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The Parthians do not appear in history until a comparatively recent period. Their name occurs nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures. They obtain no mention in the Zendavesta. The Assyrian Inscriptions are wholly silent concerning them. It is not until the time of Darius Hystaspis that we have trustworthy evidence of their existence as a distinct people. In the inscriptions of this king we find their country included under the name of Parthva or Parthwa among the provinces of the Persian Empire, joined in two places with Sarangia, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana, and in a third with these same countries and Sagartia. We find, moreover, an account of a rebellion in which the Parthians took part. In the troubles which broke out upon the death of the Pseudo-Smerdis, B.C. 521, Parthia revolted, in conjunction (as it would seem) with Hyrcania, espousing the cause of that Median pretender, who, declaring himself a descendant of the old Median monarchs, set himself up as a rival to Darius. Hytaspes, the father of Darius, held at this time the Parthian satrapy. In two battles within the limits of his province he defeated the rebels, who must have brought into the field a considerable force, since in one of the two engagements they lost in killed and prisoners between 10,000 and 11,000 men. After their second defeat the Parthians made their submission, and once more acknowledged Darius for their sovereign...
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Copyright © 2016 by George Rawlinson
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Early notices of the Parthians. Their Ethnic character and connections. Their position under the Persian Monarchs, from Cyrus the Great to Darius III. (Codomannus.)
Condition of Western Asia under the earlier Seleucidce. Revolts of Bactria and Parthia. Conflicting accounts of the establishment of the Parthian Kingdom. First War with Syria.
Consolidation of the Parthian Kingdom. Death of Tiridates and accession of Arsaces III. Attack on Media. War of Artabanus (Arsaces III.) with Antiochus the Great. Period of inaction. Great development of Bactrian power. Reigns of Priapatius (Arsaces IV.) and Phraates I. (Arsaces V.)
Reign of Mithridates I. Position of Bactria and Syria at his accession. His first war with Bactria. His great Expedition against the Eastern Syrian provinces, and its results. His second war with Bactria, terminating in its conquest. Extent of his Empire. Attempt of Demetrius Nicator to recover the lost Provinces fails. Captivity of Demetrius. Death of Mithridates.
System of government established by Mithridates I. Constitution of the Parthians. Government of the Provinces. Laws and Institutions. Character of Mithridates I.
Reign of Phraates II. Expedition of Antiochus Sidetes against Parthia. Release of Demetrius. Defeat and Death of Sidetes. War of Phraates with the Northern Nomads. His death and character.
Accession of Artabanus II. Position of Parthia. Growing pressure upon her, and general advance towards the south, of the Saka or Scyths. Causes and extent of the movement. Character and principal tribes of the Saka. Scythic war of Artabanus. His death.
Accession of Mithridates II. Termination of the Scythic Wars. Commencement of the struggle with Armenia. Previous history of Armenia. Result of the first Armenian War. First contact of Rome with Parthia. Attitude of Rome towards the East at this time. Second Armenian War. Death of Mithridates.
Dark period of Parthian History. Doubtful succession of the Monarchs. Accession of Sanatrceces, ab. B.C. 76. Position of Parthia during the Mithridatic Wars. Accession of Phraates III. His relations with Pompey. His death. Civil War between his two sons, Mithridates and Orodes. Death of Mithridates.
Accession of Orodes I. Expedition of Crassus. His fate. Retaliatory inroad of the Parthians into Syria under Pacorus, the son of Orodes. Defeat of Pacorus by Cassius. His recall. End of the first War with Rome.
Relations of Orodes with Pompey, and with Brutus and Cassius. Second War with Rome. Great Parthian Expedition against Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor. Defeat of Saxa. Occupation of Antioch and Jerusalem. Parthians driven out of Syria by Ventidius. Death of Pacorus. Death of Orodes.
Reign of Phraates IV. His cruelties. Flight of Monceses to Antony. Antony’s great Parthian Expedition, or Invasion of Media Atropatene. Its Complete Failure. Subsequent Alliance of the Median King with Antony. War between Parthia and Media. Rebellion raised against Phraates by Tiridates. Phraates expelled. He recovers his Throne with the help of the Scythians. His dealings with Augustus. His death and Character.
Short reigns of Phraataces, Orodes II., and Vonones I. Accession of Artabanus III. His relations with Germanicus and Tiberius. His War with Pharasmanes of Iberia. His First Expulsion from his Kingdom, and return to it. His peace with Rome. Internal troubles of the Parthian Kingdom. Second Expulsion and return of Artabanus. His Death.
Doubts as to the successor of Artabanus III. First short reign of Gotarzes. He is expelled and Vardanes made king. Reign of Vardanes. His ivar with Izates. His Death. Second reign of Gotarzes. His Contest with his Nephew, Meherdates. His Death. Short and inglorious reign of Vonones II.
Reign of Volagases I. His first attempt on Armenia fails. His quarrel with Izates. Invasion of Parthia Proper by the Dahce and Sacce. Second attack of Volagases on Armenia. Tiridates established as King. First expedition of Corbulo. Half submission of Volagases. Revolt of Vardanes. Second expedition of Corbulo. Armenia given to Tigranes. Revolt of Hyrcania. Third attack of Volagases on Armenia. Defeat of Paitus, and re-establishment of Tiridates. Last expedition of Corbulo, and arrangement of Terms of Peace. Tiridates at Rome. Probable time of the Death of Volagases.
Results of the Establishment of Tiridates in Armenia. Long period of Peace between Parthia and Rome. Obscurity of Parthian History at this time. Relations of Volagases I. with Vespasian. Invasion of Western Asia by Alani. Death of Volagases I. and Character of his Reign. Accession and Long Reign of Pacorus. Relations of Pacorus with Decebalus of Dacia. Internal Condition of Parthia during his Reign. Death of Pacorus and Accession of Chosroes.
Reign of Chosroes. General condition of Oriental Affairs gives a handle to Trajan. Trajan’s Schemes of Conquest. Embassy of Chosroes to Trajan fails. Great Expedition of Trajan. Campaign of A. D. 115. Campaign of A.D. 116. Death of Trajan, and relinquishment of his Parthian Conquests by Hadrian. Interview of Chosroes with Hadrian. Its Consequences. Death of Chosroes and Accession of Volagases II.
