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The Parthian Empire - Superpower #1

The Rise of an Empire!


From the book "The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel...Found!"

by Steven Collins

     This chapter will offer readers a narrative of the history
of the Parthian Empire, an ancient "superpower" about which
little is known in the modern world. In the nineteenth century
British historian, George Rawlinson, lamented the widespread lack
of awareness concerning Parthia's greatness A.D. This chapter
will begin by reporting his quote which began chapter seven:

"...the picture of the world during the Roman period ... put
before students in 'Histories of Rome,' was defective, not to say
false, in its omission to recognize the real position of Parthia
... as a counterpoise to the power of Rome, a second figure in
the picture not much inferior to the first, a rival state
dividing with Rome the attention of mankind and the sovereignty
of the known earth. Writers of Roman history have been too much
in the habit of representing [Rome] ... as a Universal Monarchy
... having no other limits than those of the civilised world ...
To the present writer the truth seems to be that - from first to
last ... there was always in the world a Second Power ... which
in a true sense balanced Rome, acted as a counterpoise and a
check ... This power for nearly three centuries (B.C. 64 - A.D.
225) was Parthia...In the hope of gradually vindicating to
Parthia her true place in the world's history, the Author has ...
put forth [the history of Parthia]." 1

     In neglecting the history of the Parthian Empire, modern
historians are committing an omission similar to what future
historians would be doing if they discussed the histories of the
twentieth century entirely from the standpoint of Russia, and
mentioned the United States only as a footnote. While a great
deal is known about Parthia, very little about Parthia is ever

     Rawlinson' s books about Parthia are based on the histories
of the Greco-Roman classical writers (such as Justin, Dio
Cassius, Strabo, Pliny and Herodian), who wrote extensively about
the history of Parthia. It is very odd, indeed, that although the
classical writers deemed Parthia worthy of much attention, modern
history texts virtually ignore this ancient world empire.
     Rawlinson begins Parthia's period as "Rome's equal" in 64
B.C. In fact, Parthia was a great empire long before that date,
but had little contact with Rome in its early period. Parthia's
first great opponent was the Seleucid Greek Empire, which was
heir to much of the conquests of Alexander the Great, including
the land of the Parthians.
     Parthia, a province of the Seleucid Empire, was located
southeast of the Caspian Sea and declared its independence from
the Seleucid Greek Empire in 256-250 B.C. To help modern readers
relate to their action, the Parthian action was similar to that
of the American colonies in 1776 who declared their independence
from the British Empire. Just as the American colonies had been
ruled by the large and powerful British Empire, the Parthians
were ruled by the large and powerful Seleucid Greek Empire. Like
the Americans, the Parthians had to fight for their independence
before it became a reality.
     While the Parthians had been a distinct, Semitic people ever
since their ancestors were transplanted from ancient Israel to
Asia, they had been subjects of the Assyrians, the Medo-Persians,
and then the Seleucid Greeks. The first independent king of
Parthia was known as Arsaces, and history records that he came to
Parthia from Scythia or Bactria. Since the Bactrians were very
likely the Bachrites of the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 26:35), and
were, therefore, relatives of the Scythian "Sacae," Arsaces came
to Parthia from the territory of other descendants of the ten
tribes of Israel.
     Rawlinson comments that "the Parthian kingdom was thoroughly
anti-Hellenic," 2 and revolted from the Seleucids at a time when
the Seleucids were weakened by warfare with the Egyptian

     Let us examine the region's political situation at the time
of Parthia's effort to become independent. After the death of
Alexander the Great, his empire had been divided into four
separate kingdoms, the strongest of which became the Seleucid
Empire of Asia and the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt. The four way
division of Alexander's Empire was a fulfillment of Daniel's
prophecy in Daniel 11:1-4 about a mighty Grecian king who would
supplant the Persian Empire, die in his prime and have his
kingdom divided into four sections.

