HIB | Introduction

Heracles at Behistun
Heracles at Behistun (image via Wikipedia)
Note: Introduction still under construction.

The reign of the king Mithridates I (Parthian: Mihrdat, Persian: مهرداديکم‎, Mehrdād) ushered in a key phase of Arsacid imperialism that saw Parthia expand from a regional bit player into a world class imperial power. Mithridates took the throne in 171 BCE. From 160–155 BCE he campaigned against the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom, winning the satrapies of Asponius and Turvia from its king Eucratides (Strab. 11.11.2; Just. 41.6).

He then set his sights on Media, the land in western Iran where the cliffs of Behistun are located (near modern Kermānshāh/کرمانشاه). His conquest of that kingdom is generally understood to have been complete by 145 BCE. A subordinate named Bacasis was assigned to administer the territory while Mithridates himself turned to new campaigns in Hyrcania.

The Heracles Inscription at Behistun dates to 148 BCE, as the text itself tells us. It was therefore composed at the very end of Seleucid rule in Media. It is not certain why the dedicator was concerned for the safety of Cleomenes, whom he calls “[the commander] of the upper satrapies.” But one possibility is that a military confrontation with Mithridates seemed imminent, and the inscription may be an expression of the attendant fear and uncertainty. If so, the concern was well founded. Behistun would soon be in the hands of the Parthians.

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