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DEFEAT OF ROME IN THE EAST, THE: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC [Hardcover]

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Item description for DEFEAT OF ROME IN THE EAST, THE: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC by Gareth Sampson...

During the last stages of the Republic, Rome suffered its greatest military disaster since Hannibal's 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 Rome's ruling Triumvirate, which also included Caesar and Pompey, decided to enhance his military stature with an invasion of the Parthian Empire centered on Mesopotamia (today's 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 son's 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.

In this book, Dr. Gareth Sampson, currently a tutor in ancient history at the University of Manchester, lays out the gruesome outcome of the battle and its consequences. First, unlike Alexander's Greeks, who had marched all the way to the Indus, Rome was never again to challenge the civilizations beyond the Euphrates. Second, with Crasus dead, Caesar and Pompey engaged in a bloody civil war that would end the Republic and result in political dictatorship.

The author also provides an analysis of the mysterious Parthians, a people who vied with Rome as the most powerful empire on earth. Though their polity and records have long since disappeared, the Parthians' mark on history is clear enough through their decisive victory over Rome at Carrhae.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   224
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.1" Width: 6.1" Height: 1"
Weight:   0.95 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Publisher   Casemate
ISBN  1932033890  
ISBN13  9781932033892  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Rome
3Books > Subjects > History > Military > General
4Books > Subjects > History > World > General

Reviews - What do customers think about DEFEAT OF ROME IN THE EAST, THE: Crassus, the Parthians, and the Disastrous Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC?

Excellent coverage of a neglected topic  Sep 7, 2008
An solid work summarizing what information we have concerning this battle and events prior and afterwards. The previous reviews have covered the major points but here are a few additional points/observations:

Crassus as commander--fairly typical Roman Republican Soldier-Politician carrer-wise and demonstrated significant skills as an overall comander during the Third Servile War by maintaining large bodies of troops in the field and conducting succesful operations resulting in the defeat of the principal slave army armed and fighting in Roman fashion. By the mid-50s BC, he was considerably older (60?) and facing a differently armed opponent with a "doctrine" quite dissimilar from Roman military practice. In the lead up to Carrhae he conducted a competent campaign, and might have come off the better had he faced the main royal Parthian Army instead of the Suren cavalry corps.

Surenas (or the Suren) as commander--Scion of one of the principal Parthian families and apparently already a personage of some military repute/authority as they provided the Mesopotamian defensive corps while the Parthian King campaigned in the north. Dr Sampson terms him a military genius; that's probably a stretch based on one battle, however, decisive (not so successful regarding Parthian court intrigue, apparently). The sources do indicate that he was a tactical innovator by ensuring a continuing arrow supply for his light horse and he succeeded in leading his Roman opponent onto a prepared battlefield where Parthain capabilities could be maximized. In the main, he appears to have drawn upon historical Parthian modes of warfare, (they were a nomadic horse people, originally) as opposed to the Hellenistic miltary model that seems to have had some influence in the "royal" Parthian Army. At the same time he was assisted by the historical aggressiveness of Roman commanders for meeting engagements and their penchant for poor reconnaissance.

