Roman–Parthian War of 161–166
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|Roman–Parthian war of 161–166|
|Part of the Roman–Parthian Wars|
|Roman Empire||Parthian Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Lucius Verus |
Marcus Claudius Fronto
| Vologases IV of Parthia |
The Roman–Parthian War of 161–166 (also called the Parthian War of Lucius Verus  ) was fought between the Roman and Parthian Empires over Armenia and Upper Mesopotamia . It concluded in 166 after the Romans made successful campaigns into lower Mesopotamia and Media and sacked Ctesiphon , the Parthian capital.
- 1 Origins to Lucius’ dispatch, 161–162
- 2 Lucius’ dispatch and journey east, 162–163?
- 3 Dissipation and logistics at Antioch, 162?–165
- 4 Counterattack and victory, 163–166
- 5 Conclusion of the war, mid-160s–167
- 6 Notes
- 7 Citations
- 8 References
- 8.1 Ancient sources
- 8.2 Modern sources
Origins to Lucius’ dispatch, 161–162[ edit ]
On his deathbed in the spring of 161, Emperor Antoninus Pius had spoken of nothing but the state and the foreign kings who had wronged him.  One of those kings, Vologases IV of Parthia , made his move in late summer or early autumn 161.  Vologases entered the Kingdom of Armenia (then a Roman client state), expelled its king and installed his own— Pacorus , an Arsacid like himself.  At the time of the invasion, the governor of Syria was Lucius Attidius Cornelianus . Attidius had been retained as governor even though his term ended in 161, presumably to avoid giving the Parthians the chance to wrong-foot his replacement. The governor of Cappadocia , the front-line in all Armenian conflicts, was Marcus Sedatius Severianus , a Gaul with much experience in military matters. But living in the east had a deleterious effect on his character. 
The confidence man Alexander of Abonutichus , a prophet who carried a snake named Glycon around with him, had enraptured Severianus, as he had many others.  Father-in-law to the respected senator Publius Mummius Sisenna Rutilianus , then-proconsul of Asia , Abonutichus was friends with many members of the east Roman elite.  Alexander convinced Severianus that he could defeat the Parthians easily, and win glory for himself.  Severianus led a legion (perhaps the IX Hispana  ) into Armenia, but was trapped by the great Parthian general Chosrhoes at Elegia, a town just beyond the Cappadocian frontiers, high up past the headwaters of the Euphrates . Severianus made some attempt to fight Chosrhoes, but soon realized the futility of his campaign, and committed suicide. His legion was massacred. The campaign had only lasted three days. 
Coin of Vologases IV , king of Parthia, from 162
Busts of the co-emperors Marcus Aurelius (left) and Lucius Verus (right), British Museum
There was threat of war on other frontiers as well—in Britain , and in Raetia and Upper Germany , where the Chatti of the Taunus mountains had recently crossed over the limes .  Marcus Aurelius , who had become emperor on Pius’ death on 7 March 161, was unprepared. Pius seems to have given him no military experience; the biographer writes that Marcus spent the whole of Pius’ twenty-three-year reign at the emperor’s side—and not in the provinces , where most previous emperors had spent their early careers.  [notes 1] Marcus made the necessary appointments: Marcus Statius Priscus , the governor of Britain, was sent to replace Severianus as governor of Cappadocia,  and was in turn replaced by Sextus Calpurnius Agricola . 
More bad news arrived: Attidius Cornelianus’ army had been defeated in battle against the Parthians, and retreated in disarray.  Reinforcements were dispatched for the Parthian frontier. P. Julius Geminius Marcianus, an African senator commanding X Gemina at Vindobona ( Vienna ), left for Cappadocia with vexillations from the Danubian legions.  Three full legions were also sent east: I Minervia from Bonn in Upper Germany,  II Adiutrix from Aquincum ,  and V Macedonica from Troesmis .  The northern frontiers were strategically weakened; frontier governors were told to avoid conflict wherever possible.  Attidius Cornelianus himself was replaced by M. Annius Libo, Marcus’ first cousin. He was young—his first consulship was in 161, so he was probably in his early thirties  —and, as a mere patrician, lacked military experience. Marcus had chosen a reliable man rather than a talented one. 
Marcus took a four-day public holiday at Alsium , a resort town on the Etrurian coast. He was too anxious to relax. Writing to his former tutor Marcus Cornelius Fronto , he declared that he would not speak about his holiday.  Fronto replied ironically: “What? Do I not know that you went to Alsium with the intention of devoting yourself to games, joking and complete leisure for four whole days?”  He encouraged Marcus to rest, calling on the example of his predecessors (Pius had enjoyed exercise in the palaestra , fishing, and comedy),  going so far as to write up a fable about the gods’ division of the day between morning and evening—Marcus had apparently been spending most of his evenings on judicial matters instead of leisure.  Marcus could not take Fronto’s advice. “I have duties hanging over me that can hardly be begged off,” he wrote back.  Marcus put on Fronto’s voice to chastise himself: “‘Much good has my advice done you’, you will say!” He had rested, and would rest often, but “—this devotion to duty! Who knows better than you how demanding it is!” 
Fronto sent Marcus a selection of reading material, including Cicero’s pro lege Manilia , in which the orator had argued in favor of Pompey taking supreme command in the Mithridatic War . It was an apt reference (Pompey’s war had taken him to Armenia), and may have had some impact on the decision to send Lucius to the eastern front.  “You will find in it many chapters aptly suited to your present counsels, concerning the choice of army commanders, the interests of allies, the protection of provinces, the discipline of the soldiers, the qualifications required for commanders in the field and elsewhere […] [notes 2] “  To settle his unease over the course of the Parthian war, Fronto wrote Marcus a long and considered letter, full of historical references. In modern editions of Fronto’s works, it is labeled De bello Parthico (On the Parthian War). There had been reverses in Rome’s past, Fronto writes, at Allia , at Caudium , at Cannae , at Numantia , Cirta , and Carrhae ;  under Trajan , Hadrian , and Pius;  but, in the end, Romans had always prevailed over their enemies: “always and everywhere [Mars] has changed our troubles into successes and our terrors into triumphs”. 
Lucius’ dispatch and journey east, 162–163?[ edit ]
Over the winter of 161–62, as more bad news arrived—a rebellion was brewing in Syria —it was decided that Lucius should direct the Parthian war in person. He was stronger and healthier than Marcus, the argument went, more suited to military activity.  Lucius’ biographer suggests ulterior motives: to restrain Lucius’ debaucheries, to make him thrifty, to reform his morals by the terror of war, to realize that he was an emperor.  [notes 3] Whatever the case, the senate gave its assent, and Lucius left. Marcus would remain in Rome; the city “demanded the presence of an emperor”. 
Furius Victorinus , one of the two praetorian prefects , was sent with Lucius, as were a pair of senators, Marcus Pontius Laelianus Larcius Sabinus and Marcus Iallius Bassus , and a detachment of the Praetorian Guard .  Victorinus had previously served as procurator of Galatia , giving him some experience with eastern affairs.  [notes 4] Moreover, he was far more qualified than his praetorian partner, Cornelius Repentinus , who was said to owe his office to the influence of Pius’ mistress Galeria Lysistrate.  Repentius had the rank of a senator, but no real access to senatorial circles—his was merely a decorative title.  Since a prefect had to accompany the Guard, Victorinus was the clear choice. 
Laelianus had been governor of both Pannonias and governor of Syria in 153; hence he had first-hand knowledge of the eastern army and military strategy on the frontiers. He was made comes Augustorum (“companion of the emperors”) for his service.  Laelianus was, in the words of Fronto, “a serious man and an old-fashioned disciplinarian”.  Bassus had been governor of Lower Moesia , and was also made comes.  Lucius selected his favorite freedmen, including Geminus, Agaclytus, Coedes, Eclectus,  and Nicomedes, who gave up his duties as praefectus vehiculorum to run the commissariat of the expeditionary force.  The fleet of Misenum was charged with transporting the emperor and general communications and transport. 
Lucius left in the summer of 162 to take a ship from Brundisium ; Marcus followed him as far as Capua . Lucius feasted himself in the country houses along his route, and hunted at Apulia . He fell ill at Canosa , probably afflicted with a mild stroke, and took to bed.  Marcus made prayers to the gods for his safety in front of the senate, and hurried south to see him.  Fronto was upset at the news, but was reassured when Lucius sent him a letter describing his treatment and recovery. In his reply, Fronto urged his pupil to moderate his desires, and recommended a few days of quiet bedrest. Lucius was better after three days’ fasting and a bloodletting. It was probably only a mild stroke. 
Verus continued eastward via Corinth and Athens , accompanied by musicians and singers as if in a royal progress .  At Athens he stayed with Herodes Atticus , and joined the Eleusinian Mysteries .  During sacrifice, a falling star was observed in the sky, shooting west to east.  He stopped in Ephesus , where he is attested at the estate of the local aristocrat Publius Vedius Antoninus ,  and made an unexpected stopover at Erythrae , where an elegiac poem in the voice of the local sibyl alludes to his visit.  The journey continued by ship through the Aegean and the southern coasts of Asia Minor, lingering in the famed pleasure resorts of Pamphylia and Cilicia , before arriving in Antioch .  It is not known how long Verus’ journey east took; he might not have arrived in Antioch until after 162.  Statius Priscus, meanwhile, must have already arrived in Cappadocia; he would earn fame in 163 for successful generalship. 
