George Rawlinson.

The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7. (of 7): The Sassanian or New Persian Empire The History, Geography, And Antiquities Of Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, Parthi online

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Online LibraryGeorge RawlinsonThe Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7. (of 7): The Sassanian or New Persian Empire The History, Geography, And Antiquities Of Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, Parthi → online text (page 1 of 36)
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[Illustration: MAP]


_Condition of the Persians under the Successors of Alexander - under
the Arsacidce. Favor shown them by the latter - allowed to have Kings
of their own. Their Religion at first held in honor. Power of their
Priests. Gradual Change of Policy on the part of the Parthian Monarchs,
and final Oppression of the Magi. Causes which produced the Insurrection
of Artaxerxes._

"The Parthians had been barbarians; they had ruled over a nation
far more civilized than themselves, and had oppressed them and their

Niebuhr, Lectures on Roman History, vol. iii. p. 270.

When the great Empire of the Persians, founded by Cyrus, collapsed under
the attack of Alexander the Great, the dominant race of Western Asia did
not feel itself at the first reduced to an intolerable condition. It
was the benevolent design of Alexander to fuse into one the two leading
peoples of Europe and Asia, and to establish himself at the head of a
Perso-Hellenic State, the capital of which was to have been Babylon. Had
this idea been carried out, the Persians would, it is evident, have lost
but little by their subjugation. Placed on a par with the Greeks, united
with them in marriage bonds, and equally favored by their common ruler,
they could scarcely have uttered a murmur, or have been seriously
discontented with their position. But when the successors of the great
Macedonian, unable to rise to the height of his grand conception, took
lower ground, and, giving up the idea of a fusion, fell back upon
the ordinary status, and proceeded to enact the ordinary role, of
conquerors, the feelings of the late lords of Asia, the countrymen of
Cyrus and Darius, must have undergone a complete change. It had been the
intention of Alexander to conciliate and elevate the leading Asiatics
by uniting them with the Macedonians and the Greeks, by promoting social
intercourse between the two classes of his subjects and encouraging them
to intermarry, by opening his court to Asiatics, by educating then in
Greek ideas and in Greek schools, by promoting them to high employments,
and making them feel that they were as much valued and as well cared for
as the people of the conquering race: it was the plan of the Seleucidae
to govern wholly by means of European officials, Greek or Macedonian,
and to regard and treat the entire mass of their Asiatic subjects as
mere slaves. Alexander had placed Persian satraps over most of the
provinces, attaching to them Greek or Macedonian commandants as checks.
Seloucus divided his empire into seventy-two satrapies; but among his
satraps not one was an Asiatic - all were either Macedonians or Greeks.
Asiatics, indeed, formed the bulk of his standing army, and so far were
admitted to employment; they might also, no doubt, be tax-gatherers,
couriers, scribes, constables, and officials of that mean stamp; but
they were as carefully excluded from all honorable and lucrative offices
as the natives of Hindustan under the rule of the East India Company.
The standing army of the Seleucidae was wholly officered, just as was
that of our own Sepoys, by Europeans; Europeans thronged the court,
and filled every important post under the government. There cannot be
a doubt that such a high-spirited and indeed arrogant people as the
Persians must have fretted and chafed under this treatment, and have
detested the nation and dynasty which had thrust them down from their
pre-eminence and converted them from masters into slaves. It would
scarcely much tend to mitigate the painfulness of their feelings that
they could not but confess their conquerors to be a civilized
people - as civilized, perhaps more civilized than themselves - since the
civilization was of a type and character which did not please them
or command their approval. There is an essential antagonism between
European and Asiatic ideas and modes of thought, such as seemingly
to preclude the possibility of Asiatics appreciating a European
civilization. The Persians must have felt towards the Greco-Macedonians
much as the Mohammedans of India feel towards ourselves - they may have
feared and even respected them - but they must have very bitterly hated
them. Nor was the rule of the Seleucidae such as to overcome by its
justice or its wisdom the original antipathy of the dispossessed lords
of Asia towards those by whom they had been ousted. The satrapial
system, which these monarchs lazily adopted from their predecessors,
the Achaemenians, is one always open to great abuses, and needs the
strictest superintendence and supervision. There is no reason to believe
that any sufficient watch was kept over their satraps by the
Seleucid kings, or even any system of checks established, such as
the Achaemenidae had, at least in theory, set up and maintained. The
Greco-Macedonian governors of provinces seem to have been left to
themselves almost entirely, and to have been only controlled in the
exercise of their authority by their own notions of what was right or
expedient. Under these circumstances, abuses were sure to creep in; and
it is not improbable that gross outrages were sometimes perpetrated by
those in power - outrages calculated to make the blood of a nation boil,
and to produce a keen longing for vengeance. We have no direct evidence
that the Persians of the time did actually suffer from such a misuse of
satrapial authority; but it is unlikely that they entirely escaped the
miseries which are incidental to the system in question. Public opinion
ascribed the grossest acts of tyranny and oppression to some of the
Seleucid satraps; probably the Persians were not exempt from the common
lot of the subject races.