Reign of Volagases II. Invasion of the Alani. Communications between Volagases and Antoninus Pius. Death of Volagases II. and Accession of Volagases III. Aggressive War of Volagases III. on Rome. Campaign of A.D. 162. Verus sent to the East. Sequel of the War. Losses suffered by Parthia. Death of Volagases III.
Accession of Volagases IV. His Alliance sought by Pescennius Niger, Part taken by Parthia in the Contest between Niger and Severus, Mesopotamia revolts from Rome. First Eastern Expedition of Severus. Its Results. Second Expedition. Successes of Severus. His Failure at Hatra. General Results of the War. Death of Volagases IV.
Struggle between the two Sons of Volagases IV., Volagases V. and Artabanus. Continued Sovereignty of both Princes. Ambition of Caracallus. His Proceedings in the East. His Resolve to quarrel with Parthia. First Proposal made by him to Artabanus. Perplexity of Artabanus. Caracallus invades Parthia. His Successes, and Death. Macrinus, defeated by Artabanus, consents to Terms of Peace. Revolt of the Persians under Artaxerxes. Prolonged Struggle. Death of Artabanus, and Downfall of the Parthian Empire.
On the Architecture and Ornamental Art of the Parthians.
Customs of the Parthians—in Religion; in War; in their Embassies and Dealings with Foreign Nations; at the Court; in Private Life. Extent of the Refinement to which they reached. Their gradual Decline in Taste and Knowledge.
THE PARTHIANS DO NOT APPEAR in history until a comparatively recent period. Their name occurs nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures. They obtain no mention in the Zendavesta. The Assyrian Inscriptions are wholly silent concerning them. It is not until the time of Darius Hystaspis that we have trustworthy evidence of their existence as a distinct people. In the inscriptions of this king we find their country included under the name of Parthva or Parthwa among the provinces of the Persian Empire, joined in two places with Sarangia, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana, and in a third with these same countries and Sagartia. We find, moreover, an account of a rebellion in which the Parthians took part. In the troubles which broke out upon the death of the Pseudo-Smerdis, B.C. 521, Parthia revolted, in conjunction (as it would seem) with Hyrcania, espousing the cause of that Median pretender, who, declaring himself a descendant of the old Median monarchs, set himself up as a rival to Darius. Hytaspes, the father of Darius, held at this time the Parthian satrapy. In two battles within the limits of his province he defeated the rebels, who must have brought into the field a considerable force, since in one of the two engagements they lost in killed and prisoners between 10,000 and 11,000 men. After their second defeat the Parthians made their submission, and once more acknowledged Darius for their sovereign.
With these earliest Oriental notices of the Parthians agree entirely such passages as contain any mention of them in the more ancient literature of the Greeks. Hecatseus of Miletus, who was contemporary with Darius Hystaspis, made the Parthians adjoin upon the Chorasmians in the account which he gave of the geography of Asia. Herodotus spoke of them as a people subject to the Persians in the reign of Darius, and assigned them to the sixteenth satrapy, which comprised also the Arians, the Sogdians, and the Chorasmians. He said that they took part in the expedition of Xerxes against Greece (B.C. 480), serving in the army on foot under the same commander as the Chorasmians, and equipped like them with bows and arrows, and with spears of no great length. In another passage he mentioned their being compelled to pay the Persian water tax, and spoke of the great need which they had of water for the irrigation of their millet and sesame crops.
It is evident that these notices agree with the Persian accounts, both as to the locality of the Parthians and as to the fact of their subjection to the Persian government. They further agree in assigning to the Parthians a respectable military character, yet one of no very special eminency. On the ethnology of the nation, and the circumstances under which the country became an integral part of the Persian dominions, they throw no light. We have still to seek an answer to the questions, “Who were the Parthians?” and “How did they become Persian subjects?”
Who were the Parthians? It is not until the Parthians have emerged from obscurity and become a great people that ancient authors trouble themselves with inquiries as to their ethnic character and remote antecedents. Of the first writers who take the subject into their consideration, some are content to say that the Parthians were a race of Scyths, who at a remote date had separated from the rest of the nation, and had occupied the southern portion of the Chorasmian desert, whence they had gradually made themselves masters of the mountain region adjoining it. Others added to this that the Scythic tribe to which they belonged was called the Dahse; that their own proper name was Parni, or Aparni; and that they had migrated originally from the country to the north of the Palus Maeotis, where they had left the great mass of their fellow tribesmen. Subsequently, in the time of the Antonines, the theory was started that the Parthians were Scyths, whom Sesostris, on his return from his Scythian expedition, brought into Asia and settled in the mountain-tract lying east of the Caspian.
It can scarcely be thought that these notices have very much historical value. Moderns are generally agreed that the Scythian conquests of Sesostris are an invention of the Egyptian priests, which they palmed on Herodotus and Diodorus. Could they be regarded as having really taken place, still the march back from Scythia to Egypt round the north and east of the Caspian Sea would be in the highest degree improbable. The settlement of the Parthians in Parthia by the returning conqueror is, in fact, a mere duplicate of the tale commonly told of his having settled the Colchians in Colchis, and is equally worthless. The earlier authors, moreover, know nothing of the story, which first appears in the second century after our era, and as time goes on becomes more circumstantial.
Even the special connection of the Parthians with the Dahse, and their migration from the shores of the Palus Mteotis, may be doubted. Strabo admits it to be uncertain whether there were any Dahse at all about the Mseotis; and, if there were, it would be open to question whether they were of the same race with the Dahse of the Caspian. As the settlement of the Parthians in the country called after their name dated from a time anterior to Darius Hystaspis, and the Greeks certainly did not set on foot any inquiries into their origin till at least two centuries later, it would be unlikely that the Parthians could give them a true account. The real groundwork of the stories told seems to have been twofold. First, there was a strong conviction on the part of those who came in contact with the Parthians that they were Scyths; and secondly, it was believed that their name meant “exile.” Hence it was necessary to suppose that they had migrated into their country from some portion of the tract known as Scythia to the Greeks, and it was natural to invent stories as to the particular circumstances of the migration.
