Mithridates I of Parthia

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Mithridates I
King of Kings, Arsaces, Philhellene
Coin of Mithradates I of Parthia, Seleucia mint.jpg
Mithridates I's portrait on the observe of a tetradrachm, showing him wearing a beard and a royal Hellenistic diadem on his head.
King of the Parthian Empire
Reign171-132 BC
PredecessorPhraates I
SuccessorPhraates II
Bornc. 195 BC
Died132 BC
IssuePhraates II
DynastyArsacid dynasty

Mithridates I (Parthian: 𐭌𐭄𐭓𐭃𐭕 Mihrdāt), also known as Mithridates I the Great,[1] was king of the Parthian Empire from 171 BC to 132 BC. During his reign, Parthia was transformed from a small kingdom into a major political power in the Ancient East as a result of his conquests.[2] Due to his accomplishments, he has been compared to Cyrus the Great (r. 550 – 530 BC), the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.[3] Mithridates I died in 132 BC, and was succeeded by his son Phraates II.


Mithridates is the Greek form of the Iranian theophoric name of Mihrdāt, meaning "gift of Mithra". The Old Persian version is Miθradāta (𐎷𐎡𐎰𐎼𐎭𐎠𐎫), whilst the Modern Persian version is Mehrdād (مهرداد).


Mithridates was the son of Phriapatius, the great-nephew of the first Arsacid king, Arsaces I (r. 247 – 217 BC). Mithridates had several brothers, including Artabanus and his older brother Phraates I, who succeeded their father in 176 BC as the Parthian king. The Parthian custom was for the ruler to pass the throne down to his son. However, this was not the case with Mithridates, who was appointed heir by Phraates I, reportedly due to his remarkable competence.[1][4]


Phraates I died in 171 BC, and thus Mithridates succeeded him. He first turned his sights on the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which had been considerably weakened as a result of its wars against the neighboring Sogdians, Drangianans and Indians.[4] This proved beneficial for Mithridates, who undertook his first campaign against the Greco-Bactrian ruler Eucratides I (r. 170 – 145 BC), whom he defeated and seized Bactria from, most likely sometime in the 150s BC.[1]

Turning his sights on the Seleucid realm, Mithridates invaded Media and occupied Ecbatana in 148 or 147 BC; the region had been destabilized by a recent Seleucid suppression of a rebellion there led by Timarchus.[5] This victory was followed by the Parthian conquest of Babylonia in Mesopotamia, where Mithridates had coins minted at Seleucia in 141 BC and held an official investiture ceremony.[6] While Mithridates retired to Hyrcania, his forces subdued the kingdoms of Elymais and Characene and occupied Susa.[6] By this time, Parthian authority extended as far east as the Indus River.[7]

Whereas Hecatompylos had served as the first Parthian capital, Mithridates established royal residences at Seleucia, Ecbatana, Ctesiphon and his newly founded city, Mithradatkert (Nisa), where the tombs of the Arsacid kings were built and maintained.[8] Ecbatana became the main summertime residence for the Arsacid royalty.[9] Mithridates may have made Ctesiphon the new capital of his enlarged empire.[10] The Seleucids were unable to retaliate immediately as general Diodotus Tryphon led a rebellion at the capital Antioch in 142 BC.[11] However, a opportunity for counter-invasion arose for the Seleucids in c. 140 BC when Mithridates was forced to leave for the east to contain an invasion by the Saka.[10]

The Seleucid ruler Demetrius II Nicator was at first successful in his efforts to reconquer Mesopotamia, however, the Seleucids were eventually defeated and Demetrius himself was captured by Parthian forces and taken to Hyrcania. There Mithridates treated his captive with great hospitality; he even married his daughter Rhodogune to Demetrius.[12] Mithridates then punished the Parthian vassal kingdom of Elymais for aiding the Seleucids–he invaded the region once more and captured two of their major cities.[13][10] Furthermore, around this period he allowed the Kings of Persis to have more autonomy, most likely in an effort to maintain healthy relations with them as the Parthian Empire was under constant conflict with the Saka, Seleucids, and the Mesenians.[14] He was seemingly the first Parthian monarch to have an influence on the affairs of Persis. The coinage under the Persis king Vadfradad II shows influence from the coins minted under Mithridates.[15] Mithridates died in c. 132 BC, and was succeeded by his son Phraates II.

