BALĀŠ, the name of a number of kings and several dignitaries and notables during the Parthian and Sasanian periods.

The Parthian form of the name, the oldest, is Walagaš. In Middle Persian it is Wardāxš, in Pahlavi Walāxš. The forms Walāš, Balāš, and even Golāš, attested especially in New Persian and in Arabic, are later. Armenian has Vałarš, which seems to be a borrowing from Middle Persian. The Syriac forms Walgāš, Walgēš, and Wologēš are borrowings from Parthian. The name occurs most often, however, in Greek, where it is spelled in quite varied ways: Vologaisos, Vologesos (or Vologeses), Bologaisos, Bologesos, Olagasos, Ologasos, and so on. In the later Greek authors one finds Balas, Blasēs or Blassēs, and Blasos or Blassos, forms that correspond to Walāš or Balāš. In Latin the spellings Vologaesus, Vologessus, Vologeses, etc. are attested (on the variants of this name cf. Nöldeke, ZDMG 28, 1874, pp. 94ff.; Justi, Namenbuch, pp. 344ff.; and Hübschmann, Armenische Grammatik, p. 79). We also note that, in the trilingual inscription of Šāpūr I on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt, the Greek Oualas(s)ou (ll. 60, 64), the genitive of Oualassēs or Oualassos (cf. Maricq, Syria 35, 1958, pp. 327, 329 = Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965, pp. 69, 71), corresponds to Middle Persian Wrdʾhšy and to Parthian Wlgšy.

The etymology of the name is uncertain. Starting with Walagaš, which seems to be the original form, Justi (pp. 346, 495) proposes the meaning “strength” (Av. varəda) for the first element in the compound, while he relates the second element to Modern Persian gaš or geš “handsome” (see also Pott, ZDMG 13, 1859, p. 391). These interpretations are debatable.

(M. L. Chaumont)

Balāš I Balāš VI
Balāš II Balāš, Sasanian king of kings
Balāš III Dynasts of Hatra
Balāš IV Lesser Notables
Balāš V  


Balāš I, reigned ca. 51—ca. 76-80. He was a son of Vonones, king of Atropatene (Media), who was a brother of Artabanus II. Balāš I’s reign was remarkably long for a Parthian king, but fraught with internal and external difficulties. His attempt to obtain the throne of Armenia for his brother Tiridates in 53 inevitably gave concern to the Romans. (On Roman-Parthian conflicts over Armenia, see M. L. Chaumont, 1976, pp. 71ff.). The Roman-backed Armenian king Mithridates had been murdered in 52 by his nephew Radamistus, a son of Pharasmanes, king of Iberia, and the Parthians, taking advantage of the resultant disorder, marched into Armenia and placed Tiridates on the throne. The Romans at first had no choice except to negotiate, because their troops were then in a disorganized state, but the tide turned in their favor when civil war broke out among the Parthians. A revolt against Balāš I was launched in 55, or perhaps 54, by a prince who may have been a son of Vardanes I (opinion of Hanslik, col. 1841) or one of Balāš I’s own sons named Vardanes (opinion of Debevoise, p. 180, and many other scholars). Shortly after this, a rebellion in Hyrcania flared up. It seems likely that the two uprisings were connected; Vardanes may well have launched his revolt from Hyrcania. Balāš I consequently had to withdraw his troops from Armenia for action in Hyrcania. At the same time he accepted the Roman demands for peace and hostages. By delivering some Parthian princes as hostages to the Romans, he conveniently got rid of several potential rivals.

The chronology of the subsequent fighting over Armenia cannot be worked out with any precision, because Tacitus, our principal source, reports the events in four different passages in his Annals (13.34-41, 14.23-26, 16.1-17 and 24-31), each covering the events of several years, while the later historian Dio Cassius (80.19-23) gives only a general review of what happened. The Roman march into Armenia began not before the year 58. After conquering Artaxata, the capital, and later also Tigranokerta, and compelling Tiridates to flee, the Romans placed Tigranes V, a great-uncle of Archelaus, the last king of Cappadocia, on the Armenian throne. Before long, Tigranes invaded the adjacent principality of Adiabene, which was under Parthian suzerainty. It was now Balāš I’s turn to have to negotiate. An attack on a vassal of the Parthians by the Roman-appointed Tigranes was virtually an attack by the Romans themselves, and although Balāš’s adversary Vardanes had disappeared from the scene sometime around 58, the Hyrcanians maintained their formidable resistance. Balāš I therefore made peace with Hyrcania, which in effect meant that this province ceased to belong to the Parthian empire.

