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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

Location of Parthia

Parthians were an ancient of region called Parthia in Iranian people. They were ancestors of some Jat clans.



Parthia is a historical region located in north-eastern Iran. It was conquered and subjugated by the empire of the Medes during the 7th century BC, was incorporated into the subsequent Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, and formed part of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire following the 4th-century-BC conquests of Alexander the Great. The region later served as the political and cultural base of the Eastern-Iranian Parni people and Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD). The Sasanian Empire, the last state of pre-Islamic Iran, also held the region and maintained the Seven Parthian clans as part of their feudal aristocracy.


The name "Parthia" is a continuation from Latin Parthia, from Old Persian Parthava, which was the Parthian language self-designator signifying "of the Parthians" who were an Iranian people. In context to its Hellenistic period, Parthia also appears as Parthyaea.[citation needed]

Parthia was known as Pahlaw in the Middle Persian sources of the Sasanian period, and Pahla or Fahla by later Islamic authors.[1]


The original location of Parthia roughly corresponds to a region in northeastern Iran, though part is in Southern Turkmenistan. It was bordered by the Kopet Dag mountain range in the north, and the Dasht-e-Kavir desert in the south. It bordered Media on the west, Hyrcania on the north west, Margiana on the northeast, and Aria on the east.[2]

During Arsacid times, Parthia was united with Hyrcania as one administrative unit, and that region is therefore often (subject to context) considered a part of Parthia proper.

By the early Sasanian period, Parthia was located in the central part of the Iranian plateau, neighboring Pars to the south, Khuzistan to the south-west, Media to the north-west, the Alborz Mountains to the north, Abarshahr to the north-east, and Kirman to the east. In the late Sasanian era, Parthia came to embrace not only central and north-central Iran, but extended to the western parts of the plateau as well.[3]

In the Islamic era, Parthia was believed to be located in central and western Iran. Ibn al-Muqaffa considered Parthia as encompassing the regions of Isfahan, Ray, Hamadan, Mah-i Nihawand and Azerbaijan.[4] The same definition is found in the works of al-Khawazmi and Hamza al-Isfahani. Al-Dinawari, while not using the word Parthia, considered Jibal to be the realm of the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV.[5]

Jat Clans

  • Parad - Bhim Singh Dahiya writes that the clan (Gotra) name of some of the seers of the Rigveda are derived from Rishis, which are identifiable with the existing Jat clans, e.g. viii. Tanva Partha (X/193) may represent the present Parad clan, the well-known Parthians of Iran.


City-states of "some considerable size" existed in Parthia as early as the 1st millennium BC, "and not just from the time of the Achaemenids or Seleucids."[6] However, for the most part, society was rural, and dominated by large landholders with large numbers of serfs, slaves, and other indentured labor at their disposal.[7] Communities with free peasants also existed.

By Arsacid times, Parthian society was divided into the four classes (limited to freemen). At the top were the kings and near family members of the king. These were followed by the lesser nobility and the general priesthood, followed by the mercantile class and lower-ranking civil servants, and with farmers and herdsmen at the bottom.

Little is known of the Parthian economy, but agriculture must have played the most important role in it. Significant trade first occurs with the establishment of the Silk road in 114 BC, when Hecatompylos became an important junction.

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[8] mentions 'Media and the Caspian Gates'....On the other side8 of these gates (Caspian Gates) we come to the deserts9 of Parthia and the mountain chain of Cithenus; and after that, the most pleasant locality of all Parthia, Choara10 by name. Here were two cities of the Parthians, built in former times for their protection against the people of Media, Calliope,11 and Issatis, the last of which stood formerly12 on a rock. Hecatompylos,13 the capital of Parthia, is distant from the Caspian Gates one hundred and thirty-three miles. In such an effectual manner is the kingdom of Parthia shut out by these passes.

