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Genealogy of the First Arsacids - Page 35


Draft translation of 10 May 2008:

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1. Undoubtedly in this period, when Arsacid power needed justification not solely by right of conquest, and when local separatism raised its head, special attention had to be given to whether the Arsacids represented the local dynasty, the heroes of the Iranian struggle for liberation from the Macedonian yoke (as it was argued in the version presented by Arrian), or whether they were foreigners, newcomers (as it is maintained in the later Iranian tradition going back to the Sasanids, who considered themselves the only true Iranian dynasty). It is especially important to note that, in the later tradition, the Arsacids are not called a Parthian dynasty but Persian; they are called the kings of Persia, of Persians, etc.8. From our point of view, this unconditionally agrees with the same ideas we see in Arrian.

2. The substitution of one hero by two, as noted in the literature, is a quite common phenomenon; it is the result of the influence of a literary tradition according to which two hero founders (not necessarily brothers) stood at the cradle of this or that state, starting with the legendary foundation of Rome, which Romulus and Remus are said to have effected.

In this connection, however, one may note that in the literary tradition regarding the fate of the Hellenistic East, Alexander the Macedonian and Seleucus frequently appeared in the role of such "twin heroes", being depicted in such a way as to create the impression that Seleucus was direct heir of Alexander. [for multiple examples see 11, p. 153-170].

The appearance of the criminal love motif as a reason for the fall of the regime (as it was brilliantly shown by J. Wolski) is a common literary topos of the antique epoch starting with the description of the reasons for the fall of the Pisistratids. It was always used as a motif, especially highlighting the tyrannical character of the regime and legitimacy of its overthrow.

3. It was long ago noted that the appearance of the seven conspirators in Arrian's version is also just a literary device, borrowed from the description of the plot of the seven Persians against Gaumata. It was used to connect the Arsacids with the Achaemenids by means of analogy. We can only add that this observation was already made in the late ancient literature9.

4. Tracing their genealogy to the Achaemenids as justification for the "legitimacy" of its power even by very minor dynasties is so common a phenomenon in the Hellenistic period that it is unnecessary to specifically address this question [16, p. 221].

Examining the peculiarities which differentiate the version of Arrian from the version of Justin, and following J. Wolski and J. Neusner, we can readily acknowledge that all of them can be explained by the fact that the creation of this version had as its purpose a new means for justifying the lawfulness of Arsacid power. The history of early Parthia was revised according to some common devices and stock literary phrases. It follows that Arrian's version needs to be considered as testimony of the development of ideological concepts of the Parthian state organization, and not as a document which records the events in the epoch of the rise of the Parthian state.

However, this concept certainly cannot accommodate item 5 because here the differences between Arrian's version and that of Justin cannot be resolved according to the principles which explain the differences in the first four items. The essence of the differences here is that in Arrian's version, the importance of Arsaces I's activities is systematically discounted, Arsaces II is not mentioned at all and, instead of this, Tiridates is magnified. In Arrian it is noted that they liberated the people from the Macedonians and started to rule ( ...καὶ τὸ ἔθνος Μακεδόνων ἀπέστησαν ... καὶh ἦρξαν). In Syncellus, it is said that Arsaces reigned 2 years but Tiridates for 37 years 10. At the same time, in Justin there is no word about Tiridates and all accomplishments in the creation of the state are attributed to Arsaces I who is succeeded by his son Arsaces II 11. If we are dealing with a literary treatment of the facts of early Parthian history with the purpose of justifying the rights of Arsacids for Iranian power, then the tendency to minimize the role of Arsaces I,  [continued...]