The residuum of the truth, or at any rate the important conviction of the ancient writers, which remains after their stories are sifted, is the Scythic character of the Parthian people. On this point, Strabo, Justin, and Arrian are agreed. The manners of the Parthians had, they tell us, much that was Scythic in them. Their language was half Scythic, half Median. They armed themselves in the Scythic fashion. They were, in fact, Scyths in descent, in habits, in character.
But what are we to understand by this? May we assume at once that they were a Turanian people, in race, habits, and language akin to the various tribes of Turkomans who are at present dominant over the entire region between the Oxus and the Parthian mountain-tract, and within that tract have many settlements? May we assume that they stood in an attitude of natural hostility to the Arian nations by which they were surrounded, and that their revolt was the assertion of independence by a down-trodden people after centuries of subjection to the yoke of a stranger? Did Turan, in their persons, rise against Iean after perhaps a thousand years of oppression, and renew the struggle for predominance in regions where the war had been waged before, and where it still continues to be waged at the present day?
Such conclusions cannot safely be drawn from the mere fact that the Scythic character of the Parthians is asserted in the strongest terms by the ancient writers. The term “Scythic” is not, strictly speaking, ethnical. It designates a life rather a descent, habits rather than blood. It is applied by the Greeks and Romans to Indo-European and Turanian races indifferently, provided that they are nomads, dwelling in tents or carts, living on the produce of their flocks and herds, uncivilized, and, perhaps it may be added, accustomed to pass their lives on horseback. We cannot, therefore, assume that a nation is Turanian simply because it is pronounced “Scythic.” Still, as in fact the bulk of those races which have remained content with the nomadic condition, and which from the earliest times to the present day have led the life above described in the broad steppes of Europe and Asia, appear to have been of the Turian type, a presumption is raised in favor of a people being Turanian by decided and concordant statements that it is Scythic. The presumption may of course be removed by evidence to the contrary; but, until such evidence is produced it has weight, and constitutes an argument, the force of which is considerable.
In the present instance the presumption raised is met by no argument of any great weight; while on the other hand it receives important confirmation from several different quarters. It is said, indeed, that as all, or almost all, the other nations of these parts were confessedly Arians (e.g. the Bactrians, the Sogdians, the Chorasmians, the Margians, the Arians of Herat, the Sagartians, the Sarangians, and the Hyrcanians), it would be strange if the Parthians belonged to a wholly different ethnic family. But, in the first place, the existence of isolated nationalities, detached fragments of some greater ethnic mass, embodied amid alien material, is a fact familiar to ethnologists; and, further, it is not at all certain that there were not other Turanian races in these parts, as, for instance, the Thamanasans. Again, it is said that the Parthians show their Arian extraction by their names; but this argument may be turned against those who adduce it. It is true that among the Parthian names a considerable number are not only Arian, but distinctly Persian—e.g., Mith-ridates, Tiridates, Artabanus, Orobazus, Rhodaspes—but the bulk of the names have an entirely different character. There is nothing Arian in such appellations as Amminapes, Bacasis, Pacorus, Vonones, Sinnaces, Abdus, Abdageses, Gotarzes, Vologeses, Mnasciras, Sanatroeces; nor anything markedly Arian in Priapatius, Himerus, Orodes, Apreetseus, Ornos-pades, Parrhaces, Vasaces, Monesis, Exedares. If the Parthians were Arians, what account is to be given of these words? That they employed a certain number of Persian names is sufficiently explained by their subjection during more than two centuries to the Persian rule. We are also distinctly told that they affected Persian habits, and desired to be looked upon as Persians. The Arian names borne by Parthians no more show them to be Arians in race than the Norman names adopted so widely by the Welsh show them to be Northmen. On the other hand, the non-Arian names in the former case are like the non-Norman names in the latter, and equally indicate a second source of nomenclature, in which should be contained the key to the true ethnology of the people.
The non-Arian character of the Parthians is signified, if not proved, by the absence of their name from the Zendavesta. The Zendavesta enumerates among Arian nations the Bactrians, the Sogdians, the Margians, the Hyrcanians, the Arians of Herat, and the Chorasmians, or all the important nations of these parts except the Parthians. The Parthian country it mentions under the name of Nisaya or Nisaea, implying apparently that the Parthians were not yet settled in it. The only ready way of reconciling the geography of the Zendavesta with that of later ages is to suppose the Parthians a non-Arian nation who intruded themselves among the early Arian settlements, coming probably from the north, the great home of the Turanians.
Some positive arguments in favor of the Turanian origin of the Parthians may be based upon their names. The Parthians affect, in their names, the termination -ac or -ah, as, for instance, in Arsac-es, Sinnac-es, Parrhaces, Vesaces, Sana-trseces, Phraataces, etc.—a termination which characterizes the primitive Babylonian, the Basque, and most of the Turanian tongues. The termination -geses, found in such names as Volo-geses, Abda-geses, and the like, may be compared with the -ghiz of Tenghiz. The Turanian root annap, “God,” is perhaps traceable in Amm-inap-es. If the Parthian “Chos-roes” represents the Persian “Kurush” or Cyrus, the corruption which the word has undergone is such as to suggest a Tatar articulation.
The remains of the Parthian language, which we possess, beyond their names, are too scanty and too little to be depended on to afford us any real assistance in settling the question of their ethnic character. Besides the words surena, “Commander-in-chief,” and Jcarta or Jcerta, “city,” “fort,” there is scarcely one of which we can be assured that it was really understood by the Parthians in the sense assigned to it. Of these two, the latter, which is undoubtedly Arian, may have been adopted from the Persians: the former is non-Arian, but has no known Turanian congeners.
