Accession of Orodes I. Expedition of Crassus. His fate. Retaliatory inroad of the Parthians into Syria under Pacorus, the son of Orodes. Defeat of Pacorus by Cassius. His recall. End of the first War with Rome.
The complete triumph of Orodes over Mithridates, and his full establishment in his kingdom, cannot be placed earlier than B.C. 56, and most probably fell in B.C. 55. In this latter year Crassus obtained the consulship at Rome, and, being appointed at the same time to the command of the East, made no secret of his intention to march the Roman legions across the Euphrates, and engage in hostilities with the great Parthian kingdom. According to some writers, his views extended even further. He spoke of the wars which Lucullus had waged against Tigranes and Pompey against Mithridates of Pontus as mere child's play, and announced his intention of carrying the Roman arms to Bactria, India, and the Eastern Ocean. The Parthian king was thus warned betimes of the impending danger, and enabled to make all such preparations against it as he deemed necessary. More than a year elapsed between the assignment to Crassus of Syria as his province, and his first overt act of hostility against Orodes.
It cannot be doubted that this breathing-time was well spent by the Parthian monarch. Besides forming his general plan of campaign at his leisure, and collecting, arming, and exercising his native forces, he was enabled to gain over certain chiefs upon his borders, who had hitherto held a semi-dependent position, and might have been expected to welcome the Romans. One of these, Abgarus, prince of Osrhoene, or the tract east of the Euphrates about the city of Edessa, had been received into the Roman alliance by Pompey, but, with the fickleness common among Orientals, he now readily changed sides, and undertook to play a double part for the advantage of the Parthians. Another, Alchaudonius, an Arab sheikh of these parts, had made his submission to Rome even earlier; but having become convinced that Parthia was the stronger power of the two, he also went over to Orodes. The importance of these adhesions would depend greatly on the line of march which Crassus might determine to follow in making his attack. Three plans were open to him. He might either throw himself on the support of Artavasdes, the Armenian monarch, who had recently succeeded his father Tigranes, and entering Armenia, take the safe but circuitous route through the mountains into Adiabene, and so by the left bank of the Tigris to Ctesiphon; or he might, like the younger Cyrus, follow the course of the Euphrates to the latitude of Seleucia, and then cross the narrow tract of plain which there separates the two rivers; or, finally, he might attempt the shortest but most dangerous line across the Belik and Khabour, and directly through the Mesopotamian desert. If the Armenian route were preferred, neither Abgarus nor Alchaudonius would be able to do the Parthians much service; but if Crassus resolved on following either of the others, their alliance could not but be most valuable.
Crassus, however, on reaching his province, seemed in in haste to make a decision. He must have arrived in Syria tolerably early in the spring but his operations during the first year of his proconsulship were unimportant. He seems at once to have made up his mind to attempt nothing more than a reconnaissance. Crossing the Euphrates at Zeugma, the modern Bir or Bireh-jik, he proceeded to ravage the open country, and to receive the submission of the Greek cities, which were numerous throughout the region between the Euphrates and the Belik. The country was defended by the Parthian satrap with a small force; but this was easily defeated, the satrap himself receiving a wound. One Greek city only, Zenodotium, offered resistance to the invader; its inhabitants, having requested and received a Roman garrison of one hundred men, rose upon them and put them barbarously to the sword; whereupon Crassus besieged and took the place, gave it up to his army to plunder, and sold the entire population for slaves. He then, as winter drew near, determined to withdraw into Syria, leaving garrisons in the various towns. The entire force left behind is estimated at eight thousand men.
It is probable that Orodes had expected a more determined attack, and had retained his army near his capital until it should become evident by which route the enemy would advance against him. Acting on an inner circle, he could readily have interposed his forces, on whichever line the assailants threw themselves. But the tardy proceedings of his antagonist made his caution superfluous. The first campaign was over, and there had scarcely been a collision between the troops of the two nations. Parthia had been insulted by a wanton attack, and had lost some disaffected cities; but no attempt had been made to fulfil the grand boasts with which the war had been undertaken.