Moreover, the Seleucid monarchs themselves were occasionally guilty of
acts of tyranny, which must have intensified the dislike wherewith
they were regarded by their Asiatic subjects. The reckless conduct
of Antiochus Epiphanes towards the Jews is well known; but it is not
perhaps generally recognized that intolerance and impious cupidity
formed a portion of the system on which he governed. There seems,
however, to be good reason to believe that, having exhausted his
treasury by his wars and his extravagances, Epiphanes formed a general
design of recruiting it by means of the plunder of his subjects. The
temples of the Asiatics had hitherto been for the most part respected by
their European conquerors, and large stores of the precious metals
were accumulated in them. Epiphanes saw in these hoards the means of
relieving his own necessities, and determined to seize and confiscate
them. Besides plundering the Temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem, he made a
journey into the southeastern portion of his empire, about B.C. 165, for
the express purpose of conducting in person the collection of the sacred
treasures. It was while he was engaged in this unpopular work that a
spirit of disaffection showed itself; the East took arms no less than
the West; and in Persia, or upon its borders, the avaricious monarch was
forced to retire before the opposition which his ill-judged measures had
provoked, and to allow one of the doomed temples to escape him. When he
soon afterwards sickened and died, the natives of this part of Asia saw
in his death a judgment upon him for his attempted sacrilege.

It was within twenty years of this unfortunate attempt that the dominion
of the Seleucidae over Persia and the adjacent countries came to an end.
The Parthian Empire had for nearly a century been gradually growing in
power and extending itself at the expense of the Syro-Macedonian; and,
about B.C. 163, an energetic prince, Mithridates I., commenced a series
of conquests towards the West, which terminated (about B.C. 150) in
the transference from the Syro-Macedonian to the Parthian rule of Media
Magna, Susiana, Persia, Babylonia, and Assyria Proper. It would seem
that the Persians offered no resistance to the progress of the new
conqueror. The Seleucidae had not tried to conciliate their attachment,
and it was impossible that they should dislike the rupture of ties which
had only galled hitherto. Perhaps their feeling, in prospect of the
change, was one of simple indifference. Perhaps it was not without some
stir of satisfaction and complacency that they saw the pride of the
hated Europeans abased, and a race, which, however much it might differ
from their own, was at least Asiatic, installed in power. The Parthia
system, moreover, was one which allowed greater liberty to the subject
races than the Macedonian, as it had been understood and carried out by
the Seleucidae; and so far some real gain was to be expected from the
change. Religious motives must also have conspired to make the Persians
sympathize with the new power, rather than with that which for centuries
had despised their faith and had recently insulted it.

The treatment of the Persians by their Parthian lords seems, on the
whole, to have been marked by moderation. Mithridates indeed, the
original conqueror, is accused of having alienated his new subjects by
the harshness of his rule; and in the struggle which occurred between
him and the Seleucid king, Demetrius II., Persians, as well as
Elymseans and Bactrians, are said to have fought on the side of the
Syro-Macedonian. But this is the only occasion in Parthian history,
between the submission of Persia and the great revolt under Artaxerxes,
where there is any appearance of the Persians regarding their masters
with hostile feelings. In general they show themselves submissive and
contented with their position, which was certainly, on the whole, a less
irksome one than they had occupied under the Seleucidae.

