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Civ: Parthians


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Good Video. 

On 31/10/2023 at 11:54 AM, wowgetoffyourcellphone said:


Good video. If they add the 0 AD period to the game, it will be a great challenge, although I imagine that many resources used for the Persians and Seleucids will be useful for them, although they should adapt it to the time period. The buildings should be similar to the Persians with some variations. The most complex part should be the civilization's characteristics, maybe they can reflect their different stages such as nomadic, expansion, and empire. Also, their diverse ethnicity reflected in the units they use, although I have found a lot of information about the composition of their armies. And I am sure they will have some technology or bonus like the Silk Road, bridge of two cultures, or trade with China, literally that benefited them a lot.

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Oh, they'd be in the top 3 cavalry-heavy civs for sure (similar to Scythians and Xiongnu for cavalry strength). Strong cavalry, weak siege and navy, but decent buildings. Maybe they have a civ bonus where their buildings start off weaker than normal in village phase, but get stronger with each passing phase.

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Parthian army


Aswar-I Zrehgan

Aswar-I Kamanan


Nezagdar (Spearman)

Kamandar (Archer)

Taparan (Axeman)

Champion Cavalry

Grivpanvar (Clibanarii)


Kofyaren-I Verekhana (Hyrcanian Raider, can be upgrade into Daylami Warrior)

Artestar-I Daylamig (Daylami Warrior)


Edited by d34d svn
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4. The Parthian Period. The Greco-Persian wars and Alexander’s victories proved that light-armed troops could not stop heavy, well-trained, and brilliantly led infantry of the type of hoplites or phalanx. These could only be encountered with heavily armed and highly professional cavalry causing disorder in the massed ranks and then attacking them on vulnerable points with bowshots capable of piercing armor and lances effective against shields. This lesson went home with the Parthians who in ousting the Seleucids from Iran had ample opportunity to experience the effect of heavily armed professional infantry led by Macedonian kings, and soon came to learn about the armament, tactics, and strategy of the Roman empire as well. So they formed their armies on sound bases, taking into consideration what was needed and what was available to them.

In extent, the Parthian empire was smaller than that of the Achaemenids; it was also far less centralized. It lacked, for instance, a standing army (Herodian 3.1). There were of course the garrisons of towns and forts as well as armed retinues of tribal chiefs, feudal lords, and of the Great King himself, but these were limited and disunited. The military concerns were conditioned by the feudal system: when the need arose, the Great King appealed to his subordinate kings (there were 18 of them at one time: Pliny, Natural History 2.26), regional, and tribal lords and garrison commanders to muster what they could and bring them to an appointed place at a given time (Herodian, loc. cit.). The feudal lords and officials brought the mustering levies (*hamspāh: E. Herzfeld, Altpersische Inschriften, Berlin, 1938, pp. 313f.), and sometimes supplemented them with foreign mercenaries (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.9.2, 22.3.4; on the mercenaries in general see J. Wolski, “Le rôle et l’importance des mercenaries dans l’état parthe,” Iranica Antiqua 5, 1965, pp. 103ff.). The backbone of the army (Parth. spā’) and the chief power of controlling the empire consisted of the Parthians themselves. Accustomed from an early age to the art of horsemanship and skilled in archery, the Parthian secured a reputation that is still echoed in the Persian term pahlavān (< Pahlav < Parθava) while Parthian tactic and shooting are examplary in military histories.

The nature of their state and political conditions combined with lessons of history enforced an unusual military structure in Parthia: North Iranian nomads constantly threatened eastern borders while in the west first the Seleucids and then the Romans were ever ready for full-scale invasions. Any stratagem against such a double danger required rapid mobility for going from Armenia to the Jaxartes on short notice; and the solution the Parthians found was to rely on cavalry (asbārān; ʾsbʾr attested in Nisa documents; V. G. Lukonin in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, 1983, p. 700). It is true that Parthian armies did have foot soldiers, but their numbers were small and their function insignificant (Plutarch, Crassus 19; Appian, Bella civilia 2.18). On tactical considerations, too, only the cavalry could be useful to the Parthians, for the nomads of the east could easily break through any infantry that the Parthians were able to muster, while no Parthian infantry could have matched the Roman phalanxes on the western front. The Parthian nobles (āzāt, misunderstood by Greek and Roman sources as “free-men,” Lukonin, loc. cit.) formed the army by bringing along their dependants (misunderstood by Greek and Roman sources as “slaves,” Lukonin, ibid.). The example par excellence was Sūrēn who was not yet thirty years old when he vanquished Crassus: he came escorted by a thousand heavy-armed horsemen and many more of the light-armed riders, so that an army of 10,000 horsemen was formed by his bondsmen and dependants (Plutarch, Crassus 21 ). 400 Parthian āzāts threw an army of 50,000 mounted warriors against Mark Antony (Justin 41.2).

