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Coin of Hyspaosines, minted at Charax Spasinu in 126-5 BC.jpg
Coin of Hyspaosines as King, minted at Charax Spasinu in 126/5 BC
King of Characene
Reignc. 141–124 BC
King of Babylon
Reign127 BC
PredecessorArtabanus I
SuccessorArtabanus I
Bornc. 209 BC
Died11 June 124 BC (aged 85)

Hyspaosines (also spelled Aspasine) was an Iranian prince, and the founder of Characene, a kingdom situated in southern Mesopotamia. He was originally a Seleucid satrap installed by king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175 – 164 BC), but declared independence in 141 BC after collapse of Seleucid authority in Iran and Babylonia to the Parthians. Hyspaosines briefly occupied the Parthian city of Babylon in 127 BC, where he is recorded in records as king (šarru). In 124 BC, however, he was forced to acknowledge Parthian suzerainty. He died in the same year, and was succeeded by his juvenile son Apodakos.

Name and background[edit]

Of Iranian descent,[1] Hyspaosines' name is a Hellenized[2] name of Persian[2] or Bactrian origin,[3] possibly derived from the Old Iranian vispa-čanah ("who appreciates all [things]").[4] Hyspaosines' father, Sagdodonacus, seemingly had a Bactrian name and was presumably of Bactrian origin himself.[4] He had served the local dynasts (frataraka) of Persis, who had been able to reign independently for three decades from Greek Seleucid authority, and even briefly seize the region of Characene.[5] The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175 – 164 BC) eventually managed to re-establish Greek authority over Persis and Characene,[5] and appointed his general Noumenios as the governor of Characene.[6]


Map of Characene

The capital of Characene, Alexandria, was originally founded by the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great, with the intention of using the town as a leading commercial port for his eastern capital of Babylon.[2] However, the city never lived up to its expectations, and was destroyed in the mid 3rd-century BC by floods.[2] It was not until the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes that the city was rebuilt and renamed Antiochia.[2] After the city was fully restored in 166/5 BC, Antiochus IV appointed Hyspaosines as governor (eparch) of Antiochia and its surroundings.[2]

During this period Antiochia briefly flourished, until Antiochus IV's premature death by disease in 163 BC, which weakened Seleucid authority throughout the empire.[2] With the weakening of the Seleucids, many political entities within the empire declared independence, such as the neighbouring region of Characene, Elymais, which was situated in most of the present-day province of Khuzestan in southern Iran.[2] Hyspaosines, although now a more or less independent ruler, remained a loyal subject of the Seleucids.[2] Hyspaosines' keenness to remain as a Seleucid governor was possibly due to avoid interruption in the profitable trade between Antiochia and Seleucia.[2]


The Seleucids had suffered heavy defeats by the Iranian Parthian Empire; in 148/7 BC, the Parthian king Mithridates I (r. 171–132 BC) conquered Media and Atropatene, and by 141 BC, was in the possession of Babylonia.[7] The events are recorded in the Babylonian astronomical Diaries.[8] The menace and proximity of the Parthians caused Hyspaosines to declare independence.[2] In 127 BC, Mithridates I's son and successor Phraates II met an abrupt death during his war with the nomads in the east.[9][10] Hyspaosines took advantage of the situation by seizing Babylon, which is attested in Babylonian records, where he is recorded as king (šarru).[11] His rule over the city lasted briefly; at the start of November 127 BC, the Parthian general Timarchus recaptured it.[12]

Regardless, Hyspaosines' troops continued to plunder the Babylonian region as late as 126 BC.[12] In 124 BC, however, Hyspaosines accepted Parthian suzerainty, and continued to rule Characene as a vassal.[13] He corresponded with the Parthian general of Babylonia, informing him of the defeat of Elymais by the Parthian monarch Mithridates II (r. 124–91 BC).[14] He also returned the wooden throne of Arsaces to the Parthians as a gift to the god Bel.[14] The astronomical diaries report that the king became ill on the 3rd June 124 BC and died on the 11th June 124 BC[15] at the age of 85.[16] His age is reported by 2th-century Roman historian Lucian, who provided a list of rulers who died in a very old age.[17]

He was succeeded by his and queen Thalassia's juvenile son Apodakos.[6] The Parthian commander Sindates was placed as the governor of Characene.[6]


  1. ^ Hansman 1991, pp. 363–365; Eilers 1983, p. 487; Erskine, Llewellyn-Jones & Wallace 2017, p. 77
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hansman 1991, pp. 363–365.
  3. ^ Curtis 2007, p. 11.
  4. ^ a b Shayegan 2011, p. 153.
  5. ^ a b Shayegan 2011, p. 161.
  6. ^ a b c Shayegan 2011, p. 168.
  7. ^ Curtis 2007, pp. 10–11; Bivar 1983, p. 33; Garthwaite 2005, p. 76; Brosius 2006, pp. 86–87
  8. ^ Schuol 2000, pp. 28-40.
  9. ^ Shayegan 2011, p. 150–151.
  10. ^ Dąbrowa 2012, p. 170.
  11. ^ Shayegan 2011, pp. 111, 150–151.
  12. ^ a b Shayegan 2011, p. 111.
  13. ^ Shayegan 2011, p. 114.
  14. ^ a b Shayegan 2011, p. 117.
  15. ^ Schuol 2000, p. 40.
  16. ^ Shayegan 2011, p. 154.
  17. ^ Harmon, A.M. (2018). "Lucian: Long Lives (Macrobii) (16)". Attalus. Retrieved 6 October 2020.


Ancient works[edit]

  • Pliny the Elder Natural History, VI 139
  • Lucian, Macrobii.
  • Astronomical Diaries (now in the British Museum and in a private collection. Following cuneiform texts refer to Hyspaosinesː British Museum nos 33461, 3386, 55070, 45699, 34274, 45708, 45693, 45853, 33024). They are published in Abraham Sachs, Hermann Hunger: Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylon, III, Diaries from 164 BC. to 61 B.C. Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 1996, ISBN 3-7001-2578-X, pp. 216-282. The tablet in the private collection is published by T. G. Pinchesː Babylonian and Oriental Record, Vol. IV, London 1890, 131-141 online.

Modern works[edit]

Further reading[edit]