It may be suspected that the Parthian monarch began now to despise his enemy. He would compare him with Lucullus and Pompey, and understand that a Roman army, like any other, was formidable, or the reverse, according as it was ably or feebly commanded. He would know that Crassus was a sexagenarian, and may have heard that he had never yet shown himself a captain or even a soldier. Perhaps he almost doubted whether the proconsul had any real intention of pressing the contest to a decision, and might not rather be expected, when he had enriched himself and his troops with Mesopotamian plunder, to withdraw his garrisons across the Euphrates. Crassus was at this time showing the worst side of his character in Syria, despoiling temples of their treasures, and accepting money in lieu of contingents of troops from the dynasts of Syria and Palestine. Orodes, under these circumstances, sent an embassy to him, which was well calculated to stir to action the most sluggish and poor-spirited of commanders. "If the war," said his envoys, "was really waged by Rome, it must be fought out to the bitter end. But if, as they had good reason to believe, Crassus, against the wish of his country, had attacked Parthia and seized her territory for his own private gain, Arsaces would be moderate. He would have pity on the advanced years of the proconsul, and would give the Romans back those men of theirs, who were not so much keeping watch in Mesopotamia as having watch kept on them." Crassus, stung with the taunt, exclaimed, "He would return the ambassadors an answer at Seleucia." Wagises, the chief ambassador, prepared for some such exhibition of feeling, and, glad to heap taunt on taunt, replied, striking the palm of one hand with the fingers' of the other: "Hairs will grow here, Crassus, before you see Seleucia."
Still further to quicken the action of the Romans, before the winter was well over, the offensive was taken against their adherents in Mesopotamia. The towns which held Roman garrisons were attacked by the Parthians in force; and, though we do not hear of any being captured, all of them were menaced, and all suffered considerably.
If Crassus needed to be stimulated, these stimulants were effective; and he entered on his second campaign with a full determination to compel the Parthian monarch to an engagement, and, if possible, to dictate peace to him at his capital. He had not, however, in his second campaign, the same freedom with regard to his movements that he had enjoyed the year previous. The occupation of Western Mesopotamia cramped his choice. It had, in fact, compelled him before quitting Syria to decline, definitely and decidedly, the overtures of Artavasdes, who strongly urged on him to advance by way of Armenia, and promised him in that case an important addition to his forces. Crassus felt himself compelled to support his garrisons, and therefore to make Mesopotamia, and not Armenia, the basis of his operations, He crossed the Euphrates a second time at the same point as before, with an army composed of 35,000 heavy infantry, 4,000 light infantry, and 4,000 horse. There was still open to him a certain choice of routes. The one preferred by his chief officers was the line of the Euphrates, known as that which the Ten Thousand had pursued in an expedition that would have been successful but for the death of its commander. Along this line water would be plentiful; forage and other supplies might be counted on to a certain extent; and the advancing army, resting on the river, could not be surrounded. Another, but one that does not appear to have been suggested till too late, was that which Alexander had taken against Darius; the line along the foot of the Mons Masius, by Edessa, and Nisibis, to Nineveh. Here too waters and supplies would have been readily procurable, and by clinging to the skirts of the hills the Roman infantry would have set the Parthian cavalry at defiance. Between these two extreme courses to the right and to the left were numerous slightly divergent lines across the Mesopotamian plain, all shorter than either of the two above-mentioned, and none offering any great advantage over the remainder.
It is uncertain what choice the proconsul would have made, had the decision been left simply to his own judgment. Probably the Romans had a most dim and indistinct conception of the geographical character of the Mesopotamian region, and were ignorant of its great difficulties. They remained also, it must be remembered, up to this time, absolutely unacquainted with the Parthian tactics and accustomed as they were to triumph over every enemy against whom they fought, it would scarcely occur to them that in an open field they could suffer defeat. They were ready, like Alexander, to encounter any number of Asiatics, and only asked to be led against the foe as quickly as possible. When, therefore, Abgarus, the Osrhoene prince, soon after Crassus had crossed the Euphrates, rode into his camp, and declared that the Parthians did not intend to make a stand, but were quitting Mesopotamia and flying with their treasure to the remote regions of Hyrcania and Scythia, leaving only a rear guard under a couple of generals to cover the retreat, it is not surprising that the resolution was taken to give up the circuitous route of the Euphrates, and to march directly across Mesopotamia in the hope of crushing the covering detachment, and coming upon the flying multitude encumbered with baggage, which would furnish a rich spoil to the victors. In after times it was said that C. Cassius Longinus and some other officers were opposed to this movement, add foresaw its danger; but it must be questioned whether the whole army did not readily obey its leader's order, and commence without any forebodings its march through Upper Mesopotamia. That region has not really the character which the apologists