Alexander the Accursed's conquest of Persia, not only shocked the world but devastated it. In the blink of an eye the young Greek warlord changed the world. After Alexander's unexpected death his generals tried to stabilize what he left behind. This episode discusses the successor states of the Achaemenid Empire, the Seleucids, the Parthians and the Sassanids. Finally after 1,300 years of struggle Iran finds its identity again, Right before Muhammad the prophet of God changes Iranian culture forever.
Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/abriefhistory?fan_landing=true)
Alexander the Accursed's conquest of Persia, not only shocked the world but devastated it. In the blink of an eye the young Greek warlord changed the world. After Alexander's unexpected death his generals tried to stabilize what he left behind. This episode discusses the successor states of the Achaemenid Empire, the Seleucids, the Parthians and the Sassanids. Finally after 1,300 years of struggle Iran finds its identity again, Right before Muhammad the prophet of God changes Iranian culture forever.
Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/abriefhistory?fan_landing=true)
The Seleucid Empire
Alexanders conquest was as much shocking as it was disturbing to the world. in 10 years, the Persian empire, the greatest empire, an empire that stretched the known world, created by Cyrus the great himself was destroyed. Alexanders conquests were almost as shocking to the ancient world as was his unexpected death.
Dying so early and without leaving an heir Alexanders generals and family members feuded for control of the recently conquered Persian Empire.
The wars of the Diadochi (Successors) would see the great Persian empire carved up between Alexanders Generals. Seleucus would be the successor of the Persian heartland.
Seleucus was an unlikely successor, he had no territory and a little over 2,000 men under his command he had risen to the command of the élite infantry corps in the Macedonian army under Alexander, the "Shield-bearers" (Hypaspistai), later known as the "Silvershields.
After Alexander our historical picture goes back to 2D storytelling… Not nearly as much is known about Seleucus as is Alexander, or Darius the great for example… Seleucus was said to have been the same age as Alexander (which could have just been propaganda to establish links between Seleucus and Alexander)
The Greeks often used propaganda to establish legitimacy. Seleucus had been mentioned a total of 3 times before the death of Alexander all possibly propagandized. For example one of the mentioned times; Seleucus participated in a sailing trip near Babylon, Alexander’s Diadem (Crown) was blown off his head and landed on some reeds near the tombs of Assyrian kings. Seleucus swam to fetch the diadem back placing it on his own head while retuning to the boat to keep it dry,
perhaps foreshadowing his destiny to become Alexanders successor or perhaps Zeus himself sent that wind to show us mere mortals that Seleucus was destined to rule…
A number of legends, similar to those told of Alexander, were told of Seleucus. It was said Antiochus (seleucus’ father) told his son before he left to battle the Persians, that his real father was actually the god Apollo. To prove this Apollo left Seleucus with a birthmark shaped like an anchor. It was told that Seleucus' sons and grandsons also had the same birthmark.
The wars of the Diadochi started when Alexanders corpse was taken by Ptomley one of Alexanders generals and later Pharoe of Egypt. Seleucus originally backed Perdiccas the regent of Alexander's empire, who was the most powerful general. Perdiccas was assassinated by his own men after marching into Egypt poorly prepared (Seleucus was likely involved). The successor to Perdiccas was Antigonus the 1 eye, who appointed Seleucus Satrap of the wealthy and historic capital of Babylon. There Seleucus won the favor of the Babalonyians by building temples and schools.
Seleucus proved himself to be a wise man. During Alexanders conquests of the Persian empire Alexander wanted to amalgamate Persian and Greek culture so he had his generals and men marry Persian wives. All of Alexanders Generals besides Seleucus discarded their Persian wives. Seleucus might have done this as another way to gain the trust of the local.
Seleucus claims his wife was daughter of Darius III the last Achemedian empereror (this was almost certainly not true but a great way to give Seleucus’ son Antiochus I legitimacy as king of Persia)
In 312 BC Seleucus was forced to flee from Antigonus. While Antigonus was fighting Ptomly in Egypt Seleucus stabbed him in the back taking the Iranian Plateau and the Persian heartland.
The generals weren’t officially Kings/Emperors until Alexanders brother and infant son were killed. Once this happened the Generals proclaimed their states. In 305 BC seleucus started the Seleucid dynasty. During this time he established himself as ruler of the Iranian Plateu and provinces east of Persia. Antigonus took Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) Ptomley in Egpyt, Cassander in Macadonia and Lysimachus in Thrace.
While the other Greek generals/Kings were fighting Seleucus Invaded India, where he was defeated and lost some land to the Indians. He took this gracefully and married his daughter to the king of the Indian Mauryan Empire which cemented an alliance. The Indians gave Seleucus 500 trained war elephants as a token to his grace.
using these elephants Seleucus defeated his former commander Antigonus, at the battle of Ipsus. Anatolia was carved up between Ptomly in Egypt, Lysimachus in Thrace, and Seleucus.
After peace was established Seleucus spent the next decade city building and urbanizing the Iranian plateau. The city Seleucia was established nearby Babalyon as the new capital of the Seleucian empire, this would cause Babylon to be depopulated. Another important city that was created by Seleucus was the city of Antioch.
Seleucus established dozens of cities where Greek settlers were urged to immigrate to.
One of those weird things that tends to happen in history occured. Seleucus formed an alliance with the new king of Macedonia Demetrius by marrying his daughter who was 40 years his junior. Selecus’s son Antiochus fell madly in love with his step-mother, Selecus felt sorry for his son, so he let him marry his step mom (who Selecus just had a child with) This was scandalous even for the Greeks.
After divorcing his daughter the two kings went to war. Demetrius was successful in conquering the costal towns of Asia minor but failed to pay his troops. They defected to Seleucus and Demetrius soon died by drinking himself to death.
The now ancient Ptolemy died of natural causes in 282 BC… leaving Lysimachus of (Thrace) and Seleucus in Persia as the last of Alexanders Diadochi alive.
The two soon went to war and using his elephants Seleucus won a decisive victory over Lysimachus. Leaving Seleucus to be the last of the Diadochi, he wouldn’t be the last one for long however. He soon marched on Macadeon his homeland where he wanted to live out the rest of his days, he hadn’t seen Macedon in half a century. There he was assassinated by a son of Ptolemy.