Dissipation and logistics at Antioch, 162?–165[ edit ]
Antioch from the southwest (engraving by William Miller after a drawing by H. Warren from a sketch by Captain Byam Martin , R.N., 1866)
Lucius spent most of the campaign in Antioch, though he wintered at Laodicea  and summered at Daphne , a resort just outside Antioch.  He took up a mistress named Panthea, [notes 5] from Smyrna .  The biographer calls her a “low-born girl-friend”,  but she is probably closer to Lucian ‘s “woman of perfect beauty”, more beautiful than any of Phidias and Praxiteles ‘ statues.  Polite, caring, humble, she sang to the lyre perfectly and spoke clear Ionic Greek , spiced with Attic wit.  Panthea read Lucian’s first draft, and criticized him for flattery. He had compared her to a goddess, which frightened her—she did not want to become the next Cassiopeia .  She had power, too. She made Lucius shave his beard for her. The Syrians mocked him for this, as they did for much else. 
Critics declaimed Lucius’ luxurious lifestyle.  He had taken to gambling, they said; he would “dice the whole night through”.  He enjoyed the company of actors.  He made a special request for dispatches from Rome, to keep him updated on how his chariot teams were doing.  He brought a golden statue of the Greens’ horse Volucer around with him, as a token of his team spirit.  Fronto defended his pupil against some of these claims: the Roman people needed Lucius’ bread and circuses to keep them in check.  [notes 6]
This, at least, is how the biographer has it. The whole section of the vita dealing with Lucius’ debaucheries (HA Verus 4.4–6.6) is an insertion into a narrative otherwise entirely cribbed from an earlier source. Some few passages seem genuine; [notes 7] others take and elaborate something from the original. [notes 8] The rest is by the biographer himself, relying on nothing better than his own imagination. 
Lucius faced quite a task. Fronto described the scene in terms recalling Corbulo ‘s arrival one hundred years before.  The Syrian army had turned soft during the east’s long peace. They spent more time at the city’s open-air bars than in their quarters. Under Lucius, training was stepped up. Pontius Laelianus ordered that their saddles be stripped of their padding. Gambling and drinking were sternly policed.  Fronto wrote that Lucius was on foot at the head of his army as often as on horseback. He personally inspected soldiers in the field and at camp, including the sick bay. 
Lucius sent Fronto few messages at the beginning of the war. He sent Fronto a letter apologizing for his silence. He would not detail plans that could change within a day, he wrote. Moreover, there was little thus far to show for his work: “not even yet has anything been accomplished such as to make me wish to invite you to share in the joy”.  Lucius did not want Fronto to suffer the anxieties that had kept him up day and night.  One reason for Lucius’ reticence may have been the collapse of Parthian negotiations after the Roman conquest of Armenia. Lucius’ presentation of terms was seen as cowardice.  The Parthians were not in the mood for peace. 
Lucius needed to make extensive imports into Antioch, so he opened a sailing route up the Orontes . Because the river breaks across a cliff before reaching the city, Lucius ordered that a new canal be dug. After the project was completed, the Orontes’ old riverbed dried up, exposing massive bones—the bones of a giant . Pausanias says they were from a beast “more than eleven cubits ” tall; Philostratus says the it was “thirty cubits” tall. The oracle at Claros declared that they were the bones of the river’s spirit. 
In the middle of the war, perhaps in autumn 163 or early 164, Lucius made a trip to Ephesus to be married to Marcus’ daughter Lucilla .  Lucilla’s thirteenth birthday was in March 163; whatever the date of her marriage, she was not yet fifteen.  Marcus had moved up the date: perhaps stories of Panthea had disturbed him.  Lucilla was accompanied by her mother Faustina and Marcus Vettulenus Civica Barbarus , the half-brother of Lucius’ father.  Marcus may have planned to accompany them all the way to Smyrna (the biographer says he told the senate he would); this did not happen.  Marcus only accompanied the group as far as Brundisium, where they boarded a ship for the east.  Marcus returned to Rome immediately thereafter, and sent out special instructions to his proconsuls not to give the group any official reception.  Lucilla would bear three of Lucius’ children in the coming years. Lucilla became Lucilla Augusta. 
Counterattack and victory, 163–166[ edit ]
The Legions I Minervia, commanded by M. Claudius Fronto and V Macedonica, commanded by P. Martius Verus , served under Marcus Statius Priscus in Armenia, achieving success during the campaign season of 163,  culminating with the capture of the Armenian capital Artaxata .  At the end of the year, Verus took the title Armeniacus, despite having never seen combat; Marcus declined to accept the title until the following year.  When Lucius was hailed as imperator again, however, Marcus did not hesitate to take the title Imperator II with him.  The army of Syria was reinforced by II Adiutrix and Danubian legions under X Gemina’s legate Geminius Marcianus. 
The Euphrates river near Raqqa , Syria
Occupied Armenia was reconstructed on Roman terms. In 164, a new capital, Kaine Polis (“New City” in Greek), replaced Artaxata.  On Birley’s reckoning, it was thirty miles closer to the Roman border.  Detachments from Cappadocian legions are attested at Echmiadzin , beneath the southern face of Mount Ararat , 400 km east of Satala . It would have meant a march of twenty days or more, through mountainous terrain, from the Roman border; a “remarkable example of imperialism”, in the words of Fergus Millar .  A new king was installed: a Roman senator of consular rank and Arsacid descent, C. Iulius Sohaemus . He may not even have been crowned in Armenia; the ceremony may have taken place in Antioch, or even Ephesus.  Sohaemus was hailed on the imperial coinage of 164 under the legend
Rex armeniis Datus: Verus sat on a throne with his staff while Sohamenus stood before him, saluting the emperor. 
In 163, while Statius Priscus was occupied in Armenia, the Parthians intervened in Osroene , a Roman client in upper Mesopotamia, just east of Syria, with its capital at Edessa . They deposed the country’s leader, Mannus, and replaced him with their own nominee, who would remain in office until 165.  (The Edessene coinage record actually begins at this point, with issues showing Vologases IV on the obverse and “Wael the king” ( Syriac : W’L MLK’) on the reverse.  ) In response, Roman forces were moved downstream, to cross the Euphrates at a more southerly point.  On the evidence of Lucian, the Parthians still held the southern, Roman bank of the Euphrates (in Syria) as late as 163 (he refers to a battle at Sura, which is on the southern side of the river).  Before the end of the year, however, Roman forces had moved north to occupy Dausara and Nicephorium on the northern, Parthian bank.  [notes 9] Soon after the conquest of the north bank of the Euphrates, other Roman forces moved on Osroene from Armenia, taking Anthemusia, a town south-west of Edessa.  There was little movement in 164; most of the year was spent on preparations for a renewed assault on Parthian territory. 
In 165, Roman forces, perhaps led by Martius Verus and the V Macedonica, moved on Mesopotamia. Edessa was re-occupied, Mannus re-installed.  His coinage resumed, too: ‘Ma’nu the king’ (Syriac: M’NW MLK’) or Antonine dynasts on the obverse, and ‘King Mannos, friend of the Romans’ (Greek: Basileus Mannos Philorōmaios) on the reverse.  The Parthians retreated to Nisibis , but this too was besieged and captured. The Parthian army dispersed in the Tigris; their general Chosrhoes swam down the river and made his hideout in a cave.  A second force, under Avidius Cassius and the III Gallica , moved down the Euphrates, and fought a major battle at Dura-Europos . 
By the end of 165, Cassius’ army had reached the twin metropolises of Mesopotamia: Seleucia on the right bank of the Tigris and Ctesiphon on the left. Ctesiphon was taken and its royal palace set to flame. The citizens of Seleucia, still largely Greek (the city had been commissioned and settled as a capital of the Seleucid Empire , one of Alexander the Great ‘s successor kingdoms ), opened its gates to the invaders. The city got sacked nonetheless, leaving a black mark on Lucius’ reputation. Excuses were sought, or invented: the official version (promulgated, according to the Historia Augusta, by Asinius Quadratus ) had it that the Seleuceni broke faith first.  Whatever the case, the sacking marks a particularly destructive chapter in Seleucia’s long decline.  [notes 10] During the sacking, Roman troops stole the statue of Apollo Comaeus from its temple and brought it back to Rome, where it was installed at the temple of the Palatine Apollo .  This blasphemy may have been on Marcus’ mind when he called a lectisternium , a great meal offered to the gods, at the beginning of the Marcomannic Wars (ca. 167) to ward off the evils then being visited on the state. 
