Mithridates I of Parthia

Delice Bette | February 2, 2023


Mithridates I (Arshak VI), king of Parthia, ruled from about 171 to 138.

Mithridates (Greek Mιθριδάτης) is the Greek pronunciation of the Iranian name Mihrdat, meaning “given by Mithra. The name itself comes from the ancient Iranian Miθra-dāta-. Mithra is a solar deity in Zoroastrian sources, where he plays the role of the patron of hvarenes, i.e., royal glory.

Ascension to the Throne

We do not know the exact date of the accession of Mithridates I to the throne, but he is mentioned by Justin as a monarch who took the throne simultaneously with Eucratides of Bactria: “Almost at the same time Mithridates became king in Parthia, and Eucratides in Bactria, both great men”. But this report is not enough, because the exact date of the accession of Euclatid I to the throne is also unknown. If you follow the traditional dating, the event occurred around 171 BC. As a man of exceptional valor, Mithridates I was appointed as his successor by his older brother Thraat I, although he had several adult sons of his own. His accession to power coincided with the weakening of two hostile Parthian states, the Seleucid state and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.

Attack on Bactria

The Parthians in the reign of Mithridates I went on the offensive against their neighbors. Initially he invaded Aspiana (in the region of Ariana) and Tapyria (east of the middle reaches of the Tejan), separating them from Bactria, weakened by a prolonged internecine war. The historian Orosius, who lived nearly 600 years after the events, claims that the Parthian army under Mithridates I even invaded India and subjugated the tribes between the rivers Gidasp and Indus. However, for such conquests there is still no sufficiently reliable evidence, with the exception of this brief mention by Orosius, the reliability of whose information is not certain.

Invasion of Persia and Midia

Mithridates I took advantage of the fact that a number of territories fell away from the Seleucid kingdom and moved his armies westward. The rapid withdrawal of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes from Palestine, where the Maccabean revolt was spreading at the time, deep into the eastern part of his empire is most likely evidence of a Parthian offensive. Although the matter with the Maccabees was not settled – quite a common situation for this region – but in the eyes of the Seleucid ruler such an event as Mithridates” invasion of the eastern lands looked much more important at that time. In 166 B.C. Antiochus finally appeared in Babylon. From there he crossed the Euphrates in 165 BC and moved to Armenia, where he captured the king Artashes I (Artaxias) and forced him to recognize his sovereignty. Then Antiochus returned to the main road across the Iranian plateau, passing through the Ecbatans, and tried to capture Persepolis. However, the population of the city did not allow this to happen. He may also have invaded Elimaida in the southern region of Susiana, above the Persian Gulf (if the inscription from Susa really dates from the time of Antiochus IV). Eventually Antiochus was defeated and forced to retreat and died on his way back to Gabah (near modern Isfahan).

In the years following the death of Antiochus IV a number of independent kingdoms emerged in Western Iran. The most significant of them, Elimaida, apparently became independent even before the reign of Antiochus IV. Thanks to numismatic data, we even know the name of the ruler of Elimaida, who had departed from the Seleucids. It was Camnascir. His state at the best of times extended from Habiena (modern Isfahan) to the Persian Gulf. Two independent kingdoms formed in Armenia around this time: Sophene and Greater Armenia. Antiochus III. subordinated Midian Antropathena became independent again. Hyspasiosin, son of Saghdodonak, founded the small state of Harakene in an economically very important region: the mouth of the great rivers Euphrates and Tigris. After the death of Antiochus IV, the satrap of Midia, Timarchus, begins to issue his own coinage. Persia, whose subordination to the Seleucids had always been very conditional, now became completely independent. Thus, about 16o B.C. most of the eastern satrapies were finally lost to the Seleucids and fragmented into a number of small independent states. The force that united all these disparate kingdoms and principalities into one whole was the Parthians, who in the reign of Mithridates I began to seize the lands of their neighbors.

Mithridates” invasion of Elimaida probably alarmed Timarchus, the satrap of Midia, because it was obvious that he was to become the next victim of Parthian expansion. Timarchus ruled Midia as early as 161 B.C., and it is known that Mithridates” invasion of Midia coincided in time with the assassination of Eucratides of Bactria by his own son, which occurred around 155 B.C. Hence, for some time between 161 and 155 B.C. Mithridates waged a long war with Midia with variable success. Finally, when he was victorious, he appointed a man named Bagas (Vagasis) to rule over the new territory.

Attack on Babylonia

The conquest of Midian opened for Parthian expansion the gates to fertile Mesopotamia. Only he who possessed this most important economic and political center could count on the unification of all Iran under his rule. The Seleucid king Demetrius II Nicator, realizing the disastrous consequences of losing Mesopotamia, offered stubborn resistance to Mithridates. A surviving damaged cuneiform tablet gives a contemporary account of Mithridates” advance. When the news of his approach reached the Seleucid ruler Demetrius Nicator, who was then in Babylonia, probably in Seleucia-on-Tigris, he quickly assembled a militia, taking all men indiscriminately into the army, and set out for Midia to meet the enemy. The Parthian king managed to outwit him and continued his advance. Meanwhile Demetrius gave orders to assemble additional troops, and one of his commanders, along with reinforcements, entered Mesopotamia, coming probably from Syria. Mithridates turned southward toward Seleucia and defeated him. At Seleucia the Parthian monarch received a delegation which had come with an offer of friendship from some city in the country of Ashshur (Assyria), where they were probably already well aware of the defeat of the general Demetrius. Mithridates entered the royal city of Seleucia in late June or early July; he was proclaimed king on or somewhat before July 8, 141 BC.

