become unmanly; their general tone was relaxed; and they were likely to deteriorate still more in the wealthy and luxurious cities where they were bidden to pass the winter.
These various circumstances raised the spirits of Phraates, and made him hold himself in readiness to resume hostilities at a moment's notice. Nor was it long before the complications which he had foreseen began to occur. The insolence of the soldiers quartered upon them exasperated the inhabitants of the Mesopotamian towns, and caused them to look back with regret to the time when they were Parthian subjects. The requisitions made on them for stores of all kinds was a further grievance. After a while they opened communications with Phraates, and offered to return to their allegiance if he would assist them against their oppressors. Phraates gladly listened to these overtures. At his instigation a plot was formed like that which has given so terrible a significance to the phrase "Sicilian vespers." It was agreed that on an appointed day all the cities should break out in revolt: the natives should take arms, rise against the soldiers quartered upon them, and kill all, or as many as possible. Phraates promised to be at hand with his army, to prevent, the scattered detachments from giving help to each other. It was calculated that in this way the invaders might be cut off almost to a man without the trouble of even fighting a battle.
But, before he proceeded to extremities, the Parthian prince determined to give his adversary a chance of escaping the fate prepared for him by timely concessions. The winter was not over; but the snow was beginning to melt through the increasing warmth of the sun's rays, and the day appointed for the general rising was probably drawing near. Phraates felt that no time was to be lost. Accordingly, he sent ambassadors to Antiochus to propose peace, and to inquire on what conditions it would be granted him. The reply of Antiochus, according to Diodotus, was as follows: "If Phraates would release his prisoner, Demetrius, from captivity, and deliver him up without ransom, at the same time restoring all the provinces which had been taken from Syria, and consenting to pay a tribute for Parthia itself, peace might be had; but not otherwise." To such terms it was, of course, impossible that Phraates should listen; and his ambassadors, therefore, returned without further parley.
Soon afterwards the day appointed for the outbreak arrived. Apparently, no suspicion had been excited. The Syrian troops were everywhere quietly enjoying themselves in their winter quarters, when, suddenly and without warning, they found themselves attacked by the natives. Taken at disadvantage, it was impossible for them to make a successful resistance; and it would seem that the great bulk of them were massacred in their quarters. Antiochus, and the detachment stationed with him, alone, so far as we hear, escaped into an open field and contended for their lives in just warfare. It had been the intention of the Syrian monarch, when he took the field, to hasten to the protection of the troops quartered nearest to him; but he no sooner commenced his march than he found himself confronted by Phraates, who was at the head of his entire army, having, no doubt, anticipated Antiochus's design and resolved to frustrate it. The Parthian prince was anxious to engage at once, as his force far outnumbered that commanded by his adversary; but the latter might have declined the battle, if he had so willed, and have, at any rate, greatly protracted the struggle. He had a mountain region—Mount Zagros, probably—within a short distance of him, and might have fallen back upon it, so placing the Parthian horse at great disadvantage; but he was still at an age when caution is apt to be considered cowardice, and temerity to pass for true courage. Despite the advice of one of his captains, he determined to accept the battle which the enemy offered, and not to fly before a foe whom he had three times defeated. But the determination of the commander was ill seconded by his army. Though Antiochus fought strenuously, he was defeated, since his troops were without heart and offered but a poor resistance. Antiochus himself perished, either slain by the enemy or by his own hand. His son, Seleucus, a boy of tender age, and his niece, a daughter of Demetrius, who had accompanied him in his expedition, were captured. His troops were either cut to pieces or made prisoners. The entire number of those slain in the battle, and in the previous massacre, was reckoned at 300,000.
Such was the issue of this great expedition. It was the last which any Seleucid monarch conducted into these countries—the final attempt made by Syria to repossess herself of her lost Eastern provinces. Henceforth Parthia was no further troubled by the power that had hitherto been her most dangerous enemy, but was allowed to enjoy without molestation from Syria the conquests which she had effected. Syria, in fact, had from this time a difficulty in preserving her own existence. The immediate result of the destruction of Antiochus and his host was the revolt of Judaea, which henceforth maintained its independence uninterruptedly. The dominions of the Seleucidae were reduced to Cilicia and Syria Proper, or the tract west of the Euphrates, between Amanus and Palestine. Internally, the state was agitated by constant commotions from the claims of various pretenders to the sovereignty: externally, it was kept in continual alarm by the Egyptians, Arabians, or Romans. During the sixty years which elapsed between the return of Demetrius to his kingdom and the conversion of Syria into a Roman province, she ceased wholly to be formidable to her neighbors. Her flourishing period was gone by, and a rapid decline set in, from which there was no recovery. It is surprising that the Romans did not step in earlier and terminate a rule which was but a little removed from anarchy. Rome, however, had other work on her hands; and the Syrian kingdom continued to exist till B.C. 65, though in a feeble and moribund condition.