Coinage and Imperial ideology[edit]

Mithridates I's portrait on the observe of a tetradrachm, showing him wearing a beard and a royal Hellenstic diadem on his head. The reverse shows Heracles, holding a skyphos.

Since the early 2nd-century BC, the Arsacids had begun adding obvious signals in their dynastic ideology, which emphasized their association with the heritage of the ancient Achaemenid Empire. Examples of these signs included a fictitious claim that the first Arsacid king, Arsaces I (r. 247 – 217 BC) was a descendant of the Achaemenid king of kings, Artaxerxes II (r. 404 – 358 BC).[16] Achaemenid titles were also assumed by the Arsacids, including the title of "king of kings" by Mithridates I. However, the title was infrequently by the latter, and it was first under his nephew and namesake Mithridates II, from c. 109/8 BC onwards, that the use of the title became regular.[16][10] The early Arsacids had originally worn a soft cap, known as the bashlyk, which had also been worn by Achaemenid satraps.[16]

The earliest coins of Mithridates I show him wearing the soft cap as well, however coins from the later part of his reign show him for the first time wearing the royal Hellenistic diadem.[17][18] He thus embraces the image of a Hellenistic monarch, yet chooses to appear bearded in the traditional Iranian custom.[18] A sculpted head broken off from a larger statue from Mithradatkert, depicting a bearded man with noticeably Iranian facial characteristics, may be a portrait of Mithridates, who had laid foundations to the city.[19][18] Mithridates I also titled himself Philhellene ("friend of the Greeks") on his coins, which was a political act done in order to establish friendly relations with his newly conquered Greek subjects.[20] The other titles that Mithridates used in his coinage was "of Arsaces", which was later changed into "of King Arsaces", and eventually, "of the Great King Arsaces."[18] The name of the first Arsacid ruler Arsaces I had become a royal honorific among the Arsacid monarchs out of admiration for his achievements.[1][21] Another title used in Mithridates' coinage was "whose father is a god", which was also later used by his son, Phraates II.[18]

The Xong-e Noruzi relief[edit]

The Xong-e Noruzi relief in Khuzestan.

One of the most famous Parthian reliefs is a scene with six men at Xong-e Noruzi in Khuzestan.[22] In the middle of the figure, the main character is in frontal view in Parthian costume. To the right are three other men, though slightly smaller carved into the stone. On the left is a rider on a horse. The figure is shown in profile. Behind the rider is followed by another man, again in profile. The stylistic difference between the Hellenistic style portrayed in more riders and reproduced in the Parthian style in other characters led to the assumption that the four men were later carved into the rock on the right side. The rider probably represents a king, and has been identified as Mithridates I, who conquered Elymais in 140/139 BC. Accordingly, the relief is celebrating his victory. This interpretation was originally accepted by many scholars.[23] However, more recently this view has been challenged and other theories have been proposed, including one that the rider is a local ruler of the Elymais.[24][23]


Of all Mithridates' accomplishments, his greatest one was to transform Parthia from a small kingdom into a major political power in the Ancient East.[10] The reason behind his conquests in the west seems to have based on a plan to able to reach Syria, making the Parthians able to gain entry to the Mediterranean Sea.[10] Schippmann emphasises this, stating "Certainly, the exploits of Mithridates can no longer simply be classified as a series of raids for the purpose of pillaging and capturing booty."[10] Katouzian has compared Mithridates to Cyrus the Great (r. 550 – 530 BC), the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.[3]

Family tree[edit]

Arsaces I
Arsaces II
Artabanus I
Mithridates I
Phraates I
Mithridates II
Phraates II


