Trajan's conquest of Parthia

starman

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
4,102
Connecticut
Wars in the east were particularly appealing because a) the east was associated with wealth,
Not necessarily for the troops, many from the Danubian area. Macrinus’s soldiers are said to have “clamored for a return to their native regions” and IIRC those of Alexander Severus were concerned that Barbarians might invade their homes while they were away.

By the 260s one emperor had been killed, another captured, Antioch twice sacked, three armies destroyed, fortresses destroyed, one emperor had agreed to a humiliating treaty, and Palmyra had taken matters into its own hands.
Gordian III lost his life in battle and Philip agreed to the not so favorable treaty (though one scholar detected no territorial change after the treaty of 244). I believe though, that only two armies were destroyed. I don’t think the army of Alexander Severus was destroyed, nor the army of Gordian III, though both were mauled. As for Palmyra, under Odainathus at least, it was an asset to Rome in a dark time.

...there was probably a great desire to redeem past embarrassments.
This in fact began as early as 262.
 
Oct 2018
1,513
Sydney
Not necessarily for the troops, many from the Danubian area. Macrinus’s soldiers are said to have “clamored for a return to their native regions” and IIRC those of Alexander Severus were concerned that Barbarians might invade their homes while they were away.
Oh certainly. Many soldiers were attached to their homelands and their usual theatres of operations, and that was indeed one of the problems that Severus Alexander faced. But for emperors, for perhaps the units already in Mesopotamia and Syria, and for perhaps some of the empire's more mobile/more expeditionary military units, the popular mindset presented the east as an appealing realm from operations. The east in general was associated with luxury, and soldiers and generals in the east were sometimes derided as being overly exposed to luxury. I recall that in Pliny's Natural History and other works one gets the impression that the Roman East was considered luxurious, the Persian East was at another level of luxury, and India was more luxurious still. But yes, I did not mean to imply that all soldiers empirewide would have been keen for a Persian war. Another example of soldiers notoriously not keen for a relocation were those fighting for Julian in Gaul. Another example, but inverted, is when a pro-Vespasianic general in Syria won a legion over to Vespasian's cause by warning them that Vitellius intended to relocate them to the harsh Danubian front.



Gordian III lost his life in battle and Philip agreed to the not so favorable treaty (though one scholar detected no territorial change after the treaty of 244). I believe though, that only two armies were destroyed. I don’t think the army of Alexander Severus was destroyed, nor the army of Gordian III, though both were mauled. As for Palmyra, under Odainathus at least, it was an asset to Rome in a dark time.
Yes, my understanding of the treaty is that it entailed a ransom, ongoing payments and (de-facto perhaps) an acceptance of Persia's effective control over Armenia. The three armies I was thinking of was Severus Alexander's southern army (which was ambushed and destroyed according to Herodian), the army at Barbalissos (according to the Res Gestae Divi Saporis) and the one at Edessa. How much these three armies were really destroyed, it is impossible to tell, but the sources indicate three serious defeats.



This in fact began as early as 262.
Indeed, with good ol' Odainath, but later Romans would probably not like Palmyra to have done all the redeeming. ;) Gotta claim some of that vengeance cache.
 
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starman

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
4,102
Connecticut
I think the only army really destroyed was the one in 252. To my knowledge after barbalissos there was no resistance to the sack of Syria from Roman regular troops. Valerian’s Army was nearly destroyed, but some men got away— enough for Callistus to counterattack. There was also Macrianus. As for the southern force of Alexander Severus, our source appears hostile to the emperor hence probably exaggerated his setback. If Alexander’s army had been wiped out, he’d probably have died with it and/or the Persians would’ve followed up with a new assault on Syria, or at least the northern force.
I think the battles of 232 or 233 and 244 were probably tactical draws, albeit costly.
 