But Phraates could not, without prophetic foresight, have counted on such utter prostration following as the result of a single—albeit a terrible—blow. Accordingly, we find him still exhibiting a dread of the Seleucid power even after his great victory. He had released Demetrius too late to obtain any benefit from the hostile feeling which that prince probably entertained towards his brother. Had he not released him too soon for his own safety? Was it not to be feared that the Syrians might rally under one who was their natural leader, might rapidly recover their strength, and renew the struggle for the mastery of Western Asia? The first thought of the dissatisfied monarch was to hinder the execution of his own project. Demetrius was on his way to Syria, but had not yet arrived there, or, at any rate, his arrival had not been as yet reported. Was it not possible to intercept him? The Parthian king hastily sent out a body of horse, with orders to pursue the Syrian prince at their best speed, and endeavor to capture him before he passed the frontier. If they succeeded, they were to bring him hack to their master, who would probably have then committed his prisoner to close custody. The pursuit, however, failed. Demetrius had anticipated, or at least feared, a change of purpose, and, having prosecuted his journey with the greatest diligence, had reached his own territory before the emissaries of Phraates could overtake him.
It is uncertain whether policy or inclination dictated the step which Phraates soon afterwards took of allaying himself by marriage with the Seleucidae. He had formally given his sister, Ehodogune, as a wife to Demetrius, and the marriage had been fruitful, Rhodogune having borne Demetrius several children. The two houses of the Seleucidae and Arsacidae were thus already allied to some extent. Phraates resolved to strengthen the bond. The unmarried daughter of Demetrius whom he had captured after his victory over Antiochus took his fancy; and he determined to make her his wife. At the same time he adopted other measures calculated to conciliate the Seleucid prince. He treated his captive, Seleucus, the son of Antiochus, with the greatest respect. To the corpse of Antiochus he paid royal honors; and, having placed it in a silver coffin, he transmitted it to the Syrians for sepulture.
Still, if we may believe Justin, he entertained the design of carrying his arms across the Euphrates and invading Syria, in order to avenge the attack of Antiochus upon his territories. But events occurred which forced him to relinquish this enterprise. The Scythians, whom he had called to his aid under the pressure of the Syrian invasion, and who had arrived too late to take part in the war, demanded the pay which they had been promised, and suggested that their arms should be employed against some other enemy. Phraates was unwilling either to requite services not rendered, or to rush needlessly into a fresh war merely to gratify the avarice of his auxiliaries. He therefore peremptorily refused to comply with either suggestion. Upon this, the Scythians determined to take their payment into their own hands, and began to ravage Parthia and to carry off a rich booty. Phraates, who had removed the headquarters of his government to Babylonia, felt it necessary to entrust affairs there to an officer, and to take the field in person against this new enemy, which was certainly not less formidable than the Syrians. He selected for his representative at the seat of Empire a certain Himerus (or Evemerus), a youth with whom he had a disgraceful connection, and having established him as a sort of viceroy, marched away to the northeast, and proceeded to encounter the Scythians in that remote region. Besides his native troops, he took with him a number of Greeks, whom he had made prisoners in his war with Antiochus. Their fidelity could not but be doubtful; probably, however, he thought that at a distance from Syria they would not dare to fail him, and that with an enemy so barbarous as the Scythians they would have no temptation to fraternize. But the event proved him mistaken. The Greeks were sullen at their captivity, and exasperated by some cruel treatment which they had received when first captured. They bided their time; and when, in a battle with the Scythians, they saw the Parthian soldiery hard pressed and in danger of defeat, they decided matters by going over in a body to the enemy. The Parthian army was completely routed and destroyed, and Phraates himself was among the slain. We are not told what became of the victorious Greeks; but it is to be presumed that, like the Ten Thousand, they fought their way across Asia, and rejoined their own countrymen.
Thus died Phraates I., after a reign of about eight or nine years. Though not possessing the talents of his father, he was a brave and warlike prince, active, enterprising, fertile in resources, and bent on maintaining against all assailants the honor and integrity of the Empire. In natural temperament he was probably at once soft and cruel. But, when policy required it, he could throw his softness aside and show himself a hardy and intrepid warrior. Similarly, he could control his natural harshness, and act upon occasion with clemency and leniency. He was not, perhaps, without a grim humor, which led him to threaten more than he intended, in order to see how men would comport themselves when greatly alarmed. There is some evidence that he aimed at saying good things; though it must be confessed that the wit is not of a high order. Altogether he has more character than most Oriental monarchs; and the monotony of Arsacid biography is agreeably interrupted by the idiosyncrasy which his words and conduct indicate.
Accession of Artabanus II. Position of Parthia. Growing pressure upon her, and general advance towards the south, of the Saka or Scyths. Causes and extent of the movement. Character and principal tribes of the Saka. Scythic war of Artabanus. His death.
The successor of Phraates was his uncle, Artabanus, a son of Priapatius. It is probable that the late king had either left no son, or none of sufficient age to be a fit occupant of the throne at a season of difficulty. The "Megistanes," therefore, elected Artabanus in his nephew's place, a man of mature age, and, probably, of some experience in war. The situation of Parthia, despite her recent triumph over the Syro-Macedonians, was critical; and it was of the greatest importance that the sceptre should be committed to one who would bring to the discharge of his office those qualities of wisdom, promptness, and vigor, which a crisis demands.
