collection of hauma hamiddha's scattered posts

Posts tagged ‘scythians’

The rise of the Parthian empire

The Seleucid kingdom was founded by one of Alexander’s generals
Seleukos Nikator, who had led his troops with much perseverance during
the former’s Indian campaign. The Seleucid kingdom started
degenerating in 245BCE as Indo-Greek kshatrapa, Andragoras declared
himself an independent monarch. About this time and Iranian tribe
termed the Parni organized a massive cavalry army in the steppes,
broke free from another Iranian tribe, the Daha, that was their
overlord, and moved into Southern Turkmenistan. From here the Parni
launched a massive invasion of Andragoras’ satrapy under the
leadership of their famed leader Arshaka (Arsaces in Greek).
Andragoras was killed in the battle against the Parni and the Greeks
forces scattered, allowing the invaders to conquered the territory to
the southeast of the Caspian corresponding to Hyrcania and Parthia.
After this they acquired the name Parthians in the West after the
territory they had conquered. This sparked off a see-saw struggle with
the Macedonians that turned to their advantage after the death of the
Arshaka who had a prolonged war with Seleukos II. Arshaka II his son
was beaten in battles by Antiochus III and had to sue peace after
losing Hyrcania. However, in 171BC, the Parthian king Mithradata I
came to power, who(Mithridates in Greek) raised them to the height of
their glory. In 148 BC he crushed the Seleukids in crucial battle,
sacking Media, in 141 he followed it up with the conquest of Babylon.
Then he struck to his east outflanking the Indo-Greek army and
destroying it at Margiana and annexed their territory to found what
may be called the Parthian empire. He settled the Shaka tribe that
aided him in these conquests in Seistan (Shakastan) and took on the
title Kshatyatama- emperor. His son Phraetra II (Phratres) finally
destroyed the Seleukid empire completely by smashing them completely
in 129 BC. This was followed by a struggle with their onetime allies
the Shakas, and the Massagetaen tribes of the Daha confederacy that
nearly destroyed the Parthians. Their capital was established in Nisa
near today’s Ashkhabad and studies show that within a few years of
their conquest of the new territory they became quite urban in their
economy. Excavation reports by Russians at Nisa reveal large fortified
constructions, with Fire temples. This suggests that we should not be
so prompt in claiming that the oasis civilizations and the mature/late
Harappan had nothing to do with the early Indo-Iranians- the parallel
to the Parthians is very clear. The Indo-Iranians could have occupied
these centers and become urban in a very short time: note the Fire
temples were not an acquired cult for these Parthians but merely
expanded on urban settlement. Hence, what we see is a near complete
Aryan domination of both Persia and the steppes till they were
ultimately decimated and absorbed by the great expansion of the
Altaics under Motun-tegin of the first Hun Kha’khanate.

>Thank you, that was very informative. Is it known whether the Parni
>and Dahae were themselves Shakas or were they sedentary Iranians like
>the Persians? I wonder if the language that we call Parthian is the
>language of the people of the occupied Hyrcania and Parthia, of the
>area of Seistan or the Parni’s own original dialect of Iranian.

The word parthian appears to be *unrelated* to parni. I am quoting
from the Behistan inscription of dArayavAusha I (darius) where he
describes his empire of 23 provinces acquired by the grace of ahura
mazda (I am slightly sanskritizing in the transliteration, due to my
inability to properly depict old Irn. in ascii):

AH ahuramazadAha adamshAM kshAyathiya Aham pArsa [Persia] Uvja [Elam]
bAbirusha (Babylon) athurA (Assyria) arabAya (Arabia) mudrAya (Egypt?)
tyaiya drayahyA sparda (Sardis) yauna (Ionia) mAda(Media) armina
(Armenia) Katpatuka (Cappadocia) !!parthava!! (Parthia) zraka (Dranga)
haraiva (Haria) uvArazmIya (Chorasmia) bAkshtrisha (Baktria) suguda
(Sogdiana) gandhAra (GanddhAra) saka (Seistan???) thatagusha
(Sattagdyia) harauvatisha (Achrosia) maka (Makran) fraharavam dahyAva
23 thAtiya

Thus the word parthava was in place well before the parni moved into
that territory. I personally believe that the original name may have
been derived from and Indic/Iranian tribe bearing the name pR^ithu
that may after all be linked to the to the tribes of such a name
mentioned in the RV. Note that a clan of bhArgavas, who are very very
rare in India today, also go by the name pArthava: they are
descendents of vainyu pR^ithi. pR^ithi is mentioned in the kANva
maNDala of the RV suggesting association with the Iranian territories.

> the Persians? I wonder if the language that we call Parthian is the
> language of the people of the occupied Hyrcania and Parthia, of the

Richard Frye speculates that the parni took the Iranian language of
the local people of Parthia. However, there is ample evidence that the
Parthians to start with were pastoral: their cavalry being given
special mention. They had subtle religious differences from the older
Iranian Mazdaism. We note in the Nemrud Dagh inscription that they
retain the older Indo-Iranian deities quite unchanged. There is the
mention of Vrtragna, Mithra and Ahuramazda much like the Indians
invoking indra with mitravaruNa. Puhvel speculates that the nourishing
land also mentioned in this inscription is a substitute for Anahita.
There is evidence from Indian sources like the Yaudheyas and Andhras
that PArthians were very distinct from the shakas.They also did not
have the shaka hero Rustam in their inscriptions. We have the Indians
calling them pahalavans. We have Indian kings with titles like
shaka-yavana-pahalava-saMhAri. So they definitely did not take up the
name “parthian” for themselves. From what Grishman provides of their
inscriptions from Nisa in Aramaic script the Parthians clearly spoke a
western Iranian dialect, as against shakas who spoke an Eastern
dialect. Further, it was also distinct from the original West Iranian
dialect of Parthia in probably losing the gender declination (there
are other differences I do not remember off hand). While they did
heavily acquire greek, Indian and other local substratum influences we
can still identify the parni as having a life of their own.

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