The Parthian Empire

The Roman Empire > Ancient Civilizations > Parthian Empire


Internal troubles of the Parthian Kingdom

Short reigns of Phraataces, Orodes II., and Vonones I. Accession of Artabanus III. His relations with Germanicus and Tiberius. His War with Pharasmanes of Iberia. His First Expulsion from his Kingdom, and return to it. His peace with Rome. Internal troubles of the Parthian Kingdom. Second Expulsion and return of Artabanus. His Death.

The accession of Phraataces made no difference in the attitude of Parthia towards Armenia. The young prince was as anxious as his father had been to maintain the Parthian claims to that country, and at first perhaps as inclined to believe that Augustus would not dispute them. Immediately upon his accession he sent ambassadors to Rome announcing the fact, apologizing for the circumstances under which it had taken place, and proposing a renewal of the peace which had subsisted between Augustus and his father. Apparently, he said nothing about Armenia, but preferred a demand for the surrender of his four brothers, whom no doubt he designed to destroy. The answer of Augustus was severe in the extreme. Addressing Phraataces by his bare name, without adding the title of king, he required him to lay aside the royal appellation, which he had arrogantly and without any warrant assumed, and at the same time to withdraw his forces from Armenia. On the surrender of the Parthian princes he kept silence, ignoring a demand which he had no intention of according. It was clearly his design to set up one of the elder brothers as a rival claimant to Phraataces, or at any rate to alarm him with the notion that, unless he made concessions, this policy would be adopted. But Phraataces was not to be frightened by a mere message. He responded to Augustus after his own fashion, dispatching to him a letter wherein he took to himself the favorite Parthian title of "king of kings," and addressed the Roman Emperor simply as "Caesar." The attitude of defiance would no doubt have been maintained, had Augustus confined himself to menaces; when, however, it appeared that active measures would be taken, when Augustus, in B.C. 1, sent his grandson, Caius, to the East with orders to re-establish the Roman influence in Armenia even at the cost of a Parthian war, and that prince showed himself in Syria with all the magnificent surroundings of the Imperial dignity, the Parthian monarch became alarmed. He had an interview with Caius in the spring of A.D. 1, upon an island in the Euphrates; where the terms of an arrangement between the two Empires were discussed and settled. The armies of the two chiefs were drawn up on the opposite banks of the river, facing one another; and the chiefs themselves, accompanied by an equal number of attendants, proceeded to deliberate in the sight of both hosts. Satisfactory pledges having been given by the Parthian monarch, the prince and king in turn entertained each other on the borders of their respective dominions; and Caius returned into Syria, having obtained an engagement from the Parthians to abstain from any further interference with Armenian affairs. The engagement appears to have been honorably kept; for when, shortly afterward, fresh complications occurred, and Caius in endeavoring to settle them received his death-wound before the walls of an Armenian tower, we do not hear of Parthia as in any way involved in the unfortunate occurrence. The Romans and their partisans in the country were left to settle the Armenian succession as they pleased; and Parthia kept herself wholly aloof from the matters transacted upon her borders.

