What Was Crassus Thinking? - The "Fool" of Carrhae

What Was Crassus Thinking? - The


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Today I wanted to take a closer look at the common narrative that Crassus was a bumbling idiot who caused the disaster of Carrhae. What was he thinking! Today we will attempt to reconstruct his chain of decisions to determine if they really were misguided.

As a reference for this rehabilitation of Crassus, I recommend the book "Defeat of Rome in the East: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC" by Gareth C Sampson


Epilogue &ndash The Consequences of Carrhae

How can we sum up the Battle of Carrhae and the whole First Roman-Parthian War? Clearly it was a defining battle in the history of both the late Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire. But, aside from it being the decisive encounter of the First Romano-Parthian War, what was the battle&rsquos wider significance? In order to fully answer this most important question we need to assess the various areas that it impacted on. The most logical place to start is with the Roman Republic, and here we must analyse the effects on both the Republic&rsquos territories in the east and on domestic politics back in Rome.

Consequences for the Roman Republic in the East

In the short term, the most obvious consequence for the Romans was the disastrous loss of life at the Battle of Carrhae. Out of an invading army of over 40,000 men, barely 10,000 managed to return to Roman territory. Of the others, around 20,000 were killed and 10,000 taken captive and held as prisoners for over two decades (see appendix 1). Thus the Romans lost three quarters of their army, along with their commander and most of his aristocratic command staff, nearly all young nobles from senatorial families. In total, seven legions were destroyed and their standards paraded as war trophies by the Parthians which would remain a contentious issue in Roman minds until their recovery in 20 BC.

The war had been launched as a war of conquest, but had ended with the Romans desperately defending their own territory, shut up in the cities, with the Parthians ravaging their province. Although they had managed to salvage some pride out of their defence of Syria (which came mostly as a result of Parthian failings) and from the fact that the situation did not deteriorate as badly as they had thought it would after Carrhae, there is no hiding from the fact that they had comprehensively lost this first war with Parthia.

We can see that the Battle of Carrhae itself had been won by the better general, but this does not mean that we can perpetuate the blackening of Crassus&rsquo reputation. Crassus was a fine Roman commander, who possessed sound judge-ment, clear tactical planning and the quality of never seeking battle unless he was sure of his own army&rsquos abilities. It could be said that perhaps he lacked the flair of a Pompey or a Caesar, but then few men possessed that. He had earned his place in the pantheon of great Roman commanders on account of his defeat of Spartacus and saving Rome from the slave army, and must be judged as a good, if not a great, Roman general. The spectacular loss at Carrhae was the result of a good Roman general running into a truly great Parthian one. History has been as unkind to Surenas&rsquo reputation as it has to Crassus&rsquo (at least in the Christian West). Surenas turned an almost inevitable defeat into a spectacular victory and his accomplishments must surely rank him as one of history&rsquos great generals.

Nevertheless, Surenas had accomplished this great victory as a result of deficiencies in the Roman method of warfare, namely their reliance on a slow moving infantry-based battle. It is true that they had faced cavalry before, in numerous battles, and been successful, but they had never faced an entirely-mounted army and this was the cause of their undoing. However hard a lesson it was, it was one that could only be taught once, and the Romans never again went into a battle in the East with such a light cavalry contingent.

If the battle was a disaster for the Romans, then the retreat was worse. As we saw earlier the Romans lost as many casualties (dead and captured) on the retreat as they did in the battle. Had the Romans retreated in a more orderly manner from Carrhae, then probably up to 20,000 men would have reached the safety of Syria (twice as many as actually did). Here Crassus does deserve censure for allowing the retreat to turn into a full-blown rout. Just because the battle had been lost, it did not mean that the war would be. His ineffectual leadership during the retreat turned the disaster at Carrhae into a complete catastrophe, though he was greatly aided by the incompetence and poor discipline of many of his officers and men. Thus all sections of the Roman army at Carrhae must stand accused of contributing to such a catastrophic defeat. Even so, in the short term, troops could be replaced, standards could be recovered, properties repaired and crops re-grown. It is the long term factors that reveal the greater impact which the Battle of Carrhae had.

As the surviving ancient sources show us, the Battle of Carrhae loomed far larger in the popular consciousness than the rest of the campaign itself (a view which most modern historiography appears to copy). Carrhae must go down as the worst defeat that the Romans suffered in the century and a half since Hannibal had ravaged Italy, defeating Roman armies with impunity. Certainly there had been setbacks in the intervening period, most notably those inflicted upon them by Mithridates of Pontus, and the loss of troops was not the greatest that they ever suffered but Carrhae was an outright comprehensive defeat, on all scales. 315 Previous setbacks in the intervening years had been at the hands of an invading enemy and when the Romans were on the defensive. They had not lost a battle of this nature, when they had been on the offensive, in a very long time (certainly never during their expansion throughout the Mediterranean). That is the reason why this defeat did so much damage to Rome&rsquos military and imperial reputation. Rome had launched an aggressive war of conquest and for the first time had failed, and had done so spectacularly.

This was not a quiet disaster either, for the peoples of the Parthian empire were able to see the captured Roman prisoners in their thousands, along with the captured legionary eagles (which were then placed in Parthian temples). Thousands of Roman corpses must have littered northern Mesopotamia, not only at the battle site, but on the route between there and Syria, where the fleeing Romans had been caught and slaughtered. At the Parthian court, it is likely that the head of Marcus Crassus became a permanent trophy, a witness to the Roman defeat (though the sources do not record any mention of it after its use in the play). All these very public displays of the Roman failure would have been transmitted throughout the East, not just the Parthian territories, by the various economic and social networks that existed between the cities and peoples of the East and which overrode any distinction between Roman and Parthian.

Thus Rome&rsquos military reputation was shattered at Carrhae and the seemingly inexorable annexation of the eastern civilisations was brought to a shuddering halt. Inevitability was replaced by uncertainty as Parthia emerged as a credible threat to Rome&rsquos hegemony in the East, not merely stopping Rome&rsquos progress but raising the possibility that they might even reverse it.

The other major long term consequence was the establishment of a lasting enmity between Rome and Parthia over domination of the East. Although a clash between the two was inevitable, the crushing nature of Rome&rsquos defeat and, as they saw it, humiliation meant that the Romans would never rest until this loss was avenged. This humiliation was worsened by the outcome of the Second Parthian War (40&ndash36 BC) which saw the Parthians invade and temporarily annex all of Rome&rsquos territories in the East. Although the Romans ultimately recovered these lands, a second Roman invasion of Parthia, led by Mark Antony, then the foremost Roman general of his day, met with a similar disaster to the first and again led to a retreat in chaos and ignominy. Thus Rome now had a permanent rival in the East. This permanence was entrenched by Caesar&rsquos son, Octavian (who became the sole ruler of Rome under the name Augustus), when in 20 BC he chose not to confront the Parthians, but to engage them in diplomacy. In return for the Parthians returning Crassus&rsquo and Antony&rsquos captured legionary eagles, a formal peace treaty was drawn up between the two great empires. Thus, for the first time, Rome formally acknowledged the limits of their empire in the East. This treaty was renewed in AD 2 by Augustus&rsquo adoptive son and heir, Gaius. 316 Given the end of the republican system and the advent of emperors in Rome, Roman expansion ground to a halt, perpetuated by most subsequent emperors aping Augustus&rsquo passivity in the East (the most notable exception being Trajan).

Thus the spread of Roman civilisation came to a halt in the East, caused bythe failure of the Romans at Carrhae an outcome that was formalised by Augustus. We will examine the wider implications of the division of the East below. For now, in mentioning Rome&rsquos transition from Republic to Empire, we must examine the contributory role that the Carrhae campaign had in this phenomenon, by assessing its effects on domestic Roman politics.

Domestic Consequences for the Roman Republic

If the consequences of this war for Rome&rsquos empire were bad enough, then the effects back in Rome were even greater. As stated earlier, Crassus&rsquo death did not cause the triumvirate to become a duumvirate, but spelt the end of the alliance altogether. Crassus and Pompey had worked together on several occasions as they were contemporaries, but Pompey and Caesar had not. The only other strong link between the two men was Pompey&rsquos wife, Julia, who was Caesar&rsquos daughter, but she had died in childbirth in 54 BC. Pompey soon found a new wife, the widow of Publius Crassus, who was a Metellus by birth. This new marriage alliance tied Pompey closer to the traditional senatorial families. Not only did Crassus&rsquo death remove the link between Pompey and Caesar, but it also probably left Pompey thinking that he now had no rival, a view which was seemingly confirmed when he was chosen by the Senate to be the sole consul of 52 BC.

Although they were of similar age 317 , Pompey had been a dominant figure in Rome for some three decades, whilst Caesar was a relatively new figure on the scene (he gained the consulship in 59 BC and only did so with the backing of Pompey and Crassus). Thus Pompey dismissed Caesar as a junior, who was not on his level. However, when he and the Senate attempted to deal with Caesar, late in 50 BC (by not renewing his Gallic command, nor allowing him to stand for the consulship in absentia), they fatally underestimated the ambition of the man. Caesar took a huge gamble to save his career by invading Italy, crossing the Rubicon River early in 49 BC (thereby violating the law that forbade him to cross from his province into Italy whilst still at the head of his army). As he is famously reported to have said at the time &lsquoalea jacta est&rsquo (let the die be cast). 318 For Caesar and the Republic there was no turning back and Rome fell into a second civil war.

The early stages of the war culminated at the Battle of Pharsalus (in Greece) in 48 BC, when Pompey and Caesar met on the battlefield for the first and last time. By the end of the day Pompey had been comprehensively defeated. He fled, vowing to fight on, but was assassinated as he landed in Egypt by the authorities there. Caesar went on to establish a firm control of Rome, finally taking the office of Dictator for Life early in 44 BC. A conspiracy of twenty or more senators determined to ensure that both his life, and thereby his dictatorship, would be short. This culminated in his assassination in the Senate House on the Ides of March 44 BC. One of the two ringleaders was none other than Gaius Cassius (thus betraying a second triumvir).

However, Caesar&rsquos death did not restore the Republic as they hoped and a further war broke out between the &lsquoCaesarian&rsquo faction, now led by Mark Antony and Octavian, and the &lsquoConspirators&rsquo led by Brutus and Cassius. Having won this war, Antony and Octavian inevitably turned on each other, which led to the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra and established himself as princeps of the Roman Republic. More commonly historians label him as the first Roman Emperor and name 31 BC as the date upon which the Roman Republic ended and the Roman Empire began (though this is a simplistic view of events).

Thus we can see that Crassus&rsquo death at Carrhae did more than cost Rome a general. It was a contributing factor leading to the outbreak of the Second Civil War at Rome and the ultimate collapse of the Roman Republic. It can be argued that tensions between Caesar and Pompey could have resulted in open warfare anyway, given that Crassus was out in the East and would have continued to be so had he been successful. We might ask, however, if either man would have gone to war with Crassus still a powerful figure at the head of a large and successful army. Had Crassus lived then it is far more likely that some form of compromise deal would have been worked out between the three men, each with their own spheres of influence. It may have been that Crassus and Pompey would have united to see off Caesar, and they might have been no more successful than Pompey was on his own. In any event, whilst the removal of Crassus at such a key moment in the late Republic did not make civil war inevitable, it certainly made it more likely and for that fact alone, it renders Crassus&rsquo death of even greater importance to history.

Consequences for Marcus Licinius Crassus

This title sounds rather obvious at first, as the immediate consequences for Crassus were the severest possible, namely death and decapitation at the hands of his enemies. However, the abuse of Crassus did not end with his mortal remains, but has continued throughout the centuries. When Crassus fell in the aftermath of Carrhae, he was one of the three leading men in Rome, had rivalled Pompey throughout the latter&rsquos entire career and was a major force in the politics and history of the late Roman Republic. However, as seen throughout this work, upon his death Crassus&rsquo reputation was torn to shreds by his contemporaries and by commentators ever since. Rather than admit that Rome had seemingly met its match in the Parthians, the defeat at Carrhae was all too easily exorcised by blaming it squarely on Crassus&rsquo shoulders. Across the centuries he has been labelled as being too old, too gullible, too easily led or too hasty. As detailed earlier, Crassus was not a member of the triumvirate by accident, or to make up the numbers he was one of Rome&rsquos two foremost statesmen and generals (at the creation of the triumvirate), a man who had saved his state from the seemingly-invincible Spartacus and who was well versed in the arts of war.

The defeat at Carrhae was indeed the result of one man&rsquos abilities, but that one man was Surenas. On the day, Crassus, as any Roman general could have done, simply ran into a better general and tactician. Some would argue that had it been Pompey or Caesar then they would not have made the same choices and that is certainly possible, but it neglects the genius of the man who crafted the Parthian army into a force capable of beating any Roman army. Carrhae is a testament to Surenas&rsquo genius, rather than to Crassus&rsquo incompetence and his reputation needs to be salvaged and restored to its rightful place as one of the key figures in the history of the Roman Republic.

Plutarch, in his comparison of Crassus and Nicias (the Athenian general with whom he paired Crassus&rsquo biography), actually presented a balanced judgement on Crassus, something he had failed to do in his main biography: 319

What then would have been their feelings, and for how many days would they have sacrificed to the gods, if Crassus had written to them from Babylon that he was victorious and had overrun Media, Persia, Hyrcania, Susa and Bactria, and declared them Roman provinces. 320

Those who have praise for Alexander&rsquos expedition, but blame for that of Crassus, unfairly judge of a beginning by its end. 321

In the end Crassus&rsquo reputation fell from its deserved heights for committing the ultimate sin in the eyes of the Romans, namely failure on the battlefield. Hopefully we will not fall into the same pitfall and judge him so harshly. Crassus the Roman needs to be judged, rather than Crassus the defeated.

On a wider note, this particular branch of the Licinii Crassi had seen a father and son killed together for the second generation running. The surviving son, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who had been serving with Caesar in Gaul, overnight became Rome&rsquos richest man and sole heir to a great dynasty. His father&rsquos decision to have him serve with Caesar, rather than go with him to the East appears to reflect Crassus&rsquo cautiousness and desire to ensure the dynasty&rsquos survival should anything go wrong. Such caution had served the family well in the previous generation, where one son stayed in Rome and was killed, whilst another went to Spain and survived. Given the wealth and accumulated political power that Marcus received at such a young age, (around thirty years old), he appears to have kept a remarkably low profile during the civil wars that followed. 322 Aside from finding him still in Caesar&rsquo army in 49 BC, we hear no more about him. 323 It appears that, given the recent history of his family and the tragedies that their prominence had caused them, he kept a deliberately low profile in the wars and slaughter that followed, marking him as a truly insightful Roman aristocrat. 324

This low profile appears to have done his family no harm, in fact just the reverse. We find a Marcus Licinius Crassus as consul of 30 BC serving alongside Octavian, who was a late, but welcome supporter of the new order. He had in fact opposed Octavian not once, but twice, by siding first with Sextus Pompeius (son of Pompey the Great) and then with Mark Antony. 325 Yet, despite this, he became consul (which shows that Octavian was making a clear statement about reconciling Republican nobles to his new regime) and subsequently had an illustrious military career. 326 Perhaps we can see his father&rsquos hand in the background.

Further generations of the Licinii Crassi were to be found as supporters of the Julio-Claudian emperors, with the grandson of the younger Marcus becoming consul in 14 BC. 327 Further consulships can be found in AD 27 (under the emperor Tiberius) and in AD 64 (under Nero), by which time the family had further intermarried with the descendants of Pompey and now posed a credible threat to the throne. 328 The last recognisable descendant was executed by the emperor Hadrian, when he came to the throne in AD 117, in order to eliminate a potential rival claimant. Thus, despite the tragedy at Carrhae, the family remained a powerful force in the Roman Empire for the next 150 years.

Consequences for the Parthian Empire

For the Parthian empire, the consequences of Carrhae, and the First Romano-Parthian War in general, were mixed and can again be broken down into short-and long-term effects. In the short term the stunning victory at Carrhae not only propelled the Parthian empire back into the position which it had occupied upon on the death of Mithradates II in 87 BC, but actually seemed to surpass it. For the thirty years prior to Carrhae, Parthia had clearly been on the decline and had been supplanted in the East, not merely by Rome, but by her former vassal Armenia as well. As a result of Carrhae, the Romans had been defeated militarily and the Armenians had been reduced to the status of junior partner once again. It is also probable that the peace treaty which Orodes negotiated with Artavasdes (which in the latter&rsquos case was only ever intended to be temporary) included a return of the Parthian lands taken by Armenia in the 70s BC and not returned when Armenia was defeated by Rome. In 53 BC the Parthian empire was once again the foremost power in the region and looked poised to resume her seemingly unstoppable sweep from the east.

By 50 BC the situation had changed and held out some inkling of Parthia&rsquos long-term future. The invasions of Syria in 51 and 50 BC were not only failures as campaigns in themselves, but undid the wonderful position that the Parthians had found themselves in following Carrhae. The execution of their best commander in 53 BC had led to a delay in the invasion and when it did occur it was marked by dithering and incompetence. The Parthia of old had made spectacular territorial advances when its armies were commanded by kings who possessed tactical brilliance. By the mid 50s BC Parthia looked as though it was evolving into a system where the kings could take a back seat, if they so chose, and allow the growth of professional military commanders from the noble houses, thus separating the military command structure from the monarchy.

This had been the one key weakness of the Parthian Empire in the past, when a monarch with no military ability took the throne. Carrhae should have been a lesson to Parthia that this new system was the way of the future. Instead Orodes&rsquo insecurity over his throne led him to murder his best general and give command of his armies to a hybrid system which saw a noble general partnering a royal prince. This led almost inevitably to the disastrous campaign of 51 BC when, instead of sweeping the last of the Romans out of Syria, the Parthian army wasted its time in attempting to force the Romans into battle, then appeared to wander about the region with no clear strategy (probably the result of a dual command) and finally fell into a Roman ambush. The obvious move for the Parthians would have been for Orodes to take command of the invasion and stamp some royal authority on it. In 50 BC, however, he once again failed to do so and the latest invasion fell to a combination of Roman intrigue and Orodes&rsquo unpopularity, sparking off the second civil war within the decade.

Thus the Parthian Empire had restored its military reputation and its dominance of the east, but its one key flaw remained &ndash the monarchy. A weak monarch could still undermine the empire and in the short term had reduced what should have been a clear victory in the East into an uneasy stalemate. Without a strong monarch on the throne Parthia was vulnerable, unless military command could be safely separated from the monarchy itself (which proved to be the case in the Second Romano-Parthian War).

Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, Parthia emerged from the First Roman War as the clear victor. The Roman eastward advance had been comprehensively halted and the Romans defeated militarily. As a result Parthia appeared to have overcome her weaknesses of the years 87&ndash55 BC and was once again the dominant non-Roman power of the region. In the long term it was clear that Parthia and Rome were locked into a bitter feud, which would mirror Rome&rsquos rivalry with Carthage for the western Mediterranean during the previous two centuries. Until one of the two powers fell, as had eventually happened to Carthage, neither could claim dominance in the region.

There was one further consequence for the Parthian empire that came about partly as a result of the deadlock with Rome to the west, namely expansion to the east. Following the first two Roman wars, the Parthian empire started making significant inroads in conquering the Afghan and Indus regions, and established what became known as the Indo-Parthian Kingdom. 329 This took place late in the first century BC and seems to coincide with the deadlock in the west of the Parthian Empire.

Consequences for Surenas

Again, as with Crassus, this at first appears to be an odd heading. However, Surenas has been neglected for far too long in Western historiography for us to repeat this omission. In the short term, his victory made Surenas a national hero and he became a &lsquoscourge of Rome&rsquo comparable to Hannibal or Mithridates of Pontus. Unfortunately for Surenas, it also made him a prime target for an extremely insecure king, who promptly had him charged with treason and murdered in a most cowardly, and ultimately costly, act.

In the long term, his stunning victory at Carrhae made him one of the ancient world&rsquos greatest generals. Few men could boast of a decisive battlefield victory against Rome, the most recent of them being Hannibal (Mithridates of Pontus never achieving such a set-piece victory). At Carrhae, we saw a wonderfully conceived and executed battle-strategy. He had analysed the Roman military machine and saw their strength as being close-order combat and engineered his army in such a way that the Romans would never engage in this type of fighting. The twin pillars of this scheme, having a totally mobile army composed of nothing but two complementary types of cavalry (cataphract and archer), combined with a near-endless supply of arrows, were masterstrokes and showed the true genius of the Parthian art of war (when handled well). Such a tactic was the ultimate refinement of Parthian warfare and foreshadowed the devastating Mongol armies of over a thousand years later.

Yet, whilst the exploits of Hannibal are well known and he is deservedly lauded as being one of history&rsquos great generals, Surenas (at least in the Western world), has been largely ignored. There are three clear reasons for this. The first one is that the Battle of Carrhae has always been written off as being a Roman loss (due to Crassus&rsquo incompetence), rather than a Parthian victory. 330 The Romans always liked to treat it as such, in order to keep the moral and military high ground. This fits in with the second factor, which is the West&rsquos inheritance of this historical tradition and the ability to see this battle as being a loss for Rome, rather than a victory for the Parthians. At best this is an accidental standpoint that hopefully has been challenged in this work. The third reason is that Surenas, as a figure, is more obscure in the surviving ancient sources we merely have a few lines here and there and none of the narrative that accompanied the other great ancient generals, such as Hannibal. We do not even know his own name, just that of his family. This was all exacerbated by his sudden execution which robbed him of further campaigns against the Romans, which if Carrhae was anything to go by, would have cemented his reputation once and for all.