If, however, the consideration of the Parthian language does not help us to determine their race, a consideration of their manners and customs strengthens much the presumption that they were Turanians. Like the Turkoman and Tatar tribes generally, they passed almost their whole lives on horseback, conversing, transacting business, buying and selling, even eating on their horses. They practised polygamy, secluded their women from the sight of men, punished unfaithfulness with extreme severity, delighted in hunting, and rarely ate any flesh but that which they obtained in this way, were moderate eaters but great drinkers, did not speak much, but yet were very unquiet, being constantly engaged in stirring up trouble either at home or abroad. A small portion of the nation alone was free; the remainder were the slaves of the privileged few. Nomadic habits continued to prevail among a portion of those who remained in their primitive seats, even in the time of their greatest national prosperity; and a coarse, rude, and semi-barbarous character attached always even to the most advanced part of the nation, to the king, the court, and the nobles generally, a character which, despite a certain varnish of civilization, was constantly showing itself in their dealings with each other and with foreign nations. “The Parthian monarchs,” as Gibbon justly observes, “like the Mogul (Mongol) sovereigns of Hindostan, delighted in the pastoral life of their Scythian ancestors, and the imperial camp was frequently pitched in the plain of Ctesiphon, on the eastern bank of the Tigris.” Niebuhr seems even to doubt whether the Parthians dwelt in cities at all. He represents them as maintaining from first to last their nomadic habits, and regards the insurrection by which their empire was brought to an end as a rising of the inhabitants of towns—the Tadjiks of those times—against the Ilyats or wanderers, who had oppressed them for centuries. This is, no doubt, an over statement; but it has a foundation in fact, since wandering habits and even tent-life were affected by the Parthians during the most flourishing period of their empire.
On the whole, the Turanian character of the Parthians, though not absolutely proved, appears to be in the highest degree probable. If it be accepted, we must regard them as in race closely allied to the vast hordes which from a remote antiquity have roamed over the steppe region of upper Asia, from time to time bursting upon the south, and harassing or subjugating the comparatively unwarlike inhabitants of the warmer countries. We must view them as the congeners of the Huns, Bulgarians, and Comans of the ancient world; of the Kalmucks, Ouigurs, Usbegs, Eleuts, etc., of the present day. Perhaps their nearest representatives will be, if we look to their primitive condition at the founding of their empire, the modern Turkomans, who occupy nearly the same districts; if we regard them in the period of their great prosperity, the Osmanli Turks. Like the Turks, they combined great military prowess and vigor with a capacity for organization and government not very usual among Asiatics. Like them, they remained at heart barbarians, though they put on an external appearance of civilization and refinement. Like them, they never to any extent amalgamated with the conquered races, but continued for centuries an exclusive dominant race, encamped in the countries which they had overrun.
The circumstances under which the Parthians became subjects of the Persian empire may readily be conjectured, but cannot be laid down positively. According to Diodorus, who probably followed Ctesias, they passed from the dominion of the Assyrians to that of the Medes, and from dependence upon the Medes to a similar position under the Persians. But the balance of evidence is against these views. It is, on the whole, most probable that neither the Assyrian nor the Median empire extended so far eastward as the country of the Parthians. The Parthians probably maintained their independence from the time of their settlement in the district called after their name until the sudden arrival in their country of the great Persian conqueror, Cyrus. This prince, as Herodotus tells us, subdued the whole of Western Asia, proceeding from nation to nation, and subjugating one people after another. The order of his conquests is not traceable; but it is clear that after his conquest of the Lydian empire (about B.C. 554) he proceeded eastward, with the special object of subduing Bactria.43 To reach Bactria, he would have to pass through, or close by, Parthia. Since, as Herodotus says, “he conquered the whole way, as he went,” we may fairly conclude that on his road to Bactria he subjugated the Parthians. It was thus, almost certainly, that they lost their independence and became Persian subjects. Competent enough to maintain themselves against the comparatively small tribes in their near neighborhood, the Chorasmians, Hyrcanians, Arians of Herat, Bactrians, and Sagartians, it was not possible for them to make an effectual resistance to a monarch who brought against them the entire force of a mighty empire. Cyrus had, it is probable, little difficulty in obtaining their submission. It is possible that they resisted; but perhaps it is more probable that their course on this occasion was similar to that which they pursued when the Macedonian conqueror swept across these same regions. The Parthians at that period submitted without striking a blow. There is no reason to believe that they caused any greater trouble to Cyrus.
When the Persian empire was organized by Darius Hystaspis into satrapies, Parthia was at first united in the same government with Chorasmia, Sogdiana, and Aria. Subsequently, however, when satrapies were made more numerous, it was detached from these extensive countries and made to form a distinct government, with the mere addition of the comparatively small district of Hyrcania.40 It formed, apparently, one of the most tractable and submissive of the Persian provinces. Except on the single occasion already noticed, when it took part in a revolt that extended to nearly one-half the empire, it gave its rulers no trouble; no second attempt was made to shake off the alien yoke, which may indeed have galled, but which was felt to be inevitable. In the final struggle of Persia against Alexander, the Parthians were faithful to their masters. They fought on the Persian side at Arbela; and though they submitted to Alexander somewhat tamely when he invaded their country, yet, as Darius was then dead, and no successor had declared himself, they cannot be taxed with desertion. Probably they felt little interest in the event of the struggle. Habit and circumstance caused them to send their contingent to Arbela at the call of the Great King; but when the Persian cause was evidently lost, they felt it needless to make further sacrifices. Having no hope of establishing their independence, they thought it unnecessary to prolong the contest. They might not gain, but they could scarcely lose, by a change of masters.
THE ATTEMPT OF ALEXANDER THE Great to unite the whole civilized world in a single vast empire might perhaps have been a success if the mind which conceived the end, and which had to a considerable extent elaborated the means, had been spared to watch over its own work, and conduct it past the perilous period of infancy and adolescence. But the premature decease of the great Macedonian in the thirty-third year of his age, when his plans of fusion and amalgamation were only just beginning to develop themselves, and the unfortunate fact that among his “Successors” there was not one who inherited either his grandeur of conception or his powers of execution, caused his scheme at once to collapse; and the effort to unite and consolidate led only to division and disintegration. In lieu of Europe being fused with Asia, Asia itself was split up. For nearly a thousand years, from the formation of the great Assyrian empire to the death of Darius Codomannus, Western Asia, from the Mediterranean to Affghanistan, or even to India, had been united tinder one head, had acknowledged one sovereign. Assyria, Media, Persia, had successively held the position of dominant power; and the last of the three had given union, and consequently peace, to a wider stretch of country and a vaster diversity of peoples than either of her predecessors. Under the mild yoke of the Achaemenian princes had been held together for two centuries, not only all the nations of Western Asia, from the Indian and Thibetan deserts to the AEgean and the Mediterranean, but a great part of Africa also, that is to say, Egypt, north-eastern Libya, and the Greek settlements of Cyrene and Barca. The practical effect of the conquests of Alexander was to break up this unity, to introduce in the place of a single consolidated empire a multitude of separate and contending kingdoms. The result was thus the direct opposite of the great conqueror’s design, and forms a remarkable instance of the contradiction which so often subsists between the propositions of man and the dispositions of an overruling Providence.
