Characene (Ancient Greek: Χαρακηνή), also known as Mesene (Μεσσήνη)[2] or Meshan, was a state founded by the Iranian[3][4] Hyspaosines within the Parthian Empire located at the head of the Persian Gulf. Its capital, Charax Spasinou (Χάραξ Σπασινού), was an important port for trade between Mesopotamia and India, and also provided port facilities for the city of Susa further up the Karun River. Characene was mainly populated by Arabs, who spoke Aramaic as their cultural language.[1] All rulers of the principality had Iranian names.[4]


A map of Characene.
A map of Characene.
CapitalCharax Spasinu
Common languagesAramaic (cultural language)[1]
• 141-124 BC
Hyspaosines (first)
• 210–222 AD
Abinergaios III (last)
Historical eraMiddle Ages
• Established
• Sasanian conquest
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Seleucid Empire
Sasanian Empire


Characene was part of the Sassanid Empire and was located primarily within the southern part of present-day Iraq.[5] At one point Characene included Tylos, the present-day country of Bahrain.


Characene was founded around 127 BC under Aspasine, known in classical writings as Hyspaosines, a former satrap installed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Characene remained intact throughout the Seleucid Empire and continued as an essentially independent kingdom under the Parthians until it was conquered by the Sassanians at the beginning of the third century AD.

After the Parthian conquest, Characene remained a semi-autonomous country with its own kings. Its tenure as a separate kingdom ended with the fall of the Parthian Empire.

The kings of Characene are known mainly by their coins, consisting mainly of silver tetradrachms with Greek and later Aramaic inscriptions. These coins are dated after the Seleucid era, providing a secure framework for chronological succession.

Charax, the capital of Characene, was founded by Alexander the Great. The city was constructed on an artificial mound to protect the site from the floodwaters of the nearby rivers. The new town served as a major commercial port for the eastern capital of Babylon. Charax flourished under the Seleucid Empire, controlling the trade in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. It was also a center for pearl diving.

Charax (Peutinger Map)
The town of Charax Spa. on the 4th century Peutinger map

The Roman emperor Trajan visited Charax in 116 AD during his invasion of Parthia, where he saw ships bound for India.

After it was destroyed by a flood, Charax was rebuilt by Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great (222–187 BC) and was briefly called Antiochia. After the Parthian invasion of Mesopotamia in 141 BC, Charax became independent.

The state kept its independence (perhaps as a vassal of the Parthian Empire) and sometimes joined the Romans in their struggle against the common enemy, the Parthian king. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder praises the port of Charax:

The embankments extend in length a distance of nearly 4½ kilometers, in breadth a little less. It stood at first at a distance of 1¾ km from the shore, and even had a harbor of its own. But according to Juba, it is 75 kilometer from the sea; and at the present day, the ambassadors from Arabia, and our own merchants who have visited the place, say that it stands at a distance of one 180 kilometers from the sea-shore. Indeed, in no part of the world have alluvial deposits been formed more rapidly by the rivers, and to a greater extent than here; and it is only a matter of surprise that the tides, which run to a considerable distance beyond this city, do not carry them back again.[6]

Trade continued to be important. A famous Characenian, a man named Isidore, was the author of a treatise on Parthian trade routes, the Mansiones Parthicae. The inhabitants of Palmyra had a permanent trading station in Characene. Many inscriptions mention caravan trade.

In 221-222 AD, an ethnic Persian, Ardašēr, who was King of Persis, led a revolt against the Parthians, establishing the Sassanid Empire. According to later Arab histories, he defeated Characene forces, killed its last ruler, rebuilt the town, and renamed it Astarābād-Ardašīr.[7] The area around Charax that had been the Characene state was thereon known by the Aramaic/Syriac name Maysān, which was later adapted by the Arab conquerors.[8]

Charax continued, under the name Maysān, with Persian texts making various mention of governors throughout the fifth century. A Nestorian Church was mentioned there in the sixth century. The Charax mint appears to have continued throughout the Sassanid empire and into the Umayyad empire, minting coins as late as AD 715.[9]

The earliest references from the first century A.D. indicates that the people of Characene were referred to as Μεσηνός and lived along the Arabian side of the coast at the head of the Persian Gulf.


Hyspaosines (209–124 BC), founder and king of Characene.
Coin of Orabaze II
Tiraios II.


