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The End of Parthia

February 19, 197, the armies of Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus clashed in Lugdunum (modern Lyon, France), and concluded the civil war that had started in 192 AD with the murder of Commodus on New Year's eve. At the end, Septimius Severus was the victor and sole ruler of Rome.

With the civil war concluded, Septimius turned to war with Parthia. Roughly the winter of 198 AD, he took Seleukeia and Babylon and then captured Ctesiphon, where the royal palace of Vologases V was located. He was aided in the attacks by the brother of Vologases V, Osroes II.

Kings of Parthia, Osroes II, AR Drachm, Ekbatana, AD 190-208

Obv: Bust to left, wearing tiara

Rev: Archer (Arsakes I) seated to right on throne, holding bow, monogram below, legend around

Ref: Sellwood 85.1

Taking of Ctesiphon (198 AD), Roman soldiers attacking the city with a siege tower and battering ram, a relief from the arch of Septimius Severus, Rome, Italy, Public Domain Image from Plate XIII, engraving by M Pool, from Histoire de Polybe, Volume 2, Charles-Antoine Jombert (Paris), 1753.

Cassius Dio reports the connection to the brother of Vologases:

As the Parthians did not await his arrival but retired homeward (their leader was Vologaesus, whose brother was accompanying Severus), he constructed boats on the Euphrates and proceeded forward partly by sailing and partly by marching along the river. The boats thus built were exceedingly swift and speedy and well constructed, for the forest along the Euphrates and that region in general afforded him an abundant supply of timber. Thus he soon had seized Seleucia and Babylon, both of which had been abandoned. Later, upon capturing Ctesiphon, he permitted the soldiers to plunder the entire city, and he slew a vast number of people, besides taking as many as a hundred thousand captives.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book LXXVI 9.1 

Herodian confirms the brutality of the attack:

"The Romans fell upon the unsuspecting barbarians (the Parthians), killing all who opposed them. Taking captive the women and children, they looted the entire city. After the king (Vologases V) fled with a few horsemen, the Romans plundered the treasuries, seized the ornaments and jewels, and marched off."
-Herodian, 3.9.1 

Historia Augusta (Aelius Spartianus) reports the difficulties the Roman soldiers suffered:

When the summer was well-nigh over, Severus invaded Parthia, defeated the king, and came to Ctesiphon; and about the beginning of the winter season he took the city. For indeed in those regions it is better to wage war during the winter, although the soldiers live on the roots of the plants and so contract various ills and diseases. For this reason then, although he could make no further progress, since the Parthian army was blocking the way and his men were suffering from diarrhea because of the unfamiliar food, he nevertheless held his ground, took the city, put the king to flight, slew a great multitude, and gained the name Parthicus.
-Historia Augusta, Life of Septimius Severus, 16.1 

As we can see on this coin of Septimius from issued ~200 AD, he was declared "Parthicus Maximus" in AD 200 by the Roman Senate for his victories. This coin declaring VICT PATHICAE or "Victory over Parthia" on the reverse with a winged Victory holding wreath and a trophy of war.

Septimius Severus, AD 193-211, AR Denarius, Rome, struck AD 197-200

Obv: L SEPT SEV AVG IMP XI PART MAX, laureate head to right

Rev: VICT PARTHICAE, Victory advancing to left, holding wreath and trophy, captive at feet

Ref: RIC IV 142a; BMCRE 137; RSC 741

The son of Vologases V, took over from his father in AD 207/208 and his tetradrachms are highly debased with perhaps 10-15% silver (Assar). A sequence of letters on the coins of Vologases III appears only as B on these later tetradrachms of Vologases VI.

Letters found on the tetradrachms of Vologases III - here's my one example from this King:

Kings of Parthia, Vologases III (c. AD 105-147), BI Tetradrachm (27mm, 13.49g, 12h), Seleukeia on the Tigris, year 435 (AD 123)

Obv: Diademed and draped bust l., wearing tiara; A behind.

Rev: Vologases seated left, receiving wreath from Tyche standing right, holding sceptre

Ref: Sellwood 79.13

The meaning of the sequence is unknown, they might be officina marks - which will still leave many unanswered questions about "why only B on on these coins"

Kings of Parthia, Vologases VI, 208-221/2 AD, BI Tetradrachm (25mm, 12.56 g, 12h), mint Seleucia, date is off flan.

Obv: Bust left with long pointed beard, wearing diademed tiara with horn and long curved earflap, earring, and necklace; B behind

Rev: EΠI (ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ = the Glorious/Illustrious), King seated left on throne, receiving diadem from Tyche holding sceptre; [unknown Seleukid date] between

Ref: Sellwood 88

Little is known about Vologases beyond his coins. After the death of Septimius, and after Caracalla had killed off his brother, Geta, Vologases VI and his brother Artabanus VI were fighting for the throne. Vologases disappears from the written record abound 216 AD. Is it around this time that Caracalla asked to marry the daughter of Artabanus VI.

"He (Caracalla) wrote to the king (Artabanus) that he wished to marry his daughter; that it was not fitting that he, emperor and son of an emperor, be the son-in-law of a lowly private citizen. His wish was to marry a princess, the daughter of a great king. He pointed out that the Roman and the Parthian empires were the largest in the world; if they were united by marriage, one empire without a rival would result when they were no longer divided by a river."
-Herodian, 4.10.1 

Caracalla may have been inspired to marry a Parthian princess in emulation of Alexander III the Great, who married Stateira and Parysatis (daughters of Achaemenid kings of Persia, Darius III and Artaxerxes III respectively). Arian writes of the marriages between Persians and Macedonians in 324 BC (Arian 7.4).

It is around this time that Dio reports that Caracalla repaired the tomb of Sulla.

"He (Caracalla) made search for the tomb of Sulla and repaired it, and also erected a cenotaph (tomb or monument without remains) to Mesomedes (of crete, kitara player/singer/composer), who had made a compilation of citharoedic modes; he showed honour to the latter because he was himself learning to play the lyre, and to the former because he was emulating his cruelty."
-Cassius Dio, 78.13.7

Vologases VI died, perhaps AD 221/AD222 (with his last issue of tetradrachms dated 533 SEM), and Artabanus was ultimately killed by Ardashir I AD 226/227, King of Persis and the founder of the Sasanian empire. While there may have been a few more uprisings by members of the Arsakid family, the Parthian Empire had come to an end and the new rulers, the Sasanians, prevented Parthia from becoming a Roman province.

Kings of Parthia, Vologases VI, AR Drachm, Ekbatana, circa AD 208-228.

Obv: Diademed bust to left, wearing tiara with ear flap

Rev: Archer (Arsakes I) seated to right on throne, holding bow, monogram below

Ref: Sellwood 88.19


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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Apr 10, 2022

Sulla, Excellent article & great example of a Vologases VI tet. 😊. I did notice a couple of typos; "He was aided in the attacks was the brother Vologases V," should be (by his brother Vologases V,), & "It is around this time that Dio reports that Caracalla repaired to tomb of Sulla.", should be (repaired the tomb of Sulla.).

Apr 10, 2022
Replying to

Thanks Al, appreciated and corrections made - although these coins look a lot like Vologases IV - they are less common (490 examples of IV in ACSearch, only 129 examples for VI). Best, S

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