In any case Balāš was now in a position to intervene in Armenia itself. Military operations by both sides, with several breaks for parleys, ended in a success for Balāš. The Roman force, then under Caesennius Paetus who had taken over the command of the Armenian campaign from Corbulo, was surrounded by Balāš’s troops in its winter camp near Rhandeia on the Arsanias (Muratsu, a tributary of the Euphrates) and eventually had to capitulate at the end of the year 62. In the summer of 63, however, the Romans, who had in the meantime assembled another large force, again marched into Armenia. Recognizing the unlikelihood of Parthian victory in the war, Balāš I sent emissaries with peace proposals. The Romans advised him to apply to Nero at Rome for the grant of the Armenian throne to his brother Tiridates as a Roman vassal. Long delays followed before Tiridates finally set out in 66 on his famous journey to Rome, where he received his investiture as king of Armenia from Nero in a grandiose ceremony (described by Dio Cassius, 62, 63.5.2). The arrangement satisfied both sides. The Parthians were the real masters in Armenia but recognized the validity of the Roman claim to suzerainty over the kingdom (on the legal aspect of the arrangement, see Ziegler, p. 75).

Relations remained friendly until Nero’s death in 68, and Balāš strove thereafter to maintain peace. During the subsequent Roman civil wars, he proposed to send 40,000 mounted archers in support of Vespasian, but the latter gratefully declined the offer. The first discord arose after an invasion of the Parthian empire by Alan nomads, which began in 72. Balāš asked Vespasian for help against them in 75, but received the chilly response that “it would not be proper for the emperor to interfere in other people’s affairs” (Dio Cassius, 65, 66.15.3).

Balāš I died not long afterward, certainly not later than 80 (McDowell, pp. 119ff., 230), possibly as early as 76/77 (Le Rider, Suse, pp. 174-75) or 78 (Sellwood, p. 220). In this as in several other cases, the dating depends on the question to which Parthian king a small number of coins should be attributed.

Coins minted at Seleucia at the end of Balāš I’s reign bear not only the figure of Balāš but also that of a young man, the king Pacorus II (77-78; Le Rider, p. 175). This Pacorus appears to have been a son of Balāš; whether he was appointed co-regent or (as so often in Parthian history) came forth as a counter-king is uncertain. In any case the course of events in the following decades is impenetrably obscure.

In the Parthian context, Balāš I’s long reign deserves a measure of credit. The judgments of Kahrstedt (pp. 82-83) are too negative, those of Hanslik (col. 1847) and Keall (pp. 624ff.) are more positive. Balāš’s long tenure is in itself evidence of his diplomatic skill. Unlike many other Parthian rulers, he did not eliminate his kinsmen but gave them high offices and honors. The dispute over Armenia, always a bone of contention between the Romans and the Parthians, was settled on terms by no means unfavorable to Parthia. Balāš also found time to establish a new commercial center, Vologaisias, which evidently became an important town (Koshelenko, pp. 761ff.); identification of its site has not yet been possible, and the question whether the frequently mentioned town names Vologaisias and Vologesocerta refer to one and the same place (Maricq, pp. 264ff.) or two different places (Chaumont, 1974, pp. 77ff.) also remains unsolved.


M. L. Chaumont, “L’Arménie entre Rome et l’Iran,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung. 2. Principat, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, II, 9, 1, Berlin, 1976, pp. 71-194.

Idem, “Etudes d’histoire parthe III. Les villes fondées par les Vologèse,” Syria 51, 1974, pp. 75-89.

N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938.

R. Hanslik, “Vologaeses I,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IX, cols. 1839-47.

U. Kahrstedt, Artabanos III. und seine Erben, Bern, 1950.

E. J. Keall, “Parthian Nippur and Vologases’ Southern Strategy: an Hypothesis,” JAOS 95/4, 1975, pp. 620-32.

G. A. Koshelenko, “La politique commerciale des Arsacides et les villes grecques,” in Studi in onore di Edoardo Volterra I, Milan, 1971, pp. 761-65.

A. Maricq, “Vologésias, l’emporium de Ctésiphon,” Syria 36, 1959, pp. 264-76 (repr. in Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965, pp. 113-25).

R. H. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia on the Tigris, Ann Arbor, 1975.

G. Le Rider, Suse sous les séleucides et les parthes, MDAFI 38, 1965.

K. Schippmann, Grundzüge der parthischen Geschichte, Darmstadt, 1980.

D. G. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia, London, 1971.

K. H. Ziegler, Die Beziehungen zwischen Rom und dem Partherreich, Wiesbaden, 1964, p. 75.

See also Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 79-86, 295, 447, 758, 1153.