The difficulty of the situation was two-fold. In the first place, there was an immediate danger to be escaped. The combined Greeks and Scythians, who had defeated the Parthian army and slain the monarch, might have been expected to push their advantage to the utmost, and seek to establish themselves as conquerors in the country which lay apparently at their mercy. At any rate, the siege and sack of some of the chief towns was a probable contingency, if permanent occupation of the territory did not suit the views of the confederates. The new monarch had to rid Parthia of her invaders at as little cost as possible, before he could allow himself to turn his attention to any other matter whatsoever. Nor did this, under the circumstances, appear to be an easy task. The flower of the Parthian troops had been destroyed in the late battle, and it was not easy to replace them by another native army. The subject-nations were at no time to be depended upon when Parthia was reduced to straits, and at the present conjecture some of the most important were in a condition bordering upon rebellion. Himerus, the viceroy left by Phraates in Babylonia, had first driven the Babylonians and Seleucians to desperation by his tyranny, and then plunged into a war with the people of Mesene, which must have made it difficult for him to send Artabanus any contingent. Fortunately for the Parthians, the folly or moderation of their enemies rendered any great effort on their part unnecessary. The Greeks, content with having revenged themselves, gave the new monarch no trouble at all: the Scythians were satisfied with plundering and wasting the open country, after which they returned quietly to their homes. Artabanus found himself quit of the immediate danger which had threatened him almost without exertion of his own, and could now bend his thoughts to the position of his country generally, and the proper policy to pursue under the circumstances.
For there was a second and more formidable danger impending over the State—a danger not casual and temporary like the one just escaped, but arising out of a condition of things in neighboring regions which had come about slowly, and which promised to be permanent. To give the reader the means of estimating this danger aright, it will be necessary to take a somewhat wide view of the state of affairs on the northern and north-eastern frontiers of Parthia for some time previously to the accession of Artabanus, to trace out the causes which were at work, producing important changes in these regions, and to indicate the results which threatened, and those which were accomplished. The opportunity will also serve for giving such an account of the chief races which here bordered the empire as will show the nature of the peril to which Parthia was exposed at this period.
In the wide plains of Northern Asia, extending from the Arctic Ocean to the Thian Chan mountains and the Jaxartes, there had been nurtured from a remote antiquity a nomadic population, at no time very numerous in proportion to the area over which it was spread, but liable on occasions to accumulate, owing to a combination of circumstances, in this or that portion of the region occupied, and at such times causing trouble to its neighbors. From about the close of the third century B.C. symptoms of such an accumulation had begun to display themselves in the tract immediately north of the Jaxartes, and the inhabitants of the countries south of that river had suffered from a succession of raids and inroads, which were not regarded as dangerous, but which gave constant annoyance. Crossing the great desert of Kharesm by forced marches, some of the hordes invaded the green valleys of Hyrcania and Parthia, and carried desolation over those fair and flourishing districts. About the same time other tribes entered the Bactrian territory and caused alarm to the Greek kingdom recently established in that province. It appears that the Parthian monarchs, unable to save their country from incursions, consented to pay a sort of black-mail to their invaders, by allowing them the use of their pasture grounds at certain fixed times—probably during some months of each year. The Bactrian princes had to pay a heavier penalty. Province after province of their kingdom was swallowed up by the northern hordes, who gradually occupied Sogdiana, or the tract between the lower Jaxartes and the lower Oxus, whence they proceeded to make inroads into Bactria itself. The rich land on the Polytimetus, or Ak Su, the river of Samarkand, and even the highlands between the upper Jaxartes and upper Oxus, were permanently occupied by the invaders; and if the Bactrians had not compensated themselves for their losses by acquisitions of territory in Afghanistan and India, they would soon have had no kingdom left. The hordes were always increasing in strength through the influx of fresh immigrants, and in lieu of Bactria a power now stood arrayed on the north-eastern frontier of the Parthians, which was reasonably regarded with the most serious alarm and suspicion.
The origin of the state of things here described is to be sought, according to the best authorities, in certain movements which took place about B.C. 200, in a remote region of inner Asia. At that time a Turanian people called the Yue-chi were expelled from their territory on the west of Chen-si by the Hiong-nu, whom some identified with the Huns. The Yue-chi separated into two bands; the smaller descended southwards into Thibet; the larger passed westwards, and after a hard struggle dispossessed a people called 'Su' of the plains west of the river of Hi. These latter advanced to Ferghana and the Jaxartes; and the Yue-chi not long afterwards retreating from the Usiun, another nomadic race, passed the 'Su' on the north and occupied the tracts between the Oxus and the Caspian. The Su were thus in the vicinity of the Bactrian Greeks; the Yue-chi in the neighborhood of the Parthians. On the particulars of this account, which come from the Chinese historians, we cannot perhaps altogether depend; but there is no reason to doubt the main fact, attested by a writer who visited the Yue-chi in B.C. 139, that they had migrated about the period mentioned from the interior of Asia, and had established themselves sixty years later in the Caspian region. Such a movement would necessarily have thrown the entire previous population of those parts into commotion, and would probably have precipitated them upon their neighbors. It accounts satisfactorily for the pressure of the northern hordes at this period on the Parthians, Bactrians, and even the Indians; and it completely explains the crisis in Parthian history, which we have now reached, and the necessity which lay upon the nation of meeting and, if possible, overcoming, an entirely new danger.