     According to Josephus, Alexander the Great was shown (by the
Jewish High Priest) Daniel's prophecy concerning himself when
Alexander was in Jerusalem. 3 Daniel's prophecy was given in the
sixth century B.C., and Alexander the Great fulfilled it in the
fourth century B.C. indicating that the God of the Bible can
control world events to fulfill his prophecies.
     The Greek Seleucids and the Egyptian Ptolemies then fought a
series of wars, one of which made it possible for Parthia to
revolt in approximately 250 B.C. without an immediate response
from the Seleucids. With the Seleucids weakened by warfare, the
Parthians were emboldened to annex another Seleucid province. The
Seleucid king then attacked and defeated the upstart Parthians,
causing Arsaces to flee to his kinsmen (the Scythians) to seek
refuge and reinforcements. Parthian kings (throughout Parthia's
history) sought refuge or military support from the Sacae
Scythian tribes during times of crisis, underscoring their common
heritage with the Sacae. The Sacae gave the Parthian king
military support, as did the Bactrians. This alliance defeated
the army of the Seleucid Empire in a critical battle which made
the independence of the Parthians a reality. It was an historic
turning point, and Rawlinson records that the Parthians long
observed the anniversary of this battle as "a solemn festival." 4

     American readers can relate to the beginning of the Parthian
nation. The traditional Parthian celebration of an "independence
day" to commemorate their freedom from Seleucid rule is
comparable to Americans celebrating their "Independence Day" on
July 4th to commemorate their freedom from the British. Also,
just as the Parthians needed outside help from the Scythians to
obtain their independence, the Americans needed outside help from
the French in order to realize their independence. There are a
number of parallels between the Parthians of the ancient world
and the Americans of the modern world. Since they do exist, they
will be noted periodically in this chapter.
     Parthia's rise to power coincided with the wane of Carthage
in the second and third Punic Wars. It is noteworthy that while
Rome was gradually defeating Carthage (an Israelite power in the
Mediterranean), Parthia (another Israelite power in Asia) was
gradually rising to empire status. By the time Carthage fell,
Parthia had already become a great power and was destined to
become one of Rome's greatest enemies.
     When Arsaces died, he was replaced by his brother Tiridates,
who led the Parthians in their great victory over the Seleucids.
He also built a mountain fortress city named Dara. Dara is a
Hebrew name (I Chronicles 2:6), as discussed earlier. Because
Dara was the name of a patriarch of the tribe of Judah. King
Tiridates' naming a city in honor of Dara supports the conclusion
that the Arsacid dynasty was Jewish. Since the early Parthian
city of Asaak (named after Isaac) also bears a Hebrew name, the
Israelite nature of the Parthian Empire was apparent from its
inception. It needs to be stressed, however, that although the
ruling dynasty of the Parthians were descendants of Judah's King
David, the Parthians themselves were descendants of the ten
tribes of Israel. This perfectly fulfilled the prophecy of
Jeremiah 33:17 that the descendants of King David would rule over
the non-Jewish descendants of the ten tribes (the "House of
     Another war with the Seleucids occurred almost forty years
after Parthia's original "declaration of independence." Although
the more-powerful Seleucids temporarily captured the Parthian
capital city, the war ended with a peace treaty calling for the
Seleucids' withdrawal in 206 B.C. and Parthia remaining
independent. 5 This results in another striking parallel to the
early American nation. Having won its freedom from Britain,
America had to again fight the British in the war of 1812. In it,
the British temporarily captured Washington, D.C., the American
capital, but had to withdraw as the Americans maintained their
independence. The War of 1812 ended with a peace treaty and
occurred almost forty years after America's original declaration
of Independence.

(What Collins says here about the war of 1812 is showing his very
poor lack of education on that war, or he is trying hard to
convey a "connection" when one is not really there at all. I
cover the 1812 war between the USA and Canada (Britain) in some
detail on studies in the "Meltdown" series on this website -
Keith Hunt)

     Just as America's War of 1812 was soon followed by a period
of "manifest destiny" in which the American state spread across
North America to the Pacific Ocean, Parthia's second war with the
Seleucids was followed by a period of great expansion which
extended its rule over much of south central Asia. After Phraates
I captured the Caspian Gates for Parthia, 6 the next Parthian
monarch, Mithridates I, expanded Parthian power to true empire
status. Rawlinson describes Mithridates:

" of those rare individuals to whom it has been given to
unite the powers which form the conqueror with those which
constitute the successful organiser of a state. Brave and
enterprising in war ... yet ... mild, clement, philanthropic,    
he conciliated those whom he subdued almost more easily than he
subdued them, and by the efforts of a few years succeeded in
welding together a dominion which lasted without suffering
serious mutilation for nearly four centuries." 7

     By the time of his death, Mithridates I had placed Bactria,
Media, Babylonia, Persia, and other territories under Parthian
dominion, ruling "from the Hindu Kush to the Euphrates ... a
distance of 1500 miles from east to west." 8 On modern maps, this
territory is generally equivalent to the territory from eastern
Syria and Turkey to western Pakistan. The Euphrates River, in the
second century B.C., thus became the traditional western border
of Parthia. Virtually all of Parthia's expansion came at the
expense of the Seleucid Greeks. Mithridates I died in 136 B.C.
leaving a large empire in the hands of his son, Phraates II.
Although Mithridates I of Parthia was one of the world's most
remarkable conquerors and empire-builders, modern history texts
rarely mention him.

