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Parthian language: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in Ancient Iran
Language extinction Marginalized by Middle Persian from the 3rd century
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 xpr

The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlavanik, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region of northeastern Greater Iran, to include a significant portion of Greater Khorasan.

Parthian was the language of state of the Arsacid Parthians (248 BC-224 AD).



Parthian was a Western Middle Iranian language that, through language contact, also had some features of the Eastern Iranian language group, the influence of which is attested primarily in loan words. Some traces of Eastern influence survives in Parthian loan words in the Armenian language.[1]

Taxonomically, Parthian belongs to the Northwestern Iranian language group while Middle Persian belongs to the Southwestern Iranian language group.

Written Parthian

The Parthian language was rendered using the Pahlavi writing system, which had two essential characteristics: First, its script derived from Aramaic, the script (and language) of the Achaemenid chancellery (i.e. Imperial Aramaic). Second, it had a high incidence of Aramaic words, rendered as ideograms or logograms, that is, they were written Aramaic words but understood as Parthian ones (See Arsacid Pahlavi for details).

The Parthian language was the language of the old Satrapy of Parthia and was used in the Arsacids courts. The main sources for Parthian are the few remaining inscriptions from Nisa and Hecatompolis, Manichean texts, Sasanian multi-lingual inscriptions, and remains of Parthian literature in the succeeding Middle Persian. Among these, the Manichean texts, composed shortly after the demise of the Parthian power, play an important role for reconstructing the Parthian language[2].


Remnants of the Parthian language include[3]:

  • The Ostraca (100 B.C. to found in Nisa and other sides in southern border of modern Turkmenistan)
  • The first century B.C. ostraca from Kumesh in Eastern Iran.
  • The first century A.D. parchment from Awraman in Iranian Kurdistan
  • Inscription of on the coins of Arsacid Kings in the first century A.D.
  • The bilingual inscription of Seleukia (150-151 A.D.)
  • The inscription of Ardavan V found in Susa (215)
  • Some third century documents discovered in Dura-Europos
  • The inscription at Kal-e Jangal, near Birjand in South Khorasan (first half of third century)
  • The inscriptions of early Sassanian Kings in Parthian
  • The vast corpus of Manichean Parthian


In 224 AD, Ardashir I, the local ruler of Pars, deposed and replaced Artabanus IV, the last Parthian Emperor, and founded the fourth Iranian dynasty, and the second Persian dynasty, the Sassanian Empire. Parthian was then succeeded by Middle Persian, which when written is known as Sasanian Pahlavi. Parthian did not die out immediately, but remains attested in a few bi-lingual inscriptions from the Sasanian era.

See also

  • Iranian Languages vocabulary comparison table


  1. ^ Lecoq, Pierre (1983), "Aparna", Encyclopedia Iranica, 1, Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub,  
  2. ^ Josef Wiesehfer, "Ancient Persia: From 550 Bc to 650 A.D.", translated by Azizeh Azado, I.B. Tauris, 2001. pg 118.
  3. ^ Tafazzoli, A.; Khromov, A.L. "Sasanian Iran: Intellectual Life" in History of civilizations of Central Asia, UNESCO, 1996. Volume 3

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