  1. ^ a b Bosworth 1986, pp. 201–203.
  2. ^ Morony, Michael G. (2005). Iraq After The Muslim Conquest. Gorgias Press LLC. p. 155. ISBN 9781593333157.
  3. ^ Hansman 1991, pp. 363–365.
  4. ^ a b Eilers 1983, p. 487.
  5. ^ Bennett D. Hill; Roger B. Beck; Clare Haru Crowston (2008). A History of World Societies, Combined Volume (PDF). p. 165. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. Centered in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates Valley, but with access to the Persian Gulf and extending south to Meshan (modern Kuwait), the Sassanid Empire's economic prosperity rested on agriculture; its location also proved well suited for commerce.
  6. ^ Pliny the Elder (AD 77). Natural History. Book VI. xxxi. 138-140. Translation by W. H. S. Jones, Loeb Classical Library, London/Cambridge, Massachusetts (1961).
  7. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ṭabarī I
  8. ^ Yāqūt, Kitab mu'jam al-buldan IV and III
  9. ^ Characene and Charax, Characene and Charax Encyclopaedia Iranica


Further reading

  • Gregoratti Leonardo, A Parthian port on the Persian Gulf: Characene and its Trade, "Anabasis, Studia Classica et Orientalia", 2, (2011), 209-229
  • Schuol, Monika (2000) Die Charakene : ein mesopotamisches Königreich in hellenistisch-parthischer Zeit. Stuttgart: F. Steiner. ISBN 3-515-07709-X
  • Sheldon A. Nodelman, A Preliminary History of Charakene, Berytus 13 (1959/60), 83-121, XXVII f.,
  • Hansman, John (1991) Characene and Charax Encyclopedia Iranica (print version Vol. V, Fasc. 4, pp. 363–365). Retrieved 25 April 2016.
Abinergaos I

Abinergaos I, also known as Abinerglus, was the king of Characene during the second decade of the Christian era.The years of his reign are not known beyond a few coins. The coins are dated to the years AD 10/11, 11/12, 13/14 and 22/23. However, he appears to be Abbinerigos mentioned by Josephus.

Artabazos of Characene

Artabazos I of Characene was a king of Characene, a vassal state of the Parthians, His short reign lasted only from 49/48-48/47 BC.

Like most kings of Characene, he is known only from numismatic sources,A unique tetradrachm, is dated DXS (48-47 b.c.) and displays on the reverse an extended Greek inscription basileōs artabazo theopatoros aytokratoros sōtēros philopatoros kai philellēnos translates “of the king Artabazes, of divine descent, ruler in his own right, the deliverer, who loves his father and the Greeks” The square arrangement of this epithet spaced around a typical Greek Heracles, is copied from the conventional style of contemporary Parthian coinage.Although his name is Persian in origin he appears to have been hellenised as, like his predecessor, his coin described him as Soter(savoir) .

He is perhaps also mentioned by Lucian (Macrobii, 15). According to him he was 86 years when came to power.


Attambelos may refer to:

Attambelos I of Characene, king of the Parthian vassal state of Characene who reigned between 47/46 and 25/24 BC

Attambelos II of Characene, king of the state of Characene who ruled 17/16 v. to 8/9AD

Attambelos III of Characene, king of Characene who ruled from approximately 37/38 to 44/45AD; his rule is known only by the coins he minted

Attambelos IV of Characene, ruler of the state of Characene who ruled from 54/55-64/65 he is known only from coins he minted

Attambelos V of Characene, ruler of the state of Characene who ruled from 64/65-73/74 coins known

Attambelos VI of Characene, ruler of the state of Characene who ruled from approximately 101/02-105/06 and is known only from the coin’s he minted

Artabazos VII of Characene, Characene king who surrendered to the Roman Emperor Trajan in 116AD following two years of fighting

Attambelos VIII, may have been king of Characene c.180-195AD; known with certainty only from the coins of his son of maga, who calls himself son of a King Attambelos

Attambelos III

Attambelos III of Characene was a king of Characene who ruled from approximately 37/38 to 44/45AD. His rule is known only by the coins he minted. The presence of these coins as far afield as Oman and southern Arabia indicates that his rule saw a time of extensive trade.He was succeeded by Theonesios II.

Attambelos IV

Attambelos IV of Characene was a first century ruler of the state of Characene, centered on the northern end of the Persian Gulf. His capital was probably Charax.

He ruled from 54/55-64/65; but he is known only from coins he minted.He was succeeded by Attambelos V.

Attambelos I of Characene

Attambelos I was a king of Characene, a Parthian vassal state and important trading port and emporium on the Persian Gulf. His rule was from 47/46 to 25/24BC.He is recorded by only four coins dated in the years 10/11, 11/12, 13/14 and 22/23BC. Like most Characene Coinage, he is depicted himself on the front and Heracles (or Nike) on the reverse.

This ruler is also mentioned by Josephus and there is evidence that his rule was interrupted by a foreign king in the year 18/19.

Attambelos V

Attambelos V of Characene was a ruler of the state of Characene who ruled from 64/65-73/74 but who is known only from the coins he minted.Attambelos was a first century ruler if not outright king, of the state of Characene, centered on the northern end of the Persian Gulf. His capital was probably Charax.

He ruled from 64 to 73 and was the successor of Attambelos IV, but his rule is known only from coins he minted. It should also be noted that the king list of Characene is a modern construct and given the known scarcity of records could well be inaccurate.

Attambelos VI

Attambelos VI of Characene was a ruler of the state of Characene, who ruled from approximately 101/02-105/06 and is known only from the coins he minted.