“…People indiscriminately to the cities of Midia… In the beginning of that month on the 22nd day su-bu (?)… rab uqu (the warlord) entered the land of Akkad. Arshak, the king in Seleucia the country of Ashshur, which before the face of king Arshak the royal city he entered; in the month, on the 28th day .”

By October 14 of the same year the supreme power of Mithridates was already recognized in Uruk (Greek: Orchoi) which lies in the lower reaches of the Euphrates, much to the south of Seleucia. The inhabitants of Susa and the surrounding region did not feel safe, as is shown by an inscription dated 171 of the Seleucid era (141 BC) on the health of the king and queen, whose names are providentially omitted. Logically, Susa was the next point in the great Parthian king”s journey. The days of the Seleucid power had already passed, reduced to the limits of almost one Syria the Seleucid kingdom could not resist the Parthian onslaught, especially since, according to the information we have, the locals in some cases welcomed their arrival…

Reflections of the Raid of the Saks in Hyrcania

Sometime between October and December of 141 B.C. Mithridates was forced to move to Hyrcania. The reason for his departure from Mesopotamia at this critical point in his campaign was probably the raid of the Saks, who shortly before 165 B.C. had been driven out of their homeland in Turkestan by the Yuezhi and by this time were quite close to the eastern limits of Parthia. The troops in Mesopotamia were placed under the Parthian commander, and Mithridates never returned to that region again, for the remainder of his reign was occupied in campaigns in eastern and central Parthia. His withdrawal from the Near East to Hyrcania allowed the Elamites to raid Apamea on the river Sylhu.

The defeat of the Seleucid king Demetrius and his capture

Even before Mithridates left, Demetrius resumed the struggle. No doubt the latter”s actions were justified by appeals for help from the newly conquered peoples, especially the Greeks. As Demetrius advanced, large numbers flocked under his banners; we hear of contingents from Bactria, Elimaida, and Persia. Demetrius won several victories. But in the end, whether by cunning or force, he was captured by the Parthians and led through their streets as an admonition to those cities that supported him. Demetrius was then sent to Hyrcania to Mithridates. There he was treated according to his high rank, and he married Mithridates” daughter Rodoguna.

Invasion of Elimaida

After his enemy had been safely neutralized, Mithridates decided to punish those who had helped the Seleucid ruler. Apparently, it was after Demetrius was captured that the Parthians finally conquered Elimaida. But the attack on the Elimeans was not only due to this: the wealth of their temples could replenish the war-depleted treasury. It is reported that the booty from the temples of “Athena” and “Artemis” alone amounted to 10,000 talents, and no doubt other temples were also plundered. The city of Seleucia (Mange?), formerly called Solake, on the river Gediphon (Jarrahi) was captured. Since soon after Mithridates” death the Parthians settled in Susa, it is likely that the great king himself incorporated this territory into the empire. Mithridates died in peace at 138

Results of the reign

Before Mithridates” death the empire included Parthia proper, Hyrcania, Media, Babylonia, Assyria, Elimaida, Persia and the regions of Tapuria and Traxiana. Thus, the Parthian power by the end of the reign of Mithridates I encompassed almost all of Iran and all of Mesopotamia. The Parthians reached the Euphrates. Chinese chronicles mention the Arshakid state “with several hundred cities.” Mithridates” victories gave full control of the Great Silk Road, which ensured the further development of Parthia. Parthian expansion deprived Bactria of a connection with the Hellenistic world, which led to the decline of Hellenism in the East, but at the same time Parthia itself adopted a number of elements of Hellenistic culture.

The language of official correspondence of the Parthian administration became Pahlavi, that is, Persian writing using Aramaic letters. Mithridates was the first of the Parthian kings whose name glorified the god Mithra; and the cult of this god, hitherto universally ignored at the official level, was to receive official approval. “Mihr Yasht” of the “Videvdad” was probably created in the last years of Mithridates” reign.


  1. Митридат I (царь Парфии)
  2. Mithridates I of Parthia
  3. Дибвойз Н. К. Политическая история Парфии. — С. 41.
  4. Frye 1984, 211. o.
  5. a b Katouzian 2009, 41. o.
  6. Según la costumbre parta la lista de reyes llevará siempre el nombre del fundador Arsaces. El resto de nombres es dado por los autores grecorromanos
  7. “Assar 2006”
  8. Epítome de las Historias filípicas de Pompeyo Trogo
  9. “Bivar A.D.H The political history of Iran under the Arsacids, The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods, Cambridge: Yarshater (ed), 1983, p.21-99
  10. ^ Giustino, XLI, 5.9-10.
  11. ^ Overtoom 2020, p. 154.
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