Cassius’ army, although suffering from a shortage of supplies and the effects of a plague , contracted in Seleucia, made it back to Roman territory safely.  Iunius Maximus, a young tribunus laticlavius serving in III Gallica under Cassius, took the news of the victory to Rome. Maximus received a generous cash bounty (dona) for bringing the good news, and immediate promotion to the quaestorship .  Lucius took the title Parthicus Maximus, and he and Marcus were hailed as imperatores again, earning the title Imp. III.  Cassius’ army returned to the field in 166, crossing over the Tigris into Media . Lucius took the title Medicus,  and the emperors were again hailed as imperatores, becoming Imp. IV in imperial titulature. Marcus too took the Parthicus Maximus now, after another tactful delay. 
Conclusion of the war, mid-160s–167[ edit ]
Lucius Verus ‘ apotheosis from Ephesus (today in Ephesos Museum in Wien ).
Most of the credit for the war’s success must be ascribed to subordinate generals. The forces that advanced on Osroene were led by M. Claudius Fronto, an Asian provincial of Greek descent who had led I Minervia in Armenia under Priscus. He was probably the first senator in his family.  Fronto was consul for 165, probably in honor of the capture of Edessa. Claudius Fronto returned to Italy for his consulship; the governor of Syria , Gnaeus Julius Verus , also returned.  Publius Martius Verus had led V Macedonica to the front, and also served under Priscus. Martius Verus was a westerner, whose patria was perhaps Tolosa in Gallia Narbonensis .  The most prominent general, however, was C. Avidius Cassius , commander of III Gallica, one of the Syrian legions. Cassius was young senator, the son of Gaius Avidius Heliodorus , a noted orator who was augustal prefect of Egypt from 137 to 142 AD under Hadrian, and wife Junia Cassia Alexandria. Cassius also, with no small sense of self-worth, claimed descent from the Seleucid kings and the Julio-Claudians through his mother Junia Cassia who descended from Julia , daughter and only child of Augustus .  Cassius and Martius Verus, still probably in their mid-thirties, took the consulships for 166. After their consulships, they were made governors: Cassius, of Syria; Martius Verus, of Cappadocia. 
On the return from the campaign, Lucius was awarded with a triumph ; the parade was unusual because it included the two emperors, their sons and unmarried daughters as a big family celebration. Marcus Aurelius’ two sons, Commodus five years old and Marcus Annius Verus of three, were elevated to the status of Caesar for the occasion.
A statue base survives in Sardis to commemorate Lucius’ victory (the emperor had presumably visited the city on his return to Rome).  The wealthy sophist T. Flavius Damianus also hosted the emperor and his army during their return trip. 
Nisibis on the upper Euphrates remained in Roman hands for several decades after the end of the war. By the mid-3rd century, when it was frequently contested by and exchanged between Persia and Rome, it had taken on the appearances of a typical Roman garrison town. 
Notes[ edit ]
- ^ Alan Cameron adduces the 5th-century writer Sidonius Apollinaris ‘s comment that Marcus commanded “countless legions” vivente Pio (while Pius was alive) while contesting Birley’s contention that Marcus had no military experience. (Neither Apollinaris nor the Historia Augusta (Birley’s source) are particularly reliable on 2nd-century history.  )
- ^ The text breaks off here. 
- ^ Birley believes there is some truth in these considerations. 
- ^ Victorinus had also served in Britain, on the Danube, in Spain, as prefect of the Italian fleets, as prefect of Egypt, and in many posts in Rome itself. 
- ^ Or “Pantheia”. 
- ^ Fronto called it “the corn-dole and public spectacles” (annona et spectaculis), preferring his own pompous rephrase to Juvenal ‘s plain panem et circenses.  (The notion was a commonplace,  and Fronto was, in any case, unfamiliar with Juvenal; the author was out of style through the classicizing mania of the Second Sophistic , and would not become popular until the later 4th century.  )
- ^ In the judgment of T.D. Barnes : 4.8, “He was very fond also of charioteers, favouring the ‘Greens’.”; 4.10, “He never needed much sleep, however; and his digestion was excellent.”; perhaps 5.7, “After the banquet, moreover, they diced until dawn.”. 
- ^ In the judgment of T.D. Barnes: 4.8 (“He was very fond also of charioteers, favouring the ‘Greens’.”) and 10.9 (“Among other articles of extravagance he had a crystal goblet, named Volucer after that horse of which he had been very fond, that surpassed the capacity of any human draught.”) are the seed for 6.2–6, “And finally, even at Rome, when he was present and seated with Marcus, he suffered many insults from the ‘Blues,’ because he had outrageously, as they maintained, taken sides against them. For he had a golden statue made of the ‘Green’ horse Volucer, and this he always carried around with him; indeed, he was wont to put raisins and nuts instead of barley in this horse’s manger and to order him brought to him, in the House of Tiberius, covered with a blanket dyed with purple, and he built him a tomb, when he died, on the Vatican Hill. It was because of this horse that gold pieces and prizes first began to be demanded for horses, and in such honour was this horse held, that frequently a whole peck of gold pieces was demanded for him by the faction of the ‘Greens’.”; 10.8, “He was somewhat halting in speech, a reckless gambler, ever of an extravagant mode of life, and in many respects, save only that he was not cruel or given to acting, a second Nero.”, for the comparison with other “bad emperors” at 4.6 (“…he so rivalled Caligula, Nero, and Vitellius in their vices…”), and, significantly, the excuse to use Suetonius . 
- ^ The letter noting the victories (Ad Verum Imperator 2.1) dates to 164 (Fronto makes a reference to Marcus’ delay in taking the Armeniacus; since he took the title in 164, the letter can be no earlier than that date.  ), but the battles themselves date to 163. 
- ^ Birley states that the siege marked the end of the city’s history;  Matthews denies that the end of Seleucia can be tied to any one event, and points to other factors in the city’s decline, like the rise of Ctesiphon, the shifting course of the Tigris, and a decline in royal patronage. 
Citations[ edit ]
All citations to the Historia Augusta are to individual biographies, and are marked with a “HA“. Citations to the works of Fronto are cross-referenced to C.R. Haines’ Loeb edition.
- ^ Italy Invades “Another Roman-Parthian war over Armenia ended in a Roman victory”
- ^ E.g. Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 160.
- ^ HA Pius 12.7; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 114, 121.
- ^ Event: HA Marcus 8.6; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121. Date: Jaap-Jan Flinterman, “The Date of Lucian’s Visit to Abonuteichos,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 119 (1997): 281.
- ^ HA Marcus 8.6; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121.
- ^ Lucian, Alexander 27; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121. On Alexander, see: Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), 241–50.
- ^ Lucian, Alexander 30; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121.
- ^ Lucian, Alexander 27; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121–22.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 278 n.19.
- ^ Dio 71.2.1; Lucian, Historia Quomodo Conscribenda 21, 24, 25; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 121–22.
- ^ HA Marcus 8.7; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 122.
- ^ HA Pius 7.11; Marcus 7.2; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 103–4, 122.
- ^ Pan. Ath. 203–4, qtd. and tr. Alan Cameron, review of Anthony Birley’s Marcus Aurelius, The Classical Review 17:3 (1967): 349.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123, citing A.R. Birley, The Fasti of Roman Britain (1981), 123ff.
- ^ HA Marcus 8.8; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123, citing W. Eck, Die Satthalter der germ. Provinzen (1985), 65ff.
- ^ HA Marcus 8.6; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 8.7050 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .– 51 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ Incriptiones Latinae Selectae 1097 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .– 98 Archived 2 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine .; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ Incriptiones Latinae Selectae 1091 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ Incriptiones Latinae Selectae 2311 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ HA Marcus 12.13; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ L’Année Épigraphique 1972.657 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125.
- ^ HA Verus 9.2; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125.
- ^ De Feriis Alsiensibus 1 (= Haines 2.3); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126.
- ^ De Feriis Alsiensibus 3.1 (= Haines 2.5), qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126.
- ^ De Feriis Alsiensibus 3.4 (= Haines 2.9); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126–27.
- ^ De Feriis Alsiensibus 3.6–12 (= Haines 2.11–19); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126–27.
- ^ De Feriis Alsiensibus 4, tr. Haines 2.19; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 127.
- ^ De Feriis Alsiensibus 4 (= Haines 2.19), qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 127.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 127.
- ^ De bello Parthico 10 (= Haines 2.31).
- ^ De bello Parthico 10 (= Haines 2.31), qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 127.
- ^ De bello Parthico 1 (= Haines 2.21).
- ^ De bello Parthico 2 (= Haines 2.21–23); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 127.
- ^ De bello Parthico 1 (= Haines 2.21), qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 127.
- ^ Dio 71.1.3; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ HA Verus 5.8; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123, 125.
- ^ a b Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125.
- ^ HA Marcus 8.9, tr. Magie; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 123.
- ^ a b Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125, citing H.G. Pfalum, Les carrières procuratoriennes équestres sous le Haut-Empire romain I–III (Paris, 1960–61); Supplément (Paris, 1982), no. 139.
- ^ a b HA Pius 8.9; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 160–61.
- ^ Giuseppe Camodeca, “La carriera del prefetto del pretorio Sex.Cornelius Repentinus in una nuova iscrizione puteolana” (in Italian), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 43 (1981): 47.
- ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 1094 , 1100 ; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125.
- ^ Ad Verum Imperator 2.6 (= Haines 2.84ff), qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 1.4.
