The high price of failure Crassus and the Parthians

Intelligence is collected to enable commanders to make wise military decisions and win their battles and wars. If they do not collect ample, accurate intelligence and act on it properly, then they leave themselves open to disaster. The Greek historian Polybius makes it clear that a really experienced and responsible general does not move into a region about which he knows next to nothing without first having obtained thorough and detailed geographical, political, and military intelligence.1

One of the major problems the Romans had during the Republic was the amateurish nature of some of their commanders. The Romans did not distinguish between a civilian administrative career and a military career. Two consuls were elected annually, and how well trained they were militarily depended on the individual interest of the candidate. Sometimes they got an experienced field commander, but at other times they might elect an individual who had had little military experience other than a tour as a legate overseas.2 Although Livy in Book 9 states that some Roman generals were easily the equal of Alexander, the average Roman commander was not an innovative military leader and yet could find himself commanding vast military campaigns. Two well-known examples, Crassus and Caesar, will suffice to illustrate how both competent and incompetent commanders needed intelligence, and in spite of their innate abilities in the field, could find themselves at a great disadvantage should they try to take short cuts when it came to collecting intelligence properly and adequately.

Few if any military historians would speak of Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus in the same breath when discussing Roman generals. Caesar is known for his spectacular victories, Crassus for his spectacular failures. Yet both can serve as examples of the untenable positions into which military leaders can be led by the lack of good intelligence. Crassus was not a completely incompetent military commander; after all, he had saved Rome from the disaster of the Spartacus rebellion, and was held in sufficient high esteem to be appointed governor of Syria.3 Nor was Crassus atypical of Roman generals. But like many of his type, he tended to make two major tactical mistakes. First, he assumed that if he delivered the army to the battlefield, the army would do the rest, and that the result would be a Roman victory. Secondly, in search of a great victory and the glory that attended it, he underestimated the enemy and failed to collect the proper intelligence that would have given him a better estimate of the enemy’s strength and intentions. Like Caesar in Britain, he let his ambition override his common sense. In Crassus’s case, the mistake was fatal.

The peaceful Parthians

There was no particular reason for Crassus to invade Parthia at all. Parthia’s foreign policy at that time was essentially pacific. It was Rome that had begun the hostilities, with the acts and arrangements of Pompey the Great. Pompey had signed a treaty with the Parthian king, Phraates, ensuring Parthian neutrality during Rome’s war with Mithridates, and perhaps establishing the Euphrates as the frontier between the Roman and Parthian spheres of influence.4 As time passed, Roman policy became increasingly heavy-handed. Pompey violated his own treaty, seized the western provinces of Parthia, and intrigued with local vassal princes. When Phraates inquired about the Euphrates frontier, Pompey responded arrogantly and ominously that he would observe whatever frontier seemed just to him. The Romans were not yet contemplating a full-scale invasion of Parthia, but once Mithridates had been eliminated as a serious threat, Pompey had no motive to make concessions to the Parthians, since their help was no longer needed. Thus, a period of confrontation between the two powers was ushered in.

Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, contributed to these worsening relations by supporting a rebel claimant to the Parthian throne. In 58/57 bc, King Phraates was murdered by his sons Orodes and Mithridates. The parricides quarreled and Mithridates fled to Syria, where he persuaded the Roman governor, Gabinius, to back his claim to the throne.5 Gabinius mounted an expedition that got as far as the Euphrates, but he gave up the plan because of a larger bribe from Ptolemy IX Auletes, to support him as pretender to the Egyptian throne. Mithridates stayed with the Romans for a while but, when he realized that in the end they would offer little help, he returned to Parthia to raise a rebellion. He failed and was executed by Orodes II, sole ruler of Parthia by 55 bc. By the time Crassus arrived at the scene, relations between Parthia and Rome were at a stand-off.6

The Roman invasion

The appointment of Crassus to the Syrian command, therefore, continued a trend of Roman aggression toward Parthia, and set the stage for one of the worst, and least understood, military disasters in Roman history. Envying the prestige earned by Pompey in the east and by Caesar in Gaul, Crassus shattered the policy of cautious nonbelligerency against the Parthians and simply invaded their territory.7 This adventure was typical of Roman commanders in the late Republic, for whom greed or martial glory were sufficient motives to undertake a foreign campaign. The unjustified attack was unpopular in Rome,8 but, despite the opposition, 40,000 troops were mustered and Crassus left Rome on 13 November 55 bc. Plutarch describes how the curses of the tribune Aetius Capito, leader of the antiwar party, followed him as he departed from Brundisium.9 Other terrible omens would be reported before and during the campaign.10 Little intelligence had been gathered to prepare for this expedition, and now even signs from the gods were being ignored. Marching overland, Crassus reached Syria in April or May 54 bc and took over the command of Gabinius. With the Syrian garrisons, Crassus had an army of seven legions, to which were added mounted troops made available by Rome’s allies, Abgarus of Osrohene, the Arab Prince Alchaudonius, and Artavasdes of Armenia. Help from these quarters, however, was unreliable and of doubtful quality. Alchaudonius quickly declared himself pro-Parthian, while Abgarus was acting as a double agent: pretending to be on Crassus’s side while reporting back to the Parthians.11

