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Old December 6th, 2012, 01:28 PM   #11

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Originally Posted by Belisarius View Post
That wasn't my intention, although the remark may have been flippant, it is nevertheless true. Changing commanders at Carrhae would have made litte difference to the course of the battle itself.

That said, with Caesar in command in those circumstances; when the battle was joined, I would have expected him to have extricated his army and prevented a complete disaster. Many people blame Crassus’ arrogance and inexperience, often forgetting that Marcus Antonius, a much more experienced general, got himself into a similar fix when he invaded Parthia, only he managed to save his army albeit with heavy casualties

From what we know of Caesar, I think he probably would have planned the campaign differently, by going via Armenia for example, using the Armenians as allies with a better knowledge of the area. Of course, the down side of this would have been that he would eventually be facing the entire Parthian army instead of just Surena’s command. Everything revolves around where the Parthian’s would be forced to give battle.

The Parthians had several weaknesses that an active, clever commander could have exploited. As the Romans fought the Parthians more, they got to learn their weaknesses and as often as not won subsequent encounters. The late Republican army however, was not really up to the job.
which is perhaps what he would have done had he not been assassinated before leaving on his expedition to Parhia. and he would also have had the example of 'what not to do' from Crassus's example.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 01:57 PM   #12
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Perhaps is the other name of the Speculative (Alternative) Forum.

Must entirely agree wit our Belisarius here.

Naturally as free speculation goes anything would have been possible; nevertheless, the available evidence strongly suggests that switching commanders at Carrhae would have had little effect and that even with the Crassus' lessons on what not to do the conquest of Parthia or any equivalent major Roman victory would still have been quite unlikely.

After all, CJ Caesar was reportedly planning exactly what the experience of Carrhae did strongly suggest not to do; an unrequired conquest expedition against the Parthian realm.
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Old December 6th, 2012, 05:38 PM   #13
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Crassus foolishly let himself be guided into a Parthian trap. Caesar was far too good of a commander to fall for an Arab "guide" (who was actually an agent of the Parthians) telling him to cross the wide-open and exposed Syrian Desert.

Think about it. Put yourself in Crassus' place. A half-way intelligent commander would know that the Parthians have a preference for cavalry that fight best in open terrain, and thus it would be best to go through more rugged terrain where cavalry would be at a disadvantage. That is exactly what the Armenian king advised Crassus to do, and Crassus ignored him.

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Old December 6th, 2012, 06:49 PM   #14
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Crassus foolishly let himself be guided into a Parthian trap. Caesar was far too good of a commander to fall for an Arab "guide" (who was actually an agent of the Parthians) telling him to cross the wide-open and exposed Syrian Desert.

Think about it. Put yourself in Crassus' place. A half-way intelligent commander would know that the Parthians have a preference for cavalry that fight best in open terrain, and thus it would be best to go through more rugged terrain where cavalry would be at a disadvantage. That is exactly what the Armenian king advised Crassus to do, and Crassus ignored him.

Maybe, but Arab guides couldn't explain the exceptional performance of the Parthian heavy cavalry against the Romans all along the decades of the Republican Civil Wars, relative to any other contemporary Roman enemy.
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Old December 12th, 2012, 01:01 AM   #15

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Interesting mixture of speculation and history!

The original question asked, what might have happened had Crassus been magically replaced by Caesar, on the day. Ignoring the fact that Caesar might not have got himself into this fix anyway, given that caesar is considered one of the finest commanders in history, with acute vision, presence of mind, decisive decision making and speed of action, I submit that he might have at least managed to break out with a core of troops.

The second query, which evoloved in the thread, is whether Caesar might have made a better job of an expedition to Parthia, which of course he was due to lead but for the cancellation enforced by his asassination. Or was the Roman Republican Army of this period somehow innately unable to stand up to the Parthians?

