Page 0386


also carried their religious system, such as it was, to the banks of the Euphrates and far


Already before this time Judaism had been propagated by several means in the Aryan

countries. At a still later period, when Rome was converted to Christianity, the new faith

was carried under the protection of the eagles to the uttermost limits of the Empire. It.

is impossible to say to what extent these foreign religious influences permeated Parthia

and brought her people under their sway. Already at the time of the primitive apostles,

Parthian Christianity had become a fact; and St. Luke enumerates the Parthians along with

the Medes and Elamites among the strangers gathered in Jerusalem. All this would indicate

on the part of the Parthian monarchs the same tolerant spirit which the Greeks and Romans

were wont to show to alien systems of religion.

One of the chief forms of activity among the Parthians was war. It is from their military

character that the race is best known to the world. Long before the close of the Ancient

Era the name of this people was heard as far west as Rome-and generally with terror. They

it was, doubt- less, whom Horace had in view under the name of Medii in the Secular Hymn:

Now by the sea and on the land, the Mede Fears the strong squadrons and the axe of Rome;

Now the late haughty Scythian doth plead For mild response-and men of India come.

The reader may, therefore, well be surprised to note the fact that this most warlike

nation, whose fierce, wild cavalry swept like flying clouds across the deserts of the

Great Plateau, had no fixed military establishment-no standing army. It appears, on the

contrary, that the Parthians, by their disposition and habit of life, constituted what may

be called a natural soldiery. There were two branches to the Parthian service, the cavalry

and the foot. But the first was the important part. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the

Parthian infantry was of much value in the field. It was upon the cavalry that the kings

relied for victory; and the reliance was not misplaced.

In time of war the Parthian monarch called upon his vassals to bring forth each his quota

of warriors for the field. It

appears that the constitution of Parthian society was essentially feudal. The vassal was

bound to his suzerain in the matter of military service. He must call out his retainers

and slaves, see to their equipment and -mounting, bring them to the place of rendezvous,

and command them in battle. It was thus that the army was made up of bands of warriors

drawn from the various districts after the manner of the Crusaders. But a common

enthusiasm pervaded the whole, and th6re was no lack of unity in the general command. This

was reserved for the king in person, and for his generalissimo, called the Surena.

The latter may be regarded as the head baron of the country; the office which he held,

hereditary in his family. It is doubtful whether even the king could displace him from the

position in which he was fixed by heredity and custom. The same was in great measure true

of the other vassals. Each commanded in his own right, and held his place at home and in

the field in virtue of what may be called' the Parthian constitution,

Looking at the organization of the army, we find a heavy-horse and a light-horse

contingent. The first was the main branch of the service. This wing was undoubtedly the

finest cavalry of the ancient world. The warriors were armed in mail as to their bodies,

the scale-armor of iron and steel descending as low as the knees, well made and strong,

polished to brightness, capable of resisting any of the ordinary missiles of the battle-

field. On the head was a helmet, also burnished, heavy, and well made. The arms and the

legs were free, as they must needs be in fighting from the horse.

The weapons of these Parthian dragoons were bows and arrows and a spear. All these were

long and strong. The arrow was shot with such violence that its flight was said' to be

invisible from its rapidity, and scarcely any armor of the enemy could protect the wearer

from its fall. The spear was equally fatal, being thrust with a violence that frequently

impaled two warriors with a single blow. The horseman also carried a short sword, which in

close quarters he drew and used with fearful effect. The horses, of the dragoons, like

their riders, wore a scale armor in