Artabanus III of Parthia (Persian: اردوان سوم), flourished second half of 1st century BC – AD 38, was a Prince of Iranian and Greek ancestry. Artabanus III served as a King of Media Atropatene and later as King of Parthia.
Family background and early life
Artabanus III was a son born to an unnamed Arsacid Parthian Princess, who was related to Vonones I of Parthia, and her husband, the Median Atropatenian Prince, Darius. His known grandparents, on his father's side, were Artavasdes I of Media Atropatene and his wife, Athenais. Artabanus III had a younger brother who also served as King of Media Atropatene and Parthia, Vonones II. Artabanus III was the namesake of the previous ruling Parthian monarchs of this name. A daughter of Artabanus III was married to Mithridates, the Parthian general who attacked Asineus and Anileus and the Babylonian Jews on the Sabbath.
Although Artabanus III was born and raised in the Parthian Empire, he spent his youth living among the Dahae nomads. However, this may refer to Artabanus III’s exile in a period when Rome dominated the kingdoms of the Caucasus area.
Kingship of Media Atropatene and later Parthia
In AD 6, after the death of his paternal first cousin Artavasdes II, who served as Artavasdes III, as King of Media Atropatene and Armenia from 4 to 6, Artabanus III succeeded his cousin as King of Media Atropatene from 6 until 10; little is known about his reign.
In AD 10, Artabanus III abdicated the throne of Media Atropatene in favor of his brother Vonones II to become King of Parthia. Artabanus III ruled the Parthian Empire from around 10 to 38. He was raised to the throne by the Parthian grandees, who would not acknowledge Vonones I, whom the Emperor Augustus had sent from Rome (where Vonones I had lived as a hostage) to succeed his father Phraates IV.
The war between Vonones I and Artabanus III was long and doubtful. On a coin, Vonones I mentions victory over Artabanus III. At last Artabanus III defeated his rival completely and occupied the Parthian capital Ctesiphon. Vonones I fled to Armenia, where he was acknowledged as King, under the protection of the Romans. When Artabanus III invaded Armenia, Vonones I fled to Syria. The Roman emperor Tiberius thought it was prudent to support him no longer. Tiberius' nephew and first heir Germanicus, whom he sent to the East, concluded a treaty with Artabanus III, in which he was recognized as King and friend of the Romans. Armenia was given in AD 18 to Artaxias III.
Artabanus III, like all Parthian princes, was much troubled by the opposition of the grandees. He is said to have been very cruel in consequence of his education among the Dahae nomads. To strengthen his power he killed all the Arsacid princes whom he could reach. Rebellions of the subject nations may have occurred also. We learn that he intervened in the ancient Greek city Seleucia, in favour of the oligarchs, and two Jewish brigands, Anilai and Asinai, maintained themselves for years in Neerda in the swamps of Babylonia and were acknowledged as dynasts by Artabanus III.
In AD 35, he tried a new way to conquer Armenia and to establish his son Arsaces I as King there. A war with Rome seemed inevitable. The faction among the Parthian magnates which was hostile to Artabanus III applied to Tiberius for a king of the race of Phraates IV. Tiberius sent Phraates IV's grandson, Tiridates III, and ordered Lucius Vitellius the Elder (the father of the Roman emperor Vitellius) to restore Roman authority in the East. By very dexterous military and diplomatic operations Vitellius succeeded completely. Artabanus III was deserted by his followers and fled to the East. Tiridates III, who was proclaimed King, could no longer maintain himself, because he appeared to be a vassal of the Romans. Artabanus III returned from Hyrcania with a strong army of Scythian (Dahae) auxiliaries and was again acknowledged by the Parthians. Tiridates III left Seleucia and fled to Syria. Artabanus III wasn’t strong enough for a war with Rome; he therefore concluded a treaty with Vitellius in 37, in which he gave up all further pretensions. A short time afterwards Artabanus III was deposed again, and a certain Cinnamus was proclaimed king. Artabanus III took refuge with his vassal, the King Izates bar Monobaz. Izates, by negotiations and the promise of a complete pardon, induced the Parthians to restore Artabanus III once more to the throne. Shortly afterwards Artabanus III died and was succeeded by his son, Vardanes I, whose reign was still more turbulent than that of his father.
Artabanus III from an unknown wife had four sons: Arsaces I, Orodes, Artabanus (he with his wife and son, were all killed in AD 40 by Gotarzes II who were considered as potential rivals for the Parthian throne) and Vardanes I. Gotarzes II may have been his natural or adoptive son and, according to numismatic evidence, Artabanus III may have been the father of Artabanus IV.