The struggle for power which broke out almost immediately after his death among the successors of Alexander may be regarded as having been brought to a close by the battle of Ipsus. The period of fermentation was then concluded, and something like a settled condition of things brought about. A quadripartite division of Alexander’s dominions was recognized, Macedonia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria (or south-western Asia) becoming thenceforth distinct political entities. Asia Minor, the kingdom of Lysimachus, had indeed less of unity than the other three states. It was already disintegrated, the kingdoms of Bithynia, Pontus, and Cappadocia, subsisting side by side with that of Lysimachus, which was thus limited to western and south-western Asia Minor. After the death of Lysimachus, further changes occurred; but the state of Pergamus, which sprang up this time, may be regarded as the continuation of Lysimachus’s kingdom, and as constituting from the time of Eumenes I. (B.C. 263) a fourth power in the various political movements and combinations of the Graeco-Oriental world.
Of the four powers thus established, the most important, and that with which we are here especially concerned, was the kingdom of Syria (as it was called), or that ruled for 247 years by the Seleucidae. Seleucus Nicator, the founder of this kingdom, was one of Alexander’s officers, but served without much distinction through the various compaigns by which the conquest of the East was effected. At the first distribution of provinces (B.C. 323) among Alexander’s generals after his death, he received no share; and it was not until B.C. 320, when upon the death of Perdiccas a fresh distribution was made at Triparadisus, that his merits were recognized, and he was given the satrapy of Babylon. In this position he acquired a character for mildness and liberality, and made himself generally beloved, both by his soldiers and by those who were under his government. In the struggle between Antigonus and Eumenes (B.C. 317-316), he embraced the side of the former, and did him some good service; but this, instead of evoking gratitude, appears to have only roused in Antigonus a spirit of jealousy. The ambitious aspirant after universal dominion, seeing in the popular satrap a possible, and far from a contemptible, rival, thought it politic to sweep him out of his way; and the career of Seleucus would have been cut short had he not perceived his peril in time, and by a precipitate flight secured his safety. Accompanied by a body of no more than fifty horsemen, he took the road for Egypt, escaped the pursuit of a detachment sent to overtake him, and threw himself on the protection of Ptolemy.
This event, untoward in appearance, proved the turning-point in Seleucus’s fortunes. It threw him into irreconcilable hostility with Antigonus, while it brought him forward before the eyes of men as one whom Antigonus feared. It gave him an opportunity of showing his military talents in the West, and of obtaining favor with Ptolemy, and with all those by whom Antigonus was dreaded. When the great struggle came between the confederate monarchs and the aspirant after universal dominion, it placed him on the side of the allies. Having recovered Babylon (B.C. 312), Seleucus led the flower of the eastern provinces to the field of Ipsus (B.C. 301), and contributed largely to the victory, thus winning himself a position among the foremost potentates of the day. By the terms of the agreement made after Ipsus, Seleucus was recognized as monarch of all the Greek conquests in Asia, with the sole exceptions of Lower Syria and Asia Minor.
The monarchy thus established extended from the Holy Land and the Mediterranean on the west, to the Indus valley and the Bolor mountain-chain upon the east, and from the Caspian and Jaxartes towards the north, to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean towards the south. It comprised Upper Syria, Mesopotamia, parts of Cappadocia and Phrygia, Armenia, Assyria, Media, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia, Carmania, Sagartia, Hyrcania, Parthia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Aria, Zarangia, Arachosia, Sacastana, Gedrosia, and probably some part of India. Its entire area could not have been much less than 1,200,000 square miles. Of these, some 300,000 or 400,000 may have been desert; but the remainder was generally fertile, and comprised within its limits some of the very most productive regions in the whole world. The Mesopotamian lowland, the Orontes valley, the tract between the Caspian and the mountains, the regions about Merv and Balkh, were among the richest in Asia, and produced grain and fruits in incredible abundance. The rich pastures of Media and Armenia furnished excellent horses. Bactria gave an inexhaustible supply of camels. Elephants in large numbers were readily procurable from India. Gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, tin, were furnished by several of the provinces, and precious stones of various kinds abounded. Moreover, for above ten centuries, the precious metals and the most valuable kinds of merchandise had flowed from every quarter into the region; and though the Macedonians may have carried off, or wasted, a considerable quantity of both, yet the accumulations of ages withstood the drain, and the hoarded wealth which had come down from Assyrian, Babylonian, and Median times was to be found in the days of Seleucus chiefly within the limits of his Empire.
