Les Parthes sont l'un des grands peuples qui marquèrent l'antiquité. A la différence des scythes qui partagaient la même origine nord-Iranienne, ces nomades venus d'au-delà du "lac maeotis" (anciennement la mer Caspienne). Leur lente migration, dont le départ est inconnu, s'acheva vers 350 av.jc. entre la mer d'Aral et la caspienne, sur des terres irriguées aux portes de la steppe. Maintenus à distance par les Scythes Royaux à l'est et les sarmates à l'ouest, ils trouvèrent plus de champ lorsque ces derniers furent attirés vers l'ouest et que les premiers lorgnèrent sur l'Inde puissante des Maurya. Les Parthes nous ont laissé une image contrastée. Brillants, voire invincibles cavaliers, redoutables combattants ayant faits de l'archerie à cheval un art de vivre, impressionnants avec leurs cataphractes carapaçonnés, grands inspirateurs de la chevalerie moyen-âgeuse, ils furent les prolongateurs de l'empire perse et cédèrent la place aux Sassanides.
Les Parthes se confondent avec la dynstie des Arsacides. Descendants directs d'Iraniens, ils se voyaient les continuateurs logiques de la Perse, mais par ailleurs, entrant directement en conccurence avec les séleucides, ils se voyèrent à la fois comme leurs conquérants légitimes et comme des continuateurs de leurs culture. Le Phillhéllénisme Parthe ne trouve d'écho qu'au Pont, en Bactriane, et même dans le lointain royaume Indo-Scythe...
MILITARY ORGANIZATION : The Parthian Empire had consisted of a loose federation of vassal kingdoms under the suzerainty of the Arsacid monarchs. In contrast, Ardashir I established a relatively strong central government by which to rule his dominions. The empire was divided into cantons, the dimensions of which were based on military considerations. These cantons were designed to resist the influence of hereditary interests and feudal rivalries. Local governors who descended from the ruling family bore the title of shāh. In an attempt to protect royal authority from regional challenges, the personal domains of the Sassanids and branch families were scattered across the empire. While the old feudal princes (vāspuhragan) remained, they were required to render military service with their local troops (for the most part peasant levies). The lesser nobility was cultivated as a source of military strength, forming the elite cavalry of the army, and the royal household found a useful (and presumably reliable) military force through the hiring of mercenaries.
This was 2310 years ago...
(wikipedia) : The Parthian Empire (247 BC - 224 AD), was a major Iranian political and cultural power in the Ancient Near East, and a counterweight and eastern boundary to the Roman Empire of the Mediterranean Basin.
The ruling dynasty came from Parthia ("roughly western Khurasan" in Iran's north-east) and was established and named after Arsaces, therefore the nation is also called Arsacid Empire.
The Arsacids were contemporaries of the Seleucid Empire, and conquered much of its territories; unlike the successors of Alexander the Great, they were an indigenous Iranian dynasty - although Seleucus I had married an Iranian princess. Adopting Greek culture, they proclaimed themselves philhellenes "friend of Greeks." The Arsacids' Hellenism was subsequently portrayed by the Sassanians as a betrayal of Iranian values, and used as a justification to overthrow them. This portrayal as morally and culturally corrupt was followed by academia for decades, but there is today significant evidence that the Arsacids not only saw themselves as legitimate heirs of the "(divinely bestowed) Iranian glory", but were committed to the idea of an Iranian nation.
At the height of its power, the empire ruled most of Greater Iran, Mesopotamia, and Armenia. But unlike most other Iranian monarchies, the Arsacids followed a vassalary system, which they adopted from the Seleucids. The Arsacid Empire was thus not a single coherent state, but instead made up of numerous tributary (but otherwise independent) kingdoms.
The Arsacids were in an almost perpetual state of war, either to capture and hold territory from the Seleucids, or to prevent vassal states from breaking away, or defending themselves against the Roman Empire in the west and nomadic tribes in the east. Economically and militarily severely weakened by the incessant warring, the infighting of its nobility, the Parthian Arsacids were finally vanquished by the Persian Sassanids, formerly a minor vassal from southwestern Iran, around AD 220. In Armenia, a branch of the Arsacid dynasty continued to rule their kingdom until the 5th century.
