Parthian Empire (247 B.C. – 226 A.D.)

The reaction of Tiberius



But Tiberius was under no circumstances a man to be wholly despised. Simultaneously with the Parthian demands and threats intelligence reached him that the subjects of Artabanus were greatly dissatisfied with his rule, and that it would be easy by fomenting the discontent to bring about a revolution. Some of the nobles even went in person to Rome (A.D. 35), and suggested that if Phraates, one of the surviving sons of Phraates IV., were to appear under Roman protection upon the banks of the Euphrates, an insurrection would immediately break out. Artabanus, they said, among his other cruelties had put to death almost all the adult males of the Arsacid family; a successful revolution could not be hoped for without an Arsacid leader; if Tiberius, however, would deliver to them the prince for whom they asked, this difficulty would be removed, and there was then every reason to expect a happy issue to the rebellion.


The Emperor was not hard to persuade; he no doubt argued that, whatever became of the attempt and those engaged in it, one result at least was certain—Artabanus would find plenty of work to occupy him at home, and would desist from his foreign aggressions. He therefore let Phraates take his departure and proceed to Syria, glad to meet the danger which had threatened him by craft and policy rather than by force of arms.


Artabanus discovers the plot


Artabanus soon became aware of the intrigue. He found that the chief conspirators in Parthia were a certain Sinnaces, a nobleman distinguished alike for his high birth and his great riches, and a eunuch named Abdus, who held a position about the court, and was otherwise a personage of importance. It would have been easy to seize these two men, and execute them; but Artabanus was uncertain how far the conspiracy extended, and thought it most prudent to defer bringing matters to a crisis.


He therefore dissembled, and was content to cause a delay, first by administering to Abdus a slow poison, and then by engaging Sinnaces so constantly in affairs of state that he had little or no time to devote to plotting. Successful thus far by his own cunning and dexterity, he was further helped by a stroke of good fortune, on which he could not have calculated. Phraates, who thought that after forty years of residence in Rome it was necessary to fit himself for the position of Parthian king by resuming the long-disused habits of his nation, was carried off, after a short residence in Syria, by a disease which he was supposed to have contracted through the change in his mode of life. His death must for the time have paralyzed the conspirators, and have greatly relieved Artabanus. It was perhaps now, under the stimulus of a sudden change from feelings of extreme alarm to fancied security, that he wrote the famous letter to Tiberius, in which he reproached him for his cruelty, cowardice, and luxuriousness of living, and recommended him to satisfy the just desires of the subjects who hated him by an immediate suicide !


This letter, if genuine, must be pronounced under any circumstances a folly; and if really sent at this time, it may have had tragical consequences. It is remarkable that Tiberius, on learning the death of Phraates, instead of relaxing, intensified his efforts. Not only did he at once send out to Syria another pretender, Tiridates, a nephew of the deceased prince, in order to replace him, but he made endeavors, such as we do not hear of before, to engage other nations in the struggle; and further, he enlarged the commission of Vitellius, giving him a general superintendence over the affairs of the East.


Trouble in Armenia


Thus Artabanus found himself in greater peril than ever, and if he had really indulged in the silly effusion ascribed to him was rightly punished. Pharasmanes, king of Iberia, a portion of the modern Georgia, incited by Tiberius, took the field (A.D. 35), and proclaimed his intention of placing his brother, Mithridates, on the Armenian throne. Having by corruption succeeded in bringing about the murder of Arsaces by his attendants, he marched into Armenia, and became master of the capital without meeting any resistance.


Artabanus, upon this, sent his son Orodes to maintain the Parthian cause in the disputed province; but he proved no match for the Iberian, who was superior in numbers, in the variety of his troops, and in familiarity with the localities. Pharasmanes had obtained the assistance of his neighbors, the Albanians, and, opening the passes of the Caucasus, had admitted through them a number of the Scythic or Sarmatian hordes, who were always ready, when their swords were hired, to take a part in the quarrels of the south.


Battle and death of Orodes


Orodes was unable to procure either mercenaries or allies, and had to contend unassisted against the three enemies who had joined their forces to oppose him. For some time he prudently declined an engagement; but it was difficult to restrain the ardor of his troops, whom the enemy exasperated by their reproaches.


After a while he was compelled to accept the battle which Pharasmanes incessantly offered. His force consisted entirely of cavalry, while Pharasmanes had besides his horse a powerful body of infantry. The battle was nevertheless stoutly contested; and the victory might have been doubtful, had it not happened that in a hand-to-hand combat between the two commanders Orodes was struck to the ground by his antagonist, and thought by most of his own men to be killed. As usual under such circumstances in the East, a rout followed. If we may believe Josephus, "many tens of thousands" were slain. Armenia was wholly lost; and Artabanus found himself left with diminished resources and tarnished fame to meet the intrigues of his domestic enemies.