Crassus arrived with a proper army but lacked hard strategic intelligence. He knew little about Parthia and his most evident failure was not acquainting himself with his enemy. He thought the Parthians were like the Armenians and, misled by previous Roman victories, was already anticipating his gilded laurels. Nor was intelligence difficult to obtain. Recent military operations conducted in the region, by Lucullus, Gabinius, and Pompey among others, should have provided valuable information about the topography of Parthia, the strength of its armed forces, the type of weapons they used, weather conditions, and the willingness and ability of the Parthians to wage war. Instead, all of these factors were ignored, and Crassus mounted a major campaign against a formidable enemy from a position of relative ignorance. It was solely to gratify his need for military glory that Crassus took advantage of his position to attack those whom Cicero described as a most peaceable folk.12 His only fear seems to have been that easy success might diminish his glory.

Tactically, Crassus was in a better position because his subordinate officers did collect intelligence along their route. Once Roman troops had crossed the Euphrates and invaded Mesopotamia, they sent cavalry scouts (prodromoi) ahead of them to clear the route. They spent the first year on minor operations, the purpose of which is not clear. Crassus took up winter quarters in Syria, and waited for his son’s arrival from Caesar’s army in Gaul. Plutarch criticizes him for not having regular roll calls, or organizing athletic contests for his men.13 Surely the collection of intelligence about Parthian strength, disposition, and weaponry should have been his first priority. Instead, he was working out what revenue could be drawn from the various cities and letting discipline lag.

The only resistance the Romans met came from the Parthian satrap Silaces, whose forces were easily scattered when their leader was wounded. Greek cities in Syria, including Nicephorium, came over to the Roman cause, and Silaces retired to brief the Parthian king, Orodes, on the outcome of that early encounter with Crassus’s army; the Parthian forces at hand were too small to offer further resistance. Crassus did not follow up his initial success, and lost the momentum by not pressing home his objective, Seleucia on the Tigris, nor did he winter at a forward location so as to monitor the situation in his area of interest, but instead retired to winter quarters in Syria.14 At the time of Crassus’s first campaign, Orodes was still vying with his brother Mithridates for the throne of their murdered father, and it would have been an opportune time for Crassus to exploit this fraternal conflict. Instead, his withdrawal for the winter allowed Orodes to eliminate Mithridates and make preparations to fight the Romans.15

The Parthians, meanwhile, were closely observing Roman movements. Orodes seemed well-informed of developments on the political scene in Rome, and he apparently had grounds to believe that Crassus was waging the war on his own accord. We certainly cannot accept Dio’s claim that the Parthians did not expect the Roman invasion.16 Orodes knew what was happening, but as long as his throne was not entirely secure he was reluctant to bring together the nobles unless it was absolutely necessary, because, together, they might conspire to overthrow him. Crassus had encountered only light resistance because the Parthians had a rather small standing army and needed time to mobilize additional reserves. When Crassus halted his initiative and returned to Syria for the winter, Orodes directed two generals to harass Crassus’s garrisons in the villages recently taken by the Romans, while Orodes himself continued to prepare for the impending struggle.

Envoys from Orodes visited Crassus in Syria, probably in the early spring of 53 bc.17 They demanded to know the reason for this unprovoked invasion. If war was being waged without the consent of the Roman people (as the Parthians had been informed by their agents), the Parthians would show mercy and take pity on the aging Crassus. If, on the other hand, the attack was formally authorized, then the war would be prosecuted without truce or treaty. The contents of Orodes’s message to Crassus, if correctly reported, may be indicative of a Parthian intelligence capability to follow events at Rome.18 Without sources of some description in the foreign capital, the Parthians could not have discovered whether Crassus’s campaign was an officially sanctioned one, or a private enterprise like some other military ventures of that period. It is significant that Orodes gave the impression of being fairly convinced the latter was the case, but refrained from stating this categorically and opted to put it in the form of a question to Crassus. Assuming that the Parthians did not determine conclusively that Crassus’s campaign indeed was a private enterprise, the root of their doubts could be that whatever intelligence assets they did have at Rome were not sufficiently well placed to enjoy unfettered access to all the relevant information. If Orodes’s conditional bid was calculated to give Crassus a diplomatic way out and help the Parthians pursue a course of containment, it failed.19 The proposition infuriated Crassus. He replied that he would give his answer to Orodes in Seleucia when the Romans arrived at the Parthian capital, whereupon one of the Parthian envoys, Vagises, pointing to the palm of his hand, said, “Sooner will hair grow here than you shall see Seleucia.”20

