One of the episodes of the opening ceremony of the Asian Games is dedicated to Parthian Nissa
We will remember for a long time the opening ceremony of V Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. It lasted for around three and half hour but seemed to be like magic minutes. The heads of the states, leaders of official delegations, numerous guests, representatives of foreign mass media, everyone were ravished with grandiose show made by thousands of performers.
The spectators, who filled 45-thousand seats Olympic Stadium, have been watching live pictures of Turkmens’ history, glorious heroes of the Motherland, powerful states founded by our ancestors in the ancient, antique, mediaeval and modern history times.
Ancient strongholds Paryzdepe and Nisa, the capital of the great Parthian State and western part of the capital of independent neutral Turkmenistan in our days, were the first episode of historical review.
Parthian beauties, having performed the dance with famous rhytons, carried out the ritual of initiation of boy to a man. Mother takes off the tahya (traditional headdress) from his head and puts on snow-white telpek (fur hat) and the father present him fast horse as a gift. Young horseman becomes equal member of adult society once he straddles the horse. From now on, he is defender of the Motherland and successor of traditions that our people carefully preserved passing down through generations…
In May of the last year in the western part of modern Ashgabat at Nisa State Historical and Cultural Reserve that once was the capital of powerful Parthian Empire existed in the I Millennium BC until the I Millennium AC, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov gave start to equestrian ride 500 days prior the beginning of V Asian Games.
The horsemen, having ridden across all regions of our Motherland, brought in the State Flag of Turkmenistan, the Flag of the Asian Olympic Council and the torch of the Asian Games, which was lit up at super giant Galkynysh gas deposit, to the Olympic Stadium.
Our story about ancient states mentioned at the show during the opening of Ashgabat 2017 Games starts from the capital of the Parthian State.
The word “Nisa” can be met in the ancient cuneiform texts and Zoroastrian Avesta that speaks of “Nissayah” through which Aryan tribes moved to the South-west, of its green pastures where ahalteke horses famous around the Ancient East were bred. However, Nissa never had such global fame like today. Recognition of this historical place as the Monument of the World Heritage in 2007 was the reason for this. During annual XXXI session of UNESCO Special Committee that lasted 10 days in Christchurch, New Zealand Parthian strongholds of Nissa were included to the World Heritage List as monuments of universal significance and global value.
This event was forestalled by painstaking preparation work started in spring 2005 by Turkmen specialist together with foreign experts. They have filed nomination dossier reflecting all necessary information about Nisa, which was so convincing that the UNESCO Committee has accepted it without reserve.
Nissa, sprung approximately 22 centuries ago as a royal sanctuary of the dynasty of Arshak the Great successors – the founders of powerful Parthian Empire, is located within Ashgabat boundaries on its south- west outskirt. It is composed of two impressive strongholds, called by locals Kyone Nusay (Old Nisa) and Tyaze Nusay (New Nisa), located 1.5 km apart from each other. Long time ago, the area between them was occupied by the ancient city and now this is western part of the capital of Turkmenistan.
Both fortress rise their steep walls near small creek almost at the foothill of one of the range of Kopetdag Mountains. Fertile plane stretches from natural hill where they were built until the horizon. High-rise new buildings of Ashgabat and silhouette of modern mosque in Kypchak are clearly seen from the top of high fortress walls of Old Nisa. This landscape is really beautiful and it is not just occasion that the strongholds of Nisa are included to the UNESCO List not only as cultural monuments but also as the objects of cultural landscape categories.
Thus, years of activity of the first State Historical and Cultural Reserve founded in Turkmenistan in 1980 have received international recognition. All these years, local administration did everything to preserve natural and historical environment around the monument what was difficult taking into account the proximity of living estates of Bagyr and agricultural fields.
… in IV BC Akhemenids Empire fell under the attacks of Greek Macedonian army. Independent states Bactria, Parthia and Khorezm were founded during the Seleukids - the successors of Alexander the Macedonian. They have gone dynamic and full of events way historical way in their development, which was covered quite well in the works of antic authors. Parthia, which existed almost for 600 years (III BC – III AC) and was a formidable enemy to Rome in the world supremacy by the beginning of the I AC, has achieved remarkable success.