His Oedipus complex having son Antiochus I would inherit his empire and rule for 2 decades, of peace and prosperity. Often trading with the Indians to his east.
Antiochus’s son Antiochus II inherited and fought many wars with the Ptolmeys in Egypt. While he was fighting the easternmost part of his Persian empire located in the Steppe (southern Russia) broke off
Seleucus the II and his son Seleucus III were both unlucky rulers facing many rebellion invasions and civil wars. Both lost a lot of land
Antiochus III inherited in 222 BC and would earn the moniker Antiochus the Great. He was the original MAGA supporter as he made the Seleucid empire Great again and then lost most of it.
Antiochus the Great inherited the Seleucid Empire from his brother Seleucus III, after Seleucus III’s assassination, If the Seleucid empire was ever great it was way past its heyday.. upon ascension Antiochus had to deal with a rebellion from the self declared king of Media and Persis.. which he did… He put down the rebellion and actually killed some of his court officials who had been connected to his father and brothers’ administration. Ridding himself of these men who led to his father and brother’s failures. he raised an army… marched into Syria and was very successful in conquering until he met the Egyptians, and lost most of his recently earned territory… (epic foreshadowing for his life story)
He accepted his defeats and turned to India where he marched far into the Indian subcontinent, and then subdued the steppe provinces of Parthia and Bactria.
He then turned to Armenia where he married off his daughter to Xerxes of Armenia, after this Armenia accepted its place as a tributary of the Seleucid empire. Armenia would become one of the most hotly contested portions of the Persian Empire… It would lead to years and years of conquest, loss, and reconquest.
Having done all this Antiochus cemented a strong core of vassals and allies In the east of the Empire. He adopted the title “The Great” from the likes of Alexander and Darius.
He turned his attention to the arch enemy of the Seleucids’, Egypt and made a secret alliance with the king of Macedon.. This secret alliance would lead to the downfall of the Seleucid Empire…
Antiochus marched into the Levant where he was successful in capturing the Egyptian controlled states of Palestine, and Judea. His alliance with Macedon caused the Macedonians to march into the Dardenells to aid Antiochus against Egypt… Rhodes and Pergamon feared an invasion and requested aid from the Romans… A move which always ends badly…
The Romans came and made short work of Macedon… whose king requested aid from his ally Antiochus… Antiochus ignored him and turned his attention to Egypt.. Egypt was essentially conquered and the region of Syria which had been fought over between the two Greek-pretender states finally went to the Seleucids… Egypt would become a protectorate of the Seleucid Empire… but not for long
Antiochus The Great, feeling high on himself started reclaiming the old territories of Pergamon and Thrace which he believed were rightly his… The Romans who now controlled Greece demanded that Antiochus stay out of Europe…
The two great states began harassing each other with only diplomacy keeping them from all-out war…
Hannibal Barca, the famous Carthaginian general who had caused so much pain to the Romans, at this time had lost the Punic wars to Rome and found himself as a military advisor in the court of Antiochus
Antiochus who at this time had grown haughty had this interaction with Hannibal,
Antiochus was holding a review, on some open ground, to display the huge forces which he had mustered for war against the Roman people, and the troops were marching past, gleaming with accoutrements of silver and gold. Chariots, too, fitted with scythes were brought on to the field, elephants with towers on their backs, and cavalry with glittering reins, housings, neck chains, and trappings.
Glorying in the sight of his large and well-equipped army, the king then turned to Hannibal and said: “Do you think that all these will be enough for the Romans?”
The Carthaginian, smiling at the king’s prettily-equipped, but cowardly and unwarlike soldiers, replied: “Yes, I believe that the Romans will find them enough, although the Romans are pretty avaricious, you know.”
There could not have been a smoother or more biting remark. The king was asking about the numbers and quality of equipment of his army; but Hannibal responded as if [the men and equipment of the army] was just loot [waiting to be collected and sold by the Romans].
Hannibal was right, and Antiochus would lose his title the great, I guess such a thing isn’t possible but he marched into Greece with a small force of only 10,500 men. He occupied Euboea *EVIA* (the 2nd largest Island of Greece located near Athens in central Greece). He expected the Greeks to rise up and join him in order to throw out the Romans but the Greeks disliking Antiochus’ arrogance did not.
In 191 BC The romans outnumbered him with 20,000 soldiers and outflanked him at the pass of Thermopylae… he retreated by the sea where his fleet was destroyed.
Rome pursued into the hellispont in 190 and Antiochus humbled by his experiences sued for peace. The Romans requested that he evacuate all the lands west of the Taurus Mountains (where Alexander defeated Darius III years before) Antiochus refused and met them in the field of battle
Antiochus was destroyed by a Roman army half their size…
This pushed the Seleucids past the Taurus mountains (in Modern day eastern Turkey) never to return and demanding a large sum in war reparations. The Romans took some of Antiochus’s family as hostages, (an old world practice) meant to make sure the capture d’s family would pay the tribute or war reparations. Antiochus died before he could pay the ransom leaving his son to handle the massive debt.
This caused his successors to raise taxes especially on religious institutions, taking back the old Persian idea of tolerance towards religions and respect towards other cultures. Soon after the worship of Greek gods was made mandatory to prevent religious rebellions.
Today we mostly know of this from the Jewish Maccabee revolt which would later go on to create The Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Antiochus IV (the successor to Antiochus the not so great) entered Jerusalem conquered it and made the Great temple of Jerusalem into a temple of Zeus and required the Jews to tun their back on their ancient religion under threat of death and worship Greek gods.
The Jews under Judah Maccabee refused and started a campaign against the Seleucids. They miraculously were successful and recaptured Jerusalem in 165 BC… Upon arriving they realized the Greek-Syrians had defiled all but a single flask of oil… This oil was supposed to last only one night but a miracle happened, and it lasted the 8 days it took to make more oil.
while Antiochus IV was focused on crushing the Maccabee revolt the Parthians, a semi-nomadic peoples invaded and conquered the Iranian plateau.. setting way for a new dynasty and new time for Persia.
The Seleucids now a shadow of its former glory attempted to recapture the heartland of its empire, Persia. They mustered all their forces and in a last ditch effort invaded the Iranian heartland. The invasion was a failure and following this the remaining areas of the Seleucid empire were in open revolt.