Again, we can see that like the Licinii Crassi, the Suren clan survived the loss of their leader and continued to prosper, though given the scarcity of the surviving Parthian sources (see appendix three), this is much harder to document. We find a Suren heavily involved in another Parthian civil war during the 30s AD, crowning one of the claimants to the throne. 331 In fact, the Suren continued to be central to the Parthian Empire throughout the next three centuries and we even have inscriptions that record the Suren as one of the leading noble families supporting the new Sassanid Persian dynasty, which displaced Parthian rule in the region, in the 220s AD and beyond. Having outlasted the Arsacids, they clearly remained an important noble family in the region and only lost power when the Muslim invasion of Persia took place, during which it appears the clan became scattered. A funeral inscription of the 9th century AD in China records a member of the Suren clan, so it appears that the clan remained recognisable for many centuries more. 332

Consequences for the Ancient World in the East

Having looked at Rome and Parthia individually, we must finally consider the significance of the Battle of Carrhae and the First Romano-Parthian War in the wider context of the history of the ancient world as a whole. The war was the inevitable conclusion of the process that had seen two new powers rise on the fringes of the Hellenistic world. Both Rome and Parthia took advantage of the instabilities amongst the existing Hellenistic kingdoms and created fresh empires that inexorably ate away at the more established states, from both ends (east and west). This process continued until they inevitably met in the middle, in Syria as it turned out. War between the two was expected to determine which civilisation would be the one to reunify what was considered (in the West) to be the known world (from Italy to India) and succeed both the First Persian Empire and that of Alexander the Great. At the outset of the war it was Rome who was considered to be the stronger and thus the more likely to re-unify the ancient world.

In the end, and as a result of this first war (whose result was ratified by Augustus), the states of the ancient world were permanently divided between East and West, with the Euphrates as the dividing line. The Romans, under the Republic, only fought one more war with Parthia (40&ndash36 BC), the eventual outcome of which resulted in the same dividing line as the one established after Carrhae. Augustus&rsquo peace led to the formalisation of the Euphrates as the natural limit to Rome&rsquos empire something that no Republican general would ever have tolerated. Rome&rsquos relations with Parthia then became subject to the whims of the emperor, much as Parthia&rsquos had done (thus Rome inadvertently appeared to copy a failing system). In the centuries that followed, another five Romano-Parthian wars broke out, many of them centred on the struggle for control of Armenia.

The third war broke out in the reign of Nero and again ended with a dismal stalemate. The fourth war, under the emperor Trajan, broke the mould and resulted in spectacular Roman successes, with Trajan annexing both Armenia and Mesopotamia, and giving Rome access to the Persian Gulf for the first time. However, this lasted only from AD 115 to 117, as on Trajan&rsquos death his successor Hadrian abandoned Mesopotamia to the Parthians and returned to a Euphrates border. 333 The fifth war broke out in AD 161 under the co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, and saw Rome again successfully defeat the Parthians in Mesopotamia, and resulted in the sacking of the cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Once again, however, the Romans withdrew from the majority of Mesopotamia, but they did annex some of the lands on the Euphrates border.

The sixth war broke out in AD 197 and was led by the emperor Septimius Severus, who again successfully overran Mesopotamia, and even burnt Ctesiphon. Ultimately Severus again withdrew from many of the territories which he had conquered, but on this occasion he annexed a large swathe of northern Mesopotamia and turned it into a Roman province. As a consequence, the town and battle site of Carrhae finally became Roman territory, over 140 years after Crassus&rsquo death. A final war broke out under the emperor Caracalla in AD 217, but ended in another stalemate when Caracalla was assassinated and his successor defeated and forced to pay a huge war indemnity.

In AD 224&ndash226 the Arsacid kings were overthrown by a noble revolt led by a man named Ardashir, who founded a new dynasty, the Sassanids. Once in power he attempted to erase the Arsacid and Parthian past by claiming that this new dynasty was a restoration of the old Persian empire, rather than a Scythianoriginated and thoroughly-Hellenised Parthian one. This resulted in a policy of the deliberate destruction of all traces of the Parthian past in an effort to portray this &lsquonew&rsquo empire as a continuation of the first great Persian empire. This partly accounts for how little original Parthian material we have left today (see appendix three).

In terms of external relations, little had changed, as the new Persian empire had exactly the same boundary with Rome and the two empires continued to struggle for dominance in the East. For the next four hundred years the empires of Rome and Persia continue to war with each other, and for the same period the dividing line between East and West barely moved. During this time the Roman Empire itself became divided in two, between east and west (in AD 395), with the Western Empire and the city of Rome falling to a barbarian invasion less than a hundred years later (in AD 476). Yet throughout these momentous events, the Eastern Roman Empire (usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire by historians) continued its long struggle with Persia. 334

We cannot predict how long this war between Rome and Persia would have continued, but by the beginning of the seventh century, when both empires were exhausted from yet another long and brutal war (which lasted from AD 603&ndash630, and during which both capitals of Constantinople and Ctesiphon were attacked), a third force emerged, which was to exploit this centuries long conflict and sweep away the ancient world. Whilst this war devastated the region, a new monotheistic religion had sprung up in Arabia, and used the inattention of the region&rsquos two great powers to gain control of the whole peninsula. Fired up with a religious zeal, this new force swiftly invaded both the Byzantine and Persian empires.

Persia met its first defeat at the hands of the invaders in AD 636 at the Battle of Qadisiyya, and a further defeat at Nihavand in AD 642 ended Persian resistance. By the murder of the last Persian emperor in AD 651, the whole Persian empire was in the hands of this new power. Thus this second Persian empire lasted just under 450 years, which was slightly less than the Parthian empire (c.247 BC to AD 226).

The Byzantine Empire faired little better and by the end of the 640s had lost North Africa, Egypt, Judea and Syria and was left with only Asia Minor in the east. Finally, the eastern ancient world had been united under one empire, but it was neither Roman/Byzantine nor Parthian/Persian it was the empire of this new religion, Islam.

Thus the failure of Crassus at Carrhae sparked off a near seven hundred year period of warfare between the two great empires for control of the East. Incredibly, after seven hundred years the border between the two, which became the border between the Eastern and Western civilisations in the ancient world, barely moved from the Euphrates. In some wars the Romans/Byzantines advanced to the Persian Gulf, in others the Parthians/Persians advanced into Asia Minor. In the end they so exhausted each other that their armies became easy prey for a third power. Furthermore, after the devastation that the two had caused each other&rsquos territories in these endless years of warfare, the peoples of the region were receptive and eager for a new power to rule and one that would unite them in internal peace. Thus was born the empire of Islam and so ended the ancient world.

Bust of Pyrrhus of Epirus.Pyrrhus was the first enemy from the more advanced states of the eastern Mediterranean that the Romans faced. His invasion from the east in 281 BC helped to set the tone for the next two hundred years of Roman foreign policy.

The Forum in Rome, the heart of the city and of the Republic.

Bust of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus more commonly referred to as Pompey the Great, Crassus' sometime ally and greatest rival.

Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar, the junior member of the Triumvirate.

The need to establish a military reputation to match that of his fellow triumvirs was a powerful motive in Crassus' search for glory in the East.

Probable bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus. The richest man in Rome and a gifted orator, Crassus had also showed military ability, most notably at the Battle of the Colline Gate in 82 BC and his defeat of Spartacus' slave rebellion in 71 BC.By 53 BC, however, these feats had long been overshadowed by Pompey and Caesar.

Bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero,the famous orator and man of letters who was reluctantly sent to the East as governor of Ciliciain 51 BC. His letters are a valuable source for the period.

Statue of a Parthian nobleman, possibly Surenas,architect of the victory at Carrhae now in the National Archaeological Museum of Tehran. (© Livius.org)

A coin of Publius Crassus minted on the eve of the campaign. Ironically the reverse shows a Roman cavalryman of the type in all too short supply at Carrhae

A coin of Tigranes II whose kingdom of Armenia was one of the first points of friction between the Roman and Parthian empires. His heir, Artavasdes, proved a disappointing ally to Crassus.

Coin of Mithridates II of Parthia, under whose reign (123-88 BC) the first official contact with Rome was made.

Coin of Orodes II, king of Parthia at the time of Crassus' invasion. Facedwith a war on two fronts, he sent Surenas to delay the Romans, probably with little expectation that he would win such a complete victory.

Coin of Pacorus, son of Orodes II. He was nominal commander of the Parthian counter-invasion following Carrhae but later rebelled against his father, possibly encouraged by Roman gold and machinations.

The ruins of Ctesiphon, the Parthian winter capitalsince the reign of Mithradates II.

The ruins of Carrhae (Harran). The town had been captured and garrisoned by Crassus in 54 BC and he and the remnants of his army sought refuge here during the night following the battle.

Scenes from Trajan's column depicting his much later Parthian war and the capture of Ctesiphon.

A Parthian horse archer armed with a short but powerful composite bow.

A Parthian cataphract. Although relatively few in number, such troops played a crucial role in the battle. Even Crassus' best Gallic cavalry, veterans of Caesar's campaigns in Gaul, proved no match for them in close combat.

A Roman legionary infantryman,the backbone of Roman armies for centuries. Such troops were given little chance to fight back against their mobile opponents.

A Roman auxiliary cavalryman. Crassus had too few of these tocounter the all-mounted Parthian force.

Detail of the Prima Porta statue showing Augustus' breastplate with its embossed depiction of the return of the standards lost at Carrhae, which he achieved by diplomacy.

The statue of Augustus found at Prima Porta, nearRome, in 1863 and now inthe Vatican Museum.

A coin of Augustus, also showing the return of the standards, a major propaganda coup.


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 heavily armored horse and rider, a cataphract. (Creative Commons GFDL)

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.


Disaster at Carrhae (53 BC)

In order to understand the course of the battle and the tactics used by both sides, we need to first analyse the armies and assess their strengths and weaknesses.

The Roman Army at the Battle of Carrhae

The first issue we need to consider is the size of the Roman force, and here the accounts vary. Once again we are faced with the fact that we have no contemporary source for this information. Appian has by far and away the greatest figure when he quotes Crassus&rsquo army as 100,000 strong. 187 Such an army had not been seen since the days of Hannibal and would never have been raised for such a campaign. Again we must turn to Plutarch (and his unknown source) for a more realistic figure. Plutarch informs us that Crassus crossed into Mesopotamia in 53 BC with an army of seven legions of infantry, four thousand horsemen (of which 1,000 were Gallic and the rest native auxiliaries) and an equivalent number of auxiliary troops. 188 If we follow the standard estimates that each of Crassus&rsquo legions was roughly 4,800 men strong, then we have a figure of just under 34,000 legionaries. 189 Add the 4,000 cavalry and 4,000 auxiliary infantry and we have a total of some 42,000 men. 190

There are several problems with taking this figure as an exact one. Prior to the Imperial era, the size of the legion was not an absolute and we know that Crassus had problems recruiting legionaries, so he may not have been able to fill seven whole legions. Added to this is the rough nature of Plutarch&rsquos calculation of the number of auxiliary infantry. Thus we are working with a rough estimate of 38,000 infantry (split between legionaries and auxiliaries a difference which will be explored below) and 3,000&ndash4,000 cavalry (of which only 1,000 were Gallic).

These numbers do not represent a homogeneous body of men. Of this figure, 34,000 were full Roman legionaries. These legionaries were the elite infantry of Crassus&rsquo army, armed with javelins (pila) and short sword (gladius), with shields, helmets and chest armour for protection. In close order combat, the Roman legionary had proved to be superior to any other infantry in the ancient world. As detailed earlier, they had defeated the Macedonian phalanx and the Armenian foot-soldier. However, this did not mean that they were without weaknesses. For the legionaries to be at their most effective, the battle would have to be fought at closequarters, where the short Roman sword would be most effective. Aside from the javelin, the standard Roman legionary had little in the way of distance weaponry. In terms of defence, the helmet, shield and chest armour were again effective defence at close quarters, but this still left much of the body undefended and vulnerable to weapons of range.

Aside from weaponry and armour, we must also examine the nature of their training and ability. On the whole it appears that the bulk of Crassus&rsquo legionaries were raw recruits in 55 BC, along with a smattering of experienced legionaries (most probably distributed in the junior NCO ranks of the legion, such as the centurions). The bulk of the men would not have seen a major battle before. Nevertheless, too much can be made of the supposed inexperience of these men. They had the autumn, winter and spring of 54&ndash53 BC in which to be trained and they had been blooded in battle in 54 BC, when they defeated the Parthian satrap, Silaces. Given Crassus&rsquo previous focus on his men&rsquos training and an unwillingness to give battle unless he had total confidence in their abilities (as seen in the Spartacus campaign), we can safely assume that they were up to the expected Roman standard.

The other section of Crassus&rsquo infantry, however, was composed of native auxiliaries. In the case of auxiliary forces there were no strict rules as to their composition, numbers, or weaponry, as it depended entirely upon where they were raised which in this case we don&rsquot know. It is probable that they were raised from the Roman territories in the east and the Roman allies of the region. This would give them experience of the region and local warfare, but as to their weaponry and armour, we can only speculate. It is likely that they were lightly armoured and possessed a mixture of spears, swords and light bows. We are told at one point that there were at least 500 native archers in the army. 191 Certainly they would not have been able to match the Roman legionaries in either offensive or defensive capabilities. Nevertheless, such a mixture and balance was typical for Roman armies of the period and would have mirrored the armies of Lucullus and Pompey, and thus been more than a match for the armies that they were expecting to encounter in the region.

If there was a weakness in Crassus&rsquo army, then it lay in his cavalry. Roman armies of the period rarely had large numbers of cavalry and Crassus&rsquo army was no exception. It appears that he took no cavalry with him from Italy. Of his 4,000 cavalry, just 1,000 were non-native and these were the Gallic cavalry loaned by Julius Caesar. The Gallic cavalry are described by Plutarch as being lightly equipped with short spears and having little armour. 192 This compared badly to the Parthian heavily-armoured cataphract. Of the remaining 3,000 native cavalry we are not given any detail, but the assumption is that these too were light cavalry rather than heavily-armoured ones, given the criticism of the sources. Of either group&rsquos training or experience we know nothing, though we must again assume that they would have been brought up to scratch by Crassus and his son during the winter months.

This brings us onto another topic that needs examining before we progress, namely the quality of the Roman commanders. We have already looked at Crassus himself, but one aspect that is rarely commented on is the nature and quality of his junior officers. First and foremost were his two deputies, Publius Licinius Crassus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Publius Crassus (Crassus&rsquo youngest son) appears to us in the sources as being everything that his father was not. Cicero, eight years later, describes him to Julius Caesar thus:

Out of all our nobility, the young man for whom I had the highest regard was Publius Crassus and while I had entertained great hopes of him from his earliest years, I began to have quite a brilliant impression of him when the highly favourable opinions you [Caesar] had formed of him became known to me 193

Publius Crassus, son of Marcus, who at an early age sought the circle of my friendship, and I exhorted him with all my power to follow that straight path to renown which his ancestors had trodden and made smooth for him. For he had enjoyed excellent upbringing and had received a thorough and complete training. His mind was good, if not brilliant, his language choice abundant, and in addition he had dignity without arrogance and modesty without sloth. 194

These refrences of Cicero&rsquos regarding Publius Crassus are two out of just five he makes to the Battle of Carrhae in total, throughout all his extant works (the other three being comments on the supposed ill omens that occurred). As well as impressing Cicero, Publius served under Julius Caesar in Gaul, where in 57&ndash56 BC he distinguished himself as a legionary commander in Aquitania. 195 Thus he appears to us from the sources (most of which are hostile to his father) as being a model Roman aristocrat brave in battle, yet modest about it. In our surviving sources, and amongst the Roman aristocracy, especially Caesar and Cicero, it is his loss at Carrhae that is felt more keenly than that of his father. 196

Yet, Publius Crassus appears to be typical of the type of officer that Marcus Crassus took on this campaign. As he had done all through his political life, and as he clearly showed during his Spartacus campaign, Crassus cultivated the best of the young Roman aristocrats this time by giving them positions on the general staff of this supposedly glorious and profitable campaign. As well as Publius, we are given a host of names of aspiring young Roman aristocrats, such as repre-sentatives of the distinguished families of the Marcii Censorini, Octavii, Petronii, Roscii and the Vargunetii.

Added to these names is that of Gaius Cassius Longinus, who served as Crassus&rsquo quaestor (official deputy) during this campaign. Cassius was later to achieve immortality as one of the two leaders of the conspirators that assassinated Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate house in 44 BC (the other being Brutus). This campaign is the first time that we hear of young Cassius, but his role is a significant one. Plutarch&rsquos account of the whole campaign places Cassius at the centre of events, always urging Crassus not to follow what turns out to be the wrong, and often disastrous, course of action. Given the later blackening of Cassius&rsquo name (due to his role in Caesar&rsquo assassination) this is highly curious (see appendix two on the possible sources for this anomaly). Of the three main commanders, Crassus, his son, and Cassius, only the latter survived to tell the tale, which makes any account he gave, including his heroic role, questionable to say the least. Nevertheless he does appear to have been yet another young and talented Roman commander.

Therefore, we can see that Crassus, regardless of later sources&rsquo views on his own abilities as a commander, undeniably had a talented and energetic command staff surrounding him. Regarding his army, though, a closer examination of their composition does reveal a number of potential flaws and weaknesses. Nevertheless, this was still a powerful Roman army and one which, on past form, was widely expected to replicate the results of the armies of Lucullus and Pompey in fighting the armies of the east. In order to understand the reason that they failed so spectacularly we must now turn our attention to the Parthian army of Surenas.

The Parthian Army at the Battle of Carrhae

Not only do we have fewer descriptions of the Parthian army at Carrhae than of the Romans, but the issue is further clouded by some noticeable differences between Parthian armies in general and the one which Surenas fielded at Carrhae, differences that hold a key significance.

Dio (writing in the third century AD) provides us with our best general description of the Parthian military and it is with him that we should start:

But I will describe their equipment of arms and their method of warfare for the examination of these details properly concerns the present narrative, since it has come to a point where this knowledge is needed. The Parthians make no use of a shield, but their forces consist of mounted archers and lancers, mostly in full armour. Their infantry is small, made up of the weaker men but even these are all archers. They practise from boyhood and the climate and the land combine to aid both the horsemanship and archery. 197

Justin, an even later Roman source, gives us the following description of the composition of the Parthian army:

They have an army, not like other nations, of free men, but chiefly consisting of slaves, the numbers of whom daily increase, the power of manumission [the freeing of slaves] being allowed to none, and all their offspring, in consequence, being born slaves. These bondsmen they bring up as carefully as their own children, and teach them, with great pains, the art of riding and shooting with the bow. 198

He then elaborates upon their tactics:

Of engaging with the enemy in close fight, and of taking cities by siege they know nothing. They fight on horseback, either galloping forward or turning their backs. Often too they counterfeit flight that they may throw their pursuers off their guard against being wounded by their arrows. The signal for battle among them is given, not by trumpet, but by drum. 199

And gives this detail of their armour:

Their armour, and that of their horses, is formed of plates, lapping over one another like the feathers of a bird, and covers both man and horse entirely. 200

Lucian, a second century source tells us that the Parthians fought in units of 1,000 known as &lsquodragons&rsquo, due to the symbol they fought under. 201

From these later descriptions it is possible to create an image of a generic Parthian army from this period, which would be composed of three types of fighting man. The elite of the army, most probably the noble or free men, would be the heavily-armed cavalrymen, known as cataphracts. Then there would be the lightly-armed horse archers and the light infantrymen, armed with bows. Both of the latter two categories would be serfs, taken from the estates of the nobility.

Surenas awaited the Roman army at Carrhae with a force composed of just 10,000 men, which would be ten dragons (if we accept Lucian&rsquos&rsquo definition of a basic Parthian unit). Of these there were apparently 1,000 cataphracts, 9,000 horse archers and no infantry. All of these men came from Surenas&rsquo own estates. In addition, Plutarch furnishes us with one crucial detail, namely that there were 1,000 baggage camels laden with spare arrows. 202 It is these last two facts that mark Surenas&rsquo army out from a standard Parthian army of the era, and we need to understand both their cause and their effect.

The lack of infantry has rarely been commented upon and, when it is, it is usually dismissed as being a side effect of Orodes taking the bulk of the army into Armenia. 203 Yet the Parthians had no single standing army as such. Each landowner was responsible for raising troops and supplying them to the king. In Surenas&rsquo case, he raised and fought with his own army, manned from his own family estates in eastern Parthia. It is unlikely that he would have split this army and even if he had, then why would the king take all of his infantry? To my mind the lack of infantry is not a passing detail or a side effect of the army&rsquos division. It is far more logical to see that the army that Surenas put into the field to fight Crassus in 53 BCwas deliberately created without any role for infantry.

Surenas had a year to study the Roman method of warfare and could consult Silaces, the defeated satrap of Mesopotamia, for first hand experience of how they fought. As the Romans had demonstrated time and again, in close order fighting they were virtually invincible. The Armenians, who fought in a similar style to the standard Parthian manner, had met with heavy defeat in 69 BC. Given everything we know about Surenas, it is clear that he would have been well aware that Orodes was intending to sacrifice him to slow down the Romans by letting him face them first, and it is equally clear that he would not meekly wait for his supposedly &lsquoinevitable&rsquo destruction. It is obvious that Surenas did not meet the Romans in battle blindly, but had worked out a strategy that he hoped would bring him victory. To accomplish this he needed to avoid playing to the Roman strengths, whilst utilising those of his own army. In this case, the Roman strength was close-quarter infantry fighting, whilst his army&rsquos were speed and long-range weapons.

Therefore, it appears that Surenas spent the winter months modifying the standard Parthian army and way of fighting into a force capable of defeating a Roman army. One key element of this plan would be the complete lack of infantry, with his whole army being composed of nothing but cavalry. Thus his army would be able to engage the Romans at speed and avoid getting entangled with the legionaries on the ground.