After that, Parthia was represented by huge territory that in the peak of its development stretched from the Mediterranean to North – Eastern India. Partava, historical habitat of the Parthians, divided into two by the Kopetdag range, was the cradle of the Empire and its initial core. It matches approximately the territory of modern Ahal Velayat in Turkmenistan and northern regions of Khorasan province in Iran.
It was exactly the place where not earlier than in 247 BC, the tribe of aparns (or parns), who used to live in Karakums and has united nomadic tribes, seized Partava (Northern Parthia) led by their lord Arshak. Greek governor of the Seleukids satrapy was killed and Arshak announced himself as a king of independent Parthia. After he occupied Hyrcania (the region south-west of the Caspian Sea) where the first capital of the Parthian Kingdom has appeared lately.
Approximately at the same period, Parthaunisa city was founded as administration and economic centre of Arshakids dynasty on the land of their ancestors. It matches the location of New Nisa Settlement surrounded by fortress wall and once having strongly fortified stronghold in the southern corner. Royal fortress, which is known today as Old Nisa farther to the south at the outskirt, has been built.
Owing to written documents discovered during archaeological excavations, the correct name of the fortress, Mithradatkirt, was found out. It allows referring its foundation to Mithridates I of Parthia reigned in 171 – 139 BC, however this name could have been given to it later. Nevertheless, this great ruler who made Parthia a world power state and lately Mithridates II (123 – 87 BC), without a doubt, took great part in urban planning of Mithradatkirt. The outskirts of Parthaunisa were surrounded by 7-km wattle and daub wall and the whole area with adjacent settlements was surrounded by walls.
During his reign, Mithridates I has added Margiana, small satrapies Aspeon and Turiva (between Meshed and Herat), which were recaptured from Bactria. Midia was conquered in the west and by 141 BC, Mithridates I was announced as the King of Babylon. Parthian Kingdom became the largest state of the Central and Middle East. Countless treasuries of captured states were brought to original lands of the Parthians, the Souther Turkmenistan.
Mithridates II made overall reorganisation of the army, which was represented by cavalry and ground militia at that time. Heavy armoured cavalry started t present the main striking force of the Parthian army. Horsemen were covered by scaly armour and their head was protected by pointed helmet. These heavy armoured warriors were divided into spearmen (Clibanarii) and archers (Cataphracts). The horses of these soldiers were also covered by scaly meshes and has metal head and chest armour.
During Mithridates II, the part of Armenia was added to the Parthian Kingdom. Diplomatic missions went to Rome and China. According to Academic Vasily Barthold, Mithridates II ws the first king in the world history who had diplomatic relations with both the power of the East, which China used to be, as well as with the Western Power, the Rome. He was the first who announced himself the King of the Kings. During his time, the Parthian have reached Rome’s frontier. The first clash with Rome has happened in 65 BC and put the beginning to a long fight of two powers.
In 53 BC, Roman General Marcus Crassus, who previously beat the Spartacus rebel uprising, invaded Parthian lands during the reign of Parthian King Orodes I. However, fierce Roman war lord had run into strong opposition. According to Plutarch, Parthian unusual arrows, which were invisible in the flight, stroke the enemies to death. Plutarch wrote : “the Parthian, trained to attack and retrieve, spreads his cavalry detachments and strikes the enemy with arrows…”
During Roman attacks, the Parthians pretended as if they defeat spreading around the battlefield. Crassus, unfamiliar with this tactics of the nomads, set the pursuit and left the main troops behind. The Parthians horsemen made the enemy to run into heavy armed warriors. Meanwhile, the horsemen, spread around the desert, gathered in detachments and prepared to face the enemy, having hidden the Clibanarii and Cataphracts.
Parthian knight carried out dead front attack and, having overwhelmed the romans, beat their advanced troops. Around 6000 roman soldiers including Marcus Crassus himself were killed in this battle. In the next days, the Parthians were finishing off glorious roman legions, which successfully routed rebel salves under Spartacus leadership before.
10.000 captured roman soldiers were sent to deportation to Margiana. Captured Roman colours were given away to Parthian temples. Parthia has become the strongest state in the world. Roman historian Pompeius Trogus (I AC) wrote that the Parthians have power over the East after the peace with Rome…
Once upon a time, Mithridatekirt was impregnable stronghold with high wall and 43 bastions. Even though all construction had lost their original look as they were built of sun-dried bricks and mud, whatever remained still strikes the imagination. Old Nisa rises above the area as a giant crater and majestic panorama of mountains and Kopetdag plain opens from the top of the walls.