I think the following matters are relevant:

1.The Romans had met Super Heavy Cavalry (SHC) before, fighting the Selucids and in Armenia. They did not consider them invincible. However the Romans had struggled to cope with Numidian light cavalry skirmishing tactics, in the second punic war, in the Jugurthine war and as Caesar himself and his lieutentants found, in Africa in the great civil war. In addition, Gallic skirmishing tactics (not mounted though) had destroyed a Roman force under Sabinus and Cotta in 53BC.

2. What made the Parthians particularly hard to deal with was not only the desert terrain and environment along the border with Rome, but especially their light horse archers. Viewing the past wuith Western eyes, we tend to accord particular importance to armoured chivalry, the SHC, but in the East the emphasis has been towards horse archers and light cavalry tactics. Horse archers, even if peasants by caste, take a LOT of training, and are a powerful arm combining speed and distant hitting power. The parthian bow increased the hitting power further.
These archers did the hard work of wearing down the enemy in favourable flat terrain, until a combination of heat, exhaustion, wounds, disorder and lowered morale made them ripe for a coup de grace by the powerful SHC. It was a lethal tactical combination.
The light cavalry also operated against lines of cummunication, cutting off supplies and reinforcements, slow moving troops and equipment and tying up large numbers of troops to guard vital points.

3. Pompey, whose main and sensible dogma was to only attack with overwhelming superiority (his record against decent and intelligent opposition is not particularly impressive), prudently left the Parthians alone. He had enough money and glory already not to take the risk. Crassus however, whose place in the triumvirate had been based on wealth only, felt his place slipping as Caesar and Pompey, both military giants, now overtook him on wealth also. His attack on Parthia was a desperate gamble to catch up militarily,, with an army that probably didnt expect what was to come and probably consisted of mostly unwilling conscipts with a veteran core. Pompey's campaigns had given the impression that Easterners were easy meat and the legions invincible. It was a false impression.

4.In the future the Romans learned to cope with the Parthians and had considerable success at times. They were quick to copy successful innovations and had they considered the Parthian system supreme, they would no doubt have taken steps in that direction. They didnt. Instead, they modified their mix of forces and tactics. Sure, the legionary armour was improved from mail to segentata, which probably made the archers a bit less fearful. But it was the addition of missile troops (such as the famous armoured eastern archers) and light cavalry, now incorporated as part of Roman regular auxilia, rather than as foederati, which was the main change. Otherwise they continued to rely on the legion. There would have been little difference in makeup or quality between a veteran Caesarian legion and that under the Empire. (though some anti parthian battlefield tactics may have been evolved, such as caltrops, slingers incorporated in units, etc)

5. Caesar was the greatest general of his day and is considered one of the best of all time. With his personal experience of light cavalry in Africa, reports from Cassius and his survisors and all the other intelligence on what to expect, it is inconceivable that he would have simply walked into Parthia to repeat Carrhae.
Whatever his intentions politically- punitive or conquest, (whether morally correct didnt worry Romans of this period too much, nor did moral injustice prevent their success) we can be sure that he had thought through the composition of his army (veteran troops with missile troops and light cavalry to drive off the archers. Aurelian later showed that light cavalry could deal with SHC sometimess too.), tactics and purpose. No-one can say what the outcome would have been, but I do believe it would have been a far better showing than Crassus or Antony achieved.
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Old December 12th, 2012, 05:59 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benzev View Post
Interesting mixture of speculation and history!

The original question asked, what might have happened had Crassus been magically replaced by Caesar, on the day. Ignoring the fact that Caesar might not have got himself into this fix anyway, given that caesar is considered one of the finest commanders in history, with acute vision, presence of mind, decisive decision making and speed of action, I submit that he might have at least managed to break out with a core of troops.

The second query, which evoloved in the thread, is whether Caesar might have made a better job of an expedition to Parthia, which of course he was due to lead but for the cancellation enforced by his asassination. Or was the Roman Republican Army of this period somehow innately unable to stand up to the Parthians?

