The Parthian Takeover

Category: Before Islam, Parthians - Date: May 10, 2020


The Parthians had settled the area between the Caspian and Aral Seas many centuries before. Under their great king Mithridates (r 171–138 BC), they swallowed most of Persia and then everywhere between the Euphrates in the west and Afghanistan in the east, more or less re-creating the old Achaemenid Empire. They had two capitals, one at what is now Rey, the other at Ctesiphon, in present-day Iraq.

Expert horsemen and archers, the Parthians spent much energy fighting with Rome for control of Syria, Mesopotamia and Armenia. In 53 BC, Roman general Crassus, who had defeated Spartacus and was now one of three men controlling Rome, took on the Parthians at Carrhae, in modern-day Turkey. Crassus saw his armies decimated before being captured, having molten gold poured down his throat to mock his greed, and losing his head. Extended periods of peace followed, though the Romans and Parthians were only ever an ambitious leader away from a fight.

More enlightened than later dynasties, the Parthians oversaw significant progress in architecture and the arts, though little remains today.