In fact, one of those occasions of peril had arisen, to which in ancient times the civilized world was always liable from an outburst of northern barbarism. Whether the peril has altogether passed away or not we need not here inquire; but certainly in the old world there was always a chance that civilization, art, refinement, luxury, might suddenly and almost without warning be swept away by an overwhelming influx of savage hordes from the unpolished North. From the reign of Oyaxares, when the evil first showed itself, the danger was patent to all wise and far-seeing governors both in Europe and Asia, and was from time to time guarded against. The expeditions of Cyrus against the Massagetse, of Darius Hystaspis against the European Scyths, of Alexander against the Getee, of Trajan and Probus across the Danube, were designed to check and intimidate the northern nations, to break their power, and diminish the likelihood of their taking the offensive. It was now more than four centuries since in this part of Asia any such effort had been made; and the northern barbarians might naturally have ceased to fear the arms and discipline of the South. Moreover the circumstances of the time scarcely left them a choice. Pressed on continually more and more by the newly-arrived Su and Yue-chi, the old inhabitants of the Transoxianian regions were under the necessity of seeking new settlements, and could only attempt to find them in the quarter towards which they were driven by the new-comers. Strengthened, probably, by daring spirits from among their conquerors themselves they crossed the rivers and the deserts by which they had been hitherto confined, and advancing against the Parthians, Bactrians, and Arians, threatened to carry all before them. We have seen how successful they were against the Bactrians. In Ariana, they passed the mountains, and, proceeding southwards, occupied the tract below the great lake wherein the Helmend terminates, which took from them the name of Saeastane ("land of the Saka," or Scyths)—a name still to be traced in the modern "Seistan." Further to the east they effected a lodgment in Kabul, and another in the the southern portion of the Indus valley, which for a time bore the name of Indo-Scythia. They even crossed the Indus and attempted to penetrate into the interior of India, but here they were met and repulsed by a native monarch, about the year B.C. 56.
The people engaged in this great movement are called, in a general way, by the classical writers, Sacse, or Scythse—i.e. Scyths. They consisted of a number of tribes, similar for the most part in language, habits, and mode of life, and allied more or less closely to the other nomadic races of Central and Northern Asia. Of these tribes the principal were the Massagetse ("great Jits, or Jats"), who occupied the country on both sides of the lower course of the Oxus; the Dahse, who bordered the Caspian above Hyrcania, and extended thence to the latitude of Herat; the Tochari, who settled in the mountains between the upper Jaxartes and the upper Oxus, where they gave name to the tract known as Tokhar-estan; the Asii, or Asiani, who were closely connected with the Tochari, and the Sakarauli (Saracucse?), who are found connected with both the Tochari and the Asiani. Some of these tribes contained within them further sub-divisions; e.g. the Dahse, who comprised the Parni (or Apariii), the Pissuri, and the Xanthii; and the Massagetse, who included among them Chorasmii, Attasii, and others.
The general character of the barbarism in which these various races were involved may be best learnt from the description given of one of them, the Massagetae, with but few differences, by Herodotus and Strabo. According to this description, the Massagetse were nomads, who moved about in wagons or carts, accompanied by their flocks and herds, on whose milk they chiefly sustained themselves. Each man had only one wife, but all the wives were held in common. They were good riders and excellent archers, but fought both on horseback and on foot, and used, besides their bows and arrows, lances, knives, and battle-axes. They had little or no iron, but made their spear and arrow-heads, and their other weapons, of bronze. They had also bronze breast-plates; but otherwise the metal with which they adorned and protected their own persons, and the heads of their horses, was gold. To a certain extent they were cannibals. It was their custom not to let the aged among them die a natural death, but, when life seemed approaching its natural term, to offer them up in sacrifice,—and then boil the flesh and feast on it. This mode of ending life was regarded as the best and most honorable; such as died of disease were not eaten but buried, and their friends bewailed their misfortune.
It may be added to this that we have sufficient reason to believe that the Massagetse and the other nomads of these parts regarded the use of poisoned arrows as legitimate in warfare, and employed the venom of serpents, and the corrupted blood of man, to make the wounds which they inflicted more deadly.