Artabanus marches on Iberia


Still, he would not succumb without an effort. In the spring of A.D. 36, having levied the whole force of the Empire, he took the field and marched northwards, determined, if possible, to revenge himself on the Iberians and recover his lost province. But his first efforts were unsuccessful; and before he could renew them Vitellius put himself at the head of his legions, and marching towards the Euphrates threatened Mesopotamia with invasion. Placed thus between two fires, the Parthian monarch felt that he had no choice but to withdraw from Armenia and return to the defence of his own proper territories, which in his absence must have lain temptingly open to an enemy. His return caused Vitellius to change his tactics. Instead of measuring his strength against that which still remained to Artabanus, he resumed the weapon of intrigue so dear to his master, and proceeded by a lavish expenditure of money to excite disaffection once more among the Parthian nobles.


conspiracy again


This time conspiracy was successful. The military disasters of the last two years had alienated from Artabanus the affections of those whom his previous cruelties had failed to disgust or alarm; and he found himself without any armed force whereon he could rely, beyond a small body of foreign guards which he maintained about his person. It seemed to him that his only safety was in flight; and accordingly he quitted his capital and removed himself hastily into Hyrcania, which was in the immediate vicinity of the Scythian Dahse, among whom he had been brought up. Here the natives were friendly to him, and he lived a retired life," waiting" (as he said) "until the Parthians, who could judge an absent prince with equity, though they could not long continue faithful to a present one, should repent of their behavior to him."


Tiridates III 35- 36 A.D.




Upon learning the flight of Artabamis, Vitellius advanced to the banks of the Euphrates, and introduced Tiridates into his kingdom. Fortunate omens were said to have accompanied the passage of the river; and these were followed by adhesions of greater importance. Ornospades, satrap of Mesopotamia, was the first to join the standard of the pretender with a large body of horse. He was followed by the conspirator Sinnaces, his father Abdageses, the keeper of the king's treasures, and other personages of high position. The Greek cities in Mesopotamia readily opened their gates to a monarch long domiciled at Rome, from whom they expected a politeness and refinement that would harmonize better with their feelings than the manners of the late king, bred up among the uncivilized Scyths. Parthian towns, like Halus and Artemita, followed their example. Seleucia, the second city in the Empire, received the new monarch with an obsequiousness that bordered on adulation. Not content with paying him all customary royal honors, they appended to their acclamations disparaging remarks upon his predecessor, whom they affected to regard as the issue of an adulterous intrigue, and as no true Arsacid. Tiridates was pleased to reward the unseemly flattery of these degenerate Greeks by a new arrangement of their constitution.


Hitherto they had lived under the government of a Senate of Three Hundred members, the wisest and wealthiest of the citizens, a certain control being, however, secured to the people. Artabanus had recently modified the constitution in an aristocratic sense; and therefore Tiridates pursued the contrary course, and established an unbridled democracy in the place of a mixed government. He then entered Ctesiphon, the capital, and after waiting some days for certain noblemen, who had expressed a wish to attend his coronation but continually put off their coming, he was crowned in the ordinary manner by the Surena of the time being, in the sight and amid the acclamations of a vast multitude.


The pretender now regarded his work as completed, and forbore any further efforts. The example of the Western provinces would, he assumed, be followed by the Eastern, and the monarch approved by Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and the capital would carry, as a matter of course, the rest of the nation. Policy required that the general acquiescence should not have been taken for granted.


Tiridates should have made a military progress through the East, no less than the West, and have sought out his rival in the distant Hyrcania, and slain him, or driven him beyond the borders. Instead of thus occupying himself, he was content to besiege a stronghold where Artabanus had left his treasure and his harem. This conduct was imprudent; and the imprudence cost him his crown. That fickle temper which Artabanus had noted in his countrymen began to work so soon as the new king was well installed in his office; the coveted post of chief vizier could but be assigned to one, and the selection of the fortunate individual was the disappointment of a host of expectants; nobles absent from the coronation, whether by choice or necessity, began to be afraid that their absence would cost them dear, when Tiridates had time to reflect upon it and to listen to their detractors.


The thoughts of the malcontents turned towards their dethroned monarch; and emissaries were dispatched to seek him out, and put before him the project of a restoration. He was found in Hyrcania, in a miserable dress and plight, living on the produce of his bow. At first he suspected the messengers, believing that their intention was to seize him and deliver him up to Tiridates; but it was not long ere they persuaded him that, whether their affection for himself were true or feigned, their enmity to Tiridates was real. They had indeed no worse charges to bring against this prince than his youth, and the softness of his Roman breeding; but they were evidently in earnest, and had committed themselves too deeply to make it possible for them to retract.