Oct 2018
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Sydney
I think the only army really destroyed was the one in 252. To my knowledge after barbalissos there was no resistance to the sack of Syria from Roman regular troops. Valerian’s Army was nearly destroyed, but some men got away— enough for Callistus to counterattack. There was also Macrianus. As for the southern force of Alexander Severus, our source appears hostile to the emperor hence probably exaggerated his setback. If Alexander’s army had been wiped out, he’d probably have died with it and/or the Persians would’ve followed up with a new assault on Syria, or at least the northern force.
I think the battles of 232 or 233 and 244 were probably tactical draws, albeit costly.
Yeah, true, Ballista (Callistus - but I prefer the name Ballista - sounds cooler) was able to escape and continue the fight, although I recall Macrianus was not with Valerian's army at Edessa. He stayed behind because of his being lame in the leg.

Barbalissos does sound like it must have been a nasty defeat, but it's unfortunate that the Roman and Greek sources are silent about the battle ever taking place. But it does seem that Shapur was able to campaign through Syria and Anatolia with ease.

Herodian indeed wasn't a fan of Severus Alexander, to a large degree because he considered him to be under the thumb of his mother Julia Mamaea (although he did think Alexander to be a better ruler than his predecessor and successor, Elagabalus and Maximinus respectively). He may well exaggerate the defeat of the southern army. He certainly thinks that the war effort was mishandled, and presents the soldiers as being rather upset with how things turned out (A couple of years later, the poor handling of the campaign was supposedly used against Alexander by soldiers loyal to Maximinus - according to Herodian). Herodian blames Alexander for having failed to support the northern and southern armies with his own central army, holding back in Roman territory for too long while the others were in enemy territory, and I seem to recall that he blames Alexander's timid behaviour on his mother's influence. He claims that the southern army was ambushed and annihilated, and that the northern army suffered heavy casualties returning over mountains from Media back to Roman territory in winter, after it became clear that the offensive was over. The central army meanwhile suffered from disease. That being said, it appears that the northern army, at least, had inflicted sufficient damage on Persian territory to ensure that the war ended in stalemate.
 
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starman

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
4,102
Connecticut
Yeah, true, Ballista (Callistus - but I prefer the name Ballista - sounds cooler) was able to escape and continue the fight, although I recall Macrianus was not with Valerian's army at Edessa. He stayed behind because of his being lame in the leg.
Macrianus was in charge of supplies and probably had reserve troops.

Barbalissos does sound like it must have been a nasty defeat, but it's unfortunate that the Roman and Greek sources are silent about the battle ever taking place. But it does seem that Shapur was able to campaign through Syria and Anatolia with ease.
Roman and Greek sources are silent because the setback was so disastrous and embarrassing it was covered up. That’s understandable; after a second catastrophe, following Forum Terebronii, they had to prevent morale from collapsing.

Herodian indeed wasn't a fan of Severus Alexander, to a large degree because he considered him to be under the thumb of his mother Julia Mamaea (although he did think Alexander to be a better ruler than his predecessor and successor, Elagabalus and Maximinus respectively). He may well exaggerate the defeat of the southern army. He certainly thinks that the war effort was mishandled, and presents the soldiers as being rather upset with how things turned out (A couple of years later, the poor handling of the campaign was supposedly used against Alexander by soldiers loyal to Maximinus - according to Herodian). Herodian blames Alexander for having failed to support the northern and southern armies with his own central army, holding back in Roman territory for too long while the others were in enemy territory, and I seem to recall that he blames Alexander's timid behaviour on his mother's influence. He claims that the southern army was ambushed and annihilated, and that the northern army suffered heavy casualties returning over mountains from Media back to Roman territory in winter, after it became clear that the offensive was over. The central army meanwhile suffered from disease. That being said, it appears that the northern army, at least, had inflicted sufficient damage on Persian territory to ensure that the war ended in stalemate.
I think the southern force also played a role in ensuring a stalemate. IIRC Herodian said casualties on both sides were equal—rather surprising if the whole southern Force was wiped out. From what he wrote I get the impression the southern Force was enveloped, probably by Sassanid cavalry. It may have been largely destroyed but if it gave as good as it got that may explain the lack of a Sassanid followup move.
 