for Roman disaster in later times gave to it. It is a region of swelling hills, and somewhat dry gravelly plains. It possesses several streams and rivers, besides numerous springs. At intervals of a few miles it was studded with cities and villages; nor did the desert really begin until the Khabour was crossed. The army of Crassus had traversed it throughout its whole extent during the summer of the preceding year, and must have been well acquainted with both its advantages and drawbacks. But it is time that we should consider what preparations the Parthian monarch had made against the threatened attack. He had, as already stated, come to terms with his outlying vassals, the prince of Osrhoene, and the sheikh of the Scenite Arabs, and had engaged especially the services of the former against his assailant. He had further, on considering the various possibilities of the campaign, come to the conclusion that it would be best to divide his forces, and, while himself attacking Artavasdes in the mountain fastnesses of his own country, to commit the task of meeting and coping with the Romans to a general of approved talents. It was of the greatest importance to prevent the Armenians from effecting a junction with the Romans, and strengthening them in that arm in which they were especially deficient, the cavalry. Perhaps nothing short of an invasion of his country by the Parthian king in person would have prevented Artavasdes from detaching a portion of his troops to act in Mesopotamia. And no doubt it is also true that Orodes had great confidence in his general, whom he may even have felt to be a better commander than himself. Surenas, as we must call him, since his name has not been preserved to us, was in all respects a person of the highest consideration. He was the second man in the kingdom for birth, wealth, and reputation. In courage and ability he excelled all his countrymen; and he had the physical advantages of commanding height and great personal beauty. When he went to battle, he was accompanied by a train of a thousand camels, which carried his baggage; and the concubines in attendance on him required for their conveyance two hundred chariots. A thousand horseman clad in mail, and a still greater number of light-armed, formed his bodyguard. At the coronation of a Parthian monarch, it was his hereditary right to place the diadem on the brow of the new sovereign. When Orodes was driven into banishment it was he who brought him back to Parthia in triumph. When Seleucia revolted, it was he who at the assault first mounted the breach and, striking terror into the defenders, took the city. Though less than thirty years of age at the time when he was appointed commander, he was believed to possess, besides these various qualifications, consummate prudence and sagacity.
The force which Orodes committed to his brave and skillful lieutenant consisted entirely of horse. This was not the ordinary character of a Parthian army, which often comprised four or five times as many infantry as cavalry. It was, perhaps, rather fortunate accident than profound calculation that caused the sole employment against the Romans of this arm. The foot soldiers were needed for the rough warfare of the Armenian mountains; the horse would, it was known, act with fair effect in the comparatively open and level Mesopotamia. As the king wanted the footmen he took them, and left to his general the troops which were not required for his own operations.
The Parthian horse, like the Persian, was of two kinds, standing in strong contrast the one to the other. The bulk of their cavalry was of the lightest and most agile description. Fleet and active coursers, with scarcely any caparison but a headstall and a single rein, were mounted by riders clad only in a tunic and trousers, and armed with nothing but a strong bow and a quiver full of arrows. A training begun in early boyhood made the rider almost one with his steed; and he could use his weapons with equal ease and effect whether his horse was stationary or at full gallop, and whether he was advancing towards or hurriedly retreating from his enemy. His supply of missiles was almost inexhaustible, for when he found his quiver empty, he had only to retire a short distance and replenish his stock from magazines, borne on the backs of camels, in the rear. It was his ordinary plan to keep constantly in motion when in the presence of an enemy, to gallop backwards and forwards, or round and round his square or column, never charging it, but at a moderate interval plying it with his keen and barbed shafts which were driven by a practised hand from a bow of unusual strength. Clouds of this light cavalry enveloped the advancing or the retreating foe, and inflicted grievous damage without, for the most part, suffering anything in return.
But this was not the whole. In addition to these light troops, a Parthian army comprised always a body of heavy cavalry, armed on an entirely different system. The strong horses selected for this service were clad almost wholly in mail. Their head, neck, chest, even their sides and flanks, were protected by scale-armor of brass or iron, sewn, probably, upon leather. Their riders had cuirasses and cuisses of the same materials, and helmets of burnished iron. For an offensive weapon they carried a long and strong spear or pike. They formed a serried line in battle, bearing down with great weight on the enemy whom they charged, and standing firm as an iron wall against the charges that were made upon them. A cavalry answering to this in some respects had been employed by the later Persian monarchs, and was in use also among the Armenians at this period; but the Parthian pike was apparently more formidable than the corresponding weapons of those nations, and the light spear carried at this time by the cavalry of a Roman army was no match for it.