Artabanus, therefore, accepted their offers, and having obtained the services of a body of Dahse and other Scyths, proceeded westward, retaining the miserable garb and plight in which he had been found, in order to draw men to his side by pity; and making all haste, in order that his enemies might have less opportunity to prepare obstructions and his friends less time to change their minds. He reached the neighborhood of Ctesiphon while Tiridates was still doubting what he should do, distracted between the counsels of some who recommended an immediate engagement with the rebels before they recovered from the fatigues of their long march or grew accustomed to act together, and of others who advised a retreat into Mesopotamia, reliance upon the Armenians and other tribes of the north, and a union with the Roman troops, which Vitellius, on the first news of what had happened, had thrown across the Euphrates. The more timid counsel had the support of Abdageses, whom Tiridates had made his vizier, and therefore naturally prevailed, the prince himself being moreover of an unwarlike temper. It had, in appearance, much to recommend it; and if its execution had been in the hands of Occidentals might have succeeded.


But, in the East, the first movement in retreat is taken as a confession of weakness and almost as an act of despair: an order to "retire" is regarded as a direction to fly. No sooner was the Tigris crossed and the march through Mesopotamia began, than the host of Tiridates melted away like an iceberg in the Gulf Stream. The tribes of the Desert set the example of flight; and in a little time almost the whole army had dispersed, drawing off either to the camp of the enemy or to their homes. Tiridates reached the Euphrates with a mere handful of followers, and crossing into Syria found himself once more safe under the protection of the Romans.


The return of Artabanus


The flight of Tiridates gave Parthia back into the hands of its former ruler. Artabanus reoccupied the throne, apparently without having to fight a battle. He seems, however, not to have felt himself strong enough either to resume his designs upon Armenia, or to retaliate in any way upon the Romans for their support of Tiridates. Mithridates, the Iberian, was left in quiet possession of the Armenian kingdom, and Vitellius found himself unmolested on the Euphrates. Tiberius, however, was anxious that the war with Parthia should be formally terminated, and, having failed in his attempts to fill the Parthian throne with a Roman nominee, was ready to acknowledge Artabanus, and eager to enter into a treaty with him.


He instructed Vitellius to this effect; and that officer (late in A.D. 36 or early in A.D. 37), having invited Artabanus to an interview on the Euphrates, persuaded him to terms which were regarded by the Romans as highly honorable to themselves, though Artabanus probably did not feel them to be degrading to Parthia. Peace and amity were re-established between the two nations. Rome, it may be assumed, undertook to withhold her countenance from all pretenders to the Parthian throne, and Parthia withdrew her claims upon Armenia. Artabanus was persuaded to send his son, Darius, with some other Parthians of rank, to Rome, and was thus regarded by the Romans as having given hostages for his good behavior. He was also induced to throw a few grains of frankincense on the sacrificial fire which burnt in front of the Roman standards and the Imperial images, an act which was accepted at Rome as one of submission and homage.


The terms and circumstances of the peace did not become known in Italy till Tiberius had been succeeded by Caligula (March, A.D. 37). When known, they gave great satisfaction, and were regarded as glorious alike to the negotiator, Vitellius, and to the prince whom he represented. The false report was spread that the Parthian monarch had granted to the new Csesar what his contempt and hatred would have caused him to refuse to Tiberius; and the inclination of the Romans towards their young sovereign was intensified by the ascription to him of a diplomatic triumph which belonged of right to his predecessor.

Contemporaneously with the troubles which have been above described, but reaching down, it would seem, a few years beyond them, were other disturbances of a peculiar character in one of the Western provinces of the Empire.


Situation of the Jewish population


The Jewish element in the population of Western Asia had been one of importance from a date anterior to the rise, not only of the Parthian, but even of the Persian Empire. Dispersed colonies of Jews were to be found in Babylonia, Armenia, Media, Susiana, Mesopotamia, and probably in other Parthian provinces. These colonies dated from the time of Nebuchadnezzar's captivity, and exhibited everywhere the remarkable tendency of the Jewish race to an increase disproportionate to that of the population among which they are settled. The Jewish element became perpetually larger and more important in Babylonia and Mesopotamia, in spite of the draughts which were made upon it by Seleucus and other Syrian princes. Under the Parthians, it would seem that the Mesopotamian Jews enjoyed generally the same sort of toleration, and the same permission to exercise a species of self-government, which Jews and Christians enjoy now in many parts of Turkey. They formed a recognized community, had some cities which were entirely their own, possessed a common treasury, and from time to time sent up to Jerusalem the offerings of the people under the protection of a convoy of 30,000 or 40,000 men. The Parthian kings treated them well, and no doubt valued them as a counterpoise to the disaffected Greeks and Syrians of this part of their Empire. They had no grievance of which to complain, and it might have been thought very unlikely that any troubles would arise in connection with them; but circumstances seemingly trivial threw the whole community into commotion, and led on to disasters of a very lamentable character.


