“Out of all the frontiers of the classical world, none has endured as long in the poetic imagination of both European and Asian alike as the Greco-Parthian Kingdom. In its humble beginnings, the ancient Hellenistic state was sheltered from both barbarian nomads in the steppes by mountains to the north, and from the Seleucids by the great, arid deserts to the south. Protected by both vast deserts and tall mountains, the soldiers of Megas Alexandros’s army who were sent to garrison and colonize the province saw a land that had until then been untouched by civilization. The people were a primitive but friendly sort, who welcomed the arrival of the settlers, who over the next few centuries would intermix and create a strong, unique civilization.”
This is a quote that I came across from the First Century AD, not attributed to any author, being anonymous. Nonetheless, I must say it eloquently captures the epoch.
I have included Parthia in my collection of “Hellenic” areas by the skin of its teeth. Parthia was part of the Hellenic East and had elements that survived its independence from the Seleucid Empire. Additionally, it was occupied again by Greeks toward the end of the Third Century. Ultimately though, this was a Persian and multicultural kingdom with a dash of Hellenism.
The Seleucid Empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to Pakistan, created the melting pot to keep the vision of Alexander alive. At the same time, Greek culture, ideals and language spread, especially amongst the elite and the educated. Hellenic cities were created and the increase of global trade, in particular along the silk road, ensured that Hellenisation was easily attained. The migration of Greek people from an overpopulated Greek heartland was also a key ingredient in this gradual Hellenisation.
Parthia also included Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, and Tadjikstan; in total 17 modern countries across Asia. In essence, this equated to the northeast of the Alexandrian empire. Try travelling around that area and you may clock up around 2500 kilometres, for Parthia covers every aspect of nature imaginable. There are deserts, oceans, rivers, mountains and rugged terrain.
The official language of Parthia was Greek, with the elite, Greek colonists, the educated and military leaders using the language. Ironically the main currency was called the Drachma, which modern Greece abandoned in favour of the ill-fated Euro.
Having said all that, it can also be argued that this was essentially a Persian empire that relied heavily on Greek influences. Formerly part of the Alexandrian and then Seleucid control, coupled with the growing presence of Hellenism across the known world, meant that it was natural it would be influenced by Greek culture. The other tongues spoken by locals included Persian, Parthian, Aramiac, Babylonia and Sogdian.
Around 250 BC a series of revolts occurred in the Far East against the Greek Seleucids, with Parthia being one of them. The local governor Andragoras took advantage to secede and by 247 BC he was minting his own coinage. He was overthrown some years later by Arsacesa, a chief from the region of Parni. He had claimed in his lifetime that the year was 247 BC, though a dearth of local sources makes it difficult to verify, however it was probably a decade later.
Holding off the Seleucids, he managed to reign until, possibly, 209 BC whereby his brother was bullied by Antiochus of the Seleucid Empire. The next twenty-five years would see the empire as a vassal to the Greeks of Syria, though they would recognise the ruler of Parthia as a King.
The empire regained its place of independence with an undisputed ruler once the Seleucids refocussed their attention on Mediterranean affairs and civil war (what else would a Greek do but fight another Greek). The majority of Parthian rulers would stylise themselves as king of kings and friends of the Hellenes (Philhellenes). This latter description disappeared during the latter period of the empire as a sense of Iranian/Persian identity flowered.
As well as being multicultural, Parthia had multiple religious systems and beliefs. This ranged from Greek and Iranian cults and early Christianity. The Greek and Persian deities were occasionally blended; Zeus with Ahura Mazda, Hades with Angra Mainyu. Zoroastrian became a major cult toward the end of the empire, whilst Buddhism had also made an appearance from China. The leaders of the empire also called themselves Phil-Hellenes, which is inscribed on local coins until the ascent of Artabanus II.
Parthia maintained its grip on the region, though, she did fight Rome at times and would have to contend with smaller provinces occasionally declaring independence. By 224 AD, one of them, the Persian Sassanids would gain the whole of Parthia. This brought an end to the history of Parthia and ushered a new Persian era that would prove a thorn on the side of the Greek Byzantines. In essence resurrecting Greek-Persian hostilities that were made famous in the in the Fifth Century BC and then by Alexander.
Billy Cotsis is the author of From Pyrrhus to Cyprus Forgotten and Remembered Hellenic Kingdoms, Territories, Entities & a Fiefdom
Source for the quote: www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=193907