One cause—perhaps the main cause of this abstinence, and of the engagement to abstain entered into by Phraataces, was doubtless the unsettled state of things in Parthia itself. The circumstances under which that prince had made himself king, though not unparalleled in the Parthian annals, were such as naturally tended towards civil strife, and as were apt to produce in Parthia internal difficulties, if not disorders or commotions. Phraataces soon found that he would have a hard task to establish his rule. The nobles objected to him, not only for the murder of his father, but his descent from an Italian concubine, and the incestuous commerce which he was supposed to maintain with her. They had perhaps grounds for this last charge. At any rate Phraataces provoked suspicion by the singular favors and honors which he granted to a woman whose origin was mean and extraction foreign. Not content with private marks of esteem and love, he departed from the practice of all former Parthian sovereigns in placing her effigy upon his coins; and he accompanied this act with fulsome and absurd titles. Musa was styled, not merely "Queen," but "Heavenly Goddess," as if the realities of slave origin and concubinage could be covered by the fiction of an apotheosis. It is not surprising that the proud Parthian nobles were offended by these proceedings, and determined to rid themselves of a monarch whom they at once hated and despised. Within a few years of his obtaining the throne an insurrection broke out against his authority; and after a brief struggle he was deprived of his crown and put to death. The nobles then elected an Arsacid, named Orodes, whose residence at the time and relationship to the former monarchs are uncertain. It seems probable that, like most princes of the blood royal, he had taken refuge in a foreign country from the suspicions and dangers that beset all possible pretenders to the royal dignity in Parthia, and was living in retirement, unexpectant of any such offer, when a deputation of Parthian nobles arrived and brought him the intelligence of his election. It might have been expected that, obtaining the crown under these circumstances, he would have ruled well; but, according to Josephus (who is here, unfortunately, our sole authority), he very soon displayed so much violence and cruelty of disposition that his rule was felt to be intolerable; and the Parthians, again breaking into insurrection, rid themselves of him, killing him either at a banquet or on a hunting excursion. This done, they sent to Rome, and requested Augustus to allow Vonones, the eldest son of Phraates IV., to return to Parthia in order that he might receive his father's kingdom. The Emperor complied readily enough, since he regarded his own dignity as advanced by the transaction; and the Parthians at first welcomed the object of their choice with rejoicings. But after a little time their sentiments altered. The young prince, bred up in Rome, and accustomed to the refinements of Western civilization, neglected the occupations which seemed to his subjects alone worthy of a monarch's regard, absented himself from the hunting-field, took small pleasure in riding, when he passed through the streets indulged in the foreign luxury of a litter, shrank with disgust from the rude and coarse feastings which formed a portion of the national manners. He had, moreover, brought with him from the place of his exile a number of Greek companions, whom the Parthians despised and ridiculed; and the favors bestowed on these foreign interlopers were seen with jealousy and rage. It was in vain that he endeavored to conciliate his offended subjects by the openness of his manners and the facility with which he allowed access to his person. In their prejudiced eyes virtues and graces unknown to the nation hitherto were not merits but defects, and rather increased, than diminished their aversion. Having conceived a dislike for the monarch personally, they began to look back with dissatisfaction on their own act in sending for him. "Parthia," they said, "had indeed degenerated from her former self to have requested a king to be sent her who belonged to another world and had had a hostile civilization ingrained into him." All the glory gained by destroying Crassus and repulsing Antony was utterly lost and gone, if the country was to be ruled by Caesar's bond-slave, and the throne of the Arsacidse to be treated like a Roman province. It would have been bad enough to have had a prince imposed on them by the will of a superior, if they had been conquered; it was worse, in all respects worse, to suffer such an insult, when they had not even had war made on them. Under the influence of such feelings as these, the Parthians, after tolerating Vonones for a few years, rose against him (ab. A.D. 16), and summoned Artabanus, an Arsacid who had grown to manhood among the Dahee of the Caspian region, but was at this time king of Media Atropatene, to rule over them.

It was seldom that a crown was declined in the ancient world; and Artabanus, on receiving the overture, at once expressed his willingness to accept the proffered dignity. He invaded Parthia at the head of an army consisting of his own subjects, and engaged Vonones, to whom in his difficulties the bulk of the Parthian people had rallied. The engagement resulted in the defeat of the Median monarch, who returned to his own country, and, having collected a larger army, made a second invasion. This time he was successful. Vonones fled on horseback to Seleucia with a small body of followers; while his defeated army, following in his track, was pressed upon by the victorious Mede, and suffered great losses. Artabanus, having entered Ctesiphon in triumph, was immediately proclaimed king. Vonones, escaping from Seleucia, took refuge among the Armenians; and, as it happened that just at this time the Armenian throne was vacant, not only was an asylum granted him, but he was made king of the country. It was impossible that Artabanus should tamely submit to an arrangement which would have placed his deadly enemy in a position to cause him constant annoyance. He, therefore, at once remonstrated, both in Armenia and at Rome. As Rome now claimed the investiture of the Armenian monarchs, he sent an embassy to Tiberius, and threatened war if Vonones were acknowledged; while at the same time he applied to Armenia and required the surrender of the refugee. An important section of the Armenian nation was inclined to grant his demand; Tiberius, who would willingly have supported Vonones, drew back before the Parthian threats; Vonones found himself in imminent danger, and, under the circumstances, determined on quitting Armenia and betaking himself to the protection of the Roman governor of Syria. This was Creticus Silanus, who received him gladly, gave him a guard, and allowed him the state and title of king. Meanwhile Artabanus laid claim to Armenia, and suggested as a candidate for the throne one of his own sons, Orodes.