(Modern history has deliberately missed out many things in the
history of the world. Too much of it would support the Bible, and
give evidence of who the nations of the world are today, from
where they came from, and who they once were in ancient times -
Keith Hunt)

     In 129 B.C. the Seleucids attacked the new Parthian Empire
with a host numbering approximately 400,000 while the Parthian
army numbered only 120,000. [Scythian troops reinforced the
Parthians, but arrived too late to be decisive. 9 It is worth
noting, however, that the Scythians were the willing allies of
the Parthians whenever the latter power was in need of help.] The
recently conquered provinces of the Parthians revolted to the
side of their old rulers, the Seleucids. Three pitched battles
were fought in which the outnumbered Parthians were defeated each
time. The Parthians exhibited a dogged determination, however,
and refused to capitulate. Winter set in, and the Seleucid army
conducted itself so arrogantly in the conquered cities that their
occupants privately sent word to the Parthians that they would
assist in restoring Parthian rule over them if Parthia would
liberate them from the oppressive Seleucids.
     Even though the Seleucids were now in grave danger, they
spurned a merciful offer of peace from Phraates with unacceptable
demands of their own. The people of the captive provinces
attacked the unsuspecting Seleucid troops within their garrison
towns, and the Parthian regulars crushed the Seleucid monarch and
his remaining troops in a final battle. History records that the
Seleucid monarch, Antiochus, perished along with 300,000 of his
host. 10 This battle was another historic turning point in world
history, because it broke the back of the Seleucid Empire, which
gradually withered away to nothing, trapped between the two
growing powers of Rome on the west and Parthia on the east.
     One result of Parthia's historic victory was that the Jewish
Maccabees were now able to assert their independence from the now
mortally-wounded Seleucids. 11 The Jews even conquered the
Idumeans (Edomites), who submitted to circumcision and Jewish
laws. Josephus records that the Judean Jews and the conquered
Edomites became virtually one people. l2 However, Judea (the
House of Judah) was able to assert its independence from the
Seleucids only because Parthia (the House of Israel) had crushed
the Seleucids.

     Concerning the conquered Seleucids, the Parthians treated
them mercifully and their royal households intermarried.
Herein lies another uncanny parallel between Parthia and modern
America. Even as America has been a merciful conqueror (building
up Japan and Germany after World War II, rescuing the German
capital from a Russian blockade via the Berlin Airlift, etc.)
Parthia was also a merciful ruler of the people it defeated in
warfare. It is a clear commentary on the enlightened character of
Parthian rule that the people in the contested provinces (after
tasting both Parthian and Seleucid rule) actively fought the
Seleucids in order to again be placed under Parthian rule!
At this juncture, the Parthians should have enjoyed their time of
triumph. However, a bizarre event occurred, when a Scythian army
allied to the Parthians arrived too late to assist in the war.
The Scythians arrived just after Parthia had crushed the Seleucid
army, and a battle ensued after the Parthians refused to share
any war booty with the Scythians. The Scythians were likely
suspicious that the Parthians had "jumped the gun" on the war in
order to deprive the Scythians of their share of the expected
booty. The Parthians may have felt that since the Scythians did
no fighting, they should not be paid. The Parthian king, Phraates
I reneged on promised payments to the Scythians, and the Scythian
army was victorious in a battle which killed the Parthian king.
Just after crushing the Seleucid Empire, the Parthians were
defeated by their Scythian allies who had marched out of the
north to help Parthia.
     The whole event is strikingly similar to one described in
the Bible (Judges 11-12). After winning a great victory over the
Ammonites, Jephthah and an army of Gileadites (the tribes of
Manasseh, Reuben and Gad) were confronted by an army of
Ephraimites which was upset that it had not been able to
participate in the battle (and missed out on the booty). The
usually allied brother tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh then fought
each other in a needless battle over war booty. The dominance of
the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh in the Parthian and Scythian
empires has been discussed earlier, making this Parthian-Scythian
battle a rerun of the war in Judges 12.
     After the warfare the Scythians (satisfied by their
possession of war booty and the death of the Parthian king who
"cheated" them) retired into their own land. This confirms the
Scythians had no territorial designs against their Parthian
kinsmen and were content simply "to teach the Parthians a
     Nevertheless, Parthia had now replaced the Seleucids as the
dominant power in south-central Asia, and it was only a matter of
time before Rome and Parthia came in contact with each other.