In 141 BC the parthians capture the Seleucid capital of Seleucia planting the final nail in the coffin for the Seleucid empire. The Seleucids continued under heavy Roman political domination being located around Antioch in Syria until 63 BC when the romans annexed the remaining parts of Syrian-Seleucia.
The Heartland of the Seleucid Empire went to the Parthians… Who were based in Persia.
Its difficult to call The Seleucid Empire a Persian Empire, They did center themselves along the Ireanean Plateu and adopted some customs of the old multi-ethnic Persian empire but the dominant culture of The Selecuids was Hellenistic Culture. Greek customs, and language were privileged, while a wide variety of local traditions were just tolerated. Greek immigrants from the overpopulated mainland Greece went on to form the dominant culture and over time they assimilated many native groups who attempted to Hellenize to higher their standing in social life.
The Seleucids did naturally adopt the economic model of the Achaemenid empire, the absolute monarchy, the taxation system, the agriculture model all were inherited from their Achaemenid forbearers.
Agriculture, like most pre-modern economies, constituted a vast majority of the Seleucid economy. Somewhere between 80 and 90% of the seleucid population was employed, in some form, within the prevailing agricultural structures inherited from their predecessors.
The Seleucids also continued the tradition of actively maintaining the Mesopotamian waterways. As the greatest source of state income, the Seleucid kings actively managed the irrigation, reclamation, and population of Mesopotamia. In fact, canals were often dug by royal decrees, to which “some were called the King’s Canal for that reason.” For example, the construction of the Pallacottas canal was able to control the water level of the Euphrates which, as Arrian notes in his Anabasis 7.21.5, required: “over two months of work by more than 10,000 Assyrians.” Q
Between the years 247BC-224AD The Parthians ruled as the Arsacid Empire. Separating the Roman Empire in the west and The Han Dynasty (China) in the east.
During the reign of Antiochus II the easternmost portions of the Seleucid empire declared independence, including Bactria and Parthia Satraps (both of which were Greko-kingdoms). The Parni a confederation of Iranian speaking, semi-Nomadic peoples migrated to Parthia and took control of the region. They adopted the local Parthian language, local religions and adopted the name of their new homeland becoming the Parthians.
Arsaces I became the first King of the Parthians in 247 BC (try not to confuse The Parthians with the Arsacid Empires they are the same) He soon lost his land in Parthia, being a nomadic people they were able to survive by escaping into the great steppe. Once the Seleucian troops were needed elsewhere he returned and retook Parthia. In the process forming an alliance with the Greko-bactrian kingdom so that they could both preserve their independence.
Arsaces I adopted a more Iranian lifestyle, founded the city of Asaak and began minting coins. These coins are interesting because The Parthians were portraying themselves in Achaemenid dress in contrast to the Hellenistic dress of the Seleucids.
Arsaces I would die in 217 BC and would be succeded by his son, thank you for not making this confusing, Arsaces II.
The Parthians lit an eternal flame in Asaak to represent Arsaces I’s greatness, the flame would stay lit for more than 2 centuries.
During Antiochus III (the Greats) resurgence he met Arsaces II in battle and defeated Arsaces, the Seleucids offered him a peace treaty as a vassal, the young Parthian state was forced to pay tribute but still alive
In 191 BC Arsaces II died and was succeeded by his cousin Priapatius, being descendants from nomads they weren’t the best record keepers, and so we don’t know much about many of the Parthian monarchs, especially from their time before greatness.
What we know comes from their coinage which they luckily had minted regularly.
Over the next few decades the Parthians revolted again and added more land to the south and west of their kingdom into Parthia, eventually conquering the heartland of the Iranian Pleateu, Media, in 141 BC Under the leadership of Mithridates I. Mithridates was the first Parthian king to adopt the ancient Persian Title Shahanshah. And he set Parthia on the course to being the successor of the Persian empire not another Hellenic one,
His name comes from the ancient Iranian sungod – Mithra the Persian god of the sun
Mithradates took a page from Alexander the Greats book. Being Persian (or more likely Persianized) he assimilated Greek culture and didn’t rule over the Hellanized regions of Messopotamia. He took on the moniker Mithradates Philhellene (translating into Mithradates, Friend of the Greeks). And didn’t allow his Parthians to raid or sack the cities of Seleucus or Babylon, instead starting a new city which would eventually outgrow the two. Ctesiphon (located right outside of the modern city of Baghdad)
Next Mithridates turned to Persis, the Heartland of the Persian peoples located in the south of Iran (where Cyrus was born). After conquering Persis, The Persians didn’t treat him as a liberator but as a conquerer… because of this he granted the Persians almost near autonomy. Which would lead to their rise centuries later.
Mithirdates massive conquest of the Seleucid empire was almost a forgone conclusion… due to the heavy taxation and lack of tolerance implemented by the Seleucid monarchs many of the old satrapies were more than happy to welcome a new overlord… one that at least resembled the Achaemenid one.
Succeeding Mithridates the Great (not Shahanshah he adopted the title The great), was Phraates II and succeeding him was Artabanus I they both had short reigns where they lost some land.
Artabanus was the last Parthian monarch to have coins minted of himself in Hellenistic dress.
If you are getting a bit confused why they keep going back and forth Persian-Greek-Persian-Greek… Remember these kingdoms were absolute monarchies… meaning that one person had absolute control and depending where his sympathies lay, the kingdom/empire would go in that Direction.
Mithridates II was the next great king of the Parthians. While ruling he began to develop a myth that combined the Parthian and the Achaemenids. Similar to what Darius had done hundreds of years before to connect himself to Cyrus… he disregarded the Hellanistic dress and style.
He came to power in 124 BC, he was able to reconquer some land lost in Mesopotamia by his predecessors, after this he subdued the invading Arabic tribes and defeated the nomadic peoples (who had killed his predecessors) in the east. Mithradates conquered Armenia, and expanded land in all directions of the empire.
The Han Chinese were also in pursuit of the nomadic peoples who always caused problems for city-dwelling societies. This led them to expand eastward and For the first time in history under Mithridates II the silk road was established thanks to his defeat of the nomadic peoples, Goods flowed freely from the han Chinese in the east to the Romans in the west.
