Parthians: Curtius Rufus on their Scythian origins (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Parthians: Curtius Rufus on their Scythian origins (first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 4, 2024,

Ancient author: Quintus Curtius Rufus (first century CE), History of Alexander 6.2.12 (link).

Comments: In his sketch of Alexander’s conquests, Curtius Rufus provides a brief excursus on the Parthians, generally unknown at Alexander’s time, Rufus claims. Rufus situates them in the context of Scythians and briefly distinguishes between European and Asian Scythians (with the Tanais or Don river being the dividing line for him). In Rufus time, of course, the Parthian empire was a major challenge to the Roman empire.


From there [Arbela] they came to the land of Parthiane, then home to an unknown descent group (gens), but now the leaders of all those who live beyond the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and extending as far as the Red Sea [i.e. Persian Gulf / Indian Ocean]. The Scythians had taken possession of the level and fertile part of the region, and are still dangerous neighbours. They have homes both in Europe and in Asia. Those Scythians who dwell above the Bosporos [i.e. Black Sea] are assigned to Asia, but those who are in Europe extend from the left side [i.e. west] of Thrace to the Borysthenes river [i.e. near Olbia] and from there in a direct course to the Tanais. The Tanais flows between Europe and Asia. There is no doubt that the Scythians, from whom the Parthians are descended, made their way, not from the Bosporos, but from the region of Europe.


Source of the translation:  John C. Rolfe, Quintus Curtius [Rufus]: History of Alexander, 2 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946), public domain (Rolfe passed away in 1943), adapted by Harland.

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