Crassus’s next mistake was to refuse the advice of King Artavasdes of Armenia, who came to his aid with 6,000 troops and urged Crassus to invade Parthia by way of Armenia (see Map 15).21 Crassus declined this invitation, explaining that he had already stationed garrisons in the territory conquered the previous summer, personnel he would have to leave behind if he chose another invasion route. He was committed to following his original route back to Parthia. Artavasdes’s suggestion had considerable merit, since Armenia’s mountainous terrain was sure to frustrate any counteroffensive by the Parthian cavalry. But acceptance of Artavasdes’s proposal would also have tied Crassus to a distant route, with an uncertain ally between himself and his base. Crassus’s decision cost him the support of Artavasdes, who, when his advice and assistance were rejected, rode away. Crassus probably still expected Artavasdes to fulfill his obligations as Rome’s ally, and evidently Orodes believed so too, as he was readying his forces for war on two fronts. Orodes resolved to conduct the offensive against Armenia himself, while entrusting his general, Surenas, with the defense of Mesopotamia against Crassus.22

Map 15 Armenia and Parthia.

Crassus crossed the Euphrates at Zeugma and began his main offensive with a force of about 42,000 strong, including 4,000 cavalry and an equal number of lightly armed infantry. Opposing him was Surenas, the second most important man in Parthia, who had great wealth and a vast number of retainers. His private army of mail-clad horsemen – the so-called cataphracts – and lightly armed cavalry totaled 10,000.23 Since archers could carry only a limited quantity of arrows with them, Surenas organized a troop of camels to transport a huge reserve of arrows.24 And herein lies the reason why, prior to Carrhae, the western world had so grossly underestimated the potency of Parthian weapons and tactics. In the West mounted archers did not count for much, although Cretan mercenaries did sometimes serve as archers. Roman historians such as Justin write that the Parthians could not fight a protracted battle, and even as late as Carrhae the Roman troops presumed that the Parthians would fast exhaust their supply of arrows.25 This would suggest that Roman officers either had no inkling of Surenas’s ammunition resupply system, or, if they did know the truth, they hid it from their troops so as not to dampen their morale. If the Roman command was altogether unaware of Parthian capabilities, then this should qualify as a major intelligence failure, and an unforgivable one at that, because the information was at hand. Earlier, when Crassus’s army was wintering in Syria, eyewitnesses escaped from the towns garrisoned during the first campaign in Mesopotamia in 54 bc and described the superiority of the Parthian mounted archers. For that very reason Cassius and other officers tried to persuade Crassus to reconsider the whole project,26 but Crassus ignored their advice. Since he also failed to take into account the peculiarities of the desert terrain and climate, the intelligence breakdown seems to have been total.

Roman reconnaissance was not lacking. Cassius wisely suggested that the Roman Army should rest in one of the garrisoned villages while scouts were sent to gather information about the enemy forces. The scouts discovered tracks leading eastward from the river, which were assumed to indicate that the enemy had fled. Crassus then had to decide whether to continue along his original route or to strike out cross-country in pursuit of the supposedly retreating Parthians. According to Plutarch, while Crassus was considering which route to follow, Abgar of Osrohene arrived with the news that the Parthians were withdrawing and taking their goods with them, and, moreover, that they had left only two subordinate officers to cover their flight. Eager to chase what he believed to be an enemy in flight, Crassus accepted Abgar’s offer to guide the army. Without verifying the information, Crassus let enthusiasm cloud his judgment, and immediately advanced across Mesopotamia. Roman historians label Abgar a traitor who coaxed Crassus to deviate from his safe route along the river and led him through an open desert, where the troops suffered from the barrenness and were thus vulnerable to cavalry attack. On the pretext of spying out the Parthians, Abgar is said to have met with Surenas, whom he informed of Roman movements.27 The fact remains that he led the Romans into the immediate vicinity of the main Parthian force and, when the battle was imminent, made a pretext to ride away.

