Iranian History/The Later Arsacids

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The kingdom of Parthia entered a new stage in the early years of the Christian Era. From 51 AD onwards, Parthian kings took names such as Vologasses (Valkhash) which the earlier Parthian kings had never used.

Artabanus III

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Artabanus III was the first Parthian monarch to ascend the Parthian throne since the commencement of the Christian era. In 12 AD, the Parthian nobles, weary of the Latinized monarch Vonones deposed him and chose Artabanus, the Arsacid king of Media Atropatene as their King-Emperor. Artabanus accepted and at once pursued Vonones who first fled to Armenia and then Syria. After a short war, Armenia was taken by the Parthians forcing Vonones to seek permanent refuge in the Roman province of Syria.

The Roman Emperor Tiberius dispatched his nephew Germanicus to negotiate with the Armenians and Parthians. He imbibed in him all power, glory and grandeur, in short making him the de facto "King of all Roman provinces to the east of the Hellespont". Germanicus arrived in Armenia and supported the candidature of one Zeno who, unlike Vonones, was acceptable to the Armenians. He was also able to successfully negotiate with the Parthian Emperor. Vonones was moved to Cilicia virtually a Roman prisoner and was killed while trying to escape.

In 34, when Zeno died, Artabanus III, foreseeing little resistance before him now that Tiberius was too old, invaded Armenia and placed his son Arsaces on the throne. However, Tiberius responded by abetting a conspiracy against Artabanus. Artabanus acted swiftly and responded by diverting the attention of one of the conspirators and poisoning another.

In 36, Pharasmanes the King of Iberia killed Arsaces and raised his own brother Mithridates on the Armenian throne with help from Albania and Rome. Artabanus sent his son Orodes to fight the invaders and secure Armenia but the Parthians were defeated by the combined forces of Rome, Iberia, Armenia and Albania and tens of thousands were slain. Artabanus then personally marched against Armenia but the threat of a Roman invasion of Mesopotamia forced him to retreat and retire to the safety of Hyrcania leaving the Persian capital undefended.

Artabanus ruled from 12 to 38 and for the most part of his reign, his kingdom was afflicted by civil war and internal strife. Artabanus, himself, was deposed twice and twice reinstated. He died soon after his second reinstatement.

Gotarzes II and Vardanes

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Gotarzes II a son of Artabanus III ascended the throne on the death of his father. According to Tacitus, immediately after his accession he was deposed and replaced with his brother Vardanes who ruled for about three years. During his short reign, Vardanes seems to have indulged in the subjugation of Seleucia. His brother Gotarzes rebelled and with support from Hyrcania, plotted to capture the throne. But the brothers set aside their differences and concluded peace once they realized that there was a conspiracy to make a non-Arsacid the Emperor of Parthia. Soon after this conspiracy was quelled, Vardanes planned to invade Armenia but was opposed in his designs by Izates the ruler of Mesopotamia. Frustrated, Vardanes declared war against Izates but was drawn to the north-east by a rebellion in Hyrcania and was assassinated on the way.

Immediately after the death of Vardanes, Gotarzes was crowned king. Once again his conduct hadf become som ubearable that the nobles schemed to do away with him. They contacted the Roman Emperor Claudius who sent Mithridates, a grandson of Phraates IV and a son of Vonones, with a formidable force to claim the throne of the Arsacids. Mithridates penetrated Mesopotamia with aid from the king of Osrhoene and Izatus of Adiabene but was let down by his allies in the course of the final battle and defeated. Gitarzes died soon afterwards and was succeeded by Vonones II who ruled for a few months. Vonones was succeeded by Vologesses I.

Vologasses I

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Vonones II had three sons Vologasses, Tiridates and Paeorus of whom Vologasses succeeded him. His name in Old Persian would have been Valkhash and Balas in Middle Persian.

First Invasion of Armenia

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In 47, Pharasmanes the king of Armenia had a nephew named Rhadamistus who killed him and ascended the throne. The rule of an usurper was highly resented by the people of Armenia. Vologasses took advantage of the situation to invade the country. Artaxata the capital and Tigranocerta were easily taken. Rhadamistus was deposed and Tiridates the brother of the Parthian Emperor was made king of Armenia. However, no sooner had he ascended the throne that winter and pestilence broke out forcing the Parthians to withdraw their contingent allowing Rhadamistus to reclaim his throne.

Rebellion of Izatus

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Izatus, the king of Adiabene had greatly increased in strength and stature that he now contrived to overthrow the Parthian yoke and establish himself as an independent monarch than a Parthian feudatory. At length, Vologasses invaded Adiabene but met with little success as Izatus applied the scorched-earth policy and laid waste the whole countryside. At this juncture, an attack of the Scuythians briefly drew Vologasses to the northern frontiers of the Emnpire. By the time the Scythian war came to an end, Izatus had died. His brother Monobazus who succeeded him submitted to Vologasses and ascended the throne as a feudatory of Parthia.

