- IRAN BEFORE IRANIANS
- THE ARIANS
- THE MEDES
- THE ACHAEMENIANS
- CYRUS THE GREAT
- THE GREEKS
- THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE
- THE SASSANIANS
- ARAB CONQUEST
- THE ABBASSID CALIPHATES
- THE SAMANIDS
- THE TURKISH DYNASTIES
- MONGOL INVASIONS
- THE SAFAVIDS
- AFSHAR DYNASTY
- ZAND DYNASTY
- QAJAR DYNASTY
- PAHLAVI DYNASTY
- ISLAMIC REVOLUTION
In 250 BC a new Iranian people,
the Parthians, proclaimed their independence from the Seleucids, and went on
to re-establish an Oriental Empire which extended to the Euphrates.
Under Mithridates I (171-138 B.C.), the Parthians continued their conquests
and annexed Media, Fars, Babylonia and Assyria, creating an empire that
extended from the Euphrates to Herat in Afghanistan. This in effect was a
restoration of the ancient Achaemenian Empire of Cyrus the Great.
In addition to the nomads that were a constant menace on its eastern
frontier the Parthians also had to face another powerful adversary, Rome.
For almost three centuries, Rome and Parthia were to battle over Syria,
Mesopotamia and Armenia, without ever achieving any lasting results.
The Parthian kings referred to themselves on their coins as "Hellenophiles",
but this was only true in the sense that they were anti-Roman. In reality
the Parthians sought to establish themselves as the direct heirs of the
Achaemenian Empire, and Mithridates II (123-87 B.C.) was the first Parthian
ruler to use the old Achaemenian title "King of Kings" on his coins.
The re-conquest of the country by the Parthians brought a slow return to
Iranian traditionalism. Its technique marked the disappearance of the
plastic form. Stiff figures, often heavily bejeweled, wearing Iranian dress
with its drapery emphasized mechanically and monotonously, were now shown
systematically facing to the front, staring straight at the spectator. This
was a device used in ancient Mesopotamian art only for figures of
exceptional importance. The Parthians however, made it the rule for most
figures, and from them it passed into Byzantine art. A fine bronze portrait
statue (from Shami) and some relieves (at Tang-i-Sarwak and Bisutun)
highlight these features.
During the Parthian period the iwan became a widespread architectural form.
This was a great hall, open on one side with a high barrel-vaulted roof.
Particularly fine examples have been found at Ashur and Hatra. In the
construction of these grandiose halls, fast setting gypsum mortar was used.
Perhaps allied to the increasing use of gypsum mortar was the development of
gypsum stucco decoration. Iran was unfamiliar with stucco decoration before
the Parthians, among whom it was in vogue for interior decoration together
with mural painting. The mural at Dura-Europos, on the Euphrates, represents
Mithras hunting a variety of animals.
In the Zagros area of western Iran many examples of Parthian 'clinky' ware,
a hard red pottery which makes a clinky noise when tapped, can be found.
Glazed pottery with a pleasing bluish or greenish lead glaze, painted on
shapes of Hellenistic inspiration, are also frequently found.
Ornate jewelry with large inlaid
stones or glass gems made its appearance during this period.
Unfortunately, practically nothing that the Parthians may have written has
survived, apart from some inscriptions on coins and accounts from Greek and
Latin authors; however these accounts were far from objective.
Parthian coins are helpful in establishing the succession of kings, they
referred to themselves on these coins as "Hellenophiles", but this was only
true in that they were anti Roman.
The Parthian period was the start of a renewal in the Iranian national
spirit. Their art forms an important transitional stepping-stone; which led
on the one hand to the art of Byzantium, and on the other to that of the
Sassanians, and India.