Attambelos VII of Characene

Attambelos VII was a king of Characene, a vassal state of the Parthians and important trading port. His short reign lasted from 113/4 to 116/7 AD and was spent mostly contending with the Roman invasion under Trajan.

Charax Spasinu

Spasinu Charax, or Charax Spasinu, Charax Pasinu, Charax Spasinou (Ancient Greek: Σπασίνου Χάραξ), Alexandria (Greek: Ἀλεξάνδρεια), and Antiochia in Susiana (Greek: Ἀντιόχεια τῆς Σουσιανῆς) was an ancient port at the head of the Persian Gulf, and the capital of the ancient kingdom of Characene.


Hyspaosines or Aspasine (c. 209 BC - 11th June 124 BC) was an Iranian satrap installed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and later the first King (before 127-124 BC) of Characene or Mesene (Meshun). Hyspaosines is mainly known from coins, but also appears in texts of cuneiform script (in the Babylonian astronomical diaries).

Maga of Characene

Maga was a King of Characene a vassal state of the Parthian Empire and important trading city in the Persian Gulf.

He probably ruled at the end of the second century (195-210AD) and is known only from numerous coins that he minted. His coins are in a Parthian style, and the name on his coins is written in Aramaic as mʼg – which is interpreted as Maga. On these coins, he describes himself as son of a King Attambelos who is otherwise unrecorded in history. Maga is the last ruler of Characene for which there is contemporary documention.

Meredates of Characene

Meredates was a Parthian prince who ruled the state of Characene, a vassal of the Parthian Empire and important trading port, which he ruled from 131 to 150/151.

He is known to history only from coinage he minted and a single bronze statue.In 1984 a bronze statue was uncovered in Seleucia. The statue of Hercules has an inscription in Ancient Greek and Parthian inscribed on the thighs. The inscription reports that year 151 the Parthian King Vologases IV fought Meredates of Characene and the statue itself was brought out of Characene and set up in the Temple of Apollo in Seleucia.Meredates is also known from few coins, and by an inscription found in Palmyra. He was the son of Pacorus II of Parthia and as a result his coins clearly show a Parthian style. The coins' legends read "Meredates, son of Phokoros, King of Kings, King of the Omani".


Noumenios was a Seleucid general and satrap of the Province of Mesene (Characene, capital Antiochia in Susiana), who is said to have defeated the Persians sometime in the 3rd or 2nd century BCE. Pliny describes his ruler as being "Antiochos", but it is unknown if this is referring to Antiochos I, Antiochos II or Antiochos III, although the battle necessarily took place before 190-189 BCE, date of the Battle of Magnesia where Antiochos III was vanquished by the Romans. Alternatively, these events may have taken place during the reign of Antiochos IV.Pliny writes:

"Noumenios, who was made governor of Mesene by king Antiochos, while fighting against the Persians, defeated them at sea, and at low water, by land, with an army of cavalry, on the same day; in memory of which event he erected a twofold trophy on the same spot, in honour of Jupiter and Neptune"

This event is often used to describe some kind of adversary relationship between the Frataraka rulers of Persis and the Seleucid Empire during the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE. The rulers of Persis may have gained independence between 205 BCE, when Antiochos III visited Antiochia in Persis in peace, and 190-189 BCE, the latest possible date for the battle led by Noumenios if the Battle of Magnesia is considered as a terminus ante quem.


Thalassia may refer to:

Thalassia, Greece, a village in northern Greece

Thalassia (plant), a genus of seagrass commonly known as "turtle grass"

Thalassia (queen), a queen of Characene

Tiraios I

Tiraios I was a king from 95/94 BC to 90/89 BC of Characene, a vassal state of the Parthians .Like most kings of Characene he is known only from numismatic sources, in his case silver tetradrachms and bronze coins.

His name is probably Persian in origin but his coinage indicates he was hellenised. He was the first ruler of Characene whose coins described him as "Euergetes" (Benefactor) and he is also unique in that his coins bear on the reverse the goddess Tyche, while the other rulers of Characene depicted Heracles.

The Chinese explorer Gan Ying visited Characene during his reign.

Tiraios II

Tiraios II was a king who ruled from about 79/78 to 49/48 BC the state of Characene, a vassal state of the Parthians.Like most kings of Characene he is known only from numismatic sources, in his case his silver and bronze coins.

He was also mentioned by Lucian of Samosata, who says of him that he lived till 92.

His name is probably Persian in origin but his coinage indicates he was hellenised. He was the first king of Charakene to call himself Soter.


Wahbarz (also spelled Vahbarz), known in Greek sources as Oborzos, was a dynast of Persis in the 1st half of 2nd century BC, ruling from possibly c. 205 to 164 BC. His reign was marked by his efforts to establish Persis as a kingdom independent from Seleucid authority. He was able to reign independently for three decades, and even expanded to the west, seizing the Seleucid province of Characene. In 164 BC, the Seleucids repelled Wahbarz's forces from Characene, forcing him to re-submit as a Seleucid vassal. He was succeeded by Bagadates I.

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