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The Rise of Parthia in the East: From the Seleucid Empire to the Arrival of Rome Paperback – 12 Oct 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 178 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (12 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1492933708
  • ISBN-13: 978-1492933700
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 626,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Cam Rea lives in Indiana, and served in the U.S. Army as a Combat Engineer. He holds a BA and MA in Military History. Mr. Rea is currently a Teaching Assistant for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and contributing writer for Classical Wisdom Weekly. He has also authored four books, the most current, “March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to the Fall of Nineveh”.

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback
As most other reviewers, I dislike writing unfavourable reviews, although I feel obliged to do so when I have "not liked" a book, to use "Amazon terminology". This is one of them.

Essentially, the author comes up with a collection of sweeping, controversial and unsubstantiated statements that happen to run contrary to archaeological findings, numismatic studies and non-Greek epigraphic and written sources published over the last two to three decades. This is what explains the title chosen for this view. Regardless of what any author choses to believe and claim to be "the truth", one would at least expect her/him to build a case and document it (or, more pedantically, to develop a thesis). You will not find any such case in this book. In addition to this, there are a number of approximations that could be seen as mistakes.

At the outset, a general comment needs to be made. One is that the author's desire to draw more attention on the Scythians and, in this book in particular, on the Parthians is a very worthwhile effort, although a difficult one as well. This is largely because the written sources that mention the Parthians are limited and, perhaps more importantly, they are mostly Greek or Roman. They therefore need to be used with care because of their negative biases against what were seen as "the nomadic barbarians". These biases reflect a mix of ignorance, fear, prejudices and misunderstanding with regards to these nomadic groups.

A related issue here is that the author could have made use of at least some of the increasingly vast hoard of materials that have emerged over the last three decades about the Seleucids, their Empire and their neighbours, to shed some light on the Parthians, even if indirectly.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. W. H. Konarzewski on 5 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I didn't know much about the Parthians before reading this book and I'm not really that much better informed now. This might be partly my fault, but some of the failing must lie with the text which failed to capture my imagination. I'd hoped for lots of interesting anecdotes about the Parthians, telling of their culture, customs, laws; stories of love, treachery, greed, valour and all the romance of ancient history. Instead there was a catalogue of kings and battles and speculation about what might have led to what. I'm afraid this isn't my kind of history. That's all covered in the Wikipedia article on the Parthians, and much more succinctly.

Leaving aside my desire to be entertained rather than instructed, there were one or two other flaws with this book. One was the recurring use of the passive tense which slows down prose and instils vagueness, the other was some rather awkward phraseology which meant I had to read some paragraphs several times to understand them. There were few typos which should have been weeded out by careful proof-reading. Some of the kings' names were confusingly similar and I'm not sure I ever got the difference between Phaartes and Phraates. At times they seemed one and the same person; sadly neither of them was especially interesting or memorable. Whilst one can't blame the historian for the names of his subjects, one can ask him to try at least to make a vivid distinction between them.

At the end of the book was an excellent section on Scythian weapons and warfare. Unfortunately it was exactly the same as the section at the end of Cam Rea's book on the March of the Scythians; which I found rather disappointing although I'm prepared to accept that the Scythians, the Cimmerians and the Parthians are all fundamentally the same people.
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Where is the case? 27 Jan. 2014
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As most other reviewers, I dislike writing unfavourable reviews, although I feel obliged to do so when I have "not liked" a book, to use "Amazon terminology". This is one of them.

Essentially, the author comes up with a collection of sweeping, controversial and unsubstantiated statements that happen to run contrary to archaeological findings, numismatic studies and non-Greek epigraphic and written sources published over the last two to three decades. This is what explains the title chosen for this view. Regardless of what any author choses to believe and claim to be "the truth", one would at least expect her/him to build a case and document it (or, more pedantically, to develop a thesis). You will not find any such case in this book. In addition to this, there are a number of approximations that could be seen as mistakes.

At the outset, a general comment needs to be made. One is that the author's desire to draw more attention on the Scythians and, in this book in particular, on the Parthians is a very worthwhile effort, although a difficult one as well. This is largely because the written sources that mention the Parthians are limited and, perhaps more importantly, they are mostly Greek or Roman. They therefore need to be used with care because of their negative biases against what were seen as "the nomadic barbarians". These biases reflect a mix of ignorance, fear, prejudices and misunderstanding with regards to these nomadic groups.

