The region in southwestern Persia called Persis (which included the city of Persepolis) had become an independent collection of tribal monarchies that remembered the glorious past of the Persian emperors Darius the Great and Artaxerxes. Bactria was ruled by a governor whom the Seleucids, who had inherited rule over Persia from Alexander, ignored. From steppe lands east of the Caspian Sea, a people were intruding into northern Persia and absorbing Persian culture. The Seleucids did little if anything to stop these migrants, seeing them as no significant threat. The migrants founded their own towns, and around the year 250 BCE one of them founded a Persian-style hereditary monarchy called the Arsacids.
In 246 BCE, the governor of Bactria, formally declared independence – an area in the northeast of what had been the Persian empire and then Alexander's empire. He allied Bactria with the empire of Chandragupta's Buddhist grandson: Asoka.
Drawing mainly from Greek and Macedonian support, the Seleucids continued to control Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and parts of Persia. Colonies that Alexander had founded in Persia and Bactria remained Greek islands in a sea of eastern peoples. And in these colonies, Greek and Macedonian ways were being diluted by the taking of Asian women as wives.
Around 238 BCE, the Arsacids conquered territory ruled by a Macedonian or Greek satrap, Andragoras. From this territory, identified as Parthia, the Arsacids, seized Hyrcania, an area in the far north of what today is Iran, along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. The Seleucid monarchs tried to retake Parthia, but war against the Romans and defeat by the Romans allowed Parthian rule to continue.
The Parthians expanded farther under their king Mithridates. Around 141 BCE, the Parthians seized the Seleucid capital of Seleucia. They took control of much of Mesopotamia. The power that the Seleucids had grabbed following the death of Alexander finally vanished in military defeats.
From around 130 BCE, Parthian rule had invasions by various nomadic tribes to contend with, not unlike that which the Roman emperors would soon face. And beginning in 105 BCE, rule from the center weakened. A handful of Parthian noble families contended with the Parthian monarchs for power.
Around 32 BCE, the Parthian king, Phraates IV, fought a rebellion that had the support of the nobility. By 25 BCE the revolt had failed. But in the decades that followed the nobility was able to put a person of their choosing on the throne, and dynastic instability followed. The Arsacid dynasty survived, but centralized power was weak and provincial rulers held sway.
During the war between Marcus Aurelius and the Parthians (162-66 CE) the Great Pestilence not only devastated the Romans, it threw the economy of the Parthian empire into decline. While the Roman empire was busy with German intrusions, plague and a rapid turnover in emperors, the Parthian empire was disintegrating. The Parthian empire fractured as local potentates claimed independence. The Parthians ruled only in Mesopotamia.
In Persia, nobles and villagers sought protection from roaming bands of brigands and the small armies of local despots.
In the mountainous desert province of Persis in southwestern Persia, a military leader named Ardashir saw opportunity, ventured out with his army and overran several neighboring cities. He overran the lands of other Persian potentates in Persis. He either defeated them or let them join him. And, in the year 208, he was crowned king of Persis. Then in the coming years he moved against Parthian rule in Mesopotamia. He met the Parthian army in a great battle in 224, and defeated it, ending the Arsacid dynasty's four hundred years of rule.
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