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The Battle of Carrhae 53 BC. Crassus of Rome vs. Surena of Parthia

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  • jpisc98357@aol.com
    Click here: RedRampant.com the MENU: THE BATTLE OF CARRHAE Based on Plutarch s texts on Crassus.
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2003
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      <A HREF="http://www.redrampant.com/roma/carrhae.html">Click here: RedRampant.com</A>
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      THE BATTLE OF CARRHAE

      Based on Plutarch's texts on Crassus. Parthian Illustration © John Horvath.
      Hoping to outshine Julius Caesar and Pompey, Marcus Licinius Crassus
      used his wealth and Influnece to gain the proconulship of Syria In 53 BC.
      Here, he believed, he was in the position to win the greatest glory. The
      Roman Senate did not want a war with Parthia. Indeed, there was a neutrality
      treaty with the Parthians. But Crassus was intent on taking control of their
      empire.

      After defeating Spartacus' slave revolt, he had developed an over
      inflated idea of his own rather meager military ablilities.Crassus began with
      7 legions, about 4,000 auxillery light infantry.1,000 crack Gaullic horsemen,
      3,000 western Asian horsemen. 6,000 Armenian cavalry arrived with Artabazes,
      their king.

      Artabazes emplored Crassus to take the army through his own country,
      which would provide them with ample provisions and suitable terrain as
      defense from Parthian cavalry. The priests in Crassus' troupe emplored him
      not to go at all. However, Crassus, desiring a more direct route foolishly
      choose a path strait through Mesopotamia with Seleucia city and Ctesiphon as
      his objectives. At this, the Amrenian and his cavalry returned home.

      That spring Crassus took his army across the Euphrates River near the
      town of Zeugma during a heavy thunder storm. Scouts found none of the enemy,
      but noticed numerous horse tracks. He was then joined by 6,000 Nabataen Arab
      cavalry. Their chieftan, Ariamnes, was actualy in the employ of te Parthians.
      Ariamnes lied, saying that Parthian forces were currently fleeing the area
      and the only resistance might come from an advance guard under the general,
      Surena.

      Crassus was convinced of the need for haste and decided to continue
      along the less secure desert route. In actuality the Parthian King, Orodes II
      (or Hyrodes), had split his army in two. The king led a attack on Amrenia as
      punishment for mobilizing with the Romans.

      Surena (one of the senior members of the 7 great clans of Parthia) was
      sent to attack the Romans. His army was comprised primarily from men from his
      own clan. The horse archers were from the Saka and Yue-Chi people. It is
      believed this force was only intended to delay the Romans as Orode finished
      his punitive attack and returned from Armenia. Ariamnes led the Romans away
      from the river. At first the march was pleasant and easy, but they soon were
      amidst the featureless desert. They continued through the treeless, waterless
      waste. At this point of low morale, they received a messenger from Armenia
      informing them that it was impossible for Artabazes to send any help as he
      was too busy defending his own country. His advice was for Crassus to turn
      back and join forces in Armenia, or at least leave the desert for the
      defenses of more mountainous ground.

      Crassus, however, was only angered by this and swore to punish Artabazes
      for this. A staff officer, Cassius, and other officers suspected Ariamnes'
      treachery and began to argue with Crassus, but this only angered him more.
      The Arab stayed long enough to convince Crassus to quicken their pace. Then
      he and his cavalry left the Romans claiming they intended to find ways to
      disrupt the enemy.

      As the Romans approached the town of Carrhae (modern-day Haran) their
      scouts raced back, saying that most of their felllows had been killed and the
      Parthians were at hand in full force and preparing to give battle. Astonished
      at this, Crassus scarcely knew what to do. His troops were in disarray as
      they had been marching at such a great speed. Cassius advised the panicked
      general to open up the ranks and form a line across the plain, placing the
      cavalry on each wing to prevent them from being surrounded. As this order was
      being carried out, Crassus changed his mind and decided to form a giant
      hollow square with 12 cohorts on each side with cavalry and light infantry
      support. Cassius commanded one wing, Cassus' son, Publius another and Crassus
      himself went to the middle of the square. They marched forward and as they
      apporached the Ballisur stream Crassus was advised to make camp, rest his men
      and wait till day to assess the strength of the enemy. He would have none of
      this, giving his troops only enough time to eat before charging them forward
      at the enemy.