Two young Jews, Asinai and Anilai, brothers, natives of Nearda, the city in which the treasury of the community was established, upon suffering some ill-treatment at the hands of the manufacturer who employed them, gave up their trade, and, withdrawing to a marshy district between two arms of the Euphrates, made up their minds to live by robbery. A band of needy youths soon gathered about them, and they became the terror of the entire neighborhood. They exacted a blackmail from the peaceable population of shepherds and others who lived near them, made occasional plundering raids to a distance, and required an acknowledgment (bakhshish) from travelers. Their doings having become notorious, the satrap of Babylonia marched against them with an army, intending to surprise them on the Sabbath, when it was supposed that they would not fight; but his approach was discovered, it was determined to disregard the obligation of Sabbatical rest, and the satrap was himself surprised and completely defeated. Artabanus, having heard of the disaster, made overtures to the brothers, and, after receiving a visit from them at his court, assigned to Asinai, the elder of the two, the entire government of the Babylonian satrapy. The experiment appeared at first to have completely succeeded. Asinai governed the province with prudence and zeal, and for fifteen years no complaint was made against his administration. But at the end of this time the lawless temper, held in restraint for so long, reasserted itself, not, indeed, in Asinai, but in his brother. Anilai fell in love with the wife of a Parthian magnate, commander (apparently) of the Parthian troops stationed in Babylonia, and, seeing no other way of obtaining his wishes, made war upon the chieftain and killed him. He then married the object of his affections, and might perhaps have been content; but the Jews under Asinai's government remonstrated against the idolatries which the Parthian woman had introduced into a Jewish household, and prevailed on Asinai to require that she should be divorced. His compliance with their wishes proved fatal to him, for the woman, fearing the consequences, contrived to poison Asinai; and the authority which he had wielded passed into the hands of Anilai, without (so far as we hear) any fresh appointment from the Parthian monarch. Anilai had, it appears, no instincts but those of a freebooter, and he was no sooner settled in the government than he proceeded to indulge them by attacking the territory of a neighboring satrap, Mithridates, who was not only a Parthian of high rank, but had married one of the daughters of Artabanus. Mithridates flew to arms to defend his province; but Anilai fell upon his encampment in the night, completely routed his troops, and took Mithridates himself prisoner. Having subjected him to a gross indignity, he was nevertheless afraid to put him to death, lest the Parthian king should avenge the slaughter of his relative on the Jews of Babylon, Mithridates was consequently released, and returned to his wife, who was so indignant at the insult whereto he had been subjected that she left him no peace till he collected a second army and resumed the war. Analai was no ways daunted. Quitting his stronghold in the marshes, he led his troops a distance of ten miles through a hot and dry plain to meet the enemy, thus unnecessarily exhausting them, and exposing them to the attack of their enemies under the most unfavorable circumstances. He was of course defeated with loss; but he himself escaped and revenged himself by carrying fire and sword over the lands of the Babylonians, who had hitherto lived peaceably under his protection. The Babylonians sent to Nearda and demanded his surrender; but the Jews of Nearda, even if they had had the will, had no power to comply. A pretence was then made of arranging matters by negotiation; but the Babylonians, having in this way obtained a knowledge of the position which Anilai and his troops occupied, fell upon them in the night, when they were all either drunk or asleep, and at one stroke exterminated the whole band.

Thus far no great calamity had occurred. Two Jewish robber-chiefs had been elevated into the position of Parthian satraps; and the result had been, first, fifteen years of peace, and then a short civil war, ending in the destruction of the surviving chief and the annihilation of the band of marauders. But the lamentable consequences of the commotion were now to show themselves. The native Babylonians had always looked with dislike on the Jewish colony, and occasions of actual collision between the two bodies had not been wholly wanting. The circumstances of the existing time seemed to furnish a good excuse for an outbreak; and scarcely were Anilai and his followers destroyed, when the Jews of Babylon were set upon by their native fellow-citizens. Unable to make an effectual resistance, they resolved to retire from the place, and, at the immense loss which such a migration necessarily costs, they quitted Babylon and transferred themselves in great numbers to Seleucia. Here they lived quietly for five years (about A.D. 34-39), but in the sixth year (A.D. 40) fresh troubles broke out. The remnant of the Jews at Babylon were assailed, either by their old enemies or by a pestilence, and took refuge at Seleucia with their brethren. It happened that at Seleucia there was a feud of long standing between the Syrian population and the Greeks. The Jews naturally joined the Syrians, who were a kindred race, and the two together brought the Greeks under; whereupon these last contrived to come to terms with the Syrians, and persuaded them to join in an attack on the late allies. Against the combined Greeks and Syrians the Jews were powerless, and in the massacre which ensued they lost above 50,000 men. The remnant withdrew to Otesiphon; but even there the malice of their enemies pursued them, and the persecution was only brought to an end by their quitting the metropolitan cities altogether, and withdrawing to the provincial towns of which they were the sole occupants.