Early period :
Around 250 BC, Arsaces I became the leader of the Parni, a north-eastern Iranian tribe. Under his command, the Parni established themselves in Astabene, the administrative capital of which was Kabuchan. In ca. 247 BC, Arsaces was crowned king in "Asaak" (precise location unknown, probably near Kuchan), an event that in Arsacid chronology was understood to mark the beginning of the Arsacid epoch.
Meanwhile, Andragoras, the Seleucid governor of Parthia, proclaimed independence and established his own kingdom. Around 238 BC, Arsaces and the Parni battled Andragoras, during the course of which Andragoras was killed, and Arsaces captured Andragoras' kingdom.
From the base in Parthia (and from then identified as Parthian), Arsaces then ventured westwards and seized Hyrcania. Around 230 BC, the Seleucids mounted a counter-campaign to recapture Parthia, but failed. In 209 BC, by which time Arsaces I had died and control had passed to Arsaces II, the Seleucids under Antiochus III attempted to recapture Parthia again. Antiochus occupied Parthia's capital at Hecatompylus, then pushed into Hyrcania before Arsaces II recognized Seleucid authority.
Soon afterwards Antiochus was defeated by the Romans, which severely weakened the Seleucids and allowed Parthia to maintain its freedom from the Seleucids. Arsaces II died in 191 BC and was succeeded by Phriapatius.
In 171 BC, Phraates I subdued the Mardi tribe, but was killed in battle against nomads. His brother Mithridates I survived the battle and ascended the throne, and ushered in the period in which the Arsacids became a major power.
Rise to major power
Profiting from the continuing erosion of the Seleucid Empire, Mithridates captured Artacona in 167 BC, which disrupted the trade routes to India and effectively split the Hellenistic world into two parts. The Seleucid monarchs resisted Arsacid expansion as best as they could; Antiochus IV Epiphanes spent his last years campaigning against the newly emerging Iranian states. After initial successes in Armenia, his sudden death in 164 BC allowed the Arsacids to take advantage of the ensuing dynastic squabbles to make even greater gains.
In the second half of 148 BC, Mithridates I conquered Media. About 141 BC, Arsacid troops overwhelmed Mesopotamia and seized the Seleucid capital of Seleucia. Mithridates I had himself crowned king of Seleucia.
Shortly thereafter, around 140 BC, the Empire suffered the first of the eastern incursions by nomads, perhaps Sakas. Mithridates took command himself, even though the Seleucids were preparing to attempt to retake Seleucia. Mithridates repulsed the invasion in the northeast, and then returned to Mesopotamia, where Demetrius II Nicator, who had made some initial gains, was taken prisoner (Demetrius II would be held hostage for 10 years). Around 139/138 BC, shortly before his death, Mithridates also conquered Elymais.
In 130 BC, Antiochus VII Sidetes succeeded in making substantial gains in Babylonia and Media, but the inhabitants of the Seleucid garrison towns revolted and allied themselves with the Arsacids. In the battle that followed in 129 BC against Mithridates I's son and successor Phraates II, the Seleucids suffered a crushing defeat and Antiochus VII was killed. From then on, the Seleucids ceased to be a serious rival to the Arsacids.
By then, the nomads on the eastern frontier had become a serious problem, and in battles with which Phraates II and Artabanus I were successively killed (in 127 BC and in 124 BC respectively). Simultaneously, a new kingdom was formed in Characene, and its king Hyspaosines, succeeded in conquering parts of Mesopotamia, reaching Babylon.
Artabanus I was succeeded by Mithridates II in 124/123 BC. In quick succession, Mithridates II defeated Hyspaosines in ca. 122 BC, subjugated the northern Mesopotamian kingdoms of Adiabene, Gordyene, and Osrhoene as vassal states, and conquered Dura-Europos in 113 BC. In ca. 97 BC, Mithridates II conquered Artavasdes of Armenia, and put Artavasdes' son (or nephew) Tigranes II on the throne in exchange for "70 valleys" (Strabo 11.14.15). The two countries would be in constant contact with each other from then on.Around 115 BC, Mithridates II was visited by an embassy from the Chinese emperor Wu-ti, and the two agreed to open a trade route, today known as the Silk Road. Around 109 BC, Mithridates II assumed the title "King of Kings" (basileus tōn basiléōn), a title that his successors would also bear.
