Section 9 – The Kingdom of Tiaozhi 條支 (Characene and Susiana).

1. Tiaozhi 條支 = Characene and Susiana. Almost all recent writers agree that this territory the furthest point reached by the Chinese envoy Gan Ying in 97 CE, which bordered on the ‘Western Sea’ and was a dependency of the Parthians at the time must refer to the region near the head of the Persian Gulf. It was first mentioned in the Shiji and again in the Hanshu where it presumably referred to the Seleucid territories in the lower Tigris-Euphrates region.
          I tend to agree, on the whole with Chavannes’ notes on the identification of this kingdom, although I would extend it to include Susa and the surrounding region:

“Tiaozhi appears to me to correspond to the Arab kingdom of Characene which was founded between 130 and 127 BCE in Mesene, at the mouths of the Tigris. Mesene is called Dest Misau in a fragment of Ibn Qutaybah [828-829], and Amru, quoted by [Joseph] Assemani [1687-1768], simply calls Desht the country of Desht Misan; this name of “Desht”, is the Persian word desht which signifies “plain”. Perhaps it is this word which is hidden in the Chinese transcription of Tiaozhi 條支. The Characenes were subject to the Parthians during the reign of Trajan (98-117 CE), for we see this emperor waging war against the Parthians and the Arabs at the same time. The Chinese historian tells us in fact several lines later on that Tiaozhi (Desht Misan) was subject to Parthia.” Translated and adapted from Chavannes (1907), p. 176, n. 3.

          There have been a number of suggestions for the derivation of the name Tiaozhi but the question remains unresolved. Some of the more plausible suggestions by recent writers are those of Leslie and Gardiner, Edwin Pulleyblank, and David Graf:

“For SC and HS, T’iao-chih refers to the Seleucid Empire. By the later Han period, with HHS and HHC, we can hardly accept this identification, for the Seleucid Empire had long ceased to exist. Though occasional references seem to be echoes of earlier information, we must look for a more contemporary country. We are inclined to follow the view of Chavannes and Shiratori in particular that T’iao-chih must be Characene (or Mesene), with capital Charax, in the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates. This requires the concomitant identification of the Western Sea (sometimes the Great Sea) which it overlooks as the Persian Gulf leading to the Indian Ocean.” Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 260.

Pulleyblank (1999), pp. 73-74 makes a good case for the phonetic derivation of Tiaozhi from Seleukia. However, he argues strongly against Leslie and Gardiner’s suggestion (ibid. pp. 253-254) that Likan and Tiaozhi be taken together (Likan / Tiaozhi) to represent the Seleucid Empire. In an earlier work Pulleyblank (1963), p. 101 discusses the previous suggestion by Hermann and Fujita that it might have represented “present Bushire, known to the Greeks as Ταοκή, later Tawwağ”.

David Graf (1996), p. 203, presents an intriguing alternative:

“It seems far more likely that T’iao-chih is simply an attempt to transcribe the word “Tigris” (Assyrian-Babylonian Idiglat; Old Persian Tigra). Support for this view can be found in the rendering of the Ganges river valley as Huang-chih in CHS [Hanshu] (ch. 188/32ab), suggesting that the character chih in the name T’iao-chih was pronounced ga in the Han period. T’iao-chih can then be considered as the Chinese transcription for the Persian form of the name for the Tigris. Just as the Chinese name for the Ganges designated the kingdom on the Indian seacoast, so T’iao-chih represents the kingdom on the Tigris near the coasts of the Persian Gulf. In fact, in the later Chinese account of Persia by Ma Tuan-lin (Po-ssū ch. 339/6), the region south of Su-li on the banks of the Ta-ho-shui (i.e. Seleucia on the Tigris) is equated with the territory of ancient T’iao-chih. All of this territory may have earlier been under the administration of Charax Spasinou, the central city of the Lower Tigris.”

As mentioned above, most authors now agree that Tiaozhi must have included the lands at the head of the Persian Gulf. There seems to be a fairly general agreement that its capital was the important port of Charax Spasinou, the main city of the semi-autonomous territory of Characene.
          On the other hand, I tend to agree with Takashi
Sōma (“Studies on the Country of T’iao-Chih.” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, 1978, No. 36, pp. 1-26), when he argues that the big city, described as 40 li (or over 16 km) around in our text, could not possibly be Charax Spasinou, as we know from classical sources that it was much smaller than this. It does, however, admirably fit with what we know of Susa – the second largest city in the region (after Seleucia/Ctesiphon). Susa used Charax Spasinou as its port. We also know Susa retained its importance throughout the Roman period and retained a considerable degree of autonomy from the Parthian capital at Ctesiphon, though the details are anything but clear.

“The region of Susiana is distinguished from Elymais by Strabo XVI.1.8, 17, 18 and Pliny, NH VI.135-136. For the absorption of Susiana and its capital by the kingdom of Elymais, see U. KAHRSTEDT, Artabanos III, 40-47 and G. L. RIDER, Suse, 426-430, who dates the end of Parthian Power in Susa to c. A.D. 45 and places a mint of Elymais in the city by c. A.D. 75. Possibly at this time Susa became the capital of Elymais.” Raschke (1976), p. 817, n. 721.

