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Mithridates I (Parthian: 𐭌𐭄𐭓𐭃𐭕 Mihrdāt), also known as Mithridates I the Great,[1] was king of the Parthian Empire from 171 BC to 132 BC. During his reign, Parthia was transformed from a small kingdom into a major political power in the Ancient East as a result of his conquests.[2] He was the first Parthian king to assume the ancient Achaemenid title of King of Kings. Due to his accomplishments, he has been compared to Cyrus the Great (r. 550–530 BC), the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.[3] Mithridates I died in 132 BC, and was succeeded by his son Phraates II.

Mithridates I
King of Kings, Arsaces, Philhellene
Coin of Mithradates I of Parthia, Seleucia mint.jpg
Mithridates I's portrait on the observe of a tetradrachm, showing him wearing a beard and a royal Hellenistic diadem on his head.
King of the Parthian Empire
Reign171–132 BC
PredecessorPhraates I
SuccessorPhraates II
Bornc. 195 BC
Died132 BC
IssuePhraates II
DynastyArsacid dynasty


"Mithridates" is the Greek form of the Iranian theophoric name Mihrdāt, meaning "gift of Mithra". The Old Persian version is Miθradāta (𐎷𐎡𐎰𐎼𐎭𐎠𐎫), whilst the Modern Persian version is Mehrdād (مهرداد).


Mithridates was the son of Priapatius, the great-nephew of the first Arsacid king, Arsaces I (r. 247–217 BC). Mithridates had several brothers, including Artabanus and his older brother Phraates I, the latter succeeding their father in 176 BC as the Parthian king. According to Parthian custom, the reigning ruler had to be succeeded by his own son. However, Phraates I broke tradition and appointed his own brother Mithridates as his successor.[1] According to the 2nd-century Roman historian Justin, Phraates I had made his decision after noticing Mithridates' remarkable competence.[4]


When Mithridates ascended the throne in 171 BC upon Phraates' death, he first turned his sights on the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom which had been considerably weakened as a result of its wars against the neighbouring Sogdians, Drangianans and Indians.[4] This proved beneficial for Mithridates, who undertook his first campaign against the Greco-Bactrian ruler Eucratides I (r. 170–145 BC), whom he defeated and seized Bactria from, most likely sometime in the 150s BC.[1]

Overview of the ruins of Babylon.

Turning his sights on the Seleucid realm, Mithridates invaded Media and occupied Ecbatana in 148 or 147 BC; the region had recently become unstable after the Seleucids suppressed a rebellion led by Timarchus.[5] This victory was followed by the Parthian conquest of Babylonia in Mesopotamia, where Mithridates had coins minted at Seleucia in 141 BC and held an official investiture ceremony.[6] There Mithridates appears to have introduced a parade of the New Year festival in Babylon, by which the ancient Mesopotamian god Marduk was led along parade way from the Esagila temple by holding the hands of the goddess Ishtar.[7] Mithridates shortly afterwards retired to Hyrcania, whilst his forces subdued the kingdoms of Elymais and Characene and occupied Susa.[6] By this time, Parthian authority extended as far east as the Indus River.[8]

Whereas Hecatompylos had served as the first Parthian capital, Mithridates established royal residences at Seleucia, Ecbatana, Ctesiphon and his newly founded city, Mithradatkert (Nisa), where the tombs of the Arsacid kings were built and maintained.[9] Ecbatana became the main summertime residence for the Arsacid royalty — the same city which had served as the capital of the Medes and as summer capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.[10] Mithridates may have made Ctesiphon the new capital of his enlarged empire.[11] The Seleucids were unable to retaliate immediately as general Diodotus Tryphon led a rebellion at the capital Antioch in 142 BC.[12] However, an opportunity for counter-invasion arose for the Seleucids in c. 140 BC when Mithridates was forced to leave for the east to contain an invasion by the Saka.[11]

The Seleucid ruler Demetrius II Nicator was at first successful in his efforts to reconquer Mesopotamia, however, the Seleucids were eventually defeated and Demetrius himself was captured by Parthian forces and taken to Hyrcania. There Mithridates treated his captive with great hospitality; he even married his daughter Rhodogune to Demetrius.[13] Mithridates then punished the Parthian vassal kingdom of Elymais for aiding the Seleucids–he invaded the region once more and captured two of their major cities.[14][11]

Furthermore, around this period he granted the Kings of Persis more autonomy, most likely in an effort to maintain healthy relations with them as the Parthian Empire was under constant conflict with the Saka, Seleucids, and the Mesenians.[15] He was seemingly the first Parthian monarch to have an influence on the affairs of Persis. The coinage under the Persis king Vadfradad II shows influence from the coins minted under Mithridates.[16] Mithridates died in c. 132 BC, and was succeeded by his son Phraates II.

Coinage and Imperial ideologyEdit

Mithridates I's portrait on the observe of a tetradrachm, showing him wearing a beard and a royal Hellenstic diadem on his head. The reverse shows Heracles, holding a skyphos.