The force entrusted to Surenas comprised troops of both these classes. No estimate is given us of their number, but it was probably considerable. At any rate it was sufficient to induce him to make a movement in advance—to cross the Sinjar range and the river Khabour, and take up his position in the country between that stream and the Belik—instead of merely seeking to cover the capital. The presence of the traitor Abgarus in the camp of Crassus was now of the utmost importance to the Parthian commander. Abgarus, fully trusted, and at the head of a body of light horse, admirably adapted for outpost service, was allowed, upon his own request, to scour the country in front of the advancing Romans, and had thus the means of communicating freely with the Parthian chief. He kept Surenas informed of all the movements and intentions of Crassus, while at the same time he suggested to Crassus such a line of route as suited the views and designs of his adversary. Our chief authority for the details of the expedition tells us that he led the Roman troops through an arid and trackless desert, across plains without tree, or shrub, or even grass, where the soil was composed of a light shifting sand, which the wind raised into a succession of hillocks that resembled the waves of an interminable sea. The soldiers, he says, fainted with the heat and with the drought, while the audacious Osrhoene scoffed at their complaints and reproaches, asking them whether they expected to find the border-tract between Arabia and Assyria a country of cool streams and shady groves, of baths, and hostelries, like their own delicious Campania. But our knowledge of the geographical character of the region through which the march lay makes it impossible for us to accept this account as true. The country between the Euphrates and the Belik, as already observed, is one of alternate hill and plain, neither destitute of trees nor ill-provided with water. The march through it could have presented no great difficulties. All that Abgarus could do to serve the Parthian cause was, first, to induce Crassus to trust himself to the open country, without clinging either to a river or to the mountains, and, secondly, to bring him, after a hasty march, and in the full heat of the day, into the presence of the enemy. Both these things he contrived to effect, and Surenas was, no doubt, so far beholden to him. But the notion that he enticed the Roman army into a trackless desert, and gave it over, when it was perishing through weariness, hunger, and thirst, into the hands of its enraged enemy, is in contradiction with the topographical facts, and is not even maintained consistently by the classical writers.
It was probably on the third or fourth day after he had quitted the Euphrates that Crassus found himself approaching his enemy. After a hasty and hot march he had approached the banks of the Belik, when his scouts brought him word that they had fallen in with the Parthian army, which was advancing in force and seemingly full of confidence. Abgarus had recently quitted him on the plea of doing him some undefined service, but really to range himself on the side of his real friends, the Parthians. His officers now advised Crassus to encamp upon the river, and defer an engagement till the morrow; but he had no fears; his son, Publius, who had lately joined him with a body of Gallic horse sent by Julius Caesar, was anxious for the fray; and accordingly the Roman commander gave the order to his troops to take some refreshment as they stood, and then to push forward rapidly. Surenas, on his side, had taken up a position on wooded and hilly ground, which concealed his numbers, and had even, we are told, made his troops cover their arms with cloths and skins, that the glitter might not betray them. But, as the Romans drew near, all concealment was cast aside; the signal for battle was given; the clang of the kettledrums arose on every side; the squadrons came forward in their brilliant array; and it seemed at first as if the heavy cavalry was about to charge the Roman host, which was formed in a hollow square with the light-armed in the middle, and with supporters of horse along the whole line, as well as upon the flanks. But, if this intention was ever entertained, it was altered almost as soon as formed, and the better plan was adopted of halting at a convenient distance and assailing the legionaries with flight after flight of arrows, delivered without a pause and with extraordinary force. The Roman endeavored to meet this attack by throwing forward his own skirmishers; but they were quite unable to cope with the numbers and the superior weapons of the enemy, who forced them almost immediately to retreat, and take refuge behind the line of the heavy-armed. These were then once more exposed to the deadly missiles, which pierced alike through shield and breast-plate and greaves, and inflicted the most fearful wounds. More than once the legionaries dashed forward, and sought to close with their assailants, but in vain. The Parthian squadrons retired as the Roman infantry advanced, maintaining the distance which they thought best between themselves and their foe, whom they plied with their shafts as incessantly while they fell back as when they rode forward. For a while the Romans entertained the hope that the missiles would at last be all spent; but when they found that each archer constantly obtained a fresh supply from the rear, this expectation deserted them. It became evident to Crassus that some new movement must be attempted; and, as a last resource, he commanded his son, Publius, whom the Parthians were threatening to outflank, to take such troops as he thought proper, and charge. The gallant youth was only too glad to receive the order. Selecting his Gallic cavalry, who numbered 1000, and adding to them 500 other horsemen, 500 archers, and about 4000 legionaries, he advanced at speed against the nearest squadrons of the enemy. The Parthians pretended to be afraid, and beat a hasty retreat. Publius followed with all the impetuosity of youth, and was soon out of the sight of his friends, pressing the flying foe, whom he believed to be panic-stricken. But when they had drawn him on sufficiently, they suddenly made a stand, brought their heavy cavalry up against his line, and completely enveloped him and his detachment with their light-armed. Publius made a desperate resistance. His Gauls seized the Parthian pikes with their hands and dragged the encumbered horsemen to the ground; or dismounting, slipped beneath the horses of their opponents, and stabbing them in the belly, brought steed and rider down upon themselves. His legionaries occupied a slight hillock, and endeavored to make a wall of their shields, but the Parthian archers closed around them, and slew them almost to a man. Of the whole detachment, nearly six thousand strong, no more than 500 were taken prisoners, and scarcely one escaped. The young Crassus might, possibly, had he chosen to make the attempt, have forced his way through the enemy to Ichnee, a Greek town not far distant; but he preferred to share the fate of his men. Rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, he caused his shield-bearer to dispatch him; and his example was followed by his principal officers. The victors struck off his head, and elevating it on a pike, returned to resume their attack on the main body of the Roman army.