However, whilst the lack of footsoldiers would allow him to avoid getting entangled in a close-quarter battle, this alone would not bring him victory. Disposing of the infantry element of his army was nothing more than removing a negative aspect from his force. Of his remaining force of 10,000 the majority were lightly-armoured horse archers, who on the face of it would never be able to defeat an infantry army on their own, as they traditionally had one key flaw once they had emptied their quiver of arrows then they would be useless at a distance and would have to attack the Romans at close quarters, for which they were not armed or armoured. It is here that Surenas introduced the key element of his battleplan and one which (as far as we can tell) was unique to him. This is of course the addition of the baggage train of 1,000 camels laden with tens of thousands of additional arrows. In addition, this baggage train would be at the front line, or just behind it, allowing the horse archers to re-arm at the battlefront, rather than having to ride to the back of the army, dismount, re-arm and then return. The whole process could be done whilst still mounted, near the battle-line and would therefore take far less time.

There is one further element that was crucial to the success of this plan, namely the quality of the arrows themselves and the bows used to fire them. Here we are operating in the near-complete absence of any evidence for the type of arrow used at Carrhae. All we know is that they were barbed and completely penetrated the Roman shields and armour. Now this cannot be a coincidence, and raises two interesting aspects. The Parthians and Romans had never fought before, yet Surenas had total faith that his arrows would penetrate Roman armour. Furthermore the Romans had fought eastern armies before (the Seleucids, Pontines and Armenians), and never encountered the same problems with arrows that they did at Carrhae. The first issue can be answered with reference to Surenas&rsquo attacks on the Roman garrisons during the winter of 54&ndash53 BC, which would have had more to do with the Parthians testing of their arrows&rsquo abilities on Roman armour, than a serious attempt to retake the towns. We might recall that Plutarch relayed the Roman soldiers&rsquo claims that &lsquostrange missiles are the precursors of their appearance, which pierce through every obstacle&rsquo. 204 The strangeness of these arrows may be more than Plutarch&rsquos dramatic turn of phrase and may well illustrate that the Romans had never encountered that particular type of arrow before. Certainly Surenas went into the battle well aware of the devastating capabilities of his arrows against Roman armour. However, we must not discount the contribution made by the Parthian compound bows either. As seen in the illustration of the horse archer (figure 15), the Parthians used a short compound bow, which must have given the arrows a tremendous velocity. We have little exact evidence for the bows, other than descriptions, and shorter bows were common throughout eastern armies. Nevertheless, it is clear that the combination of this short compound bow and the barbed arrows produced devastating results on this occasion and may well have been aunique combination.

Surenas&rsquo army was fronted by one thousand cataphracts fully clad in heavy armour and armed with long lances, superficially resembling medieval knights and far superior to the Roman cavalry. These shock troops formed an advance guard for the 9,000 horse archers armed with the armour-penetrating arrows and supported by a thousand baggage camels, allowing for near instantaneous rearming on the move. Therefore, we can see that it was an army designed for fighting a battle at speed and at distance, which was just the type of fighting that did not suit the Romans.

Furthermore, Surenas&rsquo tactics played to the strengths of his men in terms of upbringing. The horse archers were all serfs from his estate and would have all been trained in horseback archery from childhood. They would have been used to following and obeying their feudal lord from birth and would have had the winter to practise the new tactics that they had been given. In short, they were the perfect body of men to learn these new tactics and carry out their master&rsquos modified version of Parthian warfare.

Thus the army that the Romans faced at Carrhae was not there as a consequence of chance, but had been designed with fighting them specifically in mind. It was not designed to fight a long campaign, but to defeat this particular Roman army in a battle. This army reflected the genius of its commander and showed the Parthian system of private armies and devolved commanders at its best. It is clear that Orodes would not have thought out or executed these tactics. The uniqueness of this force and its difference to the standard Parthian method of fighting gave Surenas another major edge in that Crassus was not expecting it. Surenas had taken the opportunity to study the Roman army and how it fought and had been given the time to modify his own force accordingly. As far as Crassus was concerned, the army that he would soon be facing would fight in exactly the same way as had the one the year before, and as the Armenians had a decade before (who after all had comprehensively defeated the Parthians themselves, a generation earlier). What he did not know is that Surenas had created a new and unique method of warfare, designed specifically to win the upcoming battle.

It is highly unlikely that Crassus would have been able to discover Surenas&rsquo new tactics before it was too late. Even his scouts would not have been able to see much difference in Surenas&rsquo army at a glance. They could report seeing little in the way of infantry, but not know that there were in fact none at all. They could report a baggage train, but then such things were common in armies they would not have been able to tell that it contained nothing but arrows. To all intents and purposes it would have looked like the army that Crassus was expecting to face. The only warning sign he had were the soldiers&rsquo stories of strange arrows raining down on them during the winter clashes, but whether he would have given them any greater significance is doubtful. When battle was joined, he would have been unaware of how truly unique a Parthian force he faced. Thus Surenas went into the battle knowing his enemies tactics, but not vice versa.

The Dio Variation of the Battle

Of the battle itself, we have two detailed descriptions from Plutarch and Dio neither is contemporaneous and they differ in some important ways. Of the two, the more detailed and knowledgeable is Plutarch&rsquos (see appendix two for the possible reasons why). In order to gain the full picture of events though, we must look at both accounts and the best place to start is with the shorter variant of Dio.

Dio&rsquos version has Crassus&rsquo army being led directly into the path of Surenas&rsquo by the Arab traitor Abgarus (though Plutarch states that he had left Crassus&rsquo army by this point 205 ). In effect it is a classic ambush, with the Parthian army being concealed, awaiting the arrival of the Romans (though this account ignores any presence of Roman scouts). Dio states that this was accomplished by the Parthians hiding in dips and woods, despite the fact that there was no woodland in this area.

Nonetheless, when the Romans were led into this trap, the Parthian army revealed themselves, at which point Publius Crassus suddenly broke ranks and led his cavalry at the Parthian ranks, which then appeared to break, with Publius giving chase. This however was a feint (which was an old tactic even in this century) and when they had led Publius away from the main army, the Parthians turned, surrounded and annihilated him.

This concluded Dio&rsquos first phase of the battle. The second phase commenced with what is described as an almost suicidal charge by the Roman infantry who did so, according to Dio, &lsquoto avenge his [Publius Crassus&rsquo] death&rsquo. 206 The Roman infantry were then devastated by the Parthian cataphracts, whose heavy lances broke the Roman ranks. Again Dio takes a scathing line on the Roman troops when he states that &lsquomany died from fright at the very charge of the lancers&rsquo. 207 With their lines broken, the Roman soldiers were then slaughtered by the Parthian archers.

The final defeat came in the third phase, which began with the final treachery of Abgarus, who not only led the Romans into this ambush, but at the appropriate point apparently turned his allied forces (which are presumed, but not mentioned prior to this point) against the Roman lines, attacking them from the rear. The Romans, apparently unable to face two enemies at once, then turned their line around and exposed themselves to a Parthian attack from the rear.

for Abgarus did not immediately make his attempt upon them. But when he too attacked, thereupon the Osroeni themselves assailed the Romans on their exposed rear, since they were facing the other way, and also rendered them easier for the others to slaughter. 208

Dio then concludes this brisk battle description with a wonderfully dramatic picture of the Roman plight:

And the Romans would have perished utterly, but for the fact that some of the lances of the barbarians were bent and others were broken, while the bowstrings snapped under the constant shooting, the missiles were exhausted, the swords all blunted and most of all, that the men themselves grew weary of the slaughter. 209

Dio would therefore ask us to believe that the Parthians ran out of weapons and ammunition (in his account there is no mention of Surenas&rsquo ammunition train) and then decided to take it easy and have mercy on the Romans, who they had grown tired of killing. It is not this aspect of his account that we find hard to believe. Dio&rsquos account is a catalogue of staggering incompetence and failures on the Roman part.

Firstly, Marcus Crassus walks the Roman army into an ambush, led along by Abgarus. Then Publius Crassus breaks with all known Roman discipline, not to mention common sense, and races off to attack the Parthians on his own and is slaughtered. Third, we have the Roman infantry rushing headlong into attacking the Parthian army, seemingly for no better reason than revenge. Fourth, we have the Romans being taken completely unawares by the treacherous attack of Abgarus&rsquo allied soldiers. Fifth, the Romans were seemingly unable to fight on two fronts and managed to get themselves twisted and turned around until they did not know which way they were facing. Marcus Crassus&rsquo role in this sequence of errors is unclear, for we hear nothing more of him once he has led his men into the trap.

Aside from the catalogue of Roman failings, Dio&rsquo account is short, devoid of any clear detail, and introduces a number of new elements which we do not find in any earlier source. They range from the significant (the treachery of the Arab allied contingent), to the bizarre (Surenas hiding his army in the woods &ndash on a dusty north Mesopotamian plain). 210 From start to finish, this battle narrative was designed to show the incompetence of the Roman army and especially it&rsquos leadership, in the form of the Crassi. Actually, the Parthians do not come out of this narrative particularly well either. It seems that they won through a mixture of underhand tactics, treachery, ambushes and feints, combined with Roman ineptitude. Given the poor state of the Parthian Empire in his own day (third century AD), this is not perhaps surprising, but as an historical record it leaves much to be desired.

If we are to find out how the Roman Republic met such a catastrophic defeat in the east, then we need to turn to Plutarch, who presents us with a more detailed and logical sequence of events, which appear to have been based on a source with first-hand experience of the battle itself.

The Initial Clash

Throughout his account, Plutarch presents us with a far more realistic depiction of the Battle of Carrhae, and it is this one that we must accept as being the closest to the true sequence of events, as far as can be determined.

Rather than walking into a trap, Plutarch tells us that Crassus had sent his scouts out looking for Surenas&rsquo army. By mid-afternoon, just beyond the river Belikh, they found what they were looking for. Given that Surenas&rsquo battleplan was based on a significant element of misinformation, not in terms of location, but in terms of his army&rsquos unusual formation and potential method of attack, it is no surprise that his own advance guard inflicted heavy casualties on the Roman scouts. 211 The fact that some survived to report their presence is also not a surprise as Surenas&rsquo plan involved the Romans advancing onto his chosen ground.

Here we can see both the brilliance of Surenas as a tactician, and where Dio gets at least one of his oddest pieces of information from. Plutarch reports that Surenas had concealed the bulk of his army behind an advance guard. Therefore, an approaching force would only see the front of the army, in its width, rather than its depth. Thus Surenas concealed the bulk of his army from Crassus until battle was engaged, but not in the bizarre method that Dio states. Plutarch tells us that

the enemy came in sight, who, to the surprise of the Romans, appeared to be neither numerous nor formidable. 212

Furthermore, Surenas had ordered his heavily-armoured cataphracts to wear concealing robes and skins over their armour, in order to disguise their true nature. To an observer they would appear to be ordinary cavalrymen, rather than cataphracts. Surenas&rsquo plan was obviously to lure Crassus into battle before he knew the number and type of force he was truly facing. It is at this point that Crassus made a decision that with hindsight may have proved to be a mistake. Plutarch reports that when the Parthians were located nearby, the Roman officers wanted to camp and give battle at day break. It is possible that this break would have allowed the Romans time to scout out the Parthians more thoroughly and therefore discover that the army which they were about to face was not a typical Parthian one. Crassus, however, wanted to push on immediately and Plutarch states that he was urged on by his son Publius, who was eager for battle. 213 It is obviously this statement that led Dio into making his claim that Publius Crassus broke away from the army at the beginning of the battle and launched himself at the Parthians.

Even if Crassus had camped for the night and attempted to scout the Parthian army, there is nothing to indicate that they would have been any more successful than their predecessors, who had been dispatched with heavy casualties (a process made easier by the massed Parthian archers). All that a further scouting mission would have been able to tell Crassus is a rough estimate of the numbers, which would give the Romans a clear four to one advantage, and that the majority of them were mounted. They would not have been able to tell him how many were cataphracts (he would have been expecting a number of them anyway), nor that the baggage train of camels actually contained a large number of spare arrows, nor that there were no infantry. When Crassus advanced upon the waiting Parthians, he did so in full confidence that his army would easily outmatch the supposedly-inferior Parthian army (both in numbers and type). He had no reason to believe that he was in fact playing right into the hands of Surenas, who had chosen his ground &ndash mostly flat with little cover, ideal for a fully mobile attack &ndash and had concealed his true tactics.

Plutarch also gives us the Roman formation as they advanced upon the Parthians. At first Crassus adopted a linear formation with his army strung out across the plain in a long line and his cavalry divided between the two wings. Crassus commanded this formation from the centre, with the two wings commanded by Cassius and Publius Crassus. Plutarch tells us that he did this in order to avoid being surrounded by the enemy and that it was Cassius&rsquo idea the implication here being that if Crassus had stuck to this formation then the Parthians would not have been able to ride around the army and attack them from many sides. 214 Quite why he was expecting them to do this at such an early stage we are not told.

However, Plutarch then tells us that Crassus altered this formation and advanced upon the Parthians in a square formation:

Then he changed his mind and concentrated his men, forming them in a hollow square of four fronts, with twelve cohorts on each side. 215 With each cohort he placed a squadron of horse, that no part of the line might lack cavalry support, but that the whole body might advance to the attack with equal protection everywhere. 216

Plutarch does not give us the reasons why Crassus changed his tactics. In fact the whole passage is an odd one. Plutarch (or his sources) is attempting to alert us to the fact that he believed that Cassius&rsquo formation was the best one and that by changing it Crassus made a mistake. We are told that Cassius&rsquo formation would have prevented the Parthians from surrounding the army, but given that the Romans only had 4,000 cavalry, compared to the Parthians&rsquo 10,000, this is an ambitious statement to say the least. Furthermore, Plutarch or his source are using hindsight here as prior to the battle no-one knew that the Parthians were going to surround the Roman army, as the Romans did not know the size of Surenas&rsquo cavalry force or his tactics.

In fact there is nothing at all wrong with Crassus&rsquo chosen formation, which as Plutarch states gave the Romans strength on all sides and would prevent an enemy from exploiting a weak area. 217 As for why Crassus chose to ignore the advice of his vastly less-experienced junior officer (Cassius), we will probably never know, but it does perhaps show a greater degree of caution, for which he was known. The battle commenced with a thunderous wall of noise from the Parthians. Plutarch describes the scene well:

the signal was raised by their commander, first of all they filled the plain with the sound of a deep and terrifying roar. For the Parthians do not incite themselves to battle with horns or trumpets, but they have hollow drums of distended hide, covered with bronze bells, and on these they beat all at once in many quarters, and the instruments give forth a low and dismal tone, a blend of wild beast&rsquos roar and harsh thunder peal. They had rightly judged that, of all the senses, hearing is the one most as to confound the soul, soonest rouses its emotions, and most effectively unseats the judgement. 218

Utilising this battle cry to full effect, Surenas opted to begin the battle with a full-scale cavalry charge at the Roman army, with the cataphracts at the front, followed by his archers. Leading the charge himself, he then had his cataphracts remove the coverings which had been hiding their armour as they were galloping. This would have added to the dramatic effect of the charge, as their highly-polished bronze and steel armour would have caught the sun. The Romans would suddenly have realised that they were facing a full charge by heavilyarmoured cavalry. Surenas was clearly using every psychological trick he could to unnerve the enemy.

However, if he was hoping for the Roman line to break, either in panic or under the force of his heavy cavalry, then he was to be disappointed. For unlike in Dio&rsquos account of the battle, the Roman line held strong. As they had been trained to do, the Romans soldiers locked their shields together and maintained their discipline and composure. We can see that in this respect Crassus had trained his army well. To maintain your discipline in the face of a cavalry charge was one thing, but given the added drama that Surenas had brought to this charge, it is a testament to the Roman discipline that they stood their ground.

This was incidental to Surenas&rsquo plan if the Roman line had broken then all the better, but it is doubtful that he ever believed it would do so. Rather than charge into the Roman line, Surenas actually diverted his cavalry around the Roman square, on both sides, until they had the Romans surrounded, taking the Romans by surprise. Crassus, however, soon recovered from this unusual tactic and, aware that he was being surrounded, ordered his auxiliary troops to charge at the Parthians and break their flanking manoeuvre. But they were met with a hail of arrows that forced them back into the square, taking heavy casualties in the process.

We can see that Surenas&rsquo battleplan had worked beautifully thus far. Rather than attack the Romans head on and get involved in a static mêlée, which would have favoured his enemy, he encircled them at speed and deployed the bulk of his force, his 9,000 horse archers, to devastating effect. Now the Parthian archers began to unleash a barrage of arrows at the Romans from all sides. Given the penetrative capabilities of the arrows the Parthians were using, the Roman army was soon being slaughtered. Plutarch again captures the scene well,

But the Parthians now stood at long intervals from one another and began to shoot their arrows from all sides at once, not with any accurate aim, for the dense formation of the Romans would not suffer an archer to miss his man even if he wished it, but making vigorous and powerful shots from bows which were large and mighty and curved so as to discharge their missiles with great force. At once the plight of the Romans was a grievous one for if they kept their ranks, they were wounded in great numbers, and if they tried to come to close quarters with the enemy they suffered just as much. For the Parthians shot as they fled and it is a very clever thing to seek safety while still fighting and to take away the shame of flight. 219

Thus the Roman army, despite its numerical superiority, was trapped, huddled in a square and coming under a constant barrage of arrows. If the Romans moved to engage the archers, they would turn and retreat whilst still firing. The Roman soldiers could not get near enough to the archers to engage them in close combat. This tactic became known as the &lsquoParthian shot&rsquo, the ability to still attack your opponents whilst retreating. Once Crassus had recovered from the initial shock of the Parthian tactics, however, he still had several reasons to be hopeful. Although his army was taking casualties, he must have sensed that if this was the best the Parthians could do, then he could still carry the day. The Parthian army seemed to be composed of nothing but horse archers, supported by a relatively low number of cataphracts. The Romans had already shown that they could withstand a full cavalry charge, the Parthians had no infantry, and once the archers ran out of arrows then the Romans could advance and force their retreat.

In this regard Crassus would normally have been quite correct. Under the usual terms of battle, the horse archers would soon have emptied their quivers and the Parthian cavalry would then have had to attack the Romans legions at close quarters (or withdraw). However, it is at this point that the true masterstroke of Surenas&rsquo plan was brought into play &ndash namely mobile re-arming. Having surrounded the Romans, Surenas deployed his camel train to replenish the archers. Thus the Parthian archers would only need a short break to ride up to one of the camels, take a fresh quiver of arrows, return to their positions and continue shooting. So long as the archers did this at slightly different times, and as long as the camels were well spaced amongst the surrounding archers, then the barrage would continue indefinitely.

It appears that Crassus soon became aware of this development. Perhaps he observed it actually happening, or he simply deduced that the rain of arrows was not weakening. Once he was aware of it though, he realised that his only hope now lay in breaking the encirclement. To that end, he sent a message to his son, out on one of the wings (we do not know which), ordering him to lead a breakout and engage the enemy at close quarters with his cavalry. If the Roman cavalry could drive off the Parthians, even in one area, then it would give the main army time to regroup. This breakout and the engagement that followed would deter-mine the outcome of the whole battle.

The Breakout and the &lsquoBattle within a Battle&rsquo

Publius Crassus gathered together as many troops as he could muster on his wing. Plutarch tells us that he had 1,300 cavalry (including his own 1,000 Gauls), 500 auxiliary archers and eight cohorts of legionaries (just under 4,000 men). 220 Publius then led this force and charged the Parthian cavalry ahead of him. Plutarch also records that with him leading the charge were two young aristocratic friends of his, Censorinus and Megabacchus. 221 At first it appeared that the plan had worked successfully as the Parthians appeared to break, turn and retreat. Not wanting to lose the initiative and sensing victory, Publius chased after the enemy, with both cavalry and infantry, hoping to finish the Parthians off.

Whether the Parthians on Publius&rsquo wing did genuinely break or not, we will never know. Plutarch certainly raises it as a possibility. 222 Publius&rsquo charge would certainly have taken them by surprise and it was conducted with a large number of Roman and allied cavalry, backed up by archers and legionaries. Such a force was a formidable combination of speed, firepower and close-order infantry. However, the retreating Parthians wheeled their horses away from the main Roman army and towards their cataphracts. At that point the retreating Parthians turned, were joined by the cataphracts and attacked the oncoming Romans.

Whilst it appeared that the Romans still had the numerical advantage, and had a good mix of cavalry and foot, once again the Parthians adhered to the battle-plan of their master and placed the cataphracts between the Romans and their archers. This would have allowed the archers to continue to fire at the Romans as the two cavalry forces engaged each other, in the first, and only, close-order clash of the battle.

Although the Romans had the numerical advantage in this encounter, the Parthians had by far and away the advantage in terms of weaponry. The Roman cavalry were lightly armoured and only had short spears, whilst the Parthian cataphracts were heavily armoured and carried long lances. They were supported by mounted archers, whilst the Roman archers were on foot and would not have been able to keep up with the mounted clash. The same goes for the 4,000 Roman legionaries present. Nevertheless it is said that Publius Crassus led the charge into the Parthian cataphracts with great bravery and determination, backed up by his Gallic cavalry.

Plutarch gives a testimony to the bravery of the Gallic cavalry:

with these [the Gauls] he did indeed work wonders. For they laid hold of the long spears of the Parthians, and grappling with the men, pushed them from their horses, hard as it was to move them owing to the weight of their armour and many of the Gauls forsook their own horses, and crawling under those of the enemy, stabbed them up in the belly. These would rear up in their anguish, and die trampling on riders and enemy indiscriminately mingled. 223

Thus Plutarch paints a harrowing picture of the chaos that was a battle within a battle. Strategy went out of the window, replaced by a mêlée where it came down to hand-to-hand fighting between Gauls and Parthians. When the dust had literally settled, despite their bravery and savagery, it was clear that the Gallic cavalry had been well beaten. Those that remained were all wounded, including Publius Crassus himself, and they retreated to the relative protection of the Roman legionaries that had accompanied them. This force then moved to a nearby hillock to make a determined last stand, with the horses in the centre and a ring of legionaries, with locked shields, on the outside to protect the wounded. This, of course, did not save them from a fresh barrage of arrows from the Parthian horse archers.