Balāš II, a son or grandson of Balāš I, appears to have reigned, with some interruptions, from 77/8 to 89/90. The question again depends on coin attribution. His accession took place some time after the death of Balāš I. As mentioned above, coins from the end of Balāš I’s reign also bear the figure of Pacorus II. The latter was soon challenged, however, by rival throne claimants, namely Balāš II and Osroes, a brother or brother-in-law of Pacorus II. It has not been possible to determine the attributions of coins from this period, and so the surmises offered by scholars differ widely. Sellwood (pp. 226, 229) thinks that Balāš II first appeared as a rival of Pacorus II, but McDowell (pp. 119ff.) thinks that the coins attributed to Balāš II are coins of Balāš I and that Balāš II’s reign did not begin until 105/06. Hanslik (col. 1847) places Balāš II’s reign as late as 128-47. Le Rider (p. 174) has proposed a different solution to the problem of the apparent great length of Balāš II’s reign, which on the evidence of certain coins could have lasted from 77/8 to 146/7; he postulates the existence of a third king named Balāš and attributes the coins minted in 77/8, 89/90 and 106-08 to Balāš II, making Balāš III king from 111/2 onward (instead of Balāš II as previously supposed). The present writer finds this hypothesis acceptable.

It is not known whether the three rival throne claimants had operational bases in particular regions, but the fact that the coins of all three were minted at Seleucia indicates that the city frequently changed hands. Balāš II was apparently driven out first, as no coins of his later than 89/90 are known. Thereafter only two contestants were in the field; if Le Rider’s hypothesis is accepted, they were Osroes and Balāš III. At the start of Trajan’s Parthian war, the Parthian throne was probably held by Osroes, as it is he who is mentioned as the adversary of the Romans.


R. Hanslik, in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IX, cols. 1847-48.

R. H. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia on the Tigris, Ann Arbor, 1975.

G. Le Rider, Suse sous les séleucides et les parthes, MDAFI 38, 1965.

D. G. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia, London, 1971.

See also Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 87-88, 94, 295-96, 692.


Balāš III, king from 129 to 146/8 (according to Le Rider; cf. Hanslik, col. 1847, under Vologaeses II). The struggle between Osroes and Balāš III appears to have continued after, perhaps even during, Trajan’s Parthian war. Balāš III finally prevailed in 127/8 or in any case not later than 129. The minting of coins of Osroes at Seleucia cease from 127/8 onward, but Osroes is known to have met the emperor Hadrian during the latter’s tour of the East in 129 and to have obtained the release of his daughter, whom the Romans had captured in 116.

Balāš III soon came up against the usual “Parthian problem” of a pretender’s revolt. This particular counter-king, Mithridates IV, seems only to have controlled provinces on the Iranian plateau (Debevoise, p. 244 n. 15; Sellwood, p. 262). Roman-Parthian relations having been trouble-free in the first part of Balāš III’s reign, and the Roman historians being uninterested in Parthia’s internal affairs, information about the course of events is lacking. All that can be said is that Mithridates’s venture did not bring him any lasting success.

A much graver threat to Balāš III’s rule came from the invasion by Alan nomads in the years 134-36. They penetrated into Albania, Media, Armenia, and also Cappadocia, and were only driven out with great difficulty and doubtless heavy financial expense. In the reign of Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius (138-61), trouble over Armenia again flared up, but details of the events, which probably took place between 140 and 144, are lacking. All that is known is that the Romans installed a new king in Armenia. Balāš III made no countermove, either because he did not feel strong enough or perhaps because he did not wish to endanger the flourishing long-distance trade, from which the Parthians drew large profits (see Chaumont, pp. 146-47; Ziegler, pp. 110-11).


M. L. Chaumont, “L’Arménie entre Rome et l’Iran,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 2. Principat, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, II, 9, 1, Berlin, 1976, pp. 71-194.

R. Hanslik, in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IX, cols. 1848-51.

K. H. Ziegler, Die Beziehungen zwischen Rom und dem Partherreich, Wiesbaden, 1964.

See also Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 93, 296-97, 450, 1153.