- ^ HA Verus 8.6, 9.3–5; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125, citing H.G. Pfalum, Les carrières procuratoriennes équestres sous le Haut-Empire romain I–III (Paris, 1960–61); Supplément (Paris, 1982), no. 163.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125, citing C.G. Starr, The Roman Imperial Navy, (1941), 188ff.
- ^ HA Verus 6.7–9; HA Marcus 8.10–11; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125–6. Stroke: Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126; Haines 2.85 n. 1.
- ^ HA Marcus 8.11; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125–26.
- ^ Ad Verum Imperator 2.6 (= Haines 2.85–87); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 125–26.
- ^ HA Verus 6.9; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 161.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126, citing SIG3 1.869, 872; HA Hadrian 13.1.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126, citing Cassiodorus senator s.a. 162.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 161, citing I Eph 728, 3072; H. Halfmann, Itinera Principum. Geschichte und Typologie der Kaiserreisen im Römischen Reich (Stuttgart, 1986), 210–11.
- ^ Christian Habicht, “Pausanias and the Evidence of Inscriptions”, Classical Antiquity 3:1 (1984), 42–43, citing IErythrai 225.
- ^ HA Verus 6.9; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 161.
- ^ Dio 71.3.1; HA Verus 7.1; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 126.
- ^ Historia Augusta Life of Lucius Verus 7
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Barry Baldwin, review of C.P. Jones’ Culture and Society in Lucian, American Historical Review 92:5 (1987), 1185.
- ^ Smyrna: Lucian, Imagines 2; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 7.10, qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Lucian, Imagines 3, qtd. and tr. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Lucian, Imagines 11, 14–15; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Lucian, Pro Imaginibus 7; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 7.10, cf. 7.4; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 4.4; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 4.6, tr. Magie; cf. 5.7; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 8.7, 8.10–11; Fronto, Principae Historia 17 (= Haines 2.217); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 6.1; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ HA Verus 6.3–4; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Principae Historiae 17 (= Haines 2.216–17); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Principae Historiae 17 (= Haines 2.216–17); Juvenal, 10.78; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and His Achievement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2 n. 8.
- ^ Alan Cameron, “Literary Allusions in the Historia Augusta”, Hermes 92:3 (1964), 367–68.
- ^ a b Barnes, 69. Translations from the HA Verus: Magie, ad loc.
- ^ Barnes, 69.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Ad Verum Imperator 2.1.19 (= Haines 2.148–49); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129.
- ^ Principae Historia 13 (= Haines 2.209–11); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129–30.
- ^ Ad Verum Imperator 2.2 (= Haines 2.117), tr. Haines; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Ad Verum Imperator 2.2 (= Haines 2.117–19); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130; citing Panegyrici Latini 14(10).6.
- ^ a b Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Pausanias 8.29.3–4; Philostratus, Heroicus 138.6–9 K., 9.5–7 L.; Christopher Jones, “The Emperor and the Giant”, Classical Philology 95:4 (2000): 476–81.
- ^ HA Verus 7.7; Marcus 9.4; Barnes, 72; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163; cf. also Barnes, “Legislation Against the Christians”, Journal of Roman Studies 58:1–2 (1968), 39; “Some Persons in the Historia Augusta”, Phoenix 26:2 (1972), 142, citing the Vita Abercii 44ff.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163.
- ^ a b c Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131.
- ^ HA Verus 7.7; Marcus 9.4; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131.
- ^ HA Verus 7.7; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131.
- ^ HA Marcus 9.4; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131.
- ^ HA Marcus 9.5–6; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 161–62, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 C 874 (Claudius Fronto); Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 M 348.
- ^ HA Marcus 9.1; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ HA Marcus 9.1; HA Verus 7.1–2; Ad Verrum Imperator 2.3 (= Haines 2.133); Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 129; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162, citing H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus (London, 1940), Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, nos. 233ff.
- ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 8977 (II Adiutrix); Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 8.7050 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine .– 51 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine . (Marcianus); Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Dio 71.3.1; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162; Millar, Near East, 113.
- ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 394 ; 9117 ; Millar, Near East, 113.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 280 n. 42; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 131; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162, citing H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus (London, 1940), Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, nos. 261ff.; 300 ff.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130, 279 n. 38; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 M 169.
- ^ a b Millar, Near East, 112.
- ^ Lucian, Historia Quomodo Conscribenda 29; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Fronto, Ad Verum Imperator 2.1.3 (= Haines 2.133); Astarita, 41; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130; “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Champlin, “Chronology”, 147.
- ^ Astarita, 41; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 162.
- ^ Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 1098 Archived 2 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine .; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 M 169.
- ^ Lucian, Historia Quomodo Conscribenda 15, 19; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163.
- ^ Lucian, Historia Quomodo Conscribenda 20, 28; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163, citing Syme, Roman Papers, 5.689ff.
- ^ HA Verus 8.3–4; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163. Birley cites R.H. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia on the Tigris (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1935), 124ff., on the date.
- ^ a b John F. Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus (London: Duckworth, 1989), 142–43.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 163–64.
- ^ Ammianus 23.6.23–24; McLynn, 334–35.
- ^ HA Marcus 13.1–6; McLynn, 334–35.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164, citing Alföldy and Halfmann, “Iunius Mauricus und die Victoria Parthica”, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 35 (1979): 195–212 = Alföldy, Römische Heeresgeschichte. Beiträge 1962–1985 (Amsterdam, 1987), 203 ff (with addenda, 220–1); Fronto, Ad amicos 1.6.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164, citing H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus (London, 1940), Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, nos. 384 ff., 1248 ff., 1271 ff.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164, citing P. Kneissl, Die Siegestitulatur der römischen Kaiser. Untersuchungen zu den Siegerbeinamen des 1. und 2. Jahrhunderts (Göttingen, 1969), 99 ff.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164, citing H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus (London, 1940), Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, nos. 401ff.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 C 874.
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164, citing Alföldy, Konsulat, 179 ff.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 M 348.
- ^ Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 130, citing Prosopographia Imperii Romani2 A 1402f.; 1405; Astarita, passim; Syme, Bonner Historia-Augustia Colloquia 1984 (= Roman Papers IV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), ?).
- ^ Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines”, 164, citing Alföldy, Konsulat, 24, 221.
- ^ Sherman E. Johnson, “Preliminary Epigraphic Report on the Inscriptions Found at Sardis in 1958”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 158 (1960): 6–11.
- ^ Elizabeth Grier, “Certain Rich Men of the Second Century after Christ”, Classical Weekly 23:15 (1930): 114, citing Forschungen in Ephesos, Veröffentlicht vom Oesterreichischen Archäeologischen Institut (Vienna, Hölder, 1906–23) 3.161 n. 80.
- ^ C.S. Lightfoot, “Facts and Fiction: The Third Siege of Nisibis (A.D. 350)”, Historia 37:1 (1988): 106–7.
References[ edit ]
Ancient sources[ edit ]
- Ammianus Marcellinus. Res Gestae.
- Yonge, Charles Duke, trans. Roman History. London: Bohn, 1862. Online at Tertullian . Accessed 15 August 2009.
- Rolfe, J.C., trans. History. 3 vols. Loeb ed. London: Heinemann, 1939–52. Online at LacusCurtius . Accessed 15 August 2009.
- Cassius Dio. Roman History.
- Cary, Earnest, trans. Roman History. 9 vols. Loeb ed. London: Heinemann, 1914–27. Online at LacusCurtius . Accessed 26 August 2009.
- Epitome de Caesaribus.
- Banchich, Thomas M., trans. A Booklet About the Style of Life and the Manners of the Imperatores. Canisius College Translated Texts 1. Buffalo, NY: Canisius College, 2009. Online at De Imperatoribus Romanis . Accessed 31 August 2009.
- Fronto, Marcus Cornelius.
- Haines, Charles Reginald, trans. The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto. 2 vols. Loeb ed. London: Heinemann, 1920. Online at the Internet Archive: Vol. 1 , 2 . Accessed 26 August 2009.
- ad Pisonem de Theriaca.
- de Antidotis.
- Harmon, A.M., trans. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 9 vols. Loeb ed. London: Heinemann, 1936. Alexander online at Tertullian . Accessed 26 August 2009.
- Historia Quomodo Conscribenda (The Way to Write History).
- Fowler, H.W., and H.G., trans. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905. The Way to Write History, in volume 2, online at Sacred Texts , based on the Gutenberg e-text. Accessed 26 August 2009.
- Imagines (Essays in Portraiture [Images]).
- Fowler, H.W., and H.G., trans. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905. A Portrait Study, in volume 3, online at Sacred Texts , based on the Gutenberg e-text. Accessed 26 August 2009.
- Pro Imaginibus (Essays in Portraiture Defended).
- Fowler, H.W., and H.G., trans. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905. Defence of the ‘Portrait-Study’, in volume 3, online at Sacred Texts , based on the Gutenberg e-text. Accessed 26 August 2009.
- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Meditations.
- Farquharson, A.S.L., trans. Meditations. New York: Knopf, 1946, rept. 1992.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece.
- Jones, W.H.S., and H.A. Omerod, trans. Pausanias’ Description of Greece. 4 vols. Loeb ed. London: Heinemann, 1918. Online at Theoi and Perseus at Tufts . Accessed 27 August 2009.