Glasswork, Metalwork, Wool, Gold, Silver, Wine, and Slaves came from the European west and Silk, Dyes and Spices flowed from the Chinese dominated East. (The Parthians themselves traded, Horses, Pearls, Precious stones, Perfumes, and spices.
In 95 BC Mithridates sent a delegation to meet with Rome, who was at this time beginning to dominate Europe. Sulla the Roman dictator humiliated the Parthian delegation and the leader of the Parthian delegation was executed on his return to Parthia. This would serve as a spark leading to centuries of warfare between the two superpowers.
After Mithridates II death in 91 BC the empire fell into a state of decay… We don’t know much from this period and it is referred to as the Parthian Dark Age. The empire went through 3 decades where we aren’t even sure who ruled the Empire. We do know that the Armenians declared their independence from the Parthians and greatly expanded Armenia. This got the attention of the always growing Roman empire who invaded and made Armenia a vassal in 66BC.
A civil war erupted in Parthia in 57 BC two sons of the king (Orodes II and Mithridates IV) murdered their father and then both claimed the throne. Mithridates IV ran away to the west and requested aid from the Romans who agreed but were late to show up. By the time the Romans arrived the civil war had eneded and Orodes II had been declared king.
Eventually the Romans showed up, under the leadership of a man named Marcus Licinius Crassus. Crassus was one of the leaders of the first Triumvirate, the other 2 being Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, and Gaius Julius Caesar. The First Triumvirate was a secret alliance that ruled the Roman Republic in its final years. While Caesar was carving up Gaul (modern day France) Crassus decided to lead an expedition into Parthia, Crassus didn’t have the prestige of Pompey or Caesar, Crassus however was the richest man in Rome, and possibly one of the richest men in history, It is said that he had a net worth Equal to an annual income of the Roman Republic, (in todays money that would equate to not billions of dollars but trillions). He didn’t have a lot of military achievements to his name, he needed to rival Pompeius Magnus (whose moniker Magnus translates into THE GREAT) and Caesar who was at this time making a name for himself.
before this all the wars between the Persians and the Romans had been nothing more than skirmishes. Truth be told, The Romans didn’t think much of the Persians after their poor showing in the meeting led by Sulla… Crassus led an army of 40,000 Mostly heavy infantry (typical for how the Romans fought) deep into Mesopotamia.
The general leading the Parthians was a man named Surena. Surena was from an ancient royal Parthian family the house of Suren, a family that since the times of Arsaces I was responsible for the coronation of each king of Parthia.
The Parthian army was split into 2 and the larger portion was marched into the Roman vassal state of Armenia. The other force Surena commanded himself and confronted the Roman Army led by Crassus. Crassus being a Roman aristocrat was naturally very high on himself and had no doubt he could defeat these meagre Persians.
The Armenians after being attacked by the larger army, requested aid which Crassus ignored, and continued his march Deep into the desert of Mesopotamia, far away from water.
Crassus at first had his soldiers in the traditional Roman fashion forming a center of heavy infantry with calvray on the wings, he soon changed his formation to a Hollow Square formation to combat the opposing force made up of all Cavalry.
Surena started by harassing the Roman heavy infantry first by beating loud drums, Plutarch writes of Crassus in that moment as being “altogether frightened out of his senses”. The Romans were used to the celts and other European tribes who used horns and wind instruments… According to plutarch “the sound of the Parthians on the battlefield, confounded ones soul”. The sound coming from all directions in a low dismal tone, starting slowly and then rising and getting faster.
The Romans were in an unfamiliar land, used to the woodland regions of Europe this terrain was open desert… with that sound, the drums coming from all directions but unable to see what or who was making the sound.
next Surena had his Cataphract heavy horsemen cover themselves with normal clothes to hide their heavy armor, once within sight of the Romans he had the cavalry drop the clothes revealing the heavy armor.
Surena utilized the famed Parthian shot, a tactic from ancient history and perfected by the Parthians where they would continually harass infantry by shooting and then retreating again. The Parthian horse archers were so skilled at horse riding and archery that they could fire from behind while retreating on horse.
The square formation wouldn’t help the Romans at all, the horse archers simply circled the formation firing at the heavily armored soldiers.
There are many accounts of the Roman heavy armor being pierced by the horse archers and the Roman soldiers getting nailed to the ground where they stood.
Crassus had his 4,000 light infantry break out of the square and charge the horse archers… The soldiers were slaughtered by an endless stream of arrows.
The Romans responded by forming the testudo formation a formation similar to what you can see in the movie 300, like a phalanx heavy shields were meant to protect all sides from missile fire. However this backfired as the Romans were unable to fight in Melee combat and the Parthian cataphracts repeadely charged the Romans. Panic began to breakout and the Romans received heavy casualties. The Romans attempted to break the Testudo formation and the Persian heavy cavalry just retreated and went back to the Parthian shot.
Crassus attempted to wait until the Persians were out of arrows, once he realized they were being supplied by thousands of camels. Crassus dispatched his son, Publius with a sizeable force of Gaulic cavalry to drive off the camels.
The Parthians instituted another infamous Nomadic Steppe tactic the Feigned retreat… a tactic where horsemen would run away pretending to retreat in fear… drawing the attacker into hostile territory. Once they met up with reinforcements in friendly territory the Parthian cavalry turned around to meet the exhausted Romans… some of whom ran for their lives. Publius with his remaining Gaulic mercenary army fought bravely but were tricked and surrounded by heavy cataphract horsemen.
The Gauls attempted to use a tactic they learned in Gaul fighting against the Roman Caesar, where they would grab the spears of the heavy horsemen and pull the men off… but the strength of the Pesian cavalry was too much.
Publius had been shot by an arrow in his right hand and his remaining men put him back on a horse and retreated to a dune where they put up a shield wall. He told his men to retreat to save their own lives… he reasoned that no death could scare him enough to retreat and committed suicide.
Crassus was unaware of the fate of his son Publius but could see that his forces were in trouble he ordered his troops to advance. He stopped as soon as he saw a Roman survivor returning to the shield wall. The Parthians decapitated Publius and displayed his head on a spear which they let the surviving soldier present to Crassus.
The onslaught didn’t stop until nightfall, Crassus was deeply shaken by his sons death, he abandoned 4,000 wounded soldiers in the desert and retreated to the nearby town of Carrhea, the wounded were slaughtered by the Parthians the next morning.