Balāš IV reigned from ca. 147/8 to 190/1 or 192/3. In the first part of this king’s reign, Roman-Parthian relations remained peaceful. Balāš IV, however, was probably waiting for a chance to settle the Armenian problem on terms more favorable to Parthia. When the imperial throne passed to Marcus Aurelius in 161, Balāš saw the time as ripe. For the first (and last) time, the Parthians declared war on the Romans. No precise information on the reasons for this step has come down. Ziegler (p. 112) may perhaps be right in his surmise that Balāš IV had long been unwilling to drop the Parthian claim to influence in Armenia. Initial successes appeared to justify Balāš’s calculation. A Roman army was defeated at Elegeia on the Euphrates in 161, and Armenia was occupied and placed by Balāš under a new king named Pacorus (Chaumont, pp. 147-48). At the same time, the Parthians invaded Syria. The Romans, however, despite their initially precarious situation, soon began to counterattack. Lucius Verus, then co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius, took over their supreme command and had the support of the able generals C. Avidius Cassius, M. Statius Priscus, and P. Martius Verus. In 163 they overran Armenia and installed a new king, Sohaemus (Chaumont, pp. 149-50). After expelling the Parthians from Syria, they began to penetrate into Mesopotamia in 164/5. Dura Europos fell to them after hard fighting and thenceforth remained in Roman hands. At this juncture many of the Parthian vassals and their troops deserted Balāš (again showing how much the Parthian great kings depended on the local rulers within the empire: see Wolski, pp. 379ff., 385-86). As a result, Seleucia was captured by the Romans some time after December, 165. Whether the city was then really destroyed, as scholars relying on ancient authors often assert, seems doubtful because coins were again being minted at Seleucia in November, 166 (Hopkins, p. 161; Debevoise, p. 251, n. 58). The nearby royal capital, Ctesiphon, was also taken, and Balāš IV’s palace was demolished. Only the outbreak of a plague saved the Parthians from crushing defeat and forced the Romans to withdraw. It is not clear from the sources whether the two sides concluded a formal peace treaty (Ziegler, p. 114, and Schur, col. 2025, assume that they did, while Debevoise, pp. 252-53 says nothing to the contrary). Rome’s new eastern frontier ran from Dura Europos northward along the Ḵābūr river, and the region west of this line, including not only Edessa but also Carrhae and Nisibis, belonged to the Roman empire. (The exact line is uncertain, and there is disagreement on the question whether these cities and Singara were annexed in the reign of Marcus Aurelius or not until that of Septimius Severus. See Ziegler, p. 114, n. 131; Magie, pp. 15, 44; Oates, p, 72; Bertinelli, pp. 41ff.)

In the following decades peace between the two empires prevailed. An opportunity for the Parthians to cause trouble for the Romans on their eastern frontier arose early in the year 175 when Avidius Cassius, the victor of Ctesiphon, proclaimed himself emperor in Syria. It is not known whether Balāš contemplated intervention in the prospective civil war between this pretender and Marcus Aurelius, but if so, he failed to act in time, because Avidius Cassius was put to death by his own troops a few months later. Soon afterward Marcus Aurelius traveled to the East and confirmed the state of peace between Rome and Parthia in talks with Balāš IV’s envoys at Antioch in the summer of 176. The peace endured throughout the reign of Marcus Aurelius and his son and successor Commodus (180-92).

Balāš IV died in 190/1 or 192/3. (Le Rider, p. 461, and Sellwood, p. 267, give the earlier date, but McDowell, p. 235, and Hanslik, col. 1851, state that coins of Balāš IV were minted as late as 193, and Debevoise, p. 255, accepts the later date.) Since coins of Balāš V dated 191 also exist, it is possible that Balāš IV had made his son co-regent (surmise of Hanslik, loc. cit.) or that a civil war between the father and the son had broken out (surmise of Debevoise, loc. cit.). There are also some coins from ca. 190 minted for a king who (according to Sellwood, p. 281) bore the name Osroes (previously often misread as Artabanos); apart from the coins, nothing about him is known.

Balāš IV managed to hold the Parthian throne for more than forty years. He suffered defeats at the hands of the Romans but did not have to deal with the usual internal troubles due to revolts of pretenders and resultant civil wars (unless the surmise of a civil war with his son Balāš V is correct).


M. G. A. Bertinelli, “I Romani oltre l’Eufrate nel II secolo d.C. (le province di Assiria, di Mesopotamia e di Osroene),” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 2. Principat, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, II, 9, 1, Berlin, 1976, pp. 3-45.

M. L. Chaumont, “L’Arménie entre Rome et l’Iran,” ibid., pp. 71-194.

N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938.

R. Hanslik, in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IX, cols. 1851-52.

C. Hopkins, Topography and Architecture of Seleucia on the Tigris, Ann Arbor, 1972.

R. H. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia on the Tigris, Ann Arbor, 1975.

D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor II, Princeton, 1950.

D. Oates, Northern Iraq, London, 1968.

G. Le Rider, Suse sous les Séleucides et les Parthes, MDAFI 38, 1965.

W. Schur, “Parthia II B,” in Pauly-Wissowa, XVIII/4, 1949, cols. 1987-2029.

D. G. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia, London, 1971.

J. Wolski, in Deutsche Historische Gesellschaft, Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte der Alten Welt I, ed. E. C. Welskopf: Alter Orient und Griechenland, Berlin, 1964, pp. 379-84.

