(Παρθία), Parthyaea (Παρθυαία), and Parthyn (Παρθυηνή). A country, southeast of the Caspian Sea, in Asia. Its extent varied greatly at different times, and the name is often used indefinitely by the ancient writers; but it may be regarded as bordering upon Hyrcania, Asia, Carmania, Persis, Susiana, and Media. It was largely a mountainous and semi-desert country, whose people were noted warriors, celebrated especially for their skill in archery and horsemanship. Their tactics, of which the Romans had fatal experience in their first wars with them, became so celebrated as to pass into a proverb. Their mail-clad horsemen spread like a cloud around the hostile army, and poured in a shower of darts; and then evaded any closer conflict by a rapid flight, during which they still shot their arrows backward upon the enemy.
Under the Persian Empire, the Parthians, with the Chorasmii, Sogdii, and Arii, formed the sixteenth satrapy: under Alexander and the Greek kings of Syria, Parthia and Hyrcania together formed a satrapy. About B.C. 250 they revolted [figure in text: Parthians. (From a Roman Coin.)] from the Seleucidae, under a chieftain named Arsaces, who founded an independent monarchy, the history of which is given under Arsaces. During the period of the downfall of the Syrian kingdom, the Parthians overran the provinces east of the Euphrates, and about B.C. 130 they overthrew the kingdom of Bactria, so that their empire extended over Asia from the Euphrates to the Indus, and from the Indian Ocean to the Paropamisus, or even to the Oxus; but on this northern frontier they had to maintain a continual conflict with the nomad tribes of Central Asia. On the west their progress was checked by Mithridates and Tigranes, till those kings fell successively before the Romans, who were thus brought into collision with the Parthians. After the memorable destruction of Crassus and his army, B.C. 53 (see Crassus, p. 424), the Parthians threatened Syria and Asia Minor; but their progress was stopped by two signal defeats, which they suffered from Antony's legate Ventidius, in 39 and 38. The preparations for renewing the war with Rome were rendered fruitless by the contest for the Parthian throne between Phraates IV. and Tiridates, which led to an appeal to Augustus, and to the restoration of the standards of Crassus, B.C. 20; an event to which the Roman poets often allude in terms of flattery to Augustus, almost as if he had conquered the Parthian Empire. It is to be observed that the poets of the Augustan Age use the names Parthi, Persae, and Medi indifferently. [figure in text: Coin of Arsaces.]
The Parthian Empire had now begun to decline, owing to civil contests and the defection of the governors of provinces, and had ceased to be formidable to the Romans. There were, however, continual disputes between the two empires for the protectorate of the kingdom of Armenia. In consequence of one of these disputes Trajan invaded the Parthian Empire (A.D. 115-117), and obtained possession for a short time of Mesopotamia; but his conquests were surrendered under Hadrian, and the Euphrates again became the boundary of the two empires. There were other wars at later periods, which resulted in favour of the Romans, who took Selencia and Ctesiphon, and made the district of Osron a Roman province. The exhaustion which was the effect of these wars at length gave the Persians the opportunity of throwing off the Parthian yoke. Led by Artaxerxes (Ardshir), they put an end to the Parthian kingdom of the Arsacidae, after it had lasted 476 years, and established the Persian dynasty of the Sassanidae, A.D. 226. See Arsaces; Sassanidae.
The Parthians were of Scythic origin, but during the more flourishing period of the Empire adopted many of the usages of Greek civilization, including the Greek language (as the official form of speech) and to some extent the Greek religion. As the Empire declined, however, this superficial cultivation wore off, and by the second century A.D. even the Greek language fell into total disuse.
See the histories of Parthia by Schneiderwirth (1874), Spiegel (1887), and G. Rawlinson (1893).