Please tell us about your experienceof this website today

Read, Watch and Listen

Items per page:102050

The Parthian Empire at its Greatest Extent (c. 96 BC)

In the early 1st century BC, Parthia’s territory expanded to the River Euphrates. Parthian and Roman envoys met to establish this landmark as the boundary between the two superpowers. At this first meeting, the Roman magistrate reportedly seized the seat of honour, humiliating his Parthian counterpart as the inferior ambassador. In 53 BC, Parthia finally demonstrated its strength by crushing the Roman army at Carrhae. 30,000 soldiers were killed or captured, and several legionary standards were lost to the Parthians.

Alexandra Magub - School of Oriental and African Studies and The British Museum

Read more about The Parthian Empire at its Greatest Extent (c. 96 BC)

The Parthian Shot: silver tetradrachm of an unknown king (c. 80-70 BC).

The archer on Parthian coins not only represented the military might of the Parthians, but also their Iranian character. Trousers were considered effeminate clothing in the Roman world; however the folds of material (shown on the coins as horizontal lines) prevented saddle chaffing. These mounted archers were a chilling reminder of Rome’s defeat at Carrhae: the Roman historian Justin recounts how the cavalrymen would gallop in retreat, only to turn in the saddle and fire fatal shots from their bows. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about The Parthian Shot: silver tetradrachm of an unknown king (c. 80-70 BC).

Silver denarius of Augustus (63 BC–14 AD).

In 20 BC, Augustus, Emperor of Rome, and Phraates IV, King of Parthia, negotiated the return of Rome’s captured standards. While both sides benefited from this treaty, Augustus was quick to portray the event as a personal victory.  On this coin, a Parthian wearing the characteristic trouser suit returns a standard from his knees. Recounting these events, Augustus published the claim throughout his empire, “I forced the Parthians… as supplicants to accept the friendship of the Roman people“(Res Gestae, 29). 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Silver denarius of Augustus (63 BC–14 AD).

Silver drachm of Phraates IV (c. 37-2 BC).

Parthian kings placed greater emphasis on displaying their God-given splendour (Old Persian, khvarnah) rather than circulating propaganda against their enemies. The khvarnah was an important aspect of the Iranian Zoroastrian religion in ancient times, illuminating the king in celestial splendour and granting him invulnerability in battle. In the Zoroastrian hymns, the Veragna bird delivers the khvarnah and this idea can be seen on Phraates IV’s coinage. A star and crescent moon illuminate him as the holder of this divine splendour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Silver drachm of Phraates IV (c. 37-2 BC).

Golden necklace, said to be discovered at Deylaman in north-west Iran.

This necklace brings to life the magnificent jewellery depicted on Parthian coinage. Made of gold and inlaid with gems, it shows two birds clasping kingship rings in their beaks. They evoke the idea of the Zoroastrian Veragna bird, showing that the khvarnah is firmly held by the wearer. Compared to more austere Roman coin portraits, Parthian kings were depicted with lavish earrings, torques, and richly beaded headdresses. These items also symbolise the exotic wealth held within the King’s vast Empire. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Golden necklace, said to be discovered at Deylaman in north-west Iran.

Gold aureus of Quintus Labienus Parthicus (died 39 BC).

In 40 BC, this Roman general joined forces with Parthia to fight against a shared enemy: Julius Caesar’s successors. Labienus’ portrait is accompanied by a saddled Parthian horse armed with a bow case- an evocative image for Romans and Parthians alike. Roman accounts claim the Parthians used gold exclusively to adorn their war horses and weapons. Similarly, the Zoroastrian victory deity, Verethragna, is said to have incarnated as a horse with golden adornments, and as a warrior with golden weapons.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Gold aureus of Quintus Labienus Parthicus (died 39 BC).

Silver drachm of Phraataces ("Little Phraates") and Musa (c. 2 BC-4 AD).

At the peace negotiations of 20 BC, Phraates IV received the concubine Musa as a gift from Rome. He was eventually murdered by Musa and their son, Phraataces. The mother-son conspirators reportedly married and ruled Parthia jointly, as shown on this coin. Horrified Roman sources assert that the pair was killed because of this marriage; however, this was not unusual amongst Parthian Zoroastrians. More likely, Musa and Phraataces were perceived to have lost the khvarnah following territorial losses to Rome.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Silver drachm of Phraataces ("Little Phraates") and Musa (c. 2 BC-4 AD).

Silver coin of the Armenian king Tigranes (II) the Great (c. 140-55 BC)

Tigranes II was a Parthian hostage until he bought his freedom and took the Armenian throne. Although Armenia was nestled between Roman and Parthian territories, he resisted their encroachments. Tigranes abandoned the Parthian-style domed tiara of his predecessor for a pointed Armenian tiara illustrating the khvarnah with Veragna birds and a star. The Greek city goddess Tyche is shown on the reverse with a river god at her feet. Despite their Greek appearance, they represent the captured city of Antioch-on-the-Orontes.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Silver coin of the Armenian king Tigranes (II) the Great (c. 140-55 BC)

Silver tetradrachm of Phraates III (c. 70-57 BC).

In a rare alliance, Rome and Parthia agreed to overthrow the Armenian Tigranes II. Phraates III, wearing an impressive Parthian tiara decorated with beads, stags and a horn, wanted to place an ally on the Armenian throne. The coin’s reverse shows the enthroned king holding a Veragna bird while Tyche (representing the Parthian city Seleucia-on-the-Tigris) crowns him. In the coin’s inscription Phraates III arrogantly claims to be ‘divine’. He was eventually murdered by his sons for the disastrous Roman alliance.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Silver tetradrachm of Phraates III (c. 70-57 BC).