Plutarch reports that despite being advised to either flee or surrender, Publius Crassus was determined not to desert his command. 224 Seeing that they were surrounded on that hillock and that defeat was inevitable, and unwilling to be taken alive, he resolved to choose a more dignified exit. Being unable to pick up a sword due to an arrow wound to the hand, he ordered a soldier to strike a sword into his side, killing him instantaneously. Plutarch also tells us that Censorinus did likewise, whilst Megabacchus still had the strength to take his own life, as did the other surviving officers. 225 The rest of the men fought on until the Parthian cataphracts charged the hillock, butchering them with their long lances. Of a force of around 5,500, less than 500 were taken alive 226 . The Romans had lost over a quarter of their cavalry (including all of their best Gallic cavalry), and a good number of their archers, along with a number of the key junior officers. It was a defeat that sounded the end for Roman hopes at Carrhae. With this force defeated, the Parthians chopped off Publius&rsquo head, stuck it on top of a lance, and returned to the main battle. Before we return to the battle though, we need to dwell on this most important encounter within the Battle of Carrhae, as ultimately it decided the fate of the battle.

This episode has often been explained as being nothing more than Publius Crassus falling for one of the oldest traps in existence: a faked retreat to draw him away from the main body of the army, leading him into heavier Parthian forces, which then turned on him and cut him down. Yet this view overlooks a number of key elements. Firstly, the Romans had to attempt a breakout or they would have faced total annihilation. Secondly, the Parthian cavalry surrounding the Roman army was mostly horse archers they had only 1,000 cataphracts to protect 9,000 horse archers from 40,000 Romans. Publius took with him all of Rome&rsquos best cavalry (the Gauls) as well as a number of archers and legionaries in support.

The question of whether it was an intended trap depends on what orders Surenas had given. He must have expected the Romans to attempt to break out of his encirclement and we must ask ourselves what strategy he had prepared for this eventuality. Given the appearance of a large force of cataphracts, it is more than likely that Surenas had held them in reserve, following the initial charge and encirclement, so that they could be deployed against any breakout. With careful observation the cataphracts could be sent to wherever the Romans broke out of. All the horse archers had to then do was retreat, whilst still firing, and lead the Roman force towards where they knew the reserve force of cataphracts would be. The trap would then close in on them.

Again, this shows the brilliance of Surenas. Not only did he have an initial strategy, but he had a counter strategy to deal with any Roman breakout. It also demonstrates the severe threat that the Parthians still faced from the Romans, despite the successful encirclement and the barrage of arrows. Had the Roman cavalry successfully broken out of Surenas&rsquo trap, then they could have put the horse archers to flight and allowed the army to extricate themselves. It is unlikely that it would have brought them victory, but it would have given them time to retreat and regroup.

The aim of Surenas&rsquo plan must have been a clear and total victory on the day. Anything less than the destruction of the Roman army would have allowed them to withdraw and fight another day, and Surenas was only ever going to fool them with his modified way of fighting once. For Surenas it was all or nothing winning the day would not be enough, he had to win the war in one battle. Without total victory at Carrhae, the Romans would return, stronger than before.

Even though the breakout had been planned for, the fighting itself was still going to be close. The Romans broke out with 1,300 cavalry and over 4,000 foot. Given that Surenas only had 1,000 cataphracts in total (and we do not know how many were deployed against Publius) the result was never going to be a foregone conclusion. As it was, the superior Parthian cataphracts carried the day, which meant that the key encounter of the battle was lost due to the poorer quality of the Roman cavalry. For all the tactical planning and innovations, in the end it came down to that one factor. The Romans were not lacking in courage, on the part of Publius or his Gauls they simply were outmatched in terms of weaponry.

The Final Stage

Initially at least, the breakout that Crassus ordered appeared to have worked. A large part of the Parthian army encircling the main Roman force was drawn away, either fleeing from Publius or riding hard to catch up with him. Crassus used this let-up wisely and staged a withdrawal, whilst still under intermittent arrow fire. The Roman army, laden with casualties, regrouped on nearby sloping ground, which would at least give them some protection from the Parthian cavalry. Here Crassus was faced with a difficult decision, exacerbated by a lack of information, as he needed to know how his son was doing. If Publius had routed the Parthians opposed to him, then he could have possibly advanced and cleared the rest of the Parthian cavalry away, or at least retreated back to the safety of one of the garrisoned towns and regrouped. However, he was not able to come to any decision until he had this information, to which ends he sent messengers out, to try to reach Publius&rsquo position.

Plutarch records that the first one was intercepted and killed, but that the second messenger not only reached Publius&rsquo position, but was able to assess thesituation and mange to return to the main army. When he did so, he informed Crassus that his son was surrounded and being cut to pieces. 227 To say that this left Crassus with a dilemma would be an understatement. On a military basis, he knew that the breakout would fail unless he took the main army to link up with Publius. However, this meant gambling with his army and putting them back into the mess that they had only just managed to extricate themselves from. Even if they got there in time, there was no reason to assume that they would be victorious, as the rest of the Parthian army would also converge there.

On the other hand, if he turned and retreated he was not only condemning his son to death &ndash a death that would have been his responsibility &ndash but as the majority of the Roman army was on foot and the Parthians were mounted, there was no reason to believe that they would reach safety in time. Given the number of casualties that they had already sustained, their progress would not have been swift. Furthermore, if the main body of the Parthians did catch them up, they would be strung out in columns and with their backs to them. For whatever reason, military or personal (or both), Crassus resolved that the only move open to them was to advance and meet up with Publius&rsquo beleaguered force.

But, before they had advanced far, they were met with the sight and sound that told them that the encounter between Publius and the Parthians was over. Coming towards them was a cloud of dust accompanied by the beating of war drums. When the Parthians did come into view, they were preceded by the severed head of Publius Crassus. Plutarch tells us that Roman morale sank. 228 Not only had a large number of their colleagues been slaughtered, depriving them of most of their cavalry support, but they knew that the battle was about to be rejoined. Despite his grief, it was at this point that Crassus showed his qualities as a general and tried to rouse his men with an impassioned speech:

Mine, O Romans, is the sorrow, and mine alone but the great fortune and glory of Rome abide unbroken and unconquered in you who are alive and safe. And now if you have any pity for me, thus bereft of the noblest of sons, show it by your wrath against the enemy. Rob them of their joy avenge their cruelty be not cast down at what has happened, for it must needs be that those whose aim at great deeds should also suffer greatly. It was not without bloody losses that even Lucullus overthrew Tigranes, or Scipio overthrew Antiochus and our fathers of old lost a thousand ships off Sicily and in Italy many imperators and generals, not one of whom, by his defeat, prevented them from afterwards mastering his conquerors. For it was not by good fortune merely that the Roman state reached its present position of power, but by patient endurance and the valour of those who faced dangers on its behalf. 229

Now, whilst we have to admit that it is highly unlikely that anyone had the time or the materials to note the speech down word for word, there were enough survivors to have noted the general contents of the speech. Furthermore, as it is reported by Plutarch, who takes a fairly hostile line on Crassus over Carrhae, we can have some confidence that the speech is a fairly accurate representation of what Crassus said.

Nevertheless it was going to take something greater than a stirring speech to save the Romans from the impending slaughter. True to his plan, Surenas (and we are not told whether he was directly involved in the defeat of Publius) employed his tried and tested tactics. The cataphracts again charged the Roman army, forcing them to form closely together, and then the horse archers were brought back into the fray. The Roman army was subject to a constant barrage of arrows and lances, slowly whittling down their numbers.

Only one thing saved the Roman army from total annihilation that day at Carrhae, and that was the arrival of dusk, whereupon the Parthians withdrew for the night. Even though they had the Romans surrounded, the Parthians were unwilling to risk fighting at night. Aside from the traditional reluctance they had of fighting after dark, the conditions made continuing highly risky. They were in the middle of a plain with little natural light and the danger of getting too close to the Romans, or even of friendly fire, was too great.

Thus despite the slaughter and the total defeat they had suffered, the Romans still had a glimmer of hope. The Parthians withdrew and camped nearby, and made no attempt to block their escape. This may seem odd to us today, especially given that the Romans still numbered some 20,000 men (including their wounded) and Crassus himself was still alive and unwounded (in the physical sense anyway). Surenas knew that he had won a spectacular victory, the likes of which no one but he had thought possible, yet he still faced problems. Although the Romans had been comprehensively defeated, a large number of them yet remained, who, if they made for the safety of Roman-held territory, would have been able to recover and regroup. Furthermore, Crassus, the architect and driving force of the Roman invasion, was likely to be more determined than ever to avenge the death of his son. As long as Crassus remained free, the danger to Parthia was not over. Plutarch hints that the Parthians sent an embassy to the Roman army when night fell, to discuss terms of surrender. All he actually says is that:

they would grant Crassus one night in which to bewail his son, unless, with a better regard for his own interests, he should consent to go to Arsaces (Orodes II) instead of being carried there. 230

Taking Crassus alive would have been a major prize for Surenas. Yet, due to the Parthian inability or unwillingness to fight at night, the prize could still have eluded Surenas and if Crassus escaped then it would tarnish the remarkable achievements of that day. Ironically, Crassus&rsquo decision to fight immediately in the afternoon, rather than next morning, actually saved the Roman army from utter annihilation, though the Romans had clearly suffered a devastating defeat. Half of their army was dead, and they had been comprehensively outfought. Yet all was not lost. As Crassus himself had pointed out in his rousing speech, Rome had been defeated many times in battle and yet had always emerged victorious in the end. Half the army lay dead on the field of Carrhae, but half yet remained. If they could get safely back to the series of Roman-controlled Mesopotamian towns and then ultimately back into Syria itself, they could re-group for the winter.

It was still possible for Crassus to turn the clock back a year. Rome still held the bridgehead of garrisoned towns in northwestern Mesopotamia. If Crassus wintered in Syria, he could allow his injured soldiers time to heal, raise fresh troops (he was still one of the three men who dominated the Roman Republic after all) and rebuild his army. Certainly his reputation would have taken a battering, but his powerbase was secure. His command extended until 50 BC so there was plenty of time for a fresh campaign in 52 BC. Furthermore, Surenas could only play his masterstroke once. Crassus was not going to fall for that trick twice and could send to Rome for fresh forces, especially additional cavalry. He could plan a new route of invasion, perhaps taking the cities of Babylon, Seleucia and Ctesiphon, which would rebuild shattered Roman morale and then tackle Surenas in his own time and fashion. Thus, as night fell on the battlefield of Carrhae, the Romans had lost the battle, but not the war the whole campaign was still in the balance, dependant upon the Romans making it to safety.

Before we commence an analysis of the Roman retreat we must pause and comment on the one major discrepancy between the accounts of Plutarch and Dio, that is the treacherous attack of the Osroene leader, Abgarus. Plutarch, writing a century earlier than Dio and seemingly using a first hand account of the campaign, had no such attack take place. Crassus was accompanied for a time in Mesopotamia by an Arab chieftain, whom he names as Ariamnes. 231 Even allowing for confusion over names, there is the fundamental point that Plutarch records the Arab chieftain left Crassus&rsquo army before the Battle of Carrhae. 232 Furthermore, in what is a very detailed account of the battle itself, at no point does Plutarch mention that a native allied contingent betrayed the Romans and attacked them, which we must expect to find if it actually happened. Given its absence from this, our best source for the battle, we must assume that this treacherous attack did not occur. Where Dio got this from we will never know, but, as far as is possible to do so when dealing with ancient sources, we must clearly note that this treacherous attack by Abgarus in the Roman rear did not take place and was a later fiction copied by Dio into his account.

The Retreat to Carrhae

Again, Plutarch and Dio disagree on the finer details of the retreat. Nevertheless, the first stage of the Roman retreat was to get safely back to the town of Carrhae itself and the security of its walls and Roman garrison. Plutarch tells us that the Romans looked to Crassus for leadership, but that he was lying on the ground in despair, which meant that the escape had to be organised by the two most senior surviving Roman officers: Cassius and Octavius. 233 Dio omits this and states that Crassus led the survivors on the retreat. 234

It is clear that the journey itself was a perilous one. In the dead of a cold Mesopotamian night, 15,000&ndash20,000 men, a good many of them injured, had to walk the route back to Carrhae. In fact it was no mean feat that they were still able to navigate their way back to the town in darkness and following the hardship of the day&rsquos battle. A hard decision had to be taken that night, in regard to what was to be done with those men who were too seriously wounded to walk. Given that time was of the essence and that they had to be at the walls of Carrhae before dawn, the brutal decision was made to leave the seriously wounded behind. Plutarch provides us with a dramatic description of their journey

Then the sick and wounded perceived that their comrades were abandoning them, and dreadful disorder and confusion, accompanied by groans and shouts filled the camp. And after this, as they tried to advance, disorder and panic seized upon them, for they felt sure that the enemy was coming against them. Frequently they would change their course, frequently they would form in order of battle, some of the wounded who followed them had to be taken up, and others laid down, and so all were delayed 235

Not only were a number of men left behind, numbering some 4,000 it is estimated, but a number would have died on route to Carrhae, from untreated wounds and fatigue. 236 For many it was a march of death. The first Romans to reach the town of Carrhae were the remnants of the Roman auxiliary cavalry, about 300 in number. They were led by a Roman nobleman by the name of Egnatius. However, when they reached the town an event occurred that was to set the tone for the whole Roman retreat. Upon reaching the walls of Carrhae, Egnatius gained the attention of the Roman guards on the walls, shouting to them to tell their commander (a Roman officer by the name of Coponius) that a great battle had taken place between Crassus and the Parthians. At that point he and his men promptly rode off and headed towards Zeugma and the crossing back into Roman Syria, without even identifying who he was.

This was an ominous sign: a Roman officer deserting his commander and the whole campaign and riding as fast as possible for the safety of a Roman province. Plutarch tells us that Egnatius was forever tainted by this act of cowardice and we can find no further trace of him in subsequent Roman political or military life. 237 Nevertheless, despite its brevity, the message actually had the desired effect and Coponius, realising that something catastrophic had occurred, immediately led an expedition out from Carrhae, located the column of Roman survivors and escorted them back into the town.

For Crassus at least, the first stage of the retreat had been accomplished and the bulk of the Roman survivors had reached safety. Exactly how many men reached the relative safety of Carrhae is difficult to estimate, as we are not given a clear figure by Plutarch. However, it does seem, judging from some of the later figures that Plutarch gives us, that between 15,000&ndash20,000 men reached the town. Actually, this raises one of the most surprising and neglected aspects of the whole Carrhae campaign, namely how many Romans were killed during the battle and how many were killed during the aftermath. As we shall see the balance between the two is actually quite surprising.

When dawn broke, the Parthians advanced upon the site of the Roman army&rsquos last stand, and as they expected found that the bulk of the army had fled. What they also found were the 4,000 seriously wounded Roman soldiers, who had been left behind. Surenas, unwilling to show any more mercy to them than their comrades had, promptly had these men slaughtered. He then set upon the task of locating the bulk of the Roman army. During this day his cavalry came across a number of Roman stragglers, who had either been separated from, or fallen behind, the main group (an easy thing to do given the state of the retreat at night). In all but one case they too were easily dispatched.

There was, however, one notable exception, which Plutarch chooses to highlight and so should we. One of Crassus&rsquo legates was an officer by the name of Vargunteius, who hailed from a minor senatorial family. During the retreat he was in command of four cohorts, less than 2,000 men (especially given the losses of the previous day), but became separated from the main group. When day broke and the Parthian cavalry located them, they decided to make a last stand on a small hillock. Given the overwhelming odds there was only ever going to be one outcome, yet they fought and died hard to such an extent that the Parthians noted them for their bravery, not something that had been in great supply from the Romans during the retreat. As they were down to the last twenty men (not including Vargunteius, who had already fallen) they charged the Parthians in a last defiant gesture. So impressed were the Parthians with their defiant stand that they parted and allowed them to continue to Carrhae unmolested. 238 Such tales of heroism in this retreat were few and far between.

As stated earlier, we therefore have recorded incidents of over 6,000 Roman soldiers surviving the battle, but dying the next day. Given that these are only two such incidents (many more not being recorded due to the absence of any surviving witnesses) we can begin to appreciate the scale of the Roman losses that occurred in the days after the battle.

The Retreat to Syria

At this point, both Crassus and Surenas were locked in an odd game of cat and mouse. Surenas was not exactly sure of where Crassus was, whilst Crassus and his army had to evade the Parthians and seek the refuge of either Armenia or Syria. Although Carrhae was the most logical place for Crassus to make for, Surenas could not be certain. Added to this, Plutarch states that Surenas received a report (from whom we are never told, nor are we told how Plutarch&rsquos source got to know of this) that Crassus was not in Carrhae and was in fact heading for the border. 239 This would have left Surenas in something of a dilemma. However, he soon came up with a plan to resolve it by sending a man up to the walls of Carrhae and requesting a peace conference between himself and Crassus, to organise a truce and a safe withdrawal of the Roman forces from the towns and cities of Mesopotamia. Whilst the evacuation of the occupying Roman garrisons was a necessary move for the Parthians, Surenas needed to locate Crassus, dead or alive, even more. Plutarch reports that Cassius took the bait and reported back to Surenas&rsquo emissary that Crassus would be willing to meet with him, which only served to confirm Crassus&rsquo presence within the town. 240 By this simple ruse and by Cassius&rsquo short-sightedness, the Parthians now knew where to end this war and Surenas moved his entire army towards the town of Carrhae.

For Crassus, Cassius&rsquo stupidity had left him with an even bigger headache. Given the strength of the Roman forces in Carrhae (a garrison, plus 15,000&ndash20,000 survivors) he would have been able to resist a Parthian siege, not that Surenas&rsquo army was equipped for storming a city. The problem was that although the Parthians could not get in, soon the Romans would not have been able to get out and they did not know how long the food and water would last, given the size of the Roman forces within. Crassus could have adopted a policy of waiting it out if he knew help was going to arrive to alleviate a siege, but where would this help come from? Assistance would not soon be forthcoming from Roman Syria, given the few forces that remained there, which only left Armenia. However, as Crassus was not able to rely on the Armenians to help him when he was in a position of power, it was highly unlikely that he could do so now in such a weakened one. Although he was never to know it, this assessment proved to be a highly perceptive one, as only a few days later King Artavasdes would meet with King Orodes to discuss a peace treaty between Armenia and Parthia.

This left Crassus with only one viable option he would have to break out of Carrhae, evade the waiting Parthians and make for Syria or the Armenian foothills. It appears that the Roman army was divided up into groups, each led by one of the senior surviving commanders. We know of groups led by Crassus, Octavius and Cassius, but there must have been more. It is probable that each group had a different destination and different route, to divide and distract the Parthian pursuers. The move had to be made at night, so as to slip past the Parthians and had to be done when there was no full moon, in order to keep as much cover as possible.

Although we know what happened next, why it happened is the subject of much conjecture. The facts, ultimately are that whilst Cassius&rsquo group made it to Syria, Octavius&rsquo and Crassus&rsquo did not. Plutarch ascribes this to Crassus once again relying on, and being betrayed by, a native guide, this time a man known as Andromachus. According to Plutarch, Andromachus offered to guide Crassus and Cassius from Carrhae, but planned to lead them on a circuitous route and delay them, so that the Parthians would be able to find them by daybreak. 241

Plutarch&rsquos version of the event also has Cassius realising that they were being led into a trap, then breaking away and returning to Carrhae without telling Crassus 242 . If this was true then it was desertion of the highest order. It would seem to be either a daring double bluff or foolish in the extreme to return to the town of Carrhae, past the Parthians once more and hope that they rode off after the other groups. Dio, naturally, has none of this detail. He has Crassus making for the Armenian foothills and Cassius safely reaching Syria independently. 243 When day broke and the Parthians realised that the Romans had evacuated Carrhae, they set off after them once more. Again Dio reports that many groups did not escape the Parthian cavalry, though it seems that on this day a number of them were taken prisoner (perhaps this was due to Surenas wanting Crassus alive or at least to confirm that they had killed the right man). 244

Of the three main groups, we know that Crassus&rsquo got bogged down in a marsh, whether at the hand of a treacherous guide or by simple misfortune, and thus when day broke he was still out in the open and some way off safety. Octavius and the 5,000 men he commanded had reached the relative safety of the mountains at Sinnaca before daybreak. Cassius it seems disappears from the picture and only turns up again safe and sound in Roman Syria, the only one of the key Roman commanders to do so.

By now the Parthians, led by Surenas, had spotted Crassus&rsquo group and were moving in on them. However, he was saved by the intervention of Octavius, who could see the relative position of both groups from his high position. Unlike many of the Roman officers in that retreat, he appears not to have thought of his own safety, but his duty to his commander and led his force of 5,000 men (some of them unwillingly) to rescue Crassus from the advancing Parthians, who were far less in number than the Romans. Thus Crassus finally reached the safety of the foothills, where the Parthian cavalry were far less potent and where Roman numbers would count.

