Friday, 29 November, 2019


The division of the Achaemenian and short-lived Alexandrian Empire weakened the defensive position of central Iran. The successors of Alexander could not hold on more than a few decades. A northern Iranian tribe from Transoxiana, the region of today’s Turkmenistan, the Parthians, invaded and under the family of Arsaces steadily imposed its rule. By 220 B.C. they controlled all of central Iran and Mesopotamia, separating the Greek Empire in Bactria and India from the Seleucid Empires in Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt. The Parthian kings, legitimizing themselves as heirs of Alexander, called themselves on their coins “Philhellene”, lovers of Greek culture.

The trade routes for Chinese silk and other Far Eastern merchandise went through Parthian Iran. Slowly and one by one the Mediterranean supremacy of Rome replaced Greek governments in Asia Minor. The confrontation between Rome and Parthian intensified to control the trade routes between Syria and the Persian Gulf or through the Black Sea and Armenia to the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea and Transoxiana. The Roman advance to the East was stopped at Carrhae, where the Roman legions under Crassus were annihilated by the Parthian horsemen. Crassus, one member of the Triumvirate, was killed. Rome, plunged into civil war between Caesar and Pompeii, could do nothing to recuperate the loss. The border stabilized finally at a line extending from the Eastern Black Sea, through present day Armenia and the upper Euphrates along the western fringe of the great Arabian desert. For short periods, small independent kingdoms nourished in the buffer zones - such as Palmyra. Occasional raids of Roman legions reached the area of Baghdad. Parthian counter-attacks reached the Mediterranean and sacked Antioch, but neither side was capable of holding on for long to conquered territory. The Parthians remained in control of the overland route to China and Chinese silks reached Rome and Roman wares reached China through Parthian and later Sassanian.


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