From ca. 105 BC until his death in ca. 88 BC, Mithridates II rule began to be weakened by a handful of Parthian noble families whose power and influence was such that they frequently opposed the monarch, and would eventually contribute to the downfall of the dynasty. A series of monarchs followed Mithridates II – Gotarzes, Orodes I, Sinatruces, Phraates III – but about whom little but their names is known. The disorder created by the Parthian nobility gave the Armenians the opportunity to reconquer the "seventy valleys" that they had previously ceded to Mithridates II. Phraates III was murdered by his sons Mithridates (III) and Orodes (II), who then began to fight with each other for control.
Conflict with Rome :
Parthian-era bronze statue believed to represent General Surena. This statue is on display in the National Museum of Iran.
In early 53 BC, Marcus Licinius Crassus, a member of the First Triumvirate, sought to invade Mesopotamia. He and his army walked into a trap set for them by the Parthian commander Surena, and in the resultant Battle of Carrhae roughly one half of the Roman army of about 40,000 men – including Crassus and his son – were killed. Of the remaining 20,000 men, 10,000 were made captive and only 10,000 were able to escape. The Arsacids did not capitalize on their victory, and Surena was himself executed by Orodes II.
In late 41 BC or early 40 BC, the Arsacid army under the command of Pacorus (son of Orodes II) and Quintus Labienus (who had defected to the Arsacids following the defeat of the Republicans in the Roman civil war) attacked the Romans. The expeditions were initially successful; Pacorus took Syria and Judea, while Labienus occupied large parts of Asia Minor. In 39 BC, the Romans counter-attacked, defeating both Labienus and Pacorus and killing both.
Following Pacorus' death, Orodes appointed his eldest son Phraates IV as his successor. Phraates IV promptly murdered his father, and then his other brothers and even his own son. He also began a campaign against the nobility, many of whom left the country. Marc Antony took the opportunity to attack with 100,000 troops in 36 BC. The Roman rear-guard (including provisions and siege engines) was destroyed by an Arsacid attack from the rear, but Anthony continued briefly, briefly laid siege to Phraata/Phraaspa (location unknown) but had to retreat when supplies began to run low. Plutarch (Antonius 50) states 24,000 men were lost in the expedition.
The Parthian Empire and its vassals and neighbors, circa 1 AD.
In 32 BC/31 BC, civil war broke out when a certain Tiridates rebelled against Phraates IV, probably with the support of the nobility that Phraates had previously persecuted. The revolt was initially successful, but failed by 25 BC. The Romans capitalized on the civil war and in 20 BC marched on Armenia. They also renewed their demands for the standards of the legions that had been seized in battle. Phraates complied, and although the return of standards was seen as a great victory in Rome, there was no battle fought; the Romans recognized the Euphrates as a frontier, and the Arsacids accepted Roman suzerainty over Armenia.
Augustus also sent Phraates IV an Italian slave-girl named Musa, who became the Arsacid's favorite wife and bore him a son. Hoping to avoid any complications over the line of succession, Phraates sent his first four sons to Rome where they would be protected. But Musa had Phraates poisoned and put her son Phraataces on the throne.
From about AD 220 onwards, a minor Parthian vassal in Persia named Ardashir began to subjugate territories around his city fief, reaching as far east as Kerman, on the margin of the great salt deserts. Artabanus IV proceeded to take counter action in 224, meeting Ardashir in battle at Golpayegan on 28 April 224. Artabanus IV was killed, and the Arsacid Parthian Empire came to an end. The victor crowned himself 'King of Kings of Iran' in 226. Thus the Sassanid Empire was established.
Nizam Gund : These average spearmen were peasants recruits for war in emeregency. They received a medium-sized, second hand spear, a crude wicker shield, almost no training, and litteraly thrown to the battle. They were given the same tasks the saparaba has, beeing a protection for archers behind. But the small size of their shield, lack of protection and poor motivation made them quite useless in many actions.