Experience had shown that light cavalry—armed with a bow and arrows and probably also a sword—was suitable for skirmishes, hit-and-run tactics, and flank attacks, but could not sustain close combat (Justin, loc. cit.; Plutarch, Crassus 24; G. Rawlinson, The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy, London, 1873, p. 405). For the latter task, heavy cavalry (cataphracti) was formed, which wore steel helmets (Plutarch, Crassus 24), a coat of mail reaching to the knees and made of rawhide covered with scales of iron or steel that enabled it to resist strong blows (ibid., 18, 24, 25; Justin, loc. cit.; on the description of the armor worn by the cataphracti given by the third-century story writer Heliodorus of Emesa, Aethiopica 9.15, see F. Rundgren, “Über einige iranische Lehnwörter im Lateinischen und Griechischen,” Orientalia Suecana 6, 1957, pp. 31-65 esp. pp. 33ff. with references). This was akin to the lamellar armor of the Sacians of the Jaxartes who in 130 B.C. overthrew the Greco-Bactrian kingdom (A. D. H. Bivar, “Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier,” Dumbarton Oaks Paper 26, 1972, pp. 273f.). The charger too was covered from head to knees by armor made of scale armor said to have been of steel or bronze (Justin, loc. cit., Plutarch, Crassus 24). An actual example of this horse-armor was found at Dura Europos (M. I. Rostovtzeff, The Excavations at Dura-Europos: Preliminary Report of the Second Season, New Haven, 1931, pp. 194ff.), while a famous graffito of the Parthian cataphract from the same site clearly demonstrates his full panoply (idem, Caravan Cities, Oxford, 1932, p. 195; F. E. Brown, “Sketch of the History of Horse Armor,” in M. I. Rostovtzeff and A. R. Bellinger, eds., The Excavations at Dura-Europos: Preliminary Report of the Sixth Season of Work, New Haven, 1936, pp. 444ff.). For offensive weapons the cataphract had a lance and a bow. The spear was of unusual thickness and length (Plutarch, Crassus 27, Antony 45; Dio Cassius 40.22; Herodian 4.30), and was used with such skill—relying on its weight—and power that it “often had impetus enough to pierce through two men at once” (Plutarch, Crassus 27). The bow was of the powerful and large compound type which outranged Roman weapons and its arrows, shot with swiftness, strength, and precision, penetrated the armor of the legionaries (Plutarch, Crassus 18, 24; see further Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 404; N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938, p. 86; F. E. Brown, “A Recently Discovered Compound Bow,” Seminarium Kondakovianum 9, 1937, pp. 1-10). The cataphract was probably equipped with a knife as well (Rawlinson, loc. cit.). So armed and thus skilled, he was one of the ablest and most feared soldiers of antiquity (on the cataphract see in more detail O. Gamber, “Grundriss einer Geschichte der Schutzwaffen des Altertums,” Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien 52, 1966, pp. 7ff. esp. pp. 49-52; idem, “Katafrakten, Clibanarii, Normanenreiter,” ibid., 64, 1968, pp. 7ff.; B. Rubins’s summary of Drevniĭ Khorezm by S. P. Tolstov, Moscow, 1948, in Historia 4, 1955, pp. 264ff.). The Parthian army was at times additionally supported by camel-borne troops (Herodian 4.28, 30). The animal could bear the weight of the warrior and his armor better and endure harshness longer than the horse; also, the archer could discharge his arrows from an elevated position. These would have made the division very desirable had it not been greatly hampered by Roman caltrop (tribulus) which, scattered on the battlefield, injured the spongy feet of the animal (ibid.).