Second Invasion of Armenia and the War with Rome

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In 54, when Rhadamistus was in the third year of his reign, Tiridates, brother of Vologasses, invaded Armenia forcing him to flee. The latter soon took over as the king of Armenia. This precipitated in a war with Rome whose interests in Armenia were being threatened. Corbulo, regarded as the best general of the time, was sent with Ummidius to fight the Parthians. Both, however, on taking their position, sent emissaries to negotiate with Vologasses, who agreed to a temporary peace.

Vologasses was in a perilous situation when Rome had sent its legions to invade Parthia. Vardanes, the crown prince, was in rebellion. The temporary peace however enabled him to devote his attention to the civil war raging in his own country. In about 58, Vardanes was finally defeated and killed. However, no sooner had the civil war come to an end than a rebellion broke out in Hyrcania. Devoid of support, Tiridates and the small Parthian contingent in Armenia were easily overpowered and forced to flee. By 61, the whole of Armenia was under the Romans, who entrusted the government to one Tigranes, a grandson of the King of Cappadocia.

In 61, when the war in Hyrcania had come to an end, Vologasses sent two armies under Monseses and Monobazus to invade Armenia and capture Tigranocerta the capital while he stationed himself at the junction of Armenia and Syria. Monseses and Monobazus invaded Armenia but the siege of Tigranocerta failed. Vologasses proceeded as far as Nisibis but a plague of locusts forced him to withdraw. The hostilities came to an end when peace was concluded between the warring armies.

However, at this juncture, Rome made a strategic error of judgement when it appointed Cassinius Paetus to take command in Armenia. Paetus was thoroughly incompetent, At first, he entered Armenia from Cappadocia but was surrounded and defeated. Vologasses proposed peace with Rome. However, Nero rejected Vologasses' terms and sent Corbulo with a large army to invade Parthia.

Corbulo invaded Armenia at the head of 80,000 men forcing the Parthians to withdraw. Tiridates surrendered and accepted the Roman Emperor Nero as his overlord. He was, in turn, sent to Rome to receive the diadem at the hands of the Roman emperor. In a ceremony which was a showpiece of Rome's imperial authority, Nero placed the diadem on the head of Tiridates and crowned him king of Armenia.

In around 72, Paetus, the proconsul of Syria, deposed the king of Cappadocia suspecting him of negotiating an accommodation with Parthia. However, his son was reinstated by Vespasian when he was convinced that they were innocent.

Vologasses I died in around 79 succeeded by his son Pacorus.

Pacorus II

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Pacorus ascended the throne as Pacorus II in 79 and ruled till 108. He supported a pretender of Nero in Rome. He is also credited with expanding and beautifying Ctesiphon. He also sold Osrhoene to a prince from Edessa. He must have passed away in around 108 and was succeeded by his son.


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Vologasses II

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In 133, a vast horde of the Alanni invaded the Parthian Empire at the instigation of Pharasmanes, king of Iberia who was a vassal of Rome. Vologasses made a formal complaint at Rome but instead of chastising Pharasmanes, the Roman Emperor Hadrian honored him. Vologasses was furious but barely made a complaint. Hadrian died in 138 and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius. Vologasses at once sent a message of congratulations requesting the restitution of the golden throne which Trajan had captured during his expedition. But Antoninus Pius flatly refused.

Vologasses II died in around 148.

Vologasses III

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In 148, Vologasses II was succeeded by Vologasses III who must have probably been his son.

War with Rome

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In 161, the Roman Emperor Antoninus was succeeded by his adopted son Marcus Aurelius. Taking advantage of the presence of a minor on the throne of Rome, Vologasses invaded Armenia and expelled the Armenian king Sosemus whom the Romans had raised on the throne. Severianus, the prefect of Cappadocia and Attidius Cornelianus opposed him but were defeated by a huge army under Khusro which crossed the Euphrates into Syria and ravaged the Roman provinces. Marcus Aurelius responded by sending an army under the command of Cassius to recover the lost provinces. Cassius defeated Vologasses in a great battle at Europus in 163 and drove the Parthians back across the Euphrates. Armenia was invaded by Statius Priscus who conquered the capital Artaxata and restored Sosemus on the throne.

Cassius, meanwhile, crossed the Euphrates into Mesopotamia and ravaged the country. Seleucia, which had a population of 400,000 was burnt to the ground. Ctesiphon on the other side of the Tigris was also occupied and the summer palace of the Parthian king destroyed along with its temples and monuments.The Roman army even crossed the Zagros mountains into Media and conquered a portion of the province. However, soon afterwards pestilence broke out and the Romans contended with the successes they had achieved did not press any further. Thus, the war came to an end in 165.

Vologasses died in 192 and was succeeded by his eldest son Vologasses IV.

