Parthian Stations

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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

Parthian Stations by Isidore of Charax[1], is an account of the overland trade route between the Levant and India, in the 1st century BCE, The Greek text with a translation and commentary by Wilfred H. Schoff. Transcribed from the Original London Edition, 1914. Levant is term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia. Parthian Stations gives an itinerary of the caravan trail from Antioch to the borders of India.


The Parthian Stations of Isidore of Charax, fragmentary as it is, is one of the very few records of the overland trade-route in the period of struggle between Parthia and Rome. As the title indicates, it gives an itinerary of the caravan trail from Antioch to the borders of India, naming the supply stations, or, as they would now be called, the caravanserais maintained by the Parthian Government for the convenience of merchants. While the record contains little more than the names of the stations and the intervening distances, an examination of the route followed leads to numerous inferences concerning the relations of the Parthian monarchy with its subject states and with neighboring foreign powers.

The route

The route followed in the Parthian Stations beginning at Antioch, crosses the Euphrates at Zeugma, the modern Birijik. This was on the high-road to Edessa and ArmeniaAfter crossing the Euphrates the Parthian route made a direct line, avoiding the long bend in the river, which it reached lower down and followed until Neapolis, where it left the Euphrates and crossed overland to Seleucia on the Tigris. Thence it ascended the hills of Media, crossed the Caspian Gates, and followed the fertile valleys eastward through the modern Khorassan to the Herat river. Here, instead of proceeding eastward to Bactria and the Pamirs, the Parthian route turned southward to Lake Helmund and Kandahar, where the record ends.

The Parthian Stations marks the ancient trade-route of the Medes and the Assyrians. The rise of the power of Persia diverted much of the trade to the Royal Road, leading to Susa and thence to Lake Helmund.

The Schoeni or Parasang was a Persian measure, perhaps not altogether fixed, and may be calculated as somewhere between 3¼ and 3½ miles; more or less, perhaps, an hour's travel by caravan. According to Strabo, it was equal to 40 stadia, but varied from 30 to 60.

Details of Parthian stations

1. For those who cross the Euphrates, next to Zeugma is the city of Apamia, and then the village of Daeara (Dara). It is 3 schoeni distant from Apamia and the river Euphrates. Then Charax Sidae, called by the Greeks the city of Anthemusias, 5 schoeni: beyond which is Coraea, in Batana (Bhatona), a fortified place: 3 schoeni. To the right of this place is Mannuorrha Auyreth, a fortified place, and a well, from which the inhabitants get drinking water, 5 schoeni. Then Commisimbela, a fortified place: by which flows the river Bilecha, 4 schoeni. Then Alagma, a fortified place, a royal station, 3 schoeni; beyond which is Ichnae, a Greek city, founded by the Macedonians: it is situated on the river Balicha: 3 schoeni. Then Nicephorium by the Euphrates, a Greek city, founded by King Alexander, 5 schoeni. Farther on, by the river, is Galahatha, a deserted village, 4 schoeni. Then the village of Chumbana, 1 schoenus; farther on Thillada Mirrhada, a royal station , 4 schoeni. Then a royal place, a temple of Artemis, founded by Darius, a small town; close by is the canal of Semiramis, and the Euphrates is dammed with rocks, in order that by being thus checked it may overflow the fields; but also in summer it wrecks the boats; to this place, 7 schoeni. Then Allan, a walled village, 4 schoeni. Then Phaliga, a village on the Euphrates (that means in Greek half-way), 6 schoeni. From Antioch to this place, 120 schoeni; and from thence to Seleucia, which is on the Tigris, 100 schoeni. Nearby Phaliga is the walled village of Nabagath, and by it flows the river Aburas,the modern Khabur, which empties into the Euphrates; there the legions cross over to the Roman territory beyond the river. Then the village of Asich (the Zeitha of Ptolemy), 4 schoeni; beyond which is the city of Dura Nicanoris, founded by the Macedonians, also called by the Greeks Europus, 6 schoeni. Then Merrha, a fortified place, a walled village, 5 schoeni. Then the city of Giddan, 5 schoeni. Then Belesi Biblada, 7 schoeni. Beyond is an island in the Euphrates, 6 schoeni; there was the treasure of Phraates, who cut the throats of his concubines, when Tiridates who was exiled, invaded [the land]. Then Anatho, an island in the Euphrates, of 4 stadia, on which is a city, 4 schoeni; beyond which is Thilabus, an island in the Euphrates; there is the treasure of the Parthians, 2 schoeni. Then Izan, a city on an island, 12 schoeni. Then Aipolis, [the city of Is] where there are bituminous springs, 16 schoeni. Beyond is the city of Besechana, in which is a temple of Atargatis, 12 schoeni. Then Neapolis by the Euphrates, 22 schoeni. From that place those leaving the Euphrates and passing through Narmalchan come to Seleucia on the Tigris, 9 schoeni. To this place [extend] Mesopotamia and Babylonia; and from Zeugma to Seleucia there are 171 schoeni.