If Abgar indeed was a carrier of disinformation, the trick was effective, but we cannot corroborate the charges of treachery.28 In reality, Abgar may only have been leading the Romans along an old Arab road – a regular trade route dotted with oases and small settlements intended to supply Arab traders and their camel caravans. This particular track had a section of desert which took a day and a half to cross before reaching the Belikh River.29 The soldiers grumbled at the hardships of the march. Abgar’s sarcasm was not unjustified: “Is it through Campania that you think you are marching, yearning for its fountains and streams and shades and baths… and taverns. This is rather the border between Assyria and Arabia”.30 The troops, tired, thirsty, and hungry, reached the Belikh at a point below Carrhae on 6 May 53 bc.31 At Carrhae scouts informed Crassus that Surenas was in the vicinity. They reported finding the tracks of large numbers of horses turning away from the Romans, but had encountered no actual people.32 Cassius and the subordinate officers advised him to either make a fortified encampment from which he could safely reconnoiter, or else proceed along the riverbank toward Seleucia, thus keeping his right flank covered and guaranteeing a line of supply by water.33 Crassus did neither; he advanced almost immediately without allowing his men sufficient time to eat and drink while standing in ranks. He had started southward when his scouts reported back that the Parthians were approaching. The allied cavalry promptly deserted.

Crassus’s problem was in being able to pin the Parthians down and trap them into fighting on terrain which might be to their disadvantage. There is no evidence that he understood this. He seems to have believed that a search-and-destroy operation carried out by conventional Roman methods would work.34 He had now located the Parthians; the only task left was to defeat them.

The Battle of Carrhae

As the Parthians drew nearer, the first Romans prepared to advance to the encounter in extended line, but later changed to the square. The strength and size of the Parthian Army were unknown. Its main body was invisible behind a vanguard, and the cataphracts concealed their armor under hides.35 On a signal they discarded the camouflage coverings, and as the sun glittered on their helmets of “Margian” steel, they charged the Roman line.36 Crassus was swiftly surrounded, and the Romans now understood the damage that could be wreaked by the Parthian archery. Their bows had a longer range than those in the Roman arsenal, and their arrows a more powerful impact, sufficient to penetrate Roman armor.37 In addition, the Romans’ close formation rendered them highly vulnerable to the barrage of Parthian arrows. Counterattacks were futile since the Parthians simply withdrew, shooting backward from their mounts as they retired, the famous “Parthian shot.”

A second Parthian deception resulted in another disaster for the Romans. Crassus had ordered his son Publius to lead a charge as the enemy was attacking and attempting to surround Publius’s wing with the intention of getting at its rear. Publius charged and the Parthians feigned a retreat, which was a ruse to lure the younger Crassus and his cavalry farther from the main body of the Roman Army. Once he was far enough away, the Parthians turned and surrounded him. His entire force was destroyed; some soldiers survived to surrender. Most of the officers ordered their shield-bearers to kill them, or else they committed suicide. The Parthians cut off Publius’s head, impaled it on a lance, and rejoined the attack. Despite heavy losses from the incessant hail of arrows, the square held until nightfall brought a respite. Once the pressure was off, Crassus broke down, and the order for retreat was given by his lieutenants, Octavius and Cassius. The army sought to escape in silence, but the Parthians were alerted by the cries of 4,000 wounded Romans, who realized that they were being abandoned. The Parthians were not very adept in night fighting, so they did nothing to stop Crassus’s retreat. By dawn, most of the survivors were walled up at Carrhae; the Parthians spent the day capturing or killing Roman casualties and stragglers, including four cohorts under the command of the legate Vargunteius, who had been separated from the main body.38

Once Parthian intelligence had determined that Crassus and his officers were present in Carrhae, elements of the Parthian Army surrounded the town. The place offered little protection or security to the Romans; no provisions were available locally, nor were there Roman troops in Syria to come to their rescue. Crassus retreated by night northwards to Sinnaca, a town in the Armenian foothills, where the remnants of his army would be safe from the Parthian horsemen. Roman counterintelligence failed again, and Crassus chose a Parthian agent named Andromachus to be his guide.39 Andromachus led the retreating Romans through the night, to and fro over the hilly terrain to slow their march, wearing the soldiers down and wasting time so that by daylight the Parthians would be close. For his trouble the agent was generously rewarded by the Parthians. This theme of a Roman commander being purposefully and treacherously misguided is a common excuse for military disasters. One wonders why the Romans always relied on local guides and never seemed to possess adequate geographical information before they became involved in major foreign conquests.40 Crassus’s officer, Octavius, was better served by his own guides; with 5,000 men he safely reached Sinnaca to await Crassus. When Crassus later appeared on a low ridge with only four cohorts surrounded by the enemy, Octavius went out to help.

Surenas, wanting to take Crassus alive, and fearing that the Romans might still escape since darkness was falling and the foothills were near, offered to discuss a truce and safe conduct. First though, he set the stage with more disinformation. He released some Roman prisoners, who had been deliberately allowed to overhear a conversation in which assurances of kind treatment for Crassus and a desire for peace were expressed. The Parthians ceased fighting and Surenas rode up to the knoll, where he offered Crassus safe passage and a treaty of peace. Crassus suspected treachery; indeed, scholars have widely debated whether the Parthian offer was genuine.41 In any event, Crassus decided to accept Surenas’s terms. A meeting was held between the two leaders, each accompanied by an equal number of men. The Parthians arrived on horseback, the Romans on foot. Surenas ordered a horse for Crassus, saying that a definitive treaty must be signed on the Euphrates frontier. But Octavius and some officers had followed Crassus and, when a horse was brought, they guessed that the Parthians intended to carry him off. There was a scuffle, during which all the Romans were cut down, and in the commotion Crassus was killed. No one could ever tell with certainty how he died.