K. H. Ziegler, Die Beziehungen zwischen Rom und dem Partherreich, Wiesbaden, 1964, p. 75.

See also Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 93, 117-18, 297, 484.


Balāš V succeeded his father in 190/1 or 193 and reigned until 207/8. During these years the Roman empire was itself afflicted with the “Parthian” malady. After the murder of Commodus in 192, three rival army commanders set their sights on the throne. Later two of them, Pescennius Niger and Septimius Severus, remained to fight it out. The Parthians gave some help, but not much, to Pescennius Niger who commanded the legions in Syria. The historian Herodian (3.1, pp. 1-3) implies that the Parthian great king could only urge his vassals to send troops. It would therefore appear that the great king did not have a large force at his own disposal. On the other hand Balāš V may have supported the rebels in the Roman-ruled territory of Osrhoene who, together with the army of the Parthian vassal-state of Adiabene, laid siege to the Roman-held city of Nisibis (Hanslik, col. 1851, and Debevoise, p. 256, reckon that he did, but Ziegler, p. 130, holds that the siege was an independent venture by the king of Adiabene, not a deliberate treaty breach by Balāš V).

In 194 Septimius Severus finally achieved victory in the Roman civil war, and in the following year he marched into western Mesopotamia with the aim of recovering the lost territories (see Hasebroek, pp. 73ff.). The course of events cannot be traced with precision, mainly because it is not known whether various incidents took place in this campaign or in Severus’s second campaign which began in 197. In any case Osrhoene and Nisibis were reconquered. The only uncertain point is whether it was at this time that Osrhoene was made a Roman province and that a new province of Mesopotamia comprising areas east of Osrhoene was constituted. (This is the opinion of Ziegler, p. 131, and Bertinelli, p. 39; but see Magie, II, pp. 1543-54.) Adiabene also was conquered or at least was the scene of a victory, and another victory was won over some Arabs, as indicated by Severus’s assumption of the titles “Parthicus Adiabenicus” and “Parthicus Arabicus.” The prospects for the Parthians were far from favorable when the emperor had to call off his campaign and return home to deal with the army commander in Gaul, Clodius Albinus, who set himself up as counter-emperor. After defeating Albinus near Lugdunum (Lyon) early in 197, Septimius Severus resumed his war with the Parthians. In the meantime Balāš V had suppressed revolts in Iran and defeated the pro-Roman king Narses of Adiabene. He then marched into Mesopotamia and besieged but failed to capture Nisibis. When Roman reinforcements arrived, the Parthians gave up the siege. The Romans then took the offensive, advancing down the Euphrates to Seleucia and Babylon, which they occupied without resistance, though they had to fight hard before Ctesiphon fell to them, probably late in the year 198 (Bertinelli, pp. 37ff.). The emperor now assumed the title “Parthicus Maximus.” The Romans were unable, however, to hold onto their gains. Difficulties in obtaining adequate food supplies and reinforcements obliged them to withdraw. On the way back, Septimius Severus attempted to seize Hatra, but like Trajan was unsuccessful. The Roman troops probably spent the winter in northern Mesopotamia, and in the spring of 199 they made a second attempt on Hatra but were again repulsed and suffered heavy losses. They then finally withdrew to Syria. It seems likely that a peace treaty between the two powers was concluded in 199, though the ancient sources are silent on the subject. While Septimius Severus had not been able to make any large and lasting gains, he at least obtained a secure frontier with the Parthian empire. Two new Roman provinces were now constituted, namely Osrhoene (less a small area including the capital Edessa, which apparently continued to be a vassal kingdom) and Mesopotamia, and three new legions (I-III Parthicae) were mustered to garrison and defend these provinces. Recent archeological investigations (see Bertinelli, pp. 41ff.) have made it possible to trace parts of the Roman defense line. This limes ran through Alaina (Tell Hayal), Singara (Balad Senjar) and further east through sites at Zagurae (Ain Sinu) to Vicat (Tell Ibra); the finds do not show whether the frontier ran to Ad Flumen Tigris (Mosul), which would have been its rational terminus.

Roman-Parthian relations remained peaceful in the rest of the reigns of Balāš V, who died in 206/7, and Septimius Severus, who died in 211. Only after the accession of the latter’s son Caracalla did things change.


M. G. A. Bertinelli, “I Romani oltre l’Eufrate nel II secolo d.C. (le province di Assiria, di Mesopotamia e di Osroene),” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Gesehichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 2. Principat, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, II, 9, 1, Berlin, 1976, pp. 3-45.

N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938.