Thus, what was threatened was not merely the conquest of one race by another cognate to it, like that of the Medes by the Persians, or of the Greeks by Rome, but the obliteration of such art, civilization, and refinement as Western Asia had attained to in course of ages by the successive efforts of Babylonians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks—the spread over some of the fairest regions of the earth of a low type of savagery—a type which in religion went no further than the worship of the sun; in art knew but the easier forms of metallurgy and the construction of carts; in manners and customs, included cannibalism, the use of poisoned weapons, and a relation between the sexes destructive alike of all delicacy and of all family affection. The Parthians were, no doubt, rude and coarse in their character as compared with the Persians; but they had been civilized to a certain extent by three centuries of subjection to the Persians and the Greco-Macedonians before they rose to power; they affected Persian manners; they patronized Greek art, they appreciated the advantages of having in their midst a number of Greek states. Had the Massagetse and their kindred tribes of Sakas, Tochari, Dahse, Yue-chi, and Su, which now menaced the Parthian power, succeeded in sweeping it away, the general declension of all which is lovely or excellent in human life would have been marked. Scythicism would have overspread Western Asia. No doubt the conquerors would have learned something from those whom they subjected; but it cannot be supposed that they would have learned much. The change would have been like that which passed over the Empire of the West, when Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, Alans, Heruli, depopulated its fairest provinces and laid its civilization in the dust. The East would have been barbarized; the gains of centuries would have been lost; the work of Cyrus, Darius, Alexander, and other great benefactors of Asiatic humanity, have been undone; Western Asia would have sunk back into a condition not very much above that from which it was raised two thousand years earlier by the primitive Chaldaeans and the Assyrians.
Artabanus II., the Parthian monarch who succeeded Phraates II., appears to have appreciated aright the perils of his position. He was not content, when the particular body of barbarians which had defeated and slain his predecessor, having ravaged Parthia Proper, returned home, to fold his arms and wait until he was again attacked. According to the brief, but expressive words of Justin, he assumed the aggressive, and invaded the country of the Tochari, one of the most powerful of the Scythic tribes, which was now settled in a portion of the region that had, till lately, belonged to the Bactrian kingdom. Artabanus evidently felt that what was needed was to roll back the flood of invasion which had advanced so near to the sacred home of his nation; that the barbarians required to be taught a lesson; that they must at least be made to understand that Parthia was to be respected; or that, if this could not be done, the fate of the Empire was sealed. He therefore, with a gallantry and boldness that we cannot sufficiently admire—a boldness that seemed like rashness, but was in reality prudence—without calculating too closely the immediate chances of battle, led his troops against one of the most forward of the advancing tribes. But fortune, unhappily, was adverse. How the battle was progressing we are not told; but it appears that in the thick of an engagement Artabanus received a wound in the forearm, from the effects of which he died almost immediately. The death of the leader decides in the East, almost to a certainty, the issue of a contest. We cannot doubt that the Parthians, having lost their monarch, were repulsed; that the expedition failed; and that the situation of affairs became once more at least as threatening as it had been before Artabanus made his attempt. Two Parthian monarchs had now fallen within the space of a few years in combat with the aggressive Scyths—two Parthian armies had suffered defeat. Was this to be always so? If it was, then Parthia had only to make up her mind to fall, and, like the great Roman, to let it be her care that she should fall grandly and with dignity.
Accession of Mithridates II. Termination of the Scythic Wars. Commencement of the struggle with Armenia. Previous history of Armenia. Result of the first Armenian War. First contact of Rome with Parthia. Attitude of Rome towards the East at this time. Second Armenian War. Death of Mithridates.
On the death of Artabanus II., about B.C. 124, his son, Mithridates II., was proclaimed king. Of this monarch, whose achievements (according to Justin) procured him the epithet of "the Great," the accounts which have come down to us are extremely scanty and unsatisfactory. Justin, who is our principal informant on the subject of the early Parthian history, has unfortunately confounded him with the third monarch of the name, who ascended the throne more than sixty years later, and has left us only the slightest and most meagre outline of his actions. The other classical writers, only to a very small extent, supplement Justin's narrative; and the result is that of a reign which was one of the most important in the early Parthian series, the historical inquirer at the present day can form but a most incomplete conception.
It appears, however, from the account of Justin, and from such other notices as have reached us of the condition of things at this time in the regions lying east of the Caspian, that Mithridates was entirely successful where his father and his cousin had signally failed. He gained a number of victories over the Scythic hordes; and effectually checked their direct progress towards the south, throwing them thereby upon the east and the south-east. Danger to Parthia from the Scyths seems after his reign to have passed away. They found a vent for their superabundant population in Seistan, Afghanistan, and India, and ceased to have any hopes of making an impression on the Arsacid kingdom. Mithridates, it is probable, even took territory from them. The acquisition of parts of Bactria by the Parthians from the Scyths, which is attested by Strabo, belongs, in all likelihood, to his reign; and the extension of the Parthian dominion to Seistan may well date from the same period. Justin tells us that he added many nations to the Parthian Empire. The statements made of the extent of Parthia on the side of Syria in the time of Mithridates the First render it impossible for us to discover these nations in the west: we are, therefore, compelled to regard them as consisting of races on the eastern frontier, who could at this period only be outlying tribes of the recent Scythic immigration.
