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Coin of Mithridates I of Parthia (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.and illustration depicting a sacrifice being made on behalf of a family, by the chief priest Conon and two assistants, first century AD. Graeco-Iranian style

Mithridates Clashes with Kings and Swallows up Territory: The ‘King of Kings’ of Ancient Iran — Part II

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Mithridates (“The Gift of Mithra) exhibited qualities that most kings rarely have: experience and maturity. He understood that a king could retain his power only as long as the people and nobles were treated fairly.

To the benefit of his people, his empire marched east, gobbling up lands and kingdoms, such as Bactria and Media, and continued until Parthia’s border touched India. Mithridates was patient, and struck when targets were vulnerable, and finally he turned his attention toward Mesopotamia and continued conquering with ease. His achievements consolidated the future of Parthia’s power for centuries to come.

 Infantry soldier, from the Iranian Parthian Dynasty (247 BC - 224 AD

 Infantry soldier, from the Iranian Parthian Dynasty (247 BC - 224 AD) (Fabien Dany - www.fabiendany.com/CC BY-SA 2.5 )

[Read Part I Here]

Mithridates’ conquest of Media opened up even further expansion towards the west. The impact he had on the Seleucid Empire was tremendous. The loss of key territory included the rich trade routes (Silk Road and the Persian Royal Road) that ran through the eastern provinces, but also the manpower and resources the Seleucids used for military and financial purposes.

Mithridates Pushes into Babylonia 

After conquering the Median region, Mithridates marched back to Hyrcania, where he would reside for four years. It was within this time (around 145 BCE) that the Elamite king, Kammaskiri left Elam to conduct a campaign in Seleucid Mesopotamia.

Silver cup with linear-Elamite inscription on it. Late third millennium BC.

Silver cup with linear-Elamite inscription on it. Late third millennium BC. (Zereshk/ CC BY-SA 30 )

In response, the Seleucid general Ardaya, stationed in Babylonia, mustered his forces and pushed out of Babylon to counter the Elamite forces. Kammaskiri, during this time, was freely plundering the cities of Babylonia with no real resistance and seems to have left before Ardaya arrived. Soon after (around 144 BCE), Mithridates reappeared on the scene making his way towards Seleucid Mesopotamia. He entered Seleucia, the former Seleucid capital, possibly unchallenged, and captured it.

“[Against him] (the Seleucid king Demetrius  Nicator) Arsaces the king  (Mithridates I ) [went] to Seleucia . [The city . . ., of] the land of Assur, which before the face of Arsaces  the king [had bowed down], . . . [Into Seleuci]a, the royal city, he entered; that month, on the 28th day, [he sat on the throne]. Year 171 (Seleucid era), Arsaces  the king, on the 30th of the month Du’uzu (9 July) (. . .).”

Seleucia in the 4th century on the Peutinger Map.

Seleucia in the 4th century on the Peutinger Map. ( Public Domain )

To secure his new precious possession, he set up a military camp right on the other side of the Tigris River called Ctesiphon. After the capture of Seleucia, Mithridates then advanced towards Babylon and captured it in the summer of 141 BCE. With Mithridates in control of the Babylonian province, immense pressure was placed upon the Seleucids, for they now had the enemy in their backyard. If Mithridates intended to expand further west, it was in hiatus, for the Elamites were on their way towards Babylonia.

The Elamites’ raids caused alarm in now Parthian-held Mesopotamia. Mithridates, by that time, had returned to Hyrcania. When the news reached him, he made his way back to Babylonia. The Elamites attacked Apamea-on-the-Silhu. Fleeing citizens of Apamea found refuge at Bit-Karkudi on the Tigris. Once the Elamites had pillaged what they could at Apamea they burned the city down and thundered off towards Bit-Karkudi.

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Cam Rea  is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including: Leviathan vs. Behemoth: The Roman-Parthian Wars 66 BC-217 AD

Top Image: Coin of Mithridates I of Parthia (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com/CC BY-SA 3.0 ) and illustration depicting a sacrifice being made on behalf of a family, by the chief priest Conon and two assistants, first century AD. Graeco-Iranian style ( Public Domain ).;Deriv.

By Cam Rea

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