There is also evidence that Persis may have controlled the region, at least around the middle of the first century CE:

“Persis was originally a district of the Persian empire that embraced the lands along the eastern shore of the Persian Gulf; see W. Hinz, RE Suppl. 12 s. v. Persis (1970). During the centuries when a Parthian dynasty ruled in Persia (ca. 248 B.C. to A.D. 226), the district became virtually an independent kingdom, with its own rulers and coinage, acknowledging vassalage to Parthian overlords only when these were strong enough to insist on it (cf. Raschke 815, n. 719). To judge from the statements in the Periplus, at the time of writing [between 40 and 70 CE] Persis controlled a broad expanse of territory, from a point on the Arabian coast opposite the Kuria Muria Islands to past Omana on the Makran coast.. It controlled as well the head of the Persian Gulf....” Casson (1989), p. 174. 

On the contrary, Pliny the Elder seems to indicate that Charax Spasinou was (at least at his period) considered to be under Arab control:

“A particularly inaccessible part of it [the coast at the head of the Persian Gulf] is called Characene, from Charax, a town of Arabia that marks the frontier of these kingdoms [Elymais and Farsistan]....” Pliny NH (b), p. 136. (VI. Xxxi).

“After Petra the country as far as Charax was inhabited by the Omani, with the once famous towns of Abaesamis and Soractia, founded by Samiramis ; but now it is a desert. Then there is a town on the bank of the Pasitigris named Forat, subject to the king of the Characeni ;  this is resorted to by people from Petra, who made the journey from there to Charax, a distance of 12 miles [17.6 km] by water, using the tide. But those travelling by water from the kingdom of Parthia come to the village of Teredon below the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris ; the left bank of the river is occupied by the Chaldeans and the right bank by the Scenitae.” Pliny NH (b), pp. 145-146. (VI. Xxxii).

          Accordingly, I have only tentatively identified Tiaozhi as Characene and Susiana. Whoever was actually ruling the region at the time, it clearly referred to the region about the mouth of the Tigris River, at the head of the Persian Gulf. See also: CICA, p. 113, n. 253.

2. Sibin 斯賓 [Szu-pin] = Susiana. See the previous note 9.1 for the identification of this kingdom as Susiana containing the city of Susa, the ancient capital of the Persian monarchy said by Pliny to have been founded by Darius I the Great (reigned 522 to 486 BCE). However, it seems he merely restored the fortifications and extended the town when he made it his administrative capital in 521 BCE
          It should be pointed out that Susa is never referred to as a du or ‘capital’ in the Hou Hanshu, although it is described as a large city on a hill more than 40 li (16.6 km) in circumference. This accords with Susa’s status as a key regional administrative centre but never a ‘capital’ for the Parthians.
It is interesting to note, as Mark Passehl wrote (on 12 July 2003) that: “Susa means “city of the lily” and, renamed Seleukeia on Eulaios, was the capital of the Elamite royal family.”
          It was possible to sail right up the Pasitgris to the city of Susa (as, indeed, Alexander did) even though it was some 250 Roman miles (371 km) from the Persian Gulf, according to Pliny NH (b), p. 134. (VI. Xxxi).

“The territory of Susa is separated from Elymais by the river Karún, which rises in the country of the Medes, and after running for a moderate distance underground, comes to the surface again and flows through Massabatene. It passes around the citadel of Susa and the temple of Diana, which is regarded with the greatest reverence by the races in those parts ;  and the river itself is held in great veneration, inasmuch as the kings drink water drawn from it only, and consequently have it conveyed to places a long distance away. Pliny NH (b), p. 135. (VI. xxxi).

3. Xihai 西海 [Hsi-hai] – the ‘Western Sea’ must refer here to the Persian Gulf (considered as part of the Indian Ocean). See Leslie and Gardiner (1996), p. 146.

4. Ostriches were still present in the wild at this time throughout the dryer parts of the Middle East, including Parthia:

“The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded that during a day’s hunt King Herod the Great killed 40 different kinds of animals, from lions to wild boars, from gazelles to ostriches.
          Ostriches were common then and their range immense: from today’s Morocco to Egypt, from southernmost Africa through the Middle East to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), ancient Persia (Iran) and Arabia. They were avidly hunted. Their plumes were in great demand for the majestic fans of the pharaohs and as panache for the headdresses of nobles and knights. Ostrich eggshells, set in gold or silver, became the precious goblets of the rich. The Egyptians, noting the perfect balance and symmetry of the ostrich feather, revered it as a symbol of truth and justice..
          The Middle Eastern, or Syrian, ostrich – smallest of the six ostrich races – was hunted mercilessly with cars and guns, a thrilling “sport” that quickly eradicated the great birds. The last ostrich of the Middle East drowned in a flash flood in southern Jordan in 1966.” Bruemmer (1997).

5. To have been a 60 day ride from Tiaozhi this must refer to one of the early ‘capitals’ of the Parthians – possibly Old Nisa (near modern Ashgabat or Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan). It certainly could not refer to the current ‘capital’ of Hecatompylos, which was not far east of Tehran (see note 10.1 below).
            To check this I measured the distance from the assumed position of ancient Charax (northwest of modern Basra) through Susa to Damghan (which is thought to be near the ancient site of Hecatompylos
see, for example, Plinys measurements at the end of note 10.1 below) and found it was only about 950 km. If this took 60 days on horseback it indicates an average speed of only 15 km a day a very slow ride indeed. However, measuring on to Old Nisa by the most direct route I got a total of about 1,500 km making the average daily journey 20.5 km a far more reasonable average rate of progress.