Parthia V Rome: The battle of Carrhae I Curator’s Nook season Four episode 4

published on July 3, 2020

Hello I'm Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis

I'm a curator of Middle Eastern coins at the British Museum

and welcome to my corner

I became really interested in the Parthians because this is the period just after Alexander's conquest

of the ancient Near East He conquered the
Achaemenid Empire in 333 BC then for

about a hundred years his Macedonian
generals ruled over the region

From around 248 you have this sort of
uprising of Iranian tribes in the

northeast and the formation of a new
dynasty and this dynasty is called the

Parthian dynasty and they become
for almost 500 years equals to the Roman Empire

and also great opponents of the
Romans

Both Parthia and Rome were very interested to control the east west trade

Parthia's geographical position was quite important

It was placed between
India and China in the east and Rome in

the West it, controlled the trade routes
and had also access in the south to the Persian Gulf

So Rome wanted to conduct active trade

with the east and bypass the Parthians
but the Parthian of course didn't want

to let this unique position go
and this started the confrontation

The reason behind it was
basically commercial, economic, and then also political

It is actually very similar to what happens today or what has happened today

I mean, if you go back to the big
first confrontation between

Parthia and Rome you find so many modern parallels There is a battle which caused Rome quite a lot of grief

and humiliation and this was the Battle of Carrhae in 54-53 BC

A Roman general, Crassus, decided against the Roman senate to take the army eastwards,

cross the river Euphrates, and confront the Parthian army

Crassus was a very, very wealthy man who

wanted to make a name for himself he was
really in competition with Caesar and

Pompey So the Parthian king asked him
'what's actually behind your decision to

fight against us? Is it a decision taken
by Rome? Which we can't ignore or is this

a personal decision? If it's the latter
we can come to an amicable particularly

on the basis of your age' Crassus was 60
years old, which didn't go down very well

at all with Crassus, it was quite
humiliating and Crassus sent an envoy

back saying 'I will give you my answer
when I reach Seleucia and Seleucia was

an important city in the Parthian Empire
near modern Baghdad The Parthian king,

Orodes, sent an envoy back saying,
apparently he turned the palm of his

hand around and said 'before you reach
Seleucia hair will grow in the palm of my hands'

And of course Crassus never
reached Seleucia, the Romans received a

humiliating defeat by the Parthians and
they lost their standards and one of the

reasons why this happened was that the
Parthians were very competent archers

and horsemen We know of, for example, the Parthian shot You sort of pretend that

you leaving the battleground, you gallop
away and then you turn around on your

horse and you shoot

So the Romans were defeated very very badly

Crassus was killed in battle and, as I said, they lost also their standards

Now, these standards were returned to Rome

in a very friendly manner by the
Parthians in 18 BC when Augustus was the

emperor in Rome and once again it's
quite fascinating to see how in ancient

times, like also in modern times, we see
it again and again, a political defeat a

humiliating loss is turned into a great
victory

Augustus minted coins depicting the
Parthians kneeling in front of him and

returning the lost standards We know of
various depictions of the Parthian in

Roman art always shown in a
bearded scruffy way returning the

standards and one of the most well known
examples is of course the breastplate of

Augustus on his statue from Prima Porta
Where Augustus is shown wearing this

cuirass and on the cuirass the Parthian, the bearded Parthian, is returning the Roman standard

Rome was always keen to support
rival kings to the Parthians

it's always embrace wholeheartedly
puppet kings and when the time was right

for them, when internal problems
escalated within the Parthian Empire

they let these puppet kings go into
Parthian territories create havoc

and destabilized the situation I
personally see a huge huge parallel very

strong parallel to this day

We are so indoctrinated in the West by sort of

the idea of Alexander, the might of Rome,
and the influence of Hellenistic culture

that we really don't think critically
about what is in the East I mean after

all the Parthians ruled for almost 500
years and they really were a threat to the Romans

This is sort of ignored and I
think really one should look at the

whole history of the ancient Near East
with different eyes

If I had written on my gravestone the person who
drew attention to the Parthians and the

Sasanians as equals to Rome I would be
very happy

Thank you very much for listening to me I hope that you'll also

become interested or have become
interested in the Parthians and their importance

So thank you again and please do subscribe to the YouTube channel

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