Roman–Parthian Wars

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Roman-Parthian Wars

date=66 BC–217 AD
place=Southeastern Anatolia, Armenia, South-east Roman frontier (Osroene, Syria, Mesopotamia)
result=Roman superiority and dissolution of the Parthia
territory=Acquisition of northern Mesopotamia, as far as the areas around Nisibis and Singara
combatant1=Roman Republic, succeeded by Roman Empire
commander1=Lucullus, Pompey, Crassus, Mark Antony, Publius Ventidius Bassus Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo Trajan, Statius Priscus Avidius Cassius Statius Priscus Septimius Severus
commander2=Phraates III, Surena, Phraates IV Artabanus II Vologases I Osroes I Vologases IV

The Roman-Parthian Wars were a series of conflicts between Parthia and the Romans. It was the first series of conflicts in what would be 719 years of conflict between the Romans and peoples from Iran. For more information about all the series of wars, see Roman-Persian Wars.

Parthia's western ambitions

Parthian enterprise in the West began in the time of Mithridates I; during his reign, the Arsacids succeeded inextending their rule into Armenia and Mesopotamia. This was the beginningof an "international role" for the Parthian kingdom, a phase that alsoentailed contacts with Rome. [Beate-Engelbert (2007), 9] It was Mithridates I, who conducted unsuccessful negotiations with Sulla for a Roman-Parthian alliance (c. 105 BC). [Plutarch, "Sulla", 5. [*.html 3-6] * Sherwin-White (1994), 262] After 90 BC the Parthian power was diminished by dynastic feuds, while, at the same time, Roman power in Anatolia collapsed; Roman-Parthian contact was restored, when Lucullus invaded Southern Armenia, and defeated Tigranes in 69 BC, but again no definite agreement was made. [Sherwin-White (1994), 262-263]

Roman Republic vs Parthia

When Pompey took charge of the war in the East, he re-opened negotiations with Phraates III; they came to an agreement and Roman-Parthian troops invaded Armenia in 66/65 BC, but soon a dispute arose over Euphrates boundary between Rome and Parthia. Pompey refused to recognize the title of "King of Kings" for Phraates, and offered arbritation between Tigranes and the Parthian king over Corduene. Finally, Phraates asserted his control over Mesopotamia, except for the western district of Osroene, which became a Roman dependency. [Sherwin-White (1994), 264]

In 53 BC, Crassus led an invasion of Mesopotamia, with catastrophic results; at the Battle of Carrhae, the worst Roman defeat since the Battle of Cannae, Crassus and his son, Publius, were killed by the Parthians under General Surena. The bulk of his force killed or captured; of 42,000 men, about half died, a quarter made it back to Syria, and the remainder were taken alive by the Parthians. [Mackay (2004), 150] The following year, the Parthians with raids into Syria, and in 51 BC mounted a major invasion led by the crown prince Pacorus and the general Osaces, but their army was caught in an ambush near Antigonea by the Romans under Cassius and Osaces was killed. [Bivar (1968), 56]

During Caesar's civil war the Parthians made no move, but maintained relations with Pompey. After his defeat and death, a force under Pacorus came to the aid of the Pompeian general Caecilius Bassus, who was besieged at Apamea Valley by the Caesarian forces. With the civil war over, Julius Caesar elaborated plans for a campaign against Parthia, but his assassination averted the war. During the ensuing Liberators' civil war, the Parthians actively supported Brutus and Cassius, sending a contingent which fought with them at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B. [Bivar (1968), 56-57] After that defeat, the Parthians under Pacorus invaded Roman territory in 40 BC in conjunction with Quintus Labienus, a Roman erstwhile supporter of Brutus and Cassius. They swiftly overran Syria, and defeated Roman forces in the province; all the cities of the coast, with the exception of Tyre admitted the Parthians. Pacorus then advanced into Judaea, overthrowing the Roman client Hyrcanus II and installing his nephew Antigonus in his place. For a moment, the whole of the Roman East seemed to be either in Parthian hands or on the point of capture. The conclusion of the second Roman civil war was soon to bring about a revival of Roman strength in Asia. [Bivar (1968), 57]