2. From that place begins Apolloniatis, which extends 33 schoeni. It has villages, in which there are stations; and a Greek city, Artemita(Chalasar); through the midst of which flows the river Silla (the modern Diala). To that place from Seleucia is 15 schoeni. But now the city is called Chalasar.

3. From that place, Chalonitis, 21 schoeni; in which there are 5 villages, in which there are stations, and a Greek city, Chala (the modern Halvan), 15 schoeni beyond Apolloniatis. Then, after 5 schoeni, a mountain which is called Zagrus (now Jebel Tak), which forms the boundary between the district of Chalonitis and that of the Medes.

4. From that place, [Lower] Media, which extends 22 schoeni. The beginning is at the district of Carina (the modern Kerent or Kerind); in which there are 5 villages in which there are stations, but no city.

5. From that place, Cambadene, which extends 31 schoeni, in which there are 5 villages, in which there are stations, and a city, Bagistana (Behistun), situated on a mountain; there is a statue and a pillar of Semiramis.

6. From that place, Upper Media, 38 schoeni; and at 3 schoeni from the very beginning of it is the city of Concobar (the modern Kungawar); there is a temple of Artemis, 3 schoeni. Then Bazigraban, which is a custom house, 3 schoeni. Thence to Adrapana (the modern Arteman), the royal residence of those who ruled in Ecbatana, and which Tigranes the Armenian destroyed, 4 schoeni. Then Ecbatana (Ecbatana, the Hagmatan of the Medes and Persians, the modern Hamadan), the metropolis of Media and the treasury, and a temple, sacred to Anaitis (the Anahita of the Persians); they sacrifice there always; 12 schoeni. And beyond that place are 3 villages in which there are stations.

7. From that place Rhagiana (A very fertile strip between the Elburz range and the salt desert to the south, about 150 miles long, from the Caspian Gates to the modern Kasvin) Media, [58] schoeni. In it are 10 villages, and 5 cities. After 7 schoeni are Rhaga (the modern Rei) and Charax (is probably the modern ruin of Uewanukif, near the Caspian Gates. Both Rhaga and Charax are now represented by the modern Teheran. Charax means "palisade" or "palisaded earthwork."); of which Rhaga is the greatest of the cities in Media. And in Charax the first king Phraates settled the Mardi (a poor but warlike people of the Elburz range); it is beneath a mountain, which is called Caspius, beyond which are the Caspian Gates (The name was derived from the tribe of the Caspii, who gave their name also to the Caspian Sea, known to Greek writers as the Hyrcanian Sea; cf. Rawlinson, Sixth Monarchy, IV).

8. Beyond that place, for those passing through the Caspian Gates there is a narrow valley, and the district of Choarena (the modern Chawar)[19 schoeni]; in which is the city of Apamia, after 4 schoeni; and there are 4 villages in which there are stations.

9. Beyond is Comisena, 58 schoeni, in which there are 8 villages in which there are stations, but there is no city.

10. Beyond is Hyrcania, 60 schoeni, in which there are 11 villages in which there are stations.

11. Beyond is Astauena, 60 schoeni, in which there are 12 villages in which there are stations; and the city of Asaac (probably Arsak, now Kuchan in the upper Atrek valley. 37º 8' N., 58° 20' E.), in which Arsaces (Founder of the Parthian dynasty, chieftain of a tribe of Iranian nomads east of the Caspian) was first proclaimed king; and an everlasting fire is guarded there.

12. Beyond is Parthyena, 25 schoeni; within which is a valley, and the city of Parthaunisa (the modern Naishapur, 36° 12' N. 58° 50' E.) after 6 schoeni; there are royal tombs. But the Greeks call it Nisaea. Then the city of Gathar after 6 schoeni. Then the city of Siroc after 5 schoeni. Of villages it has no more than one, which is called Saphri.

13. Beyond is Apauarcticena (the Zapaortenon of Justin), 27 schoeni, in which is the city of Apauarctica (Possibly Dara, built by the Parthian King Tiridates about B.C. 230 as his residence, supplanting the Greek city of Hecatompylos; very near the modern Meshed). Then the city of Ragau and two villages.

14. Beyond is Margiana, 30 schoeni. There is Antiochia (the modern Mervrud 35° 50' N., 63° 5' E.), called well-watered; but there are no villages.

15. Beyond is Aria (This was the Haraina of the Vendidad), 30 schoeni. There are the city of Candac and the city of Artacauan (This site was evidently very near to or almost identical with the modern Herat) and Alexandria of the Arii (the modern Herat 34° 25' N., 62° 15' E.); and 4 villages.

16. Beyond is Anauon, a region of Aria, 55 schoeni, in which is a very great city, Phra (the modern Fara), and the city of Bis, and the city of Gari (maybe the modern GIRISHK, Cf. the Harakhraiti of the Vendidad) and the city of Nia (the modern Neh. 31° 30' N., 60° 5' E.); but there is no village.