  1. ^ a b c d Daryaee 2012, p. 169.
  2. ^ Frye 1984, p. 211.
  3. ^ a b Katouzian 2009, p. 41.
  4. ^ a b Justin, xli. 41.
  5. ^ Curtis 2007, pp. 10–11; Bivar 1983, p. 33; Garthwaite 2005, p. 76
  6. ^ a b Curtis 2007, pp. 10–11; Brosius 2006, pp. 86–87; Bivar 1983, p. 34; Garthwaite 2005, p. 76;
  7. ^ Garthwaite 2005, p. 76; Bivar 1983, p. 35
  8. ^ Brosius 2006, pp. 103, 110–113
  9. ^ Kennedy 1996, p. 73; Garthwaite 2005, p. 77
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Schippmann 1986, pp. 525–536.
  11. ^ Bivar 1983, p. 34
  12. ^ Brosius 2006, p. 89; Bivar 1983, p. 35; Shayegan 2007, pp. 83–103
  13. ^ Hansman 1998, pp. 373-376.
  14. ^ Wiesehöfer 2000, p. 195.
  15. ^ Sellwood 1983, p. 304.
  16. ^ a b c Daryaee 2012, p. 179.
  17. ^ Brosius 2006, pp. 101–102.
  18. ^ a b c d e Curtis 2007, p. 9.
  19. ^ Invernizzi.
  20. ^ Daryaee 2012, p. 170.
  21. ^ Kia 2016, p. 23.
  22. ^ Mathiesen 1992, pp. 119-121.
  23. ^ a b Shayegan 2011, p. 106.
  24. ^ Colledge 1977, p. 92.


Ancient works[edit]

Modern works[edit]

  • Hansman, John F. (1998). "Elymais". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. VIII, Fasc. 4. pp. 373–376.
  • Colledge, Malcolm A. R. (1977). Parthian art. Elek. pp. 1–200.
  • Mathiesen, Hans Erik (1992). Sculpture in the Parthian Empire. Aarhus University Press. pp. 1–231. ISBN 9788772883113.
  • Shayegan, M. Rahim (2011). Arsacids and Sasanians: Political Ideology in Post-Hellenistic and Late Antique Persia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–539. ISBN 9780521766418.
  • Frye, Richard Nelson (1984). The History of Ancient Iran. C.H.Beck. pp. 1–411. ISBN 9783406093975.
  • Schippmann, K. (1986). "Arsacids ii. The Arsacid dynasty". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 5. pp. 525–536.
  • Kia, Mehrdad (2016). The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1610693912.
  • Bickerman, Elias J. (1983), "The Seleucid Period", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran, 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 3–20
  • Bivar, A.D.H. (1983), "The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran, 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 21–99
  • Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh; Stewart, Sarah, eds. (2007), The Age of the Parthians, Ideas of Iran, vol. 2, London: I. B. Tauris
  • Daryaee, Touraj (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Iranian History. Oxford University Press. pp. 1–432. ISBN 0-19-987575-8.
  • Pourshariati, Parvaneh (2008). Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire: The Sasanian-Parthian Confederacy and the Arab Conquest of Iran. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-645-3.
  • Invernizzi, Antonio. "Nisa". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  • Garthwaite, Gene Ralph (2005), The Persians, Oxford & Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., ISBN 1-55786-860-3
  • Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh (2007), "The Iranian Revival in the Parthian Period", in Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh and Sarah Stewart, The Age of the Parthians: The Ideas of Iran, 2, London & New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., in association with the London Middle East Institute at SOAS and the British Museum, pp. 7–25, ISBN 978-1-84511-406-0.
  • Brosius, Maria (2006), The Persians: An Introduction, London & New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-32089-5.
  • Shayegan, Rahim M. (2007), "On Demetrius II Nicator's Arsacid Captivity and Second Rule", Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 17: 83–103
  • Kennedy, David (1996), "Parthia and Rome: eastern perspectives", in Kennedy, David L.; Braund, David, The Roman Army in the East, Ann Arbor: Cushing Malloy Inc., Journal of Roman Archaeology: Supplementary Series Number Eighteen, pp. 67–90, ISBN 1-887829-18-0
  • Katouzian, Homa (2009), The Persians: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Iran, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-12118-6.
  • Wiesehöfer, Josef (2000). "Frataraka". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. X, Fasc. 2. p. 195.
  • Sellwood, David (1983), "Minor States in Southern Iran", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran, 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 299–322
Mithridates I of Parthia
 Died: 132 BC
Preceded by
Phraates I
King of the Parthian Empire
171–132 BC
Succeeded by
Phraates II