During the last stages of the Republic, Rome suffered its greatest military disaster since Hannibalís invasion of Italy over 150 years earlier, though this defeat had more far-reaching consequences. While Rome was able to recover from its disaster at Cannae, it never did retrieve the results of Carrhae, a defeat that sealed the East as an impenetrable barrier to Roman ambition, and also signaled the demise of the Republic.
In 53 BC, Marcus Crassus, the richest member of Romeís ruling Triumverate, which also included Caesar and Pompey, decided to enhance his military stature with an invasion of the Parthian Empire centered on Mesopotamia (todayís Iraq). His 36,000 legionaries crossed the Euphrates and were met by a much smaller Parthian army, albeit one mounted on horseback in the dispersed, missile-firing steppe-war tradition.
In the desolate territory around Carrhae the Roman legions were surrounded and beset by elusive horse warriors, who alternated deadly arrow-fire from recurved bows with devastating attacks by armored horsemen, wielding lances in the fashion of future European knights. At one point Crassus dispatched his son with the Roman cavalry and light infantry to break a hole through the deadly ring. The Parthians concentrated on the party and destroyed it. Crassus was just about to move with the main body to its aid when Parthian horsemen rode up wielding his sonís head on the tip of a spear.
Severely unnerved, Crassus ordered a retreat, the Parthians moving in to massacre the 4,000 wounded he left behind. The next day, called to a parlay he was forced to attend by his nearly mutinous soldiers, Crassus and his officers were murdered by the Parthians. The now-leaderless Roman army disintegrated, only some 6,000 able to escape. At least 20,000 Roman legionaries were dead on the field, with 10,000 more captured.
Book-BasicsAuthor - Gareth C. Sampson
Dimensions - 6" x 9"
Hardcover w/Dust jacket
24 B&W Photos
8 B&W Illustrations
4 B&W Maps
In the introduction, the author sets the stage for the focus of his book, which is to propose a different view of the historically traditional branding of Crassus as a failed General of the Battle of Carrhae. He also vows to bring us to a better understanding of the rippling effect of the defeat at Carrhae and how it shaped both the Roman Republic and the Empire of the east.
The book is divided into eight chapters, with the first three dedicated to supplying the reader with foreknowledge of the events that preceded the battle at Carrhae. Although I found it to be helpful and fascinating in its own right, I must admit my head was swimming from the deluge of names and places included which span from 280-58BC. I felt I was able to grasp a general understanding of the events and found them to set the stage well for the main event. However, Iím quite certain many of the names and places have melted away into the recesses of my mind, never to be seen again. My interest being piqued, I will be pursuing other texts on the rise and fall of Rome.
Chapters four through six deal specifically with the war itself. It is here that I found myself riveted to the book, and where I feel the author really shines. As he builds toward the climax of the battle and the ensuing retreat, he proficiently works back and forth between the two factions, giving a great sense of their mindset at that time and place. The entire time the author is unfolding the story, he keeps the reader up to speed with concise overviews of the material previously covered. There are several battle diagrams included in chapter six that suffice, but would have been better presented with more graphical attention.
Chapters seven and eight cover the fallout from Romeís crushing defeat and what it meant for the stability of Rome and the eastern empire. I found it fascinating that many years and many battles following the defeat at Carrhae, the Euphrates remained the dividing line between Roman rule and the East.
With the minor criticisms aside, I believe this book would be a great addition to the library of ancient history fans. The author lays out a very well researched, and convincing argument restoring the good name of Marcus Licinius Crassus as one of the top Roman Generals of his time. His clear, concise, and insightful text makes for an easy and enjoyable read.