It was a principle of the Parthian governmental system to allow the
subject peoples, to a large extent, to govern themselves. These peoples
generally, and notably the Persians, were ruled by native kings, who
succeeded to the throne by hereditary right, had the full power of life
and death, and ruled very much as they pleased, so long as they paid
regularly the tribute imposed upon them by the "King of Kings," and sent
him a respectable contingent when he was about to engage in a military
expedition. Such a system implies that the conquered peoples have
the enjoyment of their own laws and institutions, are exempt from
troublesome interference, and possess a sort of semi-independence.
Oriental nations, having once assumed this position, are usually
contented with it, and rarely make any effort to better themselves. It
would seem that, thus far at any rate, the Persians could not complain
of the Parthian rule, but must have been fairly satisfied with their

Again, the Greco-Macedonians had tolerated, but they had not viewed with
much respect, the religion which they had found established in Persia.
Alexander, indeed, with the enlightened curiosity which characterised
him, had made inquiries concerning, the tenets of the Magi, and
endeavored to collect in one the writings of Zoroaster. But the
later monarchs, and still more their subjects, had held the system
in contempt, and, as we have seen, Epiphanes had openly insulted the
religious feelings of his Asiatic subjects. The Parthians, on the other
hand, began at any rate with a treatment of the Persian religion which
was respectful and gratifying. Though perhaps at no time very sincere
Zoroastrians, they had conformed to the State religion under the
Achaemenian kings; and when the period came that they had themselves to
establish a system of government, they gave to the Magian hierarchy
a distinct and important place in their governmental machinery. The
council, which advised the monarch, and which helped to elect and (if
need were) depose him, was composed of two elements - -the _Sophi_,
or wise men, who were civilians; and the _Magi_, or priests of the
Zoroastrian religion. The Magi had thus an important political status in
Parthia, during the early period of the Empire; but they seem gradually
to have declined in favor, and ultimately to have fallen into disrepute.
The Zoroastrian creed was, little by little, superseded among the
Parthians by a complex idolatry, which, beginning with an image-worship
of the Sun and Moon, proceeded to an association with those deities of
the deceased kings of the nation, and finally added to both a worship
of ancestral idols, which formed the most cherished possession of each
family, and practically monopolized the religious sentiment. All the old
Zoroastrian practices were by degrees laid aside. In Armenia the Arsacid
monarchs allowed the sacred fire of Ormazd to become extinguished; and
in their own territories the Parthian Arsacidae introduced the practice,
hateful to Zoroastrians, of burning the dead. The ultimate religion of
these monarchs seems in fact to have been a syncretism wherein Sabaism,
Confucianism, Greco-Macedonian notions, and an inveterate primitive
idolatry were mixed together. It is not impossible that the very names
of Ormazd and Ahriman had ceased to be known at the Parthian Court, or
were regarded as those of exploded deities, whose dominion over men's
minds had passed away.

On the other hand, in Persia itself, and to some extent doubtless among
the neighboring countries, Zoroastrianism (or what went by the name)
had a firm hold on the religious sentiments of the multitude, who viewed
with disfavor the tolerant and eclectic spirit which animated the Court
of Ctesiphon. The perpetual fire, kindled, as it was, from heaven, was
carefully tended and preserved on the fire-altars of the Persian holy
places; the Magian hierarchy was held in the highest repute, the kings
themselves (as it would seem) not disdaining to be Magi; the ideas - even
perhaps the forms - of Ormazd and Ahriman were familiar to all;
image-worship was abhorred the sacred writings in the Zend or most
ancient Iranian language were diligently preserved and multiplied; a
pompous ritual was kept up; the old national religion, the religion of
the Achaemenians, of the glorious period of Persian ascendency in Asia,
was with the utmost strictness maintained, probably the more zealously
as it fell more and more into disfavor with the Parthians.

