Mithridates II of Parthia

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Mithridates II of Parthia
"King of Kings of the Iranians"
Drachma Mithradates II.jpg
Tetradrachm of Mithridates II minted at Seleucia. The portrait of the king shows strong Greek influence
Reign121-91 BC
PredecessorArtabanus II or Bacasis[1]
SuccessorGotarzes I or Sanatruces[2]
DynastyArsacid dynasty
FatherArtabanus II or Phriapatius
Early coin of Mithridates II from Seleucia on the Tigris. The reverse shows a seated goddess (perhaps Demeter) holding Nike and a cornucopia. The Greek inscription says "Coin of the Great king Arsaces, friend of the Greeks"

Mithridates II (meaning "Gift of Mithra") Parthian:𐭌𐭄𐭓𐭃𐭕 (Mihrdāt) was king of Parthian Empire from 121 to 91 BC.[1] He was already known as "the Great" in antiquity.[3] He is the first Parthian ruler to call himself "King of Kings" on his coinage and thereby attach himself to the Achaemenids. He also referred to himself on his coinage with the Greek titles Epiphanes ("God manifest") and Philhellene ("Friend of the Greeks").[4] Mithridates II is counted as the greatest of the Parthian kings, under whom the empire reached its greatest extent.

Conquest of Mesopotamia[edit]

Traditionally, it is believed that Mithridates II was the son of his predecessor Artabanus II, who died in battle against eastern enemies in c. 124 BC. However, new cuneiform and numismatic evidence suggests that Mithridates II was the youngest son of Phriapatius and succeeded Artabanus' young son, Arsaces X.[5] At the time of his succession, the Parthian Empire was reeling from military pressures in the West and East. Several embarrassing defeats at the hands of eastern nomads had sapped the strength and prestige of the kingdom. However, Mithridates proved himself to be a capable king and was soon able to reincorporate Babylonia into the kingdom, which had been lost to Characene a short time before. As a sign of victory he had the coinage of Hyspaosines overstruck, although he had already died in 124 BC. The whole of Mesopotamia was taken in a rush and he reached Dura-Europus in 113 BC.

Mithridates II then attacked Armenia, then ruled by Artavasdes I and took hostage the Armenian king's son,[verification needed] the future Tigranes the Great. This was the first time that the Parthians actively interfered in Armenian politics.

The east of the Empire[edit]

In the east of the Empire, the situation seemed unsalvagable. Invading nomads (called Scythians in the Greek sources and Sakas in Indian sources) had destroyed the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and greatly threatened the eastern borders of the empire. However, Mithridates was able to fend off the attacking nomads[3] and reincorporate the provinces of Parthia and Aria back into the realm. He was able to make Sistan, which had come under the direct control of the nomads, a vassal at the very least.[6]

In 121 BC the Chinese under Emperor Wu of Han had defeated the Xiongnu in the east and were expanding westwards in force. In Ferghana the Chinese sphere of influence encountered that of the Parthians. A Chinese delegation to the Parthian court is attested for the year 120 BC. In the following year the Silk Road was opened.

The west of the Empire[edit]

The Armenian King Tigranes I died in 95 BC and Mithridates put the Armenian heir Tigranes II, who had hitherto lived among the Parthians, on the Armenian throne.[7] Soon after this Mithridates II attacked Adiabene, Gordyene and Osrhoene and conquered these city states, bringing the western border of the Parthian realm to the Euphrates. Here the Parthians encountered the Romans for the first time. In 96 BC Mithridates sent a certain Orobazos as an envoy to Sulla. Negotiation followed in which Sulla apparently gained the upper hand and Orobazos made himself and the Parthians look like suppliants. The actual result of the negotiations is not known, but it can be assumed that the border was set at the upper Euphrates. Orobazos would later be executed.[8]

Internal politics[edit]

By the late 90s BC, Mithridates seems to have faced internal political issues. In 93/2 BC Mithridates' nephew, Sinatruces, rebelled in Susiana. He proclaimed himself king and held the region until 88/87 BC, at which point Mithridates' son, Gotarzes I, forced him to flee to the Central Asian steppe. Sinatruces later returned to the Parthian throne in 77/76 BC with the aid of Sakae mercenaries. Mithridates did not outlive the usurper and died in 91 BC.[9]

There are clear signs that the Parthian empire was restructured under Mithridates II. The last administrative texts in cuneiform were written under his rule. Temples in the Babylonian style were replaced by some in a more Hellenic/Parthian style. Both facts seem to indicate that the temple administration system which dated back at least to Nebuchadnezzar II did not continue.[10] The oldest documents yet discovered from Nisa belong to his reign.

Depictions of the King[edit]

Coin of Mithridates II with a short beard, minted at Seleucia on the Tigris.

The portrait of the king is almost exclusively known from his coinage. It is possible to identify several types of depiction in the coinage. He can be shown with a short beard and a diadem, but there are images which show him with a mid-length beard or with a long beard, still wearing the diadem. A completely different type of image shows him with a high domed tiara on his head.

At Mount Behistun, now in the west of Iran, there is a rock relief which shows the king and four vassals or officials, who make obeisence to him. There are accompanying inscriptions in Greek. The relief is now in a bad state and known only from old copies.


  1. ^ a b "Assar_2005" pg. 49-51
  2. ^ "Assar_2005" pg. 52-3
  3. ^ a b Justin 42.2
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Assar_2005" pg. 48-52
  6. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  7. ^ Strabo, 12.14.15
  8. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sulla 5.4
  9. ^ "Assar 2005" pg. 51-4
  10. ^ A. Kose, Uruk, Architektur IV, Von der Seleukiden- bis zur Sasanidenzeit, Mainz am Rhein 1998, p. 415


Mithridates II of Parthia
Born: Unknown Died: 91 BC
Preceded by
Artabanus II
Great King (Shah) of Parthia
121–91 BC
Succeeded by
Gotarzes I