A related issue here is that the author could have made use of at least some of the increasingly vast hoard of materials that have emerged over the last three decades about the Seleucids, their Empire and their neighbours, to shed some light on the Parthians, even if indirectly. He was at least partially aware of them given the references mentioned in the book and listed in his bibliography. He seems to have chosen not to do so. Curiously, in some cases, he manages to mention them while drawing conclusions that are the opposite of those made in these references, with "From Samarkand to Sardis: A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire" (Sherwin-White and Kuhrt) being a case in point.

My second comment is about the rest of this review. I do not intend to discuss or even list each and every statement or area that I had problems with. Apart from being rather unpleasant and quite boring for everyone (including myself), this would be quite unnecessary. Instead, I will focus on a handful of examples to illustrate the types of problems I came across when working my way through this book.

One rather odd statement in many respects is the one made in the very first sentence of the first chapter and according to which "the decline of the Seleucid Empire started when Seleucos crowned himself King in 305 BCE." Empires rarely decline as of day one, when their founder takes the crown. Moreover, the justification for this is both speculative and based on a misunderstanding.

Seleucos seems to have used a mix of military conquest and skilful diplomacy to expand and include the Upper Satrapies (meaning the satrapies east of Babylonia) into his Empire, as mentioned by Sherwin-White and Kuhrt, but these authors do not state that Seleucos used the same heavy-handed tactics as those of Antigonos a dozen years before, contrary to the author's claim. Moreover, Seleucos was the only of Alexander's Successors to keep his "Persian" wife (I seem to remember she was from Bactria) and his son (Antiochus I) by her was crowned as King by his father and given specific responsibility for the Upper Satrapies which he reorganised and developed extensively, as findings in Bactria (and Mesopotamian tablets) attest. We also know that Seleucos made a second expedition to the eastern part of his Empire as of 295 BC.

Another set of somewhat dated claims was that the Seleucid Empire was somehow weak, instable and prone to fragmentation as a minority of Greco-Macedonian conquerors sought to hold together a huge empire by dominating the native populations. From what evidence is available, the Seleucids applied similar methods as those used during the Persian Empire, with local positions, including those of governors of major cities, being held by natives, not by descendants of the conquerors, and natives, whether Mesopotamians, Medes, Persians or Bactrians holding positions in the administration and the army. These were the same methods that the Parthians would inherit from them, and that the Sassanids would inherit in turn from the Parthians. The point here is that Seleucos' policies were based on those of Alexander and of the Persian Kings before him.

To a large extent and in many areas of government, the Seleucid Empire used the same tried and tested methods to address the same issues that the Great Kings had to address before. It is because of this that the Seleucid Empire can be seen as the "heir" to the Persian Empire, and the Parthian Empire an heir to the Seleucid one, issues that the author does not really discuss at all.

This heritage, although not apparent in (or even denied by) Greco-Roman sources should not even come as a surprise. It is typically what a newly victorious conqueror tends to do when having to take over the government and administration of his "new" Empire. This is what the Persians did themselves when they constituted their own Empire under Cyrus the Great, with their institutions heavily influenced by those of the Medes, the Assyrians and the Babylonians. There are numerous other examples of this all across Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Then there is the rather odd and misconceived idea that the new kings "lacked the ability to secure the Empire effectively and lacked the will, if any, to culture the various people on Hellenism living on the Iranian plateau and beyond." Here again, there is little or no evidence produced to back these statements. Besides, one cannot help wonder why the Seleucids (or any other previous or future conqueror for that matter) would feel the need to impose its culture on all of the subject populations.

There is quite a lot of evidence that can be used to make the opposite point with regards to the kings' abilities. The second point is more complex: the Seleucid Kings had no need to Hellenise "the various people" and, indeed, no will to do so especially if this could antagonise them. There is increasing evidence to show that they did not bother with general hellenisation with, for instance, Aramean and Akkadian being used alongside Greek in official documents. In fact, the only ones that needed to be rallied to the regime were the elites: the various native aristocracies, priesthoods and perhaps also the rich merchants. The rest of the population (over 90% being rural) could - and should - be left alone and left to continue their lives as before. They might even care very little as to how the distant and far away King might be and what the Seleucids wanted from them anything was limited to financial resources (tribute or money) and men for the army. I had been rather the same under the Persian Empire and the Neo-Babylonian one before. I would remain essentially the same under the Parthians afterwards.

The point here is that the debate about Hellenism and about the Seleucid Kingdom fragmenting is largely flawed by the misconceived idea that the Seleucids would necessarily have tried to impose full centralisation and full cultural integration when neither were really needed.