The consequence of this divergence of religious opinion between the
Persians and their feudal lords must undoubtedly have been a certain
amount of alienation and discontent. The Persian Magi must have been
especially dissatisfied with the position of their brethren at Court;
and they would doubtless use their influence to arouse the indignation
of their countrymen generally. But it is scarcely probable that this
cause alone would have produced any striking result. Religious sympathy
rarely leads men to engage in important wars, unless it has the support
of other concurrent motives. To account for the revolt of the Persians
against their Parthian lords under Artaxerxes, something more is needed
than the consideration of the religious differences which separated the
two peoples.

First, then, it should be borne in mind that the Parthian rule must have
been from the beginning distasteful to the Persians, owing to the rude
and coarse character of the people. At the moment of Mithridates's
successes, the Persians might experience a sentiment of satisfaction
that the European invader was at last thrust back, and that Asia had
re-asserted herself; but a very little experience of Parthian rule was
sufficient to call forth different feelings. There can be no doubt that
the Parthians, whether they were actually Turanians or no, were, in
comparison with the Persians, unpolished and uncivilized. They showed
their own sense of this inferiority by an affectation of Persian
manners. But this affectation was not very successful. It is evident
that in art, in architecture, in manners, in habits of life, the
Parthian race reached only a low standard; they stood to their Hellenic
and Iranian subjects in much the same relation that the Turks of the
present day stand to the modern Greeks; they made themselves respected
by their strength and their talent for organization; but in all that
adorns and beautifies life they were deficient. The Persians must,
during the whole time of their subjection to Parthia, have been sensible
of a feeling of shame at the want of refinement and of a high type of
civilization in their masters.

Again, the later sovereigns of the Arsacid dynasty were for the most
part of weak and contemptible character. From the time of Volagases
I. to that of Artabanus IV., the last king, the military reputation
of Parthia had declined. Foreign enemies ravaged the territories
of Parthian vassal kings, and retired when they chose, unpunished.
Provinces revolted and established their independence. Rome was
entreated to lend assistance to her distressed and afflicted rival, and
met the entreaties with a refusal. In the wars which still from time
to time were waged between the two empires Parthia was almost uniformly
worsted. Three times her capital was occupied, and once her monarch's
summer palace was burned. Province after province had to be ceded to
Rome. The golden throne which symbolized her glory and magnificence was
carried off. Meanwhile feuds raged between the different branches of
the Arsacid family; civil wars were frequent; two or three monarchs at a
time claimed the throne, or actually ruled in different portions of the
Empire. It is not surprising that under these circumstances the bonds
were loosened between Parthia and her vassal kingdoms, or that the
Persian tributary monarchs began to despise their suzerains, and to
contemplate without alarm the prospect of a rebellion which should place
them in an independent position.

While the general weakness of the Arsacid monarchs was thus a cause
naturally leading to a renunciation of their allegiance on the part of
the Persians, a special influence upon the decision taken by Artaxerxes
is probably to be assigned to one, in particular, of the results of that
weakness. When provinces long subject to Parthian rule revolted, and
revolted successfully, as seems to have been the case with Hyrcania, and
partially with Bactria, Persia could scarcely for very shame continue
submissive. Of all the races subject to Parthia, the Persians were the
one which had held the most brilliant position in the past, and which
retained the liveliest remembrance of its ancient glories. This is
evidenced not only by the grand claims which Artaxorxes put forward
in his early negotiations with the Romans, but by the whole course of
Persian literature, which has fundamentally an historic character, and
exhibits the people as attached, almost more than any other Oriental
nation, to the memory of its great men and of their noble achievements.
The countrymen of Cyrus, of Darius, of Xerxes, of Ochus, of the
conquerors of Media, Bactria, Babylon, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, of the
invaders of Scythia and Greece, aware that they had once borne sway
over the whole region between Tunis and the Indian Desert, between the
Caucasus and the Cataracts, when they saw a petty mountain clan, like
the Hyrcanians, establish and maintain their independence despite the
efforts of Parthia to coerce them, could not very well remain quiet. If
so weak and small a race could defy the power of the Arsacid monarchs,
much more might the far more numerous and at least equally courageous
Persians expect to succeed, if they made a resolute attempt to recover
their freedom.