The situation which nature pointed out as most suitable for the capital of a kingdom having the extension that has been here indicated was some portion of the Mesopotamian valley, which was at once central and fertile. The empire of Seleucus might have been conveniently ruled from the site of the ancient Nineveh, or from either of the two still existing and still flourishing cities of Susa and Babylon. The impetus given to commerce by the circumstances of the time rendered a site near the sea preferable to one so remote as that of Nineveh, and the same consideration made a position on the Tigris or Euphrates more advantageous than one upon a smaller river. So far, all pointed to Babylon as the natural and best metropolis; and it was further in favor of that place that its merits had struck the Great Conqueror, who had designed to make it the capital of his own still vaster Empire. Accordingly Babylon was Seleucus’s first choice; and there his Court was held for some years previously to his march against Antigonus. But either certain disadvantages were found to attach to Babylon as a residence, or the mere love of variety and change caused him very shortly to repent of his selection, and to transfer his capital to another site. He founded, and built with great rapidity, the city of Seleucia upon the Tigris, at the distance of about forty miles from Babylon, and had transferred thither the seat of government even before B.C. 301. Thus far, however, no fault had been committed. The second capital was at least as conveniently placed as the first, and would have served equally well as a centre from which to govern the Empire. But after Ipsus a further change was made—a change that was injudicious in the extreme. Either setting undue store by his newly-acquired western provinces, or over-anxious to keep close watch on his powerful neighbors in those parts, Lysimachus and Ptolemy, Seleucus once more transferred the seat of empire, exchanging this time the valley of the Tigris for that of the Orontes, and the central position of Lower Mesopotamia for almost the extreme western point of his vast territories. Antioch arose in extraordinary beauty and magnificence during the first few years that succeeded Ipsus, and Seleucus in a short time made it his ordinary residence. The change weakened the ties which bound the Empire together, offended the bulk of the Asiatics, who saw their monarch withdraw from them into a remote region, and particularly loosened the grasp of the government on those more eastern districts which were at once furthest from the new metropolis and least assimilated to the Hellenic character. Among the causes which led to the disintegration of the Seleucid kingdom, there is none that deserves so well to be considered the main cause as this. It was calculated at once to produce the desire to revolt, and to render the reduction of revolted provinces difficult, if not impossible. The evil day, however, might have been indefinitely delayed had the Seleucid princes either established and maintained through their Empire a vigorous and effective administration, or abstained from entangling themselves in wars with their neighbors in the West, the Ptolemies and the princes of Asia Minor.
But the organization of the Empire was unsatisfactory. Instead of pursuing the system inaugurated by Alexander and seeking to weld the heterogeneous elements of which his kingdom was composed into a homogeneous whole, instead of at once conciliating and elevating the Asiatics by uniting them with the Macedonians and the Greeks, by promoting intermarriage and social intercourse between the two classes of his subjects, educating the Asiatics in Greek ideas and Greek schools, opening his court to them, promoting them to high employments, making them feel that they were as much valued and as well cared for as the people of the conquering race, the first Seleucus, and after him his successors, fell back upon the old simpler, ruder system, the system pursued before Alexander’s time by the Persians, and before them perhaps by the Medes—the system most congenial to human laziness and human pride—that of governing a nation of slaves by means of a class of victorious aliens. Seleucus divided his empire into satrapies, seventy-two in number. He bestowed the office of satrap on none but Macedonians and Greeks. The standing army, by which he maintained his authority, was indeed composed in the main of Asiatics, disciplined after the Greek model; but it was officered entirely by men of Greek or Macedonian parentage. Nothing was done to keep up the self-respect of Asiatics, or to soften the unpleasantness that must always attach to being governed by foreigners. Even the superintendence over the satraps seems to have been insufficient. According to some writers, it was a gross outrage offered by a satrap to an Asiatic subject that stirred up the Parthians to their revolt. The story may not be true; but its currency shows of what conduct towards those under their government the satraps of the Seleucidae were thought, by such as lived near the time, to have been capable.
It would, perhaps, have been difficult for the Seleucid princes, even had they desired it, to pursue a policy of absolute abstention in the wars of their western neighbors. So long as they were resolute to maintain their footing on the right bank of the Euphrates, in Phrygia, Cappadocia, and upper Syria, they were of necessity mixed up with the quarrels of the west. Could they have been content to withdraw within the Euphrates, they might have remained for the most part clear of such entanglements; but even then there would have been occasions when they must have taken the field in self-defence. As it was, however, the idea of abstention seems never to have occurred to them. It was the fond dream of each “Successor” of Alexander that in his person might, perhaps, be one day united all the territories of the great Conqueror. Seleucus would have felt that he sacrificed his most cherished hopes if he had allowed the west to go its own way, and had contented himself with consolidating a great power in the regions east of the Euphrates.
And the policy of the founder of the house was followed by his successors. The three Seleucid sovereigns who reigned prior to the Parthian revolt were, one and all, engaged in frequent, if not continual, wars with the monarchs of Egypt and Asia Minor. The first Seleucus, by his claim to the sovereignty of Lower Syria, established a ground of constant contention with the Ptolemies; and though he did not prosecute the claim to the extent of actual hostility, yet in the reign of his son, Antiochus I., called Soter, the smothered quarrel broke out. Soter fomented the discontent of Cyrene with its subjection to Egypt, and made at least one expedition against Ptolemy Philadelphus in person (B.C. 264). His efforts did not meet with much success; but they were renewed by his son, Antiochus II., surnamed “the God”, who warred with Philadelphus from B.C. 260 to B.C. 250, contending with him chiefly in Asia Minor. These wars were complicated with others. The first Antiochus aimed at adding the kingdom of Bithynia to his dominions, and attacked successively the Bythynian monarchs, Zipcetas and Nicomedes I. (B.C. 280-278). This aggression brought him into collision with the Gauls, whom Nicomedes called to his aid, and with whom Antiochus had several struggles, some successful and some disastrous. He also attacked Eumenes of Pergamus (B.C. 263), but was defeated in a pitched battle near Sardis. The second Antiochus was not engaged in so great a multiplicity of contests; but we hear of his taking a part in the internal affairs of Miletus, and expelling a certain Timachus, who had made himself tyrant of that city. There is also some ground for thinking that he had a standing quarrel with the king of Media Atropatene. Altogether it is evident that from B.C. 280 to B.C. 250 the Seleucid princes were incessantly occupied with wars in the west, in Asia Minor and in Syria Proper, wars which so constantly engaged them that they had neither time nor attention to spare for the affairs of the far east. So long as the Bactrian and Parthian satraps paid their tributes, and supplied the requisite quotas of troops for service in the western wars, the Antiochi were content. The satraps were left to manage affairs at their own discretion; and it is not surprising that the absence of a controlling hand led to various complications and disorders.