17. Beyond is Zarangiana (the Sarangians of Herodotus III, 93), 21 schoeni. There are the city of Parin and the city of Coroc. (See Nimruz - Zaranj is an ancient historic city which was known as Sarang in Sanskrit during Hindu times and later came to be known as Zarang and now Zaranj).

18. Beyond is Sacastana of the Scythian Sacae, which is also Paraetacena (The word is Persian in origin and means simply "mountainous."), 63 schoeni. There are the city of Barda and the city of Min (This seems to have been the Saka name for their race. The name appears in two cities in India mentioned in the Periplus as Min-nagara, "city of the Min": one in the Indus delta and the other in the Cambay region. Cf. Schoff, Periplus, 165, 180.) and the city of Palacenti and the city of Sigal (the royal residence. Cf. Nimrus of the Rustam story in the Shah Nama); in that place is the royal residence of the Sacae; and nearby is the city of Alexandria (and nearby is the city of Alexandropolis), and 6 villages.

19. Beyond is Arachosia (White India, Substantially the modern Afghanistan. Cf. Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, 1, 434. The modern Arab name is Arrokadsch. Cf. Strabo, III, 10, 1.), 36 schoeni. And the Parthians call this White India; there are the city of Biyt and the city of Pharsana and the city of Chorochoad and the city of Demetrias; then Alexandropolis (the modern Kandahar), the metropolis of Arachosia; it is Greek, and by it flows the river Arachotus (the modern Argandáb).

References from the Periplus

The following references from the Periplus are of interest in connection with the itinerary of Isidore:

(Quoted from Schoff, The Periplus of the Erythræan Sea, pp. 41, 183, 189.)

(P. 41). "The country inland from Barygaza is inhabited by numerous tribes, such as the Ararttii, the Arachosii, the Gandaræi and the people of Poclais, in which is Bucephalus Alexandria. Above these is the very warlike nation of the Bactrians, who are ruled by a Kushan king.3 And Alexander, setting out from these parts, penetrated to the Ganges, leaving aside Damirica and the southern part of India; and to the present day ancient drachmæ are current in Barygaza, coming from this country, bearing inscriptions in Greek letters, and the devices of those who reigned after Alexander, Apollodotus and Menander."

(P. 183). "ARATTII. This is a Prakrit form of the Sanscrit Arashtra, who were a people of the Punjab; in fact the name Aratta is often synonymous with the Panjab in Hindu literature."

(P. 183). "ARACHOSII. This people occupied the country around the modern Kandahar (31° 27' N., 65° 43' E.). McCrindle (Ancient India, 88) says 'Arachosia extended westward beyond the meridian of Kandahar, and was skirted on the east by the river Indus. On the north it stretched to the western section of the Hindu Kush and on the south to Gedrosia. 'The province was rich and populous, and the fact that it was traversed by one of the mains routes by which Persia communicated with India added greatly its importance.'"

(P. 183). "GANDARAEI (Sanskrit, Gandhara). This people dwelt on both sides of the KabulKabul River, above its junction with the Indus; the modern Peshawar district. In earlier times they extended east of the Indus, where their eastern capital was located—Takshasila, a large and prosperous city, called by the Greeks Taxila.

"(See also Holdich, Gates of India, 99, 114, 179, 185; Vincent Smith, Early History of India, 32, 43, 50, 52, 54; Foucher, Notes sur la Géographie Ancienne du Gandhara.)

"The trade-route briefly referred to in the mention of Gandhara and Pushkalavati was that leading to Bactria, whence it branched westward to the Caspian and the Euphrates, and eastward through Turkestan to China, the 'Land of This' of § 64 of the Periplus."

(P. 189). "CASPAPYRA. This is the Greek form of the Sanskrit Kasyapapura, 'city of the Kashyapa.' The same word survives in the modern Kashmir, which is from the Sanscrit Kasypamata (pronounced Pamara), and meaning 'home of the Kasyapa' (one of the 'previous Buddhas'). According to the division of the Greek geographers, Gandhara was the country below Kabul, while Kasyapamata was the adjoining district in India proper. (See Lassen, I, 142; II, 631.)

"It was from a town named Caspapyra, that Scylax of Caryanda began his voyage of discovery at the command of the Persian king Darius. The story is given by Herodotus (IV, 44) He refers to the place as being 'in the Pactyan land,' and Hecatæus calls it 'a city of the Gandaræans.' It could not have been far above the modern Attock (33° 53' N., 72° 15' E.). Vincent Smith (Early History, 32) doubts the connection of the name with Kashmir; but while outside the present limits of that district, it is not impossible that its earlier extension was wider. The fact that the Periplus distinguishes it from Gandhara points in that direction."

As far as this place the land is under the rule of the Parthians.

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