Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.

The Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. was one of the biggest military disasters Rome ever suffered, ranking right up there with Cannae, The Teutoberg Forest, and Lake Trasimene.   The battle occurred in what is today Syria between a Roman army under Marcus Licinius Crassus and a Parthian (Persian) army under a general Surena.   In the battle, seven legions were destroyed and their Eagles taken and Rome did not trouble the Parthian Empire again for almost 50 years.

The battle was written about by both Livy and Plutarch.   The links are to translations of their texts.

The battle had its origins in the glory seeking of Crassus himself.   He was part of the First Triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar and was assigned as the governor of the Roman province of Syria, which bordered the Parthian empire.   He thought to gain glory for himself by conquering Parthian territory and adding it to Rome.   To that end, he used the seven Legions with 40,000 men under his command and began to march on Parthian territory.

In May of 53, Crassus marched into Parthian territory and met the Parthian army of Surena on a large plain near the town of Carrhae.   Crassus drew his army up into battle array with great confusion.   According to Plutarch, at first he spread the army out to prevent its being flanked but then closed it up right before the battle began.   The Romans had a mainly infantry army as was typical but the Parthian army was organized along lines that the Romans had never seen before.   Almost the entire Parthian army was mounted and it was mostly light cavalry archers with a small contingent of heavy cavalry Cataphracts.

The Parthians also fought differently than the Romans, they did not close and engage in melee combat as was the Roman norm, instead the archers would ride close, but still out of reach of the Roman infantry and loose a cloud of arrows before riding out of range again.   That tactic is the origin of the contemporary saying about the “Parthian Shot.  The Romans however, fought in the modified Marian phalanx that, seen from above, resembles a checkerboard.   They engaged in melee combat.   A typical Roman battle began with the infantry throwing their Pilum, a short articulated spear, and then charging to close with shield and short sword.

The Parthians attacked the vanguard of the Roman force and virtually annihilated it whereupon Crassus retreated to the village of Carrhae.   The Parthians approached and asked him to meet with their commander to talk terms.   When Crassus reached the Parthian camp he was taken, bound, and decapitated.

After the death of Crassus, the Roman army scattered in a bid to escape.   The vast majority were hunted down and killed.   Only about 5,000 of the original 40,000-man force eventually escaped.   The worst thing from the Roman point of view is that the standards of the seven legions were lost to the Parthians; a huge stain on Roman honor.   They were not returned for 30 years when Augustus, the first Emperor, negotiated their return.

In the end, Carrhae was an unmitigated disaster for the Romans.   It did two things mostly.   One, it showed that the Romans were not invincible and two, it further destabilized the Roman world because the loss of Crassus removed a stabilizing influence on the First Triumvirate.   I will not go so far as to say that civil war would have been avoided if Crassus had not been defeated.   However, I think it is safe to say that perhaps civil war would have been delayed for some time if he had not been killed.   The contrary view is that Crassus was an idiot and deserved his fate and that conflict between Pompey and Caesar was inevitable anyway and the elimination of Crassus just clarified the lines of the coming contest.

Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Louvre in Paris

16 thoughts on “Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.”

  1. Dear Patrick,

    “Ah, I get it now. You are a rabid nationalist obsessed with ideas of ethnic purity. Got it, it still does not change my opinion though.”
    “how could Christianity exist before Christ?”

    It seems, that you represent the old ideology in conjunction with this area!
    There are new research results!

    You’re not at home in the Hungarian ancient religion, in the Hungarian ancient motives, in the ancient Hungarians relation with their kin folks!!

    You have NO information about the crosses, which were found in the ancient Hungarian graves (“how could Christianity exist before Christ”), about the ancient Hungarian Christian religion!!

    So, please DO NOT comment this material!!

  2. The same article -Where are the ruins . I just did not meant the beginning – but right down the FACTS

  3. I suggested to scroll down to the- FACTS- as the real founders of today Jerusalem ,and not to freemansory section .Not much you hear -about hunnic,sabir,schyta-saka roles in mezopotamia at early stages . Rather you hear Persian,Jew ,Roman ,Egypt – and in this matter the freemansons have big role / they ignore it ,ergo not existed/ I tried to highlight that even the original name of Jerusalem altered from Solyom /hunnic/ to Salem /jewish/-and that suggest that there is something to cover . Apropo other lies about Huns . Check Atilla,s venture to Catalaunum.According to some historians Atilla suffered a big defeat /other lies/ Interestingly, spite of this defeat few months later at Roma,s gate and 4th Leo Papa begging him not to sack Rome .NOT BAD FOR A DEFEATED ! And Atilla turning back.Hard to beleive even the internationally accepted version !! I think critical analyzis of history is very important-to come closer to the truth .

