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Marcus Junianus Justinus
Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus.
translated, with notes, by the Rev. John Selby Watson.
London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Convent Garden (1853).


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Book XLI

Origin and growth of the power of the Parthians, I.—Their manners, mode of fighting, and religion, II., III.—Their history to the death of Alexander the Great, IV.—Nature of their country; reign of Arsaces; his successors, V.—State of the Bactrians under Eucratides; victories of the Parthians, VI.

1 2 3 4 5 6

1 THE Parthians, in whose hands the empire of the east now is, having divided the world, as it were, with the Romans, were originally exiles from Scythia. This is apparent from their very name; for in the Scythian language exiles are called Parthi. During the time of the Assyrians and Medes, they were the most obscure of all the people of the east. Subsequently, too, when the empire of the east was transferred from the Medes to the Persians, they were but as a herd without a name, and fell under the power of the stronger. At last they became subject to the Macedonians, when they conquered the east; so that it must seem wonderful to every one, that they should have reached such a height of good fortune as to rule over those nations under whose sway they had been merely slaves. Being assailed by the Romans, also, in three wars, under the conduct of the greatest generals, and at the most flourishing period of the republic, they alone, of all nations, were not only a match for them, but came off victorious; though it may have been a greater glory to them, indeed, to have been able to rise amidst the Assyrian, Median, and Persian empires, so celebrated of old, and the most powerful dominion of Bactria, peopled with a thousand cities, than to have been victorious in war against a people that came from a distance; especially when they were continually harassed by severe wars with the Scythians and other neighbouring nations, and pressed with various other formidable contests.

The Parthians, being forced to quit Scythia by discord at home, gradually settled in the deserts betwixt Hyrcania, the Dahae, the Arei, the Sparni1 and Marsiani. They then advanced their borders, though their neighbours, who at first made no opposition, at length endeavoured to prevent them, to such an extent, that they not only got possession of the vast level plains, but also of steep hills, and heights of the mountains; and hence it is that an excess of heat or cold prevails in most parts of the Parthian territories; since the snow is troublesome on the higher grounds, and the heat in the plains.

2 The government of the nation, after their revolt from the Macedonian power, was in the hands of kings. Next to the royal authority is the order of the people,2 from which they take generals in war and magistrates in peace. Their language is something between those of the Scythians and Medes, being a compound of both. Their dress was formerly of a fashion peculiar to themselves; afterwards, when their power had increased, it was like that of the Medes, light and full flowing. The fashion of their arms is that of their own country and of Scythia.3 They have an army, not like other nations, of free men, but chiefly consisting of slaves, the numbers of whom daily increase, the power of manumission being allowed to none, and all their offspring, in consequence, being born slaves. These bondmen they bring up as carefully as their own children, and teach them, with great pains, the arts of riding and shooting with the bow. As any one is eminent in wealth, so he furnishes the king with a proportionate number of horsemen for war. Indeed when fifty thousand cavalry encountered Antony, as he was making war upon Parthia, only four hundred of them were free men.

Of engaging with the enemy in close fight, and of taking cities by siege, they know nothing. They fight on horseback, either galloping forward or turning their backs. Often, too, they counterfeit flight, that they may throw their pursuers off their guard against being wounded by their arrows. The signal for battle among them is given, not by trumpet, but by drum. Nor are they able to fight long: but they would be irresistible, if their vigour and perseverance were equal to the fury of their onset. In general they retire before the enemy in the very heat of the engagement, and, soon after their retreat, return to the battle afresh; so that, when you feel most certain that you have conquered them, you have still to meet the greatest danger from them. Their armour, and that of their horses, is formed of plates, lapping over one another like the feathers of a bird, and covers both man and horse entirely.4 Of gold and silver, except for adorning their arms, they make no use.

3 Each man has several wives, for the sake of gratifying desire with different objects. They punish no crime more severely than adultery, and accordingly they not only exclude their women from entertainments, but forbid them the very sight of men. They eat no flesh but that which they take in hunting. They ride on horseback on all occasions; on horses they go to war, and to feasts; on horses they discharge public and private duties; on horses they go abroad, meet together, traffic, and converse. Indeed the difference between slaves and freemen is, that slaves go on foot, but freemen only on horseback. Their general mode of sepulture is dilaniation by birds or dogs; the bare bones they at last bury in the ground.5 In their superstitions and worship of the gods, the principal veneration is paid to rivers. The disposition of the people is proud, quarrelsome, faithless, and insolent; for a certain roughness of behaviour they think becoming to men, and gentleness only to women. They are always restless, and ready for any commotion, at home or abroad; taciturn by nature; more ready to act than speak, and consequently shrouding both their successes and miscarriages in silence. They obey their princes, not from humility, but from fear. They are libidinous, but frugal in diet. To their word or promise they have no regard, except as far as suits their interest.

4 After the death of Alexander the Great, when the kingdoms of the east were divided among his successors, the government of Parthia was committed to Stasanor, a foreign ally, because none of the Macedonians would deign to accept it. Subsequently, when the Macedonians were divided into parties by civil discord, the Parthians, with the other people of Upper Asia, followed Eumenes, and, when he was defeated, went over to Antigonus. After his death they were under the rule of Seleucus Nicator, and then under Antiochus and his successors, from whose great-grandson Seleucus they first revolted, in the first Punic war, when Lucius Manlius Vulso and Marcus Attilius Regulus were consuls. For their revolt, the dispute between the two brothers, Seleucus and Antiochus, procured them impunity; for while they sought to wrest the throne from one another, they neglected to pursue the revolters.