The narrative of these events derives its interest, not so much from any sympathy that we can feel with any of the actors in it as from the light which it throws upon the character of the Parthian rule, and the condition of the countries under Parthian government. In the details given we seem once more to trace a near resemblance between the Parthian system and that of the Turks; we seem to see thrown back into the mirror of the past an image of those terrible conflicts and disorders which have passed before our own eyes in Syria and the Lebanon while under acknowledged Turkish sovereignty. The picture has the same features of antipathies of race unsoftened by time and contact, of perpetual feud bursting out into occasional conflict, of undying religious animosities, of strange combinations, of fearful massacres, and of a government looking tamely on, and allowing things for the most part to take their course. We see how utterly the Parthian system failed to blend together or amalgamate the conquered peoples; and not only so, but how impotent it was even to effect the first object of a government, the securing of peace and tranquillity within its borders. If indeed it were necessary to believe that the picture brought before us represented truthfully the normal condition of the people and countries with which it is concerned, we should be forced to conclude that Parthian government was merely another name for anarchy, and that it was only good fortune that preserved the empire from falling to pieces at this early date, within two centuries of its establishment But there is reason to believe that the reign of Artabanus III. represents, not the normal, but an exceptional state of things—a state of things which could only arise in Parthia when the powers of government were relaxed in consequence of rebellion and civil war. We must remember that Artabanus was actually twice driven from his kingdom, and that during the greater part of his reign he lived in perpetual fear of revolt and insurrection. It is not improbable that the culminating atrocities of the struggle above described synchronized with the second expulsion of the Parthian monarch, and are thus not so much a sign of the ordinary weakness of the Parthian rule as of the terrible strength of the forces which that rule for the most part kept under control.


The causes which led to the second expulsion of Artabanus are not distinctly stated, but they were probably not very different from those that brought about the first. Artabanus was undoubtedly a harsh ruler; and those who fell under his displeasure, naturally fearing his severity, and seeing no way of meeting it but by a revolution, were driven to adopt extreme measures. Something like a general combination of the nobles against him seems to have taken place about the year A.D. 40; and it appears that he, on becoming aware of it, determined to quit the capital and throw himself on the protection of one of the tributary monarchs. This was Izates, the sovereign of Adiabene, or the tract between the Zab rivers, who is said to have been a convert to Judaism. On the flight of Artabanus to Izates it would seem that the Megistanes formally deposed him, and elected in his place a certain Kinnam, or Kinnamus, an Arsacid who had been brought up by the king. Izates, when he interfered on behalf of the deposed monarch, was met by the objection that the newly-elected prince had rights which could not be set aside. The difficulty appeared insuperable; but it was overcome by the voluntary act of Kinnamus, who wrote to Artabanus and offered to retire in his favor. Hereupon Artabanus returned and remounted his throne, Kinnamus carrying his magnanimity so far as to strip the diadem from his own brow and replace it on the head of the old monarch. A condition of the restoration was a complete amnesty for all political offences, which was not only promised by Artabanus, but likewise guaranteed by Izates.


It was very shortly after his second restoration to the throne that Artabanus died. One further calamity must, however, be noticed as having fallen within the limits of his reign. The great city of Seleucia, the second in the Empire, shortly after it had experienced the troubles above narrated, revolted absolutely from the Parthian power, and declared itself independent. No account has reached us of the circumstances which caused this revolt; but it was indicative of a feeling that Parthia was beginning to decline, and that the disintegration of the Empire was a thing that might be expected. The Seleucians had at no time been contented with their position as Parthian subjects. Whether they supposed that they could stand alone, or whether they looked to enjoying under Roman protection a greater degree of independence than had been allowed them by the Parthians, is uncertain. They revolted however, in A. D. 40, and declared themselves a self-governing community. It does not appear that the Romans lent them any assistance, or broke for their sake the peace established with Parthia in A.D. 37. The Seleucians had to depend upon themselves alone, and to maintain their rebellion by means of their own resources. No doubt Artabanus proceeded at once to attack them, but his arms made no impression. They were successful in defending their independence during his reign, and for some time afterwards, although compelled in the end to succumb and resume a subject position under their own masters. Artabanus seems to have died in August or September A.D. 42, the year after the death of Caligula. His checkered reign had covered a space which cannot have fallen much short of thirty years.