It is probable that Artaxerxes, in his capacity of vassal, served
personally in the army with which the Parthian monarch Artabanus carried
on the struggle against Rome, and thus acquired the power of estimating
correctly the military strength still possessed by the Arsacidae, and of
measuring it against that which he knew to belong to his nation. It
is not unlikely that he formed his plans during the earlier period of
Artabanus's reign, when that monarch allowed himself to be imposed upon
by Caracallus, and suffered calamities and indignities in consequence
of his folly. When the Parthian monarch atoned for his indiscretion
and wiped out the memory of his disgraces by the brilliant victory of
Nisibis and the glorious peace which he made with Macrinus, Artaxerxes
may have found that he had gone too far to recede; or, undazzled by the
splendor of these successes, he may still have judged that he might
with prudence persevere in his enterprise. Artabanus had suffered great
losses in his two campaigns against Rome, and especially in the three
days' battle of Nisibis. He was at variance with several princes of his
family, one of whom certainly maintained himself during his whole reign
with the State and title of "King of Parthia." Though he had fought
well at Nisibis, he had not given any indications of remarkable military
talent. Artaxerxes, having taken the measure of his antagonist during
the course of the Roman war, having estimated his resources and formed
a decided opinion on the relative strength of Persia and Parthia,
deliberately resolved, a few years after the Roman war had come to an
end, to revolt and accept the consequences. He was no doubt convinced
that his nation would throw itself enthusiastically into the struggle,
and he believed that he could conduct it to a successful issue. He felt
himself the champion of a depressed, if not an oppressed, nationality,
and had faith in his power to raise it into a lofty position. Iran,
at any rate, should no longer, he resolved, submit patiently to be the
slave of Turan; the keen, intelligent, art-loving Aryan people should no
longer bear submissively the yoke of the rude, coarse, clumsy Scyths. An
effort after freedom should be made. He had little doubt of the result.
The Persians, by the strength of their own right arms and the blessing
of Ahuramazda, the "All-bounteous," would triumph over their impious
masters, and become once more a great and independent people. At the
worst, if he had miscalculated, there would be the alternative of
a glorious death upon the battle-field in one of the noblest of all
causes, the assertion of a nation's freedom.


_Situation and Size of Persia. General Character of the Country and
Climate. Chief Products. Characteristics of the Persian People, physical
and moral. Differences observable in the Race at different periods._

Persia Proper was a tract of country lying on the Gulf to which it has
given name, and extending about 450 miles from north-west to south-east,
with an average breadth of about 250 miles. Its entire area may be
estimated at about a hundred thousand square miles. It was thus larger
than Great Britain, about the size of Italy, and rather less than half
the size of France. The boundaries were, on the west, Elymais or Susiana
(which, however, was sometimes reckoned a part of Persia); on the north,
Media; on the east, Carmania; and on the south, the sea. It is nearly
represented in modern times by the two Persian provinces of Farsistan
and Laristan, the former of which retains, but slightly changed, the
ancient appellation. The Hindyan or Tab (ancient Oroatis) seems towards
its mouth to have formed the western limit. Eastward, Persia extended
to about the site of the modern Bunder Kongo. Inland, the northern
boundary ran probably a little south of the thirty-second parallel, from
long. 50° to 55°. The line dividing Persia Proper from Carmania (now
Kerman) was somewhat uncertain.

The character of the tract is extremely diversified. Ancient writers
divided the country into three strongly contrasted regions. The first,
or coast tract, was (they said) a sandy desert, producing nothing but a
few dates, owing to the intensity of the heat. Above this was a fertile
region, grassy, with well-watered meadows and numerous vineyards,
enjoying a delicious climate, producing almost every fruit but the
olive, containing pleasant parks or "paradises," watered by a number
of limpid streams and clear lakes, well wooded in places, affording an
excellent pasture for horses and for all sorts of cattle, abounding
in water-fowl and game of every kind, and altogether a most delightful
abode. Beyond this fertile region, towards the north, was a rugged

Online LibraryGeorge RawlinsonThe Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7. (of 7): The Sassanian or New Persian Empire The History, Geography, And Antiquities Of Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, Parthi → online text (page 1 of 36)