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Mithridates I of Parthia (171-132 BC)

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Mithridates I – the king of Parthia, ruled around 171 – 138/137 B.C. (according to one source) or 165-132 (according to another). From the Arshakid dynasty, the youngest son of Priapat, brother of Fraat I. Mithridates went down in history as one of the great kings in the history of Parthia and the whole East.

Early History and Rule

If you follow the traditional dating, Mithridates ascended to the throne about 171 B.C. His elder brother Fraath I appointed him as his successor, although he had several own sons of his own. His coming to power coincided in time with the weakening of the two hostile Parthian states – the Seleucid state and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Parthians in the reign of Mithradates I went on the offensive against their neighbors. Initially, he invaded Aspion and Tapiria, separating them from Bactria, which was weakened by a prolonged internecine war. After nearly 600 years of these events, the historian Orosius asserts that the Parthian army under Mithridates I invaded even India, subduing the tribes there between the rivers Gidaspom and Indus. However, for such gains there is still not enough reliable evidence.

Invasion of Persia and Media

Taking advantage of the fact that a number of territories fell from the Seleucid kingdom, Mithridates I moved his troops to the west. The swift departure of the Seleucid king of Antiochus IV Epiphanes from Palestine, where the Maccabean uprising was spreading at the time, deep into the eastern part of his empire, most likely indicates the Parthians advance. True, the issue with the Maccabees was not settled – it is quite an ordinary situation for this region – but in the eyes of the Seleucid ruler, such an event as the invasion of Mithridates into the eastern lands looked much more important at that time. In 165 B.C. Antiochus crossed the Euphrates and moved to Armenia, where he captured King Artashes I and forced him to recognize his supreme authority. Obviously, Antioch returned to the main road from there through the Iranian plateau passing through Ecbatana, and attacked Persepolis, from where he was driven by some angry people. In the end, Antiochus was defeated and forced to retreat, where he died on the way back.

The invasion of Mithridates into Elimida probably alarmed the satrap of Media of Timarch, for it was obvious that he should become the next victim of the Parthian expansion. Timarch ruled the Midian already in 161 B.C. and it is known that the invasion of Mithridates into Media coincided with the murder of Eucralidus from Bactria by his own son, which occurred about 155 B.C. Consequently, for some time between 161 and 155 years B.C. Mithridates with varying success led a long war with the Media. Finally, having won, he appointed a man named Vagasis to rule in the new territory.

Attack on Babylonia

The conquest of Media opened for the Parthian expansion the gate to the fertile Mesopotamia. The sign with the cuneiform text preserved in a damaged form gives a message to the events about the progress of Mithridates. When the news of his approach reached the Seleucid ruler Demetrius of Nicater, then in Babylonia he quickly assembled the militia, taking all the men in the army, indiscriminately, and went to meet the enemy. Apparently, the Parthian king managed to outwit him and continued his offensive. Meanwhile, Demetrius gave the order to collect additional troops, and one of his generals joined reinforcements in Mesopotamia, coming, probably, from Syria. Mithridates turned south towards Seleucia, and smashed them.

In Seleucia, the Parthian monarch received a delegation that came up with a proposal for friendship from some city in the country of Assyria, where they were probably already well aware of the demolition of the commander Demetrius. Mithridates entered the royal city of Seleucia in late June or early July; he was proclaimed king on July 8, 141 B.C. (or somewhat earlier than this date). Until October 14 of the same year, the supreme authority of Mithradates was recognized further in the south in Uruk.

Somewhere between October and December 141 B.C. Mithridates was forced to move to Hyrcania. The reason for his departure from Mesopotamia at this critical moment in his campaign was probably the raid of the Saks, who shortly before 165 B.C. were expelled from their homeland in Turkestan by the Yuezhs and by that time were close enough to the eastern limits of Parthia. The troops in Mesopotamia were handed over to the Parthian commander, and Mithridates never again returned to this region, as the remaining time of his reign was occupied in campaigns in East and Central Parthia. His departure from Mesopotamia to Hyrcania allowed the Elamites to raid Apamea on the Silhu River.

The defeat of Demetrius and his captivity

Even before Mithridates left, Demetrius resumed his struggle. Undoubtedly, the latter’s actions were justified by calls for help from newly conquered peoples, especially the Greeks. As Demetri moved forward, a large number of people flocked to his banner; we hear about contingents from Bactria, Elimaida and Persis. Demetrius won several victories. But in the end, whether by cunning or force, he was captured by the Parthians and edification for those cities that supported him was conducted along their streets. Then Demetrius was sent to Hyrcania to Mithridates. There he was treated according to his high rank, and he married the daughter of Mithridates, Rodogun.


After his enemy was safely disarmed, Mithridates decided to punish those who helped the Seleucid ruler. The attack was due not only to this but the wealth of their churches could replenish the war-drained treasury. Since soon after the death of Mithridates the Parthians settled in Susa, it is likely that the great king himself included this territory in the empire. Mithridates died in peace and tranquility in 138/137 B.C. the first date of Parthian history, accurately recorded in numismatic and cuneiform evidence.

Before the death of Mithridates, the empire included Parthia, Hyrcania, Media, Babylonia, Assyria, Elimaida, Pereid and areas of Tapuria and Traxiana proper. The Chinese chronicles mention the Arshakid state “with several hundred cities”. The victories of Mithradates gave full control over the Great Silk Road, which ensured the further development of Parthia. The expansion of the Parthians deprived Bactria of ties with the Hellenistic world, which led to the decline of Hellenism in the East, but at the same time, Parthia itself adopted a number of elements of Hellenistic culture. The language of the official correspondence of the Parthian administration is Pahlavi, that is, the Persian script, using Aramaic letters. Mithridates was the first of the Parthian kings, whose name glorified the god Mithra; and the cult of this god, until then universally ignored at the official level, was to receive formal approval.


Dibojuz NK Political History of Parthia

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