Under these circumstances, the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, who had recently succeeded Augustus, resolved to despatch to the East a personage of importance, who should command the respect and attention of the Oriental powers by his dignity, and impose upon them by the pomp and splendor with which he was surrounded. He selected for this office Germanicus, his nephew, the eldest son of his deceased brother, Drusus, a prince of much promise, amiable in his disposition, courteous and affable in his manners, a good soldier, and a man generally popular. The more to strike the minds of the Orientals, he gave Germanicus no usual title or province, but invested him with an extraordinary command over all the Roman dominions to the east of the Hellespont, thus rendering him a sort of monarch of Roman Asia. Full powers were granted him for making peace or war, for levying troops, annexing provinces, appointing subject kings, and performing other sovereign acts, without referring back to Rome for instructions. A train of unusual magnificence accompanied him to his charge, calculated to impress the Orientals with the conviction that this was no common negotiator. Germanicus arrived in Asia early in A.D. 18, and applied himself at once to his task. Entering Armenia at the head of his troops, he proceeded to the capital, Artaxata, and, having ascertained the wishes of the Armenians themselves, determined on his course of conduct. To have insisted on the restoration of Vonones would have been grievously to offend the Armenians who had expelled him, and at the same time to provoke the Parthians, who could not have tolerated a pretender in a position of power upon their borders; to have allowed the pretensions of the Parthian monarch, and accepted the candidature of his son, Orodes, would have lowered Rome in the opinion of all the surrounding nations, and been equivalent to an abdication of all influence in the affairs of Western Asia. Germanicus avoided either extreme, and found happily a middle course. It happened that there was a foreign prince settled in Armenia, who having grown up there had assimilated himself in all respects to the Armenian ideas and habits, and had thereby won golden opinions from both the nobles and the people. This was Zeno, the son of Polemo, once king of the curtailed Pontus, and afterwards of the Lesser Armenia, an outlying Roman dependency. The Armenians themselves suggested that Zeno should be their monarch; and Germanicus saw a way out of his difficulties in the suggestion. At the seat of government, Artaxata, in the presence of a vast multitude of the people, with the consent and approval of the principal nobles, he placed with his own hand the diadem on the brow of the favored prince, and saluted him as king under the new name of "Artaxias." He then returned into Syria, where he was shortly afterwards visited by ambassadors from the Parthian monarch. Artabanus reminded him of the peace concluded between Rome and Parthia in the reign of Augustus, and assumed that the circumstances of his own appointment to the throne had in no way interfered with it. He would be glad, he said, to renew with Germanicus the interchange of friendly assurances which had passed between his predecessor, Phraataces, and Caius; and to accommodate the Roman general, he would willingly come to meet him as far as the Euphrates; meanwhile, until the meeting could take place, he must request that Vonones should be removed to a greater distance from the Parthian frontier, and that he should not be allowed to continue the correspondence in which he was engaged with many of the Parthian nobles for the purpose of raising fresh troubles. Germanicus replied politely, but indefinitely, to the proposal of an interview, which he may have thought unnecessary, and open to misconstruction. To the request for the removal of Vonones he consented. Vonones was transferred from Syria to the neighboring province of Cilicia; and the city of Pompeiopolis, built by the great Pompey on the site of the ancient Soli, was assigned to him as his residence. With this arrangement the Parthian monarch appears to have been contented. Vonones on the other hand was so dissatisfied with the change that in the course of the next year (A.D. 19) he endeavored to make his escape; his flight was, however, discovered, and, pursuit being made, he was overtaken and slain on the banks of the Pyramus. Thus perished ingloriously one of the least blamable and most unfortunate of the Parthian princes.

After the death of Germanicus, in A.D. 19, the details of the Parthian history are for some years unknown to us. It appears that during this interval Artabanus [PLATE II. Fig. 5.] was engaged in wars with several of the nations upon his borders, and met with so much success that he came after a while to desire, rather than fear, a rupture with Rome. He knew that Tiberius was now an old man, and that he was disinclined to engage in distant wars; he was aware that Germanicus was dead; and he was probably not much afraid of L. Vitellius, the governor of Syria, who had been recently deputed by Tiberius to administer that province. Accordingly in A.D. 34, the Armenian throne being once more vacant by the death of Artaxias (Zeno), he suddenly seized the country, and appointed his eldest son, whom Dio and Tacitus call simply Arsaces, to be king. At the same time he sent ambassadors to require the restoration of the treasure which Vonones had carried off from Parthia and had left behind him in Syria or Cilicia. To this plain and definite demand were added certain vague threats, or boasts, to the effect that he was the rightful master of all the territory that had belonged of old to Macedonia or Persia, and that it was his intention to resume possession of the provinces, whereto, as the representative of Cyrus and Alexander, he was entitled. He is said to have even commenced operations against Cappadocia, which was an actual portion of the Roman Empire, when he found that Tiberius, so far from resenting the seizure of Armenia, had sent instructions to Vitellius, that he was to cultivate peaceful relations with Parthia. Apparently he thought that a good opportunity had arisen for picking a quarrel with his Western neighbor, and was determined to take advantage of it. The aged despot, hidden in his retreat of Capreae, seemed to him a pure object of contempt; and he entertained the confident hope of defeating his armies and annexing portions of his territory.

Plate 2.

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 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. 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. 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.

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. 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."

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 despatched 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 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. 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 travellers. 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.














ancient civilizations