8 To the south-east of them.

9 Mentioned in c. 29 of the present Book.

10 Or Choarene.

11 Its site is unknown; but it is mentioned by Appian as one of the many towns erected by Seleucus.

12 By the use of the word "quondam," he implies that in his time it was in ruins.

13 A place of considerable importance, which seems to have derived its name from its "hundred gates." It was one of the capitals of the Arsacidan princes; but, extensive though it may have been, there is great doubt where it was situate, the distance recorded by ancient writers not corresponding with any known ruins.

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[9] mentions Arabia....Some writers also make mention of two other cities situate at long intervals, as you sail along the Tigris, Barbatia, and then Thumata, distant from Petra, they say, ten days' sail; our merchants report that these places are subject to the king of Charax. The same writers also state, that Apamea12 is situate where the overflow of the Euphrates unites with the Tigris; and that when the Parthians meditate an incursion, the inhabitants dam up the river by embankments, and so inundate their country.

12 In Sitacene, mentioned in the preceding Chapter.

Parthian cities

See List of Parthian Cities

Ch.8 Description of Darius-III's Army at Arbela against Alexander

Map - Location of Arbīl

They come to the aid of Darius-III (the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia) and were part of alliance in the battle of Gaugamela (331 BC) formed by Darius-III in war against Alexander the Great at Arbela, now known as Arbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.

Arrian[10] writes....Alexander therefore took the royal squadron of cavalry, and one squadron of the Companions, together with the Paeonian scouts, and marched with all speed; having ordered the rest of his army to follow at leisure. The Persian cavalry, seeing Alexander, advancing quickly, began to flee with all their might. Though he pressed close upon them in pursuit, most of them escaped; but a few, whose horses were fatigued by the flight, were slain, others were taken prisoners, horses and all. From these they ascertained that Darius with a large force was not far off. For the Indians who were conterminous with the Bactrians, as also the Bactrians themselves and the Sogdianians had come to the aid of Darius, all being under the command of Bessus, the viceroy of the land of Bactria. They were accompanied by the Sacians, a Scythian tribe belonging to the Scythians who dwell in Asia.[1] These were not subject to Bessus, but were in alliance with Darius. They were commanded by Mavaces, and were horse-bowmen. Barsaentes, the viceroy of Arachotia, led the Arachotians[2] and the men who were called mountaineer Indians. Satibarzanes, the viceroy of Areia, led the Areians,[3] as did Phrataphernes the Parthians, Hyrcanians, and Tapurians,[4] all of whom were horsemen. Atropates commanded the Medes, with whom were arrayed the Cadusians, Albanians, and Sacesinians.[5] The men who dwelt near the Red Sea[6] were marshalled by Ocondobates, Ariobarzanes, and Otanes. The Uxians and Susianians[7] acknowledged Oxathres son of Aboulites as their leader, and the Babylonians were commanded by Boupares. The Carians who had been deported into central Asia, and the Sitacenians[8] had been placed in the same ranks as the Babylonians. The Armenians were commanded by Orontes and Mithraustes, and the Cappadocians by Ariaoes. The Syrians from the vale between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon (i.e. Coele-Syria) and the men of Syria which lies between the rivers[9] were led by Mazaeus. The whole army of Darius was said to contain 40,000 cavalry, 1,000,000 infantry, and 200 scythe-bearing chariots.[10] There were only a few elephants, about fifteen in number, belonging to the Indians who live this side of the Indus.[11] With these forces Darius had encamped at Gaugamela, near the river Bumodus, about 600 stades distant from the city of Arbela, in a district everywhere level;[12] for whatever ground thereabouts was unlevel and unfit for the evolutions of cavalry, had long before been levelled by the Persians, and made fit for the easy rolling of chariots and for the galloping of horses. For there were some who persuaded Darius that he had forsooth got the worst of it in the battle fought at Issus, from the narrowness of the battle-field; and this he was easily induced to believe.