For Surenas, the situation was serious. Certainly he had defeated the Roman army at Carrhae and he had inflicted further heavy casualties on them during the retreat, but if Crassus should escape, even with a force of 10,000 men back into Syria, then the war would continue. In desperation, he tried one last stratagem. He either sent an embassy to the Romans in the hills, or went himself, stating that he wanted a peace conference to offer the Romans the opportunity to evacuate all territories east of the Euphrates. The details of this treaty were to be worked out at this meeting between the two men, along with a few officers from either side, on neutral ground between the two forces. Plutarch reports that he went and delivered this offer himself and reports his words:

I have put your valour and power to the test against the wishes of the king, who now of his own accord shows you the mildness and friendliness of his feelings by offering to make a truce with you if you will withdraw and by affording you the means of safety. 245

Now, Dio and Plutarch report very different reactions by Crassus to this offer. Dio reports that:

Crassus, without hesitation, trusted him. For he was in the very extremity of fear, and was distraught by the terror of the calamity that had befallen both himself and the state. 246

According to Dio, therefore, Crassus was eager to meet Surenas and accept whatever deal he offered, and so walked right into his trap. Dio&rsquos account would have us believe that the experienced general and the cynical political manipulator that Crassus was, fell for this ruse due to the pressures he had been under during the last few days. Plutarch however reports a very different Crassus and one more in keeping with the man we know. He reports that:

Crassus, who&rsquos every discomfiture at the hands of the barbarians had been due to fraud, and who thought the suddenness of their change a strange thing, would not reply, but took the matter into consideration. 247

This description fits the cunning and cynical Crassus that is more familiar to us. Even after all that had happened to him, he was still very much in control of his faculties. He would have been well aware that he had lost the battle, but not the war. However, he was not prepared for what happened next. Although he and his officers saw through Surenas&rsquo ruse, the surviving legionaries, trapped on a desolate Mesopotamian hilltop, and with the Parthian force below, apparently did not. In yet another example of the lack of discipline that had plagued the retreat from the start, the troops mutinied and demanded that Crassus attend the peace negotiations. They had survived the calamitous day at Carrhae and the two near-disastrous retreats and now it appeared that their officers wanted more hardship for them, rather than a negotiated settlement. Plutarch reports that Crassus once again attempted to reason with them, arguing that they could make good their escape into the hills, but to no avail. 248 In all fairness he had led them on what turned out to be a disastrous campaign and we could hardly blame the legionaries for having little faith left in his abilities or judgement. Thus Crassus was forced to meet Surenas, for what he believed would be his death, rather than his soldiers&rsquo salvation.

Plutarch reports that before he descended to meet Surenas, he made one final and prophetic speech to his two senior surviving commanders:

Octavius and Petronius and you other commanders of Rome here present, you see that I go because I must and you are witnesses of the shameful violence I suffer but tell the world, if you get safely home, that Crassus perished because he was deceived by his enemies, and not because he was delivered up to them by his countrymen. 249

With that he descended to meet Surenas. Once again though, Octavius did not let him down and he and Petronius and some other of the officers went with Crassus, in order to protect him. When Crassus sent two legates ahead of him to meet with Surenas and see what protocol was to be observed, neither returned. Plutarch names them as the two Roscius brothers. 250 Nevertheless, Crassus and his retinue continued onwards. When Surenas and his officers met with Crassus they noted that they were on horses whilst he was on foot and offered him the use of a spare horse, which they had brought along. When Crassus mounted the horse, the Parthian grooms attempted to gallop the horse away towards the Parthian lines, with Crassus still on top of it. At once Octavius stepped in and killed one of the grooms, but was in turn struck down by the other one. Petronius too entered the fight and was killed by his commander&rsquos side. It is reported that Crassus was the last to fall in this unedifying struggle, killed by a Parthian soldier named by the sources as either Promaxathres or Exathres. 251

Upon the death of Crassus and most of his senior officers, Surenas sent word to the Romans up in the hills, who had witnessed this assassination (which they had greatly been responsible for), and called for their surrender, pledging that they would not be ill treated. Amazingly, a number of them actually believed Surenas&rsquo offer, despite what happened to Crassus, and did surrender. They were added to the growing tally of Roman prisoners. Understandably a number of the remaining soldiers did not accept Surenas&rsquo offer and made away under the cover of night. Plutarch reports that the majority of them were hunted down and killed, whilst Dio states that the majority escaped through the mountains and reached safety in Roman territory. 252

Thus died Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the three leading men of Rome assassinated in an ignominious scramble over a horse. Within a decade he was joined by the other two members of the triumvirate: Pompey, assassinated on an Egyptian beach in 48 BC and Caesar, four years later, assassinated in the Roman Senate House by a group of his so-called supporters (who incidentally were jointly led by Cassius, the man who had let Crassus down on so many occasions).

It was here, in the hills of Sinnaca, that Surenas finally completed his victory. With Crassus dead the Roman campaign was over and the war had been won. Surenas seized the chance to celebrate and did so in a vindictive style. He had Crassus&rsquo head cut off (as he had done with Publius&rsquo) as well as his hand, and sent Silaces (the satrap of Mesopotamia, whom Crassus had defeated in 54 BC and who was at the Battle of Carrhae) to convey both trophies to King Orodes. Before doing so it is alleged that he poured molten gold into the mouth of Crassus&rsquo head, mocking his great wealth. 253 Crassus&rsquo body was then apparently left to rot on a heap of Roman corpses. 254

Before the head reached the king he arranged a victory parade in the city of Seleucia (which he had retaken the previous year from the rebel Mithradates III and which was known to harbour pro-Roman sympathies). He paraded the Roman captives through the streets of Seleucia in a mockery of a Roman triumph. At the head of the procession he placed a Roman prisoner who was said to resemble Crassus and had him dressed in a woman&rsquos robe and forced him to pretend to be Crassus. 255 Behind him he had men carrying Crassus&rsquo fasces (the ceremonial bundle of rods and axes which symbolised a consul&rsquos authority), but now they were crowned with freshly-severed Roman heads. Next came the captured Roman legionary eagles, the symbol of Roman military might, which were then distributed amongst unnamed Parthian temples and hung there as trophies for the next thirty years. 256 Following the prisoners were a number of Seleucid musicians who sang songs ridiculing Crassus for his cowardice and effeminacy. Surenas even brandished a number of parchments of the Milesiaca, a noted erotic work, found amongst the possessions of one of the Roscius brothers, to ridicule the Romans&rsquo weaknesses.

In Armenia, Silaces arrived with his special delivery just as King Orodes and King Artavasdes of Armenia were conducting a treaty of alliance. There are no reports of whether any fighting actually took place between the Armenians and the Parthians. Given this silence and Artavasdes&rsquo vacillating mood earlier in 53 BC, it is most probable that the Armenians gave in without a fight. It is possible that Artavasdes was hoping that this would only be a temporary treaty and that he could break it when Crassus defeated Orodes and then try to explain away his actions.

As it turned out, both kings at the meeting were in for a shock. Under the terms of the treaty with Parthia, Armenia would return to the vassal status that it occupied in the time of Mithradates II, with Parthia acknowledged as the stronger, but Armenia retaining its territorial integrity. Once again the treaty was sealed with a marriage alliance, with Artavasdes&rsquo sister being married to Orodes&rsquo eldest son, Pacorus. Ultimately Crassus&rsquo invasion had allowed Orodes to turn the clock back on Parthian-Armenian relations and restore the old balance of power. It was at the feast to celebrate this alliance that Silaces arrived with Crassus&rsquo head to be more precise, it was during a theatrical performance of the Bacchae, by the famous Greek playwright Euripides (both the Parthian and Armenian kings had developed a taste for the mainstream Hellenistic culture). During a pause in the singing, it is reported, Silaces entered and, after making his bow to the king, cast Crassus&rsquo head into the space where the singer stood. At which point the singer, named as Jason of Tralles, picked the head up and recited the verse from the play:

We bring from the mountain, a freshly cut twist of ivy to the palace, a prosperous spoil. 257

To the Parthians it seemed fitting for Crassus it was the final humiliation, his head being use as a theatrical prop in a Greek drama. 258 However, when the rejoicing was over, both kings would have realised that they now had growing problems. For Artavasdes, rather than playing the Romans off against the Parthians and thereby maintaining an independent Armenia, now found himself with Rome defeated and Parthia in the ascendant. What he must have hoped would be a temporary treaty to avoid the Parthian army had now turned into a permanent position of vassalage to a resurgent Parthia. The Parthian heir now had a clear claim to his throne and he had clearly miscalculated when he did not provide Crassus with the cavalry he needed.

For Orodes, the utter surprise and joy at the news must have soon soured when he realised just how the invasion had been defeated. On the one hand, not only had Armenia been brought back under the Parthian wing (as it was prior to 87 BC), but the looming threat of Rome had been met and comprehensively defeated, with the ultimate Parthian prize of Syria (which they had quested after for nearly one hundred years) now lying open and defenceless. On the other hand, however, he will have soon realised just how this had been accomplished and that, although he had eliminated one threat to his throne, he had just greatly increased another.

It is probable that Orodes sent Surenas to meet the Roman invasion purely in order to slow it down, and it is highly unlikely that he was expecting Surenas to win such a decisive victory. Prior to Carrhae, Surenas was already the second most powerful man in Parthia his family was the strongest of the noble houses outside of the Arsacids themselves. Furthermore, Surenas had been responsible for putting Orodes on the throne in preference to his brother, and then responsible for ending the ensuing civil war by defeating said brother. Now, if that were not enough, Surenas had actually managed to comprehensively defeat the Romans in battle (in their worst defeat for 150 years), kill one of Rome&rsquos leading men and single-handedly not only end the Roman invasion, but stop the juggernaut that was the Roman Republic. The acclaim that Surenas would receive from all non-Roman quarters, never mind the Parthian people, army and nobility was going to be immense. No king could stand such acclaim for another and certainly not one as weak as Orodes.

For Orodes, if he was to keep his throne and stop the House of Suren replacing the House of Arsaces on the Parthian throne, there was only one possible answer. Within a year, Surenas, the man who had done what no other had done for generations (defeat a Roman invasion), was put to death on the orders of the king. We do not know the details of how he managed to do this, but the charge used was treason. Possibly he lured Surenas away from his forces with the promise of more honours and then had him swiftly executed. In any event, the man who had accomplished so much was murdered by an undeserving monarch who would soon regret the disposal of his best general.

In the end, therefore, there was only one winner to emerge from the Carrhae campaign. It was neither Crassus, nor Surenas both had met ignoble ends, rather than death on the battlefield. The only clear winner was Orodes II, who began this war as a weak monarch in charge of a weak empire and ended it as the unquestioned ruler of the region&rsquos leading superpower. All that lay ahead was the resumption of Parthian westward expansion and the accomplishment of the long term Parthian goal of reaching the Mediterranean.

Summary &ndash The Battle and the Retreat

We can now see the full scale of the disaster that befell Rome during the Carrhae campaign. The Romans had lost battles before, but never one in such a comprehensive manner and followed by such a comprehensive rout. At the end they were literally chased out of Parthian territory in abject disarray, with their vaunted Roman discipline abandoned and with an &lsquoevery man for himself&rsquo attitude being the order of the day. The retreat from Carrhae was as disastrous as the battle itself and must count as one of the great disastrous retreats in history. The only clear estimates we have for Roman casualties are from Plutarch, who puts the Roman dead at 20,000, with 10,000 captured (see appendix one) and Appian, who merely reports that less than 10,000 escaped to Syria. 259

One aspect that is rarely noticed is just how many of these dead and captured resulted from the retreat, rather than the battle itself (at least 6,000 were killed on the day following the battle). This is not as surprising as it sounds, as there was little hand-to-hand fighting during the battle it was mostly a barrage of arrows, most of which disabled rather than killed outright. The only close-quarter fighting occurred during Publius Crassus&rsquo breakout, during which less than 6,000 Romans died. For the rest of the battle, the Roman casualties were from arrow strikes. Given the prolonged nature of the Roman resistance and the random barrage of the Parthian arrows, it appears that a great many of the Roman casualties were not immediate fatalities, but men who suffered multiple wounds of varying degrees. Many of these would have succumbed to their injures after the battle, due to the fatigue and blood loss, rather than during the battle itself.

Of the Parthian casualties we have no word, though again the only close-quarter combat which the Parthians took part in was during Publius&rsquo breakout. Given that the bulk of this fighting was done by the Parthian cataphracts and the ferocious nature of the battle, even with their heavy armour we can expect them to have taken a considerable number of casualties. The difference here is that Surenas would have taken the bulk of his casualties from amongst his 1,000 cataphracts, rather than across the army evenly. This still gave him more than enough horse archers available to hunt down fleeing Romans, but may explain his apparent inability to tackle the force that assembled around Crassus at the end.

What can be learnt from the battle itself? It certainly would appear that whilst the Romans had the overall numbers they lacked depth in certain areas, most notably the cavalry. This, however, was not an intrinsic flaw of Crassus&rsquo preparations. As the wait until 53 BC showed, Crassus knew that his army was weak in cavalry. This shortage only became the crucial issue because Surenas choose to exploit a known Roman weakness. For the battle he was expecting, Crassus had enough cavalry to keep the Parthian cataphracts occupied. Yet for the battle that Surenas engineered a highly mobile and missile-based one, he was hopelessly outclassed.

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the Roman loss at Carrhae was down to one man. Unlike traditional views of the battle, it was not lost because of Crassus&rsquo incompetence, but because of Surenas&rsquo brilliance. Surenas realised that he could not defeat Rome over the length of a campaign past history had taught him that. He did realise, however, that Rome could be defeated in a single battle, if he prepared for it properly. If that defeat was a heavy one, both in terms of the psychological damage and the number of casualties, then the war would be over. Added to this was his realisation that the Roman Republican system had mutated to such an extent that it began to resemble Parthia, in so much as the whole campaign was reliant on a single commander. If he captured or killed Crassus then the invasion would be over. Certainly there would be likely to be another dynast along at some point in the future (most likely to be either Pompey or Caesar), but that would be a different war.

Crassus and the Romans were undone at Carrhae by Surenas&rsquo tactics of turning the battle into a fast-paced cavalry engagement, with no infantry and a total reliance on missile fire. Had the Romans got close enough to the Parthians in sufficient numbers, then their numerical and military superiority at close quarters would have shown. Surenas&rsquo genius lay in stopping the Romans from doing this. Nevertheless, for the Romans the battle itself was not as catastrophic as many would believe. This was not a typical Parthian army that they faced, but one that very much reflected the genius of its commander. As Publius&rsquo breakout had shown, at close quarters the Romans were still a force to be reckoned with, and there must have been points when the outcome of the &lsquobattle within a battle&rsquo was still in the balance. Furthermore, Surenas&rsquo tactics could only be used once, after which the Romans would be ready for them. It is interesting to note that when Caesar was preparing for his Parthian campaign (which was abandoned following his assassination) the sources note that his proposed force was heavy in cavalry. 260

What really did the damage for the Romans, and what turned a terrible defeat into a catastrophic one, was the retreat, or as we should say the retreats. These shambolic manoeuvres doubled the numbers of men lost, either killed or captured. The Roman general was killed, along with the majority of his young aristocratic officers. Both retreats were plagued by a complete breakdown of discipline. During the first retreat, to Carrhae, Crassus&rsquo advance guard did not stay to provide cover, which could have allowed the stragglers to catch up, or to find the groups that had become detached from the main force (such as the force led by Vargunteius). Instead, they deserted their post and fled back to Roman Syria. Of the two officers who are known to have survived, both could be, and indeed were, accused of desertion. Furthermore, there are excellent comparisons to their contemporaries who died. Whilst Vargunteius died fighting a brave last stand, Egnatius fled Parthia and survived in ignominy. Whilst Cassius betrayed Crassus and reached Syria safely, Octavius died fighting to defend him, when he too could have put his own life first. On too many occasions the Roman army was beset by indiscipline from both officers and men. This was an ominous sign for the Roman Republic.

The combination of the defeat and the retreat made the Parthian campaign a total disaster for Rome, the likes of which had not been seen since Hannibal crossed the Alps into Italy during the Second Punic War. Of an army of 40,000 plus, barely a quarter of them returned back to Syria. The seemingly unstoppable Roman juggernaut had come off the road altogether. Thus in the first battle and the first war between the two great superpowers of the east, Rome was the clear loser. Given that their rapidly-expanding empire had been built on an almost legendary invincibility, this defeat had serious implications. Not only had the Roman Empire been prevented from advancing, but it was now in clear danger of retreating.


Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 &ndash 53 BC) was a leading figure of the late Roman Republic and its richest man. He used his wealth to sponsor politicians, including Julius Caesar, whose political rise he bankrolled, and amassed considerable power. The one thing he lacked, yet craved, was military glory. His pursuit of such glory would end in catastrophe.

Crassus was a shrewd and avaricious businessman. An ally of the dictator Sulla in the 80s BC, he got his start on wealth by bidding on the confiscated properties of those executed as enemies of the state, buying them in rigged auctions for a fraction of their value. He even arranged for the names of those whose properties he coveted to be added to the lists of enemies of the state, slated for execution and confiscation of property.

Crassus leveraged his wealth and power into creating the First Triumvirate, a power sharing agreement by which he, Pompey the Great, and Julius Caesar, effectively divided the Roman Republic amongst themselves. He wanted military glory, though &ndash something his partners had, but he lacked. Unlike Pompey&rsquos and Caesar&rsquos brilliant military records, Crassus&rsquo only military accomplishment had been to crush Spartacus&rsquo slave uprising, which didn&rsquot count for much in Roman eyes. It gnawed at Crassus, so he decided to invade Parthia, a wealthy kingdom comprised of today&rsquos Iraq and Iran, which he assumed would be a pushover. A decade earlier, Pompey had invaded and easily defeated other kingdoms in the east, so hard could Parthia be?

Crassus assembled an army of 50,000, and in 53 BC, marched off to an easy conquest. He trusted a local chieftain to guide him. The guide was in Parthian pay, and led Crassus along an arid route, until, hot and thirsty, they reached the town of Carrhae in today&rsquos Turkey, where they encountered a Parthian force of 9000 horse archers and 1000 armored cataphract heavy cavalry. Although they outnumbered the Parthians 5:1, the Romans were demoralized by the rigors of the march and by Crassus&rsquo uninspiring leadership.

The mounted archers shot up the Romans from a distance, retreating whenever the Romans advanced. As casualties mounted, morale plummeted. Crassus, unable to think of a plan, rested his hopes on the Parthians running out of arrows. The Parthians however had a supply train of thousands of camels loaded with arrows. Finally, Crassus ordered his son to take the Roman cavalry and some infantry, and drive off the horse archers. The Parthians feigned retreat, Crassus&rsquo son rashly pursued, and was slaughtered with all his men. The Parthians rode back to Roman army and taunted Crassus with his son&rsquos head mounted on a spear.

Shaken, Crassus retreated to Carrhae, abandoning thousands of his wounded. The Parthians invited him to negotiate, offering to let his army go in exchange for Roman territorial concessions. Crassus was reluctant to meet the Parthians, but his men threatened to mutiny if he did not, so he went. Things did not go well, violence broke out at the meeting, and ended with Crassus and his generals killed. Mocking his avarice, the Parthians poured molten gold down Crassus&rsquo throat. The surviving Romans fled, but most were hunted down and killed or captured. Out of Crassus&rsquo 50,000, only 10,000 made it back to Roman territory.


Did thousands of Roman soldiers end up in China? The Lost Legions of Carrhae

[I came across this interesting article which claims that Roman soldiers who had fought the Parthians and been defeated might have been moved ever eastward by their captors and they may have eventually settled in China and had intermarried with the Chinese and that there might be some DNA evidence to support this.

There is no question that “white DNA” has found its way into other races due to various forms of captivity and even abduction. I have wondered for example how much European DNA found its way into the Middle East and Egypt.

Here’s the article about the Romans. Its food for thought. Jan]

The Romans in the first century BCE were perhaps the most growing empires around. Though the civil wars of Caesar and Pompey, and Octavian and Marc Antony dominated the scene a lot more happened around them. In 53 BCE a Roman army under Marcus Licinius Crassus, vanquisher of Spartacus and richest man in Rome, attempted to extend Roman power into Parthia, modern day Iran. He got as far as modern day Harran in southeast Turkey before he was met by a Parthian army under Surena.

Crassus was a little too cocky and pushed forward, thinking victory would be easy against these inferior barbarians. He was sadly mistaken as the Parthians were an efficient semi-professional army with the most elite horse archers the world had ever seen at the time. In a slaughter known as the battle of Carrhae the Romans lost nearly their entire army and Crassus was killed. The remaining 10,000 or so Roman legionaries were captured.

The Parthians had a standard practice of employing captured soldiers as border guards. By transferring the 10,000 legionaries to the eastern boarders they prevented any realistic chance of escape for the Romans who likely would have simply accepted their new lot in life. Record of the soldiers vanish for about 17 years when the battle of Zhizhi was fought as a Chinese army under Chen Tang assaulted a border town known today as Taraz, located in Kazakhstan near the border of Kyrgyzstan. Chinese historians note that the defenders held their shields in a “fish scale” pattern. The fight for the town was intense but the Chinese prevailed. The Chinese, under the Han Dynasty at this point, were near the height of their power this battle represented their greatest Westward expansion and their victory was achieved in part because many of the locals defected to the Chinese out of fear.

The Chinese were so impressed by these foreign warriors that they put them into another border town, this time guarding the border between China and Tibet as Tibetan raids were not uncommon around this time. Anywhere from 100 to 1,000 or more soldiers established themselves in this town that was known by the Chinese as Liqian/Li-Jien, which is pronounced as “legion”. These men were known to use tools such as tree trunk counterweight construction devices, and to reinforce the area into a square fort, a common site in the Mediterranean but quite rare in Asia.

It seems these Romans lived peacefully in Liqian, and 2,000 years later we have DNA evidence that over 50% of the villagers in modern day Liqian have Caucasian ancestry including green and blue eyes, increased average height and other distinguishing characteristics such as distinctly Roman noses. The people in the small village are aware of and proud of their ancestry, celebrating the Romans and showing a fond interest in bulls, a heavily worshiped animal of Roman legions.

A great many modern historians absolutely dismiss the story of the legionaries in China as more of a fairytale than truth, though some prominent historians still argue that this sequence of events is quite possible and even the most probable of theories. Just because it is a hard to believe tale does not at all make it untrue. In every reference from the Asian sources the foreigners appear to be none other than the 10,000 legionaries captured at Carrhae. The only gap in knowledge is that the Romans transferred from Parthian control to Mongol control as the Mongols held the town at the battle of Zhizhi. It seems that either the Romans were captured and transported again, or more likely that they were sold as mercenaries.