     Before we discuss the epic struggles between Parthia and
Rome, we will examine the governmental structure and policies of
the Parthians to see why their dominion was so preferable to that
of the Seleucid Greeks.

     While Parthia was ruled by a dynasty, there was no custom of
primogeniture (whereby the throne was inherited by the oldest
son). Any relative of the king could serve as the new monarch.
The Parthians actually had the beginnings of a system of checks
and balances upon the authority of the king which predated the
Magna Carta by more than a millennium. Strabo, a Roman who lived
just prior to the time of Christ, wrote:

"That the Council of the Parthians ... consists of two groups,
one that of the kinsmen, and the other that of the wise men and
magi, from both of which groups the kings were appointed." 13

     Rawlinson refers to these two bodies as the "Royal House"
and the "Senate." The Royal House contained the male relatives of
the king, and the Senate consisted of the "Wise Men" (prominent
secular leaders) and the "Magi" (the priestly caste of Parthia).
These two houses jointly constituted: "the Megistanes, the nobles
... the privileged class which to a considerable extent checked
and controlled the monarchy." 14 He adds:

"The King was permanently advised by [these] two councils ... The
monarchy was elective, but only in the house of the Arsaeidae;
and the concurrent vote of both councils was necessary in the
appointment of a new king." 15

     This means that while kings were elected by a concurrent
vote of the two houses, a new king had to be a member of the
Royal House (male relatives of the king). The fact that the
Parthians elected their kings via a bicameral vote may be one of
the best-kept secrets of the ancient world. While only the
members of the two houses of the Megistanes voted in royal
elections, there are precious few ancient examples of any kind of
deliberative or elective processes involved in the selection of
monarchs. The fact that the Megistanes were standing deliberative
bodies also acted as a further check upon the power of a king.
Even though Parthian monarchs could exercise autocratic powers
once elected, the existence of this bicameral council could
provide some restraint upon them. Kings could even be "recalled"
if they sufficiently offended the nobility, the wealthy citizens
and the priesthood of the empire. In their governmental
structure, the Parthians manifested the beginnings of a
"Parliament," and foreshadowed the Magna Carta of Medieval
England which enabled the nobility to check the power of English
     The Magi (the subject of Christmas stories as the givers of
"gold, frankincense, and myrrh" to Jesus) were a very influential
part of Parthian society. Rawlinson states that the Magi:

"... were a powerful body, consisting of an organized hierarchy
which had come down from ancient times, and was feared and
venerated by all classes of people. Their numbers at the close of
the Empire, counting males only, are reckoned at 80,000; they
possessed considerable tracts of fertile land, and were the sole
inhabitants of many large towns or villages, which they were
permitted to govern as they pleased." 16 

     The Magi paralleled the priesthood structure of ancient
Israel. The tribe of Levi was the priestly tribe of the
Israelites, and the Law of Moses (Numbers 35:1-5) required that
the Levites dwell in independent cities. Joshua 21 records that
the priestly Levites were given 48 independent cities to inhabit.
In doing the same thing, the Parthians were carrying on the
tradition of the Law of Moses. That the Parthian Magi were a
hierarchy of priests which had descended "from ancient times"
confirms that the Magi were a hereditary body: an actual tribe of
priests. Since the Israelite nature of the Parthians has already
been shown, the Parthian Magi were likely the Levites, Israel's
hereditary tribe of priests. A priest of the Parthian Magi is
depicted on a bas-relief wearing a conical hat, 17 reminiscent of
the miter worn by Hebrew priests and the tall, pointed caps of
Scythian leaders.

