Disaster at Carrhae

In 55 BC Crassus had, during his consulship, in the aftermath of the conference at Luca, managed to secure himself the governorship of Syria. Phenomenally rich and renowned for greed, people saw this as yet another example of his appetite for money. The east was rich, and a governor of Syria could hope to be much the richer on his return to Rome.

But Crassus was for once, it appears, seeking more than mere wealth, although the promise of gold no doubt played a major part in his seeking the governorship of Syria. With Pompey and Caesar having covered themselves in military glory, Crassus craved for similar recognition.

Had his money bought him his power and influence so far, as a politician he had always been the poor relation to his partners in the triumvirate. There was only one way by which to equal their popularity and that was by equalling their military exploits.

Relations with the Parthians had never been good and now Crassus set out on a war against them. First he raided Mesopotamia, before spending the winter of 54/53 BC in Syria, when he did little to make himself popular by requisitioning from the Great Temple of Jerusalem and other temples and sanctuaries.

Then, in 53 BC, Crassus crossed the Euphrates with 35'000 men with the intention of marching on Seleucia-ad-Tigris, the commercial capital of ancient Babylonia. Large though Crassus' army was, it consisted almost entirely of legionary infantry.

But for the Gallic horseman under the command of his son, he possessed no cavalry. An arrangement with the king of Armenia to supply additional cavalry had fallen foul, and Crassus was no longer prepared to delay any further.

He marched into absolute disaster against an army of 10'000 horsemen of the Parthian king Orodes II. The place where the two armies met, the wide open spaces of the low lying land of Mesopotamia around the city of Carrhae, offered ideal terrain for cavalry manoeuvres.

The Parthian horse archers could move at liberty, staying at a safe distance while taking shots at the helpless Roman infantry from a safe range. 25'000 men fell or were captured by the Parthians, the remaining 10'000 managed to escape back to Roman territory.

Crassus himself was killed trying to negotiate terms for surrender.


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