Their “fish scale” formation at the battle is almost certainly the well-known Testudo formation, and the professional practice points to seasoned soldiers. These Romans would have had just each other for company through these many years so it’s understandable to think they had outstanding discipline and kept up their training, which would lead to them having such an impressive showing at Zhizhi that the Chinese used them to guard their own territory.

The modern descendants of the Romans are decent evidence of the Roman’s presence but two other theories are possible. The town of Liqian was near the multicultural Silk Road, therefore the Caucasian DNA could be from travelers along the road. The other possibility is that the soldiers at the battle and settlers of the Chinese town were actually descendants of Alexander the Great’s army, though this seems even more unlikely as the events are multiple generations removed from Alexander’s campaigns and the army at Zhizhi was clearly fighting in a professional and western way.

The only remaining evidence needed to authenticate the story would be Roman coins or other artifacts at Liqian. If the story is true, it is an amazing story of tragic loss followed by strict adherence to professional soldiery. By the time they settled in Liqian these soldiers would be in their forties and fifties and looking forward to retirement. Based off of the DNA of their descendants it does seem like they weren’t subject to many Tibetan raids, or perhaps they were put to the test again and finally held their own ground.


Crassus and the Parthian Campaign (53 B.C.)

The superiority of the phalanx and cavalry tactics against the Persians suggested that Macedonia would remain the dominant military power long after Alexander had left the scene. Yet that assumption was tested in 280 B.C., when Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, brought an army to Italy to support Tarentum. He was successful against the Romans, winning at Heraclea in 280, at Ausculum in 279, and again at Beneventum in 275. However the Romans inflicted such casualties that he conceded the war to Rome and withdrew after Beneventum. His historic legacy was the Pyrrhic victory, a success so costly that it was essentially meaningless. Ironically, Pyrrhus' ultimate defeat was not the result of any tactical innovation or improvement on the part of Rome, since the Romans were, in essence, fighting Pyrrhus using the phalanx system perfected by Alexander. They simply fought with more ferocity. They dismembered and otherwise mutilated the bodies of their opponents in battle, whether victorious or defeated. The Roman government also proved tenacious. Following each defeat it managed to raise a new army. Apart from tactics, what may have tipped the scale in favor of Rome was its population. In 225 B.C. it was estimated to have had an army of 700,000 infantry and 70,000 cavalry. Roman field armies in 190 incorporated some 182,400 men in thirteen legions. The Macedonians, in 197, had only 2,000 cavalry, 2,000 peltasts, and 16,000 phalangists. In 171, some twenty-six years later, they had increased their numbers only slightly, to 3,000 cavalry, 5,000 peltasts, and 21,000 phalangists.

Technically, the Romans had either abandoned, or never adopted, the phalanx, characterized by the use of a long spear and a formation with a single long line. Their experience with the Celtic invaders, who were successful enough to sack Rome in 390 B.C., convinced them to place a greater reliance on the sword, rather than the spear, and to move toward a more individual approach to combat. They still incorporated the long spear in their line, but also supplemented it with the pilum or javelin, thrown at the enemy, rather than held for thrusting. Like Alexander, they relied on specialization to some extent, organizing their infantry into three differently armed lines, the triarii, principes, and hastati, supported by three lightly-armed groups, the rorarii, accensi, and leves. Together, the principes and hastati, were combined into a maniple, totaling about sixty men. If their overall battle formations still resembled the continuous line of the phalanx, the maniple subdivision gave them more flexibility. The Romans were basically an infantry force. They still incorporated cavalry into their military organization, but it was often supplied by their allies.

The Roman system was severely tested by the losses Hannibal inflicted during the Second Punic War (218 - 202 B.C.) In 218 he crossed the Alps into northern Italy. His first victory came at the Trebia River, where he destroyed a Roman army. Only the Roman center, fighting its way through a line of Celts and Spaniards, escaped. The following year he annihilated another consular army near Lake Trasimene. On August 2, 216 he defeated still a third Roman army of sixteen legions, numbering about 75,000, at Cannae, leaving an estimated 45 - 50,000 Roman dead on the field. It was not an easy victory. The Carthaginians lost an estimated forty percent of their own force to the Roman fighters. While there was no army to prevent Hannibal's advance on Rome, he lacked the forces necessary to conduct a siege. Rome raised new armies which eventually confined him to the southern tip of Italy.

Publius Cornelius Scipio, later Scipio Africanus, would be chosen to lead Rome's armies in the final battles with Carthage. Assuming command in Spain in 210, he captured Cartagena, New Carthage, in 209. By 206 no Carthaginian armies remained in Spain. Roman armies were landed in Africa and, in 202, at Zama, Scipio was ready to confront Hannibal. He had made some modifications to Roman formations in preparation for the fight. The normal checkerboard formation of the maniples was organized in columns, in such a way as to allow greater space between the first and supporting lines. The light infantry, which filled the gaps in the line, was ordered to retreat or seek shelter among the heavy infantry, if Hannibal's war elephants charged. A wide, clear path would be created through which they could escape, in the event that they were stampeded. Scipio's tactics prevented Hannibal's force from moving around and enveloping the Roman lines. What had settled into an infantry fight between the main lines, was decided when the Roman and Numidian cavalry returned to the field, following a chase of the Carthaginian cavalry, and caught the Carthaginian infantry from behind. The Carthaginians lost 20,000 killed against Roman losses of only 1,500.

In 197 B.C. the Roman legions under Flaminius confronted the Macedonian king, Philip V, at Cynoscephalae in Thessaly. The Romans managed to get behind the Macedonian forces and in the fighting Philip lost 13,000 men. He was succeeded by his son Perseus in 179. On June 22, 168 B.C., he began a battle with another Roman army under Lucius Aemilius Paulus at Pydna, close to Mount Olympus. The Macedonian phalanx managed to push the Romans back, but was itself attacked on its flanks. Macedonian losses were higher than at Cynoscephalae, about 20,000 dead and 11,000 captured, against Roman losses of 100 killed. Perseus was taken to Rome following his capture.

Crassus and the Triumvirate

Marcus Licinius Crassus, the politician who would lead the disastrous expedition against the Parthians, was not without military experience. He had served under Sulla and was in charge of the force which defeated Spartacus in the slave revolt or Servile War (73 - 71 BC). But he was also optimistic and na ï ve, as well as ambitious. He had inherited an experienced military organization which was unchallenged.

In 60 B.C. Crassus, Julius Caesar, and Pompey formed the First Triumvirate to rule Rome. Pompey and Crassus, under the agreement, threw their support to Caesar in the July 60 election for consul. Caesar won one of the positions Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, the son-in-law of Cato, was elected to the other. Caesar paid off his political debt to Crassus with a favorable tax law. For Pompey a bill was introduced approving his actions in the east. A second bill was submitted giving public land in Campania to 20,000 of his veterans. Before leaving office a bill was introduced designating Caesar as the governor of three provinces, Cisalpine Gaul, Illyrium, and Transalpine Gaul. His term was to be five years, three years longer than the normal two-year term. His term began in March 58 B.C., and he took just eight days to travel from Rome to Geneva in Transalpine Gaul. Shortly after arriving he and his legions dealt with the Helvetii, who wanted to cross the province. Later that year he confronted Germanic invaders, led by Ariovistus. In 57 B.C. he defeated the Belgae, the Nervii, and the Aduatuci. For these victories, the Roman Senate voted a fifteen-day public celebration, more than the ten days voted for Pompey in 63 BC.

The three members of the Triumvirate met at Luca, in southern Cisalpine Gaul, in the spring of 56 BC. The Triumvirate was to be renewed, with Crassus and Pompey running for the two consular positions for 55. Caesar's troops would go to Rome to vote in the election. His five-year term as governor of the three provinces was to be renewed for another five years. When that period was over he would again seek election to another consulship. Once elected to the consulship, Crassus and Pompey would appoint themselves provincial governors following their terms. Pompey, it was agreed, would be appointed for Spain. Crassus was to take over in Syria. In addition to the support of Caesar's troops, Crassus and Pompey relied on street gangs provided by Titus Annius Milo, to ensure their election. Domitius Ahenobarbus, another candidate for consul was attacked, as was the senator Cato.

Caesar, returning from the Luca meeting, was to face new tribal unrest in 55. He was forced to construct a fleet to overcome a revolt by the Veneti, a coastal tribe in northwest Gaul. Another German raid, by the Usipetes and Tencteri tribes, was repulsed, after which Caesar constructed a bridge across the Rhine and advanced into Germany for an eighteen-day raid. In the late summer he took two legions in eighty ships across the English Channel for a raid on Britain. A storm destroyed about half the fleet. Realizing that he lacked the forces necessary for an extended stay, he returned after eighteen days. Amounting to little more than a demonstration of force, the raid nevertheless impressed the Roman Senate, which voted another celebration, this one twenty days in length.

Caesar made plans for a still larger expedition against Britain, to sail in 54. The fleet size had been increased to 600 transports and warships, augmented by 200 merchant ships. The military force consisted of five legions, numbering about 30,000, in total. The invasion force sailed in July. The size of the force was enough to intimidate the local tribes, who were unwilling to confront the legions in a large battle. Caesar was able to persuade Cassivellaunus, the king, to agree to a peace treaty. Deciding that little more could be accomplished, Caesar ordered the force home at the end of September.

The Parthian Expedition

Pompey and Crassus served their consular terms in 55 BC. Crassus then traveled to Syria to assume the governorship there. He had come to view the position, not as a major political accomplishment, but as a means to achieve further greatness. He had achieved wealth - he was the richest man in Rome - through land speculation, and then used that wealth to buy political prominence. Unfortunately, he came to prominence at a time when military leadership was more highly regarded in Rome than the ordinary political skills associated with public office. Romans bestowed a measure of fame on those who were elected to political office they genuinely admired those who came home with military victories. It probably was not helpful that, in entering into an alliance with Caesar and Pompey, he had joined forces with two of the greatest military leaders of the day. The public acclamation which followed both men, reinforced the idea that military conquest, rather than title or electoral achievement, set the standard for greatness.

In Caesar Crassus had a constant reminder of current or recent successes - the crossing of the Rhine and the invasion of Britain. Crassus' son Publius also served under Caesar. In Pompey, the reminders were less current, but his early career successes had earned him the sobriquet, "The Great." In 67 B.C., he had taken just three months to clear the Mediterranean of pirates. Campaigning between 66 and 62 in the East, he had defeated Mithridates of Pontus and Tigranes of Armenia and had annexed Syria.

Crassus, as he approached sixty, was looking to outdo his rivals in his newly resurrected military career. He dreamed of repeating Alexander's march, privately proposing to his friends a campaign through Bactria and India, which would reach the Indian Ocean. Without the support or resources for such an ambitious plan he had to settle for a war against the Parthians, who had assumed control of the lands between the Euphrates and the Indus.

If Crassus' ambitious dreams assumed that Alexander's feats could be duplicated with little effort, his attitude toward the Parthians was just as unrealistic. He never really took them seriously. He also seemed mired in the past, which, for him, was the world of finance. While wintering in Syria he reviewed the revenues of the cities located in the province and conducted a detailed inventory of the treasury of the temple at Hierapolis. Using the coming campaign to justify a requisition for troops, he then allowed individual cities and kingdoms to avoid the levy by making cash payments.

Crassus tended to dismiss reports of Parthian military capabilities, mostly supplied by Roman soldiers in Mesopotamia, sent or escaping from the garrisons there. One report concerned an improved bow, capable of shooting an arrow with such speed that it could barely be followed in flight, with an unprecedented penetrating power. Similarly, the Parthians were armed with a sword which was effective against most protective gear, along with defensive armor which was impervious to existing offensive weapons. The garrison reports suggested ominously that the Parthian horsemen could easily ride down those who fled the lines, while being able to retreat out of range before a charging line could reach them. Crassus may have disbelieved the reports entirely or simply filtered them through the eyes of the Roman general Lucullus, who had experience campaigning in Armenia and Cappadocia. Against feeble opposition, his only problems seemed to be the tediousness of the march and the difficulty of hunting down an enemy which did not want to be drawn into battle.

The Parthians, whatever their military strengths, were hoping to avoid a confrontation. Believing that Crassus did not have the official backing of Rome for his planned expedition, they first tried negotiation. They offered to return any Roman hostages they still held, if he would call off the expedition. Crassus defiantly refused. He would give them a formal answer at Seleusis. They left to prepare for the invasion.

Crassus received one last offer of help and advice. The king of Armenia, Artabazes, who provided 6,000 horse, advised him to take his army through Armenia, rather than advance directly into Mesopotamia from Syria. The hills and mountainous countryside of Armenia would at least prevent the Parthians from using their cavalry The advice was ignored.

The force which left Syria in 53 consisted of seven legions, about 36,000 soldiers - 4,000 of which were cavalry and 4,000 light infantry. They crossed the Euphrates at Zeugma unopposed. The Roman scouts found some hoof prints on the far shore, but that was the only evidence of any close Parthian presence. It appeared that they were in flight. Cassius, the quaestor, nevertheless advised Crassus to keep his army close to the river, where it could be supplied, until there was more definite intelligence about the Parthian force. A local Arab chief, Ariamnes, appeared at his camp and persuaded him to leave the river and confront the Parthians. Serving as guide, Ariamnes led the Romans away from the Euphrates. He persuaded them to continue their advance even as they moved from the green terrain along the river into treeless, sandy desert. On the pretext of trying to subvert the enemy, Ariamnes slipped away.

The Romans continued to advance. Even without their guide, they had some sense that the enemy was close. The first real contact was an ambush sprung on the Roman scouts. Those who managed to escape hurried back to warn the others. Although the Parthian force had still not been sighted, Crassus ordered the advance to continue. Suffering from the marching and the heat, the soldiers were relieved when they reached a small stream, named the Balissus. Impatient to catch the Parthians, Crassus would allow only a brief rest. At a place called Carrhae, near modern Harran, in Turkey, they encountered what they thought was the main force and formed into the Roman defensive square.

The Parthians started the battle with a little psychological warfare. They began beating large, hollow drums, probably intended to frighten an enemy as much as to encourage their own side. Surena, their commander, then moved the main force, hidden behind a rise, into position. His heavy cavalry began with a feinting maneuver against the Roman square, then retreated. They were armed with a heavy lance, so large, by Roman cavalry standards, that the Romans called it a "barge-pole." The charge may have been intended as a reconnaissance-in-force, designed both to test the depth of the Roman line and to cover the envelopment by the main body of Parthians. Crassus countered with a light infantry charge. It quickly ran into trouble. The Parthians responded with their mounted archers. Before the Romans could get close enough to engage, a shower of arrows drove them back.

The abortive charge was enough to confirm the earlier Roman reports of the Parthians for most of the soldiers, although Crassus himself had yet to fully comprehend its import. The returning infantry found that their armor and clothing was ineffective against the Parthian arrows, which had gone through their shields and into their arms. Thinking that the square offered some protection, the panicky troops instinctively bunched together. The compressed formation offered a better target for the Parthian archers, who were riding along the line and shooting from a distance. Abandoning plans for another futile charge, the defenders hunkered down to wait out the attack. Once the supply of arrows had been used up, they expected to resume the fighting. When the pace of the attack continued unabated, it began to dawn on the Romans that the enemy archers had a virtually unlimited supply of arrows. What they observed in the Parthian camp was that the bowmen were being re-supplied by camel.

Surena's plan involved more than a long range cavalry harassment. While firing into the square, the Parthians had extended their lines to nearly encircle the Romans. In desperation, Crassus ordered his son Publius to take the infantry under his command, about 5,000 men, together with 1,300 cavalry and 500 archers, and attack. Initially, the attack seemed successful, since the Parthian horsemen retreated. The Roman cavalry, in their eagerness to catch the fleeing horsemen, soon left the infantry behind. However, with their confidence restored by the pursuit, the infantry continued their advance behind the faster cavalry force. They had not lost contact with the cavalry entirely, but, when the pursuit slowed, both commands found themselves surrounded by desert and miles away from the main Roman force.

It was probably not the distance from Crassus' force which first alerted the Romans to the danger they now faced, but a change in Parthian tactics. For most of the pursuit they had stayed just ahead of their pursuers - not close enough to be caught, but not far enough away to discourage pursuit. At some point they slowed somewhat. The Romans also noticed that the size of the retreating force was increasing. When they finally stopped to set up a defensive position, their problem was not simply the miles they had covered since leaving the main force it was also the fact that they would have to fight their way through the Parthian reinforcements, which had moved in behind them. Retreat would be difficult.

The Parthians continued their harassment with small charges in front of the Roman lines. The effect was to kick up large quantities of dust while driving the Romans into a tighter mass. Blinded and choked by the dust, they endured a continuing barrage of arrows. Those who were struck and tried to pull the arrows out, found them excruciatingly painful to remove. The barbs carried veins and nerves with them. Publius, in desperation, tried to mount a last counter-attack. Those among the light infantry who were still alive were in a pitiable state. Some held up their arms to show how their hands had been nailed to their shields by the arrows others displayed their feet, impaled by arrows which had entered through the top of the foot and penetrated through the sole to the ground beneath. They were in no condition to either fight or run.

Publius rallied the Gallic horsemen for a charge. They scored some successes against the Parthian heavy cavalry. Some they unseated by grabbing the heavy spears others they brought down by crawling under the horses and thrusting knives or spears at their bellies. The Gauls suffered especially from the heat and lack of water and finally broke off the attack. Although many of their horses had been killed, they managed to escape to a nearby hillock. Publius, wounded by an arrow, had to be carried there. The dwindling force tried to shield itself behind a ring of horses, but the protection was ineffective. Publius finally ordered his armor-bearer to run him through with his sword. Censorius, a colleague of Crassus, ended his life in the same way. Megabacchus, another colleague, and many of the other officers, committed suicide. The Parthians killed most of the rest of the force. Once they found they body of Publius, they cut off his head and carried it away. There were about 500 who were taken prisoner.

The Parthian plan to draw part of the Roman force into the desert had worked, but, in a way, served to save Crassus' main body of troops. They had pulled a large portion of their own forces away in order to concentrate on Publius. Crassus used the reprieve to move to a more defensible position. He was on the verge of moving again when a group of Parthians approached his lines displaying the head of his son. The act added to a growing sense of despair among the troops and a paralysis at the command level. The mood was broken when Octavius, one of the commanders, and Cassius, the quaestor, ordered a mass break-out in the direction of Carrhae during the night. The wounded were left behind, although the noise they made on learning what was happening alerted the Parthians. Not wanting to follow at night, they entered the camp in the morning. The Roman wounded still alive in the camp, perhaps numbering 4,000, were massacred. In their pursuit of the fleeing Romans, they managed to trap four cohorts on a hill. Of this group, perhaps twenty were able to cut their way through to safety.

Crassus and the survivors reached the garrison at Carrhae. However, he was lured away by Surena, to what he believed was a negotiation. He was killed, then beheaded. His head and hand were presented to Hyrodes, the Parthian king. In all the Romans had lost 20,000 killed, and another 10,000 captured.

The disaster at Carrhae can be explained by one or all of the tactical errors committed by Crassus, starting with the idea of undertaking a campaign which was unnecessary. (Julius Caesar, who probably fought a number of unnecessary battles, could more plausibly justify his campaigns with the need to protect Rome from invasion.) At the same time, Marc Antony, a more experienced Roman general, was also defeated in another disastrous campaign against the Parthians seventeen years later, in what is now northwest Iran in 36 BC. Antony split his force, attacking the Parthian capital Phraaspa himself. The second force, with the siege engines, under Statianus, was attacked by the Parthian king Phraates IV at Gazaca. The entire force of 10,000, including Statianus, was annihilated in late August. Without the siege engines, Antony was unable to take the capital. Abandoning the siege as winter was setting in, he made a forced march to Armenia. Losses inflicted by the Parthians during the retreat were 20,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, disease doing as much damage as the fighting.

The temptation to enhance a political resume with military victory would not end with Crassus. Before the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, Custer had refused reinforcements from General Terry. He did not want to share any of the glory the 7th Cavalry was expected to win. He boasted that the unit could lick all the Indians on the Plains. His confidence in the destructive firepower of modern weaponry was misplaced. Rather than ensuring victory, it merely contributed to a sense of complacency. Pompey and Caesar, in building their careers, had concentrated on the detailed mechanics of waging war. Like Alexander, fighting for them was an end in itself the Triumph was something of an afterthought to be enjoyed. Custer, like Crassus, was so intent on accomplishing his dream, that he failed to make the connection between adequate planning and strategy and the final result. Military superiority did not necessarily lead to efficient campaigning and better performance, it simply allowed laziness and nonchalance to become the norm.

Suggestions for further reading.

David Eggenberger, "A Dictionary of Battles," Thomas Y. Crowell Company, (New York 1967).

General Sir John Hackett, ed., "Warfare in the Ancient World," Facts on File, (New York 1989).

Archer Jones, "The Art of War in the Western World," University of Illinois Press, (Urbana, IL 1987).

Tom B. Jones, "From the Tigris to the Tiber: An Introduction to Ancient History, 4th ed." Wadsworth Publishing Company, (Belmont, CA 1989).

John Keegan, "A History of Warfare," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York 1993).

Zachary Kent, "Julius Caesar: Ruler of the Roman World," Enslow Publishers, Inc., (Berkeley Heights, NJ 2006).

John Warry, "Warfare in the Classical World," University of Oklahoma Press, (Norman, OK 1995).

Richard Wormser, "The Yellowlegs: The Story of the United States Cavalry," Doubleday & Company, Inc., (Garden City, New York 1966).