R. Hanslik, in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IX, cols. 1852-53.

I. Hasebroek, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Kaisers Septimius Severus, Heidelberg, 1921.

Herodian, Ab excessu divi Marci, ed. K. Stavenhagen, Leipzig, 1922.

D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor II, Princeton, 1950.

K. H. Ziegler, Die Beziehungen zwischen Rom und dem Partherreich, Wiesbaden, 1964, p. 75.

See also Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 94, 297.


Balāš VI succeeded his father Balāš V in 207/8. Not many years passed before his authority was challenged by his brother Artabanus IV (still often mentioned as Artabanus V; the new numbering is used here for the reasons given in artabanus). Fighting between the two probably began ca. 213. Artabanus appears to have succeeded in taking over large parts of the empire. The fact that many of his coins are probably from Ecbatana indicates that he controlled Media, and the inscription on a stele found at Susa shows that he held that city. On the other hand coin-finds show that Seleucia remained in Balāš VI’s possession (McDowell, p. 200).

No doubt the internecine strife among the Parthians encouraged the Romans to embark on an “active” course. In 213/4 Caracalla invited the king of Osrhoene, Abgar IX, to Rome and then flung him into jail, and later he attempted to play the same trick on the king of Armenia (name unknown). In revulsion against the imprisonment of the king of Osrhoene, an anti-Roman rebellion broke out (for details, see Chaumont, pp. 134ff.; Maricq, pp. 297ff.).

By this time the emperor Caracalla was probably already planning to start a new Parthian war. In search of a pretext, he sent a demand to Balāš VI for the delivery of two fugitives, a philosopher named Antiochus and a certain Tiridates (whether the latter was an Armenian prince or a brother of Balāš V who had gone over to Septimius Severus in his second Parthian campaign is uncertain; see Chaumont, p. 155). Surprisingly, Balāš VI delivered the two hostages, thus depriving Caracalla of his pretext. Instead Caracalla began with an expedition against Armenia. He gave the command to a former slave and theater-dancer named Theocritus. The venture was a fiasco.

Before long, Caracalla concocted another pretext for war against the Parthians. In 216 he sent a request to Artabanus IV for the hand of his daughter in marriage, and Artabanus refused. Opinions differ on the question whether this proposal was genuine (Ziegler, p. 133) or not meant seriously (Schur, col. 2028). Caracalla then set out on “his” war in the summer of 216. The fact that the Roman emperor addressed the request for a bride to Artabanus IV is generally seen as evidence that Artabanus IV had finally won the contest with his brother Balāš VI (Debevoise, p. 265; Chaumont, p. 155); but, against this, coins of Balāš VI are known to have been minted at Seleucia until at least 221/2 (Le Rider, p. 461; Sellwood, p. 290; until 222/3 according to McDowell, pp. 200, 237). It is even possible that a silver tetra-drachm from the year 228 should be attributed to Balāš VI (opinion of Sellwood, p. 290). If so, there would be reason to suppose that, after the last decisive battle in 224 or thereabouts when the Sasanian beat the Parthians and killed Artabanus IV, Balāš VI kept the resistance against them going for some time, mainly in Mesopotamia.


M. L. Chaumont, “L’Arménie entre Rome et l’Iran,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 2. Principat, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, II, 9, 1, Berlin, 1976, pp. 71-194.

N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938.

R. Hanslik, in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl., IX, col. 1852.

G. Le Rider, Suse sous les Séleucides et les Parthes, MDAFI 38, 1965.

R. H. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia on the Tigris, Ann Arbor, 1975.

K. Schippmann, Grundzüge der parthischen Geschichte, Darmstadt, 1980.

W. Schur, “Parthia II B,” in Pauly-Wissowa, XVIII/4, 1949, cols. 1987-2029.

D. G. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia, London, 1971.

B. Simonetta, “Note di numismatica partica. Vologese V, Artabanos V e Artavasde: una revisione di fatti e di ipotesi,” Numismatica 19-20, Rome, 1953-54, pp. 19-22.

K. H. Ziegler, Die Beziehungen zwischen Rom und dem Partherreich, Wiesbaden, 1964.

See also Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 94, 96, 297.