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.

There is considerable doubt as to the immediate successor of Artabanus. According to Josephus he left his kingdom to his son, Bardanes or Vardanes, and this prince entered without difficulty and at once upon the enjoyment of his sovereignty. According to Tacitus, the person who obtained the throne directly upon the death of Artabanus was his son, Gotarzes, who was generally accepted for king, and might have reigned without having his title disputed, had he not given indications of a harsh and cruel temper. Among other atrocities whereof he was guilty was the murder of his brother, Artabanus, whom he put to death, together with his wife and son, apparently upon mere suspicion. This bloody initiation of his reign spread alarm among the nobles, who thereupon determined to exert their constitutional privilege of deposing an obnoxious monarch and supplying his place with a new one. Their choice fell upon Vardanes, brother of Gotarzes, who was residing in a distant province, 350 miles from the Court. Having entered into communications with this prince, they easily induced him to quit his retirement, and to take up arms against the tyrant. Vardanes was ambitious, bold and prompt: he had no sooner received the invitation of the Megistanes than he set out, and, having accomplished his journey to the Court in the space of two days, found Gotarzes wholly unprepared to offer resistance. Thus Vardanes became king without fighting a battle. Gotarzes fled, and escaped into the country of the Dahse, which lay east of the Caspian Sea, and north of the Parthian province of Hyrcania. Here he was allowed to reign for some time unmolested by his brother, and to form plans and make preparations for the recovery of his lost power.


The statements of Tacitus are so circumstantial, and his authority as an historian is so great, that we can scarcely hesitate to accept the history as he delivers it, rather than as it is related by the Jewish writer. It is, however, remarkable that the series of Parthian coins presents an appearance of accordance rather with the latter than the former, since it affords no trace of the supposed first reign of Gotarzes in A.D. 42, while it shows Vardanes to have held the throne from Sept. A.D. 43 to at least A.D. 46. Still this does not absolutely contradict Tacitus. It only proves that the first reign of Gotarzes was comprised within a few weeks, and that before two months had passed from the death of Artabanus, the kingdom was established in the hands of Vardanes. That prince, after the flight of his brother, applied himself for some time to the reduction of the Seleucians, whose continued independence in the midst of a Parthian province he regarded as a disgrace to the Empire. His efforts to take the town failed, however, of success. Being abundantly provisioned and strongly fortified, it was well able to stand a siege; and the high spirit of its inhabitants made them determined to resist to the uttermost. While they still held out, Vardanes was called away to the East, where his brother had been gathering strength, and was once more advancing his pretensions. The Hyrcanians, as well as the Dahse, had embraced his cause, and Parthia was threatened with dismemberment. Vardanes, having collected his troops, occupied a position in the plain region of Bactria, and there prepared to give battle to his brother, who was likewise at the head of a considerable army. Before, however, an engagement took place, Gotarzes discovered that there was a design among the nobles on either side to rid themselves of both the brothers, and to set up a wholly new king. Apprehensive of the consequences, he communicated his discovery to Vardanes; and the result was that the two brothers made up their differences and agreed upon terms of peace. Gotarzes yielded his claim to the crown, and was assigned a residence in Hyrcania, which was, probably, made over to his government. Vardanes then returned to the west, and, resuming the siege of Seleucia, compelled the rebel city to a surrender in the seventh year after it had revolted (A.D. 46.)


Successful thus far, and regarding his quarrel with his brother as finally arranged, Vardanes proceeded to contemplate a military expedition of the highest importance. The time, he thought, was favorable for reviving the Parthian claim to Armenia, and disputing once more with Rome the possession of a paramount influence over that country. The Roman government of the dependency, since Artabanus formally relinquished it to them, had been far from proving satisfactory. Mithridates, their protege, had displeased them, and had been summoned to Rome by Caligula, who kept him there a prisoner until his death. Armenia, left without a king, had asserted her independence; and when, after an absence of several years, Mithridates was authorized by Claudius to return to his kingdom, the natives resisted him in arms, and were only brought under his rule by the combined help of the Romans and the Iberians. Forced upon a reluctant people by foreign arms, Mithridates felt himself insecure, and this feeling made him rule his subjects with imprudent severity. Under these circumstances it seemed to Vardanes that it would not be very difficult to recover Armenia, and thus gain a signal triumph over the Romans.