The Battle of Carrhae

In 55 BC, the renowned General Marcus Licinius Crassus, had just finished serving his joint-consul year with Pompey. At the time, Crassus, Pompey, and Julius Caesar had a powerful triumvirate that all but controlled Rome. Being part of this group, Crassus had a great desire to bring glory to his name. He had seen no action since his defeat of Spartacus nearly 20 years earlier. Crassus drew out the maps of the Roman Empire looking for a target to attack, and he felt that the easiest target would be Parthia. Many members of the Roman Senate tried to dissuade him from this course of action, but Caesar and Pompey stood firmly behind him and the senate relented.

Crassus arrived in Syria in late 55 BC, and immediately began drilling and preparing his troops. Although he had arrived with 36000 troops, he quickly began reinforcing the towns west of Mesopotamia and thus cut his effective force down to 30000 combat ready troops. His army was reinforced when his son, Publius Crassus, arrived with his Gallic cavalry. And so it came to pass that in early 53 BC, Crassus led 28000 Roman legionnaires, 2000 Roman cavalrymen and 1000 Gallic cavalrymen across the Euphrates River into Mesopotamia.

Crassus met many Hellenic settlements, and these quickly offered alliances. Crassus was thus encouraged that his invasion would be a success. Even the king of the Armenians, Artabazes, joined himself with the Romans, although it was no doubt in order to rid himself of his hated enemies, the Parthians. Artabazes encouraged Crassus to use his lands to invade Parthia, in order to set up close supplies bases and to use the territory that would hamper the Parthian cavalry. Crassus, being a "now or never" kind of general wanted to invade directly into the heart of Parthia. His targets were Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Since Crassus failed to take his advice, Artabazes took his 6000 cavalrymen and went home.

As Crassus began to lose heart, a Nabatean chief, Ariamines, appeared with 6000 cavalrymen and joined with Crassus. Although this seemed like a stroke of luck, perhaps Crassus should have taken a better look, for in actuality this force was nothing more than an army of spies sent to lead the Romans to their deaths.

Ariamines advised Crassus that he had made the right choice in crossing the desert. Ariamines told Crassus tales of terrified Parthian cavalry that was running away from the powerful Roman armies. Heartened by this news, Crassus prepared to order a force march into the andy wasteland.

All this was as the Parthian king, Orodes II, had planned. King Orodes divided his army and sent half to punish the Armenians, and sent the other half to kill Crassus. Orodes' plan continued when Ariamines convinced Crassus to leave the security of the Euphrates and instigate a full-blown march towards Seleucia.

While his Roman advisors tried to reason with Crassus about this fool-hearty course of action, Crassus kept faith with Ariamines and was led closer and closer to the Parthian trap. Finally, a messenger from Artabazes arrived to beg the Romans to move to where the Armenians could reinforce them.

That a subordinate would try and tell Crassus what to do only served to anger and blind him. He felt the Armenian was trying to betray him, and lead him away from his prize. Crassus even began to make plans to attack Armenia once his conquest of Parthia was complete. He would never get the chance.

With his men all but running through the intense desert heat, Crassus rapidly approached the town of Carrhae. His legions were exhausted and in complete disarray. He sent his scouts ahead and only a few returned. They told of encountering the Parthians within miles of Crassus' army. The trap was set, whether or not Crassus would stick his head in it was the only question.

Having finally met the enemy that he had chased through the desert, seemed to panic Crassus. Ariamines lied to Crassus and said that he was leaving with his cavalry to harass the Parthians, when in fact his part in the war was over. Rumor has it that Ariamines returned to his village a man loaded down with Parthian gold.

His spies told him that only 10000 Parthians awaited him, and all of these were horse archers. Crassus decided, against the advice of his council, to forgo resting his men and instead to have them form a "Testudo" and to attack.

As the armies closed, some 500 of the "horse archers" threw off their cloaks to reveal gleaming armor from head to thigh. The storied Parthian cataphracts had presented themselves. The horse archers, armed with bows almost twice the size of their Roman cousins, rained massive arrows down upon the Romans. The arrows cut through the shields and pierced the arms of their wielders. Some arrows slipped through the cracks and pinned the feet of the Roman legionnaires to the ground. Crassus ordered his son to lead the Gallic cavalry and attack the horse archers. While it appeared that Publius had initially routed the Parthians, they actually just allowed him to penetrate their lines so that he could be surrounded. Publius found himself cut off and was beheaded. His head was placed up a pike and a Parthian cataphract ran back and forth in front of the Roman lines with the standard". This seemed to sap the morale from Crassus and he ordered his armies to halt.

With the Romans halted, the cataphracts moved from the left and right flanks of the Romans and brought death down upon them. The heavy, hard charging cataphracts would hit the Roman flanks with their lances, and then chop down on them with their swords. When the Roman legionnaires began to surround the cataphracts, they would withdraw, regroup, and then charge back into their lines.

Crassus fled the field and his legates, Cassius and Octavius, ordered their remaining men to retreat, while leaving their wounded comrades on the field. The retreating Romans headed first to Carrhae to advise the garrison of the disaster, and then fled to Zeugma.

In the aftermath of the retreat, 4000 wounded legionnaires would be put to death. The Parthians managed to catch another 4 cohorts that had gotten lost, and killed all but 30 of them that showed remarkable courage. The remaining Romans reached Zeugma, but another Parthian spy convinced Crassus to flee the city with his men and head into an area of "safety". This area was in fact a large bowl shaped valley that proved inescapable for the Romans and the Parthian army arrived just as they realized they were trapped once again. The Parthians offered to discuss peace, but only if Crassus himself would attend the meeting. Although initially resistant, the remaining legionnaires threatened to kill him themselves, and Crassus relented. This "peace" meeting was nothing but a third trap. Crassus and his council were seized and killed. He head was severed and sent to King Orodes II.

In the aftermath, 20000 Roman legionnaires had been slain, and another 10000 captured. Cassius had managed to lead 6000 of the Romans to safety. The 10000 prisoners were sent to the Parthian region of Sogdia in far eastern Parthia. It is rumored that when the Han Chinese captured this area in 36 BC, they might have actually fought the remnants of these prisoners. Taken from Chinese reports of the conflict are tales that their enemies formed a shell with their shields that proved effective against the Chinese arrows. This formation sounds remarkably like a testudo.

The only positive thing to come from the battle, were tales. Tales of bright, flowing cloth that dazzled in the sunlight as gold. It was silk, and this battle led the European nations to prize the fabric. This battle led to the establishing of the Silk Road and caused the start of Europeaninterest in the Far East.

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Military Battles

In 55 BC, the renowned General Marcus Licinius Crassus, had just finished serving his joint-consul year with Pompey. At the time, Crassus, Pompey, and Julius Caesar had a powerful triumvirate that all but controlled Rome. Being part of this group, Crassus had a great desire to bring glory to his name. He had seen no action since his defeat of Spartacus nearly 20 years earlier. Crassus drew out the maps of the Roman Empire looking for a target to attack, and he felt that the easiest target would be Parthia. Many members of the Roman Senate tried to dissuade him from this course of action, but Caesar and Pompey stood firmly behind him and the senate relented.

Crassus arrived in Syria in late 55 BC, and immediately began drilling and preparing his troops. Although he had arrived with 36000 troops, he quickly began reinforcing the towns west of Mesopotamia and thus cut his effective force down to 30000 combat ready troops. His army was reinforced when his son, Publius Crassus, arrived with his Gallic cavalry. And so it came to pass that in early 53 BC, Crassus led 28000 Roman legionnaires, 2000 Roman cavalrymen and 1000 Gallic cavalrymen across the Euphrates River into Mesopotamia.

Crassus met many Hellenic settlements, and these quickly offered alliances. Crassus was thus encouraged that his invasion would be a success. Even the king of the Armenians, Artabazes, joined himself with the Romans, although it was no doubt in order to rid himself of his hated enemies, the Parthians. Artabazes encouraged Crassus to use his lands to invade Parthia, in order to set up close supplies bases and to use the territory that would hamper the Parthian cavalry. Crassus, being a "now or never" kind of general wanted to invade directly into the heart of Parthia. His targets were Seleucia and Ctesiphon. Since Crassus failed to take his advice, Artabazes took his 6000 cavalrymen and went home.

As Crassus began to lose heart, a Nabatean chief, Ariamines, appeared with 6000 cavalrymen and joined with Crassus. Although this seemed like a stroke of luck, perhaps Crassus should have taken a better look, for in actuality this force was nothing more than an army of spies sent to lead the Romans to their deaths.

Ariamines advised Crassus that he had made the right choice in crossing the desert. Ariamines told Crassus tales of terrified Parthian cavalry that was running away from the powerful Roman armies. Heartened by this news, Crassus prepared to order a force march into the andy wasteland.

All this was as the Parthian king, Orodes II, had planned. King Orodes divided his army and sent half to punish the Armenians, and sent the other half to kill Crassus. Orodes' plan continued when Ariamines convinced Crassus to leave the security of the Euphrates and instigate a full-blown march towards Seleucia.

While his Roman advisors tried to reason with Crassus about this fool-hearty course of action, Crassus kept faith with Ariamines and was led closer and closer to the Parthian trap. Finally, a messenger from Artabazes arrived to beg the Romans to move to where the Armenians could reinforce them.

That a subordinate would try and tell Crassus what to do only served to anger and blind him. He felt the Armenian was trying to betray him, and lead him away from his prize. Crassus even began to make plans to attack Armenia once his conquest of Parthia was complete. He would never get the chance.

With his men all but running through the intense desert heat, Crassus rapidly approached the town of Carrhae. His legions were exhausted and in complete disarray. He sent his scouts ahead and only a few returned. They told of encountering the Parthians within miles of Crassus' army. The trap was set, whether or not Crassus would stick his head in it was the only question.

Having finally met the enemy that he had chased through the desert, seemed to panic Crassus. Ariamines lied to Crassus and said that he was leaving with his cavalry to harass the Parthians, when in fact his part in the war was over. Rumor has it that Ariamines returned to his village a man loaded down with Parthian gold.

His spies told him that only 10000 Parthians awaited him, and all of these were horse archers. Crassus decided, against the advice of his council, to forgo resting his men and instead to have them form a "Testudo" and to attack.

As the armies closed, some 500 of the "horse archers" threw off their cloaks to reveal gleaming armor from head to thigh. The storied Parthian cataphracts had presented themselves. The horse archers, armed with bows almost twice the size of their Roman cousins, rained massive arrows down upon the Romans. The arrows cut through the shields and pierced the arms of their wielders. Some arrows slipped through the cracks and pinned the feet of the Roman legionnaires to the ground. Crassus ordered his son to lead the Gallic cavalry and attack the horse archers. While it appeared that Publius had initially routed the Parthians, they actually just allowed him to penetrate their lines so that he could be surrounded. Publius found himself cut off and was beheaded. His head was placed up a pike and a Parthian cataphract ran back and forth in front of the Roman lines with the standard". This seemed to sap the morale from Crassus and he ordered his armies to halt.

With the Romans halted, the cataphracts moved from the left and right flanks of the Romans and brought death down upon them. The heavy, hard charging cataphracts would hit the Roman flanks with their lances, and then chop down on them with their swords. When the Roman legionnaires began to surround the cataphracts, they would withdraw, regroup, and then charge back into their lines.

Crassus fled the field and his legates, Cassius and Octavius, ordered their remaining men to retreat, while leaving their wounded comrades on the field. The retreating Romans headed first to Carrhae to advise the garrison of the disaster, and then fled to Zeugma.

In the aftermath of the retreat, 4000 wounded legionnaires would be put to death. The Parthians managed to catch another 4 cohorts that had gotten lost, and killed all but 30 of them that showed remarkable courage. The remaining Romans reached Zeugma, but another Parthian spy convinced Crassus to flee the city with his men and head into an area of "safety". This area was in fact a large bowl shaped valley that proved inescapable for the Romans and the Parthian army arrived just as they realized they were trapped once again. The Parthians offered to discuss peace, but only if Crassus himself would attend the meeting. Although initially resistant, the remaining legionnaires threatened to kill him themselves, and Crassus relented. This "peace" meeting was nothing but a third trap. Crassus and his council were seized and killed. He head was severed and sent to King Orodes II.

In the aftermath, 20000 Roman legionnaires had been slain, and another 10000 captured. Cassius had managed to lead 6000 of the Romans to safety. The 10000 prisoners were sent to the Parthian region of Sogdia in far eastern Parthia. It is rumored that when the Han Chinese captured this area in 36 BC, they might have actually fought the remnants of these prisoners. Taken from Chinese reports of the conflict are tales that their enemies formed a shell with their shields that proved effective against the Chinese arrows. This formation sounds remarkably like a testudo.

The only positive thing to come from the battle, were tales. Tales of bright, flowing cloth that dazzled in the sunlight as gold. It was silk, and this battle led the European nations to prize the fabric. This battle led to the establishing of the Silk Road and caused the start of Europeaninterest in the Far East.

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Contents

Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether Publius or his brother Marcus was the elder, but with Roman naming conventions, the eldest son almost always carries on his father's name, including the praenomen, or first name, while younger sons are named for a grandfather or uncle. [4] The achievements of Publius, named after his grandfather (consul in 97 BC) and uncle, eclipse those of his brother to such an extent that some have questioned the traditional birth order. [5] Both Ronald Syme and Elizabeth Rawson, however, have argued vigorously for a family dynamic that casts Marcus as the older but Publius as the more talented younger brother. [6]

Family environment Edit

Publius grew up in a traditional household that was characterized by Plutarch in his Life of Crassus as stable and orderly. The biographer is often harshly critical of the elder Crassus's shortcomings, particularly moralizing his greed, but makes a point of contrasting the triumvir's family life. Despite his great wealth, Crassus is said to have avoided excess and luxury at home. Family meals were simple, and entertaining was generous but not ostentatious Crassus chose his companions during leisure hours on the basis of personal friendship as well as political utility. [7] Although the Crassi, as noble plebeians, would have displayed ancestral images in their atrium, [8] they did not lay claim to a fictionalized genealogy that presumed divine or legendary ancestors, a practice not uncommon among the Roman nobility. [9] The elder Crassus, even as the son of a consul and censor, had himself grown up in a modestly kept and multigenerational house [10] the passage of sumptuary laws had been among his father's political achievements. [11]

In marrying the widow of his brother, [12] who had been killed during the Sullan civil wars, Marcus Crassus observed an ancient Roman custom that had become old-fashioned in his own time. Publius, unlike many of his peers, had parents who remained married for nearly 35 years, until the elder Crassus's death [13] by contrast, Pompeius Magnus married five times [14] and Julius Caesar at least three. [15] Crassus remained married to Tertulla "despite attacks on her reputation." [16] It was rumored that a family friend, Quintus Axius of Reate, [17] was the biological father of one of her two sons. Plutarch reports a joke by Cicero that made reference to a strong resemblance between Axius and one of the boys. [18]

Education Edit

The Peripatetic philosopher Alexander [19] was attached to the household of Crassus and is likely to have contributed to the education of the boys. [20] Although his poor remuneration is noted as evidence of Crassus's parsimony, [21] it has been suggested that in failing to enrich himself at Crassus's expense Alexander asserted a positive philosophical stance disregarding material possessions. [22] The Peripatetics of the time differed little from the Old Academy represented by Antiochus of Ascalon, who placed emphasis on knowledge as the supreme value and on the Aristotelian conception of human beings as by nature political (a zōon politikon, "creature of politics"). This view of man as a "political animal" would have been congenial to the family political dynamism of the Licinii Crassi. [23]

The Peripatetics and Academics, according to Cicero, provided the best oratorical training [24] while the Academics drilled in rebuttal, he says, the Peripatetics excelled at rhetorical theory and also practiced debating both sides of an issue. [25] The young Crassus must have thrived on this training, for Cicero praises his abilities as a speaker and in the Brutus places him in the company of gifted young orators whose lives ended before they could fulfill their potential: [26]

He had been extremely well educated, and was perfectly well versed in every branch of polite literature: he had likewise a penetrating genius, and an elegant variety of expression and appeared grave and sententious without arrogance, and modest and diffident without dejection. [27]

The secondary education of a Roman male of the governing classes typically required a stint as a contubernalis (literally a “tentmate”, [28] a sort of military intern or apprentice) following the assumption of the toga virilis around the age of 15 and before assuming formal military duties. Publius, his brother Marcus, and Decimus Brutus may have been contubernales during Caesar's propraetorship in Spain (61–60 BC). Publius's father and grandfather had strong ties to Spain: his grandfather had earned his triumph from the same province of Hispania Ulterior, and during Sulla's first civil war his father had found refuge among friends there, avoiding the fate of Publius's uncle and grandfather. Caesar's field commission of Publius in Gaul indicates a high level of confidence, perhaps because he had trained the young man himself and knew his abilities. [29]

Little else is known about Publius's philosophical predispositions or political sympathies. Despite his active support on behalf of his father in the elections for 55 BC and his ties to Caesar, he admired and was loyal to Cicero and played a mediating role between Cicero and the elder Crassus, who was often at odds with the outspoken orator. [30] In his friendship with Cicero, Publius showed a degree of political independence. Cicero seems to have hoped that he could steer the talented young man away from a popularist and militarist path toward the example of his consular grandfather, whose political career was traditional and moderate, or toward modeling himself after the orator Licinius Crassus about whom Cicero so often wrote. [31] Cicero almost always speaks of young Crassus with approval and affection, criticizing only his impatient ambition. [32]

Publius Crassus enters the historical record as an officer under Caesar in Gaul. His military rank, which Caesar never identifies, has been a subject of debate. Although he held commands, Publius was neither an elected military tribune nor legatus appointed by the senate, though the Greek historian Cassius Dio contributes to the confusion by applying Greek terminology (ὑπεστρατήγει, hupestratêgei) to Publius that usually translates the rank expressed in Latin by legatus. [33] Those who have argued that Publius was the elder son have attempted to make a quaestor of him. [34] Caesar's omission, however, supports the view that the young Crassus held no formal rank, as the Bellum Gallicum consistently identifies officers with regard to their place in the military chain of command. Publius is introduced in the narrative only as adulescens, [35] “tantamount to a technical term for a young man not holding any formal post.” [36] The only other Roman Caesar calls adulescens is Decimus Brutus, [37] who also makes his first appearance in history in the Bellum Gallicum. In the third year of the war, Caesar refers to Publius as dux, a non-technical term of military leadership that he uses elsewhere only in reference to Celtic generals. [38] The informality of the phrase is enhanced by a descriptive adulescentulus in context, Publius is said to be with his men as an adulescentulo duce, [39] their "very young" or "under-age leader."

Entering Celtica, 58 BC Edit

In the first year of the Gallic Wars, Caesar and his Celtic Aeduan allies fought a defensive campaign against the Celtic Helvetii, and waged an offensive against the Germanic Suebi and their allies, led by Ariovistus. During the decisive battle against the Suebi that brought the first year of fighting to its conclusion, Publius Crassus was given command of the cavalry. [40] In 58 BC, Caesar's cavalry auxiliaries numbered 4,000, comprising regiments from the Aedui and from the Gallic nations of Gallia Transalpina, already a Roman province. [41] In Caesar's army, [42] the primary strategic applications of cavalry were reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, conducted by detachments of exploratores (“scouts”) and speculatores (“spies”) communications patrols, including advance parties and guard units on the flanks of the army on the march skirmishing, and securing the territory after fighting by preventing the flight of surviving enemy. The cavalry charge was infrequent. [43] In the opening stage of the war against the Helvetii, Caesar had retained a Gallic command structure [44] a lack of strategic coordination, exacerbated by conflicting loyalties, [45] led to poor performance, [46] which Caesar sought to correct with a more centralized command. Publius Crassus is the first Roman named as a cavalry commander in the war, [47] and was perhaps given the task of restructuring.

After several days of Roman provocation that produced only skirmishes, [48] the Suebi responded with a sudden attack that preempted standard Roman tactics Caesar says that the army was unable to release a volley of javelins (pila), [49] which ordinarily would have been preceded by a cavalry skirmish. Instead, Crassus and the auxiliaries seem to have remained on the periphery of action. [50] Caesar gives Crassus credit for accurately assessing the status of the battle from his superior vantage point and for ordering in the third line of infantry at the critical moment. Initiative is implied. After the Suebi were routed, the horsemen pursued those who escaped, but failed to capture Ariovistus. [51]

Belgica, 57 BC Edit

The second year of the war was conducted in northern Gaul among the Belgic nations. In the penultimate chapter of his book on that year's campaigns, Caesar abruptly reveals that he had placed Publius Crassus in command of the 7th Legion, which had suffered heavy casualties [52] against the Nervii at the recent Battle of the Sabis [53] Publius's role in this battle goes unremarked. [54] Caesar says that in the aftermath he sent Crassus west to Armorica (Brittany) while he himself headed east to lay siege to the stronghold of the Aduatuci.

Armorica and Aquitania, 56 BC Edit

Scholars have rarely tried to interpret Caesar's decision to send a young, relatively inexperienced officer with a single legion to secure a major geographical region inhabited by multiple civitates, [55] while the commander-in-chief himself lay siege to a single town with the remaining seven legions of his army and a full staff of senior legates and some or most of the tribunes. Crassus's Armorican mission is reported so elliptically that Caesar's chronology and veracity have been questioned, most pointedly by the contrarian scholar Michel Rambaud, who insisted that the 7th Legion must have detached for its mission prior to the Battle of the Sabis. [56] Crassus is credited with bringing several polities or “nations” under treaty, but Caesar says nothing about military operations:

During the same period of time, he had sent Publius Crassus with one legion against the Veneti, Venelli, Osismi, Coriosolites, Esuvii, Aulerci, and Redones, which are maritime nations that border on the Ocean. Crassus reported that all these nations had been brought into the control and power of the Roman people. [57]

Crassus and the 7th then winter among the Andes, a Gallic polity whose territory corresponds roughly with the diocese of Angers (Anjou) in the French department Maine-et-Loire. [58] Although Caesar locates the Andes “near the Atlantic,” they held no coast and were located inland along the Loire river.