Parthian verses Roman arms: It's unclear that the mysterious barbed arrows were anything new despite some of the ancient sources which Sampson quotes. Steppe horse archers had numerous types of arrow heads for various work and long, pointed three or four-sided ("bodkin")heads with a right angled extension or barb are known from before this period. Coupled with compound bows at close range, these could penetrate Roman chain mail (the standard heavy infantry armor of the era) and hide covered multi-wood ply shields. The extent of fatalities inflicted is unclear--Plutarch cites Crassus as urging his men to counter attacks only to have them point to hands nailed to shields or feet nailed to the ground by the arrow storms. Regarding the reach of the Parthian heavy lancer's Kontos, there's nothing original here. Roman troops of this period following the Marian reforms, were rather uniformly equipped with one, maybe two javelins (pila) for throwing prior to engaging in close quarter combat; they were not intended as defensive pikes to repel cavalry. While the Parthian heavies could probably charge--their high cornered saddles substituting for the apparent lack of stirrups, it appears that the forming of the Roman army into a square possibly limited their effectiveness except against isolated elements or small counter attacks such as Publius'. Absent riding down individual infantrymen, they would have faced the dangers of a melee--there's some hint of this in the descriptions of Publius' Gallic troops pulling riders from their horses or stabbing the horses themselves. All in all, it appears that the arrow attack was decisive in chiefly wearing down and demoralizing the Roman force which then broke up in the following days and was destroyed in detail. Sampson gives a good account, extrapolating from Plutarch who gives the fullest coverage of Carrahe, but there are still lacunae in its actual duration and conduct. My own thesis is that Plutarch drew on a now lost contemporary or near contempary military account (Cassius?) from which he asbracted details for dramatic and didactic purposes.

That the Romans drew lessons from the battle seems clear. Caesar planned a Parthian campaign with a much larger light infantry and cavalry component (had he fought in Crassus' place with a "conventional" force, as Adcock, writing in the 1940's, notes, he might have had a similar fate). Antony seems to have implemented this plan with little result, but the sources do indicate that slingers could reduce the effect of horse archers.
A richly detailed account of a lesser know Roman disaster  Aug 18, 2008
Gareth Sampsons book of the disaster that was the battle of Carrhae 53BC is a very richly detailed and multi faceted account of not just the battle itself but two great civilisations, and how their expansionist approaches as they swallowed up Alexanders Hellenistic kingdoms set them on course for collission well before the lifetimes of the main protagonists involved.

Marcus Crassus - the leading Roman protagonist - and his life are given plenty of careful study early on in the book. The unsettling influence his ambitions for power and use of his vast wealth had on destabilising the Roman Republic when he vied with Pompey for control are examined. Both mens drive to gain popular approval and power follow different paths - Crassus via meddling in domestic politics and Pompey through engineering reasons for Military campaigns. The minute detail of their tussle for prominance, manipulation of friend, foe and ally in a no holds barred pursuit of further glory, power and wealth dominate the first third of the book and are fascinating in themselves.

The quality of the research takes what could have been a dry and sterile account of one Roman battle (albeit a pivotal one)and elevates it into a truly thought provoking work as the main players motivations/connections/allegiances are nicely tied to their actions.The author always tosses in a "food for thought" approach that wets the readers appetite to keep turning the pages. And thats well before the battle itself even kicks off which doesnt occur till the middle of the book (approx page 114 of 224) An example being Pompey and his ally Syrian Governor Aulus Gabinius who - the author points out - practically engineered/plotted in tandem the campaign against Parthia commencing as early as 58BC before throwing it to Crassus and going off to meddle in Egypts affairs?

No stone unturned on what lead to the failure at Carrhae. Aside from Pompey and Gabinius's influence the author examines everything from the special barbed arrows, able to pierce Roman shields and armour, the lessons of which Pompey/Gabinius forces noted but hardly bothered warning Crassus about (which was later to prove detrimental). The superior nature of the Parthian composite bow. The greater length of the Parthian heavy cavalry lance. The inability of scouts - despite observing the Parthian forces - to realise the baggage trains of camels were not ordinary baggage trains carrying food and water but arrows only being so carried away were they to report their enemy was a smaller force with no infantry to support it. The decision by Parthian leader Surena to scap entirely the way Parthians fought in the past so as to negate Roman intelligence further and create an entire new force with revamped and improved tactics makes for interesting reading.

The book has a rivoting account of the actual battle. Crassus actions are not painted as an incompetent man jealous of Pompey for stealing his glory over Spartacus days or those of a man well past his prime in battle but more from more subtle points of warfare. Such as simply being out-thought by a tactical genius (Surena)of the day.