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8 We see that in the passage of Syncellus already mentioned. The passage where Stephanus of Byzantium (s.v. Ῥάγα) mentions this city says: μετωνομάσθη δὲ καὶ Ἀρσάκη ἀπὸ Ἀρσάκου βασιλέως Περσῶν "but it was renamed Arsaka after Arsaces king of Persians". Hesychius (s.v. Ἄρσακες) says "οἱ βασιλεῖς Περσῶν". In both cases where the Arsacids are mentioned in the Suda, despite the fact that Arsaces I is called the Parthian, it is noted that the Arsacids are the kings of the Persians: καὶ Ἀρσακίδαι οἱ Περσῶν βασιλεῖς ἔνθεν Ἀρσακίδαι ἐκλήθησαν οἱ Περσῶν βασιλεῖς.f In Moses of Chorene (1, 8) it is noted that Arsaces was king of Persians and Parthians.

9 "Therefore, it also seems that as time passes, over long periods the same phenomena recur. Thus, those who conspired with Darius against the Magi numbered seven, and, at a much later time, those who rebelled with Arsaces against the Macedonians were the same in number." [6, excerpt16].i

10 It is necessary to note that besides Justin,j the information regarding the length of Arsaces's reign appears in the works of other authors too. See, for example, Moses of Chorene, II, 2 where it is reported that Arsaces reigned 31 years.

11 Besides the authors usually referred to in this connection, it is necessary to consider later tradition as well, which estimated the deeds and moral qualities of Arsaces very highly. See, for example, usually not referenced in this connection the evidence of the Suda (s.v. Ἀρσάκης, A), which we believe should be quoted here because it includes some other original data as well: Ἀρσάκης Πάρθων βασιλεύς, ὅς δόρατι πλεγεὶςg ἐν τῇ μάχῃ κατὰ τὴν πλευρὰν θνήκει, ἀνὴρ γενόμενος τό τε σῶμα κάλλιστος καὶ περιβλεπτότατος καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν βασιλικώτατος καὶ τοῖς ἐς πόλεμον ἔργοις δαημονέστατος καὶ ἐς μὲν τὸ ὑπήκοον πᾶν πραότατος εἰς καθάιρεσιν δὲ τοῦ ἀνθίσταμενου ἐρρωμενέστατος καὶ τοῦτον Παρθαῖοί τε ἐς τὰ μάλιστα ἐπόθησαν. Arsaces, King of Parthians, who died in battle after being struck in the ribs by a spear. He was a man of very fine and most admired physique, extremely regal of spirit, and very experienced in deeds of war; very gentle towards every subject, and yet most vigorous in destroying opponents. The Parthians also longed for him in the greatest degree.

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Translation notes:
f "And Arsacids (were) the kings of Persians, wherefore the kings of Persians were called Arsacids".

g Koshelenko's πλεγεὶς (copied in A. Invernizzi's text, p. 142, n. 11) is either a misspelling or unusual variant. The proper form is πληγείς, str. aorist pass.participle of πλήσσω.

h This is the same Arrian text as p. 34, n. 7, slightly abbreviated. Koshelenko accidentally indicates words omitted before the καὶ; they are actually missing from immediately after.

i. Used here is the translation of R. C. Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire: Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus and Malchus, vol. II: Text, Translation and Historiographical Notes (Liverpool: Francis Cairns,  1983), p. 33. Ἔοικε μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλως ὁ χρόνος ἐν ταῖς μακραῖς περιόδοις καὶ κινήσεσι πολλάκις ἐπὶ τὰ αὐτὰ καταφέρεσθαι συμπτώματα, καθάπερ οἵ τε Δαρείῳ συστάντες ἐπὶ τοὺς μάγους ἦσαν ἑπτὰ καὶ οἱ πολλοῖς ὕστερον χρόνοις Ἀρσάκῃ κατὰ Μακεδόνων συνεγερθέντες ἴσοι τὸν ἀριθμὸν ἔτυχον. [Blockley II.32 Eunapius fr.21.3 (Exc. de Sent. 14)]

j. Koshelenko says Justin which is repeated in the Italian translation. However, this must be an error as Syncellus was just cited in the body of his text and Justin does not give a reign length for Arsaces I, the issue under discussion in the text and footnote 10.


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