Caesar is compelled to modify his assessment of the situation when he writes his account of the third year of the war, [59] in which he himself plays a diminished role and which is markedly shorter than his other six books. [60] Instead, Book 3 of the Bellum Gallicum focuses on Sulpicius Galba’s travails in the Alps, and campaigns led by the two junior officers Publius Crassus and Decimus Brutus.

Hostage crisis Edit

According to Caesar, the young Crassus, facing a shortage of rations, at some unspecified time sent out detachments to procure grain under the command of prefects and military tribunes, among them four named officers of equestrian status who are seized as hostages by three Gallic polities in collusion. The four are T. Terrasidius, held by the Esubii M. Trebius Gallus, by the Coriosolites and Q. Velanius and T. Silius, both by the Veneti. [61]

Whether the Gauls and the Romans understood each other's laws and customs pertaining to hostage-taking is at issue here as elsewhere in the course of the war, and the actions of Publius Crassus are difficult to reconstruct. The Latin word for hostage, obses (plural obsides), may translate but not necessarily correspond in legal application with the Celtic congestlos (in Gaulish). For both Romans and Celts, the handing over of hostages was often a formally negotiated term in a treaty [62] among the Celts, however, hostages were also exchanged as a pledge of mutual alliance with no loss of status, [63] a practice that should be placed in the context of other Celtic social institutions such as fosterage and political alliance through marriage. [64] Among the Celtic and Germanic peoples, hostage arrangements seem to have been a more mutually effective form of diplomatic pressure than was the always-onesided taking of hostages by the Romans. [65]

A concept of international law, expressed in Latin by the phrase ius gentium, existed by custom and consensus, and not in any written code or sworn treaty. [66] By custom, the safety of hostages was guaranteed unless parties to a treaty violated its terms, in which case the subjecting of hostages to punitive actions such as torture or execution was not regarded as violating the ius gentium. [67] If the Armoricans believed themselves to hold the four Romans as hostages in the sense of congestloi, it is unclear what negotiations Publius Crassus had undertaken. “Caesar liked energy and enterprise in young aristocrats,” Syme remarked, “a predilection not always attended with happy results.” [68] Caesar reacted with military force.

In writing the Bellum Gallicum, Caesar often elides legal and administrative arrangements in favor of military narrative. [69] The situation faced by Publius Crassus in Brittany involved both the prosaic matter of logistics (i.e., feeding the legion under his command) [70] as well as diplomacy among multiple polities, much of which had to be conducted on initiative during Caesar's absence. The building of a Roman fleet on the Loire river during the winter of 57–56 BC has been interpreted by several modern scholars [71] as preparation for an invasion of Britain, to which the Armoricans would have objected as a threat to their own trade relations with the island. Caesar, at any rate, is most expansive about the exciting naval battle that ensues from the crisis. [72]

When he received reports of the hostage situation in Armorica, Caesar had not yet returned to the front from his administrative winter quarters in Ravenna, where he had met with Publius's father for political deal-making prior to the more famous triumviral conference at Luca in April. [73] Caesar makes haste, and in the summer of 56 BC, the campaign against the Veneti and their allies is conducted by Decimus Brutus as a naval operation. Caesar gives no explanation for transferring Crassus from command on the Armorican front, although he does write in Bellum Gallicum that he (Caesar) ordered Crassus to proceed into Aquitania with twelve legionary cohorts and a great number of the cavalry to prevent tribes in Aquitania from sending volunteers or “auxiliaries” to unite with tribes of Gaul presumably to exploit the unrest caused by the hostage crisis. The Romans are eventually victorious, but the fate of the hostages is left unstated, and in a break with his policy in working with the Gallic aristocracy over the previous two years, Caesar orders the execution of the entire Venetian senate. [74]

Conqueror of Aquitania Edit

While naval operations were taking place in the waters of the Veneti, Publius Crassus was sent south to Aquitania, this time with a force consisting of twelve Roman legionary cohorts, allied Celtic cavalry and volunteers from Gallia Narbonensis. Ten cohorts is the standard complement of the Caesarian legion, and the twelve cohorts are not identified by any unit number. Caesar relates Publius's challenges and successes at some length and without any ambiguity about their military nature. Cassius Dio provides a synopsis, which does not accord in every detail with the account of Caesar:

About the same time Publius Crassus, the son of Marcus Crassus, subjugated nearly all of Aquitania. … Crassus conquered the Sotiates in battle and captured them by siege. He lost a few men, to be sure, by treachery in the course of a parley, but punished the enemy severely for this. On seeing some others who had banded together along with soldiers of Sertorius from Spain and were carrying on the war with skill, and not recklessly, since they believed that the Romans through lack of supplies would soon abandon the country, he pretended to be afraid of them. But although he incurred their contempt, he did not even then draw them into a conflict with him and so, while they were feeling secure with regard to the future, he attacked them suddenly and unexpectedly. At the point where he met them he accomplished nothing, because the barbarians rushed out and repelled him vigorously but while their main force was there, he sent some men around to the other side of their camp, got possession of this, which was destitute of men, and passing through it took the fighters in the rear. In this way they were all annihilated, and the rest with the exception of a few made terms without any contest. [75]

Caesar regards the victories of Publius Crassus as impressive for several reasons. Crassus was only about 25 at the time. [76] He was greatly outnumbered, but he recruited both new Celtic allies and called up provincial forces from southern Gaul [77] a thousand of his Celtic cavalry remain under his command and loyal to him till his death. [78] Caesar seems almost to present a military résumé for Crassus that outlines the qualities of a good officer. The young dux successfully brought the power of war machines to bear in laying siege to a stronghold of the Sotiates upon surrender, he showed clemency, a quality on which Caesar prided himself, toward the enemy commander Adcantuannus. [79] Crassus solicited opinions from his officers at a war council and achieved consensus on a plan of action. [80] He gathered intelligence and demonstrated his foresight and strategic thinking, employing tactics of stealth, surprise, and deception. [81] Caesar further makes a point of Crassus's attention to logistics and supply lines, which may have been a deficiency on the Armorican mission. [82] Ultimately, Crassus was able to out-general experienced men who had trained in Roman military tactics with the gifted rebel Quintus Sertorius on the Spanish front of the civil wars in the late 80s and 70s BC. [83]

Publius Crassus returned to Rome in the fall of 56 BC, or as late as January 55 BC. He brought with him a thousand troops from Gaul, the presence of which had a noticeable effect on the consular elections for the coming year. [84] Street violence was increasingly an instrument of political pressure, culminating three years later in the public murder of the popularist aristocrat Publius Clodius Pulcher. Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Crassus were eventually elected to their second joint consulship for the year of 55. Several steps were taken during this time to advance Publius's career. [85]

Monetalis Edit

Publius Crassus served as one of the monetales, or moneyers, authorized to issue coinage, most likely in the year of his father's consulship. In the late Republic, this office was a regular preliminary to the political career track for senators’ sons, to be followed by a run for quaestor when the age requirement of 30 was met. [76]

Common among the surviving coins issued by Publius Crassus is a denarius depicting a bust of Venus, perhaps a reference to Caesar's legendary genealogy, and on the reverse an unidentified female figure standing by a horse. The short-skirted equestrian holds the horse's bridle in her right hand, with a spear in her left. A cuirass and shield appear in the background at her feet. She may be an allegorical representation of Gallia, to commemorate Crassus's military achievements in Gaul and to honor the thousand Gallic cavalry who were deployed with him for Syria. [86]

Augur Edit

Publius received an additional boost to his career when he was co-opted into the college of augurs, replacing the late Lucius Licinius Lucullus, a staunch conservative in politics. Although the augurs held no direct political power, their right to withhold religious ratification could amount to a veto. It was a prestigious appointment that indicates great expectations for Publius's future. The vacancy left in the augural college by Publius's death two years later was filled by Cicero. [87]

Marriage Edit

During his time in Rome, Publius married the lavishly praised and highly educated Cornelia, who was probably around sixteen or seventeen. As the daughter of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, she was “the heiress of the last surviving branch of the Scipiones.” [88] Publius would have been in his late twenties. His military service abroad had postponed marriage to a later age than a Roman noble typically took a wife. The date of their betrothal goes unrecorded, but if Cornelia had long been the desired bride, she would have been too young to marry before Publius left for Gaul, and his worth as a husband may not have been as evident. [89] The political value of the marriage for Publius lay in family ties to the so-called optimates, a continually realigning faction of conservative senators who sought to preserve the traditional prerogatives of the aristocratic oligarchy and to prevent exceptional individuals from dominating through direct appeal to the people or the amassing of military power. [90] Publius's brother had been married to a daughter of Q. Caecilius Metellus Creticus (consul 69 BC), probably around 63–62 BC [91] both matches signal their father's desire for rapprochement with the optimates, despite his working arrangements with Caesar and Pompeius, an indication that perhaps the elder Crassus was more conservative than some have thought. [92]

Preparations for the East Edit

In a letter from February 55 BC, Cicero mentions the presence of Publius Crassus at a meeting held at his father's house. During these political negotiations, it was agreed that Cicero would not oppose a legatio, or state-sponsored junket, to the East by his longtime enemy Clodius Pulcher, in exchange for Marcus Crassus supporting an unidentified favor sought by Cicero. Although Clodius has sometimes been regarded as an agent or ally of Crassus, it is unclear whether his trip, probably to visit Byzantium or Galatia, was connected to Crassus's own intentions in the East. [93]

The triumviral negotiations at Ravenna and Luca had resulted in the prolongment of Caesar's Gallic command and the granting of an extended five-year proconsular province for each of the consuls of 55 BC. The Spanish provinces went to Pompeius Crassus arranged to have Syria, with the transparent intention of launching a war against Parthia. Some Romans opposed the war. Cicero calls it a war nulla causa (“with no justification”), on the grounds that Parthia had a treaty with Rome. [94] Others may have objected less to a war with Parthia than to the attempt of the triumvirate to amass power by waging it. Despite objections and a host of bad omens, [95] Marcus Crassus set sail from Brundisium in November 55 BC.

The notoriously wealthy Marcus Crassus was around sixty and hearing-impaired [96] when he embarked on the Parthian invasion. Plutarch in particular regards greed as his motive [97] modern historians tend toward envy and rivalry, since Crassus’ faded military reputation was inferior to that of Pompeius and, after five years of war in Gaul, to that of Caesar. Elizabeth Rawson, however, suggested that in addition to these or other practical objectives, the war was meant to provide an arena for Publius's abilities as a general, which he had begun to demonstrate so vividly in Gaul. [98] Cicero implies as much when he enumerates Publius's many fine qualities (see above) and then mourns and criticizes his young friend's destructive desire for gloria:

But like many other young men he was carried away by the tide of ambition and after serving a short time with reputation as a volunteer, nothing could satisfy him but to try his fortune as a general, — an employment which was confined by the wisdom of our ancestors to men who had arrived at a certain age, and who, even then, were obliged to submit their pretensions to the uncertain issue of a public decision. Thus, by exposing himself to a fatal catastrophe, while he was endeavouring to rival the fame of Cyrus and Alexander, who lived to finish their desperate career, he lost all resemblance of L. Crassus, and his other worthy progenitors. [27]

Publius presumably helped with preparations for the war. Both Pompeius and Crassus levied troops throughout Italy. Publius may have organized these efforts in the north, as he is said to have departed for Parthia from Gaul (probably Cisalpina). His thousand cavalry from Celtica (present-day France and Belgium), auxilia provided by technically independent allies, were likely to have been stationed in Cisalpina it is questionable whether the thousand-strong force he used to pressure elections in January 55 BC were these same men, as the employment of barbarians within Rome should have been viewed as outrageous enough to provoke comment. [99]

Publius's activities in 54 BC are unrecorded, but he and his Celtic cavalry troopers did not join his father in Syria until the winter of 54–53 BC, a year after the elder Crassus's departure. His horsemen may have been needed in Gaul as Caesar dealt with a renewed threat from Germanic tribes from across the Rhine and launched his first invasion of Britannia. [100]

Despite opposition to the war, Marcus Crassus was criticized for doing little to advance the invasion during the first year of his proconsulship. Upon entering winter quarters, he spent his time on the 1st-century BC equivalent of number-crunching and wealth management, rather than organizing his troops and engaging in diplomatic efforts to gain allies. Only after the arrival of Publius Crassus did he launch the war, and even that beginning was ill-omened. After an inventory of the treasury at the Temple of Atargatis, Hierapolis, Publius stumbled at the gate and his father tripped over him. [101] The reporting of this portent, fictional or not, suggests "that Publius was seen as the true cause of the disaster." [102]

The military advance was likewise attended by a series of bad omens, and the elder Crassus was frequently at odds with his quaestor, Cassius Longinus, the future assassin of Caesar. Cassius's strategic sense is presented by Plutarch as superior to that of his commander. Little is said of any contribution by Publius Crassus until a critical juncture at the river Balissus (Balikh), where most of the officers thought the army ought to make camp, rest after a long march through hostile terrain, and reconnoiter. Marcus Crassus instead is inspired by the eagerness of Publius and his Celtic cavalry to do battle, and after a quick halt in ranks for refreshment, the army marches headlong into a Parthian trap. [103]

Marcus Crassus commanded seven legions, the strength of which has been estimated variously from 28,000 to 40,000, along with 4,000 cavalry and a comparable number of light infantry. The Roman army vastly outnumbered the force they faced. Although the sandy, open desert landscape favored cavalry over infantry, the primary value of the Gallo-Roman cavalry was mobility, not force, being lightly armed and protected. By contrast, the one thousand heavily armored Parthian cataphracts rode barded horses and carried long heavy lances (kontos), the reach and power of which exceeded the Gallic spear, while the 9,000 Parthian mounted archers were equipped with a compound bow far superior to that used in Europe, with arrows continually replenished by foot soldiers from a camel train. The reputation of the legionaries for excellence in combat at close quarters had been anticipated by the Parthian general Surena, and answered with heavy cavalry and long-range weaponry. [104]

Marcus Crassus responded by drawing the legionaries into a defensive square, the shield-wall of which afforded some protection but within which they could accomplish nothing and risked being surrounded. To prevent encirclement, or perhaps in a desperate attempt at diversion, [105] Publius Crassus led out a corps of 1,300 cavalry, primarily his loyal Celtic troopers 500 archers and 4,000 elite infantry. The Parthian wing on his side, appearing to abandon their attempt to surround the army, then retreated. Publius pursued. When his force was out of visual and communication range of the main army, the Parthians halted, and Publius found himself in an ambush, with his force rapidly encircled. A military historian describes the scene:

They soon glimpsed the enemy horsemen only as fleeting shapes through an almost impenetrable curtain of sand and dust thrown up by their myriad hooves, while arrows whistled out of the gloom and pierced shields, mail, flesh and bone. [106]

With casualties mounting, Publius decided that a charge was his only option, but most of his men, riddled with arrows, could not respond to the call. Only the Gallic cavalry followed their young leader. The cataphracts returned the effort with a counter charge in which they held the distinct advantage in number and equipment. The weaker, shorter Gallic spears would have had limited effect against the heavy encasing armor of the cataphracts. But when the two forces closed, the lighter armor that left the Gauls more vulnerable also made them more agile. They grabbed hold of the Parthian lances and grappled to unseat the enemy horsemen. Other Gauls, unhorsed or choosing to dismount, stabbed the Parthian horses in the belly — a tactic that had been employed against Caesar's cavalry by outnumbered Germans the previous year in Gaul. [107]

Eventually, however, the Gauls are forced to retreat, carrying away their wounded leader to a nearby sand dune, where the surviving Roman forces regroup. They drive their horses into the center, then lock shields to form a perimeter. But because of the slope, the men were exposed in tiers to the ceaseless volleys of arrows. Two Greeks who knew the region tried to persuade Publius to escape to a nearby friendly city while his troops held off the enemy. He refused:

Publius, declaring that no death could have such terrors for him as to make him desert those who were perishing on his account, ordered them to save their own lives, bade them farewell, and dismissed them. Then he himself, being unable to use his hand, which had been pierced through with an arrow, presented his side to his shield-bearer and ordered him to strike home with his sword. [108]

The portrait of Publius in Parthia presented by Plutarch contrasts with Caesar's emphasis on the young man's prudence, diplomacy, and strategic thinking. Plutarch describes a leader who is above all keen to fight, brave to the point of recklessness, and tragically heroic in his embrace of death.

Publius Crassus's friends Censorinus and Megabocchus and most of the officers commit suicide next to him, and barely 500 men are left alive. The Parthians mutilate Publius's body and parade his head on the tip of a lance in front of the Roman camp. Taunts are hurled at his father for his son's greater courage. Plutarch suggests that Marcus Crassus was unable to recover from this psychological blow, and the military situation deteriorated rapidly as a result of his failing leadership. Most of the Roman army was killed or enslaved, except for about 10,000 led by or eventually reunited with Cassius, whose escape has sometimes been characterized as a desertion. [109] It was one of the worst military disasters in Roman history.

The civil war between Caesar and Pompeius is often said to have been made inevitable by the deaths of two people: Caesar's daughter Julia, whose political marriage to Pompeius surprised Roman social circles by its affection and Marcus Crassus, whose political influence and wealth had been a counterweight to the two greater militarists. It would be idle to speculate on what role Publius Crassus might have played either in the civil war or during Caesar's resulting dictatorship. In many ways, his career follows a course similar to the early life of Decimus Brutus, whose role in the assassination of Caesar was far from foreseeable. [110] Elizabeth Rawson concludes:

Publius was one of the several brilliant and promising young men of the period of the dying Republic whose careers were in one way or another cut short. But his influence on the events of his time was very great, though perhaps wholly disastrous. [102]

At the time of his assassination, Caesar was planning a war against Parthia in retaliation for Carrhae. Marcus Antonius made the attempt, but suffered another defeat by the Parthians. The lost standards of the Roman army were finally restored by Augustus.

Cornelia as widow Edit

Plutarch has Cornelia claim that she tried to kill herself upon learning of her young husband's death. [111] Since Roman widows were not expected to display suicidal grief, Plutarch's dramatization may suggest the depth of Cornelia's emotion at the loss. [112] She is unlikely to have been more than twenty years old at the time. The marriage seems to have produced no children, though Syme speculated about “an unknown daughter.” [113]

As a young and desirable widow, Cornelia then married Pompeius Magnus the following year, becoming his fifth and final wife. Pompeius was more than thirty years her senior. Swift remarriage was not unusual, and perhaps even customary, for aristocratic Romans after the death of a spouse. Despite the age difference, which met with disapproval, this marriage too was said to be affectionate, even passionate. [114] Cornelia was widowed a second time when Pompeius was killed and beheaded in Egypt during the civil war.

In Roman literature, Cornelia becomes almost the type of the gifted woman whose life is delimited by the tragic ambitions of her husbands. In his Life of Pompey, Plutarch has her blame the weight of her own daimon, heavy with the death of Crassus, for Pompeius's change in fortune. [115] Susan Treggiari remarks that Plutarch's portrayal of the couple “is not to be sharply distinguished from that of star-crossed lovers elsewhere in poetry.” [116] Lucan dramatizes the couple's fateful romance to an extreme in his often satiric epic Bellum Civile, where throughout Book 5 Cornelia becomes emblematic of the Late Republic itself, of its greatness and ruin by its most talented men. [117]

(P. Licinius?) Apollonius Edit

A lost biography of Publius Crassus was written by his Greek secretary Apollonius, who accompanied him on the Parthian campaign but presumably escaped with Cassius. Eight years after the battle, Cicero wrote a letter of recommendation to Caesar on behalf of Apollonius, praising him for his loyalty. [118] Since he was manumitted as a term of Publius's will, he is by Roman custom likely to have taken the name Publius Licinius Apollonius as a freedman. The highly laudatory account of Publius's death found in Plutarch suggests that Apollonius's biography was a source. [119]

Marcus, surviving brother Edit

Publius's surviving brother, Marcus, went to Gaul as Caesar's quaestor in 54 BC, the year before the Parthian defeat. His service record is undistinguished. [120] In 49 BC, Caesar as dictator appointed Marcus governor of Cisalpine Gaul, the ethnically Celtic north of Italy. [121] He appears to have remained a loyal partisan of Caesar. The Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus, of the Celtic Vocontii, said that the Parthians feared especially harsh retribution in any war won against them by Caesar, because the surviving son of Crassus would be among the Roman forces. [122]

His son, also named Marcus, resembled his uncle Publius in the scope of his military talent and ambition, and was not afraid to assert himself under the hegemony of Augustus. This Marcus (consul 30 BC), called by Syme an “illustrious renegade,” [123] was to be the last Roman outside the imperial family to earn a triumph from the senate. [124]

In literature Edit

Historians consistently record the death of Publius along with that of his far more famous father. [125] Latin poets who allude to the infamous military disaster often speak of the Crassi, plural. Ovid notes that Augustus built the Temple of Mars Ultor ("Mars the Avenger") to fulfill a vow made to the god if he would help avenge Caesar's murder and the Roman loss at Carrhae, where the Crassorum funera ("deaths of the Crassi") had enhanced the Parthians' sense of superiority. [126] Eutropius, four centuries after the fact, takes note of Publius as “a most illustrious and outstanding young man.” [127]

As author? Edit

The geographer Strabo refers to a treatise on the Cassiterides, the semi-legendary Tin Islands off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, written by a Publius Crassus [128] but not now extant. Several scholars of the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Theodor Mommsen [129] and T. Rice Holmes, thought that this prose work resulted from an expedition during Publius's occupation of Armorica. [130] Scholars of the 20th and early 21st centuries have been more inclined to assign authorship to the grandfather, during his proconsulship in Spain in the 90s BC, in which case Publius's Armorican mission may have been prompted in part by business interests and a desire to capitalize on the earlier survey of resources. [131]


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