Parthian Fortresses of Nisa Turkmenistan

The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa consist of two tells of Old and New Nisa, indicating the site of one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian Empire, a major power from the mid-3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. They conserve the unexcavated remains of an ancient civilization which skilfully combined its own traditional cultural elements with those of the Hellenistic and Roman west. Archaeological excavations in two parts of the site have revealed richly decorated architecture, illustrative of domestic, state and religious functions. Situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes, this powerful empire formed a barrier to Roman expansion while serving as an important communication and trading centre between east and west, north and south.

Parthian Fortresses of Nisa Turkmenistan
Continent: Asia
Country: Turkmenistan
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (II)(III)
Date of Inscription: 2007

Traces of human activity

Traces of human activity was dating back to the 4th-2nd millennia BCE show that long before the beginning of the Parthian Empire the area of Nisa was already colonized by sedentary populations. It is believed that there was a large settlement there as early as the 1st millennium BCE. Nisa underwent a major development in the mid-3rd century BCE, when impressive buildings were erected by the Parthians, who decided to build a royal residence, probably the first of the Parthian dynasty.

The name of the site, Mithradatkert, and an indication of the date of its foundation are known from an inscription written on one of the 2,700 administrative ceramics (ostraka) found at Nisa. Mithradatkert means 'the fortress of Mithidrat,' referring to King Mithradat I (174-138 BCE).

Parthian Fortresses of Nisa Turkmenistan
Parthian Fortresses of Nisa

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In addition, some ancient sources, such as Isidorus of Kharax, mention the city of Parthaunisa as an administrative and economic centre for the Arsacid dynasty. From their royal residence (Old Nisa) and the adjacent city (New Nisa), the Arsacid dynasty carried out huge conquests over a very large territory stretching from the Indus to the Euphrates. Nisa became a major city located in a strategic point, at the crossroads of many cultures - from Persia, Greece, and Central Asia.

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At the local level, the centuries BCE saw the golden age of the fortresses, with the early development stages of its monumental buildings (Old Nisa) and the expansion of its economy. This period seems to have continued for a long time, until the first centuries CE.

In 224 CE, however, the Parthian kingdom collapsed. Ardashir, the Parthian governor-general in Persia at the beginning of the Sassanid dynasty, checked Parthian expansion and conquered their cities and territories. Destruction and diminished populations in Nisa led to its partial abandonment, although it continued to be an important centre until the Islamic period (12th-14th century CE).

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