Vologasses IV

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Vologasses IV succeeded his father Vologasses III in 192. During his accession Rome was in turmpil. Three individual Roman commanders, Clodius Albinus, in Britain; Severus, in Pannonia and Pescennius Niger, in Syria, had declared themself Emperor of Rome. Meanwhile, Pescennius Niger hoped to garner support amongst the small kingdoms on the either side of the Euphrates which might be beneficial in the event of an invasion by Severus. So, he sent emissaries to Parthia, Armenia and Hatra in retrn for support. Vologasses IV did not himself involve in the war or offer troops but encouraged his dependent kingdoms to do the same. So when, Armenia and Hatra supported the cause of Niger Vologasses did not chastise them but instead, encouraged them.

No sooner had the kingdoms resolved to support Niger that Severus invaded Asia plunging the Asian Empire of Rome in turmoil. Supported by Adiabene, Northern Mesopotamia rebelled. The Roman garrisons stationed in Mesopotamia were cut to pieces and soon afterwards, Nisibis itself was besieged. Severus established himself in Syria and rushed to the scene rescuing Nisibis and retaking Mesopotamia. He even crossed the Euphrates into Parthian territory and conquered the Parthian feudatory of Adiabene. But civil war in Rome triggered by the claim to the throne by Clodius Albinus forced Severus to quit the newly occupied territories and return to Rome. Soon after his departure, Vologasses invaded and conquered Adiabene and Northern Mesopotamia and penetrated deep into Syria. Severus, after settling the issue in Rome in his favor, rushed to scene and soon recovered all the lands lost in the preceding months. He then crossed over to the other side of the Euphrates into Babylonia and besieged the capital city of Ctesiphon which fell after a brief resistance. The inhabitants were massacred and the treasury was plundered by the invading Romans. After accumulating an enormous spoil, the Roman army recrossed the Euphrates largely unmolested. Hatra was the only province which offered a stout resistance thereby forcing the Roman Emperor to call of its invasion. But it was a resounding win for the Romans overall and greatly diminished the reputation of Parthia as a major world power.

Vologasses IV died in around 207. His death was followed by a war of succession and the rise of Vologasses V.

Vologasses V

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Vologasses held supremacy in Parthia over his brother Artabanus from 207 to around 213 and ruled the kingdom during a period when it was engrossed in civil war. The Roman Emperor Caracallus, who in 211 succeeded his father, Severus, as Emperor of Rome, congratulated the Senate in 212 on the strife still going on in Parthia, which could not fail (he said) to inflict serious injury on that hostile state. Starting from 213 onwards he rapidly lost ground in the western parts of the Empire yielding sovereignty to his brother Artabanus. He, however, continued to exercise sovereignty over the eastern parts till 223.

Artabanus V

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In around 213, Artabanus gained control over the capital Ctesiphon and the western provinces from his brother Vologasses V. Soon after his accession to the throne, the Roman Emperor Caracallus sent an emissary to him demanding the hand of his daughter which Artabanus politely refused.

In order to avenge the insult, Caracallus invaded Parthia at the head of a huge army. The invasion was swift as the invading troops entered the Parthian Empire through Babylonia and laid waste the country. Arbela fell after a brief resistance and the Roman avenged his insult by ordering the desecration of the sepultures of the Parthian monarchs. However, the Roman troops soon withdrew by way of Adiabene and Upper Mesopotamia and wintered at Edessa. On April 8, 217, while Caracallus was on way to pay obeisance at the famous temple of the Moon God at Carrhae, he was treacherously murdered by one of his guards Julius Marcialis. Caracallus was succeeded as the Roman Emperor by Macrinus who was not favorably inclined towards continuing the war. Macrinus proposed peace to Artabanus which was rejected by the latter. The Parthian cavalry attacked the Romans at Nisibis precipitating war. The battle which was fought at Nisibis was extremely fierce and resulted in the defeat of the invading Romans who were compelled to pay a huge ransom for their safe return.

Fall of the Parthian Empire

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In about 220, Ardeshir, the feudatory king of Persia, rose against his Parthian overlord and declared independence from Parthia. Artabanus led a large body of troops into Persia to quell the insurrection but was defeated in a series of three battles in the last of which he was slain. Ardeshir crowned himself the independent king of Persia and conquered the outlying Parthian provinces one by one culminating in the conquest of Parthia itself. The Arsacids made one last stand in Armenia under Artavasdes, an uncle of Artabanus who ruled from 227 to 229 but by 229, Ardeshir had conquered most of Armenia hastening the demise of the Parthian Empire.

Parthians after the fall of the Empire

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Even after the demise of the Parthian Empire, Parthians continued to play a major part in Asian politics. The seven Parthian families maintained their status, power and influence intact right up to the Arab conquest of Iran. One of them, the Qarens established a Zoroastrian principality in Taraistan and exercised regal authority till the 16th century AD.

The Pahlavi Dynasty

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In 1925, Reza Khan, an officer in the Persian army established the Pahlavi dynasty and ruled from Tehran. He claimed to be a descendant of the Parthians or Pahlavas of yore. The rule of the Pahlavis from 1925 to 1979 saw a resurgence of ancient Persian traditions and was characterized by the emergence of a new found love for Iran's Zoroastrian past. In 1979, Reza Khan's son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced into exile by the 1979 revolution and an Islamic republic was established.


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