If to look inside the stronghold, one can see the ruins of the buildings. First of all, this is so-called central complex with tower-like construction in its core. Undoubtedly, it used to be the dominant of the whole ensemble reaching 15 metres in height. Its facades were decorated by both architectural forms as well as by polychrome wall paintings of battle scenes according to remained fragments.
Many elements of architectural decorations like remains of the capitals, decorated slabs, merlons of parapet walls and other terracotta items widely implemented in decoration of facades and interiors. Shattered terracotta statues of people in full height, which were bigger that human nature, in Parthian dress or warrior armours were found there.
Northern architectural complex of Old Nisa is composed of Large Square House with different household construction around. The composition of this building develops local architectural and planning traditions which appeared many centuries before.
This is the place where beautiful items of ivory in the shape of rhytons – the world-wide masterpieces of Parthian art, were discovered.
All these mysterious and still not completely studied constructions were not built once and forever but underwent several serious reconstruction for their existence, which involved the constructive part and decorative finishing. The purpose of these reconstructions worries the scientists until today and disputes of the designation of Old Nisa continue.
Based on thorough analysis of all received archaeological materials as well as on the comparison of Nisa constructions with other architectural monuments of Parthian time in the Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria, most of the scientists tend to think that three main buildings of the central complex of Nisa were related with Zoroastrian cults included some heroic aspects.
In other words, the tradition of worshiping of their idolized kings and heroes who became famous in the battles was emerged there. Dynastic cults of Hellenistic East and particularly, the ideas of sanctified power and God’s choice of the ruler were formed as the result of the development of local proto-Turkmen ideological systems rested on the Holly Scripture, the Avesta.
Entire range of historical facts indicate the opportunity of the development of dynasty cult there and as the result, specially designated facilities for it.
In general, Nisa and some of its constructions and collection of findings were the subject of numerous special articles and monographs. There are more expected as today, owing to the efforts of archaeologists, the curtain of the secret of this mysterious stronghold, which is not comprehensively studied yet, has just started to be revealed. Its depths still hide the architecture of former palaces and temple, art items and probably the remains of the Parthian kings. Anyway, Greek geographer and traveller Isidore of Charax, who lived 2000 years ago, pointed that their tombs are located there.
Few years ago, experienced Russian restorers made the conservation of remained fragments of colour frescos once decorating the walls of Old Nisa buildings. Now, these samples of Parthian wall paintings, which preserved until our days by miracle, are kept in two museums of the capital and accessible for scientific study. According to foreign specialist, this experience has supplemented the world practice of restoration and conservation of adobe painting. The frescos from Nisa have become the heritage of the world culture like the wall paintings of Pompei.
The expressiveness of art and architecture of the Parthia was so strong and captivating that many motifs of the ornaments. Building methods and elements have entered Turkmen traditions, having overcome the centuries. 50 years after discovery of the rhytons, they have turned into authentic symbols of ancient culture of Turkmenistan and became the attributes of national originality. These rhytons were held in the hands of Parthian girls during the dance at the opening ceremony of Ashgabat 2017 Games.
This is an important indicator to estimate the value of one or another historical monument and it means that he past is not left behind, is not rejected but harmonically merged into modern life. The word “Nisa” has become a brand name in Turkmenistan. There are football team and hotel, shops and restaurants, private companies and goods with the same name. all of these increase the popularity of ancient settlement. Now, it is mentioned in international references and Central Asian guides as unique monument of the history of the Ancient East.
Priceless collection of rhytons, marble sculptures, silver and stone items from the royal treasury of Nisa decorate the halls of National Museum of Turkmenistan and one can see rare samples of Parthian wall paintings and stone architectural decorations from Nisa sanctuaries in the Museum of Visual Arts. These collections will continue to be supplemented as Nisa has a big future as an archaeological object.
That is why President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov gave start to equestrian ride on occasion of 500-day countdown until the beginning of V Asian Games from the place where the capital of strong Parthian State used to be.
The members of this ride have crossed all the regions of our country and brought in the State Flag of Turkmenistan and the Flag of the Asian Olympic Council together with the torch, which was used to light up the Olympic fire of Ashgabat 2017 Games in Turkmen capital, to the Olympic stadium.