The Parthian tactic was that of harassing the enemy by the hit-and-run action, dividing his forces by pretending retreat and enticing pursuit but then turning unexpectedly back and showering the foe with deadly arrows, and, finally when he was reduced in number and courage, to surround him, and destroy him with volleys of missiles. The tactic was thus unfavorable to close combat operation, and inefficient in laying siege to forts and walled towns; nor could the Parthians sustain long campaigns, especially in the winter months (Rawlinson, op. cit., pp. 406ff.). Since they lacked siege-engines, the Parthians made no use of Roman machines whenever they captured them (Plutarch, Antony 38). And since the army was composed mainly of the dependants of the āzāts, it had to disband sooner or later and go back to the land and the crops. The Parthian general desired to bring to a close a campaign as soon as possible and return home. When the Great King led the army this haste was doubled by the fear of insurrection at home, the frequency of which was the greatest weakness of the Parthian empire. The battle was furious: war cries and kettledrums resounded from all sides, setting fear in enemy ranks (Plutarch, Crassus 23, 26; Justin 41.2; Herodian 4.30); mounted on the light horse the archers showered the enemy with volley after volley, and then retreated but again turned back to shoot while the charger was at full gallop—an ancient art which came to be known as “the Parthian shot” (M. L. Rostovtzeff, “The Parthian Shot,” AJA 47, 1943, p. 174ff.). Then the shock cavalry (cataphracts) moved in, still avoiding hand-to-hand combat but picking up the enemy with their missiles and piercing them with the heavy lance. Charging on large and trained war horses (see under Asb), of which some were brought as reserves (Dio Cassius 41.24), the Parthians avoided the deficiency of the Achaemenid cavalry by carrying camel-loads of arrows for use in the field as soon as their archers ran out of their own; this enabled sustained and effective long-range engagements and reduced the number of the enemy rapidly (Plutarch, Crassus 25, see further Rawlinson, op. cit., pp. 160f.; 402ff.).

The organization of the Parthian army is not clear, and lacking a standing force, a strict and complicated organization was unnecessary in any case. The small company was called wašt; a large unit was drafš; and a division evidently a gund (G. Widengren, “Iran, der grosse Gegner Roms: Königsgewalt, Feudalismus, Militarwesen,” in H. Temporini and W. Haase, eds., Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II/9.1, 1976, 220ff. esp. pp. 281f.). The strength of a drafš was 1,000 men (Lucian cited by A. Christensen, Smeden Kāväh og det Gamle Persiske Rigsbanner, Copenhagen, 1919, pp. 23f. [tr. J. M. Unvala, “The Smith Kaveh and the Ancient Persian Imperial Banner,” Journal of the Cama Oriental Institute 5, 1925, pp. 22ff. esp. p. 37 n. 2]), and that of a corps 10,000 (cf. Sūrēn’s army). It seems, therefore, that a decimal grade was observed in the organization of the army. The whole spā’ was under a supreme commander (the Great King, his son, or a spā’pat, chosen from the great noble families). The largest army the Parthians organized was that brought against Mark Antony (50,000: Justin 41.2). At Carrhae the proportion of the lancers to the light horse was about one to ten, but in the first and second centuries the number and importance of the lancers as the major actors of the battle-field increased substantially (Bivar, op. cit., pp. 274-75). The Parthians carried various banners, often ornamented with the figures of dragons (Christensen, op. cit., tr. Unvala, pp. 37f.), but the famous national emblem of Iran, the Drafš-e Kāvīān, appears to have served as the imperial banner (ibid., p. 39). The Parthians marched swiftly but very seldom at dark (Plutarch, Crassus 29; Antony 47). They used no war chariots, and confined the use of the wagon to transporting females accompanying commanders on expeditions (Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 409).

The Parthian period holds an important place in military history. Several Parthian kings—including the first and the last—fell in action, and their three century-long conflicts with Rome had profound effects on Roman military organization. For they not only succeeded in repulsing repeated Roman attempts at the conquest of Iran, but they inflicted severe defeats—even in their last days—upon the Roman invaders; and to face the long-range fighting tactics of the Parthian armored cavalry and mounted archers, the Romans started to supplement their armies of heavy and drilled infantry with auxiliary forces of riders and bowmen, thereby increasingly modifying traditional Roman arms and tactics (for details see E. Gabba, “Sulle influenze reciproche degli ordinamenti militari dei Parti e dei Romani,” in La Persia e il mondo greco-romano. Rome, 1966, pp. 51ff.). The Parthians finally submitted to an Iranian dynasty which had close links with them and retained the power of their nobility, one reason for their defeat being that while they still wore the old style lamellar armor, the Sasanians went to battle with the Roman type mail shirt, i.e., armor of chain links, which was more flexible and afforded better protection (Bivar, op. cit., p. 275).



viii. Military Architecture Of Parthia

Some interesting features appeared in the military architecture of the vast Parthian domain ruled by the Arsacids (q.v. Bergamini, pp. 195-214; Colledge, pp. 21-79; Francfort, pp. 23-39; Pugachenkova, pp. 26-60), the dynasty that emerged in the wake of a relatively short occupation of Iranian territories by Alexander the Great (q.v.) and his successors (Debevoise, pp. 7-53). Starting from the area of modern Turkmenistan, which the Dachae or Parni tribes conquered after the Andragoras (q.v.) rebellion (Wolski, 1993, pp. 32-33; Idem, 1950, pp. 111-14), the Arsacids extended their empire to the Euphrates in the west taking Mesopotamia in ca. 141 BCE (Wolski, 1993, pp. 80-83).