About 2,000 soldiers got lost in the dark during the retreat and were surrounded on a hill, they were slaughtered by the Parthians.
It has been speculated that Crassus at this point was suffering from severe PTSD, afraid to enter negotiations with the Parthians to save his and his mens lives. A day later he escaped Carrhea and got lost, returned to Carrhea for another night and attempted another escape and got lost again. The 2nd night he got lost in marshes, where he fortified his troops above a hilltop. Crassus refused to go into negotiations and his soldiers responded by saying that Crassus was willing to put his soldiers into battle with an enemy he lacked the courage to even talk to. After a threatened mutiny Crassus met with Surena, the Parthian general
The next day Surena offered to let Crassus and his remaining soldiers go, in return the Romans would give up all Roman territory east of the Euphrates.
At the meeting a Parthian pulled on Carssus’s horse reigns which caused the horse to kick and violence was sparked… Crassus and all of his generals were killed in the ensuing chaos.
Surena approached the hill and offered all the Roman soldiers who came down to be released… he was good to his word and let all the Romans who surrendered peacefully keep their lives.
Crassus, one of the most powerful men and richest in all of the Roman empire met a Game of thrones like fate. He had molten gold poured down his throat… meant to mock him about his excessive greed in life.
This was one of the most traumatic defeats in Roman history, even more important was the loss of the Roman Golden Aquilae (legionary eagle battle standards). A symbolic and ominous move as seen by the romans. These battle standards were important to Roman moral.
It is said that with the death of Crassus and the subsequent dissolution of the Triumverant. Rome entered a power struggle between the two remaining greatest men Pompey and Caesar. Plunging Rome into decades of civil war which would eventually lead to the Roman Republic turning into the Roman Empire
Orodes was as shocked by his victory as the Romans were. Growing jealous of Surena his greatest general, he had him executed. Surena was said to be handsome, and loved by all... after his death Surena remained a popular name for boys in the Parthian empire
Orodes personally led a force into the Roman lands, west of Mesopotamia. His hubris cost him dearly as his successes were less than successful, The Parthian cavalry was less effective in the terrain of the hilly and forested land of the Levant… eventually his son was killed in combat with the romans and it is reported that Orodes died of grief shortly after. Wars continued with the Romans repeatedly after that.
The next few decaedes the parthians were dealing with a succession crisis aided by Roman interference until eventually they stabilized.
For the next hundred years, most of the interactions between the Parthians and Romans since the meeting of Sulla revolved around Armenia, who constantly fell between the Roman and Parthian camps.
In the same situation as their Greek forebearers, what we know of this time comes down to us from the writings of the Romans… for this reason only a few details are known.
Soon after the nomadic peoples known as the Alans began raiding and pillaging Northern Iran.
Pacorus II assumed the throne in 78 AD and managed to defeat the nomadic invaders as well as bring peace and stability for nearly 3 decades. It wouldn’t last long however as The Roman emperor Trajan would march on Mesopotamia and conquer it. However the always prideful peoples of Mesopotamia were not easily subjugated and revolted, Hadrian the successor of Trajan gave Mesopotamia back to the Parthians and Parthian dominance was established in Armenia.
This period is known as the first golden age of the silk road. Due to expansive trade being established with China under the leadership of Pacorus II.
The Parthians resumed their never-ending Dynastic struggle. Vologases IV 147-191AD established himself as Shahanshah. He established his son Pacorus as king of Armenia then He marched on Rome and was defeated. Vologases IV lost a lot of support for his failure, The people of the city Dura Europus simply opened the gates for the Romans and let them take the city…
Taking advantage of the momentum the Roman General Cassius marched into Parthia and took the capital cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Pursing Vologases into Media the Persian heartland.
Luckily for Vologases a plague erupted in Seleucia which caused the Romans to return home.
Vologases V king of Armenia would inheirit the Parthian crown. During the year of the 5 emperors in Rome Vologases would support the wrong emperor and when Emperor Severus took control of Rome he enacted his revenge.
Severus advanced into Mesepotamia annexed some buffer states and once again took Seleucia, Babylon and sacked Ctesiphon. He gave himself the nickname “Parthicus Maximus” or great victor over Parthia… He returned home due to logistical complexity.
A few year later the Persian house of Sassan revolted in 205 AD and established the first truly Persian independent state since the Achaemenid empire 500 years earlier. After years of unsuccessful warfare with Rome The house of Sassan (as well as many other portions of the empire) no longer trusted their Parthian overlords.
After Vologases died in 208 AD a civil war would erupt (shocker) between his two sons… something that had not only plagued the Parthians for hundreds of years by now. But also had plagued their forebearers.
The Persian Ardashir I began expanding his empire and the two Parthian brothers decided to focus on their civil war… Ardashir defeated one of the brothers in battle after this the Parthian empire was finished. Ardashir I 4 years later marched on Seleucia where he ceremonially was made king by the remaining Parthian brother.
The best way to describe the Parthians is; They were an amalgamation of the 4 corners of the previous Achaemenid and Seleucian Empires. The Parthians themselves being descendants of nomadic steppe people had a largely decentralized government compared to the previous governments of Persia.
Take for example the religion of Parthia, they never had an official religion such as Zoroastrianism or Greek polytheism as the previous empires did. But they combined the many religions of the empire, often times Zeus would be equated to Ahura Mazda.
I feel like the Parthians had an identity crisis and over their roughly 4 centuries in power they went from a Greek Hellenized country to Persian Achaemenid country
One of the reasons for this identity crisis is a lack of written culture to cement their ideas (this coming from their nomadic roots). The Parthians did not have a written language (at least we haven’t found one) they did appreciate Greek literature. We know this because; for example when the head of Crassus was brought to Orodes II he used Crassus’ severed head as a stage prop for the many Greek plays he enjoyed.
As culturally and religiously tolerant as the Parthians were, they adopted Greek as their official language, while Aramaic remained the lingua franca in the empire. The native Parthian language, Middle Persian, and Akkadian were also used.
Most of what we know about Parthia comes from external sources Aside from scattered cuneiform tablets, rock inscriptions and coins minted. All we know about them comes from the Greeks or Romans. The latter of which was their mortal enemy. We have long portions of Parthian history where we essentially don’t know anything even who ruled them.
