The Parthian Empire (247 B.C.–224 A.D.)

See works of art
  • Earring in the form of a three-lobed wineskin
  • Figure of a reclining woman
  • Figure of a standing woman
  • Rhyton terminating in the forepart of a wild cat
  • Clasp with an eagle and its prey
  • Spout in the shape of a mans head
  • Door lintel with lion-griffins and vase with lotus leaf
  • Standing man

Works of Art (9)


When Alexander of Macedon died in 323 B.C., he had conquered the great Achaemenid Persian empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to India. His successor as ruler of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Iran was one of his generals, Seleucus I, who established the Seleucid dynasty. Along the trade routes that linked ancient and newly established cities, Hellenistic art and culture, a fusion of the various Near Eastern and classical Greek traditions, permeated the Near Eastern world.

While in the west the Seleucids faced the Ptolemies, Alexander’s successors in Egypt, in the east, a seminomadic confederacy, the Parni, were on the move. From the northeast of Iran they advanced toward the frontier of the Seleucid satrapy (administrative district) of Parthia, near the Caspian Sea. In about 250 B.C., they launched an invasion under their leader Arsaces. Known as the Parthians after their successful conquest of the land, they made their own imperial aspirations clear by instituting a dynastic era in 247 B.C., and subsequent rulers assumed the name Arsaces as a royal title. Under Mithradates I (r. ca. 171–139 B.C.) and his successors, the Parthians grew into the dominant power in the Near East through a series of campaigns against the Seleucids, the Romans, the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, and the nomads of Central Asia. The Romans, who were ambitious to dominate the Near East in the style of Alexander, underestimated the capabilities of the Parthian kings and had to negotiate peace under Augustus.

Establishing a primary residence at Ctesiphon, on the Tigris River in southern Mesopotamia, Parthian kings ruled for nearly half a millennium and influenced politics from Asia Minor to northern India, until they were overthrown by Sasanian armies from southwest Iran in the early third century A.D.

Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2000


Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. “The Parthian Empire (247 B.C.–224 A.D.).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2000)

Further Reading

Colledge, Malcolm A. R. The Parthians. New York: Praeger, 1967.

Herrmann, Georgina The Iranian Revival. Oxford: Elsevier-Phaedon, 1977.

Milleker, Elizabeth J., ed. The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. See on MetPublications