6.09.2008

Invading Mesopotamia: the Battle of Carrhae

A commander-in-chief with limited military experience, and a background in big business, decided to add martial glory to his name. His father and grandfather had served their countries both in government and on the battle field. By invading the Middle East he hoped to outshine them. And line his pockets, and those of his cronies, whilst doing so.

Not President George W. Bush - Marcus Licinius Crassus.
His colleagues in the Triumvirate, Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar, were acknowledged as great generals, so Crassus was looking for his own field of battle on which to win military glory. He settled on Iraq.

The Battle of Carrhae took place on this day in 53 BC.
It was a disaster. Of the seven legions Crassus had brought from Rome, 20,000 Roman soldiers, over half his men, died during the battle; 10,000 were captured and enslaved by the Parthians. "Crassus was killed by a Parthian named Pomaxathres" [Plutarch]. The Parthian army may have been smaller, but they knew the terrain and could use it to their advantage. Cassius Dio describes the Battle [40. 21-4].

Alexander conquered Iraq, but died before he had to govern it.
As Augustus would late point out - it is far easier to conquer a great empire than to successfully administer one.

Alexander the Great - died at Babylon, after having invaded Mesopotamia.

Marcus Licinius Crassus - died trying to invade Mesopotamia, at the Battle of Carrhae (53 BC).

Valerian I - tried to fight the Sassanians, was captured at the Battle of Edessa (AD 260), taken into slavery and used as a mounting block by Shapur I to get on his horse.

Marcus Aurelius Carus - another Roman emperor who decided to march on Mesopotamia. Despite being given the title Persicus Maximus by the SPQR, he died near the Tigris of wounds received in battle.

Julian the Apostate - died trying to invade Mesopotamia, at the Battle of Samarra (AD 363).

Justin II - tried to fight off a Persian invasion, went mad.

During Heraclius vs. the Persians, at one point the situation became so grave that they considered moving the capital from Constantinople to Carthage. Soon after, he bucked the trend by taking to the field himself, and became one of the few Western generals do defeat the Sassanians in battle again and again. Unfortunately his reign coincided with the rise of a great Arabian general, Mohammed, whose heirs would slowly take apart the remains of the Roman Empire.

Anyone see a pattern?

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