- Philostratus. Heroicus (On Heroes).
- Aiken, Ellen Bradshaw, and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean, trans. On Heroes. Washington, DC: Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies, 2007. Online at Harvard University Centre for Hellenic Studies . Accessed 18 September 2015.
- Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Authors of the Historia Augusta). Historia Augusta (Augustan History).
- Magie, David, trans. Historia Augusta. 3 vols. Loeb ed. London: Heinemann, 1921–32. Online at LacusCurtius . Accessed 26 August 2009.
- Birley, Anthony R., trans. Lives of the Later Caesars. London: Penguin, 1976.
- Vita Abercii.
Modern sources[ edit ]
- Astarita, Maria L. Avidio Cassio (in Italian). Rome: Edizione di Storia e Letteratura, 1983.
- Birley, Anthony R. Marcus Aurelius: A Biography. New York: Routledge, 1966, rev. 1987.
- Birley, Anthony R. “Hadrian to the Antonines.” In The Cambridge Ancient History Volume XI: The High Empire, A.D. 70–192, edited by Alan Bowman, Peter Garnsey, and Dominic Rathbone, 132–94. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-521-26335-1
- Champlin, Edward. “The Chronology of Fronto.” Journal of Roman Studies 64 (1974): 136–59.
- Champlin, Edward. Fronto and Antonine Rome. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-674-32668-7
- Millar, Fergus. The Roman Near East: 31 BC – AD 337. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-674-77886-3
- McLynn, Frank. Marcus Aurelius: Warrior, Philosopher, Emperor. London: Bodley Head, 2009. ISBN 978-0-224-07292-2
- Roman–Parthian Wars
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|Part of the Roman-Persian Wars|
|Roman Republic , succeeded by Roman Empire and client states||Parthian Empire and clients|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Lucullus , |
Crassus † ,
Mark Antony ,
Publius Ventidius Bassus
Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo
Lucius Verus ,
| Phraates III , |
Orodes II ,
Pacorus I † ,
Tiridates I of Armenia
Sinatruces II †
The Roman–Parthian Wars (66 BC – 217 AD) were a series of conflicts between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic and Roman Empire . It was the first series of conflicts in what would be 719 years of Roman–Persian Wars .
Early incursions by the Roman Republic against Parthia were repulsed, notably at the Battle of Carrhae (53 BC). During the Roman Liberators’ civil war of the 1st Century BC, the Parthians actively supported Brutus and Cassius , invading Syria, and gaining territories in the Levant. However, the conclusion of the second Roman civil war brought a revival of Roman strength in Western Asia . 
In 113 AD, the Roman Emperor Trajan made eastern conquests and the defeat of Parthia a strategic priority,  and successfully overran the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon , installing Parthamaspates of Parthia as a client ruler. Hadrian , Trajan’s successor, reversed his predecessor’s policy, intending to re-establish the Euphrates as the limit of Roman control. However, in the 2nd century, war over Armenia broke out again in 161, when Vologases IV defeated the Romans there. A Roman counter-attack under Statius Priscus defeated the Parthians in Armenia and installed a favored candidate on the Armenian throne, and an invasion of Mesopotamia culminated in the sack of Ctesiphon in 165.
In 195, another Roman invasion of Mesopotamia began under the Emperor Septimius Severus , who occupied Seleucia and Babylon , and then sacked Ctesiphon yet again in 197. Parthia ultimately fell not to the Romans, but to the Sassanids under Ardashir I , who entered Ctesiphon in 226. Under Ardashir and his successors, Persian-Roman conflict continued between the Sassanid Empire and Rome.
- 1 Parthia’s western ambitions
- 2 Roman Republic vs Parthia
- 3 Roman Empire vs Parthia
- 3.1 Inconclusive wars
- 3.2 Trajan’s Parthian War
- 3.3 Hadrian’s policy and later wars
- 3.4 Rise of the Sassanids
- 4 See also
- 5 Citations
- 6 References
- 6.1 Primary Sources
- 6.2 Secondary sources
- 7 External links
Parthia’s western ambitions[ edit ]
After triumphing in the Seleucid–Parthian wars and annexing large amounts of the Seleucid Empire the Parthians began to look west for more territory to expand into. Parthian enterprise in the West began in the time of Mithridates I ; during his reign, the Arsacids succeeded in extending their rule into Armenia and Mesopotamia . This was the beginning of an “international role” for the Parthian empire, a phase that also entailed contacts with Rome.  Mithridates II conducted unsuccessful negotiations with Sulla for a Roman–Parthian alliance (c. 105 BC).  [ verification needed ]
By the same time the Parthians started their rise, they established eponymous branches in the Caucasus , namely the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia , the Arsacid dynasty of Iberia , and the Arsacid Dynasty of Caucasian Albania .
After 90 BC, the Parthian power was diminished by dynastic feuds, while at the same time, Roman power in Anatolia collapsed. Roman–Parthian contact was restored when Lucullus invaded Southern Armenia and defeated Tigranes in 69 BC, however, again no definite agreement was made. 
Roman Republic vs Parthia[ edit ]
A sculpted head (broken off from a larger statue) of a Parthian wearing a Hellenistic-style helmet , from the Parthian royal residence and necropolis of Nisa, Turkmenistan , 2nd century BC
When Pompey took charge of the war in the East, he re-opened negotiations with Phraates III ; they came to an agreement and Roman–Parthian troops invaded Armenia in 66/65 BC, but soon a dispute arose over Euphrates boundary between Rome and Parthia. Pompey refused to recognize the title of “King of Kings” for Phraates, and offered arbritation between Tigranes and the Parthian king over Corduene . Finally, Phraates asserted his control over Mesopotamia , except for the western district of Osroene , which became a Roman dependency. 
In 53 BC, Crassus led an invasion of Mesopotamia, with catastrophic results; at the Battle of Carrhae , Crassus and his son Publius were defeated and killed by a Parthian army under General Surena . The bulk of his force was either killed or captured; of 42,000 men, about half died, a quarter made it back to Syria , and the remainder became prisoners of war.  Rome was humiliated by this defeat, and this was made even worse by the fact that the Parthians had captured several Legionary Eagles. It is also mentioned by Plutarch that the Parthians found the Roman prisoner of war that resembled Crassus the most, dressed him as a woman and paraded him through Parthia for all to see. This, however, could easily be Roman propaganda. Orodes II, with the rest of the Parthian Army, defeated the Armenians and captured their country. However, Surena’s victory invoked the jealousy of the Parthian king, and he ordered Surena’s execution. Following Surena’s death, Orodes II himself took command of the Parthian army and led an unsuccessful military campaign into Syria. The Battle of Carrhae was one of the first major battles between the Romans and Parthians.
The following year, the Parthians launched raids into Syria, and in 51 BC mounted a major invasion led by the crown prince Pacorus and the general Osaces ; they besieged Cassius in Antioch , and caused considerable alarm in the Roman provinces in Asia. Cicero , who had been chosen governor of adjacent Cilicia for that year, marched with two legions to lift the siege.  Pacorus fell back, but was ambushed in his retreat by Cassius near Antigonea and Osaces was killed. 
During Caesar’s civil war the Parthians made no move, but maintained relations with Pompey. After his defeat and death, a force under Pacorus came to the aid of the Pompeian general Caecilius Bassus, who was besieged at Apamea Valley by the Caesarian forces. With the civil war over, Julius Caesar elaborated plans for a campaign against Parthia, but his assassination averted the war. During the ensuing Liberators’ civil war , the Parthians actively supported Brutus and Cassius, sending a contingent which fought with them at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. 
Parthia, its subkingdoms, and neighbors in 1 AD.
After that defeat, the Parthians under Pacorus invaded Roman territory in 40 BC in conjunction with Quintus Labienus , a Roman erstwhile supporter of Brutus and Cassius. They swiftly overran Syria, and defeated Roman forces in the province; all the cities of the coast, with the exception of Tyre admitted the Parthians. Pacorus then advanced into Hasmonean Judea , overthrowing the Roman client Hyrcanus II and installing his nephew Antigonus (40–37 BC) in his place. For a moment, the whole of the Roman East was captured to Parthians. The conclusion of the second Roman civil war was soon to bring about a revival of Roman strength in Western Asia . 
Meanwhile, Mark Antony had already sent Ventidius to oppose Labienus who had invaded Anatolia. Soon Labienius was driven back to Syria by Roman forces, and, though his Parthian allies came to his support, he was defeated, taken prisoner and then put to death. After suffering a further defeat near the Syrian Gates , the Parthians withdrew from Syria. They returned in 38 BC, but were decisively defeated by Ventidius and Pacorus was killed. In Judea, Antigonus was ousted with Roman help by the Idumean Herod in 37 BC. 
With Roman control of Syria and Judaea restored, Mark Antony led a huge army into Caucasian Albania , but his siege train and its escort were isolated and wiped out, while his Armenian allies deserted. Failing to make progress against Parthian positions, the Romans withdrew with heavy casualties. In 33 BC Antony was again in Armenia, contracting an alliance with the Median king against both Octavian , and the Parthians, but other preoccupations obliged him to withdraw, and the whole region passed under Parthian control. 