Meanwhile Mark Antony had already sent Ventidius to oppose Labienus who had invaded Anatolia. Soon Labienius was driven back to Syria by Roman forces, and, though his Parthians allies came to his suooport, he was defeated, taken prisoner and then put to death. After suffering a further defeat near the Syrian Gates, the Parthians withdrew from Syria. They returned in 38 BC, but were decisively defeated by Ventidius and Pacorus was killed. In Judaea, Antigonus was ousted with Roman help by Herod in 37 BC. [Bivar (1968), 57-58]

With Roman control of Syria and Judaea restored, Mark Antony led a huge army into Azerbaijan, but his siege train and its escort were isolated and wiped out, while his Armenian allies deserted. Failing to make progress against Parthian positions, the Romans withdrew with heavy casualties. In 33 BC Antony was again in Armenia, contracting an alliance with the Median king against both Octavian, and the Parthians, but other preoccupations obliged him to withdraw, and the whole region passed under Parthian control. [Cassius Dio, "Roman History", XLIX, [*.html 27-33] * Bivar (1968), 58-65]

Roman Empire vs Parthia

Inconclusive wars

Under the threat of an impending war between the two powers, Gaius Caesar and Phraataces worked out a rough compromise under the two powers in 1 AD. According to the agreement, Parthia undertook to withdraw its forces from Armenia, and to recognize a "de facto" Roman protectorate over the country. Nonetheless, Roman-Persian rivalry over control and influence in Armenia continued unabated for the next several decades. [Sicker (2000), 162]

The decision of the Parthian king Artabanus II to place his son, Arsaces, on the vacant Armenian throne triggered a war with Rome in 36 AD. Artabanus reached an understanding with the Roman general, Lucius Vitellius, renunciating Parthian claims to a Parhian sphere of influence in Armenia. [Sicker (2000), 162-163] A new crisis was triggered in 58 AD, when the Romans invaded Armenia after the Parthian king Vologases I forcibly installed his brother Tiridates on the throne there. [Sicker (2000), 163] Roman forces under Corbulo overthrew Tiridates and replaced him with a Cappadocian prince. This prompted Parthian retaliation and an inconclusive series of campaigns in Armenia ensued. The war came to an end in 63 AD, when the Romans agreed to allow Tiridates and his descendants to rule Armenia on condition that they received the kingship from the Roman emperor. [Rawlinson (2007), 286-287]

Trajan's Parthian War

A new series of wars began in the second century AD, during which the Romans consistently held the upper hand over Parthia. In 113 AD the Roman Emperor Trajan decided that the moment was ripe to resolve the "eastern question" once and for all time by the decisive defeat of Parthia and the annexation of Armenia; his conquests mark a deliberate change of the Roman Policy towards Parthia, and a shift of emphasis in the "grand strategy" of the empire. [Lightfoot (1990), 115: "Trajan succeeded in acquiring territory in these lands with a view to annexation, something which had not seriously been attempted before [...] Although Hadrian abandoned all of Trajan's conquests [...] the trend was not to be reversed. Further wars of annexation followed under Lucius Verus and Septimius Severus."; Sicker (2000), 167-168]

In 114 AD Trajan invaded Armenia, annexed it as a Roman province, and killed Parthamasiris who was placed on the Armenian throne by his brother the king of Parthia, Osroes I.Sicker (2000), 167] In 115 AD the Roman emperor overran northern Mesopotamia and annexed to Rome as well; its conquer was deemed necessary, since otherwise the Armenian salient could be cut off by the Parthians from the south. The Romans then captured the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, before sailing downriver to the Persian Gulf. However, in that year revolts erupted in Palestine, Syria and northern Mesopotamia, while a major Jewish revolt broke out in Roman territory, severely stretching Roman military resources. Simultaneously, Parthian forces began attacking key Roman positions; at the same time the Roman garrisons at Seleucia, Nisibis and Edessa had been attacked and evicted by the local populaces. Trajan subdued the rebels in Mesopotamia, but having installed the Parthian prince Parthamaspates on the throne there as a client ruler he withdrew his armies, and proceeded to Syria, where he set up his headquarters at Antioch. In 117, before he could reorganize the effort to consolidate Roman control over the Parthian provinces, Trajan died.Sicker (2000), 167-168]

Hadrian's policy, and further wars of annexation

Trajan's successor, Hadrian, promptly reversed his predecessor's policy, which he considered a potential long-term liability for the empire. he decided that it was in Rome's interest to re-establish the Euphrates as the limit of its direct control, and willingly returned to the "status quo ante", surrendering the territories of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Adiabene back to their previous rulers and client-kings. Once again, at least for another half century, Rome was to avoid active intervention east of the Euphrates.