There is no doubt that Carrhae was one of the most humiliating defeats that the Roman Army ever suffered. Of Crassus’s 44,000 men, only 10,000 reached Syria; another 10,000 were made prisoners and resettled at Merv, in order to protect the Parthian frontier. The remaining 24,000 perished.42 Surenas reportedly held a mock triumph in Seleucia, at which a Roman captive, C. Paccianus, who bore a resemblance to Crassus, was paraded in women’s clothing and ridiculed with the title Imperator. Crassus’s head and right hand were cut off and sent to Orodes, while his corpse was left unburied.43 As a final insult, molten gold was poured down the dead man’s throat to symbolize the downfall which he had brought upon himself by his excessive greed for riches.44

The explanation of the defeat has to do more with Crassus than with Cassius or his other senior officers. Crassus was a Roman general not untypical of his period. He was brave enough, obstinate, ordinarily competent, and conventional. He believed that if he brought the legions into contact with the enemy, then the legions would do the rest. He was unfortunate to meet, late in life, an enemy commander who had the imagination Crassus himself lacked. Now, advancing in age and trying to outrun his younger competitors, he made a number of serious military blunders, just when he could least afford it.45

Without the necessary intelligence upon which to base his decisions, Crassus had no idea of what he might encounter in the field. By the time he faced the enemy it was too late to find out. He could have gathered and analyzed much more intelligence than he seems to have done; at the very least, he should have consulted his own officers about the information they had. Arguably, his most damaging oversight in the sphere of intelligence was his failure to cultivate promising assets: there were, for instance, many Greeks in this area who knew the region well, yet Crassus altogether ignored these potentially valuable sources. He and his son Publius, and the overwhelming bulk of his great army, lay dead in the sands of Parthia – not so much the victims of the Parthian archers and executioners than the victims of Crassus’s unbridled ambition, greed, and haste.

What would pertinent intelligence have taught him? That the Parthians had developed, for the first time in known history, a trained professional force equipped with long-range weapons and carrying a large quantity of ammunition for a protracted fight. This alone, however, would not have been enough to defeat the Romans. The combination of heavy cavalry and mounted archers is said to have revolutionized ancient warfare, and it has further been argued these two elements in concert were the primary contributors to Crassus’s defeat. In truth, the myth of Parthian military superiority was bom at Carrhae.46 But such a debacle was by no means inevitable. The Roman Army at Carrhae was more than three times the size of the Parthian force. Had the Romans used their intelligence resources and not fallen for the Parthian ruse, they could have prevailed. The historian W.W. Tam believed that even if Caesar had been there, with no more cavalry than that at Crassus’s disposal, he too would not have stood a chance.47 But the Parthians were neither that numerous nor superior in arms, and later Roman commanders would find ways to defeat them. The Parthians at Carrhae simply knew what to expect and artfully lured the Romans into unfavorable positions. Reliable intelligence, surprise, and speed gave the Parthian forces the edge over an army that was disproportionately larger.

Nor did those long-range weapons and large amounts of ammunition truly revolutionize ancient warfare. Surenas was executed the following year and his organization broke up. The Romans developed long-range weapons of their own. When Antony invaded Parthia seventeen years later, he was accompanied by expert slingers whose weapons, with lead bullets, could outrange the bow. Carrhae demonstrated to the Romans the vulnerability of their legions to cavalry attack, and the need to strengthen the Roman cavalry, which had been neglected ever since the military reforms of Marius a half-century earlier.48 Carrhae should have impressed upon the Romans the importance of collecting intelligence and acting. Instead, the invincibility of the legions continued to remain an article of faith, a dogma that long precluded the establishment of a regular Roman cavalry or an intelligence arm. This resistance to change was distinctive of a people whose pride and confidence had served them well in the past. The late Republic was an age when senior commanders with tremendous individual powers were embroiling Rome in a clash of wills and authority characteristic of a decaying government. The resultant inefficiency is reflected in the nature of intelligence collection, which, at the national level, was piecemeal and ineffective. Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, Pompey’s conquest of the East, and Octavian’s conquest of Egypt were all facilitated by these commanders’ own privately constituted intelligence networks, which also served each of them in the civil wars.