Its also a balanced account in that the author shows the rarely seen Parthian perspective too and portrays them as more than a docile race waiting for the Romans to make their move but as a sophisticated foe capable of forward planning, masking weakness and strength so as to best use their lesser resources against their more numerous enemy. They needed to make a statement if Rome was to be deterred from future agression and they had one throw of the dice in which to deliver it.

One by one the known decisions Crassus makes through the campaign(including the all important one for taking the fast path across flat country instead of the round about one via Armenia and its mountain passes)are looked at sensibly for the positives and negatives to see how the decisions he made stacks up quality wise.

Crassus is shown to not altogether being helped by the competency/self interests of some of his own officers, nobles and trusted allies. People like Cassius (later famed for his part in the assassination of Julius Caesar) desserting Crassus post battle to save his own skin and taking a vital part of the force with him when rather than fight on and help save his men and commander though lesser officers set a better example. Or Armenian ally King Artvasdes (a no show with his much needed cavalry) convieniently meeting Parthia's King to sign a peace treaty while the dust of Carrhae had barely settled.

Sampsons book pits many historical sources such as Dio and Plutarch (as well as Cicero and others) against each other and examines the merit of each persons account of what actually happened. Disparity of accounts is discussed as they occur frequently and it becomes evident that one can not totally rely on them at face value even if they represent the sources closest to the event due to bias and a gap in era still existing between them and the events described.

All in all its a very informative, well written and thought provoking book. There is no lack of detail great or small, no lack of in depth analysis and many mouth watering questions examined that have one wishing there had been an inquest at the time able to answer them.

The only downside of the book is the lack of quality maps. Despite what the earlier review says there is a basic campaign map (black and white) in the beginning of the book showing broadly Crassus campaign route to Carrhae and some maps detailing the two Empires territories at that time. But no imaginative images of battle, or key maps outlaying the progress of the battle and changing tactics as the battle developed save for a small postage stamp like map on page 134 where the Romans are shown as a square, circled by Parthians. Apart from images of coins, photo's of ruins of Rome and the Parthian capital, images of marble busts of the key Romans of the day, some sketchy drawings of the fighters --> all in the middle of the book, its pretty much a text based experience.

Despite this, the quality of the research and the analysis formed and the questions raised and examined I believe still make this a book every bit worth 5 stars

Pretty good overview of First Parthian War...  Aug 15, 2008
I found this book to be pretty well written and researched about a battle most people really don't know anything about, Carrhae. This battle ended in a total defeat for the Roman legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the three most powerful men of Rome during this period, 53 BC. Their enemy, the Parthian Empire controlled what is now Iran and Iraq while struggled with Rome over the Armenian kingdom.

The book is relatively short and half of the narrative just deals with the introductionary material regarding the background to Rome, Parthia and Crassus. While the author relied on the ancient material as his main sources, he does not take them as gospel as so many have done in the past. He managed to insert his own insights into these events that produced a different perception of this campaign and battle. The author's take is that Crassus didn't really do anything wrong. He was an experienced commander, good leader and been through enough not to panic. However, he was also unfortunate enough to face the Parthian commander, Surena, who according to the author, was a total military genius who used his limited mounted army to maximum effects while reducing Roman strength to minimal while exploiting their weaknesses to the maximum. Considering that 40,000 troops under Crassus was totally defeated by 10,000 Parthians, it pretty hard to debate the author's insertions.

The Rome's defeat at Carrhae had far reaching consequences as it clearly spelled the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of Roman Empire as we know it today. The book covers the aftermath of the battle, fate of the prisoners (first Europeans to meet the Chinese??) and sad fate of Surena who was probably murdered by his fearful monarch.

Only major weaknesses of the book lies in its support materials. I thought there should be better photographs, more interesting battle maps and diagrams. It was a good thing I read Shadows in the Desert by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh that gave a short but equally interesting account of Carrhae and the Parthian Empire.

This book is rather expensive for the material involved. However, I found this book to be quite good and readable. It may be wise to get this at a reduced price or read it in the library.

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