After the Parthians would come the Sassanid Dynasty, who were the true descendants of The Persians.
224 AD -651 AD
it endured for over four centuries, from 224 to 651 AD, making it the longest-lived Persian dynasty
The Sassanid Empire or Sassanian Dynasty saw themselves as the restorer of their great ancestors Cyrus and the Achaemenid empire. (the previous empires the seleucids and parthians adopted Greek-infused customs)
The Parthian empire was too busy dealing with interfighting amongst its royal family and military campaigns against the romans. While it was distracted a small region of the empire, Persis, the same region that Cyrus came from declared independence and began annexing nearby governerships. Over the course of 2 decades, The sassanian Dynasty was getting stronger and taking more lands of the Parthian Empire. Ardashir I the founder of the Dynasty was able to conquer nearby governers or rally fellow Persians to his cause. THE PARTHYIANS HAD LEGITAMACY PROBLEMS, THEY WERE A SEMINOMADIC STEPPE PEOPLE, WHO ADOPTED BOTH GREEK AND PERSIAN CUSTOMS.
In 224 AD Ardashir I, led his united army against the whole of the Parthian army and won a decisive victory at the battle of Hormozdgan, the Parthian king was killed in battle.
Over the next 2 years Ardashi with his son, Shapur , established his control over the Iranian Plateau, subjugating governers and warlords. He officially adopted the ancient Persian title Shahanshah, King of Kings, the first native Persian to hold that title since Alexanders conquest more than 500 years before.
Ardashir continued his conquests outside of the Iranian peninsula and conquered the lands of the Parthian kings brothers, (lands that used to be satrapies in the Achaemenid empire, but due to the decentralized nomadic nature of their forebearers they had acquired independence) among the Roman border and Arabian Peninsula. Opening a border with the Romans who had spent the last 200 years bullying the Parthians.
The Parthians preferred to use horse arches with hit and run defensive tactics against the romans. The Sassanids would use a different strategy, true to their Persian ancestors, Heavy cavalry to combat the Romans (who remember was famed for their heavy infantry shock troops)
Ardashir was most famous for economically devolping Persia, He created thousands of cities (which his Shapur would continue). He was correcting the errors of his Parthian predecessors, who established a nomadic like tribal decentralized government. One of the reason the parthians had so many breakaway states (the Sassanids for example) was because more centralization means more revolts but more independence for the satrapies, (which remember is what destroyed the Achaemenids) decentralization meant less power in Persepolis but more power to the warlords who would often become equal in strength to the Parthian king.
Ardashir was obsessed with rebuilding the greatness of the Achaemenid empire. He is credited with establishing the modern state of Iran. He always tried to connect himself with Iranian culture after 500 years of rule by Greeks and Parthians. Perhaps he learned from Alexander the great, and his attempts to connect with the culture of the conquered people and the Nomadic conqurers the Parthians and their disconnect with the local populace.
In the narrative Iranian history, Ardashir is described as a heroic, bold, forethoughtful man with a high amount of fortitude and mood. According to those texts, he was a persistent man and had a chivalric behavior though he applied much violence and cruelty and fought alongside his warriors in battles. In the narrative Iranian history texts, Ardashir succeeded because he was from the line of the ancient Iranian shahanshahs and was chosen by the gods to rule Iran.
Shapur I, Succeeded Ardashir in 240 AD. He was coronated in the new capital Ctesiphon. This would remain the capital of the Persian empire for some time, due to its centralized location In the middle of the empire as well as being located between the Tigris and Euphrates river… It became the breadbasket of the Persian empire.
Shapur’s reign was very successful and eventful. First he turned his attentions to the east and carved out a large portion of what would be modern day Afghanistan, India and the Steppe. After his conquests he turned to the west. He first subdied the Armenians by this point probably the most famous satrapy of the Persian empires. Adding the Armenians to his kingdom allowed him to sway the balance of power from the Romans to himself. (remember the Armenians would be important deciders of who won the never ending Roman-Persian wars) With the Armenians subdied he began the reconquest roman cities in asia minor and Syria.
One of the more interesting battles during this time was the 256 siege of Dura-Europos. The Sasanians with a 23,000 man army were unsuccessful in taking the city so they improvised by digging tunnels under the city. The romans began digging their own tunnels to meet the Persian soldiers and fight them underground. In one of these underground battles the Sassanians made a mixture of sulfur and pitch creating a chemical weapon – Sulfur dioxide. 20 skeletons killed by the WMD have been found.
When Valerian became Emperor of Rome he decided Rome had 2 major enemies, The Germanic Barbarians and the Persians. He decided that The Germans being barbarians were simply after loot and could easily be subdued, the Persians however were after conquest and the subjugation of Rome which should be dealt with immediately, having lost Armenia and some cities in Asia minor he decided the defeat of the Persians should be dealt with the utmost importance.
Valerian raised a 70,000 man army which he personally led as commander. Marching through Asia minor, even the barbaric Goths refused to attack due to its sheer size. He first retook Antioch which at this time was a major city, only behind Rome and Alexandria in size.
He continued his march where he met Shapur somewhere between Carrhea and Edessa. The battle raged on between the equal in size armies but the Persian heavy cavalry led to the eventual defeat of the Romans. Valerian retreated to a nearby fort which Shapur pursued him to. Plague struck Valerians army at this time completely draining their morale.
Valerian offered Shapur a large sum of money for him and his men to be released but Shapur rejected and took Emperor Valerian as hostage. This was as much of a political outrage then as it would have been now.
With the army subdued from plague and leaderless, Asia minor was defenseless and open for Persian invasion. Shapur wasn’t here to conquer he wanted loot. Shapur attacked many cities in Asia minor simply to weaken the Romans and to become wealthy. After this he returned to Persia… with Emperor Valerian in chains, where he displayed him..
After this he used Emperor Valerian as a step to mount his horse, Valerian spent the rest of his life as a slave. Even in death Shapur would not let the humiliation end, he had Valerians body stuffed and put on display…
This traumatized and humiliated Rome. It sent shockwaves through the roman empire and added to the disfunction and chaos that is referred to in Roman history as the Crisis of the 3rd century.
Having defeated the Romans Shapur brought back many thousands of Romans to populate his vastly expanding urbanization campaigns started by his father. Including some Roman engineers which he used in infrastructure projects.
