What is the meaning of "what" in this text?

Ctesiphon, indeed, was not to Persia what it had been to Parthia; but still it might fairly be looked upon as a prize of considerable importance. Of Parthia it had been the main, in later times perhaps the sole, capital; to Persia it was a secondary rather than a primary city, the ordinary residence of the court being Istakr, or Persepolis.

From The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient World, vol. 7, chapter 10, by George Rawlinson.

  • The rest of the paragraph explains it. Ctesiphon had been a capital city of Parthia. It was not such an important place to Persia, though it was quite important. – Kate Bunting Jul 1 '20 at 10:22
  • It means "that which". – BillJ Jul 1 '20 at 10:52
  • What I am to you is no business of theirs. – Lambie Jul 1 '20 at 20:03

You could rewrite this many ways, but one example would be:

Ctesiphon, indeed, was not worth to Persia what it had been worth to Parthia.

The construction "is ... to ..." can describe worth, meaning or relationship. For example:

"He is a friend to me".


"It is nothing to him".

In your example, the specific relation is not initially given; instead, only a comparison is made. For example, this sentence says that the meaning of the thing is the same for me and you:

"It is to me what it is to you".

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