      When they did see the Parthians they were not impressed. Surena had
      ordered his main force of heavy cavalry behind the front ranks and told them
      to hide their armor under coats and skins. When the Roamans were about ready
      to engage the Parthians gave the signal for battle and the dreaded
      cataphracts uncovered their magnificent armor.

      Surena's first plan was to break the Roman lines with his 1,000
      cataphracts, but when he realized the depth of the Romans he called back the
      cavalry. At this the Roman light infantry rushed out only to be chased back
      by a hail of arrows. The Parthian horse archers began to suround the square,
      pouring a steady stream of arrows into the densely packed ranks. The arrows
      were of such strength that they could punch through armor and shields. The
      Romans waited for arrow supply to run out. This hope was dashed when they saw
      Surena had brought a camel train carrying a great quantity of arrows.Crassus
      saw that his rear was about to be attacked. He ordered his son, Publius to
      take 1,300 Gaulic horsemen, 500 archers and 8 cohorts to attcak the Parthian
      archers. The Parthians galloped away with this Roman attack force in chase.
      Once Publius was far enough away from the main body of Romans, the horse
      archers wheeled about and were joined by a larger number of Parthians
      including the cataphracts. Publius led his Gauls on the cataphracts. Because
      their spears could not penetrate the cataphract amor, the frenzied Gauls
      grabbed on the enemy lances, pulled them to the ground, and also leapt
      underneath the Parthian horses to attack their exposed bellies. They even
      drove their own horses onto the lances. Most of the Gauls lost their mounts
      and were forced to retreat with Publius to a small hillock where they were
      surrounded. Publius ordered his armor-bearer to kill him.

      After the fighting the Parthians took Publius' head and 500 prisoners.All
      the while Crassus was pleased that the attack on his rear had slackened. He
      ordered his men to form up in a conventional battle formation and relocated
      his army to sloping ground. He then got word of what was happening to his
      son's force. He sent no support, but began to advance.

      This was when the Parthians rode in with his son's head on a pike. The
      advance was stopped by the archers and cataphracts.

      Crassus had completely lost his senses by now. His lieutenants Octavius
      and Cassius took over and decided to retreat that night, leaving the wounded
      behind. When the cavalry heard this they left imediately, stopping at Carrahe
      long enough only to tell the men there that Crassus had fought a great
      battle. They then raced on to Zeugma. The Parthians watched the retreat and
      waited till daybreak to ride in and slaughter the Roman wounded. Plutarch
      wrote that no fewer than 4,000 died in this way. Some time later, A
      lieutenant, Varguntinus, and his 4 cohorts had strayed from the main body of
      Romans and were surrounded. All were killed with the exception of 20 men who
      were allowed to go for showing such courage in tryingf to fight past the
      Parthians. Surena soon learned that Crassus and his men had reached the
      safety of the Carrhae town walls. The next day when the Parthians arrived
      there, Crassus again decided to retreat at night. Again, a spy lead the
      Romans through the worst possible route. They were trapped in marsh. Surena
      offered peace to the Romans if Crassus came to parlay. Tired and afraid, the
      legions demanded Crassus go, threatening his life if he did not. At the
      meeting there was a scufle and Crassus was killed. Some of the Romans
      surrendered most were hunted down and killed. In the end 20,000 Romans died
      and 10,000 were taken prisoner and settled in the territory of Sogdia. The
      captured Legionary standards were held as prizes in the temples of Parthia.

      Best Regards, John Piscopo
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