Queen Musa of Parthia rose to power by murdering her path to the throne. Her origins are surprising for a great ancient queen, but perhaps those very origins are why we never hear of her. Musa—known also as Thea Musa—was born in Italy. She was a simple slave girl, so we know almost nothing about her until she was plucked from obscurity by the Roman Emperor Augustus. What we think happened is that she was gifted by the Emperor to Phraates IV, King of Kings of Parthia around 20 BCE, although it has also been suggested that Musa may have been in Parthia long before that. Phraates had been ruling Parthia since 37 BCE and had been at war with Rome ever since. 

At the time of Musa’s marriage, Phraates already had multiple other wives and other children, though Musa did not take long to rise the ranks and become his favorite. She gave birth to her only son, also named Phraates, a year or so later. It was, of course, Musa’s goal to place her son on the throne, and had her husband send his other four sons with other wives to Rome around 9 BCE.

A few short years later, in 2 BCE, Musa had her husband poisoned. She placed her son, Phraates V, on the throne. They were likely co-rulers, as Musa’s image is also on coins from the time, along with her son’s. Basilissa, the feminine version of the Greek title Basileus, meaning “king”, was given to Queen Musa. A later historian would say that Queen Musa married her son, though this is completely false.

This bust was thought to depict Musa, though now it is debated. One of the arguments against it is that the style of headdress was worn during the Achaemenid era, three hundred years before Musa’s time, while the coins depicting Musa, which we can be very sure are images of her, show her wearing a very different crown. The headdress she is wearing in this bust was also worn by deities in depictions of them. As the Greek goddess Tyche was often depicted wearing a similar headdress by the Parthians, it is suggested that this could be Tyche rather than Queen Musa.

Musa and her son managed to stay in power for six years until the nobility noticed them getting a bit too cozy with Rome. On top of that, nobody had forgotten that their Queen was simply an Italian slave girl. Musa and Phraates V were ousted in favor of Orodes III, of the Arsacid dynasty. Orodes was killed after just two years on the throne and replaced by the eldest son of Musa’s dead husband, who had been sent off to Rome by his father thanks to Musa’s influence. Musa and her son fled to Rome, where Emperor Augustus welcomed them, and presumably lived the rest of their lives there, though we have no idea what became of them.

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