(K. Schippmann)


Balāš, Sasanian king of kings (484-88) (Gk. Balas, Blasēs, Blassos, Valas, etc.). Balāš, son of Yazdegerd II (r. 438-57), was chosen by the magnates of the kingdom—of whom the most influential at that time were Zarmehr Sōḵrā and Šāpūr Mehrān—to succeed his brother Pērōz (r. 459-84) after the latter had been defeated and killed in an expedition against the Hephthalites (Huns) in a.d. 484 (Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, Venice, pp. 544-47, par. 87; Langlois, II, p. 352; Procopius, 1.5.2; according to Ṭabarī, I, p. 882, and Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ, I, p. 185, Balāš was Pērōz’s son). Balāš, who was of a pacific and conciliatory temperament, made peace with Vahan Mamikonean, leader of the Armenian rebellion (Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 547ff., pars. 88-97; Langlois, II, pp. 353ff.). As a result of this agreement, Balāš received the aid of Vahan Mamikonean against his brother Zarer or Zareh, who had put himself forward as claimant to the throne. Thanks to the Armenian cavalry, Zarer was defeated and killed (Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 589-95, pars. 93-95; Langlois, II, pp. 360-61). Thereafter Vahan was welcomed with great pomp by Balāš, who named him at first hazarapet and later marzbān of Armenia (Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 597-620 pars. 95-99; Langlois, II, pp. 361-65). Balāš wished to be humane and benevolent. The legend engraved on the obverse of his coins, hwkd wldʾhš (the good prince Walāxš), is significant (see Göbl, I, p. 51, table XV, pl. 11, nos. 178-79) and according to a tradition of the Islamic period, he took great care of the welfare of his humblest subjects (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 134). Balāš showed favor to Christians. At the opening of the synod that took place at Seleucia in a.d. 486, presided over by the catholicos Acacius, he was saluted as the “good and amiable Walāš, King of Kings” (Synodicon Orientale, p. 53, tr. p. 299). It seems that he even sent Acacius as his ambassador to the emperor Zeno in 485 or 486 (Synodicon Orientale, p. 527, tr. p. 553; cf. pp. 300, n. 3, and 533, n. 6). In another action, he ordered Barṣaumā, bishop of Nisibis, together with the marzbān Kardag Naḵwergān, to carry out the demarcation of the frontiers between the Sasanian and Roman empires (Synodicon orientale, pp. 529-30, tr., pp. 536-37). On the other hand, Balāš incurred the disapproval of the Magians because he wished to endow the cities with public baths in the Roman manner (Wright, p. 12). Equally he displeased his troops (ibid.) and he was no more successful in satisfying the notables, who, probably urged on by Zarmehr Sōḵrā, deposed him after four years of his reign in order to replace him with his nephew Qobād/Kavād (Theodorus Lector, Historia ecclesiastica 2.51 = Patrologia graeca LXXXVI, p. 209). The foundation of Balāšābād (Walāxšābād), near Seleucia on the Tigris, has been attributed to Balāš (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 134) through an anachronism. It has already been demonstrated that the true founder of this city was the Arsacid Balāš I (see above).


R. Göbl, Sasanidische Numismatik, Braunschweig, 1968.

Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 295-97, 388.

Šāh-nāma, Borūḵīm ed., VII-VIII, pp. 227ff.

Synodicon Orientale, ed. J. B. Chabot, Paris, 1902.

W. Wright, ed., The Chronicle of (Pseudo) Joshua the Stylite II, Camhridge, 1882.


Dynasts of Hatra.

1. Walgaš (2nd cent.), son of Naṣrū, at first “lord” (mrʾ), then “king (mlkʾ) of ʿArab(s) (of Hatra)” (inscriptions 140, 193, 286; A. Caquot, Syria 41, 1964, pp. 259-68; B. Aggoula, Syria 52, 1975, pp. 184-85 and 63, 1986, pp. 356, 363, nos. 348, 366). This is probably a dynast of Hatra and its dependent territory under Parthian suzerainty. The new evidence of Hatra inscription no. 348 proves that the Walgaš in question is son of Naṣrū: ṣlmʾ dy Wlgš br Nṣrw mryʾ “statue of Walgaš the lord, son of Naṣrū” (Aggoula, 1986, p. 356). Thus Walgaš must have been the brother of Sanaṭrūq I. Naṣrū ruled in 137/8 and Sanaṭrūq I in 161/2, so Walgaš must have ruled between these two dates (Aggoula, Mélanges de l’Université St. Joseph 17, 1972, pp. 54, 60-61; 1986, p. 363) and was thus a contemporary of the Arsacid King Valagaš/Balāš IV (III). The new evidence disproves earlier attempts to place this Walgaš about 150 or 200, i.e., between Worōd and Naṣrū (J. T. Milik, Recherches d’épigraphie proche-orientale, 1972, p. 364) or before 138 (H. J. W. Drijvers, in ANRW 11/8, pp. 824-25).

2. A prince or king of Hatra, represented dressed in Parthian fashion on a great lintel discovered near the remains of a sanctuary at Hatra, with the inscription nṣr blgš “victory of Walgaš” (Caquot, Syria, 1953, p. 238 no. 33). The identification of this Walgaš with the Arsacid Balāš I suggested by F. Safar (Caquot, p. 239) is based on too scanty evidence.

