Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation examines the influences of systemic pressures and spatial perspectives on state decision-making through a multi-layered study of the rise of the Parthian state within the Hellenistic Middle East (3rd-2nd centuries BCE) and of the military conflicts within the Hellenistic Near East (1st century BCE) in two parts. By examining domestic policy and international relations in this period through this theoretical and methodological approach, this study clarifies the process by which the Parthians and Romans became the two remaining powers of the ancient world and eventual rivals. It uses two major research strategies: (1) a reevaluation of the available literary, epigraphical, and numismatic evidence, for instance Babylonian colophons and Parthian coin sequences, to challenge Graeco-Roman perceptions and literary traditions of these events and (2) an introduction of modern international relations theory to reevaluate the composition and impact of the international environment in this period. This project bridges gaps in Roman and Parthian studies and challenges the generally Roman-centric viewpoint of modern scholarship toward these events. Further, it rejects the popular argument that the Romans were belligerent aggressors against weak and passive eastern polities, including the Parthians. Instead, it contends that Parthia and other ancient states in the Near East exercised considerable agency in their domestic and foreign policies and possessed the will to pursue aggressive policies against one another and against Rome but ultimately lacked the Roman capability to do so on such a large and sustained scale. This dissertation reevaluates the actions not only of Rome and Parthia, but also of numerous Greek and Eastern states, especially the Seleucid Empire, Bactria, Armenia, and Pontus. It concludes that, prior to the middle 50s BCE, the Romans and Parthians, despite their eventual mutual interest in dominating the Near East, had separate, isolated geopolitical perspectives that rarely concerned one another. As their geopolitical interests began to overlap in the Near East in the 90s-60s BCE, a new interstate system suddenly emerged as an indirect result of the military ambitions of Mithridatic Pontus and the Kingdom of Armenia and as a direct result of Crassus’ disastrous invasion of Mesopotamia in 53 BCE.



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Committee Chair

Dietz, Maribel



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