The victories of Mithridates in the East encouraged him to turn his arms in the opposite direction, and to make an attack on the important country of Armenia, which bordered his north-western frontier. Armenia was at the time under the government of a certain Ortoadistus, who seems to have been the predecessor, and was perhaps the father, of the great Tigranes. Ortoadistus ruled the tract called by the Romans "Armenia Magna," which extended from the Euphrates on the west to the mouth of the Araxes on the east, and from the valley of the Kur northwards to Mount Niphates and the head streams of the Tigris towards the south. The people over which he ruled was one of the oldest in Asia and had on many occasions shown itself impatient of a conqueror. Justin, on reaching this point in his work, observes that he could not feel himself justified if, when his subject brought before him so mighty a kingdom, he did not enter at some length on its previous history. The modern historian would be even less excusable than Justin if he omitted such a review, since, while he has less right to assume a knowledge of early Armenian history on the part of his readers, he has greater means of gratifying their curiosity, owing to the recent discovery of sources of information unknown to the ancients.
Armenia first comes before us in Genesis, where it is mentioned as the country on whose mountains the ark rested. A recollection of it was thenceforth retained in the semi-mythic traditions of the Babylonians. According to some, the Egyptian monarchs of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties carried their arms into its remote valleys, and exacted tribute from the petty chiefs who then ruled there. At any rate, it is certain that from about the ninth century B.C. it was well known to the Assyrians, who were engaged from that time till about B.C. 640 in almost constant wars with its inhabitants. At this period three principal races inhabited the country—the Nairi, who were spread from the mountains west of Lake Van along both sides of the Tigris to Bir on the Euphrates, and even further; the Urarda (Alarodii, or people of Ararat), who dwelt north and east of the Nairi, on the upper Euphrates, about the lake of Van, and probably on the Araxes; and the Minni, whose country lay south-east of the Urarda, in the Urumiyeh basin and the adjoining parts of Zagros. Of these three races, the Urarda were the most powerful, and it was with them that the Assyrians waged their most bloody wars. The capital city of the Urarda was Van, on the eastern shores of the lake; and here it was that their kings set up the most remarkable of their inscriptions. Six monarchs, who apparently all belong to one dynasty, left inscriptions in this locality commemorative of their military expeditions or of their offerings to the gods. The later names of the series can be identified with those of kings who contended with Assyrian monarchs belonging to the last, or Sargonid dynasty; and hence we are entitled approximately to fix the series to the seventh and eighth centuries before our era. The Urarda must at this time have exercised a dominion over almost the whole of the region to which the name of Armenia commonly attaches. They were worthy antagonists of the Assyrians, and, though occasionally worsted in fight, maintained their independence, at any rate, till the time of Asshur-bani-pal (about B.C. 640), when the last king of the Van series, whose name is read as Bilat-duri, succumbed to the Assyrian power, and consented to pay a tribute for his dominions.
There is reason to believe that between the time when we obtain this view of the primitive Armenian peoples and that at which we next have any exact knowledge of the condition of the country—the time of the Persian monarchy—a great revolution had taken place in the region. The Nairi, Urarda, and Minni were Turanian, or, at any rate, non-Arian, races. Their congeners in Western Asia were the early Babylonians and the Susianians, not the Medes, the Persians, or the Phrygians. But by the time of Herodotus the Arian character of the Armenians had become established. Their close connection with the Phrygians was recognized. They had changed their national appellation; for while in the Assyrian period the terms Nairi and Urarda had preponderated, under the Persians they had come to be called Armenians and their country Armenia. The personal names of individuals in the country, both men and women, had acquired a decidedly Arian cast. Everything seems to indicate that a strange people had immigrated into the land, bringing with them a new language, new manners and customs, and a new religious system. From what quarter they had come, whether from Phrygia as Herodotus and Stephen believed, or, as we should gather from their language and religion, from Media, is perhaps doubtful; but it seems certain that from one quarter or another Armenia had been Arianized; the old Turanian character had passed away from it; immigrants had nocked in, and a new people had been formed—the real Armenian of later times, and indeed of the present day—by the admixture of ruling Arian tribes with a primitive Turanian population, the descendants of the old inhabitants.