Roman Empire vs Parthia[ edit ]
Inconclusive wars[ edit ]
Under the threat of an impending war between the two powers, Gaius Caesar and Phraataces worked out a rough compromise between the two powers in 1 AD. According to the agreement, Parthia undertook to withdraw its forces from Armenia, and to recognize a de facto Roman protectorate over the country. Nonetheless, Roman-Parthian rivalry over control and influence in Armenia continued unabated for the next several decades. 
The decision of the Parthian king Artabanus II to place his son, Arsaces, on the vacant Armenian throne triggered a war with Rome in 36 AD. Artabanus III reached an understanding with the Roman general, Lucius Vitellius , renouncing Parthian claims to a sphere of influence in Armenia.  A new crisis was triggered in 58, when the Romans invaded Armenia after the Parthian king Vologases I forcibly installed his brother Tiridates on the throne there.  Roman forces under Corbulo overthrew Tiridates and replaced him with a Cappadocian prince. This prompted Parthian retaliation and an inconclusive series of campaigns in Armenia ensued. The war came to an end in 63, when the Romans agreed to allow Tiridates and his descendants to rule Armenia on condition that they received the kingship from the Roman emperor. 
Armenia would henceforth be ruled by an Parthian dynasty, and despite its nominal allegiance to Rome, it would come under increasing Parthian influence. In the judgment of later generations, “Romans had lost Armenia”, and although the Peace of Rhandeia ushered in a period of relatively peaceful relations that would last for 50 years, Armenia would continue to be a constant bone of contention between the Romans, the Parthians, and their Sassanid successors.
As for Corbulo, he was honoured by Nero as the man who had brought this “triumph” to be, but his popularity and influence with the army made him a potential rival. Together with the involvement of his son-in-law Lucius Annius Vinicianus in a foiled plot against Nero in 66, Corbulo became suspect in the eyes of the emperor. In 67, while journeying in Greece, Nero ordered him to be executed; upon hearing of this, Corbulo committed suicide.
Trajan’s Parthian War[ edit ]
A sestertius issued by the Roman Senate in 116 to commemorate Trajan’s Parthian campaign
A new series of wars began in the 2nd century, during which the Romans consistently held the upper hand over Parthia. In 113, the Roman Emperor Trajan decided that the moment was ripe to resolve the “eastern question” once and for all time by the decisive defeat of Parthia and the annexation of Armenia; his conquests marked a deliberate change of Roman policy towards Parthia, and a shift of emphasis in the “grand strategy” of the empire. 
In 114, Trajan invaded Armenia, annexed it as a Roman province, and killed Parthamasiris who was placed on the Armenian throne by his relative, the king of Parthia, Osroes I .  In 115, the Roman emperor overran northern Mesopotamia and annexed it to Rome as well; its conquest was deemed necessary, since otherwise the Armenian salient could be cut off by the Parthians from the south.  The Romans then captured the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, before sailing downriver to the Persian Gulf . However, in that year revolts erupted in Eastern Mediterranean , North Africa and northern Mesopotamia, while a major Jewish revolt broke out in Roman territory, severely stretching Roman military resources. Trajan failed to take Hatra, which avoided total Parthian defeat. Parthian forces attacked key Roman positions and Roman garrisons at Seleucia , Nisibis and Edessa were evicted by the local populaces. Trajan subdued the rebels in Mesopotamia, installed the Parthian prince Parthamaspates as a client ruler, and withdrew to Syria. Trajan died in 117, before he could renew the war.  Trajan’s Parthian campaign is considered, in different ways, the climax of “two centuries of political posturing and bitter rivalry.”  Trajan was the first emperor to carry out a successful invasion of Mesopotamia. His grand scheme for Armenia and Mesopotamia were ultimately “cut short by circumstances created by an incorrect understanding of the strategic realities of eastern conquest and an underestimation of what insurgency can do.” 
Hadrian’s policy and later wars[ edit ]
Trajan’s successor, Hadrian , promptly reversed his predecessor’s policy. He decided that it was in Rome’s interest to re-establish the Euphrates as the limit of its direct control, and willingly returned to the status quo ante, surrendering the territories of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Adiabene back to their previous rulers and client-kings. Once again, at least for another half century, Rome was to avoid active intervention east of the Euphrates. 
War over Armenia broke out again in 161, when Vologases IV defeated the Romans there, captured Edessa and ravaged Syria. In 163, a Roman counter-attack under Statius Priscus defeated the Parthians in Armenia and installed a favored candidate on the Armenian throne. The following year Avidius Cassius began an invasion of Mesopotamia, winning battles at Dura-Europos and Seleucia and sacking Ctesiphon in 165. An epidemic, possibly of smallpox, which was sweeping Parthia at the time now spread to the Roman army, leading to their withdrawal. 
Relief of the Roman-Parthian wars at the Arch of Septimius Severus , Rome
In 195, another Roman invasion of Mesopotamia began under the Emperor Septimius Severus , who occupied Seleucia and Babylon , and then sacked Ctesiphon yet again in 197. These wars led to the Roman acquisition of northern Mesopotamia, as far as the areas around Nisibis and Singara.  A final war against the Parthians was launched by the emperor Caracalla , who sacked Arbela in 216, but after his assassination, his successor Macrinus fought an inconclusive battle against the Parthians at Nisibis , the last engagement of the Parthian Wars. 
Rise of the Sassanids[ edit ]
Parthia was finally destroyed by Ardashir I when he entered Ctesiphon in 226. The Sassanids were more centralized than the Parthian dynasties.
Until the Sassanids came to power, the Romans were mostly the aggressors. However, the Sassanids, being Persians, were determined to reconquer lands that the Achaemenid dynasty had once held and now lost. Their nationalistic zeal made them much more aggressive foes of the Romans than the Parthians ever were. For more information, see Byzantine-Sassanid Wars .
See also[ edit ]
- List of Parthian kings
- List of Roman consuls
Citations[ edit ]
- ^ a b Bivar (1968), 57
- ^ a b Lightfoot (1990), 115: “Trajan succeeded in acquiring territory in these lands with a view to annexation, something which had not seriously been attempted before […] Although Hadrian abandoned all of Trajan’s conquests […] the trend was not to be reversed. Further wars of annexation followed under Lucius Verus and Septimius Severus.”; Sicker (2000), 167–168
- ^ Beate-Engelbert (2007), 9
- ^ Plutarch, Sulla, 5. 3–6
* Sherwin-White (1994), 262
- ^ Sherwin-White (1994), 262–263
- ^ Sherwin-White (1994), 264
- ^ Mackay (2004), 150
- ^ Alfred John Church , Roman Life in the Days of Cicero, (Kindle edition) ch. XIII., loc. 1845
- ^ Bivar (1968), 56
- ^ Bivar (1968), 56–57
- ^ Bivar (1968), 57–58
- ^ Cassius Dio , Roman History, XLIX, 27–33
* Bivar (1968), 58–65
- ^ Sicker (2000), 162
- ^ Sicker (2000), 162–163
- ^ Sicker (2000), 163
- ^ Rawlinson (2007), 286–287
- ^ a b Sicker (2000), 167
- ^ a b Sicker (2000), 167–168
- ^ a b Sheldon, Rose Mary (2010). Rome’s Wars in Parthia: Blood in the Sand. London: Vallentine Mitchell. p. 143.
- ^ Sicker (2000), 169
- ^ Campbell (2005), 6–7; Rawlinson (2007), 337–338
- ^ Cowan, Ross (2009). “The Battle of Nisibis, AD 217” . Ancient Warfare. 3.5: 29–35. Archived from the original on 2016-04-29.
References[ edit ]
Primary Sources[ edit ]
- Cassius Dio , Roman History. Book LXXX. Translated by Earnest Cary .
- Plutarch, Sulla . Translated by John Dryden .
Secondary sources[ edit ]
- Beate, Dignas; Winter, Engelbert (2007). Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Neighbours and Rivals. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-3-515-09052-0 .
- Bivar, H.D.H (1968). “The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids”. In William Bayne Fisher; Ilya Gershevitch ; Ehsan Yarshater ; R. N. Frye ; J. A. Boyle; Peter Jackson; Laurence Lockhart; Peter Avery ; Gavin Hambly; Charles Melville. The Cambridge History of Iran . Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20092-X .
- Campbell, Brian (2005). “The Severan Dynasty”. In Iorwerth Eiddon; Stephen Edwards. The Cambridge Ancient History (XII, The Crisis of Empire) . Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-30199-8 .
- Lightfoot, C.S. (1990). “Trajan’s Parthian War and the Fourth-Century Perspective”. The Journal of Roman Studies. Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 80: 115–116. doi : 10.2307/300283 . JSTOR 300283 .
- Mackay, Christopher S. (2004). “Caesar and the End of Republican Government”. Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History . Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80918-5 .
- Rawlinson, George (2007) . Parthia . Cosimo, Inc. ISBN 1-60206-136-X .
