In June of 54 BC, the seemingly invincible Roman Republic turned its baleful gaze upon the Parthian-ruled lands of Mesopotamia. The result would shake an empire and change the course of history!
Marcus Licinius Crassus, co-ruler of the Roman state and the wealthiest man in Rome, had long coveted the military glory. Now, at last, as Pro-Consul of Roman Syria and at the head of a mighty army, he seemed poised to see his dream become reality.
Crassus had partnered with the skilled political operator, Julius Caesar, and the famed military leader Pompeius Magnus, in a political alliance that virtually ruled the Roman world; which became known as the First Triumvirate. But power and wealth were not enough for the aging Crassus. A true Roman of his class, he hungered for the kind of military glory that Pompey had earned in his youth, against the Pirates and in the east; and which Caesar was even then winning in Gaul. Following hisConsulship in 55 BC, Crassus took Syria as his Pro-Consular governorship. His intent was to emulate Alexander the Great, and at the head of a massive army of legions and auxiliary troops invade the Persia-centered Arsacid Empire of the Parthians!
The Parthians were a conquering race of nomads, of Scythian origin; who, a century earlier, had come off of the Eurasian steppe and seized Persia and Mesopotamia from the decadent and decaying Seleucids, the Graeco-Macedonian dynasty founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals. The Parthians were still semi-nomadic after a century ruling the heartland of the old Persian Empire; living in tent cities along the Tigris river, and practicing the arts of horse archery and cavalry warfare.
Their very formidable army was composed of masses of unarmored horse archers; experts with the powerful re-curve, composite bow. Mounted on swift horses or ponies, these operated in an amorphous mass in battle, weakening and bewildering their opponents with rapid maneuver and showering them with a blizzard of arrows.
The horse-archers were backed by a small cadre of heavily armored nobles, called by the Greek and Roman sources “cataphracts”. Recruited from the Parthian aristocracy,…