Two main traditions can be observed in the military architecture of the period. In the western parts of the Parthian Empire, i.e., in the Mesopotamian plain, military and defensive systems and fortifications developed under a clearly strong influence of earlier civilizations that had existed in the region. The eastern Parthian territories, on the other hand, drew on various traditions of military architecture developed in Central Asia (Francfort, pp. 23-39). The dislodging of the Greeks resulted in no particular change in the defensive architecture, presumably because of the nomadic tradition that must have still determined the outlook of the early Parthians. Consequently, the new dynasty, installed in the Partava province, was focused on stabilizing the situation and maintaining the recently conquered territories. A reorganization of the defensive system of the state came later or was a parallel process (Jakubiak, pp. 127-50).

Some fortified cities had already existed in the early Arsacid period. Merv (or Marv, first called by the Greeks Alexandria Margiana and later Antiochia Margiana) was among the biggest cities in all of Central Asia and an important center on the northeastern frontier. It was established under the Achaemenids (q.v.) and enjoyed a prosperous period under Greek and Parthian domination (Pugachenkova, pp. 19-21, 39-44). Its defensive architecture reveals several characteristic elements. The oldest samples of this architecture are the round Erk Kala citadel, erected by the Achaemenids, and the lower town, erected on a square plan by the Greeks. One of the most important elements to appear at the Greeks’ inspiration was a protejchisma, found in the lower town in Merv (Herrmann, Kurbansakhatov, and St. John Simpson, pp. 9-52). A similar construction can be expected in another fortified city Kyrk Kala, which repeated the plan of Merv (Pugachenkova, p. 41). Moreover, it seems that strategically located sites evolved and were furnished with new solid curtain walls. The military system, recognized at these two sites, did not change under the Arsacids, but there were several new developments in this part of the state under the Parthians. Old Nisa—the ancient Mitridakent, capital of Parthia built by Mithridates II (r. 132-88/7 BCE; Invernizzi, pp. 137-40; Wolski, 1993, pp. 93-4) merit attention (FIGURE 1). A look at the defensive wall, its shape, and overall construction gives a clear idea of how the Arsacids perceived military architecture, even if as a capital city with official and representative functions it held a special place among Parthian towns. The mud-brick curtain wall was erected on a huge pakhsa, or compacted clay platform. The weakest points at the corners were strengthened with five massive bastions, and there were characteristic buttresses projecting from the wall at regular intervals, and ramps, giving access to the city gates.

Military architecture in the Central-Asian part of the Arsacid domain fell into two different categories. The first and apparently more popular form during the period in question included fortifications erected on a square or rectangular plan. These structures of differing sizes were characterized by a relatively regular spacing of the towers or large buttresses projecting beyond the curtain walls. Massive corner towers were strongly accentuated in these structures. Gates came in several variants, presumably dependent on individual architectural conditions; they are a good example of experimenting with new solutions that were advantageous from the military point of view, starting from simple gates through sluice-like gates to constructions of a barbican nature. Gates of the kind can be found at Kyrk Tepe, Akcha Tepe (Pugachenkova, pp. 29 and 46; Koshelenko, p. 64), Chichanlik Tepe (Pugachenkova, pp. 29 and 46; Koshelenko, p. 62; Francfort, p. 31), Durnali (Pugachenkova, pp. 47-52; Bader, Gaibov, and Koshelenko, pp. 117-28), and Chilburj (FIGURE 2; Pugachenkova, pp. 51-54; Koshelenko, pp. 58 and 63; Gaibov, Koshelenko, and Novikov, pp. 21-32).