I think the following matters are relevant:

1.The Romans had met Super Heavy Cavalry (SHC) before, fighting the Selucids and in Armenia. They did not consider them invincible. However the Romans had struggled to cope with Numidian light cavalry skirmishing tactics, in the second punic war, in the Jugurthine war and as Caesar himself and his lieutentants found, in Africa in the great civil war. In addition, Gallic skirmishing tactics (not mounted though) had destroyed a Roman force under Sabinus and Cotta in 53BC.

2. What made the Parthians particularly hard to deal with was not only the desert terrain and environment along the border with Rome, but especially their light horse archers. Viewing the past wuith Western eyes, we tend to accord particular importance to armoured chivalry, the SHC, but in the East the emphasis has been towards horse archers and light cavalry tactics. Horse archers, even if peasants by caste, take a LOT of training, and are a powerful arm combining speed and distant hitting power. The parthian bow increased the hitting power further.
These archers did the hard work of wearing down the enemy in favourable flat terrain, until a combination of heat, exhaustion, wounds, disorder and lowered morale made them ripe for a coup de grace by the powerful SHC. It was a lethal tactical combination.
The light cavalry also operated against lines of cummunication, cutting off supplies and reinforcements, slow moving troops and equipment and tying up large numbers of troops to guard vital points.

3. Pompey, whose main and sensible dogma was to only attack with overwhelming superiority (his record against decent and intelligent opposition is not particularly impressive), prudently left the Parthians alone. He had enough money and glory already not to take the risk. Crassus however, whose place in the triumvirate had been based on wealth only, felt his place slipping as Caesar and Pompey, both military giants, now overtook him on wealth also. His attack on Parthia was a desperate gamble to catch up militarily,, with an army that probably didnt expect what was to come and probably consisted of mostly unwilling conscipts with a veteran core. Pompey's campaigns had given the impression that Easterners were easy meat and the legions invincible. It was a false impression.

4.In the future the Romans learned to cope with the Parthians and had considerable success at times. They were quick to copy successful innovations and had they considered the Parthian system supreme, they would no doubt have taken steps in that direction. They didnt. Instead, they modified their mix of forces and tactics. Sure, the legionary armour was improved from mail to segentata, which probably made the archers a bit less fearful. But it was the addition of missile troops (such as the famous armoured eastern archers) and light cavalry, now incorporated as part of Roman regular auxilia, rather than as foederati, which was the main change. Otherwise they continued to rely on the legion. There would have been little difference in makeup or quality between a veteran Caesarian legion and that under the Empire. (though some anti parthian battlefield tactics may have been evolved, such as caltrops, slingers incorporated in units, etc)

5. Caesar was the greatest general of his day and is considered one of the best of all time. With his personal experience of light cavalry in Africa, reports from Cassius and his survisors and all the other intelligence on what to expect, it is inconceivable that he would have simply walked into Parthia to repeat Carrhae.
Whatever his intentions politically- punitive or conquest, (whether morally correct didnt worry Romans of this period too much, nor did moral injustice prevent their success) we can be sure that he had thought through the composition of his army (veteran troops with missile troops and light cavalry to drive off the archers. Aurelian later showed that light cavalry could deal with SHC sometimess too.), tactics and purpose. No-one can say what the outcome would have been, but I do believe it would have been a far better showing than Crassus or Antony achieved.
A relevant point here is that contray to the epic description of the ancient sources like Appianus and LM PLutarchus (who rarely tried field research) the area of the battlefield close to the ancient city of Carrhae (later Harran, close to modern Altınbaşak, Turkey) is actually definitely not desertic, even less by the first century BC.
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Old December 12th, 2012, 05:59 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benzev View Post
Interesting mixture of speculation and history!

The original question asked, what might have happened had Crassus been magically replaced by Caesar, on the day. Ignoring the fact that Caesar might not have got himself into this fix anyway, given that caesar is considered one of the finest commanders in history, with acute vision, presence of mind, decisive decision making and speed of action, I submit that he might have at least managed to break out with a core of troops.

The second query, which evoloved in the thread, is whether Caesar might have made a better job of an expedition to Parthia, which of course he was due to lead but for the cancellation enforced by his asassination. Or was the Roman Republican Army of this period somehow innately unable to stand up to the Parthians?

