Category: Parthian

PARTHIA: ROME’S ABLEST COMPETITOR: 

AS a superpower in its own right and in competition with Rome, Parthia’s empire – ruling from 247 BCE to 224 CE – stretched between the Mediterranean in the west to India in the east. Not only did the Parthians win battles against Rome they were also successful commercial competitors. On the military front, as part of their original expansion, Parthia’s victories against the Seleucid Empire would include the defeat of Antiochus VII by Phraates II at the Battle of Ecbatana in 129 BCE and the expansion and consolidation of their empire through the military campaigns of Mithridates I (r. 171-132 BCE) and Mithridates II (r. 124-88 BCE), but perhaps their greatest victories were against Rome.

While in control of the eastern trade routes by way of the Red Sea and overland routes through Arabia, Rome wanted to expand its interests to include the lucrative Silk Road through Mesopotamia. There was only one problem; Parthia was in the way. Mesopotamia was theirs, and Parthia would prove capable in defending its interests. After Crassus’ defeat at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE and Mark Antony’s retreat from Media in 36 BCE, a peace agreement was reached with Rome in 20 BCE. With peace obtained and its silk routes protected, Parthia could now go on to successfully compete with Rome through trade.

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BATTLE OF CARRHAE, 53 BCE:

THE Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE was one of the greatest military catastrophes in all of Roman history when a hero of the Spartacus campaign, Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 BCE), initiated an unprovoked invasion of Parthian territory (modern Iran). Most of the information concerning the battle and its aftermath comes from two major sources: the 1st-century CE historian Plutarch’s biography of Crassus and Roman History by Cassius Dio (c. 155 – c. 235 CE).

Carrhae proved to be a complete disaster from its beginning. Not only were the Romans not used to fighting on the open terrain and in the unbearable heat of Syria but they also had never seen anything like the Parthian cavalry: the cataphracts or armored camels. Iain Dickie, in his article on the battle in Battles of the Ancient World states that Crassus attempted “to score one over his political rivals Pompey and Caesar. He hoped for glory and riches but got tragedy and death” (140). In the end, 20,000 Romans were killed, 10,000 were captured, and only about 5,000 escaped the carnage.

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