The ethnic and linguistic identity of the Parthians

a review of the evidence from Central Asia

John Sheldon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Herodotus lists the Parthians, along with the Chorasmians, the Sogdians and the Arians in the sixteenth satrapy of the Persian Empire at the time of Darius I. Although Parthava is mentioned several times in the Old Persian Achaemenian inscriptions, its exact, or even comparative, locality cannot be established from these owing to different orders of enumeration. From later Classical sources we can piece together a picture of this Iranian people, but evidence is also available from Manichaean texts discovered in Central Asia in the early part of the nineteenth century. The first positive identification of one of the languages in the texts as Parthian was made by Tedesco in 1921. Since then the term has usually been adopted by scholars working on this language. The justification for and implications of this identification from an ethnic and linguistic point of view are discussed in this article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-17
Number of pages13
JournalAsian Ethnicity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Parthian
  • Middle Persian
  • ethnicity
  • Manichaean
  • Arsacid
  • Sassanian

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