The main body, much relieved by the diminution of the pressure upon them, had waited patiently for Publius to return in triumph, regarding the battle as well-nigh over and success as certain. After a time the prolonged absence of the young captain aroused suspicions, which grew into alarms when messengers arrived telling of his extreme danger. Crassus, almost beside himself with anxiety, had given the word to advance, and the army had moved forward a short distance, when the shouts of the returning enemy were heard, and the head of the unfortunate officer was seen displayed aloft, while the Parthian squadrons, closing in once more, renewed the assault on their remaining foes with increased vigor. The mailed horsemen approached close to the legionaries and thrust at them with the long pikes while the light-armed, galloping across the Roman front, discharged their unerring arrows over the heads of their own men. The Romans could neither successfully defend themselves nor effectively retaliate. Still time brought some relief. Bowstrings broke, spears were blunted or splintered, arrows began to fail, thews and sinews to relax; and when night closed in both parties were almost equally glad of the cessation of arms which the darkness rendered compulsory.
It was the custom of the Parthians, as of the Persians, to bivouac at a considerable distance from an enemy. Accordingly, at nightfall they drew off, having first shouted to the Romans that they would grant the general one night in which to bewail his son; on the morrow they would come and take him prisoner, unless he preferred the better course of surrendering himself to the mercy of Arsaces. A short breathing-space was thus allowed the Romans, who took advantage of it to retire towards Carrhae, leaving behind them the greater part of their wounded, to the number of 4,000. A small body of horse reached Carrhae about midnight, and gave the commandant such information as led him to put his men under arms and issue forth to the succor of the proconsul. The Parthians, though the cries of the wounded made them well aware of the Roman retreat, adhered to their system of avoiding night combats, and attempted no pursuit till morning. Even then they allowed themselves to be delayed by comparatively trivial matters—the capture of the Roman camp, the massacre of the wounded, and the slaughter of the numerous stragglers scattered along the line of march—and made no haste to overtake the retreating army. The bulk of the troops were thus enabled to effect their retreat in safety to Carrhae, where, having the protection of walls, they were, at any rate for a time secure.
It might have been expected that the Romans would here have made a stand. The siege of a fortified place by cavalry is ridiculous, if we understand by siege anything more than a very incomplete blockade. And the Parthians were notoriously inefficient against walls. There was a chance, moreover, that Artavasdes might have been more successful than his ally, and, having repulsed the Parthian monarch, might march his troops to the relief of the Romans. But the soldiers were thoroughly dispirited, and would not listen to these suggestions. Provisions no doubt ran short, since, as there had been no expectation of a disaster, no preparations had been made for standing a siege. The Greek inhabitants of the place could not be trusted to exhibit fidelity to a falling cause. Moreover, Armenia was near; and the Parthian system of abstaining from action during the night seemed to render escape tolerably easy. It was resolved, therefore, instead of clinging to the protection of the walls, to issue forth once more, and to endeavor by a rapid night march to reach the Armenian hills. The various officers seem to have been allowed to arrange matters for themselves. Cassius took his way towards the Euphrates, and succeeded in escaping with 500 horse. Octavius, with a division which is estimated at 5,000 men, reached the outskirts of the the hills at a place called Sinnaca, and found himself in comparative security. Crassus, misled by his guides, made but poor progress during the night; he had, however, arrived within little more than a mile of Octavius before the enemy, who would not stir till daybreak, overtook him. Pressed upon by their advancing squandrons, he, with his small band of 2,000 legionaries and a few horsemen, occupied a low hillock connected by a ridge of rising ground with the position of Sinnaca. Here the Parthian host beset him; and he would infallibly have been slain or captured at once, had not Octavius, deserting his place of safety, descended to the aid of his commander. The united 7,000 held their own against the enemy, having the advantage of the ground, and having perhaps by the experience of some days learnt the weak points of Parthian warfare.
