ARGBED, (Inscr. Mid. Persian hlgwpt, Inscr. Parthian ʾrkpty and hrkpty, i.e., (h)argbed, older (h)arkpat) a high-ranking title in the Parthian and Sasanian periods. The etymology of the word is uncertain. Two possible meanings have been suggested, fortress commander (cf. New Persian arg) and chief tax collector or taxation manager; the former seems much more likely (cf. Bartholomae, Zur Kenntnis der Mitteliranischen Mundarten I, Heidelberg 1916, p. 16; D. Harnack, in Geschichte Mittelasiens, p. 540.)
In a Greek parchment from Dura Europos which can be dated about A.D. 121, the title arcapates is given to the eunuch Phraates, a member of the staff of the Parthian governor Manesos (No. 20, line 4, in The Excavations at Dura Europos, Final Report V, Yale University Press 1959, p. 115; cf. R. N. Frye, “Some Early Iranian Titles,” Oriens 15, 1962, pp. 352-53). In Fārs towards the end of the 2nd century A.D., the eunuch Tīrī was the argbed (Arabic arḡabed) of the fortress of Dārābgerd under the authority of the king of Eṣṭaḵr; his successor in the post was Ardašīr, son of Pāpak, the future founder of the Sasanian dynasty (Ṭabarī, I, p. 810; tr. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 5). Furthermore the presence of a high official holding the same title (under the forms alqafṭā, arqafṭā, arqabṭā) at the Parthian royal court is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of Targumim, The Targum Babli and Yerushalmi I, New York, 1950, p. 236. J. Neussner, A History of The Jews I = Postabiblica IX, 1965, pp. 108, 114).
The office seems to have acquired more importance after the rise of the Sasanians. In the Paikuli inscription made for Narseh in 293 (Mid. Pers., lines 6, 8, 10, 15, 19, 30; Parth., lines 5, 7, 9, 13, 34; see Humbach and Skjærvø, III, 1 , p. 95), the argbed Šāpūr is placed high in the state hierarchy. Menander Protector (Bonn ed., p. 136) names one of the dignitaries who received the Roman envoys to Narseh’s court in 297 or 298 as the archapetes Barsaborsos. The king’s representatives at the church council held at Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410 were the vazorg-framadār and Mehr-Šāpūr of the family of the argbed (Synodicon Orientale ou recueil de Synodes nestoriens, ed. and tr. J. B. Chabot, Paris, 1902, pp. 21, 26). According to Ṭabarī (I, p. 869; tr. Nöldeke, p. 111), the office of the argbed was even more important than that of the artēštārān-sālār (commander-in-chief of the army). The list of the seven great Persian families in Theophylactus Simocatta’s History (3.18.3) is headed by the name Artabides, which certain scholars (e.g. Christensen, Iran Sass., p. 107) have supposed to be a mistake for Argabides, i.e. the family of the argbed;but this hypothesis is dubious, because the reading in de Boor’s edition (p. 148) is Arsaces, i.e. the Arsacid family. The same title was held by a high-ranking Palmyrene official named Septimius Worod in the years 264-267 (Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum II, 3, 1926, nos. 3940, 3941, 3943, 4105; argabṭa [Greek argapetes]). The use of this term at Palmyra probably went back to the Parthian period.
M. L. Chaumont, “Recherches sur l’histoire de l’ancien Iran, II,” JA, 1962, pp. 11-22.
D. Harnack, “Parthische Titel,” in F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Geschichte Mittelasiens im Altertum, Berlin, 1970, pp. 492-549.
E. Herzfeld, Paikuli I, Glossary, no. 413, pp. 192-94.
O. Szemerényi, Acta Iranica 5, 1975, pp. 354 ff.
H. Humbach and P. O. Skjærvø, The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli I-III, Wiesbaden, 1978-83, esp. III, 2, pp. 39-44.
(M. L. Chaumont)
Originally Published: December 15, 1986
Last Updated: August 12, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 4, pp. 400-401
M. L. Chaumont, “ARGBED,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/4, pp. 400-401, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/argbed (accessed on 30 December 2012).