Parthians: Poseidonios on royal banquets (first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Parthians: Poseidonios on royal banquets (first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified February 6, 2023,

Authors: Poseidonios of Apameia (Kidd, fragment 57) as cited by Athenaios of Naukratis, Sophists at Dinner 4.152-153 (link)

Comments: With the aim of critiquing “luxury,” Athenaios (second century CE) draws on a variety of Greek ethnographic sources regarding meals, in this case drawing on Poseidonios’ ethnographic comments on the banqueting customs of Parthian royalty. Athenaios’ wording suggests that Poseidonios (now lost beyond such quotations) had a significant account on Parthians. Parthia was located in what is now northeastern Iran.

Source of the translation: C.B. Gulick, Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists, 7 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1927-41), public domain (passed away in 1962 and copyright expired), adapted by Harland.


Book 4

Now in the fifth book in his account of the Parthians, Poseidonios says:

“The subject who enjoys the title of ‘king’s friend’ has no share at his meal, but sits on the ground while the king reclines above him on a high couch. he eats dog-fashion what the king tosses to him, and often, on some slight pretext, he is dragged away from his lowly meal and flogged with wooden planks or knotted straps until, covered with blood, he kneels himself down on the floor and does obeisance to his tormentor as to a benefactor.”

Furthermore, in the sixteenth book, Poseidonios tells the story of King Seleukos. How he went up into Media and made war on Arsakes, but was taken prisoner by the barbarian and lived a long time at the court of Arsakes, being treated in royal fashion. Poseidonios writes:

“Among the Parthians, the king at their banquets occupied a couch on which he reclined alone. It was separated from the other couches and somewhat higher than the others. The king’s table was set before him apart, as to a departed spirit, and was laden with native dishes.”

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