Parthia, in contrast to Rome, was a loosely feudal monarchy, which, although suffering its share of internecine squabbles, could pursue a simpler and more consistent policy. The Parthians were fighting on familiar territory, and their intelligence service kept them well informed of the nature, strength, and location of the enemy. Orodes had tried as long as possible to minimize the effects the Roman commanders had on his previously good relations with Rome. When this effort failed, he launched a successful counterattack against the Romans. Fixing the Euphrates as the frontier and securing the border against its neighbors were the aims of the Parthian’s essentially nonaggressive foreign policy, but Crassus’s death changed this intention drastically. Rome was forced to avenge the great blow to its prestige and only a successful war against the enemy could restore it. The defeat required retaliation, and more than a century later Lucan would still bewail the civil wars that Rome waged while “the ghost of Crassus wandered unavenged.”49 The Roman defeat had had a great political effect. Crassus’s fiasco placed Parthia on an equal if not superior plane with Rome in the minds of men all the way from the Mediterranean to the Indus.50 This new attitude would influence Roman policy toward Parthia for decades. The Parthians were thus driven to abandon their pacific stance and take the offensive. The Romans never stopped chasing the Parthian chimera.51

Rome might have learned much from the Parthians at Carrhae about effective intelligence operations, especially with more eastern campaigns being planned. Crassus’s last remarks to his officers, which conveyed his loyalty and the loyalty of his army, sum up equally well the Roman susceptibility to deception: “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.”52


1. Polybius 3.48; Vegetius 3.6 writing long after the time of Caesar; Austin and Rankov, Exploratio, p. 13.

2. See Gruen’s remarks in Hellenistic World, p. 231: “Rome’s commanders and principal officers gained their posts through election to magistracies: a matter of politics, prestige, and familial connections. Familiarity with a theater of war and knowledge of a foreign people received but slight attention and only on rare occasions.” He continues: “The prudent general would, of course, seek the counsel of men skilled in military matters. Such skills belonged to the staff; they were not a requisite of the Imperator. The lot could fall where it may upon those who had risen to the top.” Even prorogation was unusual because of the competition for military glory.

3. See. R.M. Sheldon, “The Spartacus Rebellion: A Roman Intelligence Failure?” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 6, 1 (1993), pp. 69–84.

4. The agreement, sealed by a foedus or grant of amicitia, was reached with the Parthians in 66 bc. Florus 1.40.31 foedus; Ampelius 31.1; amicitia in Justin 42.4.6; Livy, Per. 100. Cf. Dio Cassius 36.45.3 and 51.1. Agreement on the Euphrates frontier is suggested by Orosius 6.13.2 but denied by implication in Florus 1.46.4. Dio Cassius 36.3.Iff. Appian, Mithr. 13.87. See C.R. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 53.

5. The numismatic evidence seems to support the claim that the elder brother Mithridates III succeeded to the throne after the murder of his father. But he made himself so objectionable that he was expelled by the nobles, who installed Orodes as ruler. N.C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1968), p. 76, n. 23.

6. Dio Cassius 37.5.1–7.5.

7. The motive given by most ancient writers was greed. Plutarch, Crassus 1.2.2–8; 14.4; Appian, bc 2.18; Velleius Paterculus 2.46.3; Florus 1.46.2; Pliny, HN 33.134: “nor would it be satisfied until he had usurped all the gold of the Parthians.” H. Rackham translation, Loeb Classical Library edition; Seneca, Quaestiones Naturales 5.18.10. It helped to put the blame on Crassus personally and not on the failure of Roman arms. For economic motives, see P. Giles, “Rome and the Far East in 53 bc,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 1 (1929), pp. 1–4; cf. D. Magie, “Roman Policy in Armenia and Transcaucasia,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association 1 (1919), p. 297.

8. The people were angered over the levying of troops for a war that was viewed as unjust, illegal and designed solely to make Crassus rich. Plutarch, Pompey 52; Vell. Pat. 2.46.2; Livy, Epit. 105; Plutarch, Crassus 16.3: “a large party arose which was displeased that anyone should go out to wage war on men who had done the state no wrong, but were in treaty relations with it,” Bernadotte Perrin translation, Loeb Classical Library. Appian, bc 2.18 also implies that Crassus’s intention was known before he left Rome. Florus 1.46.2: “Both gods and men were defied by the avarice of the consul Crassus, in coveting the gold of Parthia,” E.S. Forster translation, Loeb Classical Library.

9. Plutarch, Crassus 16. Several years later the censor of 50, Appius Claudius Pulcher, who was also an augur, charged Ateius with having falsified the auspices and thereby bringing a terrible calamity upon the Roman people. The story that curses were a part of Ateius’s opposition is doubtful. A.D. Simpson, “The Departure of Crassus for Parthia,” TAPA 69 (1938), pp. 532–411 shows how the picturesque additions to the story came about because of a confusion among the consuls Crassus Mucianus and Crassus Divers and the tribunes Atinius and Ateius.