Since the early 2nd century BC, the Arsacids had begun adding obvious signals in their dynastic ideology, which emphasized their association with the heritage of the ancient Achaemenid Empire. Examples of these signs included a fictitious claim that the first Arsacid king, Arsaces I (r. 247–217 BC) was a descendant of the Achaemenid king of kings, Artaxerxes II (r. 404–358 BC).[17] Achaemenid titles were also assumed by the Arsacids; Mithridates I was the first Arsacid ruler who adopted the former Achaemenid title of "king of kings". Though Mithridates I was the first to readopt the title, it was not commonly used among Parthian rulers until the reign of his nephew and namesake Mithridates II, from c. 109/8 BC onwards.[17][11] The early Arsacids had originally worn a soft cap, known as the bashlyk, which had also been worn by Achaemenid satraps.[17]

The earliest coins of Mithridates I show him wearing the soft cap as well, however coins from the later part of his reign show him for the first time wearing the royal Hellenistic diadem.[18][19] He thus embraces the image of a Hellenistic monarch, yet chooses to appear bearded in the traditional Iranian custom.[19] A sculpted head broken off from a larger statue from Mithradatkert, depicting a bearded man with noticeably Iranian facial characteristics, may be a portrait of Mithridates, who laid the city's foundations.[20][19] Mithridates I also titled himself Philhellene ("friend of the Greeks") on his coins, which was a political act done in order to establish friendly relations with his newly conquered Greek subjects.[21] The other titles that Mithridates used in his coinage was "of Arsaces", which was later changed into "of King Arsaces", and eventually, "of the Great King Arsaces."[19] The name of the first Arsacid ruler Arsaces I had become a royal honorific among the Arsacid monarchs out of admiration for his achievements.[1][22] Another title used in Mithridates' coinage was "whose father is a god", which was also later used by his son, Phraates II.[19]

The Xong-e Noruzi reliefEdit

The Xong-e Noruzi relief in Khuzestan.

One of the most famous Parthian reliefs is a scene with six men at Xong-e Noruzi in Khuzestan.[23] In the middle of the figure, the main character is in frontal view in Parthian costume. To the right are three other men, though slightly smaller carved into the stone. On the left is a rider on a horse. The figure is shown in profile. Behind the rider is followed by another man, again in profile. The stylistic difference between the Hellenistic style portrayed in more riders and reproduced in the Parthian style in other characters led to the assumption that the four men were later carved into the rock on the right side. The rider probably represents a king, and has been identified as Mithridates I, who conquered Elymais in 140/139 BC. Accordingly, the relief is celebrating his victory. This interpretation was originally accepted by many scholars.[24] However, more recently this view has been challenged and other theories have been proposed, including one that the rider is a local ruler of the Elymais.[25][24]


Of all Mithridates' accomplishments, his greatest one was to transform Parthia from a small kingdom into a major political power in the Ancient East.[11] The reason behind his conquests in the west seems to have based on a plan to able to reach Syria, making the Parthians able to gain entry to the Mediterranean Sea.[11] Schippmann emphasises this, stating "Certainly, the exploits of Mithridates can no longer simply be classified as a series of raids for the purpose of pillaging and capturing booty."[11] The Iranologist Homa Katouzia has compared Mithridates to Cyrus the Great (r. 550–530 BC), the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.[3]

Family treeEdit

King of kings
Arsaces I
(r. 247–217 BC)
Arsaces II
(r. 217–191 BC)
(r. 191–176 BC)
Artabanus I
(r. 127–124/3 BC)
Mithridates I
(r. 171–132 BC)
Phraates I
(r. 176–171 BC)
Mithridates II
(r. 124–88 BC)
Phraates II
(r. 132–127 BC)


  1. ^ a b c d Daryaee 2012, p. 169.
  2. ^ Frye 1984, p. 211.
  3. ^ a b Katouzian 2009, p. 41.
  4. ^ a b Justin, xli. 41.
  5. ^ Curtis 2007, pp. 10–11; Bivar 1983, p. 33; Garthwaite 2005, p. 76
  6. ^ a b Curtis 2007, pp. 10–11; Brosius 2006, pp. 86–87; Bivar 1983, p. 34; Garthwaite 2005, p. 76;
  7. ^ Shayegan 2011, p. 67.
  8. ^ Garthwaite 2005, p. 76; Bivar 1983, p. 35
  9. ^ Brosius 2006, pp. 103, 110–113
  10. ^ Kennedy 1996, p. 73; Garthwaite 2005, p. 77; Brown 1997, pp. 80-84
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Schippmann 1986, pp. 525–536.
  12. ^ Bivar 1983, p. 34
  13. ^ Brosius 2006, p. 89; Bivar 1983, p. 35; Shayegan 2007, pp. 83–103
  14. ^ Hansman 1998, pp. 373-376.
  15. ^ Wiesehöfer 2000, p. 195.
  16. ^ Sellwood 1983, p. 304.
  17. ^ a b c Daryaee 2012, p. 179.
  18. ^ Brosius 2006, pp. 101–102.
  19. ^ a b c d e Curtis 2007, p. 9.
  20. ^ Invernizzi.
  21. ^ Daryaee 2012, p. 170.
  22. ^ Kia 2016, p. 23.
  23. ^ Mathiesen 1992, pp. 119-121.
  24. ^ a b Shayegan 2011, p. 106.
  25. ^ Colledge 1977, p. 92.


Ancient worksEdit

Modern worksEdit

Mithridates I of Parthia
 Died: 132 BC
Preceded by
Phraates I
King of the Parthian Empire
171–132 BC
Succeeded by
Phraates II