SPARABARA : Derived from the Persian "spara bearer", these troops formed the backbone of the field armies in the vicinity of the persian empire, and then in the newly conquered Parthian lands. They were recruited among the labor class, but well-trained and well-equipped. So they were no more average levies but skilled spearmen, and very disciplined infantrymen. Their task was to protect archers the behind. As the Parthians relied first on the strenght of their cavalry, sparabara were recruited for classic battles against an infantry army when strategy required it. Although early Parthian armies were almost exclusively made of cavalry, later armies began to look like Bosporan-Scythian armies, with 50% infantry and 50% cavalry. Infantry was used as a buffer, and cavalry, the mobile part, won the day with quick manoeuvers. Although of poor quality, parthian troops made of local, ancient-persian recruits were used to fix the Seleucid phalanxes and auxiliaries while the cavalry punched out the seleucid cavalry, and then surrround and crushed from behind the foot infantry. A sparabara can rely on his long spear, and an akinaked dagger for close-combat. Their protection was assured by a very large wicker shield, making a protective wall against enemy archers. Their body protection was assured by a quilted armor for those who could afford it, and their "tissue helmet" made of a thick multi-layered linen soft cap well described by Herodotus.
SHUBAN i-FRADAKSHANA : Persian slingers were first line levies, mostly shepherds recruited fro a campaign. They were almost unarmed, relying only on a short dagger, but their skilled with a sling was just frightening. Their destructive power was amost superior to those of archers, although their range was lower. So they were placed at the forefront.
GUND i PATLA : These light infantrymen were numerous auxiliaries in the persian style, foot javelineers. They could have light axes (like the sagaris) and akinakes for close fight.
TAKABARAN : These "hillmen", axe armed infantrymen, formed active part of any light infantry; They were skilled but poorely equipped, designed to launch direct attacks against the enemy line, their axe beeing designed to break shields and pierce armors. This Persian military custom was still current in the parthian foot armies, which seen themselves as the followers of a great military tradition.
THANVAR PALHAVANIG : Foot archers formed the bulk of the infantry. They were skilled and could have been dismounted horse-archer, but most of them were recruited amongs local foot archers. Highly distinguisgable with their soft cap, tunic, composite bow and sword of akinaked dagger, they were protected by the sparabaran, provoking a rain of arrow during the first part of the battle, to soften enemy troops. When this part was over, they formed valuable complement infantrymen.
THANVAR PAYADHAG : Persian foot archers : Complement to the dismounted parthian archers, these auxiliaries are an ancient and current unit in all median and persian armies. They were skilled, well equipped, having a composite bow, large complement of arrows, and close weapons, accostumed to fire from behind the protective wicker wall of the Sparabara.
KAMANDARAN ZHAYADAN : These elite foot archers were the most current foot elites among the parthian empire. Perfect followers of the "ten thousand", they were also professional, well-trained soldiers, equipped with a composite bow, a shield, a spear, and a sword. They were also protected with a nearly impenetrable scale armor, helmet and facial mask or chainmail. They can perform versatile tasks and be left without protection from other troops. These "parthian immortals", were not a kind of dismounted foot elite but a rue, regular infantry unit of the late Parthian Empire, required in many cities assaults and land battles.
ASABARA i MADAEN : This light cavalry was recruited among the Medes, a great people that was soon subjugated by the persians, keeping some characteristical traits that survived until now. These fast cavalrymen were better fro short range harassing, and were successful against enemy light cavalry but less against horse-archers. With a light axe and akinakes, they were also capable of closefight.
SHIVATIR i PALHAVANIG : Parthian horse-archers formed, by far, the bigger part of its armies. The true force of the Parthians were their tribal horsemen. They were sjilled as hell, performing actions that were considered as impossible to other cavalrymen, as such nomadic peoples mastering, because it was a matter of living as well. Perthian horse-archers were inredibly fast and their small horses, exceptionally robust and endurant. There was also a special link between heavy horseman and his mount so that they can communicate sensitively to the point that quick changes of diection were easy, complex manoeuvers were made with discipline and great efficience. They were followed by several "draco bearers" that shows them the direction of the wind by all weather. Although not protected, having just their light tunic, and usually trousers or boots, depending of their tribe, some having soft caps, they have also light axes, akinakes, two composite bows and a heavy load of arrows of all kind in their traditional gorytos.
skin ar base sur getic horse archer
SHIVATIR i MARDIAVANIG :
SHIVATIR i DAHAVANIG :
Zhrada Shivatir : Parthian nobles horse archers : Beeing the cornerstone of any Parthian cavalry force, these were for sure one of the biggest part of nobles or elite cavalry, also known as "Azadan".