10. Cicero, De. Div. 1.16.29 says that the catastrophe at Carrhae happened because Crassus neglected the formal report of unfavorable omens. See B.A. Marshall, Crassus. A Political Biography (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1976), pp. 150–1 for the ominous signs. Dio 40.17–18.

11. Dio 40.20.

12. Marshall, Crassus, pp. 144–6 claims that the unrest in Parthia represented a threat to Roman interests in the area. He cites Festus 17 and Zosimus 3.23.3, both later epitomizers, and both inaccurate. The fact remains that the Parthians had been pacific and were likely to remain so. Tacitus, Germania 37, considered them much less important as opponents than the free Germans.

13. Plutarch, Crassus 17. See also W.W. Tam, “Invasion of Crassus,” CAH, vol. 9, p. 606.

14. Dio Cassius 40.13.4; Plutarch, Crassus 17.4–5; M. Gelzer, “Marcus Licinius Crassus,” R-E, 13.232 suggests that he did not have enough cavalry for anything more than reconnaissance. Cf. E.S. Gruen, “Crassus,” AJAH 2 (1977), p. 125.

15. Plutarch, Crassus 17.8; Dio Cassius 40.13.4; G. Rawlinson, The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy (London: Longman Green & Co., 1873), p. 151.

16. Dio Cassius 40. 12.

17. Plutarch, Crassus 18.1, when he was assembling his forces from their winter quarters. Cf. Dio Cassius 40.16.1. Floras 1.46.4 says the embassy came to him at Nicephorium, which could only have been in the campaign in 54 bc.

18. On the superiority of Parthian intelligence, see Debevoise, Political History of Parthia, p. 82.

19. A. Keavney, “The King and the War Lords: Romano-Parthian Relations circa 64–53 bc,” AJPh 103 (1982), p. 425.

20. Dio Cassius 40.16.1–3, Earnest Cary translation, Loeb Classical Library edition. Cf. Plutarch, Crassus 18.

21. Plutarch, Crassus 19.1–2. In addition to the 6,000 horsemen who accompanied him to the camp, he is said to have offered 10,000 heavily armed cavalry and 30,000 infantry.

22. Only his hereditary title suren suvives. We do not know the personal name of the victor at Carrhae. See A.D.H. Bivar, “The Political History of Iran Under the Arsacids,” in The Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968–91), vol. 3, p. 50.

23. Most Roman writers with the exception of Velleius Paterculus (2.46) never ascribe a large force to the Parthians. Plutarch, Crassus 20 gives the force at 7 legions with horse and as many light-armed men. Floras 1.46.2 speaks of 11 legions; Appian, Bell. civ. 2.18 says 100,000. The legions are estimated at 35,000 by Rawlinson, Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy, pp. 55ff.; 35,000 by P.M. Sykes, History of Persia (New York: Routledge, 1969), vol. 1, p. 347; and 28,000 by W.W. Tam in CAH, vol. 9, p. 608.

24. Plutarch, Crassus 21.6 mentions that Surenas’s baggage train included 1,000 camels. See W.W. Tarn, Hellenistic Military and Naval Developments (New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1966), pp. 160–1. On the use of archers by the Parthians, see A.D.H. Bivar, “Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on Euphrates,” DOP 26 (1976), pp. 271–91.

25. Justin 41.2.8.

26. Plutarch, Crassus 18.3–4; A. Garzetti, “M. Licinio Crasso,” Athenaeum n.s., 22–3 (1944/45), p. 43, who suggests these two incidents show that Cassius was not entirely devoted to his commander and the campaign, and suggests that the lack of devotion was due to the fact that he was a political opponent. Plutarch, on the other hand, draws a picture of Cassius in contrast with the hesitation and irrationality of Crassus. F.E. Adcock, Marcus Crassus, Millionaire (Cambridge: Heffer, 1966), p. 59 suggests that the favorable picture of Cassius derives from Plutarch’s use of Q. Dellius, who served under Cassius later and knew his version of the campaign.

27. There are other traitors mentioned in the sources. Florus talks of a Syrian exile, Mazaras, who deceived Crassus and led him into open territory. Florus 1.46.6–7; Festus, Brev. 17 follows Florus’s story. J.W. Eadie, The Breviarum of Festus (London: Athlone Press, 1967), p. 132.

28. Abgar had been Pompeius’s friend and owed his position as a client king to Pompey’s settlement. It is not likely he would have abandoned his Roman alliance, which was protection against a takeover of his kingdom by the Parthians. It is possible that he lost his kingdom after Carrhae. Had he been on the Parthian side, why was he not rewarded? See Marshall, Crassus, p. 155.

29. Website: Tarn, CAH, vol. 9, p. 608 identifies the description in Plutarch, Crassus 22 with the road of Strabo–16.748.