The new race, thus formed, though perhaps not less brave and warlike than the old, was less bent on maintaining its independence. Moses of Chorene, the Armenian historian, admits that from the time of the Median preponderance in Western Asia the Armenians held under them a subject position. That such was their position under the Persians is abundantly evident;25 and, so far as appears, there was only one occasion during the entire Achaemenian period (B.C. 559 to B.C. 331) when they exhibited any impatience of the Persian yoke, or made any attempt to free themselves from it. In the early portion of the reign of Darius Hystaspis they took part in a revolt raised by a Mede called Phraortes, and were not reduced to obedience without some difficulty. But from henceforth their fidelity to the Achaemenian Kings was unbroken; they paid their tribute (apparently) without reluctance, and furnished contingents of troops to the Persian armies when called upon. After Arbela they submitted without a struggle to Alexander; and when in the division of his dominions, which followed upon the battle of Ipsus, they fell naturally to Seleucus, they acquiesced in the arrangement. It was not until Antiochus the Great suffered his great defeat at the hands of the Romans (B.C. 190) that Armenia bestirred itself, and, after probably four and a half centuries of subjection, became once more an independent power. Even then the movement seems to have originated rather in the ambition of a chief than in a desire for liberty on the part of the people. Artaxias had been governor of the Greater Armenia under Antiochus, and seized the opportunity afforded by the battle of Magnesia to change his title of satrap into that of sovereign. No war followed. Antiochus was too much weakened by his reverses to make any attempt to reduce Artaxias or recover Armenia; and the nation obtained autonomy without having to undergo the usual ordeal of a bloody struggle. When at the expiration of five-and-twenty years Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus the Great, determined on an effort to reconquer the lost province, no very stubborn resistance was offered to him. Artaxias was defeated and made prisoner in the very first year of the war (B.C. 165), and Armenia seems to have passed again under the sway of the Seleucidae.
It would seem that matters remained in this state for the space of about fifteen or sixteen years. When, however, Mithridates I. (Arsaces VI.), about B.C. 150, had overrun the eastern provinces of Syria, and made himself master in succession of Media, Elymais, and Babylonia, the revolutionary movement excited by his successes reached Armenia, and the standard of independence was once more raised in that country. According to the Armenian historians, an Arsacid prince, Wagharshag or Valarsaces, was established as sovereign by the influence of the Parthian monarch, but was allowed to rule independently. A reign of twenty-two years is assigned to this prince, whose kingdom is declared to have reached from the Caucasus to Nisibis, and from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. He was succeeded by his son, Arshag (Arsaces), who reigned thirteen years, and was, like his father, active and warlike, contending chiefly with the people of Pontus. At his death the crown descended to his son, Ardashes, who is probably the Ortoadistus of Justin.
Such were the antecedents of Armenia when Mithridates II., having given an effectual check to the progress of the Scythians in the east, determined to direct his arms towards the west, and to attack the dominions of his relative, the third of the Armenian Arsacidse. Of the circumstances of this war, and its results, we have scarcely any knowledge. Justin, who alone distinctly mentions it, gives us no details. A notice, however, in Strabo, which must refer to about this time, is thought to indicate with sufficient clearness the result of the struggle, which seems to have been unfavorable to the Armenians. Strabo says that Tigranes, before his accession to the throne, was for a time a hostage among the Parthians. As hostages are only given by the vanquished party, we may assume that Ortoadistus (Ardashes) found himself unable to offer an effectual resistance to the Parthian king, and consented after a while to a disadvantageous peace, for his observance of which hostages were required by the victor.
It cannot have been more than a few years after the termination of this war, which must have taken place towards the close of the second, or soon after the beginning of the first century, that Parthia was for the first time brought into contact with Rome.
The Great Republic, which after her complete victory over Antiochus III., B.C. 190, had declined to take possession of a single foot of ground in Asia, regarding the general state of affairs as not then ripe for an advance of Terminus in that quarter, had now for some time seen reason to alter its policy, and to aim at adding to its European an extensive Asiatic dominion. Macedonia and Greece having been absorbed, and Carthage destroyed (B.C. 148-146), the conditions of the political problem seemed to be so far changed as to render a further advance towards the east a safe measure; and accordingly, when it was seen that the line of the kings of Pergamus was coming to an end, the Senate set on foot intrigues which had for their object the devolution upon Rome of the sovereignty belonging to those monarchs. By clever management the third Attalus was induced, in repayment of his father's obligations to the Romans, to bequeath his entire dominions as a legacy to the Republic. In vain did his illegitimate half-brother, Aristonicus, dispute the validity of so extraordinary a testament; the Romans, aided by Mithridates IV., then monarch of Pontus, easily triumphed over such resistance as this unfortunate prince could offer, and having ceded to their ally the portion of Phrygia which had belonged to the Pergamene kingdom, entered on the possession of the remainder. Having thus become an Asiatic power, the Great Republic was of necessity mixed up henceforth with the various movements and struggles which agitated Western Asia, and was naturally led to strengthen its position among the Asiatic kingdoms by such alliances as seemed at each conjuncture best fitted for its interests.
