(Πάρθος). Parthians are spoken of in Ac 2:9 as being with their neighbors, the Medes and Elamites, present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. The persons referred to were Jews who had settled in Parthia (Παρθία in Ptolemy, Παρθυαία in Strabo and Arrian), and the passage shows how widely spread were members of the Hebrew family in the first century of our aera. SEE DIASPORA. The term originally referred to a small mountainous district lying to the north-east of Media. Afterwards it came to be applied to the great Parthian kingdom into which this province. expanded. To the history of the Parthians there seems to be but one allusion in the Old Testament, that in Daniel (Da 11:44; comp. Tacit. Hist. v, 8) to the campaigns of Antiochus Epiphanes.
Parthia Proper was the region stretching along the southern flank of the mountains which separate the great Persian desert from the desert of Kharesm. It lay south of Hyrcania, east of Media, and north of Sagartia. The country was pleasant, and fairly fertile, watered by a number of small streams flowing from the mountains, and absorbed after a longer or a shorter course by the sands. It is now known as the Atak or "skirt," and is still a valuable part of Persia, though supporting only a scanty population. In ancient times it seems to have been densely peopled; and the ruins of many large and apparently handsome cities attest its former prosperity (see Fraser, Khorassan, p. 245).
The ancient Parthians are called a "Scythic" race (Strabo, 11:9, § 2; Justin, 41:1-4; Arrian, Fr. 1), and probably belonged to the great Turanian family. Various stories are told of their origin. Moses of Chorene calls them the descendants of Abraham by Keturah (Hist. Armnen. 2:65); while John of Malala relates that they were Scythians whom the Egyptian king Sesostris brought with him on his return from Scythia, and settled-in a region of Persia (Hist. Univ. p. 26; comp. Arriar, l.c.). Really nothing is known of them till about the time of Darius Hystaspis, when they are found in the district which so long retained their name, and appear as faithful subjects of the Persian monarchs. We may fairly presume that they were added to the empire by Cyrus, about B.C. 550; for that monarch seems to have been the conqueror of all the north-eastern provinces. Herodotus speaks of them as being contained in the 16th satrapy of Darius, where they were joined with the Chorasmians, the Sogdians, and the Aryans, or people of Herat (Herod. 3:93). He also states that they served in the army which Xerxes led into Greece, under the same leader as the Chorasmians (7:66). They carried bows and arrows. and short spears, but were not at that time held in much repute as soldiers. In the final struggle between the Greeks and Persians they remained faithful to the latter, serving at Arbela (Arrian, Exp. Alex. 3:8), but offering only a weak resistance to Alexander when, on his way to Bactria, he entered their country (ib. 25). In the divisior of Alexander's dominions they fell to the share of Eumenes, and Parthia for some time was counted among the territories of the Seleucidae. About B.C. 256, however, they ventured upon a revolt, and under Arsaees (whom Strabo calls "a king of the Dahae," but who was more probably a native leader) they succeeded in establishing their independence. This was the beginning of the great Parthian empire, which may be regarded as rising out of the ruins of the Persian, and as taking its place during the centuries when the Roman power was at its height. During the Syro-Macedonian period the Parthian and Jewish history kept apart in separate spheres, but under the Romans the Parthians ,defended the party of Antigotus against Hyrcanus, and even took and plundered Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 14:13, 3; War, 1:13).
Parthia, in the mind of the writer of the Acts, would designate this empire, which extended from India to the Tigris, and from the Chorasmian desert to the shores of the Southern Ocean. Hence the prominent position of the name Parthians in the list of those present at Pentecost. Parthia was a power almost rivaling Rome — the only existing power which had tried its strength against Rome and not been worsted in the encounter. By the defeat and destruction of Crassus near Carrhee (the scriptural Harran) the Parthians acquired that character for military prowess which attaches to them in the best writers of the Roman classical period (see Horace, Od. 2:13; Sat. 2:1, 15; Virgil, Georg. 3:31; Ovid, Ars Am. 1:209, etc.). Their armies were composed of clouds of horsemen, who were all riders of extraordinary expertness; their chief weapon was the bow. They shot their arrows with wonderful precision while their horses were in full career, and were proverbially remarkable for the injury they inflicted with these weapons on an enemy who attempted to follow them in their flight. The government of Parthia was monarchical; but as there was no settled and recognized line of succession, rival aspirants were constantly presenting themselves, which weakened the country with internal broils, especially as the Romans saw it to be their interest to foster dissensions and encourage rivalries. From the time of Crassus to that of Trajan they were an enemy whom Rome especially dreaded, and whose ravages she was content to repel without; revenging. The warlike successor of Nerva had the boldness to attack them; and his expedition, which was well conceived and vigorously conducted, deprived them of a considerable portion of their territories. In the next reign, that of Hadrian, the Parthians recovered these losses; but their military strength was now upon the decline, and in A.D. 226 the last of the Arsacidae was forced to yield his kingdom to the revolted Persians, who, under Artaxerxes, son of Sassan, succeeded in re- establishing their empire. The Parthian dominion thus lasted for nearly five centuries, commencing in the third century before, and terminating in the third century after, our era.
It has already been stated that the Parthians were a Turanian race. Their success is to be regarded as the subversion of a tolerably advanced civilization by a comparative barbarism — the substitution of Tartar coarseness for Aryan polish and refinement. They aimed indeed at adopting the art and civilization of those whom they conquered, but their imitation was a poor travesty, and there is something ludicrously grotesque in most of their more ambitious efforts. At the same time they occasionally exhibit a certain amount of skill and taste, more especially where they followed Greek models. Their architecture was better than their sculpture. The famous ruins of Ctesiphon have a grandeur of effect which strikes every traveler; and the Parthian constructions at Akkerkuf, El Hammam, etc., are among the most remarkable of Oriental remains. Nor was grandeur of general effect the only merit of their buildings. There is sometimes a beauty and delicacy in their ornaimentation which is almost worthy the Greeks. For specimens of Parthian sculpture and architecture; see Sir R. K. Porter, Travels, vol. 1, plates 1924; vol. 2, plates 62-66 and 82, etc.4 For the general history of the nation, see Heeren, Manual of Anc. Hist. p. 229-305, Eng. transl.; Smith; Dict. of Greek and Roman Geog. s.v.; and especially. Rawlinson's Sixth Oriental Monarchy — Parthia (Lond. 1871), on whose article in Smith's Dict. of the Bible the above is chiefly founded. The geography of Parthia may be studied, besides the ancient authorities, in Cellar. Notit. 2:700; Mannert, v. 102; Forbiger, Handb. 2:546 sq. See also Anmer. Ch. Rev. Oct. 1873, art. 3; Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1874, art. 8.