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Related to Parthia: Parthian, Parthian shot, Persia, Bactria, Scythia, Parthian empire


(pär`thēə), ancient country of Asia, SE of the Caspian Sea. In its narrowest limits it consisted of a mountainous region intersected with fertile valleys, lying S of Hyrcania and corresponding roughly to the modern Iranian province of Khorasan. It was included in the Assyrian and Persian empires, the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great, and the Syrian empire. The Parthians were famous horsemen and archers and may have been of Scythian stock.

In 250 B.C., led by ArsacesArsaces
, fl. 250 B.C., founder of the Parthian dynasty of the Arsacids, which ruled Persia from c.250 B.C. to A.D. 226. Arsaces led a successful revolt against Antiochus II of Syria, when Antiochus was engaged in war with Egypt and trying to put down a revolt in Bactria.
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, they freed themselves from the rule of the Seleucids and founded the Parthian empire. At its height, in the 1st cent. B.C., this empire extended from the Euphrates across Afghanistan to the Indus and from the Oxus (Amu Darya) to the Indian Ocean. Defeating Marcus Licinius Crassus in 53 B.C., the Parthians threatened Syria and Asia Minor, but they were turned back by Ventidius in 39–38 B.C.

Under TrajanTrajan
(Marcus Ulpius Trajanus) , c.A.D. 53–A.D. 117, Roman emperor (A.D. 98–A.D. 117). Born in Spain, he was the first non-Italian to become head of the empire. Trajan served in the East, in Germany, and in Spain. He was adopted in A.D.
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 the Romans advanced (A.D. 114–16) as far as the Persian Gulf, but they withdrew in the reign of HadrianHadrian
, A.D. 76–138, Roman emperor (117–138), b. Spain. His name in full was Publius Aelius Hadrianus. An orphan, he became the ward of Trajan. Hadrian distinguished himself as a commander (especially in Dacia) and as an administrator.
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 and were never again so successful against the Parthians. Then began the decline of the empire, which in A.D. 226 was conquered by Ardashir IArdashir I
[another form of Artaxerxes], d. 240, king of Persia (226?–240). He overthrew the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV, entered Ctesiphon, and reunited Persia out of the confusion of Seleucid decline.
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 (Artaxerxes), the founder of the Persian dynasty of the Sassanids. The chief Parthian cities were EcbatanaEcbatana
, capital of ancient Media, later the summer residence of Achaemenid and Parthian kings, beautifully situated at the foot of Mt. Elvend and NE of Behistun. In 549 B.C. it was captured by Cyrus the Great.
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, SeleuciaSeleucia
, ancient city of Mesopotamia, on the Tigris below modern Baghdad. Founded (c.312 B.C.) by Seleucus I, it soon replaced Babylon as the main center for east-west commerce through the valley.
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, CtesiphonCtesiphon
, ruined ancient city, 20 mi (32 km) SE of Baghdad, Iraq, on the left bank of the Tigris opposite Seleucia and at the mouth of the Diyala River. After 129 B.C. it was the winter residence of the Parthian kings. Ctesiphon grew rapidly and was of renowned splendor.
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, and Hecatompylos. Such expressions as "a Parthian shot" were suggested by the Parthian ruse in which mounted men used their arrows effectively while in simulated flight.


See N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia (1938, repr. 1970); P. B. Lozinski, The Original Homeland of the Parthians (1959); M. A. R. Colledge, The Parthians (1967).


a country in ancient Asia, southeast of the Caspian Sea, that expanded into a great empire dominating SW Asia in the 2nd century bc. It was destroyed by the Sassanids in the 3rd century ad
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