But to engage in so great a matter with a good prospect of success it was necessary that the war should be approved, not only by himself, but by his principal feudatories. The most important of these was now Izates, king of Adiabene and Gordyene who in the last reign had restored Artabanus to his lost throne. Vardanes, before committing himself by any overt act, appears to have taken this prince into his counsels, and to have requested his opinion on affronting the Romans by an interference with Armenian affairs. Izates strenuously opposed the project. He had a personal interest in the matter, since he had sent five of his boys to Rome, to receive there a polite education, and he had also a profound respect for the Roman power and military system. He endeavored, both by persuasion and reasoning, to induce Vardanes to abandon his design. His arguments may have been cogent, but they were not thought by Vardanes to have much force, and the result of the conference was that the Great King declared war against his feudatory.


The war had, apparently, but just begun, when fresh troubles broke out in the north-east. Gotarzes had never ceased to regret his renunciation of his claims, and was now, on the invitation of the Parthian nobility, prepared to came forward again and contest the kingdom with his brother. Vardanes had to relinquish his attempt to coerce Izates, and to hasten to Hyrcania in order to engage the troops which Gotarzes had collected in that distant region. These he met and defeated more than once in the country between the Caspian and Herat; but the success of his military operations failed to strengthen his hold upon the affections of his subjects. Like the generality of the Parthian princes, he showed himself harsh and cruel in the hour of victory, and in conquering an opposition roused an opposition that was fiercer and more formidable. A conspiracy was formed against him shortly after his return from Hyrcania, and he was assassinated while indulging in the national amusement of the chase.

The murder of Vardanes was immediately followed by the restoration of Gotarzes to the throne. There may have been some who doubted his fitness for the regal office, and inclined to keep the throne vacant till they could send to Rome and obtain from thence one of the younger and more civilized Parthian princes. But we may be sure that the general desire was not for a Romanized sovereign, but for a truly national king, one born and bred in the country. Gotarzes was proclaimed by common consent, and without any interval, after the death of Vardanes, and ascended the Parthian throne before the end of the year A.D. 46. It is not likely that his rule would have been resisted had he conducted himself well; but the cruelty of his temper, which had already once cost him his crown, again displayed itself after his restoration, and to this defect was added a slothful indulgence yet more distasteful to his subjects. Some military expeditions which he undertook, moreover, failed of success, and the crime of defeat caused the cup of his offences to brim over. The discontented portion of his people, who were a strong party, sent envoys to the Roman Emperor, Claudius (A.D. 49), and begged that he would surrender to them Meherdates, the grandson of Phraates IV. and son of Vonones, who still remained at Rome in a position between that of a guest and a hostage. "They were not ignorant," they said, "of the treaty which bound the Romans to Parthia, nor did they ask Claudius to infringe it." Their desire was not to throw off the authority of the Arsacidse, but only to exchange one Arsacid for another. The rule of Gotarzes had became intolerable, alike to the nobility and the common people. He had murdered all his male relatives, or at least all that were within his reach—first his brothers, then his near kinsmen, finally even those whose relationship was remote; nor had he stopped there; he had proceeded to put to death their young children and their pregnant wives. He was sluggish in his habits, unfortunate in his wars, and had betaken himself to cruelty, that men might not despise him for his want of manliness. The friendship between Rome and Parthia was a public matter; it bound the Romans to help the nation allied to them—a nation which, though equal to them in strength, was content on account of its respect for Rome to yield her precedence. Parthian princes were allowed to be hostages in foreign lands for the very reason that then it was always possible, if their own monarch displeased them, for the people to obtain a king from abroad, brought up under milder influences.


This harangue was made before the Emperor Claudius and the assembled Senate, Meherdates himself being also present. Claudius responded to it favorably. He would follow the example of the Divine Augustus, and allow the Parthians to take from Rome the monarch whom they requested. That prince, bred up in the city, had always been remarkable for his moderation. He would (it was to be hoped) regard himself in his new position, not as a master of slaves, but as a ruler of citizens. He would find that clemency and justice were the more appreciated by a barbarous nation, the less they had had experience of them Meherdates might accompany the Parthian envoys; and a Roman of rank, Caius Cassius, the prefect of Syria, should be instructed to receive them on their arrival in Asia, and to see them safely across the Euphrates.