- Sherwin-White, A.N. (1994). “Lucullus, Pompey and the East”. In John Anthony Crook; Elizabeth Rawson . The Cambridge Ancient History (IX, The Last Age of the Roman Republic) . Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-25603-8 .
- Sicker, Martin (2000). “The Struggle over the Euphrates Frontier”. The Pre-Islamic Middle East. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-96890-1 .
External links[ edit ]
Media related to Parthian-Roman wars at Wikimedia Commons
- The Battle of Nisibis, AD 217
- Parthians at Philippi: A Case Study in an Ancient Proxy War
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The Roman army was considered to be an unstoppable juggernaut in the ancient world, but the tables were turned by a formidable Parthian Empire general and devastating tactics. This clash led to one of the most crushing defeats in Roman history.
Leading the Romans was Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was a member of the First Triumvirate and the wealthiest man in Rome. He, like many before him, had been enticed by the prospect of riches and military glory and so decided to invade Parthia.
Leading the Parthians was Surena. Very little is known of his background. What is known is that was a Parthian general from the House of Suren. The House of Suren was located in Sistan. Sistan, or Sakastan, “land of the Sakas,” located in what is today southeast Iran.
In 56 BC, Julius Caesar invited Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus to Luca in Cisalpine Gaul (Luca is the modern day city of Lucca in Italy). Caesar requested that they meet to repair their strained relationship, which had been established around 60 BC and was kept secret from the Senate for some time. During this event, a crowd of 100 or more senators showed up to petition for their sovereign patronage. The men cast lots and chose which areas to govern. Caesar got what he wanted, Gaul; Pompey obtained Spain; and Crassus received Syria. All of this became official when Pompey and Crassus were elected as consuls in 55 BC.
Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus. ( Public Domain )
Crassus was delighted that his lot fell on Syria. His grand strategy and desire was to make the campaigns of Lucullus against Tigranes and Pompey’s against Mithridates appear mediocre. Crassus’ grand strategy and desire of conquest and confiscation went beyond Parthia, beyond Bactria and India, reaching the Outer Ocean—easier envisioned than orchestrated.
Roman, Seleucid, and Parthian Empires in 200 BC. Roman Republic is shown in Purple. The Blue area represents the Seleucid Empire. The Parthian Empire is shown in Yellow. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Psychological Warfare: Masters of Disguise
Crassus, the Roman general, arrived in Syria with seven legions (roughly 35,000 heavy infantry) along with 4,000 lightly armed troops and 4,000 cavalry. Caesar had given Crassus an additional 1,000 Gallic cavalry under the command of Crassus’ son Publius. As Crassus pushed on, the enemy slowly came into sight. Crassus gave the order to halt, and to their eyes the enemy were “neither so numerous nor so splendidly armed as they had expected.” However, looks can be deceiving.
What Crassus and his army saw was the front rank of just 1,000 cavalry who were covered in skins and coats. Surena’s main force was hidden behind the front ranks. While the Romans watched in curiosity, Surena gave the order and a thundering sound proceeded forth from the Parthian cavalry. Many unseen drums covered in stretched animal hide and brass bells roared across the field, vibrating Roman armor as well as their hearts. The use of sound as a psychological weapon manipulated human behavior in both the Roman and Parthian armies. In other words, the home team was pumped up while the away team lost confidence quickly.
Parthian bronze statue, attributed to Surena, Parthian spahbed (“General” or “Commander”). ( Public Domain )
Plutarch mentioned that, “before the Romans had recovered from their consternation at this din, the enemy suddenly dropped the coverings of their armor.” Once the drums were silent, the Roman army, discombobulated by the intense sound of the drums, besides being physically weak, was in for another surprise.
The Parthian heavy cavalry, otherwise known as the cataphract, was charged towards them, with Surena leading the way. As the cataphract thundered across the plain, their coverings dropped from their armor revealing “helmets and breastplates blazing like fire, their Margianian steel glittering keen and bright, their horses armored with plates of bronze and steel.”
The Parthian cataphract was the main and most important military force. These mailed cavalrymen were the aristocracy, who could afford the expensive armor. In return for their service, they demanded a greater degree of autonomy from the Parthian king at the local level, thus ensuring a king (sub-king) of their own to govern their territory.
The Romans, who never had seen well-armored cavalrymen, were in awe, but the veterans who served under Lucullus or Pompey had encountered this type of cavalry during the Mithridatic Wars. As the cataphract closed in, the legionaries locked shields to create a continuous wall. Surena quickly noticed that the Roman line was steady and firm and they were not going to budge. He quickly broke off the charge giving the impression that they lacked confidence in engaging the Romans in a full frontal assault. However, this was just a ruse.
Parthian Horse Archers: Sight, Speed, and Agility
What the Romans saw was Surena retreating, giving the false notion that the cataphract was unable to make a difference and therefore lacked confidence. Unseen were 10,000 Parthian horse archers, who quickly surrounded the Romans, firing on them from all sides. Crassus was stunned. He quickly assessed the situation, seeing that his forces were bogged down by unarmored petty horse archers, who were vulnerable to missile attack, and ordered his light infantry to engage them. As the light infantry left the safety of the hollow square formation to engage the enemy, they were quickly showered with arrows as the Parthian horse archers galloped away, forcing the light infantry to quickly pull back, crashing through the Roman lines seeking safety. The sight, speed, and agility of the Parthian horse archers spooked the Romans. But what really terrified them was the Parthians’ primary weapon, the composite bow.
Relief of Parthian horseman, a highly skilled warrior, performing a Parthian shot. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Historian Dr. Kaveh Farrokh suggests that the average Parthian horse archer, with a quiver of 30 arrows, loosed between eight to ten arrows a minute at Carrhae. It would take two to three minutes to exhaust his arsenal before needing to be resupplied. The amount of Parthian horse archers at the battle is estimated at 10,000. If all 10,000 fired away for 20 minutes, the amount of arrows fired by an individual horse archer would have been between 160-200 arrows. This meant the amount of arrows fired upon the Roman soldiers are estimated to have been an astounding 1.6 million to two million arrows in a 20-minute timeframe.
The Romans soon realized that they could do nothing to alleviate the situation. If they stayed in their rank and file they would be wounded or killed. But if they made an attempt to counter the horse archers they would suffer the same fate. Any attempt to chase after them resulted in the horse archers retreating at a full gallop, while turning their bodies back to shoot at the pursuing enemy. This is where the term “Parthian Shot” comes from. The Parthians were literally shooting fish in a barrel.
Moreover, the Parthians were exploiting the Roman ways of warfare. For the Romans, to see the enemy retreat was a sign of defeat. Therefore, the Romans felt that they now had the advantage over their nemeses and pursued them. However, they soon realized the truth, and learned from this mistake that the enemy fought by an entirely different method. The Romans could do nothing as death from above rained down on them.
Crassus’ only hope was that as long as they stood still in their shielded square, the Parthians would soon run out of arrows. Once that happened, Crassus felt that the Parthians would have no choice but to engage the Romans at close quarters.
Roman Army reenactors in shielded formation, spears at the ready. (yeowatzup/CC BY 2.)
However, that was not the case. To the astonishment of the Romans, a Parthian camel train was standing by with fresh arrows. Surena proved adept at organization and logistics by using trains of camels to keep his horse archers constantly supplied, keeping continual pressure upon the Romans. This is contrary to Cassius Dio’s claim that the Parthians “do not lay in supplies of food or pay.” Cassius Dio may have felt that since the Parthians were not good at sieges, it must have been due to issues of supply.
A Call for Help
Crassus’ confidence was deteriorating quickly. He sent a message to his son Publius to join the battle by taking 1,300 cavalry, 500 archers, and eight cohorts from the infantry. Crassus’ hope was to draw some of the Parthians away from the square, as they were attempting to encircle the Romans. However, two reasons were given for the Parthians to attempt this. The first was to envelop the Romans completely, that in due time the legions would crowd closer as their numbers dwindled. However, Plutarch mentions that the Parthians had trouble enveloping the Roman rear due to marshy terrain, making it difficult for the horses to maneuver. The second reason Plutarch gave seems more plausible, and that was to leave a window open just big enough to make the Romans think that they had found an advantage. Deceiving the Romans into thinking that the Parthians could not surround them, Crassus’ son Publius took the bait and charged ahead. However, it was an old steppe trick. Thinking they were retreating, Publius shouted excitedly, “’They are on the run,’ and charged after them.” The faked retreat worked, Publius was on the move; and the Parthians, stationed farther ahead and well hidden, were awaiting his arrival.
Depiction of a battle scene of Trajan’s Column: On the left, Parthian horsemen in armor, fleeing before Roman riders. ( Public Domain )
Publius and the men were full of joy, thinking that they now had the advantage and victory was surely imminent. But moving farther away from the main body, they soon realized the pursuit was nothing more than a trick when the horse archers wheeled around and were joined by fresh troops. Publius ordered the men to halt where the Parthian cataphract was stationed in front of him. He hoped that they would engage in close combat. Instead, the horse archers in loose order rode around the Romans, kicking up so much sand that a mini-sandstorm fell on top of the Romans and it became nearly impossible to see the enemy.