This was a time of great centralization and stability for the Iranian people. Still ruling under the old Parthian governmental model Shapur began to reverse some of the governmental changes enacted by the Parthians. He placed many governorships under his sons and direct family. Shapur also reorganized and improved the Sassanid military.
Although Zoroastrianism had been the state religion a new religion had begun during this time. Manichaeism… This was a religion that taught that the final prophet (the others being Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus) had arrived named Mani.
Manichaeism was persecuted and stamped out throughout the Roman empire but was tolerated under the benevolence of Shapur. It would become a major religion of the Persian empire overtaking the old polytheistic religions until Islam came and overtook it in the 7th century AD.
Shapur would be given the title “the Great” for his many accomplishments. He died of an illness in 270. Shapur was the first of the Sassanids to reclaim the title “Shahanshah”
After Shapur’s death The sassanids would go through 7 kings who either had short or uneventful reigns.
Hormizd I, Bahram I, Bahram II, Bahram III, Narseh, Hormizd II, Adur Narseh,
Besides some religious strife between the Zoroastrians and Machacheans it wasn’t until Shapur II that the Sassanids entered another Golden Age.
Shapur II was crowned king while still in his mothers womb by the Persian nobles, who were tired of the constant changing kings. He assumed full control of the empire at age 16.
Shapur II first goal was to subdue the Arabs who had been regularly invading and enslaving Persian citizens on the border cities of the Persian gulf. After subduing them he turned his attention to Transaxonia, The Persian controlled areas of the Russian great steppe. The residents of Transaxonia were a mix of Persian speaking semi-nomadic people. During this time a new nomadic people from the northern steppe had been pushed into Transaxonia. Instead of fighting with them Shapur convinced them to join his ranks and used them to vanquish their arch-nemesis Romans.
Despite a series of omens, Emperor Julian the Apostate marched with an army of 95,000 soldiers. He split the army and sent the smaller force of 30,000 to devastate media, meant to get the Persians attention) He led the remaining army himself towards the capital Ctesephon.
The reasons for Julians invasion aren’t known, it was an audacious plan, with no direct necessity for invasion. Even the Sassanids sent envoys in an attempt to settle the matter peacefully, Julian Rejected. Maybe it Julian longed for revenge or maybe he was looking for combat and glory.
Julian arrived with a large fleet and 60,000 soldiers.
Shapur didn’t take Julians 30,000 man bait and gathered his army to meet him at the capital Ctesphon.
In a bizaar move Julian burned his own fleet to prevent the Persians from taking it, it was on the opposite side of the river so was in no real danger and left him stranded to retreat on foot. Shapur broke the dikes all along Mesopotamia flooding the region and incapacitating Julians army, bringing them to a slow march.
The Sassanids began harassing the retreating Roman soldiers and in a skirmish Julian was wounded and died shortly after. Leading to the 2nd dead roman Emperor by the 2nd Shapur.
These Romans were not the same Romans who had smashed the Parthians into oblivion centuries before, Those were the Romans of Caesar and Sulla. The Romans, The arch enemy of the Persians for 300 years now were Christianized Romans… Instead of the old Roman values of Reason, Duty, Honor and Integrity had given way to Christian Values, of forgiveness meekness and turning the other cheek
In many ways Shapur’s successes mirrored his great grandfathers…
Shapur is also known for his spreading of Zoroastrianism and his hostility towards Christians,
After Constantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome in 313 AD Shapur began getting suspicious of his Christian subjects.
Taking a page strait from Trump The Great’s book he began building a wall and making the Chrisitans Pay for it!...
Just kidding but he did impose double taxes on the Christians in order to pay for his war against the Christian Romans.
Shapur for his many accomplishments adopted the same Moniker as eponymous Great Grandfather Shapur the Great.
Shapur II (the great) Im not sure how historians separate a THE GREAT moniker when two of the kings share the same name was
Following the Sassanian Golden Age was the Sassanian Intermediate period 379-498 AD, where a semi-regular peace with Rome was finally established only short term wars with rome occurred during this period (normally related to Armenia)
During this period the Zoroastrian Priesthood and the Nobility grew corrupt with power. They had the following 6 Shahanshahs killed. Interestingly enough the Persian nobility never attempted to usurp power and become Shahanshas themselves. Probably this was because the majority of them were Parthian and they would have been seen as Usurpers of the Sassinians who had such a strong connection to the Persian Identity. Usurping could have caused chaos and instability which is what led to the destruction of the Parthian Dynasty. The nobles pulled the strings from behind the scenes.
The Kidarites and Xionites, (both nomadic peoples) had been pushed south into the eastern lands of Transaxonia and modern day afghanistan. They conquered the Persians and were then conquered themselves by another Nomadic people the Hepthalite Khanate.
A large portion of the Sassanian Intermediate period, The Persians were dominated by the Hepthalite Khanate. They conquered the eastern portion of Persia and installed their own Sassanian Kings on the Persian throne. They attempted a full blown invasion of the sassanians but were stopped by the Nobles.
The nobles then installed Balash 484-488 on the throne. Who was overthrown and usurped by his relative Kavad I. Kavad managed to do this by offering a large sum of money to the Hepthaites… Kavad originally wanted land redistribution to weaken the nobles and priests. He was unable to do this (he needed their strength) but compromised by taxing them (previously the nobles had ben exempt from this).
with his base of power firmly secured. Kavad after 60 years of peace with the Romans declared war on them. The battles were uneventful but the Romans decided to pay an annual tribute to the sassanids in order for them to keep peace and have the Sassanids protect the Roman lands in the Caucauses from the nomadic steppe tribes.
The province of Caucasian Iberia (roghly modern day Georgia) defected to the Romans which angered Kavad. Both countries began hiring Arab mercenaries to fight each other.
Kavad re-institiued Zoroastrianism as the state religion
Khosrow I 531-579 AD succeeded his father in 531 AD, He initiated a peace treaty with Emperor Justinian of Rome (gaining a large sum of 11,000 pounds of gold) He Maintained this peace treaty until he became dissatisfied with the Roman client state the Ghassanids. (he was also encouraged to go to war with the Romans by Ostrogoth envoys). He was successful, sacked the city of Antioch, bathed in the Mediterranean sea, and had a rigged chariot race where he had the Blue team (Who the Emperor of Rome supported) lose as to rub salt in the wound. In 557another truce was declared with Rome.