Hitherto no occasion had arisen for any direct dealings between Rome and Parthia. Their respective territories were still separated by considerable tracts, which were in the occupation of the Syrians, the Cappadocians, and the Armenians. Their interests had neither clashed, nor as yet sufficiently united them to give rise to any diplomatic intercourse. But the progress of the two Empires in opposite directions was continually bringing them nearer to each other; and events had now reached a point at which the Empires began to have (or seem to have) such a community of interests as led naturally to an exchange of communications. A great power had been recently developed in these parts. In the rapid way so common in the East. Mithridates V., of Pontus, the son and successor of Rome's ally, had, between B.C. 112 and B.C. 93, built up an Empire of vast extent, numerous population, and almost inexhaustible resources. He had established his authority over Armenia Minor, Colchis, the entire east coast of the Black Sea, the Chersonesus Taurica, or kingdom of the Bosporus, and even over the whole tract lying west of the Chersonese as far as the mouth of the Tyras, or Dniester. Nor had these gains contented him. He had obtained half of Paphlagonia by an iniquitous compact with Nicomedes, King of Bithynia; he had occupied Galatia; and he was engaged in attempts to bring Cappadocia under his influence. In this last-named project he was assisted by the Armenians, with whose king, Tigranes, he had (about B.C. 96) formed a close alliance, at the same time giving him his daughter, Cleopatra, in marriage. Rome, though she had not yet determined on war with Mithridates, was resolved to thwart his Cappadocian projects, and in B.C. 92 sent Sulla into Asia with orders to put down the puppet whom Mithridates and Tigranes were establishing, and to replace upon the Cappadocian throne a certain Ariobarzanes, whom they had driven from his kingdom. In the execution of this commission, Sulla was brought into hostile collision with the Armenians, whom he defeated with great slaughter, and drove from Cappadocia together with their puppet king. Thus, not only did the growing power of Mithridates of Pontus, by inspiring Rome and Parthia with a common fear, tend to draw them together, but the course of events had actually given them a common enemy in Tigranes of Armenia, who was equally obnoxious to both.
For Tigranes, who, during the time that he was a hostage in Parthia, had contracted engagements towards the Parthian monarch which involved a cession of territory, and who in consequence of his promises had been aided by the Parthians in seating himself on his father's throne though he made the cession required of him in the first instance had soon afterwards repented of his good faith, had gone to war with his benefactors, recovered the ceded territory, and laid waste a considerable tract of country lying within the admitted limits of the Parthian kingdom. These proceedings had, of course, alienated Mithridates II.; and we may with much probability ascribe to them the step, which he now took, of sending an ambassador to Sulla. Orobazus, the individual selected, was charged to propose an alliance offensive and defensive between the two countries. Sulla received the overture favorably, but probably considered that it transcended his powers to conclude a treaty; and thus nothing more was effected by the embassy than the establishment of a good understanding between the two States.
Soon after this Tigranes appears to have renewed his attacks upon Parthia, which in the interval between B.C. 92 and B.C. 83 he greatly humbled, depriving it of the whole of Upper Mesopotamia, at this time called Gordyene, and under rule of one of the Parthian tributary kings. Of the details of this war we have no account; and it is even uncertain whether it fell within the reign of Mithridates II. or no. The unfortunate mistake of Justin, whereby he confounded this monarch with Mithridates III., has thrown this portion of the Parthian history into confusion, and has made even the successor of Mithridates II. uncertain.
Mithridates II. probably died about B.C. 89, after a reign which must have exceeded thirty-five years. His great successes against the Scythians in the earlier portion of his reign were to some extent counterbalanced by his losses to Tigranes in his old age; but on the whole he must be regarded as one of the more vigorous and successful of the Parthian monarchs, and as combining courage with prudence. It is to his credit that he saw the advantage of establishing friendly relations with Rome at a time when an ordinary Oriental monarch might have despised the distant Republic, and have thought it beneath his dignity to make overtures to so strange and anomalous a power. Whether he definitely foresaw the part which Rome was about to play in the East, we may doubt; but at any rate he must have had a prevision that the part would not be trifling or insignificant. Of the private character of Mithridates we have no sufficient materials to judge. If it be true that he put his envoy, Orobazus, to death on account of his having allowed Sulla to assume a position at their conference derogatory to the dignity of the Parthian State, we must pronounce him a harsh master; but the tale, which rests wholly on the weak authority of the gossip-loving Plutarch, is perhaps scarcely to be accepted.
Dark period of Parthian History. Doubtful succession of the Monarchs. Accession of Sanatrceces, ab. B.C. 76. Position of Parthia during the Mithridatic Wars. Accession of Phraates III. His relations with Pompey. His death. Civil War between his two sons, Mithridates and Orodes. Death of Mithridates.
The successor of Mithridates II. is unknown. It has been argued, indeed, that the reigns of the known monarchs of this period would not be unduly long if we regarded them as strictly consecutive, and placed no blank between the death of Mithridates II. and the accession of the next Arsaces whose name has come down to us. Sanatrodoeces, it has been said, may have been, and may, therefore, well be regarded as, the successor of Mithridates. But the words of the epitomizer of Trogus, placed at the head of this chapter, forbid the acceptance of this theory. The epitomizer would not have spoken of "many kings" as intervening between Mithridates II. and Orodes, if the number had been only three. The expression implies, at least, four or five monarchs; and thus we have no choice but to suppose that the succession of the kings is here imperfect, and that at least one or two reigns were interposed between those of the second Mithridates and of the monarch known as Sanatroeces, Sinatroces, or Sintricus.