Definitions

Parthia

Parthia

[pahr-thee-uh]
Parthia, ancient country of Asia, SE of the Caspian Sea. In its narrowest limits it consisted of a mountainous region intersected with fertile valleys, lying S of Hyrcania and corresponding roughly to the modern Iranian province of Khorasan. It was included in the Assyrian and Persian empires, the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great, and the Syrian empire. The Parthians were famous horsemen and archers and may have been of Scythian stock. In 250 B.C., led by Arsaces, they freed themselves from the rule of the Seleucids and founded the Parthian empire. At its height, in the 1st cent. B.C., this empire extended from the Euphrates across Afghanistan to the Indus and from the Oxus to the Indian Ocean. Defeating Marcus Licinius Crassus in 53 B.C., the Parthians threatened Syria and Asia Minor, but they were turned back by Ventidius in 39-38 B.C. Under Trajan the Romans advanced (A.D. 114-16) as far as the Persian Gulf, but they withdrew in the reign of Hadrian and were never again so successful against the Parthians. Then began the decline of the empire, which in A.D. 226 was conquered by Ardashir I (Artaxerxes), the founder of the Persian dynasty of the Sassanids. The chief Parthian cities were Ecbatana, Seleucia, Ctesiphon, and Hecatompylos. Such expressions as "a Parthian shot" were suggested by the Parthian ruse in which mounted men used their arrows effectively while in simulated flight.

See N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia (1938, repr. 1970); P. B. Lozinski, The Original Homeland of the Parthians (1959); M. A. R. Colledge, The Parthians (1967).

Ancient land, southwestern Asia. Corresponding roughly to modern northeastern Iran, it was a province of the Persian Achaemenian dynasty and later of the empire of Alexander the Great. After the dissolution of the Seleucid dynasty circa 250 BC, a new Parthian kingdom was founded by Arsaces. The Arsacid dynasty ruled until it was overthrown by the Sāsānian dynasty circa AD 224. At its height in the early 1st century BC, it was known as the Parthian empire and included all of the Iranian plateau and the Tigris-Euphrates river valley. It was weakened by internal disorder and by conflict with Rome in the 1st century BC. One of its later capitals was Hecatompylos. The ruins of Ctesiphon, another major Parthian city, are in modern Iraq, near Baghdad. The Parthians were renowned as horsemen and archers.

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Anxi is the ancient Chinese name for Parthia. Anxi was described by the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian who visited the neighbouring countries of Bactria and Sogdiana in 126 BC, making the first known Chinese report on Parthia. In Chinese, the name "Anxi" (pronounced anshiak in Tang Dynasty Chinese) is a transliteration of the name Arsaces, founder of the Arsacid Dynasty of Parthia.

Zhang Qian clearly identifies Parthia as an advanced urban civilization, which he equates to those of Dayuan (in Ferghana) and Daxia (in Bactria):

"Anxi is situated several thousand li west of the region of the Great Yuezhi (in Transoxonia). The people are settled on the land, cultivating the fields and growing rice and wheat. They also make wine out of grapes. They have walled cities like the people of Dayuan (Ferghana), the region contains several hundred cities of various sizes. The coins of the country are made of silver and bear the face of the king. When the king dies, the currency is immediately changed and new coins issued with the face of his successor. The people keep records by writing on horizontal strips of leather. To the west lies Tiaozi (Mesopotamia) and to the north Yancai and Lixuan (Hyrcania)." (Shiji, 123, Zhang Qian quote, trans. Burton Watson).

Exteranal links

  • http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/numismatics/parthia/frames/parhom.htm

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