    • Which part of a Google search page are the FACTS on? Is there a clear line dividing the fact from fiction on Google? Let’s stay on topic please, the original debate is about whether Parthians and Persians are even vaguely synonymous labels, not the Middle East or the origins of Jerusalem.

  4. Interestingly the middle east is the biggest myth . Wonder why ? I would like to give you a little clue about origin of Jerusalem . If you type in google -Where are the ruins of King Solomon temple – and scroll down to the facts you will be very surprised .Original name of Jerusalem / Solyom / even in modern hungarian language is exatly same – means / bird-falcon/ . Just like first fact finding .

    • Are you seriously advocating that I take conspiracy theories about Solomon’s Temple and its connections to Freemasonry, and whether it even existed to be facts from sites such as David Icke’s forum, World News Daily, and the 2012 Forum? You tell me to look up facts and then refer me to sites such as this? You have to be kidding. There are good, scholarly sources that talk about the historical reality of Solomon’s Temple here and here.

      Lastly, in what way is the Middle East a myth? It is a convenient label used by historians, geographers, and politicians to denote a specific area of the world. Namely, that area demarcated on the west by the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the South by the southern border of Egypt and Sudan, on the East by the the border Pakistan with India and in the north by the areas adjacent to the southern edge of the Russian and Ukrainian Steppe; this area also includes the Anatolian heartland of modern Turkey.

  5. I can see you also very interested in history ,myself mad about it . Can I recommend you if you have time to go on you tube and check the -Origins of Hungarians by Michelangelo Naddeo and other english sites . Before history was written by historians -later joint by archeology-recently by genetics which is difficult to override . I hope Science will help us to know the real history .A very interesting site also TAMANA science . Unfortunately our history written by our enemies and we had a few .

    • Yes, you are correct that history is by an large written by the victors. Yes, I am very passionate about history. Please enlighten me about ways in which the Persians and Parthians differ ethnically. I can accept that Parthians were distinct, they also later amalgamated with the Persians when they migrated into the area thus making the Persians at best a mixture of pure Persian and Parthian stock. Is this short summation different than what you understand and if so, please let me know and perhaps point me to some sources. Good evidence will change my mind, rhetoric will not.

  6. You can call it nationalist-welcome . I call it ,VERITAS,
    If you do not beleive , make more research otherwise history becomes fantasy

    • Believe? Belief requires faith does it not? I stand by my assertion that the labels Parthian and Persian essentially refer to the same ethnic group. The difference between the two people is political and not ethnic.

  7. False history that Persians and Parthians had the same ethnicity . Parthians came from north /Schytia / and they had their Arsakidan kings. Persian empire was a short lived empire before . From 250 BC -250 AD Parthians-Schytians ruled the today Irak ,Iran ,Turkey even Libanon -part of Israel aerea Persians/east/ Sassanidas /south/ Romans /west/.-and between Parthia and only Parthia . But historians mixing Sassanids-Persians with Scythians .The Christianity comes into this subject because Jesus also learned philosophy from Parthians . Even the three kings came from Parthia and not Persia .Just to show you how history distorted .

    • Ah, I get it now. You are a rabid nationalist obsessed with ideas of ethnic purity. Got it, it still does not change my opinion though.

      Thanks for the comments,

  8. Shame that Western historians mixing Parthians with Persians .Parthians were originally Schyta-Hun-Magyar etc. tribes. Even their war tactics was the same . Surena, Attila, Arpad, the same family ,used the same arrow tactics as they inherited from each-other .Easily you can say that Scythians defeated Rome from east /Surena/ and west /Attila/ -Arpad defeated united western army in 907 using the same tactics. Also shame from historians to count the Christianity from Jesus birth when all those Scythians carried ancient Christianity long before that .And what about science and astrology .Just suddenly developed in Egypt or Greece ? Even Pythagoras learned from Scythians .They had to learn from someone- do not ignore continuity and do not slide one empire into another.

    Note from Admin-This comment has been edited to fix atrocious spelling and the inability to hit the space bar while typing by the original commenter.

    • Perhaps I should have clarified more the distinction between Parthian and Persian. Unfortunately, I did not. The fact remains that the Persians and Parthians were ethnically, essentially the same people and the name as I am using t distinguishes the Empire and the paragraph aside the ethnic group.
      I also don’t get where your blast on Christianity comes from. Lastly, how could Christianity exist before Christ? I would love to hear an explanation of that one.

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