Azadan i Dahavanig : Dahae nobles : Skilled lancers and swordsmen, using heavy armors and simple helmets, they were heavily protected and their charge unstoppable.
Grivpanvar i Sugdianavanig : Sughdian heavy cavalry was a famous one. Sughdian horse-archers were easily shadowed by the cataphracts, which favorised the kontos and the heavy mace to finish the job...
Pushtigban (#1 old appearance #2 new): These impressive and famous units were elite noble chosen cataphracts, or Royal cataphracts. They were extremely heavy, beeing the tanks of the ancient world. The combined the weight of their entirely cladded, chosen, crossed breeds of Nisean horses and their own body armour, to be the heavyest cavalry unit in the world by far. This was probably sufficient, even at relatively low speed, to devastating any heavy infantry line, including the seleucid phalanxes. Entirely covered, using a kontos for the charge, at short range, and an heavy mace made of steel and lead for the melee, they were pure infantry breakers, pushing with a great and unstoppable blow and then hammering with no mercy the troops in disarray. All this, of course, was performed after a very long skirmishing and a non-ending rain of arrow performed during a whole day, if not several, by day and by night, by thousands of uncatchable horse-archers... The Pushtigban then always delivered the "coup de grâce" of crushing, decisive blow. Performed at great scale, they wiped out the Seleucids, disintegrating the legions of Crassus, after beeing crushed themselves by the Sassanids.
Zradhan Spahbade : Parthian Royal bodyguards : With no doubt the best equipment, training and skills among all nobles, they had the chance to be knights appointed to the protection of the king himself. They were, at the beginning of the empire, well equipped, having some intriguing metal masks since the beginning, mostly to defend themselves against arrows. Even their hands were covered by pieces of metal and chainmail. For the legs, the lorica hamata was relatively cheap and practical. Like all Parthian nobles, they were highly versatile, beeing archers, spearmen with the long kontos, and swordsmen of great skills and fierciness.
Grivpanvar i Palhavanig : Parthian royal late bodyguards : These late elite Royal bodyguards were now a very prestigious unit of a Royal, near_imperial cavalry, as the parthian late empire was quite bigger than any empire in the world, having compltely expelled the seleucids anywhere but on a few pockets of near-puppet kings... As beeing successors of the Persians, and also an Hellenized elite, masters of asia from Palestine to the Indus, their best elite units have been probaby wonderfully equipped, in a more somptuous way than former Parthian cataphracts. The use of the bow, the Kontos, the mace and sword, were only permitted by a retinue looking after their masters suits, ready to change their tired horse and give them new arrows or different weapons if needs, in the hearth of the battle.
KARTVELI TAKABARAN : Very current Caucasian infantrymen, generally called "Hillmen" that formed the bulk of foot auxiliaries in case of city siege or classic infantry battle when cavalry was unoperable.
GUND i SUGDIANAVANIG : (Sogdian heavy infantry) : In general, historians considered Parthian infantry as anectdotical : They usually relied on local foot auxiliaries for land battles. But in time, their all-mounted tactic was unsuccessful by nature against sieges of all sorts. Starving locals was not enough. Like the persians before, they quickly enlisted heavy infantrymen to lead siege assaults and take enemy walls. Alexander reled mostly on thracians and especially the Agrians, and the Parthian usually used some dismounted elite cavalrymen until recruiting Sugdians. These last were roughly comparable to Sughdian noble cavalrymen, using a mace as main weapon, sword as second, a shield, but they were also all-cladded and nearly impregnable moving infantrymen. Beeing very heavy, they were not used for prolongated runs on the battlefield, but to assault ing walls with bravery, high skills and great efficience as the seleucids has few units able to resist them. This leads to change their mind about such infantry, and to copy them in last occurence, the famous Thorakitai Argyraspidai Epilektoi or "elite among veterans".
THANVAR i MARDIANAVANIG : (Mardian archers) : Although less well-known than their mounted counterparts, Mardian archers played significant role as foot archers in the persian late armies. Once subdued and integrated in the new Parthian empire, they became usual and well-praized auxiliaries...
base sur scythian lesser noble
PAYADHAN AZAD SHIVATIR : Persian noble horse archers. These heavy cavalrymen were originally found in many former persian satrapy. They were reactivated and well-used as auxiliaries for the Parthians.