     While the image of Rome's legions brutally enforcing
obedience in Rome's conquered provinces is a common theme in
history, what was Parthia's rule like? To begin with, Parthia's
Arsacid king was the overall monarch of Parthia's empire, but
provincial vassal kings or rulers were given considerable
autonomy. Concerning the vassal kings, Rawlinson states:

"... so long as they paid their tribute regularly to the Parthian
monarchs, and aided them in their wars ..., [they] were allowed
to govern the people beneath their sway at their pleasure." 18

     This indicates that while the Parthian kings retained
sovereignty over their subject provinces on such matters as taxes
and national defense, Parthian provinces were basically
self-governing when it came to local matters. Parthia's system of
vassal kings and nobles who were subject to an overall king will
remind some readers of the feudal system utilized by the
Europeans in the Middle Ages. Edward Gibbon, the prominent
historian who authored "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,"
also noted the parallels between the feudal systems of the
Parthians and Medieval Europe. Gibbon is quoted by Rawlinson in
the following manner:

"The remark has been made by ... Gibbon, that the [Parthian]
system thus established 'exhibited under other names, a lively
image of the feudal system, which has since prevailed in Europe
the points of resemblance being very main points, not few in
number, and striking.'" 19 

     The Encyclopaedia Britannica, also notes the feudal nature
of Parthia's empire:

"... these nomads [the Scythian origin of the Parthians is here
noted] were the main pillar of the empire, and from them were
obviously derived the great magnates, with their huge estates and
hosts of serfs, who composed the imperial council, led the
armies, governed the provinces and made and unmade the kings." 20

     As we will see in chapter ten, the "striking" similarities
between Parthia and Medieval Europe was no coincidence. It is
also recorded that the Parthians pioneered the concept of
municipal "home-rule" privileges for some of its cities. For

"The Greek towns ... in large numbers throughout the [Parthian]
Empire, enjoyed a municipal government of their own, and in some
cases were almost independent communities ... Seleucia ... its
population was estimated in the first century after Christ at six
hundred thousand ... had its own senate, or municipal council ...
elected by the people to rule them." 21

     Rawlinson's sources for the above information were the Roman
writers: Pliny and Tacitus. The astounding fact that Parthia's
Empire included large "home-rule" cities which held democratic
elections to elect city councils should be taught in every
classroom in the modern western world! Cities in the western
world have for centuries copied this ancient Parthian practice,
and it is remarkable that an ancient empire allowed its citizens
such freedoms. Most ancient empires (fearing revolts) ruled their
subject people with an iron hand.
     There was also a substantial Jewish population in Parthia's
empire, and their policy toward the Jews was very magnanimous.
Rawlinson records that: "... there were also a certain number of
places the inhabitants of which were wholly Jews, and these
enjoyed similar privileges with the 'free towns' of the Greeks."

     The fact that Parthia had a large Jewish population merits
additional comment. Josephus wrote that the descendants of the
ten tribes of Israel were very numerous, were beyond Rome's rule,
and were located "beyond Euphrates." By referencing the Euphrates
River (the common border between the Roman and Parthian Empires),
Josephus was indicating that Parthia was "Israelite territory."
Since Josephus knew about the Israelite nature of the Parthians
and Sacae, it is quite likely that many other Jews possessed this
knowledge as well. Perhaps some Jews, tired of the Roman yoke in
Palestine, chose to emigrate to Parthia, which was dominated by
the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel and allowed much
personal liberty. However, the main reason for a substantial
Jewish population in Asia is that many Jews never did return to
Palestine from their Babylonian captivity, and their descendants
stayed in Asia, where they flourished under Parthian rule. This
is hardly surprising since the Arsacids who ruled Parthia were
themselves Jewish, descendants of Phares and King David.
     While Rome imposed a "rule of iron" within its empire,
Parthia permitted vastly greater individual freedoms. This fact
has strong parallels in the modern world, a discussion of which
will enable the reader to relate to the struggles between Rome
and Parthia.

     Parthia and Rome were the two great powers of their day.
Parthia had the beginnings of a bicameral body with some checks
and balances upon the power of the monarchy. It gave provinces
and cities considerable local autonomy while maintaining
"federal" control of foreign and military matters, was tolerant
of subject people and allowed the Jews broad rights and local
freedoms. Rome, however, ruled its subject peoples in a
totalitarian, oppressive manner with Roman troops supporting
Rome's appointed rulers over conquered nations.

     Clearly, in any comparison between (A) the ancient
superpowers of Rome and Parthia and (B) the modern superpowers of
America and the former Soviet Union, Parthia's freedoms would
compare it to America while Rome's oppressiveness would make it
an ancient counterpart of the Soviet Union. Yet the western world
is taught the history of Rome while Parthia's remarkable power
and structure are widely ignored. We will see more parallels to
the modern era before this chapter is concluded. While these
parallels may seem revolutionary to some, they are necessary to
help undo the modern myth that Rome was "civilized" while the
rest of the world consisted of "barbarians." In the remainder of
this chapter (and in chapter ten),

To be continued

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