At the same period, also, Theodotus, governor of the thousand cities of Bactria, revolted, and assumed the title of king; and all the other people of the east, influenced by his example, fell away from the Macedonians. One Arsaces, a man of uncertain origin, but of undisputed bravery, happened to arise at this time; and he, who was accustomed to live by plunder and depredations, hearing a report that Seleucus was overcome by the Gauls in Asia, and being consequently freed from dread of that prince, invaded Parthia with a band of marauders, overthrew Andragoras his lieutenant, and, after putting him to death, took upon himself the government of the country. Not long after, too, he made himself master of Hyrcania, and thus, invested with authority over two nations, raised a large army, through fear of Seleucus and Theodotus, king of the Bactrians. But being soon relieved of his fears by the death of Theodotus, he made peace and an alliance with his son, who was also named Theodotus; and not long after, engaging with king Seleucus, who came to take vengeance on the revolters, he obtained a victory; and the Parthians observe the day on which it was gained with great solemnity, as the date of the commencement of their liberty.

5 Seleucus being then recalled into Asia by new disturbances, and respite being thus given to Arsaces, he settled the Parthian government, levied soldiers, built fortresses, and strengthened his towns. He founded a city also, called Dara, in Mount Zapaortenon, of which the situation is such, that no place can be more secure or more pleasant; for it is so encircled with steep rocks, that the strength of its position needs no defenders; and such is the fertility of the adjacent soil, that it is stored with its own produce. Such too is the plenty of springs and wood, that it is amply supplied with streams of water, and abounds with all the pleasures of the chace. Thus Arsaces, having at once acquired and established a kingdom, and having become no less memorable among the Parthians than Cyrus among the Persians, Alexander among the Macedonians, or Romulus among the Romans, died at a mature old age; and the Parthians paid this honour to his memory, that they called all their kings thenceforward by the name of Arsaces. His son and successor on the throne, whose name was also Arsaces, fought with the greatest bravery against Antiochus, the son of Seleucus, who was at the head of a hundred thousand foot and twenty thousand horse, and was at last taken into alliance with him. The third king of the Parthians was Priapatius; but he was also called Arsaces, for, as has just been observed, they distinguished all their kings by that name, as the Romans use the titles of Caesar and Augustus. He, after reigning fifteen years, died, leaving two sons, Mithridates and Phraates, of whom the elder, Phraates, being, according to the custom of the nation, heir to the crown, subdued the Mardi, a strong people, by force of arms, and died not long after, leaving several sons, whom he set aside, and left the throne, in preference, to his brother Mithridates, a man of extraordinary ability, thinking that more was due to the name of king than to that of father, and that he ought to consult the interests of his country rather than those of his children.

6 Almost at the same time that Mithridates ascended the throne among the Parthians, Eucratides began to reign among the Bactrians; both of them being great men. But the fortune of the Parthians, being the more successful, raised them, under this prince, to the highest degree of power; while the Bactrians, harassed with various wars, lost not only their dominions, but their liberty; for having suffered from contentions with the Sogdians, the Drangians, and the Indians, they were at last overcome, as if exhausted, by the weaker6 Parthians. Eucratides, however, carried on several wars with great spirit, and though much reduced by his losses in them, yet, when he was besieged by Demetrius king of the Indians, with a garrison of only three hundred soldiers, he repulsed, by continual sallies, a force of sixty thousand enemies.7 Having accordingly escaped, after a five months’ siege, he reduced India under his power. But as he was returning from the country, he was killed on his march by his son, with whom he had shared his throne, and who was so far from concealing the murder, that, as if he had killed an enemy, and not his father, he drove his chariot through his blood, and ordered his body to be cast out unburied.

During the course of these proceedings among the Bactrians, a war arose between the Parthians and Medes, and after fortune on each side had been some time fluctuating, victory at length fell to the Parthians; when Mithridates, enforced with this addition to his power, appointed Bacasis over Media, while he himself marched into Hyrcania. On his return from thence, he went to war with the king of the Elymaeans, and having conquered him, added this nation also to his dominions, and extended the Parthian empire, by reducing many other tribes under his yoke, from Mount Caucasus to the river Euphrates. Being then taken ill, he died in an honourable old age, and not inferior in merit to his great-grandfather Arsaces.


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1 Wetzel has Spartanos in his text, but observes in his note, that the right reading is unquestionably Sparnos, the Sparni being mentioned by Strabo in conjunction with the Dahae.

2 Populorum.] This word is undoubtedly corrupt. J. F. Gronovius would alter it to optimatum. Procerum would perhaps be better.

3 Patrius et Scythicus mos.] He seems to mean that their arms were partly of their own contrivance, and partly adopted from the Scythians.


Credas simulacra moveri
Ferrea, cognatoque viros spirare metallo;
Par vestitus equis—Claudian, In Ruf. ii. 35

5 I think that this custom is erroneously attributed to the Parthians by Justin, being rather that of the Hyrcanians. Herodotus also, as I am aware, attributes it to the Persians i. 140.—Is. Vossius. See Cic. Tusc. i. 44, 45.

6 Not weaker with respect to the particular time at which the Bactrians were exhausted by wars, but to other times, when the Bactrians had been their superiors in strength.—Scheffer.

7 Very improbable.


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The English translation of Justin's Epitome was entered by David Camden (2003) from Watson's 1853 edition. This text is in the public domain and may be copied and distributed for private and educational use, provided this original notice is kept intact. Any commercial use of this text, including print-publication and inclusion in subscription-based archives, is prohibited.

The Latin text and French translation, along with the secondary material written in French, are copyright © Marie-Pierre Arnaud-Lindet 2003, and are NOT in the public domain.

This material may only be used for private and educational use and provided that its copyright status is properly cited. Any modification, remote loading, publication, reproduction on another site, diffusion on the internet, or commercial use of these texts is strictly prohibited without the prior agreement of the author.