Dec 2012
373
why did the Parthian/Persian Capital seem so easy to take? I mean why would they build their capital so close to their enemies especially in the later years when the Romans had sacked it multiple times? Wouldn't that have been an alarm bell especially to the later Sassanids who knew in their records of how many times the Ctesphion got taken?
 
Mar 2013
1,031
Breakdancing on the Moon.
why did the Parthian/Persian Capital seem so easy to take? I mean why would they build their capital so close to their enemies especially in the later years when the Romans had sacked it multiple times? Wouldn't that have been an alarm bell especially to the later Sassanids who knew in their records of how many times the Ctesphion got taken?
This is a good question and much debated and covered. Essentially it comes down to a) there wasn't as much 'parity' between Persians and Romans on a military level as we might suspect and; b) look at the communication lines/roads to Ctesiphon, it was just easier to get to than the Roman equivalent due to how it was placed within the empire.
 

Caesarmagnus

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Jan 2015
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Australia
Moving a capital isn't that easy. The Romans did it eventually, thanks to their ridiculous levels of competence and organization, but for most ancient civilisations that was an unrealistic fantasy. Usually capitals develop in the same way cities or goat tracks do; organic processes over a long period of time. There is likely a reason an important city became an important city (i.e. it was in the middle of a bunch of trade routes, next to a well located river, surrounded on all sides by mountains with only a few passes in, etc). The thing that made the city important is exactly why it'll be hard to move it, and forcibly uproot the people who live there to a new city. The process would take years, generations maybe. The Parthians/Persians were basically stuck with their capitals where they were, and for many purposes they were well located. Fending off Rome was not one of those purposes, but then if they moved it further Eastwards there would have been other disadvantages (and it would have been closer to other threats). Also the extent to which Rome was a threat is debatable, in the sense that for the most part (as has been explained) Rome had no real interest in conquering the sweltering rocks and arid deserts to the East; they generally invaded as a retaliatory/punitive campaign, to loot and weaken Parthia. Even Trajan appointed a new ruler, because he recognized it wasn't worth the bother of Romanising it.
 
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starman

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
4,102
Connecticut
why did the Parthian/Persian Capital seem so easy to take? I mean why would they build their capital so close to their enemies especially in the later years when the Romans had sacked it multiple times? Wouldn't that have been an alarm bell especially to the later Sassanids who knew in their records of how many times the Ctesphion got taken?
It wasn't always easy to take; Gordian III failed to do so and Julian, despite his strong forces, didn't capture it either. True, Ctesiphon was taken three times in the second century, not long before the Sassanids. But the early Sassanid rulers, notably Ardishir and Shapur, felt strong and confident, and tended to be on the offensive not defensive. The problem was that Sassanid Persia eventually suffered the same pathologies as Parthia, such as internal fighting, weakening defenses against Rome.
 
Dec 2012
373
Moving a capital isn't that easy. The Romans did it eventually, thanks to their ridiculous levels of competence and organization, but for most ancient civilisations that was an unrealistic fantasy. Usually capitals develop in the same way cities or goat tracks do; organic processes over a long period of time. There is likely a reason an important city became an important city (i.e. it was in the middle of a bunch of trade routes, next to a well located river, surrounded on all sides by mountains with only a few passes in, etc). The thing that made the city important is exactly why it'll be hard to move it, and forcibly uproot the people who live there to a new city. The process would take years, generations maybe. The Parthians/Persians were basically stuck with their capitals where they were, and for many purposes they were well located. Fending off Rome was not one of those purposes, but then if they moved it further Eastwards there would have been other disadvantages (and it would have been closer to other threats). Also the extent to which Rome was a threat is debatable, in the sense that for the most part (as has been explained) Rome had no real interest in conquering the sweltering rocks and arid deserts to the East; they generally invaded as a retaliatory/punitive campaign, to loot and weaken Parthia. Even Trajan appointed a new ruler, because he recognized it wasn't worth the bother of Romanising it.
Well I do remember that the Parthians had a "winter" and "summer" capital and that the Persians I read in the early days of the Sassanids had their capital in modern day Fars region, surely at least for the Sassanids they could have maintained their capital in Fars since it was not only their ancestral homeland but also it still is stratgetically convient