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Genealogy of the First Arsacids - Page 31

Draft translation, 10 May 2008:

Genealogy of the First Arsacids
(once again about Nisa ostracon 1760)

by G. A. Koshelenko
Translated from the Russian by Vadim Nikitin*

[Click here for the original Russian text of this page]

In 1960, I. M. Diakonoff and V. A. Livshits published a document originating from the YuTAKE excavations of Old Nisa. The document (ostracon 1760) is a chronological record of the accession of a new king:

(1) ŠNT  I  C XX  XX  X  III  III  I  ’ršk  MLK’  BRY  BR  [YZ]  Y  (?)  (Pry)ptk
BRY  ’ḤY  BRY  ZY  (?)  ’ršk.

(1) Year 157, Aršak the king, grandson of Friyapātak,
(2) son of nephew of Aršak. [1, p. 20-21]; see also [3, p. 20-21, 38].

Having noted some language peculiarities of the document, the authors interpreted its historical content as follows: the king who ascended the throne in the year 157 of the Arsacid era (91 BC) is Gotarzes who, according to this record, was grandson of Phriapatius and probably cousin of Mithradates II who reigned at that time. Based on this ostracon, they restore his genealogy as follows: the Phriapatius mentioned in the document was son of Tiridates and nephew of the founder of the dynasty, Arsaces. They add that only regal ancestors of Arsaces-Gotarzes are mentioned in the document with the purpose of highlighting his rights to the throne. Also, this document presents evidence in favor of the historical existence of Arsaces I, which was often doubted.

A few years later, E. Bickerman [8, p. 15-17] and M.-L. Chaumont [10, p. 11-35]; [9, p 143-164] dealt with this ostracon. Agreeing with the assumption of I. M. Diakonoff and V. A. Livshits that this ostracon indeed refers to Gotarzes' accession to the throne1, because this is consistent with the data in Babylonian cuneiform documents, E. Bickerman also stressed the thought previously expressed in the literature that this Gotarzes was "satrap of satraps" before he took the field against Mithradates II. He was depicted as such on Mithradates' Behistun bas-relief [12, p. 81, table VII]. Having connected this document with other knowledge about the history of Parthia in the period late 90s — early 80s BC, E. Bickerman refined several facts of this period. However, E. Bickerman made several rather debatable suggestions. In particular, he believed that the Parthian system of succession was not from father to son but rather from brother to brother. Undoubtedly, for some dynasties [13], possibly including Indo-Scythian kings, this principle indeed existed, but it is wrong to extend it to the Parthians — this contradicts the direct statements of the ancient sources. In particular, Justin wrote the following about the Phriapatius and his descendants:

"Phriapatius died, having reigned for fifteen years and left two sons: Mithradates and Phraates. The older of them, Phraates, according to the custom of the Parthian people, inherited the kingdom…" (Just., XLI, 5, 9).

It is explicitly said here that the Parthian custom was inheritance from father to the oldest son. But the inheritance from brother to brother is an extraordinary event, caused by some force-majeure, as stressed by Justin himself when explaining why the heir of Phraates I was Mithradates I (Just., XLI, 5, 10). The value of Justin's report is that he, as E. Bickerman himself points out, gives an account of the official Parthian tradition.

The second thesis of E. Bickerman that provokes objections is his reconstruction of the family tree of the early Arsacids or, more precisely, its branch which links Arsaces I with Gotarzes. Having suggested a somewhat different reading of the text than that of I. M. Diakonoff and V. A. Livshits, he gives in comparison two genealogical  [continued...]

1 M. L. Chaumont also agrees that Arsaces, mentioned in this document, is Gotarzes I; however, she is not at all sure that it was he who held the post of "satrap of satraps" [10, p. 18].

Translator's note:
* I am grateful to G. A. Koshelenko for his kind permission to translate his article into English and publish it on The original appeared as "Genealogia Pervykh Arshakidov" in Istoriya i kultura narodov Srednei Azii: drevnost i srednie veka, B. G. Gafurov and B. A. Litvinsky, eds., (p. 31-37): Moskva, "Nauka", Glav. red. vostochnoi lit-ry, 1976. I offer my sincere thanks to Agnes Korn (Frankfurt a.M.), Mark Passehl (Adelaide), Renzo Lucherini (Livorno), and the late Tom Mallon-McCorgray (San Francisco) for their advice and contributions to this translation; my special thanks to Mark Passehl for his translations of the original Greek sources and the translation footnotes.

YuTAKE is a Russian abbreviation standing for "South-Turkmenistan Archaeological Comprehensive Expedition", 1946-1968.

This page last updated 23 Feb 2021

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