I think the following matters are relevant:

1.The Romans had met Super Heavy Cavalry (SHC) before, fighting the Selucids and in Armenia. They did not consider them invincible. However the Romans had struggled to cope with Numidian light cavalry skirmishing tactics, in the second punic war, in the Jugurthine war and as Caesar himself and his lieutentants found, in Africa in the great civil war. In addition, Gallic skirmishing tactics (not mounted though) had destroyed a Roman force under Sabinus and Cotta in 53BC.

2. What made the Parthians particularly hard to deal with was not only the desert terrain and environment along the border with Rome, but especially their light horse archers. Viewing the past wuith Western eyes, we tend to accord particular importance to armoured chivalry, the SHC, but in the East the emphasis has been towards horse archers and light cavalry tactics. Horse archers, even if peasants by caste, take a LOT of training, and are a powerful arm combining speed and distant hitting power. The parthian bow increased the hitting power further.
These archers did the hard work of wearing down the enemy in favourable flat terrain, until a combination of heat, exhaustion, wounds, disorder and lowered morale made them ripe for a coup de grace by the powerful SHC. It was a lethal tactical combination.
The light cavalry also operated against lines of cummunication, cutting off supplies and reinforcements, slow moving troops and equipment and tying up large numbers of troops to guard vital points.

3. Pompey, whose main and sensible dogma was to only attack with overwhelming superiority (his record against decent and intelligent opposition is not particularly impressive), prudently left the Parthians alone. He had enough money and glory already not to take the risk. Crassus however, whose place in the triumvirate had been based on wealth only, felt his place slipping as Caesar and Pompey, both military giants, now overtook him on wealth also. His attack on Parthia was a desperate gamble to catch up militarily,, with an army that probably didnt expect what was to come and probably consisted of mostly unwilling conscipts with a veteran core. Pompey's campaigns had given the impression that Easterners were easy meat and the legions invincible. It was a false impression.

4.In the future the Romans learned to cope with the Parthians and had considerable success at times. They were quick to copy successful innovations and had they considered the Parthian system supreme, they would no doubt have taken steps in that direction. They didnt. Instead, they modified their mix of forces and tactics. Sure, the legionary armour was improved from mail to segentata, which probably made the archers a bit less fearful. But it was the addition of missile troops (such as the famous armoured eastern archers) and light cavalry, now incorporated as part of Roman regular auxilia, rather than as foederati, which was the main change. Otherwise they continued to rely on the legion. There would have been little difference in makeup or quality between a veteran Caesarian legion and that under the Empire. (though some anti parthian battlefield tactics may have been evolved, such as caltrops, slingers incorporated in units, etc)

5. Caesar was the greatest general of his day and is considered one of the best of all time. With his personal experience of light cavalry in Africa, reports from Cassius and his survisors and all the other intelligence on what to expect, it is inconceivable that he would have simply walked into Parthia to repeat Carrhae.
Whatever his intentions politically- punitive or conquest, (whether morally correct didnt worry Romans of this period too much, nor did moral injustice prevent their success) we can be sure that he had thought through the composition of his army (veteran troops with missile troops and light cavalry to drive off the archers. Aurelian later showed that light cavalry could deal with SHC sometimess too.), tactics and purpose. No-one can say what the outcome would have been, but I do believe it would have been a far better showing than Crassus or Antony achieved.
In an aborted attempt over at the Alternative History Discussion Board at writing an alternative history in which Caesar was not assasinated and went on to invade Parthia, I had Caesar take Mesopotamia, but only because King Pacorus is accidentally killed in a batle he was actually winning. In my Alt. History I had the Romans claiming Pacorus was felled by a lucky slinger, but the real cause of death being a mystery. Karma wins in the end because in the alt-history the Roman Empire breaks apart during the atl-history equivalent of the 3rd Century Crisis. Oh, and speaking of Karma, the fastest spreading religion in the western part of the empire is Mahayana Buddhism.
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