Moreover, the personal character of the second Antiochus must be taken into account. The vanity and impiety, which could accept the name of “Theus” for a service that fifty other Greeks had rendered to oppressed towns without regarding themselves as having done anything very remarkable, would alone indicate a weak and contemptible morale, and might justify us, did we know no more, in regarding the calamities of his reign as the fruit of his own unfitness to rule an empire. But there is sufficient evidence that he had other, and worse, vices. He was noted, even among Asiatic sovereigns, for luxury and debauchery; he neglected all state affairs in the pursuit of pleasure; his wives and male favorites were allowed to rule his kingdom at their will; and their most flagrant crimes were neither restrained nor punished. Such a character could have inspired neither respect nor fear. The satraps, to whom the conduct of their sovereign could not but become known, would be partly encouraged to follow the bad example, partly provoked by it to shake themselves free of so hateful and yet contemptible a master.
It was, probably, about the year B.C. 256, the fifth of the second Antiochus, when that prince, hard pressed by Philadelphus in the west, was also, perhaps, engaged in a war with the king of Atropatene in the north, that the standard of revolt was first actually raised in the eastern provinces, and a Syrian satrap ventured to declare himself an independent sovereign. This was Diodotus, satrap of Bactria a Greek, as his name shows. Suddenly assuming the state and style of king he issued coins stamped with his own name, and established himself without difficulty as sovereign over the large and flourishing province of Bactria, or the tract of fertile land about the upper and middle Oxus. This district had from a remote antiquity been one with special pretensions. The country was fertile, and much of it strong; the people were hardy and valiant; they were generally treated with exceptional favor by the Persian monarchs; and they seem to have had traditions which assigned them a pre-eminence among the Arian tribes at some indefinitely distant period. We may presume that they would gladly support the bold enterprise of their new monarch; they would feel their vanity flattered by the establishment of an independent Bactria, even though it were under Greek kings; and they would energetically second him in an enterprise which gratified their pride, while it held out to them hopes of a career of conquest, with its concomitants of plunder and glory. The settled quiet which they had enjoyed under the Achaemenide and the Seleucidae was probably not much to their taste; and they would gladly exchange so tame and dull a life for the pleasures of independence and the chances of empire.
It would seem that Antiochus, sunk in luxury at his capital, could not bring himself to make even an effort to check the spirit of rebellion, and recover his revolted subjects. Bactria was allowed to establish itself as an independent monarchy, without having to undergo the ordeal of a bloody struggle. Antiochus neither marched against Diodotus in person, nor sent a general to contend with him. The authority of Diodotus was confirmed and riveted on his subjects by an undisturbed reign of eighteen years before a Syrian army even showed itself in his neighborhood.
The precedent of successful revolt thus set could not well be barren of consequences. If one province might throw off the yoke of its feudal lord with impunity, why might not others? Accordingly, within a few years the example set by Bactria was followed in the neighboring country of Parthia, but with certain very important differences. In Bactria the Greek satrap took the lead, and the Bactrian kingdom was, at any rate at its commencement, as thoroughly Greek as that of the Seleucidae. But in Parthia Greek rule was from the first cast aside. The natives rebelled against their masters. An Asiatic race of a rude and uncivilized type, coarse and savage, but brave and freedom-loving, rose up against the polished but effeminate Greeks who held them in subjection, and claimed and established their independence. The Parthian kingdom was thoroughly anti-Hellenic. It appealed to patriotic feelings, and to the hate universally felt towards the stranger. It set itself to undo the work of Alexander, to cast out the Europeans, to recover to the Asiatics the possession of Asia. It was naturally almost as hostile to Bactria as to Syria, although danger from a common enemy might cause it sometimes to make a temporary alliance with that kingdom. It had, no doubt, the general sympathy of the populations in the adjacent countries, and represented to them the cause of freedom and autonomy.
The exact circumstances under which the Parthian revolt took place are involved in much obscurity. According to one account the leader of the revolt, Arsaces, was a Bactrian, to whom the success of Diodotus was disagreeable, and who therefore quitted the newly-founded kingdom, and betook himself to Parthia, where he induced the natives to revolt and to accept him for their monarch. Another account, which is attractive from the minute details into which it enters, is the following:—"Arsaces and Tiridates were brothers, descendants of Phriapites, the son of Arsaces. Pherecles, who had been made satrap of their country by Antiochus Theus, offered a gross insult to one of them, whereupon, as they could not brook the indignity, they took five men into counsel, and with their aid slew the insolent one. They then induced their nation to revolt from the Macedonians, and set up a government of their own, which attained to great power.” A third version says that the Arsaces, whom all represent as the first king, was in reality a Scythian, who at the head of a body of Parnian Dahce, nomads inhabiting the valley of the Attrek (Ochus), invaded Parthia, soon after the establishment of Bactrian independence, and succeeded in making himself master of it. With this account, which Strabo seems to prefer, agrees tolerably well that of Justin, who says that “Arsaces, having been long accustomed to live by robbery and rapine, attacked the Parthians with a predatory band, killed their satrap, Andragoras, and seized the supreme authority.” As there was in all probability a close ethnic connection between the Dahae and the Parthians, it would be likely enough that the latter might accept for a king a chieftain of the former who had boldly entered their country, challenged the Greek satrap to an encounter, and by defeating and killing him freed them—at any rate for the time—from the Greek yoke. An oppressed people gladly adopts as chief the head of an allied tribe if he has shown skill and daring, and offers to protect them from their oppressors.
The revolt of Arsaces has been placed by some as early as the year B.C. 256. The Bactrian revolt is assigned by most historians to that year; and the Parthian, according to some, was contemporary. The best authorities, however, give a short interval between the two insurrections; and, on the whole, there is perhaps reason to regard the Parthian independence as dating from about B.C. 250. This year was the eleventh of Antiochus Theus, and fell into the time when he was still engaged in his war with Ptolemy Philadelphus. It might have been expected that when he concluded a peace with the Egyptian monarch in B.C. 249, he would have turned his arms at once towards the east, and have attempted at any rate the recovery of his lost dominions. But, as already stated, his personal character was weak, and he preferred the pleasures of repose at Antioch to the hardships of a campaign in the Caspian region. So far as we hear, he took no steps to re-establish his authority; and Arsaces, like Diodotus, was left undisturbed to consolidate his power at his leisure.