Postcard of the royal tombs at Nimrud Dagh in Commagene (modern south-central Turkey).

Like Armenia, the kingdom of Commagene bordered both Roman and Parthian territories. In 62 BC, Antiochus I Theos (‘the Divine’) commissioned his royal tomb at Nimrud Dagh. His colossal statue stood alongside figures of lions, Veragna birds, claimed ancestors from both ancient Persian kings and from Alexander the Great, as well as gods fused together from Armenian, Iranian and Greek pantheons. This unique theology placed the king amongst gods of all nations, and sent a strong message to neighbouring superpowers.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Postcard of the royal tombs at Nimrud Dagh in Commagene (modern south-central Turkey).

Basalt stela of Antiochus I Theos greeting Verethragna-Herakles-Ares from Nimrud Dagh (1st century BC)

Antiochus I is shown as an eastern king wearing an adapted Armenian tiara with a lion decoration. He shakes hands with the divine Verethragna-Herakles-Ares (shown nude in the Greek fashion) who represents Victory and Strength in Zoroastrian, Greek and Roman traditions. Like the balance of cultures in this religious relief, Commagene was cautious in choosing its political alliances. Although Commagene cooperated with Rome, the statesman Cicero was wary of Antiochus’ loyalty: “…the least trust should be given to that king.”

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Basalt stela of Antiochus I Theos greeting Verethragna-Herakles-Ares from Nimrud Dagh (1st century BC)

Silver drachm of Hormizd II (303-309 AD).

This Sasanian king’s crown is adorned with a bird holding an incandescent pearl in its beak, echoing earlier images of the Veragna bird delivering the khvarnah. The coin’s reverse shows a central fire holder with the king emerging from the sacred flames. Fire was considered to be the son of Ahura Mazda and was a sacred symbol of the Zoroastrian religion. During the Parthian and Sasanian periods, a regnal fire was lit when a new king ascended the throne.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Silver drachm of Hormizd II (303-309 AD).

Marble statue of Mithras slaying the bull, found in Rome (2nd century AD)

In the 1st-4th centuries AD, the Mithraic Mysteries seeped into Roman culture from the East. This secretive religion was inspired by the Zoroastrian Mithra, divinity of Contract and Oath. This statue displays Roman Mithras in a Parthian-like costume powerfully pinning down a bull for ritual slaughter. It is thought that Mithras appealed to the martial identity of Roman soldiers serving in the East. A Zoroastrian hymn describes an armed Mithra victoriously smashing the skulls of the Daevas or evil spirits.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Marble statue of Mithras slaying the bull, found in Rome (2nd century AD)

Painted manuscript showing the hero Rostam piercing an enemy, made in Shiraz in southern Iran (1435-1440 AD).

This illustration shows a scene from the Shahnameh, an epic work that recounts Iran’s historical and mythological past. Elements from Roman, Greek and Zoroastrian sources are echoed in the depicted central hero, Rostam. A feline skin covers Rostam’s helmet and jacket, mirroring the Greek hero Herakles’ famed lion pelt. As seen in Commagene, Herakles was associated with Verethragna, the Zoroastrian divinity of Victory who appeared as a gold-adorned horse and warrior. Golden details also decorate Rostam’s illustrated weapons and armour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Read more about Painted manuscript showing the hero Rostam piercing an enemy, made in Shiraz in southern Iran (1435-1440 AD).

(c) Katarina Kelsey, no title, translation of Auriol's image, 18-25 March 2015:

“I was given some contextual background to Auriol’s translation of Sam’s piece that I initially thought I would base my translation on. However I felt unable to translate her narrative and realised I would only be interpreting it. Ultimately I turned to a material translation to translate some of the key themes of her work. Taking inspiration from translations such as Hölderlin's Antigone and Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, I hope my material translation can convey Auriol’s piece to you.” 
http://katarinakelseybookarts.tumblr.com/

Read more about (c) Katarina Kelsey, no title, translation of Auriol's image, 18-25 March 2015:

(c) Matt Rowe, no title, translation of Briony's image, 6-13 May 2015:

“My translation into a three-dimensional ceramic object continues the core narrative of the resampling of the environment and the suggested ownership of a natural object. I constructed a chalice-like ceramic vessel and fired it using combustive fuel harvested from the seashore, which leaves a carbon imprint on the body of the ceramic. Within the temple-like structure of the kiln I attempted a reprocessing of materials abundant within the seascape of my hometown Folkestone.” http://mattroweportfolio.co.uk 

Read more about (c) Matt Rowe, no title, translation of Briony's image, 6-13 May 2015:

Sherlock Holmes Postcards

These postcards were produced in October 1903 by The Strand Magazine as part of the release of The Return of Sherlock Holmes. They feature Sidney Paget illustrations for the Sherlock Holmes stories ‘The Final Problem’, The Hound of the Baskervilles, ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ and ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder’.

Read more about Sherlock Holmes Postcards

Sherlock Holmes Statue Book

The Sherlock Holmes statue outside Baker Street Station in London was erected thanks to the efforts of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. They set up an independent project to fund and build the statue in 1999. The statue was designed and made by John Doubleday, a leading British sculptor.

Read more about Sherlock Holmes Statue Book

Baker Street Studies

This first edition of Baker Street Studies was published in 1934. It contains essays written by members of the early Sherlock Holmes Society and edited by H W Bell. This copy is inscribed to the president of the society, Dick Sheppard, and signed by the secretary A G Macdonnel.

Read more about Baker Street Studies