What was the population of the Parthian Empire (and its vassals) around (AD) 1 CE?

I've found several estimates ranging from 8 to 30 million. However, I desire a more narrow estimate (±5 million). I appreciate your input.

  • 3
    They didn't have a census - so all figures are guestimates based on assumptions. Provide us with the assumptions you want made and not made; and only then can a figure consistent with those assumptions be provided. Jun 6, 2020 at 12:51
  • 3
    From Wikipedia's Parthian empire: "The size of the Parthian army is unknown, as is the size of the empire's overall population." You could try asking for estimates in academic sources but, as your own research seems to show, you're unlikely to find a consensus. Jun 6, 2020 at 12:54
  • 1
    Well, this Wikipedia article ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_by_population_in_1_AD) gives us an estimation of 8 million; however, I wasn't able to find the source. Jun 6, 2020 at 13:03
  • 1
    Hi. Please list the examples and cite your sources.
    – Spencer
    Jun 6, 2020 at 13:51
  • 2
    Where did you find those estimates? I don't think anyone wants to waste time providing y ou an estimate you already have. Analysis of the sources you've already consulted can help to refine the precision of the estimates.
    – MCW
    Jun 6, 2020 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


Segal's Law: A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.

enter image description here

Well, personally I like that 8 million number you have. However ...

This is a basic issue a lot of people seem to have with ancient population numbers. They want to know them with modern Census precision, and that information simply is not available. There are many different ways of estimating, and many different people doing it, and they all come up with different numbers. This is where Segal's Law comes in: We don't and can't know the number exactly, and the fact that we have such wildly varying numbers is showing you just how uncertain all the numbers are.

That doesn't mean we can't analyze the quality of the numbers we've got, of course. Any more than all watches being out of sync means there's no point in wearing one.

A simple person can pick one watch and stick with it. For myself, I like to use McEvedy & Jones' Atlas of World Population history. Their numbers tend to run low, but they are comprehensive for the entire world and its entire history, so its at least consistent, and suitable for showing population change over time.

For the main parts of the Archameid Empire at 1 AD they show:

  • 4 million for Persia
  • 1 million for Iraq
  • 2 million for Afghanistan

We'll be generous and give them perhaps another 1 million for all the other little bits they have, which would bring our rough estimate up to about 8 million (the same as your lower number, if it isn't in fact the source of your lower number).

But if you want a certain number down to something like 20% precision?

enter image description here

  • Thank you for your answer. Does the extra million cover the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent (parts of modern Pakistan and northwestern India)? worldhistorymaps.info/images/Parthia_001ad.jpg Jun 6, 2020 at 14:52
  • @RookieAlina - I'd have to say it doesn't. Unfortunately M&J treat India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as a unit (probably a quirk from them growing up as Imperial Era Brits I'd guess). For that date they place the entire unit at 35 million, 2/3rds of which would have been living the in the Ganges basin (probably most of the rest in the Indus).
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:38
  • To make things more interesting, I'm actually having a lot of trouble finding good info on who owned what on the Indus Valley end of Parthia at that time. Could have been Parthians themselves, could have been some Indo-Greeks, could have been Indo-Sythians. Its tempting to think the situation there may have been just as confusing for the areas' residents at the time.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 6, 2020 at 15:57
  • ...according to Mr. McEvedy's Atlas of ancient history, there was a Saka (Indo-Scythian) kingdom in control of the lower Indus around 44BC. The Surens running the eastern half of the Parthian Empire (including some of the upper Indus valley) broke up their power, but didn't take over their territory. By his next map at 14AD, he doesn't venture a guess as to who's running that area.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 6, 2020 at 16:16
  • Thank you, you've just answered a different question I had ("2/3rds of which would have been living the in the Ganges basin"). You see, I'm trying to make a more "reliable" chart/list of "List of states by population in 1 AD (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_by_population_in_1_AD) for my presentation. So far I've been able to pinpoint all the states/empires I want to have on that list. But I'm struggling with the numbers here. Jun 6, 2020 at 18:38

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