War over Armenia broke out again in 161 AD, when Vologases I defeated the Romans there, captured Edessa and ravaged Syria. In 163 AD a Roman counter-attack under Statius Priscus defeated the Parthians in Armenia and installed a favored candidate on the Armenian throne. The following year Avidius Cassius began an invasion of Mesopotamia, winning battles at Dura-Europos and Seleucia and sacking Ctesiphon in 165 AD. An epidemic, possibly of smallpox, which was sweeping Parthia at the time now spread to the Roman army, leading to their withdrawal. [Sicker (2000), 169]

In 195 AD another Roman invasion of Mesopotamia began under the Emperor Septimius Severus, who occupied Seleucia and Babylon, and then sacked Ctesiphon yet again in 197 AD. These wars led to the Roman acquisition of northern Mesopotamia, as far as the areas around Nisibis and Singara. [Campbell (2005), 6-7; Rawlinson (2007), 337-338] A final war against the Parthians was launched by the emperor Caracalla, who sacked Arbela in 216 AD, but after his assassination his successor Macrinus was defeated by the Parthians near Nisibis and was obliged to make a payment of reparations for the damage done by Caracalla in exchange for peace. [Campbell (2005), 20]

Rise of the Sassanids

Parthia was finally destroyed by Ardashir I when he entered Ctesiphon in 226. The Sassanids were more centralized than the Parthian dynasties.Until the Sassanids came to power, the Romans were mostly the aggressors. However, as from 226 the Sassanids were, being Persian, determined to reconquer the lands that the Achaemenid dynasty once held and this nationalistic zeal made them much more aggressive than the Parthians. For more information, see Byzantine-Sassanid Wars.

ee also

*Parthia#Conflicts with Rome



Primary Sources

*Cassius Dio, "Roman History". Book LXXX. Translated by [ Earnest Cary] .

econdary sources

*cite book |title=Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity. Neighbours and Rivals|last=Beate|first=Dignas|year=2007|coauthors=Winter, Engelbert|publisher=Cambridge University Press|isbn=9-783-515-09052-0
*cite book |title=The Cambridge History of Iran |last=Bivar|first=H.D.H |editor=William Bayne Fisher, Ilya Gershevitch, Ehsan Yarshater, R. N. Frye, J. A. Boyle, Peter Jackson, Laurence Lockhart, Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly, Charles Melville |year=1968 |publisher=Cambridge University Press|isbn=0-521-20092-X |url=,+Ardashir&ei=_EQTSPaZBJHCyQS03tSBCA&sig=2KtkBSoqidkjzcqEuJRCX_OUl2w#PPR7,M1|chapter=The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids
*cite book |title=The Cambridge Ancient History (XII, The Crisis of Empire)|last=Campbell|first=Brian|editor=Iorwerth Eiddon, Stephen Edwards|year=2005|publisher=Cambridge University Press|isbn=0-521-30199-8|url=,+Campbell,+Cambridge&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0|chapter=The Severan Dynasty
* cite journal | last =Lightfoot | first =C.S. | year =1990 | month = | title =Trajan's Parthian War and the Fourth-Century Perspective | journal =The Journal of Roman Studies | volume=80 | pages =115-116 | url = | accessdate = 2008-06-05
*cite book |title=Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History|last=Mackay |first=Christopher S.|isbn=0-521-80918-5|year=2004|publisher=Cambridge University Press|url=,+Crassus,+Parthia&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0|chapter=Ceasar and the End of Republican Government
*cite book |title=Parthia|last=Rawlinson|first=George|authorlink=George Rawlinson|year=2007 |origyear=1893|publisher=Cosimo, Inc.|isbn=1-602-06136-X|url=,+Parthia&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0
*cite book |title=The Cambridge Ancient History (IX, The Last Age of the Roman Republic) |last=Sherwin-White|first=A.N.|authorlink=A. N. Sherwin-White |editor=John Anthony Crook, Elizabeth Rawson|year=1994 |publisher=Cambridge University Press|isbn=0-521-25603-8 |url=,+Armenia,+Parthian&lr=&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0|chapter=Lucullus, Pompey and the East
*cite book|last=Sicker|first=Martin|title=The Pre-Islamic Middle East|publisher=Greenwood Publishing Group|year=2000|isbn=0-275-96890-1|chapter=The Struggle over the Euphrates Frontier

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