1. Cf. Aelian (Varia Historia, xii. 38).

2. Arachosia comprised what is now the south-east part of Afghanistan and the north-east part of Beloochistan.

3. Aria comprised the west and north-west part of Afghanistan and the east part of Khorasan.

4. Parthia is the modern Khorasan. Hyrcania was the country south and south-east of the Caspian Sea. The Tapurians dwelt in the north of Media, on the borders of Parthia between the Caspian passes. Cf. Ammianus, xxiii. 6.

5. The Cadusians lived south-west of the Caspian, the Albanians on the west of the same sea, in the south-east part of Georgia, and the Sacesinians in the north-east of Armenia, on the river Kur.

6. "The Red Sea was the name originally given to the whole expanse of sea to the west of India as far as Africa. The name was subsequently given to the Arabian Gulf exclusively. In Hebrew it is called Yam-Suph (Sea of Sedge, or a seaweed resembling wool). The Egyptians called it the Sea of Weeds.

7. The Uxians occupied the north-west of Persis, and Susiana was the country to the north and west of Persis.

8. The Sitacenians lived in the south of Assyria. ἐτετάχατο. is the Ionic form for τεταγμἑνοι ἦσαν.

9. The Greeks called this country Mesopotamia because it lies between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. In the Bible it is called Paddan-Aram (the plain of Aram, which is the Hebrew name of Syria). In Gen. xlviii. 7 it is called merely Paddan, the plain. In Hos. xii. 12, it is called the field of Aram, or, as our Bible has it, the country of Syria. Elsewhere in the Bible it is called Aram-naharaim, Aram of the two rivers, which the Greeks translated Mesopotamia. It is called "the Island," by Arabian geographers.

10. Curtius (iv. 35 and 45) states that Darius had 200,000 infantry, 45,000 cavalry, and 200 scythed chariots; Diodorus (xvii. 53) says, 800,000 infantry, 200,000 cavalry, and 200 scythed chariots; Justin (xi. 12) gives 400,000 foot and 100,000 horse; and Plutarch (Alex., 31) speaks of a million of men. For the chariots cf. Xenophon (Anab., i 8, 10); Livy, xxxvii. 41.

11. This is the first instance on record of the employment of elephants in battle.

12. This river is now called Ghasir, a tributary of the Great Zab. The village Gaugamela was in the district of Assyria called Aturia, about 69 miles from the city of Arbela, now called Erbil.



  1. Ghodrat-Dizaji, Mehrdad (2016-08-30), "Remarks on the Location of the Province of Parthia in the Sasanian Period", The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires, Oxbow Books, pp. 42–46, doi:10.2307/j.ctvh1dkb6.8, ISBN 978-1-78570-210-5, retrieved 2021-02-15
  2. Lendering, Jona (2001). "Parthia". Livius.
  3. Ghodrat-Dizaji, Mehrdad (2016-08-30), "Remarks on the Location of the Province of Parthia in the Sasanian Period", The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires, Oxbow Books, pp. 42–46, doi:10.2307/j.ctvh1dkb6.8, ISBN 978-1-78570-210-5,
  4. Payne, Richard (2013). "Commutatio et Contentio: Studies in the Late Roman, Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East. In Memory of Zeev Rubin ed. by Henning Börm, Josef Wiesehöfer (review)". Journal of Late Antiquity. 6 (1): 187–190. doi:10.1353/jla.2013.0011. ISSN 1942-1273.
  5. Ghodrat-Dizaji, Mehrdad (2016-08-30), "Remarks on the Location of the Province of Parthia in the Sasanian Period", The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires, Oxbow Books, pp. 42–46, doi:10.2307/j.ctvh1dkb6.8, ISBN 978-1-78570-210-5,
  6. Schippmann, Klaus (1987), "Arsacids II: The Arsacid Dynasty", Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 2, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 532
  7. Schippmann, Klaus (1987), "Arsacids II: The Arsacid Dynasty", Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 2, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 532
  8. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 17
  9. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 32
  10. The Anabasis of Alexander/3a, Ch.8

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