The young prince accordingly set out, and reached the city of Zeugma in safety. Here he was joined, not only by a number of the Parthian nobles, but also by the reigning king of Osrhoene, who bore the usual name of Abgarus. The Parthians were anxious that he should advance at his best speed and by the shortest route on Ctesiphon, and the Roman governor, Cassius, strongly advised the same course; but Meherdates fell under the influence of the Osrhoene monarch, who is thought by Tacitus to have been a false friend, and to have determined from the first to do his best for Gotarzes. Abgarus induced Meherdates to proceed from Zeugma to his own capital, Edessa, and there detained him for several days by means of a series of festivities. He then persuaded him, though the winter was approaching, to enter Armenia, and to proceed against his antagonist by the circuitous route of the Upper Tigris, instead of the more direct one through Mesopotamia. In this way much valuable time was lost.


The rough mountain-routes and snows of Armenia harassed and fatigued the pretender's troops, while Gotarzes was given an interval during which to collect a tolerably large body of soldiers. Still, the delay was not very great. Meherdatos marched probably by Diarbekr, Til, and Jezireh, or in other words, followed the course of the Tigris, which he crossed in the neighborhood of Mosul, after taking the small town which represented the ancient Nineveh. His line of march had now brought him into Adiabene; and it seemed a good omen for the success of his cause that Izates, the powerful monarch of that tract, declared in his favor, and brought a body of troops to his assistance. Gotarzes was in the neighborhood, but was distrustful of his strength, and desirous of collecting a larger force before committing himself to the hazard of an engagement. He had taken up a strong position with the river Corma in his front, and, remaining on the defensive, contented himself with trying by his emissaries the fidelity of his rival's troops and allies. The plan succeeded. After a little time, the army of Meherdates began to melt away. Izates of Adiabene and Abgarus of Edessa drew off their contingents, and left the pretender to depend wholly on his Parthian supporters. Even their fidelity was doubtful, and might have given way on further trial; Meherdates therefore resolved, before being wholly deserted, to try the chance of a battle.


His adversary was now as willing to engage as himself, since he felt that he was no longer outnumbered. The rivals met, and a fierce and bloody action was fought between the two armies, no important advantage being for a long time gained by either. At length Oarrhenes, the chief general on the side of Meherdates, having routed the troops opposed to him and pursued them too hotly, was intercepted by the enemy on his return and either killed or made prisoner. This event proved decisive. The loss of their leader caused the army of Meherdates to fly; and he himself, being induced to intrust his safety to a certain Parrhaces, a dependent of his father's, was betrayed by this miscreant, loaded with chains, and given up to his rival. Gotarzes now proved less unmerciful than might have been expected from his general character. Instead of punishing Meherdates with death, he thought it sufficient to insult him with the names of "foreigner" and "Roman," and to render it impossible that he should be again put forward as monarch by subjecting him to mutilation. The Roman historian supposes that this was done to cast a slur upon Rome but it was a natural measure of precaution under the circumstances, and had probably no more recondite motive than compassion for the youth and inexperience of the pretender.


Gotarzes, having triumphed over his rival, appears to have resolved on commemorating his victory in a novel manner. Instead of striking a new coin, like Vonones, he determined to place his achievement on record by making it the subject of a rock-tablet, which he caused to be engraved on the sacred mountain of Baghistan, adorned already with sculptures and inscriptions by the greatest of the Achaemenian monarchs. The bas-relief and its inscription have been much damaged, both by the waste of ages and the rude hand of man; but enough remains to show that the conqueror was represented as pursuing his enemies in the field, on horseback, while a winged Victory, flying in the air, was on the point of placing a diadem on his head. In the Greek legend which accompanied the sculpture he was termed "Satrap of Satraps"—an equivalent of the ordinary title "King of Kings"; and his conquered rival was mentioned under the name of Mithrates, a corrupt form of the more common or Mithridates or Meherdates.


Very shortly after his victory Gotarzes died. His last year seems to have been A.D. 51. According to Tacitus, he died a natural death, from the effects of disease; but, according to Josephus, he was the victim of a conspiracy. The authority of Tacitus, here as elsewhere generally, is to be preferred; and we may regard Gotarzes as ending peacefully his unquiet reign, which had begun in A.D. 42, immediately after the death of his father, had been interrupted for four years—from A.D. 42 to A.D. 46—and had then been renewed and lasted from A.D. 46 to A.D. 51. Gotarzes was not a prince of any remarkable talents, or of a character differing in any important respects from the ordinary Parthian type. He was perhaps even more cruel than the bulk of the Arsacidae, though his treatment of Meherdates showed that he could be lenient upon occasion. He was more prudent than daring, more politic than brave, more bent on maintaining his own position than on advancing the power or dignity of his country. Parthia owed little or nothing to him. The internal organization of the country must have suffered from his long wars with his brother and his nephew; its external reputation was not increased by one whose foreign expeditions were uniformly unfortunate.



 Artabanus II


Vonones II