3. Walgaš son of Walgaš, known from inscription no. 366, engraved on a column commemorating the erection of a statue: ṣlmʾ dy Wlgš br Wlgš “statue of Walgaš, son of Walgaš” (Aggoula, 1986, p. 363). It is not certain that this is the son of King Walgaš above.

Bibliography:Given in the text.


Lesser Notables.

1. King of Kermān (210?), defeated by Ardašīr I, who took him prisoner and took possession of his capital (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 10; Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 87). He was probably a vassal dynast who by some authors was erroneously identified with the Arsacid Balāš VI (V).

2. A prince, son of Pāpak and presumably brother of Ardašīr I, listed in the fifth rank of notables in the inscription of Šāpūr I (242-70) on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt (Maricq, p. 327 [69]). His name is spelled Mid. Pers. Wrdʾhš, Parth. Wlgšy, Gk. genitive OUALASSOU).

3. Son of Selōk (Seleucus), listed in the 33rd rank of notables in the inscription of Šāpūr I (Maricq, p. 329 [71]). His name is spelled like that of no. 2.

4. Vałarš, an Armenian prince of Anjit (Anzitene), hazarapet “chiliarch” at the accession of King Tiran of Armenia (ca. 338?; Faustus, 3.12, Venice, 1933, p. 40 = Langlois, Historiens I, pp. 221, 222; Genealogy of St. Gregory 3 = Langlois, Historiens II, p. 24).

5. A marzbān of Bēṯ ʿArbāyē (?) under Šāpūr II (309-79) (Hoffmann, p. 29).

6. A bishop of Nisibis (d. 361?) who succeeded Babu between 346 and 350 (Justi, p. 345 s.v. Walagaš no. 6; W. Ensslin in Pauly-Wissowa, VII A/2, col. 2091 s.v. Walagasch no. 2; Fiey, pp. 23, 29-33). The Chronicon Paschale (ed. L. Dindorf, Bonn, 1832, I, p. 539) attributes to him a letter on the third siege of Nisibis by Šāpūr II in 350. He was a contemporary of St. Ephrem, who mentions him in a flattering manner in Carmina Nisibena (ed. G. Bickell, Leipzig, 1866, index, p. 234 s.v. Vologeses). An inscription discovered at Nisibis commemorates the erection of a baptistery by this bishop (Sarre and Herzfeld, II, pp. 336-46).

7. A student at the Persian school in Edessa in about 450 (Martin, p. 26; Labourt, p. 257).

8. The leader of a troop of Massagete (Hunnish) cavalry under the orders of Belisarius (532) (Procopius, De bello vandalico 1.11.12; Theophanes, Chronographia I, anno 6026, ed. J. Classen and I. Bekker, Bonn, 1839, p. 292; Justi, p. 345, s.v. Walagaš no. 12; Ensslin, s.v. Walagasch no. 6).

9. The son of Dādmehr and grandson of Zarmehr, governor of Ṭabarestān from 575-600 (Dorn, pp. 42, 319; Justi, p. 345, s.v. Walagaš no. 13).

10. The grandson of Āḏarwalāš, murderer of Bāw (679; Dorn, pp. 42, 46, 206, 323; Justi, p. 346, s.v. Walagaš no. 14).


Ẓahīr-al-Dīn Maṛʿašī, Tārīḵ-eṬabarestān o Rūyān o Māzandarān, ed. B. Dorn, Geschichte von Tabaristan, Rujan und Mazanderan, St. Petersburg, 1850.

W. Ensslin in Pauly-Wissowa, VIIA/2, col. 1948.

J. M. Fiey, Nisibe, métropole syriaque orientale, CSCO 388 (Subsidia 54), Louvain, 1977.

G. Hoffmann, Auszüge aus syrischen Akten persischer Martyrer, Leipzig, 1880.

J. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide, Paris, 1904.

A. Maricq, “Res Gestae Divi Saporis,” Syria 35, 1958, pp. 295-360 (repr. in Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965, pp. 37-101).

J. P. P. Martin, Le Pseudo-Synode connu sous le nom de Brigandage d’Ēphèse, Paris, 1875.

F. Sarre and E. Herzfeld, Archäologische Reise im Euphrat- und Tigrisgebiet, Berlin, 1911-20.

Search terms:

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(M. L. Chaumont, K. Schippmann)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 6, pp. 574-580

Cite this entry:

M. L. Chaumont, K. Schippmann, “BALĀŠ,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, III/6, pp. 574-580, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).