The second category is represented by big cities with defensive walls and an easily distinguished, heavily fortified citadel. The Dev Kala site (Koshelenko, p. 61) is a case in point, as well as many other sites from the Gorgān (q.v.) plain, e.g., Qalʿa-ye Dašt-e Ḥalqa, Qalʿa-ye Gāvmiāli, Qalʿa-ye Ḵarāba, Qalʿa-ye Pāras, and Qalʿa-ye Gug (Kiani, passim). A huge defensive system, including many outposts and fortresses, was also constructed in the Gorgān region (Huff, pp. 105-10; Kiani, passim) for protection against raids by nomadic tribes from Dehestān (q.v.; Wolski, 1993, pp. 33-34, 37; Lacomte, pp. 142-45). It is traditionally referred to as the wall of Alexander the Great, but there is no actual evidence that the Greek conqueror had a role in its construction. In any event, it was definitely in existence under the Arsacids, and it demonstrates the Parthians’ familiarity with issues of organization and the protection of strategic and fertile territories like, for example, Gorgān.

In modern Iranian territories, almost no military architecture is known outside the Gorgān plain. Only a few structures, such as Tepe Čoraḡi and Ḵārkon near Hamadan and Malāyer, for example, may have been erected during the Parthian period (Kleiss, pp. 135-36).

More information on Arsacid military architecture comes from Mesopotamia. Its development there took place under a strong influence from western and earlier Assyro-Babylonian civilization. Consequently, massive curtain walls, furnished with regularly spaced projecting towers, had a long tradition dating back to at least the Early Bronze Age, both in regular military constructions and in city walls. The defensive complexes of Hatra (q.v.; Andrae, pp. 24-59, Khalil Ibrahim, pp. 117-23; Gawlikowski, pp. 147-84), Khirbeth Jaddalah (Khalil Ibrahim, pp. 143-54), Nippur (Knudstad, pp. 95-106; Bergamini, pp. 205-09), Ctesiphon (q.v.), and Dura Europos (q.v.; Gerkan, pp. 4-61; Bergamini, pp. 197-201; Kennedy and Riley, pp. 112-14; Gelin, Leriche, and žAbdul Massih, pp. 46; žAbdul Massih, pp. 47-54) merit special attention for the discussion of Parthian military architecture. Hatra is undoubtedly the best example of a fortified city preserved from the Parthian period in Mesopotamia (FIGURE 3). The round plan took advantage of a naturally defensive location while the walls were furnished with a number of projecting towers, and four city gates built of stone blocks. Enemy troops would have first been engaged by a network of small forts like, for example, Khirbeth Jaddalah (FIGURE 4), that would block their path before they could actually attack Hatra. These small forts were also used as residences by Hatrean elite and nobles. The Khirbeth Jaddalah fort also exhibits characteristic defensive elements such as towers with rounded corners, which reduced the blind field in front of the curtain wall, and small compartments located all around inside the defensive wall. These fortifications were certainly not designed to stand a long siege, unlike the well-prepared systems of the big cities of Hatra, Ctesiphon (qq.v.), and other Mesopotamian cities settled in the Arsacid period.

Since little is known of Ctesiphon, which like Hatra had been besieged by Roman forces, other military constructions known from Parthian Mesopotamia have to be considered. Foremost is Nippur of the 1st century CE (Bergamini, p. 205), a fort built around the ziggurat. A similar structure is known from Mount Babyl in Babylon (Werzel, Schmidt, and Malwitz, p. 58; FIGURE 5). That structure is alleged to be of late Parthian time, as the round defensive towers projecting from the main curtain wall suggest.

Not to be omitted in this discussion is Dura Europos (FIGURE 6), illustrating how the Parthians took advantage of structures erected by the Greeks in the early Hellenistic period. With its curtain walls and military structures, as well as its strategic location, the city had played an important role on the western Parthian border for many years.

To the extent of our knowledge of Arsacid military architecture, we can observe a number of characteristic features. Continuity and change had typified architecture in the region ever since Achaemenid times. Specific elements were taken from Greek military architecture (Lawrence, passim; McNicoll, passim), resulting in a new category of defensive structures adapted to the military needs of the Seleucids, in as much as for providing protection against nomadic tribes raiding from Central Asia. The first construction boom must have been under Arsaces I (r. 248/7—after 217 BCE) and Arsaces II (r. after 217—ca. 191 BCE), followed by a peak in development at the time of Mithridates I (r. ca. 171—139/8 BCE) and Mithridates II (r. ca. 124/3—88/7 BCE; see ARSACIDS), who probably had to rearrange the military system in Mesopotamia after its conquest. The system definitely developed in the Arsacid Empire until its fall and the rebellion of Ardašir I (r. 224 or 226—242 AD, q.v.; Wolski, 1993, pp. 195-96; Verstandig, pp. 340-59), which gave a new impetus to the development of Iranian military architecture.


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