In practice, there seems to have been little difference in recognising a vassal King in Cappadocia or Parthia as opposed to nominating a satrap in a far-off frontier province. Although this Satrap technically reported to the King, he was, to all extent and purposes, a quasi-viceroy, as was the case in Bactria. In both types of cases, the vassal king or the "viceroy" was requested to contribute money to the royal finances and men for the army, regardless of whether these contributions were called "tribute" or taxes, on the one hand, or an allied corps or recruits for the King's army on the other hand. Again, these were tried and tested methods that the Seleucids "borrowed" from the Persians. The Persians (among others, because both the Babylonians and the Assyrians had used such methods before) had applied these methods since the times of Cyrus and Darius. when the Persian Empire was anything but in decline. Why should the same feature indicate decline for the Seleucids ruling much the same lands and confronted with very similar problems?

And I could go on, and on, and on, picking on almost each and every unsubstantiated and sweeping statement made by the author. For those wanting to learn about the decline of the Seleucid Empire and the rise of the Parthians, I can recommend the following (at least for starters):
- Rome, Parthia and India: The Violent Emergence of a New World Order 150-140 BC, by John Grainger
- Antiochus III, by Michael Taylor

Both tend to show that the Seleucid Empire's increasing difficulties and decline were related to succession issues (and the resulting civil wars). They also show that the Seleucids were still very much the dominant power in the East after the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans and that the decline started in the 150s, with the Parthians taking advantage of these civil wars to encroach on the Empire's core territories (the Iranian plateau - Media in particular - and Babylonia).

Two stars for a book that I cannot recommend...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Would add a star if book had some good maps! 6 Jan. 2014
By charlene at Dosido Bookshelf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Cam Rea provides a readable narrative covering a little over two centuries of central Asian history from the death of Alexander the Great to the decline of the Seleucid Empire, and the first contact of emerging Rome with the Parthians. The reader benefits from Cam Rea's extensive research and bibliography.
What this book really needs is better maps and more maps. This first edition has two maps that can barely be read -- get out your magnifying glass!, and even then it is difficult to read through the heavy overlay. I would like to see a map introducing each chapter. The book is not written for the specialist, but for the lay reader; and we cannot be expected to know the relative locations of the many nations and events discussed.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Informative but poorly written 11 Mar. 2014
By D. Lauerman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This would have been a much easier read if Mr. Rea had had access to a good editor. As it is, the footnoting is spotty, and there are frequent confusing sentences (such as on p. 17; "As mentioned, Hellenism is seen as superior to all others, the Seleukids most likely held this view, but understood that it is best not to push or pressure the locals, at least those in charge, i.e.satrap, who understood the risk if to to so could result in rebellion". My 6th grade English teacher would have crucified the writer of this vague, wandering, run-on sentence.)

The information contained in this book will be most useful to the student of Parthia and the Seleucid kindgom. A good deal of this useful data is effectively concealed by rambling, turgid prose. Like Mr. Rea I have long had an interest in the rise of Parthia, and a better-written and edited version of this book would be a most welcome addition to my library.
Oh my--not quite there. 28 April 2015
By Mark A. Raine - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Oh my. The writer is clearly an armchair historian with a thorough understanding of his subject and the period in general. Unfortunately he comes up very short when it comes to the actual writing. He tries to be clever but unfortunately fails. The metaphors are poor, the cliches tiresome, and overall this book is STRONGLY in need of a thorough review by a professional editor. He does not appear to have a clear idea of his intended audience. He will speak in simplistic cliches of about the level of a WWII documentary on the History Channel (one of those with hard rock playing in the background with a lot of action footage but few facts), which would be okay if that was the intent, but then he drops mentions of people and places that only someone with significant prior knowledge of the period would know, yet without explanation of who or what that is and why it is important to the topic being discussed. Mr. Rea has much of what it takes to write a good history, but he has a ways to go yet.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic account of the rise of Parthia 3 Jan. 2014
By JDV - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Cam Rea is quickly becoming one of my favorite historians who specializes in obscure moments/movements in history. I read his other work "March of the Scythians." and became a fan of his writing.
This is the first of two volumes on Parthia, which covers the conflict with the Seleucids, and a fantastic section (wish it would have been longer or perhaps a volume of its own) on battle tactics including "Swarming" which is a doctrine that even The Rand Corp writes about and has been put to use in modern armies.

Absolutely love this book! Cannot wait for the next installment which I am hoping will cover the Battle of Carrhae.
Maybe the Sassanids next?

Please, Cam, post a link to a Facebook page or something to promote your work and update your readers. This book came out in October and I just found out about it Jan 2014.
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