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PA´RTHIA, Eth. Παρθυαῖος, Eth. Parthus, Eth. Parthicus, ( Παρθυαία, Strab. xi. pp. 514, 515, &c.; Παρθυηνὴ, Plb. 10.28; Steph. B. sub voce Curt.5.12; Παρθία, Ptol. 6.5.1; Parthia, Plin. Nat. 6.15. s. 16), originally a small district of Western Asia, shut in on all sides by either mountains or deserts. It was bounded on the W. by Media Atropatene, on the N. by Hyrcania, on the E. by Ariana and M. Masdoranus, and on the S. by Carmania Deserta, M. Parachoathras, and Persis. It comprehended, therefore, the southern part of Khorásan, almost all Kohistan, and some portion of the great Salt Desert. It was for the most part a mountainous and rugged district. The principal mountains were the Labus or Labutas (probably part of the great range now known by the name of the Elburz Mts.), the Parachoathras (or Elwend), and the Masdoranus. The few rivers which it possessed were little more than mountain streams, liable to violent and sudden floods on the melting of the snow, but nearly dry during the summer: the only names which have been recorded of these streams are, the Zioberis or Stiboetes, the Rhidagus, and the Choatres. The principal divisions of the land were into Camisene, on the north; Parthyene, to the SW. of Camisene, extending along the edge of the Caspian Sea, as far as the Caspian Gates, a district which some have supposed to have been the original seat of the population, and that from which the whole country derived its name; Choarene, the western portion of the land, and for the most part a fruitful valley along the frontiers of Media; Apavarctene, to the S.; and Tabiene, along the borders of Carmania Deserta. There were no great towns in Parthia, properly so called, but history has preserved the names of a few which played an important part at different periods: of these, the best known were Hecatompolis, the chief town of the Parthians, and the royal residence of the dynasty of the Arsacidae, and Apameia Rhagiana.

Little is known of Parthian history at an early period; and it is probable that it was subject to the great empire of Persia, and subsequently to the first successors of Alexander, till the first Arsaces threw off the Syro-Macedonian rule, and established a native dynasty on the throne of Parthia in B.C. 256. From this period it grew rapidly more powerful, till, on the final decay of the house of the Seleucidae, the Arsacidan dynasty possessed the rule of the greater part of Western Asia. Their long wars with the Romans are well known: no Eastern race was able to make so effectual a resistance to the advance of the Roman arms, or vindicated with more constancy and determination their natural freedom. The overthrow of Crassus, B.C. 53, showed what even the undisciplined Parthian troops could do when fighting for freedom. (D. C. 40.21.) Subsequent to this, the Romans were occasionally successful. Thus, in A.D. 34, Vonones was sent as a hostage to Rome (Tacit. Annual. 2.1); and finally the greater part of the country was subdued, successively, by the arms of Trajan, by Antoninus, and Caracalla, till, at length, the rise of the new Sassanian, or native dynasty of Persia, under the command of Artaxerxes I. put an end to the house of Arsaces (A.D. 226). Subsequent to this period there is a constant confusion in ancient authors between Persians and Parthians. The history of the Parthian kings is given at length in the Dict. of Biog. Vol. I. p. 355, seq.

The inhabitants of Parthia were called Parthyaei (Παρθυαῖοι, Plb. 10.31: Strab. xi. p.509; Arrian, Arr. Anab. 3.21; Ptol. 3.13.41) or Parthi (Πάρθοι, Hdt. 3.93; Strab. xi. p.524; Plin. Nat. 6.25. s. 28; Amm. Marc. 23.6), and were, in all probability, one of the many branches of the great Indo-Germanic family of nations. Their own tradition (if, indeed, faithfully reported) was that they came out of Scythia--for they were wont to say that Parthian meant exile in the Scythian tongue. (Justin, 41.1.) Herodotus, too, classes them with the people of Chorasmia and Sogdiana (3.39, 7.66); and Strabo admits that their manners resembled those of the Scythians (xi. p. 515). On the other hand, modern research has demonstrated their direct connection with the Iranian tribes; their name is found in the Zend to be Pardu, in the Sanscrit Párada. (Benfey, Review of Wilson's Ariana, Berl. Jahrb. 1842, No. 107.) According to Strabo, who quotes Posidonius as his authority, the Parthians were governed by a double council, composed of the nobles or relatives of the king (according as the reading εὐγενῶν or συγγενῶν be adopted), and of the Magians (xi. p. 515). As a nation, they were famous for their skill in the management of the horse and for their use of the bow (D. C. 40.15, 22; Dionys. A. R. 1045; Plut. Crass. 100.24), and for the peculiar art which they practised in shooting with the bow from horseback when retreating. This peculiarity is repeatedly noticed by the Roman poets. (Verg. G. 3.31; Hor. Carm. 1.19. 11, 2.13. 17; Ovid, Art. Am. 1.209.) In their treatment of their kings and nobles they were considered to carry their adulation even beyond the usual Oriental excess. (Virg, Georg. 4.211; Martial, Epigr. 10.72, 1--5.)


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.93
    • Polybius, Histories, 10.28
    • Polybius, Histories, 10.31
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.31
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.25
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.15
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 23.6
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 3.21
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.13
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