Surenas was anxious, above all things, to secure the person of the Roman commander. In the East an excessive importance is attached to this proof of success; and there were reasons which made Crassus particularly obnoxious to his antagonists. He was believed to have originated, and not merely conducted, the war, incited thereto by simple greed of gold. He had refused with the utmost haughtiness all discussion of terms, and had insulted the majesty of the Parthians by the declaration that he would treat nowhere but at their capital. If he escaped, he would be bound at some future time to repeat his attempt; if he were made prisoner, his fate would be a terrible warning to others. But now, as evening approached, it seemed to the Parthian that the prize which he so much desired was about to elude his grasp. The highlands of Armenia would be gained by the fugitives during the night, and further pursuit of them would be hopeless. It remained that he should effect by craft what he could no longer hope to gain by the employment of force; and to this point all his efforts were now directed. He drew off his troops and left the Romans without further molestation. He allowed some of his prisoners to escape and rejoin their friends, having first contrived that they should overhear a conversation among his men, of which the theme was the Parthian clemency, and the wish of Orodes to come to terms with the Romans. He then, having allowed time for the report of his pacific intentions to spread, rode with a few chiefs towards the Roman camp, carrying his bow unstrung and his right hand stretched out in token of amity. "Let the Roman General," he said, "come forward with an equal number of attendants, and confer with me in the open space between the armies on terms of peace." The aged proconsul was disinclined to trust these overtures; but his men clamored and threatened, upon which he yielded, and went down into the plain, accompanied by Octavius and a few others. Here he was received with apparent honor, and terms were arranged; but Surenas required that they should at once be reduced to writing, "since," he said, with pointed allusion to the bad faith of Pompey, "you Romans are not very apt to remember your engagements." A movement being requisite for the drawing up of the formal instruments, Crassus and his officers were induced to mount upon horses furnished by the Parthians, who had no sooner seated the proconsul on his steed, than he proceeded to hurry him forward, with the evident intention of carrying him off to their camp. The Roman officers took the alarm and resisted. Octavius snatched a sword from a Parthian and killed one of the grooms who was hurrying Crassus away. A blow from behind stretched him on the ground lifeless. A general melee followed, and in the confusion Crassus was killed, whether by one of his own side and with his own consent, or by the hand of a Parthian is uncertain. The army, learning the fate of their general, with but few exceptions, surrendered. Such as sought to escape under cover of the approaching night were hunted down by the Bedouins who served under the Parthian standard, and killed almost to a man. Of the entire army which had crossed the Euphrates, consisting of above 40,000 men, not more than one fourth returned. One half of the whole number perished. Nearly 10,000 prisoners were settled by the victors in the fertile oasis of Margiana, near the northern frontier of the empire, where they intermarried with native wives, and became submissive Parthian subjects.
Such was the result of this great expedition, the first attempt of the grasping and ambitious Romans, not so much to conquer Parthia, as to strike terror into the heart of her people, and to degrade them to the condition of obsequious dependants on the will and pleasure of the "world's lords." The expedition failed so utterly, not from any want of bravery on the part of the soldiers employed in it, nor from any absolute superiority of the Parthian over the Roman tactics, but partly from the incompetence of the commander, partly from the inexperience of the Romans, up to this date, in the nature of the Parthian warfare and in the best manner of meeting it. To attack an enemy whose main arm is the cavalry with a body of foot-soldiers, supported by an insignificant number of horse, must be at all times rash and dangerous. To direct such an attack on the more open part of the country, where cavalry could operate freely, was wantonly to aggravate the peril. After the first disaster, to quit the protection of walls, when it had been obtained, was a piece of reckless folly. Had Crassus taken care to obtain the support of some of the desert tribes, if Armenia could not help him, and had he then advanced either by the way of the Mons Masius and the Tigris, or along the line of the Euphrates, the issue of his attack might have been different. He might have fought his way to Seleucia and Ctesiphon, as did Trajan, Avidius Cassius, and Septimius Severas, and might have taken and plundered those cities. He would no doubt have experienced difficulties in his retreat; but he might have come off no worse than Trajan, whose Parthian expedition has been generally regarded as rather augmenting than detracting from his reputation. But an ignorant and inexperienced commander, venturing on a trial of arms with an enemy of whom he knew little or nothing, in their own country, without support or allies, and then neglecting every precaution suggested by his officers, allowing himself to be deceived by a pretended friend, and marching straight into a net prepared for him, naturally suffered defeat. The credit of the Roman arms does not greatly suffer by the disaster, nor is that of the Parthians greatly enhanced. The latter showed, as they had shown in their wars against the Syro-Macedonians, that there somewhat loose and irregular array was capable of acting with effect against the solid masses and well-ordered movements of disciplined troops. They acquired by their use of the bow a fame like that which the English archers obtained for the employment of the same weapon at Crecy and Agincourt. They forced the arrogant Romans to respect them, and to allow that there was at least one nation in the world which could meet them on equal terms and not be worsted in the encounter. They henceforth obtained recognition from Graeco-Roman writers—albeit a grudging and covert recognition—as the second Power in the world, the admitted rival of Rome, the only real counterpoise upon the earth to the power which ruled from the Euphrates to the Atlantic Ocean.