Justin II (Justinians successor) broke the peace treaty with the Persians for the same reasons Khosrow broke his. The Persians were successful in this war. They besieged and captured the Byzantine fortress-city of Dara. This led to Justin II having a mental breakdown where he would allegedly have fits of madness where he would behave like a wild animal, was wheeled around on a mobile throne and required organ music to be played day and night. Perfect evil Emperor
Khosrow reinstituted the Zoroastrian faith as the Persian state religion, earning him the title “the immortal soul” and earning their trust.
With the Priesthood and Bureaucracy in his camp and having peaceful borders Khosrow turned his attention to fixing the problem of the inflated power of the nobility. He decreased the small Noble elites power and giving more power to the Decans (minor landed nobility). The Decans ended up becoming the nations tax collectors. The Decans began serving as the Kings Heavy cavalry which previously were only made up of the noble elites.
Khosrow wanted to prevent the Hepthalites from continuining their control over the Persian empire so he allied himself with the GokTurk Khanate (in the greater Steppe Region of modern day sothern Russia) together they defeated and conquered the lands of the Hepthalites.
Adapting the Nomadic steppe tradition of forcing “civilized” societies to pay tribute he turned his attention again to the Romans and began conquering their heavily fortified border. He extracted large bribes of gold and used that money to hire the eastern Roman Mercenaries to join the Sassanian army
Khosrow I was known for his character, virtues and knowledge. Having an exquisite knowledge of Greek philosophy he was even admired by The Romans who were his mortal enemy. Many Greek refugees escaped the tyrannical Roman emperors and settled in Persia, they labeled Khosrow as Plato’s Philosopher King.
He was interest in eastern and western thought and translated many scripts from both areas.
During his ambitious reign, he continued his father's project of making major reforms in the social, military, and economic aspects of the empire, increasing the welfare and the revenues, establishing a professional army, and founding or rebuilding many cities, palaces, and infrastructures. He was interested in literature and philosophy, and under his reign, art and science flourished in Iran. Khosrow was the most distinguished of the Sasanian kings, and his name became, like that of Caesar in the history of Rome, a designation of the Sasanian kings. Due to his accomplishments, he has been hailed as the new Cyrus. This time is considered the height of the 2nd Sassanian Golden Age. Persian culture, religion, education and power reached one of its highest points during this time.
Khosrow also had a profound effect on Islam, which would enter the region roughly 100 years later. His philosophic values, and centralized state would amalgamate with Islamic culture.
Hormizd IV succeeded his father Khosrow in 579. He wasn’t a merciful ruler and is known for executing many of the nobility and priesthood. He had his top general Bahram Chobin defeat the combined Gokturk, Hephthalite army taking a large portion of land in the steppe. Following this Bahram Chobin turned once again to Armenia where he was defeated by the Armenian- Roman forces.
Hormizd not being known for his clemency began slandering the general, who then led a rebellion. Being supported by the angered priests and nobility, Bahram Chobin was successful and placed the son of Hormizd, Khosrow II on the Throne.
Bahram Chobin was the true ruler during this period and so Khosrow II began fearing for his life. He escaped to Roman territory and received the help of the Roman Emperor Maurice who supplied him with an army which he used to overthrow Bahram Chobin. Bahram Chobin fled to the east of the empire where he was killed by the Gokturks.
An eternal peace was signed between the Persians and Romans. The Emperors Maurice and Khosrow considered themselves personal friends… it wouldn’t last however as soon after Maurice was overthrown and killed in a military coup. Khosrow vowed to avenge his friend.
The long Byzantine-Sasanian war of 602-628 would devastate both countries but eventually the Persians would end up on top, conquering much of the Roman Empire including, Egypt, The levant, and much of Anatollia (modern day Turkey) eventually besieging the capital city Constantinople. This would be the greatest extent of the Sassanian Empire.
The emperor of Rome Heracleus formed the bulk of his army and in a desperate attempt to save his empire marched into the heartland of the Persian empire, Messopotamia. There he defeated Persian army after Persian army.
Khosrow II was assassinated by his son Kavad II who then sued for peace with Rome, giving back the large amounts of land conquered by his father. The Sassanian empire then was at its death throws, 14 different Emperors reigned between the years 628-632… the infighting and civil wars caused the empire to be drained.
The Arabs who had recently been unified by a man named Mohammad (claiming to be a descendant from ABrahamm and the prophet of god). Quickly conquered the Sassanian empire. The Shahanshah was deposed but the beurocracy and people left largely intact.
Over the next few centuries The Persians would remain intact culturally while adopting many Islamic Principles and at the same time The Arabs would Assimilate much of Persian culture. In the Islamic world the two main cultural powerhouses would be the Persians and the Arabs. Forever locking the two together.
The small Dabuyid dynasty (a cadet branch of the Sassinids) protected by the mountains and located on the coast of the Caspian sea was all that remained of the Sassinian empire. For all intents and purposes Persia was conquered and the following centuries would change Persia for ever.
The period of Sasanian rule is considered a high point in Iranian history, and in many ways was the peak of ancient Iranian culture. In comparison to the previous 2 empires the Seleucids and Parthians The Sasanians produced a rebirth of Persian culture. Where the former 2 Empires attempted to sycronize themselves with Their Achaemenid forebarers for legitimacy purposes The Sasanians were true Persians.
The Sasanians developed a complex centralized government and bureaucracy possibly even surpassing that of Cyrus’ The Greats. They revitalized Zoroastrianism as a unifying and legitimizing force of their rule; built grand monuments and public works; and patronized cultural and education institutions.
. The empire's cultural influence extended far beyond its territorial borders—including Western Europe, Africa, China and India—and helped shape European and Asian medieval art. Persian culture became the basis for much of Islamic culture, influencing art, architecture, music, literature, and philosophy throughout the Muslim world.
The Sasanians don’t get much credit in the west; Truth be told I didn’t know a thing about them and I love history but they were a true Empire rivaling even the Roman and Chinese empires.
What happened next can arguably be said was the most important historical event in recorded history…
The Futuh or Liberation as it translates into English
The Arab-islamic conquest of Europe and the Persian world Under Mohammad The Prophet of God.