Arsaces lived, however, but a short time after obtaining the crown. His authority was disputed within the limits of Parthia itself; and he had to engage in hostilities with a portion of his own subjects. We may suspect that the malcontents were chiefly, if not solely, those of Greek race, who may have been tolerably numerous, and whose strength would lie in the towns. Hecatompylos, the chief city of Parthia, was among the colonies founded by Alexander; and its inhabitants would naturally be disinclined to acquiesce in the rule of a “barbarian.” Within little more than two years of his coronation, Arsaces, who had never been able to give his kingdom peace, was killed in battle by a spear-thrust in the side; and was succeeded (B.C. 247) by his brother, having left, it is probable, no sons, or none of mature age.
Tiridates, the successor of Arsaces, took upon his accession his brother’s name, and is known in history as Arsaces II. The practice thus begun passed into a custom, each Parthian monarch from henceforth bearing as king the name of Arsaces in addition to his own real appellation, whatever that might be. In the native remains the assumed name almost supersedes the other; but, fortunately, the Greek and Roman writers who treat of Parthian affairs, have preserved the distinctive appellations, and thus saved the Parthian history from inextricable confusion. It is not easy to see from what quarter this practice was adopted; perhaps we should regard it as one previously existing among the Dahan Scyths.
If the Parthian monarchy owed its origin to Arsaces I., it owed its consolidation, and settled establishment to Arsaces II., or Tiridates. This prince, who had the good fortune to reign for above thirty years, and who is confused by many writers with the actual founder of the monarchy, having received Parthia from his brother, in the weak and unsettled condition above described, left it a united and powerful kingdom, enlarged in its boundaries, strengthened in its defences, in alliance with its nearest and most formidable neighbor, and triumphant over the great power of Syria, which had hoped to bring it once more into subjection. He ascended the throne, it is probable, early in B.C. 247, and had scarcely been monarch a couple of years when he witnessed one of those vast but transient revolutions to which Asia is subject, but which are of rare occurrence in Europe. Ptolemy Euergetes, the son of Philadelphus, having succeeded to his father’s kingdom in the same year with Tiridates, marched (in B.C. 245) a huge expedition into Asia, defeated Seleucus II. (Callinicus) in Syria, took Antioch, and then, having crossed the Euphrates, proceeded to bring the greater part of Western Asia under his sway. Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylonia, Susiana, Persia, Media, submitted to him. He went in person as far as Babylon, and, according to his own account, was acknowledged as master by all the Eastern provinces to the very borders of Bactria. The Parthian and Bactrian kingdoms cannot but have trembled for their newly won independence. Here was a young warrior who, in a single campaign, had marched the distance of a thousand miles, from the banks of the Nile to those of the Lower Euphrates, without so much as receiving a check, and who was threatening to repeat the career of Alexander. What resistance could the little Parthian state hope to offer to such an enemy? It must have rejoiced Tiridates to hear that while the new conqueror was gathering somewhat too hastily the fruits of victory, collecting and despatching to Egypt the most valuable works of art that he could find in the cities which he had taken, and levying heavy contributions on the submitted countries, a revolt had broken out in his own land, to quell which he was compelled to retire suddenly and to relinquish the greater part of his acquisitions. Thus the threatened conquest proved a mere inroad, and instead of a power of greater strength replacing Syria in these regions, Syria practically retained her hold of them, but with enfeebled grasp, her strength crippled, her prestige lost, and her honor tarnished. Ptolemy had, it is probable, not retired very long, when, encouraged by what he had seen of Syria’s weakness, Tiridates took the aggressive, and invading the neighboring district of Hyrcania, succeeded in detaching it from the Syrian state, and adding it to his own territory. This was throwing out a challenge which the Syrian monarch, Callinicus, could scarcely decline to meet, unless he was prepared to lose, one by one, all the outlying provinces of his empire.
Accordingly in B.C. 237, having patched up a peace with his brother, Antiochus Hierax, the Syrian monarch made an expedition against Parthia. Not feeling, however, altogether confident of success if he trusted wholly to his own unaided efforts, he prudently entered into an alliance with Diodotus the Bactrian king, and the two agreed to combine their forces against Tiridates. Hereupon that monarch, impressed with a deep sense of the impending danger, quitted Parthia, and, proceeding northwards, took refuge with the Aspasiacae, a Scythian tribe which dwelt between the Oxus and the Jaxartes. The Aspasiacae probably lent him troops; at any rate, he did not remain long in retirement, but, hearing that the Bactrian king, whom he especially feared, was dead, he contrived to detach his son and successor from the Syrian alliance, and to draw him over to his own side. Having made this important stroke, he met Callinicus in battle, and completely defeated his army.
This victory was with reason regarded by the Parthians as a sort of second beginning of their independence. Hitherto their kingdom had existed precariously, and as it were by sufferance. It could not but be that the power from which they had revolted would one day seek to reclaim its lost territory; and, until the new monarchy had measured its strength against that of its former mistress, none could feel secure that it would be able to maintain its existence. The victory gained by Tiridates over Callinicus put an end to these doubts. It proved to the world at large, and also to the Parthians themselves, that they had nothing to fear—that they were strong enough to preserve their freedom. Considering the enormous disproportion between the military strength and resources of the narrow Parthian State and the vast Syrian Empire—considering that the one comprised about fifty thousand and the other above a million of square miles; that the one had inherited the wealth of ages and the other was probably as poor as any province in Asia; that the one possessed the Macedonian arms, training, and tactics, while the other knew only the rude warfare of the Steppes—the result of the struggle cannot but be regarded as surprising. Still it was not without precedent, and it has not been without repetition. It adds another to the many instances where a small but brave people, bent on resisting foreign domination, have, when standing on their defence, in their own territory, proved more than a match for the utmost force that a foe of overwhelming strength could bring against them. It reminds us of Marathon, of Bannock-burn, of Morgarten. We may not sympathize wholly with the victors, for Greek civilization, even of the type introduced by Alexander into Asia, was ill replaced by Tatar coarseness and barbarism; but we cannot refuse our admiration to the spectacle of a handful of gallant men determinedly resisting in the fastness of their native land a host of aliens, and triumphing over their would-be oppressors.
The Parthians themselves, deeply impressed with the importance of the contest, preserved the memory of it by a solemn festival on the anniversary of their victory, which they still celebrated in the time of Trogus.
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