While the general of King Orodes was thus successful against the Romans in Mesopotamia, the king himself had in Armenia obtained advantages of almost equal value, though of a different kind. Instead of contending with Artavasdes, he had come to terms with him, and had concluded a close alliance, which he had sought to confirm and secure by uniting his son, Pacorus, in marriage with a sister of the Armenian monarch. A series of festivities was being held to celebrate this auspicious event, when news came of Surenas's triumph, and of the fate of Crassus. According to the barbarous customs of the East, the head and hand of the slain proconsul accompanied the intelligence. We are told that at the moment of the messenger's arrival the two sovereigns, with their attendants, were amusing themselves with a dramatic entertainment. Both monarchs had a good knowledge of the Greek literature and language, in which Artavasdes had himself composed historical works and tragedies. The actors were representing the famous scene in the "Bacchae" of Euripides, where Agave and the Bacchanals come upon the stage with the mutilated remains of the murdered Pentheus, when the head of Crassus was thrown in among them. Instantly the player who personated Agave seized the bloody trophy, and placing it on his thyrsus instead of the one he was carrying, paraded it before the delighted spectators, while he chanted the well-known lines:
From the mountain to the hall New-cut tendril, see, we bring— Blessed prey!
The horrible spectacle was one well suited to please an Eastern audience: it was followed by a proceeding of equal barbarity and still more thoroughly Oriental. The Parthians, in derision of the motive which was supposed to have led Crassus to make his attack, had a quantity of gold melted and poured it into his mouth.
Meanwhile Surenas was amusing his victorious troops, and seeking to annoy the disaffected Seleucians, by the performance of a farcical ceremony. He spread the report that Crassus was not killed but captured; and, selecting from among the prisoners the Roman most like him in appearance, he dressed the man in woman's clothes, mounted him upon a horse, and requiring him to answer to the names of "Crassus" and "Imperator," conducted him in triumph to the Grecian city. Before him went, mounted on camels, a band, arrayed as trumpeters and lictors, the lictors' rods having purses suspended to them, and the axes in their midst being crowned with the bleeding heads of Romans. In the rear followed a train of Seloucian music-girls, who sang songs derisive of the effeminacy and cowardice of the proconsul. After this pretended parade of his prisoner through the streets of the town, Surenas called a meeting of the Seleucian senate, and indignantly denounced to them the indecency of the literature which he had found in the Roman tents. The charge, it is said, was true; but the Seleucians were not greatly impressed by the moral lesson read to them, when they remarked the train of concubines that had accompanied Surenas himself in the field, and thought of the loose crowd of dancers, singers, and prostitutes, that was commonly to be seen in the rear of a Parthian army.
The political consequences of the great triumph which the Parthians had achieved were less than might have been anticipated. Mesopotamia was, of course, recovered to its extremest limit, the Euphrates; Armenia was lost to the Roman alliance, and thrown for the time into complete dependence upon Parthia. The whole East was, to some extent, excited; and the Jews, always impatient of a foreign yoke, and recently aggrieved by the unprovoked spoliation of their Temple by Crassus, flew to arms. But no general movement of the Oriental races took place. It might have been expected that the Syrians, Phoenicians, Cilicians, Oappadocians, Phrygians, and other Asiatic peoples whose proclivities were altogether Oriental, would have seized the opportunity of rising against their Western lords and driving the Romans back upon Europe. It might have been thought that Parthia at least would have assumed the offensive in force, and have made a determined effort to rid herself of neighbors who had proved so troublesome. But though the conjuncture of circumstances was most favorable, the man was wanting. Had Mithridates or Tigranes been living, or had Surenas been king of Parthia, instead of a mere general, advantage would probably have been taken of the occasion, and Rome might have suffered seriously. But Orodes seems to have been neither ambitious as a prince nor skilful as a commander; he lacked at any rate the keen and all-embracing glance which could sweep the political horizon and, comprehending the exact character of the situation, see at the same time how to make the most of it. He allowed the opportunity to slip by without putting forth his strength or making any considerable effort; and the occasion once lost never returned.
