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Reign of Arrows

The Rise of the Parthian Empire in the Hellenistic Middle East

Nikolaus Leo Overtoom

Publication Date - 02 December 2022

ISBN: 9780197680223

392 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches


From its origins as a minor nomadic tribe to its status as a major world empire, the rise of the Parthian state in the ancient world is nothing short of remarkable. In their early history, the Parthians benefitted from strong leadership, a flexible and accommodating cultural identity, and innovative military characteristics that allowed them to compete against and even overcome Greek, Persian, Central Asian, and eventually Roman rivals. Reign of Arrows provides the first comprehensive study, in almost a century, dedicated entirely to early Parthian history. Assimilating a wide array of especially recent scholarship across numerous fields of study, Nikolaus Overtoom presents the most cogent, well rounded, and up-to-date account of the Parthian empire in its wider context of Hellenistic history. It explains the political and military encounters that shaped the international environment of the Hellenistic Middle East from the middle third to the early first centuries BCE. This study combines traditional historical approaches, such as source criticism and the integration of material evidence, with the incorporation of modern international relations theory to better examine the emergence and expansion of Parthian power. Relevant to historians, classicists, political scientists, and general readers interested in the ancient world and military history, Reign of Arrows reimagines and reconstructs the rise of the Parthians within the hotly contested and dangerously competitive international environment of the Hellenistic world.


  • First comprehensive study dedicated entirely to early Parthian history
  • Utilizes modern international relations theory to better understand the geopolitics of the Hellenistic Middle East and Parthian history

About the Author(s)

Nikolaus Leo Overtoom is the Assistant Professor in Ancient History at Washington State University. He has published numerous articles and book chapters on subjects such as the image of Alexander the Great, ancient imperialism and propaganda, ancient international relations, ancient militarism, the formation of the Parthian state, and Parthian interactions with the Greeks and Romans. His current research focuses on the historiography of the Parthian Empire, Parthian militarism and logistics, and the chaotic international relations of Hellenistic states within the Near East in the first century BCE.


"Overtoom provides a close reading of classical sources and a painstaking evaluation of current research to provide a coherent narrative thread to these shadowy shahs who ruled Iran in the last two centuries BC, and who successfully rivalled the Seleucids and the Romans as the hegemonic power of the region." -- David Chaffetz, Asian Review of Books

"This is a highly reflective, very profound, thorough and critical study that offers a lot of important perspectives and thoughts that will enrich scholarship on Arsacid Parthia. It is a most relevant contribution to Arsacid research and recommended to all who are working on Parthia or are interested in its early history." -- Sabine Müller, Philipps University Marburg, The Journal of Roman Studies

"This book provides a thorough and superbly supported argument explaining the rise of the Parthians... Students of military strategy, history, and the Persian-speaking world will all find this book a valuable addition to their library." -- Jonathan Zartman, Air Command and Staff College, The Journal of Military History

"Overtoom has achieved a well-conceived, well-researched assessment of the early Parthian empire prior to coming into formal contact with the Romans. He succeeds in establishing that military prowess alone is not reason enough to attribute Parthia's emergence as a dominant power in the Hellenistic Middle East. ... Only time will determine whether the use of Realist theory as a basis for comprehending ancient international relations will lead to other equally complex investigations." -- Jeffrey Lerner, Wake Forest University, Ancient West & East

"What makes this book important is that it is the first attempt to interpret the Parthians from an IR perspective. Adopting a realist approach akin to that employed by Arthur Eckstein for the Mediterranean world, Overtoom argues that the anarchic geopolitical framework of the Hellenistic world meant that ancient states were equally belligerent; their differential success was linked to their capability to pursue their interests." -- Kostas Vlassopoulos, Greece & Rome

"A fascinating exploration of Parthia's rise and conquest of the Hellenistic successor kingdoms." -- J. Tucci, CHOICE

"Overtoom's study of the rise of the Parthian Empire brings a new perspective to this important development in the history of the Hellenistic Middle East. By emphasizing the changing international-systems elements that led to the expansion of the Arsacid kings, Overtoom allows scholars to develop a more sophisticated view of how this expansion occurred, with less causal emphasis merely on the warlike nature of Parthian society or the personalities of individual rulers — important though these were." -- Arthur Eckstein, University of Maryland

"A novel, salutary, and stimulating effort to give meaningful order to hitherto confused Parthian political histories. Reign of Arrows restores dynamism to the Parthian Empire, enlivening discussion of its history and enabling its inclusion in the comparative study of ancient empires and the ancient world more generally." -- Richard Payne, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

    Greek and Roman Literary Sources
    Genealogical Table of the Early Arsacids
    Parthian Kings and Select Coins

    Chapter 1 - From Migrants to Masters of the Middle East
    Chapter 2 - The Emergence of the Parthian State
    Chapter 3 - The Empire Strikes Back
    Chapter 4 - The Fall of Bactria, the Rise of Parthia
    Chapter 5 - The Climax of the Seleucid-Parthian Rivalry
    Chapter 6 - Parthian Hegemony


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