30. Plutarch, Crassus 22.5, Bemadotte Perrin translation, Loeb Classical Library.

31. This site is the Haran of the Old Testament and the Mari letters. It was an important provincial capital, trading city, and fortress of the Assyrian empire.

32. Plutarch, Crassus 20.1. Plutarch is evidently referring to the exploratores, i.e. the cavalry sent out for a reconnaissance.

33. Website: Ibid., 20. Charles Fair, From the Jaws of Victory (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971), p. 37.

34. Fair, From the Jaws of Victory, p. 36.

35. Plutarch, Crassus 23.6; Dio Cassius 40.21.2.

36. The cataphracts were probably Saka tribesmen recmited on the eastern frontier of Parthia. See A.D.H. Bivar, “The Political History of Iran Under the Arsacids,” in Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3, p. 53.

37. Plutarch, Crassus 24.4; Dio Cassius 40.22.4; M.A.R. Colledge, The Parthians (London: Thames & Hudson, 1967), p. 40; J.C. Coulston, “Roman, Parthian and Sassanian Tactical Developments,” in P. Freeman and D. Kennedy (eds), The Defense of the Roman and Byzantine East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 59–75.

38. Plutarch, Crassus 27; Dio Cassius 40.25.

39. Plutarch, Crassus 29.2–6.

40. Note that both the expeditions of Crassus and Antony against Parthia went wrong because they took huge armies through unfamiliar territory without adequate preparation, see Isaac, Limits of Empire, p. 403, and more recently S. Mattern, Rome and the Enemy. Imperial Strategy in the Principate (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 66–9.

41. Plutarch, Crassus 31.2–3 says he rode up to Crassus and made the invitation personally. Dio Cassius 40.26.1–3 says he sent an invitation to him. Dio Cassius also says that Crassus agreed to the parley out of anxiety for his men. Plutarch, Crassus 31.4–6; Florus 1.46.9; Dio Cassius 40.26.2–27.2; Livy Per. 106; Orosius 6.13.4.; Tarn believes he saw the trick, CAH, vol. 9, p. 611.

42. Pliny, HN 6.47.

43. Plutarch, Crassus 31.6–7; 32.1–2; Florus 1.46.10. Some say his body was left unburied. Seneca, Controversiae 2.1.7; Lucan 8.394ff.; Val. Max. 1.6.11. Ovid, Art of Love 1.180 says both the Crassi were buried.

44. Dio Cassius 40.27.3.

45. Plutarch, Crassus 17.3; Dio Cassius 40.12.27.

46. A few years after Carrhae it was shared by Cicero, Letters to his Friends 9.25.1. See J.W. Eadie, “The Development of Roman Mailed Cavalry,” Journal of Roman Studies 57 (1967), p. 164, who points out that it was the Parthian feint and Roman tactical mistakes, not the technological superiority of the Parthian cataphracts, that defeated the Romans. Cf. E. Gabba, “Sulle influenze reciproche degli ordinamenti militari dei Parti e dei Romani,” Per la storia dell’ esercito Romana in età Imperiale (Bologna: Patron, 1974).

47. Tam, Hellenistic and Naval Developments, p. 91.

48. Eadie, “Development of Roman Mailed Cavalry,” p. 164. Julius Caesar, a few years before Carrhae, had added Gallic and German equites, together with Cretan and Numidian archers, to his legions in Gaul. In the civil war he introduced mixed units of equites and antesigniani (elite infantrymen), which were employed against Pompey’s cavalry. Caesar’s successors, however, abandoned the antesigniani and relied exclusively on auxiliary equites to repel cavalry attacks. Cf. R. Ghirshman, Iran from the Earliest Times to the Islamic Conquest (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954), p. 252; E.L. Wheeler, “Why the Romans Can’t Defeat the Parthians: Julius Africanus and the Strategy of Magic,” Roman Frontier Studies 1995 (Oxbow Monograph 91, 1997), pp. 575–9.

49. Lucan, Pharsalia 1.2–12, J.D. Duff translation, Loeb Classical Library.

50. Dio Cassius 40.14.3: “[The Parthians] finally advanced to so great glory and power as to wage war even against the Romans at that time, and ever afterward down to the present day to be considered a match for them.” Earnest Cary translation, Loeb Classical Library edition. Cf. Pliny, HN 5.88 (25); Justin 41.1.1; Herodian 4.10. For its effect on the Jews, see Debevoise, Political History of Parthia, pp. 93–5. See also Bivar, “Political History of Iran,” p. 55.

51. See A.M. Ward, Marcus Crassus and the Late Roman Republic (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1977), p. 280.

52. Plutarch, Crassus 30.5, Bernadotte Perrin translation, Loeb Classical Library edition.

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