By using nature as a weapon to disguise their movements, the horse archers were able to engage the Romans safely. Using nature as a force multiplier gave them the advantage of fighting uninhibitedly. Publius and his men could not see or breathe very well, inciting fear, which soon led to panic. The Romans in their disarray tripped, stumbled, and fell in each other’s way. The Parthian horse archers quickly took advantage and the shower of arrows began. Publius did what any commander in the field would do — reestablish order among the men. However, it was too late.
In the convulsion and agony of their pain they writhed as the arrows struck them; the men broke them off in their wounds and then lacerated and disfigured their own bodies by trying to tear out by main force the barbed arrow heads that had pierced through their veins and muscles.
Many of the men died a slow, agonizing death in this fashion. Publius needed to act quickly. The Romans could not engage the horse archers in close combat while the Parthian chain of command, the cataphract, remained nearby. If the Romans could make a break for the cataphract and engage them in close combat, they might have a chance to turn the tide of battle, especially if they could reach the Parthian commander, Surena, and kill him.
Tangling with the Dangerous Cataphract
Publius gave the order to attack the cataphract, but reality set in. The Roman infantrymen who heard Publius showed him that they were unable to go on any further, for their “hands pinioned to their shields, feet nailed through into the ground, so that they were incapable of either running away or defending themselves.”
Roman Army reenactors holding shields in a protective formation. (yeowatzup/CC BY 2.0)
Publius was so in touch with the battle that he was out of touch with his men. He soon realized the carnage that had been inflicted upon his forces. Once Publius assessed the situation, he gathered what remained of his Gallic cavalry and charged toward the cataphract.
Publius’ Gallic cavalry was light, wore little armor, and carried small light spears. One would think Publius would have known better than to charge toward cavalrymen who were better armored than his. They would soon realize this as their light spears broke against the cataphract breastplates. The Gallic cavalry was no match for the armored cataphract, who thrusted their long pikes into the horses or riders. In order to overcome, or at least have a fighting chance, the Gallic cavalryman, if the opportunity presented itself, would grab the pike of the cataphract and hope to use his own weight against him by pulling him off his horse. Many of the cataphract were smart enough to know that being weighed down by their armor made movement cumbersome. Once unseated from his mount, it was best to be on foot or in this case, on his back or knees, as he could get underneath the Gallic cavalryman’s horse and thrust his sword into the animal’s belly. This would cause the horse to rear up, throwing the rider off, and trampling whoever was underneath or nearby before collapsing.
A depiction of Sarmatian cataphracts fleeing from Roman cavalry during the Dacian wars circa 101 AD, at Trajan’s Column in Rome ( Public Domain ). One man has fallen from his horse, the greatest danger for a cataphract.
Perhaps some cataphract died in this fashion. With so many Gallic cavalry now dead, the only option for the Romans was to retreat. What was left of the Gallic cavalry pulled back, taking a badly wounded Publius and what remained of the infantry to higher ground. This would also prove to be a mistake.
Publius and his men retreated to a nearby sandy hill. However, the sandy hill provided little protection. With the Roman infantry placed in the front, those behind the infantry stuck out like a sore thumb due to the elevation. The horse archers once again pelted the Romans relentlessly with arrows. The Romans could do little more than watch their troops fall.
As the situation quickly deteriorated, two Greeks from the nearby town of Carrhae, Hieronymus and Nicomachus, offered to help Publius escape to a neighboring town, Ichnae, friendly to Rome. Publius refused the offer since so many men were either dead or dying on his account. Like a Roman commander, he attempted to take his own life, but was unable since an arrow had pierced his hand. Thus, he ordered his shield bearer to run him through with his gladius.
The Parthians eventually made it up the hill after the horse archers had softened the Romans a bit more. Once on the hill, the Parthian cataphract charged through the Romans, breaking their bodies and spirits. The remaining Romans surrendered; about five hundred were taken prisoner. As for the body of Publius, the Parthians took the body and severed his head.
When Publius had gone charging off after the Parthian horse archers in an attempt to give the Roman army both breathing room and time to assess the situation, the Parthian attack on the main body slackened. The reason, of course, was that Publius was a high profile target with little protection. Surena understood that if he could get Publius as far away as possible from the main Roman body, he could fix, engage, and defeat the target, which would send shockwaves throughout the Roman army. The Parthian Commander was correct in his judgment.
The Fall of Crassus
As Crassus waited for his son Publius to return from the pursuit, he began to gain confidence that his son was doing all right. Crassus placed his men in regular order and moved them to sloping ground.
During Publius’ engagement, he attempted to send messages to Crassus. The first never made it through, as the messenger was killed, but other messages indicating that Publius needed his help immediately made it through to Crassus. Crassus’ hopes that his son was doing well all came crashing down when it was evident his son needed him. It was at this point that Crassus was unable to make a clear judgment on what to do; either assist his son or stay put. On top of that, he began to lose confidence and feared the worst possible outcome for his army. Crassus waged a tug of war in his head, and finally made the decision to move the Roman army in an attempt to help Publius; Crassus did not know that his son, Publius, was already dead.
Just as Crassus’ army moved forward, the Parthians swooped in again, beating their drums and shouting aloud, but with even greater ferocity than before. As the Roman army prepared for the second wave of attack, some of the Parthian cavalry approached the Roman line. One of the cataphract had a nasty surprise for Crassus; it was the head of Publius on the tip of a spear. But before the battle was to commence again, the cataphract had a message for Crassus saying, “it was impossible, they said, that such a brave and gallant soldier could be the son of such a miserable coward as Crassus.” If the Roman army had any confidence left in them, that very moment sucked the life’s blood out of them.
Crassus, who suffered the most from this tragedy, rode up and down the ranks, shouting, “this grief is a private thing of my own. But in you, who are safe and sound, abide the great fortune and the glory of Rome. And now, if you feel any pity for me, who have lost the best son that any father has ever had, show it in the fury with which you face the enemy.” Crassus’ encouraging speech to fight on and think of their ancestors who fought hard battles did little to lift up the men’s spirits, for Plutarch mentions that “while he was speaking these words of encouragement, Crassus could see how few there were who were listening to him with enthusiasm.” When Crassus wanted to hear the war cry of his men, it was a “weak, feeble, and unsteady shout.” The battle was lost.
After Crassus had finished preparing the men for the second wave of battle, the Parthians quickly got to work by surrounding the Romans and showering them with arrows. As the horse archers began to pelt the enemy to death, Surena decided to up the carnage by unleashing the cataphract. The strategy was simple. With Roman confidence withering away, the cataphract would have a much greater chance of driving the Roman infantry closer together and into each other’s way. The strategy paid off! With each charge, the cataphract was successful in penetrating the Roman lines and quickly breaking from engagement, which allowed the horse archers to concentrate their arrows on a compacted target.
The Romans lost men quickly during this second wave of attack as the arrows continually rained down and the cataphract kept crushing and driving back the troops. Crassus had no choice but to retreat; but to do so in the daylight was more risky, and the night could not come soon enough.
In the end, Crassus made his way down the hill to meet with Surena. The Romans were on foot and the Parthians were on horseback. Surena was so shocked that Crassus, the imperator of Rome was on foot that he quickly offered him a horse, but Crassus declined the offer, saying he was merely following the custom of his own country. Surena quickly went straight to the point and informed Crassus that peace existed between King Orodes and the Romans. In order to make this deal final, an agreement must be signed near the Euphrates River. Surena than spoke to Crassus and said, “We find that you Romans have not got very good memories about the terms of treaties.” Afterwards, Crassus called for a horse and suddenly Surena offered him a horse with a golden bridle as a present. The grooms lifted Crassus up onto the saddle and ran alongside the horse, whipping the horse to make the animal go faster. Octavius quickly charged after Crassus and got hold of the bridle. Petronius, along with the men, hurriedly surrounded the horse to slow the animal. It was during this struggle with the horse that a brawl broke out. It seems that the grooms of the horse did little to slow the beast down, so Octavius drew his sword and killed one of the grooms; this in turn caused himself to be killed. Petronius also was struck, but his breastplate saved him.
It was during this struggle that Crassus was killed by a Parthian named Pomaxathres.
“The Death of Crassus” ( Public Domain )
However, Cassius Dio expresses that Crassus did not die by the hands of a Parthian, rather a fellow Roman killed him to prevent him from being captured alive. What is most important and overlooked is that Parthia had a body but no treaty.
Featured image: Deriv; Roman cavalryman ( CC BY 3.0) and Cataphracts dueling with lances ( Public Domain )
By Cam Rea
Click on the red book titles below.
Boak, Arthur. A History of Rome to 565 A.D. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1955.
Brosius, Maria. The Persians: An Introduction . London: Routledge, 2006.
Cary, Max and Howard Hayes Scullard. A History of Rome Down to the Reign of Constantine . London: Macmillan, 1995.
Dio Cocceianus, Cassius. Dio’s Roman History, trans. E Cary, Loeb Classical Library, 9 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.
Farrokh, Kaveh. Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War . Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007.
Rea, Cam. Leviathan Vs. Behemoth: The Roman-Parthian Wars 66 BC – 217 AD . Charlestone, SC: CreateSpace, 2014.
Plutarch. Moralia. Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962.
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