In Parthia itself one immediate result of the expedition seems to have been the ruin of Surenas. His services to his sovereign had exceeded the measure which it is safe in the East for a subject to render to the crown. The jealousy of his royal master was aroused, and he had to pay the penalty of over-much success with his life. Parthia was thus left without a general of approved merit, for Sillaces, the second in command during the war with Crassus, had in no way distinguished himself through the campaign. This condition of things may account for the feebleness of the efforts made in B.C. 52 to retaliate on the Romans the damage done by their invasion. A few weak bands only passed the Euphrates, and began the work of plunder and ravage, in which they were speedily disturbed by Cassius, who easily drove them back over the river. The next year, however, a more determined attempt was made. Orodes sent his son, Pacorus, the young bridegroom, to win his spurs in Syria, at the head of a considerable force, and supported by the experience and authority of an officer of ripe age, named Osaces. The army crossed the Euphrates unresisted, for Cassius, the governor, had with him only the broken remains of Crassus's army, consisting of about two legions, and, deeming himself too weak to meet the enemy in the open field, was content to defend the towns. The open country was consequently overrun; and a thrill of mingled alarm and excitement passed through all the Roman provinces in Asia. The provinces were at the time most inadequately supplied with Roman troops, through the desire of Csesar and Pompey to maintain large armies about their own persons. The natives were for the most part disaffected and inclined to hail the Parthians as brethren and deliverers. Excepting Deiotarus of Galatia, and Ariobarzanes of Cappadocia, Rome had, as Cicero (then proconsul of Cilicia) plaintively declared, "not a friend on the Asiatic continent. And Cappadocia was miserably weak," and open to attack on the side of Armenia. Had Orodes and Artavasdes acted in concert, and had the latter, while Orodes sent his armies into Syria, poured the Armenian forces into Cappadocia and then into Cilicia (as it was expected that he would do), there would have been the greatest danger to the Roman possessions. As it was, the excitement in Asia Minor was extreme. Cicero marched into Cappadocia with the bulk of the Roman troops, and summoned to his aid Deiotarus with his Galatians, at the same time writing to the Roman Senate to implore reinforcements. Cassius shut himself up in Antioch, and allowed the Parthian cavalry to pass him by, and even to proceed beyond the bounds of Syria into Cilicia. But the Parthians seem scarcely to have understood the situation of their adversaries, or to have been aware of their own advantages. Instead of spreading themselves wide, raising the natives, and leaving them to blockade the towns, while with their as yet unconquered squandrons they defied the enemy in the open country, we find them engaging in the siege and blockade of cities, for which they were wholly unfit, and confining themselves almost entirely to the narrow valley of the Orontes. Under these circumstances we are not surprised to learn that Cassius, having first beat them back from Antioch, contrived to lead them into an ambush on the banks of the river, and severely handled their troops, even killing the general Osaces. The Parthians withdrew from the neighborhood of the Syrian capital after this defeat, which must have taken place about the end of September, and soon afterwards went into winter quarters in Oyrrhestica, or the part of Syria immediately east of Amanus. Here they remained during the winter months under Pacorus, and it was expected that the war would break out again with fresh fury in the spring; but Bibulus, the new proconsul of Syria, conscious of his military deficiencies, contrived to sow dissensions among the Parthians themselves, and to turn the thoughts of Pacorus in another direction. He suggested to Ornodapantes, a Parthian noble, with whom he had managed to open a correspondence, that Pacorus would be a more worthy occupant of the Parthian throne than his father, and that he would consult well for his own interests if he were to proclaim the young prince, and lead the army of Syria against Orodes. These intrigues seem, to have first caused the war to languish, and then produced the recall of the expedition. Orodes summoned Pacorus to return to Parthia before the plot contrived between him and the Romans was ripe for execution; and Pacorus felt that no course was open to him but to obey. The Parthian legions recrossed the Euphrates in July, B.C. 50; and the First Roman War, which had lasted a little more than four years, terminated without any real recovery by the Romans of the laurels that they had lost at Carrhae.